The hounds, baying fierce and loud at every jump, went tearing through the cane, followed by the boys, who moved in single file, Don leading the way. A very few minutes sufficed to bring them to the cleared spot in which Godfrey's camp was located, and there they found the hounds running about showing every sign of anger and excitement.
"They're on a warm trail," said Don, looking first into each corner of the cleared space and then up into the trees over his head. "The game has just left here. This is somebody's old camp, and the bear has taken possession of it. No doubt he slept in that shanty. Hunt 'em up, there!"
The hounds followed Godfrey's trail through the camp, and diving into the cane on the opposite side were quickly out of sight. The boys followed, and presently stood panting and almost breathless beside the drift-wood where the hounds were running about close to the water's edge, now and then looking toward the opposite shore and baying loudly. But Godfrey was safely out of their reach. Seizing the opportunity when the hunters and dogs were hidden from view in the cane, he stepped into the water and struck out for the mainland. He had hardly time to climb the bank and conceal himself in the bushes before Don's hounds were running about on the very spot where he had been hidden but a few minutes before. Why was it that the hounds followed his trail as they would have followed that of a bear or deer? Simply because they scented him before they reached the island, and because Godfrey took so much pains to keep out of their way. Had he stood out in plain view while the boat was approaching, the hounds would have paid no attention to him.
"Well, he's gone," said Bert, and the deep sigh that escaped his lips as he uttered the words would have led one to believe that he was glad of it, "and now comes the hard work. It's an all-day's job to build that trap."
"It would be if we had to cut down the trees and trim off the branches," replied David; "but there is some timber in this drift-wood that will answer our purpose as well as any we could get ourselves. Where are you going to build the trap, Don?"
"In there where his den is would be the best place, wouldn't it? Now let's go after the axes; and while you and Bert are cutting the logs, I'll unload the boat and open a road through the cane, so that we can haul our timber in without any difficulty."
The work being thus divided rapid progress was made. By the time Don had unloaded the boat and cut a path leading from Godfrey's camp to the upper end of the island, Bert and David had selected and notched all the logs that were needed for the trap. Then a stout rope, which Don had been thoughtful enough to put into the boat, was brought into requisition, and the work of hauling in the logs began. As fast as they were placed in position, Don fastened them down with the pins he and his brother had made the night before, and when lunch time came, a neat log cabin about six feet square was standing in front of Godfrey's lean-to. With a little "chinking" and the addition of a door and perhaps a window, it would have made a much more comfortable place of abode than the miserable bark structure which Godfrey had so long occupied.
Their hard work had given the boys glorious appetites, and they did full justice to the good things Mrs. Gordon had put up for them. Don said their lunch might have been much improved by the addition of one of the ducks Bert had shot that morning, but their time was much too precious to be wasted in cooking. The hardest part of their task was yet to be done, and that was to build a movable roof for their cabin. Don, who had received explicit instructions from his father the night before, superintended this work, and by the middle of the afternoon the trap was completed and set, ready for the bear's reception.
It looked, as we have said, like a little log cabin with a flat roof. One end of the roof rested on the rear wall of the trap, while the other was raised in the air, leaving an opening sufficiently large to admit of the entrance of any bear that was likely to come that way. The roof was held in this position by a stout lever, which rested across the limb of a convenient tree. A rope led from the other end of the lever, down through a hole in the roof, to the trigger, to which the bait—an ear of corn—was attached. The bear was expected to crawl through the opening and seize the ear of corn; and in so doing, he would spring the trigger, release the lever and the roof would fall down and fasten him in the pen. When all the finishing touches had been put on, the boys leaned on their axes and admired their work.
"Now, I call that a pretty good job for a first attempt," said Don; "and considering the work we have had to do, it hasn't taken us a great while either. I wish I dare crawl in there and set it off, just to be sure that it will work all right."
"But that wouldn't be a very bright proceeding," replied Bert. "We could never get you out. You would be as securely confined as you were when you were tied up in the potato-cellar."
Don was well aware of that fact. The roof was made of logs as heavy as they could manage with their united strength, and there were other logs placed upon it in such a position that when the roof fell, their weight would assist in holding it down. All these precautions were necessary, for a bear can exert tremendous strength if he once makes up his mind to do it; and David had repeatedly declared that if they should chance to capture an animal as large as the one that had been killed on that very island years before, the pen would not prove half strong enough to hold him. But it was quite strong enough to hold Don if he got into it, and the only way his companions could have released him would have been by cutting the roof in pieces with their axes.
The work was all done now, and the boys were ready to start for home. While Bert and David were gathering up the tools and stowing them away in the canoe, Don scattered a few ears of corn around, so that the bear would be sure to find them the next time he visited the island, and threw a dozen or so more into the trap close about the trigger. The rest of the corn he hung up out of reach on a sapling which he knew was too small for the bear to climb.
Assisted by the current the canoe made good time down the bayou. Bert and David lay back in the stern-sheets and said they were tired, while Don, who was seated at the oars, declared that his day's work had relieved his stiff joints, and that he began to feel like himself again. He was fresh enough to assist in building another trap without an hour's rest; and in order to work off a little of his surplus energy, he thought when he reached home he would take a turn through the fields in company with his pointer, and see if he could bag quails enough for his next morning's breakfast. Bert said he would go with him, for he wanted to see the pointer work.
In about three quarters of an hour the canoe entered the lake and drew up to the bank in front of Godfrey's cabin. David sprang out, and after placing his gun upon the bench in front of the door, went behind the building to unchain the pointer. He was gone a long time—so long that Don and Bert, who were sitting in the canoe waiting for him, began to grow impatient—and when he came back he did not bring the pointer with him. He brought instead a chain and a collar. His face told the brothers that he had made a most unwelcome discovery.
"Where's the dog?" asked Bert.
"I don't know," answered David, looking up and down the road. "He must have slipped the collar over his head and gone off; but I never knew him to do it before."
"Well, you needn't look so sober about it," said Don. "He isn't far away. I'll warrant I can bring him back."
Don set up a whistle that could have been heard for half a mile. Indeed it was heard and recognised at a greater distance than that. An answering yelp came from the direction of his father's house, but it was not given by the dog Don wanted to see just then. It was uttered by one of the hounds which had been shut up in the barn when Don went away that morning, and afterward released by the hostler. The others answered in chorus, and half a dozen fleet animals were seen coming down the road at the top of their speed. But the pointer was not with them.
"It's likely we shall find him at the house," said Bert, who wanted to say something encouraging for David's benefit.
"I don't doubt it," returned Don. "If he's there, Dave, we'll take a short hunt with him and bring him down in the morning."
"If you don't care I'll go up with you," said David, "It would be a great relief to me to know that he is safe."
"All right. Jump aboard."
David got into the canoe again and Don pulled up the lake toward the wharf. When they reached it the boat was made fast to the tree again, and the three boys started for the house. Don at once began making inquiries concerning his pointer, but no one had seen him, and his loud and continued whistling brought only the hounds, which snuffed at the guns and yelped and jumped about as if trying to make their master understand that they were there, and ready for anything he might want them to do.
"Never mind," said Don, who did not seem to feel half as bad as David did; "dogs of his breed never stray far away, and he'll be at your house or ours before morning, you may depend upon it. Good-by now, and don't forget to be on hand at an early hour. We must set to work upon those traps without any more delay."
David reluctantly turned his face toward home, and Don and Bert went into the house. "I didn't tell him just what I think about the matter, for he feels badly enough already," said Don, when he and his brother were in their room, dressing for supper. "There's an awful thief about here, and it wouldn't surprise me at all to know that the pointer has gone where our canoe went."
"Do you know that that thought has been in my mind all the while?" returned Bert. "Who is the thief?"
"I give it up. If he lives about here he's foolish to steal my dog, for he never can use him in hunting. There isn't a man or boy in the settlement but would recognise him the moment he saw him."
"Perhaps he was stolen in the hope that a reward would be offered for his return," suggested Bert.
"Well, there's something in that. But after all," added Don, a few minutes later, "there isn't so much in it, for how could the thief return the dog without making himself known? Still I hope it is so—that is, if the dog was stolen—for rather than lose him, I'll give ten dollars to anybody who will bring him back to me, and ask no questions. If I have to do that it will ruin me, for it will take my last cent."
The ringing of the supper bell put a stop to their conversation for the time being, but it was resumed as soon as the family were gathered about the table. Various explanations were offered for the pointer's absence, and when that matter had been talked over, the events of the day were brought up for discussion. Bert acted as spokesman, and when he told how the hounds had driven the bear from his den and forced him to swim the bayou, Don was surprised to see that his father smiled as if he did not quite believe it. "It's the truth, every word of it," said Don, almost indignantly.
"O, I don't doubt that you found something on the island and drove it off," replied the General, "but I don't think it was a bear."
"What was it?" asked Don.
"It was something you will not be likely to catch in your trap. It was Godfrey Evans."
Don dropped his knife and fork, and settled back in his chair. "We saw tracks in the mud that did not look to me like bear tracks, that's a fact," said he. "If that was Godfrey, he's the one who stole our canoe."
"Then we have had all our trouble for nothing," said Bert.
"Perhaps not," replied his father. "The island has been much frequented by bears ever since I can remember, and it may be that your labor will be rewarded in a day or two. It might be well for you to watch your trap at any rate. If you should happen to catch a young bear, that you could bring home alive, Silas Jones would give you twenty dollars for it. That would be a big addition to David's little capital, for of course you wouldn't want any of the money."
"Of course not. All we want is the fun of catching the bear."
Don and Bert were up the next morning before the sun, as they always were, and as soon as they were dressed, they went out to the shop and found David there busy with his traps. He knew where the key was kept, under the door-step, and at the first peep of day he had let himself in and gone to work. Of course the first questions that were asked and answered were in regard to the missing pointer, but no one had seen or heard anything of him. David seemed to take the loss very much to heart. The animal was a valuable one, and he felt that he was in some degree responsible for his safe-keeping.
Three pairs of willing hands made light work, and by two o'clock in the afternoon a dozen traps were completed and ready for setting. The boys then stopped long enough to take a hasty lunch, which they ate in the shop, in order to save time, and after that one of the mules was hitched to a wagon and brought before the door. The traps, a basket containing the "figure fours," with which they were to be set, a bag of corn for bait, an axe, with which to clear away the underbrush, and a spade to dig the trenches, having been packed away in the vehicle, the boys got in and drove off. They directed their course along the fence, which ran around the plantation, and wherever they found a clump of bushes or a little thicket of briers and cane, there they stopped long enough to set one of their traps.
The traps were made of slats split from oak boards, and were a little less than four feet square and a little more than a foot in height. In the top was a slide covering a hole large enough to admit one's arm, and it was through this hole that the captured birds were to be taken out. The undergrowth was first cut away with the axe and the trap put down in the clear space, a narrow board being placed under two sides of it, to give it a solid foundation. A trench just large enough to admit a single quail was dug under each of these boards, one end of the trench being on the outside of the trap and the other on the inside. A small ear of corn was tied firmly to the trigger, the trap set with the "figure four," a few kernels were scattered about in the immediate neighborhood, and the trap was ready for the first flock of quails that might come that way. When they came, they would, of course, find the corn, and while they were eating it they would be sure to find the trap. One or more of them would go in and spring it by pecking at the ear that was tied to the trigger, and the others, no matter if there were a hundred in the flock, would all go in to him through the trenches before spoken of. After they had eaten the corn, they would look up instead of down for a way of escape, and, although the trenches at which they came in were still open to them, they would not know enough to make use of them. If the trap was once sprung, the capture of the entire flock was certain, provided those outside were not frightened away before they had time to go in to their imprisoned companions.
In two hours' time the traps had all been set and the boys were at home again. They had done a good day's work, but they wanted to do a better; so as soon as the mule was unharnessed and the wagon put under the shed where it belonged, they set to work in the shop again, and before dark a large coop, which would just fit into the wagon box, was completed. This was to be used to bring home the captured quails. After that one of the unoccupied negro cabins was selected to confine the birds in until the required number had been trapped. It received a thorough sweeping, the floor was covered with clean sand, and the broken window was boarded up so that the captives could not escape. When this was done David started for home, and Don and Bert went into the house to get ready for supper.
The next day was spent much as the preceding one had been spent. At eleven o'clock seven more traps were ready for the field. Then the mule and wagon were brought into use again, and the new traps were distributed along the fence. When the boys came back they took time to eat lunch, after which the coop was put into the wagon, and they set out to visit the traps they had set the day before.
"There's nothing here," said Bert, as he drew rein in front of the thicket in which the first trap was located. He could not see the trap, but his ears told him all he wanted to know. If there had been any quails in it they would have uttered their notes of alarm as soon as they heard the wagon coming.
"No, there's nothing here!" said Don, after listening a moment. "I'll scatter a little more corn about and make sure that the trap is all right."
He got out of the wagon as he spoke, and while he was working his way into the thicket he flushed a blue-jay, which flew into a tree close by and scolded him with all its might. Don shied a stick at it and kept on to the trap. It was down, and there was something in it which fluttered its wings against the bars and made the most frantic efforts to escape. Don knew it was not a quail, so he did not stop to see what it was. He threw back the slide, thrust his hand into the opening and when he clutched the bird received a severe bite from it. "I have half a mind to wring your little neck for you," thought Don, as he brought the fluttering captive, a beautiful red-bird, into view. "Not because you have bitten me, but because you will make it your business to come here and spring this trap every day. Red-birds and blue-jays are perfect nuisances when a fellow is trapping, and I wouldn't blame Dave for shooting every one he sees."
But Don did not injure the bird. He was a sportsman, and never made war on game of this sort. He tossed the captive into the air and it flew away out of sight.
Having set the trap again and scattered a little more corn about to replace that which had been picked up by the birds, Don went back to the wagon and Bert drove on down the field. They found the second trap thrown, and the marks of little teeth on the ear of corn that was tied to the trigger showed that a ground squirrel had been at work. The third trap was also sprung, and the shrill, piping notes of alarm which came to their ears when Bert stopped the wagon, told them that they had made their first capture. Jumping quickly out of the wagon the boys made their way into the bushes, and when they came within sight of the trap they found that it was so full that the little prisoners had scarcely room to turn about.
"Here's the first instalment of your hundred and fifty dollars, Dave," cried Don. "We've got more than a dozen, I know!"
Having stopped up the ends of the trenches so that the quails could not escape, Don thrust his arm through the opening in the top of the trap and began passing out the birds to his brother and David, who carried them to the wagon and put them into the coop. He counted them as he took them out, and found that there were nearer two dozen than one, twenty being the exact number. One, however, escaped from Bert, who, through fear of injuring it, handled it too tenderly.
"Never mind," said Don, when his brother told him of the loss. "He'll go off and join some other flock, so we are bound to catch him anyhow. I call this a good beginning, don't you, Dave? It looks now as though you were going to earn your money in spite of Lester and Dan."
After re-setting the trap the boys got into the wagon and drove on. They found some of their traps just as they had left them; a few had been thrown by ground squirrels or red-birds; and from the others they took enough quails to make their day's catch amount to a little over four dozen. These were all safely transferred to the cabin, the mule was unharnessed and the young trappers, greatly encouraged by their success, replenished the fire in the shop, for the day was raw and chilly, and went to work to build more traps.
WHERE THE POINTER WAS.
"Yes, sar, I'm goin' to raise a furse here now, an' I won't be long about it, nuther. They think I don't amount to nothin' in this yere house, but I'll show 'em that I do. Pap bein' away, I had oughter be the man of the family, an' that leetle Dave shan't crowd me outen the place, nuther. When he comes back to-night his eyes'll stick out so't a feller could hang his hat onto 'em. You hear me?"
This was the way Dan Evans talked to himself, as he sat on the bench in front of the door, gazing after his mother and David, as they walked down the road toward General Gordon's. He was greatly enraged over his failure to steal his brother's ten dollars, and really thought David had been guilty of a mean piece of business in putting his money where it would be safe.
"He hain't went off with that thar shootin'-iron on his shoulder fur nothin'," thought Dan. "He's goin' huntin' with them Gordon fellers, and he'll have a nice time an' get somethin' good to eat, while I must go without my dinner, dog-gone it, kase thar hain't nobody here to cook it fur me. They don't take half so much notice of me as they would if I was a pinter dog!"
Dan sat on the bench for half an hour or more, now and then looking down the road as if he were waiting for something, and all the while his mind was occupied with such thoughts as these. At last the sight of Don Gordon's canoe, which suddenly appeared in the lake, brought him to his feet and sent him behind the cabin in great haste. It did more. It recalled to him the fact that his father had told him to steal that same canoe and bring it to Bruin's Island, together with several necessary articles that were to be purchased at Silas Jones's store. Dan had not once thought of this since he saw David at the landing with ten dollars in his hand, and heard the grocer tell him that his credit was good for six months; but he thought of it the moment he saw the canoe with the hounds curled up in the bow. His eyes were sharp enough to see that Don carried his rifle in his hands, and that a heavy shot-gun, which Dan knew belonged to General Gordon, leaned over Bert's shoulder. Godfrey's prediction was about to be fulfilled. Don was going back to the island to shoot the bear which had frightened him and his brother the day before. The thought made Dan almost frantic. He jumped up and knocked his heels together, slapped his hands, dashed his hat upon the ground and made other demonstrations indicative of a very perturbed state of mind.
"Pap's in fur it now, an' so am I," said he, in an excited whisper. "He'll get his jacket wet swimmin' the bayou to get away from them fellers, if they give him the chance, an' I'll get mine dusted with a hickory, kase I didn't fetch that canoe up thar. I jest wish I knowed what to do."
Dan, almost ready to cry with vexation and alarm, watched the canoe until it turned into the bayou and passed out of his sight, and then went back to the bench and sat down to think about this new difficulty in which he found himself, and to find a way out of it if he could. His father would be compelled to hunt up a new hiding-place now—there was no way to prevent that—and in order to leave the island he would probably be forced to swim the bayou, for he would have no time to build a raft. That would, of course, make him angry, and he never could breathe easily again until he had taken satisfaction out of somebody. That somebody Dan knew was certain to be himself, unless—
"I'll fix him," thought the boy, his face clearing up, as a bright idea came into his mind. "I'll take him the pinter. I was goin' to hide him in the woods somewhar, but pap kin take keer on him as well as not. Don'll pay a dollar or two to get him back, an' I'll give the ole man half. But fust, I must go down to the landin' an' buy them shoes an' tobacker; an' while I'm thar, I'll jest say a good word to Silas fur myself. I'm a nobody about this yere house, am I? Dave wouldn't give me them ten dollars to keep fur him, an' now I'll take somethin' outen his pocket without sayin' a word to him."
Dan shook his head in a very wise and knowing manner, and went into the house after his rifle. He did not take it because he expected to find any game while he was on the way to the landing, but because he had fallen into the habit of carrying it with him everywhere he went and felt lonely without it.
Knowing that Don and Bert were not at home, Dan did not go around through the fields to avoid the General's barn, as he usually did, but boldly followed the road. There were a few idle men hanging about the store, as there almost always were, but none of them appeared to be doing any trading, and the grocer was ready to attend to Dan's wants at once. The boy bought the articles his father wanted, and having pocketed his change, cleared his throat, preparatory to saying a good word for himself.
"Mr. Jones, if you please, sar, Dave done sent me down here this mornin' to ax you would you give me somethin' fur myself, if you please, sar—some shoes an' sich like."
"Certainly," replied the grocer, readily, and Dan was surprised to see that he held out his hand as if he expected to receive something.
"I hain't got no money," said Dan.
"That makes no difference. I don't want any money from David."
"Then I'll take a pair of them amazin' fine lookin' shoes of your'n—number nines, please, sar."
"All right. Hand out the order."
"Sar!" exclaimed Dan, opening his eyes.
"Why, if David doesn't come here himself and tell me to give you the things, he must send a written order."
"Dave, he done told me to git 'em," faltered Dan.
"I don't doubt it; but in order to have things straight, you go home and get an order for such things as you want and I'll give them to you."
Dan gathered the articles which he had purchased for his father under one arm, took his rifle under the other, backed slowly away from the counter and went out of the store. He wasn't quite so smart as he thought he was. His shoes and stockings, and the ammunition for his rifle, which he thought he was going to get for nothing, were likely to cost him something after all. It was an easy matter to cheat confiding fellows like Don and Bert, who were much more familiar with Greek than they were with the way business was conducted, but it was not so easy to deceive a man like Silas Jones. Dan was surprised and disappointed, and of course as angry as he could be. He walked rapidly along the road with his bundles, under his arm and his rifle on his shoulder, and it was not until he reached home and had sunned himself for a few minutes on the bench in front of the door, that he cooled down so that he could think the matter over. But he could think to no purpose even then; and after resting a few minutes longer, he arose and went into the cabin.
He walked straight to the "shake-down" which he and his brother occupied, and drew from under the head of it a piece of rope he had placed there the night before. With this in his hand he came out again, and after looking up and down the road, to make sure that there was no one in sight, he went around the building to the kennel where Don's pointer was confined. The animal came out to meet him, and Dan did not send him back with a kick, as he usually did. He took off his collar, and having tied the rope about his neck, buckled the collar again and threw it on the ground, hoping in this way to give David the impression that his charge had liberated himself. He then led the dog to the high rail fence which surrounded the lot, assisted him to climb over it, and left him there in the bushes, while he returned to the bench after his rifle and bundles. These secured, he climbed the fence himself, picked up the rope and hurried into the woods, the pointer trotting along contentedly by his side.
Dan thought he knew just where to go to find his father. The latter would, of course, be on the lookout for his son, and it was reasonable to suppose that he would remain somewhere in the vicinity of the island; so Dan followed the course of the bayou, taking care to keep so far away from it that he would not be discovered by any one who might chance to be passing in a boat, and when he had approached close enough to the island to hear the voices of the young hunters and the sound of their axes, he tied the pointer to a tree, deposited his bundles on the ground near by, and with his rifle for a companion crept through the bushes to see what they were doing.
There was no one in sight when he first reached the bank of the bayou, but in a few minutes Bert and David came out of the cane with a rope in their hands. There were several logs scattered about the beach, and David made the rope fast to one of them and he and Bert dragged it into the cane. While Dan was wondering what they were going to do with the log a twig snapped near him, and he turned quickly to find his father almost within reach of him.
"Halloo, pap!" said Dan, jumping to his feet and backing into the bushes.
"Whar's the tobacker?" demanded Godfrey, in a subdued tone of voice.
"I've got it. You ain't mad, be you, pap?"
"I ain't so scandalous mad now, but if I could have got my fingers into your collar about the time I was a shiverin' in my wet clothes, I'd a played 'Far'well to the Star Spangled Banner' on your back with a good hickory, I bet you!"
"'Kase if you be mad 'tain't my fault," continued Dan. "I tried my level best to steal the canoe, but couldn't do it. It was locked up tighter'n a brick. I tried to get ten dollars fur you too, pap, but I couldn't do that nuther; so I brung Don Gordon's pinter along. Swum the bayou, I reckon, didn't you?"
"I didn't walk acrosst, did I? In course I swum it."
"Your clothes ain't wet!"
"No, 'kase I went back in the woods an' built a fire an' dried 'em. Le's go back thar now, so't we kin talk. We don't want them fellers to hear us."
"What be they doin' over thar, anyhow?" asked Dan.
"They're buildin' a bar trap, looks like. They'll be sartin to ketch one too, 'kase thar's a bar comes thar a'most every night. If I had a boat they wouldn't get much good of him arter they do ketch him."
Dan handed his rifle to his father and went back after the pointer and his bundles; and when he came up again Godfrey led the way toward his temporary camp. He was gloomy and sullen, and there was an expression on his face which Dan did not like to see there, for it made him fear that a storm was brewing. But after they had been a few minutes in the camp, and Godfrey had filled his pipe and smoked a whiff or two, the scowl faded away and Dan began to breathe easier.
"I've put you in the way to make a dollar, pap," said he, as soon as the soothing effects of the tobacco began to be perceptible. "If you'll take that pinter an' keep him till I call fur him, I'll give you half of what Don pays me to get him back."
"I seed you bringin' the dog an' I knowed what you was up to," replied his father. "But Don don't get him back fur no dollar, I tell you. That animile is wuth fifty dollars anyhow, an' if Don wants him agin he'll have to plank down five dollars."
"Whew!" whistled Dan. "We're gettin' rich, ain't we? Now, pap, thar's your shoes an' stockin's, an' thar's the change Silas give me. You kin put it with what you've got left of your twenty dollars, an' when——O, laws!"
Dan jumped to his feet, opened his mouth and eyes and looked at his father in the greatest astonishment. Something he had said seemed to produce a wonderful effect upon Godfrey. His pipe dropped from his lips, the color all left his face and after sitting silent and motionless for a moment, he gave utterance to a loud yell, sprang to his feet and strode about the camp as if he were almost beside himself.
"What's the matter of you, pap?" Dan ventured to inquire, as soon as he could find his tongue.
"I hain't got no money at all no more!" Godfrey almost shouted. "That's what's the matter of me. It's over thar on the island whar them fellers is!"
"No!" gasped Dan.
"But I say, yes, it is too!" exclaimed Godfrey. "You see," he added, controlling himself with a great effort, "when I fust seed them fellers comin' up the bayou the sun was kinder shinin' on the water, an' it blinded me so't I thought it was you. I was jest goin' to speak, when I seed thar was three fellers in the boat; an' afore I could ax myself what that meant, one of the hounds that Don had with him set up a yelp. I knowed that meant business, an' it skeared me so't I didn't think of nothin' only how to get off'n that thar island without bein' diskivered. I got off all right, but I left my money in that thar holler log, an' I never thought of it till this blessed minute."
"Mebbe they won't find it," said Dan.
"Wal, that's a comfortin' thought," returned his father, sighing heavily, as he picked up his pipe, "but luck's agin me. It allers is. Other folks can get along smooth an' easy, but I can toil an' slave an' slave an' toil till—jest look at me," added Godfrey, rising to his feet again and turning slowly about, so that Dan could have a fair view of him. "Ain't this a purty fix fur a man to be in who owned niggers an' cotton, by the acre only a little while ago? That's jest what makes me 'spise them Gordons."
"An' that's what makes me 'spise that Dave of our'n," exclaimed Dan. "He's gettin' richer every day. He's got ten dollars in greenback money now, an' I done heard Silas Jones tell him that his credit was good at the store for six months."
Godfrey opened his eyes when he heard this, and so interested was he in the story Dan had to tell that he forgot his troubles for the time being. He seated himself again, and while he was refilling his pipe Dan gave him a history of what had happened at the store, and told how David had come by the ten dollars. He also described the manner in which he had tried to obtain possession of it, and told how he had failed in his attempt to induce Silas to give him a pair of shoes on the strength of David's credit. This led to a long discussion between the father and son, during which various plans were laid and one or two things determined upon which will probably be revealed in due time. Dan paid strict attention to all his father said, but he was glad when the interview was over. Godfrey was almost beside himself with fury. Having been unfortunate himself he was enraged to learn that anybody else was prosperous; and when he heard of David's good luck he looked and acted so savagely that Dan began to fear for his own personal safety. He started for home as soon as he could find an excuse for so doing, and it was not until he was out of sight and hearing of his father's camp that he began to breathe easily.
Dan did not go directly home. He was in no hurry to meet his brother, for he was afraid the latter might have something to say to him about the pointer. He roamed through the woods, and having shot a few squirrels, built a fire and roasted and ate them. He stayed in his camp until the sun went down and it began to grow dark, and then shouldered his rifle and reluctantly turned his face toward the cabin. He did not find his brother there, but he came in shortly afterward, and then Dan found that he had been borrowing trouble, for David never said a word to him about the pointer. He told his mother of the loss, and of course she sympathized with him, and offered every explanation except the right one. The thief opened his eyes and looked surprised while they were talking, but neither of them paid any attention to him; and Dan, muttering angrily to himself that he was nothing more than a crooked stick about that house any way, undressed and went to bed.
Dan passed the next day in his usual idle and shiftless manner. He saw David go up to General Gordon's, and would have been glad to know what sort of work he was doing up there, and how much he was to receive for it. He did not find out that day, but he did the next, and the discovery made him feel like a new boy.
Growing tired of staying by himself, Dan thought he would go down to the landing, hoping that he would find a shooting-match going on there, or that a steamer would come in, bringing a stranger or two for him to stare at. The weather was raw and chilly, too, and Dan's bare feet were blue with the cold. He must have a pair of shoes and stockings; and since he couldn't get them in any other way, a portion of the money he had hidden in that hollow log in the woods must be brought into use. Dan took out the necessary amount, and groaned when he looked at the small sum he had left.
As soon as the sun had warmed the air a little, Dan shouldered his rifle and set out. He did not follow the road, as he did before, for that would take him past the General's barn, and Don and Bert were at home now. He went around through the fields; and it was while he was sitting on a log near General Gordon's fence, watching the only squirrel he had seen since leaving home, that he accidentally learned what it was that took David over to Don's house so regularly every morning, and kept him there all day. He first heard the creaking of wheels and the sound of voices, and they came from the General's field, which was not more than twenty feet distant, and which was concealed from his view by the thick bushes that lined the fence. Dan recognised the voices, and his first impulse was to jump up and take to his heels. His next was to stay where he was until the wagon passed by, and this he did; for he was in an excellent hiding-place and no one could have found him without taking pains to look for him.
The wagon came nearer, the voices grew louder, and presently Dan heard the shrill notes of a quail directly in front of him and just on the other side of the fence. He paid no attention to the sound until the wagon was brought to a stand-still in front of the thicket, and somebody, after working his way into the bushes, called out in a cheery voice:
"Here's the first instalment of your hundred and fifty dollars, David!"
These words made Dan so excited that he almost betrayed his presence by letting his rifle fall out of his hands. He cautiously raised himself to a standing position on the log, and looking through the tops of the bushes, listened intently to catch every word that was said.
TEN DOLLARS REWARD.
When the quails had been taken out of the trap and put into the coop, the wagon drove on, and Dan sat down on his log to think about what he had just heard, and to wait until the coast was clear, so that he could resume his walk toward the landing. He had learned two things. One was that his brother had not given up the idea of trapping the quails, as he had supposed, and the other was that there was somebody besides himself whom David had reason to fear.
"Looks now as though you were goin' to 'arn your money in spite of Dan and Lester," thought the listener, recalling the last words he had heard Don utter. "That must be that Brigham boy up to that big white house. What's he got to say 'bout it, I'd like to know? I'll jest keep an eye on him. He don't want to let me ketch him foolin' round them traps, 'kase I'll make him think war times has come back sure enough. Now that I've got another chance to 'arn a share in them hundred and fifty dollars, nobody shan't take it away from me."
Dan was as good as his word. He kept a sharp watch over David's interests, and perhaps we shall see that he was the means of defeating a certain plan, which, if it had been carried into execution, would have worked a great injury to the boy trapper.
The wagon having passed on out of hearing, Dan shouldered his rifle and started toward the landing. While he was skulking through the woods at the lower end of the field, he stopped in a fence corner long enough to see David and his two friends transfer another good-sized catch from one of the traps to the coop in the wagon. The sight encouraged him greatly. If David's good luck would only continue for just one week, the fifty dozen birds would certainly be captured, and Dan would stand a chance of making a small fortune. It was not so very small either in his estimation. His share would be seventy-five dollars—his father had told him so—and that would make a larger pile of greenbacks than Dan had ever seen at one time in his life. With it he was sure he could buy a new gun as fine as the one Don Gordon owned (he would not have believed it if any one had told him that that little breech-loader cost a hundred and twenty-five dollars in gold), a jointed fish-pole, and some good clothes to wear to church; and when he had purchased all these nice things, he hoped to have enough left to buy a circus-horse like Don's, and perhaps a sail-boat also. Godfrey, for reasons of his own, had held out these grand ideas to him during one of their interviews, and Dan, being unable to figure the matter out for himself, believed all his father told him.
Having seen the second catch put into the coop, Dan started toward the landing again. It was mail day, and consequently there was a larger number of loafers about the post-office than there usually was. Among them were Lester Brigham and Bob Owens, who seemed to be very much interested in something that was fastened to the bulletin-board in the store. Having nothing better to do just then Dan walked up behind them, and looking over their shoulders spelled out with much difficulty the following—
"Ten Dollars Reward.
"Strayed or stolen, my black-and-white pointer, Dandy. I will pay the above reward for his safe return, and ask no questions; or I will give Five Dollars for any information that will lead to his recovery.
"I am glad he has lost him, and I hope he will never see him again," said Bob, spitefully. "If I knew where he was, I wouldn't tell him for five times five dollars."
"What does he want him back for, anyhow?" said Lester. "Don is assisting in shipping quails out of the country, and the first thing he knows the dog will be of no use to him."
Dan did not waste five minutes in loafing about the store after that. Here was something he had been waiting for ever since he stole the pointer. The owner had offered a heavy reward for his safe return—it was twice as much as Godfrey said they ought to have—and the next thing to be settled was, how to obtain the money, without facing Don Gordon. This was a question over which Dan had often bothered his few brains, but without finding any way of answering it. Something must be determined upon now, however, for there was a nice little sum of money at stake.
Dan made all haste to do his trading, and taking his stockings and shoes under his arm, set out for home, avoiding the road, as he always did when Don and Bert were about, and skulking around through the woods and fields. When he reached the cabin, he seated himself upon the bench beside the door, and there he remained building air-castles until four o'clock in the afternoon. Then he began to bestir himself, and David, who came home that night before his mother did, was surprised to find a roaring fire on the hearth, a pile of wood large enough to last all the evening beside it, and in a pan upon the table a half a dozen squirrels, dressed and ready for the frying-pan.
"What in the world is up now?" thought David. "Dan's got an axe to grind, for he never does such things, unless he intends to make something by it."
"Halloo, Davy!" exclaimed Dan, cheerfully. "I thought mebbe you'd be cold when you come hum, so I built up a fire to warm you. Jest look at them thar squirrels, will you? Every one on 'em was shot through the head. Can you beat that?"
"No," answered David. "It can't be beaten."
"If we had a few quail now, we'd have a bully supper, wouldn't we?" continued Dan. "You don't seem to shoot no more quail lately, do you, Davy?"
"O, I can't hunt them without a dog to tell me where they are."
"Hain't you never heard nothin' from that pinter pup at all?"
"Not a word."
"I'm sorry. I wish I knowed whar he was, so't I could fetch him hack. I'm scandalous mad at myself fur takin' that money from you an' Don, an' if I had ten dollars I'd give 'em back to-night; but I hain't got 'em, an' so I'm goin' to try an' find his dog fur him."
"He'll be very glad to get him," said David, who knew very well that his brother had some other reason for taking this sudden interest in the pointer.
"I want to act decent now, like a gentleman had oughter act," Dan went on; "an' if I do what I can fur Don, do you reckon he'll call it squar'?"
"I don't know. You must talk to him about that."
"But I ain't agoin' to face him 'till I know how he feels towards me, I bet you. I don't know whar the dog is, more'n the man in the moon; but I'm kinder scentin' round, when I hain't got no work to do, an' if I should happen to find him, would you take him to Don fur me?"
"Of course I would, and be very glad to do it."
"Then I'll do what I kin, an' if I do say it myself, I kin find him if anybody kin. I kin afford to spend all my time lookin' fur him, kase I was down to the landin' to-day, an' I seed a notice stuck up thar sayin' that Don'll give ten dollars fur him an' ax no questions. What's the matter of you?" demanded Dan, as David turned quickly about and walked toward the door. "Hain't goin' off mad, be you?"
"I don't know what to make of you, Dan," replied David. "A little while ago you gave me to understand that the reason why you wanted to bring the dog back to Don, was because you wanted to make everything square between you and him; and now you say you want to do it because Don has offered a reward for him."
"An' I told you the gospel truth both times," exclaimed Dan. "That thar animile is wuth every cent of fifty dollars; an' if I bring him back, it'll be that much in Don's pocket an' ten dollars in mine. I kin afford to work fur that, can't I?"
"Very well," said David. "If you will produce the dog, safe and sound, I'll take him to his master for you, and bring back the reward if he gives it to me."
This interview had a perceptible effect upon both the boys. It took away all Dan's industry, and all David's peace of mind. The former had gained his point. He had made his brother promise to take Dandy to his owner and bring back the reward, and that was happiness for one day. He didn't chop any more wood or take any more interest in the supper. He seated himself on the bench again and resumed the agreeable occupation in which he had spent the most of the afternoon—that of building air-castles.
David walked up and down the floor, with his hands in his pockets, thinking busily. He told himself over and over again that if it were not for his mother, he would not care if he should never see his home again. He was cheerful and happy when he was away from it, but it almost always happened that as soon as he crossed the threshold something transpired to make him miserable and gloomy. His conversation with Dan had confirmed a suspicion that had been lurking in his mind ever since the pointer disappeared. He had all the while held to the belief that Dan knew where the dog was, and Dan might as well have confessed it, for his face and his actions constantly betrayed him. David believed, too, that his father had not left the country, as a good many people in the settlement seemed to think, but that he was hiding in the woods somewhere in the immediate neighborhood. Of this he had received proof that was almost positive. He knew, if Don and Bert did not, that it was something besides a bear they had driven off Bruin's Island, on the day they went up the bayou with the hounds. He had seen footprints in the mud that were made by a barefooted man; and more than that, having been the first to come out of the cane when the dogs led the way toward the head of the island, he had caught a glimpse of something, as it was disappearing in the bushes on the main shore, which looked wonderfully like the tattered hickory shirt his father had worn the last time he saw him. This discovery, taken in connection with Dan's behavior, led David to believe that his father and brother were often in communication with each other; and when the pointer disappeared, he promptly settled it in his own mind that Godfrey and Dan were to blame for it. He was as certain now that Dan had had a finger in the business as he would have been if he had seen him going off with the dog; and he resolved that as soon as the next day dawned, he would take pains to find out whether or not he was correct in supposing that his father was Dan's accomplice.
"Father hid on Bruin's Island while the Yankees were raiding through here," thought David. "When we drove him off, thinking he was a bear, of course he had to hunt a new hiding-place, and it is possible that he is now camping close about there on the main shore. If I can find his camp, I'll take a good look at it. If I don't see the pointer there, well and good; I shall be very glad of it. But if he is there, I must get hold of him somehow. Don has been swindled out of enough money by the black sheep of our family, and he shan't lose any more by them if I can help it."
As this thought passed through David's mind, an expression of determination settled on his face, which did not fail to attract the notice of Dan, who just then happened to look into the cabin to see what his brother was doing.
"What you lookin' that ar way fur?" demanded Dan. "Ain't puttin' up a job on me, be you?"
David replied that he was not.
"You'll take the pinter to Don an' fetch me back the ten dollars, honor bright?" continued Dan.
"That is what I promised to do, isn't it?" asked David in reply. "But if I can help it you will never have the dog in your possession again," he added, mentally. "I didn't promise that I wouldn't head you off if I could."
"An' you won't answer no questions? Don said in that notice that he wouldn't ax none."
"Then of course I shall not answer any. You needn't be afraid. I shan't mention your name."
"Kase if you're thinkin' of puttin' up a job on me, Davy," said Dan, shaking his finger at his brother, "you won't never see that pinter ag'in so long as you live. Keep still now. Here comes the ole woman."
Dan settled back on the bench again, and David took his hands out of his pockets long enough to throw a fresh log of wood on the fire—not because it was needed, but for the reason that he wanted to hide his face from his mother for a minute or two until he could call to it a more cheerful expression than the one it was then wearing. He had never said a word to his mother about his suspicions regarding his father and Dan, for he wanted to talk to her about nothing but pleasant and agreeable things. She had enough to trouble her already.
David had everybody in the cabin up at an earlier hour than usual the next morning, and after eating a very hasty breakfast, he took his gun under his arm, bade his mother good-by and disappeared down the road that led to General Gordon's. Dan sat on the bench and watched him as long as he remained in sight.
"It's a heap easier to have a feller to 'arn your money fur you nor it is to 'arn it yourself," thought Dan. "Here's Dave a toilin' an' a slavin' fur them hundred an' fifty dollars, an' when he gets 'em, they'll go plump into pap's pocket an' mine, an' he'll never see no good of 'em at all. I'll have ten dollars in my pocket this very night. It's 'most too frosty to go slashin' round through the bushes now, so I'll wait till the sun gets a little higher, then I'll go arter that pinter."
David kept on down the road, until he was out of sight of the cabin, and then he climbed the fence and plunged into a dense thicket of briers, through which he made his way with great difficulty, following nearly the same path that Clarence Gordon followed on the morning he went through there to release his cousin Don from the potato-cellar. Reaching the woods at last, he took a straight course for Bruin's Island, and half an hour's rapid walking brought him within sight of it.
David's first care was to satisfy himself that it was a man and not a bear that Don's hounds had driven off the island; and in order to set all his doubts on this point at rest, he looked for the footprints which the man or animal must have made when he left the water and climbed the bank. David found the tracks after a few minutes' search, and a single glance at them confirmed his suspicions. They were made by a barefooted man, and that man must have been Godfrey Evans, for there was no one else in the settlement, that he knew of, who was so very anxious to escape observation that he was willing to swim a bayou on a cold day.
"I was right," said David to himself, feeling grieved and mortified when he remembered that his father had been hunted like a wild animal. "He is somewhere about here, and if I find him, I shall find the pointer with him. There he is now!"
The sharp crack of a rifle rang through the woods at that moment, and David scrambled up the bank and hurried away in the direction from which it sounded. He knew it was his father's gun (those who are experienced in such matters will tell you that there is as much difference in the reports of rifles as there is in the sound of the human voice), even before he received the proof that came a moment later. Scarcely had the report died away when he heard an impatient yelp just in front of him, and that he also recognised. It was uttered by Dandy. Godfrey was probably out hunting for his breakfast, and the pointer, excited by the report of the gun, was complaining because he was tied up in the camp and left behind. This was the way David explained the situation to himself, and the sequel proved that he was right.
After running through the bushes for a short distance, David came within sight of a little cloud of smoke, which ascended from a hollow just in advance of him. A few steps more brought him within sight of the camp, and the first object his eyes rested upon was Don Gordon's pointer, which was tied to a sapling near a little bark lean-to, something like the one Godfrey occupied while he was living on the island. The animal, hearing his approach, advanced to meet him as far as the length of his rope would allow, and stood wagging his tail with every demonstration of joy.
"I've saved Don ten dollars," thought David, as he pulled out his knife and cut the rope, "and I have kept Dan and father from playing a most contemptible trick upon one who would be a good friend to them, if they would only let him."
David had taken no pains to approach his father's camp without being discovered. He knew he was in the right, and he intended to be open and above board in everything he did. He expected to meet his father face to face, and he was ready to use every argument he could think of to induce him to surrender the pointer, that is, if the animal should be found in his possession. If arguments and entreaties failed, he was prepared to use other means, although he knew that by so doing he would bring certain punishment upon himself. Very fortunately, however, he chanced to reach the camp during his father's absence, and all he had to do was to liberate the pointer and go home with him.
"I'm glad it happened just as it did," thought David, drawing a long breath of relief; "I don't want to get into trouble with father, for I have seen him angry too many times. If he should catch me here now I believe he'd half kill me."
"Halloo, Dannie! What brung you up here so 'arly, an' whar be you goin' with the dog?"
David's heart seemed to stop beating, and his old single-barrel grew so heavy that he could scarcely sustain its weight. His first impulse was to take to his heels, but the unexpected sound of the familiar voice seemed to have deprived him of all power of motion. He did manage, however, to turn his head and look in the direction from which the voice sounded, and saw his father standing a little way off, with his rifle on his shoulder and a squirrel in his hand.
"Dave!" exclaimed the latter, so surprised that he could scarcely speak.
"Yes, it's Dave," replied the boy, who saw that the battle for which he had prepared himself was likely to come off after all.
"What business you got up here, an' how come you by that pinter pup?" demanded Godfrey.
"My business up here was to get the dog. I found him in your camp, and I cut him loose because I have a better right to him than you have."
"Wal, we'll see 'bout that thar," returned Godfrey, throwing down his squirrel and leaning his rifle against the nearest tree. David's face grew pale, for he knew what was coming now. His father's next move would be to reach for a hickory.
"Who told you I was up here?" demanded Godfrey, and David's uneasiness increased when he saw that his father was running his eyes over the bushes nearest him. He was picking out a good stout switch.
"No one told me," answered David.
"Then how did you know whar I was?"
"I was up here with Don and Bert on the day you swam the bayou, and I saw you just after you had climbed the bank and were dodging into the bushes."
"Don't you think you was a very grateful an' dutiful' son to hunt your poor ole pap outen a good hidin'-place an' make him take to the water like a hounded deer, in this cold weather too, an' my rheumatiz so bad?" asked Godfrey, angrily. "Who told you the pinter was here?"
"Nobody. I just guessed at it."
"Wal, what be you goin' to do with him, now you got him?"
"I'm going to take him back to his master and save him ten dollars."
"Ten dollars!" repeated Godfrey. "Is that what he's goin' to give to get him back? Now, Dave," and here Godfrey pulled out the hunting-knife which he always carried in a sheath attached to his bullet-pouch, and cut down the switch he had selected, "you jest take that thar pinter dog back whar you got him an' tie him up thar; you hear me?"
"I do, but I'll hold fast to the dog. You and Dan have swindled Don out of enough money already; and now I'll tell you what's a fact——"
David did not finish the sentence. He saw his father dash his hat upon the ground, and knowing what was coming, he faced about and took to his heels.
David would have been glad to reason with his father, but he had not been allowed the opportunity, and now it was too late to find one. His first thought was of the pointer. Giving the animal a hasty kick, to start him on his way home, David sought to save himself by flight, although he had little hope of success. Everybody said he was a swift runner for a boy of his age, and he did his best now, but fast as he went, Godfrey gained at every step. David heard his heavy footfalls growing louder and more distinct, and once or twice he lost all heart, and was on the point of stopping and surrendering at discretion. But he knew that the beating he would receive would be a most severe one, and he was sure he did not deserve it, and that his father had no business to give it to him. This thought lent him wings, and a few more jumps brought him to the bayou.
"I've got you now!" cried Godfrey, and David heard the switch whistle through the air, as his pursuer made an effort to reach him with it.
Godfrey thought the bayou would offer an effectual check to David's flight, but the boy himself looked upon it as his only means of escape. He ran straight to the bank, which at this point arose almost perpendicularly from the water to the height of at least twenty feet, and just as Godfrey was stretching forth his hand to seize him by the collar, he disappeared. His pursuer tried to stop himself, but so rapid was his flight that he made one or two involuntary steps, and it was only by catching hold of a friendly bush that he saved himself from following David over the bluff.
"Dog-gone my buttons!" thought Godfrey, gazing in astonishment at the bubbles on the surface of the water, which marked the spot where David had gone down. "Who'd a thought he would a jumped into the Bayou sooner nor take a leetle trouncin'? He's gettin' to be a powerful bad boy, Dave is, an' I had oughter be to hum every day to keep him straight. Come back here!" he shouted, as the fugitive's head suddenly bobbed up out of the water. "If you'll ketch the pinter fur me an' promise to say nothin' to nobody, I'll let you off this time."
David could not say a word in reply. He felt as if every drop of blood in his body had been turned into ice. He wiped the water from his eyes, glanced over his shoulder, to make sure that his father had not followed him into the bayou, and struck out for the opposite bank. Godfrey coaxed, promised and threatened to no purpose. David would not come back, and neither would he make any answer. He held as straight across the bayou as the current would permit, and when he reached the shore, he climbed out and disappeared in the bushes.
"He's gone," thought Godfrey, throwing away his switch and slowly retracing his steps toward the camp, "an' here's more trouble for me. The pinter's gone too, an' that takes money outen my pocket an' puts it into the pockets of them pizen Gordons. Dave'll tell everything he knows as soon as he gets hum, an' that'll bring the constable up here arter me. I must go furder back in the cane, but I won't go outen the settlement, an' nobody shan't drive me out nuther, till I get my hands onto them hundred an' fifty dollars. Then nobody won't ever hear of me ag'in—Dan nor none of 'em. It's jest a trifle comfortin' to know that that thar mean Dave can't do no more shootin'; he lost his gun."
Yes, David's faithful friend and companion was gone. It slipped from his grasp as he struck the water, and was now lying at the bottom of the bayou. He felt the loss as keenly as Don Gordon would have felt the loss of his fine breech-loader.
David thought he had never before been so nearly frozen as he was when he struck the opposite bank of the bayou; but a few minutes' vigorous exercise put his blood in circulation again, and then he began to feel more comfortable. He followed the bayou until he reached the lake, and then he plunged into the water again, and swam across to the other shore. It was cold work, but he had no boat, and so there was nothing else he could do. He was a very forlorn-looking object indeed, when he reached the cabin. Dan, who was still sunning himself on the bench, must have thought so, for when his brother first appeared in sight, he jumped up and stared at him as if he could not quite make up his mind whether the approaching object was David Evans, or one of the dreaded haunts that lived in the General's lane. He could not wholly satisfy himself on this point until he had made some inquiries. "Is that you your own self, Davy?" he asked, holding himself ready to take to his heels in case a satisfactory answer was not promptly returned.
David replied that it was.
"What's the matter of you, an' whar you been?" continued Dan. "Whar's your gun?"
"I have swam the bayou twice, and I have been taking a walk in the woods. My gun is in the water near the foot of Bruin's Island."
Dan opened his eyes and was about to propound a multitude of questions, when something that came around the corner of the cabin just then checked him. It was Don Gordon's pointer. He had found his way to the cabin and taken quiet possession of his bed in the kennel, and Dan was none the wiser for it until that moment. Hearing the sound of David's voice, the dog came out to meet him, and the two appeared to be overjoyed to see each other again. Dan opened his eyes wider than ever, and backed toward his seat on the bench without saying a word.
"I found him right where you left him, Dan," said David, who thought it high time his brother should know that some of his mean acts were being brought to light. "I've got him again, you see, and you'll never have another chance to steal him."
"What have you got, an' whar did I leave him?" Dan managed to ask at last.
"O, I wouldn't try to play off innocent, if I were you. I know all about it; and I want to tell you now that you had better turn over a new leaf and be quick about it, too. Mother says that if folks don't grow better every day, they grow worse, and I can see that it is true in your case and father's. You are both going down hill, and the first thing you know you'll do something that will get you in the calaboose. Three months ago neither one of you would have been guilty of stealing."
"Whoop!" yelled Dan, jumping up and knocking his heels together.
"I don't want to go back on either one of you," continued David, "and neither do I want to tell mother how bad you are; but I'll do it sooner than let you swindle Don Gordon or anybody else. Why don't you go to work?"
"Kase I've got jest as much right to set around an' do nothin' as other folks has," answered Dan, who had had time to recover himself in some measure. "That's jest why!"
"Mother and I don't sit around and do nothing."
"No, but them Gordons does."
"No, they don't. They all work, Don and Bert as well as the rest."
"If I hadn't seed them ridin' round so much on them circus hosses an' sailin' in them painted boats of their'n, mebbe I'd be willin' to b'lieve that," said Dan. "They don't work, nuther. They don't do nothin', but have good times. They've got good clothes an' nice things, an' I've got jest as much right to 'em as they have."
"Those ideas will get you into trouble some day," replied David, earnestly. "If you want nice things go to work and earn them; that's the way to get them."
While this conversation was going on, David was pulling off his wet clothes and putting on his best suit, the one he wore on Sundays. It was not just such a suit as the most of us would like to go to church in, but it was whole and neat, and David looked like another boy in it. He kept the pointer in the house with him all the while, for fear that his brother might attempt to steal him again; but Dan was too much astonished at the turn affairs were taking, and too badly frightened, to make any more efforts to win the ten dollars reward. He sat on the bench, with his eyes fastened thoughtfully on the ground, and saw David come out with the pointer and lead him down the road toward General Gordon's, without saying a word.
When David reached the barn he walked straight through it to the shop, and there he found Don and Bert, busy at work building more traps. They were surprised to see him dressed in his best, and still more surprised, and delighted too, when the pointer bounded in and fawned upon them.
"Father said that the offer of a reward would bring him if anything would," exclaimed Don, as he wound his arms around the animal's neck and hugged him as he might have hugged a brother he had not seen for a long time.
"Yes, the reward did it," replied David, and that was true. If Dan had not seen the notice in the post-office, he never would have had that conversation with David, and consequently the latter would not have known where to go to find the pointer.
"We all thought he was stolen," continued Don. "I am glad you are the one to bring him back, for I would rather give you the ten dollars than give it to anybody else."
"I don't want the money," said David, "and I won't take it."
"You can't help yourself. Where did you find him?"
"Didn't you promise that you wouldn't ask any questions?" asked David, with a smile.
"Well——yes, I did," answered Don, somewhat astonished. "But I made that promise just to let the thief see that he would run no risk in returning the dog. I can question you, can't I?"
"I'd rather you wouldn't."
Don uttered a long-drawn whistle and looked at Bert to see what he thought about it; but the blank expression on the latter's face showed that he was altogether in the dark.
"Well, let it go," said Don, picking up his hammer again. "I've got the dog back and with that I'll be satisfied. You'll take him home with you tonight, of course?"
"No, I think not. I am afraid to take him there."
"Then leave him here," said Don, who now began to think that he knew pretty nearly what had been going on. "He'll be safe with us, and you can find him when you want him. He isn't broken yet."
"I know it, but I can't do any more for him. I shall have to give you back your ten dollars."
"I'll not take it. A bargain is a bargain. I want my dog broken, and you need the money to send off your quails with."
"I know it," said David again; "but I can't shoot any more birds over him. I have no gun."
"Where is it?"
"At the bottom of the bayou."
The brothers grew more and more astonished the longer they talked with David, and Don told himself that there had been some queer doings in the settlement that morning. His interest and curiosity were thoroughly aroused, but he did not ask any more questions, for he knew that David could not explain matters without exposing one or more members of his own family. He turned the conversation into a new channel by saying suddenly:
"Bert and I made the rounds of the traps this morning, and took out a hundred and fifty birds. What do you say to that?"
Under almost any other circumstances David would have had a good deal to say about it; but just now he seemed to have lost all interest in his business. It would have been hard for any boy to wear a merry smile and keep up a light heart after such a scene as David had passed through that morning. He could not banish it from his memory. His father was hiding in the woods, because he was afraid to show his face among his neighbors again; he was a receiver of stolen property and his brother Dan was a thief, and the remembrance of these facts was enough to depress the most buoyant spirits. David wanted to do something to bring his father and brother to their senses, and induce them to become decent, respected members of the community, but he did not know how to set about it, and there was no one of whom he could ask advice. He never talked to his mother about the family difficulties now. She had more than her share of trouble, and David always tried to talk about cheerful things when he was in her presence.
"Doesn't it cheer you up any to know that your business is prospering?" exclaimed Bert. "Then we will tell you something else. How would you like to be mail carrier? How would you like to put thirty dollars in your pocket every month?"
"That is more money than I shall be able to earn for long years to come," replied David.
"Perhaps not. Father told us this morning that the old mail carrier is going to give up his route, his contract having expired, and he thinks he can get you appointed in his place. He's been to see Colonel Packard, and Silas Jones, and all the rest of the prominent men in the settlement, and they have promised to give you all their influence and to go on your bond."
"What does that mean?" asked David, who now began to show some interest in the matter.
"Why, there are certain legal forms to go through with, which father explained, but which I don't pretend to understand," said Bert. "You must promise to attend to your business——"
"O, I'll do that," exclaimed David.
"Of course you will," said Don, "but that will not satisfy the authorities in Washington. They don't know you, and even if they did it would make no difference. The law must be complied with, and you must give bonds for the faithful performance of your duty. But that needn't trouble you; father will attend to it. He says your chances are good, for you are the only one on the track so far."
This was the first time David knew that there was anybody on the track. He was greatly astonished and delighted, and his attempts to express his gratitude for the General's kindness and thoughtfulness were awkward enough. Thirty dollars was a large sum of money in his eyes. His earnings would amount to three hundred and sixty dollars a year, and couldn't he and his mother live nicely on that and save something for a rainy day besides? If he could get the contract, and his father and Dan would only abandon their lazy, worthless mode of life and go to work, how happy they would all be!
"What's the matter?" asked Don, for David's face became clouded again when he thought of his father and Dan.
"There's a good deal the matter," replied David, "but it is nothing I can help."
"You don't act like yourself at all to-day," continued Don. "Suppose you go home and take a rest. Don't brood over your troubles, whatever they are. Let them go, if you can't help them. Think about pleasant things, and to-morrow you will come up here, feeling like a new boy. Bert and I will set the traps we have made this morning, and then we'll go up and take a look at our bear trap."
David thought it would be a good plan to follow this advice, so he closed the door of the shop to keep the pointer from following him, and started for home.
"Well," said Bert, as he picked up his knife and resumed work upon the figure four he was making, "Dave has seen his father!"
"And had trouble with him, too," added Don.
"It was about the pointer," said Bert.
"My idea exactly. Godfrey is hiding somewhere in the cane; Dan wanted to make a little more money without work, so he stole the pointer and gave him to his father to keep until I offered a reward for him. David found it out, and to save me from being swindled, he recovered the pointer and got himself into difficulty by it."
The boys, who were merely guessing at all this, would have been surprised to know that their surmises were all correct. David and his troubles, and his manful efforts to better his condition in spite of his adverse circumstances, afforded them topics of conversation while they were at work; and when the figure four, on which Bert was employed, was completed, the mule was harnessed to the wagon, and the boys drove off to set the half a dozen new traps they had built that morning. It was twelve o'clock when they returned, and they found lunch waiting for them. When they had done ample justice to it, they began making hasty preparations for their visit to the island, and a quarter of an hour more saw them well on their way up the bayou.
They found to their great delight that the ducks were beginning to come in now, and Don was kept busy rowing from one side of the bayou to the other to pick up the dead and wounded birds that Bert brought out of the numerous flocks which took wing as they approached. After a dozen fine fat mallards had been brought to bag, Bert declared that it was a sin to shoot any more, and took his place at the oars, while Don sat in the stern and steered.
"These ducks tell us that it is time to go to our shooting-box," said the latter. "We always wait until they begin to come in before we make up our party, you know."
"We ought to go over there and fix up a bit first," said Bert. "If we don't find anything in our trap, let's go over there and see how things look. We have had some splendid times in that little shooting-box, haven't we?"
They certainly had, and they found much pleasure in living them over again in imagination. While they were talking about the many happy hours they had spent there, they reached Bruin's Island, and Don brought the canoe around and ran the bow upon the beach. The hounds jumped out, and running about with their noses close to the ground, began to show the same signs of excitement that they had exhibited on the day of their first visit to the island. The boys knew more now than they did then, and consequently were not in such haste to declare that it was a bear the dogs scented. It might be Godfrey Evans; and that he or somebody else had been there since they left was very evident. Their trap had been sprung by the aid of a long pole, which was still fast under the heavy roof; the lever and rope had been carried away; and the bag of corn which Don had hung upon the sapling had also disappeared. Don was provoked, and laid up in his mind a few sharp words, to be addressed to Godfrey on the subject, should they ever happen to meet again; but he had very little to say. The boys had been thoughtful enough to bring an axe, a piece of rope and another small bag of corn with them, and, although they had no assurance that their labor would not be wasted, they set the trap again and started for home.
"If Godfrey did that," said Don, "he must have swam the bayou, unless he has a boat hidden away in the bushes somewhere, which is not likely. If it was summer now, he would probably spring that trap every day, just to keep us from catching that bear; but the weather is getting frosty, and he'll not relish many more cold baths. I don't think he will trouble us that way any more."
When they reached the mouth of the bayou, Bert, who was steering, directed the canoe across the lake, toward the point on which the shooting-box was located. During a pause in the conversation, he looked toward the place where it ought to be, but could see nothing of it. "What's the matter?" asked his brother, who saw that there was something wrong.
"That's Long Point, isn't it?" asked Bert, in reply. "It certainly is, but where's the house?"
"You haven't been there in almost six months, and perhaps you have forgotten where it is," said Don, with a laugh.
"No, I haven't. It stood close beside a big shell-bark, didn't it? Well, there's the tree; now show me the shooting-box?"
Don faced about on his seat, expecting to point the building out to his brother at once, and was a good deal surprised when he found that he could not see it himself. There was the tree, sure enough, but the spot which the shooting-box ought to have occupied, was vacant. After running his eyes all along the shore, to satisfy himself that he had made no mistake as to the locality, Don picked up the oars again, and with a few more strokes brought the canoe to the bank. All there was left of the shooting-box they could have carried away in their arms. Even the stove had not escaped destruction. The chimney had fallen upon it and it was completely ruined.
"Godfrey means to put a stop to all our fun if he can, doesn't he?" said Bert, who thought that a man who would steal a canoe and spring a trap, would be guilty of any meanness.
"Let's go home," was Don's reply. "We'll have another shooting-box here some day, Bert, and it will beat the old one all to pieces."
The boys thought they had had hard luck that day, and so did their father, when he had heard their story; but they came very near having worse luck that night, and they never knew anything about it until several days afterward. The General found it out the next morning. He went to the fields at an early hour, as he always did, to set his negroes at work, and was met by the hostler, who had an exciting piece of news to communicate. "Misser Gordon," said he, "Misser Don's hound dogs done treed two fellers down dar in de quarter. Dey's been dar all de blessed night top o' dat ar house; yes, sar, dat's what dey says, sar!"
The General replied that if the two fellows had come there for the purpose of stealing, he was glad of it, and said he would go and take a look at them. When he saw them, perhaps he would know where the contents of his smoke-house had been going lately. He rode down to the quarters as soon as his horse was brought out, and when he came within sight of the cabin in which the boys kept their captured quails, he saw two persons sitting astride of the ridge-pole and Don's hounds gathered about the building, keeping guard over them. The General could scarcely believe his eyes, although when he came to recall several little things which Don and Bert had told him, he was not so very much surprised after all. The persons whom the hounds had forced to take refuge on the roof of the cabin were boys; and as soon as the General was near enough to them to distinguish their features, he saw that they were Lester Brigham and Bob Owens.
"I think it my duty to inform you that the parties to whom you have given your order for fifty dozen live quails will certainly disappoint you. They did not seek the contract for themselves, but for another person, who knows nothing whatever about trapping, and who is much too indolent to put forth the necessary exertion if he did. You will get no birds from him. If, after waiting a reasonable time—I should think two weeks would be long enough—you become satisfied of this fact, I shall be happy to receive your order, and will guarantee you satisfaction."
This was a rough copy of the letter Lester drew up to send to the advertiser in the "Rod and Gun," on the evening of the day on which he held that interview with Don and Bert, when the former refused to join his sportsman's club. He read it to Bob in his best style and was astonished when his friend declared that it wouldn't do at all. "You seem to forget that I am working for a new shot-gun," said Bob. "The language isn't half strong enough."
"You can't improve it anywhere," replied Lester, who was rather proud of the production. "Do you want me to abuse Don and the rest? That would be poor policy, for the man would say right away that we were jealous of them and trying to injure them. I have told him that he will get no birds from David, and if he does, it will be our fault."
Bob could not see the force of this reasoning. There was so much at stake that it was necessary they should do everything in their power to secure the contract, and he was sure it would help matters if a few hard words were added respecting Don and David. So they were put in, and the letter was copied and dropped into the post-office.
After that Lester took up his abode with Bob Owens. According to an agreement made between them, Bob went through the ceremony of sending a note to Lester by a negro boy, inviting him to come over and spend a week with him, bringing his horse and gun, and they would have a fine time shooting turkeys and driving the ridges for deer. This arrangement enabled the two conspirators to be together day and night. They intended to pass the most of their time in riding about through the woods, and if a deer or turkey happened to come in their way and they should be fortunate enough to shoot it, so much the better; but if the game kept out of their sight they would not spend any precious moments in looking for it. Their object was to devote themselves exclusively to destroying all David's chances for earning the hundred and fifty dollars. They would watch him closely, and when they found out where his traps were set, they would visit them daily, and steal every quail they found in them.
During the first few days the boys spent together they found out two things: one was that there was a pile of traps in the yard behind Godfrey Evans's cabin, and that they were never touched except when the family happened to be in want of kindling wood. The other was, that David left home bright and early every morning and went straight to General Gordon's. What he did after he got there they could not find out. They would always wait an hour or two to see if he came out again, and then they would grow tired of doing nothing, and spend the rest of the day searching the woods and brier-patches in the neighborhood of the cabin, in the hope of finding some of David's traps. But they never found a single one, for the reason that they were all set on the General's plantation, and the boys never thought of looking there for them.
"It's my opinion," said Lester, one day, when the two were seated at a camp-fire in the woods, broiling a brace of squirrels which Bob had shot, "that David has given it up as a bad job and left the way clear for us."
"Hurrah!" shouted Bob.
"Well—yes; but I'd hurrah louder if he had only set a dozen or two traps and given us a chance to rob them. If he'd done that, we might have had a hundred birds on hand now. The best thing we can do is to set our own traps and catch the quails as fast as we can. We'll keep an eye on David all the same, however."
This programme was duly carried out—that is, they spent the rest of the day in setting their traps, but they did not devote any more time to watching David's movements. Two incidents happened within a few hours that suggested new ideas to them, and made them sure that at last they had the game in their own hands. They had built a good many traps, and having no mule and wagon at their command, as Don Gordon had, it took them all the rest of the day to set them, so that it was dark by the time they reached home. They found the family at supper and listening with great interest and attention to something Mr. Owens was saying.
Mr. Owens was like Godfrey Evans in two respects. His ideas ran just as far ahead of his income as Godfrey's did, and he hated those who were better off in the world than himself. Especially did he dislike General Gordon. The latter was looked up to by all the best people as the leading man in the community, and that was something Mr. Owens could not endure. He wanted that honor himself; and because he could not have it, he made it a point to oppose and injure the General in every possible way.
"What do you think Gordon is trying to do now?" Mr. Owens asked, just as the boys came in and took their seats at the table. "Gardner's mail contract has run out, and as he doesn't intend to put in another bid, that meddlesome Silas Jones asked the General who would be a good man to take his place; and Gordon hadn't any more sense than to recommend Dave Evans."
"Well, of all the things I ever heard of!" exclaimed Bob.
"That's what I thought," continued Mr. Owens. "I heard them talking about it at the post-office. Gordon was as busy as a candidate on election day. He was going around speaking to all the men about it, and asking them if they would lend their influence to secure the contract for David, and, although I put myself in his way two or three times, he never said a word to me. I suppose he thought my influence didn't amount to anything one way or the other, but perhaps he'll see his mistake some day."
"What's the pay, father?" asked Bob.
"Thirty dollars a month was Gardner's bid, and he rode the route only twice each week. But he had to go rain or shine. How would you like it, Bob?"
"The best in the world!" exclaimed the boy, eagerly. "Three hundred and sixty dollars a year! Couldn't I sport just as fine a hunting and fishing rig as anybody? Can't you get it for me, father?"
"I was thinking about it on the way home, and I made up my mind that I could try. Gordon thinks he holds the whole state of Mississippi under his thumb, but he hasn't got me there."
"Nor my father, either," said Lester. "He'll help you, Mr. Owens."
"I was counting on him. When I send in the application, I'll have to send a bond for a few hundred dollars with it."
"Father will go on it, if I ask him, and I will, for I'll do anything to help Bob and beat that beggar, Dave Evans."
The conversation continued for an hour or more in this strain, and when the boys had heard David and all his friends soundly abused, and Bob had provided for the spending of every cent of the money he would earn during the first year he rode the route, if his father succeeded in obtaining the appointment for him, he and Lester went out to attend to their horses and talk the matter over by themselves. Bob was in ecstacies; and while he was counting off on his fingers the various articles he intended to purchase with his wages, Lester suddenly laid his hand on his arm.
"What's that?" said he, in a suppressed whisper.
Bob looked in the direction indicated by his companion, and saw a dark figure creeping stealthily along the fence. His actions plainly showed that he had no business there, and, as if moved by a common impulse, the two boys dropped to the ground and waited to see what he was going to do.
"It's some thieving nigger," whispered Bob. "If he lays a hand on anything we'll jump up and catch him."
"Hadn't I better go into the house and call your father?" asked Lester.
"O, no; you and I can manage him. Do you see those fence pickets over there? Well, we'll sneak up and get one apiece, and then if he attempts any resistance, we shall be ready for him."
The pickets, of which Bob spoke, were piled about twenty yards nearer to the barn than the boys then were, and they succeeded in creeping up to them and arming themselves without attracting the notice of the prowler. The latter followed the fence until he reached a point opposite the spot where the barn, corn-cribs and other out-buildings were located, and there he stopped to survey the ground before him. Having made sure that there was no one in sight, he moved quickly toward the smokehouse and tried the door.
"I don't think you'll make much there, my friend," whispered Bob. "That door is locked."
The prowler found it so, and after a few ineffectual attempts to force it open by pushing with his shoulder against it, he faced about and disappeared in the barn. While the boys were trying to make up their minds whether or not they ought to run up and corner him there, he came out again, and he did not come empty-handed either. He carried a bag of meal on his shoulder—the one Mr. Owens had put in the barn that morning for the use of his horses—and in his hand something that looked like a stick of stove-wood; but it was in reality a strong iron strap, which he had found in the barn and which he intended to use to force an entrance into the smokehouse. He deposited his bag of meal upon the ground, set to work upon the hasp with his lever and in a few minutes more the door swung open.
"Now is our time," whispered Bob, as the robber disappeared in the smoke-house. "Stand by me and we'll have a prisoner when we go back to the house."
Lester would have been very glad indeed to have had some excuse for remaining in his place of concealment, and allowing his companion to go on and capture the robber alone; but he could not think of any, and when Bob jumped up and ran toward the smoke-house, Lester followed him, taking care, however, to regulate his pace so that his friend could keep about ten or fifteen feet in advance of him. Bob, who was in earnest and not in the least alarmed, moved with noiseless footsteps, while Lester, preferring to let the robber escape rather than face him with no better weapon than a fence picket in his hand, made all the noise he conveniently could, hoping that the man would take the alarm and run out of the smoke-house before they could reach it. But the thief was so busily engaged that he did not hear their approach, and never dreamed of danger until the boys halted in front of the door and ordered him to come out and give himself up. We ought rather to say that Bob halted in front of the door and boldly stood his ground there, while Lester took care to shelter himself behind the building, and showed only the top of his cap to the robber.
"We've got you now, you rascal!" exclaimed Bob, bringing his club against the side of the smokehouse with a sounding whack. "Come out and surrender yourself, or we'll come in and take you out."
"Yes," chimed in Lester, in a trembling voice, at the same time hitting the building a very feeble blow with his fence picket. "Come out, and be quick about it. There are a dozen of us here, enough to make——"
Lester finished the sentence with a prolonged shriek of terror, for just then something that seemed to move with the speed and power of a lightning express train, dashed out of the intense darkness which concealed all objects in the interior of the smoke-house, and Lester received a glancing blow on the shoulder that floored him on the instant. While the latter was calling upon the robber to surrender, Bob heard a slight rustling in the smoke-house, and knowing very well what it meant, he jumped back out of the door-way, and raised his club in readiness to strike; but the thief was out and gone before he could think twice. The instant the robber landed on his feet outside the door, he turned toward the place where he had left his bag of meal and happened to come into collision with Lester, who went down with a jar that made him think every bone in his body was broken. It was a minute or two before he could collect his scattered wits and raise himself to his feet, and then he found that he was alone. Bob was scudding across the field in pursuit of the robber, who carried a side of bacon on one shoulder and the bag of meal on the other; but burdened as he was he ran quite fast enough to distance Bob, who presently came back to the smoke-house, panting and almost exhausted.
"Is he gone?" asked Lester, who was groping about on the ground in search of his club.
"I should say he was," Bob managed to reply. "He ran like a deer. He knocked you flatter than a pancake, didn't he?"
"He didn't hurt me as badly as I hurt him," said Lester. "Did you hear my club ring on his head?"
"No, but I heard you yell. You didn't strike him."
"What's the reason I didn't? I did, too, but it must have been a glancing blow, for if I had hit him fairly, I should have knocked him flatter than he knocked me. I yelled just to frighten him."
"I guess you succeeded, for I never saw a man run as he did. He got away, and he took the meal and bacon with him. They'll not do him any good, however, for he'll be in the calaboose by this time to-morrow, if there are men enough in the settlement to find him. I know him."
"You do? Who was he?"
"Godfrey Evans. He's been hiding in the cane ever since he and Clarence Gordon got into that scrape, and no one has ever troubled him. But somebody will trouble him now. I'll tell my father of it the first thing. I wonder how Dave will feel when he sees his father arrested and packed off to jail?"
"I wouldn't do anything of the kind, if I were you," said Lester.
"You wouldn't?" cried Bob, greatly astonished. "Well, I won't let this chance to be revenged on Dave slip by unimproved, now I tell you."
"We can take revenge in a better way than that. We've got just as good a hold on him now as we want, and we'll make him promise that he will make no effort to catch those quails."
"O, I am no longer interested in that quail business," said Bob, loftily. "I'd rather have three hundred and sixty dollars than seventy-five."
"But you must remember that you haven't been appointed mail carrier yet, so you are by no means sure of your three hundred and sixty dollars. And even if you were, it would be worth your while to earn the seventy-five dollars, if you could, for that amount of money isn't to be found on every bush."
Lester went on to tell his friend of a bright idea that had just then occurred to him, and before he had fully explained how the events of the night could be made to benefit them, he had won Bob over to his way of thinking. The latter promised that he would say nothing to his father about the theft of which Godfrey had been guilty, until he and Lester had first told David of it and noted the effect it had upon him. If they could work upon his feelings sufficiently to induce him to give up the idea of trapping the quails, well and good. Godfrey might have the meal and bacon, and welcome. But if David was still obstinate and refused to listen to reason, they would punish him by putting the officers of the law on his father's track.
"It is a splendid plan and it will work, I know it will," exclaimed Bob, in great glee. "It will be some time before my appointment—those folks in Washington move very slowly—and while I am waiting for it, I may as well make seventy-five dollars. I can get my shot-gun with it, and spend my three hundred and sixty for the other things I need."