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Title: Little Snap The Postboy - Working for Uncle Sam
Author: Browne, George Waldo
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 "Little Snap The Postboy - Working for Uncle Sam" ***

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------------------------------------------------------------------------



                        LITTLE SNAP, THE POSTBOY

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration:

  "Looking up with dread expectations of what he was
  to witness, the Post Boy reeled back in his saddle."
]



                              LITTLE SNAP
                              THE POSTBOY
                         Working for Uncle Sam

                                   BY
                            VICTOR ST. CLAIR

                               AUTHOR OF
           "Cast Away in the Jungle," "From Switch to Lever,"
             "For Home and Honor," "Zip, The Acrobat," etc.

[Illustration]

                              PHILADELPHIA
                         DAVID McKAY, PUBLISHER
                      610 SOUTH WASHINGTON SQUARE



                            Copyright, 1903
                           By STREET & SMITH

                        Little Snap, The Postboy



                                CONTENTS


            CHAPTER                                     PAGE

            I—A Postboy's Courage                          7

            II—The Missing Mail                           17

            III—"I Will Be Back"                          28

            IV—What Little Snap Saw                       33

            V—Close Quarters                              42

            VI—Little Snap's Troubles Increase            50

            VII—"The Truth in a Nutshell"                 59

            VIII—"I am Standing on My Own Feet"           66

            IX—A Terrific Trap                            75

            X—Little Snap's Remarkable Ride               83

            XI—The Ride Through Blazed Acre               92

            XII—The Postboy's Arrest                      99

            XIII—A Curious Court                         106

            XIV—An Unexpected Climax                     113

            XV—A Long and a Vain Watch                   121

            XVI—A Lonely Night Ride                      129

            XVII—Little Snap's Disappointment            136

            XVIII—A Perilous Undertaking                 143

            XIX—The Bushbinder's Plans                   150

            XX—A Startling Discovery                     157

            XXI—"What Jack Rimmons Says, Goes"           163

            XXII—An Underground Race                     172

            XXIII—The Registered Letters Again           181

            XXIV—Driven to the Wall                      187

            XXV—Startling Surprises                      194

            XXVI—A Life for a Life                       201

            XXVII—Little Snap's Surprise                 206

            XXVIII—The Strange Horseman                  213

            XXIX—A River Let Loose                       220

            XXX—A Race With a Runaway River              225

            XXXI—A Startling Relic of the Flood          231

            XXXII—The News That Reached Home             238

            XXXIII—The Gathering Storm                   244

            XXXIV—Little Snap Finds a Clew               251

            XXXV—The Truth at Last                       257

            XXXVI—Old Solitaire's Secret                 264

            XXXVII—Conclusion                            270



                       LITTLE SNAP, THE POSTBOY.



                               CHAPTER I.
                          A POSTBOY'S COURAGE.


"Has my letter come to-day?"

The dark bay horse—as fine a specimen of equine beauty and worth as ever
came from the famed Blue Grass regions—ridden by the Postboy of the
Kanawha, came to a standstill simultaneously with the utterance of the
earnest, pleading tone, knowing in its almost human intelligence that
its rider would be challenged at this particular spot and the question
repeated which had been asked daily without variation for six months.

Little Snap had expected it, and on the watch, had discovered, a quarter
of a mile back, a tall, gaunt figure clothed in skins and leaning
heavily on a gnarled staff, standing by the wayside, under the shadows
of a huge live oak.

An additional wildness was lent to the strange man's figure by the
presence of a gray squirrel on either shoulder, while others gamboled at
his feet, or ran up and down his lank form.

"Not to-day," replied the postboy, with an unusual softness in his
voice; "not to-day, Uncle Solitaire."

"Please excuse me for troubling you, but I felt sure she would send me
that letter to-day. I have waited so long. But take this to her, and I
am certain that to-morrow I shall get my letter."

Then, as he had done so many times before, he handed the postboy a
carefully folded piece of coarse paper, thanked him in a tremulous voice
as he took it, to vanish the next moment into the heart of the
wilderness hemming in the wild landscape.

"I wonder who he can be," said Little Snap, speaking his thoughts aloud,
moved as he always was by the pathos of the meetings in this lonely
place. "I would give my quarter's salary to know his life secret; but
that is something no one I have ever met knows. It is singular that he
should be able to bury himself in these woods so completely as to defy
all attempts to find his stopping place. I suppose this paper is as
blank as all the others have been."

Though he could not have told the reason for it, he had always unfolded
these scraps of paper before throwing them away. He always felt, too, a
sort of awed feeling as he gazed on the spotless pages, innocent of
conveying any message, unless outside of the power of pen or pencil.

His surprise may be imagined on this occasion, therefore, when he
unfolded the sheet to find a few lines of closely written manuscript.

His astonishment increasing, he read:

"Keep your eyes open; step lightly on Eagle's Tracks; fly through the
Devil's Wash Bowl!"

The paper contained no signature, and puzzled over its meaning, Little
Snap read it several times before he crumpled it in the hollow of his
hand.

"Some foolish whim of his," he said to himself. "Come, Jack, we must
move faster than we have, or we shan't get to Six Roads until midnight."

As young as he was, Little Snap, whose name, by the way, was Dix Lewis,
though he was seldom addressed thus, had been carrying the mail between
Upper Loop on the Kanawha and Union Six Roads, at the very base of the
backbone of the Alleghany Mountains, for about two years.

The distance between the two isolated towns was nearer forty than thirty
miles, but he had never lost a trip yet, and he had never felt in better
spirits than on this particular afternoon.

The valley of the Great Kanawha, as the lower section of this "River of
the Woods" is called, is one of the most fertile regions to be found in
West Virginia; but beginning near the Greenbrier Uplands, the stream
finds its course often through rocky gateways. Particularly is this the
case where a narrow gorge in the Great Flat Top Mountains allow the
water to escape from the rock-bound basin lying between that rugged
ridge of earth and Greenbrier Mountain.

The gnarled live oak, with its blasted top, where Little Snap had met
Old Solitaire so many times, stood on the west side of the ascent
leading to the Narrows, where the road wound over a spur of the
mountain, to descend into one of the wildest valleys even the hackneyed
landscape of the Old Dominion can show.

For nearly a mile, a natural shelf of rock formed the roadbed, which
actually hung out over the chasm of the Kanawha, that found its way
along the rocky bottom a hundred feet below.

Just beyond the Narrows in the first stage of the descent was a place
called "Eagle's Tracks," where a bolt of lightning or some other work of
nature had torn the rocks asunder so as to make the passage more
difficult than at any other spot.

As he reached this locality the postboy instinctively looked about him,
as if expecting some unseen foe would spring upon him from behind the
bowlders piled one on the other.

Almost at his feet lay the rock-rimmed valley known by the grewsome name
of "Devil's Wash Bowl."

The ascent on the opposite side was less abrupt, while in the far
distance, rising high above all the lesser ranges, loomed the Alleghany
Mountains, looking like a mighty wave on the sea of space.

But Little Snap had passed through this rugged scenery too often for his
gaze to rest upon it now.

"Pah!" he exclaimed, "I am foolish. Of course, they were but idle words,
though it does——"

"Hold up, younker!" suddenly broke in a harsh voice, giving an abrupt
ending to his low speech. "We have a word to say to ye."

Simultaneous with the command, two burly figures sprang from behind a
big bowlder by the wayside, and while he who spoke leveled a
short-barreled shotgun at his head, the second seized hold of Jack's
bit.

"What do you mean by? stopping me?" demanded the surprised postboy. "Let
go there, Hawk Burrnock, so I can pass on."

"In a minnit, Dix Lewis; don't git onpatient, fer ye hev got time 'nough
to git to Six Roads on tick. Ye hev a letter we want."

"Then come along with me and you can get it at the post office."

"We want it here—now!" and the firearm in the man's hand shook
ominously.

"But I have no right to open the mail pouch on the road like this. If I
am not mistaken, your mail comes to the Hollow Tree. Mr. Shag will let
you have it there."

"He won't, younker, 'cos ye air goin' to let us hev it here!"

Little Snap knew the man by sight, but better by reputation as one of
the most dangerous men living, and belonging to a gang called
"bushbinders."

"I tell you I am not allowed to open the mail anywhere. Come along——"

"Mebbe ye air 'fraid we'll rob it; but to show ye thet we air on th'
square, we'll stand back ten feet, while ye git out th' document. It's
sent to dad, Bird Burrnock. Kem, don't keep us waitin' till dark. I
sw'ar no Dan Shag shall open a letter b'longin' to our family."

"Yas; hurry up," added the other, who was a brother of the first
speaker.

Little Snap knew that his situation was a desperate one, and that there
was small chance of his getting off without yielding to the ruffians.
Still he quickly decided to baffle them if it lay in his power.

How to do that was a difficult question.

"Air ye goin' to do it?" demanded Burrnock, "or shall we hev to take it
from ye? 'Pears to me ye oughter thank us fer bein' perlite 'nough to
let ye handle the ol' sack."

"I repeat that I cannot do it, as much as I would like to oblige you. It
would be against——"

"Bah! ye could do yit ef ye felt like yit. Uncle Sam need never know ye
hev tampered with yit, 'less ye air fool 'nough to tell. Kem, once more,
an' fer the las' time, I ax ye to hand over dad's letter. Why, it's
his'n, an' ye hev no bizness to keep yit."

Little Snap had already formed a plan of action, which, if desperate,
was only in keeping with his situation.

He said:

"You say you will stand back ten feet, and will not touch me while I am
finding the letter?"

"Ye hev coined my idee, only there's to be no foolin'. Shoot ye, true ez
preachin', ef ye show the fust sign o' treachery. D'ye cave?"

"I'll do all I agree, if you will keep your word. As I dismount, you
must step back, and upon your knees you must promise you will never tell
a living soul I opened that mail pouch."

As Little Snap spoke he slipped from the saddle into the middle of the
road, the outlaws at the same time falling back a few feet.

"Rip th' ol' sack open lively, 'cos we an't got enny time to fool 'way,"
growled Buzzard Burrnock, as he loosened his hold on the bridle.

"You promise never to betray me?" questioned the postboy, putting his
hand up to the mail pouch, though not to remove it from its position on
faithful Jack's back, but to be sure that it was securely in place.

"We promise," declared the outlawed brothers in the same breath.

"Away, Jack, old boy!" cried Little Snap, sharply, dealing his trained
horse a smart blow with the flat of his hand. "On to Greenbrier!"

Then, before the surprised twain could recover enough to prevent him,
the gallant Jack leaped forward at the top of his speed, his body
swaying to and fro, striking Buzzard Burrnock in such a way as to send
him headlong down the abyss yawning on the right side of the road.

Hawk Burrnock uttered a yell of dismay as he witnessed his brother's
fate, and saw the horse dash onward down the descending way.

"The fiends take——"

He was raising his gun to fire at Little Snap as he spoke; but, in the
midst of his speech and action, the intrepid postboy snatched his
revolver from under his jacket, and, springing forward, dealt the outlaw
a blow with its butt over the head that caused him to sink to the ground
with a groan.

"I didn't like to do it," said Little Snap, as he stood over the
prostrate figure, "but he drove me to it. I do not think he is killed.
He will soon come around all right. Wonder how Buzz Burrnock has fared,"
stepping at the same time to the edge of the bluff to look into the
depths.

A dark object caught in a thicket of bushes clinging to the side of the
chasm twenty or thirty feet below soon resolved itself into the figure
of a man.

"He isn't as bad off as he might be," mused Little Snap. "Well, I will
leave the precious pair to look after themselves."

The clatter of a horse's hoofs in the Devil's Wash Bowl at that moment
told that Jack had reached the foot of the descent and was beginning to
climb the opposite heights.

The postboy quickly placed his hand to his lips in such a way as to emit
a short, sharp whistle, which rang up and down the valley with a
peculiar clearness.



                              CHAPTER II.
                           THE MISSING MAIL.


No sooner had Little Snap's shrill note rang on the air than the sound
of the hoof strokes suddenly ceased, and a glad whinny answered him.

"Noble Jack!" exclaimed the postboy; "I wouldn't give you for all the
horses I ever knew, and I love them all. You are the best friend I
have."

"Quickening his pace, he descended into the huge basin denominated the
Wash Bowl, meeting Jack, who was retracing his course at the bottom.

"Good Jack!" said the young master, gently, while he patted the head of
the faithful steed affectionately. "But we must tarry here no longer.
On, my boy, to Greenbrier."

Then Little Snap bounded lightly into the saddle, and, with a hasty
glance backward, urged Jack away from the lonely place, half expecting
to be attacked by some foe springing from behind the frowning rocks at
every moment.

But, to his relief, the ascent was made without molestation, and from
the summit he looked down upon the little town of Greenbrier in the
valley of the river of that name with a feeling of comparative safety.

The post office at this lively hamlet was managed by a woman by the odd
name of Budd Grass, who had received her appointment about the time
Little Snap had begun to carry the mail.

The postboy dashed along the crooked street, lined with its rude
habitations, until he came in sight of the post office, where he saw the
postmistress standing in the doorway, an anxious look upon her handsome
features.

She was a woman of about thirty, and had won Little Snap's friendship at
the first.

"You are late," she said, by way of greeting. "I began to get anxious
about you, for I have heard reports of trouble among the bushbinders,
and I was fearful they might molest you. You have had trouble of some
kind."

Two or three loafers were in the office, and just outside of the door
Little Snap saw a younger brother of the twain he had met so
unceremoniously on Eagle's Tracks, so he did not say what he wished.

Instead he said:

"Did you ever know me to run into any trouble I could not get out of,
Budd?"

"Not a bit, Dix Lewis," replied the postmistress, taking the pouch and
retiring to the little room dignified by the name of "private office."

While she was sorting the mail, Little Snap returned to the side of
Jack, and caressing the animal's arched neck, began to talk to it in a
way he often did.

In the midst of his affectionate treatment of his loved horse, the
postboy felt a hand laid on his shoulder, and, turning, he saw Pewee
Burrnock standing by his side.

"Meet Hawk and Buzz up yonder?" asked the bushbinder, tersely, jerking
his thumb over his shoulder as he spoke, in the direction of the
mountain crossing.

At first thought the postboy was at a loss how to reply, but he quickly
decided that it was best to tell the truth if he said anything, so he
replied:

"Yes."

"Any trouble?"

"None but what we could settle among ourselves."

"Good. An' here I want to tell yer it'll be best fer ye to be on the
square with th' boys. Understand!"

"I think I do. At any rate, I shall try and do my duty, Mr. Burrnock."

A puzzled look came over the swarthy countenance of the bushbinder, as
he was not fully satisfied with the postboy's reply, but before he could
speak again, Budd Grass appeared upon the scene with the mail bag. As
she handed it to Little Snap, she whispered:

"Look sharp! you are threatened with trouble."

Dix Lewis would fain have asked her what she meant, but he could not do
so without arousing the attention of Pewee Burrnock, which he did not
think advisable to do.

Accordingly, he bade her "good-day," and rode away from the office at a
smart canter.

Before leaving Greenbrier, however, he called upon one of the leading
citizens, whom he believed he could trust, to give him an account of the
attack of the Burrnock brothers, the other listening to his story with
amazement.

"By Jones, Dix! I don't like the looks of that. But I don't want to
scare you off the route. You may not hear anything more from them. I
will see that Rimmon goes up that way to find out if they have taken
care of themselves. If there is any further trouble of this kind, let me
know."

[Illustration:

   "Jack leaped forward, his body striking Buzzard Burrnock and
  sending him headlong down the side of the abyss."
]

Thanking Mr. Drayton for his kind words, Little Snap resumed his
journey, meeting with no adventure until he reached the next office on
his route.

This was no doubt one of the most singular post offices in the country.
It was called the Hollow Tree, and there was not a house within sight of
the lonely spot.

As Little Snap reined up at the place, a man with a slouching figure,
and a sort of hangdog look upon his sunburned features, stepped from a
hollow pine to reach for the pouch.

He was Dan Shag, a notorious character in that vicinity, of whom nothing
very bad was known, though he was a person of few friends.

This office afforded the mail facility for the inhabitants of "Blazed
Acre," an isolated settlement of lawless people, among whom dwelt the
bushbinders. The place was three miles and a half back from the post
road, and reached only by a bridle path.

"It's purty light to-day," said the postmaster, as he took the mail
pouch from the postboy and carried it into the Hollow Tree, that had
been fitted up in a rude sort of way with recesses for the few letters
and papers making up the intercourse the people of the Blazed Acre had
with the outside world.

While Dix waited for Dan Shag to sort the mail, a quartet of ill-looking
men, whom he recognized as representatives of the isolated settlement,
emerged from the growth surrounding the Hollow Tree and shambled up to
the spot.

"Meet th' boys up yonder?" asked the foremost of the newcomers, jerking
his thumb over his shoulder after the manner of Pewee Burrnock.

He was Robin, another of the brothers of that name, more
repulsive-looking than any of the others, if that were possible.

Little Snap nodded.

"Any trouble?"

Before the postboy could reply, Dan Shag reappeared upon the scene with
a startled look upon his face.

"What does this mean, boy?" he demanded, fiercely.

"I don't understand you," replied Little Snap, in surprise.

"Where's the package for Hollow Tree? The letters and things, I mean,"
he added, seeing Little Snap's look of amazement.

"In the bag with the rest," said the postboy.

"There ain't a dratted thing, an' there's alwus a big bundle o'
Wednesdays."

"You must have overlooked it, Dan. I heard Belmont, at the Salt Works,
say there was a larger package than common. It must be there."



                              CHAPTER III.
                           "I WILL BE BACK."


By this time the loafers about Hollow Tree were thoroughly alive to the
situation, and Little Snap imagined that Robin Burrnock was looking on
with great satisfaction.

"Of course there was!" exclaimed the excited Shag. "What hev ye done
with it, you young scamp?"

"What do you think I have done with it, Mr. Shag?" demanded Little Snap,
fearlessly. "If it is not there now, I know no more where it is than you
do."

"Say I have taken it, do yer?" cried Shag, fiercely. "Ye shall eat 'em
words, boy."

"That's it, Dan!" broke in one of the spectators, a big, red-whiskered
bushbinder. "If ye want enny help, call on me.

"Reckon I can handle sich a leetle ginger bub es he," replied the
postmaster. "Here's the sack; see if the Hollow Tree package is there
fer yerself."

Little Snap was standing by the side of Jack, and about six feet from
the entrance to the Hollow Tree. Bidding the horse to remain quiet, he
entered the opening, upon the bottom of which lay the mail pouch.

Giving this a kick toward him, Shag returned to his retreat behind a
barrier of poles with which the inclosure had been partitioned off.

"It is not here," said Little Snap, when he had hastily examined the
small amount of mail matter left in the pouch.

"Then where is it?"

"I do not know."

"I should like to know if it isn't your bizness to know? I shall take
the trouble to report yer at headquarters. It isn't th' fust time I have
missed letters, though I hev waited to git dead evidence agin' yer afore
I blowed.

"Boys, I call on yer to prove thet he 'lows th' Hollow Tree mail ain't
here."

"P'raps he's got yit 'bout his duds," ventured Robin Burrnock.

"S'arch him," exclaimed one of the speaker's companions.

The four started forward as if they would carry out the intention.

Little Snap had picked up the sack, and, with it lying across his left
arm, stood in the opening answering for a doorway to the "office."

The quartet stopped suddenly in their advance, either lacking the
courage to attack the determined boy, or waiting for an order from the
postmaster to do so.

"It's no use for us to git mixed up in th' muss," said the latter,
directly. "He's under Uncle Sam; but ye can count on me to report him in
short meter."

Without replying, Little Snap threw the pouch over Jack's back and
fastened it to a ring in the pommel of the saddle. Then, while the five
looked on in silence, he sprang into his seat.

"This is only th' beginnin' o' th' end," said Dan Shag, shaking his fist
after the departing postboy.

The country, after leaving the Hollow Tree, was less broken, the post
road winding through a desolate region, thinly populated, and often
lonely in the extreme.

While trying in his mind to solve the mystery of the disappearance of
the Hollow Tree mail, Little Snap allowed Jack to take his own gait,
until the Greenbrier River had been reached and he had passed over the
pole bridge.

"It is hardly possible that Budd Grass dropped it when she sorted the
mail at her office, though it is not very likely," he thought. "I will
speak to her about it to-morrow. But if she did do that, she has found
it before this and sent it on to Hollow Tree. Of course it will come out
all right, for I can't see as I am to blame. At any rate, I expect more
trouble from those Burrnocks than from the loss of that mail. What can
be on foot among the bushbinders? I have it! Perhaps some of them stole
the missing mail! But, how?"

Jack quickened his pace, and, naturally light-hearted, his rider was
putting the thoughts of his late adventures from his mind, when a sharp
voice called upon him to stop, while a wild, elfish-looking figure
sprang suddenly into the middle of the road at the imminent risk of
being trampled under the feet of the post horse.

"Hello!" exclaimed Little Snap, reining in Jack, with an abruptness
which threw the creature back upon its haunches. "What is the trouble?
and how is it you throw yourself under my horse's very feet?"

"Oh, mister! father is lost! Jim is gone, too! An' we can't find Fenn.
So come with me—quick!"

The speaker was a girl of thirteen or fourteen, who would not have been
bad looking had it not been for the coatings of tan and dirt masking her
pinched face. She was quite tall for her age, with a slender figure
clothed in a gingham gown several sizes too large for her. Her head and
feet were bare, except for the thick covering of dirt on the latter and
the heavy mat of brown hair on the former.

She was fearfully excited over something, and while she spoke she sawed
the air with her long arms in a frantic manner.

"What has happened?" asked the postboy, in genuine alarm.

"Oh, dad and the boys are gone!"

"Gone where? Calm yourself, and then tell me what you want."

"I can't stop. Mebbe they are killing now! They crawled into that dark
place, and they ain't never come out. Ye must go with me!" and she
caught hold of Little Snap's arms, nearly pulling him from his seat.

I don't understand you. Stop right where you are until you can begin at
the beginning and tell me what has happened. Who are you?"

I'm Tag Raggles, and me and my folks have jess come from Little Forks,
and was going to the Blazed Acres. We stopped jess ayont here, when,
seeing a big, black hole in the ground, dad 'lowed it mought lead
somewhere. So he crawled inter it; but he ain't come back! Jim went
arter him, and he ain't got back. Fenn, he went arter 'em, and he ain't
come back. Marm got scared well nigh to death, and she sent me down here
to hail the fust person to go past. You'll come with me, mister?"

"I can't stop. Don't be alarmed about them; they will come back all
right in a short time. No doubt they have come before this."

"No, no! Marm and me hollered and hollered, but it weren't any good. I
'lowed I weren't afraid to go in there, but marm, she wouldn't let me.
She's erbout crazy. You must go with me. It's only a little way, and you
can ride up there on your hoss if you want ter."

As much as he disliked to lose the time, Little Snap felt that it was
his duty to go to the assistance of the bereaved family. There could be
no deception in the girl's action. She was too much in earnest for that.

"You will go?"

"Yes; lead the way."

Her face brightened, as with a low exclamation of delight, she bounded
away from the road along a faintly defined path leading into the depths
of the wilderness.

At intervals Little Snap saw the marks of wheel tracks in the sparsely
grown sward, and the footprints of oxen's feet occasionally were to be
seen.

Presently, when he had begun to think he had gone far enough, they
entered a clearing in the growth near to the banks of a small stream,
which flowed on toward the Greenbrier.

On the farther side of this valley the postboy discovered a white-topped
wagon drawn up in the shadows of the forest, while a short distance away
a pair of cattle lazily clipped the long grass.

But he quickly turned from these, as a tall, slatternly-dressed woman of
uncertain age advanced swiftly from the base of bluff overlooking the
northern side of the opening, saying, in an excited tone:

"Yer found one, Tag. I'm so glad yer hev come, sir. It's a desprit fix
we air all in."

Though her explanation was hardly more easily understood than the girl's
had been, Little Snap learned that soon after her family had stopped in
the valley for a rest in their journey, her husband had discovered the
entrance to a cavern, and curious to know where it led, he had crawled
into the opening, but did not return.

Growing anxious over his long absence, her oldest boy, man grown, had
followed his father, without giving any sign of his fate. In great
excitement by this time, the second son had gone after his father and
brother, and, like the others, nothing more had been seen or heard of
him.

"It is terrible!" moaned the woman, wringing her hands. "They must be
dead, and I am left here alone in this wilderness with these three
little girls. Isn't there anything you can do?"

Little Snap had begun to examine the mouth of the cave, but as far as he
could look in he could only see the rugged walls of the narrow passage
leading gradually downward into the earth until lost in the darkness of
the underground retreat.

The opening was about two by three feet, and had been concealed by
overhanging bushes.

"I thought a bad smell kem from th' place," said the woman. "Perhaps
they were stifled by gas. I have heard of sich things."

"Or been eat up by snakes," said Tag Raggles.

Thrusting his head and shoulders into the gloomy recess, Little Snap
shouted at the top of his voice to the missing men, but only the hollow
echoes of his cries, which seemed to reverberate from a long distance
away, answered him.

"Thet ain't enny use, fer I hev hollered till I'm hoarse," declared Mrs.
Raggles, the tears coursing down her thin cheeks, while she wrung her
hands in the abandon of her grief. "Durst ye go in there, mister?"

"Yes; I am going," replied the postboy, preparing to enter the
mysterious place.

"Do be careful," implored Mrs. Raggles. "You won't be gone long, will
you?"

"I will be back in a few minutes—if I come at all. I shall——"

Little Snap's speech ended with a startling exclamation.



                              CHAPTER IV.
                         WHAT LITTLE SNAP SAW.


Before entering the unknown dangers of the mysterious cave, Little Snap
had seen that Jack was standing a short distance away, as complacently
as might be.

"If I do not come back, Jack, go on to Daring's Diamond with the mail,"
he said, speaking as if to a human being.

The intelligent animal pricked up his ears, and answered with a low
whinny.

The postboy's body was inside the mouth of the cavern when he had begun
the speech to Mrs. Raggles.

It was too dark for him to see more than that the underground pathway
descended at an angle of about forty-five degrees. But the moment his
feet touched upon this portion of the rock he suddenly found himself
slipping down the decline at a rapid rate.

In vain he threw out his hands to stop himself. The surface was like
glass, over which he shot with the rapidity of lightning.

He may have uttered a cry at the outset, but the shock was so sudden and
thrilling that he was unconscious of it if he did so. His whole
attention was centered upon trying to check his fearful momentum.

He was carried onward near to the right wall, and he succeeded in
catching upon the rough surface twice during his wild passage.

The first time his hands slipped upon the wet, slimy rock, the mishap
seemed to give greater impetus to his descent. Profiting by this
failure, he seized upon another projection with a firmer hold, but the
rocky knob broke away beneath his weight, and the piece went flying from
his bleeding fingers ahead of him on the downward course.

Its collision with the glassy floor caused a dull reverberation to go
through the subterranean recesses, quickly followed by a sharp splash of
water!

This last sound came from below him, and Little Snap had barely time to
understand that an abyss of great depth yawned at his feet before he was
upon its very brink.

The warning from the stone came barely in season for him to renew his
efforts to catch on the rugged wall, which he did with more vigor than
before.

Again he found his hold broken, by the fearful momentum with which he
was carried on, but the shock was such that he was lifted up clear from
the rock and carried completely over the chasm.

Striking on the very rim of the farther side, he managed to keep from
falling backward into the pit by a herculean effort.

The next moment, quite overcome by the ordeal, he sank upon the rock in
a sort of stupor. He soon rallied, however, when he tried to penetrate
the gloom around him sufficiently to note his surroundings.

Though his eyes grew more accustomed to the blinding gloom in a few
minutes, and it was less painful to his gaze, he was unable to see the
nearest object with any certainty. Singularly enough, a dull, gray ring
lay at his feet.

This he knew marked the abyss which he had so narrowly escaped. The spot
was oblong in shape, and about six feet in width by ten or twelve in
length.

Not a sound broke the oppressive stillness of the cavern, save a faint
murmur borne up from the depths like the gentle plashing of slowly
moving water.

By this time Little Snap had come to the conclusion that the unfortunate
Raggles, father and sons, had come to an untimely fate by falling into
the abyss, having been killed outright by the fall.

With no way to estimate the distance to the bottom of the place, all
that seemed possible for him to do was to return to the outside world.

But was this possible for him to do?

He had crossed over the abyss, but how was he to get back? Little Snap,
as fertile as he was in resources, for once was baffled.

Finding that there was no chance for him to pass over by clinging to the
wall on either side, he concluded to explore the passage beyond, with
the hope that he might find some other way of exit.

Slowly and carefully he groped his way along for several yards, finding
that the passageway followed a zig-zag course as it penetrated deeper
and deeper into the heart of the earth.

Its course, however, was no longer downward, but on a comparatively
level plane. This gave him additional courage to press on.

The walls had been high enough for him to stand upright soon after
passing the entrance.

With but a faint idea of how far he was going from the mouth of the
cavern, he pursued the winding passage for what seemed a long time to
him, when, suddenly, after turning an abrupt angle, a light flashed in
the space ahead.

This caused him to stop with surprise, and he was about to shout for
joy, feeling that he had at last found his way to daylight, when his
outburst was checked by the sound of a human voice!

Naturally of a cautious disposition, he carefully suppressed all sound,
until he should know whom he was to meet in that most unlikely place.

He soon realized that it was not daylight which had sent such a ray of
hope to his heart, but the flickering glare of a torch stuck in one of
the crevices of the cavern's rocky walls.

The first voice was quickly followed by another, and unable to see the
speakers, he crept forward as silently as possible on his hands and
knees, until he found himself at the end of the passage, and where it
opened out into a large underground room—larger than he could see by the
feeble light of the resinous pine knot.

Near the flickering torch, sitting squat upon the rocky floor, he was
amazed to behold four men, evidently holding an earnest conversation.

Ordinarily, the postboy would have made his presence known at once, but
the words already being spoken by one of the quartet were of such a
nature that he checked the salutation upon his lips and listened, with
bated breath, to the following dialogue:

"The first person to get out of the way is that postboy."

The speaker was a man above medium height, judging as he sat upon the
bottom of the cavern, and he spoke in a deep, guttural tone.

He had small, snakish eyes, and the most prominent feature of his round
face was a heavy, reddish mustache. He had the appearance of being a
military person.

All of the four were strangers to Little Snap, who was listening
intently for the next utterance.

The following speaker was a short, thickset man, with a closely-trimmed
gray beard, who said:

"That won't be a big job."

"I ain't so sure o' it," remarked a third, younger than the others, and
smaller of stature. "Shag says——"

A warning gesture from the first spokesman caused him to stop with his
sentence unfinished.

"No names are allowed to be spoken here," growled he who was evidently
leader of the party. "Don't fergit yourself again, man."

"I reckon we air safe 'nough here," retorted the other. "I'll warrant
there ain't a soul nearer'n Hollow Tree."

"Never can be too careful; rocks have ears sometimes. I could have sworn
I heard a man's voice not ten minutes ago. But it's you we came here to
hear talk," nodding his head toward the last person of the quartet, who
had remained quiet so far. "What have you learned?"

"Much that is mighty pleasing," replied the last, in a tone which caused
the concealed postboy to start with surprise.

"Hark! I thought I heard some move!" exclaimed the chief, half starting
to his feet.

"'Pears to me ye air mighty skeery to-day," growled he who had
accidentally spoken the name of the postmaster at Hollow Tree.

Little Snap crouched closer to the rock in breathless silence, fearful
he had betrayed himself.

When he had become reassured that such was not the case, he scrutinized
the fourth speaker more closely, but without discovering a familiar
feature. In the midst of his speculative study the man said:

"Yes; everything is working in our favor. I have seen him at Six Roads,
and he tells me he will back us in all we undertake. He will look after
that end of the route. We have already got at least three of the offices
under our thumb. He says he can cook the goose of that upstart who
thinks he can run the Kanawha any way he chooses. The governor says for
us to keep still until he can carry out a little plan of his, and
then——"

"Men get rusty lying around in the damp," said the chief.

"Better get a little rusty than to take too much risk. It's my opinion
we can do no better than to wait his move."

"What will the Acreites do while we loll around?"

"Let 'em do what they please; we ain't going to leave a grease spot of
them before we get through. I tell you it is the biggest scheme ever
afoot since the days of old Burr, and when we have carried out our plans
we can snap our fingers at even Uncle Sam."

"That all sounds well, but I ain't so much confidence in that old duffer
at Six——Hello! what's up?"

The abrupt appearance of a newcomer upon the fitful scene caused every
man of the four to spring to his feet, and instinctively each sought the
firearm he carried at his side.

"It is only our guard," said the chief, as he recognized the intruder.
"What is up, Blake? Anything wrong?"

"There are strangers in the valley!" replied the newcomer.



                               CHAPTER V.
                            CLOSE QUARTERS.


"Have we been found?" asked the four in the same breath.

"Not that I know of. The party that I meant seem to be a family stopped
here for a rest, though I could not see anything of the men folks. They
may be off gunning."

"If there is no danger, what did you alarm us for?" demanded the chief.

"I ain't through yet," replied the other, doggedly. "There is some one
else in the valley besides them. Perhaps he came with them."

"Who is this other? Why don't you pack your ideas up together?"

"I ain't seen the chap himself," continued the man, in his deliberate
way, "but the postboy of the Kanawha is somewhere around about these
diggings."

Had a thunderbolt fallen among them the men could not have shown greater
surprise.

"Where is he?" the four asked, again using the same words.

"I tell you I don't know. His horse is on the other side of the bluff,
feeding as quietly as you please. The mail sack in on his back. Perhaps
he has throwed his rider."

"Dix Lewis in this region!" exclaimed the chief, ignoring the last
statement of the messenger. "There is work for us to do, boys! Come——"

At this juncture, the torch, which, unnoticed by all, had been dying
out, flared up for an instant and then went out, leaving the little
group enveloped in darkness.

"The furies!" cried one of the men. "Who's got anything to make a
light?"

"Follow me!" commanded the chief, "and let the light alone. We must find
that boy without any loss of time. His presence here at this——"

Little Snap failed to catch the rest, but he had heard enough to know
that he must be active, too. From the sounds, he knew the party were
leaving their underground rendezvous.

Aware that it would not do for these men to capture his horse with the
mail, his mind was filled with conflicting plans of action. His first
impulse was to return the way he had come, but he realized that it would
be impossible for him to cross the chasm, even could he scale the
slippery ascent beyond. Possibly, if he were coming the opposite way, he
might leap the abyss, though that would be extremely doubtful.

Only one avenue of escape seemed open to him, and that was to follow
upon the heels of his enemies!

He had not a moment to lose if he did this, and, without further
consideration, he glided across the cavern room in the direction taken
by the five men.

Guided by the sounds of their advance, while moving as noiselessly as
possible himself, Little Snap threaded the circuitous passage, keeping
but a few yards behind them.

After a short distance, the way began to ascend by irregular stone
steps, to climb which Little Snap had to exercise great caution not to
betray his presence. Once, as the party suddenly paused, he found
himself within a few feet of the group, but owing to the darkness he was
not discovered.

"Hang it!" exclaimed the chief, after a moment's stop, "I have dropped
that letter somewhere. I think it must be where we were sitting. Blake,
go back and find it; and then keep a watch over the entrance to the cave
until we return."

Little Snap held his breath at the sound of this order, and when he
heard the man turning back, he felt that he was lost.

Without losing his presence of mind, he shrank back as close to the
nearest wall as he could, and silently awaited the approach of the
other.

He hadn't long to wait, for the next moment Blake's heavy step told that
he was near at hand. Then the postboy felt his bulky form brush against
him!

"I shall be glad when we get out of this place!" muttered the man, as he
stumbled on past the crouching figure of our hero.

During this time the others were leaving the cavern, and as soon as he
dared, Little Snap started forward, feeling now that every moment was of
infinite value to him.

A little farther on a streak of daylight struggling into the dismal
pathway told that they were approaching the end of the passage.

In fact, the men were already crawling out of the small aperture that
afforded an exit from the cave.

As closely as he dared, Little Snap followed after them, and when he
could no longer hear their movements he ventured to peer out. As at the
other place of entrance, the mouth of the cavern was overgrown with
stunted bushes, so as to be well concealed from sight. He found, too,
that the spot was nearly twenty-five feet from the ground, it being
midway up the side of the bluff.

A small stone rattling down the side of the declivity, passing within a
few inches of his head, warned him of the close proximity of his
enemies.

It also told him that they had ascended to the top of the cliff. In
fact, that seemed the only way of escape from the place, as the rock
descended smooth and perpendicular to the bottom.

With greater caution than ever, he noiselessly scaled the ascent in the
footsteps of the four men, who were hastening to find him.

As his head came on a level with the top of the rocky heights, he
discovered them approaching the opposite side, creeping cautiously
toward the edge overlooking the clearing where the Raggles family had
camped, and where he had left Jack.

A movement below him at that moment warned him of the return of Blake
from his search for the missing letter. Glancing downward, he saw the
head of the other appearing in the mouth of the cave!

Little Snap began to realize that he was in close quarters.

To retreat would be to throw himself into the arms of the enemy behind,
while it would be even greater madness to ascend to the summit.

No sooner had Little Snap taken a hasty survey of his situation than he
decided that by following along the side of the bluff he might reach a
place where he could descend in safety to the valley.

With an agility belonging to one of his years, he advanced on the side
of the cliff, finding a foothold in some crevice of the ledge or on a
bush, and clinging with a tenacious hold to its precarious support.

But he had not gone half a dozen yards before a sharp cry from Blake
told that he had been discovered.

"Here he goes!" shouted the excited man, regardless of all caution now.

The cries were answered by a great commotion among those on the summit,
and he heard the chief call out some question he did not understand.

"He's climbin' along th' rock!" cried Blake. "Head him off, an' ye hev
got him!"

The next instant four heads were thrust over the brink within a rod of
where Little Snap was suspended in midair!

"Hold up where you are!" commanded the chief, whose sharp eyes had
discovered the fugitive.

Without stopping to reply, the postboy dropped from the bush supporting
him in a diagonal direction to another several feet below.

"Don't let him get away!" cried the chief.

"Hold up there, boy, where you are, and we won't hurt you! Stop, or we
will end your career at once. We hold your life in our hands."

Little Snap knew enough of the natures of the men menacing his life to
feel that he was running no greater risk in trying to get away from them
than he would in allowing himself to fall into their power.

Accordingly, without paying any heed to the warning, he swung himself
forward and downward to a narrow shelf on the side of the ledge, where
he found himself in sight of the clearing in front of the bluff.

Casting a swift glance over the scene, he saw Jack standing nearly where
he had left him. He also saw Mrs. Raggles and her three girls picking up
the rude utensils they had used in getting their lunch, and tossing them
into the wagon. But what surprised him the most was the sight of old man
Raggles and his two boys, in the act of hitching the oxen to the
vehicle!

He barely took this all in at a glance, without having time to give it a
second thought.

He was now about fifteen feet from the foot of the ledge, and seeing
that the way was clear beyond, he unhesitatingly dropped from his
precarious perch into the bushes growing near to the mouth of the cave.

As he did so, the reports of the outlaws' firearms rang out sharply on
the silence of the wild woods.

Quickly regaining his equilibrium, Little Snap bounded toward the side
of the surprised Jack, who looked up with wonder at his sudden approach.



                              CHAPTER VI.
                    LITTLE SNAP'S TROUBLES INCREASE.


Though Little Snap was aware that he was running the gantlet of the
rifles of the bushbinders, he kept on undaunted, until he had reached
the side of his horse.

The next moment he sprang lightly into the saddle, and gathering up the
reins, shouted:

"Away, Jack! show them a light pair of heels!"

The faithful steed needed no urging to do this, and with the reports of
the baffled men's firearms and the cries of the startled Raggles family
ringing in his ears, the postboy of the Kanawha dashed furiously down
the path leading to the main road from Greenbrier to Six Roads.

Not a word escaped his tightly compressed lips, until the highway was
reached, when he patted his horse on the neck, saying, gently:

"Easy, now, Jack, old boy; the danger is over for the present. It was a
close call, but a miss is as good as a mile, though I don't care to go
through that experience again."

Slackening his gait to an easy canter, Jack bore his rider on without
further urging. The truth was, the postboy's mind was busy trying to
solve the subject of the meeting in the cave of the four unknown men. He
was also puzzled to understand the actions of the Raggles family. While
he could not believe that their story to get him into the cave had been
a hoax, he was unable to understand their reappearance upon the scene.

The postboy was still trying to solve these problems, when he reached a
small town called by the singular name of Daring's Diamond.

He found the postmaster, Mr. Anderson, impatiently awaiting his
appearance.

"Late again," greeted the official, in a disagreeable tone.

"I could not very well help it," replied Little Snap, handing him the
mail pouch.

"That is what you say every time. You are an hour overdue. Mr. Meiggs,
who has just gone out, has been talking pretty loud about you. If I were
in your place, I would not let this happen again. People who are having
mail want it on time. It may not make any difference to the Blazed Acre
cattle, but it does to civilized people, I have noticed."

It wasn't so much what the postmaster said as the way in which he said
it that nettled Little Snap, though he made no reply. This Mr. Meiggs
referred to was one of the postboy's bondsmen.

"I suppose you know Dan Shag has gone up to see Jason Warfield about the
Hollow Tree mail?" said the postmaster, as he handed over the sack. "Of
course you know; what a fool I am! He must have passed you 'tween here
and the Tree."

To this Little Snap made no reply. He knew Anderson was saying these
things to draw him out. The postmaster, for some unknown reason, had
never acted friendly toward him.

He never could understand why.

It was never Little Snap's practice to hold much conversation with those
he met on his route, and on this occasion he felt less like talking than
common.

He was due at Union Six Roads, the end of his route, at eight o'clock,
and it was already past that hour, it having been sunset at the time of
his escape from his enemies at the cave.

[Illustration:

  "The reports of the outlaws' firearms rang out sharply on the silence
  of the wild woods as Little Snap bounded toward Jack."
]

Thus he took the mail pouch from Mr. Anderson's hands, and throwing it
on its accustomed hook, sprang into his seat before that worthy could
realize he was leaving.

"Hold up a minnit!" he exclaimed, as the postboy dashed away, but not
loud enough for him to hear. "Go it!" muttered the other, "I shan't
forget it in my report. I reckon you'll wish you hadn't been in so much
of a hurry when you come to meet old Warfield."

Little thinking of what was in store for him at his home town, the
postboy urged Jack on at greater speed than common, until at last he
dashed up in front of the Six Roads post office, kept by John Rimmon,
who also had a small trade in groceries.

The postmaster met him at the door, with a troubled look upon his
features.

"What in the world have you been doing all this time, Dix Lewis? Hold
on! don't dismount. Jason Warfield left word here for me to tell you to
come right up to his house the minute you got in. He wants to see you on
matters of vital importance. Them's just his words."

"Well, I will run up and see just as soon as I have put Jack in the
stable."

"But he said you mustn't stop for that. He said for you to be sure and
come the minute you got here. By his looks and actions, it must be
something of very great importance."

The Honorable Jason Warfield, as that rather pompous gentleman desired
to be known, was considered one of the richest men in Monroe County. In
some way, not easily understood by the easy-going inhabitants of Six
Roads, a large proportion of the property in town was in his name, and
it was doggedly repeated that "he had a mortgage on the rest."

Be that as it may, no move of any importance was made without consulting
him, and his sanction to any undertaking was deemed sufficient to insure
its success. Of course, such a man had his enemies, but as a rule he was
liked.

His was the first name on the Postboy of the Kanawha's bond, and it was
generally supposed that he had been principally instrumental in securing
Little Snap his situation.

It was no wonder then that the postmaster looked surprised when our hero
said that he was going to care for his horse before he visited Mr.
Warfield.

"I wouldn't take any such chances," declared the worthy minion of the
government, with an ominous shake of his grizzled locks.

Little Snap's home was but a short distance from the post office, so he
was quickly there, to be met at the door by his mother and two sisters,
both of the latter being younger than he, the three looking very
anxious.

"Where have you been, my son?" asked his mother. "We have been so
worried about you. And Mr. Warfield has been here, acting very much put
out. He wants you to come up to his house as soon as possible. Something
terrible has happened, I know."

"Nothing to be alarmed about, mother. But if Bess will take care of
Jack, I will go right up to Mr. Warfield's, though I cannot imagine what
he is so anxious to see me for."

"He is terribly excited about something. I would go at once, if I were
you, and I will have your supper warm for you when you get back."

"Is father at home?" asked Little Snap.

"No; I have not seen him to-day. He stays away more than ever of late.
Why did you ask?"

"Oh, nothing. Give Jack a good supper, Bess, and see that he is
comfortable for the night. There, mother, don't be worried any more. I
won't be gone long this time."

It was nothing unusual, as Mrs. Lewis had inferred, for John Lewis, our
hero's father, to be away from home. In fact, it was very seldom he was
there, and when he was he hardly ever did any work or business. He was a
man of a few words and very peculiar habits. His neglect of his family
had made it necessary that Dix do something for their support.

Kissing his mother, as was his practice when leaving home, Little Snap
turned away to start on his visit to Mr. Warfield's, when he saw a party
of men approaching the house.

"Why, it's Mr. Warfield in front!" exclaimed his mother. "He got
impatient waiting for you. And there is Mr. Meiggs and Daniel Shag, of
Hollow Tree, and—and Mr. Bardy, the sheriff. Oh, Dix! what does it
mean?"

"Nothing to be alarmed over, I am sure, mother, so be calm."

In a louder tone of voice, he greeted the newcomers, saying:

"Good-evening, gentlemen. I was starting to come up to your house, Mr.
Warfield."

"Was that the direction I left at the post office for you to follow,
young man?" demanded Mr. Warfield, sternly.

"No, sir; but Jack was so tired that I thought——"

"So you put more importance upon the condition of your horse than you do
the affairs of Uncle Sam?"

"Not exactly that; but I did not know you wished to see me upon
government matters. I——"

"It seems to me, young man, that you should have been very anxious to
see me, if I was not to see you, after what has happened to-day. Mr.
Shag was so much concerned about it that he rode up here posthaste to
let me know. He tells me you have lost the Hollow Tree packet of mail."

"Mr. Shag said it was missing, sir, when I got to his office; but I
trust you do not think it any of my fault. Mr. Belmont——"

"The horse does not seem very badly winded," broke in Sheriff Brady, who
had approached Jack, and was running his hand over the creature's body.
"Ha! Mr. Warfield, I hardly think we shall have to look much farther for
the missing mail. Here it is, fast enough."

Little Snap uttered a low exclamation of astonishment, as he saw the
sheriff take from the little pouch he had fastened to the saddle for his
convenience in carrying small articles to and fro on his trips, the
missing package of mail matter!

All feelings imaginable were depicted upon the countenances of the
little group surrounding the postboy.



                              CHAPTER VII.
                       "THE TRUTH IN A NUTSHELL."


"This explains why he did not wish to come up to your house with his
hoss, squire," said Dan Shag, nodding his head toward the recovered
package. "I thought it was best to git here as soon as possible."

The sheriff was examining the package more closely, while Mr. Warfield
looked from him to the postboy with a peculiar expression upon his face.

"What does all this mean?" asked Mrs. Lewis, in an anxious voice. "My
boy has done nothing wrong; I am sure of that."

"Do not be alarmed, mother," said Little Snap, gently. "Please go into
the house, and I will explain it to these men."

"So you confess to the theft?" inquired Mr. Warfield, quickly, without
giving Mrs. Lewis time to speak.

"No, sir. In fact, I do not know as there has been any theft."

"Don't get excited, my boy," said Mr. Warfield, in a more kindly tone
than he had previously used. "We are all your friends, and are not here
to injure you. Mr. Shag came up to tell me about the missing package,
and I thought it was best for us to see you before it had been noised
all over town. Own up to the truth and we will not be hard with you."

"I am not going to tell you anything but the truth, Mr. Warfield. How
that package of mail came in my saddle pocket is more than I can
explain. I certainly did not put it there, nor did I know it was there."

"Ask him if he can explain where he has been the past two hours. I came
straight up here from th' Tree, an' he was sartinly not on th' road.
P'raps he has a cross road by which he carries th' mail. I s'pose thet
would give him more chance to look over th' letters; but is thet the way
Uncle Sam expects him to carry it?"

"Mr. Warfield," said Little Snap, knowing it was not best for him to
speak too freely before the rest, "I would like to see you alone for a
few minutes. I think I can explain this matter in a satisfactory
manner."

"Don't be afraid to speak right up before these gentlemen," said Mr.
Warfield. "They are all my friends, and my friends are yours."

But Little Snap was too crafty to divulge his secret to Dan Shag, whom
he did not dare to trust.

"I cannot speak here where I am liable to be heard by some one even you
would not care to have hear. If you will come into my house, Mr.
Warfield, I will say what I wish you to know."

"Don't ye risk yer life in his hands," said Shag. "He is armed an' a
desprit chap."

"Hadn't I better arrest him now, and then give him his chance to talk?"
asked the sheriff.

"Arrest my boy?" cried Mrs. Lewis. "You do—you cannot mean it."

"Be calm, mother. You have nothing to fear. They can arrest me if they
wish, but I am innocent of any charge they can bring against me. On what
complaint did you think you could arrest me, Mr. Brady?"

"I don't believe I would harm him yet, Jim," Mr. Warfield hastened to
say. "If you have anything you wish to say to me alone, Dix, I am ready
to listen."

"Come into the house, please, Mr. Warfield. I won't detain you very
long."

"We'll see he don't git away," said Shag.

Without noticing Dan Shag's speech, Mr. Warfield followed Little Snap
into the house in silence.

As soon as they had entered the humble sitting-room, and Mr. Warfield
had sunk into the proffered chair, the postboy said to his guest:

"What I am going to tell you, Mr. Warfield, is not so much in my defense
as it is to show up a startling discovery I have made. If you will allow
me, I will begin with an adventure I had on Eagle's Tracks, and tell you
just how I came in late to-night."

"Go ahead, only make your story as short as you can."

Then Little Snap gave a succinct account of all that had befallen him
after leaving Uncle Solitaire until he had effected his escape from the
cave, often interrupted by his listener with startling exclamations and
puzzling questions.

"You are romancing, boy! I cannot realize half you say. Why, from your
talk I should say you had unearthed a band of plotters against the
government."

"I do not know just what they meant, but I do know they are a gang of
evil men, who would hesitate at no means to carry their ends."

"While I am surprised at what you have said, your statements are lacking
in the elements that would make them valuable as evidence. You say you
did not get the real drift of the talk between the four men, and that
you recognized none of them."

"I do not think I ever saw them before, though the voice of one sounded
very familiar."

"Will you describe the party?"

Little Snap did so, Mr. Warfield listening intently, to say, at his
conclusion:

"I do not believe we should attribute any harmful meaning to what they
said. The very fact that they were strangers to both of us, and I know
nearly every one in Monroe County, would seem to warrant us in believing
so. By the way, do you realize the error you made in neglecting your
duty to run after those worthless Raggles—I think that was the name you
called those vagabonds?"

"I am aware, sir, it was a mistake. I——"

"Mistake? It was criminal neglect of duty, young man. The rules and
regulations laid down by Uncle Sam are very strict. You are to keep all
the mail intrusted to your hands in sight at all times, and here you
went off for an hour and, according to your own story, left the mail
pouch entirely unprotected. Why, that very act was enough to cost you
your situation. Remember I am not upbraiding you, but speaking to you as
a father would to his son."

"I know I did wrong, Mr. Warfield, but the circumstances were such that
I could scarcely do different. Mrs. Raggles——"

"Don't mention their names again. From your own words, the worthless
vagabonds could not have been in trouble. It seems they were safe enough
when you got clear of your troubles."

"I do not understand it, Mr. Warfield. I have carried the Kanawha mail
for two years without failing to do my duty, and I hope you have
confidence in me to think I can fulfill my term."

"I did at the outset, or I should never have obtained the place for you.
But I must feel that you are attending to your duties. My political
prospects are such that I am expecting piles of mail matter, and I want
to know that it is coming to me safely. My very election to Congress may
depend upon it."

Mr. Warfield had been a seeker after the nomination as member for
Congress from that district almost as long as our hero could remember,
and he well knew that he was still in the field—"in the hands of his
friends," as he expressed it.

"Mr. Warfield," said the postboy, in his quiet, determined way, "I am
not going to make any new promise, but I repeat those I have made, and
when you have found me faithless to my duty I will willingly make room
for Mr. Shag or any other man."

The mention of the name of the postmaster of Hollow Tree made the
politician wince.

"Bah! he isn't half so competent to carry the mail as your horse, Jack."

"Still he is making all of this trouble, simply because he is mad with
me for getting the route when he wanted it. There you have the truth in
a nutshell."



                             CHAPTER VIII.
                    "I AM STANDING ON MY OWN FEET."


"I don't know but you are right, Dix. Still, you haven't explained the
worst feature of your case. How came the missing package of mail in your
possession?"

"I cannot tell. Some one must have put it there, but who or when, I
cannot say."

"You said it was missing before you got to Hollow Tree?"

"No, sir. I said it was not in the pouch when I looked for it at the
request of Mr. Shag; but you must remember I did not see the pouch until
after he had examined it, and had had the opportunity to take it out if
he had chosen."

"Be careful how you make any charges you cannot back up. I must say you
are exceedingly outspoken."

"I am standing on my own feet, Mr. Warfield, and I am going to tell you
just what I believe is the truth. I will know the mystery of that packet
of mail before I get through. You seem to forget the attack of the
Burrnocks."

"On the contrary, I have been thinking of them very much, and this leads
me to give you a bit of advice. I advise you to give up this mail route
at once. You were too young to have undertaken it."

Little Snap looked up with surprise.

"I hardly expected that from you, Mr. Warfield."

"Excuse me, I was thinking only of your good. Those Burrnocks are
desperate men, and I fear it will cost you your life to continue.
Perhaps you think you cannot afford to give up so good a job, but you
can better spare it than your life."

"Our living depends on my work," replied the postboy, with a quivering
lip. "More than that, and what I prize infinitely higher, my honor is at
stake. If I give up now, it will look as if I was guilty of the charge
of taking the mail. I feel it thus my duty to stay where I am, until I
have been able not only to prove my innocence but to show up the guilty
ones."

"You cannot do this alone, and, of course, if those who have put you in
this place do not think it prudent to back you up in your rashness, you
cannot blame them."

Little Snap understood more by this statement than the mere words told,
as the speaker intended he should. Drawing his boyish figure to its full
height with an air which made the politician start with surprise, if not
fear, he said:

"Mr. Warfield, I want to know who my friends are, and you and I might as
well have an understanding at the outset as later. Of course I am very
grateful to you for signing my bond and helping me so far as you have.
Now, if you wish to withdraw, I shall have no ill feeling; but you must
remember that Mr. Marion Calvert owns the contract for this route, and
as long as he has confidence in me to carry the mail I do not expect to
give way."

Little Snap was bolder in his speech than he might otherwise have been,
as he knew that Mr. Warfield was anxious to keep on friendly terms with
this Mr. Calvert, who had a strong political backing.

Mr. Warfield's reply, which came after a moment's hesitation, was more
friendly than he had dared to expect.

"Bravo for you, Dix Lewis! Give me your hand. You are made of just the
stuff to succeed, and I can see that you will do better than nine men
out of ten. Your words have opened my eyes. Go ahead, and count upon me
to lend you all the assistance in my power. Every dollar I have got in
this world and all of my personal influence is enlisted in your behalf.
I don't know how the other bondsmen feel, but you know my state of mind.

"I suppose the others are anxiously awaiting us, so let's adjourn this
meeting. I will make it all right with Brady."

Little Snap, after thanking Mr. Warfield for his words, sought his
mother to allay her fears.

Whatever the politician said to the Hollow Tree postmaster and Sheriff
Brady he did not know, but the entire party went away at once.

"It's all right, mother," he said to her, as soon as the men had gone,
"so have no further concern."

"I wish I could think so, my son; but somehow I fear there is trouble in
store for you. Mr. Brady has been telling me about those Burrnocks, and
he says they will kill you at the first opportunity. They are dreadful
men, and I fear they would not hesitate at any crime. I wish you would
give up carrying the mail, Dix; we can live somehow."

"It isn't all a living, mother; my good name is at stake now."

"The boy has too much of the blood of old John Lewis in his veins to do
that, Mary," said a new voice, breaking in upon the scene before Mrs.
Lewis could reply, and mother and son turned to see with surprise a
tall, middle-aged man standing in the doorway.

He was Little Snap's father.

"Why, John! Where have you been?" asked Mrs. Lewis, starting toward him.
"I have been so worried about you."

"No need of that, Mary. I think I ought to have shown you by this time
that I am able to take care of myself."

Mr. Lewis was a man who was a mystery to all who knew him. He was
generally considered mildly insane, but more often spoken of as "the man
without a memory." His past life seemed to be a void to him, except at
rare intervals, when a ray of light would suddenly flash across his
darkened mind, to go as quickly as it had come. Of late years he had
been at home but very little, though where he spent his time not even
those at home knew. Of course his wife worried over his strange conduct,
but as long as he was harmless and seemed, as he had said, able to care
for himself, it was not thought best to keep him at home by force.

The Lewis family was one of the oldest and most respected in the valley
of the Kanawha, our hero being directly descended from those gallant
pioneers of the dark days of the Old Dominion, John and Samuel Lewis,
well known to the pages of Virginia history.

"John," said the anxious wife, "I wish you would not be away from home
so much. What is it calls you away so much? You look pale and haggard;
there is some trouble."

"There is trouble, Mary, and I have been trying to think what it is. For
the present we must wait, though it will all come round in good season.

"Did I tell you, my son, that you had aroused the snakes of Blazed Acre?
You must carry a level head. Most of all, look out for those who profess
the greatest friendship. There, that is all I can think of now. I must
leave you now, Mary. I will be back again to stop longer next time."

Then, in spite of their remonstrances, he went out of the house and was
not seen again that night.

Though it was late before our hero retired, he was on hand at his usual
hour the following morning, and promptly at six he called at the post
office for the mail pouch.

According to his instructions he was expected to leave Six Roads at six
o'clock and arrive at Upper Loop at eleven in the forenoon; returning,
he was to start from the last office at two in the afternoon, to get
back to the home office at eight in the evening. To do this, he made a
shift of horses at Salt Works, with extra animals at the end of the
route to go every other day.

This was the day for Jack to rest, Little Snap riding a small, brown
mare that he had named Fairy. Though not as intelligent as the bay, she
was even fleeter of foot and perfectly obedient to the will of her young
master.

"So you are going to try it again," said the postmaster, as he handed
out the pouch. "I advise you to keep your eyes open, and not to lose
sight of your business again."

Hardly knowing how to take this speech, the postboy nodded in assent,
and touching Fairy lightly, dashed down the descending road toward
Daring's Diamond.

It was a beautiful day in early autumn, and it was but natural a
seventeen-year-old boy, full of life and activity, should throw off the
cares and anxieties of his position, to break forth into snatches of
song.

"I never felt so light-hearted in my life!" he cried, "and I hail it as
a good omen. I can't think that you and I, Fairy, will find any such
hornets' nest to come through as Jack and I did yesterday."

Thus, with a cheerfulness which puzzled those who knew of his adventures
the previous day, Little Snap kept on without interruption, until he was
about halfway between Hollow Tree and Greenbrier, when he was surprised
to see Tag Raggles spring from the bushes by the wayside into his path.

"I want to speak to you, mister," she said.

"Well," said the postboy, reining up Fairy, and waiting for the
elfin-like girl to speak.

Giving a hurried glance around, as if expecting to see some one in
pursuit of her, she said:

"Dad sent me, an' he said he did yit for the kindness you tried to do
him yesterday. He said for you not to go on alone. Them bad Burrnocks
are laying in the rock in Devil's Wash Bowl to kill you as you go
erlong! Fact!" seeing Little Snap's look of doubt on his face.

"Don't tell who told you," and before he could speak she had vanished
into the depths of the woods.



                              CHAPTER IX.
                            A TERRIFIC TRAP.


It would have been difficult to describe Little Snap's feelings, as he
listened to the sounds of Tag Raggles' retreat, following her strange
warning.

"It may have been only a scare, after all," he mused, as he resumed his
journey. "I judge the source whence it came is not very reliable. It
would do me no good to speak of the affair at Greenbrier. The mere
mention of the name of Burrnock is enough to give them the fits there.
But I will keep my eyes open if I decide to go it alone."

Though at first he thought of mentioning the matter to the postmistress,
Little Snap concluded to say nothing of the threatened danger, while
determined not to be caught off his guard.

Thus he rode into the Wash Bowl that day with uncommon nervousness, and
an ear and an eye trained for whatever might come. The rustling of a
leaf would cause him to start, and once he felt sure he saw the outlines
of a man's form behind one of the bowlders.

But no manifestation of danger presented itself, and with rising hopes
he ascended the way to the Narrows, expecting now that if he was
attacked at all it would be on Eagle's Tracks, where he had so narrowly
escaped from the desperadoes of Blazed Acre the day before.

The trepidation on the part of the postboy does not by any means go to
show that he was lacking in true courage, but it was rather the natural
consequence under the circumstances.

He drew a good, long breath of relief as at last he passed over the
summit and caught a wide view of the broadening valley of the Kanawha.

"The warning was a scare, or Raggles was mistaken," he said, aloud. "But
I will confess it was trying. Move a little faster, Fairy."

Little Snap was never accosted by the old hermit on his downward trips,
so he met with no interruption until Salt Works was reached, where he
changed horses and resumed his journey with less than fifteen minutes'
delay.

"Our future congressman seems to be well favored to-day," remarked the
postmaster at Upper Loop, when Little Snap was ready to start on his
return trip at two o'clock. "He has no less than six registered letters,
and I imagine some of them are valuable."

The postboy paid little heed to this careless speech, not realizing how
vividly he was to recall it before he got home.

"Well, well," said the gossipy clerk at the Salt Works office, "the
Honorable Jason is in luck this time. Six registered letters, and a
nomination in each one, I suppose. To speak the truth, I suspicion he
would give all these letters for a seat in Congress."

Once more borne by a good steed, Little Snap began his tedious ascent
over the mountain forming the huge backbone between the valleys of the
Great and Little Kanawha and Greenbrier.

He found Uncle Solitaire awaiting him under the live oak, with the usual
question and melancholy message, after which he reached Greenbrier
without adventure.

"Six registered letters for Mr. Warfield," said the postmistress at
Greenbrier, as if there was a conspiracy to keep this fact fresh in
Little Snap's mind.

However, he heard nothing further of the precious letters until he had
accomplished his hard day's work and given the mail pouch into the hands
of Mr. Rimmon at Six Roads.

Nothing unusual had occurred at home during the day, and after supper
the postboy went into the post office, where he found a dozen or more
men gathered.

Whatever the subject of their conversation had been, it was suddenly
dropped upon his appearance.

He did not intend to stop, and inquiring if there was any mail for those
at his home, he was turning away, when he heard Mr. Warfield, in his
loud tone:

"Only three, Mr. Rimmon? I am sure there ought to be more."

"That is all reaching this office, Mr. Warfield."

"They may get along to-morrow, but I was expecting three or four others,
and two of them I was certain would come to-day. You must have
overlooked them."

Little Snap's attention was held by these words, and instantly his mind
reverted to the six registered letters. Had one-half of them failed to
reach their destination?

In the midst of his speculations Mr. Warfield approached him, to inquire
about his day's trip.

"Don't fail to let me know if anything unusual happens, Dix, though I
hope you will get along without further trouble. Perhaps you will. By
the way, I do not suppose you know anything about my registered
letters?"

"I would not be expected to, would I, Mr. Warfield?" replied Little
Snap, answering him with another question.

"No; I hardly suppose you would. Still you want to keep your eyes and
ears open. I had some letters due to-night which have not come. But
to-morrow will bring them or explain the reason of their not coming."

At the first opportunity Little Snap inquired of Mr. Rimmon concerning
the letters, to learn that there were really three less than had passed
through the offices on his route as far as Greenbrier to his knowledge.

"Why, there were six, Mr. Rimmon, started from Loop, and Budd Grass said
there were as many at her office."

"What! That don't seem possible," replied Mr. Rimmon, in great surprise.
"Who would dare to stop them?"

"That is what is puzzling me."

"Say, Dix," cried the postmaster, abruptly, "if I were you I wouldn't
mention this to any one else. Don't you see, it looks bad for you."

"But I haven't had the handling of them."

"I know; but at the same time it might cause a suspicion against you. I
hope they will come to-morrow. I won't say anything about them, and we
will see what a day brings forth."

Not wishing to give his mother any unnecessary alarm, Little Snap said
nothing of the missing letters at home, though he was troubled not a
little in his mind concerning their fate.

Mr. Rimmon did not mention them the following morning, nor did any of
the other postmasters on his route, so nothing disturbed the even tenor
of his trip, until he was entering the gloomy region of the Devil's Wash
Bowl and thoughts of the Burrnocks of Blazed Acre succeeded those of the
missing letters.

Naturally enough Little Snap's gaze was fixed upon the rugged scene
ahead, with that intentness born of the intuition of danger. He was
passing that point in the descent into the Bowl where for a few minutes
the craggy heights would be hidden from his view, when he was surprised
to see a white speck appear for a moment upon the dark background.

Quickly stopping Jack, he soon saw a similar object rise above the
beetling rocks of the Narrows, and after wavering for a moment in the
air sink out of sight.

At a loss to know what these meant, he watched the place for several
minutes, though he saw nothing further to explain the mystery.

Resolved not to be caught off his guard, if any harm was intended him,
he rode cautiously forward into the valley and on up the Devil's Stairs
leading to Eagle's Tracks.

Not a sound broke the solemn silence of the wild scene, save the steady
tread of Jack's feet, and Snap began to breathe easier as he approached
the upper edge of the Tracks and drew near the Narrows.

"In a moment I shall be around the point of rock and——"

A terrific explosion suddenly cut short his thoughts, and looking
backward, he was startled to see a huge portion of the cliff overhanging
the narrow road topple over and fall with a deafening crash on the spot
he had just passed.

Jack jumped madly forward at the startling sound, unchecked by his
rider, who was as anxious as the steed to get beyond the frowning wall
of rocks.

The next moment he reached the Narrows and was almost at the angle where
the way suddenly wound around to the other side of the cliff, when a
second explosion, more startling than the first, broke upon the air.
Looking up with dread expectations of what he was to witness, the
postboy reeled back in his saddle as he saw the whole side of the ledge
falling upon him, while huge blocks of stone were sent flying over his
head into the chasm yawning upon his left hand.

Too late to reach safety ahead, unable to turn back, a shudder ran
through his frame, as he realized that the next moment he must be
crushed into a shapeless mass by the rending rock!



                               CHAPTER X.
                     LITTLE SNAP'S REMARKABLE RIDE.


The thrill of terror which ran through the postboy's form at sight of
the reeling cliff swiftly descending upon him was quickly followed by
the ready decision of action so natural to him.

Given but an instant in which to think and act, a less level-headed
person must have been caught under the massive block of granite. Not one
in a hundred would have had the nerve to do what Dix Lewis dared in that
awful moment.

A glance showed him that there was only one way of escape from the
falling slice of ledge, and even that led to what seemed as certain
death in another form.

But there was one chance in a thousand, and that hope was enough to
nerve him to action.

The sheer descent to the Kanawha was over a hundred feet at this spot,
but in a wild leap down this fearful chasm lay his sole hope.

With a sharp cry of encouragement to Jack, he spurred the faithful steed
forward—forward to the brink of the frightful depths, where for a moment
horse and rider seemed suspended in midair.

Another shout to the trembling horse, a wild glance backward, and the
Postboy of the Kanawha made the flying leap to what seemed instant
death!

As he was carried downward as if on wings of air, a sharp cry rang on
his ears, while his last look at the cliff had shown him the well-known
figure of Buzzard Burrnock outlined with vivid distinctness on the
uppermost point of the bluff.

Then his breath almost left him, and a suffocating sensation came over
him, quickly ended by a loud splash of water, and the furious struggling
of the gallant Jack, as he reached the surface of the rolling Kanawha.

Little Snap seemed to lose his senses for a time, and the battle which
ensued on the part of his noble horse was not fully realized by him.

Fortunately, the river at this point was clear of the huge bowlders that
strewed its course only a short distance above, and the deep water
flowed sullenly on its way.

When our hero began to comprehend somewhat where he was, he found
that Jack was swimming with the current in the middle of the stream.

[Illustration:

  "As Little Snap was carried downward, a sharp cry rang on his ears."
]

Then it slowly dawned upon him that he had escaped from that wild leap
with his life.

He found to his joy that the mail pouch was still hanging from its usual
position.

"Saved, Jack!" he murmured. "What a fearful chance, but you brought me
safely through. Keep up courage, my noble fellow, and we will soon be
safe on dry land again."

This desperate ride of Little Snap's finds an equal in the mad leap of
McCulloch, the brave pioneer of earlier days in Virginia, who, hunted by
a party of Indians, in the vicinity of Wheeling Hill, was driven upon
the bluff overhanging the creek, and, preferring death in the waters of
the stream, rode off the precipice, the banks of which were higher than
those of the Kanawha, where Little Snap took his fearful choice. Both
the brave McCulloch and his horse escaped, as is verified by the pages
of history. I know of no other instance of this kind on record, though
there may be many.

Little Snap had passed beyond the point of rocks, so he had lost sight
of the Narrows, though the awful sound of the breaking rock still rang
in his ears.

Seeing there was no possible place for Jack to gain a foothold on either
side of the river, he allowed the horse to swim on at the steed's own
will.

He had lifted the mail pouch above the water, and feeling that its
contents were not injured, he calmly waited the end of his adventure.

Jack must have swum nearly a mile down the stream before his rider saw a
place where a landing could be effected, when he guided the course of
the steed in that direction.

After a severe struggle, during which Little Snap several times felt
that the attempt must be given up, the brave bay succeeded in gaining a
foothold upon _terra firma_.

The postboy then sprang to the ground, while Jack shook the water from
his dripping sides.

When he had found that the mail matter had not suffered from the water,
he remounted and rode on toward Salt Works, finding his way slowly along
the rugged mountain side, until at last he was gladdened by the sight of
the road.

Jack soon increasing his gait to a smart canter, the distance to Salt
Works was speedily passed, at which place Little Snap told his story to
a wondering circle of listeners, whom it was plain to see failed to
think that his story could be the truth in full.

"The road will have to be cleared before I can get back," said our hero.
"It must be completely blocked by the rock."

"It doesn't come in our district," said the postmaster, "but I will
endeavor to get word up to Greenbrier about it. They would never find it
out if I didn't."

Leaving Jack here, Little Snap continued his journey with his relief
horse, making his trip to Upper Loop and return without adventure.

To his disappointment here, however, he learned that the rocky _débris_
had not been cleared away at the Narrows.

"It will not be your fault if you do not go through," said the
postmaster. "I advise you to remain with us until the road has been
opened."

But Little Snap did not like to do this if it was possible for him to
get to Six Roads. Besides feeling it his duty to carry the mail through,
he was anxious to get home on his mother's account.

"I will ride up to the Narrows, and if I find it impossible to go
farther I will come back," he replied, starting at once upon his way.

After leaving the noisy settlement of Salt Works, he did not expect to
see a person until he should reach Greenbrier, should he be so fortunate
as to pass the Narrows, with the exception of Uncle Solitaire. Thus, as
he came in sight of the live oak, as he had always done, he looked for
the old hermit, wishing that the one from whom he hoped to receive
tidings might send the long looked for letter.

As he drew near to the place, the chirping of the squirrels reached his
ears, and he saw them running across the road and up and down the tree.
As he continued to approach, one of the frisky creatures ran down to
meet him, darting to and fro in the road as he advanced.

Something seemed to trouble the little troupe of noisy, uneasy denizens
of the forest, which was accounted for when the postboy came to look for
the old man in vain.

Uncle Solitaire was not at his post!

Little Snap paused, thinking he might be coming near at hand, and when
he failed to appear he shouted his name. Only the chirping of the
squirrels answered him.

One of these, as if anxious to tell him why its master was not on hand,
actually ran up to the postboy's shoulder, remaining there as he rode
on, wondering what had caused the strange man's non-appearance.

When he had gone a few rods the squirrel jumped to the ground, and with
a louder chirp, ran back to rejoin its mates.

"It is the first time in six months, rain or shine, he has failed to be
here. I wonder if he is sick?"

He was still thinking of the old hermit, when he was startled by the
sudden appearance of a gaunt, stooping figure beside his horse as he
began the ascent to the Narrows.

"Don't be skeert, younker," said a harsh, grating voice from the
stranger. "We kem es friends. I'm Ab Raggles, an' this hyur is my fust
boy, Beeline Raggles."

As he finished speaking a second figure, very similar to the first, save
for the changes made by the difference in years, suddenly stepped from
the growth by the wayside and unconcernedly stalked on the other side of
the postboy.

Little Snap, not knowing what to make of such company, stopped Jack, and
facing the older of the singular twain, demanded:

"What do you want?"

"To pay off an ol' debt by befriendin' ye. We wuz off our toes 'bout 'em
Burrnocks yesterday, an' we didn't ketch onto their plans in season to
help yer this mornin', but mebbe we can do yer a good turn now. The rock
ain't out o' th' path up yender."

Notwithstanding the uncouth appearance of the speaker, and his
illiterate speech, there was an evidence of honesty in both that did not
escape the keen perception of Little Snap.

"In what way can you help me?" he asked.

"Wull, it's jess like this: I s'pose ye air purty anxious to get on to
Six Roads?"

"What if I am? I cannot do so if the road is blocked."

"That's jess whar ye air barkin' up th' wrong tree, es I 'lowed ye
would. I know a path right over through th' growth wot'll bring ye round
to Hollow Tree slick es a coon whistlin' on a stump."

"I shall miss Greenbrier?"

"Sart'inly; sorter go round yit. Then, too, ye'll hev to go through
Blazed Acre. Mebbe ye won't care to do thet. Th' Burrnocks think they
scooped ye clean this morn'. It'd open their eyes fit to bustin'. Wot
d'ye say—go?"



                              CHAPTER XI.
                     THE RIDE THROUGH BLAZED ACRE.


Little Snap hesitated a moment before replying to this rather broken
speech, during which time Ab Raggles moved restlessly to and fro.

"Yit's a bit likely to brung ye trubble, I'll 'low, younker, but th' boy
an' I'll stand by ye like fun. Yit's th' only way fer ye to git home."

"What motive have you, a stranger to me, to offer to do this?" asked the
postboy.

"Motif? Didn't ye kem to our risky yesterday? The Raggles may be pore
cattle, but they ain't them es fergits their friends."

"But I did you no service. How was it you escaped from that cave so
easily?"

"'Twan't easy, younker. Ye see we fell kerslap inter thet sink, but th'
water wuz deep 'nough, so we weren't hurt, an' findin' there wuz chance,
we swum 'way in an underground stream, which kem out lower down in th'
valler. We weren't hurted; hope ye weren't, younker. See?"

The explanation seemed plausible, and Little Snap knew that if he
decided to accept the proffered assistance of his guides he must not
delay if he wished to get beyond Blazed Acre before dark. Thus he
questioned Ab Raggles more closely in regard to the route, finally
deciding to go that way.

A short distance above, the mountaineer led the advance into the forest,
following a narrow pathway leading over the mountainside. Little Snap
had often noticed this well-worn track, and wondered where it led.

It was barely wide enough to admit the passage of a horseman, so our
party was obliged to go in single file, Ab Raggles in front, carrying
his long, rusty-looking firearm slung across his left arm, Beeline
bringing up the rear, his weapon of defense being simply a stout club.

Not a word was spoken as they slowly wended their way in and out among
the dark clumps of stunted forest growth, or around huge piles of rocks
and steep bluffs of earth and stone, until at last the backbone of the
heights had been reached, and they were in plain sight of the descent
reaching away to the region of the Blazed Acre.

"Mebbe yit'll be best fer us not to strike the settlement till after
dark," said Ab Raggles, "an' mebbe we sh'n't ef we keep pushin' on."

"Let us keep moving," replied Little Snap, "but keep our eyes open."

The country was less rugged on this slope of the mountains, so they
advanced more rapidly, though the shades of night were beginning to fall
as at last the isolated settlement of the Burrnocks and their associates
was seen half a mile away.

Little Snap had never been in that vicinity before, so he looked with
curious gaze upon the place. The dwellings of these people deserved no
better name than huts, for the most of them were made of sods and boughs
of trees. These rude habitations were arranged in a semicircle, standing
on the north side of the clearing, and facing the south.

At the farther side could be seen a corral containing such horses as the
community owned; but what struck Little Snap the most forcibly was the
number of dogs running about, yelping at each other and jumping to and
fro in their wild freedom.

It was getting too dark to see anything with distinctness, even had the
postboy time to watch the scene long. They had stopped on a knob of
earth high enough to look quite over the level land making up the Acre,
but as soon as they resumed their course, all this was lost to their
sight.

"Our path passes jess to th' right o' th' village," whispered Ab
Raggles, "an' we hev got to move moughty sly to slip by 'em. I don't
s'pose yit'd be bes' fer 'em goslings o' Bird Burrnock to ketch eyes on
me. Yit mought not be healthy fer somebuddy."

Little Snap had noticed that as they neared the settlement Raggles had
begun to show uneasiness, which increased as they advanced. He no longer
carried his firearm in the hollow of his arm, but held it low upon his
other side, as if wishing to conceal it from the gaze of any chance
person they might meet. He realized that he could depend very little
upon the Raggles in case of an attack from his enemies.

Suddenly the sound of footsteps fell on their ears, when the older guide
dropped to the ground as quickly as if he had been shot, his son
imitating his example the next moment.

Little Snap reined in Jack in season to avoid having him step on the
prostrate figure of Ab Raggles, while at the same time the form of a man
burst through the bushes into plain sight.

"Hello!" exclaimed the stranger. "Who mought ye be who invades these
peaceful regions?"

"A friend," replied the postboy; "belated in my journey over the
mountains."

"Who in the name of darkness air ye who knows th' way?" and the speaker
stepped nearer to get a better view of the boyish rider.

It was too dark for him to distinguish Little Snap's features. At any
rate, he did not seem to recognize him.

"My name is Lewis, and I live beyond Daring's Diamond."

"Purty late ridin'," muttered the man, passing on, without further
words, much to our hero's relief.

Little Snap resolved to get away from that vicinity as speedily as
possible, and he turned to request Raggles to go on, when he was
surprised to find the mountaineer missing!

Neither was Beeline Raggles to be seen!

As brief as had been his interview with the stranger, this pair had
managed somehow to get away unobserved by him. He did not think it best
to call to them, and, though at a loss to account for this singular
conduct, he felt that it would make little difference to him. He had
seen enough to know they would be of no real assistance in case he
should meet the Burrnocks.

Though it was now quite dark in the shades of the growth, he believed he
would have little difficulty in finding his way to Hollow Tree, and he
urged Jack forward without delay.

Dim lights from the dwellings of the inhabitants of Blazed Acre were
springing up on his left, and he hadn't gone far before a confused sound
of voices was borne to him on the still air.

"Faster, Jack!" he whispered, as the path swung around a clump of live
oaks to come in full sight of the village. "On, my boy!"

Breaking into a trot, the horse and his rider quickly gained the cover
of the forest again, where it was difficult to follow the winding course
of the path.

But anxious to get away before the inhabitants of Blazed Acre, whom he
felt sure would pursue him had they learned he was in the vicinity, he
continued to urge Jack onward at a smart trot, until there came a sudden
ending to his retreat.

Without the least warning, Jack stumbled and fell headlong to the earth,
Little Snap at the same time being flung over his head and into the
bushes several yards away!



                              CHAPTER XII.
                         THE POSTBOY'S ARREST.


Instinctively, as he found himself going, Little Snap tried to catch
upon the saddle, but instead he seized upon the mail pouch, and this he
carried with him on his flying trip through the air.

Partially deprived of his senses by his fall, as he regained a sitting
posture on the ground, he heard sharp cries from the pathway, and the
dusky figures of half a dozen men appeared about the place where Jack
had tripped and fallen.

"Don't let him get clear!" he heard some one say, and then a furious
rush was made toward the horse struggling to regain its feet.

Little Snap's first thought was to rush to Jack's assistance, but the
fact that he still held the mail pouch in his possession caused him to
quickly change his mind.

While the party were attacking the animal, frantically trying to regain
its feet, in the belief the postboy was somewhere beneath its body, it
was possible he might get beyond their harm.

Finding their mistake, they would not likely injure Jack, and with this
hope in his heart, Snap dashed lightly away in the direction he expected
the path led.

He soon proved his good judgment by coming suddenly upon the well-worn
way leading to Hollow Tree.

The sounds of the struggle had not ended, though he fancied they were
nearly over. In this surmise he was correct, for he had not gone much
farther before he heard the same voice as had spoken before, saying:

"Th' leetle satan isn't hyur. He's got 'way, boyees! Look clus thet he
don't escape!"

Anxious to know what had been the fate of poor Jack, the postboy did not
dare to remain a moment where he was. As long as the mail was in his
hands he was in duty bound to look to its safety above everything else.

Accordingly, he fled along the path at the top of his speed, and he was
a pretty good runner, too. The sounds of his enemies were soon lost to
hearing, and he pursued his way without interruption until he felt
certain he must be near Hollow Tree, when he slackened his gait.

As he came in sight of the singular post office, he saw that a light was
burning within, by which he knew the postmaster was there.

Then the sound of voices fell on the stillness of the evening, and
surprised to hear his own name mentioned, he paused just outside the
roughly made door.

"There is one thing certain," Dan Shag was saying, "he is out o' th' way
now."

"And there ain't no danger of his taking off being laid to our door,"
said another, by whose voice Little Snap recognized Morton Meiggs, one
of his bondsmen.

"Cert. Them air Acreites hes done us one good turn, an' I feel it is our
duty to pay 'em fer it."

"I wouldn't advise you to say too much about that. They'll be likely to
ask for more'n we can allow them. "Say, that was an audacious movement.
I wonder how old Warfield felt when he heard of Dix Lewis' fate?"

"I dunno. Thet man beats me. He hes promised to stand by me, but I ain't
more faith in him than I hev in thet light's burning all night."

"He's going to get to Congress, all the same, and it's our interest to
stand by him, or pretend so, at least."

"Guess I know which side my bread is buttered on. What I'm figgerin' on
now is to git my hands on to thet mail bag. I'll make some dollars out'n
thet, bet yer hat."

"Be crafty," warned the other. "That Calvert is a long-headed dog. But
as it is long past the mail hour, you aren't obliged to keep the office
open any longer. Let's start for Six Roads, to lay our plans for the
next move."

Little Snap stopped to listen no more, but stepping somewhat heavily, he
advanced toward the office, meeting the twain in the doorway as they
were coming out.

Dan Shag was ahead, and a yell of terror left his lips, as he beheld the
postboy before him.

"Good-evening, Mr. Shag; you seem surprised. I am a little late
to-night, but better late than never, you know."

"Dix Lewis! alive and here!" gasped Morton Meiggs.

"You seem surprised, Mr. Meiggs, but I am worth a dozen dead men."

If Little Snap expected to be plied with questions, he was disappointed,
for the postmaster took the sack without another word, and ran through
the mail with uncommon celerity.

"Hark! I hear a horseman coming," exclaimed Mr. Meiggs. "I think I will
be moving on toward Six Roads."

Little Snap was about to ask him for help in getting home, but the hoof
strokes of the approaching horse brought a feeling of gladness to his
heart.

"It's Jack!" he exclaimed, aloud, and even as he spoke the faithful
horse dashed upon the scene.

The postboy fairly wept for joy, as he caressed the head of his favorite
steed, which seemed as delighted as he.

"Good Jack!" said Little Snap; "I am so glad you escaped unhurt."

"Mail!" said Shag, sharply, throwing the pouch at his feet.

Flinging the sack over its accustomed position, the postboy swung
himself into the saddle and was away before the others could speak.

As he dashed down the road toward the bridge he heard a body of horsemen
galloping toward Hollow Tree, whom he felt certain were the Burrnocks,
of Blazed Acre. However, he saw nothing further of them, and a little
over an hour later he rode into Union Six Roads, to be met at the post
office by a wondering crowd.

In his anxiety to get home and thus relieve his mother of the suspense
he knew she must be suffering, Little Snap answered the questions asked
of him as briefly as possible, hurriedly leaving the office as soon as
he had delivered the mail pouch.

"He acts mighty queer," said one of the bystanders by the name of Clevis
Claverton, who was the third man on the postboy's bond. "Ha! here comes
Meiggs, with Dan Shag and a party from Greenbrier. They will explain the
matter, I imagine."

Little Snap found his mother nearly distracted with the reports
circulated concerning his fate, but which were happily ended with his
safe appearance.

Knowing it would be best for him to return to the post office as soon as
possible, to give a more intelligible account of what had befallen him,
he was about leaving the house immediately after eating his supper, when
he was surprised by the appearance of a body of men at the door.

Foremost of the party was Sheriff Brady, who said, as the postboy opened
the door:

"I arrest you, Dix Lewis, in the name of the United States Government.
Will you come with me peacefully as my prisoner?"

"Arrest me? What have I done now, Mr. Brady, to cause my arrest?"

"Done? I should say there was enough to send you to prison for life.
Will you allow me to handcuff you?"



                              CHAPTER XIII
                            A CURIOUS COURT.


For a moment Little Snap could not comprehend the meaning of Sheriff
Brady's order.

Mrs. Lewis had been standing but a few feet away, and at the officer's
demand she rushed forward to throw herself between Dix and the other.

"You shall not harm him!" she cried. "I——"

"Be calm, Mrs. Lewis!" commanded the officer. "It is a painful duty I am
compelled to perform, but you only make it the harder by your nonsense."

Mrs. Lewis was about to reply, when Little Snap said:

"Do not mind it, mother; I shall come out all right. There, be calm, and
know that I have done nothing that I am afraid to answer for.

"Mr. Brady, I will accompany you without opposition, so you will not be
obliged to fasten my hands."

"I am not so sure of that. 'Safe bind sure to find,' I have always
noticed. Hold out your hands, young man."

Little Snap was inclined to rebel against this unnecessary treatment,
but, fortunately, his better judgment prevailed, and he held out his
wrists to receive the bonds Sheriff Brady was so anxious to snap upon
them.

"We were lucky to get him so easily," said the officer. "Now we will
take him before Squire Claverton at once."

With these words the sheriff marched away from the home he had so
ruthlessly entered, his arm locked in that of the prisoner, the crowd
following in increasing numbers as the procession kept on.

Mrs. Lewis, without stopping to throw anything over her head, persisted
in keeping close by the side of Dix, though he tried to have her remain
at home, knowing that her presence would be of no avail to him.

Squire Claverton, who was a brother to Clevis Claverton, prided himself
upon being "the great legal light" of Six Roads. He was a man not
generally liked, being too willing to mix in whatever petty quarrels
came up, without regard to the matter of justice. In fact, he had
little, if any, idea of the fundamental principle of law. He seemed to
labor under the belief that might made right, and that it was his
business to crush the weak.

He must have been expecting his callers, for he showed no surprise at
their appearance, but chuckled with evident delight at his prospects.

"I thought it was best to bring him right to your honor," declared the
sheriff. "It seems to me it will be best to settle this matter with as
little delay as possible."

"Exactly," replied the justice, who looked upon the prisoner with a
malicious smile on his thin lips.

For some reason known only to himself, he had long cherished a grudge
against the Lewis family, and he fondly believed the time had come for
him "to get even."

Little Snap looked over the crowd that had filed into the room, until it
was completely packed, without seeing any one who seemed to show him any
favor. He was puzzled to understand this, and began to think his case
might prove more serious than he had anticipated.

Postmaster Rimmon was there, and his words gave the postboy his first
ray of hope.

"Isn't this rather premature?" he asked. "It is now nearly nine o'clock
in the evening, and the prisoner will have no chance to call his friends
to his assistance. Why not wait until to-morrow?"

"You forget, Mr. Rimmon," replied the sheriff, respectfully, but showing
that he did not like this interruption, "that it is necessary to come to
some decision in this matter to-night, so a man can be obtained to fill
his place of duty in the morning. It seems to me we have been very easy
with him, and in return he has shown the greatest contempt. What do you
think of his coming home this evening, and without saying a word of what
he had or had not done, going immediately to his home? This, too, with
the grave charges hanging over him."

"I think he deserves great credit for what he has done to-day," replied
Mr. Rimmon, warmly. "There is not one in a hundred who would or could
have brought the mail through from Salt Works under the circumstances."

"How did you learn all this?"

"From his own lips."

"So he made you his confidant?"

"So far as to give me an inkling of his adventures."

"And you doubtless thought it was sufficient for him to tell you. Were
you the proper person for him to give his excuses to?"

"Yes, sir; the most proper person in Six Roads. I presume the rest of
you would have learned the truth had you given him time."

"We propose to learn the truth and the whole truth in our own time,"
retorted the officer, sharply. "I would like to ask you if he didn't owe
something of an apology to Mr. Meiggs and Mr. Claverton here, both of
whom have a financial interest at stake in this matter?"

"Financial fiddlesticks!" exclaimed Mr. Rimmon, impulsively. "If good
reputations were for sale at ten cents apiece, and they had all the
privilege in the world to buy, they couldn't get enough to supply their
own households."

At this thoughtless speech a murmur of indignation ran over the
spectators, and the postmaster realized that he had said more than he
ought.

"Excuse me, I do not wish to get mixed up in this affair; but I would
like to see the boy have fair play."

"Is Mr. Warfield in town?" asked a voice from the crowd.

"He is not," replied Sheriff Brady, "but his private secretary, Mr.
Jones, is here, prepared to speak for the colonel."

"Order!" commanded Justice Claverton, at this juncture. "Who prefers the
charges against the prisoner?"

"I do," replied Morton Meiggs.

"State them."

"Criminal neglect of duty, theft of valuable letters, conduct unbecoming
an employee of the United States Government."

"Hum!" commented his honor. "State your case."

Mr. Meiggs was then put under oath, when he told how the Hollow Tree
mail had not been found in the mail pouch by its postmaster, but was
later found in the possession of the postboy. He then described the
disappearance of the registered letters, showing that while six could be
traced as far as the Greenbrier office, only three reached the person
for whom they were intended, Mr. Jason Warfield.

"He has been very irregular in the performance of his duties, coming in
some nights before his time, and on others an hour or more late. To-day
he has capped the climax of his careless handling of the mail by coming
over Greenbrier Mountain, through the woods, going the Lord only knows
where. I forgot to mention that one day this week he actually left his
horse, with the mail sack on its back, at least an hour, alone in the
woods, while he explored a cave or did some such foolish thing, showing
that he hasn't proper regard for the welfare of the property in his
keeping."

"John Dix Lewis, what have you to say to these charges?"

"Not guilty, sir," replied the postboy. "I——"

"Be careful how you put on airs, young man. You should remember that you
are addressing the honorable court of the United States. Call your first
witness, Mr. Meiggs."

Dan Shag took the stand, confirming Meiggs' testimony in regard to the
loss of the Hollow Tree mail and the finding of it in the postboy's
keeping.

"We have plenty of witnesses to prove the fact that the mail was in the
pouch at Greenbrier," broke in Sheriff Brady. "I was present at——"

The sheriff was interrupted at this moment by a great commotion near the
door, and it soon became evident that some one was trying to force an
entrance into the room.



                              CHAPTER XIV.
                         AN UNEXPECTED CLIMAX.


"Order!" thundered "his honor."

The command of the court received but slight attention, as one and all
turned to see what the commotion meant.

To the intense surprise of the onlookers, a tall, gray-bearded man, with
long, white hair falling about his shoulders, was trying to force his
way through the excited throng. Seeming to tower above those around him,
the wild grandeur of the new arrival was given an additional
picturesqueness by the presence of a gray squirrel standing boldly
upright on either shoulder!

Few in the room had ever seen the newcomer, though all had heard of Old
Solitaire, the mysterious hermit of the Kanawha range.

Squire Claverton looked upon him with dismay, demanding:

"What means this intrusion?"

"I have come to speak for the boy!" cried the strange man. "There is a
conspiracy afoot to put him down, but, by the Great Kanawha! it shall
not be done. He has——"

"Order!" cried Justice Claverton, turning very red in the face.

"Order and justice and equal rights!" cried the hermit. "These stories
they have told are all false."

"Stop!" yelled Claverton. "Are we to be interrupted by a crazy man?"

"Put him down!" some one shouted.

"Silence!" commanded the sheriff, his words bringing the desired effect.
"I will look after this madman," pushing his way through the crowd to
the stranger's side.

"I am here only in the cause of justice," said the old man, trembling in
every limb as he spoke. "The boy has done nothing wrong."

"Then he will not be injured," replied Sheriff Brady. "You can go on
with your examination if you wish, your honor."

Amid a profound silence, Leonard Jones, the private secretary of Mr.
Warfield, was asked to tell what he knew about the case, when he stated
that his employer, expecting so many letters and not getting them, had
sent him to ascertain if they had not been delayed on the route, and
that he had learned that three more than he had received had really got
as far as the Greenbrier office, after which no trace of them could be
found.

Mr. Rimmon at this juncture seemed about to speak, but he remained
silent, knowing that he had not helped the postboy any by his previous
hasty words.

Following Mr. Jones' evidence, Dan Shag and two or three others were
called upon the stand to testify to such circumstances as they knew in
regard to the postboy's last trip.

"If it please your honor," said Mr. Rimmon at this juncture, "I think
the boy should be given a chance to show why he was late and how he came
in as he did."

"He shall have the opportunity to speak for himself, Mr. Rimmon.
Prisoner at the bar, what have you to say to coming in here an hour
after you were due on Wednesday?"

"It was unavoidable, sir."

"Was it a part of your duty to go off gunning after caves and leaving
your mail unprotected for a full hour?"

"No, sir."

"I thought not."

"If it please your honor, I would like to tell how I came to do so."

"Your admission that you did so is sufficient. You acknowledge the
package of Hollow Tree mail was found in your possession?"

"It was taken from the pocket I have on my saddle, but I——"

"That is sufficient, sir. You acknowledge that you came in to-night an
hour late, in a condition unfitting an employee of the government?"

"I was late, sir, on account of coming over a path through the
wilderness of the Greenbrier district."

"Does Uncle Sam say that you are to carry his treasures through the
wilderness?"

"No, sir. But I want to explain how I was obliged to come that way if I
got here at all."

"It is not necessary."

"It seems to me," said Mr. Rimmon, "and I have more interest in that
matter than any one present, that it is not only necessary, but an act
of justice to the court itself that your honor listen to Mr. Lewis'
account. He came over the mountains by a tedious footpath, not from
choice, but from necessity. He deserves our praise rather than our
condemnation for his heroic conduct. If our road surveyors had done
their duty, his duty would have been easy."

"Let me speak," cried the hermit, at this juncture. "It was all an
infamous scheme——"

"Order!" thundered the court. "We can't be broken into by a mad fool.
Put him out if necessary, Mr. Brady."

"Another word, and I'll pitch you into the road," said the sheriff.

Old Solitaire showed that he was laboring under great excitement, though
he did not offer to speak.

"This is no place for senseless stories told by boys," said "his honor."
"If you have any reasonable excuse to offer for your folly, Dix Lewis,
you will have plenty of opportunity to give it in the higher court. You
have admitted enough to condemn you to prison for the rest of your days,
and I can do no different than to place you under indictment on at least
three charges, which I now do."

"Sheriff Brady, you will please take the prisoner to a safe place, until
you are called upon to deliver him up by a higher authority."

By this time great confusion was reigning in the room.

Mrs. Lewis was weeping and wringing her hands in wild abandon of grief,
while Little Snap was trying to speak an encouraging word.

"They shan't take my boy off to jail! He has done nothing wrong!"

In vain Justice Claverton called for order, until the voice of Mr.
Rimmon silenced the babel of sounds.

"Your honor, you cannot ignore the rights of the prisoner thus. He has
certain privileges you cannot and shall not deny him. He is at least
entitled to bail, as no capital charge has been made against him."

"Yes, I might do it as a matter of form, but it would make no difference
in the result, for who is there would go on his bonds?"

"Fix the sum."

"Five thousand dollars."

"An outrageous amount; but how will the names of Jason Warfield and
myself do?"

"Mr. Warfield is not in town, Mr. Rimmon."

"I understand he has just returned. Make out the papers, and I will see
that he signs them with me."

A deep silence now hung over the scene.

"Bah! this makes it all a farce!" exclaimed the rasping tone of Morton
Meiggs. "I give notice here and now that I withdraw from the prisoner's
mail bond."

"So do I!" echoed Clevis Claverton.

"I appoint Daniel Shag as mail carrier between Six Roads and Upper Loop
offices, with all the privileges and responsibilities that pertain to
the route. He is to begin his duties to-morrow at six o'clock," declared
Justice Claverton.

Immediately following this announcement renewed confusion began, the
excited words ensuing proving that the postboy had many friends present,
though they were not in a position to help him.

Without much delay, the signature of Jason Warfield was secured for the
bail, which, with that of Mr. Rimmon, gained Little Snap his freedom
until the convening of the court.

"Have good courage, Dix," said Mr. Rimmon, as Little Snap left the
building, accompanied by his mother, "and we will hope you will come out
all right. I hardly think the road authorities will get the way clear
for you to go through to-morrow, but you had better be on hand to go.
Don't let it be any fault of yours if the mail does not go through."

"But Mr. Claverton appointed Mr. Shag to go in my place."

"Come to the office at six in the morning for the mail and you will get
it. I don't know anything of Dan Shag in that capacity. Justice
Claverton's appointment seems to me very irregular, to put it mildly."

After thanking the postmaster for his kindness, Little Snap sought his
home in better spirits than he had felt before the ending of the scene
at Lawyer Claverton's office.

Though no one seemed to notice it, not even the postboy, Old Solitaire
had disappeared immediately after the discharge of the prisoner.



                              CHAPTER XV.
                        A LONG AND A VAIN WATCH.


Mrs. Lewis was still very nervous concerning the trouble, though she
grew calmer as Little Snap spoke so confidently of his ultimate success.

"I have it, mother. I'll tell you just what I am going to do. I am going
to see Mr. Calvert.

"I would, my son."

"He is just the man for me to find. He has the contract for carrying the
mail on this route, and when he sublet it to me, he told me if I had the
least bit of trouble to let him know. He ought to know it, too."

"Mr. Calvert can clear up the affair, if any one can. I wish he was here
now."

"I'll have him here before long, and then we shall have no further
reason to worry. I wonder I hadn't thought of him before."

"Well, don't let the matter trouble you any longer. It is getting late,
and you had better retire. You will need all the rest you can get."

"Rest, mother? I am not going to sleep until I have seen Mr. Calvert,
and explained the matter to him."

"But you cannot see him to-night."

"I must."

"Why, he lives fifty miles from here. Didn't Mr. Rimmon ask you to be at
the office in the morning?"

"Yes, and so I will. I know it is a long ride to Volney, Mr. Calvert's
home, but I shall take both Jack and Fairy, and I will fetch around
before six in the morning, never fear."

"I am afraid you cannot. What if you shouldn't?"

"I will not fail, mother, so please do not object any longer. Every
moment is precious to me. The horses have had their supper, and I will
be away in less than three minutes."

It was little wonder if Mrs. Lewis looked with anxious foreboding upon
this movement, for it certainly did seem a hopeless undertaking. Little
Snap, in his boyish enthusiasm, did not stop to count the cost. Neither
did he realize the possible consequence of his absence at that time.
Whoever may be inclined to censure him for such a rash attempt must
remember that he acted upon the impulse of the moment, and not with the
clear judgment he would have shown a few years later. I speak of this
now in slight extenuation of the startling result to follow.

Losing no further time in talk, the postboy threw the saddle on Fairy's
back, and when she was in readiness for a start, he led Jack out of his
stall, and slipped the bridle on his head.

"I wouldn't do it, Jack, old fellow, only I must. We have a long ride
before us, and a strange one."

The next moment he was in the saddle and ready for a start.

"Don't get worried, mother, whatever happens. I can look out for myself.
I count on getting to Volney about one o'clock; then I shall rest an
hour and a half before starting back. I will get home, if nothing
happens, at half-past five."

"I wish you weren't going. But you must speak to Mr. Rimmon as you go
past his house. You will, won't you?"

Promising that, Little Snap bent over to give his good-by kiss, and the
following moment he was speeding swiftly away on his long journey.

"I have done wrong, I know I have, in letting him go," she said, to
herself, as she watched him out of sight.

With no thought of sleep, she returned to the house to begin her lonely
vigil.

Dix had not been gone more than fifteen minutes before a loud thumping
upon the door startled her from her unhappy reverie.

Looking out of the window, she was still further terrified by the
appearance of half a dozen men in front of the house.

"What is wanted?" she asked, in a tremulous voice.

"We want that precious scamp, Dix Lewis!" came the reply in the
well-known voice of Sheriff Brady.

"Oh, dear! what does this mean?" she exclaimed.

"Are you going to open the door, or shall we have to break it down?"

"My son is not here—he is gone!" she cried. "He has——"

Renewed thumping on the door drowned the conclusion of her sentence.

"Gone?" demanded the furious tone of the sheriff. "Woman, what do you
mean? Stave in the door, men!"

"No—no! I am opening it. How my hand does shake. Wait a moment, please."

Trembling so she could hardly stand alone, Mrs. Lewis soon threw open
the door, saying:

"What has happened now?"

"Happened? Jason Warfield has decided not to stand on your son's bail,
and Judge Claverton has found out that Rimmon is no good there, as he is
already in the employ of the government. So we want the body of the boy.
Where is he hiding?"

It was useless for Mrs. Lewis to try and make the sheriff and his posse
believe Little Snap had gone away as she had said, until they had
searched the house from top to bottom. Then they unanimously decided
that he had run away!

In the midst of the excitement Mr. Rimmon appeared on the scene, when
the distracted mother appealed to him.

"He told you that he was going to Volney, didn't he, Mr. Rimmon?"

The postmaster shook his head.

"I have not seen him since we parted after the trial. I am sorry this
has happened."

"Well, it puts me in a hard place," said the sheriff, "and I tell you
what I shall be obliged to do. If he don't turn up before morning, I
shall raze this house to the ground and put every one of you in jail! So
if you know where the precious scamp is hiding, bring him forth, or the
worst will be your own."

In vain Mrs. Lewis explained, pleaded with the obdurate men. The only
hope she could have was in the promise that nothing should be done until
six o'clock in the morning. If Little Snap failed to come then, no mercy
would be shown to the family.

"He will! he will! I am sure of that!"

"Then be calm and wait. We must keep a guard about the house."

At daylight it seemed that every inhabitant of Six Roads was astir, and
anxious, excited groups began to collect here and there.

Excepting Mrs. Lewis, Mr. Rimmon was perhaps the most anxious person,
and he kept an almost continual watch up and down the road.

"It was the height of folly for him to have started off in that way. It
is utterly impossible for him to get here by six, and if he don't, God
have mercy on his home. I am powerless to help them. What! Can it be so
near six? Here comes Shag for the mail bag."

Mounted upon a tall, raw-boned horse, the postmaster of Hollow Tree rode
up in front of the post office.

"Good-morning, Mr. Rimmon. I s'pose ye heerd what th' judge sed las'
evenin' thet I'm to carry th' mail arter this. I hev resigned the Tree
office, so it's all regular. Seein' I'm new to th' bizness, I thought
mebbe ye wouldn't object to lettin' me start a leetle arly th' fust
time."

"I shall object, most decidedly, Mr. Shag."

"Hev yit yer own way, Mr. Rimmon, though ye'll find I ain't a boy to be
run over. Ye'll let me hev it at six sharp, or thar'll be war in th'
United States camp."

To this the postmaster made no reply, while one and all waited the
outcome of this trying scene.

In the midst of the fearful ordeal the sun rose above the crest of the
distant mountains, and then a murmur ran along the expectant crowd.

"It's six o'clock!" cried Sheriff Brady, consulting his watch. "The time
is up, Mrs. Lewis, and the boy has not come, as I knew he wouldn't. I
have kept my word, and you cannot expect any more."

"It's six!" exclaimed Dan Shag, moving uneasily in his saddle. "Hand
over thet mail bag, Mr. Rimmon, fer ye can't hol' it enny longer."

The postmaster cast a last, anxious gaze down the road before he
replied, and then a cry of great relief left his lips.

"He is coming!"

Eagerly the spectators looked down the road, and a murmur of joy arose
on the air, as they saw the figure of a horse galloping rapidly toward
the town. But the look of relief on the faces of all turned to one of
dread expectancy, as they discovered that the creature was riderless!

It was Jack, the postboy's favorite steed, his sides covered with foam,
and his breath coming in quick, short gasps, as he sped like the wind
toward his home, but Little Snap was not on his back!



                              CHAPTER XVI.
                          A LONELY NIGHT RIDE.


During this long, anxious night how has it fared with Little Snap? Is
the return of Jack without him a good or an evil omen?

Let us see.

His most direct course to Volney was by the post road to Greenbrier,
after which he must take a more southerly direction by following the
left bank of the Little Kanawha to the Blue Stone River. From this
junction he was to ride ten miles within sound of this stream, when he
must leave the river road for one leading over the hills to the east.

Though there was no moon, the night was made pleasant by a myriad of
stars in the mellow autumn sky, so he rode on with a hopeful heart that
he should have no trouble in finding his way.

Not a light was to be seen at Daring's Diamond, but quite unexpectedly a
dim blaze shone from Hollow Tree, though he had not supposed the
postmaster had had time to get home from Six Roads.

But every moment was of value to him, so he dashed past the lonely place
without slackening his pace, until he reached the homely village of
Greenbrier.

Even then he was rushing on at the same headlong pace he had followed
since leaving home, when suddenly a familiar voice arrested his flight.

"What in the name of George Washington are you riding like that for, Dix
Lewis?"

The speaker was a Mr. Renders, whom Little Snap had always considered
friendly to him, so he reined in Fairy and quickly explained the object
of his long ride.

"I am afraid it will prove a wild-goose ride, Dix, but I wish you
success. Say, I'll tell you how I can help you. I have a brother living
at the corner of the Blue Stone and Mountain roads, and he has a horse
you can get to finish your journey with, and leave yours there to rest
till you come back. I think it is about ten miles from my brother's to
Volney. A shift of horses will come in mighty handy about that time. Let
me write a line to Joe, which will make your chances doubly sure."

Mr. Renders wasn't long in carrying out his intentions, and, thanking
him for his kindness, the postboy again urged Fairy on, the trusty Jack
keeping beside his mate without attention from his master.

The Little Kanawha road was an extremely lonely one, but being nearly
level, Little Snap sped on with unabated speed.

Thus he had swung around a sharp bend in the highway, when he was
surprised by a beseeching voice calling out:

"Hold up, mister, a minute! Don't be scart, for I ain't a highwayman,
but I want a ride!"

The speaker rose so nearly from the middle of the road that Jack had to
shy in order to avoid running over him.

"I can't go no farther, mister! so please have pity on me."

Owing to the thick growth by the roadside, it was too dark for the boy
rider to distinguish the features of the stranger. He was a burly framed
man, and seemed to be shabbily dressed. He carried a short, heavy stick,
whether for a cane or a weapon of defense Little Snap had no time to
consider.

"You have a spare horse," continued the other, without giving the
postboy opportunity to reply to him. "Let me ride him, and you'll do the
greatest favor of your life. It is a case of got to with me, or I would
not ask it. I am on my way to see a dying mother, and I have walked till
I can't get one foot ahead of the other any longer."

He had caught hold of Jack's rein, for Little Snap had put a bridle on
the horse before starting, and he was in the act of climbing into the
saddle.

"Hold on, sir!" exclaimed Dix Lewis, sharply. "I do not doubt your
honesty——"

"It's a case of must, mister! Let me ride him if for only a mile. He's
doing you no good."

"I have got a long journey ahead—so long that I must have him fresh to
help me get there. I am sorry to refuse you."

"It's such a small thing I ask of you, and you can do it just as well as
not. Think if your mother was dying and you were thirty miles from her,
and you should ask a man to let you ride a spare horse he had to see
her. I will give you a hundred dollars if you will let me ride ten
miles."

Uttered in a pleading, earnest tone, the words touched the postboy's
heart.

"Where do you wish to go?"

"To the town of Volney. If you are any acquainted there you may know
Marion Calvert. He is my cousin. My name is Atwin, and I live in
Frankfort."

"You know Marion Calvert? I am going to see him!"

"You don't say so! Perhaps you are a relation of his?"

"No, sir. I am going to see him on business. Every moment is precious to
me, too, for I must get back before morning."

"I am sorry to have bothered you, but it was a case of necessity. You
are going to let me ride?"

Little Snap was never so puzzled in his life. While not wishing to
refuse the man, he still knew it would jeopardize his chances of getting
back to Six Roads in season.

While he hesitated a moment, the stranger moved nearer Jack, and
gathering himself to spring into the seat, said:

"I shall never—whoa! Stand still, you brute!"

Jack had begun to step backward, and flinging up his head, broke the
man's hold from the bridle.

Then uttering a snort, Jack darted forward to Little Snap's side.

"What sort of a confounded hoss have you got here?" cried the unknown,
again seizing the bridle, this time leaping nimbly into the saddle.

"What is the trouble, Jack, old boy?" asked his master, wondering at the
creature's singular and unusual action.

No sooner had the stranger gained the seat than the horse sprang
abruptly to one side, and rearing into the air, sent the man flying
heels over head into the bushes by the roadside.

All of this was done so suddenly that Little Snap had not found time to
express his amazement.

As if impelled by a newborn fear, Jack bounded up the road, with a
whinny of terror.

"Hi, there! help—quick—he'll get away from me!" cried the man,
staggering to his feet and bursting through the bushes into the road.

Though startled by this unexpected turn in affairs, the postboy had
presence of mind enough to see that the stranger was no longer a
supplicant for favors, but that a fierce determination to gain his ends
was apparent on his features and in his voice.

He started to catch hold of Fairy's bridle, but with a snort of defiance
the creature threw back her head, and Little Snap, reading the other's
purpose, touched her smartly with the spur.

At that moment the tramp of feet came from the growth, and the burly
figures of three or four men sprang into sight.



                             CHAPTER XVII.
                     LITTLE SNAP'S DISAPPOINTMENT.


"He's getting away!" shouted the man who had hailed the postboy. "Come
on, you lubbers!"

If Little Snap had been taken off his guard at first, he was wide awake
enough now, and giving Fairy an encouraging cry, he was borne swiftly
away by the fleet-footed mare.

Glancing back once more, he saw the four men in pursuit of him, but as
long as they were on foot, he had but little to fear from them.

With their hoarse shouts ringing in his ears, he sped around a curve in
the road and out of their sight.

After he had gone a couple of miles, finding that he was not likely to
be troubled by their pursuit, he slackened Fairy's speed, and improved
his first opportunity to bend over and pat Jack's head close beside him,
saying:

"Noble boy, you knew more than your master that time. I wonder where I
should be now if you hadn't read that fellow's intentions better than I
did? I wasn't quite satisfied with him, but his story did throw me off
my guard. I have got to keep my eyes open sharper than that."

Talking thus, half to his animal friends and half to himself, he rode
swiftly on toward Volney, the soft, clayey soil muffling the hoof
strokes of his horses so that they gave back no sound, his advance
scarcely breaking in upon the silence of the night.

Soon after his escape from the waylayers, whom he judged the men to be,
he shifted upon Jack, giving Fairy a rest.

To his joy he at last came to what he was confident was the corner of
the Blue Stone and Mountain roads spoken of by Mr. Renders.

If he had had any lingering doubts about this, they were driven away at
sight of a farmhouse standing back a short distance from the latter
highway and nearly concealed by a clump of trees, and which he knew must
be the house of Mr. Renders' brother.

An unnatural stillness seemed to hang over the place, and at first he
was inclined to ignore Mr. Renders' advice and keep on. But he knew only
too well that Jack and Fairy needed all the rest they could get before
completing their long journey.

Accordingly, he advanced boldly to the door, and seizing the heavy brass
knocker, he raised a noise that must have aroused every inmate of the
house.

Heads quickly began to appear from the windows, until he imagined he had
awakened a house full of people.

"Who's there, and what is wanted at this unseemly hour?" demanded a
voice he felt sure belonged to the host.

Little Snap quickly explained his situation, and as he finished
speaking, handed Mr. Renders the note sent by his brother.

"Wait till I can strike a light, when I will read it, and if I think
favorable of what he says, I will be out in a moment."

Then the window was closed, while a minute later a light shone from the
apartment.

This last soon began to move about, and it was not long before the door
was opened, when Mr. Renders appeared fully dressed.

"Hope you will excuse my delay, but I didn't keep you waiting longer
than I could help. So you have come from Six Roads?"

"Yes, sir; and I have got to get back there before six o'clock this
morning, or I would never have troubled you."

"Never mind that. I have called better men than I am out of their nests
on worse nights than this. In regard to a horse, I have one which can
take you to Volney and back in one hour, though I don't care about
having you crowd him quite as hard as that, unless it is necessary."

"I will not hurt the horse. Can you let me have him? I will pay you
well——"

"A fig for the pay! Dismount and turn your animals into that pen. I
claim a horse can rest better by having a chance to move about if he
wants to. I will feed them as soon as they have cooled off somewhat. I
will lead out my horse."

Hardly able to comprehend that he was so well favored, Little Snap did
as he was told, and by the time he had seen Fairy and Jack in
comfortable quarters, Mr. Renders had his horse ready for him to spring
into the saddle.

"He may need a little urging, but don't spare him. It is eleven miles to
Volney, and he is good for the trip and return without any more stop
than you will wish to make with Mr. Calvert. I think you will be
fortunate enough to find that gentleman at home."

Mr. Renders then described Mr. Calvert's house to him, so he would have
no difficulty in finding it, when Little Snap began the second stage of
his journey.

The road now more broken than it had been since leaving Greenbrier,
Little Snap rode on over hill and through valley, finding the horse
loaned him by Mr. Renders an exceptionally fine animal. He had consulted
his watch to find it was a quarter of two, when he looked ahead to see
what he believed to be the village of Volney.

"Almost there," he muttered. "How glad I am. Now if I find Mr. Calvert
at home I shall be soon on my return journey. That is the house Mr.
Renders described, I am sure. How still it looks around it!"

Speaking his thoughts thus aloud, Little Snap dashed into the spacious
grounds surrounding the quaint, old-fashioned dwelling he supposed was
the home of the man he had ridden so far to see.

The occupant of the house proved to be more wakeful than he had
expected, for he had barely pulled rein under the enormous willow
growing by the door before a chamber window was opened, and a man's
voice demanded.

"Who's there?"

"My name is Lewis, and I am from Union Six Roads. Does Mr. Calvert live
here?"

"That's my name, sir, though I do not recognize yours."

"I carry the mail on the Kanawha route. Of course, you remember Dix
Lewis, to whom you sub-let the line?"

"Wait a minute and I'll be down there."

Giving the finishing touches to his toilet, as he appeared, Mr. Calvert
soon opened the heavy door and stepped out into the night.

He was a man in the vicinity of forty, with a frank, good-natured
looking countenance, who seemed rather brusque in his movements and
manner of speaking.

"I hardly remember your countenance, Mr. Lewis," he said, as he stepped
forward and extended his right hand; "but that is nothing strange, as we
never met but that once. What in the name of Congress has brought you
here at this unexpected hour? But excuse me, dismount, put your horse in
the barn, and come into the house before you begin your talk. I would
call one of the negroes, but they are so sleepy at this time of night
they are no good."

"I can't stop," said Little Snap, as soon as he could find an
opportunity to speak. "I have to get back to Six Roads in season to take
the mail to the Loop to-day."

"You won't do it, all the same. But what's up?"

The postboy then made the other acquainted with all that had happened,
interrupted several times by Mr. Calvert, who finally exclaimed:

"A bad pickle, I should say. But I am glad you have come to me. Of
course the only thing for you to do is to get out of it."

"I cannot do that with honor to myself," said Little Snap, who had not
expected this from the contractor. "It would look as if I was really to
blame for all they have said."

"Better let it look like that than to get your neck in the halter, or a
bullet through your head."

The postboy could not help showing his surprise. Was it for this he had
ridden so far, and with such high-colored hopes? He had not dreamed of
anything other than assistance from the man who was behind him in his
undertaking.



                             CHAPTER XVIII.
                        A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING.


"You will go up to Six Roads and see what can be done?" he asked, while
his hopes sank lower and lower.

"I can't. Say, tell you what I will do. I am intending to start for
Washington to-day; but when I get through there, and it won't take me
more than a week. I will come back by way of the Six Roads. I wish I had
let the plaguey route alone."

"That will be too late to help me," said Little Snap.

"I tell you, you want to get out of it as quick as you can. Let this
Shag you speak of carry the mail until I can get around."

"I am afraid you do not understand the situation, Mr. Calvert. There is
some sort of a conspiracy to rob the government, and this Dan Shag is
one of those at the bottom of it."

"Oh, nonsense! you have your suspicions and jump at conclusions. It may
be that some of them are trying to crowd you a little, seeing you are a
boy, but we all have to put up with such things. We laugh at them when
we grow older. Come into the house and have some refreshments and a few
hours' sleep before you attempt your long journey home. Jove! you showed
good grit in undertaking it."

"I undertook it in the good faith that you would stand by me in this
affair, Mr. Calvert, and though it is worth something for me to know how
you feel about it, I am disappointed to find you do not care for the
welfare of the route, for whose success or failure you are really
responsible."

"You are pretty blunt, I will say that for you. I am inclined to think
you will be a hard one for them to bluff down."

"I shall stand up for my rights, Mr. Calvert, as long as I can. Can't
you come to Six Roads before you go to Washington? They are expecting
you."

"You said Mr. Warfield still stands by you?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then, I think I can fix you all right. I will give you a note to him to
stand by you until I come to town, though I still advise you to get out
of it."

Little Snap saw that it was no use to urge him more, so he remained
silent, while Mr. Calvert hastily scribbled away on a slip of paper he
took from his pocket. When he had finished, he read:

                                                 "VOLNEY, Va., Sept. 18.

    "MR. JASON WARFIELD, Union Six Roads, Va.

      "DEAR SIR: Stand by the bearer of this, Mr. Dix Lewis, in his
    troubles as far as you think prudent, until I can see you.

                           Your obt. servant,

                                                        MARION CALVERT."

"There, I think that will do the business. Sorry you don't feel like
coming in to rest until daylight. It's a long, lonesome ride before
you."

Thanking him, Little Snap took the piece of paper, and carefully placing
it in one of his pockets, he wheeled the horse about to start homeward.

"Hold on!" cried Mr. Calvert, as the postboy gained the road.

Little Snap turned the horse and galloped back into the yard, wondering
and hoping.

"I wanted to say that you will no doubt see the wisdom of my advice
before you get home."

"If that is all you have to say to me farther, Mr. Calvert," said our
hero, somewhat sharply, "I will bid you good-night! My name is at stake
in this matter, and I will know the right and the wrong of it before I
am driven out."

The postboy spoke more sharply than he intended, but the other's last
words had cut like a knife. Without waiting for a reply, he touched the
horse smartly with the spurs and sped down the road at a furious pace.

"I should know he was a Lewis if I hadn't heard his name," muttered the
mail contractor, as he watched the boyish rider out of sight. "I ought
to have known better than to have let him fool with the business at the
outset, but Rimmon said he could do it. Well, I must get ready for my
start to the capital."

His hopes crushed, so far as expecting any aid from Mr. Calvert was
concerned, Little Snap pursued his homeward journey with a gloomy mind.
Since midnight the sky had become overcast, so it was quite dark—too
dark for him to note his surroundings with any clearness.

The ride back as far as Mr. Renders' seemed shorter than he had
expected, and he found that gentleman awaiting his coming.

"You went pretty quick, but Jim don't show his journey a bit. I tell you
that horse can't be beat very easy. Pay? I don't want a red cent. I have
fed your horses, so they are all right to start. How'd you find Calvert?
He's cranky sometimes, but a fairly good sort of a fellow as men go.
Wish he might go to Congress rather than that old Warfield. Never liked
that old duffer; he's deceitful. Nothing of that kind about Cal. Hello!
Starting?"

While Mr. Renders had been running on in his sort of haphazard way,
Little Snap had put the saddle on Jack's back and sprung into the seat.

"I wish you would take pay for the use of your horse, Mr. Renders, but
if you won't, I am a thousand times obliged to you, and I hope I can do
you a favor some time. Good-night."

"He's right after his business!" said the other to himself, as the
clatter of horses' hoofs died out in the distance. "That boy is bound to
succeed."

Riding swiftly homeward, Little Snap was saying to his dumb companions:

"I have to fight my own battles, and this trip has been for nothing. No;
not for nothing, for I know just what to do now. You needn't crowd on
quite so hard, Jack; we have plenty of time."

Shifting from one animal to the other when he thought best, Little Snap
rode on through the night, unmindful of the gathering stormclouds,
though he kept a sharp gaze as he drew near the lonesome spot where he
had been accosted by the stranger.

Not a sound broke the deathlike silence, save the dull tramp of his
horses' feet, and with a feeling of relief he had soon left the place a
mile behind.

At Greenbrier the postboy shifted steeds, giving Jack another rest,
intending to return to him at Daring's Diamond.

No one was astir at this place yet, neither was there any sign of life
at Hollow Tree. But he hadn't gone a dozen rods beyond the Tree before a
sharp voice commanded him to stop, and he suddenly found his way blocked
with a body of armed men.

Three or four caught upon Fairy's bit with a force which dragged her
back upon her haunches, and Little Snap was nearly pulled from his seat.

Realizing his desperate situation, the postboy dextrously slipped the
bridle from the mare's head, at the same time shouting for her to rush
on. Rallying, she made the wild attempt, and Jack, having already
cleared a way through the party, she followed upon his heels.

Shots rang about the fleeing postboy's head, some of the bullets flying
uncomfortably near, but he fancied he was going to get away, when he
dashed furiously down the descent leading to Greenbrier bridge.

As he came in sight of the stream with its high, precipitous banks, a
cry of dismay left his lips. Every bridge plank had been removed, and
only the stringers spanned the dark chasm of foaming waters!

Retreat cut off, with no possible chance to ford the stream, Little Snap
saw at a glance that he was rushing into a veritable deathtrap!

The cries of his pursuers rang exultantly in his ears.



                              CHAPTER XIX.
                        THE BUSHBINDERS' PLANS.


Little Snap's first impulse, as he saw the trap into which he had been
driven, was to turn at bay and meet his enemies in a hand-to-hand
struggle, as hopeless as his chances were.

But at that moment Jack had reached the bank of the stream, and the
fleeing horse, instead of checking his speed or turning aside, sped like
an arrow out over one of the bridge stringers toward the other side!

The postboy was not far behind the gallant steed, but he had opportunity
to see the horse rush safely the length of the timber, to reach the
clear way beyond.

With a snort, as if of triumph, Jack renewed his swift flight now in
comparative safety.

The sight of this feat caused the hopes of Little Snap to rise, and he
resolved to follow the example set by his equine friend.

"On, Fairy!" he cried; "it is our only chance!"

The pursuers suddenly stopped, as they beheld with amazement the daring
deed attempted by the fugitive.

Fairy, seeming to realize the desperate part she was to act in the
startling undertaking, rushed fearlessly in the steps of her mate.

Sitting firmly in his saddle, the postboy felt himself carried out over
the dark chasm, and he caught a gleam of the foaming waters hurling
their forces madly against the rock walls of the channel. The next
instant he felt a quiver run through the frame of the faithful steed,
and he knew that she was falling!

Under the weight of her burden the mare somehow missed her footing, her
feet slipped on the treacherous way, and she tried in vain to recover
her equilibrium.

Finding that she was falling, Little Snap freed his feet from the
stirrups just as horse and rider shot headlong into the boiling river!

At that moment the pursuing party halted on the bank of the stream,
amazed witnesses of the mishap.

Little Snap was carried completely over a stringer running parallel with
the first, and, lighter than the horse, struck in the water farther down
the stream.

Fortunately, he escaped the jagged rocks of the banks, though the fall
deprived him for a time of his senses. When he came to a realization of
his situation, he found himself struggling in a mass of _débris_ which
had clogged the river a short distance below the crossing.

In the midst of his efforts to extricate himself, he heard a voice just
above him. Then, as he peered out from his retreat, he saw some of his
enemies coming rapidly toward the place.

"I can see him!" cried the foremost. "I knew he came down this way."

"Give up, younker!" called another voice. "Ye mought as well, fer we air
sure to git yer."

Letting go the branch upon which he had found himself clinging, Little
Snap hoped to elude his foes by swimming down the stream. But he found
himself so entangled in the mass of floating wood about him, that before
he could get clear, the party was in the water beside him.

A sharp struggle ensued, but at its end the postboy was dragged out of
the water by the hands of the Burrnock gang.

"Bind him, boys!" said the leader, exultantly. "That's gittin' him what
I call mighty easy. I tole yer the bridge racket would fix him."

"What do you mean by this treatment?" demanded the postboy, as he found
himself bound hands and feet.

"Keep cool an' ye'll find out quick 'nough, younker. Tote him erlong,
boys."

Little Snap looked for some trace of Fairy, but in vain.

Nothing further was said by his captors, while he was borne away into
the depths of the forest, subject to such thoughts and feelings as may
be imagined. What would they think at home of his non-appearance when
the time for his return came? Then he thought of Jack, and wondered if
the horse would keep on until he had reached Six Roads. He was certain
the steed would, and this gave him the only hope he felt in his
captivity.

At last the captors and their prisoner reached the little opening
marking the top of the bluff overhanging the cave, where Little Snap had
once sought Ab Raggles.

In the party which had effected his capture he saw Buzzard and Hawk
Burrnock, while the leader of the gang was none other than he who had
been chief spokesman in the cavern. This man the postboy soon found was
Bird Burrnock, the father of the four brothers.

As soon as the underground room was reached, Bird Burrnock addressed the
captive as follows:

"Time is too mighty short, younker, fer us to perlaver with yer. 'Tis
true we mought hev saved a good leetle slice o' yit by knockin' ye in
th' head when we pulled ye out'n th' river. To speak th' truth, I hoped
th' river would fix yer; but seein' yit wan't likely to, we got round in
season to take enny idee o' escape ye mought hev hed out yer head.

"We know yer air wanted mighty bad up to th' Roads, but we want yer wuss
hyur, though they air playin' inter our hands. Still, yer mought give
'em th' slip. Yer can't us! But this ain't bizness.

"To say nothin' o' th' shabby way yer treated th' boys, we hev a double
puppose in gittin' yer inter our grips. Yit don't make enny difference
to ye wot it is, so long es 'tis so. Now we hev got yer, we hev got a
leetle proposition to make yer, on which yer future happiness depends,
es th' parson would say.

"'Tan't enny use fer me to deny, but we hev got our eye on thet mail
route, 'cos we think yit can be made a mighty payin' investment. Shag
wants to run in shacks with us, but we like yer grit well 'nough to make
a bargain with ye. Now, if ye'll 'gree to stand in with us, an' do th'
square thing, we'll not only give ye a shake in th' profits, but we'll
see thet ye don't hev enny trubble. All ye'll hev to do will be to stop
yer hoss long 'nough fer us to look th' baggage over. Mind ye, we do th'
sortin'. Further, we promise thet ye won't hev enny further trubble at
Six Roads, or ennywhere else. Is't a trade, younker?"

Little Snap was so amazed at this audacious scheme that at first he
could not find tongue to reply to Bird Burrnock.

"What if I refuse to enter into any such a contract?"

"Then our own safety demands thet we put ye where ye can't trubble us
enny more. But ye won't?"

"I'll not stand in with you!"

At this declaration the little knot of listeners started excitedly, and
Bird Burrnock, the leader, uttered a fearful oath.

"Then ye wanter die, younker?" he hissed.

"Of course I do not, sir! But I cannot lend my aid to any such infamous
scheme. Why, it's robbery of the worst sort, and you cannot carry it on
for any length of time without being caught."

"Thet's our lookout. Mebbe ye air shaky in thet direction, but I can
tell yer we air well heeled thet way. Why, th' most' influential
citizens o' th' Roads air in with us. There's th' judge, an' the
colonel. Then, too, we'll take keer o' Shag. Once more, will yer fall
with th' plan, or shall we be 'bliged to take desprit measures with
yer?"

Little Snap realized that he was in the power of men who would hesitate
at nothing to carry out their unlawful purpose, and he thought of his
mother even then anxiously awaiting his return home, and imagined the
anguish she would feel upon his failure to come. He thought of his
father, so helpless to aid the others, and his younger sister and
brother, and the sorrow they would experience. Still, with these sad
reflections in his mind, and the dread consequence if he refused to
comply with the demands of his captors plainly before him, he hesitated
but a moment in his reply.

"I cannot accept your terms."

"Fetch erlong th' rope, boys," ordered Bird Burrnock, tersely. "I reckon
'twon't take us long to change his mind."



                              CHAPTER XX.
                         A STARTLING DISCOVERY.


Buzzard Burrnock quickly entered one of the dark recesses of the cavern,
returning a moment later with a coil of rope on his arm.

"Make a loop in one end," commanded the elder Burrnock. "Be lively, too,
fer we don't want to fool with him hyur all day."

When the rope had been arranged to their satisfaction, the noose was
slipped over Little Snap's shoulders, so the cord encircled his body
under the arms.

"Drag him to th' pit!" cried the leader. "Reckon a leetle consideration
there'll take th' starch out'n him."

Buzzard Burrnock and Hawk seized hold of the postboy, one on either
side, and half dragging him, he was swiftly taken along a winding
passage leading from the underground room, until the sharp voice of Bird
Burrnock ordered a halt.

"Swing forward th' torch so's he can see wot's ahead," said the chief,
when Little Snap saw to his horror that he stood at the brink of a huge
fissure in the rock.

"'Tis bottomless, es fur es we know. At enny rate, it's deep 'nough to
send you into eternity. Now, boys, lower him over th' hole, an' let him
down till he says he's willin' to agree to our terms. Hev it over es
quick es possible."

"Look here!" exclaimed the postboy; "if you are in such haste and time
is so valuable to you, I will tell you how you can save this delay. You
waste time in thinking you can make me agree to your terms. My answer
was final."

The outlaw waved his hand impatiently, when his followers pushed Little
Snap over the edge of the abyss, so he dangled from the rope held in
their hands.

"Lower him away!" ordered Burrnock. "I reckon a taste o' thet
darkness'll bring him to his senses. Lower!"

A thrill of dread ran through the postboy's frame as he sank lower and
lower into the unknown depths.

"Why don't ye yell out?" demanded the outlaw chief, his dark visage
appearing over the rim of the rock. He was evidently disappointed at the
coolness of their victim. "Yell at th' top o' yer lungs; needn't be
'fraid o' ennybuddy hearin' ye! Haw! haw!"

Then the speaker's coarse face disappeared, and Snap was dropped several
feet in a jerky manner.

Though he felt that there was no avenue of escape for him, Little Snap
did not lose courage, and as he descended he threw out his hands to
catch upon the rugged wall.

Once his fingers touched a rough edge of rock, but they slipped away,
and he found himself again sinking, when he brushed against a shelf,
which was wide enough for him to gain a good hold.

Hope lending him strength, he clutched at the projection, to find that
he was able to hang there for a short time. He had, at the same moment,
the presence of mind not to allow the rope to slacken, and by holding on
the ledge with one hand, he held firmly on the line with the other,
managing to keep it straight.

In a moment the men stopped lowering the rope, when the voice of their
leader demanded:

"Air ye ready now?"

"No! Do your worst; I will never yield!"

Little Snap was really anxious to bring about a crisis now, knowing he
could not remain in his position long.

"Let him go!" cried Bird Burrnock. "We can't fool with him. We can trade
with Shag."

"Dix Lewis, th' consequence o' this is on yer own head. Good-by."

The next moment the men let go the rope, when it went down with a
rattling sound. At the same time, in order to keep up the deception, the
imperiled boy uttered a piercing scream, which rang through and through
the subterranean passages with a startling effect, echo after echo
succeeding it, until it seemed they would never end.

"He's done fer fas' 'nough," declared Buzzard Burrnock, peering into the
dark depths with a hasty glance, as if frightened at the place.

A minute later Little Snap drew a breath of relief as he listened to the
sound of their retreating footsteps.

Then he shifted his position so as to be more comfortable, while he
waited for them to get out of hearing.

Though he had found a narrow support for his feet, his weight hung
largely on his arms, which were beginning to ache so that he knew he
must soon loosen his hold upon the rocks.

In this dilemma he moved one foot to and fro, up and down, on the rocky
wall, hoping he might find a better standing place.

In this he was so far successful that he changed his position to one of
comparative ease, when he drew his first long breath since entering the
place.

It was too dark for him to see anything of his surroundings, and he soon
began to realize that there was small chance for him to ascend to the
top of the chasm. He hardly dared to move, for fear he should lose his
hold and fall headlong into the pit yawning below him. Such attempts as
he did make showed him the utter impossibility of climbing the
perpendicular side of the rocky wall.

He made a discovery, however, which gave him a ray of hope. The shelf
upon which he stood extended farther than he could reach with his foot.

Carefully then he moved along the precarious path, inch by inch, until
he had traveled several feet. Stopping then for rest, he happened to
thrust out one hand, when to his unbounded joy, he touched the opposite
wall!

The fissure had narrowed so the sides here came within a short distance
of each other.

Again he tried to climb to the top, and by pressing against the two
sides, he managed to ascend.

With what gladness he finally found he was near the surface need not be
told. He was so weak from the ordeal that he fell exhausted a short
distance away from the brink.

Quickly rallying, he tried to penetrate the gloom enough to enable him
to get away from the place; but only blinded by the cimmerian blackness,
he was forced to feel his way along as best he could, knowing that he
was likely to stumble upon his enemies at any moment.

In fact, he had not gone far before the sound of voices reached his
ears. Listening a moment, he heard the harsh tones of Bird Burrnock give
some command to his followers.

Obliged to advance, if he moved at all, he crept nearer to the outlaw
gang, moving with extreme caution, until he knew from the sound of their
voices he was close upon them. As if to verify this, a faint gleam of
light from their torch fell across his pathway.

The leader of the party was saying something as he stopped, which he did
not hear plain enough to understand. Listening more intently for the
reply, he came near betraying his presence by a low cry, not at the
words spoken, but the tone in which they were given.

It was his father's voice!



                              CHAPTER XXI.
                     "WHAT JACK RIMMON SAYS, GOES."


The little crowd about the post office at Six Roads looked with
speechless amazement upon the riderless horse as the animal approached
at a furious pace.

"Something has happened to Dix!" exclaimed Mr. Rimmon. "I feared it.
Come here, Jack; where is your master?"

With a low neigh, the panting horse stopped beside him, the creature
trembling in every part.

Even Dan Shag was moved to emotion, and for the time he forgot to repeat
his request for the mail pouch.

"I wish you could speak, Jack," said the postmaster, patting the horse's
head. "Where did you leave him?"

"It's pas' six!" broke in Shag. "Reckon ye'll let me hev th' government
traps?"

"Not yet, Dan. Wait till we learn the fate of Little Snap."

"Don't see wot thet hes to do with me. I hev been 'p'inted to carry thet
mail, an' every minnit ye keep yit frum me makes ye liable fer damages.
Reckon ye wouldn't want 'em to know at Washington 'bout this yer
foolery."

Mr. Rimmon paid no heed to these words, which fact perhaps enraged the
impatient Shag more than any reply would have done.

"Look hyur, Jack Rimmon! air ye goin' to let me hev thet mail—right
off—ter wunst?"

Mr. Rimmon's reply fairly took away his breath.

"No, sir!"

At first the would-be mail carrier could not believe his ears.

"Wot's thet ye say, Jack Rimmon?"

"Stand aside now, Mr. Shag; there is more important matter on hand than
your business. I will talk with you about this mail matter when I have
more leisure."

With these words, Mr. Rimmon, leading Jack by the bridle, started toward
the home of the Lewises.

"Great guns!" exclaimed Shag, as soon as he could speak; "wot in
creation do ye mean? Foolin' with me, a United States officer, in thet
way! Where's Judge Claverton? I'll hev him tear this ol' shebang o' a
post offis down, but I'll hev thet mail bag!"

A few of the spectators cheered him, but the majority followed the
postmaster toward the more exciting scene around the besieged house.

At least that is what it looked to Mr. Rimmon, as he approached, with
Jack walking by his side.

Foremost in the excited throng that had surrounded the home of the
postboy, was Sheriff Brady, who was speaking to Mrs. Lewis and the crowd
at his heels in almost the same breath.

"Wait a minute longer, boys! Tell us where he has gone, Mary Lewis, and
we won't molest you."

The overwrought woman was standing in the doorway with one of her
children on either side. Her inflamed eyes told that she had been
weeping. It had been a night she would never forget.

"I repeat, Mr. Brady," she said, for the twentieth time, "that he has
gone to Volney to see Mr. Calvert, and that he will be back at six!"

"Tell us something else; it will at least make a change, Mrs. Lewis. Of
course, we know better than that. You are knowing to where he has hid
himself."

"It's past six!" cried some one from the crowd.

"So 'tis," cried the sheriff. "I don't like to resort to any violence
with a woman. Wait one minnit longer. While we wait, tell us the truth,
woman."

In vain she reiterated the truthfulness of her statement.

The frenzied spectators would listen to nothing reasonable.

At this critical moment little Sammy Lewis, dragging his boyish figure
to its full height with manly dignity, stepped in front of his imperiled
mother, crying:

"You shall not hurt her! She has told the truth of Dix. We do not know
why he does not come; but he went to see Mr. Calvert. He will come back
as soon as he can."

"What means all this outcry?" demanded the clear voice of Mr. Rimmon.
"Sheriff Brady, is it thus you perform the duties of your office with
such a rabble at your back?"

Every one started in surprise at the appearance of the postmaster, and
low exclamations came from the lips of all at sight of the postboy's
horse.

Mrs. Lewis seemed to comprehend the worst at a single glance.

"My boy! what has happened to him?" she cried, rushing forward to Mr.
Rimmon.

"Be calm, Mary. Let us trust he is safe."

"But how came Jack here without him?"

The appearance of the horse was then told in a few words, while numerous
conjectures were offered in regard to the rider.

"You say he went away with both his horses," said Mr. Rimmon. "The fact
that this one has come back without any saddle shows that he must have
been riding Fairy at the time Jack got away from him, or was perhaps
sent ahead by his master to tell us that he is safe. I look upon it as a
good sign.

"Cheer up, Mrs. Lewis; I guarantee that no harm shall come to you. Mr.
Brady, I advise you to withdraw your men. Dix Lewis will not be hard to
find when he comes."

"If he comes!" said the sheriff. "You may not be aware, Mr. Rimmon, that
Warfield has concluded not to stand the boy's bail, and thus we must
have him."

"I know nothing of this," replied the postmaster, sharply. "Why didn't
you or Mr. Warfield come to me in regard to the matter?"

"Of course I did not suppose you would care to stand in for the runaway,
if Mr. Warfield did not. In that case it was my duty to capture the
scamp as soon as possible."

"Give yourself no farther concern in that direction, Mr. Brady. I will
answer for the boy. Is that sufficient?"

Mr. Rimmon was not the right man for Sheriff Brady to antagonize.
Besides being a person of good financial standing, he was known to be a
man of sterling integrity, and, to use a cant expression, "What Jack
Rimmon says, goes." So the officer said:

"Of course, Mr. Rimmon. But I want to tell you that you are making the
greatest mistake of your life."

"That's my lookout. Now go to your homes, every man of you, and when Dix
Lewis is wanted I will guarantee he will be on hand, or there will be
good reason for his not being there."

Mr. Rimmon had barely finished speaking, when the clatter of a horse's
hoofs broke the silence following his words.

The sound came from the road below the crowd, and looking hastily in
that direction, one and all saw a riderless horse coming swiftly toward
them.

Every one recognized the animal as Fairy, the brown mare so often ridden
by the postboy. She was more exhausted than the bay had been, and in
addition to the flecks of foam dappling her sides, were clots of blood.

If any evidence of a mishap to Little Snap had been wanting before, it
seemed supplied now.

With a cry of anguish the bereaved mother fell in a swoon.

The kind heart of the postmaster was deeply moved by this scene, and he
ordered the onlookers to stand back, until she could be restored to
consciousness.

"This looks bad for the boy," he said. "Some of you care for the mare
and the horse, too. I want half a dozen of you to go with me in search
of him as soon as possible."

Mrs. Lewis soon returned to life, when she was taken into the house, and
comforted as best she could be, her friends assuring her that everything
would be done to find Dix that was possible.

Mr. Rimmon had meanwhile ordered his own horse to be saddled, and was
ready to start in quest of the missing boy, as Dan Shag returned to the
post office, accompanied by Justice Claverton and Morton Meiggs.

"Reckon I'll take thet mail bag now," said Shag, with a sort of grim
humor in his looks. "Ye hev kept me waitin' quite a spell."

Mr. Rimmon glanced hastily at the speaker and his companions, and then
toward the half dozen horsemen who were to go with him, before he said:

"I am sorry to be obliged to refuse your request, Mr. Shag, but the fact
is I cannot recognize you."

"Wot's thet mean?" gasped the amazed man.

"Let me say a word," interposed Claverton. "Aren't you getting into
rather deep water, Mr. Rimmon?"

"I am a good swimmer, judge, and——"

"Hold on! that isn't the idee at all. Dix Lewis is out of the mail
business, and I have in my official capacity appointed Mr. Shag mail
carrier on the Kanawha route. Haven't I the authority in my official
capacity to do so?"

"I haven't time in my present situation to argue that point, but I will
say that I am not going to be governed by your order at this time.

"Come, men, if you are ready for a start, we will not delay any longer.
Bid Mrs. Lewis to be of good cheer, and assure her that we will send her
word as soon as we have learned anything in regard to his fate.

"Good-morning, Judge Claverton, Mr. Shag, and Mr. Meiggs."

While the surprised trio stood speechless witnesses, the little
cavalcade dashed down the road at a smart canter.

"Did ye ever see ennything like thet?" asked Shag, as soon as he had
recovered his breath.

"Rimmon is carrying a high hand," acknowledged Claverton.

"Why can't we help ourselves to thet ol' sack? He ain't no right to keep
it arter this time o' day. Say th' word an' I'll git it in a jiffy."

"Better let it alone. Jack Rimmon ain't a good man to buck against. All
we can do is to see what will happen next."

Though both of his companions were prone to object to this inactivity,
they could do no better than to submit.



                             CHAPTER XXII.
                          AN UNDERGROUND RACE.


Let us see how it is faring with Little Snap.

As we have seen, his surprise knew no bounds, as he listened to the
sound of the voice which was unmistakably his father's.

Anxious to see if he could learn what his father's presence there meant,
while Bird Burrnock was speaking he cautiously advanced, crawling upon
his hands and knees.

He soon paused as he found himself in a position to look into the cavern
room containing the speakers, though they were not in sight of him.

He stopped abruptly as he heard his father's voice again answering the
outlaw chief.

"The last of them must be put out of the way!" he was saying, "and I am
the man to do it."

"Of course ye air," replied Bird Burrnock. "How soon can ye do yit?"

Little Snap was about to make another move forward, hoping to be able to
get a view of the speakers, his hearing strained to its utmost tension
to catch every word that was spoken.

He heard his father's voice again falling on the unnatural stillness of
the place, when suddenly he was startled by a sound behind him which he
recognized as the stealthy footstep of a man swiftly approaching him.

Expecting to meet none but enemies there, he put the voice from his mind
instantly, and turned to look for some way of escape.

As he glanced into the gloom encircling him, he saw the faint outlines
of a man's figure a few feet away. At the same time he perceived the
entrance to a passage running off to his left.

It was his only avenue of escape, and without stopping to think whether
it might lead him to safety or into worse dangers, he darted along its
course.

"Help!" cried the man in pursuit of him. "Quick! that boy! He's gone
this way!"

While giving utterance to the exciting alarm, the speaker rushed upon
the heels of Little Snap, who found the way so crooked and filled with
bowlders that he could advance only with great difficulty.

The cries of his pursuers were quickly answered by the others, and then
the fugitive heard the entire party in pursuit of him.

The foremost almost within reach of him, the postboy continued his
flight as rapidly as possible, at one time actually feeling the hand of
his enemy on his shoulder, as he ran against one of the rocks often
blocking his way. But gliding around the obstruction, he succeeded in
eluding his pursuer.

For several yards he found a clearer course, while a faint halo of light
filled the underground place.

The cause of this was explained in a moment, when he came upon the
opening in the rocky passage discovered by him in his search for the
Raggles.

Unable to cross this chasm, he suddenly found his flight cut off!

Feeling sure of their victim now, with renewed cries, the outlaws rushed
to effect his capture.

Little Snap's first thought was that he was fairly caught! But no sooner
had he recognized the spot than a desperate resolution entered his mind,
and he felt no hesitation in carrying it out.

Ab Raggles had said that the water at the bottom of the fissure formed
an underground stream leading to the valley below, and that he and his
sons had followed it without trouble to safety. Why could not he do the
same?

Wild cries came from his pursuers, as they saw him keep on to the very
brink of the abyss without checking his speed. Then, to their greater
amazement, they saw him plunge into the opening, to disappear instantly
from their sight.

"Let th' fool go!" said Bird Burrnock. "He's saved us a heap o' trouble
in lookin' after him. He's out o' our way sure nough now."

The fall to the water was greater than Little Snap had expected, and he
was nearly deprived of his breath by the force with which he struck the
subterranean river. But he quickly recovered himself, and as the current
was not swift, he was soon swimming along with the tide at a leisurely
rate.

The stream was nearly straight, and the postboy had not gone far before
a streak of daylight told him that he was nearing its outlet.

The mouth of the river seemed to be in the midst of the Greenbrier, and
so completely was the smaller stream swallowed up by the larger that,
excepting a slight increase in the current, there was no sign of the
addition of water.

But Greenbrier River, as we have seen, was rapid in this vicinity, so
our hero had to look sharp for himself, as he followed its course to a
place where he could scale its precipitous bank.

This he did not succeed in doing until he had got within a short
distance of the wrecked bridge, where he had had his thrilling
experience that morning.

"Poor Fairy!" he thought, as he looked for trace of her, "you must have
been killed outright by the fall. It was a fearful chance, but—hark! I
hear horsemen coming."

Not caring to take any risk, he sought the concealment of the bushes, to
await the appearance of the riders.

He didn't have to wait long before they dashed into sight, pulling up
smartly at the sight of the chasm of roaring waters where the bridge
should have been.

A glad cry left Little Snap's lips, as he saw that the foremost horseman
was John Rimmon of Six Roads, and regardless of his personal appearance,
he bounded into the road.

"Why! Dix Lewis, as I live!" cried the postmaster. "Where in the world
have you been, and what has happened? You look as if you had been
through fire and water."

"I have nearly that," replied Little Snap, with a laugh. "I am glad you
have come along, for I am afoot and pretty well used up. I have lost
both of my horses. Poor Fairy will carry me no more on my trips to the
Loop."

"Don't be too sure of that, lad. She's safe and sound in your stable at
this blessed minute. So is Jack, too! You see, their coming without you
was what started us in your quest.

"But the folks are too anxious about you at home for us to tarry here.
Jump up here behind me, and as we ride along you can tell me your story.
When we get to Diamond we'll hunt you up an extra horse and a dry suit
of clothes.

"Right-about face, boys, and seeing that you can get ahead faster than
we, you can go on and tell them we have found the missing sheep all
right."

Mr. Rimmon's companions willingly complied with this request, without
dreaming that it was a clever artifice on his part to hear Little Snap's
full story alone.

He had anticipated there might be some startling disclosures, and he was
not disappointed, as the postboy told him all that had happened to him
since leaving Six Roads, omitting the single fact of his father's
presence among the outlaws in the cave. He hadn't the heart to tell that
part.

"My stars! adventures enough for a trip around the world. But say, Dix,
if you had let me know that you were going, I should have put a stop to
it, though I can see that it has resulted in gaining some valuable
truths, which might not otherwise have been gained."

"I promised mother that I would let you know I was going. I did call up
to your house, but no one was stirring, and I thought it was too bad to
disturb you. I did not think it would make any difference."

"All's well that ends well, they say. By the by, I do not believe it
will be best to tell all you know of this affair just at present. There
is a mystery to me concerning the origin of all this trouble, and I
don't understand the actions of some of our leading citizens. In my
humble opinion it will be best to watch and wait in this matter a while.
I will stand by you if no one else does. Shag came round in a terrible
stew to have the mail pouch, but I knew better than to let him.

"You can say that you went to Volney and saw Mr. Calvert, and in coming
back you undertook to cross the bridge stringers and fell in, which will
be the truth as far as you go.

"In regard to that gang you saw in the cave, I don't know what to do
with them. We can't exactly arrest them, even could we catch them, as it
would bother us to prove anything against them. They are desperate
characters to handle, too. No doubt as soon as they find you have
escaped they will pitch into you again. If you have any scruples about
continuing on your route, I will get a trusty man to take your place. I
wouldn't blame you if you did, and it might be better so for a time. You
shall have your job back again when it is over."

"I don't wish to give it up at this time, Mr. Rimmon. I thank you for
your kindness, and I want to go through with this. I am going to get at
the bottom of this matter if it is possible."

"Spoken just like a Lewis. Well, you have one who will see you through.
You are true grit."

"I am afraid I shall be late at the Loop, to say nothing of the other
offices," said Little Snap, with a slight laugh.

"You won't be expected to go at all. If Uncle Sam's servants do not keep
the way open, he certainly cannot expect you to perform your task.
Perhaps by to-morrow it will be so you can go."

"I will be ready then," replied the postboy, earnestly.



                             CHAPTER XXIII.
                     THE REGISTERED LETTERS AGAIN.


Though his coming had been announced by those who had preceded Mr.
Rimmon and himself on their return to Six Roads, Little Snap's
appearance was hailed with various feelings of demonstration.

The joy of those at his home knew no bounds, while his friends greeted
him with manifestations of delight. Others shook their heads, as if
there was something wrong, while still others openly avowed that they
would have been better suited if he had never come, or "words to that
effect."

"We have had such a terrible experience since you went away," said Mrs.
Lewis. "I dread to have you carry that mail again, and I wish you would
not, my son."

"I shall not have to go to-day, mother, and Mr. Rimmon says it is
possible I shall not have to go to-morrow, as it is proving quite a job
to clear the road at the Narrows, to say nothing of repairing Greenbrier
bridge."

"I am afraid you will be killed, Dix. Sheriff Brady says the Blazed Acre
folks are bound to kill you."

"Mother, I have no greater enemy or worse one than Mr. Brady, though I
do not understand why he is against me. Has father been home since I
started for Volney?" he asked, suddenly changing the subject.

"No. I am growing more and more anxious about him. He seems to grow more
moody every day. I am so sorry for him, and I know not what can be
done."

Little Snap offered such encouraging words as he could, though he could
not forget the fact of his father's presence among the outlaws of
Greenbrier cave. It was true he had not seen his countenance, but he was
none the less certain of the truth of the situation. He trembled for the
ultimate outcome of the mystery.

Another thing puzzled him not a little, and that was the mention of the
names of "judge" and "colonel" by Bird Burrnock. He was at a loss to
understand who these associates of the desperadoes of Blazed Acre could
be. Justice Claverton was often called "judge," and Mr. Warfield in the
same tone frequently spoken of as "the colonel." With all the enmity the
first bore toward him, he could not think he was the one meant by the
outlaw, while it seemed preposterous that Mr. Jason Warfield, the
ambitious politician, could be spoken of in this connection.

Naturally enough the affairs of the past few days were the general
themes of conversation at Six Roads.

Though he kept aloof from the crowds that daily collected at all of the
public places, Little Snap heard sufficient for him to know he was the
object of many unfavorable remarks. It was certain his enemies were
improving the time to set public opinion against him as much as
possible.

Dan Shag seemed everywhere present, repeating, in a loud tone, his
grievances, and continuing his threats against the postmaster, who
offered him no reply.

Mr. Warfield was out of town, but in the afternoon of the same day he
got home from Volney, Little Snap was paid a visit by the politician's
secretary.

"I felt it my duty to call upon you," said Mr. Jones, "relative to the
matter I know must be fresh in your mind."

"I do not understand what you refer to," replied Dix, not at all pleased
with this call.

"Nothing is so hard to understand as what we do not wish to understand,"
said the other. "Of course you have not forgotten those missing
registered letters of Mr. Warfield's."

"No, sir; still I do not know why you should come to me about them. I
suppose the affair is being investigated."

"No one would be more likely to know than you," was the significant
reply. "But to be frank with you, I have come for a confidential talk
with you, confessing that it was suggested by Mr. Warfield. He bears you
no ill will. In fact, he desires to help you all in his power, as his
past actions have shown. Now, upon his guarantee I can assure you that
nothing will be done with you if you will tell us the whole truth in
regard to this matter.

"Please do not think we suppose you have taken the letters knowingly,
but we suppose that in some way you have lost them. Of course you are
not directly to blame in that case, though it does look bad for you,
particularly as you have denied it so stoutly. If you will candidly
acknowledge that this is the case, we will let the affair drop here,
save to explain that you have not been in any way to blame."

Little Snap had listened to this speech without any interruption, and at
its close he said:

"Mr. Jones, it is evident that you think I am either a fool or a thief.
I have told all I have to say in regard to the matter. Before you come
to me please investigate your post offices. I——"

"So you call Mr. Rimmon a robber of the United States mail? It is a bold
utterance, for even a rash-headed youth to make, and I can promise you
it shall be taken for all it is worth. Good-day."

"Perhaps I was too outspoken with him," said the postboy to his mother,
when he had explained the object of the other's visit, "but I could not
help it. That man is one of those who is at the bottom of my troubles,
and he it is who has caused Mr. Warfield to do as he has."

The afternoon of the following day, as he had heard nothing definite
concerning the progress made in repairing the road, Little Snap called
at the post office, to find the place literally surrounded by loafers
and men engaged in discussing politics and the prospects of who was to
carry the mail on the Kanawha route.

"I tell you that young Lewis isn't going," some one in the background
was saying, as Little Snap entered the building. "I hear Mr. Warfield is
going to fix up the matter in the way it should be."

"Well, here comes Mr. Warfield to speak for himself," said another, and
our hero was somewhat surprised to see the politician appear upon the
scene.

"It looks as though the road would be clear for you to-morrow," said Mr.
Rimmon.

Then noticing Mr. Warfield, he added:

"Glad to see you here, colonel. I wish you would step inside here, as I
have something of importance to say to you."

"Have my letters been found, Mr. Rimmon?"

"I regret to say——"

"Yes, they have been found!" broke in Meiggs, in the midst of Mr.
Rimmon's words. "Here they are!" holding up one hand, in which were
clasped three or four badly soiled and abused letters.

"I found them in an old stump between Hollow Tree and Greenbrier,"
continued the speaker, while great excitement instantly began to come
over the crowd. "They have been opened, and I found with them a letter
belonging to Dix Lewis!"



                             CHAPTER XXIV.
                          DRIVEN TO THE WALL.


The excitement following Morton Meiggs' announcement of the finding of
the lost registered letters, and the sight of them in his hand, was so
great that Mr. Rimmon attempted to speak several times before he could
make himself heard.

"We would like to hear the particulars in regard to the finding of the
letters, Mr. Meiggs," said the postmaster.

"I can give them in a very few words, Mr. Rimmon. I was riding up from
Greenbrier, and got up to within about a mile of Hollow Tree, when I
thought I heard the rustling of paper in the bushes by the roadside.
Stopping my horse, I hadn't listened a great while before I knew I was
right."

"Still I didn't think anything strange of that, and I was just going to
start along, when I thought I saw a bit of paper sticking out of a
hollow stump growing, or rather standing, for I suppose it had got done
growing, two or three rods away from the road.

"I had the curiosity to investigate, so I got off my horse and went up
to the stump of a tree. Sure enough, there was a letter a-sticking out
of a crack in the dead tree. I pulled it out to find it was one of them
registered letters which had been lost or something done with them.

"I began to look about the place, and to reward me for my trouble I
found all three of them registered letters of Mr. Warfield's, and I also
found one telltale letter sent to Dix Lewis. All of them were opened
just as I show them to you."

It seemed a long time before any one spoke, after Mr. Meiggs' statement.

"Let me see the letters," said the postmaster, reaching out his hand for
them.

"Reckon that will be all the evidence you will need to show who the
guilty party is," said Meiggs, as he passed the letters to the other.

"These are no doubt the missing letters," allowed the postmaster, "but I
fail to see how this proves that Dix Lewis put them there."

"Who did, if he didn't?" demanded Clevis Claverton.

"I do not pretend to answer that. It is a mystery that remains to be
cleared up."

"Has the contents been taken from all of them?" asked Mr. Warfield,
looking over Mr. Rimmon's shoulder, as the latter examined the pieces of
mail matter.

"The letters are here, but the money which they evidently contained is
missing."

"Of course," said Dan Shag, with a shake of his head; "that was what he
was after."

Little Snap had remained silent during this scene, but he was about to
speak, when the gruff voice of Justice Claverton fell on the ears of the
anxious throng.

"Mr. John Rimmon, I feel obliged to say to you that I have so far
examined the laws and statutes as to find that you are not eligible to
be on this young culprit's bail, seeing that you are already holding an
office under the United States Government. Uncle Sam is pretty careful
in that respect.

"In that case, Mr. Warfield, of course, wishes to be released, so the
prisoner is left without any bonds. It is therefore my duty to command
Sheriff Brady to take him to jail, there to await his trial at the next
term of court.

"Mr. Brady, in my official capacity, I now order you to carry out the
mandates of the law."

At this announcement greater excitement than ever reigned, during which
the sheriff pushed his way through the crowd toward the postboy.

"This is too bad," said Mr. Rimmon. "Hold on a few minutes, Brady, while
I can say a word to the boy."

"Talk fast, then," said the officer. "I think we have been too easy with
him so far."

Unheeding this last remark, the postmaster motioned Little Snap to come
inside the office.

"I have been expecting this," were his first words. "I fear I am
powerless to help you any farther, though I am none the less your
willing friend. Do you think of anybody who would be likely to help you
through?"

"Not unless Mr. James Renders, of Greenbrier, will."

"He would not be sufficient alone, supposing he would do it. Say, I am
going to call in Mr. Warfield, and see what he will do and what he won't
do. He has acted funny lately."

In answer to the request of the postmaster the politician reluctantly
joined the two in their private consultation.

"We wanted to speak to you alone, Jason," said Mr. Rimmon, "in regard to
your feelings toward the boy here. You have seemed to be his friend in
times past."

"So I have, John; so I have," declared Mr. Warfield; "and I was never
more his friend than now."

"That is what I thought. So these rumors of your withdrawal from his
bail are false? You are willing to stand by him longer, supposing we
could get some such a person as James Renders, of Greenbrier, to stand
in with you?"

"I—well—ahem—do you suppose Renders will? I hardly think it."

"Will you? I wish to know that before I speak to him or any one else. So
many stories are afloat that we don't know what to believe."

"I think you can remain there," replied the other, ignoring the question
asked. "As far as I know there is nothing against it in the law."

"Still, there is a doubt there, and until that is cleared away I am of
no good to the boy, though I am willing to do anything I can. But before
I can do anything, I must know just what you are willing to do. I ask
that you remain on his bail as a personal favor to me as well as to the
boy. Remember, you have never asked me for a favor in vain."

To the surprise of his companions, Mr. Warfield seemed laboring under
some great mental strain. The perspiration stood out in beads all over
his face, while he trembled and moved uneasily.

"I—the truth is, John, I wish I could grant you this favor. I don't
think the boy unworthy of all the assistance I could give him; but the
truth is, John, unavoidable circumstances over which I have no control
make it impossible——"

"Ain't you 'bout through there?" broke in Sheriff Brady's voice. "The
judge is getting anxious that I do my duty."

"I am coming," replied Little Snap, quickly. "Mr. Rimmon, I thank you
for your kindness; and you, Mr. Warfield, I do not wish to have you do
anything for me against your wishes.

"Sheriff Brady, I am ready to go with you, though I am going to tell you
at the outset that somebody is going to suffer for this."

"I don't do this, Dix, from choice," said the officer, laying his hand
on the postboy's shoulder. "I think myself Judge Claverton is a little
severe on you. By the way, I can save you the disgrace of this going to
jail if you will listen to reason. Resign this mail route without
further opposition, and I guarantee the matter shall rest here. I know
what I am saying, though I don't care for the mob to hear it. You will
resign and save all farther trouble?"

The sheriff had lowered his voice to a tone a little above a whisper,
but Little Snap's ringing reply was loud enough for every person to
hear.

"Never, Mr. Brady! Take me to jail if you wish, but I will not betray
the slightest trust reposed in me. I am innocent of the charges you
bring against me, and there can be no disgrace until you have proved me
guilty."



                              CHAPTER XXV.
                          STARTLING SURPRISES.


"Bravo!"

Sheriff Brady stopped suddenly in his movement to put the handcuffs on
his prisoner, and every person in the crowd of spectators uttered an
exclamation of surprise at the unexpected word spoken so sharply and
with the ring of admiration in it.

Turning abruptly around, the spectators were amazed to see a horseman
nearby, he having ridden upon the scene unobserved by all.

"Bravo for you, Dix Lewis!" cried the newcomer. "Upon second thought I
concluded that I did not give you the answer I ought, so I have come up
to see you, and help settle your trouble. What's up here, anyway?"

"Marion Calvert, as I live!" exclaimed Jason Warfield.

Little Snap had already seen the horseman, and his countenance had taken
on a brighter look.

"I am glad to see you, Mr. Calvert. They have accused me of doing that
of which I am innocent, and there don't seem to be any one able to help
me out."

"Don't, eh? Well, let me see what I can do," urging his horse forward
through the crowd to the post office door as he spoke. "Mr. Brady, what
do you think you are doing?"

"I—the fact is, Mr. Calvert, there has been a little irregularity in the
boy's business, and we thought it was time to look into it. We didn't
mean him any harm, only we did it as a matter of self-protection."

"I see," replied the mail contractor, in a tone which puzzled his
hearers. "The boy was down to see me about it, but I answered him rather
hastily at the time. Luckily I saw my duty before it was too late, and
at the sacrifice of some business obligations I am here. I think I came
at a good time, too.

"I learned at Greenbrier that the road had not been fully cleared at
Kanawha Narrows yet. The bridge across the Greenbrier is not in passable
shape. But I have left word that if the post road is not passable
to-morrow morning I will have every official indicted. I should like to
know what you have been doing."

"Attending to our own business," retorted Claverton, showing his
displeasure.

"I should think you had been doing little else than to make war upon
this boy. You seem to forget that if there is any fault to be found I am
the one to complain to. I am under bonds to the United States Government
to see that the mail is carried on the Kanawha route in a proper
manner."

"You can't stand between us and justice," replied Claverton. "My court
has found the youngster guilty of high misdemeanors, and if you wish to
father them, all right. Otherwise he goes to jail inside of——"

"Go to jail yourself and take your court along with you!" cried the
imperturbable Calvert. "I will see the boy through now."

"Defy the law, do you?" demanded Claverton, sharply.

"Your law, yes! I forgot more last night than you ever knew. I want to
see you at your home, Mr. Lewis."

"I give you warning, sir," said Claverton, as a last desperate resort,
"that the boy's bondsmen have thrown him over. He stands without any
backing."

"Is that so? How is it, Mr. Warfield? I believe your name was first on
his paper."

"Yes, sir, I—I——"

"That's all right. How is it with the others?"

"I have asked to have my name taken off," said Meiggs. "But I am on Mr.
Shag's bond."

"I am off young Lewis' paper, but on Mr. Shag's," said Clevis Claverton.

"Very well. I don't care a picayune about you two, or this Shag. You
will sign a new bond for the boy, Mr. Warfield?"

To the surprise of Mr. Rimmon and Little Snap, the politician replied,
after a moment's hesitation:

"Certainly, Mr. Calvert; anything I can do for him I will. I hope I may
have a little talk with you before you leave the town."

"Yes. Now, Mr. Lewis, I would like to see you alone a little while. I
will see that that bond is fixed up all satisfactory, Mr. Claverton."

"You can come right into my office," said Mr. Rimmon. "I will send my
man to take care of your horse, Mr. Calvert."

Notwithstanding the bold utterances of Marion Calvert, the majority of
the spectators looked with favor upon him, and there were many outspoken
words in admiration of him. The crowd generally falls in with him who
shows a fearless attitude, even if he slightly oversteps the line drawn
for him, rather than the one who is weak and vacillating, though he
represents the cause they intended to espouse. Mr. Warfield had recently
acted in a manner disliked by several, and not understood by any.

While the outsiders were discussing the situation _pro_ and _con_,
Little Snap and his two friends were trying to decide upon the best
course of action. Finally, when he had been made acquainted with the
true state of affairs, Mr. Calvert said:

"I will look after the bonds on your mail contract, Lewis, and to give
Claverton and his backers no opportunity to make a fuss, I will see that
the proper bail is secured for you. To-morrow I will go to Salt Works
with you, and stay there to come home with you. I do not believe you
will have any farther trouble. I must go to Washington on the next day.
Be sure and keep your eyes and ears open, and at the least suspicion of
interference let me know. Mr. Rimmon will also be on the watch for you."

"You needn't be afraid but Warfield will stand by you after this, for he
knows his chances of getting into Congress depend too much on what I do
for him to act differently."

Having reached this decision, the plan was carried out as rapidly as
possible, and with complete success, so the following morning Little
Snap was promptly on hand for the mail pouch.

So was Dan Shag, and in his disappointment, he exclaimed:

"The day o' reckonin' ain't fur off, Dix Lewis, so carry a high hand
while ye can."

As he had promised, Mr. Calvert accompanied the postboy on his trip as
far as Salt Works and return, though nothing occurred to hint of any
further trouble.

The following day the contractor left for Washington, while Little Snap
started on his daily route alone.

Naturally, he never rode through the Wash Bowl and along the Narrows
without recalling his startling experiences there and looking sharply
about him.

Thus an uneventful week passed, until one afternoon, after having met
and passed Old Solitaire at his lonely vigil, he was suddenly made aware
that his battle was not over.

Descending into the Bowl with his usual caution, he was passing a
particularly lonely place in the road, where an overhanging rock nearly
touched his head as he rode along, when his attention was attracted by a
shrill cry off to his right and lower down the basin.

Turning for a moment to look in that direction, he was just in season to
catch a glimpse of the mail pouch as it was being whisked out of sight
over his head!

Stopping Jack with a sudden jerk of the rein, it was fully a minute
before the surprised postboy could comprehend what had taken place.



                             CHAPTER XXVI.
                           A LIFE FOR A LIFE.


Little Snap, it is safe to say, was never more thoroughly surprised in
his life.

In the brief glance he had obtained of the disappearing mail pouch, he
had also seen that it had been snatched from its resting place by a
pole, with a hook attached at the end, in the hands of a man concealed
behind the bowlder.

Then a movement among the rocks on the side of the mountain told him
that the audacious thief was making off with his booty.

Without stopping to count the cost of the hopelessness of pursuit, the
postboy rose in his seat to an upright position, when he found he could
grasp a clump of stunted bushes growing on the side of the ledge and
high enough to enable him to gain the summit of the rock.

The next moment he climbed upward with the agility of a cat, reaching
the side of the bowlder in season to see the robber fleeing around
another, somewhat higher on the mountainside.

He was armed, but before he could bring his weapon to bear upon the
escaping man, the other had disappeared behind another pile of rocks.

Evidently he had not discovered the fact that he was pursued, and being
careful only to keep his body from sight of the road, he ascended higher
with what celerity he was capable of exercising.

Little Snap followed with swifter and lighter steps, carrying in his
right hand his heavy revolver for instant use. Confident that there had
been but one doing the robbery, he advanced with the firm determination
to have that mail pouch back in his possession, unless the fugitive was
smarter than he.

Up, up, climbed the robber, watching the road intently, and stopping
every few steps to see why he had not aroused some outcry by his bold
theft. Evidently he was bothered to understand what the silence meant,
for he soon crept behind a sheltering bowlder, where he crouched in
waiting for several minutes, peering cautiously out from his retreat.

During this time Little Snap lay flat on one of the jagged shelves of
rock jutting out on the mountain, his body concealed by a bunch of
bushes.

The other was out of his sight, but knowing his position, the postboy
held his weapon in readiness to cover him the moment he should move. He
felt certain he had an advantage over his enemy which would result in
his success.

In a short time he heard the man again moving, though his body was
hidden from him by the rock. Knowing it would not do for him to allow
the other to get too much the start of him, the postboy once more moved
cautiously forward.

Around the rocky point concealing his foe from him he darted, to come
suddenly into full view of the man, whom he quickly recognized as Robin
Burrnock.

The outlaw saw him at the same moment, and with a fierce imprecation he
whipped out a pistol and aimed point-blank at the postboy's head.

Fortunately the weapon missed fire, and before he could repeat his
attempt, Little Snap leveled his revolver at Burrnock's heart, crying:

"Stand where you are or I will fire!"

With a hoarse laugh, the outlaw, unheeding the threat, leaped forward
upon a wider shelf of rock.

Though not wishing to kill him, the postboy fired at the man's lower
limbs, hoping thus to stop his escape. But he missed his mark, and as he
cocked the weapon for a second shot, Burrnock hurled his own useless
weapon with such unerring precision at him that he dashed the revolver
from Little Snap's clutch.

"Come on ef ye want me!" cried the outlaw, and vexed at his blundering
work, the postboy sprang nimbly up to the ledge beside the robber,
taking him so much by surprise that he was forced to drop the mail pouch
and defend himself against the attack of the plucky boy.

Little Snap had thought to seize the sack and spring down upon the lower
rim of ledge out of the outlaw's reach before he could stop him. But
Robin Burrnock proved himself almost as nimble as his young assailant,
so the postboy found himself caught in the man's strong arms, when the
twain became locked in a hand-to-hand struggle for life or death.

"The old Nick take ye!" howled the desperado of Blazed Acre, "I'll show
ye yer match wunst."

The shelf was not more than four feet in width and six in length, while
the descent was nearly perpendicular to the road a hundred feet below,
so the combatants had small chance for operation, but each did his best,
knowing it was a fight to the bitter end.

Little Snap particularly realized that it was life or death with him,
and though smaller and weaker than his antagonist, he made such a
desperate resistance that the outlaw found himself for once matched.

To and fro, back and forth the two struggled, first one reeling back
against the steep side of the mountain and then the other, each in turn
recovering himself, to renew the contest with more earnestness than
before.

Burrnock had succeeded in getting in a vise-like grip upon Little Snap's
throat, and our hero tried in vain to break from it.

"Now, my leetle bantam, I'll see who is master!"

With all the power he could muster, the postboy caught upon the wrist of
Burrnock's uplifted arm with his right hand, while with the other he
tried in vain to tear away the clutch at his throat.



                             CHAPTER XXVII.
                        LITTLE SNAP'S SURPRISE.


In the brief time he felt himself succumbing to the overmastering
strength of Robin Burrnock, a thousand thoughts seemed to flit through
Little Snap's mind. It was a moment he would never forget.

Once more rallying to throw off his antagonist, he struggled with
renewed power at the hand grasping his throat, while with the other he
kept aloft the brawny arm of the outlaw.

"Think ye ken whup me, blast yer!" growled the aroused robber, maddened
to find himself thwarted, if but for a while, by the postboy.

Little Snap was standing on the very brink of the shelf, with his back
toward the precipice, and as Robin Burrnock redoubled his exertions to
overpower him, he felt his footing give way and himself reeling backward
over the chasm.

Instinctively, he loosened his hold on the outlaw's wrist, to throw out
his arm in a wild effort to save himself.

In vain!

With a cry of horror on his lips, he saw the fist of Burrnock descend,
and at the same time he went backward over the abyss!

His cry was swiftly followed by one from the outlaw, as he, too,
staggered to and fro on the brink.

Little Snap's fall caused him to lose his foothold, and while the
postboy fell, the outlaw was carried heels over head down the declivity,
another yell of horror awakening the silence of the lonely scene with
its startling intonations.

Half stunned by the force of his fall, Little Snap found himself
clinging to the edge of the shelf, with the mail bag underneath him.

Finding he had received no serious injury, he crawled to a safe position
on the rock, nearly overjoyed to find that he had really come out of the
ordeal alive.

It was several minutes before he could realize he was safe and unhurt,
but as he finally knew, the force of his fall had been broken by the
mail pouch, and, saved from going down the rugged declivity, his life
had been spared.

Anxious to know what had become of Robin Burrnock, he looked down the
descent to see his body near the bottom, lying as motionless as if he
were dead.

In the road near where he had left him, he saw the faithful Jack still
awaiting his coming.

"Noble fellow!" he exclaimed; "I will be with you in a minute,"
beginning his descent into the valley.

Though he found this no easy task, he soon succeeded in reaching the
highway, the mail pouch safely in his hands.

Finding the outlaw had not yet moved, he went to his side, and turning
him over, saw that his neck had been broken.

"I am sorry," said the postboy, "but I cannot see that I am to blame. I
was in duty bound to protect——"

"Have no misgivings over what you have done, my boy," said a voice near
at hand, and, turning quickly, Little Snap saw with amazement Old
Solitaire at his elbow.

"I witnessed the whole affair," declared the hermit, "but I was
powerless to help you, though in another moment I should have fired a
shot at whatever risk. You should thank Heaven that your life was
spared."

"It was a narrow escape, Uncle Solitaire, and at one time I felt that it
was all over with me."

"So thought I. But now that you are safe, I advise you to ride on to
Greenbrier and tell Mr. Renders what has happened. The authorities will
look after the body of the wretch."

Little Snap would fain have said more to the strange man, but the old
man started back toward the Narrows as fast as he could walk.

"Well, Jack, nothing is left for us but to go on," which he did, without
meeting any further adventure until Greenbrier was reached.

Delivering the mail pouch over to the postmistress, he then sought Mr.
Renders, who listened with unfeigned wonder to his account of his
meeting with Robin Burrnock in the Wash Bowl.

"Egad, Dix! that was a tough one, but I don't doubt your story. I will
speak to Squire Moran, and we will go up at once to look after the body.
You may be wanted later to give your evidence at the inquest, but I
don't apprehend you will have any further trouble. Better keep a sharp
lookout, though, for those hounds of Blazed Acre will be likely to pay
you off for getting rid of one of their number."

Thanking him, the postboy returned to the post office for the mail.

"Any trouble to-day, Dix?" asked Budd Grass, who seemed to divine that
something unusual had been happening.

"Nothing more serious than the falling of one of the Burrnock brothers
down the side of Greenbrier and breaking his neck. Mail all right?"

"It seems to be, and, judging by the size of the package, the Hollow
Tree folks won't have reason to complain this time. But you have not
told me all about this Burrnock's falling and—was he killed? Oh! how I
fear those men, and I tremble for you every time you go past. Which one
was this?"

"Robin; but I can't give you any particulars. Good-day."

The postboy found the postmaster at Hollow Tree impatiently waiting for
him.

"Late again!" he growled. "I wonder what the Washington chaps would say
if they knowed 'bout it?"

Without replying, Little Snap tossed him the pouch, amusing himself
while the other sorted the mail by stroking the neck of Jack and talking
to the horse as was his wont.

In the midst of his simple talk Shag rushed out of his office, looking
uncommonly red in the face, as he shouted:

"No mail for the Tree again! What does that mean?"

Looking toward the speaker with surprise, Little Snap did not know what
reply to make.

"Oh, ye needn't look so innercent, ye thievin' rat! Mebbe ye think ye
can make th' racket work ag'in, but I'll show ye ye can't! Where's th'
mail ye should hev fer this offis?"

"In that sack, if anywhere. That is where it should be, if you haven't
taken it out."

"I haven't, an' I can prove it by th' boys hyur," pointing to the three
men who had followed him from the building.

Little Snap's surprise was great, though he did not have any doubt in
his mind that Dan Shag had taken out the package and was intending to
bluff him down.

"Mr. Shag, if you haven't that mail in your office, then I do not know
where it is. I do know there was a lot for you here, or I know, at
least, Budd Grass, at Greenbrier, said so."

"Projuce, then!" cried the postmaster. "I can prove by these men that I
haven't taken a thing out o' thet bag thet b'longed hyur."

Little Snap stepped into the office, but, of course, the missing package
was not in sight.

"I'll know the whys an' whurfor's o' this afore dark," cried the excited
postmaster, closing the door with a slam. "I'm goin' to Union Six Roads,
boys, an' ef enny one wants to know why th' offis is shut tell 'em."

"T'other lot wuz found in th' feller's saddle pocket, Dan," said one of
the bystanders; "why don't ye look there fer this?"

"'Tain't likely he'd do the same thing over ag'in," replied the
postmaster. "He'd be more sly this time."

Little Snap had taken the pouch and was throwing it on the horse's back
at the time.

"You can look if you want to, but you will not find——"

Little Snap did not finish his sentence, for while speaking he had
thrust his hand into the depths of the pocket, and finding a bundle in
his grasp, he pulled out the missing parcel of mail!



                            CHAPTER XXVIII.
                         THE STRANGE HORSEMAN.


The postboy's surprise was genuine, and had he pulled out a handful of
gold dollars he could not have been more astonished, though it might
have been in a different vein.

"Wot'd I tell yer?" cried the man, exultantly. "Needn't look fur fer yer
letters, Dan."

"I shall look fur an' sharp afore this matter is settled," retorted
Shag, taking the package. "Ye air all witnesses to wot has been done?"

"O' course," was the general reply.

Knowing it was useless for him to say more to them, Little Snap rode on
toward Daring's Diamond in anything but an enviable frame of mind.

"We have got to look sharper than this, Jack," he said, speaking to his
horse. "There is something and some one at the bottom of all this, and I
do not understand it. One thing is certain; that package was not in my
pocket when I left Greenbrier. And another thing equally certain is the
fact that I saw no one after I left that post office. Then how came it
there?"

Trying to solve this problem, Little Snap kept on toward Daring's
Diamond, and then to Six Roads.

While stopping to have the mail sorted at the Diamond, he saw Dan Shag
ride past, and he knew the postmaster was hastening on to Six Roads to
spread the news of his latest trouble.

"I have got to keep my eyes open sharper than this or they will get the
best of me yet. Push on, Jack! I am anxious to know how I shall be
received at the home office."

About the same crowd as usual was gathered around the office at Six
Roads, and to the postboy's surprise, nothing was hinted of his recent
adventures.

After supper he sought Mr. Rimmon, to tell him the particulars of his
last trip, the postmaster showing greater surprise than ever.

"Whew! that is a tough one. Those Blazed Acreites mean you the worst
kind of harm, I fear. At least they will after this. You were gritty,
though. Let me advise you to take a guard from this time on for at least
a week."

"I would if that would end the matter, but I do not believe it would.
The Burrnocks would naturally keep out of sight during that time, to
begin their work as soon as I went alone, so it would only prolong the
affair."

"I don't know but you are right, Dix, but it puts you in a tight box. If
the Honorable Jason was in town I would call him for a consultation."

"That would do no good. He is no real friend to me, though he feels
obliged to stand on my bond because Mr. Calvert says so."

"Dix Lewis, you have hit the nail right on the head! In his anxiety to
get a nomination to Congress he is catering to every one, and he is
getting into the hands of some that are going to wreck him; mark my
words. What do you propose to do?"

"Keep on; only, I promise you, Mr. Rimmon, I won't be caught like that
again."

"Good! I hope you will come out at the top of the heap."

The following morning, as the postboy was leaving the little village of
Six Roads, he was accosted by a man on horseback, who was a stranger to
him, and who showed by his personal appearance that he had ridden
several miles.

"Young man," he said, "are you the postboy of the Kanawha?"

"I carry the mail, sir, between this place and Upper Loop."

"I thought I wasn't mistaken. I want to go to Greenbrier, and possibly
to a place called Salt Works, and as the road is a strange one to me,
perhaps you will have the kindness to allow me to ride with you. I can't
promise that I shall be very good company, but I will at least be
civil."

He spoke with an air of honesty, and he looked like a straightforward
person. He was about forty years of age, and he rode a horse that Little
Snap saw was to all outward appearances the equal of his Jack.

"Do you object to my company?" he asked, as Little Snap hesitated a
moment in his reply. "If you have any suspicions of me, I won't object
to riding a little in front of you, so you can keep your eye on me all
of the time."

"I think I can trust you, sir."

"Thank you. My name is Austin Goings, and I am not ashamed to say that I
am a Kentuckian, though it has been several years since I bade adieu to
the scenes of my nativity. May I ask your name?"

"It is Dix Lewis, Mr. Goings. I am afraid you will find me to be poor
company, as I have been so used to only the companionship of my horse
that I must be dull."

"Fine-looking horse, Dix," said the Kentuckian, at once assuming a
social companionship. "I should judge he might be fleet of foot. I am
rather proud of my own horse here, and if agreeable to you, we will have
a little spurt when we come to a suitable road."

"I never race Jack, sir, unless it is a case of necessity. His work is
hard enough without my adding to it by any unnecessary hard driving."

"Good on your head, Dix Lewis! I like that kind of talk. We shall get
along famously. How long have you been carrying this mail?"

"Two years."

"Must have begun pretty young."

"Was a little over sixteen when I made my first trip."

"I'll venture you are a gritty one. Ever have any trouble?"

"None that I could not look after."

"Don't be offended at my questions. I should judge there might be some
tough characters in this vicinity, and, naturally, one in your position
would be likely to run across them. If I am not mistaken, the Raggles
settled in this locality."

"I never knew but one family by that name, and they have come recently."

"I may have been mistaken. They were a bad gang, anyway."

Little Snap making no reply to this, Mr. Goings dropped the
conversation, so that very little was said until reaching Hollow Tree.

Dan Shag showed his surprise at seeing a companion with the postboy.

"Reckon it's a purty good thing to hev a guard," he said, in a low tone.
"Had the colonel got home this mornin'?"

"No, sir. Everything all right this morning?"

"Alwus is goin' right, this way."

It did not need Dan Shag to tell him this. Neither did it need this
postmaster to tell him that the trouble all centered at his office.

"You can put that man down as a cutthroat," declared Mr. Goings, as they
rode away from the Tree. "But isn't that a singular office. By the way,
I have seen that man's face somewhere before," continued the talkative
Mr. Goings. "It may have been when I was this way before. Oh, yes, I
have been over this same road—let me see—fifteen years ago. Time enough
for me to have forgotten how everything looked. I do remember that the
next place we shall come to is Greenbrier. It is situated at the
junction of the river we have just crossed and the Little Kanawha, the
streams making the Great Kanawha. Am I right?"

"Yes, sir."

Little Snap was growing suspicious of this voluble stranger, and he
wished he might escape his company farther.



                             CHAPTER XXIX.
                           A RIVER LET LOOSE.


Nothing of interest occurring at Greenbrier, the postboy resumed his
journey, with the talkative stranger still beside him.

"I was in luck," he declared, "when I chanced to meet you. I should have
hated to have gone over this lonely road without company. I don't see
how you can do it. Is it as lonesome below Salt Works?"

"Until I get to Hutsland I think it is more dreary, though I have got so
used to it I never stop to think of that."

"Just so. Say, Dix, what do you think of Jason Warfield?"

This question was asked so abruptly that Little Snap glanced up with a
look of wonder.

"I don't know as I have anything against him," he replied, after a
moment's pause.

"A safe answer. But I am going to tell you that I think he is a sneaking
rascal. How long has he been in Six Roads?"

"Fifteen years, I think."

"Right the first time. I know, because he came there at the time I was
through here before. Never'll get the nomination for Congress, will he?"

"Feels confident of it."

"Well, he is sure to get disappointed. Marion Calvert is the man."

"So you know Mr. Calvert?"

"By reputation. I have a mind to do a little electioneering while I am
scouting over the country. Gee whiz! isn't this a wild country!" he
concluded, for they were already entering the Devil's Bowl.

Mr. Goings' exclamation of astonishment increased as they rode up the
Tracks and approached the Narrows.

"I want you to show me where you rode off the cliff into the river,"
said Little Snap's companion, very much to his surprise. "Oh, I heard of
that a long way from here. Such news travels far and fast. Jerusalem! is
it possible you went off there and came out alive? I never should have
dared to do that. Now, you must tell me all about it. I am interested."

The postboy retold his thrilling adventure, and as he began to talk he
grew animated, and before Salt Works was reached he had given Mr. Goings
a more extended account of himself and his adventures than he had
realized while telling it.

"It is a great satisfaction to have met you, Dix, and if I can arrange
my business in season I am going back with you as far as Diamond."

These were Mr. Goings' parting words, and as Little Snap left Salt
Works, where he had changed horses, he said, to himself:

"I don't know whether I am anxious or not for your company, Mr. Goings.
If you do go back with me, I shall ask you a few questions in regard to
yourself."

Below Salt Works the road wound down the valley for a couple of miles,
when the base of Flat Top Mountains was reached, where a long ascent had
to be made.

As at the Narrows, though the passage was wider, the Great Kanawha found
its way along a rocky gorge, the banks of which were in places hundreds
of feet in height.

Near the summit of the post road's greatest elevation, was a shelf of
rock overhanging the stream, that was called "Lover's Leap," one of the
three hundred dizzy crags in the United States bearing that favorite
name.

After passing this spot, the post road, in making its descent on the
west side of the mountain, wound away from the Kanawha, until the sullen
roar of that river was supplanted by the musical ripple of a smaller
stream, called Tripping Waters.

About two-thirds the way up this narrow valley the road led across this
river, following its west bank to its outlet into the Kanawha at a point
where the rugged mountain defile opened out into the broad basin of the
western slope.

Little Snap was leisurely approaching the pole bridge that spanned
Tripping Waters, when all at once a deep roaring sound reached his ears.

Abruptly reining in his horse, he listened for a moment, to find that
the sound was rapidly increasing.

It seemed nearer, too, and more deadly in its sound!

He glanced wildly up the valley, but from his position he could see
nothing to explain the heavy, booming thunder still growing louder and
louder!

He had never heard anything like it.

The ground beneath him began to tremble and the mountain to shake!

He touched his horse smartly, fearing to remain there longer.

But the animal had not taken the second bound before the heart of Little
Snap seemed to come into his mouth, as he suddenly realized the meaning
of the awful sound.

A mile above, a dam had been built across the river to hold back the
water for the benefit of a mill at the lower end of the valley.

This barrier had broken down, and the flood let loose!

"Fly, Tom!" he cried to his horse. "It is a race for life! On! on! It is
overtaking us! We are lost!"



                              CHAPTER XXX.
                      A RACE WITH A RUNAWAY RIVER.


Though the Postboy of the Kanawha was not borne on by his gallant Jack
in that fearful ride with the flood of Tripping Waters, he sped down the
post road at a flying pace.

The blooded bay that he rode seemed to have a realization of the awful
peril from that pursuing wall of water.

Higher and higher rose that deafening thunder, until it dulled the
postboy's hearing and fairly made his senses reel.

Glancing wildly back he saw that the foaming avalanche of water was
sweeping everything before it!

The narrow valley was completely filled from mountainside to
mountainside!

There was no way for him to scale the rugged heights overhanging him in
season to escape the flood.

His only hope lay in continued flight—in reaching the mouth of the
valley before he could be overtaken by the monster at his heels!

Every moment saw it so much nearer, but while life and his fleet-footed
horse were left him he was bound not to lose courage.

Just before reaching the extension of the mountain gorge, the defile
made an abrupt turn, bringing him who followed its course into a sudden
view of the wider regions beyond.

Almost the first sight to greet the comer's eye was a rambling wooden
building standing half on the land and half over the stream.

This was called Swett's Mills, and a few rods below stood the house of
the owner.

Even under the spell of his own great danger, Little Snap realized the
deadly peril of every one at this place.

Thus, as he dashed on, he shouted to them a warning of their impending
doom.

"The river has broken through the dam! Flee for your lives!"

The men at the mill had already been called from their work by the
unaccountable noise up the valley, and as the postboy sped into sight,
they saw behind him the frightful wall of water.

Instantly Mr. Swett recognized peril, and shouted:

"Run for your lives, boys! Help me save my family."

Little Snap was already abreast of the mills, and he saw Mrs. Swett and
her little child just leaving the house, with cries of terror.

"Run, Mary!" shrieked her husband. "The flood is upon us!"

In her fright, the poor woman started to run, catching at her child and
missing it.

With a loud cry the little one fell to the earth, Mr. Swett running
toward it as fast as he could.

Little Snap sped past him, and reining his bay close to the struggling
child, he leaned over in his seat until he could reach the helpless one.

Then he lifted it up in front of him, and keeping on with unabating
speed, swept down the valley.

Mr. Swett's companions had sought safety on the mountainside, and he
himself ran down the road after his terrified wife.

A short distance beyond, the valley of the Kanawha was reached, and the
great danger was mainly over.

None too soon was this escape accomplished, for Little Snap had not
checked the speed of his horse, as he dashed up the side of the
declivity near the road, when a deafening crash told him that the
runaway river had reached the mills.

The next moment the floodwall seemed to burst, the water spreading out
on either hand with startling effect.

It was such a sight as those few witnesses had never seen before and
never wanted to again.

The deep channel of the Kanawha was suddenly filled to overflowing, so
the entire valley was under water.

Trees, earth, rocks, many of them of large size, and _débris_ of
everything it had found in its course was scattered high and low by the
swollen stream.

"It was a narrow escape!" exclaimed Mr. Swett. "We owe our lives to you,
Dix Lewis, for in saving Flossie here you gave the rest of us a chance
to get away. See! the old mill is gone, and everything in it! But we
must be thankful that no lives were lost."

The flood subsided almost as quickly as it had come, leaving the marks
of its awful desolation.

Not a tree was left standing in the whole range of its fearful path, nor
an object that its giant power could move.

The road, as far as could be seen, was entirely obliterated, only a
rock-strewn gulley showing where it had been.

Not a piece of the timber of Swett's Mills was to be seen, and the
foundation itself had been swept away!

The house had been lifted bodily up and carried several rods, but
standing higher than the mills, it had escaped the heavier part of the
onset, so it had not been utterly ruined.

Mr. Swett was inclined to take his loss philosophically.

"I don't understand the cause of that breakage, for it was only
yesterday that I was examining that dam, and could find no sign of a
leak."

Seeing that he could be of no benefit to the sufferers, as soon as he
had given his horse a breathing spell, the postboy resumed his journey,
feeling extremely thankful over his providential escape.

"I shall prize you next to Jack now, Tom," he said, stroking the
faithful creature's neck. "If you had been one whit less fleet it would
have been all over with me. How I tremble now, though it is all over!"

At Hutsland, Little Snap's first stopping place—in fact, the first town
he came to—he told of the disaster in Tripping Waters Valley, his story
being listened to with open-mouthed wonder.

With as little delay as possible, a gang of men started to the scene,
ready to do what they could toward restoring the fortunes of Mr. Swett
and his family.

Meeting with no adventure, the postboy reached Upper Loop, and upon his
return he was accompanied by a party of a dozen men, who were going up
to see the work of desolation.

Thus when Little Snap got back to the place he found a large crowd
gathered about the mouth of the valley.

"You will have hard work to get through, Dix, but I suppose it would be
hard work to stop you. Some of us will go up with you, if you wish it."



                             CHAPTER XXXI.
                    A STARTLING RELIC OF THE FLOOD.


Declining this kind offer, the postboy continued on toward his
destination, often finding it difficult to get along.

But slowly he worked his way up the valley, until he reached the spot
where in the forenoon the river had been spanned by the pole bridge.

Of course there was no trace of this left. In fact, there was not a
single familiar feature on the landscape of that doomed valley.

The stream had subsided, so he had no trouble in fording it a little
above where the bridge had been.

Every vestige of vegetable growth was swept away, leaving the scene but
a waste of rocks, and he could now look up the defile even to where the
ruined dam stood out like a skeleton of rock.

Little Snap stopped for several minutes to gaze upon the sight, but he
was about to move on, knowing that he had already lost so much time that
he would be a couple of hours late, when a dark object, suspended from
the branches of a tree on the mountainside above the reach of the flood,
caught his attention.

Riding a little nearer to it, he saw that it was a man's coat.

"Is it possible some one was in the valley above here at the time?" he
exclaimed. "Stand where you are, Tom, and I will get it."

With considerable hard climbing, he gained a position from which he
secured the coat.

It was a blue jean jacket, looking the worse for wear.

"No great loss to the owner nor prize to me," he thought, as he returned
to the side of his horse. "But it has a decidedly familiar look. I
wonder if there is anything in its pockets to tell the owner's name?"

Beginning an investigation, he quickly drew forth a sheet of paper,
which, from its crumpled condition, showed that it had been thrust away
hastily.

Smoothing it out as best he could, he saw that one side was written over
in a coarse, sprawling hand.

He easily read, while a look of anxiety came over his features:

"SIRS: Why is it you do not act more promptly and effectively? This
delay is dangerous, and I am not going to brook it any longer. It puts
every man of us in double the danger we should risk in quick, decisive
action. I am going away for a few days, and I shall expect this work to
have been finished before I get back. Look sharp, then, and get that
route clear. We have fooled with that boy too long already."

There was no address nor signature to this obscure message, while the
writing was in a hand unknown to Little Snap.

He read it over several times, and then examined the coat more closely.

No other paper was found, but when he had finished his survey of the
garment he exclaimed:

"I have seen that jacket before, I am sure. I have it! It was on Pewee
Burrnock's back!

"How about this letter. It is evident I am the one that is meant. Ha! I
have a clew in regard to that, though I never saw that handwriting
before. It looks as if the writer was trying to disguise his hand. That
paper is just like that Mr. Rimmon and Mr. Warfield used in making out
my bail, but I don't know which furnished it."

The hoof strokes of a horse caused the postboy to look up, when he
discovered a horseman approaching from the direction of Salt Works.

A second look showed him that it was Austin Goings.

"I hoped I had seen the last of him. But I don't believe I will let him
see this coat."

Little Snap quickly decided to conceal the garment under his saddle, and
he had just accomplished this purpose as the horseman rode up.

"Hello, Mr. Lewis! I am glad to meet you again. I have heard of your
adventure here, and I could not refrain from riding down to see the
place. Particularly as I hoped to have the pleasure of your company
back."

Little Snap was remounting his horse, and he made no reply to the
speech.

Mr. Goings was extravagant in his praises of the postboy's ride for
life.

"It must have been a thrilling situation. At Salt Works, where the whole
account is known, they look upon you as a hero."

"But you seem to be in a hurry to move on, so I won't detain you. We can
talk as we ride along."

"I am two hours behind time," said Little Snap.

"But no one can blame you for that, under the circumstances. They should
reward you for heroic conduct instead."

The postboy making no reply to this, nothing farther was said, until, as
they were leaving Tripping Waters Valley they met a party from Salt
Works going down to view the scene of the flood.

Little Snap had to speak briefly to them, but he hardly stopped his
horse.

At the post office he was again plied with questions, all of which he
answered as briefly as possible.

"I suppose you are anxious to get on toward home," said the postmaster.
"I don't blame you. Before you get along to-morrow we will fix up the
road as best we can for you, though it will be some time before it will
be in the condition it was this morning. I see that Goings is intending
to ride up with you."

"Yes; do you know anything of him?"

"Not a thing; supposed he was a friend of yours. As near as I can make,
he is looking after the political interests of Colonel Warfield, though
he is doing it on the sly."

"He didn't speak very favorably of Mr. Warfield to me as we were coming
down this morning."

"It's a funny way he has of drawing people out. All the same, he is
working his best for Warfield. There is going to be a mass meeting here
soon."

Without stopping to say more, Little Snap left the office to find Mr.
Goings waiting for him at the door.

Springing into the saddle, the postboy resumed his journey at a pace
which made it impossible for his companion to keep up a conversation,
until they came in sight of the live oak, where Old Solitaire was wont
to be seen.

Little Snap discovered him as soon as he came in sight of the place, and
the next moment his companion exclaimed:

"Look! what old duffer is that!"

"Has my letter come to-day?" came the old, familiar question, while the
squirrels suddenly stopped their nimble movements, and began to chatter
as if with fear.

It may have been the sight of the strange horseman which had alarmed
them.

The old hermit himself was eying the latter closely, as Little Snap gave
his oft-repeated reply.

"I am sorry to trouble you," said the disappointed man, "but I have
waited so long. Take this to her, and I am certain that to-morrow I
shall get my letter."

The postboy took the proffered missive, and he and Mr. Goings were about
to ride on, when the hermit suddenly stepped in front of the latter,
saying:

"Who is this who rides with you to-day Postboy of the Kanawha?"



                             CHAPTER XXXII.
                      THE NEWS THAT REACHED HOME.


"A friend, old man. Stand aside and let me pass," said Austin Goings,
quickly.

"Does he speak the truth, boy?" demanded Old Solitaire, catching hold of
the rein of the stranger's horse.

"Indeed, uncle, I do not know," admitted Little Snap, frankly, surprised
nearly as much as his companion at this interference. "He asked my
company this morning, and we rode to Salt Works together. He has
appeared friendly."

"You do wrong to trust any man at this time. Stranger, you will tarry
with me while the boy rides on."

An exclamation of displeasure left Austin Goings' lips, and he struck
his horse smartly, intending to break the animal from the old man's
grasp.

But the hermit's hold proved stronger than might have been expected, for
the struggling horse failed to clear itself from the hand laid on its
bit.

"Let go that rein, old man!" cried the aroused rider, "or I shall forget
your years and lay violent hands on you."

"Ride on, Dix!" ordered Old Solitaire. "I will look after this man."

Fearing that the opposition might end in more serious trouble, the
postboy hesitated. If the two men should come to blows, he felt certain
this Austin Goings would handle the old hermit roughly.

"I do not think he means me any harm, uncle. I will look out for
myself."

"He has no business here with you," said the hermit. "Man, if you are
honest, go back the way whence you have come."

"Who are you who dares to interfere with my conduct?" demanded the
other, sharply.

"Were I to tell you, you would still be as ignorant as I am concerning
your identity. Let the boy go on in peace. When he has been gone ten
minutes you shall follow if you wish."

Austin Goings looked from the speaker to the astonished postboy, and
then back to the old hermit, the squirrels all the while keeping up a
continuous chattering, as they ran excitedly to and fro.

Finally he said:

"It may be best to humor the old man, Dix Lewis; so ride on, and I will
abide his pleasure. I will not harm him, neither shall he me."

Little Snap was impatient to go on, and though not without some
misgivings, he resumed his tedious journey toward Kanawha Narrows.

Looking back as he turned an angle in the road, the last that he saw of
the singular twain they had not moved.

Old Solitaire was still holding the stranger's horse by the bit, while
the horseman was gazing intently at him.

"It all beats me!" thought Little Snap. "I don't see as I can do any
better than to keep on. I think Old Solitaire is able to take care of
himself. At any rate, Tom, you and I have evidently all we can look
after."

The postboy found that the account of the flood in Tripping Waters
Valley had preceded him to Greenbrier, and the postmistress asked him
for the full particulars.

What a ride that must have been, Dix! I don't see how you escaped. But
have you heard," she continued, lowering her voice to a whisper, "that
any one was concerned in the affair. I mean that any one had tampered
with the dam?"

"No, Miss Grass. I hope no one has that fearful work to answer for."

"And you neither saw nor heard of any one at the time or after?" she
asked, unheeding his words.

"I saw no one, Budd. Neither did I hear any one. Have you heard that any
one was concerned in it?"

"Oh, no. That was one of my foolish questions."

Little Snap had made up his mind not to mention the finding of Pewee
Burrnock's coat until he had met Mr. Rimmon, so he said nothing of it,
but took the mail pouch and left the office.

As might have been expected, knowing the man as he did, he found the
Hollow Tree office closed, and for a wonder, no one was around its door.

In this case the postboy could do no better than to carry the mail
belonging here on to the next place.

"I suppose Mr. Shag will try and make me trouble because I am late. But
in this case I have a reasonable excuse, I think."

Of course it was now an hour after dark, and though he was urging Tom on
at more than his usual pace, he could not manage to get in at Six Roads
until after the hour of closing the post office.

Riding at the gait he was following it was not likely that Mr. Goings
would overtake him, supposing the latter should follow him.

But Little Snap was within half a mile of Daring's Diamond, when he
heard the sound of a horseman, who, he fancied at first, was pursuing
him.

In a moment the rider came into view from ahead, however, and he was not
long in recognizing Sammy mounted on Fairy!

At sight of him his brother stopped, when our hero exclaimed:

"Why, Sam Lewis! What has brought you here?"

The little fellow was so excited and out of breath that it was some time
before he could speak.

Then he gasped in an almost inaudible tone:

"Where—where have you been, Dix?"

"Why, on my way home, of course. What has happened?"

"Everything bad! We heard that you had been killed. Mother—father!"

Then, overcome by the ordeal through which he had passed, Sammy fell
forward on Fairy's neck in a faint, and he would have fallen to the
ground had not Little Snap caught hold of him.

"What can have happened?" exclaimed the postboy, as he took the limp
figure in his arms.



                            CHAPTER XXXIII.
                          THE GATHERING STORM.


It seemed a long time to the anxious postboy before his brother opened
his eyes.

"I found you, Dix," he said. "I told mother I would if she would let me
go on Fairy."

"What has happened, Sammy?"

"I don't know just what it is, Dix; but mother has been crying all the
afternoon. She got a letter somehow, saying that you had been killed,
and that if she and father valued their lives, to move out of Six Roads
before to-morrow morning. Then, when you did not come, she was sure you
had been killed, and she is nearly crazy."

"Well, it is not as bad as she thought, for you see I am as well as
ever. Now let us hasten home as fast as we can, so as to relieve her
suspense."

Sammy having fully recovered his usual self by this time, he remounted
Fairy, and, side by side, the brothers galloped on toward Daring's
Diamond.

It had been Little Snap's idea to have his brother ride on, to get home
as soon as possible, while he stopped to have the mail sorted.

"Tell mother I am all right, and that I will be along as soon as
possible. Let Fairy go at her best."

With Sammy's good-night ringing in his ears, Little Snap dashed up in
front of the post office, where he was met by an excited crowd.

The postmaster was just locking the door of his store, in which he kept
the post office.

"Here he comes, as true as you live!" said the well-known voice of
Morton Meiggs.

"You have done your worst to-night, it seems, Mr. Lewis," he added,
turning to the postboy.

"The mail, Mr. Anderson," said Little Snap, paying no heed to the words
of Meiggs.

"The hour is past for me to keep the office open," replied that
official, "and I refuse to accept the mail pouch unless you can show
proper reason for coming in at this late hour."

"That's it, Anderson; stand up for your rights," interposed Meiggs. "We
will soon know how long we have got to put up with this treatment. I
expected letters to-night, which it is dollars' damage to me not to get
before this time. But, as I said, we shall soon know how much longer
Uncle Sam is going to permit this way of doing business."

Little Snap waited until Meiggs had finished speaking, when he said to
the postmaster:

"Mr. Anderson, if you have heard of the terrible disaster in Tripping
Waters Valley to-day, you know I have sufficient reason for coming in
late. If you have not heard of it, you will in due season. Will you take
the mail or not?"

"Bring it in," was the curt reply.

"It does not belong to me to do that. I have brought it as far as the
law requires me to. I will wait here the allotted seven minutes; if at
the end of that time you have not sorted the mail, I shall go on to the
next office."

"Bully for you, Little Snap!" cried some one from the crowd.

Without speaking, the postmaster stepped down from the step and took the
pouch, to carry it into the office.

A part of the crowd followed him into the building, Meiggs among the
rest.

Little Snap was beginning to get impatient over the long time the
postmaster was taking in sorting the mail, when the latter appeared at
the door.

"Look here, Lewis! There are letters missing. I have advice that there
were a certain number of registered letters in the mail, and five are
not here. How do you account for that?"

"I do not know, Mr. Anderson. Why should you expect me to know?"

"For the very best reason in the world!" broke in Meiggs. "The reason
that you know about their loss and where they are."

"Is the pouch ready for me, Mr. Anderson?" asked the postboy. "The time
is up."

"Hear the impudence!" again broke in Meiggs. "Are you going to let him
bluff you like this, Anderson?"

"I don't understand it," admitted the postmaster, hesitating in his
manner. "You must be knowing to this."

"Are you going to let me have that mail, or must I go on without it?"
asked Little Snap.

"How is it the Tree mail has not been taken out?" asked Mr. Anderson.

"The office was closed when I came along, and I could do no better than
to bring its mail along. I will leave it in the morning."

"I should think you would—after you have had a night to look it over."

"I don't see as I can do any better than to let him have the bag," said
Mr. Anderson.

"Do so, and you will lose your own head," cried Meiggs. "This has gone
as far as it is going. I understand two of those missing letters were
for me. I want my letters. Now, Mr. Lewis, give up those letters, or you
don't leave this yard."

"I should like to see you stop me," replied Little Snap. "I know my
footing, and, for the last time, I demand that mail pouch, Mr. Anderson.
I am needed at home at this very moment. I have enough to contend with
outside of those who should be my supporters."

Little Snap showed by his tone that he was in earnest, and as he
concluded, the postmaster threw the pouch across Tom's withers, saying:

"Where is the man who went down with you?"

"Coming on the road now, as far as I know. Come, Tom, we must get home."

At that moment Morton Meiggs stepped forward to catch hold of the bridle
rein, motioning to some of his followers to surround the postboy.

"Stand back, sir! I warn you to get out of my pathway."

He touched Tom lightly as he spoke, when the horse bounded forward at a
smart canter, sending Meiggs reeling backward to the ground.

Without farther interference Little Snap rode on toward Six Roads.

"I wonder what has come over Mr. Anderson," he thought. "And I am more
puzzled than ever for the disappearance of those letters—if any are gone
this time. It don't look now as if Dan Shag had a hand in it."

In consideration of the fact that he had been more than commonly on the
watch on this trip, it was no wonder he felt more than ever anxious.

Then the thought of the trouble at home drove the matter from his mind
for the time.

Little Sammy Lewis must have urged Fairy on at a rattling pace, for
Little Snap did not overtake him, until as the latter was turning up at
the post office, he saw his brother riding up the street toward their
home.

"Is Mr. Rimmon in the office?" asked the postboy, as he handed over the
mail pouch to the clerk.

"No; he left town this forenoon, and we do not expect him back for two
or three days. How is it you are so late to-night, Dix? Some of them
have been raising a great hurrah because you have not come before. I
told them there must be good reasons for your delay. What has happened?"



                             CHAPTER XXXIV.
                       LITTLE SNAP FINDS A CLEW.


In his anxiety to get home, Little Snap did not stop to answer the
clerk's question, other than to say:

"I will tell you all about it in the morning. I am sorry Mr. Rimmon is
not here."

This fact was a great disappointment to him, and he did not know of any
one else to whom he cared to divulge what he had learned.

But before he did anything else he must know what had taken place at
home, which he reached a minute later.

Sammy had already dismounted from the panting Fairy, and was explaining
to his mother what he had done.

"Why, here he comes, mother! He got here almost as quick as I did."

At sight of Dix, Mrs. Lewis ran forward to meet him.

"Oh, my son, where have you been? They said you were dead, and I have
suffered untold agony."

"But you see I am safe and sound, mother, so cheer up. I got belated on
my downward trip, that is all. Has anything new taken place since I went
away?"

"Let Sammy take care of the horses, Dix. Come into the house; I have
something I want to say to you."

"Has father been at home to-day?" asked Little Snap, as he followed his
mother into the house.

"Yes; he was here nearly all of the forenoon. He took Gyp and went away
about half-past twelve. I have never seen him so strange appearing. He
walked the floor nearly all of the time, and he kept talking to himself.
Oh, Dix, I am worried to death. He had hardly left the house, before
this piece of paper was thrown into the window. I did not see who
brought it. You can read it yourself."

This was what the postboy read:

    "MR. JOHN LEWIS: You are advised to leave Union Six Roads as
    soon as possible—you and your family. That boy of yours will be
    dead before you get this. A word to you ought to be sufficient."

Like the message Little Snap had found in Pewee Burrnock's coat pocket,
there was neither address nor signature to the note.

He saw, too, that the handwriting and the kind of paper were the same as
the other.

"I will keep this, mother," he said, folding the sheet and putting it
into his pocket. "Do you know what called Mr. Rimmon out of town to-day?
It must have been something of importance, or he would have told me."

"I don't know, my son, though Sammy has heard some startling stories
about town in regard to him. Here comes Sammy; he can tell you. I have
been too worried to think of anything."

"Mr. Rimmon has failed!" said Sammy, who had heard enough of his
brother's question to reply. "They say his accounts at the post office
are short, and that he has gone off with all of the money he could get
hold of. He has beat Johnson Jewett out of two thousand dollars."

"Hold on, Sam Lewis! That can't be true!"

"It is; everybody says so."

"It seems to me, my son, that we have enough to think of at home without
troubling ourselves about Mr. Rimmon, or any one else."

"So we have, mother, but Mr. Rimmon's troubles concern us. At least, I
have depended on his help to meet these enemies of ours. I am at a loss
to know who could have sent that message, but I am sure no harm will
come of it."

"Why should they say you were dead, Dix?"

"It's all a mystery, mother, and I will confess that the worst part of
it is, I don't seem near to a solution."

"What shall we do?"

"There is but one thing we can do, mother; and that is to keep our eyes
and ears open, and go along about our business."

"I should feel better if your father was in a different state of mind."

"Can you not think of any possible reason for his present condition? He
was not always so."

"Indeed he was not. John Lewis was considered one of the likeliest young
men in Munroe County when I married him. I wish we had always stayed
there. But he thought he could better his fortune by emigrating to Boone
Lick."

"How long did you live there?"

"Three years. You were a baby when we came away."

"Didn't father do as well as he had expected?"

"No; and, besides, he got into trouble with a family by the name of
Raggles, and——"

"What was the first name of that man, mother?" asked Little Snap,
showing excitement.

"I never knew exactly, but I think it was Nick. I know there was a big
family."

"Did you ever hear of an Absalom Raggles?"

"I have heard your father speak the name. I think he was a cousin of the
others."

"Did father ever have trouble with him?"

"Never, that I know of. Hark! I believe there is some one at the door."

"It is a noise at the barn. I must go out and see if Sammy has cared for
the horses properly. It has been a hard day for them. Come, cheer up,
mother, and it will come out all right."

"But aren't you going to eat any supper?"

"When I come in, perhaps. To speak the truth, I am not hungry."

Little Snap talked until late in the night with his mother, and when
they retired both felt in better spirits.

"At last I have got a clew," he said to himself. "I can't realize it,
but it looks as if Ab Raggles had something to do with all this trouble.
Just now I am bothered to know what these stories mean about Mr.
Rimmon."

Though he did not sleep much, Little Snap was on hand at the post office
the following morning, where he found a large crowd of men collected.

He noticed prominent among them Sheriff Brady and Justice Claverton, who
nodded their heads and whispered something to each other at sight of
him.

"I have heard it threatened that this shall be your last trip," said the
post office clerk, as he handed the mail pouch to the postboy.

"What do these stories mean that we hear about Mr. Rimmon?"

"I don't know. Of course, I do not believe them. He was called away very
suddenly, and it was something in regard to the post office. I believe
there is a government detective somewhere around, looking into the
trouble. All the things make the people talk. I wanted to tell you last
night that another complaint has been sent in by Claverton and the
others."



                             CHAPTER XXXV.
                           THE TRUTH AT LAST.


Little Snap, without stopping to reply, sprang into the saddle and
dashed away, meeting no one until he reached Daring's Diamond.

"I owe you an apology, Dix," was the postmaster's greeting, as he came
down the steps to meet him. "Since you were here last evening I have
heard of your thrilling experience with that runaway river, and I hope
you will forgive me for speaking as I did. You deserve special reward
for your bravery, and you are going to get it, too."

To the postboy's surprise, a dozen others pressed around him, with kind
words of praise.

"What is that we hear about Mr. Rimmon?" asked Mr. Anderson. "Of course,
I don't believe the stories, and Jason Warfield's friends are making a
mistake in circulating them. By the way, boys, I suppose you all know
there is to be a big rally here to-night for the ambitious colonel. He
is to address the people on the issues of the day, as he calls them."

"Have you found anything of those missing letters?" asked Little Snap.

"Not a sign. That beats me. It is the first time we have lost anything
here. But the culprit is sure to be found out soon."

Then, stepping nearer to the postboy, he whispered:

"There's a government detective somewhere in these parts. But mum's the
word."

His spirits still in the ascendant, Little Snap pursued his way, to be
met at the Hollow Tree with an altogether different reception.

"'Pears to me yer stock of imperdence is equal to yer rascality," said
Shag, who was sitting in the doorway, smoking a black clay pipe.

"Here is the mail pouch, Mr. Shag. You were not here last evening, so I
could not leave yesterday's up mail."

"The rules and regulations don't say I shall keep the offis open all
night to 'commodate a postman who comes erlong when he's a mind to."

"You knew well enough I would come as soon as circumstances would
permit."

"I know a mighty sight better thet ye won't hev a chance to repeat yer
slipshod way o' doin' bizness arter to-day. Put thet in yer pipe an'
smoke it."

Having delivered this speech, Mr. Shag entered his humble office to sort
the mail, followed by Little Snap, who had firmly decided to watch every
postmaster on the route as he handled the mail.

When Shag had clumsily gone through with his examination, he handed the
pouch back to the postboy without comment.

Though plied with questions, Little Snap made his trip without any
incident worth recording, until he got back to Salt Works, when he was
met with the surprising statement:

"What does this mean, Dix Lewis? Here is a letter directed to 'Old
Solitaire, care of Dix Lewis.'"

Unable to credit his ears, Little Snap leaned forward so he could read
the address. There was no mistake, though he could hardly believe it.

"It's for the old man, sure," said the postmaster. "At last his
long-looked-for letter has come."

"Yes, and I am so glad. I will take it to him, Mr. Rawson."

Never had Little Snap watched for the old hermit as he did that day,
while he climbed the ascent leading to the live oak.

"He is there! I wonder what he will say? I hope he will let me know the
message it brings.

"Hurrah, Uncle Solitaire!" he cried, the next moment, rising in his seat
and waving the missive over his head; "it has come at last!"

Somehow, he was disappointed at the calm manner in which the other took
the letter.

"All things come to the patient, and I knew it would come some time.
Please accept my thanks, Postboy of the Kanawha, and if you do not find
me at my post to-morrow, you shall meet me elsewhere."

With these words he turned away, and Little Snap had nothing to do but
to ride on.

"Who can it have been from, and does it contain good news or bad? I
would give considerable to know. What could he have meant by saying I
might see him elsewhere?"

Busy in his mind over such reflections, the postboy safely passed the
wildest part of his long journey, to come into Greenbrier on time.

"Well," said Budd Grass, the postmistress, as she took the pouch from
his hands, "I judge by your promptness that you have got through to-day
without trouble."

"No trouble; but I have got a bit of news to tell. Uncle Solitaire has
got his letter at last."

"You don't say! How I would like to look over his shoulder while he
reads it. I have always felt a strange interest in that man. There is a
new book on the shelf near you. Perhaps you would like to look it over
while I am sorting the mail. I find it is terribly tedious to wait in
idleness."

Little Snap took the book, as she had suggested, but while apparently
scanning its pages, he stood so his gaze did not leave her.

No postmaster on the route had escaped his scrutiny so far, and he was
determined that even the fair Budd Grass should not escape. More than
that, he was resolved to be doubly vigilant, for it had at last dawned
upon his mind that at this office he had more reason for suspicion than
at any other.

It so happened that no one was in sight, a fact that he regretted.

With deft fingers the postmistress ran through the several pieces of
mail matter, until the postboy's heart fairly stopped its beating, as he
saw a letter thrust dextrously up one of her flowing sleeves.

Scarcely had this letter disappeared before it was followed by another!

Still turning the leaves of the book, Little Snap stood there and saw
her secrete four letters in that same roomy receptacle.

Then she calmly closed the pouch, and fastened the strap as she had done
hundreds of times before.

Little Snap felt a peculiar feeling of wonder and pity steal over him as
he realized what his discovery meant. But as she started to hand him the
pouch, he exclaimed, sharply:

"Hold, Budd Grass! You move at the peril of your life!"

Her countenance suddenly lost its color, as she asked, in a husky voice:

"What do you mean, Dix Lewis?"

"Just what I say, Miss Grass. You are not to move until I tell you that
you may!"



                             CHAPTER XXXVI.
                        OLD SOLITAIRE'S SECRET.


The postmistress turned still paler as Little Snap resolutely faced her,
and the mail bag fell from her hand.

"You are trying to frighten me, Dix," she said, but the sound of
footsteps at the door caused her to leave the sentence unfinished, while
a wild, desperate look came into her eyes.

The newcomer was Austin Goings.

"Whew! what is the trouble, Dix Lewis?" he asked.

"I wish you would call in Mr. Renders as soon as possible."

"What! have you caught the thief, my boy?" asked Mr. Goings, as his
countenance lightened. "In that case, I am more capable of helping you
than Mr. Renders. I am post office inspector, and I am here with full
authority to arrest whomever I find has been tampering with Uncle Sam's
property. What is your charge against this woman, Dix Lewis?"

"She has four letters in her sleeve, and I have reason to——"

"It's a mistake!" she broke in, excitedly. "If there are any letters in
my sleeve they got there by accident. They are large—oh, my Lord, there
are!"

The last exclamation was called forth by the sudden appearance of the
concealed mail as she held her arm so the sleeve was turned downward.

Austin Goings was already entering the private office, when she turned
to him with an agonizing look, saying:

"Don't arrest me, sir! It was an accident."

"If it was, you shall have ample time to prove it. But for the present,
Miss Grass, you must consider yourself my prisoner."

By that time a crowd had begun to collect about the office, among the
rest Mr. Renders, to whom the inspector said:

"I shall have to put the office in your charge for a short time, Mr.
Renders."

As may be imagined, the arrest was causing great wonder.

"Have you made any farther discovery, Dix?" asked Mr. Goings of the
postboy.

"No, sir."

"This was a good day's work, my boy. I hope you will excuse all
uneasiness I may have caused you, but to carry out my purpose it was
best no one should know my identity. Mr. Calvert assured me you were all
right, but I wished to prove it to my own satisfaction. If you will wait
long enough for me to put this prisoner under proper care, I will ride
up with you."

Hardly able to comprehend the strange turn of affairs, Little Snap
gladly waited until the inspector could join him.

"She takes her arrest hard," said the latter. "Mark my word, she will
soon make a confession, and if we don't get the gang before, we shall
have no trouble in hunting them down now. You have earned a good
reward."

"She was the last one I suspected," said Little Snap. "She always seemed
so friendly, but yesterday I felt sure the trouble was there."

"Well, I came in the nick of time to see the fun. Calvert claimed that
you could handle them, only give you time. But the government has had so
many complaints lately that it thought it was best to investigate. None
of us dreamed that you were so well assisted."

They were still talking about the arrest of Budd Grass, when they came
in sight of Hollow Tree, to see a dozen mounted men in front of the
place.

"I sent some of the boys on ahead, for we have got to pay Blazed Acre a
visit. Hello! what is up?"

Ab Raggles had suddenly appeared upon the scene, looking more uncouth
and haggard than ever. His clothing was torn almost in shreds, and his
hands and face were bleeding from several scratches and cuts.

He seemed to see no one but Little Snap, to whom he cried:

"Come with me, Dix Lewis, to Greenbrier Cave."

"What is it?" asked the postboy.

"Oh, such doings! They have got 'em all fast in th' cave. You must come
to once—you an' the rest."

"But what is wanted?"

"I can't tell you. Your father sent me. It's 'em Raggles-Burrnocks, an'
yer father's there with the rest!"

Little Snap afterward declared that was the most terrible moment of his
life. In an instant his discovery in the cave flashed through his mind.
The brief rejoicing he had felt the moment before to think that his
troubles were near an end, were now more than counterbalanced by the
feeling of dread that crept over his soul.

"Let us get there as soon as possible," said Mr. Goings. "I half
expected something of this kind. You can go with us, Dix. I will be
responsible—hello! here comes Calvert himself. He will take charge of
the mail until we get back. I calculate there will be no complaining if
you do not get in late to-night, with the news that you will bring."

Little Snap could make no reply to these hurried words, and all too soon
it seemed to him they were ready to start toward the cave, Ab Raggles
leading the way.

"Reckon you fellers will hev an easy time o' it a baggin' th' game some
one else has nabbed fer ye."

"Fast are they?" asked Mr. Goings.

"I should say so. He's got 'em shut up in th' cave—every galoot o' 'em.
Jess fixed a rock so es to slide it down over the hole thet led inter
the place. Then, when they was all in he shot th' stone on."

Ha! there's th' old duffer now, a-waitin' for us!"

They had got in sight of the cave, and sure enough, on the summit of the
rock overlying the place stood the figure of the victor, as described by
Ab Raggles.

Little Snap looked up to recognize Old Solitaire!

The old hermit's garb was sadly disarranged, and the flowing white beard
and hair were hanging on one side of his head, presenting a ridiculous
appearance!

"We came as soon as we could, Mr. Lewis," said the inspector.

"No need to fret, Mr. Goings, for I have them as safe as a squirrel in a
box trap."

Little Snap started at the sound of that voice, and then as he looked
closer, he cried:

"Father! father!"



                            CHAPTER XXXVII.
                              CONCLUSION.


He whom the postboy had known simply as Old Solitaire tore off the
balance of his disguise, and, rushing to Dix's side, said:

Thank God, my son, for this hour. I will tell you all when we get home.
But now we must look after our prisoners."

"Did you have any trouble in catching them?" asked Mr. Goings.

"None after I had overpowered the guard. You will find him on the shelf
below. When I had secured him, I slipped the rock down over the mouth,
and there they were. They have been doing some tall growling, but they
seem quiet now."

"How had we better get at them?"

"Let all of us get down in front of the place, and when we have moved
the stone enough, tell them to come out one by one. The passage isn't
wide enough to admit of more than one at a time, and I think they are
glad enough to get out by this time."

Acting upon this suggestion, in less than half an hour it had been found
that the imprisoned men were willing to come forth upon the terms
proposed.

Then, the inspector and his men standing in readiness to receive the
outlaws, they were commanded to appear one at a time.

"Attempt to make a rush and we will shoot you down like dogs."

The first man to come forth was Bird Burrnock, and he was followed by
his sons, Hawk and Buzzard.

The appearance of the fourth created a sensation.

It was Jason Warfield!

"I can explain this," he said, with some of his oldtime independence.

"So he can explain," said Mr. Lewis; "but that explanation will send him
to State's prison for life."

Four other men were captured—all of them belonging to the inhabitants of
Blazed Acre.

With what talk and wonder the return to Hollow Tree was made my readers
may imagine.

"I think there will be no more trouble," said Inspector Goings, "though
I can claim small share in the honor of the victory."

During the ride to Daring's Diamond, where the prisoners were to be left
for safe keeping, the wonderful surprises of the recent developments of
affairs were talked over and discussed.

The following facts were then learned by those who had not dreamed of
them before, though I cannot do better than to let Mr. Lewis tell them
in his own words:

"You wonder, my son, more than the others, perhaps, my reason for being
in this disguise. To explain it I must go back to the days when I lived
in Boone Lick, and you were nothing more than a prattling babe.

"There I incurred the lifelong enmity of a numerous family by the name
of Raggles, Nicholas Raggles being at the head of the crowd. In a
hand-to-hand fight with three of them one day I was nearly killed, and
it was years before I fully recovered from the effects of that blow.

"As soon as I was able I removed to Six Roads to live, my old home. You
may judge of my surprise, when I found myself soon afterward followed by
one of my enemies. But he came under another name, and, throwing off the
ways of his father, he aspired to move among the better class of people.

"I hoped he had forgotten, or overlooked, his ill feeling toward me, and
I think I should not have been troubled by him had not the rest of his
relatives come after him, to settle nearby, but under names not their
own. I felt all this boded me ill, so I put myself on my guard.

"I need not tell you now that the first of those to follow me was he you
have known as Jason Warfield. The others were the Burrnocks, of Blazed
Acre.

"But I had no open trouble with them, no doubt partly because they
considered me an imbecile, until you began to carry the mail of the
Kanawha. At almost that very time they planned their systematic scheme
of robbery, aided and abetted by Trencher Raggles, known to you as Jason
Warfield.

"Then it was that I conceived the idea of assuming the disguise of the
hermit, in order to watch over you and to lay some trap whereby I might
bring my enemies to justice. Later I joined them under another disguise
to learn their secrets, but they proved too wily for a long time.

"When this stranger, whom we now know as Mr. Goings, appeared, I was
puzzled, and I stopped him as I did below the Narrows. When you were
beyond hearing, he and I soon came to an understanding, and have worked
together since.

"He sent me the letter I got to-day, apprising me that the time to
strike at the cave had come. To explain how I could get back and forth
so quickly and readily, I would say that I found a passage through the
mountain which served me an admirable purpose.

"With all that I knew of the Raggles, I will confess that I had not had
any suspicions against the postmistress of Greenbrier, but now I believe
her to be connected with the Raggles', if not to be one of them.

"You must pardon me for the way in which I have deceived even you. I
considered it would be safest, though I have often had hard work to keep
from betraying my secret. It is over at last, I am thankful to say, and
I am sure that I am myself as of yore."

"How glad mother will be," Little Snap exclaimed. "I can hardly believe
it all."

"A good job of work has been done," said Mr. Goings. "By the way, Dix,
had you missed the postmaster of Hollow Tree?"

"I did when I came back from the cave. I had not before."

"He has gone on ahead of us under an escort, though I do not believe we
shall prove anything against him. He was more of a tool in the hands of
our political friend ahead. His audience will be somewhat surprised, I
anticipate. Fool! he might have succeeded had he followed the right
road."

The surprise at Six Roads was only equaled by the joy of those most
interested in the events as our party reached that place.

Mr. Rimmon was on hand to welcome our hero, and none showed greater
pleasure outside of those at home.

Here were many tears of joy wept that night, and as long as they lived,
the family would never forget that occasion.

And now, with a few words of explanation, we must bid them farewell.

Old Solitaire's part has, no doubt, been sufficiently described. It will
be remembered that he appeared only in the afternoons, and immediately
after Little Snap passed him he would cross the mountain to be on the
watch on the other side.

Ab Raggles, though a cousin to Bird, was not in sympathy with the other,
and he afterward, with such help as was given him for the part he acted
in the capture, became quite a respectable citizen. In regard to the
postboy's adventure the night he came over the mountain on horseback, he
was thrown from Jack's back by a wire having been stung across the path
by the Burrnocks.

She who was known as Budd Grass confessed to the entire plot of the
Raggles' of whom she proved to be a sister. She had stolen all of the
mail, and either put it into Little Snap's saddle pocket when he was not
looking, or secreted it in the tree where Shag once found it.

She, with her relatives, had to pay the penalty of wrongdoing.

Trencher Raggles, alias Jason Warfield, received the severest punishment
of them all, though he was more talented and had higher aspirations than
the others. His downfall was a startling surprise to the citizens of Six
Roads.

The Clavertons and Morton Meiggs, who had been tools of his, disappeared
soon after his arrest.

As Mr. Goings had said, nothing could be proved against Dan Shag, so he
was allowed his freedom, though he was postmaster of Hollow Tree no
longer. In fact, that office was discontinued at once, and to-day not a
house stands where once existed Blazed Acre "City."

It was found that the Burrnocks had caused the breakage in the dam of
Tripping Waters, and in that awful undertaking Pewee lost his life. The
note found by Little Snap in his pocket was written by Jason Warfield.

Of course, the stories told of Mr. Rimmon were false, and he remained
the postboy's friend as long as he lived.

Marion Calvert obtained the office of congressman, and he served his
constituents with entire satisfaction.

Mr. Lewis had fully recovered from his sufferings, and he led a useful
life.

Little Snap finished his term of carrying the mail without further
trouble. Here I wish to say that Warfield's conduct toward him had been
about what might have been expected of a man in his situation. He had
pretended to help him for the name of it, while at the same time he was
plotting against him. I will say this in his favor, which he claimed at
his trial, that he would have been a different man had it not been for
his relatives dragging him down. They knew his secret, and were
continually threatening to expose him if he did not help them in their
unlawful work.

When he finished carrying the mail our hero was assisted to a more
congenial occupation by Mr. Calvert, and eventually became an honored
citizen of the Old Dominion, though he never did her a better service
than when he was known as Little Snap, the Postboy.

                                THE END.


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 Adventures of a Telegraph Boy       Horatio Alger, Jr.
 Adventures of a Young Athlete       Matthew White, Jr.
 Arthur Helmuth                      Edward S. Ellis.

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 Bob Porter at Lakeview Academy      Walter Morris.
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 Canoe and Camp-Fire                 St. George Rathborne.
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 Centreboard Jim                     Henry Harrison Lewis.
 Chased Through Norway               James Otis.
 Check Number 2134                   Edward S. Ellis.
 Clif, the Naval Cadet               Ensign Clarke Fitch, U. S. N.
 Commodore Junk                      George Manville Fenn.
 Cryptogram                          William Murray Graydon.
 Cruise of the Training Ship         Ensign Clarke Fitch, U. S. N.

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 Dingo Boys                          George Manville Fenn.
 Don Kirk's Mine                     Gilbert Patten.

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 Eric Dane                           Matthew White, Jr.
 Erie Train Boy                      Horatio Alger, Jr.

 Five Hundred Dollar Check           Horatio Alger, Jr.
 For Home and Honor                  Victor St. Clair.
 Frank Merriwell's Bravery           Burt L. Standish.
 Frank Merriwell Down South          Burt L. Standish.
 Frank Merriwell's Schooldays        Burt L. Standish.
 Frank Merriwell's Chums             Burt L. Standish.
 Frank Merriwell's Foes              Burt L. Standish.
 Frank Merriwell's Trip West         Burt L. Standish.
 From Canal Boy to President         Horatio Alger, Jr.
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 From Port to Port                   Ensign Clarke Fitch, U. S. N.

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 Gilbert, the Trapper                C. B. Ashley.
 Gold of Flat Top Mountain           Frank H. Converse.
 Golden Magnet                       George Manville Fenn.
 Golden Rock                         Edward S. Ellis.
 Grand Chaco                         George Manville Fenn.
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 Guy Hammersley                      Matthew White, Jr.

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 Heir to a Million                   Frank H. Converse.
 How He Won                          Brooks McCormick.

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 In Search of an Unknown Race        Frank H. Converse.
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 Jud and Joe                         Gilbert Patten.
 Jungles and Traitors                William Murray Graydon.

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 Kit Carey's Protégé                 Lieut. Lounsberry.

 Land of Mystery                     Edward S. Ellis.
 Last Chance Mine                    Lieut. James K. Orton.
 Lieut. Carey's Luck                 Lieut. Lounsberry.
 Little Snap, the Postboy            Victor St. Clair.

 Mark Dale's Stage Venture           Arthur M. Winfield.
 Mark Stanton                        Horatio Alger, Jr.
 Midshipman Merrill                  Henry Harrison Lewis.
 My Mysterious Fortune               Matthew White, Jr.
 Mystery of a Diamond                Frank H. Converse.

 Nature's Young Noblemen             Brooks McCormick.
 Ned Newton                          Horatio Alger, Jr.
 Neka, the Boy Conjuror              Captain Ralph Bonehill.
 New York Boy                        Horatio Alger, Jr.

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 Old Man of the Mountain             George H. Coomer.
 On the Trail of Geronimo            Edward S. Ellis.
 On Guard                            Lieut. Fred'k. Garrison, U. S. A.

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 Perils of the Jungle                Edward S. Ellis.
 Phil, the Showman                   Stanley Norris.
 Pirate Island                       Harry Collingwood.

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 Rajah's Fortress                    William Murray Graydon.
 Reuben Green's Adventures at Yale   James Otis.
 Rival Battalions                    Brooks McCormick.
 Rival Canoe Boys                    St. George Rathborne.

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 Tiger Prince                        William Dalton.
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 Tom Tracy                           Horatio Alger, Jr.
 Tom Havens with the White Squadron  Lieut. James K. Orton.
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 War Tiger                           William Dalton.
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 Young Actor, The                    Gayle Winterton.
 Young Bank Clerk, The               Arthur M. Winfield.
 Young Editor                        Matthew White, Jr.
 Young Showman's Rivals, The         Stanley Norris.
 Young Showman's Pluck, The          Stanley Norris.
 Young Showman's Triumph, The        Stanley Norris.
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------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           Transcriber's Note

The original spelling and punctuation has been retained.

Variations in hyphenation and compound words have been preserved.

Italicized words and phrases in the text version are presented by
surrounding the text with underscores.





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