Since the latter had not gained much start it would seem that he ought to be close upon them, always provided he was traveling in their actual footsteps. The ground continued rough and broken, but it had no effect on his progress. Something like a shadow whisked across the path in front at the moment of his passing round a turn. Some animal had caught sight of him, and, scared by the vision, had leaped into the jungle at the side. Whether it was a tiger, leopard, cheetah, wild boar or another brute he did not know or care. If it dared to dispute his way he would shoot.
He was pressing forward in this reckless, desperate fashion, when he dropped as if he had collided with a stone wall, and his heart almost ceased its beating. He had caught the faint report of a firearm. It came from a point on his right and sounded as if caused by a revolver, rather than a larger weapon. The thought that came to him was that it was the pistol of Mary Marlowe!
"She is at bay; she may have fired it at herself, and yet I do not think she would do that until some of the bullets had reached the wretches who have captured her. I am following the wrong path, for this one leads me away from her."
Without an instant's hesitation he turned and began his return on a loping trot. He was incensed with himself because of his mistake, and yet there was no reasonable cause for such feeling, but grief is as thoughtless as love, and he was stirred to the very depth of his soul by both. Reaching the last forking, he did not pause, but set out over the main trail.
In front of him towered a mass of rocks higher than any he had yet seen. The path wound about these, but instead of following it, he climbed to the highest part.
"I may gain sight of something from up there," was his thought as he pushed on, "that will be of some help."
And he did see something from the crest which fairly took away his breath.
Mary Marlowe was an obedient daughter, and when her father checked her move to go to the aid of the imperilled ones on the boat, and peremptorily ordered her to wait where she was, she obeyed without protest. She would have been glad to bear them company, but knew she would be more of a hindrance than a help.
It was less than five minutes after the disappearance of her father and betrothed when she was frightened by hearing a slight sound directly behind her in the path. Her thought naturally was that some wild animal was stealing upon her, but the first glance told a more dreadful story. Five men, who, from their ragged, scant attire, their dark complexion and wild expression of features, she knew to belong to the terrible bandits called Ghoojurs, had come upon her unnoticed, and pausing within a half dozen paces, were looking fixedly at her.
The sight was so startling that the young woman gasped and recoiled. She would have fled after her friends had not the leader made a gesture, accompanied by the command:
"Stay where you are or you shall be killed! I know you as the daughter of the doctor, and we seek you and him."
Each of the Ghoojurs carried a long, muzzle-loading gun, and every one had a yataghan thrust into a girdle around his waist, the weapon being a foot or more in length, and with a point of needle-like fineness. The leader spoke in Hindustani, which was as familiar to the young woman as her own tongue.
The young woman possessed quick wit. She could not doubt that the five, including Almos and Mustad, were now her deadly enemies. Whether they had taken part in the massacre of those left on the boat could not be conjectured, but the probabilities were the other way, since it would have been well-nigh impossible for them to reach their present position from the river without colliding with Dr. Marlowe and Jack Everson.
Mary showed her shrewdness by acting as if the two men were the friends they had always shown themselves when their former meetings took place.
"Why, Almos," she said, forcing a smile in which there was no pleasure, "we have not met before since you came to my home and my father gave you medicine that cured your illness. How do you do?"
And she had the courage to advance a step and offer her dainty hand, but the brute refused it. With a shake of his head he retreated a step and said:
"My caste will not allow me."
"But it allowed you to take drink and food from my hand and medicine from that of my father," she said, stung by the repulse.
"I did evil, for which Allah has pardoned me; the faithful have been summoned to drive the infidels from India; the followers of Islam have heard the call, and they are flocking to the banner of the Prophet from all parts of Hindostan; not one infidel shall be left in all the land."
During these few moments Mustad stood directly behind the leader, with a fixed grin in which there was a certain shamefacedness, for with all his fierce fanaticism he could not forget the gentle, sweet nature of the one who had become a prisoner nor the unvarying kindness he had received at her hands. True, the devil in his nature was roused, and there could be little question that he was acting as guide to these murderers while they hunted for the doctor and his family.
"And do you mean to help kill those who have been your friends, Mustad?" she asked, with her penetrating eyes fixed upon him.
Had the two been alone, it is possible the edge would have been taken off the response, but with four Ghoojurs at his elbow, and one of them the furious Almos, he dared not be behind them in savagery.
"This is a war for our deen; when we fight for that we know none but the followers of the Prophet! The Inglese loge stole our homes and our land from us! They have put lard on the cartridges of the Sepoys that the faithful may become unclean and be shut out of paradise! I hate them all! I have no friends among them! I shall never sheath my knife nor stay my hand while one remains alive in India."
"Let it be as you say," she calmly replied, seeing that it was useless to hold converse with the wretch.
Her wish was to keep the party where they were until Jack and her father could have time to return. Here would be an opportunity for the young man to make a few more bull's-eyes, but Almos was too wise to run the risk. He was not afraid to fight two men, even though not so well armed as they, but his wish was first to place the young woman beyond their reach—for when the fight came it would be to the death.
"No harm shall come to you," said the leader in a gentler tone. "Walk forward over the path and we will guard you against harm."
"Whither do you intend to take me?" she asked, debating whether to obey or to make a fight then and there and force matters to an issue.
"To place you among friends that your enemies may not reach you."
"Why not take me to my home?"
"It has been burned and the men are hiding among the trees that they may slay you when you and your father return."
After a moment's hesitation she obeyed, taking the path along which her parent soon after pressed in the desperate effort to recover her from her captors.
DOCTOR AND PATIENT.
The bright wits of Miss Marlowe were active. Mustad took the lead along the path, she following next, while Almos, the leader of the Ghoojurs, and his three companions, brought up the rear. Like most of the trails through the Asiatic jungles, this was inclosed on each side by a growth of trees, undergrowth and matted vegetation of such density that it was next to impossible for any one to pick his way forward or backward except by keeping within the path itself. To step aside into the jungle would immediately involve one in so inextricable a tangle that he could move only with the greatest difficulty.
An attempt to escape, therefore, by darting to one side was not to be thought of, and she knew that her only hope lay with her absent friends. She was confident that they would speedily return, and, finding her gone, start in immediate pursuit. A collision between them and the Ghoojurs was imminent.
The latter acted as if their only interest lay in their prisoner. So far as she could judge no attention was paid to the rear, whence the danger of attack threatened. The place of Mustad, at the head, confirmed her suspicion that he had been playing the part of guide for the rest from the first.
She did not doubt that her home and its contents had been burned by the wretches, but under the circumstances the matter gave her little concern. She was inclined to believe that her captors meant to conduct her into the town of Akwar, nearby, and with her knowledge of the fanatical hatred of the population against all Christians she still hoped to find some friends there who would protect her from harm. And thus it was that she was not in the state of collapse or despair that might be supposed.
Suddenly a pistol was fired from some point at the rear beyond her captors, and out of sight. All the men instantly stopped, grasped their arms and looked back, the young woman doing the same. Her thought was: "That was father or Jack, but he did not hit any one; therefore, it wasn't Jack."
While the six were looking expectantly to the rear Dr. Marlowe, his face flushed, and his whole appearance, showing his intense excitement, came into sight. He was panting from his severe exertion, and raised his hand as a signal for the Ghoojurs to wait for him. It is probable that he would have received a shot, but for an interruption that was as unexpected as it was remarkable. Almos, the leader of the Ghoojurs, emitted a yell that could have been heard a half-mile away, and leaped several feet in the air, while his companions with exclamations of terror hastily recoiled from him.
"Great Allah! He has been bitten!" exclaimed the horrified Mustad, almost knocking the young woman off her feet in his rush towards his master; but one of the others had perceived the monstrous cobra, and, clubbing his gun, he beat the life out of it with one blow, before it could glide away into the jungle. It looked as if this part of the country was specially pestered by the dreadful reptiles.
Almos knew he was doomed. All hope had vanished, and, dropping to the ground, he bared his bronzed ankle, looked at the tiny points where the horrible poison had been injected into his system, and then, like the fatalist be was, he calmly folded his arms and waited for the last moment that was rushing upon him. He was a faithful follower of the Prophet and knew how to meet the inevitable that awaits us all. His companions, awed and silent, stood around, unable to say or do anything that could give him comfort. Miss Marlowe, after walking part way to the group, paused and looked at them and at her father, who was hurrying to the spot. She wondered that Almos had permitted the killing of the cobra, since the snake is looked upon as sacred in India, and few natives can be induced to injure one. The Ghoojurs probably slew it in the flurry of the moment.
Dr. Marlowe had heard the cry and noted the excitement, but did not suspect the cause until he drew near the spot. Then Mustad, familiar with the skill of the medical man, beckoned to him and said:
"Make haste, great sahib, Almos has been bitten by a snake; no one can save him but you."
The stricken chief, from his seat on the ground, looked up in the face of the white man, of whose wonderful skill he had received proof in his own self. The countenance of the Ghoojur was of ashen hue, and the yearning expression of his eyes told of the hope that had been kindled within his breast.
Now that the physician had dropped into what may be called his professional character, he was himself again. He set down the caba containing his instruments, and medicaments, adjusted his glasses, and stooping over, intently studied the wound made by the cobra. Then he drew out his watch, as if he were timing the pulse beats of a patient.
"It is one minute and a half since you were bitten," he said, still holding the timepiece in his hand, but looking into the face of Almos; "in three more minutes and a half no power but Allah can save you."
Catching the full meaning of these words, the Ghoojur leader quivered with suddenly renewed hope.
"Can you save me?" he asked in Hindustani.
"I have in there," replied the physician, tapping his caba with his long forefinger, "that which will render the bite of the snake as harmless as the peck of a bird that flies in the air, but barely three minutes remain in which to apply it."
"Then I beseech you, do not wait," said the eager Almos, shoving his foot towards the doctor; "great is the English doctor; be quick; why do you tarry?"
"Before I heal you," replied Dr. Marlowe, with maddening deliberation, "I must be paid my fee; I have attended you before and refused to accept what you offered, but now I demand payment before applying the remedy."
"You shall have it; name it, I beg you; all that I have shall be yours if you will save me, but haste, O great physician, haste!"
"It is strong, and will do its work well, if it be given the chance."
He next drew out a lancet, with its edge like a razor's. Almos breathlessly watched him, but when he expected the doctor to begin work, he leaned back and said:
"Why should I bring you back from death, when you are seeking the lives of my daughter and myself? The best thing I can do is to let you die, as you will do in two minutes and a half more," he added, looking again at his watch; "the venom of the cobra works fast and it will soon strike your heart."
"You promised to save me if I would pay you in advance.
"So I will."
"Name your fee; be quick with it!"
"It is that you and the rest of the Ghoojurs shall leave me and mine alone; that you shall depart at once; that you shall not attempt to follow, nor harm us in any way. Without that pledge on your part, I shall let you die like the dog that you are. What is your answer?"
"I promise; I promise!" exclaimed Almos, almost beside himself with excitement and renewed hope. "I will guide you through the jungle to a safe point, and will watch over you till all danger is gone."
"You have given me your promise, but you may break it; swear by the mantle of the Prophet, or I shall let you die."
"I swear by the mantle of the Prophet!" the Ghoojur chieftain fairly shrieked, "that I will do as I have promised! Quick, quick, or it will be too late!"
"You have made the most sacred vow that a Mussulman can make; I will test it by saving your life."
One quick movement with the lancet made an incision across the red specks left by the fangs of the cobra, and into the opening he poured a teaspoonful of the yellowish fluid, which was so much like liquid fire and pepper that even the dusky scoundrel gasped with agony. Then he was made to open his mouth and swallow something from a large bottle, which, as regards strength and flavor, was a twin of that which was consuming his flesh.
All at once the countenance of the physician expanded with a beaming smile as he looked at his patient and said gently as if speaking to his own child:
"All danger is past, Almos."
From the abundance of rags which fluttered about his person, the doctor tore a piece and bandaged the wound. Then he said in a business-like tone:
"I am through; now you and the rest of you may go."
"You have saved my life: is there nothing I can do for you?"
"I have just told you what to do—leave?"
Probably there would have been less promptness in complying with the command had there been less in uttering it. As it was, Almos, without a word, motioned to the rest of his band, and led the way down the path in the direction of the stream, the four tramping after him like so many ragged phantoms.
Dr. Marlowe was more eager to leave the place than he would permit his child to know. He had no faith in Almos's promise, knowing that the Ghoojur chieftain would break his oath, which he and his brother fanatics did not consider binding when made to infidels, and the only hope, therefore, was for the fugitives to conceal themselves from the miscreants—a thing which the physician's intimate knowledge of the country would enable him to do.
Footfalls sounded along the path over which the two had just come, and a minute later Almos, Mustad and their three companions emerged into the opening and approached the couple, one of whom suspected nothing until her father spoke.
"Well, Almos, what do you want?" demanded Dr. Marlowe, calmly looking up at the Ghoojur chieftain, as he paused in front of him and made a salaam.
"We have come for the infidel and his daughter; our deen commands us to put them to death."
"What does the oath you gave me a little while ago command you to do?"
"That was made to an infidel; it is not binding upon a true son of the Prophet."
"A true son of the devil!" exclaimed the physician, unable to repress his rage.
Turning to his daughter, he said:
"My child, you have a pistol; when they make a move, shoot; leave Almos to me and save your last bullet for yourself."
"The infidels shall be destroyed everywhere," said Almos; "none of the Inglese loge shall be left in India. The faithful have risen and they will crush them all, for so commands the Prophet——"
Dr. Marlowe had placed his hand on the butt of his revolver at his hip, meaning to whip out the weapon and fire before the miscreant had finished his high-sounding tomfoolery. His daughter had also grasped hers, intending to obey to the letter the command of her parent, when the Ghoojur chieftain abruptly paused in his speech, staggered for a moment, and then sank to the ground like a bundle of rags, with the breath of life gone from his body.
The incident would have been as inexplicable to parent and child as to the Ghoojurs, had they not caught the faint, far-away report of a rifle, which, if heard by the bandits, was not associated by them with the startling thing that had taken place before their eyes. But the doctor and Mary knew the connection.
And about half-a-mile away, on the top of that huge rock, hot enough under the flaming sun to roast eggs, Jack Everson had assumed the same position that he held the afternoon before on the bank of the Ganges, when he checked the advance of the Ghoojur horsemen across the river. With the aid of the glasses, he had descried the forms of his beloved and her father when the bright eyes failed to detect his own. Then, when about to start to join them, he observed their visitors, and the glass again helped to identify them, after which he "proceeded to business."
The instant he made his aim sure he pulled the trigger, came to a sitting position, readjusted a cartridge, and placing the glasses to his eyes that he might see the more plainly, watched the result of his shot.
"By Jove; another bull's-eye!" he gleefully exclaimed, as he saw his man stagger and fall almost at the feet of Dr. Marlowe. "I don't know the gentleman's name, but a first-class obituary notice is in order. That makes six, and now for the seventh. I really hope the doctor is keeping score for me."
The professional eye of the physician saw where the pellet of lead had passed through the chest of Almos, but it was not observed by Mustad or the other Ghoojurs, who probably attributed it in some way to the bite of the cobra, in spite of the miraculous cure that seemed to have been wrought before their eyes. The three remained in the background, but the fall of the leader appeared to add flames to the hatred of Mustad, who, assuming the mantle of the fallen chieftain, stepped to the front.
"You shall not escape us!" he hissed; "all the Inglese loge shall die!"
"But before any more of them perish, you shall go to the infernal regions to keep company with the imp that has just gone thither."
The doctor had learned from the exhibition of the preceding afternoon the time required by Jack Everson to repeat his marvelous shots. He knew, therefore, about the moment when a second was due, and he decided to make its arrival as dramatic as possible.
"You stand almost on the same spot where stood Almos; he dropped dead before me, and," raising his hand impressively, "I command you to do the same."
Again the faint report swept across the extent of jungle, travelling with almost the same speed as the bullet, which, like its predecessor, bored through the dusky chest of the victim and lost itself in the vegetation beyond. Mustad gasped, convulsively clasped one hand to his breast, flung out both arms, groped blindly for an instant, and then slumped down as dead as one of the mummies of the Pyramids.
And the young American, still reclining on that gray, blistering rock, again rose to a sitting posture and clapped the glasses to his eyes to observe more clearly the result of his last trial at markmanship.
"That makes seven bull's-eyes!" was his delighted exclamation, "but I have done as well when the distance was twice as great. I must keep the number in mind, for it will be like the doctor to insist that I made but six out of a possible eight. I notice that three gentlemen are left and require attention."
With the same care as before, he lay back and drew bead on the group, but the next moment uttered an impatient exclamation and straightened up again.
"They have fled; only Mary and her father are left, and there's no call to send any bullets in their direction."
The fall of Mustad at the command of the wrathful physician was more than the other Ghoojurs could stand. Suspecting no connection between the almost inaudible reports and the terrifying incidents, they believed their only hope was in headlong flight. Without a word they dashed down the trail, quickly passing from sight, and were seen no more.
Meanwhile Jack Everson, finding no demand for long shooting, sprang from the rock and made all haste to the spot where he had recognized his friends, and where they awaited his coming with an anxiety that could not have been more intense. That others of their enemies were in the neighborhood was certain, and their vengeance could not be restrained or turned aside as had been that of the Ghoojurs. A collision between them and the fugitives must be fatal to the latter.
Great, therefore, was the delight of father and daughter when the brave fellow bounded into sight, his whole concern, as it seemed, being to learn whether the score kept by the doctor agreed with his own. When assured that it did, he announced that he was at the disposal of the venerable physician and his daughter.
The three pushed steadily toward Nepaul, cheered by the knowledge that with every mile passed their danger lessened. They were in great peril more than once. Twice they exchanged shots with marauding bands, and once their destruction seemed inevitable; but good fortune attended them, and at the end of a week they entered the wild, mountainous and sparsely-settled region, where at last all danger was at an end.
So it came about that when the young people took their final departure down the Ganges for Calcutta, thence to return to the United States, Dr. Marlowe went with them. He and his son-in-law formed a partnership in the practice of their profession, and it is only a few years since that the aged physician was laid to rest. He was full of years and honors, and willing to go, for he knew that the happiness of his daughter could be in no safer hands than those of Jack Everson.
LOST IN THE WOODS.
THE CABIN IN THE WOOD.
Harvey Bradley had been superintendent of the Rollo Mills not quite a year when, to his annoyance, the first strike in their history took place.
Young Bradley was a college graduate, a trained athlete, and a bright and ambitious man, whose father was president of the company in New York which owned the extensive mills. It was deemed best to have a direct representative of the corporation on the ground, and Harvey qualified himself for the responsible situation by a six-months' apprenticeship, during all of which he wrought as hard as any laborer in the establishment.
He made his home in the remote village of Bardstown, where the Rollo Mills had been built. He lived with his Aunt Maria, (who went all the way from New York with her favorite nephew that she might look after him), and his sister Dollie, only six years old. The plan was that she should stay until Christmas, when her father was to come and take her home. Aunt Maria, with the help of honest Maggie Murray, kept house for Harvey, who found his hands and brains fully occupied in looking after the interests of the Rollo Mills, which gave employment to two hundred men, women and children.
All went well with the young superintendent for some months after the assumption of his duties. He was alert, and surprised every one by his practical knowledge. He was stern and strict, and, after warning several negligent employes, discharged them. This did not help his popularity, but, so long as the directors were satisfied, Harvey cared for the opinion of no one else.
When dull times came, Superintendent Bradley scaled down the wages of all, including his own. The promise to restore them, as soon as business warranted the step, averted the threatened strike. Within a month the restoration took place, but every employe was required to work a half hour over time without additional pay.
A strike was averted for the time, but the friendly feeling and mutual confidence that ought to exist between the employer and the employed was destroyed. The latter kept at work, and the former felt that he had not sacrificed his dignity nor his discipline.
But the discontent increased. One day Hugh O'Hara, the chief foreman, and Thomas Hansell, one of the most influential of the workmen, called upon Mr. Bradley, and speaking for the employes, protested against the new arrangement. They said every man, woman and child was willing to work the extra half hour, but inasmuch as the need for such extra time indicated an improvement in business, they asked for the additional pay to which they were clearly entitled.
Harvey was looking for such protest and he was prepared. He said it was an error to think there was an improvement in business. While in one sense it might be true, yet the price of the manufactured goods had fallen so low that the mills really made less money than before. The wages that had been paid were better than were warranted by the state of trade. Now, when the employes were asked to help in a slight degree their employers who had done so much for them, they would not do so. O'Hara and Hansell, showing a wish to discuss the matter, the superintendent cut them short by saying that it was idle to talk further. He would not make any reduction in their time, nor would he pay any extra compensation.
That night 200 employes of the Rollo Mills quit work, with the intention of staying out until justice was done them. Harvey asserted that he would never yield; he would spend a few days in overhauling the machinery and in making a few needed repairs; then, if the employes chose, they could come back. All who did not do so would not be taken back afterwards. New hands would be engaged and in a short time the mills would be running the same as before.
O'Hara and Hansell warned the superintendent that serious trouble would follow any such course. While making no threat themselves, they told him that blood was likely to be shed. Harvey pooh-poohed and reminded them that a few men and children would make sorry show in fighting the whole state, for, in the event of interference by the strikers, he meant to appeal to the authorities.
The repairs needed at the mills were soon made. Steam was gotten up and the whistle called the hands to work. Only O'Hara and Hansell came forward. They explained that all would be glad to take their places if the superintendent would allow them a slight increase of pay for overwork. They had held a meeting and talked over the matter, and now abated a part of their first demand; they were willing to accept one-half rate for overtime.
The superintendent would not yield a jot. The most that he would consent to do was to wait until noon for them to go to work. The two men went away muttering threats; not one of the hands answered the second call to work.
Quite sure that such would be the result, Harvey had telegraphed to Carville, fifty miles away, for sixty men, to take the place of those who had quit work. He asked only for men, since it would have been unwise to bring women and children to become involved in difficulties.
By some means this step became known, and, as is always the case, it added fuel to the flames. Warning notices were sent to the superintendent that if the new hands went to work they would be attacked; Bradley himself was told to keep out of sight unless ready to come to the terms of the strikers. Even in his own home, he could not be guaranteed safety. His house as well as the mills would be burnt.
Harvey felt no special alarm because of these threats; he did not believe that those who made them dare carry them out. But that night the mills escaped destruction only by the vigilance of the extra watchmen. The same evening Aunt Maria was stopped on the village street and told that it was best she should lose no time in moving away with her little niece Dollie, since it was more than likely the innocent would suffer with the guilty. For the first time, Harvey understood the earnestness of the men; but he clung to his resolution all the same.
You can see how easily the trouble could have been ended. The employes had abated their first demand and were willing to compromise. Had Harvey spoken his honest thoughts, he would have said the men were right, or at any rate he ought to have agreed to their proposal to submit the dispute to arbitration; but he was too proud to yield.
"They will take it for weakness on my part," was his thought; "it will make an end of all system and open the way for demands that in the end will destroy the business."
The sixty new hands reached Bardstown and were about as numerous as the men who wrought in the mills before the strike. They looked like a determined band, who would be able to take care of themselves in the troubles that impended.
The arrivals were received with scowls by the old employes, who hooted and jeered them as they marched grimly to the mills. No blows were struck, though more than once an outbreak was imminent. It was too late in the day to begin work, but the new hands were shown through the establishment, with a view of familiarizing them to some extent with their new duties. Most of them had had some experience in the same kind of work, but there was enough ignorance to insure much vexation and loss.
The night that followed was so quiet that Harvey believed the strikers had been awed by his threat to appeal to the law and by the determined front of the new men.
"It's a dear lesson," he said to himself, "but they need it, and it is high time it was taught to them."
The next morning the whistle sent out its ear-splitting screech, whose echoes swung back and forth, like so many pendulums between the hills, but to the amazement of Harvey Bradley, not a person was seen coming toward the mills. The whistle called them again, and Hugh O'Hara and Tom Hansell strolled leisurely up the street to the office, where Mr. Bradley wonderingly awaited them.
"You'll have to blow that whistle a little louder," said O'Hara, with a tantalizing grin.
"What do you mean, sir?"
"Those chaps all left town last night; they must be about forty miles away; you see we explained matters to them; I don't think, if I was you, I would feel bad about it; they believe they can get along better at Carville than at Bardstown."
For the first time since the trouble began, Harvey Bradley lost his temper. To be defied and taunted in this manner was more than he could bear. He vowed over again that not one of the strikers should do another day's work for him, even if he begged for it on his knees and he was starving. He at once telegraphed to Vining, fully one hundred miles away, where he knew there were many people idle, for one hundred men who would not only come, but stay. He preferred those who knew something about the business, but the first need was that the men would remain at their posts, and if necessary fight for their positions. He guaranteed larger wages than he had ever paid experienced hands, but he wanted no man who would not help hold the fort against all comers. The superintendent was on his mettle; he meant to win.
Having sent off this message, for which it cannot be denied, Harvey had every legal and moral warrant, he set out on a long tramp through the woods at the rear of Bardstown. It was a crisp autumn day, and the long brisk walk did him much good. The glow came to his cheeks, his blood was warmed, and his brain cleared by the invigorating exercise. So much indeed did he enjoy it that he kept it up until, to his surprise, he saw that it was growing dark, and he was several miles from home.
It was snowing, though not heavily. He walked fast, but, when night had fully come, paused with the uncomfortable discovery that he was hopelessly lost in the woods.
"Well, this is pleasant!" he exclaimed, looking around in vain for some landmark in the gloom. "I believe I shall have to spend the night out doors, though I seem to be following some sort of path."
He struck a match, shading it with his hand from the chilly wind, and stooped down. Yes; there was an unmistakable trail, and with renewed hope he hurried on, taking care not to stray to either side. Within the next ten minutes, to his delight, he caught the twinkle of a star-like point of light among the trees, a short distance ahead.
While making his way hopefully forward, Harvey became aware of a singular fact. The air around him was tainted with a peculiar odor, such as he had never met before. It was of a rank nature, and, while not agreeable, could not be said to be really unpleasant. It might have interested him more, but for his anxiety to reach the shelter which was now so near at hand.
Arriving at the cabin, he found the latch-string hanging out. A sharp pull, the door was swung inward and Harvey stepped into a small room, lit up by a crackling wood-fire on the hearth.
As he entered, two men who were smoking their pipes, looked up. The visitor could not hide his expression of surprise, for they were Hugh O'Hara and Thomas Hansell, the last persons in the world he wished to see.
A POINTED DISCUSSION.
Hugh O'Hara was in middle life. He was of Scotch descent, and, in his younger days, had received a fair education. Even now he spent much time over his books. He talked well, and was not without a certain grace of manner founded, no doubt, on his knowledge of human nature, which gave him great influence with others. It was this, as much as his skill, that made him the leading foreman at a time when a score of others had the right by seniority of service to the place.
But Hugh had dipped into the springs of learning just enough to have his ideas of right and wrong turned awry and to form a distaste for his lot that made his leadership dangerous. Besides, he had met with sorrows that deepened the shadows that lay across his pathway. In that little cabin he had seen a young wife close her eyes in death, and his only child, a sweet girl of five years, not long afterward was laid beside her mother. Many said that Hugh buried his heart with Jennie and had not been the same man since. He was reserved, except to one or two intimate friends. Shaggy, beetle-browed and unshaven, his looks were anything but pleasing to those who did not fully know him.
Tom Hansell was much the same kind of man, except that he lacked the book education of his companion and leader. He had strong impulses, and was ready to go to an extreme length in whatever direction he started, but he always needed a guiding spirit, and that he found in Hugh O'Hara.
The latter, after burying his child, moved into the village, saying that he never wanted to look again upon the cabin that had brought so much sorrow to him. Most people believed he could not be led to go near it, and yet on this blustery night he and Tom Hansell were seated in the structure without any companions except the well known hound Nero, and were smoking their pipes and plotting mischief.
Hugh and Tom were in their working clothes—coarse trousers, shirts, and heavy shoes, without vest or coat. Their flabby caps lay on the floor behind them, and their tousled hair hung over their foreheads almost to their eyes. Tom had no side whiskers, but a heavy mustache and chin whiskers, while the face of Hugh was covered with a spiky black beard that stood out from his face as if each hair was charged with electricity.
Nero, the hound, raised his nose from between his paws and looked up at the visitor. Then, as if satisfied, he lowered his head and resumed his nap.
Bradley, as I have said, was angry with himself for walking into such a trap. It was not fear, but a deep dislike of the man who was the head and front of the trouble at the mills. He was the spokesman and leader of the strikers, and he was the real cause of the stoppage of the works. Harvey looked upon him as insolent and brutal, and he was sure that no circumstances could arise that would permit him to do a stroke of work in the Rollo Mills again.
"Good evening," said Harvey stiffly, "I did not expect to find you here."
Hansell nodded in reply to the salutation, but Hugh simply motioned with the hand that held the pipe toward a low stool standing near the middle of the apartment.
"Help yourself to a seat, Mr. Bradley; the presence of Tom and myself here is no odder than is your own."
"I suppose not," replied Harvey with a half-laugh, as he seated himself; "I started out for a walk to-day and went too far—that is, so far that I lost my way. I had about made up my mind that I would have to sleep in the woods, when I caught the light from your window and made for it."
The glance that passed between Hugh and Tom—sly as it was—did not elude the eye of Harvey Bradley. He saw that his explanation was not believed, but he did not care; there was no love between him and them, and, had it not looked as if he held them in fear, he would have turned and walked away after stepping across the threshold. As it was, he meant to withdraw as soon as he could do it without seeming to be afraid.
"Is this the first time you have taken a walk up this way?" asked Hugh.
"The fact that I lost my way ought to answer that question; how far is it, please, to Bardstown?"
"An even mile by the path you came."
"But I didn't come by any path, except for a short distance in front of this place."
"Then how did you get here?"
"Is there no way of traveling through the woods except by the road that leads to your door?"
The conversation was between Harvey and Hugh alone. Tom was abashed in the presence of two such persons, and nothing could have led him to open his mouth unless appealed to by one or the other. Neither made any allusion to the strike. After the superintendent's rebuff, Hugh scorned to do so, while Harvey would have stultified himself had he invited any discussion. The repugnance between the two men was too strong for them calmly to debate any question. Besides Hugh and Tom were suspicious; they did not believe that the presence of the superintendent was accidental; there was a sinister meaning in it which boded ill for Hugh and his friends, and the former, therefore, was in a vicious mood.
With the conditions named, a wrangle may be set down as one of the certainties. But Harvey Bradley had defied the fury of half a hundred men, and he meant to teach this marplot his proper place. There was a threatening gleam in his eye, but he puffed a few seconds at his pipe, and then, glaring through the rank smoke that curled upward from his face said:
"There are a good many ways by which Hugh O'Hara's cabin can be found, but those who come on honest errands stick to the path."
"Which explains why the path is so little worn," was the reply of Harvey.
"Aye, and your feet have done mighty little to help the wearing of the same."
"If those who live in the cabin were honest themselves, they would not tremble every time the latch-string is pulled, nor would they be scared if they saw a visitor stop to snuff the air in this neighborhood."
This was an ill-timed remark, and Harvey regretted the words the moment they passed his lips. He saw Hugh and Tom glance at each other; but the words, having been spoken, could not be recalled, nor did the superintendent make any attempt to modify them. Before the others could answer, he added:
"I have heard it said that Hugh O'Hara held this place in such strong disfavor that nothing could lead him to spend a night here, yet he smokes his pipe and plots mischief as if the cabin is the one place in the world with which he is content."
These words were not soothing in their effect, nor did the speaker mean that they should be. Hugh was insolent, and the superintendent resented it.
The only proof of the rising anger in the breast of O'Hara was the vigorous puffing of his pipe. Tom, as I have said, was too awed to say anything at all.
"I am of age and free born," growled Hugh, looking into the glowing embers and speaking as if to himself; "where I go and what I do concerns no one but myself."
"Not so long as you go to the proper place and do only what is right," said Harvey, who, sitting back a few feet from the fire, looked calmly at the fellow whose rough profile was outlined against the fiery background behind him.
"Men interpret right according to their own ideas, and they seldom agree, but most people will pronounce that person the worst sort of knave who robs poor men of what they earn and looks upon them as he looks upon the beasts of the field—worth only the amount of money they bring to him."
The conversation was taking a dangerous shape. Harvey saw that it would not do for him to stay. Both these men were fierce enough to fly at his throat. That little cabin in the woods was liable to become the scene of a tragedy unless he bridled his tongue or went away.
Disdaining to say so much as "good-night," he rose to his feet, opened the door, shut it behind him, and walked out in the blustery darkness.
"I would rather spend the night fighting tigers than to keep the company of such miscreants. But the new hands will be here in a few days, and the fellows will be taught a lesson which they will remember all their lives. I suppose I ought to pity their dupes, but they should have enough sense to see that these men are their worst enemies. It will be a bright day for the Rollo Mills and for Bardstown when they are well rid of them."
The superintendent did not pause to think where he was going when he stepped into the open air. The cold wind struck his face and a few fine particles touched his cheek. The sky had partly cleared, so that he could see the fine coating of snow around him, but after all, very little had fallen.
"If I can keep the path," he thought, "I will reach the village, but that is no easy matter—ah! there it is again."
The peculiar odor that had mystified him before was in the air. He recalled that Hugh and Tom had made an allusion to it that he did not understand.
"It may come from their chimney and be caused by something burning; but I looked closely at the wood on the hearth and saw nothing else."
A natural impulse led him, after walking a few rods, to look behind him. He had heard nothing, but knowing the surly mood of the couple, he thought it probable they might follow him.
The door of the cabin, was drawn wide open and the form of a man stood out to view, as if stamped with ink on the flaming background made by the fire beyond. His lengthened shadow was thrown down the path almost to the feet of Harvey. The fellow no doubt was peering into the gloom and listening.
"I wonder whether they mean to dog me," said Harvey; "it will be an easy matter to do so, for they know every part of the wood, while I am a stranger. They are none too good to put me out of the way; it is such men who have no fear of the law, but they shall not take me unawares."
While still looking toward the cabin, all became dark again. The door was closed, but he could not be sure whether the man stood outside or within.
"If he means to do me harm he will soon be at my heels."
But the straining eyes could not catch the outlines of any one, and the only sound was the moaning wind among the bare branches.
"He has gone back into the house, but may come out again."
And so, while picking his way through the dim forests, you may be sure that Harvey Bradley looked behind him many times. It makes one shiver with dread to suspect that a foe is softly following him. Harvey had buttoned his pea jacket to his chin and he now turned up the collar, so that it touched his ears. His hands were shoved deep into the side pockets and the right one rested upon his revolver that he had withdrawn from its usual place at his hip. He was on the alert for whatever might come.
He was pleased with one fact: the path to which so many references were made, was so clearly marked that he found it easy to avoid going wrong.
"If I had had sense enough to take the right course when I first struck it, I would have been home by this time."
After turning around several times without seeing or hearing anything suspicious, he came to believe that however glad O'Hara and Hansell might be to do him harm, they lacked the courage, unless almost sure against detection.
"Hugh will stir up others to go forward, but he will take good care to protect himself."
The dull roar that he once fancied he heard when tramping aimlessly during the day, was now so distinct that he knew he must be near a stream. The path crossed it at no great distance.
Sure enough, he had only turned a bend and gone down a little slope when he reached the margin of a deep creek, fully twenty feet wide. It flowed smooth and dark at his feet, but the turmoil to the left showed that it tumbled over the rocks, not far away.
Harvey was anything but pleased, when he saw the bridge by which the stream had to be passed. It was merely the trunk of a tree, that lay with the base on the side where he stood, while the top rested on the other bank. Whoever had felled the tree had trimmed the trunk of its branches from base to top—the result being more ornamental than useful, for the protuberances would have served to help the footing of a passenger. The trunk in the middle was no more than six inches in diameter, and being a little worn by the shoes that had trod its length, the footing was anything but secure. With the sprinkling of snow it was more treacherous than ever.
"Must I cross that?" Harvey said aloud, with a feeling akin to dismay.
"You can do so or swim, whichever you choose."
These words were spoken by a man standing on the other side, and who was about to step on the support, when he paused on seeing another on the point of doing the same from the opposite bank. In the dim light, Harvey saw him only indistinctly, but judged that he himself was recognized by the other.
"I suppose it's safe enough for those accustomed to it," said Harvey in reply, "but I prefer some other means; do you intend to use it?"
"That I do; I want no better; if you are afraid, get out of the way, for I am late."
Harvey moved to the right, and watched the other, who stepped upon the support and walked over with as much certainty as if treading a pavement on the street.
Harvey looked closely, and as the fellow came toward him, he recognized him as one of his former employes. He was Jack Hansell—a brother of Tom, and like him a close associate of Hugh O'Hara, the leader.
"You are out late, Jack," remarked the superintendent, as the other left the log. To his surprise, Jack did not answer, but quickly disappeared up the path by which the superintendent had reached the spot.
"He is surly and ill-mannered, like all of them; no doubt he is on his way to the cabin to plot mischief with the others."
Since nothing was to be gained by waiting, Harvey now stepped on the trunk and began gingerly making his way across. It was a hard task, and just beyond the middle, he lost his balance. He was so far along, however, that a vigorous jump landed him on the other bank.
A little beyond he caught the twinkling lights of the village, and he hastened his steps, now that, as it may be said, home was in sight. He felt as if he was famishing, and the thought of the luscious supper awaiting his return, gave him such speed that he was soon at his own door.
Though it was late, he saw his aunt was astir, for the lights were burning brightly. Before he could utter the greeting on his tongue, he was terrified by the scared face of his relative.
"Why, aunt, what is the matter? Are you ill?"
"Oh, Harvey!" she wailed; "haven't you brought Dollie with you?"
"Dollie!" repeated the other; "I haven't seen her since I left home."
"Then you will never see her again," and, overcome by her terrible grief, the good woman sank into the nearest chair, covered her face with her apron and wept.
Harvey Bradley stood petrified. Bright-eyed Dollie, whom he had left a few hours before, rosy, happy, overflowing with bounding spirits, was gone, and the sobbing Aunt Maria declared she would never be seen again.
Stepping into the room, Harvey laid his hand on his aunt's shoulder and in a trembling voice said:
"Why, aunt, what does this mean? Are you in earnest? What has become of Dollie? Tell me, I beseech you."
"She is lost; she is lost! Oh, why did we ever bring her to this dreadful country? I wish none of us had ever seen it."
"But what about Dollie? Where is she? How long has she been gone? Compose yourself and tell."
It was not until he spoke sharply that the hysterical woman was able to make known that the child had been absent for hours, no one knew where. When she learned that noon that her big brother would not be back till night, Dollie had pouted because he had gone off without telling her. She was not sure she could ever forgive him. However, she ate her dinner, and soon after went out to play. Some hours later her aunt went to the door to call her, but she was not within sight or hearing. Maggie was sent to look for her, but soon came back with word that she could not be found.
The child had been seen a couple of hours before, running in the direction of the path that led into the mountains, as if she was fleeing from some one, Maggie had gone as far as she dared in quest of her, but her loudest shouts brought no reply and she returned.
The word brought by the servant, as may well be believed, filled the aunt with the wildest grief. Beyond all doubt, Dollie had formed a sudden resolve to hunt up her brother Harvey, who had gone away and left her at home. She had strayed so far into the mountains that she was lost. Fortunately, she was warmly dressed at the time, but exposed as she must be to the wintry winds and cold, she could not hold out until morning unless rescued very soon.
Harvey was stricken with an anguish such as he had never known before, but he knew that not a minute was to be lost. Dollie must be found at once or it would be too late. It added a poignancy to his woe to know that in coming down the mountain path, he must have passed close to her, who was in sore need of the help he was eager to give.
"Have you made no search for her?" he asked.
"I could not believe she would not come back until it began to grow dark. I thought she could not be far away; Maggie and I hunted through the village, inquiring of every one whom we saw; many of the people were kind, and two or three have gone to hunt for her; I started to do so, but did not go far, when I was sure she had come back while I was away, and I hurried home only to find she was not here."
"Are you sure any one is looking for her?"
"There are several."
"Well," said Harvey, impatient with the vacillation shown by his aunt, "I shall not come back until she is found."
His hand was on the knob of the door when his distressed relative sprang to her feet.
"Harvey;" she said in a wild, scared manner, "shall I tell you what I believe?"
"Dollie did not lose herself: some of those awful men did it."
"Do you mean the strikers?"
"Yes; they have taken her away to spite you."
"Impossible!" exclaimed the young man, passing out the door and striding up the single street that ran through the village.
But though unwilling to confess it to himself, the same shocking suspicion had come to him at the moment he learned that Dollie was lost. Could it be that some of the men, grown desperate in their resentment, had taken this means of mortally injuring him? Was there any person in the wide world who would harm an innocent child for the sake of hurting a strong man? Alas, such things had been done, and why should they not be done again? The words that he overheard between Hugh O'Hara and Tom Hansell proved them capable of dark deeds. Could it be that some of the hints thrown out by them during that brief interview in the cabin bore any relation to the disappearance of Dollie.
At the moment Harvey turned away from his own house it was his intention to rouse the village and to ask all to join in the hunt for the child, but a feeling of bitter resentment led him to change his purpose. No; they would rejoice over his sorrow; they would give him no aid, and, if they had had a hand in her taking off, they would do what they could to baffle him in his search. Slight as was his hope, he would push on alone.
"O'Hara and Hansell know all about it; I will search the neighborhood of the path all the way to their cabin and then compel them to tell what they know; if they refuse——"
He shut his lips tight and walked faster than ever. He strove to fight back the tempestuous emotions that set his blood boiling. He was moved by a resolve that would stop at nothing; he would not believe that there was no hope; he knew he could force the miscreants to give up their secret, and had a hair of his little sister's head been harmed the punishment should be swift and terrible.
"When Dollie is found," he muttered, determined to believe she must be restored to him, "I will send her and Aunt Maria away, and then have it out with these fellows; I'll make them rue the day they began the fight."
These were dreadful thoughts, but there was excuse for them, his grief made him half frantic.
The path over which he believed Dollie had either strayed or been led or carried, entered the woods about a hundred yards from the village and gradually sloped and wound upward for a mile, when it passed the door of Hugh O'Hara's cabin and lost itself in the solitude beyond.
The sky had cleared still more during the interval since he came down the mountain side, and he could not only see the course clearly, but could distinguish objects several rods away, when the shadow of the overhanging trees did not shut out the light. But the season was so far along that few leaves were left on the limbs and it was easy, therefore, for him to keep the right course.
He had not gone far when he stopped and shouted the name of Dollie. The sound reached a long way, and he repeated the call several times, but only the dismal wind among the limbs gave answer.
Striding forward, he stood a few minutes later on the margin of the creek that was spanned by the fallen tree.
"She would not have dared to walk over," was his thought: "she must have been on this side, if she wandered off alone."
A moment later he added:
"No; for the very reason that it is dangerous, Dollie would run across; it would be no trouble for her to do so, and there is just enough peril to tempt her. Could she have fallen in?"
He looked at the dark water as it swept forward and shivered.
"Rivers and lakes and seas and streams are always thirsting for human life, and this may have seized her."
Tramping through the undergrowth that lined the bank he fought his way onward until he stood beside the rocks where the waters made a foaming cascade, as they dashed downward toward the mills far away.
"If she did fall in, she must be somewhere near this spot——"
His heart seemed to stop beating. Surely that dark object, half submerged and lying against the edge of the bank, where the water made an eddy, must be her body. He ran thither and stooped down.
"Thank God," was his exclamation, after touching it with his hands, and finding it a piece of dark wood that had been carried there from the regions above.
Back he came to where the fallen tree spanned the creek, and hurried across. No snow was falling, but the earth was white with the thin coating that had filtered down hours before.
"Had it come earlier in the day," he thought, "it would help us to trace her, but now it will hide her footprints."
Hardly a score of steps from the creek his foot struck something soft, and he stooped down. Straightening up, he held a small hood in his hand, such as children wear in cold weather. Faint as was the light, he recognized it as Dollie's; he had seen her wear it many times.
"What can it mean?" he asked himself; "I must have stepped over or on that on my way down, but did not notice it. Yes, Dollie is on this side the stream, but where?"
Aye, that was the question. Once more he raised his voice and shouted with might and main, but as before no answer came back.
Harvey was now master of himself. He had recovered from the shock that at first almost took away his senses and he was able to think and act with his usual coolness. But with this, the belief that Hugh and Tom had something to do with the disappearance of Dollie grew until at times he was without any doubt at all. Occasionally, however, he wavered in his belief.
Thus it was that two theories offered themselves. The first was that Dollie had set out to find him and had wandered up the mountain path to some point above the bridge and then had strayed from it and become lost. Worn out, she had laid down and was at that moment asleep.
The corollary of this theory was that she had perished with cold, or would thus perish before daylight. True, she was well clad when she went out that afternoon to play, but her hood was gone and she could not escape the biting wind that pierced the heavy clothing of Harvey himself. Then, too, there was the danger from the wild beasts, of which he had had too late an experience to forget.
Should it prove that Dollie went off in the manner named, then Harvey made a great error in setting out alone to search for her. He ought to have roused the village, and, with the hundreds scouring the mountains, helped by torches and dogs, discovery could not be delayed long.
The other and darker theory was that she had been seen by some of his enemies as she went into the woods and had been coaxed to some out-of-the-way place, where her abductors meant to hold and use her as a means of bringing the superintendent to terms. All must have known that no method could be so effective as that.
It was hard to believe that the evil-minded men would go any further. Yet it was easy for them to do so; they could make way with a little child like her and have it seem that her death was caused by falling over the rocks or by some other accident that might easily come to her.
"O'Hara and Hansell must have known all about it when I was in their cabin. They were afraid to assail me in the cabin, for I was prepared, and the fear of the law kept them from following me after I left their place."
Harvey was thinking hard when he caught the well-known light, among the trees in the cabin.
"He, Tom and Jack, precious scamps all of them, are exulting over the sorrow they have caused, but they shall pay for it."
The latch-string had not yet been withdrawn. Harvey gave it a jerk, followed by a spiteful push that threw the door wide open. Disappointment awaited him. Neither Hugh nor Tom was there, but Jack, looking like a twin brother of Tom, was in the act of lighting the pipe that his relative had probably left for his use. He was alone, not even the hound being present.
Jack had partly risen to his feet to reach the pouch of tobacco on the short mantel above the fireplace. He paused and looked over his shoulder with a startled expression at the visitor who made such an emphatic entrance.
"Why—why, Mr. Bradley," he stammered, "I didn't know it was you; will you take a seat?"
"Where are Hugh and Tom?"
"They went out some time ago."
"Where did they go?" demanded Harvey in an angry voice.
"Down to—the—that is, I don't know."
"Yes, you do know. I want no trifling; I will not stand it."
The fellow, though flustered at first, quickly regained his self-possession. He had evidently checked himself just in time to keep back some important knowledge.
"Where have they gone?" repeated the superintendent, bursting with impatience.
But Jack Hansell was himself again—sullen and insolent as ever. He had an intense dislike of his employer—a dislike that had deepened within the past few days. He slowly sat down and smoked a full minute before making reply to Harvey, who felt like throttling him.
"I told you I didn't know," he finally said, looking into the embers and speaking as if to the glowing coals.
"But you do know."
"So I do, but I know another thing as well, and that is that there ain't any reason why I should tell you if I don't choose to."
It took a great effort of the will for Harvey to hold himself from doing violence to the man who said he was not bound to tell what he preferred to keep to himself: but the superintendent saw that nothing could be gained by violence. The man who can keep cool during a dispute has ten-fold the advantage over one who does not restrain himself.
After all, Jack Hansell was of small account. It was O'Hara, his master, and mayhap his companion, whom Harvey Bradley must see. If Tom chose to tell the truth he could do so, but if he would not, no one could force him to say the words.
All this was clear to the young man, who, checking his anger, added in a lower tone:
"You are not bound to answer any question I ask you, even when you have no reason for your refusal, but you cannot decline to say when they are likely to be back."
"Yes, I can, for I don't know."
"I wish to see O'Hara on a matter of the first importance."
"But he may not want to see you, and I ain't the man to make things unpleasant for a friend."
"You certainly expect them back to-night, do you not?"
Jack smoked his pipe a few seconds before giving heed to this simple question. Then, turning slowly toward Harvey, who was still standing in the middle of the room, he said:
"You had better sit down, for you won't find Hugh and Tom any sooner by keeping your feet. What do you want to see 'em for?"
"That I can explain only to them, though it is Hugh whom I particularly want to meet."
The superintendent took the seat to which he was invited. It was the stool on which he sat when in the cabin before. It cost him a greater effort than can be explained to defer to this defiant fellow, who a few weeks or even days before would have cringed at his feet like a dog.
"That being the case," added Jack, between the puffs at his pipe, "why you'll have to wait till they come back. That may be inside of five minutes, and not for an hour; maybe," added Jack in the game exasperating manner, "that nothing will be seen of 'em till daylight. You see that since they have been cheated out of their work they have plenty of time to loaf through the country."
"Any man who is too lazy to work can find time to turn his hand to dishonest tricks," said the superintendent, meaning that the words should not be misunderstood.
"Sometimes the tricks that you call dishonest pay better than working for a superintendent who wants all the wages himself," was the impudent reply of Jack Hansell.
"That is the excuse of the man who is bad at heart and who prefers wrong to right. Our state prisons are full of that sort of people."
"Yes—and there are a good many people that ought to be in prison that ain't there."
"I am sure no one is better qualified than you to speak on that matter."
It struck Harvey just then that he was doing an unworthy thing in holding such a conversation with any man. If he had anything of the kind to say, he ought to speak it openly. He now did so.
"There is not a particle of doubt, Jack Hansell, that you and your brother and Hugh O'Hara are engaged in business that ought to place you all behind the bars."
"If you think it safe to talk that way before Tom and Hugh you will now have the chance."
"I will be glad to tell them to their faces what I have told you."
"All right; there they come."
Footsteps and voices in such low tones were heard outside that it was clear the men brought important news with them. And such indeed proved to be the case.
THE SEARCH BY HUGH AND TOM.
Never did one person do another a greater injustice than did Harvey Bradley when he believed that either Hugh O'Hara or any one else had aught to do with the absence of his little sister Dollie. No men had a hand in the sad business, nor could any one have been led to harm a hair of her head. Had Harvey asked for help, no one in the village would have held back from doing all that could be done to restore the child to her friends.
The first news that came to Hugh O'Hara's cabin of the loss of the child was brought by Jack Hansell, who went thither on a far different errand. After a long talk on business, he gave the tidings, adding:
"I met him at the creek, but thought I wouldn't tell him, for it would do no good. I kept my eyes open for the gal, but seen nothing of her."
Hugh jerked the pipe from his mouth.
"What's that you are saying? The little girl lost?"
"That's it; she's been missing since noon; they think she come up the path and got lost in the mountains."
"Good gracious!" gasped Hugh, starting to his feet, "that is bad; do you know," he added, turning to Tom and speaking with a slight tremor, "that that little girl Dollie is about the age my Jennie was when she died?"
"I hadn't thought of that," replied Tom.
"And," continued Hugh, swallowing a lump in his throat, "she looks so much like Jennie that I've often felt as if I would give all I have—which ain't much—to hold the little one on my knee as I used to hold my baby. She is a sweet child and likes me; we've had many a talk together that no one beside us knows about. She's so gentle, so innocent, so good that it seems to me I see my own darling before me when she looks up in my face. Come, boys," he added, decisively, as he walked to the farther end of the room, picked up a lantern and lit the candle inside.
"Come where?" asked Tom, in amazement.
Hugh turned half angrily toward him.
"Do you think that I could rest while that child is lost in the mountains? Mr. Bradley hasn't acted right toward us and I bear him no good will, but this isn't he—it's a little child—she looks and acts like my Jennie, that's dead and gone."
"But, Hugh, you forget—what about the place?"
"Let it go to the dogs for all I care! What does it amount to against the life of the little one? But we'll let Jack stay; if any of the boys come, send them out to help in the hunt; it'll do them more good than to break the law."
"Suppose some that are strangers come?" said Jack with a grin.
Hugh O'Hara gave a hollow laugh.
"Send them out, too, to help in the search; we'll be sure to find her when the whole country gets to work. If I was down in the village I would have every man, woman and child in the woods, and wouldn't let them eat or drink or sleep till she's found. Tom, there's no one that knows the woods better than we and Nero. Let's be off!"
The door was drawn inward, and Jack Hansell was left alone. He lit his pipe, smoked it out, refilled it and was in the act of refilling it, when Harvey Bradley came in—as has been made known in another place. While the man sat smoking and alone in the cabin, he fell to brooding over the troubles at the mills. Thus it came to pass that his feelings were so bitter at the time the superintendent entered that he kept back every hint that the absent men were engaged in the most "honest" business in the world—that is, they were looking for the missing child.
Meanwhile Hugh and Tom went at the task not only with zeal, but with a sagacity that gave promise of good results. As Hugh had said, they knew every foot of the mountains for miles, they were free from the flurry that at first ran away with the judgment of the superintendent, and they were used to prowling through the woods. Still further Nero had been trained to follow the faintest footprints.
"Now, Tom," said the leader, when they had walked a short ways, "we can't do anything till we get on the trail of the little one."
"What do you think has become of her?"
"She's somewhere in the woods asleep or dead, with the chances about even for either."
"Jack says she was seen coming up the mountain path early this afternoon."
"Well, she has kept to it till she has either slipped out of the path without knowing it or she has done it on purpose. She has strolled along until it became dark or she was tired. Then she has lain down on the leaves and gone to sleep. Nero, find the trail of the little girl."
"But," said Tom, "the night is so cold."
"So it is, but if the girl went out to play she was well clad, and, if she knew enough, she has crept under the lee of a rock or into the bushes, where the wind can't reach her. If she did the same, she hasn't frozen to death."
"But there are wild animals in these parts."
"I know that, and she would make a meal that any of them would be glad to get; we can only hope they didn't find her."
Just then Nero, who had been nosing the path in front, uttered a whine and turned aside. Hugh held up the lantern and saw that he had gone to the right. He was following a trail of some kind; whether it was that of the one whom they were seeking was to be learned. It would take a fine scent to trace the tiny footsteps under the carpet of snow, but such an exploit is not one-tenth as wonderful as that of the trained dogs in Georgia, which will stick to the track of a convict when it has been trampled upon by hundreds of others wearing similar dress and shoes, and will keep to it for miles by running parallel to the trail and at a distance of a hundred feet.
But in the latter case the canines have an advantage at the start; they are put upon the track or directed to hunt for it where it is known to exist; they are given a clew in some form.
The hound Nero was skilful in taking a scent, but his ability was not to be compared to that of the dogs to which I have referred, nor indeed was it necessary that it should be. But he had great intelligence, and acted as if he understood every word said to him by his master. He had saved Hugh and his friends many a time by giving warning from afar of the approach of strange parties. It may seem incredible that he should know what was wanted of him, but there is the best reason for saying he understood it all. Having no part of the little one's clothing to help, he was without the clew which would appear to be indispensable. His master, however, was satisfied the dog had struck the right trail.
"Stick to it, Nero," said Hugh, encouragingly, "not too fast, but be sure you're right."
Without pause, the two followed the dog, Hugh in front with lantern in hand. The woods were so cluttered with undergrowth that they could not go fast, seeing which Nero suited his pace to theirs. Now and then he ran ahead, as if impatient with the slow progress of the couple, and then he calmly awaited their approach.
The single word "Dollie!" rang through the arches of the woods. They recognized the voice as that of the superintendent, who was hurrying over the path they had left, and who was not far away. In fact, Hugh held the lantern in front of him so as to hide its rays.
"I am sorry for him," he said, "but we don't want him with us."
"It cannot be," remarked Tom, after they had struggled further, "that she has gone as far as this; Nero must be off the track."
At this moment the dog emitted a low, baying whine that would have startled any one had he not known its meaning. It was the signal which the remarkable animal always gave when close to the end of a trail.
"We shall soon know the worst," said Hugh, crashing through the wood with such haste that Tom had to hurry almost into a trot to save himself from dropping behind.
The singular call of the dog was heard again. He wanted his friends to move faster. It came from a point slightly to the left.
"Here he is!" exclaimed Hugh, making a sharp turn and showing more excitement than at any time during the evening.
"I see him! There he stands!" added Tom, stumbling forward.
With his right hand Hugh raised the lantern above his head, so that its glare was taken from their eyes. The hound was close to a rock that rose some six or eight feet above the ground, and his nose was pointed toward the base of the black mass. At the same moment the men saw something dark and light mixed together, like a bundle of clothing. One bound and Hugh was on his knees, the lamp held even with his forehead while he peered downward and softly drew the clothing aside. Tom was also stooping low and leaning forward with bated breath.
There lay little Dollie Bradley, sleeping as sweetly as if nestling beside her big brother in the warm bed at home. She must have wandered through the woods until, worn out, she reached this spot. Then she had thrown herself on the earth beside the rock and had fallen asleep. Having lost her hood, her head was without any covering, except her own native hair, which was abundant. Besides, rugged people do not need to cover their heads while asleep, even in cold weather.
It was fortunate for Dollie that she was so warmly wrapped. One arm was doubled under her head, and the cheek that rested on it was pushed just enough out of shape to add to her picturesqueness. Her heavy coat having been buttoned around her body, kept its form and could not have been better arranged. The chubby legs were covered by thick stockings, and the feet were protected by heavy shoes. True, she ran much risk in lying upon the cold earth, with nothing between her and the ground, but there was hope that no serious harm would follow.
The rock not only kept off the wind, but screened her from the snow. It was almost certain that the little one had been asleep several hours.
Hugh gently examined the limbs and body to see whether there was any hurt. Her peaceful sleep ought to have satisfied him, but he was not content. Not a scratch, however, was found, though her clothing had suffered a good deal.
"Take the lantern," said he in a husky voice to his companion. Then, softly pushing his brawny arms under the dimpled form, he lifted it as tenderly as its mother could have done. Tom smoothed the clothing so as to cover the body as fully as possible. Hugh doffed his coarse cap and covered the mass of silken tresses that streamed over his shoulder.
Dollie muttered as a child will do when disturbed in its slumber, but, fitting her head to the changed position, she slept on as sweetly as ever.
"Now lead the way," added Hugh, "and be careful where you step."
Tom was only too glad to do his part. Nero, as happy as the others, walked in advance, in his dignified manner, now and then wagging his tail and whining with delight. None knew better than he the noble work he had done.
Tom used great care. When the bushes could not be avoided, Hugh shoved them aside with one hand, that they might not brush against the face resting so close to his own. Perhaps he held the velvety cheek nearer his shaggy beard than was needed, but who can chide him when his heart glowed with the sorrowful pleasure that came from the fancy that his own Jennie, whom he had so often pressed to his breast, was resting there again?
A tear dropped on the cheek of the little one. In that hour new resolves entered the heart of O'Hara. He had been sullen, discontented, and had long led a life that grieved his conscience.
By and by when they came back to the path they found the walking easier than before.
"Hugh," said Tom, stopping short and facing about, "ain't you tired of carryin' the kid? 'cause if you are, I'm ready to give you a lift."
"No; I wish I could carry her forever!"
All too soon the glimmer from the cabin window fell upon them, and they paused at the door to make sure the clothing of the child was arranged. They acted as if they were getting ready to go into the presence of company.
"I don't know as I've done right in not carrying her home," said Hugh, "but she has been out too long already in the night air; we'll take her in and keep her while you run down to the village and let the folks know she is safe."
"Is she still asleep?"
"Yes, hark! some of the boys seem to be inside," added Hugh, as the sound of voices came to them from within.
The door was pushed open and the two men and dog entered.
Harvey Bradley had risen to his feet, and for one second he stared angrily at the newcomers. You will recall that hot words had just passed between him and Jack Hansell, and both were in an ugly mood. Then Harvey quickly recognized the form in the arms of Hugh and rushed forward.
"Is she alive?"
"Aye, alive and without a scratch," replied Hugh, deftly taking the hat from the head of the little sleeper and placing her in the outstretched arms.
"How thankful I am," exclaimed Harvey, kissing the cold red cheeks over and over again, and pressing her to his heart; "yes—she is well—she was lost and is found—she was dead and is alive again."
"What are you laughing at?" demanded Hugh, wiping his eyes and glaring savagely at Jack Hansell, who, with open mouth, was looking on in a bewildered way; "haven't you manners enough to know when gentlemen are present?"
Jack seemed to think that the only way to behave was by keeping his mouth closed. He shut his jaws with a click like that of a steel trap and never said a word.
Harvey Bradley sat down on the stool from which he had arisen, first drawing it closer to the fire, and unfastened the outer clothing of the little one. He saw that all was well with her. Then he looked up with moistened eyes and said in a tremulous voice:
"Hugh, tell me all about it."
The short story was soon told. The hardy fellow made light of what he had done, but the superintendent, who kept his eyes fixed on his face, saw the sparkle of tears that the speaker could not keep back. It was hard for any one of the three to believe that only a brief while before they were ready to fly at each other's throats. Harvey was melted not only by the rescue of his sister, but by the remembrance of the dreadful injustice done Hugh O'Hara and his friends, when he allowed himself to think they had taken part in the disappearance of Dollie, who, through all the talk, continued sleeping.
"I can never thank you for what you have done," said the superintendent, hardly able to master his emotion, "but I shall show you that the charge of ingratitude can never be laid at my door."
"That's all right," replied Hugh, in his off-hand fashion; "Tom and I are glad to do a turn like that; nobody could want to see any harm come to such a child, no matter how they might feel toward others related to her. Do you mean to take her home to-night?"
"Yes; her aunt is frantic with grief."
"But Tom can run down there quicker than you can with the little one."
"No doubt, but we shall feel better to have her with us. She seems to be well, and we can bundle her up warmly. There may, after all, be serious results from this exposure, and it is best that we should have her where we can give her every care."
And drawing the hood from his pocket he fixed it upon Dollie's head. She opened her eyes for a moment and mumbled something, but sank into sleep again. Harvey explained how it was he came to have the headgear with him.
"I have a favor to ask of you, Mr. Bradley," said O'Hara, shifting from one foot to another and as confused as a school-boy.
"Anything that you ask shall be granted, if it be in my power to grant it," replied Harvey with a fervor that could leave no doubt of his sincerity.
"It's a long distance to the village, and I will be glad if you will let me carry her."
He made as if he simply wished to assist the superintendent. The latter knew better, but he did not say so.
"I shall be glad to have your aid; you have had a rest for several days, and a little exercise like this won't hurt you."
Hugh brought forth his best coat and gathered it around Dollie, as if he was tucking her up in her trundle bed. Then Harvey placed her with much care in his arms and made sure they were fully prepared to go out doors.
The Hansell brothers quietly looked on during these proceedings. They felt that there was no special use for them, and therefore they kept in the background. The hound Nero showed much interest. He walked around Hugh and Harvey, whining and wagging his tail as if he thought his views ought to have some weight in the questions the couple were called upon to consider.
"Come, Nero," said his master, as he drew the door inward. The dog shot through like a flash and the tramp to the village was begun.
Hardly a word was spoken on the way, but when the house was reached Hugh handed his burden over to Harvey and, refusing to go in, started to move off. The superintendent put out his free hand.
"Hugh, I want you to come and see me to-morrow afternoon; will you do so?"
"I will. Good-night."
Hugh O'Hara had walked but a short distance up the mountain path when he was caught in a driving snow-storm. He cared little for it, however, and reached the cabin in due time, there to perform a strange duty.
A LITTLE CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM.
When Hugh O'Hara came to the door of Harvey Bradley, he was in his best dress—the same that he wore to church on Sundays. Aunt Maria met him on the threshold, and, in tremulous tones, thanked him. Then she led the way to the back parlor, where the young superintendent awaited him. The moment he entered, there came a flash of sunshine and a merry exclamation, and with one bound, little Dollie (none the worse, apparently, for her adventure the night before) landed in the iron-like arms and kissed the shaggy-bearded fellow, who laughingly took a chair and held her a willing captive on his knee.
Harvey sat smiling and silent until the earthquake was over. Then, as his chief foreman looked toward him, he said:
"As I said last night, Hugh, the service you have done is beyond payment. You know what a storm set in just after Dollie was brought home, she never could have lived through that."
"It would have gone hard with her, I'm afraid," replied the embarrassed visitor; "does the little one feel no harm?"
"We observe nothing except a slight cold, which the doctor says is of no account. I have made up my mind to give to you, Hugh——"
The latter raised his hand in protest. He could accept money for any service except that of befriending the blue-eyed darling on his knee.
"Never refer to that again."
"I looked for something of the kind; I have a few words to add. I found out this morning that there was a mortgage of $600 against your little home in the village. I don't believe in mortgages, and that particular one has now no existence. If you see any way to help undo what I have done go ahead, but I beg you not to refuse another small present that I have prepared for you."
And Harvey turned as if about to take something from his desk, but stopped when he saw Hugh shake his head almost angrily.
"I would do a good deal to oblige you, Mr. Bradley, but you must not ask that. I would have been better pleased had you let the mortgage alone; my wife and little one are under the sod, and it matters nought to me whether I have a place to lay my head. But," he added with a faint smile, "what's done can't be undone, and, since you have asked me, I will drop the matter, but nothing more, I pray you, on the other subject."
"Hugh," said the superintendent, like one who braces himself for a duty that has its disagreeable as well as its pleasant features, "you know that I had sent to Vining for men to take the places of those who are on strike?"
"I heard something of the kind, sir."
"They were to start for Bardstown to-night and are due to-morrow."
"I countermanded the order by telegraph this morning; not a man will come."
"The whistle will blow to-morrow as usual, ten minutes before 7 o'clock, and I shall expect every one of you to be in place; I have agreed to your terms."
Hugh looked at the superintendent a moment and then asked a singular question:
"Is it because I found Dollie that you agree to our terms?"
"Why do you ask that?"
"Because, if that is the reason, I will not accept the terms, for you would be doing out of gratitude an act which your judgment condemned."
Harvey Bradley felt his respect for this man increase tenfold. Such manliness was worthy of all admiration. He hastened to add:
"There's where, I am glad to say, you are in error. Now you know as well as I do that in order to keep discipline the employer must insist upon his rights. If he were to give all that is asked his business would be destroyed. But, on the other hand, labor has rights as well as capital, and the two can never get along together until this truth is respected by both. In all disputes, there should be an interchange of views, a full statement of grievances by those who are dissatisfied, and a fair consideration of them by the party against whom they exist."
O'Hara was not afraid to look his employer in the face and say:
"That has been my opinion all along, Mr. Bradley, and had it been yours this lock-out would never have come."