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´╗┐Title: A Son of Courage
Author: McKishnie, Archie P.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Son of Courage" ***

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[Frontispiece: "Oh, aren't they lovely!" cried Erie.]



  A Son _of_ Courage


  By

  Archie P. McKishnie


  _Author of Love of the Wild,
  Willow, the Wisp, etc._



  The Reilly & Lee Co.
  Chicago



  Copyright, 1920
  By
  The Reilly & Lee Co.

  All Rights Reserved

  Made in U. S. A.


  A Son of Courage



  To my sister,
  Jean Blewitt, who knew and
  loved its characters this book
  is lovingly dedicated.
  The Author.



CONTENTS

CHAPTER

   1 Billy Wilson's Strategy
   2 A Shower of Fish
   3 Appraising the New Teacher
   4 The Message Croaker Brought
   5 A Wilderness Merchant
   6 The Ruse That Failed
   7 The Rabbit Foot Charm
   8 Luck Rides the Storm
   9 Moving the Menagerie
  10 In Lost Man's Swamp
  11 Educating the New Boy
  12 Old Harry Makes a Find
  13 Erie of the Light-House
  14 Old Harry Turns a Trick
  15 Billy's Problems Multiply
  16 Billy Meets a Divinity
  17 The Dread Day Dawns
  18 The Mettle of the Breed
  19 Croaker Brings a Gift
  20 Billy Meets a Lovely Ghost
  21 A Day with the Ducks
  22 Teacher Johnston Resigns
  23 Mr. Hinter Proves a Puzzle
  24 Billy to the Rescue
  25 Mr. Hinter Makes a Confession
  26 A Golden Wedding Gift



A SON OF COURAGE



CHAPTER I

BILLY WILSON'S STRATEGY

Mrs. Wilson lit the coal-oil lamp and placed it in the center of the
kitchen table; then she turned toward the door, her head half bent in
a listening attitude.

A brown water-spaniel waddled from the woodshed into the room, four
bright-eyed puppies at her heels, and stood half in the glow, half in
the shadow, short tail ingratiatingly awag.

"Scoot you!" commanded the woman, and with a wild scurry mother dog
and puppies turned and fled to the friendly darkness of their retreat.

Mrs. Wilson stood with frowning gaze fastened on the door.  She was a
tall, angular woman of some forty years, heavy of features, as she
was when occasion demanded it, heavy of hand.  Tiny fret-lines marred
a face which under less trying conditions of life might have been
winsome, but tonight the lips of the generous mouth were tightly
compressed and the rise and fall of the bosom beneath the low cut
flannel gown hinted of a volcano that would ere long erupt to the
confusion of somebody.

As a quick step sounded outside, she lowered herself slowly to a
high-backed chair and waited, hands locked closely upon her lap.

The door opened and her husband entered.  He cast a quick,
apprehensive glance at his wife, and the low whistle died on his lips
as he passed over to the long roller towel hanging above the
wash-bench and proceeded to dry his hands.

He was a medium sized man, with brown wavy hair and a beard which
failed to conceal the glad boyishness of a face that would never
quite be old.  The eyes he turned upon the woman when she sharply
spoke his name were blue and tranquil.

"Yes, Mary?" he responded gently.

"I want'a tell you that I'm tired of bein' the slave of you an' your
son," she burst out.  "One of these days I'll be packin' up and goin'
to my home folks in Nova Scotia."

Wilson averted his face and proceeded to straighten the towel on the
roller.  His action seemed to infuriate the woman.

Her lips tightened.  Her hands unclenched and gripped the table as
she slowly arose.

"You--" she commenced, her voice tense with passion, "you--" she
checked herself.  Unconsciously one of the groping hands had come in
contact with the soft leather cover of a book which lay on the table.

It was the family Bible.  She had placed it there after reading her
son Anson his evening chapter.  Slowly she mastered herself and sank
back into her chair.

Wilson came over and laid a work-hardened hand gently on her heaving
shoulder.

"Mary," he said, "what is it?  What have I done?"

"Oh," she cried miserably, "what haven't you done, Tom Wilson?
Didn't you bring me here to this lonesome spot when I was happy with
my son, happy an' contented?"

"But I told you you'd like find it some lonesome, Mary, you remember?"

"Yes, but did you so much as hint at what awful things I'd have to
live through here?  Not you!  Did you tell me that an old miser 'ud
die and his ghost ha'nt this neighborhood?  Did you tell me that
blindness 'ud strike one of the best and most useful young men low?
Did you tell me," she ran wildly on, "that the sweetest girl in the
world 'ud be dyin' of a heartbreak?  Did you tell me anythin', Tom
Wilson, that a woman who was leavin' her own home folks, to work for
you and your son, should a' been told?"

Wilson sighed.  "How was I to know these things would happen, Mary?
It's been hard haulin', I know, but someday it won't be so hard.
Maybe now, you'd find it easier if you didn't shoulder everybody
else's trouble, like you do--"

"Shut right up!" she flared, "I'm a Christian woman, Tom Wilson.  Do
you think I could face God on my knees if I failed in my duty to the
sick as calls fer me?  Why, I couldn't sleep if I didn't do what
little I'm able to do fer them in trial; I'd hear weak voices
acallin' me, I'd see pain-wild eyes watchin' fer me to come an' help
their first-born into the world."

"But, Mary, there's a doctor at Bridgetown now and--"

"Doctors!" she cried scornfully.  "Little enough they know the needs
of a woman at such a time.  A doctor may be all right in his place,
but his place ain't here among us woods folk.  I tell you now I know
my duty an' I'll do it because they need me."

"We all need you, Mary," spoke her husband quickly.  "Didn't I tell
you that when I persuaded you to come?  I need you; Billy needs you."

She looked up at him, tears filming the fire of anger in her eyes.

"No," she said in low tense tones, "your son don't need me.  I'm
nuthin' to him.  Sometimes I think--I think he cares--'cause I'm
longin' fer it, I guess.  But somehow he seems to be lookin' beyond
me to someone else."

Wilson sighed and sank into a chair.

"I guess maybe it's your fancy playin' pranks on you, Mary," he
suggested hesitatingly.  "Two years of livin' in this lonesome spot
has kinder got on your nerves."

"Nerves!" she cried indignantly, sitting bolt upright.  "Don't you
'er anybody else dare accuse me of havin' nerves, Tom Wilson.  If I
wasn't the most sensible-minded person alive I'd be throwin' fits er
goin' off into gallopin' hysterics every hour, with the things that
Willium does to scare the life out of a body."

"What's Billy been doin' now?" asked Wilson anxiously.

She shivered.  "Nothin' out'a the ordinary.  What's that limb allars
doin' to scare the daylights clean outa me an' the neighbors?  If
you'd spend a little more of your spare time in the house with your
wife an' less in the barn with your precious stock you wouldn't need
to be askin' what he's been adoin'.  But I'll tell you what he did
only this evenin' afore you come home from changin' words with Cobin
Keeler.

"Missus Scraff--you know what a fidgety fly-off-the-handle she is,
an' how she suffers from the asthma--well, she'd come over an' was
stayin' to supper.  I sent that Willium out on the back ridge to
gather some wild thimble-berries fer dessert.  He comes in just as I
had the table all set, that wicked old coon he's made a pet of at his
heels an' that devil-eyed crow, Croaker, on his shoulder.  Afore I
could get hold of the broom, he put the covered pail on the table an'
went out ag'in.  The coon follered him, but that crow jumped right
onto the table an' grabbed a piece of cake.  I made a dash at him an'
he flopped to Missus Scraff's shoulder.  She was chewin' a piece of
slippery-ellum bark fer her asthma, an' when his claws gripped her
shoulder she shrieked an' like to 'a' choked to death on it.

"It took me all of half an hour to get her quieted, an' then I made
to show her what nice berries we got from our back ridge.  'Jest hold
your apron, Mrs. Scraff, an' I'll give you a glimpse of what we're
goin' to top our supper off with,' I says, strivin' to get the poor
soul's mind off herself.

"She held out her apron, an' I lefted the lid off the pail and pours
what's in it into her lap.

"An' what d'ye 'spose was in that pail, Tom Wilson?  Four garter
snakes and a lizard; that's what your precious son had gone out and
gathered fer our dessert.  I spilled the whole caboodle of 'em into
her apron afore I noticed, an' she give one screech an' fainted dead
away.  While I was busy bringin' her around, that Willium sneaked in
an' gathered them squirmin' reptiles off the floor.  I couldn' do
more jest then than look him a promise to settle with him later,
'cause I had my hands full as it was.  I found a pail of berries on
the table when I got a chance to look about me, an' I ain't sayin'
but that boy got them pails mixed, but that don't excuse him none."

Wilson, striving to keep his face grave, nodded.  "That's how it's
been, I guess, Mary.  He kin no more help pickin' up every snake and
animal he comes across then he kin help breathin'.  But he don't mean
any harm, Billy don't."

"That's neither here ner there," she snapped.  "He doesn't seem to
care what harm he does.  An' the hard part of it is," she burst out,
"I can't take no pleasure in whalin' him same as I might if I was his
real mother; I jest can't, that's all.  He has a way of lookin' at me
out'a them big, grey eyes of his'n--"

The voice choked up and a tear splashed down on the hand clenched on
her lap.

Comfortingly her husband's hand covered it from sight, as though he
sought to achieve by this small token of understanding that which he
could not hope to achieve by mere words.

She caught her breath quickly and a flush stole up beneath the sun
and wind stain on her cheeks.  There was that in the pressure of the
hand on hers, strong yet tender, which swept the feeling of
loneliness from her heart.

"Mary," said the man, "I guess neither of us understand Billy and
maybe we never will, quite.  I've often tried to tell you how much
your willin'ness to face this life here meant to him and me but I'm
no good at that sort'a thing.  I just hoped you'd understan', that's
all."

"Well, I'm goin' to do my duty by you both, allars," Mrs. Wilson
spoke in matter-of-fact tones, as she reached for her sewing-basket.
"When I feel you need checkin' up, Tom Wilson, checked you're goin'
to be, an' when Willium needs a hidin' he's goin' to get a hidin'.
An'," she added, as her husband got up from his chair, saying
something about having to turn the horses out to pasture, "you
needn't try to side-track me from my duty neither."

"All right, Mary," he agreed, his hand on the door-latch.

"An' if you're agoin' out to the barn do try'nd not carry any more of
the barn-yard in on your big feet than you kin help.  I jest finished
moppin' the floors."

Wilson stepped out into the spicy summer darkness and went slowly
down the path to the barn.  As far as eye could reach, through the
partially cleared forest, tiny clearing fires glowed up through the
darkness, seeming to vie with big low hanging stars.  The pungent
smoke of burning log and sward mingled pleasantly with the scent of
fern and wild blossoms.

Wilson lit his pipe and with arms folded on the top rail of the
barnyard fence gazed down across the partially-cleared, fire-dotted
sweep to where, a mile distant, a long, densely timbered point of
land stood darkly silhouetted against the sheen of a rising moon.

From the bay-waters came the lonely cry of a loon, from the marshes
the booming of night-basking bullfrogs.  The hoot of the owl sounded
faintly from the forest beyond; the yap of a foraging fox drifted
through the night's stillness from the uplands.

A long time Wilson stood pondering.  When at length he bestirred
himself a full moon swam above a transfigured world.  A silvery sheen
swept softly the open spaces; through the trees the white bay-waters
shimmered; the clearing fires had receded to mere sparks with silvery
smoke trails stretching straight up towards a starred infinity.

He sighed and turned to glance back at the cottage resting in the
hardwood grove.  It looked very homey, very restful to him, beneath
its vines of clustering wild-grape and honeysuckle.  It was
home--home it must be always.  And Mary loved it just as he loved it;
this he knew.  She was a fine woman, a great helpmate, a wonderful
wife and mother.  She was fair minded too.  She loved Billy quite as
much as she loved her own son, Anson.  Billy must be more careful,
more thoughtful of her comfort.  He would have a heart to heart talk
with his son, he told himself as he went on to the barn.

He completed his chores and went thoughtfully back up the
flower-edged path to the house.  "There's one good thing about Mary's
crossness," he reflected, "it don't last long.  She'll be her old
cheerful self ag'in by now."

But Mrs. Wilson was not her old cheerful self; far from it.  Wilson
realized this fact as soon as he opened the door.  She raised stern
eyes to her husband as he entered.

"You see them?" she asked with sinister calmness, pointing to a
patched and clay-stained pair of trousers on the floor beside her
chair.  "Them's Willium's.  He's jest gone to bed an' I ordered him
to throw 'em down to be patched."

Wilson nodded, "Yes, Mary?"

"And do you see this here object that I'm holdin' up afore your
dotin' father's eyes?"

He came forward and took the object from her hand.

"It also belongs to your dear, gentle son," she grated, "leastwise I
found it in one of his pants pockets."

Wilson whistled softly.  "You don't say!" he managed to articulate.
"Why, Mary, it's a pipe!"

"Is it?"

"Yes, a corn-cob pipe," he repeated weakly.

"Is it re'lly?" she returned with sarcasm.  "I wasn't sure.  I thort
maybe it was a fish-line, or a jack-knife.  Now what do you think of
your precious son?" she demanded.

Wilson shook his head.  "It's a new pipe," he ventured to say, "and,"
sniffing the bowl, "it ain't had nuthin' more deadly than dried
mullen leaves in it so far.  Ain't a great deal of harm in a boy
smokin' mullen leaves, shorely, Mary."

"Oh, is that so?  Haven't I heered you an' Cobin Keeler say, time and
ag'in, that that's how you both got the smoke-habit?  And look at you
old chimbneys now; the pipe's never out'a your mouths."

"I'll talk things over with Billy in the mornin'," promised Wilson as
he took the boot-jack from its peg.

"A pile of good your talkin''ll do," she cried.  "I'm goin' to talk
things over with that boy with a hickory ram-rod, jest as soon as I
feel he's proper asleep; that's what I'm goin' to do!  Who's trainin'
that boy, you er me?" she demanded.

"You, of course, Mary."

"Well then, you best let me be.  What I feel he should get, he's
goin' to get, and get right.  You keep out'a this, Tom Wilson, if you
want me to keep on; that's all."

"It don't seem right to wake boys up just to give 'em a whalin',
Mary," he protested.  "My Ma used to wake me up sometimes, but never
to whale me.  I'd rather remember--"

"Shut up!  I tell yun, I'm goin' to give him the hickory this night
or I'm goin' to know the reason why.  I'll break that boy of his bad
habits er I'll break my arm tryin'.  You let me be!"

"I'm not findin' fault with your methods of trainin' boys, Mary," her
husband hastened to say.  "You're doin' your best by Billy, I know
that right well.  And Billy is rather a tough stick of first-growth
timber to whittle smooth and straight, I know that, too.  But the
gnarliest hickory makes the best axe-handle, so maybe he'll make a
good man some day, with your help."

"Humph! well that bein' so, I'm goin' to help him see the error of
his ways this night if ever I did," she promised grimly.

Something like a muffled chuckle came from behind the stairway door,
but the good woman, intent on her grievance, did not hear it.  Wilson
heard, however, and let the boot-jack fall to the floor with a
clatter.  He picked it up and carried it over to its accustomed peg
on the wall, whistling softly the tune which he had whistled to Billy
in the old romping, astride-neck days:

  Oh, you'd better be up, and away, lad.
  You better be up and away!
  There is danger here in the glade, lad,
  It's a heap of trouble you've made, lad--
  So you'd better be up and away!


Over beside the table, Mrs. Wilson watched him from somber eyes.

"That's right!" she sighed.  "Whistle!  It shows all you care.  That
boy could do anythin' he wanted to do an' you wouldn't say a word;
no, not a word!"

Wilson did not answer.  He was listening for the stairs to creak,
telling him that Billy had left his eaves-dropping for the security
of the loft.

Billy had heard and understood.  When his dad sent him one of those
"up and away" signals he never questioned its significance.  He
didn't like listening in secret, but surely he reasoned, a boy had a
right to know just what was coming to him.  And he knew what was
coming to him, all right--a caning from the supple hickory
ramrod--maybe!

Up in the roomy loft which he and his step-brother, Anson, shared
together, he lit the lamp.  Anson was sleeping and Billy wondered
just what he would say when he woke up in the morning and found his
pants gone.  Their mother had demanded that a pair of pants be thrown
down to her.  Billy needed his own so he had thrown down Anson's.

But how in the world was he ever going to get out of that window with
Anson's bed right up against it, and Anson sleeping in the bed?
Anson would be sure to hear the ladder when Walter Watland and
Maurice Keeler raised it against the wall.  He must get Anson up and
out of that bed!

Billy placed the lamp on a chair and reaching over shook Anson's
long, regular snore into fragments of little gasps.  He shook harder
and Anson sat up, sandy hair rumpled and pale blue eyes blinking in
the light.

"What's'amatter?" he asked sleepily.

"Hush," cautioned Billy.  "Ma's downstairs wide awake and she's awful
cross.  What you been doin' to rile her, Anse?"

Anson frowned and scratched his head.  "Did you tell her 'bout my
lettin' the pigs get in the garden when I was tendin' gap this
afternoon?" he asked suspiciously.

"No, it ain't that.  I guess maybe she's worried more'n cross, an'
she's scared too--scared stiff.  Well, who wouldn't be with that
awful thing prowlin' around ready to claw the insides out'a people in
their sleep?"

Anson sat up suddenly.

"What you talkin' 'bout, Bill?  What thing?  Who's it been clawin'?
Hurry up, tell me."

Billy glanced at the window, poorly protected by a cotton mosquito
screen, and shivered.

"Nobody knows what it is," he whispered.  "Some say it's a gorilla
and others say it's a big lynx.  Ol' Harry's the only one who saw it,
an' he's so clawed and bit he can't describe it to nobody."

"Great Scott!  Bill, you mean to say it got ol' Harry?"

Billy nodded.  "Yep, last night.  He was asleep when that thing
climbed in his winder an' tried to suck his blood away."

"Ugh!"  Anson shuddered and pulled the bed clothes up about his ears.
"How did it get it, Bill!  Does anybody know?"

"Well, there was a tree standin' jest outside his winder same as that
tree stands outside this one.  It climbed that tree and jumped
through the mosquito nettin' plumb onto ol' Harry.  He was able to
tell the doctor that much afore he caved under."

Anson's blue eyes were staring at the wide unprotected window.
Outside, the moon swam hazily above the forest; shadows like huge,
misshapen monsters prowled on the sward; weird sounds floated up and
died on the still air.

"Bill," Anson's voice was shaking, "I don't feel like sleepin'
longside this winder.  That awful thing might come shinnin' up that
tree an' gulp me up.  I'm goin' down and ask Ma if I can't sleep out
in the shed with Moll an' the pups."

Billy promptly scented a new danger to his plans.  "If I was you I
wouldn't do that, Anse," he advised.

"Well, I'm goin' to do it."  Anson sat up in bed and peered onto the
floor.

"Where the dickens are my pants?" he whispered.  "See anythin' of
'em, Bill?"

"Anse," Billy's voice was sympathetic.  "I see I have to tell you
everythin'.  Ma, she's goin' fo give you the canin' of your young
life, jest as soon as she thinks we're proper asleep."

"Canin'?  Me?  Whatfer?"

"Why, seems she was up here lookin' fer somethin' a little while ago.
She saw your pants layin' there an' she thought maybe they needed
patchin', so she took 'em down with her."

"Well, what of it?"

"Oh, nuthin', only she happened to find a pipe in one of the pockets,
that's all."

"Jerusalem!"  Anson's teeth chattered.  "Well, I'm goin' down anyway.
I don't mind a hidin', but I'm derned if I'm goin' to lay here and
get clawed up by no gorilla."

"Anse, listen," Billy put a detaining hand on his brother's shoulder.
"You don't need to do that, an' you needn't sleep in this bed
neither.  I'll sleep in it, an' you kin sleep in mine.  That gorilla,
er whatever it is, can't hurt me, cause I've got that rabbit-foot
charm that Tom Dodge give me.  I'll tie it round my neck."

Anson reflected, shuddering as a long low wail came from the forest.

"That's the boys," Billy told himself.  "I've gotta move fast."

Aloud he urged: "Come on, Anse.  Get Out an' pile into my bed.  I
ain't scared to sleep in yours, not a bit.  Besides," he added,
"it'll save you a canin' from Ma."

"How will it, I'd like to know?"

"Why this way.  Ma'll come creepin' up here in the dark, when she
thinks we're asleep an' she'll come straight to this--your bed.
She'll turn down the clothes an' give me a slash or two, thinkin'
it's you.  I'll let her baste me some--then I'll speak to her.
She'll be so surprised she'll ferget all about whalin' you.  She's
that way, you know.  Like as not she'll laugh to think she basted
me--an' she'll be good-natured.  You needn't worry any about a
lickin', Anse."

"Well, I'll take a chance, Bill."

Anson got out of bed, his white legs gleaming in the yellow
lamp-light as he tiptoed softly across to Billy's cot and lay down.

Billy blew out the lamp and went through the motions of undressing.
He removed one shoe, let it fall on the floor, waited an interval and
let the same shoe fall again.  Then he put it back on.  By and by he
lay down and gave a long, weary sigh.  Then he held his breath and
listened.

Below his window sounded a whippoorwill's call.  From the opposite
side of the room came the long, regular snores of Anson.  Billy sat
up in bed and started to remove the tacks from the window screen.

Something fell with a thud against the wall outside, and brushed
against the boards.  A cat mewed directly beneath the window.  Gently
Billy rolled the bed quilts into an oblong shape resembling a human
form, then silently made his way out of the window.

His feet struck the top round of a ladder.  A moment more and he was
crouching in the shadow of the wall, two shadowy forms squatting
beside him.

"All hunky?" a voice whispered in his ear.

"All hunky," Billy whispered back.

"Then come on."

But Billy plucked at the speaker's sleeve.  "Wait a minute, Fatty,"
he urged.  "Anson's up there asleep, an' he's goin' to have a wakin'
nightmare in about four seconds.  I jest heard Ma goin' up."

Silence, deep and brooding, fell.  Then suddenly from the loft came a
long wail, followed by a succession of shorter gasps and gulps, and
above the swish of a hickory ram-rod a woman's voice exclaiming
angrily.

"I'll teach you to smoke on the sly, you young outlaw, you!"

"Now let's get while the gettin's good," whispered Billy; and the
three crept off into the shadows.

Down through the night-enshrouded woods the boys made their way
noiselessly, Billy leading, Walter Watland, nicknamed Fatty on
account of his size, close behind him and Maurice Keeler, Billy's
sworn chum and confidant, bringing up the rear.  Occasionally a
soft-winged owl fluttered up from its kill, with a muffled "who-who."
Once a heavy object plunged from the trail with a snort, and the boys
felt the flesh along their spines creeping.  They kept on without so
much as a word, crossing a swift creek on a fallen tree, holding to
its bank and making a detour into the woods to avoid passing close to
a dilapidated log cabin which in the moonlight bore evidence of
having fallen into disuse.  As they skirted the heavy thicket of
pines, which even in the summer night's stillness sighed low and
mournfully, the leader halted suddenly and a low exclamation fell
from his lips.

"Look!" he whispered.  "Look!  There's a light in the ha'nted house."

His companions crept forward and peered through the trees.  Sure
enough from the one unglazed window of the old building came the
twinkle of a light, which bobbed about in weird, uncertain fashion.

"Old Scroggie's ghost huntin' fer the lost money," whispered Walter,
"Oh, gosh! let's leg it!'

"Leg nuthin'!" Billy removed his hand from his trousers-pocket and
waved something before two pairs of fear-widened eyes.

"'No ghost kin harm where lies this charm,'" he recited solemnly.
"Now if you fellers feel like beatin' it, why beat it; but so long as
I'm grabbin' onto this left hind foot of a graveyard rabbit I don't
run away from no ghost--not even old man Scroggie's."

"That's all right fer you, Bill," returned Walter, "but what's goin'
t' happen t' Maurice an' me, supposin' that ghost takes a notion to
gallop this way?  That's what I want'a know!"

Billy turned upon him.  "Say, Fatty, haven't I told you that this
here charm protects everybody with me?" he asked cuttingly.

"There's never been a ghost that ever roamed nights been able to get
near it.  You kin ask Tom Dodge er any of the other Injuns if there
has."

"Oh it might lay an Injun ghost," said the unreasonable Fatty, "but
how about a white man's?  How about old man Scroggie's, fer instance?
You know yourself, Bill, old man Scroggie was a tartar.  Nobody ever
fooled him while he was alive an' nobody need try now he's dead.  If
he wants to come back here an' snoop round lookin' fer the money he
buried an' forgot where, it's his own funeral.  I'm fer not mixin' up
in this thing any--"

"Keep still!" cautioned Billy, "an' look yonder!  See it?"

He pointed through the trees to an open glade in the grove.  The full
moon, riding high in the sky, threw her light fair upon the fern-sown
sod; across the glade a white object was moving--drifting straight
toward the watchers.  Billy, tightly gripping his rabbit's foot charm
in one sweaty hand and a rough-barked sapling in the other, felt
Walter's hands clutching his shoulders.

"Oh Jerusalem!" groaned the terrified Fatty, "It's the ghost!  Look,
it's sheddin' blue grave-mist!  Fer the love of Mike let's git out'a
this!"

"Wait," gulped Billy, but it was plain to be seen he was wavering.
His feet were getting uneasy, his toes fairly biting holes through
his socks in their eagerness to tear up the sward.  But as leader it
would never do for him to show the white feather.

The approaching terror had drifted into the shadow again.  Suddenly,
so near that it fairly seemed to scorch the frowsy top of the sapling
to which he was hanging, a weird blue light twisted upward almost in
Billy's eyes.  At the same moment a tiny hoot-owl, sleeping off its
early evening's feed in the cedar close beside the boys, woke up and
gave a ghostly cry.  It was too much for overstrained nerves to
stand.  Billy felt Fatty's form quiver and leap even before his
agonized howl fell on his ears--a cry which he and Maurice may have
echoed, for all he knew.

They were fully a mile away from the place of terror before sheer
exhaustion forced them to abate their wild speed and tumble in a heap
beneath a big elm tree, along the trail of the forest.

For a time they lay gasping and quivering.  Maurice Keeler was the
first to speak.  "Say, Bill," he shivered, "is it light enough fer
you to see if the hair is scorched off one side o' my head?
That--that ghost's breath shot blue flame square in my face."

"It grabbed me in its bony fingers," whispered Fatty.  "Gosh, it tore
the sleeve fair out'a my shirt.  Look!"  And to prove the truth of
his statement he lifted a fat arm to which adhered a tattered sleeve.

Billy sat up and surveyed his companions with disgust.

"A nice pair of scare-babies you two are," he said, scathingly.  "A
great pair you are to help me find old Scroggie's will an' money.
Why, say, if you'd only kept your nerve a little, that ghost would'a
led us right to the spot, most likely; but 'stead o' that you take to
your heels at first sight of it.  Say!  I thought you both had more
sand."

Maurice squirmed uncomfortably.  "Now look here, Bill," he protested,
"Fatty an' me wasn't any scarter than you was, yourself.  Who made
the first jump, I want'a know; who?"

"Well, who _did_?" snapped Billy, glowering at his two bosom friends.

"You did," Maurice affirmed.  "An' you grabbed Fatty by the arm an'
pulled his shirt sleeve out.  I saw you.  And you can't say you
didn't run neither, else how did you get here same time as Fatty an'
me?"

"Well, I didn't run, but I own I _follered_ you," compromised Billy.
"There wasn't anythin' else I could do, was there?  How did I know
what you two scared rabbits ud do?  You might'a run plumb into Lake
Erie an' got drownded, you was so scared.  Somebody's had to keep his
head," he said airily.

"Well I kept mine by havin' a good pair of legs," groaned Fatty.
"I'm not denyin' that.  And by gravy, if they had been good enough
fer a thousand miles I'd've let 'em go the limit.  Scared!  Oh
yowlin' wildcats!  I'll see ghosts an' smell brimstone the rest o' my
life."

"Boys," cried Billy in awed tones.  "It's gone!"

"What's gone?" asked his companions in a breath.

Billy was feeling frantically in his pockets.  "My rabbit foot
charm," he groaned.  "I fell over a log an' it must'a slipped out'a
my pocket."

"You had it in your hand when th' ghost poked its blue tongue in our
faces," affirmed Maurice.  "I saw it."

"You throwed somethin' at the ghost afore you howled an' run," Fatty
stated.  "Maybe it was the rabbit foot?"

"'No ghost kin harm where lies this charm,'" chuckled Maurice.

Billy turned on him.  "If you want'a make fun of a charm, why all
right, go ahead," he said coldly.  "Only I know I wouldn't do it, not
if I wanted it to save me from a ghost, anyway."

Maurice looked frightened.  "I wasn't pokin' fun at the charm, Bill,
cross my heart, I wasn't," he said earnestly.

"All right then, see that you don't.  Now, see here, I'll tell you
somethin'.  I did throw my rabbit's foot charm but that was to keep
that ghost from follerin'.  Maybe you two didn't hear it snort when
it got to that charm an' tried to pass it, so's to catch up to us;
but I heard it.  Oh say, but wouldn't it be mad though?"

"An' that's why you throwed it," exclaimed the admiring Maurice.
"Gosh, nobody else would'a thought of that."

"Nobody," echoed Fatty, "nobody but Bill."

"Well, somebody has to think in a case o' that kind," admitted Billy,
"an' think quick.  It was up to me to save you, an' I did the only
thing I could think of right then."

Just here the whistle of bob-white sounded from a little distance
along the trail.

"That's Elgin Scraff and Tom Holt comin' to look fer us," cried
Maurice.

"Answer 'em," said Billy.

Maurice puckered up his lips and gave an answering call.  It was
returned almost immediately.  A moment later two more boys came into
the moonlight.

"We wondered what kept you fellers, so came lookin' fer you," spoke
Tom Holt as they came up.  "Thought you'd be comin' by the tamarack
swamp trail, an' we stuck around there fer quite a while, waitin'.
Then Elgin said maybe you had come the ha'nted house way, so we
struck through the bush an' tried to pick up your trail.  Once we
thought we saw the ghost, but it turned out to be old Ringold's white
yearlin' steer.  It had rubbed up ag'inst some will-o-the-wisp fungus
an' it fair showered sparks of blue fire.  If we hadn't heered it
bawlin' we'd have run sure."

Somewhere behind him Billy heard a giggle, which was immediately
suppressed as he turned and looked over his shoulder.

"Yep," he replied, "we saw that steer, too.  We've been waitin' here,
hopin' we'd hear your whistle.  I wonder what time it's gettin' to
be?"

Tom Holt, the proud possessor of a watch, consulted it.  "Ten twelve
an' a half," he answered, holding the dial to the moon-light.
"Sandtown'll be sound asleep.  Come on, let's go down to the lake an'
make a haul."

"I s'pose we might be goin'," said Billy.  "All right, fellers, come
along."

Arriving at the lake the boys learned after careful reconnoitering
that everything was clear for immediate action.  Not a light
glimmered from the homes of the fishermen, to show that they were
awake and vigilant.

The white-fish run was on and when the boys, launching the big
flat-bottomed fish boat, carefully cast and drew in the long seine it
held more great gleaming fish than they knew how to dispose of.

"Only one thing to do," reasoned Billy, "take what we want an' let
the rest go."

And this they did.  When they left the beach the moon was low above
the Point pines, the draw-seine was back in its place on the big reel
and there was nothing to show the lake fishermen that the Scotia Fish
Supply Company had been operating on their grounds.



CHAPTER II

A SHOWER OF FISH

Between the fishermen of Sandtown and the farmers of the community
existed no very strong bond of sympathy or friendship.  The former
were a dissolute, shiftless lot, quite content, with draw-seine and
pound-net, to eke out a miserable existence in the easiest manner
possible.  They were tolerated just as the poor and shiftless of any
community are tolerated; their children were allowed to attend the
school the same as the children of the tax-payers.

Each spring the farmers attended the fishermen's annual bee of
pile-driving, which meant the placing of the stakes for the pound
nets--a dangerous and thankless task.  Wet, weary and hungry, they
would return to their homes at night with considerable more faith in
the reward that comes of helping one's fellow-men than in the promise
of the fishermen to keep them supplied, gratis, with all the fresh
fish they needed during the season.

As far back as any of the farmers could remember the fishermen had
made that promise and in no case had it been fulfilled.  So they
came, in time, to treat it as a joke.  Nevertheless, they were always
on hand to help with the pile-driving.  They were an old-fashioned,
simple-hearted people, content with following the teachings of their
good Book--"Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shalt find it
after many days."

And find it they did, ultimately, in a mysterious and unexpected way.
One late June morning each of the farmers who had for season after
season toiled with those fishermen without faintest hope of earthly
reward awoke to find a mess of fresh lake fish hanging just outside
their respective doors.  It was a great and wonderful revelation.
The circuit minister, Rev. Mr. Reddick, whose love for and trust in
his fellow-men was all-embracing, wept when the intelligence was
imparted to him, and took for his text on the Sunday following a
passage of scripture dealing with the true reward of unselfish
serving.  It was a stirring sermon, the rebuke of a father to his
children who had erred.

"Oh ye of little faith," he concluded, "let this be a lesson to you;
and those of you, my brothers, whose judgment of humanity has been
warped through God-given prosperity, get down on your knees and pray
humbly for light, remembering that _Christ believed in His
fishermen_."

At the conclusion of the service, Deacon Ringold called a few of the
leading church members together and to them spoke his mind thus:

"Brothers, you heard what our minister said, an' he's right.  I, fer
one, am ashamed of the thoughts I've thought to'rds them fishermen of
Sandtown.  I've acted mean to 'em in lots of ways, I'll admit.  An'
so have you--you can't deny it!"

The deacon, a florid, full-whiskered man of about sixty, glowered
about him.  No one present thought of disputing his assertion.  The
deacon was a power in the community.

"I tell you, brothers," he continued, waxing eloquent, "the old devil
is pretty smooth and he'll get inside the guard of Christianity every
time unless we keep him barred by acts of Christly example.  I have
been downright contemptuous to them poor sand folks; I have so!  Time
and ag'in I've refused 'em even the apples rottin' on the ground in
my orchard.  Now, I tell you what I'm goin' to do.  I'm goin' to load
up my wagon with such fruit an' vegetables as they never get a smell
of, an' I'm goin' to drive down there and distribute it among 'em.  I
ain't suggestin' that you men do likewise--that's between you and
your conscience--but," he added, glaring about him, "I'd like to know
if any of you has any suggestions to make."

A tall, sad-visaged man rose slowly from his seat and took a few
steps up the aisle.  Like the others he was full bearded; like them
his hands bore the calluses of honest toil.

"Fisherman Shipley wanted to buy a cow from me on time," he said.  "I
refused him.  If you don't mind, Deacon, I'll lead her down behind
your wagon tomorrow."

Ringold nodded approval.  "All right, Neighbor Watland.  Anybody else
got anythin' to say?"

A short, heavy set man stirred in his seat, and spoke without rising.
"I'm only a poor workin'-man, without anythin' to give but the
strength of my arm, but I'm willin' to go down and help them
fishermen build their smoke-houses.  I'm a pretty good carpenter, as
you men know."

"That you are, Jim," agreed the deacon heartily.  "We'll tell 'em
that Jim Glover'll be down to give 'em a hand soon."

One by one others got up and made their little offers.  Cobin Keeler,
a giant in stature, combed his flowing beard with his fingers and
announced he'd bring along a load of green corn-fodder.  Gamp Stevens
promised three bags of potatoes.  Joe Scraff, a little man with a
thin voice, said he had some lumber that the fishermen might as well
be using for their smoke-houses.  Each of the others present offered
to do his part, and then the men separated for their several homes.

"Understand, brothers," the deacon admonished as they parted, "we
must be careful not to let them poor, ignorant people think we're
doin' this little act of Christianity because they've seen fit to
fulfill their promise to us regardin' fish.  That would spoil the
spirit of our givin'.  Let not one man among us so much as mention
fish.  Brotherly kindness, Christian example.  That's our motto,
brothers, and we'll foller it."

"You're right, Deacon," spoke Cobin Keeler.

"He's always right," commented Scraff, who owed the deacon a couple
of hundred dollars.  "An'," he added, "while we're hangin' strictly
to Bible teachin', might it not be a good idea fer us not to let our
left hand know what our right hand's doin'?"

"Meanin' outsiders?" questioned Keeler.

"Outsiders and insiders as well; our wives fer instance."  Scraff had
a mental vision of a certain woman objecting strenuously to the part
he hoped personally to play in the giving.

"Humph," said the deacon, "Joe Scraff may be right at that.  Maybe it
would be just as well if we kept our own counsel in this matter,
brothers.  Tomorrow mornin', early, let each of us prepare his
offerin' and depart fer the lake.  We'll meet there and make what
distribution of our gifts as seems fair to them cheats--I mean them
poor misguided fishermen," he corrected hurriedly.

And so they parted with this understanding.  And when their footsteps
had died away, a small, dusty boy crawled out from under the penitent
bench, slipped like a shadow to a window, opened it and dropped
outside.

By mid-afternoon Billy Wilson's boon companions had learned from him
that a good-will offering was to be made the fishermen of Sandtown by
the people of Scotia.  It was a terrible disgrace--a dangerous state
of affairs.  The hated Sand-sharkers merited nothing and should
receive nothing, if Billy and his friends could help it.  Immediate
action was necessary if the plan of the farmers was to be frustrated
and the outlaw fishermen kept in their proper place.  So Billy and
his friends held a little caucus in the beach grove behind the
school-house.  For two hours they talked together in low tones.  Then
Billy arose and crept stealthily away through the trees.  The others
silently separated.

* * * * *

Sunset was streaking the pine tops with spun gold and edging the
gorgeous fabric with crimson ribbons; the big lake lay like an opal
set in coral.  Fishermen Shipley and Sward, seated on the bow of
their old fish-boat, were idly watching the scene when Billy Wilson
approached, hands in pockets and gravely surveyed them.

Shipley was a small, wizened man with scant beard and hair.  He
wheezed a "Hello, Sonny" at Billy, while he packed the tobacco home
in his short, black pipe with a claw-like finger.

His companion, a tall, thin man, grinned, but said nothing.  His red
hair was long and straggly; splashes of coal-tar besmeared him from
the neckband of his greasy shirt to the bottoms of his much-patched
overalls.

"What dye you want, boy?"  Shipley's pipe was alight now and he
peered down at Billy through the pungent smoke-wreaths.

"I was sent down here to give you a message, Mr. Shipley," said Billy.

"Well, what is it, then?  Who sent you?  Come now, out with it quick,
or I'll take a tarred rope-end to you."

"It was Deacon Ringold sent me," Billy answered.  "He told me to tell
you that he's got to turn his pigs into the orchard tomorrow an' that
you an' the other people here might as well come an' gather up the
apples on the ground if you want 'em."

"What!"  Shipley and Sward started so forcibly that their heads came
together with a bump.  "So the old skinflint is goin' to give us his
down apples, is he?" wheezed Shipley.  "Well, he ain't givin' much,
but we'll come over tonight and get 'em.  It's a wonder the old
hypocrite would let us gather 'em on Sunday night, ain't it,
Benjamin?" he addressed his companion.

"He's afeerd they'll make his hogs sick most like," sneered Sward.

"He says, if you don't mind, to come about ten or 'leven o'clock,"
said Billy.

Shipley threw back his head and chuckled a wheezing laugh.
"Loramity!  Benjamin," he choked, "can't you get his reason fer that?
He wants to make sure that all the prayer-meetin' folks will be gone
home.  It wouldn't do fer 'em to see us helpin' keep the deacon's
pigs from cholery.  Ain't that like the smooth old weasel, though?"

"What'll I tell Mr. Ringold?" asked Billy as he turned to go.

"You might tell him that he's an angel if you wanter lie to him,"
returned Shipley, "or that he's a canny old skin-flint, if you wanter
tell him the truth.  I reckon, though, sonny, you best tell him that
we'll be along 'tween ten and leven.

"That's a nice lookin' youngster," remarked Sward, as Billy was lost
among the pines.  "Notice the big eyes of him, Jack?"

"Yes.  Oh, I daresay the boy's all right, Benjamin, but he belongs to
them Scotians and they're no friends of ourn.  I reckon I scared him
some when I threatened to give him the rope, eh?"

"Well, he wasn't givin' no signs that you did," Sward returned, "he
seemed to me to be tryin' his best to keep from laughin' in your
face."

"By thunder! did he now?"

"Fact, Jack.  Seems to me them young Scotians don't scare very easy.
However," sliding off the boat, "that ain't gettin' ready for the
apple gatherin'.  Let's go and mosey up some sacks and get the others
in line."

Shipley laid a claw-like hand on his friend's arm and turned his
rheumy eyes on Sward's blinking blue ones.  "Benjamin, we're goin'
after the deacon's apples, _but we ain't goin' to take no windfalls_."

"You mean we'll strip the trees, Jack?" exulted Sward.

"Exactly.  And, Benjamin, kin you imagine the old deacon's face in
the mornin' when he sees what we've done?"  And the two cronies went
off laughing over their prospective raid.

* * * * *

Sunday-night prayer meeting was just over.  The worshippers had gone
from the church in twos and threes.  Deacon Ringold had remained
behind to extinguish the church lights and lock up.  As he stepped
from the porch into the shadows along the path, a small hand gripped
his arm.

"Hello!" exclaimed the startled deacon.  "Why, bless us, it's a boy!
Who are you, and what do you want?"

Apparently the boy did not hear the first question.  "Mr. Ringold,"
he whispered, "I waited here to see you.  The Sandtown fishermen are
comin' to rob your orchard tonight."

"What?"  The deacon gripped the boy's arm and shook him.  "What's
that you say?" he questioned eagerly.

"I was down to the lake this evenin'," said the boy, "an' I heard
Shipley and Sward talkin' together.  They was plannin' a raid on your
orchard tonight."

Mr. Ringold fairly gasped.  "Oh, the thankless, misguided wretches!"
he exclaimed.  "And to think that we were foolish enough to feel that
we hadn't treated 'em with Christian kindness.  Did you hear 'em say
what time they was comin', boy?"

"Yes sir.  They said 'bout half-past ten."

"Well, I'll be on hand to receive 'em," the deacon promised, "and if
I don't teach them thieves and rogues a lesson it'll be a joke on me.
Now I must run on and catch up with Cobin Keeler and the rest o' the
neighbors.  They've got to know about this, so, if you'll jest tell
me your name--why, bless me, the boy's gone!"

The deacon stood perplexedly scratching his head.  Then he started
forward on a run to tell those who had planned with him a little
surprise gift for the fishermen of the perfidy of human nature.

That night the fishermen of Sandtown were caught red-handed, stealing
Deacon Ringold's harvest apples.  Like hungry ants scenting sugar
they descended upon that orchard, en masse, at exactly ten-thirty
o'clock.  By ten-forty they had done more damage to the hanging fruit
than a wind storm could do in an hour and at ten-forty-five they were
pounced upon by the angry deacon and his neighbors and given the
lecture of their lives.  In vain they pleaded that it was all a
mistake, that they had been sent an invitation via a small boy, from
the deacon himself.

Ringold simply growled "lying ingrates," and bade them begone and
never again to so much as dare lay a boot-sole on his or his
neighbors' property.  And so they went, and with them went all hope
of a possible drawing together in Christian brotherhood of the two
factions.

"Brothers," spoke the deacon sadly, as he and his neighbors were
about to separate, "I doubt if we have displayed the proper Christian
spirit, but even a Christian must protect his property.  Oh, why
didn't some small voice whisper to them poor misguided people and
warn 'em to be patient and all would be well."

"It means, o' course, that we'll get no more fish," spoke up the
practical Scraff.

"Oh yes you will," spoke a voice, seemingly above their heads.

"Oh yes you will," echoed another voice on the left, and on the right
still another voice chanted.  "You will, you will."

"Mercies on us!" cried the amazed deacon, clutching the fence for
support.  "Whose voice was that?  You heard it, men.  Whose was it?"

The others stood, awed, frightened.

"There was three voices," whispered Scraff.  "They seemed to be
scattered among the trees.  It's black magic, that's what it is--or
old Scroggie's ghost," he finished with a shudder.

"Joe, I'm ashamed of you," chided the white-faced deacon.  "Come
along to my house, all of you, and I'll have wife make us a strong
cup of tea."

They passed on, and then from the sable-hued cedars bordering the
orchard four small figures stole and moved softly away.

Once safely out on the road they paused to look back.

"Boys," whispered Billy, "she worked fine.  Them Sand-sharkers are
goin' to stay where they belong.  An', fellers, seein' as we've
promised fish, fish it's gotta be."  And so was formed the Scotia
Fish Supply Company.

Four shadowy forms drifted apart and were lost in deeper shadows.
The golden moon rode peacefully in the summer sky.



CHAPTER III

APPRAISING THE NEW TEACHER

The morning wood-mists were warm, sweet-scented; the wood-birds' song
of thanksgiving was glad with the essence of God-given life.  But the
man astride the dejected and weary horse saw none of the beauties of
his surroundings, heard none of the harmony, experienced none of the
exhilaration of the life all about him, as he rode slowly down the
winding trail between the trees.  He sat erect in his saddle, eyes
fixed straight before him.  His face was strong and seamed with tiny
lines.  The prominence of his features was accentuated by the
thinness of the face.  Beady black eyes burned beneath the shadows of
heavy brows.  A shock of iron-grey hair brushed his shoulders.  In
one hand he held a leather-bound book, a long thumb fixed on the
printed page from which his attention had been momentarily diverted
by his survey of the woodland scene.

"Desolation!" he murmured, "desolation! the natural home of
ignorance."

At the sound of his voice the old horse stood still.  "Thomas," cried
the rider sternly, "did I command you to halt?"

From his leather boot-leg he extracted a long wand of seasoned
hickory and brought it down on the bay flank with a cutting swish.
The hickory represented the symbol of progress to Mr. George G.
Johnston, the new teacher of Scotia school.  Certain it was it had
the desired effect in this particular instance.  The aged horse broke
into a jerky gallop which soon carried the rider out into more open
country.

Here farms, hemmed in by rude rail-fences, looked up from valley and
hillside.  Occasionally a house of greater pretensions than its
fellows, and built of unplaned lumber, gleamed in the morning
sunlight in gay contrast to the dun-colored log ones.  But the
eternal forest, the primitive offering of earth's first substance,
obtruded even here, and the rider's face set in a frown as he
surveyed the vista before him.

Descending into a valley he saw that the farm homes, which from the
height seemed closely set together, were really quite a distance from
each other.  He reined up before a small frame house and,
dismounting, allowed his hungry horse to crop the grass, as he opened
the gate and made up the path.  A shaggie collie bounded around the
corner of the building and down to meet him, bristles erect and all
the antagonism of a bush-dog for a stranger in its bearing.  It was
followed by a big man and a boy.

"Here you, Joe, come back here and behave yourself," the master
thundered and the dog turned and slunk back along the path.

"Mornin', sir," greeted Cobin Keeler.

In one hand he carried a huge butcher-knife, in the other a long
whetstone.  More big knives glittered in the leather belt about his
waist.  "Jest sharpenin' my knives ag'in the hog-killin'," he
explained, noting the stranger's startled look.

The teacher advanced, his fears at rest.  "My name is Johnston," he
said, "George G. Johnston.  I was directed here, sir.  You are Mr.
Keeler, are you not, one of the trustees of the school of which I am
to have charge?"

Keeler thrust out a huge hand.  "That's me," he answered.  "You're
jest in time fer breakfast.  It's nigh ready.  Come 'round back an'
wash up.  Maurice, go put the teacher's horse in the stable an' give
him a feed."

The teacher followed his host, gingerly rubbing the knuckles which
had been left blue by the farmer's strong grip.

The boy, who had been studying the man before him, turned away to
execute his father's order.  If he knew anything about teachers--and
he did--he and the other lads of the community were in for a high old
time, he told himself.  He went down to the gate, the dog trotting at
his heels.

"Joe," he commanded, "go back home," and the collie lay down on the
path, head between his forepaws.

The boy went out through the gate and approached the feeding horse
cautiously.  His quick eyes appraised its lean sides and noted the
long welt made by the hickory on the clearly outlined ribs beneath
the bay hide.

"Poor ol' beggar," he said gently.

At the sound of his voice the horse lifted his head and gazed at the
boy in seeming surprise.  A wisp of grass dangled from his mouth; his
ears pricked forward.  Perhaps something in the boy's voice recalled
a voice he had known far back along his checkered life, when he was a
colt and a bare-legged youngster fed him sugar and rode astride his
back.

"He ought'a get a taste o' the gad hisself," muttered Maurice.  "An'
he's goin' to be our teacher, oh, Gash!  Well, I kin see where me an'
Billy Wilson gets ourn--maybe."

He patted the horse's thin neck.  "Come, ol' feller, I'll stuff you
with good oats fer once," he promised.

The horse reached forward his long muzzle and lipped one of the boy's
ears.  "Say horses don't understand!" grinned Maurice.  "Gee!  I
guess maybe they do understand, though."

He gave the horse another pat and led him down the path into the
stable.  As he unsaddled him Maurice noticed the hickory wand which
Mr. Johnston had left inserted between the upper loops of a stirrup.

"Hully gee! ol' feller, look!"  Maurice extracted the wand and held
it up before the animal's gaze.  "Oh, don't put your ears back an'
grin at me.  I ain't goin' to use it on you," laughed the lad.
"Look!  This is what I'm goin' to do with that ol' bruiser's
pointer."  From a trouser's pocket he extracted a jackknife.  "Now
horsie, jest you watch me close.  The next time he makes a cut at you
he's goin' to get the surprise of his life.  There, see?  I've cut it
through.  Now I'll jest rub on some of this here clay to hide the
cut.  There you be!  If I know anythin' 'bout seasoned hickory that
pointer's goin' to split into needles right in his hand.  I hope they
go through his ol' fist and clinch on t'other side."

Maurice gave the tired horse a feed of oats, tossed a bundle of
timothy into the manger, slapped the bay flank once again and went up
the path to his breakfast.

Mrs. Keeler, a swarthy woman, almost as broad as she was tall, and
with an habitual cloud of gloom on her features, met him at the door.
She was very deaf and spoke in the loud, querulous tone so often used
by people suffering from that affliction.

"Have you seen him?" she shouted.  "What you think of him, Maurice?"

Maurice drew her outside and closed the door.  "Come over behind the
woodpile, Ma, an' I'll tell you," he answered cautiously.

"No, tell me here."

"Can't.  He might hear me."

"Then you ain't took to that new teacher, Maurice?"

"Not what you'd notice, Ma.  He ain't any like Mr. Stanhope.  His
face--I ain't likin' it a bit.  Besides, Ma, he flogs his poor horse
somethin' awful."

"How do you know that?" asked the mother, eying him sharply.

"Cause he left long welts on him.  He's out in the stable.  Go see
fer yourself."

"No, I ain't got time.  I got t' fry some more eggs an' ham.  Go
'long in to your breakfast, an' see you keep your mouth shut durin'
the meal.  An' look here," she admonished, "if I ketch you apullin'
the cat's tail durin' after-breakfast prayers I'll wollop you till
you can't stand."

Maurice meekly followed his mother inside and slipped into his
accustomed place at the table.

Mr. Johnston was certainly doing justice to the crisp ham and eggs on
the platter before him.  Occasionally he lifted his black eyes to
flash a look at his host, who was entertaining him with the history
of the settlement and its people.

"You'll find Deacon Ringold a man whose word is as good as his bond,"
Cobin was saying.  "I'm married to his sister, Hannah, but I ain't
sayin' this on that account.  The deacon is a right good livin' man,
fond of his own opinions an' all that, an' close on a bargain, but a
good Christian man.  He's better off than anybody else in these
parts.  But what he got he got honest.  I'll say that, even if he is
my own brother-in-law."

"Yes, yes," spoke Mr. Johnston, impatiently.  "No doubt I shall get
to know Mr. Ringold very well.  Now, sir, concerning your other
neighbors?"  Mr. Johnston held a dripping yolk of egg poised, peering
from beneath his brows at his host.

"Well, there's the Proctors, five families of 'em an' every last one
of 'em a brother to the other."

"Meaning, I presume, that there are five brothers by the name of
Proctor living in the community."

"By Gosh, you've hit it right on the head.  That's what eddication
does fer a man--makes him sharp as a razor.  Yes, they're brothers
an' so much alike all I've got to do is describe one of 'em an' you
have 'em all."

"Remarkable," murmured Mr. Johnston.  "Remarkable, indeed!"

"Did you say more tea, teacher?"  Mrs. Keeler was at his elbow,
steaming tea-pot in hand.

"Thank you, I will have another cup," Mr. Johnston answered, and
turned his eyes back to Cobin.

"You have a neighbor named Stanhope, my predecessor, I understand,"
he said slowly.

"I'm proud to say we have, sir," beamed Keeler, "an' a squarer, finer
young man never lived.  A mighty good teacher he was too, let me tell
you."

"I have no doubt.  I have heard sterling reports of him; if he erred
in his task it was because he was too lenient.  Tell me, Mr. Keeler,
is there not some history attached to him concerning a will, or
property left by a man by the name of Scroggie?  I'll admit I have no
motive in so questioning save that of curiosity, but one wishes to
know all one can learn about the man one is to follow.  Is that not
so, ma'am?" he asked, turning to the watchful hostess.

"More ham?  Certainly."  Mrs. Keeler came forward with a platter,
newly fried, and scraped two generous slices onto Mr. Johnston's
plate.  "Now, sir, don't you be affeard to holler out when you want
more," said the hospitable housewife.

"Ma's deefness makes her misunderstan' sometimes," Cobin explained in
an undertone to the teacher.  "But I was jest about to tell you Mr.
Stanhope's strange history, sir, an' about ol' Scroggie's will.  You
sse the Stanhopes was the very first to drop in here an' take up
land, father an' son named Frank, who wasn't much more'n a boy, but
with a mighty good eddication.

"Roger Stanhope didn't live long but while he lived he was a right
good sort of man to foller an' before he died he had the satisfaction
of seein' the place in which he was one of the first to settle grow
up into a real neighborhood.  Young Frank had growed into a big,
strappin' feller by this time an' took hold of the work his father
had begun, an' I must say he did marvels in the clearin' an' burnin'.

"So things went along fer a few years.  Then come a letter from
England to Roger Stanhope.  Frank read it to me.  Seems they wanted
Stanhope back home, if he was alive; if not they wanted his son to
come.  Frank didn't even answer that letter.  He says to me, 'Mr.
Keeler, this spot's good enough fer me.'  An' by gosh! he stayed.

"When this settlement growed big enough fer a school, young Frank,
who had a school teacher's di-ploma, offered to teach it.  His farm
was pretty well cleared by this time, so he got a man named Henry
Burke to work it fer him an' Burke's wife to keep house.  That was
five years ago, an' Frank has taught the Valley School ever since,
till now."

Keeler paused, and sighed deeply.  "'Course, sir, you've heerd what
happened an' how?  He was tryin' to save some horses from a burnin'
stable.  A blazin' beam fell across his face; his eyes they--"
Keeler's voice grew husky.

"I've heard," said Mr. Johnston.  "His was a brave and commendable
act."

"But he did a braver thing than that," cried Cobin.  "He giv' up the
girl who was to marry him, 'cause, he said, his days from now on must
be useless ones, an' he wouldn't bind the woman he loved to his
bleakness an' blackness.  Them was his very words, sir."

To this Mr. Johnston made no audible reply.  He simply nodded,
waiting with suspended fork, for his narrator to resume.

"Concerning the purported will of the eccentric Mr. Scroggie?" he
ventured at length, his host having lapsed into silence.

Keeler roused himself from his abstraction and resumed: "Right next
to the Stanhope farm there stood about a thousand acres of the
purtiest hardwoods you ever clap't an eye on, sir.  An ol' hermit of
a drunken Scotchman, Scroggie by name, owned that land.  He lived in
a dirty little cabin an' was so mean even the mice was scared to eat
the food he scrimped himself on.  He had money too, lots an' lots of
gold money.  I've seen it myself.  He kept it hid somewhere.

"When the Stanhopes built their home on the farm, which was then
mostly woods, old Scroggie behaved somethin' awful.  He threatened to
shoot Stanhope.  But Stanhope only laughed an' went on with his
cuttin' an' stump-pullin'.  Scroggie used to swear he'd murder both
of 'em, an' he was always sayin' that if he died his ghost would come
back an' ha'nt the Stanhopes.  Yes, he said that once in my own
hearin'.

"One night, two years after Roger Stanhope died, old Scroggie got
drunk an' would have froze to death if Frank hadn't found him an'
carried him into his own home.  Scroggie cursed Frank fer it when he
came round but Frank paid no attention to him.  After that,
Scroggie--who was too sick to be moved--got to takin' long spells of
quiet.  He would jest set still an' watch Frank nights when the two
was alone together.

"After a while the old man got strong enough to go home.  Soon after
that he disappeared an' stayed away fer nearly three weeks.  Then,
all at once, he turned up at home ag'in.  He came over to Stanhope's
house every now an' ag'in to visit with him.  One night he says to
Frank after they had had supper: 'Frank,' says he, 'I've been over to
Cleveland an' I've made my will.  I've left you everythin' I own.
You're the only decent person I've known since I lost my ol' mother.
I want that thousand acre woods to stand jest as God made it as long
as I'm alive; when I die you kin do what you like with it.'  Then
afore Frank could even thank him the old man got up an' hobbled out.

"Next mornin'," continued Cobin, "Frank went over to see old
Scroggie.  He wanted to hear him say what he told him the night
afore, ag'in.  It was gettin' along towards spring; the day was warm
an' smelled of maple sap.  Scroggie's cabin door was standin' ajar,
Frank says.  The ol' man was sittin' in his chair, a Bible upside
down on his knees.  He was dead!

"Frank told Mr. Reddick, the preacher who came to bury old Scroggie,
all that had passed between him an' the dead man but although they
hunted high an' low fer the will, they never found it.  Nor did they
find any of the money the ol' miser must have left behind--not a
solitary cent.  That was over a year ago, an' they haven't found
money or will yet.  But this goes to show what a real feller Frank
Stanhope is.  He put a fine grave stone up for ol' Scroggie an' had
his name engraved on it.  Yes he done that, an' all he ever got from
the dead man was his curses.

"Well, soon after they put old Scroggie under the sod, along comes a
nephew of the dead man.  No doubt in the world he was Scroggie's
nephew.  He looked like him, an' besides he had the papers to prove
his claim that he was the dead man's only livin' relative.  An' as
Scroggie hadn't left no will, this man was rightful heir to what he
had left behin', 'cordin' to law.  He spent a week er two prowlin'
round, huntin' fer the dead man's buried money.  At last he got
disgusted huntin' an' findin' nuthin' an' went away."

"And he left no address behind?" questioned Mr. Johnston.

"He surely did not," answered Cobin.  "Nobody knows where he
went--nor cares.  But nobody can do anythin' with that timber without
his sayso.  It's a year or more since ol' Scroggie died.  People do
say that his ghost floats about the old cabin, at nights, but of
course that can't be, sir."

"Superstitious nonsense," scoffed the teacher.  "And so the will was
never found?"

"No, er the buried money," sighed Cobin.

Mr. Johnston pushed his chair back from the table.  "Thank you
exceedingly, Mr. Keeler.  I have enjoyed your breakfast and your
conversation very much indeed.  Madam," he said, rising and turning
to Mrs. Keeler, "permit me to extend to you my heartfelt gratitude
for your share in the splendid hospitality that has been accorded me.
I hope to see you again, some day."

"Certainly," returned Mrs. Keeler, "Cobin!  Maurice! kneel down
beside your chairs.  The teacher wants to pray."

Mr. Johnston frowned, then observing his host and hostess fall to
their knees, he too got stiffly down beside his chair.  He prayed
long and fervently and ended by asking God to help him lead these
people from the shadow into enlightenment.

It was during that prayer that Maurice, chancing to glance at the
window, saw Billy Wilson's pet crow, Croaker, peering in at him with
black eyes.  Now, as Croaker often acted as carrier between the boys,
his presence meant only one thing--Billy had sent him some message.
Cautiously Maurice got down on all fours and crept toward the door.

"Now teacher," said Keeler, the prayer over, "you jest set still, an'
I'll send Maurice out after your horse."

He glanced around in search of the boy.  "Why, bless my soul, he's
gone!" he exclaimed.  "There's a youngster you'll need to watch
close, teacher," he said grimly.

"Well sir, you jest rest easy an' I'll get your horse myself."



CHAPTER IV

THE MESSAGE CROAKER BROUGHT

"Missus Wilson, where's Billy?"

Mrs. Wilson turned to the door, wiped her red face on her apron, and
finished emptying a pan of hot cookies into the stone crock, before
answering, sternly:

"He's down to the far medder, watchin' the gap, Maurice.  Don't you
go near him."

"No ma'am, I won't.  Jest wondered where he was, that's all."

"I 'low you're tryin' to coax him away fishin' er somethin'."

"Oh, no ma'am.  I gotta get right back home to Ma.  She's not very
well, an' she'll be needin' me."

"Fer land sakes! you don't say so, Maurice.  Is she very bad?"  The
tones were sympathetic now.  Maurice nodded, and glanced longingly at
the fresh batch of brown cookies.

"She was carryin' the big meat-platter on her arm an' she fell with
her arm under her--an' broke it."

"Lord love us!"  Mrs. Wilson started to undo her apron.  "Why didn't
you tell me before, you freckle-faced jackass, you!  Lord knows what
use you boys are anyways!  Think of you, hangin' 'round here askin'
fer Billy and your poor Ma at home groanin' in pain an' needin' help.
Ain't you 'shamed of yourself?"

"Yes ma'am," admitted Maurice cheerfully.  "I guess I should'a told
you first off but Ma she said if you was busy not to say anythin'
'bout her breakin' it."

"Well, we'll see about that.  No neighbor in this here settlement is
ever goin' to say that Mary Wilson ever turned her back on a
feller-bein's distress.  I'll go right over to your place with you
now, Maurice.  Come along."

Mrs. Wilson was outside, by this time, and tying on her sun-bonnet.
Maurice held back.  She grasped his arm and hustled him down the walk.

"Is it broke bad, Maurice?" she asked anxiously.

Maurice, peering about among the trees, answered absently.

"Yes ma'am.  I guess she'll never be able to use it ag'in."

"Oh pity sake!  Let's hurry."

Maurice was compelled to quicken his steps in order to keep up to the
long strides of the anxious woman.  Suddenly he halted.  "Missis
Wilson," he said, "you fergot to take that last pan o' cookies out'a
the oven."

The woman raised her hands in consternation.

"So I did," she exclaimed.  "You stay right here an' I'll go back and
take it out now."

"Let me go," said Maurice quickly.  "I know jest how to do it an' kin
get through in less'n half the time it'll take you."

"Well, run along then.  I best keep right on.  Your poor Ma'll be
needin' me."

Maurice was off like a shot.  As he rounded the house on a lope he
ran into Billy, coming from the opposite direction.  Billy's cotton
blouse was bulging.  In one hand he carried the smoking bake-pan, in
the other a fat cookie deeply scalloped on one side.

"Where you goin' so fast, Maurice?" he accosted, his mouth full.

Maurice glanced fearfully over his shoulder.  "Hush, Bill.  If your
Ma happens to come back here it'll go bad with me."

Billy held out the pan to his chum and waited until Maurice had
filled his pockets.  Then he asked: "Where's she gone?"

"Over to our place.  I told her about Ma fallin' an' breakin' the
meat-platter, an' I guess she misunderstood.  She tried to take me
along with her.  I had an awful time to get 'way from her."

Billy laughed.  "Gee!  Ma's like that.  Nobody gets 'way from her
very easy.  Here, fill your shirt with the rest o' these cookies, an
I'll take the pan back; then we'll be goin'."

"Fish ought'a bite fine today," said Maurice as he stowed the cookies
away in his bosom.

"You bet.  The wind's south.  Have you got the worms dug?"

"Yep.  They're in a can in my pocket.  Did Croaker come back?" he
inquired, as the two made their way down the path.

"Sure he came back.  He's a wise crow, that Croaker, an', Oh gosh!
don't he hate Ma, though!  He gets up in a tree out o' reach of her
broom, an' jest don't he call her names in crow talk?  Ma says she'll
kill him if ever she gets close enough to him an' she will, too."

"Well sir, I nigh died when I seen him settin' on our winder-sill,"
laughed Maurice.  "We was havin' mornin' prayer; the new teacher was
at our place an' he was prayin'.  Croaker strutted up an' down the
sill, peerin' in an' openin' an' shuttin' his mouth like he was
callin' that old hawk-faced teacher every name he could think of.  I
saw he had a paper tied 'round his neck so I crawled on my hands an'
knees past Ma, an' slipped out.  If Ma hadn't been so deef, she'd
have heard me an' nabbed me sure."

Billy chuckled.  "Then you got my message off of Croaker, Maurice?"

"Yep; but by jinks!  I had a awful time guessin' what you meant by
them marks you made on the paper.  Darn it all, Bill, why can't you
write what you want'a say, instead of makin' marks that nobody kin
understan'?"

"There you go, ag'in," cried Billy.  "How many times have I gotta
tell you, Maurice, that Trigger Finger Tim never used writin'.  He
used symbols--that's what he used.  Do you know what a symbol is, you
poor blockhead?"

[Illustration: Bill's message]

"I should say I do.  It's a brass cap what women use to keep the
needle from runnin' under their finger-nail."

"Naw, Maurice.  A symbol is a mark what means somethin'.  Have you
got that message I sent you?  Well, give it here an' I'll show you.
Now then, you see them two marks standin' up 'longside each other?"

"Yep."

"Well, what do you think they stand fer?"

"I thought maybe you meant 'em fer a couple of trees, Bill."

"Well I didn't.  Them two marks are symbols, signifyin' a gap."

"A gap?  Hully Gee!"

"Yep, an' this here animal settin' in that gap, what you think it is?"

Maurice shook his head.  "It's maybe a cow!" he guessed hopefully.

"Nope, it's a dog.  Now then, you see these two boys runnin' away
from the gap?"

"Gosh, is that what they be, Bill?  Yep, I see 'em."

"Well, that's me an' you.  Now then, what you s'pose I meant by them
symbols?  I meant this.  _I've gotta watch gap.  Fetch your dog over
an' we'll set him to watch it, an' we'll skin out an' go fishin'._"

Maurice whistled.  "Well I'll be jiggered!" he exclaimed.  "I wish't
I'd knowed that.  Say, tell you what I'll do.  I'll sneak up through
the woods an' whistle Joe over here now."

"No, never mind.  I bribed Anse to watch that gap fer me."

"What did you have t' give him?"

"Nuthin'.  Promised I wouldn't tell him no ghost stories fer a week
if he'd help me out."

They had topped a wooded hill and were descending into a wide green
valley, studded with clumps of red willows and sloping towards a
winding stretch of pale green rushes through which the white face of
the creek flashed as though in a smile of welcome.  Red winged
blackbirds clarioned shrilly from rush and cat-tail.  A brown bittern
rose solemnly and made across the marsh in ungainly flight.  A blue
crane, frogging in the shallows, paused in its task with long neck
stretched, then got slowly to wing, long pipe-stem legs thrust
straight out behind.  A pair of nesting black ducks arose with soft
quacks and drifted up and out, bayward.

Billy, who stood still to watch them, was recalled suddenly to earth
by his companion's voice.

"Bill, our punt's gone!"

With a bound, Billy was beside him, and peering through the rushes
into the tiny bay in which they kept their boat.

"Well, Gee whitticker!" he exclaimed.  "Who do you s'pose had the
nerve to take it?"

Maurice shook his head.  "None of our gang 'ud take it," he said.
"Likely some of them Sand-sharks."

"That's so," Billy broke off a marsh-flag and champed it in his teeth.

Maurice was climbing a tall poplar standing on the bank of the creek.
"I say, Billy," he cried excitedly.  "There she is, jest 'round the
bend.  They've beached her in that piece of woods.  It's Joe LaRose
an' Art Shipley that took her, I'll bet a cookie.  They're always
goin' 'cross there to hunt fer turtle's eggs."

"Then come on!" shouted Billy.

"Where to?"

"Down opposite the punt.  I'm goin' t' strip an' swim across after
her."

Maurice dropped like a squirrel from the poplar.  "An' leave them
boat thieves stranded?" he panted.  "Oh gosh! but won't that serve
'em right!"

"Let's hustle," urged Billy.  "They may come back any minute."

They ran quickly up the valley, Billy unfastening his few garments as
they ran.  By the time Billy had reached the bend he was in readiness
for the swim across.  Without a thought of the long
leeches--"blood-suckers" the boys called them--which lay on the oozy
bottom of the creek's shallows ready to fasten on the first bare foot
that came their way, he waded out toward the channel.

"Bill, watch out!" warned Maurice.  "There's a big womper coiled on
that lily-root.  You're makin' right fer it."

"I see it," returned Billy.  "I guess I ain't scared of no snakes in
these parts."

"But this beggar is coiled," cried his friend.  "If he strikes you,
he'll rip you wide open with his horny nose.  Don't go, Bill."

"Bah! he's uncoilin', Maurice; he'll slip off, see if he don't.
There, what did I tell you?" as the long mottled snake slid softly
into the water.  "You can't tell me anythin' 'bout wompers."

"But what if a snappin'-turtle should get hold of your toe?"
shuddered Maurice.

"Shut up!" Billy commanded.  "Do you want them Sand-sharks to hear
you?  You keep still now, I'm goin' after our punt."

Billy was out in mid stream now, swimming with swift, noiseless
strokes toward the boat.  Just as he reached it the willows along
shore parted and two boys, both larger than himself, made a leap for
the punt.  Billy threw himself into the boat and as the taller of the
two jumped for it his fist shot out and caught him fairly on the jaw.
He toppled back half into the water.  Billy seized the paddle and
swung it back over his shoulder.  The other boy halted in his tracks.
Another moment and the punt was floating out in midstream.

LaRose had crawled to shore and sat dripping and sniffling on the
bank.

"Now, maybe the next time you boat-thieves find a punt you'll think
twice afore you take it," shouted Billy.

"How're we goin' to get back 'cross the crick?" whined the vanquished
LaRose.

"Swim it, same's I did," Billy called back.

"But the snakes an' turtles!" wailed the marooned pair.

"You gotta take a chance.  I took one."  Billy urged the punt forward
across the creek to where the grinning and highly delighted Maurice
waited.

"Jump in here, an' let's get fishin'."

Maurice lost no time.  "Where'll we go, Bill?"

"Up to the mouth.  There's green bass up there an' lots of small
frogs, if we need 'em, fer bait."



CHAPTER V

A WILDERNESS MERCHANT

Caleb Spencer, proprietor of the Twin Oaks store, paused at his
garden gate to light his corncob pipe.  The next three hours would be
his busy time.  The farmers of Scotia would come driving in for their
mail and to make necessary purchases of his wares.  His pipe alight
to his satisfaction, Caleb crossed the road, then stood still in his
tracks to fasten his admiring gaze on the rambling, unpainted
building which was his pride and joy.  He had built that store
himself.  With indefatigable pains and patience he had fashioned it
to suit his mind.  Every evening, just at this after-supper hour, he
stood still for a time to admire it, as he was doing now.

Having quaffed his customary draught of delight from the picture
before him Caleb resumed his walk to the store, pausing at its door
to straighten into place the long bench kept there for the
accommodation of visiting customers.  As he swung the bench against
the wall he bent and peered closely at two sets of newly-carved
initials on its smooth surface.

"W.W." he read, and frowned.  "By ding!  That's that Billy Wilson.
Now let's see, 'A.S.'  I wonder who them initials stand fer?"  With a
shake of his grizzled mop he entered the store.

A slim girl in a gingham dress stood in front of the counter placing
parcels in a basket.  She turned a flushed face, lit with brown
roguish eyes, on Caleb, as he came in.

"Had your supper, Pa?" she asked.

"Yep."  Caleb bent and scrutinized the basket.

"Whose parcels are them, Ann?" he questioned.

"Mrs. Keeler's," his daughter answered.  "Billy Wilson left the
order."

"Hump, he did, eh?  Well, let's see the slip."  He took the piece of
paper from the counter and read:

  One box fruit-crackers.
  10 pounds granulated sugar.
  Two pounds cheese.
  1 pound raisins.
  1 pound lemon peel.
  4 cans salmon.
  50 sticks hoarhound candy.


There were other items but Caleb read no further.  He stood back
sucking the stem of his pipe thoughtfully.  "Whereabouts did that
Billy go, Ann?" he asked at length.

"Why, he didn't go.  He's in the liquor-shop settin' a trap for that
rat, Pa."

"Oh he is, eh?  Well, tell him to come out here; I want to see him."

Caleb waited until his daughter turned to execute his order, then the
frown melted from his face and a wide grin took its place.  "The
young reprobate," he muttered.  "What'll that boy be up to next, I
wonder?  I've got t' teach him a lesson, ding me! if I haven't.  It's
clear enough t' me that him and that young Keeler are shapin' fer a
little excursion, up bush, and this is the way they take to get their
fodder."

He turned slowly as his daughter and Billy entered from the rear of
the shop and let his eyes rest on the boy's face.  "How are you,
Billy?" he asked genially.

"I'm well, thanks," and Billy gazed innocently back into Caleb's
eyes.  "I hope your rheumatiz is better, Mr. Spencer."

"It is," said Caleb shortly, "and my eyes are gettin' sharper every
day, Billy."

"That's good," said Billy and bent to pick up the basket.

"Jest a minute, young man."  Caleb's voice was stern.  "I see you've
cut your own and your best gal's initials onto my new bench.  Did you
have much trouble doin' it, might I ask?"

Billy stood up, a grin on his face.  "That pine bench looked so
invitin' I jest couldn't help tryin' my new knife on it," he
explained.  "But I didn't s'pose fer a minute that you'd mind."

"Well, by ding!  I don't know but what I _do_ mind.  What if you
should take a notion, some day, to carve up the side of this
buildin', hey?"

Billy grew thoughtful.  "I hadn't thought o' that," he said slowly.
"It's pine, too, ain't it?  It 'ud carve fine."

Caleb turned quickly towards a pile of goods, behind which an audible
titter had sounded.

"Ann," he commanded, "you run along and get your supper."

He waited until his daughter had closed the door behind her.  "Now
Billy," he said, sternly, "understan' me when I say that if you ever
so much as lay a knife-blade onto the walls of this here store I'll
jest naturally pinch the freckles off'n your nose, one by one.  Hear
that?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, heed it, and heed it close.  I'll overlook the cuttin' of my
new bench, but, by ding!  I'd ruther you'd carve me than carve this
store."  He paused abruptly and bent on Billy a quizzical look.
"Whose 'nitials are them under yourn?" he asked.

Billy started.  "Oh gosh!  I dunno, Mr. Spencer; I jest cut the first
ones come into my head."

"Umph!  I'm not so green as I look.  I know whose they be.  They're
Ann's."

Billy was silent.  Should he tell the truth and say that he had
carved Ann's initials on the bench and those of Walter Watland
beneath them at that young lady's pleading request?  No!

"Well?" Caleb asked finally.  "What about it?"

Billy drew himself up and lied like a gentleman.  "I guess that's all
there is about it," he said with dignity.  "Ann's my girl, an' she
said I could cut my 'nitials under hers if I wanted to take the
chance."

"Oh, so she's your gal, is she?"  Caleb thrust his hands deep into
his pockets, striving hard to keep his face stern.  "How long you and
Ann been sweetheartin'?" he asked.

"Five er six years; maybe longer."

"Loramighty!"  Caleb sank weakly on a pile of horse-blankets, and
gasped.  "But, Billy, she's only twelve now, and you--you can't be
much more'n fourteen at most."

"I'm growin' fifteen," said Billy gravely.  "Me an' Ann's been goin'
together fer quite a long spell."

Caleb placed his empty pipe in one pocket, fished in another and drew
out a plug of Radiant Star chewing tobacco.  He took a generous bite
from one corner of the plug and champed it meditatively.

"Well, Billy," he said with a twinkle in his eye, "seein's we're to
be right close related, some day, I guess it's up to me to give you
your supper.  You go right along over to the house and eat with Ann."

"But I'm not hungry, Mr. Spencer," said Billy quickly.

"That don't make no difference; you go along.  I see Ann's made a
mistake in doin' up Mrs. Keeler's parcels.  You can't go back for a
bit, anyways, so you might as well have your supper."

Billy went out and Spencer watched him cross the road and enter the
cottage.  "Well, now," he chuckled, "ain't that boy a tartar?  But,"
he added, "he's got to be slicker than he is to fool old Caleb.  Now,
you jest watch me."

He lifted the basket to the counter and, taking the parcels from it,
carefully emptied their contents back into the drawers from which
they had been filled.  Then from beneath the counter he drew out a
box and with exquisite pains filled each of the empty bags and the
cracker-box with sawdust.  He tied the bags, packed them in the
basket, tucked a roll of tea lead in the bottom, to give the basket
weight, and placed it on the counter.  Then he went outside to sit on
the bench and await Billy's return.

Caleb had come to Scotia Settlement when it was little more than a
bald spot on the pate of the hardwoods.  Gypsy-like he had strayed
into the settlement and, to use his own vernacular, had pitched his
wigwam to stay.  One month later a snug log cabin stood on the wooded
hillside overlooking the valley, and the sound of Caleb's axe could
be heard all day long, as he cleared a garden spot in the forest.
That forest ran almost to the white sands of Lake Erie, pausing a
quarter of a mile from its shore as though fearing to advance
further.  On this narrow strip of land the pines and cedars had taken
their stand, as if in defiance of the more rugged trees of the
upland.  They grew close together in thickets so dense that beneath
them, even on the brightest day, blue-white twilight rested always.
Running westward, these coniferous trees grew bolder and widened so
as to almost cover the broad finger-like point of land which
separated Rond Eau Bay from Lake Erie, and thither many of the wild
things crept, as civilization advanced to claim their old roaming
grounds.  The point, known as Point Aux Pines, was ten miles long,
affording abundance of food and perfect shelter.

But on the uplands the forests grew sparser as the axes of rugged
homesteaders, who had followed in the footsteps of Caleb Spencer, bit
home.  Gradually farms were cleared, rough stumpy fields the tilling
of which tested the hearts of the strongest, but whose rich soil
gladdened even the most weary.  A saw mill was erected on the banks
of a stream known as Levee Creek.  Gradually the rough log cabins of
the settlers were torn down to be replaced by more modern houses of
lumber.

And then Caleb Spencer had built his store and with far-seeing
judgment had stocked it with nearly every variety of goods a growing
community needs.  Drygoods, Groceries, Hardware & Liquors!  These
comprehensive words, painted on a huge sign, stared out at all who
passed along the road and in still more glaring letters beneath was
the announcement, "Caleb Spencer, Proprietor."

Everybody liked Caleb.  Even old man Scroggie had been fond of him,
which is saying a great deal.  It was said the old miser even trusted
the gaunt storekeeper to a certain degree.  At any rate it was
commonly known that shortly before he died Scroggie had given into
Spencer's keeping, to be locked away in his rusty old store safe, a
certain legal-looking document.  Deacon Ringold and Cobin Keeler had
witnessed the transaction.  Accordingly, after Scroggie was buried
and a search for the will failed to disclose it, it was perhaps
natural that a delegation of neighbors should wait on Caleb and
question him concerning the paper which the deceased man had given
him.  To everybody's surprise Caleb had flared up and told the
delegation that the paper in question was the consummation of a
private matter between himself and the dead man, and that he didn't
have to show it and didn't intend to show it.

Of course that settled it.  The delegation apologized, and Caleb
tapped a keg of cider and opened a box of choice biscuits just to
show that there were no hard feelings.  Now this in itself was surely
indisputable proof of the confidence his neighbors reposed in Caleb's
veracity and honesty, but considering the fact that Caleb had once
quarrelled with the elder Stanhope, later refusing all overtures of
friendship from the latter, and had even gone so far as to cherish
the same feeling of animosity toward the son, Frank, that trust was
little short of sublime.  For, providing Caleb disliked Frank
Stanhope--and he did and made no attempt to hide it--what would be
more natural than that he should keep him from his rightful
inheritance if he could?

But nobody mistrusted Caleb, Frank Stanhope least of all; and so, for
the time being, the incident of the legal document was forgotten.

Tonight, as Caleb sat outside on the bench waiting for the first
evening customers to arrive, he reviewed the pleasant years of his
life in this restful spot and was satisfied.  Suddenly he sat erect.
From the edge of a walnut grove on the far side of the road came a
low warble, sweet as the song of a wild bird, but with a minor note
of sadness in its lilting.

"That's old Harry and his tin whistle," muttered Caleb, "Glory be!
but can't he jest make that thing sing?"

Softly the last note died, and then the player emerged from the
grove.  He was little and bent.  He wore a ragged suit of corduroys
and a battered felt hat with a red feather stuck jauntily in its
band.  His face was small, dark, and unshaven.  In one grimy hand he
carried a small demijohn.  Arriving opposite Caleb, he lifted his
battered hat and bowed low as a courtier would do.

"Glory be!  It's find ye alone I do," he spoke in rich Irish brogue.
"It's trill ye a chune I did from the copse, yonder, so's to soften
the hard heart of ye, Caleb.  It's dhry I am as a last-year's chip,
an' me little jug do be pinin' fer a refillin'."

Caleb's face grew stern.  "I told you, Harry O'Dule, that I'd give
you no more liquor," he replied.

"Faith, maybe ye did.  But last night it's the skies thimselves said
'rain,' an' begorry! there's been not a sign av a shower t'day.  What
matters ut fer the fallin' av an idle wurrud now and thin?  It's
meself knows you're too tinder hearted t' refuse a small favor to a
body that feels only love an' respect fer yourself an' the swate ones
who wait ye in the flower-covered cottage, beyont."

"Stop your blarney, Harry.  I tell you I'll give you no more whisky,
and by ding! that goes!"

"Thin I'll be trudgin' back along the way," said O'Dule, hopelessly.
"But afore I go, I'll be liltin' ye a small chune that'll mebee make
ye understand somethin' av a sadness yer generosity could lessen.
Listen thin!"

He set the jug down, and from his bosom drew forth a tin whistle.
For a minute or two he played softly, his eyes on Caleb's.  Then,
gradually, his eyes closed and a rapt expression settled upon his
grimy face as he led his listener down strange by-paths of fancy.

Suddenly, Caleb jumped from the bench.  "Stop, Harry O'Dule!" he
entreated.  "That whistle of yours would soften the heart of old Nick
himself.  Do you want to set me crazy, man?  Come, give me your jug,
I'll fill it this time.  But remember, never ag'in.  I mean that, by
ding!"

He snatched up the demijohn and went into the store.  Old Harry sat
down on the bench and waited until he returned.

"It's a good fri'nd ye've been t' me, Caleb," he said gratefully, as
he lifted the jug and held it between his knees.  "It's do widout me
dhrink I cannot.  Ut an' me whistle are me only gleams av sunlight in
the gloom.  I'll be after takin' a little flash of the light now, if
ut's no objection ye have, for ut's long dhry I've been."  He lifted
the jug and took a long draught of its fiery contents.

"I'll be movin' now," he said, as he wiped his mouth on a tattered
sleeve.  "God kape you safe, Caleb Spencer, an' may yer whisky-barrel
niver run dhry."

And placing his battered hat jauntily on his scanty locks, Harry
picked up his jug and was lost amid the shadows.

Presently Billy Wilson emerged from the cottage, received his basket
from Caleb, and trotted off toward the Keeler place.



CHAPTER VI

THE RUSE THAT FAILED

Out behind the wood-shed Maurice Keeler, by the dim light of a smoky
lantern, was splitting kindling for the morning's fire when something
clammy and twisting dropped across the back of his neck.

"Holy Smoke!  Bill, take it away!" he yelled, as his chum's laugh
fell on his ears.

"Gosh! you ain't got no nerve a'tall, Maurice!  It's only a
milk-snake.  I picked it up on my way home from the store.  I'm goin'
to put it in the menagerie."

Maurice sat down weakly on a block and wiped his face on his sleeve.

"Hang it all, Bill!" he complained, "what do you see in snakes to
make you want'a handle 'em so?  I'm scared to death of 'em; I own it."

"I s'pose this feller an' ol' Spotba'll fight to a finish," said
Billy, "but I aim to keep one snake of each kind, so let 'em scrap it
out.  It won't hurt that old womper to get a good drubbin' anyway."

He held the newly captured snake along his arm, its head resting in
the palm of his hand.  The dim light was sufficiently strong for
Maurice to note the cold gleam in its eyes, and he shuddered.  "Some
day you'll try your monkey-shines on a puff-adder er a black-snake,"
he prophesied, "an' then you'll wish you hadn't gone clean crazy."

Billy grinned and dropped the snake into his jacket pocket.  "I
brought your Ma's groceries," he said.  "Is she in the house?"

"Yep; she's cannin' thimble-berries.  Jest wait till I get an armful
of kindlin', an' I'll go in with you."

Billy put the basket down again.  "Say, what did she want with all
that hoarhound candy?" he asked curiously.

Maurice chuckled.  "Why, Missis Spencer told her what great stuff it
was to use in doin' up thimble-berries; sorta takes the flat taste
off 'em.  So Ma, she's goin' to try it."

Billy whistled.  "But fifty sticks, Maurice!  It's almost more'n
she'll need, don't you think?"

"'Course it's a lot too much.  S'pose we try on' get hold of some of
it, Bill?"

"Suits me," agreed Billy, "but jest how?  That's the question."

Maurice stooped and filled his arms with a load of kindling.  "I
dunno how," he replied, "but you usually find out a way fer
everythin'.  What's the matter with you lettin' on you lost part of
that candy?"

Billy shook his head.  "No good, she'd be onto us bigger'n a barn.
Tell you what we might do.  We might take bad colds an' sorta work on
her sympathies."

"Humph! an' be kept close in the house fer a week er so, an' have to
take physic an' stuff.  No good, Bill!"

"No, ours won't be them kind of colds," Billy explained.  "They'll be
the dry-cough, consumption kind, that either cure up quick er slow.
All we gotta do is dig up an Injun turnip out o' the bush an' nibble
it.  It'll pucker our throats up so tight we'll be hoarse enough to
sing bass in the choir."

Maurice let his kindling fall.  "Gee!" he exclaimed, "I've got a
piece of Injun turnip in my pocket right now.  Ain't that lucky!"

"How'd you come to have it?"

"Dug it up to fool Fatty Watland with.  Was goin' to tell him it was
a ground-nut.  I've had it in fer him ever since he shoved me off the
bridge into the creek."

"Let's have it."

Billy took the Indian turnip from his chum and with his knife scraped
off a portion of white, pungent pulp.  "Now then, put this on the
back of your tongue, an' leave it there," he directed.

Maurice grimaced as he licked the bit of pulp from the knife blade.
"'Course we both know this danged thing is pisin," he said,
uncertainly.  "Maybe we're fools, Bill?"

"There's no maybe about it, far's you're concerned.  Do as I tell
you; slide it 'way back so's it'll tighten your throat.  That's
right," as Maurice heroically obeyed.  "Now, let's get up to the
house."

"But you haven't took yourn!" cried Maurice.

"Don't need to take mine," Billy informed him.  "What's the use of me
takin' any; ain't one bad cough enough?"

Maurice squirmed in torture.  Already the burning wild turnip was
getting in its work.  His throat felt as though it were filled with
porcupine quills.  He tried to voice a protest against the injustice
Billy had done him but it ended in a wheeze.

"Fine," commended Billy.  "A cold like that oughta be good fer half
the hoarhound, anyway.  Let's go in afore the thing wears off.  You
take the basket, I'll carry the kindlin' fer you."

He led the way to the house, Maurice following meekly with the
market-basket, eyes running tears and throat burning.

Mrs. Keeler was bending over a kettle on the stove, from which the
aroma of wild thimble-berries came in fragrant puffs.

"So you're back at last, are you?" she addressed Billy, crossly.
"Thought you'd never come.  I've been waitin' on that sugar an' stuff
fer two hours er more.  Now, you go into the pantry and get somethin'
to eat, while I unpack this basket.  I know you must be nigh starved."

"Had my supper," shouted Billy.  He threw the kindling into the wood
box and grinned encouragement at Maurice, who had sunk miserably down
on a stool.

Mrs. Keeler lifted the basket which Maurice had placed on the floor
at his feet.  "What's the matter with you?" she asked, giving him a
shake.

Maurice looked up at her with tear-filled eyes, and tried to say
something.  The effort was vain; not a sound issued from his swollen
lips.  Billy promptly advanced to give first aid.

"Maurice's sick," he shouted in the deaf woman's ear.

"Sick?  Where's he sick?"  Mrs. Keeler lifted the basket to the table
and coming back to Maurice, put a berry-stained finger under his
chin.  "Stick out your tongue!" she commanded.  "Billy, you fetch
that lamp over here."

Maurice opened his mouth and protruded his stained and swollen tongue.

"Good gracious!" cried the mother, in alarm.  "That good fer nuthin'
boy has gone an' caught the foot an' mouth disease from Kearnie's
sheep."

"It's jest a bad cold he's caught," Billy reassured her.  "He's so
hoarse he can't speak."

"Well, it might as well be one thing as another," frowned the woman.
"That boy catches everythin' that comes along, anyway.  I s'pose I'll
have to quit my preservin' to mix him up a dose of allaways."

Maurice shivered and gazed imploringly at Billy.

"If you had somethin' sweet an' soothin' to give him," Billy
suggested.  "Pine syrup, er hoarhound, er somethin' like that, now--"

"Why, maybe you're right," agreed Mrs. Keeler, "an' I do declare!
I've got some hoarhound right here in this basket.  Ain't it lucky I
sent fer it?"

The boys exchanged glances.  The scheme was working!  Mrs. Keeler
went back to the basket on the table and started to remove the
packages, one by one.

Billy addressed his chum in tones so low the deaf woman could not
hear.  "Now, maybe you'll think I know what I'm doin'," he commenced,
then jumped guiltily, as a cry of indignation came from the other
side of the room.  Mrs. Keeler was untying the parcels, one after
another, and emptying their contents in the basket.  Billy stared.
Each of the parcels contained--_sawdust_.

She turned slowly, stern eyes looking above her glasses straight into
his startled and apprehensive ones.

"Well?" she said ominously, "I s'pose you think you've played a smart
trick, you young limb!"

Billy tried to say something.  His lips moved dumbly.  Moisture
gathered between his shoulder blades, condensed as it met cold fear,
and trickled in tiny rivulets down his shivering spine.

He glanced at the door.  Mrs. Keeler's square form interposed itself
staunchly between him and that means of exit.  His wild eyes strayed
to the face of his chum.  Maurice was grinning a glad, if swollen,
grin.  There was nothing to do but face the music.

Mrs. Keeler was advancing towards him now; advancing slowly like some
massed avenging force of doom.  "I didn't do that," he finally
managed to articulate.  "I didn't play no trick on you, Missus
Keeler."

His knees knocked together.  Unconsciously, his hand felt gropingly
back toward the wood-box in search of some kind of support.  Mrs.
Keeler's deafness was accountable for her misunderstanding of his
words.  She brought her advance to a halt and stood panting.

"I didn't play no trick on you," Billy repeated.

"I heard you the first time," panted the indignant woman.  "You said
if I teched you you'd _take a stick to me_.  So you'd commit murder
on a woman who has been a second mother to you, would you!  You'd
brain me with a stick out of that wood-box!  Oh!  Oh!"  She lifted
her apron and covered her face.

In a moment Billy was beside her.  "Oh Missus Keeler," he pleaded,
miserably.  "I didn't say that.  Don't think I'd do anythin' to hurt
you, 'cause I wouldn't.  An' I wouldn't play no dirty trick on you.
You've been good to me an' I think a heap o' you, even if you do cuff
me sometimes.  Mr. Spencer put up that basket himself while I was
over to the cottage, gittin' my supper."

Slowly the apron was lowered.  Slowly the woman's hands dropped to
Billy's shoulders and she gazed into his uplifted eyes.  Then she did
a thing which was quite characteristic of her.  She bent and gave
each of the wide grey eyes upraised to hers a resounding kiss.  Then,
roughly pushing him away, she reached for her shawl and hat hanging
on the wall.

"You boys stay right here and keep fire under that kettle," she
commanded.  "I'm goin' to take that old Caleb Spencer's sawdust back
to him an' give him a piece of my mind."  And picking up the basket
she went out, banging the door behind her.

The boys gazed at each other and Maurice's chuckle echoed Billy's,
although it was raspy and hoarse.

"Throat burnin' yet?" inquired Billy.

"You bet," Maurice managed to answer.

"Well, you go along to the milkhouse an' lick the cream off a pan of
milk.  It'll settle that Injun turnip quick."

Maurice scooted for the back door.  He returned in a little while
with white patches of cream adhering to chin and nose.  "Gosh!" he
sighed gratefully, "that was soothin'."

"What dye s'pose made Caleb Spencer put up that job on me?"
questioned Billy.  "I never fooled him any.  I did cut some letters
on his new bench, but he needn't feel so sore at that."

"Well, jest you wait till Ma asks him why he did it," laughed
Maurice, who now was almost normal again.  "Ma's great on gettin'
explanations, she is."

Billy went down into his pocket and drew forth a furry object about
the size of a pocket knife and held it under his chum's eyes.

"Gollies!" exclaimed Maurice.  "It's your rabbit foot charm.  Where
d'you find it, Bill?"

"Found it this mornin' down by the pine grove near old Scroggie's
ha'nted house.  Stood on this side of the creek an' sent ol' Moll
into the grove.  She brought it to me.  She's a great little dog,
Moll.  Now we're ready to hunt ol' Scroggie's buried money an' lost
will."

"What!  Tonight?"

"Sure.  Do you want somebody else to stumble on it first?  We've
gotta hunt tonight an' every night till we find it, that's all."

"But we can't go now.  I dassent leave them preserves.  If I do Ma'll
skin me.  Anyways, ain't we goin' to let Elgin an' Fatty in on it,
Bill?"

"Naw, you know what they'd do.  They'd let the cat out o' the bag
sure.  They're all right fer light work sech as swipin' watermelon
an' helpin' make a seine-haul but they ain't no good at treasure an'
will huntin'."

"Maybe you're right," Maurice said, "but I'm goin' t' tell you I
ain't feelin' any too much like prowlin' 'round that ha'nted house
this night er any other night."

Billy pushed his friend into a chair and stood before him.  "Now look
here, Scarecat," he said, "you're goin' to help me find that money
an' will, an' I'll tell you why.  You know what happened to Mr.
Stanhope, the teacher, don't you?  He's gone blind an' has had to
give up teachin' the school, hasn't he?"

Maurice nodded, his face grave.

"Well, what kind of a feller is he, anyway?  Come, answer up."

"He's a mighty fine feller," cried Maurice enthusiastically.

"You're right, he is.  Well, what's he goin' to do now?  He can't
work, kin he?"

"Gollies, no.  I never thought--'

"Well, it's time you did think.  Now you know that ol' Scroggie left
him everythin' he owned, don't you?"

"'Course I do."

"Only he can't prove it, kin he?"

"No!  Not without the will."

"Well, then?"  Billy sat down on a corner of the table and eyed his
friend reproachfully.

Maurice squirmed uneasily, then he said: "'Course, Bill, it's up to
you an' me to find that will.  But I'll be shot if I'd do what we'll
have to do fer anybody else in the world but him."

"Say, here's a piece of news fer you," cried Billy.  "We're goin' to
get ol' Harry O'Dule to help us.  He's the seventh son of a seventh
son.  We're goin' over to his cabin to see him tonight."

"Gee!  Bill, we oughta find it if we get Harry to help, but I can't
see how I'm goin' to get away," said Maurice ruefully.

Just here a step sounded on the gravel outside and a knock fell on
the door.  Maurice opened the door and in stepped Anson.

He glanced suspiciously from one to the other of the boys, then said:
"Ma sent me to see what happened to you, Bill.  She says come on home
to your supper."

"Had my supper," Billy informed him.  "You go on back and tell Ma
that."

"You've gotta come, too."

"No, Anse, I promised Missus Keeler that me an' Maurice would keep
fire under that preservin' kettle till she gits back from the store.
I need the ten cents to buy fish hooks with, besides--'

"Gee!  Bill, is she goin' to give you ten cents fer helpin' Maurice
keep fire on?" asked Anson eagerly.

"Well, she didn't 'zactly promise she would, but--"

"Say, fellers, let me stay with you an' we'll split three ways, eh?"
suggested Anson.

"No," said Billy, with finality.

"'Tain't enough fer a three-way split," said Maurice.

"Well, you can't hinder me from stayin', an' I figger I'm in fer a
third," said Anson, seating himself doggedly near the stove.

Billy's face cracked into a grin which he was careful to turn from
his step-brother.  "How'd you like to do all the firin' an' get all
the reward, Anse?" he suggested.  "I've got a milk-snake here that I
want'a get put safe away in the root-house afore Ma takes in the
lantern.  Maurice'll come along an' help me stow him away."

"All right, I'll stay an' fire," agreed Anson.  "But remember," as
the other boys reached for their hats, "I ain't agoin' to share up
what Missus Keeler gives me with you fellers."

"You're welcome to keep all she gives you fer yourself," said Billy.

"Sure," said Maurice.  "She'll likely hold somethin' back fer me,
anyway.  Don't ferget to keep a good fire on, Anse," he admonished,
as he followed Billy outside.



CHAPTER VII

THE RABBIT FOOT CHARM

The place which old Harry O'Dule called home was a crumbling log
cabin on the shore of Levee Creek, just on the border of the Scroggie
bush.  Originally it had been built as a shelter for sheep, but with
the clearing of the land it had fallen into disuse.  O'Dule had found
it on one of his pilgrimages and had promptly appropriated it unto
himself.  Nobody thought of disputing his possession, perhaps because
most of the good people of Scotia inwardly feared the old man's
uncanny powers of second sight, and the foreshadowing--on those who
chose to cross him--of dire evils, some of which had been known to
materialize.  Old Harry boasted that he was the seventh son of a
seventh son.

"It's born under a caul was I," he told them.  "An' minny a mystery
has been cleared up in ould Ireland be meself, I'm tellin' ye."

At which some laughed and some scoffed.  Deacon Ringold had sternly
advised the old man to return to the country where black magic was
still countenanced, as there was no place for it in an enlightened
and Christian community such as Scotia, a suggestion that old Harry
took in seeming good humor.  But the fact that the deacon lost two
milk cows and four hogs, through sickness during the fortnight which
followed, had caused considerable discussion throughout the
settlement.

O'Dule had cut a window in the cabin, installed an old stove, table
and chairs, and succeeded in making the place home-like enough to
suit his simple taste.  To-night he stood by the stove, frying
potatoes and humming an Irish song.  On the table lay a loaf of bread
and some butter in a saucer, while close beside it a coal oil lamp
gave a smoky light to the room.  In the center of the table reposed a
huge blue-grey cat, its amber eyes on Harry and its forepaws curled
contentedly beneath its furry breast.  All about the room hung the
skins of wild animals--deer, bear, lynx and coon.  A pile of skins
lay in one corner.  This was O'Dule's bed.

  "Och!  Billy O'Shune can't ye whistle t' me,
  Av the gurril ye loved on the Isle 'cross the sea--
  Shure it's weary I am av that drear, sorry song
  So stop liltin', through tears, wid a visage so long--
  Come, it's me ears a glad ditty would hear--
  Av love 'neath th' skies av ould Ireland, dear--
  Come, let us be glad--both togither, me lad--
  There's good fish in the sea as has iver been had--
  --Och, Billy O'Shune--
  That's not much av a chune."


So hummed old Harry as he stirred the potatoes and wet his vocal
chords, occasionally, from the jug at his feet.

Suddenly a knock fell on the door.

"In ye come," invited the Irishman and there entered Billy and
Maurice.

"Sit ye down, lads, sit ye down," cried the hospitable Harry.
"Begobs, but it's a fine brace av byes ye are, an' no mistake.  Wull
ye be afther suppin' a bit wid me?  The repast is all but spread an'
it's full welcome ye are, both."

"We've had our supper," said Billy.  "Thought we'd like to see you
fer a minute er two, Harry," he added gravely, as he and his chum
seated themselves.

"Alone," said Maurice, significantly.

"Faith an' ain't I alone enough to suit ye?" laughed Harry.  "Would
ye have me put the cat out, thin?  Now, phwat is ut?"

The boys glanced at each other.  "You tell him," whispered Billy, but
Maurice shook his head.  "No, you," he whispered back.

Billy braced himself and took a long breath.  "We've made up our
minds t' find old man Scroggie's will," he said.

"An' money," said Maurice.  "We want you to help us, Harry."

"God love us!" ejaculated Harry, dropping the knife with which he was
stirring the potatoes and reaching for the demijohn.  "An' fer why
should ye be out on that wild goose chase, now?"

"'Cause we want Teacher Stanhope to have what belongs to him," said
Billy warmly.

"Do ye now?  God love him but that was a hard slap in th' face he got
fer playin' the man's part, so ut was.  Only this night did I say as
much to Caleb Spencer.  Ut's meself would like t' see him get what
was his by rights, byes."

"We knew that," cried Billy, eagerly; "that's why we come to you,
Harry.  You say you've found buried treasure in Ireland; won't you
help us find the lost will an' money?"

O'Dule transferred the potatoes from the frying pan to a cracked
plate.  He sat down at the table and ate his supper without so much
as another word.  The boys watched him, fear in their hearts that the
eccentric old Irishman would refuse their request.

After a time Harry pushed his stool back from the table.  "Byes," he
said, producing a short black pipe from his pocket.  "It's lend ye a
spade and lantern I'll do an' gladly; but it's yerselves would surely
not be axin' me t' test me powers ag'in a spirrut.  Listen now.  Old
Scroggie's ghost do be guardin' his money, wheriver it lies.  That
you know as well as me.  It's frank I'll be wid ye, an' tell ye that
ag'in spirruts me powers are as nuthin'.  An' go widin the unholy
circle av the ha'nted grove to do favor t' aither man 'er divil I'll
not."

"But think of what it means to him," urged Billy.  "Besides, Harry,
I've got a charm that'll keep ol' Scroggie's ghost away," he added,
eagerly.

"An' phwat is ut?"  Old Harry's interest was real.  He laid his pipe
down on the table and leaned towards Billy.

"It's the left hind foot of a grave-yard rabbit," said Billy, proudly
exhibiting the charm.

O'Dule's shaggy brows met in a frown.  "Ut's no good a'tall, a'tall,"
he said, contemptuously.  "Ut's not aven a snake-bite that trinket
wud save ye from, let alone a ghost."

Billy felt his back-bone stiffen in resentment.  Then he noted that
the milk snake, which he had thought snugly asleep in his coat
pocket, had awakened in the warmth of the little cabin and slipped
from the pocket and now lay, soiled and happy, beneath the rusty
stove.  He saw his opportunity to get back at O'Dule for his scoffing.

"All right, Harry," he said airily, "if that's all you know about
charms, I guess you haven't any that 'ud help us much.  But let me
tell you that rabbit-foot charm kin do wonders.  It'll not only keep
you from bein' bit by snakes but by sayin' certain words to it you
kin bring a snake right in to your feet with it, an' you kin pick it
up an' handle it without bein' bit, too."

"Och, it's a brave lad ye are, Billy bye," Harry wheezed, "an' a
brave liar, too.  Go on wid yer nonsense, now."

"It's a fact, Harry," backed Maurice.

"Fact," cried O'Dule, angrily now.  "Don't ye be comin' to me, a
siventh son av a siventh son, wid such nonsinse.  Faith, if yon
worthless rabbit-fut kin do phwat ye claim, why not prove ut t' me
now?"

"An' if we do," asked Billy eagerly, "will you agree to use your
power to help us find the money an' will?"

"That I'll do," assented Harry, unhesitatingly.  "Call up yer snake
an' handle ut widout bein' bit, an' I'll help ye."

"All right, I'll do it," said Billy.  "Jest turn the lamp down a
little, Harry."

"Me hands are a bit unsteady," said Harry, quickly.  "We'll l'ave the
light be as ut is, Billy."

"It ought'a be dark," protested Billy, "but I'll try it anyway."  He
lifted the rabbit foot to his face and breathed some words upon it.
Then in measured tones he recited:

  "Hokey-pokey Bamboo Brake--
  Go an' gather in a snake--'


Slowly Billy lowered the charm and looked at Harry.  The old man sat,
puffing his short pipe, a derisive grin on his unshaven lips.

"It's failed ye have, as I knowed ye wud," he chuckled.  "Ye best be
lavin' now, both av ye, wid yer pranks."

"But," said Billy quickly, "the charm did work.  It brought the
snake, jest as I said it would."

"Brought ut?  Where is ut, thin?"  Harry sat up straight, his little
eyes flashing in fright.

"It's under the stove.  See it?"

Harry bent and peered beneath the stove.  "Be the scales av the
divil!" he shivered, "is ut a big, mottled snake I see, or have I got
what always I feared I might get some day.  Is ut the D.T.'s I've
got, I wonder?  How come the reptile here, anyhow, byes?"

"You told me to bring it in, didn't you?" Billy inquired, mildly.

"Yis, yis, Billy.  But hivins! ut's little did I think that cat-paw
av a charm had such power," groaned the wretched Irishman.  "Ut's
yourself said ut would let you handle reptiles widout bein' bit.
Thin fer the love ov hivin pluck yon serpent from beneath the stove
an' hurl ut outside into the blackness where ut belongs."

Billy arose and moving softly to the stove picked up the harmless
milk snake, squirming and protesting, from the warm floor.  O'Dule
watched him with fascinated eyes.  The big cat had risen and with
back fur and tail afluff spit vindictively as Billy passed out
through the door.

When he returned O'Dule was seated on the edge of the table, his feet
on a stool.  He was taking a long sup from the demijohn.

"Well, do you believe in my charm now?" Billy asked.

"I do," said Harry unhesitatingly.

"An' you'll help us, as you promised?"

"Did ye iver hear av Harry O'Dule goin' back on a promise?" said the
old man, reproachfully.  "Help you wull I shurely, an' I'll be
tellin' ye how.  Go ye over t' the corner, Billy, an' pull up the
loose board av the flure.  Ye'll be findin' a box there.  Yis, that's
right.  Now fetch ut here.  Look ye both, byes."

Harry lifted the little tin box to his knees and opened it.  From it
he brought forth a conglomeration of articles.  There were queer
little disks of hammered brass and copper, an egg-shaped object that
sparkled like crystal in the lamplight, a crotch-shaped branch of a
tree.  As he handled those objects tenderly the old man's face was
tense and he mumbled something entirely meaningless to the watchers.
Finally, with an exclamation of triumph, he brought forth a piece of
metal the size and shape of an ordinary lead pencil.

"Look ye," he cried, holding it aloft.  "The fairies' magic arrer, ut
is, an' ut niver fails t' fall on the spot where the treasure lies
hidden.  Foind Scroggie's buried money ut would have long ago if ut
wasn't fer the ould man's spirrut that roams the grove.  As I told ye
afore, ut's no charm ag'in the spirruts av the departed, as yon
grave-yard rabbit's fut is."

"But with the two of 'em," cried Billy eagerly, "we kin surely find
the will, Harry."

"It's right true ye spake," nodded Harry.  "An' mebbe sooner than we
think.  An' ut's the young t'acher wid the blindness that gets it
all, ye say?"

"Ol' Scroggie left it all to him," said Billy.

"Begobs, so I've heard before."  Harry scratched his head
reflectively.

"Well, God love his gentle heart, ut's himself now'll hardly be
carin' phwat becomes o' the money, let alone he gets possession av
the thousand acre hardwoods, I'm thinkin'," he said, fastening his
eyes on Billy's face.  "I'd be wishin' the young t'acher to be
ginerous, byes."

"He will," cried Billy, "I know he will."

"Thin God bless him," cried Harry.  "Now grasp tight t' yer rabbit
fut, an' we'll be afther goin' on our way t' tempt Satan, over beyant
in the evil cedars."

Five minutes later the trio were out on the forest path, passing in
Indian file towards the haunted grove.  The wind had risen and now
swept through the great trees with ghostly sound.  A black cloud,
creeping up out of the west, was wiping out the stars.  Throughout
the forest the notes of the night-prowlers were strangely hushed.  No
word was spoken between the treasure-seekers until the elm-bridged
creek was reached.  Then old Harry paused, with labored breath, his
head bent as though listening.

"Hist," he whispered and Billy and Maurice felt their flesh creep.
"Ut's hear that swishin' av feet above, ye do?  Ut's the Black troup
houldin' their course 'twixt the seared earth an' the storm.  The
witches of Ballyclue, ut is, an' whin they be out on their mad run
the ghoste av dead min hould wild carnival.  Ut'll be needin' that
rabbit-fut sure we wull, if the ha'nted grove we enter this night."



CHAPTER VIII

LUCK RIDES THE STORM

Beneath the shadow of the coming storm the forest gloom deepened to
velvet blackness.  Suddenly a tongue of lightning licked the
tree-tops and a crash of thunder shattered the stillness.  A few
heavy rain-drops spattered on the branches above the heads of the
waiting three.  Billy and Maurice, a strange terror tugging at their
heart-strings, waited for old Harry to give the word forward.  But
Harry seemed to be in no great hurry to voice such command.  Fear had
gripped his superstitious soul and the courage loaned him from the
squat demijohn was fast oozing away.

Above, the blue-white lightning zig-zagged and the boom of the
thunder shook the earth.  A huge elm shivered and shrieked as if in
agony as a darting tongue of flame enwrapped it like a yellow
serpent, splitting its heart in twain.

Billy found himself, face down, on the wet moss.  Maurice was tugging
at his arm.  The stricken tree had burst into flame, beneath the
ghostly light of which path, creek and pine-grove stood out
clear-limned as a cameo against a velvet background.  Billy noted
this as he sat dazedly up.  He and Maurice were alone; old Harry had
vanished.

"He's gone," Maurice answered his chum's look.  "Took to his heels
when the lightnin' struck that elm.  The shock knocked us both down.
He was gone when I come to."

Billy grinned a wan grin and pressed his knuckles against his aching
eyes.  "So's my milk-snake," he said.  "Guess I spilled him out o' my
pocket when I fell.  Gee! that was a close call.  Say, Maurice, ain't
it queer though?  I was feelin' mighty scared an' trembly afore that
bolt fell, but now I feel nervy enough to tackle any ghost.  How
'bout you?"

"By gosh! that's jest how I feel, Bill.  That lightnin' knocked all
the scare plumb out o' me.  I don't like these no-rain sort of
thunderstorms though," he added.  "They're always slashin' out when
they're least expected."

"Well, the lightnin' part of this un's about past us, Maurice.  But
the rain's comin'.  Guess that ol' elm's done fer.  She's dead,
though, else she wouldn't burn like that.  By hokey!" he broke off,
"will you look here?"

He picked up something that glittered in the firelight, and held it
up for his chum's inspection.

"Old Harry's fairy arrer," gasped Maurice.  "Oh say, Bill, ain't that
lucky?  He must have lost it in his scramble to get away."

"Likely.  Now I move we go right over into that ha'nted grove.  What
you say?"

Maurice swallowed hard, "I'm blame fool enough fer anythin' since I
got knocked silly by that bolt," he answered, "so I'm game if you
are."

"Watch out!" warned Billy, grasping him by the arm and jerking him to
one side, "that struck elm is goin' to fall."  A rainbow of flame
flashed close before the boys, as the stricken tree crashed across
the path, hurling forth a shower of sparks as it came to earth.  Then
inky darkness followed and from the black canopy which a moment ago
had seemed to touch the tree tops the rain fell in torrents.

"Bill, Oh Bill! where 'bouts are you?"  Maurice's voice sounded
muffled and far away to his chum's ears.

"I'm right here," he answered.

"Gollies!  but ain't it dark?  I can't see anythin' of you, Bill."

"Ner me, either.  I guess we'll have to give up the hunt fer t'night,
Maurice.  Anyways, we don't know jest how to work ol' Harry's fairy
arrer."

"No, we'll have to find out.  Say, Bill, where 'bouts is the path?"

"Gee! how am I to know; it's right here somewheres, though."

"I guess I've found it, Bill.  Come over close, so's I kin touch you,
then we'll be movin' 'long.  Hully gee! but I'm wet.  Got both them
charms safe?"

"Right here in my two fists, Maurice."

"Well, hang to 'em tight till we get away from this ha'nted grove.
Ghosts don't mind rain none--an' he's liable t' be prowlin' out.
Say, can't y' whistle a bit, so's it won't be so pesky lonesome?"

Billy puckered up his lips, but his effort was a failure.  "You try,
Maurice," he said, "I can't jest keep the hole in my mouth steady
long enough t' whistle."

"Gosh! ain't I been trying," groaned Maurice.  "My teeth won't keep
still a'tall.  Maybe I won't be one glad kid when we get out 'a here."

For half an hour they groped their way forward, no further words
passing between them.  The heavy roar of the rain on the tree tops
made conversation next to impossible.  The darkness was so dense they
were forced to proceed slowly and pause for breath after bumping
violently against a tree or sapling.  They had been striving for what
seemed to both to be a long, long time to find the clearing when
Billy paused in his tracks and spoke: "It's no use, Maurice.  We're
lost."

Maurice sank weakly down against a tree trunk, and groaned.

"I guess we've struck into the big woods," Billy informed him.
"Anyways, the trees are gettin' thicker the further we go."

"Gee!  Bill, there might be wolves an' bears in this woods," said
Maurice, fearfully.

"Sure there might but I guess all we kin do is take our chance with
'em."

"Well, I'd rather take a chance with a bear than a ghost, wouldn't
you Bill?"

"Betcha, I would.  Say Maurice," he broke out excitedly, "there's a
light comin' through the trees.  See it?  It's movin'.  Must be
somebody with a lantern."

"I see it," Maurice replied in guarded tones.  "Bill, that light's
comin' this way, sure as shootin'."

"Looks like it.  Wonder who it kin be?  Maybe somebody lookin' fer
us."

The two boys crouched down beside a great beech.  The light, which
had not been a great distance from them when first sighted, was
rapidly approaching.  Billy grasped his chum's arm.  "Look," he
whispered, "there's two of 'em."

"I see 'em," his friend whispered back.  "Gosh! looks as though
they're goin' to tramp right onto us."

However, the night-roamers of the forest did not walk into them.
Instead they came very close to the boys and halted.  The man who
carried the lantern set it down on the ground and spoke in gruff
tobes to his companion, a short, heavy-set man with a fringe of black
beard on his face.

"I tell you, Jack, we'll hide the stuff there.  It'll be safe as a
church."

"I say no, Tom," the other returned, surlily.  "It won't be safe
there.  Somebody'll be sure to find it."

The other man turned on him angrily.  "Who'll find it?" he retorted.
"Don't be a fool, Jack.  You couldn't pull anybody to that place with
a loggin' chain.  It's the safest spot in the world to hide the
stuff, I tell ye.  Besides, the boat orter be in in a few days, and
we kin slip the stuff to Cap. Jacques without the boss ever knowin'
how far we've exceeded his orders."

"All right," gruffly assented his companion, "if you're so cock sure,
it suits me all right.  Come on; let's get out of this cussed woods.
Remember we've got some work before us tonight."

The man named Tom picked up the lantern and moved on, cursing the
rain and the saplings that whipped his face at every step.  His pal
followed without a word.

The boys waited until the lantern's glow grew hazy through the
slackening rain, then they sprang up and followed.  Three-quarters of
an hour later the trees began to thin.  Unwittingly the strangers had
guided them into the clearing.

As they reached the open the rain ceased altogether.  High above a
few pale stars were beginning to probe through the tattered clouds.
The men with the lantern were rapidly moving across the stumpy
fallow, towards the causeway.

"Will we foller 'em, Bill?" asked Maurice eagerly.

Billy shook his head.  "I'd sort o' like to," he said, slowly, "jest
to find out what game they're up to, but I guess if we know what's
good fer us we'll go home an' take off these wet duds.  Hard lookin'
customers, wasn't they?"

"Hard, I should say so!  I'll bet either one of 'em 'ud murder a hull
family fer ten cents.  Say, Bill, maybe they're pirates; you heard
what they said about a boat, didn't you?"

"Yep, I heard, but they ain't pirates, 'cause they didn't have no
tattoo marks on 'em, er rings in their ears; but whoever they are
they're up to no good.  They're aimin' to hide somethin' somewheres,
but jest what it is an' where they intend hidin' it there's no way of
tellin'; so come on, let's get movin'."

In silence they made their way across the clearing to the road.
"Say, Bill," said Maurice, as they paused to rest on the top rail of
the fence, "do you 'spose we best tell our dads about seein' them
men?"

"Naw, can't you see if we told our dads that, they'd want 'a know
what you an' me was doin' out in Scroggie's bush in the rain, at that
hour of the night?  No siree, we won't say a word 'bout it."

"Then s'posin' we try an' find out something 'bout 'em fer ourselves,
eh?"

"Say, you give me a pain," cried Billy.  "Don't you 'spose we've got
all we kin do ahead of us now?"

"Findin' Scroggie's money an' will, you mean?"

"Sure.  Now shut up an' let's get home.  I expect Ma'll be waitin' up
to give me hail Columbia, an' I guess you won't be gettin' any
pettin' from yourn, either."

"I know what I'll be gettin' from mine, all right," said Maurice,
moodily.  "Say, Bill," he coaxed, "you come along over by our place
an' smooth things over fer me, will you?  You kin do anythin' with
Ma."

"No," said Billy, "I got to be movin' on."

"But I'll get an awful hidin' if you don't.  I don't mind an ordinary
tannin' but a tannin' in these wet pants is goin' to hurt like fury.
They're stickin close to my legs.  I might as well be naked an' Ma
she certainly does lay it on."

Billy laughed.  "All right, I'll come along, but I ain't believin'
anythin' I kin say to your Ma'll keep you from gettin' it."

The boys slid from the fence, then leaped back as something long and
white rose from behind a fallen tree and, with a startled snort,
confronted them.

"Gollies!" ejaculated Billy.  "It's a hog.  I thought, first off, it
was a bear."

Maurice peered out from behind a tree.  "Well, I'll be jiggered!" he
exclaimed.  "It's our old sow.  She's been lost fer nigh onto two
weeks, an' Dad's been huntin' fer her everywhere."

"That so?  Then we'll drive her home."

"Aw, say, Bill," protested Maurice, "I'm tired an' wet as a
water-logged plank.  Let her go.  I'll tell Dad, an' he kin come
after her tomorrow."

"No, we'll drive her home now.  I guess I know what's best.  Get on
t'other side of her.  Now then, don't let her turn back!"

Maurice grumblingly did his share of the driving.  It was no easy
task to pilot that big, rangy sow into the safe harbor of the Keeler
barnyard but done it was at last.

"Ma's got the light burnin' an' the strap waitin' fer her little
boy," chaffed Billy as they put up the barn-yard bars.

Maurice, who had climbed the fence so as to get a glimpse of the
interior of his home through a window, whistled softly as his eyes
took in the scene within.

"Say, Billy," he cried, "your Ma an' Pa's there."

"Gee whitticker!" exclaimed Billy.  "I wish now I hadn't promised you
I'd come in.  All right, lead on.  Let's get the funeral over with."

Without so much as another word the boys went up the path.

"If I don't see you ag'in alive, Bill, good bye," whispered Maurice
as he opened the door.

Mrs. Keeler, who was doing her best to catch what her neighbor was
saying, lifted her head as the two wet and tired boys entered the
room.

"There they be now," she said grimly.  "The two worst boys in Scotia,
Mrs. Wilson."

"I believe you, Mrs. Keeler," nodded her friend.  "Now then, where
have you two drowned rats been tonight, Willium?"

Cobin Keeler, who was playing a game of checkers with Billy's father,
cleared his throat and leaned forward like a judge on the bench,
waiting for the answer to his neighbor's question.

"We got----" commenced Maurice, but Billy pinched his leg for silence.

"I got track of your lost sow, Mr. Keeler, when I was comin' home
from the store tonight," he said.  "Least-wise I didn't know it was
your sow but Maurice told me about yours bein' lost.  So after Mrs.
Keeler went to give Mr. Spencer a call down we hired Anse to look
after the preservin' an' went out to try an' track her down."

Maurice, who had listened open mouthed to his chum's narration,
sighed deeply.  "We had an awful time," he put in, only to receive a
harder pinch for his pains.

"But you didn't see her, did ye?" Cobin asked eagerly.

Disregarding the question, Billy continued: "The tracks led us a long
ways, I kin tell you.  We got up into the Scroggie bush at last an'
then the rain come."

"But we kept right on trackin--" put in Maurice, eagerly.  "After the
stars come out again, of course," explained Billy, managing to skin
Maurice's shin with his boot-heel, "an' we found her--"

"You found her?" cried Cobin, leaping up.

"Jest half an hour ago," said Billy.

"Good lads!" cried Cobin heartily, "Ma, hear that?  They found ol'
Junefly.  Wasn't that smart of 'em, an' in all that rain, too."

"Who'd you say was agoin' to soon die?"  Mrs. Keeler put her hand to
her ear and leaned forward.

"I say the boys found the old sow, Ma!" Cobin shouted.

"They _did_?"  Mrs. Keeler turned towards Billy and Maurice, her face
aglow.  "An' was that what they was adoin'?  Now I'm right sorry I
spoke harsh.  I am so.  Ain't you, Mrs. Wilson?"

"Oh, I must say that Willium does do somethin' worth while, once in a
long while," returned her neighbor, grudgingly.  "But Anson, now--"

Mrs. Keeler broke in.  "Anson, humph!  Why, that boy had the nerve to
say that I should give him ten cents fer watchin' the kettle while
them two dear boys was out in the storm, huntin' fer Pa's sow.  I
give him a box on the ear instead an' sent him home on the jump.
Maybe I was a bit hasty but I was mad after havin' to give that old
Caleb Spencer a piece of my mind fer sendin' me sawdust instead of
groceries.  I guess he won't try that ag'in."

Billy moved towards the door.  "I'd best be gettin' home," he said,
"I'm awful wet."

"Stay all night with Maurice," invited Mrs. Keeler.  "You an' him kin
pile right into bed now and I'll bring you both a bowl of hot bread
and milk."

Billy glanced at his mother.

"You kin stay if your want to, Willium," she said, "only see that you
are home bright and early in the mornin'.  Your Pa'll want you to
help hill potaters."

She stood up.  "Well, Tom, if you and Cobin are through with the game
don't start another.  It's late an' time all decent folks was home
abed."

Snug in Maurice's corn-husk bed in the attic, the boys lay and
listened for the door to open and close.  Then Maurice chuckled.

"Gee!  Bill, I could'a knocked your head off fer makin' me help drive
ol' Junefly home but now I see you knowed what you was doin'.  Holy
smoke!  I wish't I was as smart as you."

"Go to sleep," said Billy drowsily.

Half an hour later when Mrs. Keeler carrying two bowls of steaming
bread and milk ascended the stairs Billy alone sat up to reach for it.

"Is Maurice asleep?" whispered the woman.

Billy nodded.

"Well, you might as well have both bowls then.  I don't like to see
good bread an' milk wasted."

She set the bowls down on the little table beside the bed, placed the
lamp beside them, then leaning over tucked the blankets about the
boys.

"No use tryin' to wake Maurice," she said as she turned to go.  "As
well try to wake the dead.  Remember, you boys get up when I call
you."



CHAPTER IX

MOVING THE MENAGERIE

Billy and Maurice, taking the short cut to the Wilson farm across the
rain-drenched fields next morning, were planning the day's programme.

"Now that we've got ol' Harry's charm along with my rabbit-foot,"
Billy was saying, "we ought'a be able to snoop 'round in the ha'nted
grove an' even hunt through the house any time we take the notion.
Maybe we'll get a chance to do it to-day."

"But, darn it all, Bill," Maurice objected, "there won't be no ghost
to lead the way to the stuff in the daytime."

"Well, if we take a look over the place in daylight we'll know the
lay-out better at night, won't we?  Trigger Finger Tim did that most
times, an' he always got away clean.  Supposin' a ghost is close at
your heels, ain't it a good idea to have one or two good runways
picked out to skip on?  We're goin' through that ha'nted house in
daylight, so you might as well make up your mind to that."

Maurice was about to protest further when the rattle of loose spokes
and the beat of a horse's hoofs on the hard road fell on their ears.

"That's Deacon Ringold's buck-board," Billy informed his chum,
drawing him behind an alder-screened stump.  "Say, ain't he drivin'?
Somebody must be sick at his place."  Then as the complaining vehicle
swept into sight from around the curve, "By crackey, Maurice, your
Pa's ridin' with him."

Maurice scratched his head in perplexity.  "Wonder where he's takin'
Dad?  It's too late fer sheep-shearin' an' too early fer hog-killin';
an' that's 'bout all Dad's good at doin', 'cept leadin' the singin'
at prayer-meetin'.  Wonder what's up?  Gee! the deacon is sure
puttin' his old mare over the road."

"Keep quiet till they get past," cautioned Billy.  "Say! we needn't
have been so blamed careful about makin' our sneak if we'd knowed
your Pa was away from home."

"Oh, look, Bill," said Maurice, "they're stoppin' at your place."

The deacon had pulled up at the Wilson's gate.  "He's shoutin' fer
Pa," Billy whispered, as a resounding "Hello, Tom!" awoke the forest
echoes.  "Come on Maurice, let's work our way down along this strip
o' bushes, so's we kin hear what's goin' on."

The boys wriggled their way through the thicket of sumach, and
reached a clump of golden-rod inside the road fence just as Wilson
came out of the lane.

"Mornin', neighbors," he greeted the men in the buckboard, "won't you
pull in?"

"No," said the deacon, "we're on our way to Twin Oaks, Thomas.
Thieves broke into Spencer's store last night.  We're goin' up to see
if we can be of any use to Caleb.  We'd like you to come along."

Wilson's exclamation of surprise was checked by Cobin Keeler, whose
long arm reached out and encircled him.  He was lifted bodily into
the seat and the buckboard dashed on up the road, the clatter of its
loose spokes drowning the loud voices of its occupants.

The boys eat up and stared at each other.

"You heard?" Billy asked in awed tones.

Maurice nodded.  "They said thieves at the store."  Forgotten, for
the moment, was old Scroggie's ghost and the buried treasure in this
new something which promised mystery and adventure.

"Hully Gee!" whispered Billy.  "Ain't that rippin'."

"Ain't it jest?" agreed Maurice.  "Say, Bill, there ain't no law
ag'in shootin' robbers is there--store-robbers, I mean?"

"Naw, why should there be?  That's what you're supposed to do, if you
get the chance--shoot 'em, an' get the _re_ward."

"What's a _re_ward?"

"Why, it's money, you ninny!  You kill the robbers an' you get the
church collection an' lots of other money besides.  Then you're rich
an' don't ever have to do any work; jest fish an' hunt an' give
speeches at tea-meetin's an' things."

"Oh, hokey! ain't that great.  How'd you come to know all that, Bill?"

"Why I read it in Anson's book, 'Trigger-Finger Tim er Dead er
Alive.'  Oh, it's all hunky, I tell you."

"But, Bill, how we goin' to kill them robbers?"

"Ain't goin' to kill 'em," his friend replied.  "Trigger-Finger Tim
never killed his; he took 'em all alive.  All he did was crease their
skulls with bullets, an' scrape their spines with 'em, an' when they
come to they'd find themselves tied hand an' foot, an' Trigger-Finger
smokin' his cigarette an' smilin' down on 'em."

"Gollies!" exulted Maurice.  Then uncertainty in his tones, "A feller
'ud have to be a mighty good shot to do that though, Bill."

"Oh shucks!  What's the use of thinkin' 'bout that now?  We've gotta
catch them robbers first, ain't we?"

"Yep, that's so.  But how?"

Billy wriggled free of the golden-rod.  "Come on over an' help me
move my menagerie an' we'll plan out a way."

They climbed the fence and crossed the road to the lane-gate.

"Now, then," said Billy, "you scoot through the trees to the
root-house, while I go up to the kitchen an' sneak some doughnuts.
Don't let Ma catch a glimpse of you er she'll come lookin' fer me an'
set me to churnin' er somethin' right under her eyes.  An' see here,"
he warned, as Maurice made for the trees, "don't you get to foolin'
with the snakes er owls, an' you best keep out of ol' Ringdo's reach,
'cause he's a bad ol' swamp coon in some ways.  You jest lay close
till I come back."

Whistling soundlessly, Billy went up the path to the house.  He
peered carefully in through the screened door.  The room was empty
and so was the pantry beyond.  Billy entered, tiptoed softly across
to the pantry and filled his pockets with doughnuts from the big
crock in the cupboard.  Then he tip-toed softly out again.

As he rounded the kitchen, preparatory to a leap across the open
space between it and the big wood-pile, Mrs. Wilson's voice came to
him, high-pitched and freighted with anger.

"You black, thievin' passel of impudence, you!" she was saying.  "If
I had a stick long enough to reach you, you'd never dirty any more of
my new-washed clothes."

On the top-most branch of a tall, dead pine, close beside the
wood-pile, sat the tame crow, Croaker, his head cocked demurely on
one side, as he listened to the woman's righteous abuse.  Croaker
could no more help filling his claws with chips and dirt and wobbling
the full length of a line filled with snowy, newly-washed clothes
than he could help upsetting the pan of water in the chicken-pen,
when he saw the opportunity.  He hated anything white with all his
sinful little heart and he hated the game rooster in the same way.
He was always in trouble with Ma Wilson, always in trouble with the
rooster.  Only when safe in the highest branch of the pine was he
secure, and in a position to talk back to his persecutors.

He said something now, low and guttural, to the woman shaking her
fist at him in impotent anger.  His voice was almost human in tone,
his attitude so sinister that she shuddered.  "That's right, swear at
me, too," she cried, "add insult to injury, you black imp!  If it
wasn't fer bein' scared of shootin' myself I'd get the gun an' shoot
you, I would so!"

Suddenly Croaker stretched himself erect.  A soft whistle, so low as
to be inaudible to the indignant woman but clear to his acute ears,
had sounded from the far side of the wood pile.  Pausing only long
enough to locate the sound, Croaker spread his wings and volplaned
down, emitting a hoarse croak of triumph almost in Mrs. Wilson's
face, as he swept close above her.

"Come here, you," spoke a low voice as Croaker settled on the other
side of the wood pile, and the crow promptly perched himself on
Billy's shoulder with a succession of throaty notes that sounded like
crazy laughter, but which were really expressions of unadulterated
joy.  For this boy who had taken him from the nest in the swaying elm
when he was nothing but a half-feathered, wide-mouthed fledgling, and
had fed him, cared for him, defended him against cat, dog, rooster
and human beings--for this boy alone Croaker felt all the love his
selfish heart was capable of giving.

And now as Billy carried him towards the root-house he recited the
various adventures which had been his since they had parted, recited
them, it is true, in hoarse unintelligible crow-language, but which
Billy was careful to indicate he understood right well.

"So you did all that, did you?" he laughed.  "Oh, but you're a smart
bird.  But see here, if you go on the way you're doin', dirtyin' Ma's
clean clothes an' abusin' her like I heard you doin', your light's
goin' out sudden one of these days.  Ma's scared to shoot the ol' gun
herself, but she'll get Anse to do it.  I guess I better shut you up
on wash-mornin's after this."

"What's he been doin' now, Bill?" asked Maurice as Billy and the crow
joined him beside the root-house.

"Oh, he's been raisin' high jinks with Ma ag'in," explained Billy.
"He will get his claws full o' dirt an' pigeon-toe along her line of
clean clothes, as soon as her back's turned."

"Gosh! ain't he a terror?" Maurice exclaimed.  "Say, why don't you
put him in the menagerie?"

"Maurice, you've got about as much sense as a wood-tick," Billy
replied in disgust.  "How long d'ye s'pose my snakes an' bats an'
lizards 'ud last if I turned Croaker loose in there?"

"Pshaw!  Bill, he couldn't hurt Spotba, the womper, could he?"

"Jest couldn't he?  I'll take you down to the marsh some day an' show
you how quick he kin kill a womper."

"Gollies!  Is that so?  Well he couldn't hurt the black snake; that's
one sure thing."

"No, it ain't, 'cause he kin kill a black snake a sight easier than
he kin a womper, an' I'll tell you why.  Black-snakes have got teeth.
They bite.  But their backbone is easy broke.  A womper hasn't any
teeth.  He strikes with his bony nose.  You know what one of them
snakes kin do?  You saw that big one, down in Patterson's swamp lay
open Moll's face with one slash.  They're thick necked, an' take a
lot of killin'.  This crow kin kill a black-snake with one slash of
his bill.  He has to choke the womper to death."

Maurice scratched his head thoughtfully.  "Say, you know a lot about
snakes an' things, don't you?" he said admiringly.

"Maybe I do, but I ain't tellin' all I know," said Billy.  "What's
the good?  Nobody 'ud believe me."

"What you mean, believe you?"

"Why, if I said I saw a fight between a little brown water-snake no
bigger'n a garter snake, an' a fish-hawk, an' the snake licked the
hawk, d'ye s'pose anyone 'ud believe that?"

"I dunno.  Maybe, an' maybe not."

"Supposin' I said the snake _killed the hawk?_"

"Oh, gee whitticker! nobody 'ud believe that, Bill."

"There now.  Nobody 'ud believe it.  An' yet I saw it."

"You saw it?"  Maurice, who could not think of questioning his chum's
word, gasped in amazement.

"Yep, I saw it last spring--in the Eau rice beds, it was.  I was
tryin' to find a blue-winged teal's nest.  Saw the drake trail off
an' knowed the duck must be settin' somewhere on the high land close
beside the pond.  As I was standin' still, lookin' about, this little
water snake come swimmin' 'cross a mushrat run.  Jest then I saw a
shadder cross the reeds, an' a fish-hawk swooped down an' made a grab
at the snake.  The snake dived an' come up close to shore.  The hawk
wheeled an' swooped ag'in.  This time the water was too shallow fer
snakie to get clear away.  The hawk grabbed him in his claws an'
started up with him.  'Goodbye, little snake,' I thought, an' jest
then I noticed that the hawk was havin' trouble; fer one thing, he
wasn't flyin' straight, an' he was strikin' with his curved beak
without findin' anythin'.  Pretty soon he started saggin' down to the
reeds.  I jumped into the punt an' made fer the spot where I thought
he'd come down.  Jest as I got there he splashed into the shallow
water.  I stood up in the punt, an' then I saw what had happened.
The little water-snake had coiled round the hawk's neck an' had kept
its head close under his throat.  You know that a water snake has two
little saw teeth, one on each side of the upper jaw.  I've often
wondered what good a pair of teeth like that could be to 'em, but I
don't any more, 'cause that little snake had cut that hawk's throat
with them snags an' saved himself."

"An' so he got away!" sighed Maurice.

"Well, he should have, but I didn't let him.  I thought I'd like to
own a snake as plucky as that, so I caught him--didn't have no
trouble, he was awful tired--an' brought him up here to the
menagerie."

Maurice whistled.  "Gee!  Bill, you don't mean t' tell me that
water-snake you call Hawk-killer is him?"

"Yep, that's him.  Now," he cried tossing Croaker into a tree, "I'll
tell you what we gotta do.  We gotta move these pets down to that old
sugar-shanty in our woods.  Ma's got so nervous with havin' 'em here
that I'm afraid Anse might take it in his head to let 'em out, er
kill 'em.  I've got 'em all boxed nice an' snug.  All I want you to
do is help me carry 'em.  We can do it in two trips.  Ringdo, of
course, 'll stay along up here.  Ma's not scared of him like she is
of the other things.  Come along."

He unpropped the root-house door and threw it open.  Maurice
hesitated on the threshold, peering into the darkness.

"Are you sure you've got 'em boxed safe, Bill?" he asked, fearfully.

"Bet ye I am."

"Then, here's fer it, but I must say I'll be glad when the job's
done," shivered Maurice, following his chum into the blackness of the
root-house.

Croaker hopped to a lower branch and peered in after his master.
Then, catching sight of a doughnut which had spilled from Billy's
pocket, he fluttered down to the ground, and with many caressing
croaks proceeded to make a meal of it.



CHAPTER X

IN LOST MAN'S SWAMP

The August days were passing swiftly, each fragrant dawn marking
another step towards that inevitable something which must be
faced--the reopening of the Valley School by a new teacher.  Billy's
heart saddened as the fields ripened and the woods turned red and
gold.  For once his world was out of tune.  Maurice Keeler was sick
with measles and Elgin Scraff lay ill with the same disease.  Taking
advantage of this fact, the Sand-sharkers had grown bold, some of the
more venturesome of them going even so far as to challenge Billy to
"knock the chip off their shoulders."

Billy had not only accommodated the trouble-seekers in this regard
but had nearly knocked the noses off their freckled faces as well,
after which he had proceeded to lick, on sight, each and every
Sand-sharker with whom his lonely rambles brought him in contact.
But his victories lacked the old time zest.  He missed Maurice's
"Gee!  Bill, that left swing to his eye was a corker"; missed Elgin's
offer to bet a thousand dollars that Billy Wilson could lick, with
one hand tied behind him, any two Sand-sharkers that ever smelled a
smoked herrin'.  Victory was indeed empty of glory.  And so the glad
days were sad days for Billy.  It was an empty world.  What boy in
Billy's place would not have been low-spirited under like conditions?
What boy would not have paused, as he was doing now, to itemize his
woes?

He was seated on a stump in the new clearing which sloped to Levee
Creek, fingers locked about one knee, battered felt hat pulled over
his eyes.  The green slope at his feet lay half in the sunlight, half
in the shadow.  Across from a patch of golden-rod, the cock bird of a
fox-scattered quail-covey whistled the "All's Well" call to the birds
in hiding.  Ordinarily Billy would have answered that call, would
have drawn the brown, scuttling birds close about him with the
low-whistled notes he could produce so well: but today he was
oblivious to all save his thoughts.

Two weeks had passed since the robbery of the Twin Oaks store and
that which he and Maurice had planned to do towards finding the
Scroggie will and capturing the thieves had, through dire necessity,
been abandoned.  Sickness had claimed Maurice just when he was most
needed.  For days Billy had lived a sort of trancelike existence; had
gone about acting queerly, refusing his meals and paying little
attention to anybody or anything.

It had become a regular thing for his father to say each morning, "I
guess you ain't feelin' up to much today, Billy; so all you have to
do is watch the gap and water the cattle"; which was quite agreeable
to Billy, because it gave him an opportunity to be by himself.  Men
who sit in the shadow of irrevocable fate are always that way; they
want to be left alone--murderers on the eve of their execution,
captains on wrecked ships, Trigger Finger Tim, who was to be shot at
sunrise, but wasn't.

Billy wanted to shadow old Scroggie's ghost and so discover the will;
he wanted to seek out the robbers of the Twin Oaks store and earn a
reward; he wanted Maurice Keeler with him; he wanted to hear Elgin
Scraff's laugh.  But all this was denied him.  And now a new burden
had been thrust upon him, compared with which all his other woes
seemed trivial.  Old Scroggie's namesake and apparent heir had turned
up again.  Billy had seen him with his own eyes; with his own ears
had heard him declare that he intended to erect a saw-mill in the
thousand-acre forest.  This meant that the big hardwood wonderland
would be wiped away and that Frank Stanhope would never inherit what
was rightfully his.

It seemed like an evil dream, but Billy knew it was no dream.
Scroggie, astride a big bay horse, had passed him while he was on his
way to the store with a basket of eggs for his mother, and he had
pulled in at the store just as Deacon Ringold had taken the last
available space on the customers' bench outside, and Caleb Spencer
had come to the door to peer through the twilight in search of the
Clearview stage, which was late.  Noticing the stranger on horseback
Caleb had hurried forward to ask how best he could serve him.

Hidden safely behind a clump of cedars Billy had watched and
listened.  He had heard Scroggie tell the storekeeper that he and his
family had come to Scotia to stay and that he intended to cut down
the timber of the big woods.  He had then demanded that Spencer turn
over to him a certain document which it seemed old man Scroggie had
left in Caleb's charge some months before his death.  Billy had seen
Spencer draw the man a little apart from the others, who had gathered
close through curiosity, and had heard him explain that the paper had
been taken from his safe on the night of the robbery of his store.
Scroggie had, at first, seemed to doubt Caleb's word; then he had
grown abusive and had raised his riding-whip threateningly.  Here
Billy, having heard and seen quite enough, had acted.  Placing his
basket gently down on the sward he had picked up an egg and with the
accuracy born of long practice in throwing stones, had sent it
crashing into Scroggie's face.  Gasping and temporarily blinded,
Scroggie had wheeled his horse and galloped away.

But today Billy, musing darkly, knew that Scroggie would do what he
had said he would do.  The big woods was his, according to law; he
could do as he wished with it, and he would wipe it out.

With a sigh, Billy slid from the stump and stood looking away toward
the east.  What would Trigger Finger Tim do in his place?  When
confronted by insurmountable obstacles Trigger Finger had been wont
to seek excitement and danger.  That's what he, Billy, would do now.
But where was excitement and danger to be found?  Ah, he knew--Lost
Man's Swamp!

Billy's right hand went into a trouser's pocket; then nervously his
left dived into the other pocket.  With a sigh of relief he drew out
a furry object about the size of a pocket-knife.

"Ol' Rabbit-foot charm," he said, aloud.  "I jest might need you bad
today."  Then he turned and walked quickly across the fallow toward
the causeway.

Some three miles east of the imaginary line which divided the
Settlement from the outside world, on the Lake Shore road, stood a
big frame house in a grove of tall walnut trees.  It was the home of
a man named Hinter--a man of mystery.  Before it the lake flashed
blue as a kingfisher's wing through the cedars; behind it swept a
tangle of forest which gradually dwarfed into a stretch of
swamp-willow and wild hazel-nut bushes, which in turn gave place to
marshy bog-lands.

Lost Man's Swamp, so called because it was said that one straying
into its depths never was able to extricate himself from its
overpowering mists and treacherous quicksands, was lonely and
forsaken.  It lay like a festering sore on the breast of the
world--black, menacing, hungry to gulp, dumb as to those mysteries
and tragedies it had witnessed.  It was whispered that the devil made
his home in its pitchy ponds, which even in the fiercest cold of
winter did not freeze.

For Billy, who knew and understood so well the sweeping wilderness of
silence and mysteries, this swamp held a dread which, try as he
might, he could not analyze.  On one other occasion had he striven to
penetrate it, but as if the bogland recognized in him a force not
easily set aside, it had enwrapped him with its deadly mists which
chilled and weakened, torn his flesh with its razor-edged grass and
sucked at his feet with its oozy, dragging quicksands.  He had turned
back in time.  For two weeks following his exploit he had lain ill
with ague, shivering miserably, silent, but thinking.

And now he was back again; and this time he did not intend to risk
his life in those sucking sands.  From a couple of dead saplings,
with the aid of wild grape-vines, he fashioned a light raft which
would serve as a support in the bog, and carry his weight in the
putrid mire beyond.  Strange sounds came to his ears as he worked his
way across the desolate waste toward the first great pond--scurrying,
rustling sounds of hidden things aroused from their security.  Once a
big grey snake stirred from torpor to lift its head and hiss at him.
Billy lifted it aside with his pole and went on.

Great mosquitoes whined about his head and stung his neck and ears.
Mottled flies bit him and left a burning smart.  The saw-like edges
of the grass cut his hands and strove to trip him as he pushed his
improvised raft forward.  Once his foot slipped on the greasy bog,
and the quicksands all but claimed him.  But he pushed on, reaching
at last the black sullen shallows, putrid and ill-smelling with
decayed growth, and alive with hideous insects.

Great, black leeches clung to the slimy lily-roots; water lizards lay
basking half in and half out of the water, or crept furtively from
under-water grotto to grotto.  And there were other things which
Billy knew were hidden from his sight--things even more loathsome.
For the first time in his life he experienced for Nature a feeling
akin to dread and loathing.  It was like a nightmare to him,
menacing, unreal, freighted with strange horrors.

One thing Billy saw which he could not understand.  The greasy
surface of the shallow pond was never still, but bubbled incessantly
as porridge puffs and bubbles when it boils.  It was as if the slimy
creatures buried in the oozy bottom belched forth their poisonous
breath as they stirred in sleep.

So here lay the reason that the swamp-waters never froze even when
winter locked all other waters fast in its icy clutch!  What caused
those air bubbles, if air bubbles they were?

At last, sick and dizzy, he turned from the place and with raft and
pole fought his way back to the shore.  Never again, he told himself,
would he try to fathom further what lay in Lost Man's Swamp.  Weary
and perspiring, he climbed the wooded upland.  He turned and dipped
into the willows, intending to take the shortest way home through the
hardwoods.  On top of the beech knoll he paused for a moment to let
his eyes rest on the big house in the walnut grove.  In some vague
way his mind connected its owner with that dead waste of stinking
marsh.  Why, he wondered, had Hinter chosen this lonely spot on which
to build his home?  As he turned to strike across the neck of woods
between him and the causeway the man about whom he had just been
thinking stepped out from a clump of hazel-nut bushes directly in his
path.

"Why, hello, Billy," he said pleasantly.  "Out capturing more wild
things for the menagerie?"

Hinter possessed a well modulated voice whose accent bespoke
refinement and education.  He had come into the Settlement about a
year ago from no one knew where, apparently possessed of sufficient
money to do as he pleased.  An aged colored woman kept house for him.
He held aloof from his neighbors, was reticent in manner, but nothing
could be said against him.  He led an exemplary if somewhat secluded
life, gave freely to the church which he never attended, and was
respected by the people of Scotia.  With the children he was a great
favorite.  He was a tall man, gaunt and strong of frame and well past
middle age.  His face was grave and his blue eyes steady.  He was
fond of hunting and usually wore--as he was wearing today--a suit of
corduroys.  He kept a pair of ferocious dogs, why nobody knew, for
they never accompanied him on his hunts.

He smiled now as he noted Billy's quick look of apprehension.

"No, Billy," he assured the boy, "Sphinx and Dexter aren't with me
today, so you have nothing to fear from them.  I doubt if they would
hurt you, anyway," he added.  "You can handle most dogs, I am told."

"I'm not afraid of no dog, Mr. Hinter," said Billy, "but I've been
told your dogs are half wolf.  Is that so?"

Hinter laughed.  "Well, hardly," he returned.  "They are thoroughbred
Great Danes, although Sphinx and Dexter both have wolf natures, I
fear."

"Is that why people don't go near your place, 'cause they're scared
of the dogs?" Billy asked.

Hinter's face grew grave.  "Perhaps," he answered.  "I hope it is."

"Then why don't you get rid of 'em?"

Hinter shook his head.  "Nobody would have them, they're too savage;
and I haven't the heart to make away with them, because they are fond
of me.  I've had those dogs a long time, Billy."

"I understan'," said Billy, sympathetically.

Hinter put his hand in his coat pocket and drew out an ivory
dog-whistle.  "Would you like to know them, Billy?" he asked, his
keen eyes on the boy's face.

"I wouldn't mind," said Billy.

Hinter put the whistle to his lips and sent a warbling call through
the woods.  "Stand perfectly still," he said, as he placed the
whistle back in his pocket.  "I won't let them hurt you.  Here they
come now."

The next instant two great dogs plunged from the thicket, their heavy
jaws open and dripping and their deep eyes searching for their master
and the reason for his call.

Standing with feet planted wide Billy felt his heart beat quickly.
"Easy, Sphinx!" Hinter cried, as the larger of the two sprang toward
the boy.  Immediately the dog sank down, the personification of
submission; but its bloodshot eyes flashed up at Billy and in them
the boy glimpsed a spirit unquelled.

"Be careful, Billy.  Don't touch him!" warned Hinter, but he spoke
too late.  Billy had bent and laid his hand gently on the dog's
quivering back.  The low growl died in the animal's throat.  Slowly
his heavy muzzle was lifted until his nose touched Billy's cheek.
Then his long flail-like tail began to wag.

"Boy, you're a wonder!" Hinter cried.  "But you took a terrible
chance.  Dexter!" he said to the other dog, "don't you want to be
friends with this wild-animal tamer, too?"

Billy, his arm about Sphinx's neck, spoke.  "Come, ol' feller; come
here," he said.

The great dog rose and came slowly across to him.  "Good boy!"  Billy
slapped him roughly on the shoulder, and he whined.

"Well, it's beyond me," confessed Hinter.  "I've heard that you could
handle dogs, young fellow, but I didn't think there was anybody in
the world besides myself who could bring a whimper of gladness from
that pair.  Now then, Dexter!  Sphinx! away home with you."
Obediently the big dogs wheeled back into the thicket.

Billy started to move away.  "I must be gettin' home," he said.  "The
cows'll be waitin' to be watered."

"Well, I'll just walk along with you as far as the Causeway," said
Hinter.  "My saddle-horse has wandered off somewhere.  I have an idea
he made for Ringold's slashing."

He fell in beside Billy, adjusting his stride to the shorter one of
the boy.  In silence they walked until they reached a rise of land
which had been cleared of all varieties of trees except maples.
Sap-suckers twittered as they hung head downward and red squirrels
chattered shrilly.  In a cleared spot in the wood, beside a
spring-fed creek, stood a sugar-shanty, two great cauldrons, upside
down, gleaming like black eyes from its shadowy interior.  A pile of
wooden sap-troughs stood just outside the shanty door.

Billy's eyes brightened as they swept the big sugar-bush.  Many a
spicy spring night had he enjoyed here, "sugarin' off"--he and
Teacher Stanhope.  The brightness faded from his eyes and his lip
quivered.  Never again would the man who was boy-friend to him point
out the frost-cleared stars that swam low down above the maples and
describe to him their wonders.  Those stars were shut out from him
forever, as were the tints of skies and flowers and all glad lights
of the world.

Hinter's voice brought him back to himself.  "He is blind, they tell
me, Billy."

Billy gazed at him wonderingly.  "How did you know I was thinkin' of
_him_?" he asked.

Hinter smiled.  "Never mind," he said gently.  "And how is he
standing it?"

A spasm of pain crossed the boy's face.  "Like a man," he answered
shortly.

Hinter's eyes fell away from that steady gaze.  Billy turned towards
the log-span across the creek, then paused to ask suddenly: "Mr.
Hinter, who owns that Lost Man's Swamp?  Do you?"

The man started.  "No," he answered, "I don't own it exactly, but I
hope to soon.  It is part of the Scroggie property.  I am negotiating
now with Scroggie's heir for it.  It is useless, of course, but I
desire to own it for reasons known only to myself."

"But supposin' ol' Scroggie's lost will comes to light?"

"Then, of course, it will divert to Mr. Stanhope," answered Hinter.
"I must confess," he added, "I doubt very strongly if Mr. Scroggie
ever made a will."

Billy was silent, busy with his own thoughts.  They crossed the
bridge, passed through a beech ridge and descended a mossy slope to
the Causeway fence.  As they sat for a moment's rest on its topmost
rail, Hinter spoke abruptly.  "I saw you fighting your way across the
swamp this afternoon, Billy.  Weren't you taking a useless risk?"

Billy made no reply.

"You are either a very brave boy or a very foolish one," said Hinter.
"Will you tell me what prompted you to dare what no other person in
the Settlement would dare!  Was it simply curiosity?"

"I guess maybe it was," Billy confessed.  "Anyways I've got all I
want of it.  It'll be a long time afore you see me there ag'in."

Hinter's sigh of relief was inaudible to the boy.  "That's a good
resolve," he commended.  "Stick to it; that swamp is a treacherous
place."

"It's awful," said Billy in awed tones.  "I got as far as the first
pond.  It was far enough for me."

"You got as far as the pond!" Hinter cried in wonder.  The eyes
turned on Billy's face were searching.  "And you found only a long
shallow of stagnant, stinking water, I'll be bound," he laughed,
uneasily.

"I found--" Billy commenced, his mind flashing back to the bubbling
geysers of the pond--then chancing to catch the expression in
Hinter's face he finished, "jest what you said, a big pond of
stinkin' dead water, crawlin' with all kinds of blood-suckers an'
things."

He leaped from the fence.  "Good bye," he called back over his
shoulder.  "I hear old Cherry bawlin' fer her drink."

Hinter was still seated on the fence when Billy turned the curve in
the road.  "I wonder what he wants of Lost Man's Swamp," mused the
boy.  "An' I wonder what he's scared somebody'll find there?"



CHAPTER XI

EDUCATING THE NEW BOY

As Billy rounded a curve in the road he met the cattle.  Anson was
driving them.  "You needn't mind turnin' back, Bill," he said.  "I
don't mind waterin' 'em fer you."

Billy whistled.  "Gosh! you're gettin' kind all at once, Anse," he
exclaimed.

"I don't mind doin' it," Anse repeated.  He kept his face averted.
Billy, scenting mystery, walked over to him and swung him about.
Anson's lip was swollen and one eye was partly closed and his
freckled face bore the marks of recent conflict.

"Gee whitticker!" gasped Billy, "you must been havin' an argument
with a mule.  Who give you that black eye an' split lip, Anse?"

His brother hung his head.  "You needn't go to rubbin' it in," he
whined; "I didn't have no chance with him.  He piled on me from
behind, when I wasn't lookin'."

"Who piled on you from behind?"

"That new boy; his name's Jim Scroggie.  His dad's rented the Stanley
house on the hill."

"Likely story that about his pilin' on you from behind," scoffed
Billy.  "You met him on the path an' tried to get gay with him, more
like, an' he pasted you a few.  You shouldn't hunt trouble, Anse; you
can't fight, an' you know it.  What's this new boy like?" he asked
curiously.

"Oh, you'll find that out soon enough," promised Anson.  "He told me
to tell you that he would do the same thing to you first chance he
got."

"Oh, no, he didn't neither," laughed Billy.  "He can't be that
foolish."

"You wait till you size him up," said Anson.  "He's taller'n you are
an' heavier, too.  Oh, you'll have your hands full when he tackles
you, Mister Scrapper-Bill."

Billy pinched off a fox-tail stock and chewed it thoughtfully.
"Maybe," he said, cheerfully.  "He certainly tapped you some, but
then you're always huntin' trouble, an' it serves you right."

"Listen to me!" Anson cried.  "He made all the trouble, I tell you.
All I did was tell him not to throw clubs at Ringdo--"

"What!  Was he throwin' clubs at my coon?" Billy shouted.

"You bet he was.  Had Ringdo up a tree an' was doin' his best to
knock him out."

Billy spit out the fox-tail.  "Where's this feller Scroggie now?" he
asked, in a business-like tone.

"I dunno.  I s'pose he's prowlin' 'round the beech grove, up there.
He said he intended lickin' every boy in this settlement on sight.
You best not go lookin' fer him, Bill.  I don't want'a see you get
beat up on my account."

"Well you needn't worry; if I get beat up it won't be on your
account, I kin tell you that.  I don't aim to let anybody throw clubs
at my pets, though.  You drive the cattle on down; I'm goin' up to
the grove."

A gleam of satisfaction lit Anson's shifty eyes.  "All right," he
said shortly, and went off after the herd.

Billy climbed the rail fence and crossed the basswood swale to the
highland.  He approached the beech grove cautiously and peered about
him.  Seated on a log at the lower end of a grassy glade was a boy
about his own age, a boy with round, bullet head poised on a thick
neck set between square shoulders.

Billy, taking his measure with one fleeting glance, stepped out from
the trees.  Simultaneously the strange boy rose slowly, head lowered,
fists clenched.  There was nothing antagonistic in Billy's attitude
as he surveyed the new boy with serious grey eyes.  That expression
had fooled more than one competitor in fistic combat, and it fooled
Jim Scroggie now.  "He's scared stiff," was the new boy's thought, as
he swaggered forward to where Billy stood.

"I've been waitin' for you and now I'm goin' to lick you," he said.

Billy eyed him appraisingly.  He did look like a tough proposition,
no doubt about that.  His face was round, flat, small-featured.
"That face'll stand a lot of pummelin'," Billy told himself, and as
he noted the heavy chin, thrust antagonistically forward, "no use
bruisin' my knuckles on that," he decided.

"You heard what I said, didn't you?" growled the challenger.  "I'm
goin' to lick you."

Billy grinned.  He had caught the gasp at the end of the speaker's
words; _now_ he knew where lay the stranger's weak spot--_his wind_!

"But I ain't wantin' to fight," Billy returned gently.

"Why? scared?"

"Nice boys don't fight."  Billy shifted his feet uneasily, the
movement bringing him a step or two closer to the other.

"Bah! mommie's baby boy won't fight?" taunted the eager one.  "But by
gollies!  I'm goin' to make you," he added, scowling fiercely.

Billy wanted to laugh, but he was too good a ring-general to give way
to his feelings.  Instead, he shifted his feet again, thereby getting
within reaching distance of the one so anxious for battle.

"Now, then," declared Scroggie, tossing his hat on the sward and
drying his moist palms on his trouser-legs, "I'm goin' to black your
eyes and pummel the nose off your face."

The last word was drowned in a resounding "smack."  Billy had
delivered one of his lightning, straight-arm punches fair on the
sneering lips of the new boy.  Scroggie staggered back, recovered his
balance, and threw himself on the defensive in time to block Billy's
well-aimed right to the neck.

"So that's your game, is it?" he grunted.  "Here's a new one for you
then."  That "new one" was a veritable "hay-maker."  Had it landed
where it was intended to land the fight must have ended then and
there.  But it didn't.  Billy saw it coming and ducked.

Scroggie rushed, managing to get in a stiff jab to Billy's body and
receiving in return one which promptly closed one of his small
optics.  He struck out wildly, but Billy was prancing six feet away.
Scroggie's swollen and bleeding mouth twisted in a grin.  "Oh, I'll
get you," he promised.  "Stall if you want'a, it's all one to me.
You won't find me sleepin' again, I promise you."

Billy advanced in a crouching attitude.  His eyes were on Scroggie's
uninjured eye and Scroggie, now grown wary, read that look as Billy
intended he should.  Older fighters have made the same mistake that
Scroggie made.  As Billy leaped in Scroggie raised his guard to his
face and Billy's right and left thudded home to the flabby stomach of
his adversary.

With a gasp Scroggie went to earth, where he lay writhing.  After a
time he struggled to a sitting posture.

"Got enough?" asked Billy pleasantly.

The vanquished one nodded.  He had not as yet recovered his breath
sufficiently to speak.  When at last he was able to draw a full
breath, he said: "Say, you trimmed me all right, all right."

Billy grinned.

"Who are you, anyway?" asked Scroggie as he got groggily to his feet.

"I'm the feller that owns the coon you tried to club to death," Billy
answered.

Scroggie's mouth fell open in surprise.  "I didn't try to kill any
coon," he denied.  "I saw one but it wasn't me that clubbed it; it
was a tall, sandy-haired feller with a squint eye.  I asked him what
he was tryin' to do and he told me to dry up and mind my own
business.  I had to give him a lickin'.  He went off blubberin'; said
if I wasn't too seared to stick around he'd send a feller over who
would fix me.  So I stayed."

"I wish you had licked him harder 'n you did," frowned Billy.

"Know him?"

"Well, I do--an' I don't.  He's my half-brother an' a sneak if ever
there was one.  He lied about you to me--so's I'd fight you."

"And what's your name?"

"Billy Wilson."

Scroggie stared.  "I've heard of you," he said, "an' the feller who
told me you could lick your weight in wildcats wasn't far wrong.  You
had me fooled, though," he laughed.  "I swallowed what you said about
nice boys not fightin', swallowed it whole.  Oh, Moses!"

Billy sat down on a stump.  "I don't bear no grudge, do you?" he
asked.

"No, I'm willin' to shake."  Scroggie extended his hand.

"Your name's Scroggie, ain't it?" Billy asked.

"Yep, Jim Scroggie."

"Your Dad's goin' to cut down the Scroggie woods, I hear?"

"Yep, if he can get his price for the timber."

Billy sat looking away.  His grey eyes had grown somber.  "See here,"
he said suddenly, "do you know that old man Scroggie left a will?"

"Dad says not," the other boy replied.

"Well, then, he did; an' in that will he left his woods an' money to
Mr. Stanhope, my teacher."

"If that's so, Dad has no right to that woods," said Jim.

"But supposin' the will can't be found?"  Billy looked the other boy
in the face and waited for the answer.

"Why, I can't see that that ought'a make any difference," Scroggie
replied.  "If you folks down here know that Uncle left his money and
place to your teacher, that ought'a be enough for Dad."

"Of course the timber's worth a lot," sparred Billy.

"But Dad don't need it," Jim declared.  "He's rich now."

"He is?"  Billy respected the new boy for the nonchalance of his
tones.  Riches hadn't made him stuck up, at any rate.

"Yep," went on Scroggie, "Dad owns some big oil wells in the States.
He ain't got any business down here anyways, but he's so pig-headed
you can't tell him anythin'; I'll say that much, even if he is my
father.  It's bad enough for him to lug me away from town, but he
made Lou come along, too."

"Lou?"

"She's my sister," Jim explained proudly.  "She's a year younger'n
me.  Dad says she looks just like Mother looked.  I guess that's the
reason she kin do most anythin' she likes with him.  But she couldn't
get him to let her stay in Cleveland.  He brought her along and Aunt
too.  Aunt keeps house for us."

"I guess your Dad don't think much of us folks down here, does he?"
Billy asked.

Scroggie chuckled.  "Dad ain't got any use for anybody, much," he
answered.  "I never heard him say anythin' about any of the people of
the Settlement but once, and that was just t'other night.  He come
home lookin' as if somebody had pushed his head into a crate of eggs.
I was too scared to ask him how it happened and Lou wouldn't.  Dad
said the people 'round here are a bad lot and it wouldn't surprise
him if they tried to kill him."

Billy threw back his head and laughed, the first hearty laugh he had
known for days.  Scroggie, in spite of the pain his swollen lips
caused him, laughed too.

"Say," he remarked, hesitatingly, "you got a great laugh, Billy."

"Oh I don't know," Billy replied.  "What makes you think so, Jim?"
Scroggie sat down beside him on the log.  "I had a chum in the city
who laughed just like you do.  Gosh, nobody'll know how much I miss
him."

"Dead?"

Scroggie nodded.  "Drowned through an air-hole in the lake.  Say,
Billy, do you skate?"

"Some."

"Swim?"

"A little."

"Shoot?"

Billy scratched his head reflectively.  "Not much, any more," he
said.  "Course I like duck-shootin', an' do quite a lot of it in the
fall."

"How 'bout quail?"

"I don't shoot quail any more," Billy answered.  "I've got to know
'em too well, I guess.  You see," in answer to the other boy's look
of surprise, "when a feller gets to know what chummy, friendly little
beggars they are, he don't feel like shootin' 'em."

"But they're wild, ain't they and they're game birds?"

"They're wild if you make 'em wild, but if they get to know that you
like 'em an' won't hurt 'em, they get real tame.  I've got one flock
I call my own.  I fed 'em last winter when the snow was so deep they
couldn't pick up a livin'.  They used to come right into our
barn-yard for the tailin's I throwed out to 'em."

"What's tailin's?"

"It's the chaff and small wheat the fannin' mill blows out from the
good grain.  Pa lets me have it fer my wild birds.  I've got some
partridge up on the hickory knoll, too.  They're shyer than the
quail, but I've got 'em so tame I kin call 'em and make 'em come to
me."

"You kin?" Jim exclaimed.  "Well, I'll be razzle-dazzled!"

"So, I don't shoot partridge neither," said Billy.  "I don't blame
anybody else fer shootin' 'em, remember, but somehow, I'd rather
leave 'em alive."

"I see," said Scroggie.  Of course he didn't, but he wanted to make
Billy feel that he did.

"Well you do more than most people, then," said Billy.  "The folks
'round here think I'm crazy, I guess, an' Joe Scraff--he's got an
English setter dog an' shoots a lot; he told me that if he happened
onto my quail an' partridge he'd bag as many of 'em as he could.  I
told him that if he shot my birds, he'd better watch out fer his
white Leghorn chickens but he laughed at me."

"And did he shoot your quail?" asked Scroggie.

Billy nodded.  "Once.  Flushed 'em at the top of the knoll and winged
one bird.  The rest of the covey flew into our barn-yard an' 'course
he couldn't foller 'em in there."

"Gillies!  Did you see him?"

"No, me an' Pa an' Anse was down at the back end of the place.  Ma
saw him, though, an' she told me all about it.  Say, maybe I wasn't
mad, but I got even, all right."

"Did you?  How?"

Billy looked searchingly at his new friend.  "I never told a soul how
I did it, 'cept my chum, Maurice Keeler," he said.  "But I'll tell
you.  That same evenin' I was prowlin' through the slashin' lookin'
fer white grubs fer bass-bait.  I found a big rotten stump, so I
pushed it over, an' right down under the roots I found an old weasel
an' six half-grown kittens.  Afore she could get over her surprise, I
had her an' her family in the tin pail I had with me, an' the cover
on.  By rights I should'a killed the whole caboodle of 'em, I s'pose,
'cause they're mighty hard on the birds; but I had work fer 'em to do.

"That night I took them weasels over to Scraff's an' turned 'em loose
under his barn.  I knowed mighty well ma weasel would stay where it
was dark an' safe and the chicken smell was so strong.  Couple of
days after that Scraff come over to our place to borrow some rat
traps.  His face was so long he was fair steppin' on his lower lip.
He said weasels had been slaughterin' his Leghorns, right an' left;
six first night an' nine the next.

"'I hope they won't get among my quail,' I says, an' Scraff he turned
round an' looked at me mighty hard, but he didn't say nuthin'.  He
went away, grumblin', an' carryin' six of Dad's traps.  Course I
knowed he couldn't catch a weasel in a trap in twenty years an' he
didn't catch any either.  Ma weasel killed some more of his Leghorns,
an' then Scraff he comes to me.  'Billy,' he says, 'is there any way
to get rid of weasels?'  'Sure there's a way,' I says, 'but not
everybody knows it.'

"'I'll give you five dollars if you'll catch them weasels that are
killin' my chickens,' he says.

"'If you'll promise me you'll stay away from my quail an' partridge
I'll catch 'em fer nuthin,' I told him.  'Only,' I says, 'remember, I
do what I please with 'em, after I get 'em.'  He looked at me as
though he'd like to choke me, but he said all right, he'd leave my
birds alone.

"That night Maurice Keeler an' me went over to Gamble's an' borrowed
his old ferret.  He's a big ferret an' he'll tackle anythin', even a
skunk.  With some keg-hoops an' a canvas sack we had made what we
needed to catch the weasels in.  Then we put a muzzle on the ferret,
so he couldn't fang-cut the weasels, an' we went over to Scraff's.
As soon as Joe Scraff saw the ferret he began to see light an' turned
into the house to get his shotgun.  I told him to remember his
promise to let me get the weasels alive, so he set on the fence an'
watched while we got busy.

"First off we plugged every hole under that barn but two, an' at each
of these two we set a hoop-net.  Then we turned ol' Lucifer, the
ferret, loose under the barn.  Holy Smoke! afore we knowed it there
was high jinks goin' on tinder there.  Maurice had hold of one hoop
an' me the other.  It took ma weasel an' her boys an' girls 'bout
half a minute to make up their minds that ol' Lucifer wasn't payin'
'em a friendly visit.  When the big scramble was over, I had a bagful
of weasels an' so did Maurice.  We let Lucifer prowl round a little
longer to make sure we had all of 'em, then I called him out.  I made
Scraff give us one of his hens to feed the ferret on.  Then Maurice
an' me started off.

"'You think you got all of 'em, Bill?" Scraff called.

"'All this time,' I says, an' to save my life I couldn't help
laughin' at the look on his face.  He knowed right then that I had
put up a job on him but he couldn't figure out how."

"Oh Hully Gee!" yelled Jim Scroggie, "Wasn't that corkin'--Oh Mommer!
An' what did you an' Maurice do with the weasels?"

Billy grinned sheepishly.  "We should'a killed 'em, I s'pose," he
said, "but we took 'em down to the marsh an' turned 'em loose there.
Maurice said that anythin' that had done the good work them weasels
had, deserved life, an' I thought so too."

The twilight shadows were beginning to steal across the glade; the
golden-rod of the uplands massed into indistinguishable clumps.  The
silence of eventide fell soft and sweet and songless--that breathless
space between the forest day and darkness.

Billy stood up.  "You'll like it here," he said to the other boy who
was watching him, a strange wonder in his eyes.  "After you know it
better," he added.

"I'm afraid I don't fit very well yet," Scroggie answered.  "Maybe
you'll let me trail along with you sometimes, Bill, and learn things?"

"We'll see," said Billy and without another word turned to the dim
pathway among the trees.



CHAPTER XII

OLD HARRY MAKES A FIND

Through the dusky twilight, soft with woodland dews and sweet with
odor of ferns and wild flowers, Billy walked slowly.  For the first
time in long days his heart felt at peace.  The canker of loneliness
that had gnawed at his spirit was there no longer.  It was a pretty
good old world after all.

A whip-poor-will lilted its low call from a hazel copse and Billy
answered it.  A feeling that he wanted to visit his wild things in
the upland shanty and explain to them his seeming neglect of them
during his time of stress took possession of him.  So, although he
knew supper would be ready and waiting at home, he branched off where
the path forked and hurried forward toward the oak ridge.

It was almost dark when he reached the little log sugar-shanty which
housed his pets.  He had hidden a lantern in a hollow log against
such night visits as this and he paused to draw it out and light it
before proceeding to the menagerie.  As he rounded the shanty,
whistling softly, and anticipating how glad Spotba, Moper, the owl,
and all the other wild inmates would be to see him, he paused
suddenly, and the whistle died on his lips.  Somebody had been
snooping about his menagerie!  The prop had been taken from the door.

His mind traveled at once to Anse.  So that meddler had been here and
tried to let his pets free, had he?  Apparently the chump didn't know
they each had a separate cage, or if he did he hadn't the nerve to
open it.  Well, it meant that Anse had that much more to settle for
with him, that was all!

Billy put his hand on the latch of the door, then stood, frozen into
inaction.  From the interior of the shanty had come a groan--a human
groan!  Billy almost dropped the lantern.  A cold shiver ran down his
spine.  His mind flashed to Old Scroggie's ghost.  The hand that
groped into his pocket in search of the rabbit-foot charm trembled so
it could scarcely clasp that cherished object.

What would Trigger Finger do if placed in his position?  Billy asked
himself.  There was only one answer to that.  He took a long breath
and, picking up a heavy club, swung the door open.  The feeble rays
of the lantern probed the gloom and something animate, between the
cages, stirred and sat up.

"Harry!" gasped Billy, "Harry O'Dule!"

"Ha," cried a quavering voice, "and is ut the Prince av Darkness,
himself, as spakes t' me?  Thin it's no fit av the delirium tremens
I've had at all, at all, but dead I am and in purgatory!  Oh weary
me, oh weary me!  Such shnakes and evil eyed burruds have I never
seen before.  Och!  could I be given wan taste av God's blissid air
and sunshine ag'in, and never more would whiskey pass me lips."

Spotba, the big mottled marsh snake, sensing Billy's presence,
uncoiled himself and raised his head along the screen of his cage;
the brown owl hooted a low welcome that died in a hiss as Harry
groaned again.

"Merciful hivin! look at the eyes av that awful burrud," he wailed.
"And that big shnake hissin' his poison in me very face.  Take me
along, Divil, take me along," he screamed.  "It's no more av this I
kin stand at all, at all."

Billy hung the lantern on the door and bent above the grovelling
Harry.  "Hey you," he said, giving the old man's shoulder a shake,
"get up an' come out'a here; I'm not the devil, I'm Billy."

"Billy," Harry held his breath and blinked his red-rimmed eyes in
unbelief.  "Billy, ye say?"  He got up with Billy's help and stood
swaying unsteadily.

"You're drunk again!" said the boy, in deep disgust.

Harry wiped his lips on his sleeve and stood gazing fearfully about
him.  "Do you see the shnakes and the evil-eyed burruds, Billy Bye?"
he shuddered.  "It's see 'em ye shurely can and hear their divil
hisses."  His fingers gripped the boy's arm.

Billy shook him off.  "Look here, Harry," he said, "You're seein'
things.  There ain't no snakes in here--no birds neither.  You come
along outside with me."  He grasped the Irishman by the arm and
started toward the door.

"Me jug," whispered Harry.  "Where is that divil's halter av a jug,
Billy?"

"There's your jug on its side," Billy touched the jug with his foot.
"You must've drunk it empty, Harry."

"Faith, an' I did not.  But ut's all the same, impty or full.  Niver
ag'in will ut lead me into delirium tremens, I promise ye that,
although it's meself that knows where there's a plinty of whisky, so
I do."

Billy led him outside and turned the light of the lantern full on his
face.  "Harry," he said, sternly, "where are you gettin' all this
whisky?"

The old man started.  "That's me own business," he answered shortly.

"Oh."  Billy took hold of his arm, "Then them snakes an' man-eatin'
birds you've been seein' are your own business, too; an' since you've
been ninny enough to stray into this shanty, I'm goin' to put you
back in it an' see that you stay in it."

"And fer God's sake, why?" gasped the frightened O'Dule.

"That's my business," said Billy.

Harry glanced behind him with a shudder.  "God love you fer a good
lad, Billy," he cried; "but this is no way to trate an ould frind, is
ut now?"

"Then you best tell me where you're gettin' the whisky," said Billy.

"But that's shure the ould man's secret, Billy," pleaded Harry.
"It's not a foine chap as ye are would be wheedlin' it out av me,
now?"

Billy frowned.  "I know that Spencer won't give you any more whisky,"
he said, "an' I know the deacon won't give you any more cider.  I
know that you've gettin' liquor some place--an' without payin' fer
it.  Now you kin tell me where, er you kin stay in that shanty an'
see snakes an' things all night."

Harry wavered.  "And if I be tellin' ye," he compromised, "ye'll be
givin' a promise not to pass it along, thin?  Wull ye now?"

"Yes I promise not to tell anybody but Maurice?"

"Then I'll be tellin' ye where I do be gettin' the whisky, Billy;
_where else but in the ha'nted house_."

"What?"  Billy could scarcely believe his ears.

"May I niver glimpse the blissid blue av Ireland's skies ag'in, if I
spake a lie," said Harry, earnestly.  "In the ha'nted house I found
ut, Billy.  Wait now, and I tell ye how ut so happened.  Ye'll be
rememberin' that night we tried to wait fer ould Scroggie's ghost an'
the terrible storm come on and split us asunder wid a flash av blue
lightnin'?  I was crossin' meself in thankfulness that ut found the
big elm instead av me, I was, whin I dropped me fairy charm, d'ye
moind?  Stay and seek fer ut I would not, wid all the powers av
darkness conspirin' wid ould Scroggie ag'in me.  Ut's fly I did on
the wings av terror to me own cabin, an' covered up me head wid the
bed-quilt, I did."

"Well, go on.  What's all this got to do with whisky?"

"Jest you wait a bit and you'll find that out.  Nixt day I go down
there ag'in to look fer me charm, but find ut I did not.  Then wid me
little jug in me hand and me whistle in me bosom, did I strike across
woods to the Twin Oaks store, there to learn av the robbery.  A
little bit av drink did I get from Spencer, an' takin' ut home was I
when an accident I had, an' spilled ut.  Well, ut was afther several
days av hard toil, wid not so much as a drop left in me little jug,
that one mornin' as I was cuttin' through the lower valley fer
Thompson's tater-patch, that come to me ut did I'd search a bit fer
me lost charm ag'in.

"Ut was while pokin' about I was among the twigs on the ground,
whisperin' a bit av witch-talk that belongs to me charm, that I
discovered human foot-prints in the earth av the hollow.  This I
would not have thought strange a'tall a'tall, but the foot prints led
right into the ha'nted grove.  'Begobs,' thinks I, 'no ghost iver
wore boots the size av them now!'  On me hands and knees I crawled
forrard an' right in the edge av the grove I glimpsed somethin', I
did, beneath the ferns, somethin' that sparkled in the mornin' light
like a bit av star-dust on the edge av a cloud.  Thinkin' only av me
blessid charm, I crawled further in, and phwat do you suppose I
picked up, Billy Bye?  A bottle ut was, an' almost full av prime
liquor.

"Sit I there, wid God's sunlight caressin' me bare head and his
burruds trillin' their joy at me good luck--and dhrink I did.  It's a
mercy ut was but a small bottle, else I might have taken it back to
me cabin to be finished at leisure.  Instead, whin ut was all dhrunk
up, I found widin me the courage to proceed further into the ha'nted
grove.  So I goes, an' afore I knew ut, right up to the ha'nted house
I was, and inside ut."

Harry paused and sat looking away, a reminiscent smile on his face.

"What did you find there?"  Billy's tone of impatience brought the
old man out of his musing.

"Whisky," he answered solemnly, "two great jugs full avut, Billy Bye."

"And what else?"

"Nothin' else," returned Harry.  "Nuthin' else that mattered, Bye.  A
square box there was that I had no time to open a'tall; but whisky!
Oh, Billy Bye--there ut was afore me, enough av ut to coax all the
blood-suckin' bats and snakes in hades up to mock the consumer av ut."

Billy reached down and gripped the old man's arm.  "You found that
stuff and didn't so much as tell Spencer?" he cried indignantly.

"And fer why should I tell Spencer, thin?" Harry asked, his
blood-shot eyes wide in wonder.  "Nobuddy told me where to find ut,
did they?"

"But Harry, don't you see, that stuff belongs to Caleb Spencer.  The
thieves must have hid it there, in the ha'nted house."

"Course they did," Harry agreed.  "Ut's no fool you take me fer,
shurely?"

"Then why didn't you tell Spencer?  Don't you know them thieves will
find out you've been there an' they'll hide that stuff in a new
place, Harry?"

The old man laughed softly.  "Wull they now?  Well I guess they won't
neither.  It's hide ut in a new place I did, meself.  They'll have a
lot av trouble afindin' ut, too."

"Then," cried Billy, hotly, "you're as big a thief as they are."

"Hould on now!"  Harry swayed up from the log, the grin gone from his
face.  "Ut's little did I think that Billy Wilson would be
misunderstandin' me," he said, reproachfully.  "Not wan article that
the box contained has been teched by me.  A small bit av the whisky
have I took, because it was no more than sufficient reward fer me
findin' the stuff, but the box is safe and safe ut wull be returned
to Spencer whin the proper time comes."

"An' when'll that be, Harry?"

"Listen thin."  Harry touched Billy's arm.  "Ivery day since I made
me discovery an' hid box and jugs in a new spot have I visited that
sour-faced ould Spencer, and I've said: 'Supposin' one should
discover your stolen goods, Caleb Spencer, would ye be willin' t' let
what little whisky there was left go to the finder?"

"An' phwat has he said?  'Some av ut,' said he, when first I broached
the question.  And the nixt time I axed him he said.  'Half av ut.'
Nixt time--only yesterday ut was--he said, 'Harry, I'd be givin'
two-thirds av ut to the finder.'"

Harry laughed and again touched Billy's arm.  "To-night ut's go back
to him I wull an' the question put to him once more, an' this night,
plase God, he wull likely say, 'All av ut, Harry, all av ut.'"

Billy, who was thinking hard, looked up at this.  "But," he said
sternly, "you said, only a few minutes ago, that you were done
forever with whisky."

"And begobs I meant ut too," cried Harry.  "When Caleb Spencer says,
'All av ut' to me, ut's laugh at him I wull, and tell him it's meself
wants none av ut."

Billy's frown vanished.  "Fine, Harry, fine," he commended, "an' I'll
go down to the store with you.  Come up to the house, now, and I'll
manage to sneak you out some supper."

"Plase God," murmured Harry, "but ut's meself 'll be glad to lave
this awful spot; lead on, Billy."

"Foller me then, an' remember to keep quiet," cautioned Billy.

"But fer why should I keep quiet?  Haven't I thrown off the curse av
rum!  Why should I not shout the cry av victory, Billy?

"Shout nuthin'; you keep still."

"But a small bit av a chune, Billy.  A bit av a lilt on me whistle,
now."

"No.  After I've got hold of our supper you kin lilt all you care to.
Look here, Harry, you know jest how much use Ma has fer you; if she
finds out you're on our place, she'll sick the dog on you.  Now you
do as I say."

He took the path through the trees, Harry stumbling close behind,
grumbling and protesting against the unkind fate that would not allow
of his celebrating victory in a manner befitting a true son of
Ireland.  When, at length, they reached the edge of the wood, Billy
stopped and pointed to a stump.

"Set down there an' keep still as a mouse till I get back," he
admonished.  "I won't be long."

"But, Billy Bye, supposin' the cold-eyed burruds an' the hissin'
serpents should be returnin' to threaten me wance ag'in?"

Billy's hand went down into his trouser's pocket.  "Look," he
comforted, "I've got my rabbit-foot charm, an' I'm goin' to draw a
magic circle 'round the stump you're settin' on.  No snakes, owl, ner
even old Scroggie's ghost kin get inside that circle."

Harry held his breath and watched him, fascinated, as he proceeded to
trace the ring.

"Fer the love av hivin, be sure ye make both inds av the circle
jine," he shivered.  "Ut's a small crack a ghost kin squeeze through,
I'm tellin' ye."

"There you are, Harry."  Billy, having completed the magic circle,
stood up and put the charm back in his pocket.  "Not a chink in it,"
he assured the old man.

"Faith," sighed Harry, "ut's meself is willin' to be riskin' a little
in return fer a bite to eat, fer it's fastin' long I've been an' as
impty as a church, I am."

"We'll fix that," Billy promised, as he slipped away through the
darkness toward the light which glimmered through the trees.



CHAPTER XIII

ERIE OF THE LIGHT-HOUSE

Through the summer night, Hinter, astride a rangy roan, rode the ten
mile trail that lay between the foot of Rond Eau and the light-house.
On his left the giant pines stood with sharp points clearly defined
against the starlight like the bayonet-fixed guns of a sleeping army;
to his right swept dwarf cedars and stunted oaks and beyond them the
bay marshes, with weaving fire-flies shimmering like star-dust close
above them.

It was a lonely trail but Hinter had ridden it often.  He knew that
in the shadows lurked wild things which resented his intrusion of
their retreat; that later, when the night grew old, timber-wolves
would voice their protest, and fierce-eyed lynx, tufted ears flat and
fangs bared in hatred, would look down upon him from overhanging
branch of tree.  But behind him stalked protection in the form of two
great dogs against which no wolf or cat had ever waged successful
warfare.  Besides, there was the heavy "40-40" revolver in his belt.

"Two Great Danes and a 'bull-dog' should be protection enough for any
man," he would laugh to Landon, the light-house keeper, when the
latter shook his head doubtfully over Hinter's foolhardiness in
riding this lone night trail.  And Landon, whose asthma made talking
difficult for him, would say no more, realizing that it was useless.

The light-house keeper, who lived with his daughter in a comfortable
house on the extreme end of the Point, had always been glad to
welcome Hinter to his isolated loneliness.  With an invalid's
self-centeredness, he believed that it was to relieve the monotony of
his existence that this man paid him periodical visits.  He did not
dream that his daughter, Erie, named after the lake, whose blue lay
deep in her eyes and whose moods were of herself a part, was the real
attraction which drew Hinter to their home.  Indeed it would have
taken a much more astute observer than the man who had been keeper of
the light for more than thirty years to have observed this.  Never by
look, word or sign had Hinter shown that in this slender,
golden-haired girl, whose laughter was the sweetest note in the
world--this girl who could trim a sail in biting gale and swim the
wide, deep channel when tempest angered it to clutching
under-currents--was more to him than just a glad, natural product of
her world.  Always his manner towards her had been one of kindly
respect.  In time she grew ashamed of the distrust she had on first
acquaintance intuitively felt for him.  He was good to her father and
considerate of her.  He talked interestingly of the big outside world
and described the cities he had visited.  Her father liked him and
always looked forward to his visits, and with a sick man's petulance
grumbled if Hinter failed to come on his regular nights.

"He's a fine man, Erie," he would say to is daughter, "and well off,
too.  I'd like to see you married to a man like Hinter before I go.
Ever since your Ma died, I've been worried about leavin' you behind."

"But I am going to marry Frank, Daddy," the girl would say softly.

"Hey?  Oh, all right, all right.  Stanhope's a fine youngster, but
poor, poor."

He would lapse into silence, sucking his pipe, and watching Erie
putting away the supper-dishes.

"He'll never find the Scroggie will," he would speak again.  "He'll
always be poor."

"But, Daddy," the girl would laugh, "we love each other.  We are
happy and real happiness is worth more than money, isn't it, dear?"

"Aye," he would answer.  "Your mother and I were happy in that way.
But she was taken away and all I had in her place was heart
loneliness--but for you."  Then she would kiss him softly and,
stealing about her household tasks, sing him to fitful sleep as she
moved quietly about the room.

Tonight as Hinter rode through the pine-scented gloom the light-house
keeper sat in his big chair beside the window that looked upon the
lake.  Spent from a trying fit of coughing, his nerves crying for the
rest which was denied him, the sick man had gazed across to where the
shuttle of sunset was weaving its fabric of changing colors upon sky
and water.  But he had not seen those glad lights; had not heard the
cries of the haven-seeking gulls or the soft plaintive notes of the
night birds from the Point forest.  The lights had flashed and
departed unseen, the wild calls had been voiced and sunk to silence
unheard, because a tenderer light, which had belonged to this, his
own hour, had vanished; a sweeter song than even night birds could
voice had been stilled--the light in his Erie's eyes and the low
notes from her glad heart.

He knew why.  She had told him.  God, Destiny, Fate, had come between
her and the man she loved.  The man had lost more than life in
playing the part of a man.  He was blind!  Behind him were only
memories that could not be buried.  Before him only darkness,
bleakness, despair.  And he had done an heroic thing in giving her
up.  Helpless, powerless to support her, what else was there for him
to do?  So, in his love for her, he had dug a grave and in it buried
Hope and all that God in His wise ordinance had allowed him to live
and feel.  And they had kissed and parted, kneeling beside this
grave, cold lips to cold lips, broken heart to broken heart.  It was
the kiss on the cross which each must carry.

So much had she told him, and the light had gone from her eyes, the
song from her lips.

The sick man sank lower in his chair, his face working, his heart
crying the same pleading cry as cried the heart of Rachel of old for
her children--a cry understood only by the heart in which it was
born--and God.

And so Hinter found him there before the window in the gloom, his
thin hands clutching the arms of his chair, his white face sunk on
his breast.  "Landon, old friend, asleep?" he asked softly.  No
answer.  Hinter struck a match and lit the lamp on the table.  Then
he touched the sleeper's arm; still he did not stir.

Alarmed, Hinter drew the big chair about so that the light would fall
on the sick man's face.  Slowly Landon opened his eyes.  He struggled
erect and attempted to speak, but a fit of coughing assailed him and
robbed him of breath.

From his pocket Hinter drew a flat bottle and poured a portion of its
contents into a glass.  Gently raising the emaciated form to a more
comfortable position, he held the glass to the blue lips.  Under the
stimulant of the brandy Landon rallied.

"Thanks," he whispered.  Then, hospitality his first thought, he
motioned towards a chair.  Hinter sat down.

"Worse than usual tonight, isn't it?" he asked in kindly tones.

"Yes, asthma's that way--eases off--then comes back--hits you
sudden."  He glanced at the bottle.  Hinter, understanding, poured
him out another portion.

"It seems to be the only thing that helps," gasped Landon as he
swallowed the draught.

Hinter nodded.  "Not a bad medicine if rightly used," he said.  He
filled his pipe, lit it, and passed the tobacco-pouch to Landon.  He
was watching the door leading to the inner room.

"Erie out in her boat?" he asked, casually.  "I don't hear her voice,
or her whistle."

"She's out on the bay," answered the father and lapsed again into
brooding silence.

Hinter waited.  At length Landon roused from his musings.  "My
heart's heavy for her," he said, "and heavy for the young man who
loves her.  You've heard, of course.  News of the like spreads
quickly."

"Yes, I've heard."  Hinter rose abruptly and strode to the window
overlooking the bay.  A full moon was lifting above the pines.  In
its silvery track a tiny sail was beating harborward.

After a time he turned and walked back slowly to where the sick man
sat.  "Mr. Landon," he said, gravely, "I love your daughter.  With
your permission I would make her my wife.  Wait," as the older man
attempted to speak.  "Hear what I have to say.  I have endeavored to
be honorable.  Never by word or look have I given her to understand
what my feelings are toward her.  For Stanhope, the man who was brave
and strong enough to give her up, I have always had the deepest
respect; and now, knowing the price he has paid, I honor him.  He was
far more worthy of your daughter than I am.  But now, as all is over
between them, I would do my best to make her happy."

"That I know well," spoke the father eagerly.  "Ever since my clutch
on life has been weakenin' I've worried at the thought that perhaps I
may leave her unprovided for.  You have lifted the load, my friend.
I will speak to Erie and place your proposal of marriage before her.
She's a good girl; she'll be guided by her father in the matter."

Hinter gravely thanked him.  "I would advise that you say nothing for
a time," he said.  "She is high-spirited, loyal to the core.  She is
suffering.  Time will assist us; we will wait.  I shall visit you
oftener than heretofore, but until I think the moment expedient say
nothing to her."

A light step sounded on the gravel; the door opened and Erie entered.
She was dressed in white.  The damp bay-breeze had kissed the golden
hair to shimmering life but there were shadows beneath the violet
eyes, a dreary pathos about the unsmiling mouth.

She placed a cold little hand in the eager one which Hinter extended
to her and her fleeting glance left him to fasten on the sick man in
the arm chair.

"Daddy," she cried, running over to kneel beside him.  "It was
selfish of me to leave you alone."

"I've had our good friend Hinter for company, girlie," said her
father, stroking the damp curls.

Erie flashed their visitor a look of gratitude.  "It is good of you
to come to him," she said.  "He always looks forward to your visits,
and grows quite fretful if you are late."  She smiled and patted the
father's hand.  "The east wind's bad for the cough but tomorrow
you'll be as good as ever, won't you, Daddy?"

Landon did not reply.  He simply pressed the girl's cold hand.
Hinter caught the look of suffering in her eyes as she arose and
passed into the outer room.  When she returned she carried a heavy,
wicker-bound can.

"My lamps need filling," she explained.  "No, please don't come," as
Hinter made to take the can from her, "I would rather you stayed with
him."

He bowed, and his eyes followed her from the room.  "What a wonderful
creature she is," he thought.

"Hinton," Landon's weak voice broke in on his thoughts, "you haven't
given me the neighborhood news.  Have they found out who robbed the
store yet?"

"No," answered Hinter, resuming his seat, "I believe not.  Some were
disposed to think that the shoremen had a hand in the robbery but I
don't think so."

"Why don't you?  The Sand-sharkers aren't above doin' it, are they?"

"Well, I don't say that they are.  That job was not done by any
amateurs, though.  The men who broke into Spencer's store were old
hands at the game.  I was at the store and had a look over it.  I've
seen the work of professional burglars before.  These fellows made a
clean sweep and left not a single clew.  Still, I made my own
deductions.  I can't tell you more until I have proved my suspicions
correct.  Hush!" he warned, "she's coming.  I must be hitting the
trail for the Settlement."

As Hinter picked up his hat Erie entered and the light words he was
about to speak died on his lips at sight of the girl's stricken face.
"You are tired," he said, in deep concern.  "The work of tending the
lights alone is too much for you.  Why not let me send someone from
the Settlement to help you, at least until your father is strong
enough to take up his end of the work again?"

She shook her head.  "The work is not hard and I love it," she
answered.  "After the lights are lit I have nothing to do.  Daddy's
asthma will not let him sleep, so he sits in his big chair all night
and keeps his eye on the light while I sleep.  Then when the sun
sucks up the mists from bay and lake he is able to get his sleep.
So, you see," smiling bravely, "we get along splendidly."

Hinter held out his hand.  "Well, good night, Miss Erie," he said.
"I'll be up again soon, with some books for you."

"But you mustn't go without having a cup of tea and a bite to eat,"
she protested.  "Please sit down and I'll have it ready in a minute."

He shook his head.  "Not tonight, thanks.  You're tired, and I've a
long ride before me.  Next time I come we'll have tea," he promised
as he turned to shake hands with Landon.

"Your guardians are with you I suppose?" said Erie, as he turned to
go.

He laughed, "Sphinx and Dexter, you mean?  Yes, they are out in the
stable with my horse.  By the way, they didn't see you last time we
were here, and they seemed to feel pretty badly about it.  Would you
mind stepping outside and speaking a word to them?" he asked.  "They
are very fond of you, you know."

She shivered.  "And I'm very fond of them, only," she added as she
followed him to the door, "I never know whether they want to eat me
up or caress me."

"You won't forget to come back again soon, Hinter?" called the sick
man.  "It does me a sight of good to see you and get the news from
the Settlement."

"I'll return soon," Hinter promised.  "Don't worry about anything.  A
speedy recovery--and good night."

A full moon was veiling lake and bay in sheen of silvery whiteness as
Hinter and Erie went out into the August night.  Eastward the long
pine covered Point swept a dark line against the grey, shadowy
rush-lands.  Somewhere among the hidden ponds mallards and grey ducks
were quacking contentedly as they fed.  A swamp coon raised his
almost human cry as he crept the sandy shores in search of the frogs
whose tanging notes boomed from the boglands.

Man and girl paused for a little time on the strip of white sand to
drink in the beauty of the night and the sounds of its wild life.
Then Hinter stepped to the stable and opened the door.  "Come boys,"
he commanded and the two great dogs came bounding out to leap upon
him with whines of welcome, then on to where the girl stood, waiting,
half eagerly, half frightened.

"Gently now," Hinter cautioned, and they threw themselves at her
feet, massive heads on outstretched paws, deep-set eyes raised to her
face.  She bent and placed a hand on the head of each.

"Surely," she said, "they are not as ferocious as they are said to
be?"

Hinter knit his brows.  "I'm afraid they are," he answered.  "But my
friends are their friends, you see.  There is only one other person
besides yourself and myself who can do what you are doing now,
though."

She looked up quickly.  "And may I ask who that is?"

"Certainly; it's young Billy Wilson.  You know--the lad who is always
roaming the woods."

"Yes," she said softly.  "I know him perhaps better than most folks
do.  I am not surprised that he can handle these dogs, Mr. Hinter."

He glanced at her closely, struck by the odd note in her voice.  "He
seems a manly little chap," he said.  "I must get to know him better."

"You may succeed," she replied, "but I'm afraid you would have to
know Billy a long time to know him well."

She bent and gave the dogs a farewell pat; then moved like the spirit
of the moonlight to the house.  "Good night," she called softly from
the doorway.

"Good night," he echoed.

Five minutes later he was riding the two-mile strip of sand between
the light-house and the pines, the Great Danes close behind.  When he
reached the timber he reined in to look back over his shoulder at the
tall white tower with its ever-sweeping, glowing eye.  Then, with a
sigh, he rode forward and passed into the darkness of the trees.
Half way down the trail he dismounted and, after hitching his horse
to a tree and commanding his dogs to stand guard, plunged into the
thickly-growing pines on the right of the path.

Half an hour later he came out upon the lake shore.  Quickly he
scraped together a pile of drift wood.  He applied a match to it and
as fire leaped up stood frowning across the water.  Then, as an
answering light flashed from some distance out in the lake, he sighed
in relief and seating himself on the sand lit his pipe.  After a time
the sound of oars fell on his ears.  A boat scraped on the beach.
Two men stepped from it and approached the fire.



CHAPTER XIV

OLD HARRY TURNS A TRICK

Maurice Keeler, wan, hollow-eyed, and miserable, was seated on a
stool just outside the door in the early morning sunlight.  Near him
sat his mother, peeling potatoes, her portly form obscured by a
trailing wistaria vine.  What Maurice had endured during his two
weeks with the measles nobody knew but himself.  His days had been
lonely, filled with remorse that he had ever been born to give people
trouble and care; his nights longer even than the days.  Hideous
nightmares had robbed him of slumber.  Old Scroggie's ghost had
visited him almost nightly.  The Twin Oaks robbers, ugly, hairy
giants armed with red-hot pitch-forks, had bound him to a tree and
applied fire to his feet.  What use to struggle or cry aloud for
help?  Even Billy, his dearest chum, had sat and laughed with all the
mouths of his eight heads at his pain.  Of course he had awakened to
learn these were but dreams; but to a boy dreams are closely akin to
reality.

And now, after days of loneliness and nights of terror, Maurice was
up again and outside where he could catch the wood-breeze and smell
the sweet odor of plants and clearing fires.  He wondered how many
years he had been away from it all.  How old was he now?  Why didn't
his mother answer his questions?  He did not realize that his voice
was weak; he had forgotten that his mother was deaf.  All he knew was
that nobody cared a hang for him any more, not even his own mother.
His weak hands clutched at the bandage at his throat, as though to
tear it off and hurl it from him.  His head sank weakly back against
the wall, and the tears came to his eyes.

Suddenly those eyes opened wide.  Was he dreaming again or did he
hear the low croak of a crow?  He twisted his head.  There at his
feet sat Croaker.  The crow's beady eyes were fastened on him.
Suspended from its neck was a cord and attached to the cord was a
piece of yellow wrapping paper.

Maurice's white face slowly expanded in a grin.  He glanced in the
direction of his mother, then held out his hand to the crow with a
lowspoken, "Come Croaker, ol' feller."

But Croaker shook his head and backed away, emitting a string of
unintelligible utterances.

"Come Croaker," pleaded Maurice again.  But the crow was obdurate.
It is barely possible that he failed to recognize Maurice owing to
the sick boy's altered looks or perhaps he expected a glimpse of the
reward which was always his for the performing of a service.  With
one backward look from his bright eyes, he spread his short wings and
sailed across to Mrs. Keeler, settling on her shoulder with a harsh
croak, whereat that greatly-startled lady sat down on the gravel, her
lap full of dirty water and potatoes.

What Mrs. Keeler might have done is not known, for just at this
juncture a high-pitched voice came to her from the garden gate.  "Get
hold of him, Missus Keeler an' wring his black neck."

Mrs. Keeler, who heard the voice without catching Mrs. Wilson's
words, struggled up.  Croaker promptly sailed over to Maurice for
protection.  The boy broke the string attached to the note from Billy
and reaching behind him secured from a plate a scrap of the dinner he
had left uneaten.  "Here Croaker," he whispered, "grab it quick.
Now, back you go where things are safe," and he tossed the bird into
the air.  Croaker flew to a tree-top and proceeded to enjoy the
reward of service well rendered.

Maurice glanced at the message, then his face fell.  "Oh blame it
all!" he muttered, "another of Bill's sign letters; looks like a
fence that's been struck by lightnin'."

The several long perpendicular lines were possibly intended to
represent the forest, but what was meant by the two vertical lines
and the crosses directly beneath them Maurice did not know.  Also
there was a crudely drawn circle and, inside it, a small square.
Maybe this was supposed to represent a hollow stump with a
squirrel-trap in it, thought the perplexed Maurice.  With a sigh of
disgust he turned the paper over.  Then his eyes brightened.  Written
there in Billy's cramped hand were these words and characters:

[Illustration: Billy's message]

Maurice stared.  So that was it!  Billy and old Harry had found the
goods stolen from the Twin Oaks store.  There were doin's--big
doin's, and Billy wanted him in on 'em.  He leaned over to secure a
view of his mother and Mrs. Wilson.  Mrs. Keeler had removed her wet
apron and was now seated on the bench beside her neighbor, listening
to the latest gossip.

"That Jim Scroggie, the heir, has come back, an' he's rented the
Stanley house," Mrs. Wilson was saying.  "They say he's goin' to cut
down the big woods an' sell the timber.  I guess he intends stayin'
right on, 'cause he brought his housekeeper an' his two children, a
boy and a girl, with him."

"Is he tol'able well-to-do?" Mrs. Keeler asked.

"Why yes.  I understand he's rich as porcupine stew," said Mrs.
Wilson.  "What he wants to come here fer, stirrin' up trouble, is
beyond all knowin'.  Him an' that man Hinter--they've been trampin'
all over the country examinin' the land, cricks an' everythin'.  They
met up with my man, Tom, on the road yesterday an' they stopped him.
Scroggie told him any time he wanted to bore fer water he'd put in a
rig an' Tom needn't pay a cent if he didn't get him a well."

"Land o' Liberty! but he was generous!" cried Mrs. Keeler.

"Tom said he'd think it over an' let him know.  I guess he was pretty
short with Scroggie, knowin' as he does that the woods an' land
rightly belong to young Stanhope."

"That it does," agreed Mrs. Keeler, indignantly.  "An' him, poor
young man, helpless through loss of his eyesight and all.  You heard,
of course, that Frank Stanhope and Erie Landon had broke their
engagement?"

"Yes, everybody who knows 'em both an' loves 'em both has heard that.
But what else could they do?  He's not able to support a wife--the
little farm is only enough fer himself, after that Burke an' his wife
are paid fer workin' it and lookin' after the house, an' he's too
high-spirited to ask Erie to share his burden and poverty."

Mrs. Keeler gulped and reached for her apron but recollecting that
she had hung it up to dry, rubbed her eyes on her sleeve.  "Cobin
says that young man is jest about heartbroke, spite o' the smile he
wears," she said.  "Tries so hard to be cheerful, too, in spite of
all.  Preacher Reddick had supper with us last Sunday night an' he
said the teacher was the finest specimen of Christly example he'd
ever seen."

Mrs. Wilson cleared her throat.  "They do say that Mr. Hinter visits
the light-house regular every week.  Have you heard that, Missus
Keeler?"

"Yes, an' I'm wonderin' why?"

Mrs. Wilson rose and smoothed down her skirt.  "Well I wouldn't go so
far as to say I know why, but I have my suspicions," she declared.
"One thing I do know, it's not 'cause he's so interested in a man
sick with the asthma."

Mrs. Keeler looked at her sagely.  "Erie would never marry any man
like Hinter," she asserted.

"You can't tell what a girl'll do fer her father," said the other
woman dubiously.  "But there now," she broke off, "here I am visitin'
away with you, jest as though there wasn't a batch of bread riz and
kneaded at home, ready fer the oven.  When I looked fer my bread-pans
blest a one could I find.  I know that Billy has lugged 'em off
somewheres to use as bath-tubs fer his birds and lizards; so, thinks
I, I'll jest run over an' ask Mrs. Keeler fer the loan of hern."

"Why to be sure," rejoined her neighbor, "come right along in an'
I'll get 'em.  I want you to see how nice my canned tomaters look."
As they turned towards the house, Mrs. Wilson caught sight of
Maurice, huddled in the big chair beneath the trailing vine.

"Well, fer the land sakes alive, Maurice!" she cried.  "It is good to
see you up ag'in.  You've had a hard pull of it, poor lad.  Dear
heart! but it's thinned you a lot, too!  Think of any mortal boy
changin' so in two short weeks."

Maurice squirmed.  "It seemed a lot longer than two weeks," he said
faintly.

"There, there," cried the big-hearted woman, "of course it did."

Mrs. Keeler edged forward distrustfully.  "What's that he says he's
goin' to do in two weeks?" she asked, suspicion in her tones.  "Cause
if you think, young man, you be goin' to go in swimmin' ag'in, inside
two weeks--" she pointedly addressed Maurice, "you got another think
comin'.  I'm goin' to see that you don't suffer no re-lapse."

"I don't want to go swimmin'" wailed Maurice, "but I do want'a walk a
bit out through the woods, Ma."

"No."  Mrs. Keeler shook her head with finality, "I can't trust you
out o' my sight.  You gotta set right there where you be."

"She don't know how awful lonesome it is settin' still so long,"
sighed Maurice, casting an appealing eye on Billy's mother.  "I wisht
you'd ask her to let me go as far as your place with you, Missus
Wilson," he pleaded, lowering his voice.  "Billy kin trail 'long back
with me an' see I don't cut up any."

"Maurice," remonstrated Mrs. Wilson, smothering the sympathy in her
heart in the clutch of duty, "it's wrong fer you to take advantage of
your pore ma's deefness this way.  I wouldn't send Willium back with
you, anyways.  What devilment you wouldn't think of he certainly
would.  No, I'll ask your ma to let you come, but it's Anson I'll
have bring you home an' not Willium."  And with a frown and a shake
of her head she followed her neighbor into the house.

Maurice waited hopefully until his mother and Mrs. Wilson came out
again.  Then he turned eagerly towards them.

"Your Ma says you kin come," said Mrs. Wilson, "Providin' I don't let
you near the cookie jar, and see that Anson brings you back safe."

"Mind you," his mother admonished as he followed Mrs. Wilson down the
path, "if you come home with wet feet into bed you go and stay 'till
snow flies."

When they reached the meadow-path, with the outbuildings between them
and the watchful eyes of his mother, Maurice removed the shawl from
about his throat.  "I won't be needin' it any more, now," he said in
answer to his companion's frown of protest.  "It makes me too warm,
an' the doctor he said whatever I did I mustn't sweat."  Mrs. Wilson
allowed the explanation to stand.

They climbed the rail fence and started to cross the stubble-field.
As they neared the long row of brown-fruited sumachs Mrs. Wilson
paused and stood in a listening attitude.  "Say, isn't that Willium's
varmint of a crow settin' up there on that ash?" she asked, pointing
to the slender tree growing among the sumachs.

Maurice shook his head.  "No ma'am, that ain't him," he said.  "It's
too big fer Croaker; it's a wild crow."

"Is it?"  The woman started on again, then halted abruptly.  "Well,
it's queer how much his voice is like Willium's crow.  Can't you hear
him mutterin' and croakin'?"

"Yep, I hear him, but all crows do that," Maurice hastened to
explain.  Then as a shrill note, half a cluck and half a whistle,
sounded from the bushes, he added quickly.  "That's a hen partridge
callin'.  That crow's tryin' to scare her off her nest, most like,
so's he kin steal the eggs."

Again came the low whistle, and Maurice swayed, staggered and sank
down on the stubble, with a faint moan.  With a cry of alarm Mrs.
Wilson bent above him.  "Maurice!  Maurice Keeler!" she gasped.
"Whatever is wrong?  There now, I knowed you was up and out too soon.
Come along.  I'm goin' to take you straight back home."

"Oh please don't do that," begged Maurice.  "I'm jest a little weak,
that's all.  You leave me here an' send Anse back to stay with me.  I
do so want to go over in the woods fer a little while, Missus Wilson."

The woman stood frowning and considering.  "Well," she said at
length.  "I'll go an' have Anson come fer you but you see you don't
budge an inch till he comes."

"No ma'am, he'll find me right here."

Maurice watched her until she climbed the road fence and entered the
grove inside the Wilson gate.  Then he started crawling towards the
sumachs.  As he reached them Billy poked his head from the bushes, a
grin on his face.

"Have hard work gettin' away from her, Maurice?" he asked.

"Not very.  Gee!  Bill, it's good to see you ag'in."

"It's good to see you too, Maurice.  You got my code message, didn't
you?"

"Yep.  Have you found the stuff they stole from the store, Bill?"

"You bet.  Me an' old Harry know right where it is.  We ain't told
another soul but you and teacher Stanhope 'bout it yet, but we're
goin' to soon.  Come on an' I'll show you where it's buried."

"I can't," said Maurice miserably.  "Your Ma's goin' to send Anse out
to keep tabs on me.  If he wasn't such a tattletale we might work it
but you know him."

Billy pursed up his lips in thought.  "Say!" he cried, "I've got it.
You go on back there where you played possum, an' wait fer Anse.
When he comes he's goin' to beg a favor of you, sure as shootin'.  He
played a dirty trick on me not long ago an' he's been keepin' out of
my way ever since.  Lied to me so's to get me to thrash a feller that
licked him.  I'll tell you all about it later.  Anse is goin' to ask
you to square it with me; he's jest that kind.  You promise to get
him off this time if he goes away an' leaves you by yourself.  Then
you come back here, see?"

"Yes, but if he goes an' tells your Ma, what then?"

"But he won't.  If he does she'll tan him good fer goin' off an'
leavin' you by yourself.  You tell him he'll have to wait around here
till you get back.  He'll do it, all right.  There he comes through
the grove now.  Better crawl back to where Ma left you."

Maurice dropped on all fours and started wriggling through the rough
stubble, sighing in relief as he reached the desired spot.

Anson was grinning as he came up.  "Kind'a weak on the pins, eh?" he
greeted, "Ma told me I was to come across here an' see you didn't get
into no mischief."

Maurice wanted to knock that grin off Anson's sneering mouth, but he
was in no condition to do it.  Besides it was a moment for diplomacy.
"Everybody seems to think I want'a fall in a well an' get drowned, er
somethin'," he grumbled.  "Why do I need watchin', I'd like to know?"

Anson chuckled, "Well, you ain't goin' to get no chance to do any
funny stunts this afternoon," he promised.  "I'm here to keep an eye
on you."

"Which one?" Maurice asked sarcastically.  "The good one er the
blacked one?"

Anson's face reddened.  "You needn't get funny!" he cried, angrily.
"Any feller's liable to black an eye runnin' agin a tree, in the
dark."

"Or a fist in the daylight," grinned Maurice.  "Well, never mind,
Anse," he said consolingly, "you've got one good eye left, but
somethin' tells me you won't have it long."

"What you mean?" asked Anson suspiciously.

"Why, I've got a hunch that somebody's layin' for you, that's all,"
answered Maurice.  "'Course, I may be wrong.  Am I?"

Anson squatted down beside Maurice.  "No, by gosh!  you're not so far
wrong," he admitted, ruefully.  "Somebody is layin' fer me, an'
layin' fer me right.  It's Bill.  Say, Maurice, won't you try an' get
him to let me off this time.  If you will I won't ferget it in a
hurry."

Maurice stood up.  "Where's Bill now?" he asked.

"I dunno.  Down where he keeps his pets I s'pose.  Why?"

"Cause I'm goin' down an' find him.  I'll beg you off this time,
Anse, if you'll do as I say."

"What you mean, do as you say?"

"You're to stay here till I get back, no matter how long I'm away."

Anson considered.  "An' you promise to get Bill to let me off?"

"Sure."

"All right, I'll stay."

"Course, if you ain't here when I get back the bargain's off.
Understand?"

Anson nodded.  "I'll be here," he promised.

"Bill won't bother you none if you do what I say," said Maurice as he
made for the grove.  Half an hour later he and Billy approached old
Harry's hut and knocked gently on the door.  Harry's voice bade them
enter.

They found him seated on a stool, fondling the big grey-blue cat.  He
placed the cat gently down as they entered.

"God love ye, byes," he cried, "it's a foine pair ye are, an' no
mistake; so it's sick y've been, Maurice?"

"Measles," said Maurice.

Harry nodded sympathetically.  "Faith, measles are a blissin' in
disguise, as are many other afflictions," he said.  "Would ye relish
a swate smell and the colors av God's big out av doors so much, think
ye, if kept prisoner from thim ye never were?  I'm thinkin' not.

"Take meself," he went on, drawing his stool closer to the chairs of
his young friends.  "All me life have I dhrunk more er less av the
cup that cheers; but I'm through now, byes, not so much either
because ut's a fit av the blue divils the stuff give me but because I
mane from now on to quaff the swate draft of Nature widout a bad
taste in me mouth.  I'm through wid whisky feriver, and ut's Harry
O'Dule, siventh son av a siventh son, so declares himself this day.
Ut's out into God's blissid sunlight have I come afther bein' held
prisoner by a deadlier disease than measles, me byes."

The tears came to the old man's eyes as he felt the sincere pressure
of the hands held out to him.  "Begobs! but ut's a foine pair ye be,"
he muttered.  Then aloud.  "And have ye told him, Billy?"

Billy nodded.

"Well, this much more I'll be tellin' both av ye," said Harry.  "Just
a bit ago two strange min stopped at me cabin dure.  A rough lookin'
pair they were, I'm sayin'.  Says the big one av the two: 'Ould man,'
says he, 'do ye know wan in these parts named Hinter?'"

"'I know one such,' 'sez I.

"'Then,' sez he, 'wull yu do me the favor av deliverin' a missage to
him an' kin ye go now?' says he.

"'I kin that,' says I."

"'And the message,' he says, 'this is ut: "Off Gibson's Grove at tin
o'clock,"' says he."

"'All right,' says I, and he put a silver dollar in me fist and wint
away wid his companion.

"I delivered the missage to Hinter.  And whin I returned to me cabin
I found everythin' in a jumble, an' no mistake.  Somebody had
scattered the furs on me bunk and turned everythin' upside down, they
had, an' they had sought underneath the flure, too."

"An' did they find it?" gasped Billy.

"Begobs they did not," grinned Harry.  "And I'll be tellin' ye fer
why.  Only this blissid mornin', uts took the stuff from beneath me
flure, I did, and hid it in a new spot."

Billy sighed his relief.  "Gee, but it's lucky you did," he cried.
"That's the very thing Trigger Finger Tim would'a done, ain't it,
Maurice?"

Maurice nodded.  "I'm goin' to stick along here an help you watch the
stuff, Harry.  Them men'll likely come prowlin' back here."

"An' torture you, Harry," put in Billy.  "Tie you to a tree an' throw
knives at you till you weaken an' tell 'em where the stuff's hid.
That's what they did to Trigger Finger."

"Faith," cried Harry, "ut's divil a bit I know concernin' that man
Trigger Finger, but ut's small reward they'd be gettin' fer their
pains if they tied me up and tried torture, an' I'll be tellin' ye
fer why, byes.  The stuff's gone back to Spencer.  Load ut I did
meself on Joe Scraff's buckboard, not more than an hour agone.  The
box wid the black fox skins an' two big jugs av whisky.  Back I sent
ut all, byes, wid the compliments av the both av ye an' me poor self.
But now it'll be there, and the heart av ould Caleb'll be beatin' two
skips fer one wid jye at recoverin' all av his stolen possessions.  I
did right, I hope now, in sindin' ut along back?" he finished.

"You bet you did!" cried the boys, together.

Maurice stood up.  "Well, as there's no need to keep watch here,
maybe I best trail along home.  Anse'll be gettin' tired waitin' fer
me."

"That won't hurt him; he's always tired anyway," rejoined Billy.
"But we'd best go."

At the door he paused and turned toward Harry.  "Where's Gibson's
Grove?" he asked.

Harry, who had picked up his hat and taken his tin whistle from his
bosom, shook his head.  "There's no sech place, I'm thinkin'," he
answered.

Billy frowned.  "What did Hinter say when you gave him the message,
Harry?"

Harry chuckled.  "Faith, ut's crazy he thought I was I guess," he
cried.  "'Ould man,' sez he, 'somebody has been playin' a trick on
ye.  I know no such place as Gibson's Grove.'  Thin begobs! he
laughed, like he saw the humor av ut, and had me sate meself in the
shade and smoke a cigar while I risted.  So I'm thinkin', byes, them
min jest wanted to get rid av me the while they ransacked me house
and belongin's, bad cess to 'em!"

Billy laughed.  "Come along as far as the clearin', Harry," he
invited, "and play us a tune that'll cheer Maurice up, will you?"

"Faith, an' that I'll do," cried O'Dule.  "Lilt him a chune I wull
that'll make his laggin' feet dance, and his laggin' spirit look up
above the slough av despond."

And so down the path ridged with the bronze bars of late afternoon
sunlight, they passed, Harry strutting in the lead, wrinkled face
lifted, scanty white locks streaming in the breeze as he drew from
his whistle a wild sweet melody.

"There now," he cried, when at last the clearing was reached, and the
whistle was tucked away in the bosom of his flannel shirt, "I'll be
partin' wid ye now, byes, fer a spell.  Over to Spencer's store I'll
be goin', to glimpse the jye in his eyes, and axe him to trust me fer
a few groceries I'll be needin' till me next allowance arrives from
the home land.  And ut's no doubt I have in me mind that he'll do ut
gladly, fer ut's a tinder man he is at heart an' no mistake."



CHAPTER XV

BILLY'S PROBLEMS MULTIPLY

Recovery of the stolen goods caused considerable excitement in the
Settlement.  For a week or so nothing else was talked of and
conjecture ran rife as to why the thieves had not made off with their
pillage rather than hide it in the haunted house.  Harry O'Dule came
in for a plenty of praise for the part he had played in finding the
loot but beyond hinting that the job had been more than easy for the
seventh son of a seventh son, he was reticent on the subject.  That
he should have returned the liquor almost intact, to the owner, was a
conundrum to all who knew him, with the exception of Billy and
Maurice.

Billy was anything but easy in his mind during these exciting days.
Who were the two strangers who had searched old Harry's hut?  Were
they the same two he and Maurice had seen in the woods on the night
of the storm?  If so, why did they send a message to Hinter, and what
was its significance?  Where was Gibson's Grove, anyway?  These
questions bothered him, and pondering upon them robbed him of
appetite and sleep.  Maurice and Elgin were no help to him in a
dilemma of this kind and the new boy, Jim Scroggie, he knew scarcely
well enough to trust.

It was, perhaps, just as well for Anson that he kept out of Billy's
way during this period.  However very little that Billy did was
missed by his pale blue eyes.  He knew that his step-brother had
visited the haunted house alone and had searched it nook and corner.
For what?  He had seen him fasten his rabbit-foot to a branch of a
tree and dig, and dig.  For what?  He wanted to find out but dared
not ask.  Perhaps Billy was going crazy!  He acted like it.  Anson
made up his mind that he would confide his suspicions in his mother.
But on the very day that he had decided to pour into Mrs. Wilson's
ear all the strange goings-on of his brother, Billy caught him out on
a forest-path alone and, gripping him by the shoulder, threatened to
conjure up by means of witchcraft at his command a seven-headed
dragon with cat-fish hooks for claws who would rip his--Anson's--soul
to shreds if he so much as breathed to his mother one word of what he
had seen.

In vain Anson declared he didn't know anything to tell.  Billy looked
at him calmly.  "You been follerin' me an' I know it," he said.
"Croaker saw you, an' so did Ringdo."

Anson's mouth fell open in terror.  "You don't mean--" he commenced,
then gulped, unable to proceed.

"That Croaker's a witch?  Of course he's a witch, an' so's Ringdo.
They both know exactly what you're thinkin', an' what you're doin'.
Listen, you," as Anse shivered.  "Didn't you dream, jest t'other
night, that Croaker was bendin' over you to peck your eyes out?"

Anse nodded a reluctant admission.

"Well, s'pose it wasn't any dream?  S'pose it was all real?  An'
s'pose, if I hadn't waked up in time to stop him, he'd have picked
your eyes out an' put in fisheyes in their place?  Then you couldn't
see anythin' unless you was under water.  An' s'pose, when I asked
Croaker what he wanted to do that awful thing fer, he up an' told me
that you'd been spyin' on me an' you didn't deserve to own human
eyes?  I say s'pose all this.  Now then, Anse, you best mind your own
business an' let your mouth freeze up close, else you're goin' to
have an awful time of it.  If I get Croaker to say he won't gouge
your eyes out till I give the word it's more'n you deserve."

Hope stirred in Anson's fear ridden soul--hope which Billy
remorselessly killed with his next words.

"But I couldn't get no promise out o' Ringdo.  He says you're workin'
'gainst us."

"But I ain't, Bill.  Cross my heart, I ain't," protested Anson.  "Why
should I be?"

"Maybe jest 'cause you're a sneak," Billy answered, "but you're my
brother an' I don't want anythin' horrible to happen to you if I kin
help it.  The best thing fer you to do is keep mum, an' when you see
me strikin' off anywhere look t'other way."

"An' you'll see that Ringdo don't bite me, Bill?" pleaded Anson.
"You'll keep him off me, won't you?"

Billy considered.  "I'll try," he promised, "but it's goin' to take a
whole lot of coaxin' to do it.  That old witchcoon has been prowlin'
down through the tamarack swale huntin' copperhead snakes for a week
now, gettin' ready to do fer somebody er other."

"Oh gollies!" gasped Anson.  "What's he huntin' copperheads fer,
Bill?"

"Why to poison his teeth with.  He's loadin' up fer somebody, sure as
shootin'.  Gosh!  I am sorry you've been sech a fool, Anse.  Jest
think, one little scratch from that coon's teeth and--'

"Bill," Anson's voice was husky with terror.  "You won't let him
touch me, will you, Bill?"

"I'll keep him away from you so long as you keep away from us, an'
hold a close tongue in your head," Billy promised.  "Understan',
though, it's goin' to be a mighty hard thing to do; I saw him trying
the bark of that elm jest under our winder only this mornin'.  He's
likely aimin' to shin up that tree an' fall on your face, most any
night, so if you want your eyes an' your life you'd better do what I
say."

"I'll do jest as you say, Bill," Anse promised, fervently, and Billy
knew that he meant it.  "All right, that's a go," he said and went
off to the menagerie to feed his pets.

* * * * *

Something else was to happen shortly to make Billy feel that his
world was full of mysterious agents sent for no other purpose than to
give him fresh worries.

That evening, as he drove the cattle down along the Causeway for
water he met two teams of horses hauling loads of greasy-looking
timbers and black, oily pipes.  The men who drove the teams were
strangers to him.  Scroggie, or Heir Scroggie, as he was now commonly
called in the neighborhood, sat beside the driver of one of the
wagons.

"He's movin' a saw-mill up into the big woods," thought Billy.  "But
where in the world did it come from!" he pondered as he looked after
the creaking loads.

He was not long to remain in doubt on that point.  As he approached
the lake road another load of timbers and metal rounded the corner.
Two men were seated on the load, a big, broad-shouldered man and a
thin one.  Some little distance behind another man was walking.  It
was Hinter.

As the load drew close to where Billy stood partly concealed by a
clump of red willows, the driver halted his team for a rest after the
pull through the heavy sand, and apparently not noticing the boy,
spoke in guarded tones to his companion.

"If I had only listened to you, Jack, we wouldn't have lost that
whisky," he said.  "I was dead sure nobody would go near that place.
And at that we didn't find what we did the job to get, did we?  It'll
be just our luck to have that will turn up in time to cook our goose,
yet."

"Well, Tom, I reckon it's none of our funeral whether it turns up or
not," growled the other.  "We're gettin' paid well fer what we're
doin', ain't we?  If it turns up, Scroggie and the boss'll have to do
their own worryin'."

The driver cracked his whip and the load went on, swaying and
creaking as it left the soft sand for the corduroy.

A little further on Billy came face to face with Hinter.  "How are
you, Billy?" spoke the man, pleasantly.  "Still driving the cows down
to the lake for water, I see."

"Yep; they don't seem to take to the crick water," Billy replied.
"It's sort of scummy an' smells queer."

Hinter laughed constrainedly.  "I've been pretty well through the
Settlement, and most of the creeks are like that," he replied.  "What
do you suppose causes that scum and that peculiar odor?" he asked,
casually.

The boy shook his head.  "I dunno; them cricks shouldn't be that way;
they're all spring-fed.  Maybe you know?" looking straight into
Hinter's eyes.

"No," said Hinter, startled at the directness of look and question.
"I don't know."

He turned abruptly away to follow the wagons but Billy's voice
stopped him.

"Mr. Hinter, where did that stuff on them wagons come from?"

"Why, it belongs to Mr. Scroggie," Hinter answered.  "It was brought
across from Ohio by schooner.  You know what it is, I suppose?"

"I take it it's machinery an' stuff for a saw-mill," answered Billy
moodily.  "Is it?"

"No.  It's a couple of boring rigs, Billy.  Mr. Scroggie is going to
earn the good will of all of us here by boring for water and giving
us fine wells on our farms.  Don't you think that is mighty good of
him?"

"Yes, sir.  If we had a good well I wouldn't have to drive the cows
down to the lake every night, like this."

"That's so, Billy."  Hinter laughed and slapped the lad's shoulder.
"Well I'll see that he bores on your daddy's farm just as soon as he
strikes water on his own.  I intend to help him get started, because
I think it's going to be a good thing for everybody.  Besides, I know
boring-rigs from bit to derrick.  It's my trade, you see."

Billy nodded.  "An' is the schooner still anchored off here?" he
asked.  "I might take a fish-boat an' row out to her, if she is."

"No," Hinter answered.  "She didn't anchor off here; water's too
shallow.  She anchored off Gibson's Grove, five miles up the point.
She's on her way back to Cleveland by now."

He was already several paces away, anxious to overtake the wagon.
Billy stood looking after him, a frown on his brow.  "Gibson's
Grove," he repeated.  "So that's where Gibson's Grove is!"  Then the
message which the strangers had sent by old Harry might have had some
significance, after all.

Billy passed on slowly after his cows, up through the spicy pines to
the pebbled beach of the lake, pondering for a solution to the
biggest problem his young mind had ever had to wrestle with.  He
seated himself on the prow of the big fish-boat, his eyes on the
thirsty cattle now belly-deep in the blue water, drinking their fill.
Along the shore stood the big reels used for holding the seines and
nets when not in use.  The twine had been newly coal-tarred and the
pungent odor of the tar mingled pleasingly with the breath of pine
and the sweet freshness of the sun-warmed water.

Billy's eyes strayed to those reels and he sighed to think that the
washing and retarring of the nets was just another sign that the glad
summer holidays would soon be over and the drab days of fall--and
school--would soon be there.  A low-flying flock of black ducks
passed over his head in flight from the lake's bosom where they had
rested through the day to the marsh feeding grounds across the point,
and the shadow passed from the boy's face.

After all fall had its compensations.  Glorious days beneath lowering
skies in a wind-whipped blind were before him; stormy days when the
ducks would sweep in to his decoys and his old "double-barrel" would
take toll.  If only Frank Stanhope was to be the teacher instead of
that cold-eyed, mean looking Johnston.  He knew he would not get
along with Johnston.  And school was to open on Monday.  Great Scott!
The very thought made him shiver.

The cows waded to shore slowly, pausing to brush the troublesome
flies from bulging sides with moist noses, halting to drink again and
again, loath to leave this great body of cool delicious water.  Billy
did not hurry them.  He thought he understood their feelings in the
matter.  It would be a long while before they would have a chance to
drink again.  It must be awful, he reasoned, to have to do without a
drink so long.  The thought made him thirsty.  With his hands he
scooped a hole close to the edge of the lake, and slowly the
miniature well filled with milky water, which immediately cleared,
and lay before him limpid and sweet and fit for king or thirsty boy.

He stretched himself full length on the sand, and drank.  When he
arose, wiping his mouth, the cows had moved off lazily towards the
Causeway.  Billy did not follow at once.  He did not want to miss the
dance of the fire-flies above the darkening marsh along the Causeway,
the twilight blush on the pine tips of Point Aux forest, the
light-house gleam, nor the prayer-time hush of the mystery-filled
rush-land.  So he tarried beside the lake until the pines and cedars
had melted into indistinct masses and the call of the whip-poor-will
sounded faintly from far away.  Then he turned homeward.

As he left the pine grove for the main road he discerned a lone
figure standing on the Causeway, with head lifted and turned towards
the still faintly glowing west, and his footsteps quickened.

"Teacher," he cried in surprise, "you here?"

Frank Stanhope turned slowly and held out his hands.

"Billy Boy," he said, with a smile, "I had to come, at last.  Every
time you have offered to guide me to this old spot we knew and loved
and enjoyed together I have refused because--because I thought I
couldn't stand it: because I am unable to see what my heart and
senses tell me is here.  But tonight I groped my way down, knowing
that you would find me and help me home."

He placed his hand on Billy's shoulder, and turned once again toward
the bay.  "I am blind," he said, softly, "but I can tell you how it
looks across yonder.  There's a white splash of water between deep
shadows, and there's just a faint tinge of crimson above the
tree-tops.  The mist is rising off the marsh; the fire-flies are
playing cross-tag above the cat-tails.  The light-house--"

He paused abruptly, and the boy felt the hand on his shoulder tremble.

"You tell me, Billy," he said huskily--"tell me if the light shines
as brightly as when we watched it together."

"Why, teacher, it's jest as bright as ever," cried the boy.  "It fair
seems to laugh as it swings 'round an' jumps down the bay like a
long, white arm."

"Does it, Billy, does it?" cried the man, eagerly.

"Yep, an' everythin' else is jest like you said, too, only the red
streaks have gone from above the trees now."

"But the light is the same, isn't it, Billy?"

"Jest the same as ever.  There, teacher, it fair laughed right out at
us then."

"Did it, Billy, did it?  And is my face turned towards it now, Billy?"

"Not quite.  There, now you are facin' it."

"Thanks.  Now you mustn't tell me when it comes again--the light--I
want to see if I can feel it.  I hope--"

He caught his breath and stood with lifted face, as the white light
swept it, lingered on it, drew from it reluctantly.

"Thank God," he whispered, and stood trembling.  Then, as though to
himself, he said softly: "It is as though her soft hand touched these
eyes that will never see again."

Then, as the first note of a night-bird came soft and fluted from a
distant willow copse, Billy took his hand and drew him up along the
corduroy road stretching through the shadows.



CHAPTER XVI

BILLY MEETS A DIVINITY

Billy spent the days preceding the reopening of the Valley School
much as a criminal awaiting execution might spend his last hours of
life.  The fact that Trigger Finger Tim had always accepted the
inevitable sentence of fate with calm and undaunted spirit was the
one buoy to which he might cling in a turbulent sea of uncertainty.
There had been so much to do; so little had been done.  The hiding
place of old Scroggie's will was still a secret; no check had been
put upon the preparations of the interloper who claimed to be the
heir of the Scroggie estate; the mystery surrounding the store
robbery remained a mystery; his friend Frank Stanhope was growing
thin and pale from secret suffering.  And on Monday morning the
Valley School would open!

It was tough!  Billy felt sure that had he been allowed a little more
time he might have solved one or more of the problems which weighed
him down.  He felt like a man who was being cut suddenly off from his
usefulness.  Saturday he spent roaming the big woods alone.  On
Saturday evening Maurice came over and the two went down to Levee
Creek, set sail in the old punt and steered up-bay towards the
light-house.

Arriving they found Hinter there, so did not remain long.  It was
while Erie Landon was preparing a lunch for them that Billy got an
opportunity to whisper something in her ear.  The girl's cheeks
flushed and her blue eyes grew deep with feeling.

"You tell him, Billy Boy, that the light he feels is my promise of
fidelity," she said softly, "my love, my prayers, my hope.  And tell
him that I know all will be well."

That night, after separating from Maurice, Billy went over to the
Stanhope cottage.  It was late but Frank Stanhope was standing beside
the white gate, his arms folded on its top, his chin upon them.

He raised his face at sound of the boy's step.  "Ho, Billy!" he
called cheerfully.  "Is it you?"

"Yes, teacher."  Billy came close to him and the two stood for a long
time in the silence of mute understanding.  Then the boy delivered
the message just as Erie had whispered it.  Stanhope did not speak.
He simply lifted his face to the stars, eyes streaming, lips moving
dumbly.  Billy moved softly away through the shadows.

Next day was Sunday and Billy did not like Sundays.  They meant the
scrubbing of his face, ears and neck with "Old Brown Windsor" soap
until it fairly cracked if he so much as smiled, and being lugged off
with his parents and Anse to early forenoon Sunday School in the
little frame church in the Valley.  There was nothing interesting
about Sunday School; it was the same old hum-drum over and over
again--same lessons, same teachers, same hymns, same tunes; with
Deacon Ringold's assertive voice cutting in above all the other
voices both in lessons and singing and with Mrs. Scraff's shrill
treble reciting, for her class's edification, her pet verse: "Am I
nothing to thee, all ye who pass by?"--only Mrs. Scraff always
improvised more or less on the scriptures, and usually threw the
verse defiantly from her in this form: "You ain't nuthin to me, all
you who pass me by."

Billy knew exactly what he was going to hear at Sunday School, and
what he was going to see, and there wasn't much of interest in that
for a live boy.  Consequently he was quite unprepared for the
unexpected shock he received on this particular morning, when he
trailed dejectedly into the Sunday School room behind his mother and
Anson.

As he passed up the aisle something strange and mysterious seemed to
draw his eyes toward a certain spot.  He looked and there, gazing at
him from eyes of blue, rose-bud lips half parted in a smile, was a
girl--and such a girl!

Billy stood stock still in the aisle and stared at the vision of
loveliness.  She was dressed in white and her hair was curly and as
golden as that of the pictured angel in his mother's Bible.  Never
before had he seen such a gloriously beautiful creature.

He became conscious that the droning hum of teachers and classes had
given place to hushed calm; that all eyes were turned upon him,
standing there in the aisle and staring at this picture of absolute
perfection.  With an effort he drew his eyes away and stumbled
forward to his place in elass.

Several times during the next half hour Billy, allowing his gaze to
wander across the church, caught those blue eyes fastened upon him
and his heart began to flutter strangely.  An ungovernable desire to
misbehave himself took possession of him.  Never in his life had his
head felt so light--unless it was the night when he and Maurice had
inadvertently mistaken hard cider for sweet and had nearly disgraced
themselves.  He was not even aware of who was beside him on his seat,
until a pair of stubby fingers pinched his leg and he came down to
earth to look into Jim Scroggie's grinning face.

"Oh, hello," he whispered, coldly.  He was irritated at such
unwarranted interruption of his soul-feast.  He settled low in his
seat and pretended to give his attention to the teacher, Cobin Keeler.

Tim nudged him.  "What you think of her?" he asked proudly.

Billy frowned.  "Who?"

Jim nodded across to the girl in white.  "That's Lou," he informed
Billy, "my sister."

Billy gave such a perceptible start that he knocked the "Sunday
Lesson Helps" sheet out of the hands of Elgin Scraff, on his left.
That this snub-nosed, flat-faced, beefy boy beside him could possibly
be a brother to the dainty, angelic creature who had caused his heart
to turn such violent flip-flops and disorganize his whole mental
poise was inconceivable.

And still, it must be true.  Immediately his manner towards Scroggie
underwent a change.  All the antipathy that a woods-born boy can feel
toward a city-bred one vanished suddenly at the intelligence imparted
to him.  It was the look of true comradeship, the smile that always
won him confidence and fidelity, that he gave Jim now, as he
whispered: "Any time you want'a borrie my shot-gun, Jim, jest let me
know."

Scroggie beamed.  Being the son of his father he lacked nothing in
astuteness.  He realized, as all brothers realize sooner or later,
that a pretty sister is an asset.

"An' the punt too?" he asked.

Billy nodded.  Jim, had he but known it, might have had everything
Billy owned, including Croaker, Ringdo, Moll and the pups.

Mr. Keeler had finished the reading of the lesson, skipping most of
the big words and laying particular stress on those he was sure of,
and had stood up facing his class of boys, to ask them certain
questions pertaining to the lesson, thereby bringing all whispered
conversation to a halt.  He cleared his throat and ran a critical eye
down the line of upturned faces.  When Mr. Keeler asked a question it
was in a booming voice that carried from pulpit to ante-room of the
building.

"Kin any boy in this here class tell me why Christ walked on the sea
of Galilee?" he now asked.

Nobody answered.  Billy, casting a quick glance across the aisle,
found Lou Scroggie's blue eyes watching him intently.  They seemed to
say "Surely, you can answer that."

Billy shifted uneasily in his seat.  He was sorry now that he had not
paid closer attention to the reading of the lesson.

"Why did Christ walk on the sea of Galilee?" repeated Mr. Keeler,
folding his arms impressively and looking hard at Billy, who once
more shot a side-long glance across the room.  The blue eyes were
wide open with wonder and astonishment now, that he could not answer
so simple a question as that.  Billy's mind worked with lightning
speed.  He would answer that question if it cost him his life.
Promptly he stood up.

Mr. Keeler looked surprised; so did Billy's class-mates; so did all
members of all the classes and the teachers.  So did Billy himself.
The drowsy hum of reciting voices died suddenly and a great stillness
succeeded it.  It seemed to Billy that he was standing alone on top
of a flimsy scaffold, hundreds of feet in the air, waiting for Mr.
Keeler, high executioner, to spring the trap-door that would launch
him into oblivion.

He glanced at the window.  It was raised but a few inches; exit was
effectively closed in that direction.  He made up his mind to reach
for his hat and walk with dignity from the class, the church and
those soulless, sinister-faced people who watched and waited
gloatingly for his downfall.  No, there was still a better plan.  He
would stagger and grope his way out like one who had been suddenly
stricken with sickness.  Yes, that was what he would do.

Then through the haze of uncertainty two wide blue eyes seemed to
meet his own; eyes that smiled to him confidence in his ability to
make good; eyes that said as plainly as words: "I knew you could do
it."

Billy braced himself.  At the same time he caught a glimpse of
Anson's leering face and inwardly vowed that that young man should
have plenty of reason to regret that leer.

Mr. Keeler was leaning across the back of the long seat, smiling
commendingly upon him.

"William Wilson will tell us why Christ walked on the sea of
Galilee," he boomed.  "Come William, answer up, my boy."

Billy drew in his breath hard.  He fully intended that none of those
straining ears should miss his answer.  Suddenly it had come to him
that it was an easy question to answer; there could in fact be but
one answer to it.

"_Because He didn't have no boat!_"

In the deep silence following his answer Billy sat down.  Then a
murmur of gasps, whispers and giggles grew up, which died suddenly to
silence again, as Mr. Keeler's voice rang out.

"Correct!  Now, boys, we will get on with our lesson."

During the closing hymn Billy managed to evade the eyes of his elders
long enough to slip outside.  He wanted to be alone--alone to ponder
over this great and wonderful thing that had come into his life.  It
was love--yes it certainly was love, strong worshipful love such as
comes to but few, and to those few only once.  Such love had made
Trigger Finger Tim leap a fifty-foot chasm, swim a swift,
ice-encumbered river and fight single-handed a band of painted
savages to free his sweetheart from their murderous clutches.  Billy
knew that he would do as much for _her_!

He strayed into the beech grove sighing, striving to realize all that
had suddenly happened to him.  Never in all his dreams had he
imagined such a face could belong to mortal girl.  He must see her
again--yes, he must see her soon again--perhaps speak with her.  The
very thought of it made him dizzy.

He wanted to tear up a sapling by the roots and bust something with
it, wanted to shout, wanted to let all the world know his joy.  But
he didn't.  He compromised by standing on his head and walking the
full length of the mossy grove on his hands.

That day at dinner for the first time in his life he found it
impossible to eat.  Food choked him.  He left the others eating, with
a word or two about having eaten heartily of thimble-berries and not
caring for anything more.

Out in the shed he found Moll, anxious over one of her pups which
seemed stupid and sick.  Billy picked up the pup and cuddled it.  He
found himself crying over its sniffling whimpers of pain.  Love is a
grand thing if only because of the softening influence it exerts in
the savage breast of man.  Billy could not remember ever having
actually cried over a sick puppy before.  It was as though she stood
there, white hands clasped, blue eyes filled with commiseration, the
gold of her hair forming a halo above her bent head.  He could almost
hear her voice saying: "Great, tender heart, cease thy tears.  Am I
not close beside thee to help thee bear thy sorrow?"  That's what
Avilee Rochaw had said to Trigger Finger, in the book.

He put the pup tenderly down beside its mother and went out behind
the wood-pile to wait for Anse.  He wanted to tell him that he
forgave him for being such a low-down tattle-tale and the meanest
brother that ever lived.  That's what _she_ would have him do, he
knew.  He was a changed being.  If he was to win her love, he was
going to be worthy.

He waited for an hour but Anson did not come.  How was he to know
that Billy had undergone a change of heart?  Had he not caught the
cold glint in Billy's eyes, when he had sneered at him in the class?
Previous experiences had taught him caution.  He had watched his
brother go out behind the wood-pile and had promptly made tracks in
the opposite direction.

At supper time Billy's appetite had not returned.  He did make
something of a pretense at eating but it did not deceive the eyes of
his watchful mother, who for reasons of her own restrained herself
from making any reference to his mopishness.

That night as he was undressing for bed Mrs. Wilson came softly up
the stairs, a tumbler half filled with a smoky liquid in one hand, a
black strap in the other.

"Here, you Willium," she commanded, "you drink these here salts and
not a word out o' you, or I'll tan you good and plenty."

Billy turned slowly, his fingers fumbling with his cotton braces.  He
looked at the noxious dose in the tumbler, then at his mother's face.
"All right," he said gently, "I'll take 'em, Ma; give 'em here."

His mother gasped.  Whatever was coming over the boy, she wondered.
Never before had she been able to get a dose of medicine down him
without a struggle.  There could be only one answer.  He was
sick--sicker than he let on.

She set the glass on the little table and let the strap slip to the
floor.  She put her hands on his shoulders and turned him about so
that the light fell full on his face.  She saw that it was really
pale--yes, and wistful.  Anse had told her about having seen Billy
kiss the pup and cry over it.  Now a lump came into her throat as she
looked into the grey, unwavering eyes.  With a sob, she threw her
arms about his neck and drew him close to her.  Billy patted her
shoulder and let her cry.  He could not guess her reason for it, but
for that matter he could not understand why he was crying too, unless
indeed it was his great and worshipful love still working overtime.

Mrs. Wilson subsided at last and wiped her eyes on her apron.  Then
she took Billy's face between her hands and kissed him on the
freckled nose.  "I know how much you miss your own Ma, Willium," she
said, "and I know I kin never take her place, but I love you, an' it
worries me awful to think anythin' might happen to you."

"Nuthin's goin' to happen to me, Ma," Billy assured her.  "I'm
feelin' bully.  Don't you worry none."

Mrs. Wilson sighed.  "Well, if you're sure you don't need these here
salts--" she lifted the glass and stood hesitating, "why, I don't
s'pose there's re'lly any call fer you to take 'em.  It seems too bad
to waste 'em, though."

Billy turned toward Anson's bed, from which, for the second time, he
was sure had come a faint titter.  "I was thinkin'," he said in
answer to his mother's quick look, "that it wouldn't hurt Anse none
to have a dose.  He does grit his teeth somethin' awful when he's
asleep."

"You don't tell me, Willium!  Why then, salts is jest what he needs.
I'll wake him up an' give 'em to him."

* * * * *

It was long after his mother had left the loft and Anse's wails of
protest and wild promises of vengeance had given place to the regular
breathing of peaceful sleep that Billy lay awake, gazing wide-eyed
through the dark.

Above him bent a face with tender blue eyes and red, half-smiling
lips beneath a crowning glory as golden as frost-pinched maple leaf.
And she would be at school in the morning!  It was while pondering on
how he might contrive to wear his Sunday clothes on the morrow that
Billy fell asleep to dream that he was old man Scroggie's ghost and
that he was sitting in the centre of Lake Erie with the big hardwoods
bush on his knees, waiting for _her_ to come that he might present it
all to her.



CHAPTER XVII

THE DREAD DAY DAWNS

It was broad daylight when Anson, in response to an angry call from
the bottom of the stairway, sat up in bed.  Vaguely he realized that
in some dire way this glad morning proclaimed a day of doom, but his
drowsy senses were still leaping vast chasms of dreamland--striving
to slip from the control of saner reasoning and drift away with a
happy abandon of dire results to follow.  What boy has not had the
same experience, even although he knew that a razor-strop, wielded by
a vigorous hand, would in all probability accomplish quickly what his
drowsy will had failed to accomplish?  Anson was just dropping off
into the lulling arms of Morpheus when that extra sense, possessed by
all boys in a measure and by certain boys in particular, warned him
back to wakefulness and a realization of his danger.

He was out of bed and pulling his braces over his shoulders by the
time the heavy footsteps of his mother sounded at the top of the
stairs.

"You, Anse!" came Mrs. Wilson's voice.  "Have I gotta limber you up
with the strap, after all?"

"Comin', Ma," responded Anse, sleepily.

"Well, you'd best come quick, then.  You'll be gettin' enough hidin's
today--if that new teacher's any good--without me havin' to wear my
arm out on you 'fore breakfast."

Anson stood still, fumbling the buttons.  So that was it!  School!
He knew it was some awful catastrophe.  Where was Billy?  He glanced
across at the other bed.  Billy was not in it.  He went slowly
downstairs, washed himself, and went in to breakfast.  Billy was not
there.  His father was just getting up from the table.

"Where's Bill?" Anson asked him.

"Down feedin' his pets, most likely," answered his father as he went
out.  A moment or two later Billy came in.  The boys seated
themselves in their places and ate their breakfast in silence.

"Is our dinner up, Ma?" Billy asked, as he pushed back his chair.

Mrs. Wilson nodded.  "It is.  Two pieces of bread an' butter an' a
doughnut an' a tart fer each of you.  Is it enough?"

"I guess so," Billy replied indifferently.

Anson eyed him suspiciously, then turned to his mother.  "I wish't
you'd do our dinners up separate, Ma," he whined.

"Why?" asked Mrs. Wilson, in surprise.

"Well, 'cause Bill hogs it, that's why," complained Anson.  "Last
time we had tarts I didn't get none.  An' it's the same with pie an'
cake."

Mrs. Wilson gazed sternly at Billy.  "Willium, do you take Anson's
tarts and pie?" she asked ominously.

"Yes, ma'am," answered Billy, promptly.

"There now!" exulted Anson, glancing triumphantly at his mother, who
sat staring and incredulous at the unabashed offender.

Billy looked gravely down at his accuser, then apprehensively at his
judge.  As no immediate sentence seemed forthcoming he turned toward
the door.

"Stop!"  Mrs. Wilson had risen suddenly from her chair and stood
pointing an accusing finger at Billy.

"You'll ketch it fer this, an' don't you ferget it," she stormed,
"an' if I ever hear of you gobblin' up Anson's share o' the lunch
ag'in, you young glutton, you'll go to school fer a month without any
lunch a'tall."

Billy turned.  "I didn't say I ate Anson's pie an' cake, Ma," he said
gently.  "I didn't take it 'cause I wanted it."

"Then why did you take it a'tall, I want'a know?"

"I took it 'cause I thought it was bad fer him.  You see, Ma, Anse
suffers turrible from indigestion," Billy explained.  "'Course maybe
you don't notice it same as I do, 'cause you don't sleep in the same
room with him.  But Ma, he groans an' gasps all night--an' he has the
most awful dreams--now don't you Anse?" he asked, turning to his
brother.

Anson started to whimper.  "I do have bad dreams," he confessed
miserably, "but pie an' tarts ain't to blame fer it."

"Silence, you!"  Mrs. Wilson reached for the dinner-pail and
proceeded to extract from it one tart, one doughnut.  "I guess maybe
your brother's right," she said grimly.  "If that's the way you carry
on nights we'll hold you off pastry fer a while.  Now then, grab that
pail and off to school with both o' you!"

Billy was outside first and waiting for Anson at the road gate when
he came down the path, dejectedly wiping his eyes and vowing
inaudible threats at the agent of his new woe.

"Now, then," said Billy as he came up, "maybe you'll begin to see
that it don't pay to blab so danged much."

"It was dirty mean of you," sniffled Anson.  "You know how much I
like pie an' tarts; an' here I am havin' to lug yourn an' gettin'
none fer myself.  Fer two cents I'd chuck this dinner-pail in the
crick."

"An' fer two cents I'd punch that crooked eye of yourn straight,"
cried Billy, his temper rising.  "You'd best close your mouth while
the closin's good, an' if anythin' happens to that pail you're goin'
to hear from me."

They passed on in silence until the hardwood grove came in sight.
Here Billy paused.  "You go on, Anse," he said.  "I'm goin' over to
the menagerie fer a look over things.  An' see here."  He grabbed his
brother's shoulder and swung him about.  "I'm goin' to tell you
something an' if you so much as peep it to Ma I'm goin' to pass the
word to Ringdo an Croaker that they're free to do what they like to
you; see?"

Anson shuddered.  "Aw, who's goin' to peep?' he returned.

"All right then.  Now listen.  This mornin' I tied my Sunday clothes
up an' throwed 'em out our winder.  Then I got up an' sneaked 'em
over to the menagerie.  I'm goin' to wear 'em to school.  Never you
mind why, it's none of your business.  When I blow into school this
mornin' dressed to kill I don't want you to look too darned
surprised, that's all.  Now if you'll keep your mouth shut tight
about that I promise not to let my witch-coon an' witch-crow eat you
while you sleep; an' I'll tell you what else I'll do, I'll give you
my tart an' my doughnut.  Is it a bargain?"

Anson nodded eagerly.

"All hunky.  Now you move along, an' if you happen to meet Fatty
Watland, er Maurice, er any other boys, don't you let on a word about
this."

"I won't," promised Anson.  "Cross my heart, Bill."

Billy ducked into the path through the grove and Anson resumed his
reluctant pace toward the Valley School.  On the bridge across Levee
creek he came up with Elgin Scraff.  Elgin was standing with his arms
on the bridge rail, looking dejectedly down into the water.

"Hello," Anson accosted.  "Goin' to school?"

Elgin lifted his head slowly.  "Yep, you?"

Anson nodded and set the dinner-pail down on the bridge.

"Where's Bill?"

"He'll be along soon.  Here he comes now; no 'taint neither, it's
Fatty Watland.  Wonder where he's been up that way?"

Watland came puffing up, his round face red and perspiring.  "Gee!"
he panted, "I've been all the way to the store.  Had to get some
sulphur fer Ma.  She found a wood-tick that old Sport scratched off
him on the floor, an' she swears it's a bed-bug; an' now she's goin'
to burn this sulphur in all the rooms."

A grin rippled across his face and grew into a chuckle.  "I bet I
sleep in the barn fer a week.  I sure hate the smell of sulphur."

"Come on," said Elgin, "let's move on down to the sehoolhouse."  Side
by side the three passed on up the hill and down into the valley.

The sehoolhouse stood with a wide sloping green before it and a
tangle of second growth forest behind it.  It was not an old
building, but had the appearance of senile old age.  Its coat of
cheap terra-cotta paint had cracked into many wrinkles; its windows
looked dully out like the lustreless eyes of an old, old man.  The
ante-room roof had been blown off by a winter's gale and replaced
inaccurately, so that it set awry, jaunty and defiant, challenging
the world.  Its door hung on one hinge, leaning sleepily against a
knife-scarred wall.  A rail fence ran about the yard which was filled
to choking with a rank growth of smart-weed.  In one corner of the
yard was a well with a faded blue pump holding the faded red arm of a
handle toward the skies, as though evoking high heaven to bear
witness that it was never intended to lead such a lonely and useless
existence.

The boys approached the building slowly and as they neared its sombre
portals silence fell upon them.  They opened the creaking gate and
entered the building much after the manner of heroes who must stand
blindfolded against a wall and wait the word "Fire!"  They had to go
through with it, that was all.

The building held all the unmistakable odors of a school room.  The
smell of chalk dust, mouldy bread crusts, mice, dirty slates and
musty books rose up to smite the arrivals.  Four rows of pine seats,
blackened with ink-daubs and deeply scarred by pocket-knives, ran the
entire length of the building.  A big box stove stood in the centre
of the room, its wavering pipe supported by wires from the ceiling.

Walter Watland looked about for a good place in which to conceal his
package of sulphur and decided that in the empty stove he had
discovered the place of all places.  So, while Anson and Elgin were
investigating the teacher's desk and picking out their seats, he
proceeded to hide his sulphur in the stove's black depths.  Then he
went outside with his companions to await the coming of the new
teacher.

Scarcely had the three seated themselves on the top rail of the yard
fence than from all directions other pupils of the Settlement began
to arrive.  Sand Sharkers, sullen and defiant, holding themselves
apart, came in one big group.

Jim Scroggie entered the school yard with his sister by his side.  He
paused a moment to let his eyes stray to the faces of the three
hopefuls on the fence, conjecturing with a boy's intuition that in
this trio he saw some of the ring-leaders of the school.  Jim wore a
smart tweed coat and knickerbockers, and a shirt of grey flannel with
a soft silk tie.  His sister, Lou, was dressed daintily in white,
with soft blue collar that matched the glorious depths of her eyes.
She smiled now, and the three on the fence immediately underwent a
change of heart.  Elgin Scraff was the first to slide down and
approach the new boy in a spirit of fellowship.

"Hello," he said genially.  "I've got a crackin' good seat.  You kin
set with me if you like."

Jim shook his head.  "Promised Billy Wilson I'd sit with him," he
said.  "Kin you tell me where he's goin' to sit?"

Elgin was about to answer when he caught a gasp from the watchers on
the road.  "Teacher's comin'!" went forth the cry.

Down the hill came a thin, rangy bay horse, astride which, an open
book in his hand, sat Mr. G. G. Johnston.  As he drew up in front of
the gate he closed the book and turned his frowning eyes on the
building.  Utterly ignoring the awed, watching faces he shook his
head grimly and, looking to neither right nor left, rode in through
the open gate.  Not until he had unbridled his horse and turned him
loose to seek a breakfast as best he knew how, while he investigated
the school's interior, did the boys and girls outside give way to
their feelings.

Then Maurice Keeler whistled.  "Whew!  Ain't he the old human
icicle?" he asked.

"You bet!" came the spontaneous answer.

"Gosh," cried Elgin Scraff, "there goes the bell!  Come on everybody;
let's get our medicine."

Just as the boys and girls were settling down in their seats and Jim
Scroggie was glancing anxiously doorward Billy strode in.  He was
resplendent in his Sunday best and wore a wild thorn blossom in his
button hole.  He glanced quickly about the room and caught the glint
and sunlight for which he hungered--a smile from the lips of Lou
Scroggie.  Then he seized Jack LaRose by the scruff of the neck,
jerked him from the seat near the door and motioned Jim Scroggie
over.  "We'll set here," he whispered.  "It's close to the outside in
case we have to make a quick get-away."

The new teacher paid no attention to the little scrimmage between
LaRose and Billy.  He stood on the platform, tall, spare,
hard-featured and stern, and let his black eyes bore into the souls
of the pupils, one after the other.  Not until the silence of
suspense was almost unbearable did he speak; then clearing his throat
he gave forth in stern tones the following edict:

"Boys and girls, I am your teacher.  I shall expect you to obey me
implicitly.  If you do not, I shall punish you.  I am here to teach
you; you are here to learn and profit from my teaching.  I have heard
bad reports of most of you, but for the present I shall refrain from
mentioning any names.  When in the school-room you will be allowed to
address me as 'Sir.'  Outside the school-room you will not address me
in any manner whatsoever."

He paused to survey the rows of uplifted faces and let his words sink
home.  Then lifting a long hickory pointer from his desk, and holding
it much as a conjuror might hold his wand, he gripped the edge of the
desk with one bony hand and leaning forward, said:

"Boys and girls, from what has been told me I surmise that my
predecessor has spoiled you.  I do not censure him; undoubtedly he
worked according to his lights.  I have been twenty years a teacher.
I am your superior in strength, wisdom and intellect; and this I want
you always to keep in mind.  I shall tolerate neither familiarity nor
disobedience.  You will do well to obey me without question and do,
worthily, the tasks I set for you.  I believe in administering
punishment to wrong-doers, severe punishment.  It is not my purpose
to deceive either you or the ratepayers of this school; therefore, I
will admit that I like neither this district nor its people.  That,
however, will not prevent me from fulfilling my duty to the best of
my ability."

He ceased speaking and drew himself up slowly, pursing his stern
lips.  "That is all I have to say for the time being," he said.  "We
shall endeavor to air this building, after which we will form
classes.  Will the fat boy with the rumpled hair and dirty neck, the
one who is whispering to the boy behind him, be good enough to step
forward?"

All eyes switched from the teacher to Fatty Watland.  Fatty, his face
very red, rose slowly and stood before the frowning Mr. Johnston.

"What is your name, boy?" asked the teacher.

"Walter Watland."

"Walter Watland--what?"

"That's all.  Jest Walter Watland."

Mr. Johnston frowned darkly.  "Walter Watland--what?" he repeated.

"Sir," prompted a voice from the back seat.

"Walter Watland, sir," panted Fatty, glimpsing the light in the nick
of time.

"Very well, Walter, you may go home and get a pail of water.  My
experience with school wells," glancing out of the window to the blue
pump, "has been that during the holidays they become a veritable
death trap for frogs, mice and other vermin."

Walter moved quickly to execute the order.  Mr. Johnston addressed
the rest of the pupils.  "School is now dismissed until we raise the
windows and air the room."



CHAPTER XVIII

THE METTLE OF THE BREED

Immediately thirty boys and girls leaped to their feet and windows
went up with a bang.

"I think," Mr. Johnson's voice was heard above the din, "it would be
a good plan to start a fire in that big stove.  This place is
positively vault like with dampness."

A number of the boys ran out to gather kindling and wood and soon a
fire was crackling in the stove.

"Pupils will now take their seats," commanded the teacher, tinkling
the bell on his desk.  There was a hurried scramble as each boy and
girl found his and her place.

"We will now have--" resumed the teacher, then paused to glare
angrily at the stove.  From every crack in its rusty sides was
pouring forth a whitish-yellow smoke that gripped the throat and
smelled like a breath from the very pit of darkness.  Mr. Johnston
attempted to proceed and failed dismally.  He was choking, as was
every boy and girl in the room.

It was Billy Wilson who acted promptly.  Running to the stove he
opened the door and lifted out the blazing wood and, at the risk of
scorching himself badly, ran with it from the room.

It was nearly half an hour before Mr. Johnston summoned the boys and
girls from the open windows to their seats.  The room still smelled
strongly of sulphur, but one might still breathe and live.

In the interval of waiting for the air to clear the new teacher's
face had turned a ghastly white.  His black eyes blazed; his thin
lips were drawn back from his strong, irregular teeth.  Gazing upon
him, the boys and girls quaked in apprehension.  Their fears were
well founded.  Never before in all his long career in administering
knowledge to grubby and inferior minds had Mr. G. G. Johnston been
subject to such deadly insult as had been offered him here.  It was
fully a minute before he could command his voice sufficiently to
speak and when he did the words trickled through his stiff lips
thinly.

"Boys and girls," he said at length, "one or more of you have been
guilty of the most unpardonable misdemeanor that has ever come under
my observation as a teacher.  I realize that the dirty trick has been
deliberately planned, the motive being perhaps to test me.  You may
believe me when I inform you that the one who placed that sulphur in
the stove will have plenty of reason to regret having done it.  I
intend to flog him--or her--until he--or she--cannot stand.  I shall
now ask the one who is guilty of the offense to stand up."

Nobody stood.  Anson was on the point of jumping to his feet and
telling who had brought the sulphur into the room but, on second
thought, sat still.  The teacher had asked who had put it in the
stove.  Certainly it had not been Fatty Watland, because he had gone
on an errand for the teacher long before the fire was started.

Mr. Johnston smiled darkly and nodded.  "As I thought.  The one who
did it is too much of a coward to confess it," he grated, his voice
shaking.  "Well, there remains but one thing to do.  If the guilty
party is to be punished, I must punish you one and all."

There was the sound of the quick intaking of breath, and an audible
long-drawn "Oh!" from the girls.

"I must punish each and every one of you," Mr. Johnston reiterated,
picking up the pointer.  "I shall begin on the boy who is smiling so
defiantly in the back seat, if he will be good enough to step up
here."

"I guess that's me," said Billy, jumping to his feet and starting for
the platform.

"That's a nice smile you wear," said Mr. Johnston scathingly as he
gazed down at Billy, his bony fingers caressing the long, supple
pointer.

"Glad you like it," said Billy.

"Eh?  What's that?"  Mr. Johnston fairly recoiled in surprise and
indignation at the affront to his dignity.  "Silence! boys and
girls," he shouted, as a titter ran through the schoolroom.

"Now young man," he said grimly, grasping one of Billy's hands and
pulling it forward and out, "I'm going to drive that happy smile from
your face."

"You're a'goin' to find that some job," said Billy quietly.

"Well, we'll see, young Mr. Impudence."  The long pointer rose and
fell.  Billy caught the stroke full on his palm.  His face whitened
with pain, but the smile did not leave his lips.

"Your other hand," commanded Mr. Johnston.

He bent forward to grasp the hand which Billy raised slowly, thereby
dodging a stone ink-bottle hurled by Maurice Keeler.  At it was the
bottle struck the blackboard and broke, deluging the teacher's face
with a sable spray.

Billy turned quickly.  "No more of that," he said.  "This is my
funeral--and the teacher's.  Everybody else keep out of it."

He squared his shoulders and held out his hand.  The pointer came
down with all the strength that the man dared put behind it.
Johnston peered closely into the boy's face.  It was white and
quivering but it still wore a smile.

"Take your seat," commanded the teacher.  "Next boy forward!"  One by
one the boys walked up to receive their punishment.  All took it
bravely.

When, at last, the boys had all been attended to, Mr. Johnston paused
for rest.  "I shall now begin on the girls," he said, "but before
administering punishment I am going to give the guilty boy, or girl,
one more chance to confess.  Will the one who put the sulphur in the
stove stand up?"

As before, nobody moved.

Mr. Johnston smiled.  "Very well.  The girl with the handkerchief to
her eyes, the one dressed in white and blue, five seats down, will
come forward for punishment."

Billy felt his blood run cold.  He could not believe his ears.  The
girl dressed in white and blue!  Why, that was she--his angel--his
light--his everything.  And she was crying now.  She was standing up,
moving forward.

Like a flash Billy was on his feet.  "Stop!" he cried, his voice
ringing out like a challenge.  "You don't whip her if I know it."

For the second time that morning Mr. Johnston received a violent
shock to his dignity.  Such rank insubordination he had never
experienced before.  The black eyes turned on Billy fairly darting
sparks.  "Take your seat, you impudent boy!" he thundered, "I see I
have been too lenient with you.  When I am through with the girls I
shall flog you until you cry for mercy, and with you the boy who
threw that bottle."

Billy was running up the aisle.

"Please sir, don't whip her," he said, pleadingly.  "I'll own up.  It
was me that put the sulphur in the stove."

"You?" gasped Mr. Johnston.  "You coward! to let your companions be
punished for your despicable act.  Oh," he exulted, removing his coat
and rolling up his sleeves, "won't I make you pay for playing the
sneak?"

Billy was giving no attention to the teacher.  He was edging towards
Lou Scroggie, who stood looking at him from dumb, pleading eyes.

"Go outside," he whispered.  "Please do; I kin stand anythin', but I
don't want you to see it."

She turned slowly away, then came back and put her hands on his
shoulders.  She did not speak but the look she gave him was enough.
His heart laughed.  He turned toward the teacher with so glad a light
in his grey eyes that the schooled moulder of young souls gazed back
at him in bewilderment.

Was this the brand of boy this Shagland Settlement bred, he wondered.
If so, God help him and his precepts.

From the bottom of his heart he wished that he had never seen the
place, never encountered the spirit of its woods-born.  He knew his
capabilities and for once in his life, he confessed to himself, he
had over-estimated them.  He wanted to give this boy now standing so
fearlessly before him a whipping such as he would remember to his
dying day, but to save his life he couldn't enter into the task with
his old-time zest--not with those clear eyes looking so
contemptuously into his very soul.

The room had grown still--a graveyard hush, broken only by a sob from
the tenderest-hearted of the girls, who knew that Billy had lied to
save one of their sex.

Johnston had turned to his desk and secured a shorter, stronger
pointer.  The veins between his shaggy eyebrows stood out clearly
defined as he motioned Billy up on the platform.

It was just at this juncture that Fatty Watland arrived; smiling and
panting, with the pail, borrowed from his mother, full of drinking
water.  It took him but a moment to learn from one of the boys what
had transpired.  It took him still less time to reach the platform.
There, with much humiliation of spirit and many "sirs," he explained
to the greatly surprised, and it must be confessed, secretly relieved
Mr. Johnston, the true state of affairs.

There was no doubt in the world that Fatty regretted the part he had
so unwittingly played in the day's disaster.  He was sufficiently
apologetic and low spirited to satisfy even the new teacher, who was
content to let him off with a lecture.

Mr. Johnston then briefly stated to his pupils that a mistake had
been made.  He did not say that he was sorry.  That would have been
an untruth.  He did say that Billy deserved another whipping for
lying, but under the circumstances he would excuse him, as he had
already received unmerited punishment.

At the close of his first day in the Valley School Mr. Johnston was
forced to confess that he had considerable work before him.  Had he
been able to read the future and learn just what he would be obliged
to undergo as teacher of that school, without doubt he would have
climbed on the back of his thin horse and ridden straight away from
Scotia Settlement, never to return.  But he could not read what the
future held, consequently he rode slowly towards Fairfield that first
evening with the righteous feeling of one who had performed a
difficult task well and satisfactorily--at least to himself.

Back in the schoolyard a real old fashioned indignation meeting was
being held by thirty lusty boys and girls.  That any man, teacher or
no teacher, should come into their beloved Settlement and announce
that he had no use for it or its people and go on his way unscathed
was beyond all understanding.  Something would have to be done about
it; but what?  It was Billy who climbed up on the school fence,
called order and offered the one sure solution to the problem.

"I guess we don't want'a keep him, do we?" he asked of his companions.

"No.  No!" came in chorus.

"All right; that's settled.  But listen, now, every one of you.  He's
gotta go of his own accord.  We're not goin' to be disobedient in any
way.  Fer a time we'll eat out'a his hand.  Now wait--" as a groan of
protest went up--"let me finish afore you get the high-jumps, you
fellers.  At the end of two er three weeks somethin' is goin' to
happen to Mr. Johnston.  I'm not goin' to say what that somethin' is
right now, but you'll all know soon enough.  And if after it happens
he's got nerve enough to come back here I miss my guess, that's all."

"Hurrah!" shouted the delighted boys.  "We knowed you'd find a way to
fix him, Billy."

Billy climbed down from the fence and his supporters gathered about
him, eager to secure the details of his plan but he shook his head.
"You kin jest leave it all to me, an' one er two others I'm goin' to
pick to help me," he said.  "It's soon enough fer you to know how we
do it when it's done.  Now, everybody go home."

Apparently quite by accident he found himself standing beside Lou
Scroggie and the two fell into step together.  They were the last to
take the winding path toward the main road.  An embarrassed silence
fell between them, a silence which remained unbroken until they
reached the creek bridge.  Then the girl said shyly: "Do you mind if
I call you Billy?"

Billy had to stifle his emotion and swallow twice before he answered:
"That's what I'd like you to call me.  I'll bet you can't say it,
though."

"Oh, I can so!"

"Well, let's hear you, then."

He bent his head and held his breath, oblivious to everything save
the ecstasy of that moment.

"Billy," she half-whispered, then hiding her flushed face in her
hands she turned and ran from him.

Billy did not follow.  Something, perhaps the primitive man in him,
cautioned the unwisdom of so doing.  From the dim, far-back ages
woman has run and man has pursued.  But a few wise men have waited.

So Billy watched her passing like a ray of soft light across the
valley and around the golden curve of the road.  Then with his arms
on the bridge-rail, his eyes gazing deep into the amber depths of the
water, he lived anew every moment of her nearness, until the hoarse,
joyful cry of a crow broke in on his reverie.  Croaker, having grown
lonely, had come down to meet him.

So with the bird perched on his shoulders, muttering a strange jargon
of endearments and throaty chuckles in his ear, Billy turned up the
path, thinking still of a pair of blue eyes and a voice that had
called him "Billy."



CHAPTER XIX

CROAKER BRINGS A GIFT

It was Sunday.  Anson, with eyes close-shut and suds dripping from
his freckled nose, was having his weekly ear and neck cleansing, his
mother's strong hands applying the coarse wash-cloth.  Billy stood
by, anticipating his turn, his eyes straying occasionally to the long
"muzzle-loader" hanging on the deer-prong rack.  Tomorrow the
duck-season opened and he was wondering how he was going to contrive
to sneak the old gun down and give it a thorough cleaning.  Suddenly
he became aware that operations in the vicinity of the wash-basin had
become suspended.  He glanced across to find his mother's gaze fixed
sternly upon him.  Anson was looking mightily pleased.

"I want'a know how you got them ink blots on your good clothes.  Have
you been a'wearin' 'em to school?" asked Mrs. Wilson.

So that was it?  Anson had "peached"!  Billy swallowed hard.  His
mind reviewed the days of the past two weeks.  Again he saw a pair of
blue eyes, misty with love and feeling; heard a voice whose cadence
was sweeter than honey saying, "My!  Billy, you are so different from
any other boy I've ever met; and you always wear such nice clothes,
too."  Oh those wonderful, joy-filled days!  What boy would not have
risked far more than he had risked to win such commendation from the
girl of all girls.

"Well?"  His mother's voice dispelled the vision.  "Are you goin' to
answer me, Willium?"

Billy squared his shoulders.  Yes, he would do as she would wish.  He
would confess.  But the best of intentions go oft awry and Billy's
present ones were suddenly sidetracked by a giggle from Anson, a
giggle freighted with malice, triumph and devilish joy at his
predicament.

Now, a boy may make up his mind to die a hero, but no boy cares to be
ushered out by gibes and "I-told-you-so's."  Billy promptly adopted
new tactics.  "This ain't my suit, Ma," he said.

Mrs. Wilson started so at his words that she rammed the cake of soap
into Anson's mouth.

"Not yourn?  Then whose is it?" she cried in amazement.

"It's Anse's.  We must have got 'em mixed when we was dressin'."

"Willium, are you lyin' to me?  If you are it's goin' to be the
costliest lie you ever told."

Billy returned her angry gaze without a flicker of an eyelid.  The
reproach in his grey eyes was enough to make any mother ashamed of
having doubted, and, as a matter of natural consequence, anger her
the more.  "How do you know that's Anson's suit?" she shot at Billy,
between rubs.  "How do you know it, you young imp, you?"

Billy moved forward, halting a safe distance from his mother.
"You'll remember, Ma, that Anse's pants has two hip pockets, an mine
only one."

"Yes, that's so."

"An' his coat has two inside pockets, an' mine only one."

"I remember that, too.  Well?"

Billy removed the coat he was wearing and passed it over to his
mother.  She turned it inside out, and inspected it closely.

"That's Anson's coat all right," she affirmed.  "Now twist about so's
I kin see them hip pockets in the pants."

Billy did so.  Then, there being nothing more left to do, he stepped
back to watch the fireworks.

Stunned into inaction by the ease and suddenness with which Billy had
turned the tables against him Anson had only time to take one longing
glance toward the door.  His mother had lifted the razor-strop from
its nail and as he made a frenzied leap toward safety her strong hand
gripped him by the wet hair.  "Swish" fell the strop and Anson's wail
of woe rent the Sabbath air.  In vain he squirmed, cried, protested
his innocence.

Having gotten nicely warmed up to her work Mrs. Wilson turned a deaf
ear to his wails.  "You would try to put off your dirty tracks on
your brother, would you?" Swish-swish.  "I'll teach you to wear your
good clothes to school.  I'll teach you to lie to me, you bad,
deceitful, ungrateful boy, you!

"Now," she panted, having reached the limit of her strength, "you go
upstairs with Willium and change clothes.  Not another word, er I'll
start in on you all over ag'in.  Off you go, both o'you.  And
Willium," she called after them, "when you get into your own suit,
don't you ferget to come here fer your scrubbin'."

When Billy reached the loft, Anson was standing in the center of the
room, smashing with clenched fists at the empty air.  Billy sat down
on his bed and grinned.  "You will run straight into trouble, in
spite of all I say, Anse," he said gently.  "It's all your own fault;
you will be a tattle-tale."

Anson turned on him.  "You mean sneak!" he gasped, "you've been
wearin' my Sunday clothes 'stead of your own, an' I didn't know it."

Billy nodded.  "You see, Anse, I knowed that sooner or later you was
bound to tell Ma, so I played safe, that's all."

Anson, still sniffling, finished his undressing.  Billy nursed his
knee in his hands and watched him.  "'Course," he remarked, at
length, "you'll be for tellin' Ma soon's she calms down a bit an' is
ready to listen, but Anse I wouldn't do it if I was you."

"Well, you kin bet I jest will do it," promised Anson.

Billy stood up.  "I'll tell you what I'm willin' to do, Anse," he
suggested.  "If you'll keep mum about this thing, I'll let you come
duck-shootin' with me an' Maurice tomorrow."

Anson shook his head.  "I don't want'a go duck-shootin'," he said.
"I know jest what you fellers 'ud do; you'd get me in all the
bog-holes an' make me carry your ducks.  No sir, I'm goin' to tell
Ma."

Billy tried further inducements.  "I'll give you my new red tie an'
celluloid collar," he offered.

"No!"

"Then," said Billy sorrowfully, turning toward the door, "I guess
there's only one thing fer me to do."

"An' what's that?" asked Anse, apprehensively.

"Go an' tell Croaker an' Ringdo the whole business, an' let that crow
an' swamp-coon 'tend to you."

"Hold on, Bill, wait a minute," Anson quavered.  "I've changed my
mind, I'll take the tie an' collar an' call it square."

Billy turned and came back slowly to where he sat.  "Anse," he said.
"I ain't wantin' to see you witch-chased, so I'll jest give you the
tie an' collar an' say not a word to Croaker er Ringdo; an' if you'll
tell me somethin' I want'a know I'll let you sleep with my
rabbit-foot charm underneath your piller."

Anson almost sobbed his relief.  "I'll do it," he agreed.  "What is
it you want'a know, Bill?"

"I want'a know all you know about them men that are workin' Hinter's
borin' outfit.  Why ain't they ever seen outside that tall fence
Scroggie's built 'round the derrick, an' why did he build that fence,
anyways?"

Anson looked troubled.  "Supposin' I don't know--" he began, but
Billy shook his head.

"I happen to know you do know.  'Course you needn't tell, if you
don't want to," he said.  "You kin keep what you know to yourself an'
take your chances with witches.  I was jest givin' you a last chance,
that's all."

He turned once more to the door but Anson jumped up and caught him by
the arm.  "Bill," he gasped.  "I don't know why Hinter built that
fence, cross my heart, I don't.  But I'll tell you all I know about
the men who're runnin' the rig.  I been workin' fer the tool-dresser
after school, fer a quarter a night.  I've heard quite a lot o' talk
among them fellers.  Blamed if I could make head er tail of most of
it but they mentioned a feller by the name of Jacobs an' they seem
plumb scared to death of him.  Funny, too, 'cause he's never been
'round there a'tall.  Nobody ever comes there but Hinter."

"How do you mean they seem scared of Jacobs?"

"I kin tell by what they say.  One night I heard the big feller,
named Tom, say to Jack, the other man: 'If we don't strike the stuff
Jacobs is done fer, an' both of us'll go with him.'  An' the one
named Jack he swore at him an' says: 'Shut your trap, Tom.  One of
these days Jacobs is goin' to hear you blattin'; then you're goin' to
take a trip sooner than you expected.'"

Billy stood frowning.  "Say, maybe Jacobs is the feller that fires
the boilers that runs the windlass," he hazarded.

"Nope, that man's name's Sanderson.  He don't have anythin' to do
with the drillers.  Nope, Bill, Jacobs hain't never been seen, but
I'm dead sure he's the boss of the outfit."

"All right, Anse.  You kin learn a lot more by keepin' your ears an'
eyes open.  Whatever you see an' hear, you're to tell me, see?"

Anson nodded.

"All hunky.  Now, I'll jest peel off these duds, an' get inter my
own.  Ma'll be gettin' uneasy."

But when Billy, dressed in his own suit, descended the stairs to peer
cautiously out, it was to find the room deserted.  Mrs. Wilson's
voice, high-pitched and excited, came from the back yard.

"Willium! oh Willium!" she was calling.

With a bound he was outside and over beside her.  She sat on the
block beneath the hop-vine, her face in her apron.  She was rocking
to and fro and sobbing.

"Ma," cried Billy, "whatever is the matter?"

"Oh Willium," she cried, "my heart is breakin'.  Oh to think how I
misjedged him!"

Billy's eyes opened wide.  "Misjedged him?" he repeated.

"Oh the poor little dear! the poor little dear!" she wailed.  "Me
hatin' him like I did, and him doin' all he has fer me.  Oh, Willium,
I do feel so 'shamed, an' mean; I do so!"

Billy stared at his mother in amazement.  "Jest what has Anse ever
did fer you, Ma?" he asked wonderingly.

"Anse!" she snorted.  "Who's talkin' about Anse?  It's Croaker I
mean.  Look here what that darlin' crow brought me jest a few minutes
ago."

She opened her hand.  In it lay a shining twenty-dollar gold piece.
Billy's mouth fell open in astonishment.

"Croaker brought you that?" he gasped.  "Well, I'll be shot!"  Billy
stood up and gazed about him.  "Where's Croaker now?" he asked.

"I dunno.  He jest laughed an' sailed away ag'in.  I don't know where
he got it but I do know good gold when I see it, Willium.  Twenty
dollars!  Ain't it splendid?"

"It sure is, but I can't help wonderin' where Croaker found it.
Maybe you wouldn't mind lettin' me off Sunday School today, Ma," he
suggested, "so's I kin trail off an' find that Croaker.  Any crow
that kin pick up gold pieces that way is worth watchin'.  Kin I go
look fer him, Ma?"

Mrs. Wilson, at this particular moment, was in the mood to grant
almost any request.  "Why Willium," she said eagerly, "go seek him
and bring him back home.  Never ag'in will I wish him dead, poor
little feller.  But," she added as though realizing that her softened
mood had carried her a little too far, "you see you get back here in
time for supper er I'm liable to tan you good."

Billy waited for no more.  He was up and away like a shot.  Mrs.
Wilson, clutching her gold piece in one hand and brushing back her
deranged hair with the other, went back into the house.

Anson, striving to keep his head above a shiny collar, about which
was twisted a flaming red tie, was just issuing from the stairs.  His
mother opened her hand to display her gold piece, then closed it
again.  "You go right back upstairs and take off Willium's collar and
tie," she commanded.

"It's my own collar an' tie," Anson declared, "Bill give it to me."

"Humph!  That's jest like him, but why he should give you his best
tie and collar is beyond me.  Do you think you deserve any gifts from
your brother after what you done to him?  It jest goes to show you
what a real good heart that boy has.  I declare, Anson, I do wish you
was more like him.  Now you get your hair combed and your hat brushed
and get away to Sunday School."

"Yes, Ma'am; ain't you agoin', Ma?"

"I'll be long shortly; don't you wait fer me."

"But where's Bill?  Ain't he agoin?"

"No, he ain't agoin'; and now, not another of your fool questions.
Slick your hair down and go at once.  Do you hear me?"

Anson proceeded to obey orders without another word.  As he picked up
his hat and turned to the door, Mrs. Wilson opened her hand and held
out the gold piece.

"Croaker found that and brought it to me," she said, proudly.

Anson's jaw dropped and he backed fearfully away.

"Don't you have nuthin' to do with it, Ma!" he cried.  "That
Croaker's a witch crow, that's what he is!  He's tryin' to tempt you
with gold!"

Mrs. Wilson stood, the picture of amazement.  "Have you gone stark
and ravin' crazy, Anson?" she asked sternly.  Then, anger mastering
her, she reached for the broom standing in the corner.  Anson
promptly made his escape, but as he passed the open window, he gazed
wildly in at his mother and cried again: "Don't you have nuthin' to
do with that gold, Ma.  If you do we'll all get burnt up in our beds,
er get clawed to tatters!"

Mrs. Wilson sank down on a chair.  "Willium's right," she sighed.
"Anson's mind is gettin' a little unbalanced.  I'll have to put him
on diet and feed him slippery-elm bark and alloways."

Sighing dolefully she arose, placed her treasured gold piece in the
clock for safe keeping, and tying on her bonnet, left the house.  She
walked hurriedly down the path, thinking that perhaps she might be
late for the opening hymn.  As she was about to open the gate, a
slender, sprightly old gentleman, dressed in long frock coat, stepped
out from the trees bordering the road, and gravely lifting his shiny
hat, bowed low, and said: "Your pardon, ma'am, I'm axin; but if ye'll
permit me."

"Harry O'Dule," she gasped, as he swung the gate wide, "is it re'lly
you?"

"Faith and who else ma'am," replied Harry.  "The ould burrud wid new
feathers is ut.  Faith ut's manny a year since I laid these duds
carefully by, thinkin' I'd be wearin' 'em niver ag'in until a day
whin I'd not be knowin' ut.  But, Mistress Wilson, ma'am, ut's other
thoughts have been mine since I quit the dhrink.  Pl'ase God but duty
is iver clearer wid clearer understandin' and so ut is.  Some day
afore I die I'll glimpse me own skies and smell the burnin' peat, and
if that is to be mine thin must I live me life clane here and do me
duty like an Irishman av birth.  So, ma'am, it's off I am to visit
the holy Father at Palmyria."

Mrs. Wilson held out her hand.  "Harry O'Dule," she said, her voice
unsteady, "I always knowed you had the makin's of a man in you.  I'm
gladder than I kin say."

Harry bowed low.  Mrs. Wilson passed through the gate, beaming
commendation on him from misty eyes.  He closed the gate slowly, his
clean shaven, wrinkled face working.  He stood and watched her until
the bend in the road hid her.  Then, placing his tall hat jauntily on
his grizzled locks, he turned and walked smartly in the opposite
direction.



CHAPTER XX

BILLY MEETS A LOVELY GHOST

Billy found Croaker just where he thought he would be--clinging to
the latch of the menagerie door and peering with one black eye
through the chink above it at the owls, the while he hurled guttural
insults at them.

"Croaker," commanded his master, "get away from there!"

Croaker balanced himself by flopping one short wing and laughed at
the hisses of the angered owls.  He hopped from his perch to the peak
of the shanty as Billy reached for him and there he sat, demurely
turning his head from one side to the other and muttering low in his
throat.

"Croaker, come down here, I want'a ask you somethin'."  Billy's hand
went into his pocket and the crow stood at attention.  Then as the
hand came away empty he emitted an angry croak and wobbled further
along the ridge-board.

"Come, nice old Croaker, tell me where you found the gold," coaxed
Billy.

Croaker turned his back and murmured a whole string of "coro-corrs,"
which to Billy meant just as plain as words could say it that he
hadn't the slightest intention of telling anything.

"All right then, Croaker, I'll call Ringdo, an' feed him your dinner."

Now, for the swamp-coon, Croaker had all the jealousy and hatred a
crow is capable of feeling and as a last resort, whenever he was
obdurate and disobedient as he was now, his master could nearly
always bring him to submission by the mere mention of Ringdo's name.
At Billy's threat Croaker raised his head and poured forth such a
jargon of heart-broken lamentation that the listening owls inside
crouched low in terror, their amber eyes questioning the meaning of
the awful sound.

Billy bent and patted an imaginary something on the ground.  "Good
ol' Ringdo," he said.  "Nice ol' Ringdo."  That was the last straw.
With a croak of anguish Croaker swooped down and lit on his master's
shoulder.  Promptly five fingers gripped his feet.

"Now, you black beggar, I've got you," exulted Billy.  This fact did
not seem to worry Croaker in the least.  His beady eyes were busy
searching for signs of his enemy.  Ringdo being nowhere visible, his
neck feathers gradually lowered and his heavy beak closed.  He
snuggled close against Billy's face and told him in throaty murmurs
how much he loved him.  Billy laughed, and seating himself on a log,
placed the crow on his knees.

"Croaker," he addressed the bird, "you must'a found ol' Scroggie's
gold.  He had the only gold money this country ever saw, so you must
have found it some way.  I don't s'pose it'll do Teacher Stanhope any
good, 'cause it'll go to Jim Scroggie's father, but, Croaker, it's up
to us to get that money an' turn it over; hear me?"

Croaker blinked and seemed to be thinking hard.

"You see," Billy went on, "maybe the will'll be where the gold is.
You be a real good feller an' show me where you found the gold-piece."

"Sure I will," agreed Croaker.  He hopped down and started
pigeon-toeing across the glade, peering back to see if Billy were
coming.

Billy followed slowly, hoping, fearing, trusting that Croaker's
intentions were of the best.  The crow was carrying on a murmured
conversation with himself, flapping his wings, nodding his head
sagely and in other ways manifesting his eagerness to accommodate his
master.  When he grew tired of walking he flew and Billy had to run
to keep him in sight.  Straight through the grove, across the green
valley and on through the stumpy fallow went the crow, Billy panting
and perspiring behind.  Straight on to the pine-hedged creek and
still on, until the lonely pine grove of the haunted house came into
view.

"Oh, Jerusalem!" gasped Billy, "An' me without my rabbit foot charm."
He realized where Croaker was leading him--straight to the haunted
house.  He wiped his streaming face on his sleeve and determined he'd
go through with it.

Croaker paused for a moment in the edge of the grove to look back at
Billy.  The bird was plainly excited; his wings were spread, his neck
feathers erect, and his raucous voice was scattering nesting birds
from the evergreens in flocks.

With wildly beating heart Billy passed through the pines, the
twilight gloom adding to his feeling of awe.  Croaker had become
strangely silent and now flitted before him like a black spirit of a
crow.  It was almost a relief when at last the tumble-down shack grew
up in its tangle of vines and weeds.  Once more into the daylight and
Croaker took up the interrupted thread of his conversation with
himself.  He ducked and side-stepped and gave voice to expressions
which Billy had never heard him use before.

"I wish he'd shut up," he murmured to himself, "but I'm scared to
make him, fer fear he'll get sulky an' quit cold on the job."

Croaker, mincing in and out among the rag-weeds, led straight across
the yard to a tiny ramshackle building which at one time might have
been a root-house.  Billy, feeling that at any moment an icy hand
might reach out and grip his windpipe, followed.  It was a terrible
risk he was running but the prize was worth it.  His feet seemed
weighted with lead.  At last he reached the root-house and leaned
against it, dizzy and panting.  Then he looked about for Croaker.
The crow had vanished!

A thrill of alarm gripped Billy's heart-strings.  Where had Croaker
disappeared to?  What if old Scroggie's ghost had grabbed him and
cast over him the cloak of invisibility?  Then in all likelihood he
would be the next to feel that damp, clutching shroud.

Suddenly his fears vanished.  Croaker's voice, high-pitched and
jubilant, had summoned him from somewhere on the other side of the
building.  As quickly as the weeds and his lagging feet would permit
Billy joined him.  Croaker was standing erect on a pile of old
bottles, basking in the radiance of the colored lights which the sun
drew from them.  Undoubtedly in his black heart he felt that his
master would glory in this glittering pile even as he gloried in it;
for was there not in this heap of dazzling old bottles light enough
to make the whole world glad?

But Billy gazed dully at the treasure with sinking heart and
murmured: "You danged old humbug, you!"  Croaker was surprised,
indignant, hurt.  He reached down and struck one of the shiniest of
the bottles with his beak but even the happy tinkle that ensued
failed to rouse enthusiasm in his master.

"O Croaker," groaned Billy, "why won't you find the gold fer me?"
Croaker returned his master's look of reproach with beady, insolent
eyes.  "Cawrara-cawrara-cawrara," he murmured, backing from the pile,
which meant, "Why don't you carry one of these beautiful shiny things
home for me?  Isn't that what I brought you here to do?"

Then, his master still remaining blind to the wealth of treasure
disclosed to him, Croaker spread his wings and sailed away over the
pine-tops.  Billy, despair in his heart, followed.  All fear of the
supernatural was gone from him now, crowded out by bitter
disappointment at his failure to find the hidden gold.  He passed
close beside the haunted house without so much as a thought of the
ghost of the man who had owned it and on through the silent pines and
shadowy, grave-yard silence.

Then, just as he drew near to the edge of the grove, he caught his
breath in terror and the cold sweat leaped out on his fear-blanched
face.  Drifting directly toward him white as driven snow, came the
ghost.  It was bearing straight down upon him!  His knees grew weak,
refused to hold him, and he sagged weakly against a tree.  He closed
his eyes and waited for the end.

Billy had heard that when one comes face to face with death the
misdeeds of the life about to go out crowd into one brief second of
darting reality before one.  He had never quite believed it but he
believed it now.  If only he might have his misspent life to live
over again!  Never again would he steal Deacon Ringold's melons or
swap broken-backed, broken-bladed jack-knives for good ones with the
Sand-sharks, nor frighten his brother Anson with tales of witches and
goblins.  But that chance was not for him.  It was, perhaps, natural
that his last earthly thought would be of her.  Her sweet face shone
through the choking mists--her trembling lips were murmuring a last
"good bye."  Did she know what a wonderful influence her entrance
into his heart had exerted toward his reform?  With an effort he
opened his eyes.  The white, gliding thing was almost upon him now.
He tried to shake off frozen terror and run.  He could not move a
muscle.  He groaned and shut his eyes tight, waiting for the icy
touch of a spirit-hand.  It found him after what seemed an eternity
of waiting--but it was very soft and warm instead of clammy and cold
and the voice which spoke his name was not in the least sepulchral.

"Billy."

A long shiver ran through his tense frame.  He opened his eyes
slowly.  _She_ stood before him!  Yes there was no doubt of it, she
was there, blue eyes smiling into his, warm fingers sending a thrill
through his numbed being.

He tried to speak, tried to pronounce her name, but the effort was a
failure.  All he could do was to drink in her perfect loveliness.
More than ever like an angel she looked, standing all in white in the
blue-dark gloom of the grove, her hair glowing like a halo above the
deep pools of her eyes.

"Billy," she spoke again, "are you sick?"

With a supreme effort of will he shook off his numbness and the red
flush of shame wiped the pallor from his cheeks.  What would she
think of him if she knew?  The very anguish of the thought spurred
him to play the part of hypocrite.  It was despicable, he knew, but
what man has not had to play it, sooner or later, in the great game
of love?

"Fell out o' a tree," he managed to say.  "Struck my head on a limb."

"Oh!" she cried commiseratingly.  She came closer to him--so close
that her very nearness made him dizzy with joy.  With a tiny
handkerchief she wiped the perspiration from his forehead.

"Come out into the light and let me see where you hurt yourself," she
said, oh so gently.

"I don't think it left any mark," Billy stammered.  "Anyways, I feel
a whole lot better now.  It was foolish for me to climb that tall
tree.  I didn't have to do it."

"Then why did you do it?"  They were out into the hardwoods by now,
in a long valley strewn with a net-work of sunbeams and shadows and
he saw a hint of reproach in her big eyes as she asked the question.
His heart leaped with sheer joy.  She might just as well have said,
"You have no right to run risks, now that you have me to consider."

They sat down on a mossy log.  Her fingers brushed back his hair as
her eyes sought vainly for marks or bruises.

"I asked you why you climbed the tree, Billy?"

Billy's mind worked with lightning speed.

"There was a little cedar bird's nest in a tall pine," he explained.
"I saw a crow black bird fly out of it, and knew she had laid her egg
in that nest."

"But why should she lay her egg in the cedar bird's nest; hasn't she
a nest of her own?" asked Lou.

"No, crow black birds are too lazy to build nests.  They take the
first nest comes handy."

She looked her wonder.  "But, Billy, you'd think they would want to
enjoy building their own homes, wouldn't you?"

Billy shook his head.  "The crow black bird don't want to be bothered
with hatchin' an' feedin' her own young.  That's why she lays in
other bird's nests," he explained.  "She jest lays her egg an' beats
it out o' there.  The other poor little bird waits for her to go.
Then she goes back to her nest, glad enough to find it hasn't been
torn to bits."

"And you mean to tell me that she hatches the egg laid by the mean,
bad black bird, Billy?"

"Yep, she does jest that.  She don't seem to know any better.  Birds
an' animals are queer that way.  Why, even a weasel'll nurse a baby
rabbit along with her own kittens if it's hungry."

The girl's eyes grew wider and wider with wonderment.  "Isn't it
strange?" she half whispered, "and beautiful?"

"It's mighty queer," Billy confessed.  "But you see, if that little
bird was wise, she'd scoop that crow black bird's egg out o' her
nest, instead of hatchin' it."

"Why?"

"Because when the egg's hatched, the little black bird is so much
stronger an' bigger than the cedar birdies he takes most of the feed
the old birds bring in.  He starves the other little birds an' crowds
'em clean out o' the nest."

"Then it was brave of you to risk climbing that tall tree to frighten
that crow bird away," declared Lou.  The admiration and commendation
in the blue eyes watching him was more than Billy could endure.

"Say!" he burst out.  "I lied to you, Lou, I didn't fall out o' no
tree, I was jest scared plum stiff when you found me, that's all."

He hung his head and braced himself to meet what was justly coming to
him.  She would despise him now, he knew.  He felt a gentle touch on
his arm, and raised his face slowly.  The girl's red lips were
smiling.  He could scarcely believe his eyes.

"I'm glad you told me, Billy," she said.  "I--I hoped you might."

"Then you knowed I was scared?" he cried in wonder.

She nodded.  "I suppose I should have called to you, but I had
forgotten what I had heard about this grove being haunted and that I
was dressed all in white.  But when I came to you and saw your face I
knew that you were frightened."

"Frightened!  Oh gollies, I was so scared that I chattered my teeth
loose.  But honest Injun, Lou, I don't scare easy.  I wouldn't like
you to think that I'm a scare-cat about real things.  I'm jest scared
of ghosts, that's all."

Lou knit her brows in thought.  "No," she disagreed, "if you had been
that frightened you would not have come to the grove at all."

Billy looked his relief.  "I don't think I'm quite as bad as I used
to be," he said.  "Why say, there was a time when you couldn't get me
inside that grove.  But lately I've been feelin' different about it.
I don't s'pose there re'lly is such a thing as a ghost, is there?"

"No," she replied, "there's no such thing as a ghost, Billy."

A red squirrel came scampering across the open sod before them,
pausing as he sensed their presence, then springing to the trunk of a
sapling the better to look them over.

"Oh look at the dear little thing," cried the girl.  "What do you
suppose he's saying?" as the squirrel broke into a shrill chatter.

"Why he's callin' us all the mean things he knows, I guess," laughed
Billy.  "We're in his way, you see."

"Then let's get out of his way.  I suppose he thinks we have no
business here and maybe he's right.  Where shall we go, Billy?"

Billy thought a moment.  "Say, how'd you like to go out in my punt,
on Levee Crick?  I kin show you some cute baby mushrats an' some
dandy black-birds' nests.  It's not far away.  We go 'cross that big
fallow and through a strip o' hardwoods an' then we climb a stump
fence--an' there's the crick.  It's an awful fine crick, an' plumb
full of bass an' pike.  Say, will you go?"

He leaned toward her, waiting for her answer.  His heart was singing
with joy--joy that spilled out of his grey eyes and made his lips
smile in spite of him.  What a sweet and grand privilege it would be
to carry this wonderful girl, who had so transformed his world, along
the familiar by-ways that held such rare treasures of plant and wild
life.

She was looking away across the forest to a strip of fleecy cloud
drifting across the deep azure of the sky.

"I should like to go," she said at length, "if you are sure you don't
think I will be a bother."

"Bother!"  Billy's pulses were leaping, his soul singing.  He reached
down a hand and trustingly she put her's in it.  Very soft and cool
it felt to Billy's hot palm, as he assisted her from the log.  Then
side by side they passed down through the long green valley.



CHAPTER XXI

A DAY WITH THE DUCKS

Erie Landon faced her father across the breakfast table, dimpled chin
cupped in her brown hand.  It was early morning; a red sun was just
lifting above the Point to wipe away the white mists of the channel
and the bay.  The American yacht which had put into harbor the night
before had cleared and was now but a white speck in the distance.

"She ought to make Cleveland before dark if this breeze holds," the
light-house keeper said as he twisted the big cigar which the
commodore had given him about in his fingers.  "Just what word was it
that lawyer chap, Maddoc, wanted us to get to Swanson, at the foot,
Erie?"

"Why, he asked us to tell Swanson that he and a friend are coming to
his place to stay for a couple of weeks duck-shooting, Daddy," Erie
answered.

"When?"

"Early in October, Mr. Maddoc said."

"Humph!  It does beat all what foolish ideas them big guns take.
Think of them two comin' all the way from Cleveland here just to
shoot ducks.  Old man Swanson knows his book, too.  He charges them
sports awful prices; nine dollars a week each and makes 'em sleep two
in a bed at that; and every fall that old ramblin' house of his is
chuck kerbang full of shooters."

Landon was much improved in health.  He spoke with little effort, the
hollows in his cheeks were filling and his eyes were brighter than
the girl had seen them for many a day.  He gazed longingly down at
the cigar, then glancing up to catch his daughter's reproachful look,
sighed and laid it on the table.

"I'd love to smoke it," he confessed, "but you needn't worry, Chick.
I'm through with tobacco till I'm my real self ag'in.  But I feel so
darned much better since I quit smokin' I simply want to smoke all
the more."

"Poor old Daddy," Erie laughed, coming around to sit on the arm of
his chair.  "It does seem too bad you can't have your smoke.  I'm
sure you miss it dreadfully; but you see you are so much stronger and
better I--well, I simply won't let you smoke just yet, that's all."

His face had brightened at the sound of her laughter.  Now he patted
her hand, as his eyes sought the window.  Perhaps the old songs would
come back even as the laughter had come and surprise him.  Perhaps
she was forgetting Stanhope.  But no, much as he desired that this
should be, he knew her too well for that.

With his eyes on the white sail, now a tiny dot on the horizon, his
mind went back to that scene of a month ago, when he had told her of
Hinter's proposal and of his consent to it.  He would never quite
forget the look that came into her face.

"I could never marry Hinter," she had said.  "I love one man--and to
him I shall be true, always."

"But he is blind, child.  He has given you up," Landon had reasoned.
And with her face aglow she had answered.  "He is blind, but he can
never give me up, because he loves me."

Reading in the dry, suffering eyes she had turned upon him a purpose
stronger than life itself, what could he do but take her in his arms
and ask her to forgive him for the old meddler he was?  Perhaps he
had erred in this.  He did not want to think so.  But she looked so
much like her mother that morning it might be--

"Daddy."

He came out of his abstraction with a start and glanced at her,
almost guiltily.  "Yes, Chick."

"Have you told Mr. Hinter yet?" she asked suddenly.

"Yes," he answered.  "I told him that same day.  Told him that you
said you could never be more to him than what you now are.  Why do
you ask, Erie?"

"I have wondered why he keeps coming here," she said slowly.  "You
scarcely need his companionship, now you are busy with your duties.
But there," she broke off with a smile, "I have no right to doubt his
sincerity; I am sure he has never spoken one word to me that he
should not speak and I know he is really fond of you."

Landon knit his shaggy brows.  "I don't know, Chick.  I'm afraid he
still hopes.  He has as much as told me so.  'We've been too hasty
with her,' he said, 'we must have patience.'"

Erie's face went very white.  "He mustn't come here any more," she
said quickly.  "With your permission I shall tell him so, Daddy."

He was silent for a time.  "Just as you like," he said at length.
"If his comin' annoys you, dear, you tell him so."

She bent and kissed him.  "Best Daddy ever was," she whispered.  Then
jumping up she ran to the stove and put the kettle on.

"I saw Billy Wilson yesterday when I was out sailing," she called,
"and he had the sweetest little girl with him.  Her name is Lou
Scroggie and I fell in love with her on sight."

"Billy with a girl!" cried Landon in wonder.

"Yes.  They were out in Billy's punt, gathering water-lilies, and, oh
Daddy, they seemed so happy.  I could have hugged them both.  Billy
told me that he and Maurice Keeler were going shooting ducks this
morning and I asked him to come over here for breakfast as usual.
The marsh shooting is all over by sunrise, you know."

Her father nodded.  "I'll bet a cookie that was Billy's old muzzle
loader I heard down in the duck-ponds about daylight," he laughed.
"Maybe," he added hopefully, "he'll fetch us a brace of ducks."

"Why, there he is now," she cried, glancing through the window.
"Maurice isn't with him, though.  I know that old punt as far as I
can see it.  I must get the potatoes and bacon on; he'll be hungry as
a bear."

Landon put on his hat and went down to the beach to welcome their
visitor.  "Well, Billy," he called as the punt appeared around the
bend in the shore, "how many ducks did old Liza-Ann drop out of the
sky this mornin'?"

"Two greys and a mallard," Billy answered over his shoulder.
"Could'a killed more, but what's the use.  They wouldn't keep;
weather's too warm."

"Well now, I can't see why a dozen wouldn't keep as well as three,"
returned the keeper, as he pulled the punt high on shore.

"They would, I s'pose," laughed Billy as he stepped out, followed by
Moll, the little spaniel, "but these three don't have to keep long;
you see we're goin' to have these fer dinner."

"Are we now?"  Landon rubbed his hands and smacked his lips in
anticipation.  "You're goin' to stay and help clean up on 'em, Billy?"

"Yep, I'll stay.  I'm goin' to paint Erie's skiff fer her.  I'll slip
into the ponds ag'in on my way to the Settlement an' kill enough
ducks fer our folks an' the neighbors."

Erie was waving to him from the kitchen door.  "Where's Maurice?" she
called.

"His Ma wouldn't let him come.  Afraid he'd get wet an' go sick
ag'in.  Gee! that coffee smells good, Erie."

"Go 'long in and tackle it while it's hot," advised Landon.  "I'll
start in on pluckin' these birds.  But first we'll have to let Chick
see 'em.  Say, Billy, they're nigh as big as tame 'uns!"

Erie clasped her hands in ecstasy at sight of the wild ducks.  "Oh,
aren't they lovely!" she cried.  "Put them in the ice-house, Daddy,
until Billy starts for home."

Billy, who had squared away at his breakfast, spoke with his mouth
full.  "We're goin' to have 'em fer dinner," he informed his hostess.

"But, Billy," she remonstrated, "they'll be expecting you to bring
some ducks home, you know."

"Billy says he'll shoot some more this evenin'," spoke up her father,
who did not intend to allow anything to interfere with a duck dinner
if he could help it.

"These ducks wouldn't keep till I get home," said Billy.

"No," supported Landon, "weather's too warm, you see, Chick.  I'll
start in on dressin' 'em right now," he chuckled, exchanging winks
with Billy.

"You're a pair of plotters," cried Erie, "and being a weak, helpless
girl I suppose I'll have to agree with you and submissively roast
those birds to suit your taste."

"You'll find onions and savory hangin' to the rafters upstairs,"
suggested her father as he carried the ducks outside.

Erie sat down opposite to Billy, and watched him while he ate.  He
smiled across at her.  "Your Dad seems a whole lot better," he said.

"Yes, ever so much.  He's almost his old self again.  He has quit
smoking, you see, and he has promised me not to smoke until he is
quite well again."

Billy laid down his knife and fork and smiled reminiscently.  "I was
jest thinkin' of ol' Harry O'Dule," he said, answering the question
in her eyes.  "He's quit a bad habit, too.  He's quit drinkin'; don't
touch a drop any more--hasn't fer over a month now."

"Oh isn't that splendid," cried the girl.  "He's such a dear old
fellow when he's sober.  Do you suppose he'll be strong enough to
give up drink altogether, Billy?"

"Well, he seems to be in earnest about it.  I re'lly don't think
he'll drink any more.  He says that he's got his tin whistle an' his
cat an' don't need whisky.  He's changed wonderful, there's no
mistake about that.  Ma saw him yesterday.  He was dressed in his
Prince Albert an' plug hat, an' Ma says he was that changed she
didn't know him at first."

Erie laughed softly, "I know very well you've had a hand in his
reform, Billy," she said.

"Nope," denied Billy, "but I ain't sayin' but that my owls an' snakes
might have played a part in it."  And he proceeded to relate the
deception he had practiced on Harry while the old man was in his cups.

The girl clapped her hands in joy at the story.  "And you let him
think he had the delirium tremens!  Oh, Billy, is there anything you
wouldn't do, I wonder?"

Billy shook his head.  "I dunno," he replied.  "That's a hard
question to answer."

Silence fell between them.  He knew that she was thinking that last
year on the opening morning of the duck season Frank Stanhope had sat
at this table with him.  She was gazing from the window, far down to
where the Point was lost in the Settlement forests.  He saw her bosom
rise and fall, saw a tear grow up in her eyes and roll unheeded down
her cheek.

In boyish sympathy his hand reached out to clasp the slender brown
one clenched upon the white cloth.  He longed to ask her if what the
Settlement was saying--that she was going to marry Hinter--was true.
And then as quickly as the thought itself came shame of it.  His hand
clasped her hand more tightly.

"He went with me to the foot of the Causeway last night, ag'in," he
said softly.

She turned and the blood mounted swiftly to her white cheeks.  "And
did he feel the light again, Billy?" she whispered eagerly.

"He felt the light," said the boy, "an' he sang all the way back
home."

"Oh!" she cried and hid her face on her arms.

Billy arose hastily, saying something about helping her father with
the ducks and went outside.  He found Landon seated on a soap-box
behind the boat house, industriously stripping the ducks of their
feathers.

"Say," said the man as Billy came up, "you know when ducks put on an
extra coverin' of feathers a hard winter is in sight?  Well, by gosh,
these birds have all put on an extra undershirt.  Look," holding the
duck in his hands up for inspection.  "How's that for a coat o' down?"

"It sure is heavy," agreed Billy.  "I saw another sure sign over
there in the ponds that says it's goin' to be a hard winter, one I've
never knowed to fail.  It was the mushrat houses.  The rats are
throwin' 'em up mighty big an' thick."

"And warm, I'll bet."

"Yep, an' warm.  We're sure to have a rough fall an' a humdinger of a
winter."

"And I s'pose a rough fall means good duckin'?" laughed Landon.  "Oh,
by the way, Billy, before I forget.  Would you mind runnin' in to old
Swanson's landin' on your way home and tellin' him that a couple of
fellers from Cleveland are comin' to his place early next month to
shoot.  They were here last night.  One of em's a lawyer named Maddoc
an' he give me this money to pass on to Swanson, so's the old codger
would be sure and hold a room for 'em."

He felt in his vest pocket and fished out a ten dollar note, which he
handed to Billy.  "Maddoc and a party of other men were cruisin' in a
yacht.  They docked here last night," he explained.  "Left at sunup
for Cleveland."

"I saw the yacht leave the pier," said Billy.  "She sure was a dandy,
wasn't she?"

"Never saw finer lines than her's," agreed Landon.  "You're sure you
don't mind gettin' that word to Swanson now, Billy?"

"Not a bit.  I'll run in to his dock tonight, an' tell him."

"Good.  There, thank goodness this job of pluckin's done at last.".
Landon rose, rubbed his cramped legs and gathered the stripped ducks
up by the necks.  "We'll leave the rest to Erie," he chuckled.  "This
is about as far as she ever lets me go.  Comin' in?"

Billy shook his head.  "I've got a skiff to paint 'fore three o'clock
this afternoon," he said, "so I best get busy.  Tell Erie not to
ferget to blow the fog-horn when the ducks are done."

Landon went on slowly to the kitchen.  With his hand on the
door-latch he paused and a smile lit his seamed face.  Above the
clatter of dishes came a girl's sweet soprano:

  "Her voice was low and sweet,
  And she's all the world to me,
  And for bonnie Annie Laurie
  I'd lay me down and dee."


"I knowed it," whispered the man, softly.  "I knowed the old songs
would come back ag'in.  Billy must have had somethin' to do with it;
I'll bet a cookie he had!"  He opened the door gently and entered.
He placed the ducks on the table and softly withdrew again.

* * * * *

It was late afternoon when Billy stepped into his punt and with
swift, strong strokes sent it skimming toward the duck-ponds.  At the
point where the shore curved abruptly he lifted his hat and waved to
the man and girl watching him from the pier.

Moll looked up into his face and whined.  "Don't worry, girlie,"
Billy told her, "we're goin' on, but we're comin' back ag'in soon an'
have another o' Erie's duck dinners, an' Teacher Stanhope's goin to
be with us, don't you ferget that."

As he spoke, he saw another boat round the distant grass-point and
put into Jerunda cut, the entrance to the main pond.  The smile left
his face.  "Beat us to it, Moll," he sighed to the spaniel whose
brown eyes had also glimpsed the skiff.  "They'll be set by the time
we get in an' they've got the pick of the ponds, no use denyin' that.
We'll have to portage 'cross to a back slough an' all the ducks we'll
get a chance at are them they miss.  Well, cheer up," as the dog,
sensing the disgust in his voice, growled deep in her throat.

Reaching the cut Billy found the other shooters having some
difficulty in getting their heavy skiff through the shallow and
deceptive water, a feat which only one who was used to navigating
could hope to accomplish successfully.  At the same time he noted,
with a start, that the men in the skiff were the mysterious drillers,
Tom and Jack.

"Hello, you!" he shouted.  "You'll have to back up an' take the run
to your left."

The larger of the two men grunted a surly response and with much
pushing and swearing they began to laboriously back out of the blind
channel.  Billy and Moll watched them, the dog growling her
antagonism of the interlopers.  As the skiff passed his bow Billy
noted that the guns lying across the seat were both of the new
breech-loading pattern.

The occupants of the skiff cast a contemptuous look at his old
muzzle-loader, as they passed, and one of them laughed and said
something in an aside to his companion.

"Do you expect to kill any ducks with that old iron?" he sneered,
looking hard at Billy.

Billy felt his cheeks turn hot.  "I might," he returned, "an' ag'in,
I mightn't."

"That's one on you, Tom," laughed the man named Jack.  "Quit roasting
the kid.  We'd have been mired yet if it hadn't been for him."

Tom allowed a shade of amiability to creep into his tones as he said:
"First time we ever shot these grounds, and we're kinder green on the
ins and outs of 'em.  We're drillin' fer water down in the
Settlement.  Lost our drill this mornin' and had to send across the
lake fer a fishin' outfit, so thought we'd put in the time shootin' a
bit."

Billy made no reply.

"Neeborly, ain't he?" growled Tom to his companion.  "Nice, friendly
sorter youngsters they raise on this God forsaken spot, I say."

"He thinks you're guyin' him," said the other man.  "How's he to know
what you mean by 'fishin'-outfit?'  He likely thinks you mean a rod
and reel.  Better push along and mind your own business.  Next thing
you're goin' to say is somethin' about 'shootin' a well,' and if
Jacobs gets to hear of that kinder talk--"

They were moving off, and Billy did not hear the rest of the
sentence.  As they entered the main run, the smaller man called:
"Hey, sonny, whereabouts is the best point in yonder?"

Billy gritted his teeth.  He resented these strangers coming into his
shooting grounds and acting as though they owned them.  For them to
expect him to show them just where the best point was to be found
seemed to him to be going a whole lot too far.  He disliked and
distrusted them.  From what he had seen and heard of them he believed
they were the men who robbed the Twin Oaks store.  He wanted to tell
them so now, but something told him to curb his temper and act the
part of a sport who could afford to make certain allowances.

"The best point's straight ahead of you," he answered.  "You'll find
a rush blind already built on it."

He picked up his paddle and followed in the wake of the other boat.
The men were putting out their decoys as Billy passed the point.

"Say, you," called Tom, "if this is such an all-fired good spot it's
a wonder you didn't take it yourself; you had lots of time to beat us
to it, didn't you?"

"You was in the run first, wasn't you?" said Billy, coldly.

"Why, sure we was, but we were stuck tight.  You might have passed
us, easy enough."

"Well, we don't play the game that way in these parts," said Billy
and passed on, unheedful of the uncomplimentary names the chagrined
driller threw after him.

Half way down the long pond he drew into shore and, pulling the punt
after him through the tall rushes, made the portage across to the
inner slough.  It was a long, hard pull, but the track he laid would
make the return portage much easier.

"Looks like a good feedin' place, Moll," he addressed the spaniel as
he paddled slowly across to the far shore of the slough.  "Good grass
here fer hidin', too; but not much chance of findin' a down bird
without a good dog, an' I've got her--eh girlie?"

Moll wagged her short tail gleefully.

"Now then, girlie, it's comin' on to flight-time, so well jest set
out decoys right here."  Billy picked up the wooden ducks and placed
them as naturally as he knew how some twenty yards out from shore.
As he drew the punt well up among the tall rushes he saw the first
line of ducks drift in from the bay.

"Down, Moll!" he whispered, as he cocked the old muzzle-loader.
"They're headin' straight in.  Them driller fellers are goin' to get
a chance to make a clean-up on that bunch, sure!"

Straight across the marsh, following the cut, the ducks came on, half
a dozen big "blacks," with long necks outstretched and quick eyes
seeking for feeding ones of their own kind.  Then, suddenly, the
leader gave a soft quack and Billy saw the flock swoop low.

"Oh, gollies!  Right into their decoys," he groaned.  "Now they'll
give it to 'em, jest as they're settlin'."

A long, harrowing moment passed.  Then quickly and close together
four shots rang out.  Moll whined dolefully and Billy, peering
through the rushes, gave a low whistle of surprise.  "Didn't down a
single bird," he muttered, "an' by gollies, they've sent 'em right
across to us."

Almost simultaneously with his words the whistle of strong wings grew
up and the six big blacks swept in, low over his decoys.

It was a sure hand that raised the old gun, a sure eye that glanced
along its brown barrels.  At the first loud report of the black
powder the leader of the flock crumpled up and the second in command
drifted sidewise from the flock.  The left barrel spoke and a third
duck twisted from the remainder of the flock, to fall with a splash
into the water.

Moll, whose eyes had never left the second bird down, had slipped
quietly away through the rushes.  Billy, having launched the punt and
retrieved the two birds on the water, found her waiting for him on
shore, the dead duck in her mouth.  He patted her brown side and
spoke a word of commendation to her; then quickly he reloaded.

The sun was almost on the western horizon now and the ducks were
beginning to come in fast, most of them from off the bay;
consequently the shooters in the front pond had always first chance.
But Billy knew they were having little or no success.  Every duck
that offered itself as a target to them he saw almost as soon as they
did and although the report of their guns sounded at quick intervals
the ducks seemed to keep on, straight across to where he crouched
with the excited dog by his side.

By the time the sun had fallen behind the far rim of forest he was
quite content with his evening's bag, which consisted of five blacks,
a pair of greys, two blue winged teal, a pintail and a pair of green
headed mallards.

Quickly he made the portage and crossed the pond into Jerunda.  He
could hear the other shooters ahead of him, speaking in profane tones
of disgust at their luck.  He found them waiting for him on the edge
of the bay, but he kept right on paddling.

"What luck, sonny?" called the man, Tom, as he passed.

Billy told him of his bag.

The man swore and said something to his companion.  "Hey, hold up!
Want to sell part of them ducks?" he asked.

"Nope."  Billy shipped his paddle and picked up his oars.  Somehow he
felt safer then.  He believed that men like those behind were capable
of almost any crime.  What if they should make up their minds to have
his ducks anyway?  Well, they couldn't catch him now.  There were two
of them in a heavy skiff and he was alone in his light punt, so let
them try it if they wanted to.  But whatever might have been their
thought, it was clear they knew better than pursue that swiftly
moving boat.  Quickly they fell behind him and were swallowed up in
the deepening shadows.



CHAPTER XXII

TEACHER JOHNSTON RESIGNS

September passed laden with summer perfumes and song and, beneath a
blanket of hoar frost, October awoke to send her hazy heralds far
across wooded upland and open.  Slowly those wreathing mists kissed
leaf and fern, as though whispering: "Rest sweetly, until spring
brings you back once again."

So it seemed to the boy, as from the brow of a hill he watched the
dawn-haze drift toward the newly-open sun-gates of the eastern sky;
for autumn always brought a feeling of sadness to Billy.  He missed
the twitter of the birds, the thousand and one notes of the wild
things he loved and which always passed out and away from his world
with the summer.  The first hoar frost had come; soon the leaves
would turn golden and crimson, the fern-clumps crumple and wither
into sere, dead, scentless things.  Then with shortening days and
darkening skies those leaves and plants would sag to earth and the
gaunt arms of the bare trees would lift empty nests toward
snow-spitting skies.

No more would the fire-flies weave a gauze of golden stars above the
marshlands at the foot of the Causeway.  The season of green and blue
had lived and died and in its place had been born a season of drab
and brown.  Summer was gone.  The song-birds had migrated.  Soon the
green rush fields would sway, grey and dead and the bronze woodcocks
would whistle away from the bog-lands, for seldom did they tarry
after the first frost.  Along the creek the red-winged black-birds
would be sounding their up-and-away notes.  No happy carol to welcome
the first glow of dawn!  No wonder Billy sighed.  Then he lifted his
head quickly as, high above him, sounded the whistle of wings.  Up
from the north a wedgeshaped flock of wild ducks came speeding, white
backs flashing as they pitched downward in unbroken formation towards
the calling bay-waters.

Billy caught his breath quickly and a glad smile drove the shadow
from his face.  "Canvasbacks!" he murmured, "They've come early.  I
bet anythin' the flocks I heard comin' in through the night was
canvasbacks, too--an' redhead!  I must go right over after breakfast
an' tell Teacher Stanhope; he'll be sure to say 'Let's go get 'em.'
Oh, gee!"

He turned back toward the house, then paused as the mellow
"whirt-o-whirt" of a quail sounded from the sumach which bordered the
meadow across the road.  "Old Cock quail," he cautioned softly, "I
wouldn't give that covey-call too often if I was you.  Joe Scraff
jest might hear you.  Only note safe fer you to whistle is 'Bob
White'--but you won't be whistlin' that till spring comes ag'in."

It may be that the white-throated leader of the brown covey in the
stubble sensed the murmured warning of his friend, for he did not
whistle again.  The smile still on his lips, Billy vaulted the rail
fence and sought the path to the house.

He found his father, mother and Anson seated at the breakfast table
and as he took his place he was conscious of a foreboding of
impending storm.  The conviction was strengthened when his father's
foot, reaching sympathetically underneath the table, touched his ever
so gently.  With perfect sangfroid he speared a strip of bacon with
his fork and held his breath as he waited for the worst.  Two taps of
that foot meant "On your guard," three taps "Watch out for dodging."

He received two taps and sighed relievedly; then as his mother arose
to bring the coffee-pot from the stove he felt three quick and
distinct pressures and ducked his head just in time to miss a
swinging, open-handed slap from Mrs. Wilson's heavy hand.

Anson, sitting slit-eyed and gleeful close beside him, received the
slap with a force that knocked his face into his porridge bowl.

As Mrs. Wilson recovered her balance and squared away for a surer
stroke, Croaker swooped in through the open door and, with many
muffled croaks, alighted in the center of the table.  In his black
beak he held another glittering gold piece, which he dropped in front
of Mrs. Wilson's plate.  Then picking up a fat doughnut from the
platter he hopped to the motto _God Bless Our Home_ and perching
himself on its gilt frame proceeded to appease his morning's hunger.

Silence fell upon the family after the first gasp of surprise at
sight of the gold piece.  Even Anson checked his wailing to sit with
his pale eyes wider open than ever they had been before and it was he
who broke the silence which had fallen--broke it with a husky,
fear-ridden voice as he cried:

"Fer goodness sake, Ma, don't touch that gold!  It's bewitched, I
tell you!"

His mother glared at him.  "Humph!" she snorted, "you're bewitched
yourself, you poor coward you!  Now then, another word out o'
you--and you get the strap.  Ain't I told you, Anson, time and ag'in,
that this dear crow has found old Scroggie's pile?  You git up from
this table to once; go out and stay within callin' distance; I'll
want you back here presently."

She picked up the gold piece and, fondling it lovingly, waited until
Anson had passed outside.  Then with characteristic deliberation she
placed it safely away beneath her saucer, thereby signifying that the
incident was closed for the time being.

It was not until Billy had finished his breakfast and was about to
slip quietly out that his mother spoke again.  Then fixing him with
cold, accusing eyes, she said: "I want 'a know what you had to do
with scarin' the new teacher so he won't never come back to the
Valley School ag'in, Willium."

Billy, who had anticipated what was coming, gave a well-feigned start.

"Why, Ma," he cried, in amazement, "you don't mean to say he's gone?"

"Yes, he's gone an' I s'pose you're satisfied, you and your outlaw
companions in crime.  Cobin Keeler stopped by this mornin' and he
told us the teacher left his writ' resign in his hands.  He declares
he won't risk his life among a lot of young savages."

"I think that Mr. Johnston went a little too far there," Wilson
ventured.

"You shet right up, Tom!" commanded his wife.  "Ain't it nuthin' to
you that your son grows up wild and uneddicated?"

"But he had no right to call us savages, Ma," protested Billy.

"Oh, hadn't he then!  Well, who up and deliberately stole his horse,
I'd like to know?"  Mrs. Wilson held her breath waiting for the
answer.

"Nobody stole his horse," replied Billy.  "The poor thing was so lean
an' hungry that it weaved when it walked; all we did was sneak it out
o' the school-yard an' hide it where there was good pasture."

"Well, maybe that ain't stealin' it, but if it ain't what would you
call it, Willium?"

"I'd call it bein' kind to dumb animals," spoke up Wilson, his eyes
meeting the angry ones of his wife.

"Listen, Ma," said Billy gently.  "That old Johnston was awful mean
to us kids, there's no mistake about that.  He whipped us fer
nothin', an' what's worse, he was always sneerin' at us fer being
low-born an' ignorant, an' that meant sayin' things ag'in our folks.
But we was willin' to stand all that, cause we'd promised Teacher
Stanhope that we'd do our best to put up with the teacher in his
place.  But, Ma, if you could'a seen that poor ol' horse, so starved
that every rib showed like the ridges in your wash-board, lookin'
over that school-yard fence at the long grass an' beggin' with his
hungry eyes fer jest a bite--"

Billy paused and rolled a bread crumb.  When he looked up his eyes
were dark.  "Anse has told you that it was me who sneaked him out o'
the yard, an' led him away where he could feed an' rest an' get the
sores made by the hard saddle an' hickory healed, an' Anse didn't lie
fer once.  I did do it, an' I'd do it ag'in.

"What's more, Ma, that ol' horse is goin' to stay right where he is,
belly-deep in clover, till it gets so cold we'll have to stable him.
Then he's goin' to have all the good hay an' oats he wants."

Mrs. Wilson could scarcely believe her ears.  "You don't mean that
havin' took him you had any thoughts of keepin' him, Willium?" she
managed to say.

"Yes, Ma'am; I mean jest that.  You see, Ma, that ol' horse don't
belong to Teacher Johnston any more.  We bought him."

"Bought him!" exclaimed man and woman in a breath.

Billy nodded.  "Me an' Jim Scroggie bought him from Mr. Johnston, an'
we got a receipt provin' our ownership, too, you bet.  This is how we
did it.  'Long 'bout the second er third day after ol' Thomas
disappeared me an' Jim met up with Johnston walkin' home from school
to Fairfield where he boards.  Jim had fifty dollars, all his own,
an' we'd planned jest what we'd say to the teacher.

"First off when he sees us, he asks us if we'd happened to find any
tracks of his horse.  It was funny to see his snakey eyes callin' us
liars at every polite word we said to him.  Finally he comes right
out flat-footed an' tells us that he knows we had somethin' to do
with ol' Thomas wanderin' off, an' he says he's goin' to make our
fathers pay fer his loss."

"Course we got real scared then--leastwise Johnston thought we
was--an' Jim he ups an' tells him that we fergot to latch the gate
an' let the horse out.  Then Johnston got real mean--meaner than I
ever see him get, an' that's sayin' quite a lot.  He said he would
turn back with us an' interview--that's the word he used, whatever it
means--interview our fathers.

"Then Jim he begged him not to do that.  'We'll pay you whatever's
right fer your horse, sir,' he says, but Johnston jest snorted.
'Where would you get fifty dollars!' he says, but Jim, he nudged me
to keep quiet, an' said: 'I've got fifty dollars of my very own,
right here, sir.  We'll buy your horse an' take chances on findin'
him, if you'll sell him to us.'

"'Gimme the money,' says Johnston.

"So we give him the money but we made him give us what Jim calls a
regular bill o' sale receipt fer it.  An' so, you see, Ma, we've got
Mr. Johnston there, an' he won't ever lay the rod on poor ol' Thomas
no more."

Mrs. Wilson, arms folded on the white table-cloth, was gazing out of
the window now.  Perhaps she saw a poor old horse, belly deep in
luscious grass, making up for the fasts of hard and stern days,
mercifully behind it forever now and enjoying life to the full--the
new life which Billy had helped to purchase.

At any rate, her voice had lost much of its harshness as she asked:
"But what about the wild animal that broke into the school an' tore
the teacher's clothes fair off his back an' chased him up the road?
That's the thing that scared him so he quit the school ferever.  Now,
Willium, what did you have to do with that?"

Billy sat silent, striving to keep back the grin that would come in
spite of him.  Wilson, on pretext of getting his pipe, got up and
left the room.

"I'm waitin', Willium."

"Well, Ma, you see ol' Ringdo got out of his cage yesterday mornin'.
I've kept him shut up a lot an' what with feedin' on meat an' rich
stuff that old swamp coon was playfuller than usual, I guess.  It
seems Teacher Johnston had took a notion to get down to the school at
eight o'clock instead of nine as he usually does.  When Teacher
Stanhope taught school Ringdo used t' often go there an' get apples
an' stuff that the teacher saved for him.  Yesterday when he got
loose he must've been lonesome fer Mr. Stanhope, an' he went to the
school.  He got in an' found Johnston alone, I guess, an' maybe tried
to get friendly.  Mr. Johnston must have kicked him er hit him.  All
I know about it is what I seen fer myself.

"I was goin' down the path to the road, Anse with me, when the
teacher went past, runnin' fer all he was worth.  Come to think of it
his coat had been clawed some, an' I remember now his face was
bleedin' from a scratch er two.  He didn't see us an' he didn't stop.
He kept right on goin'.  Anse an' me went on to the school, an' there
we found Ringdo jest finishin' the teacher's lunch.  I brought him
back an' put him in his cage.  That's all, Ma, an' it's every blessed
word true."

Mrs. Wilson remained thoughtful.  Billy, watching her with furtive
speculation, hoped from the relaxing lines in her brow that all was
well with the world once more.  Hope became an assurance with her
next words.

"You kin have that Jim Scroggie over to supper tonight, Willium, if
you want to."

Billy's heart jumped with joy.  He wanted to hug his mother, but
restrained the desire and sat gazing pensively at his plate.

"What's the matter, don't you want him?" asked his mother.  "I
thought maybe you'd like to have him, seein's you're such cronies an'
there must be some good in him in spite of his looks.  I could have
them partridges that Joe Scraff sent over roasted with bacon strips
across 'em, an' baked potatoes, an' maybe I might boil an apple
dumplin'."

Billy sighed.  "That's awful good of you, Ma, an' I sure would like
to have Jim over to supper, but he's so fond of his sister he won't
go anywheres without her, you see."

"Well," flared his mother, "can't he fetch her along with him, if he
wants to?  What's to hinder him from fetchin' her?  She's a sweet
little thing an' I'd be proud to have her."

Billy closed his eyes and took tight hold of his chair seat.  He knew
that if he did not summon all his self restraint he would surely
spoil all he had accomplished through strategy.  He longed to swoop
down on his mother and hug her, slap her on the back and yell in her
ear that she was a brick.  But experience had taught him caution.
And besides, Billy reasoned, there was still something more to be
accomplished.

"I say we kin have Louie over, too, Willium," Mrs. Wilson suggested
once again.

"Yep, we could do that, I s'pose," said Billy, "only--"  He frowned
and shook his head.  "I guess we best not ask either of 'em, Ma.
Maurice might hear of it, an' wonder why he wa'n't asked too.  He's
awful funny that way, you know."

"Why, sakes alive!" cried his mother, "I never give Maurice a
thought.  O' course we'll have him, too.  An' if there happens to be
anybody else you'd like, you best say so now, Willium."

"I'd awful like to have Harry O'Dule, too."

Mrs. Wilson caught her breath, but whatever objections her mind
raised against the last named remained unuttered.  All she said was.
"This is your party, Willium.  Anybody else, now?"

"Elgin Scraff," spoke up Billy, promptly.

Mrs. Wilson looked out of the window and considered.  "Let's see.
That leaves little Louie the only girl among all of you boys, so
we'll jest have to have another girl er two.  How'd you like to have
Ann Spencer and Phoebe Scraff?"

Billy agreed with delight.

Mrs. Wilson pushed back her chair and arose from the table.  "Now,
then, Willium, you get along out.  I've got a whole lot to do afore
supper-time, and I guess maybe you best run across and ask Mrs.
Keeler to come over and help me.  You kin go 'round and give the
invites to your friends."

She picked up the saucer and stood looking down at the gold piece
which Croaker had brought in.  "I don't s'pose there's a particle of
use keepin' an eye on that crow?" she asked.

"Haven't I been keepin' an eye on him?" cried Billy, "an' you see
what he does.  Jest as soon as I turn my back he plays sharp.  I've
done my best to get him to show me where he finds that gold, but he
won't do it.  But I'll catch him yet.  I'll jest run along an' see
what he's at now; he's so quiet I know he's into some mischief."

He picked up his hat and bounded outside.  He found Croaker seated on
the chicken yard fence, gravely surveying his ancient and mortal
enemy, the old game cock, and whispering guttural insults that fairly
made the rooster bristle with anger.

Billy shook his fist at the crow.  "You old beggar," he said fondly,
"if that rooster was wise he'd go out with the rest of the chickens
an' scratch his breakfast, 'stead o' quarrelin' with you.  He don't
know that you're doin' your best to starve him to death."

Billy knew that Croaker would hang close to his enemy all morning and
feeling reasonably sure that no further trips to the hidden treasure
would be made during his absence on his mother's errand he started
for Keeler's.  At the road gate he met Cobin coming in, a pitchfork
on his shoulder.  Keeler and Billy's father "changed works" during
wheat and corn harvest, and the former was coming over to help haul
in fodder.

"Ho, Billy!" he boomed, gripping the lad's arm in his huge hand, "you
won't steal Maurice away from the work I've set him to do this
mornin', I'll be bound.  Back to the house you come with me, young
man.  I want Maurice to finish his job."

"I don't want Maurice," Billy hastened to explain.  "Ma wants Missus
Keeler to come over an' give her a hand, so I'm on my way to tell
her.  Honest, Mr. Keeler, that's right."

"By Jimminy, you've fooled me so many times, Billy, I have an idea
you might jest do it ag'in."  Mr. Keeler's grip tightened, and his
smile broadened.  "Cross your heart, it's right?"

"Yep, cross my heart, an' spit on my thumb," grinned Billy.

Keeler's roaring laugh might have been heard half a mile away.
"Well, along you go," he shouted, lifting Billy bodily over the gate.
"You'll find Ma deefer than usual on account of a cold in the head,
so talk real close and loud to her."

Billy found Mrs. Keeler peeling onions in the cook-house and after
some trouble made her understand what was wanted.  While she was
shedding her apron and hunting for her hat he went outside.
Maurice's school-books and slate lay on the bench beneath the hop
vine.  Billy grinned as his eyes fell on them.  He climbed to the top
of the gate-post and searched the surrounding fields for his chum,
locating him finally down near the ditch, a lonely and pathetic
figure seated on a little knoll, methodically topping mangles with a
sickle.  His back was toward Billy and it took all the latter's self
restraint to refrain from giving the rally call, but he remembered
what he had promised Maurice's father.  So he slid down from the post
and picking up the slate, produced a stub of slate-pencil from a
pocket and wrote a message in symbols.  Then on the other side of the
slate he duplicated the message, adding the necessary key to the
code.  This was the message that Billy wrote:

[Illustration: Billy's message]

When Mrs. Keeler came out, laden with bake-pans and other kitchen
utensils, Billy led her carefully across the stubble by a new route,
nor did she dream his motive in so doing was to keep the house
between them and the lonesome mangle-topper in the valley.



CHAPTER XXIII

MR. HINTER PROVES A PUZZLE

October's second morning dawned sullen and grey, with a chill wind
banking slate-hued clouds in the sky.  Deacon Ringold, taking the
short cut across the stubble-fields to Wilson's, shivered as he
glanced back at the black lines his feet had cut through the crisp
white frost, and decided to put on his woolen underclothes right
away.  The deacon had important and disturbing news to convey to his
neighbor and had started out early to seek his counsel.

As he climbed the rail fence his eyes swept the Settlement below,
resting at length on the jail-like wall in the edge of the Scroggie
timber, above which the tall derrick protruded like a white, scarred
face.  "Humph!" he mused, "Scroggie and Hinter must either have
struck water, or give up.  Their rig's quiet after chuggin' away day
and night for weeks."

He glanced in the opposite direction to the blue smoke rising above
the Wilson cedars.  Then, as he prepared to climb down, he apparently
changed his mind, for instead of taking the path to Tom Wilson's he
walked briskly down toward the walled in derrick.  Reaching it he
paused and an exclamation of surprise escaped him.  On the door of
the wall an iron padlock had been fastened.  There was no sign of
human life about the place but within the walls could be heard the
fierce growling of dogs.  Ringold backed away and eyed the tall
derrick.  There was mystery here and he didn't relish mysteries.  And
there was a pungent, salty smell about the place--the smell that oily
machinery gives off when put under intense heat.

The deacon was curious to learn what caused that smell.  He
approached a little closer to the walls and scrutinized the ground
carefully.  It was stained with black patches of something and he saw
that the planks of the wall and the portion of the derrick showing
above it also were stained a greenish-black.  He ran a finger over a
greasy splash and sniffed.  Then he backed away slowly, now nodding
his head.  He knew what had happened, just as well as though he had
seen it.  The careless drillers had exploded a barrel of coal-oil,
and perhaps wrecked the drill.  Yes, nothing surer.  That had been
the explosion which shook the windows of his home and awoke him
several nights ago.  Keeler and Wilson had heard it too.  Well, it
was too bad after all the trouble and expense Scroggie had gone to to
find water for the Settlement.

So the deacon went thoughtfully on his way to Wilson's.  He found Tom
Wilson breakfasting alone.  To the deacon's look of surprise his
neighbor vouchsafed the information that a glad and glorious band of
young people had been "cuttin' up" nearly all night there, and the
boys and Ma were sleepin' in, like.

Ringold hung his hat on the stovepoker and got down to business at
once.  "Say, Tom, I've had an offer for my back hundred.  Don' know
whether to sell or not.  Thought I'd like to hear what you'd advise."

Wilson drained his cup and set it down in the saucer, methodically.
The news did not seem to surprise him.  "Who made the offer, Hinter?"
he asked.

The deacon started.  "Yes, did he tell you about it?"

"No," Wilson pushed back his chair and felt for his pipe, "but he
seems to want to own the whole Settlement.  He made me an offer for
my place and he tried to buy Cobin Keeler's farm, too, so Cobin says."

"When, Tom, when?" asked Ringold, eagerly.

"Last night.  At least that's when he made me my offer an' he must
have gone across to Cobin's after he left me.  Cobin jest left here
not ten minutes ago.  He come over to tell me all about it."

The deacon sat silent, thinking.  "What's their game, Tom?" he asked
suddenly.

"His game you mean."

"No, I don't either, I mean his and Scroggie's game; of course
Scroggie's behind him."

"Yes," agreed Wilson, "I guess maybe he is.  But, Deacon, I don't
know what their game is; wish I did."

"Did you talk sell, Tom?" asked Ringold, anxiously.

"No sir," his neighbor answered promptly, "I should say not."

"And Cobin--he ain't any head at all, poor Cobin--did he talk sell?"

Wilson laughed.  "Not Cobin.  He's quite satisfied with his little
farm, I guess.  No, Hinter didn't get much satisfaction from either
of us."

The deacon jumped up and reached for his hat.  "Tom, I'm goin' to
saddle your roan and go ask a few questions of the other farmers, if
you don't mind."

"Good idea," agreed his neighbor.  "Here, you best set down and have
a cup of coffee and I'll saddle him, myself."

"No coffee, thanks; had breakfast; I'll go 'long with you.  Oh, by
the way, Tom, I know now what caused that explosion t'other night,"
and the deacon proceeded to relate his investigation of the walled-in
well.

Wilson listened interestedly, until Ringold was through.  "Well,
they've been careful enough about hidin' their good work, at any
rate," he said.  "You'd think they had somethin' mighty precious
inside them walls the way they've guarded it; but I'm sorry if
they've met with an accident," he added.  "Hinter did really seem
anxious to get water."

They went out to the stable and Wilson saddled the roan.  "I'll be
back in an hour or so," called the deacon as he rode away.

He was as good as his word.  Wilson was just finishing the morning's
milking, when the deacon returned.  "No other offers, Tom," he said.
"Looks as though they were after this particular strip of territory.
Anyhow it's agreed that none of us will sell or rent without
consultin' the others, so I guess we can wait on Hinter's game all
right."

"Didn't see Scraff, did you?" asked Wilson.

"No, I didn't.  Joe had left for Bridgetown to bring in a couple of
duck-hunters to old man Swanson's.  Clevelanders, they are, so I
didn't see him."

"I'm afraid Joe'll sell, if he gets a good offer," reflected Wilson.

"No, he'll stick with the rest of us," cried Ringold, emphatically,
"and I'll tell you why.  It's just like his contrariness to do the
very thing the others won't do, but let me tell you somethin'.  The
very minute he makes a move I put the screws on him tight.  Let him
so much as whisper 'sell' an' he'll pay me every cent he owes me,
with interest.  No, Tom, we needn't feel scarey about Joe Scraff."

"Well," laughed Wilson, "if anybody kin make Joe toe the scratch it's
you, Deacon.  Didn't see anythin' of Hinter on your rounds, did you?"

"No, but I met Scroggie.  That feller improves on acquaintance, Tom,
he does so!  He ain't half bad after you get to know him.  He seems
to want to be neighborly, and while I think he's backing Hinter in
some way I've an idea he's watching him pretty close."

"Say anythin' to him about Hinter's offer to buy?"

"Nary a word but I asked him what he intended to do with the Scroggie
hardwoods.  He told me that he had sold it to a lumber company.  He
says there'll be a big camp of cutters and sawyers down here this
winter.  I said I supposed he'd be goin' back to the States jest as
soon as he got things cleared up here, an' you ought to see the queer
look he gave me.

"'I'm not sure that I'll go back to the States,' he said, 'it all
depends; besides,' says he, 'my boy and girl like this place and the
people and I reckon I've got enough money to live wherever I like.'

"Well, I'll put the roan in the stable, Tom; then I'll mosey 'cross
home and get my men at the cider-makin'.  A few frosts like last
night's, an' all the apples will be soured.  See you tonight at
prayer-meetin'."

Wilson picked up his pails and carried them to the fence.  Seeing
Billy emerge from the house he placed them on the top step of the
stile and waited.

"Have a good time last night?" he asked.

Billy grinned, "You bet!  I tell you Ma kin certainly roast partridge
fine, an' say, can't old Harry play the dandiest tune you ever heard?
Lou says he puts all the songs of the wood-birds into one sweet
warble."

"I guess whatever Lou says is jest about right, eh?"

Billy blushed to the roots of his hair but his grey eyes met his
father's steadily.  "Yep," he answered, "jest about right."

Billy lifted the pails and turned up the path.

"Where have you put that man-eatin' swamp coon?" asked his father as
he followed.  "I believe he's gettin' cross.  You'll have to watch
him."

"Oh, Ringdo ain't cross," laughed Billy, "he's only playful.  He's
over to Teacher Stanhope's.  He's so fond of the teacher he won't
stay away from him."

Billy set the pails down on the block outside the milk-house and
rubbed his cheek against Croaker, who had just alighted on his
shoulder.  "Are you goin' to show me where you found the gold-pieces,
Croaker?" he asked, stroking the ruffled plumage smooth.

Croaker shooked his head and hopped to the ground.  He had grown
tired of having Billy put that question to him.  With many throaty
and indignant mutterings he pigeontoed across the yard, not even
deigning to glance back at the laughing man and boy.

"Pa," said Billy, "would you mind comin' to the woodshed an' lookin'
over my open water decoys.  I've been restringin' 'em, an' weightin'
the canvasbacks an' redheads, an' givin' the bluebills a fresh coat
o' paint.  I'd like to know what you think of my job."

"I heard you and Frank Stanhope arrangin' to go after bay ducks
t'other day," said Wilson as he followed Billy into the shed.

"Yep, we're goin' tomorrow if this weather holds.  I'll go over this
afternoon to fix up a hide on Mud point."

"You seem to have managed the stringin' all right," said the father,
examining the wooden ducks on the work bench.  "A little too much
white on the bluebills, I'd say."

"That's jest what I thought," said Billy.  "I'll darken it some."

Wilson leaned against the bench and waited.  He knew that Billy had
brought him into the shed to speak of other things than decoys.

"Pa," said the boy, in guarded tones, "you best watch that man
Hinter, an' watch him close."

"Why?" said Wilson.

"Cause he's up to some game, an' I know it."

"But what makes you suspicious of Hinter?" asked his father gravely.
"Hasn't he always minded his own business and been a law-abidin',
quiet livin man?"

"Yep," Billy admitted, slowly, "that's it.  He's all right in lots of
ways, but in other ways----"

He paused.  "See here, Pa," he cried, "I happen to know one er two
things about Hinter that I don't like.  He's the boss of at least two
bad men, an' I guess maybe there's more in the gang, too."

"And who are these two men?  What have they done?"

"They're the two who've been workin' his drillin' rig; an' they're
the men that robbed the Twin Oaks store."

"How do you know this?" Wilson asked sharply.

"I know it 'cause Maurice an' me saw 'em on the very night the store
was robbed, out in Scroggie's woods.  They had a lantern.  We heard
'em speak about hidin' somethin' in the ha'nted house."

"And that's where Harry found the stolen stuff," mused Wilson.  "What
else, Billy?"

"It was them two who brought Hinter's drillin'-rig 'cross the lake in
a schooner.  I saw 'em the day they teamed it in.  I knowed 'em both
an' Pa, I overheard 'em talkin' 'bout hidin' the stolen stuff in the
ha'nted house."

"Have you told anybody else about this besides me, Billy?"

"No," answered Billy, promptly, "not even Teacher Stanhope."

Wilson looked relieved.  "I can't make head er tail of it," he said,
frowning.  "I can't think that Hinter is behind the men in any
deviltry."

"His name ain't Hinter," said Billy.  "It's Jacobs."

"What?"

"It's Jacobs.  Listen, Pa, I'll tell you how I know.  Anse, you
remember, was sort of helper with them drillers till he got askin'
too many questions an' they fired him.  Well, all he asked 'em, _I
put him up to ask_.  Anse was always a mighty good listener an' he
often heard these two, Jack and Tom, speak of Jacobs an' call him
boss.  An' one day when Hinter comes over, Anse heard one of 'em call
him Jacobs, an' Hinter was awful mad about it."

"Well!" was all Wilson could say, and he repeated it to himself
several times, dazedly.

Billy was watching him closely.  "Pa," he said earnestly, "there's
something else I might as well let you know while I'm about it.  This
man Hinter owns a schooner, er leastways is boss of one, an' it was
her brought them drillin' rigs 'cross the lake.  The boat's been
layin' along the Point, a mile out from shore fer more'n a month now,
an' Hinter has been keepin' in touch with her right along."

"But how do you know this?" asked Wilson in amazement.  Billy
hesitated before answering.  "I know it," he said, "'cause every
night that he rides to the lighthouse Maurice an' me sail up there
an' sort o' hide up till he leaves."

"But why, Billy?"

"'Cause he--he wants Erie," said the boy, miserably, "an she won't
marry him.  We've wondered why he's been holdin' the schooner close
in.  So we been watchin' Hinter.  An' one night we follered him down
the bar to the pines, an' we seen him signal the schooner.  He built
a little fire on the shore.

"After a little we saw a light 'way out on the lake.  It stayed where
it was an by an' by we heard oars.  A boat landed an' a man Hinter
called Cap'n, came across to where he sat by the fire."

"And did you hear anythin' of what passed between 'em, Billy?"

"Yep, we heard Hinter say Scroggie was a headstrong fool, an' he
wished he'd never had anythin' to do with him; but that he'd have to
handle him with gloves till he got Lost Man's Swamp away from him."

Wilson whistled.  "What in the world does he want with that swamp, I
wonder?" he cried.

He stood considering.  "We'll just keep what we know to ourselves
till we're quite sure," he said at length.  "What d'ye say?"

Billy nodded.  "That's what Trigger Finger 'ud do," he said, "an'
Trigger Finger, he was always right, Pa."



CHAPTER XXIV

BILLY TO THE RESCUE

Nature had crooked a wooded arm about Rond Eau Bay so that her
tranquillity seldom was disturbed by the fall gales which piled the
waters of Lake Erie high and made her a veritable death-trap for
late-sailing ships.  To the thunder of heavy waves upon the pine-clad
beach the little bay slept sweetly, while half a league beyond the
bar a tempest-torn, dismasted schooner might be battered to pieces,
or a heavy freighter, her back broken by the twisting seas, might
sink to final rest.  But there were times when Rond Eau awoke from
her dreaming to gnash her white teeth and throw her hissing challenge
to man to dare ride her banked-up seas in open boat.  At such times
only the foolish or venturesome listened.  When the gale swept in
from the East it transformed the upper waters into a seething
cauldron, while, plunging in the nine-mile sweep from the West, it
swept water at the foot, frothing and turbulent, across the rushlands.

At such times expert indeed must be the hand that guides the frail
skiff through those treacherous seas.  But the slim punt which
rounded Mud Point betwixt the darkness and the dawn, in the teeth of
an all night gale, was propelled by one who knew every whimsical mood
of Rond Eau.  Now high on frothy comber, now lost to view between the
waves, the little craft beat onward, a speck of driftwood on the
angry waves.  Sullen daylight was revealing a world of wind-whipped,
spray-drenched desolation when the punt at last rounded the point and
swept into the comparative calm of the lee shore.  Then the rower
shipped his oars and glanced at his companion who sat huddled low in
the bow of the boat, the collar of his shooting coat turned high
about his ears.

"Phew! teacher, some pull, that!  Must'a been half an hour beatin' up
from Levee."

"It seemed longer than that to me, Billy," laughed Stanhope.  "Once
or twice I thought we were goners, but you pulled the old girl
through nobly."

"I don't know as I ever put her through a rougher sea," said Billy as
he began placing the decoys.  "We'll get set, then we'll push into
the rushes, hide our boat, an' settle down comfortable in our blind.
You'll find it warm, an' snug, an' wind-proof as a rat house, soon's
I get a fire started in the little stove.  Hello!" as a brown shaggy
head poked itself from beneath the seat and a cold nose touched his
wrist, "did you think I didn't know you was there, Moll?"

Moll whined and wagged her stub of a tail, undoubtedly sensing from
her master's words and manner that her offense, in "sneakin' in," had
been pardoned.  Five minutes later they were seated snugly inside
four walls of tightly woven rushes, the blind man's face alive and
glowing with the joy of once more feeling the moist kiss of open
water, his ears atuned for the first whistle of incoming wings.
Billy crouched by his side, gun in hand, eyes sweeping the lighting
bay.

Suddenly the spaniel's tail commenced beating a soft tattoo on the
rush floor and Billy's grip tightened on the walnut stock.

"How many?" whispered Stanhope.

"Five, bluebill.  Comin' right to us."

A moment later the "swowee" of the cutting wings sounded, close in,
and the old gun spoke twice.

"Two down," cried Stanhope.  "Good work, Billy!"

Billy took his eyes from the pair of dead ducks, floating shoreward
and turned wonderingly to his companion.

"Teacher," he said in awed tones, "sometimes I'm sure you kin see.
If you can't see how do you find out things like you do?  How did you
know I killed jest two ducks?"

"Listened for the splash," Stanhope answered.  "Are you loaded,
Billy?  There's another flock coming."

"All ready but cappin'.  Now, where's the flock?"

"Coming up from behind, so Moll says."

"Gosh!" whispered Billy.  "I should say so; they're right onto us,"
and almost with the words the old gun roared again and again.

"Good!" exulted Stanhope.  "Three down, Billy!"

"Yep, but one dived an' is gettin' away.  After him, Moll."  The
spaniel, with a joyful whine, cleared the rush wall and splashed into
the water.  "Fine!" cried Billy, as he reloaded, "Moll's goin' to
bring him in."

"Wounded whistlers aren't as hard to retrieve as redhead or
bluebill," said Stanhope.

"How did you know they was whistlers?" cried Billy.

"By the sound of their wings, of course," laughed the man.  "There,"
as a small duck flashed past the blind, "that's a green-winged teal,
and he's flying at the rate of about ninety miles an hour."

Eastward the leaden clouds opened to let an arrow of orange light
pierce the damp mists of dawn; then the fissure closed again and
tardy daylight disclosed only a dun-colored waste of cowering rushes
and tossing water.  Far out in the bay a great flock of ducks arose,
the beat of their wings growing up above the boom of the wind, stood
black against the lowering skies an instant, then swept like a
gigantic shadow close down above the curling water.  Here and there
detached fragments of the flock grew up and drifted shoreward.  A
flock of widgeon, gleaming snow-white against the clouds as they
swerved in toward the decoys, were joined by a pair of kingly
canvasbacks.  Swiftly they approached, twisted aside just out of
range, and then turned and came in with wings set against the wind.

Stanhope heard the splash of their bodies, as they lit among the
decoys.  He wondered why Billy did not shoot.  A tense moment passed
and still the old gun gave no voice.  Moll was whining low and
eagerly.  Then, suddenly, there arose the sound of webbed feet
slapping water, strong wings lifted to the wind, and Stanhope knew
that the ducks had gone.

"Billy!" he cried, "why didn't you shoot?"

"I guess I didn't think about it," said the boy.  "There's a boat out
yonder, an' she's havin' trouble.  I was watchin' her."

"A boat in trouble?  Where is she?"

"Out in the middle of the bay.  There's two men in her; she must be
shippin' water, 'cause she's low down.  She's one of Swanson's boats.
He ought'a know better than let a couple of greenies out on that sea."

Billy had thrown off his shooting-coat and was climbing out of the
blind.

"What are you going to do?" asked Stanhope.

"Goin' out to give a hand," shouted Billy.  "No, teacher, you best
stay right here; you can't help me any an' I may have to bring them
two shooters ashore in the punt."

His last words were drowned in the wind.  Already he was dragging the
punt from the reeds.  A moment later Stanhope heard the dip of his
oars as he rounded the point and put the tiny craft into the seas and
his cheerful hail, "I'll be back soon, teacher."

With broadening day the gale had strengthened.  Stanhope felt a few
stinging snow-pellets on his face, as he gazed, unseeing, outward and
waited with tense nerves for the hail of his young friend.  Half an
hour passed--it seemed like hours to the man waiting, hoping,
fearing--and still Billy did not come.  He replenished the fire and,
his hand coming in contact with the coat which Billy had discarded,
he held it on his knees, close to the little stove.  Slowly the
minutes dragged past and a cold dread of what might have happened
grew in the blind man's heart.  Billy had likely reached the boat
only in time to see it founder and in striving to save its exhausted
occupants----.

Unable to endure the thought Stanhope sprang to his feet and lifting
his arms high shouted with all his strength, "Billy, Billy boy!"

"Ho, teacher!" came an answering voice.  "We're comin' straight in
with the wind.  I've got 'em both."

Stanhope sank back on his box, his relaxed nerves throbbing and his
lips forming the words: "Thank God!"

A few minutes later Billy tumbled into the blind.  "Quick," he cried,
as he drew on his coat.  "They're nigh done fer.  We've gotta keep
'em movin'.  Good!  I see you've heated the tea; I'll jest take it
along.  We'll leave gun an' decoys right here with Moll to watch 'em,
'cause we're likely to have our hands full.  Are you ready, teacher?"

"All set," cried Stanhope.  "Leave your belt loose so I can hang to
it and I'm with you.  That's right.  Who were they, Billy?"

"Couple of shooters from Cleveland.  One of 'em's a big, strong
feller, an' he ain't as near done up as the other.  I started 'em to
shore along the rush-track.  They'll be all hunky so long as they
keep goin'.  We best get 'em to the nearest house."

"Well, that's my place," answered Stanhope.  "How am I navigating,
Billy?"

"Fine; keepin' up as well as though you saw right where you're goin'.
They're only a little ahead now."

As the wooded shore was reached they came up with the rescued men.
Billy passed the chilled and wretched two the hot tea and after they
had drunk he and Stanhope took the lead through the stumpy fields.

Half an hour later, seated about the roaring fire in Stanhope's
cottage, huge cups of hot coffee on their knees, the venturesome
strangers seemed none the worse for their trying experience.  The
larger of the two, a powerfully-built man with pleasant clean shaven
face and keen blue eyes, turned now to Stanhope.

"Where did the boy go?" he asked.  "He must have been wet to the
skin."

"He went back to take up the decoys and bring in the boats," answered
Stanhope.  "Oh, Billy's used to roughing it.  He'll be back directly."

"By George!" cried the big man, slapping his friend's knee.  "There's
a boy for you, Doctor.  Why, sir," addressing Stanhope, "not one
youngster in a thousand could have done what he did.  When he came to
us our boat was all but swamped.  We had given up.  My friend here
was utterly helpless with the cold and I was little better.  And then
he came riding close in like a mere straw on the waves and something
flashed past me and fell with a bump against our boat-seat.  'Bale,'
he screeched, and I picked up the can he had thrown us and bale I did
for all I was worth.  Then he came shooting back.  'You got to get
out of that trough,' he shouted.  'Throw your painter loose, so's I
can grab it as I pass, and I'll straighten your bow to take the
seas.'"

The speaker paused, his face aglow.  "I managed to cast that painter
loose and the boy caught it as he shot past us.  Then I felt the
skiff straighten and I heard him shout again, 'Bale! bale like fury!'
So I baled and baled and by and by we shipped less water than I
managed to throw out.  All this time that youngster was hauling us in
to safety.  I don't know who the boy is, but let me tell you this, my
friend, if I was his daddy I'd be the proudest man on the face of the
earth."

His companion, a slight, stooped man, the sallowness of whose face
was accentuated by a short black moustache, who had remained almost
silent from the time he had entered the house, looked up at these
words and smiled.  "We owe that boy and this gentleman our lives," he
said briefly.

The big man laid a hand on Stanhope's arm.  "My good friend," he
said, "will you allow me to introduce you to the grateful chaps you
have helped save.  This gentleman with me is the famous specialist,
Doctor Cavinalt of Cleveland; and yours truly is plain Bill Maddoc of
the same city, lawyer by profession."

"My friend has forgotten to mention that he is state's attorney and a
noted bugbear to all evil-doers," smiled the doctor.  "In other words
he's known as Trail Down Maddoc and--if he will permit of my so
stating--is far more famous in his own particular line than am I in
mine."

"Tut, tut," cried Maddoc, "what matter such trifles as these at this
time?  And now," turning to their host, "if you will honor us?"

"My name is Stanhope; Frank Stanhope."

"What?"  The lawyer was on his feet and had his hands on Frank's
shoulders.

"You say Stanhope?  Why, man alive!  I've been looking high and low
for you.  What do you think of that, Doctor, I've found him at last!"

"Young man," said Maddoc, turning again to Frank, "will you please
answer a few questions?  Did you ever know a queer old man by the
name of Scroggie?"

"Why, yes," Frank answered, somewhat puzzled.  "He lived next farm to
me."

"And," Maddoc resumed, "do you happen to know that he made a will,
leaving all he possessed to you?"

"Yes, sir, so he said; but the will was never found."

"And for a very good reason, by George," cried Maddoc.  "How could it
be found when it lay safely locked in a deposit box in my vault?"

"I'm afraid I don't quite understand--" commenced the amazed Stanhope.

"Of course not, how could you?" cried the lawyer.  "But there now,
I'll explain.

"One morning something over a year ago a queer little man came to my
office.  He told me his name, Scroggie, but refused to give me any
address.  He said he wished to make his will and insisted that I draw
it up.  It was a simple will, as I remember it, merely stating that
'I something-or-other, Scroggie, hereby bequeath all my belongings,
including land and money, to Frank Stanhope.'  I made it out exactly
as he worded it, had it sealed and witnessed and handed it to him.
But the old fellow refused to take it.  I asked him why, and he said:
'You keep it safe until I send for it.  I'm willin' to pay for your
trouble.'

"'But listen, old man,' I said, 'supposing you should die suddenly.
Life is very uncertain, you know.  This will should be left where it
can be easily found, don't you see?"

"'That's just where I don't want it left,' he says.  'I want it kept
safe.  I'll take a chance on dying suddenly.'  And by George! the old
fellow got up and shambled out, leaving a twenty-dollar gold piece on
the table."

"Then," said Frank, moistening his dry lips, "you have the will, Mr.
Maddoc?"

"I have!" cried the delighted lawyer, "and whether he left you much
or little nobody can dispute your claim.  Young man, shake hands
again!"

But Stanhope had sunk on a chair, his face in his hands.  Doctor
Cavinalt went softly over and stood beside him.  "My friend," he said
gently, "good news often bowls us over, but perhaps there's even
better news in store for you.  Fortune is a good thing, but with
fortune and your eye-sight restored----"

Frank lifted a wan face.  "You mean----?" his dry lips formed the
words.

The slender sensitive fingers of the specialist lifted the lids of
the unseeing eyes.  Intently he examined them, then with a quick
smile that transformed his grave face to almost boyish gladness, he
spoke.

"It is as I thought, Mr. Stanhope.  Your sight is quite unimpaired
and can be restored to you by a simple operation.  Your blindness was
caused either from a blow or a fall, was it not?"

Frank nodded.  "A beam struck me," he whispered, "I thought--I
thought--"

"Tomorrow," said the doctor, retiring once more into his professional
shell, "I shall remove the pressure that obstructs your vision.  The
operation, which will be most simple, can be performed here.  We have
but to remove all pressure on the nerve centres that refuse their
function now--and you will see."

He motioned to his friend, and the two went over to the window and
talked together in low tones.

Stanhope, hands clasped together, sat staring into a vista of shadows
that were all but dissolved.  Above them lifted a face that
smiled--and down across sleeping, darkening waters a long ray of
light swept to touch his unseeing eyes and whisper her message of
hope.

* * * * *

It was nearly noon when Billy, bending beneath a load of wild ducks,
came up the path to the cottage.  Stanhope, reading his step, groped
his way out to meet him.  "Ho, Billy Boy," he cried, holding out his
hands.

Billy placed his wet, cold ones in Stanhope's.  "I simply had to stay
an' shoot," he explained.  "The ducks were fair poundin' into the
decoys.  How are the Cleveland fellers?"

"Good as ever, Billy, dried out--and gone.  Come into the house.
I've got great news."

Billy turned puzzled eyes on his friend, reading a wonderful
happiness in the glowing face.  He dropped his ducks and followed
Stanhope inside.  The table was set for dinner and Billy sniffed
hungrily.

"Now teacher," he said, dropping into a seat by the fire, "give us
the news."

But Stanhope shook his head.  "Not yet, Billy.  Wait until you've
eaten.  You're hungry--as all hunters are bound to be.  There now,"
as his housekeeper brought in the meat and potatoes, "sit down and
eat--and eat fast, because I can't keep my good news back much
longer."

Billy sat down at the table and without a word fell to.  Stanhope
stood beside the window, humming a tune, a smile on his face.  He
roused himself from his musing, as Billy scraped back his chair.
"Full up?" he asked.

"Full up, teacher.  Now let's have the good news."

Stanhope told him, his voice not always steady, and Billy sat silent,
his grey eyes growing bigger and bigger.  And at the conclusion he
did a very boyish thing.  He lowered his head to the table and cried.

Stanhope groped his way to him, placed his hands gently on the
heaving shoulders, and there they remained until Billy, with a long
sigh, raised his swimming eyes.

"Teacher," he said.  "_She's_ gotta be told about this.  You know how
she always hoped----"

"Yes."

Billy stood up and reached for his cap.  "If Anse comes over, you kin
tell him where I've gone.  I'll be back long afore dark."

"But, Billy, the wind!  You'd better not go."

"The wind's gone down," said the boy.  "Jest a fair sailin' breeze
now."

"She'll come, you think?"

"She'll come," said Billy, and went out, closing the door softly
behind him.



CHAPTER XXV

MR. HINTER MAKES A CONFESSION

It was the evening of the next day.  Frank Stanhope lay on a couch in
a darkened room, a black bandage across his eyes.  Erie Landon sat
beside him, holding his hand.  The pungent odor of ether hung in the
air.  Out in the dining room old Doctor Allworth, from Bridgetown,
was discussing with the specialist things known only to those men of
science.

Erie was very happy--happier than she had ever expected to be again.
Doctor Cavinalt had pronounced the operation a success; in a week or
ten days the bandage might be taken off.  God's world of light and
beauty was to be his again--and hers!

Stanhope felt the unconscious tightening of her fingers and spoke her
name ever so softly.  She gave a little, contented sigh, and nestled
her cool cheek against his own.

"I was dreaming of the foot of the Causeway," he whispered, "and the
light."

"And it reached straight across through the blackness to you?" she
asked.

"Straight to me, dear; and at the farther end of its misty radiance I
saw you standing.  You stretched your dear arms out to me and along
the shimmering track, drawn by your great and tender woman's love, I
sped to you."

"And found me, Frank?"

"Found you," he echoed joyfully.  "Found you as I have prayed through
lightless days I might, some day, find you, blue-eyed girl with heart
of gold; found you with your hope, your loyalty, your tenderness and
your forgiveness."

"And now," she whispered, "there lie the days of sunshine and
happiness ahead of us, Frank; and oh, how we will enjoy them, you and
I and Billy."

"Yes, we mustn't forget Billy, God bless him."

In the outer room the learned discussion was terminated suddenly by a
loud exclamation from the old doctor.

"God love us, it's a crow!" he cried, "and the rascal has
appropriated my glasses!  Laid 'em on my chair-arm for an instant and
the cheeky beggar swooped in through the open window and picked 'em
up."

"That's Croaker," laughed Erie.  "Billy won't be far behind him.  I
had better go out and explain things, Frank."

She touched her warm lips to his and went into the adjoining room to
find Croaker perched on a curtain-pole, animatedly congratulating
himself on the new and wonderful shiny thing he had been so fortunate
as to discover.

"Croaker," Erie called.  At the sound of her voice the crow stopped
trying to tear the nosepiece from the lens and cocked his head
side-wise.

"Kowakk," he gurgled, which meant "I thought I knew you, Miss, but I
guess I don't."

"Croaker, good old Croaker, come down and I'll get you a cookie,"
Erie begged.

Croaker considered this last statement a moment.  Then he carefully
raised one foot and twisted half way around on the bar.

"A cookie, a nice fat cookie, with a raisin in its centre," coaxed
the girl.

The crow lifted the other foot and with much fluttering and
complaining managed to get all the way around.

Mrs. Burke had brought in a plate of cookies.  Erie took one and held
it up, as an enticement to Croaker.

"Want it?" she asked.  "Then come down and be a good crow."

Then it was that Croaker, gripping the glasses in one black claw,
burst into a cry of joyful recognition.

Just at this juncture the shed door was nosed softly open and a
striped, furry animal rolled into the room like a ball and, raising
himself on his hind legs, took the cookie from Erie's hand.

"Ringdo, you old sweetheart!" cried the girl and, reaching for the
big swamp-coon, gathered him into her arms.

Doctor Allworth, after one startled look at the ferocious-looking
newcomer, had climbed upon the table and now gazed wildly at the
strange sight of a golden haired girl holding to her bosom a wild
animal which might be anything from a wolf to a grizzly, for aught he
knew.

At the sound of the girl's voice the swamp coon had dropped the
cookie, and as she swept him into her arms his slender red tongue
darted forth to give the curling tress above her ear an affectionate
caress.  Ringdo recognized in Erie the playmate who used to romp with
him and stray with him along spongy moss and clayey ditches.

At this particular moment Croaker, from whom attention had for the
time being been diverted, came into evidence again.  At first sight
of his old enemy the crow had grown rigid with anger; his black
neck-ruff had stood up like the feathers on an Indian warrior's head
dress and into his beady eyes had sprung the fighting-fire.  When
Ringdo got possession of the cookie he raised his short wings and
prepared to swoop, strike, and if luck held, swoop again.  But when
the coon dropped the cookie that he might show the girl who had come
back to the old playground that he was glad Croaker promptly changed
his mind.  He swooped, but on the precious cookie instead of on
Ringdo, and with the prize in his black beak and the glasses dangling
from one black claw, he went out of the open window like a dark
streak.

The old doctor sighed dolefully.  "Well, my glasses are gone," he
murmured.  "And how I will ever do without 'em, I don't know."  Then,
becoming suddenly aware of his ridiculous position, he stepped
ponderously down from the table to his chair.

Hiding her laughing face in Ringdo's long fur, Erie reassured him.
"Please, Doctor Allworth, don't be frightened of this old coon," she
said.  "Indeed, he is quite harmless."

"Perhaps so," returned the old gentleman dryly, "but, you see, I
happen to have heard an opinion of friend Ringdo's gentle nature from
a certain learned pedagogue, whose wounds I dressed recently.  So, my
dear young lady, if you will be good enough to keep tight hold of him
for a moment, I'll follow my renowned friend into the parlor and
learn how Frank is coming along."  And suiting the action to the
words he edged slowly around the table and, backing into the parlor,
closed the door.

"Ringdo," cried Erie, slapping the coon's fat sides, "you can't
possibly see your friend, Frank, now so come along.  We'll have a
race down the path and a scramble among the leaves."

She caught her hat from a peg, opened the door, and Ringdo gamboled
out before her.  Down the path to the gate they sped and out into the
tree-hedged road.  Already the frost-pinched leaves, crimson-veined
and golden, were being swung to earth by a soft wind that promised
snow.  With Ringdo galloping clumsily beside her Erie went down the
road, trilling a snatch of a song.

She did not realize what a perfect picture she presented, with her
golden hair wind-strewn, her red lips parted, and the old joy singing
in her heart and kindling a light in her eyes.  But the boy who met
her at the curve in the road realized it, and his face grew wistful
as he asked: "Is he all right, Erie?"

"He is all right, Billy," she answered softly.

Billy's grey eyes grew big with realization and a long sigh escaped
his lips.  He bent above the coon, who had sprawled in the dust, all
four feet in the air, inviting a tussle.  The girl saw something
glitter and splash on the dark fur and her throat tightened.  "Oh
Billy, Billy," she choked, and with all the abandon of her nature
stooped and gathered boy and animal close to her.

A little later they went back up the road, side by side.  Ringdo
having heard the call of the forest-creek had strayed into the
tangle, perhaps hoping to find a fat frog which had not yet sought
its winter sleeping-bog.  They paused to watch a red squirrel flash
along the zig-zag fence and halt, with twitching tail, as the chatter
of the black he was pursuing came down to him from swaying hickory
tree-top.  High overhead a flock of crows passed silently, black
hurtling bodies seeming to brush the grey, low hanging skies as they
melted into distance.  High above, the shrill whistle of wings told
of wild ducks seeking the marshes and the celery beds of the bay.

"Erie," spoke the boy as they turned to resume their way, "Ma told me
to tell you that she'd be over ag'in tonight to stay with you.  She's
had an awful time keepin' teacher's friends from swarmin' over to see
how he was gettin' along an' she says she simply had to promise that
they could come over after supper.  I guess the whole Settlement is
over to our place.  I better lope along an' tell 'em the good news."
He turned away as they reached the gate--then hesitated.

"Anything I can tell him, Billy?" asked Erie, noticing his reluctance.

"No, but there's somethin' I ought'a tell you, I guess," he answered.
"I've jest come from old Swanson's boardin' house, at the foot.  Mr.
Maddoc an' the specialist doctor are goin' to leave there an' stay at
teacher's, as you likely know?"

Erie nodded.  "They told me all about it.  How they are going to
shoot from your Mud Point, and how good it was of you to let them,"
she smiled.

Billy grinned.  "Say!" he murmured, "as if there was anythin' any of
us wouldn't do fer them now.  Well, Mr. Maddoc, who's havin' Joe
Scraff drive down fer their stuff tonight, was comin' along up with
me when we met Hinter, 'bout a mile back on the road."

He paused and searched the girl's face.  "You see, Erie," he said
slowly, "I'd been tellin' Mr. Maddoc all about how Hinter an'
Scroggie had been tryin' to find water fer us, an' how they had had a
barrel of oil explode, an' every thin'.  Somehow he didn't seem a bit
like a stranger.  I didn't mind tellin' him at all.  Why, I even told
him about the Twin Oaks store robbery, an' about Hinter wantin' to
get hold of Lost Man's Swamp, an' everythin'.

"He was awful interested, an' asked me to show him the fenced-in
well.  So we took 'cross the fields an' he saw it.  He went all
around the walls an' even climbed up one side of 'em, an' looked
over.  When he came down he said: 'Jest as I thought, Billy.  That
explosion you spoke of was a charge of nitro glycerine.'  We struck
back fer the road an' I guess he was thinkin' hard, 'cause he didn't
talk any more.  Then, as we was climbin' the fence to the road he
asks: 'What kind of a chap is this man, Hinter, Billy?"

"'Why,' I says, 'there he is now.'  Hinter had jest climbed the
opposite fence an' stepped into the road.  Mr. Maddoc slid down an'
went right up to him.  Hinter's face turned white when he saw Mr.
Maddoc.  He couldn't speak fer a minute, an' then all he did was
mumble somethin'.

"'Billy,' Mr. Maddoc says to me, 'would you go on a piece an' leave
me alone with this man.  You see we've met before an' I want'a ask
him some questions.'

"So I come on an' I guess Mr. Maddoc had a whole lot of questions to
ask fer he ain't come yet."

Erie was standing against the gate, her arms stretched along its top,
hands clenching its rough pickets.

"There, he's coming now, Billy," she whispered, as the lawyer's tall
form swung about the curve in the road.  "No, don't go yet; perhaps
he will have something more to tell us."

But the lawyer, apparently, had nothing to tell them.  Gravely he
lifted his hat to Erie, threw a smile of good-fellowship to Billy and
turned up the path to the cottage.

* * * * *

No sooner had Billy gone, leaving Maddoc alone with Hinter, than the
lawyer's manner underwent a lightning change.  His big face lost its
jovial look and the bushy eyebrows contracted to sinister juts on his
puckered brow, as the cold eyes beneath them probed the man before
him.

"Well, Jacobs--or whatever your name happens to be now--what are you
doing here?" he asked.

Hinter, with an effort, shook off his first cringing fear.
"Supposing I tell you that it's none of your business, Mr. Maddoc,"
he said, with a poor attempt at bluff.  "I am not under your
jurisdiction here."

"Oh, is that so?  Well, my smooth friend, you're liable to learn that
my jurisdiction extends further than you think.  Now see here,
Jacobs.  You know--and I know--that I have enough on you already to
put you away where you'll do little harm for several years to come.
Do you want me to do it?"

"No."  The man's answer was nothing more than a spiritless murmur.
Maddoc, he knew, had his record and had spoken truly when he said he
had the goods on him.  "No," he repeated with a shudder.

"Then come clean, Jacobs.  Now then, what's your game?"

"I came here after you drove me from the Pennsylvania oil fields,"
said the other, realizing the uselessness of lying.

"Why?"

"To prospect; to look for a new field.  I figured that the
Pennsylvania vein would come out about here and extend northward."

"Sounds reasonable.  And you still think so, eh?"

"Yes."

"Is that your well with the jail-wall about it, yonder?"

"No, I bored it but it belongs to Pennsylvania Scroggie, the man whom
you helped defeat the Southern lease ring."

If Maddoc was surprised, he did not show it.  "You struck oil, I see,
Jacobs."

"Yes, about an eight-a-day well."

"Deep?"

"No, surface."

"And Scroggie--does he know your record?"

"Certainly not.  Oh for God's sake stop probing me this way.  I'm
willing to tell all there is to tell."

"That suits me, Jacobs.  Go on."

"As I say, I came here to prospect.  I found plenty of surface
evidence of oil and gas but without capital I was helpless.  I
learned that a thousand-acre tract of woods, rich in oil indications,
was owned by Pennsylvania Scroggie.  I knew that he was a hog and
that if I showed my hand too clearly he would kick me under and go it
alone.  Through a friend who owned a lake schooner I made Scroggie a
proposition.  I guaranteed to show him a virgin oil territory and
operate his rigs for a certain percentage of the output.  This he
agreed to.  Then he came and when he found that the vein lay on his
own land he was furious and tried to break the contract.

"I had anticipated his doing something like this and had provided
against it.  Old man Scroggie, the original owner of this land, had
left a will, bequeathing all he owned to a young man of this
district, Stanhope by name.  Scroggie, I knew, was afraid of the will
coming to light and I worked on this fear.  It was known throughout
this community that the one friend old Scroggie had trusted was
Spencer, the store-keeper, who, having quarreled with the elder
Stanhope over a survey of property, held a secret grudge against his
son, Frank."

"And," said the lawyer as Jacobs paused to wipe his beaded brow, "you
thought the will lay in Spencer's safe, and that he was holding it
away because of petty malice?"

"Exactly."

"And knowing that in spite of his many short-comings Pennsylvania
Scroggie wouldn't deliberately rob young Stanhope of the property,
providing he knew for sure that his uncle had made the young man his
heir, you made up your mind to blow Spencer's safe and get hold of
the will yourself--supposing it was there, and so make sure of your
own little rake-off."

Jacobs gazed at the lawyer wonderingly.  "How did you know?" he
stammered.

"I know, Jacobs, that you and your henchmen, Tom Standish and Jack
Blake, robbed Twin Oaks store and blew the safe; also that you were
disappointed.  There was no will there.  Where you made your big
mistake, my friend, was in misjudging Pennsylvania Scroggie.  For
instance, when you lied to him and told him that you had found the
will, and threatened to turn it over to the rightful heir, providing
he did not give you a clear deed to Lost Man's Swamp--what did he say
to you?"

The question stung the other as a leather lash stings quivering flesh.

"What did he say to you?" repeated the lawyer, and the wretched man
on the rack answered hopelessly: "He told me that if I didn't give
the will up to Stanhope he would have me arrested and sent to the
pen."

A little smile curled the corners of Maddoc's stern mouth.  "Well,
that's Pennsylvania Scroggie," he said, as though to himself.  "Hard,
bull-headed and a sharper in every legitimate sense but square as
they make 'em.  And you," he asked, pointedly, "what did you do?"

"Of course I had to own up that I had lied.  He had me down on my
knees all right, but I was valuable to him right then.  We had
started boring on his land.  He said that he would give me another
chance but that I would have to keep honest."

The man who had the reputation of being able to read criminals
unerringly glanced keenly at the man's face.

"And you've found the condition too difficult; isn't that so?" he
asked.

"No, Mr. Maddoc, as God is my witness, I was keeping honest and
intended to go on."  Jacobs had drawn his drooping form erect, and
now spoke with a certain dignity.

Maddoc was silent for a moment.  Then his square chin shot forward.

"Jacobs," he said, crisply, "I'll give you twenty-four hours in which
to lose yourself.  You can't stay here."

Something like a sigh escaped the man who listened to this edict.  He
took a lagging step or two forward.

"Wait," said the lawyer.  "Tell me, Jacobs, is there anything in this
world you care for outside of yourself and your ambition to climb to
fortune over the necks of others?  I'm curious to know."

"Yes," answered the other, without hesitation.  "There is something;
there are dogs and children."

"Dogs and children," repeated the lawyer.  "Dogs and children."  He
stood looking away through the failing light to where a strip of
mauve-lined sky peeked through the heavy tissue of cloud.

"And what do dogs and children think of you?" he asked, abruptly.

"Both trust me," said Jacobs simply and Maddoc knew that he spoke the
truth.  He strode across and put his hands on the shoulders of the
man from whom he had wrung confession.

"Listen!" he said harshly.  "You know me and you know I don't often
give a man like you more than a second chance.  You have had your
second chance and failed.  But see here, I'm not infallible.  If dogs
and children trust you there must be some good in you, and by George!
I'm going to do something which is either going to prove the biggest
piece of damn foolishness or the biggest coup I have ever pulled off
in my life.  I'm going to take my grip from your throat, Jacobs, and
leave you to the dogs and the children.

"Now, here's some news for you.  The will has been found and Frank
Stanhope is heir to the Scroggie forest-lands.  But if there is oil
here--and there is--both you and Pennsylvania Scroggie will be
needed.  I have no doubt but a satisfactory arrangement on a share
producing plan can be made with the owner of the land.  I'll see
Pennsylvania Scroggie tonight and he'll do what I ask.  I pulled him
out of a rather tight hole and I guess he won't have forgotten.  Come
over to Stanhope's cottage in the morning.  Now remember what the
children and dogs expect of you, my friend; good-bye until tomorrow."

He smiled and held out his hand.  The other man took it dazedly, then
slowly and with head lifted towards the darkening skies, he passed
down the road.



CHAPTER XXVI

A GOLDEN WEDDING GIFT

Bad news travels fast but good news wings its way quite as speedily.
Life teaches the human heart to accept the one bravely and to laugh
happily with the other, for after all life is just a ringing note
that sounds through and above the eternal weaving of God's
shuttle--at times clear, reaching to the highest stars; at other
times a minor wail of pain.  But the weaving goes on, drab threads
mingling with the brighter ones; and so the heart learns to
withstand, and better still to hope.  It may be, when the shuttle
runs slower and the fabric is all but woven, if the weaver is brave
and strong he is able to decipher the riddle of it all.  "If you
would experience happiness, find it in the happiness of others."

Now the unrest and uncertainty which had overshadowed Scotia for
months had been miraculously lifted and in its place was rest and
certainty.  Sorrow and pity for the man who had been stricken with
blindness gave place to joy and congratulation.  Swifter-winged than
the harbinger of sorrow, which sometimes falters in its flight as
though loath to cause a jarring note deep within God's harmony,
flashed the joyful news that Frank Stanhope had come into his
inheritance and would see again.  For a week following the wonderful
news the people of the Settlement did little else than discuss it
together.  Man, woman and child they came to the vine-covered cottage
to tell Stanhope they were glad.

Pennsylvania Scroggie had been one of the first to offer his
congratulations.  "Young man," he said to Stanhope, "I'm some rough
on the outside but I reckon I'm all right inside.  You've got your
sight back and you've got, in this fine piece of land my old uncle
left you, what promises to be a real oil field.  Hinter and I are
going to develop it for you, if you've no objections.  And you've got
a whole lot more than that," glancing at Erie, who stood near.  And
Stanhope, sensing the sterling worth of the man, shook hands gladly.

Lawyer Maddoc and Doctor Cavinalt had gone back to Cleveland,
promising to return every fall so long as their welcome held out and
Billy was there to guide them about and save their lives, if
necessary.

Old Harry O'Dule's dream was about to be realised, Stanhope had
assured him that he would see to it that he should play his whistle
beneath Ireland's skies before another autumn dawned.

It was a world of silence, a world bathed in golden haze, that
Stanhope gazed upon with the restoration of his sight.  A long time
his eyes dwelt upon the vista before him, with its naked trees
piercing the mauve-line of morning mist shimmering above the yellow
wood-smoke.  The girl beside him knew from the tightening hand on
hers and the awe that paled his quivering face that the silence spoke
a thankfulness which mere words could never express.  So she waited,
and after a long time he turned slowly and holding her at arm's
length, smiled down into her eyes.

"And you, too," he whispered.  "With all this, I have you, too."

"You know that you have always had me, Prank," ahe said softly.

"But more than ever I want you now; more than ever I need you.
Erie," he said earnestly, "are you willing to marry me right
away--next week?"

"Oh Frank--" she began, but he checked her utterance with his lips.

"The Reverend Reddick is available at any day, any hour, Lighthouse
girl; he's conducting revival services in the Valley church.  It will
all be so simple.  Won't you say next week?"

She gazed into his radiant face with serious eyes.  "But Frank," she
whispered, "it may be cold and dismal next week, I--I always thought
that I should like our wedding to be---"

Her head went down to hide against his arm.

"Go on, Lighthouse girl.  You always thought you would like our
wedding to be--when?"

"On a golden, Indian summer day like this," she finished and closed
her eyes as his arms went about her.

* * * * *

"And ut's married they were this mornin', whilst the dew still clung
to the mosses, and ut's meself was witness to the j'inin' av two av
the tinderest hearts in all the wurruld."  Old Harry O'Dule, on his
rounds to spread the joyful tidings of Frank and Erie's marriage, had
met Billy leading a fat bay horse along a sun-streaked forest path.

Billy stared at the old man; then his face broke into a grin.  "O
Gee!" he sighed, and sinking on a log, closed his eyes.  "O Gee!" he
repeated--leaping to his feet and throwing his arms about the neck of
the bay and yelling into that animal's twitching ear.  "Hear that,
you Thomas?  They're married, Erie an' Teacher Stanhope's married!"

"Billy, is ut clane crazy ye've gone?" chided the old man, "that ye'd
be afther deafenin' the poor steed wid yer yellin'?  Listen now, fer
ut's more I'll be tellin' ye."

Billy kicked his hat high in air and turned a handspring.  "Tell me
all about it, Harry.  You saw 'em married, did you?"

"Faith and I did," cried Harry.  "And play 'em a weddin' march on me
whistle I did, soft as a spring rain and swate as the very joy they
do be feelin' this day.  A king he looked, Billy, and his bride a
quane, ivery inch av her.  But no more av your questions now," he
broke off, "fer step along I must, singin' me thankfulness from me
whistle, and spakin' the good tidings to them I mate along the way."

Billy watched the old man move down the path, the wild strains of the
Irish tune he was playing falling on his ears long after the player
had been swallowed up in the golden haze.  Then he too passed on, bay
Thomas walking sedately behind.  As he rounded a bend he met Maurice
Keeler and Jim Scroggie, heads close together and speaking animatedly.

"Ho, Bill!" cried Maurice.  "Bringin' bay Thomas up to the stable fer
winter, eh?  Gee!  Jim, look at that horse; did you ever see such a
change in anythin' in your life?"

"Thomas has sure fattened up," grinned Jim.  "I guess it would puzzle
old Johnston to know our horse now, eh, Bill?"

"You mean your horse, Jim," corrected Billy.

"No, I don't either; he's only a third mine.  One third's yours and
the other third's Maurice's."

Maurice and Billy stared at him.  "It was your money paid fer him,"
Billy asserted.

"Well, what of it?  Maurice found him a soft hidin' place and good
pasture on his Dad's farm, didn't he?"

"Sure, but then--"

"And it's you who's gain' to see that he gets cared for all winter,
ain't it?"

"You bet it is," cried Billy.

"Well then, I claim he's a company horse an' you an' me an' Maurice
is that company.  Now, that's settled, let me tell you what Maurice
and me was talkin' about when you met us."

Billy unsnapped the tie-strap from Thomas' halter so that he might
crop the wayside grass without hindrance and sat down on a log
opposite the one occupied by his friends.

Jim nudged Maurice but Maurice shook his head.  "You tell him," he
said.

"Bill," Jim cried eagerly.  "I got a bit of news for you that'll make
you want to stand on your head and kick splinters off the trees."

Billy grinned.  "An' I got a piece of news fer you fellers, too," he
returned.  "But go on, your news first, Jim."

"Teacher Stanhope has made over a deed of Lost Man's Swamp to you,
Bill," said Jim.  "I heard Dad telling Mr. Hinter all about it.  Dad
was there when Lawyer Maddoc drew up the deed--Maurice, you crazy
hyena, will you keep quiet?"

Maurice had rolled backward off the log, the while he emitted cries
that would have done a scalp-hunting Indian credit.  "Three cheers
fer Bill!" he yelled.  "He discovered Lost Man's Swamp oil field.
Trigger Finger Tim ain't got nuthin' on our Bill."

Billy was standing up now, his perplexed face turned questioningly on
his chums.

"That's right, Bill," cried Jim.  "You really did discover it, you
know.  Hinter said he was the only one who knew the oil was there
until you rafted out to the ponds and saw the oil-bubbles breakin' on
'em.  He says that a fortune likely lies there, so you see--"

"An' Teacher Stanhope, he deeded the swamp to me," said Billy
dazedly.  He got up from the log and squared his shoulders.  "Well,"
he spoke, "that was mighty good of him, but I ain't wantin' that
swamp."

"But Bill," urged Jim, "the oil they've found there'll make you rich."

Billy shook his head.  "I'm as rich as I ever want'a be right now,
Jim."

"Look here, Bill," cried Maurice.  "You don't want'a hurt Teacher
Stanhope's feelin's, do you!"

Billy glanced at him quickly, a troubled look in his eyes.  "N-no,"
he said, "you bet I don't."

"Then that's all there is to it; you keep Lost Man, that's what you
do."

Billy considered.  "I ain't sayin' jest what I'll do," he spoke
finally.  "I gotta ask another person's advice on this thing.  But if
I do take it you, Jim, an' you, Maurice, are goin' to be my partners
in Lost Man same's you are in bay Thomas.  Here, Maurice, you take
Thomas to our stable an' give him a feed.  I gotta go somewhere
else."  And leaving Jim and Maurice sitting, open-mouthed, Billy
ducked into the timber.

Not until he had put some distance between himself and hia friends
did he remember that he had not told them the great and wonderful
news that had been imparted to him by old Harry.  Well, never mind,
they would hear it soon.  Harry would see to that.  He turned into a
path that strayed far up among clumps of red-gold maples and
ochre-stained oaks.  The whistle of quail sounded from a ridge of
brown sumachs.  Up the hill, across the deep valley, where
wintergreen berries gleamed like drops of blood among the mosses, he
passed slowly and on to the beech-crowned ridge.

Here he paused and his searching eyes sought the lower sweep of
woodland.  A clump of tall poplars gleamed silvery-white against the
dark green of the beeches; far down at the end of the sweep the
yellow tops of hardy willows stood silhouetted against the undying
green of massed cedars and pines.  Billy gazed down upon it all and
his heart swelled with the deep joy of life, his nerves tingled to
the tang of the woodland scents.  Something deep, stirring,
mysterious, had come to him.  He did not know what that something
was--it was too vague and incomprehensible for definition just yet.

His arm about the trunk of a tree, he laughed softly, as his eyes,
sweeping the checker-board of autumn's glories, rested at last on the
grove of coniferous trees.  So that was the haunted grove?  That
dark, silent, spicy bit of isolated loneliness far below was the spot
he had so feared!  But he feared it no longer.  _She_ had cured him
of that.  _She_ had said that fear of the supernatural was foolish;
and of course she was right.

A fat red-squirrel frisked down a tree close beside hia and halted,
pop-eyed, to gaze upon him.  "I tell you," Billy addressed it
gravely, "it takes a good woman to steady a man."  The statement was
not of his own creation.  He had heard it somewhere but he had never
understood its meaning before.  It seemed the fitting thing to say
now and there was nobody to say it to except the squirrel.

A blue-jay and a yellow-hammer flashed by him, side by side, racing
for the grubbing-fields of the soft woods below, their blue and
yellow bodies marking twin streaks against the hazy light.  Blue and
yellow, truly the most wonderful colors of all the colorful world,
thought Billy.  The scene faded and in its place grew up a face with
blue, laughing eyes and red, smiling lips, above which gleamed a halo
of spun gold.  Then the woodland picture swam back before him and the
squirrel, which with the characteristic patience of its kind had
waited to watch this boy who often threw it a nut-kernel, called
after him chidingly as he dipped down into the valley.

Billy was still thinking of the only girl when he topped the farther
ridge and descended into the valley where stood the haunted grove.
He wondered what she would say when he told her the great news he had
to tell her.  He thought he knew.  She would put her hand on his arm
and say: "Billy, I'm glad."  Well, he was on his way to hear her say
it.  As he entered a clump of cedars he saw her.  She wore a cloak of
crimson; her hat had slipped to her shoulders and her hair glowed
softly through the shadowy half lights.  She stood beside old man
Scroggie's grave, a great bunch of golden-rod in her arms.

Billy called and she turned to him with a smile.

"Oh, I'm so glad you came, Billy," she said.  "You can help me
decorate uncle's grave."

She dropped the yellow blossoms on the mound and they went out into
the sunshine together and gathered more.  When they had finished the
task they went across to the weedy plot in which stood the
tumble-down hut.  There, seated side by side beneath a gnarled
wild-apple tree, Billy told her all he had to tell her, and heard her
say, just as he knew she would say, "Billy, I'm glad."

Then between them fell silence, filled with understanding and
contentment and thoughts that ran parallel the same long track
through future promise.  Billy spoke, at length: "He's goin' to take
the school ag'in.  An' him an' me are goin' to build that sail-boat
we've always wanted--a big broad-beamed, single sticker that'll carry
all of us--you, me, teacher, Erie an' anybody wants to come along.
Gee! ain't it great?"

The girl nodded.  "And what will you name her?" she asked.  Into
Billy's cheeks the blood sprang as into his heart joy ran riot.

"I aim to call her _Lou_," he said hesitatingly.  "That is if you
don't mind."

The golden head was bowed and when it was raised to him, he saw a
deeper color in the cheeks, a softer glow in the eyes.  "Come," she
said softly, "we must be getting back."

They crossed the sunflecked grass, hand in hand.  As they reached the
pine grove the girl pointed away above the trees.  "Look," she
whispered.

Billy's gaze followed hers.  High above the trees a black speck came
speeding toward them, a speck which grew quickly into a bird, a big,
black bird, who knew, apparently, just where he was going.

"It's Croaker," Billy whispered.  "Stand right still, Lou, an' we'll
watch an' find out what his game is."

He drew her a little further among the pines and they peered out to
see Croaker alight on the broken-backed ridge pole of the log hut.

Here, with many low croaks, he proceeded to search his surroundings
with quick, suspicious eyes, straining forward to peer closely at
scrub or bush, then cunningly twisting about suddenly as though
hoping to take some skulking watcher behind him unawares.

Finally he seemed satisfied that he was alone.  His harsh notes
became soft guttural cooes.  He nodded his big head up and down in
grave satisfaction, tip-toeing from one end of the ridge-pole to the
other and chuckling softly to himself.  Then suddenly, he vanished
from sight.

"Where has he gone?" whispered Lou.

"Hush," warned Billy.  His heart was pounding.

The watchers stood with eyes glued to the ridge-pole.  By and by they
saw a black tail-feather obtrude itself from a hole just beneath the
roof's gable.  A black body followed and Croaker came tiptoeing back
along the ridge.

The girl felt her companion's hand tighten spasmodically on hers.
She glanced up to find him staring, wide-eyed at the bird.

"Billy!" she whispered, almost forgetting caution in her anxiety.
"What is it?"

He pointed a shaking finger at Croaker.  "See that shiny thing that
old rogue has in his bill, Lou!" he asked.  "What do you 'spose that
is?"

"Why, what is it?"

"It's one of the gold pieces your uncle hid away.  Come on, now we'll
see that Croaker throw a fit."

They stepped out into plain view of the crow, who was muttering to
the gold-piece which he now held before his eyes in one black claw.
Croaker lowered his head and twisted it from side to side in sheer
wonder.  He could scarcely believe his eyes.  Then as Billy stepped
forward and called him by name his black neck-ruff arose in anger
and, dropping his prized bit of gold, he poured out such a torrent of
abuse upon the boy and girl that Lou put her fingers in her ears to
stop the sound.

"He's awful mad," grinned Billy.  "He's been keepin' this find to
himself fer a long time."  At sound of his master's voice Croaker
paused in his harangue and promptly changed his tactics.  He swooped
down to Billy's shoulder and rubbed the top of his glossy head
against the boy's cheek, whispering low and lying terms of endearment.

Lou laughed, "What's he up to now, Billy?"

"He's tryin' to coax me away from his treasure," Billy answered.
"Now, jest watch him."

"What you want'a do, Croaker?" he asked, stroking the bird's neck
feathers smooth.

"Kawak!" said Croaker, and jumping to the ground he started away,
head twisted backward toward the boy and girl, coaxing sounds pouring
from his half open beak.

"No, sir," cried Billy.  "You don't fool me ag'in.  I'm goin' to
climb up there an' see jest how much gold is hid in that hole under
the gable."

Croaker watched him reach for a chink in the logs and raise himself
toward the treasure house.  Then he became silent and sat huddled up,
wings drooping discontentedly, his whole aspect one of utter despair.

Lou, bending to caress him, heard Billy give an exclamation, and ran
forward.  "It's here, Lou," he cried excitedly, "a tin box an' a
shot-bag full of gold in a hollered-out log.  The bag has been ripped
open by Croaker.  I'll have to go inside to get the box out."

He dropped to the sward and stepped through an unglazed window into
the hut.  Nailed to one end was a crude ladder.  Billy climbed the
ladder and peered closely at the log which held the money.  To all
appearances it was exactly like its fellows, no door, no latch to be
seen.  And still, he reasoned, there must be an opening of some kind
there.  He lit a match and held it close to the log.  Then he
whistled.  What he had mistaken for a pine knot was a small button
fixed, as he saw now, in a tiny groove.  He moved the button and a
small section of the log fell, spraying him with musty dust.

Another moment and he was outside beside Lou, bag and box in his
arms.  Croaker was nowhere to be seen; neither was the gold piece
which he had dropped in his amazement at sight of Billy and Lou.

"He went back and got it," said the girl, in answer to Billy's look
of amazement.  "And, Billy, he flew away in an awful grouch."

"Oh, he'll soon get over it," laughed Billy.  "We'll find him waitin'
fer us farther on."

They crossed the lot and went through the pines to the sunny open.
There, on a mossy knoll, Lou spread her cloak, and Billy poured the
gold from bag and box upon it.

Lou started to count the money.  Billy sat back, watching her.  "Yes,
sir," he mused, "it certainly takes a good woman to steady a man."
For ten glorious minutes he built air castles and dreamed dreams.

"Two thousand nine hundred and forty dollars," Low announced, and
Billy jumped up.

"Whew!" he whistled, "an' all gold, too.  The three pieces that
Croaker took make the even three thousand."

They placed the money back in the box and bag.  Then Billy, picking
up the treasure, spoke gently.

"It'll make 'em a grand weddin' gift, Lou."

"Yes," she answered, "a grand wedding gift, Billy."

In silence they passed on through the upland gowned in hazy, golden
spray.  At the height of land they paused to look down across the
sweeping country below them.  Then blue eyes sought grey and hand in
hand, with a new glad vista of life opening before them, they went on
into the valley.



THE END.





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