"We must follow up this man's record. I am now certain he is not my father."
"The soldier thought that perhaps there was property coming to you, and that Dr. Mackey wanted to get hold of it."
"I don't think he'd be above such a scheme, Marion. I never liked his looks from the first time I met him, at the bridge."
"I know that, Jack."
There was no time to say more, for there was too much to do. Marion continued her work around the sick rooms, and Jack went out to see how matters were faring at the stable and the barns.
He had hardly gained the vicinity of the stable when he heard a commotion going on within. Old Ben and two of the Home Guard boys were having a fight with three guerrillas, who were bent upon stealing several horses.
"Let go dem hosses!" Jack heard Old Ben cry. "Dem is private prop'ty; don't yo' know dat?"
"Git out o' the way, nigger!" cried the leader of the guerrillas. "We want these hosses, an' we are bound to have 'em!"
"If you touch the horses I'll fire at you!" came from one of the Home Guard boys, but scarcely had he spoken when one of the guerrillas raised his pistol and fired on the lad, wounding him in the shoulder.
This cowardly action made Jack's blood boil, and not stopping to think twice, he raised the gun he carried and blazed away. His aim took the guerrilla in the breast, and he sank down seriously, though not mortally, wounded.
A yell went up from the other guerrillas, and they fired at random, but did no damage to anybody but Old Ben, who was shot through the left shoulder. Then the other boys fired, and the guerrillas who could do so took to their heels.
"Ben, are you badly hurt?" asked Jack, when the encounter was over.
"Not wery, Massah Jack," answered the faithful old colored man, and went to the house to bind up his wound.
In the meantime the guerrilla who had been shot lay on the floor, raving and cursing in a frightful manner.
"Stop your swearing, or we'll do nothing for you," said Jack sharply, and then the fellow became more reasonable. He begged to have a doctor care for his wounds.
"We have no doctor here, but we'll care for you as best we can," said our hero, and this was done, although the guerrilla was kept at the stable, on a bed of straw.
At nightfall the fighting came to an end, and all became quiet around the plantation. It had been more or less of a drawn battle, and it was expected that the contest would be renewed at daybreak.
"Are you going to bed, Jack?" asked Mrs. Ruthven, a little after ten o'clock.
"No, mother; I think it best that I remain on guard," he answered. "Some of those guerrillas may come back, you know."
"But you must be tired out."
"I am; but I reckon I can stay up during the night without falling asleep at my post," he said, smiling faintly.
"Do as you think best, Jack; you and Marion must be my mainstays now," and she kissed him affectionately.
Hour after hour of the night wore along and nothing of moment happened. Jack spent the most of the time around the house, but toward daybreak made the rounds of the stable and barns.
He found the guerrilla groaning dismally.
"Give me sum terbacker, will yer?" asked the man presently.
Not wishing to appear too unkind, Jack procured a twist of tobacco for him, which he began to chew savagely.
"I'm in a putty bad fix, I reckon," said the guerrilla, after chewing in silence for several minutes.
"If you are, you have only yourself to thank for it," returned Jack coldly.
"Oh, I aint complainin', sonny. It's the fortunes o' war—as them poets call it, I reckon."
"You might be in better business than stealing horses."
"So I might, sonny—an' then agin' I might do wuss—yes, a heap wuss. I was gwine ter turn them hosses over to the Confed'rate government—they need hoss-flesh."
"You were going to do nothing of the kind. You are not a soldier, you are a common thief."
"Now, don't be hard on me, sonny. I fit on the right side, I did," drawled the guerrilla anxiously.
"You fought only for your own good."
"Taint so, sonny; I fit fer the glorious Stars an' Bars. Wot are ye calkerlatin' ter do with me, sonny?"
"I don't know yet. I reckon you'll stay where you are for the present."
"That's so too—I can't move nohow. Hullo, who's thet?"
At this question Jack turned suddenly—to find himself confronted by Dr. Mackey and two soldiers in Confederate uniform!
DR. MACKEY'S BOLD MOVE.
It must be confessed that Jack was startled, for he had not heard the approach of the surgeon and his companions, who had come up noiselessly and on foot.
"Hullo, you here?" asked Dr. Mackey, as he gazed at Jack in some astonishment.
"What brings you here, Dr. Mackey?" demanded our hero.
"I am looking for the dead or wounded in this neighborhood," was the answer. "Whom have you here?"
"A guerrilla we shot down."
"Ha! who shot him?"
"I did. He was trying to steal our horses."
"Dr. Mackey, don't you know me?" came from the guerrilla.
"Pete Gendron!" muttered the surgeon. "I never expected to see you here."
"Nor did I calkerlate to see you, doc. But I'm mighty glad yer come. Ye kin git me out o' this fix."
As he spoke, the guerrilla eyed Dr. Mackey sharply. On more than one occasion he had been the doctor's tool, and now he thought it no more than fair that the medical man should stand by him.
"Evidently you know this guerrilla," said Jack slowly.
"I do," answered the doctor slowly. He hardly knew how to proceed.
"I aint no guerrilla, an' Dr. Mackey kin prove it," cried Pete Gendron. The coming of the medical man had raised his spirits wonderfully.
"You are a guerrilla."
"I aint. Dr. Mackey will prove my words. He's a friend o' mine. Aint ye, doc?"
There was a peculiar emphasis to the guerrilla's words which made the surgeon shift uneasily from one foot to the other.
"If I don't humor Gendron, he may expose me," thought the surgeon dismally. "He knows too much to be made an enemy of."
"Is he your friend?" asked Jack.
"Not exactly my friend, Jack, but I know him pretty well," answered Dr. Mackey slowly, as if trying to feel his way.
"I aint a guerrilla, am I?" put in Pete Gendron eagerly.
"N—no, he is not a—a guerrilla," stammered the surgeon. "There must be some mistake."
"I want to be taken to the Confed'rate hospital," went on Pete Gendron.
"But he and his comrades were trying to steal our horses," said Jack firmly.
"As I said before, my dear Jack, there must be some mistake," returned the surgeon smoothly. Suddenly his face brightened. "Gendron, you made a mistake by leaving the hospital so soon. Your fighting in to-day's battle must have made you light-headed. You probably came here by mistake."
The guerrilla was crafty enough to seize upon the cue thus given.
"Thet must be the size on it," he murmured. "My head has felt queer ever since I got out in the sun. Reckon I aint accountable fer all my actions, doc."
"He is a perfectly honest man," said Dr. Mackey to Jack. "I have seen him fight most bravely in half a dozen battles."
Jack felt that the surgeon was falsifying, but how could he prove it? Then he felt that there would be no use in keeping the guerrilla at the plantation.
"Well, take him away, if you want to," he answered. "But I shall still hold my opinion of the rascal."
"You are as insulting as ever, Jack," sneered the medical man. "I came here, hoping to find you of a different turn of mind."
"I shall never change my mind regarding you, Dr. Mackey," was our hero's ready reply.
"Come outside, I would like to talk to you in private."
The surgeon spoke in a whisper, and feeling there would be no harm in listening to what he might have to say, Jack followed him into the open.
"I want to know what you intend to do about coming with me, Jack," said the medical man, when they were out of hearing distance of the others.
"I don't intend to go with you, Dr. Mackey."
"You are hard on your father."
"Once and for the last time, let me say that I do not acknowledge you as my father."
"Nevertheless, I am your parent, and will soon be in a position to prove my claim."
"And when that time comes I may be in a position to prove you an impostor, Dr. Mackey."
"What! This to me!" ejaculated the medical man, in a rage.
"Yes, that to you."
"Boy, you are—are mad—you do not know what you are saying."
"I know perfectly well what I am saying."
"Prove me an impostor?"
"But how can you, when I am exactly what I claim to be."
"Dr. Mackey, where were you located before the war broke out?"
"You heard my story, Jack. There is no use to repeat it."
"You came from Philadelphia."
"Ha! who told you that?"
"You were connected with a medical company there which was put out of business by the post office authorities because of using the mails fraudulently."
At this assertion Dr. Mackey fell back as if shot.
"Jack, I demand to know who has told you this?"
"You are a bachelor, and were never married to my mother or to any other lady."
"I demand to know who told you this—this—string of falsehoods!" cried the doctor, catching our hero by the arm.
"A part of the story came from Mrs. Ruthven's nephew."
"What, St. John Ruthven? I hardly know the fellow."
"No, another nephew, Dr. Harry Powell, who is now attached to the Yankee army. He hails from Philadelphia."
"That viper!" ejaculated the medical man, then tried to check himself. "I—er—that is, I know Powell distantly. But he is much mistaken."
"I don't think so—and neither does Mrs. Ruthven nor Marion."
"So you have been harboring a Yankee in this place, eh? A pretty business to be in surely," sneered the surgeon.
"We could not help ourselves. But I have another witness against you."
"Yes, a Confederate soldier who knows you well. He can testify that you never had either sweetheart or wife."
"Who is the man?"
"For the present I must decline to disclose his identity."
"You are trying to fool me!" stormed Dr. Mackey.
"No, I am telling you only the truth. Now I wish you to answer me a few questions. Why are you so anxious to claim me as your son?"
"Because you are my son. Good or bad, I cannot go back upon my own flesh and blood, as you are trying to do."
"I will never believe I am your son!" cried Jack impetuously. "Do you know what I think? I think you are trying to get hold of me so that you can obtain some money belonging to me."
"You—you little rascal!" cried Dr. Mackey. "How dare you talk to me in this fashion?"
"Because I believe you are a fraud, that's why," answered our hero defiantly.
A commingled look of rage and disappointment came into the medical man's face, which suddenly gave place to a look of cunning.
"I will make you smart for this," he stormed, and caught Jack firmly by both arms. "Garder! Mason! Come here!" he called loudly.
"What is wanted?" asked one of the Confederate soldiers, as both came rushing from the stable.
"Conduct this young man to our camp, and see that he does not escape from you."
"You shan't take me from home!" ejaculated Jack. "Let me go!"
He struggled to release himself, but the two soldiers were powerful fellows, and soon made him their prisoner.
"You are making a mistake," puffed Jack. "Dr. Mackey is a first-class fraud."
"Dr. Mackey is all right," put in Gendron, the guerrilla.
"He must be held," said the surgeon. "I will be responsible for this arrest."
"At least let me see Mrs. Ruthven before I go."
"No, take him away at once," cried the surgeon quickly. "Then you can return for Gendron."
"Where shall we take him, doctor?" asked one of the privates.
"To the old red house up the river. You know the place?"
No more was said, and a minute later Jack found himself being conducted across the plantation by a back way. He wanted to cry out, but one of the soldiers leveled his gun and commanded him to keep silent.
As soon as the party of three was gone Dr. Mackey entered into earnest conversation with Gendron, at the same time giving attention to the guerrilla's wound.
"Very well, Pete," he said, at the conclusion. "Stick by me and I'll stick by you."
"It's a whack," replied the wounded man.
"If anybody from the house comes here, tell them that Jack went off to get some Confederate ambulance corps to take you away."
A few words in addition passed between the pair, and then Dr. Mackey left the stable.
He was anxious to have another talk with Mrs. Ruthven, but concluded that he must postpone the interview until later.
"I reckon I have done enough for one night," he said to himself grimly. "With that boy in my power, perhaps she and the others will sing a different tune. Anyway, I'll not let the lad out of my grasp until he promises to do exactly as I desire."
THE HUNT FOR JACK.
"Marion, where is Jack?" asked Mrs. Ruthven, in the morning.
"I do not know, mamma."
"When did you see him last?"
"Just before he started for the stable last night."
Mrs. Ruthven was very much worried, and with good cause, as my readers know. She sought out Old Ben, who had his shoulder bandaged.
"Ben, have you seen Jack?"
"No, missus, I aint."
"Is he around the stable or the barns?"
"Perhaps he is, missus. Ole Ben will go an' look, if yo' want it."
"Yes, Ben; I cannot imagine what has become of him."
Old Ben hurried off, and Mrs. Ruthven went upstairs to wait upon George Walden, who had now developed a raging fever.
"It is very odd what has become of Jack," said the lady of the plantation. "He never went off like this before."
It was fully half an hour before Old Ben came back. The colored man looked much worried.
"Can't find him nowhar, missus," he said. "An' dat dar guerrilla is gone, too."
"The man who was shot while trying to steal the horses?"
"Then something must be wrong. Didn't you find any trace at all of Jack?"
"Not de slightest, missus. Old Ben looked eberywhar, too—'deed I did, missus."
"I do not doubt you, Ben. But this is terrible. Jack must be somewhere."
"Dat's so, too, missus."
"Were there any signs of violence about?" asked Marion. "Any—any blood, for example?"
"Some blood at de stable. Miss Marion. But I rackon dat was from de shootin' ob dat dar guerrilla."
Marion heaved a deep sigh, and Mrs. Ruthven shook her head slowly. Here was fresh trouble, more painful than any that had gone before.
"The guerrilla couldn't go off alone, could he?" asked Marion.
"Jack said he was quite seriously wounded, Marion. Still, the rascal may have been playing possum with Jack, and stolen off on the sly."
"If he was strong enough to do that, perhaps he took Jack with him to keep the boy from sounding an alarm."
"You may be right. We must find the boy if we can."
Slowly the day wore away, and no tidings came to the plantation. Toward evening St. John put in an appearance.
"The soldiers have cleared out," he said. "There isn't a regiment of any sort within a dozen miles."
"I am glad of it," answered Mrs. Ruthven, and then continued quickly, "Have you seen anything of Jack?"
"Do you mean to-day?"
"No, I haven't seen him since he made such a mess of it up at our house, putting out the fire," growled the spendthrift.
"It's a wonder you didn't put out the fire yourself," put in Marion sharply. She did not like talk against her brother.
"I—I was sick, sicker than anybody supposed," stammered St. John. "Had I been at all well, things would have gone on very differently, I can assure you."
"Then you haven't seen or heard of Jack," said Mrs. Ruthven. "He has been missing since last night."
"No, I haven't seen him—and I don't want to see him. He insulted me and made trouble between me and my mother."
"On account of the fire?"
"Yes. He thinks he is a regular lord of creation, he does," went on St. John hotly. "He wants dressing down, Aunt Alice."
"I cannot believe Jack has done anything very wrong."
"He is a nobody, and puts on altogether too many airs."
Mrs. Ruthven would not listen to this talk, and changed the subject by asking him what had brought him over from his home.
"I was asked to come over and see if you had any of the Yankee wounded here."
"Who sent you?"
"Colonel Bromley of our army."
"No, we have only Confederates here."
"Five. Four of them are doing very well, you can tell the colonel, but the fifth was hurt when our house was struck by a cannon ball, and he is now in a high fever."
"All right, I'll tell him."
"Have you joined the army at last?" questioned Marion curiously.
"Not exactly, but I told the colonel I would help him in any manner that I could," answered St. John, and hurried away for fear of being questioned further.
The truth of the matter was that the fire had brought on a bitter quarrel between St. John and his mother, and the parent had insisted that the son overcome his cowardice and do something for his country. St. John had demurred in vain, and had at last gone to the Confederate headquarters and offered his services; but as a civilian, not as a soldier.
When the young man was gone Mrs. Ruthven and Marion had Old Ben and the others make another search for Jack, and this hunt lasted far into the night.
But it was of no avail; our hero had disappeared as utterly as if the earth had opened and swallowed him.
"Mamma, do you think it possible that the Yankees captured him?" was the question Marion put.
"Not unless Jack left home during the night, Marion. And what would cause him to leave without telling us that he was going?"
"That is true. Jack wouldn't do anything to cause us anxiety."
"It is a great mystery," sighed Mrs. Ruthven.
Later a negro, living on the mountain side, came down to the plantation and asked to see the lady of the house.
"I was t'inkin' yo' would be wantin' ter know wot became o' Master Jack," said the colored man, who rejoiced in the name of Columbus Washington.
"What do you know of him?" asked Mrs. Ruthven quickly.
"I seed him early dis mornin', missus—away up in the mountains."
"The mountains? Alone?"
"No, missus—he was a prisoner."
"Of the Yankees?"
"De men wot had him was dressed as Confed'rates, missus."
"You did not know them?"
"And you are certain that Jack was held a prisoner?"
"Oh. yes, missus, fo' one ob de men said he would shoot if de boy tried to git away from him."
Mrs. Ruthven clasped her hands in despair.
"A prisoner! Did you speak to him?"
"No, no! I was afraid to show myself. De men was armed an' I wasn't—an' I didn't want to git in no trouble."
"Where were they taking Jack?"
"I can't say as to dat. I met dem on the ole mill trail near de blasted tree."
"You saw nobody else around?"
"It is very strange why Jack should be carried off in this fashion. I wish you had followed them and seen what became of my boy."
"Perhaps I kin follow dem by de trail, missus. Ise putty good at dat."
"Then do so by all means, and I will reward you for your work."
"T'ank yo,' missus; yo' was always de lady to remember poor niggers."
"If you wish, you can take Old Ben with you. He is good at trailing, too."
So it was arranged, and half an hour later Old Ben and Columbus Washington were on their way. Both knew the mountains thoroughly, and lost no time in getting to the spot where Jack had last been seen.
Then began a hunt for the trail, and this discovered, both went on once more, little dreaming of the surprise in store for them.
A REMARKABLE REVELATION.
Alarming news reached the Ruthven plantation that night. A large force of Federal soldiers had loomed up in the vicinity, and the Confederate army had been compelled to fall back to the mountains and to the valley beyond.
"Our victory is swallowed up in defeat," said Marion, but even as she spoke a soft look came into her eyes. Perhaps, if the Yankees were coming again, she would see Harry Powell once more. Even though she did not wish to acknowledge it to herself, Marion thought much of her dashing cousin.
"What a man he is, compared with cowardly St. John!" she said to herself. And then she prayed to Heaven that Harry might come out of the war unharmed.
Marion's wish was gratified so far as seeing Harry Powell was concerned, for the young surgeon dashed up on horseback early in the morning.
"I could not keep away," he said, after shaking hands with Mrs. Ruthven and his cousin. "I heard that the fight was fierce in this neighborhood, and I wanted to learn if you had suffered."
"We had a cannon ball go through the sitting room," answered Mrs. Ruthven.
"And was anybody hurt?"
"One of the wounded soldiers was hit. He has now a high fever in consequence."
"Thank God the cannon ball did not hit you or Marion!" ejaculated Harry Powell, and gave Marion a look that made the girl blush deeply. "Somebody said the Ruthven place had been on fire."
"That was at St. John's place," answered Marion. "But the fire was put out before great damage was done."
"I am happy to see that you were not hurt, Harry," said Mrs. Ruthven. "You must have been in peril many times."
"I was in peril, aunt, and I did not escape wholly. I was wounded in the shoulder, although the hurt is of small consequence."
"I am glad that you escaped," cried Marion. And she gave him a look that meant a good deal.
"Poor Colonel Stanton was not so fortunate," went on the young surgeon. "He was shot through the breast, and now lies between life and death."
"Jack saw him shot, from a distance," said Mrs. Ruthven.
"Did he? And where is Jack now?"
"He has disappeared," and the lady of the plantation gave her nephew some of the particulars.
Harry was invited into the house, and he remained to lunch, in the meantime telling of the general progress of the war.
"Frankly, I wish it was at an end," he said. "I hate to see one section of our glorious country fighting the other. It is not right."
During the talk it developed that Colonel Stanton was lying at a house about half a mile distant, up the bay road.
"He acts very queerly," said Harry Powell, "just as if his wound had affected his mind."
"Can we do anything for him?" asked Mrs. Ruthven.
"I do not know of anything now. But perhaps I'll think of something later, aunt. I do not wish the colonel to suffer any more than is necessary. He is a thorough gentleman."
"I feel you are right, Harry. He has given me an entirely different idea of Yankees from what I had before," returned Mrs. Ruthven warmly.
The lady of the plantation became deeply interested in the wounded colonel's case, and when the young surgeon went away she had one of the negroes of the place hitch up a horse to the carriage and drive her over to where the wounded officer lay.
The colonel was in something of a fever, and hardly recognized her. For a long time he kept muttering to himself, but she could not catch his words.
"The ship is doomed!" he cried suddenly. "We are going to pieces on the rocks!" And then he began to speak of the army and of the terrible battle through which he had gone.
"What can he mean by saying the ship is doomed?" was the question which Mrs. Ruthven asked herself. "Can it be that he was once in a shipwreck?"
For a long while after this the colonel lay silent. Then he opened his eyes and stared around wildly.
"All drowned, you say?" he exclaimed. "No! no! Laura must be saved! Save my wife—never mind me! How high the waves are running! Where is the child? Captain, why don't you put out to sea? Don't you see the rebels? They are luring us to the coast! See, that rebel is stealing my child, my darling Jack! Ha! we have struck, and I am drifting. Laura, where are you? Save Jack! Look, look, they are retreating! The battle is won! Oh, what a storm—can nothing be saved?" And then the poor man sank back, completely exhausted.
Mrs. Ruthven drank in the spoken words like one in a dream. What was this the wounded officer was saying? Something about a storm, about a wife Laura, and a child named Jack!
"Can it be possible that he is speaking of our boy Jack?" she asked herself, and then looked at the colonel's face more closely than ever. The resemblance was more than striking, it was perfect. Give Jack that heavy mustache and those wrinkles, and the faces would be exactly alike.
"He must be Jack's father!" she went on. "How wonderful! But what does this mean? Why did he not claim Jack long ago?"
For over an hour she sat by the colonel's side, but he made no further efforts to speak. In the meantime a surgeon came in to attend to the officer's wound.
"If you can have him taken to my house, I will see to it that he has the best of care," said Mrs. Ruthven.
"Why, are you not a Southern woman, madam?" questioned the surgeon, in pardonable surprise.
"I am, but I know Colonel Stanton, and do not wish to see him suffer any more than is necessary."
"He is a friend?"
"Something of a friend, yes."
"And who are you, if I may ask?"
"I am Mrs. Alice Ruthven, owner of the plantation half a mile from here. Dr. Harry Powell, whom you may know, is my nephew."
"I know Dr. Powell well, and if he says it is all right, I'll have Colonel Stanton removed to your home without delay."
"When will you see Dr. Powell?"
"To-day. This is not a nice place, and I would like to see the colonel have better quarters."
A little later Mrs. Ruthven left and drove home with all speed.
"Marion, I have wonderful news!" she exclaimed, on entering the room where the girl sat making bandages for the wounded soldiers.
"What is it, mamma; is Jack found?"
"No, but I am almost sure that I have found Jack's father?"
"Oh, mamma! Of course you don't mean that horrid Dr. Mackey?"
"No, I mean Colonel Stanton."
"Mamma!" And Marion leaped up, scattering the bandages in all directions.
"Did you ever notice how much Jack and the colonel resembled each other?"
"The colonel is in a fever, and while I was there he cried out about a shipwreck, and asked that his wife Laura and his son Jack be saved."
"Didn't you always think Jack's mother was named Laura?"
"I did—although I wasn't sure."
"But why didn't he come to claim Jack?"
"That's the mystery. I have asked that the colonel be brought here, and as soon as he is well enough to stand being questioned I am going to learn the truth of the matter."
"I hope he is Jack's father," murmured Marion. "But if so, what of Dr. Mackey?"
"That's another mystery."
"He must know something of the colonel's past."
"I wonder if the two ever met in this vicinity?"
"There is no telling. I am impatient to question the colonel. But of course nothing can be done until he is better and in his right mind."
That evening there was the rattle of wagon-wheels on the gravel road leading up to the Ruthven mansion, and, looking out, Marion and her mother saw an ambulance approaching. The colonel was inside, and they hastened to prepare a bedroom for his accommodation.
"Is he better?" asked Mrs. Ruthven of the surgeon in charge.
"A trifle," was the answer. "What he needs is rest and quiet. He has a strong constitution, and that is in his favor."
It did not take long to transfer Colonel Stanton to the bedchamber prepared for his reception, and once he was in the house Mrs. Ruthven did all in her power to make him comfortable. The ride had somewhat exhausted the officer, and he slept heavily until far into the next morning.
DR. MACKEY SHOWS HIS HAND.
"Well, what do these fellows intend to do with me, anyway?"
It was Jack who asked himself the question, as he sat up, after quite a long sleep.
He was a close prisoner in a little cabin far up the mountain side. His hands were bound tightly behind him and were made fast to a heavy wooden stake driven into the hard mud flooring.
Night had come and gone, and all of the Confederates had left him. Now it was almost night again.
"If they would only give me something to eat and to drink," he went on. He was very dry, and his stomach was empty.
Half an hour later a footstep sounded outside, and Dr. Mackey appeared, carrying a knapsack filled with provisions, and a canteen of water.
"Sorry I had to keep you waiting. Jack," he said, as he set the articles down and proceeded to liberate our hero. "But I had the whole affair to smooth over, and I had also to get Gendron out of the muss," and he smiled grimly.
"Dr. Mackey, why do you treat me in this fashion?" demanded Jack.
"Because I want you to come to your senses and understand that I am your father."
"Do you think you are treating me as a father should?"
"A son who will not obey must be made to obey. Here, I have brought you something to eat and to drink. Fall to and make the most of it."
It would have been foolish to refuse the invitation, and our hero began to eat without delay. The surgeon watched him curiously.
"Jack, don't you think you are acting the part of a fool?" said the man presently.
"No, I do not."
"I offer you a name, a good home, and your share of a large fortune, and yet you turn your back on me and my offers."
"Have you a large fortune coming to me?"
"There is a large fortune coming to both of us. You shall have your full share of it—providing you will do as I wish."
"And what do you wish?"
"Well, in the first place, I wish you to let the world know that you are fully satisfied that I am your father."
"And after that?"
"After that I will resign my commission as a surgeon in the Confederate army and take the necessary steps to claim the fortune which awaits us."
"Why haven't you claimed the fortune before?"
"Because I had to prove that my wife had been drowned, and had also to prove that you were either alive or dead. Had you been dead, I could have taken the fortune for my own. But you are not dead, and so I am willing you shall have your share."
"Where is this fortune?"
"Never mind about that now. I will give you my word that, if all goes well, you shall have your full share."
"And how much will that be?"
"Not less than fifty or sixty thousand dollars. The whole fortune is worth over a hundred thousand dollars."
It must be confessed that our hero was staggered for a moment. The sum was certainly a large one—a good deal more than the Ruthven plantation was worth.
"It's a lot of money," he said, at last.
"Indeed it is, my boy. We can be happy on that amount for the rest of our lives."
"But you haven't proved to me that you are my father," went on Jack abruptly.
The crafty face of the surgeon fell, and he bit his lip.
"What more proof do you require?" he said coldly. "Do you suppose I would wish to divide that fortune with a stranger?"
"I presume not, nor would I wish to divide any fortune that was coming to me with a stranger."
"Ha! what do you mean?" gasped the medical man.
"I mean just this: That fortune may be coming to me, and you may be trying to gain possession of it by palming yourself off as my father."
The shot told, and Dr. Mackey staggered back and turned pale.
"Jack, you think you are smart, but you don't know what you are saying," he stormed.
"Perhaps I do, Dr. Mackey. One thing I do know—you are not to be trusted."
"What? This to my face?"
"You took the part of Gendron, when you knew he was nothing but a guerrilla and a horse-thief."
"I know nothing of the kind. Gendron has a good record behind him. He was shot, and that may have hurt his brain."
"I don't believe that fairy tale. To my mind, you sided with him because you were afraid he would expose you."
"Boy, you are growing more bold. Don't you realize that you are in my power?"
"Yes, you are—absolutely in my power. And you have got to do as I wish, or you'll take the consequences."
As Dr. Mackey spoke, he began to walk up and down the cabin nervously.
"What do you mean by my taking the consequences?"
"You'll find that out later."
"Would you kill me?"
"I would make you mind me—as a son should."
"I would rather do without the fortune than have you for a father, Dr. Mackey."
"Well, there is no love lost between us, when it comes to that, boy."
"Then you are willing to admit that you care more for the fortune than you do for me?"
"Why shouldn't I—after the way you have acted toward me? No father wishes a son who hates him."
"I will agree with you there," answered Jack slowly.
"If you don't wish to live with me, well and good—after we have our money. You can take your share and I'll take mine—and that will be the end of it."
"And you will let me return to the Ruthven plantation, if I wish?"
"Yes. But not until everything is settled."
"And what must I do to help settle it?"
"You must sign a paper acknowledging me as your father, and must bear witness to the fact of your being wrecked on this shore, and that your mother is dead. We will have to get Old Ben for another witness."
"And after that?"
"After that I will take the next step."
"You will not tell me more now?"
"No. I don't know whether I can trust you or not."
"But why this secrecy, if everything is aboveboard?"
"As I explained to Mrs. Ruthven, some distant relatives hold the fortune now, and if they learn of what I am doing they will at once take steps to head my claim off. I wish to spring a surprise on them."
"But if the claim is a just one, and half the property is coming to me, you do not suppose I am going to tell them in advance of what you intend to do."
"Boy, you do not understand such matters—you are not old enough," growled the surgeon. "Once more, and for the last time, will you do as I wish you to?"
"I will not promise yet."
"Then you shall remain here, a prisoner."
"For how long?"
"Until you come to your senses and agree to do as I wish."
A few words more passed, and then Dr. Mackey made our hero a prisoner again, and took up the canteen and the knapsack.
"You may have to remain alone for a long time," he said, on departing. "But if you get lonely and hungry, remember it is your own fault."
"I think you are a brute!" cried Jack after him. Then he listened and heard the surgeon's footsteps receding rapidly. Soon all became quiet.
Hour after hour went by, and nobody came near our hero. It was indeed lonely, and as the time passed his heart sank within him.
Then Jack heard the faint patter of footsteps over the dry leaves surrounding the cabin. The sounds came closer.
"Perhaps it's a dog," he thought. "I hope it is one from our plantation, on the hunt for me."
At last a shadow fell across the open cabin doorway and the figure of a strange creature came slowly into view. At the sight Jack could not suppress a scream. The visitor was a mountain wild cat!
COLONEL STANTON'S TALE.
Two days after being brought to the plantation Colonel Stanton's fever went down, and the surgeon who came to attend him pronounced the officer much better.
"But he must remain where he is for some time," said the medical man.
"He can remain as long as he pleases," declared Mrs. Ruthven. "I have no wish to hurry his departure."
She was anxious to learn the truth concerning the colonel's past, yet realized that she must move with caution, otherwise he might be thrown into another fever.
"Colonel Stanton," she said, seating herself at his side, "were you ever in the neighborhood before—I mean some ten or eleven years ago?"
At this question Colonel Stanton became immediately interested, and his wide-open eyes showed it.
"I do not know if I was in this neighborhood," he answered slowly.
"You do not know? Surely you must remember where you were at the time I mention."
"The time you speak about was a very bitter one to me, madam," was his slow answer.
"And you do not wish to speak about it?" she said softly, seeing the pain in his face.
"I have spoken to nobody about it for years, madam. Yet I would not mind speaking to you—you are so kind to me. During the time you mention I took an ocean voyage which was very disastrous to me and mine. The ship went down with all on board, including my wife and child."
"Did the ship go down on this coast?"
"She struck somewhere along the coast; where, I am not exactly sure."
"May I ask the name of the vessel?"
"She was the Nautilus."
Mrs. Ruthven's breast began to heave. "It must be true!" she murmured.
"What must be true, madam?"
"The Nautilus was wrecked on our coast here, not over half a mile from this plantation."
"You are sure of this?"
"I am. The wreck is still on the rocks in the bay."
"And were you living here at the time?"
"I was, and I know all about the wreck, and so does Old Ben, the negro who has the boathouse on the shore."
The wounded officer's interest increased.
"I would like to visit that wreck some time, if it is still intact," he said. "I left some valuable papers in a secret closet. It is possible they are still on board."
"Do you know who was saved from the wreck?"
"Saved? No one was saved."
"You are mistaken—a lady and her child were saved. The lady died two days later, but the child still lives."
"What was the name of that lady? Tell me, quick?" gasped the officer, and tried to sit up, but fell back through weakness.
"Do not excite yourself, Colonel Stanton, I beg of you!" pleaded Mrs. Ruthven, in alarm, fearful of the patient's agitation.
"But tell me the name of that lady—and was the child a boy?"
"I do not know the name of the lady, for she was badly hurt and could not give it. The boy's name was Jack."
"Jack! My child's name was Jack. And you say he still lives?"
"He does. The child is our Jack, for my husband and I adopted him."
"Your Jack? That fine, manly fellow? Oh, Mrs. Ruthven, send him to me at once!"
"I cannot do that just now, Colonel Stanton."
"If only we can prove he is my son! Have you nothing belonging to the lady?"
"Yes, I have her clothing, also the little boy's, and some jewelry."
"Bring them to me," and now the colonel sank back, too weak to say more.
As much agitated as her patient, Mrs. Ruthven hurried from the room, and presently returned with the clothing, the lace handkerchief, and the wedding ring.
"They were my darling Laura's!" murmured Colonel Stanton, as he gazed at the things. "And this was little Jack's dress. Mrs. Ruthven, beyond a doubt Jack is my son!"
"I suspected as much two days ago, Colonel Stanton. When you had a fever you spoke of a shipwreck and of the loss of your wife and son Jack. Yes, Jack must be your son. But how were you saved?"
"It is a strange tale, madam. As you know, my wife and my son were washed ashore. I thought them drowned. Hours after I found myself, I scarcely know how, clinging to a spar, tossing up and down on the dreary waste of waters, far out to sea."
"And you were picked up?"
"Not for twenty-four hours or more. Then those on a passing ship espied me, and sent out a small boat to my rescue. I can remember how they hauled me in, and how I shrieked with joy, and then fell to the deck unconscious."
"The exposure was too much for you."
"Yes, and it not only affected my body, but likewise my mind, for it is only in a dim, uncertain way that I remember being taken on a voyage of several weeks' duration, and then finding myself in a strange-looking hospital. There I remained for two months, and was then transferred to an insane asylum."
"An insane asylum! Colonel Stanton, how you must have suffered!" cried Mrs. Ruthven sympathetically.
"That was not the worst of it, madam. At the asylum I was treated most brutally by a good-for-nothing physician, who did his best to pry into my family affairs."
"And who was that physician, Colonel Stanton? Excuse my curiosity, but I have a strong motive for wanting to know."
"He was a tall, wicked-looking fellow, who went by the name of Mackenzie, although I have since learned that his real name is Mackwell or Mackey."
"Dr. Mackey! He has been here."
"Exactly, and he claims Jack as his son!"
"The vile impostor!" cried the wounded officer wrathfully. "He is a villain to his very finger tips. It is to him that I owe my long term in the insane asylum. Where is he now?"
"That I cannot tell you. I refused to give Jack up, for I did not like the looks of the man, and moreover Jack did not wish to go with him. I told him he would have to prove his claim at court."
"That was right. If I can get my hands on him, I will either shoot him or place him behind the bars."
"He certainly deserves arrest for plotting to take Jack."
"I presume he is scheming to obtain the property which is rightfully mine. During my lucid intervals at the asylum he got me to tell him my story. There was property in England coming to me, and also an estate in Virginia coming to my wife. The trip on the ocean was taken to obtain the property coming to Laura. He drew from me all the details he could, and then drugged me, so that for a long time I knew scarcely anything of what happened. When I regained my own mind, I learned that he had left the asylum several weeks before, and departed for parts unknown."
"And were you kept at the asylum?"
"I was, for years, for this rascal had put me on the books as being incurable, and subject to attacks of great violence."
"Of course he did this to obtain possession of the property."
"It is strange he did not put in an appearance before."
"You must remember he knew no more than I about the exact fate of the Nautilus. How he found out the vessel was wrecked here I do not know."
"He has paid the wreck a visit—Old Ben rowed him over to it!" cried Mrs. Ruthven, struck with a sudden idea.
"Did he bring anything away with him?"
"Old Ben thought he brought with him a tin box."
"It must have been my box—the one I placed in the secret closet! I must get it away from him. But tell me of Jack. When will he be back?"
"I—I cannot say, Colonel Stanton."
"Did you send him away on an errand?"
"I—I did not."
"But he is not here. Tell me, is he—is he missing—shot?"
"He is missing, yes. I do not believe he has been shot."
"It must be more of Dr. Mackey's work," muttered the wounded officer, and then sank down. The conversation had exhausted him utterly, and it was a long while before he spoke again.
IN THE HANDS OF THE GUERRILLAS.
Our hero knew only too well how dangerous a wild cat can be, and as he gazed at the beast looking in through the open doorway of the lonely cabin his heart was filled with dread.
"A wild cat!" he muttered. "Scat! go away!" he yelled.
The sudden cry caused the beast to retreat a few steps, and for the instant Jack breathed easier. But then the beast approached once more.
"Go away! scat!" he repeated, but now the wild cat stood its ground, its eyes gleaming fiercely and its mouth half open, showing its sharp teeth. It was tremendously hungry, and this had caused it to find its way to the habitation.
"Go away, I say," repeated Jack, and then, as the wild cat took a noiseless step forward, he let out a scream: "Help! Help!"
The wild cat now prepared to leap upon him. It crouched low, shaking its short tail from side to side. The leap was about to be taken when, of a sudden, bang! went a gun, and the beast rolled over on its side.
"A good shot, Ben!" came in the voice of Columbus Washington. "I rackon ye killed him."
"Ben!" cried Jack, in great joy, as the face of the faithful old negro showed itself at the doorway. "You came in the nick of time!"
"Dat's so," answered Old Ben, as he came forward and poked the wild cat with his gun barrel. "Dead, are ye? Well, Old Ben will make suah," and he hit the wild cat's skull a blow that crushed it completely.
"Ben, you saved my life," went on Jack joyfully. "I was certain I was going to be chewed up."
"Wot fo' is yo' a prisoner yeah?" asked Columbus Washington, as he gazed at Jack's bonds curiously.
"Dr. Mackey made me a prisoner."
"What, dat man!" ejaculated Old Ben.
"Yes, Ben; he had me taken from the stable, where I had gone to watch that guerrilla."
"And where am de guerrilla?"
"Dr. Mackey helped him to escape."
The faithful old colored man shook his head doubtfully.
"Massah Jack, do yo' dun t'ink dat doctor am your fadder?" he asked.
"No, Ben; I think nothing of the kind."
"Neider do I. He is a-plottin' against yo'."
"That is what I think, Ben. If I could manage it, I would have him arrested. Then we could get at the bottom of this affair."
Jack was speedily released, and the party of three left the lonely mountain cabin and started across the country for the Ruthven plantation.
"Yo' mudder will be tickled to see yo'," remarked Old Ben, as they trudged along. "She was worried to death ober yo' absence."
"After this I will see to it that they don't get me again," replied our hero.
Half a mile was covered when, on turning a point in the trail, they came unexpectedly upon a company of Confederate guerrillas who were taking it easy, lying in the grass.
"Hullo! who are you?" demanded one of the guerrillas as he leaped up and drew up his gun.
"Friends!" answered Jack.
Just then he caught sight of the men who had marched him away from the stable, and also of Pete Gendron, who was lying on some blankets in the shade.
"Friends, are you!" cried one of the men who had marched him off. "Up with your hands, sonny!"
There was no help for it, and Jack put up his hands, and his negro companions did likewise.
"I reckon as how we cotched ye nicely," went on the man with the gun. "Whar did ye come from—thet cabin up the mountain?"
"Whar is Dr. Mackey?"
"I do not know."
"Did he let ye go?"
"Of course he didn't let the boy go," growled Pete Gendron. "The niggers must have released him."
"Is that true, sonny?"
"That is none of your business," answered Jack, not knowing what else to say.
"Aint it, though? All right, ride yer high hoss, if yer want to. But throw down them arms fust."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean all of yer are prisoners, thet's wot I mean," drawled the guerrilla.
"You have no right to hold me up in this fashion."
"Ye forgit, sonny, thet might makes right in most cases. Come, hand over them firearms."
Jack had been provided with a pistol by Old Ben, and this he was compelled to surrender, and his companions were also disarmed. The guerrillas numbered fully a score, so resistance would have been foolhardy.
"What do you intend to do with me?" asked our hero, after he had been made a prisoner by having his hands bound behind him.
"We'll hold ye till Dr. Mackey comes back."
"When will that be?"
This ended the talk, and presently the guerrillas moved up the mountain side to where there was a fair-sized cave.
They marched our hero into this cave, and tied him and his companions fast to some jagged rocks in the rear.
A fire was started up and the outlaws—for the guerrillas were nothing less—proceeded to make themselves comfortable by lying around, drinking, smoking, and playing cards.
Gendron was not badly wounded, and sat up to look on at the card-playing.
So the hours wore away. Toward night a scout went out to learn what the armies were doing, and he did not come back until the next day.
Two days were spent by Jack and his companions in the cave. During that time the guerrillas treated them brutally, and gave them hardly sufficient food to keep them from starving.
Gendron was particularly bitter against Jack, and insulted our hero upon every possible occasion.
"If I was the doctor I'd blow your head off, and get that money for myself," he said once.
"What do you know about that money?" demanded Jack.
At this the guerrilla closed one eye suggestively.
"I know a whole lot, sonny."
"Then you know what a rascal Dr. Mackey is?
"I didn't allow as how he is a rascal, sonny."
"Well, he is, and you know it. I can't see how he puts up with a fellow like you, though."
This was said to draw Gendron on, and it had the desired effect.
"He can't help himself," chuckled the guerrilla. "I know too much."
"What do you know."
"I know all about the doctor's private papers—the ones he carries in the tin box."
"The papers about the property?"
"Those papers won't help him any," went on Jack, wondering what the guerrilla would say next.
"Won't they? They'll prove that he is——. But never mind—you shan't git nothin' out o' me," and then Gendron relapsed into sudden silence, as though he realized that he had been talking too much.
On the afternoon of the next day Dr. Mackey appeared, accompanied by another man, evidently an officer of the guerrillas. His face grew dark as he gazed first at Jack and then at Old Ben and Columbus Washington.
"So you were going to help Jack to escape," he said harshly to the negroes.
"Jack is my young mastah," replied Old Ben. "Why shouldn't I try to sabe him?"
"You are the fellow who saved Jack years ago, when the shipwreck occurred, I believe."
"I am, sah."
"Then I am glad I have you in my power," answered Dr. Mackey. "You may prove useful to me."
THE ESCAPE FROM THE CAVE.
Dr. Mackey turned away to consult with the guerrillas, and Jack and his companions were left to themselves for the best part of half an hour.
The surgeon was evidently much disturbed over something, and Jack caught the words, "must leave the country," and "I will send the money," spoken to the guerrilla captain.
"Can it be possible that he intends to leave the States?" mused our hero. "Well, we can easily get along without him. But I would like to know more of that fortune."
At length Dr. Mackey came to him and sat down by his side.
"So you thought to escape me, did you?" he began.
"Do you blame me?" questioned our hero, as coolly as he could.
"Not exactly. But I want to warn you that it won't pay to try to escape again. I have given the soldiers orders to shoot you down, if you attempt it."
"In that case they must be outlaws, not soldiers, Dr. Mackey."
"They know how to obey orders."
"Again I demand to know what you are going to do with me."
"If you wish to know so much, I will tell you. I am going to take you out of the country."
"That you will learn after we are on shipboard."
"Then you intend to take me away from America?"
"Are you going to take me to Europe?"
"As I said before, you'll learn your destination when you are on shipboard."
"Supposing I won't go with you?"
"If you won't go peaceably, I'll have to use force, that's all."
"You mean you'll drug me, or something like that?"
"Never mind the details. You'll go with me, and that ends it. Moreover, you'll do just as I want you to."
"When do you intend to take me away?"
"That will depend upon circumstances. Probably to-morrow night, or the next day."
"What of my companions?"
"Old Ben shall go with us."
"Is that the nigger's name?"
"Yes. Columbus Washington."
"The guerrillas will take care of him."
"Do you mean to say they will shoot him?"
"What if they do? Niggers don't count in this world."
"I think you are a monster, Dr. Mackey!" exclaimed our hero, in horror. "To kill a negro is as much murder as to kill anyone else."
"I won't discuss the subject. The question is, will you go along peacefully with me?"
"I will not. You have no right to abduct me in this fashion."
"I have a right to do as I please with my own son."
"Again I say I am not your son. Do you know what I think? I think you are nothing but a swindler—a rascal who wishes to use me as a tool, in order to get hold of some fortune coming to me or to somebody else."
Dr. Mackey glared at Jack for a moment, then leaped forward and struck our hero a cruel blow in the face.
"That for your impudence!" he cried wrathfully. "After this, keep a civil tongue in your head."
The blow made Jack's blood boil, but he was helpless to resent it. "You are a coward, to hit me when I am tied like this," he said. "But some day, Dr. Mackey, I may be able to square accounts, and then you had better beware."
One of the guerrillas now came forward to consult with the surgeon, and Jack was left with the other prisoners, to meditate over what had been said and done.
"He's de wust rascal wot I eber seen," whispered Old Ben sympathetically. "Wot a pity he wasn't shot down in de fust battle wot he eber got into!"
"He wants to take us both out of the country, Ben."
"Wot, away from ole South Carolina?"
"Yes—on a trip on the ocean."
"I don't want to go, Massah Jack."
"No more do I; but how can we help ourselves?"
"I wish dis niggah could git free, Massah Jack."
"We must try our best to escape to-night. If we don't do it to-night, I reckon our last chance will be gone."
"Ise willin' ter do all I kin," answered Old Ben, and the other negro said the same.
With the setting of the sun over the mountains a strong breeze sprang up, and presently the sky was obscured by heavy clouds. Dr. Mackey had gone off half an hour before.
"We're in fer a heavy storm," Jack heard one of the guerrillas say. "It's a good thing we can crawl into the cave when it comes."
"If they come in here our chances of escape will be slim," thought our hero.
The approaching storm made it very dark in the cave, and during this time he worked with energy at his bonds.
At last he was free, and without making any noise he rolled over and released Old Ben and Columbus Washington.
Suddenly there was a shout from outside.
A guerrilla on guard had discovered a man on the trail, with two horses loaded with store goods.
"Here's a chance fer a haul!" was the cry.
The guerrillas ran outside, and soon the majority of them were making after the traveler.
Only two were left on guard, and one of these was more than half overcome by the liquor he had imbibed.
"Now is our chance!" whispered Jack, as he tiptoed his way to the cave entrance. "Ben, you and I will pounce upon that man with the gun. Columbus, you silence the fellow sitting on the rock. We must not let them cry for aid."
The negroes understood the plan, and in a moment more the party of three were upon the guerrillas. While Jack seized the gun of the one, Old Ben caught him from behind and placed a large hand over his mouth.
"Silence, on your life!" said Jack, and leveled the gun at the rascal's head. The man understood and, when allowed to breathe, said not a word.
To capture the half tipsy sentinel was likewise easy, and after both were disarmed they were ordered to enter the cave.
"If you make the least outcry we'll come back and shoot you," said Jack.
Then he motioned to the two negroes, and all three set off on a run down the mountain side. They heard a rifle shot to the right, and consequently moved to the left.
The storm now burst over the mountains in all of its fury, with vivid flashes of lightning and sharp cracks of thunder. As they proceeded they heard the distant falling of one tree or another, as the giants of the forest were laid low by the elements.
"I dun rackon da won't follow us in dis yeah storm," remarked Old Ben, as they stopped after a while, to catch their breath. "Da will be fo' gittin' back to de cabe an' stayin' dar."
"I hope that traveler escaped them," answered Jack. "But those gun-shots sounded dubious."
"De gorillas ought all to be hung!" came from Columbus Washington. "Da aint no sodgers, no matter if da do w'ar a uniform."
"They are outlaws, pure and simple," answered Jack. "But come, we must go on. Ben, how far are we from home, do you calculate?"
"Six or seben miles, Massah Jack."
"Then we have a good, stiff walk before us."
"Do yo' t'ink yo' can walk dat far, Massah Jack, in dis awful storm?"
"I can, unless the rain sets in harder. I am anxious to get back, you know."
"I don't blame yo' fo' dat, Massah Jack. De folks will be mighty glad to see yo', too," answered Old Ben.
On they went through the darkness, Old Ben following the trail with the keenness of a sleuth-hound. But it was far from a pleasant journey, as Jack soon discovered, as he stumbled along over dirt and rocks and through the dripping bushes. He was soaked to the skin, and the rawness of the air caused him to shiver.
The downpour was now extra heavy, and they had to come to a halt under some trees, in order to get their breath again. The wind was blowing strongly and it was directly in their faces.
"How many miles have we made, Ben?" asked Jack.
"Not more dan t'ree, Massah Jack?"
"Then we have nearly four still to cover."
"Yes, Massah Jack, an' wery hard roads, too, ober Hallack's hill."
"If there was a cabin handy, I would go in for a rest of an hour or two. The storm may let up."
"Da is a cabin down de trail, on de bend."
"Then let us stop there."
So it was arranged, and soon they gained the cabin, which was deserted, the owner having joined the soldiers a year before, and his wife and children being with some relatives in the town.
It was easy to get into the cabin, and once inside they started to make themselves as comfortable as possible.
But they had not been in the place over half an hour when voices outside filled them with fresh alarm.
BROUGHT TO BAY.
"Somebody is coming!" whispered Jack excitedly. "I wonder if it is the guerrillas?"
"If da come, de jig am up!" groaned Old Ben.
"Let us hide upstairs," returned our hero. "Quick!"
There was no time to say more, and all three ran for the ladder leading to the loft of the cabin, which was but a story and a half high. Jack was the first up, and the negroes quickly followed, and then all lay low on the flooring, hardly daring to breathe.
In a moment more two men entered the cabin, shaking the water from their rubber cloaks as they did so. The two men were Dr. Mackey and St. John Ruthven.
"What a beastly night!" exclaimed St. John with a shiver. "When I left home to meet you I never expected such a storm as this. If I had, I shouldn't have come."
"I didn't look for such a rain myself," returned Dr. Mackey, throwing off his cloak. "Anybody around?"
"Don't seem to be, although there are muddy footprints on the floor."
The two gazed around, but Jack and his companions were wise enough to keep out of sight, and apparently satisfied that the cabin was deserted, Dr. Mackey flung himself on a bench and St. John did likewise.
"You said you wished to see me on important business," observed the spendthrift.
"I do," was the reply. "I wish to help both you and myself."
"In what way."
"In several ways, Mr. Ruthven. In the first place, you are aware that I claim Jack as my son."
"I know that."
"I am very anxious to establish my claim to the boy."
"I don't see how I can help you, Dr. Mackey, although I am glad enough to have you claim Jack."
"You ought to help me, for it will be helping yourself as well. Your aunt thinks a great deal of Jack. If he is allowed to remain at the plantation she may take it into her head to leave him half of her property."
"I know that, too."
"The property ought to go to that girl and to you. With Jack out of the way you will be pretty certain of your share."
"But I don't understand your game, Dr. Mackey. Why do you want Jack, if he doesn't care for you?"
"I love the boy, in spite of his actions. Besides, he must come with me in order that I may establish our joint right to a fortune which awaits us."
"Well, what do you want me to do?" questioned St. John, after a pause, during which Jack waited with bated breath for what might follow.
"Jack was picked up from a shipwreck nearly eleven years ago. He and his mother were taken to your aunt's home, and it was from this home that Jack's mother, my wife, was buried."
"I am quite certain that your aunt is keeping all of the things which were taken from my wife's person at the time of her death, and also the clothing Jack wore when he was rescued. I wish to obtain possession of those things, or, failing that, I want to get a minute description of them."
"Do you want me to get the things for you?"
"If you can."
"But my aunt may object to giving them up."
At this the face of Dr. Mackey fell.
"I'm afraid you don't quite understand me, Mr. Ruthven. I don't want your aunt to know anything about it."
"Oh!" St. John's face became a study. "You—er—you wish me to get the things on the sly?"
"Yes. You must remember they belong to me. But if you tell Mrs. Ruthven she will be sure to raise a big fuss, and that is what I wish to avoid."
"I don't see how I can get the things?"
"Can't you get your aunt or your cousin to show them to you? Then you can watch where they are put, and the rest ought to be easy."
"I'm afraid my aunt is very careful of the things. I have heard her say as much, to my cousin Marion."
"Well, you ought to take a little risk. Remember, it is to your interest to help me in establishing my claim to Jack."
"I'll do what I can," replied St. John, after a moment's consideration.
"I would like to get the things as soon as possible."
"I'll go over to my aunt's plantation the first thing in the morning. But she may not want to listen to me just now. She is extra busy, you know."
"With those wounded Confederate soldiers?"
"Not only with those, but she also has a Federal officer there—brought in a few days ago."
"A Federal officer? Does she sympathize with the North?"
"She does to some extent."
"Who is the fellow?"
"A Colonel Stanton."
At the mention of that name Dr. Mackey leaped up in alarm.
"What! that man—in her house!" he gasped.
"Do you know Colonel Stanton?"
"I—that is—I know of him. Is he badly wounded?"
"I think he is."
"I hope he dies then. He is—a—a—very bad customer to meet."
"I can't understand why my aunt makes so much of him."
"Tell me, has this Colonel Stanton met Jack?"
"Yes, they met some time ago, when the Yankees first came to this neighborhood."
"Ah!" Dr. Mackey drew a long breath. "I wonder what Jack thought of the colonel?"
"He likes the Yankee very much."
"Humph! Well, there is no accounting for tastes." Dr. Mackey pulled himself together with an effort. "If you see this Colonel Stanton don't tell him about me, or repeat anything I have said, will you?"
"I don't want to see the Yankee. I haven't any use for any of them."
"Colonel Stanton ought to be arrested as a spy. I know for a fact that he once entered our lines and reported our movements to his superiors. It would be a feather in your cap if you could have him arrested by the Confederate authorities."
"By Jove! do you really think that?" asked St. John, with renewed interest.
"Then I'll report the case without delay. I thought he was something of a sneak the first time I saw him."
"If the South would hang him as a spy it would be a good job done."
"Would you be willing to appear against him?" asked St. John anxiously.
"Well—er—no, but I can bring two other men to appear."
"Then I'll surely have him arrested."
"And what about those things?"
"I will get them, if I possibly can."
A loud clap of thunder interrupted the conversation at this point, and when it was renewed the topic was not of special interest to Jack.
But our hero had heard enough to make him very thoughtful. Why had Dr. Mackey been so startled to learn that Colonel Stanton was at the Ruthven plantation, and why had he been so anxious to know if he and the colonel had met?
"Here's a fresh mystery," he told himself. "I must unravel it if I can."
"I am going to return home now," said St. John presently, when the storm seemed to be clearing away. "If I don't get back, my mother will be wondering what has become of me."
"All right," answered the doctor. "But let me hear from you by to-morrow night, sure."
"And don't mention my name to Colonel Stanton."
"But if I have him arrested you will furnish those witnesses to the fact that he is a spy?"
"I will, rest assured on the point."
A little later St. John hurried off in the darkness. Dr. Mackey watched him go, and then began to pace the floor nervously.
Jack touched Old Ben on the shoulder.
"Wot am it, Massah Jack?" whispered the faithful old negro.
"Ben, we must make the surgeon a prisoner."
"All right, Ise ready to do my share."
"I am going to jump down on his back. You follow me with the gun."
"I will, Massah Jack."
The surgeon continued to pace the floor of the cabin, and, watching his chance, Jack crawled to the edge of the loft opening.
Just as Dr. Mackey swung around on his heel our hero gave a nimble leap and landed squarely on his shoulders, sending the surgeon to his knees.
"Hi, what's this?" spluttered the rascal, and tried to throw Jack off. But our hero clung as fast as grim death.
"It means that you are now my prisoner, Dr. Mackey."
"You!" ejaculated the astonished man. "Let me go, I say!" And he began to struggle more violently than ever.
But by this time Old Ben was on the floor, and the negro lost no time in poking the muzzle of the gun under the surgeon's nose. This brought Dr. Mackey to a standstill, and he glared at his opponents in amazement.
"Don't—don't shoot!" he gasped.
"Then keep quiet."
"How did you escape from the cave?"
"That is our business, Dr. Mackey. Will you submit, or not?"
"I suppose I'll have to submit. You are three to one." Columbus Washington was now beside Ben.
"Columbus, see if you can find a rope or a strap. We'll bind his hands behind him," went on Jack.
"What are you going to do with me?" questioned the surgeon anxiously.
"Put you where you deserve to be—behind the bars," was our hero's quiet, but firm, answer.
FATHER AND SON—CONCLUSION.
"Jack, do you mean to say you would put your own father in prison?" asked Dr. Mackey reproachfully, after Old Ben had tied his hands behind him.
"I would—were he such a fraud and villain as you, Dr. Mackey," was our hero's calm reply. "You will never make me believe that any of your blood flows in my veins."
"Then you believe I am an impostor?"
The doctor fell back and sank on a bench. Jack's firm manner appeared to take his nerve from him.
"What shall you do next?" he asked finally.
"Take you straight to our plantation."
"No! no! Colonel——" Dr. Mackey stopped short. "Do not take me there, I beg of you!"
"But I shall take you there, and what is more, I am going to find out what Colonel Stanton has to say concerning you."
At this the surgeon grew as pale as death.
"You—have no right to take me to the plantation. Remember, I am a Confederate officer. If you keep me a prisoner, you will be liable to heavy punishment."
"We'll risk it." Jack turned to Columbus Washington. "See if the rain is letting up."
The colored man went out and presently reported that the worst of the storm seemed over.
"Then we will start," said Jack. "Now, Dr. Mackey, if you try to escape, I will order Old Ben to fire at you."
"You are very hard on your father."
"If you call me your son again, I will knock you down where you stand."
At this curt threat the surgeon relapsed into silence, his brow showing plainly that he was in deep thought. The cabin was soon left behind, and Columbus Washington showed the most direct route to the Ruthven plantation. Jack came behind the colored man, with Dr. Mackey beside him, and Old Ben brought up the rear, his gun ready to shoot at the first sign of opposition upon the prisoner's part.
The first streaks of dawn were beginning to show themselves when the party of four came in sight of the mansion. As they came closer Dr. Mackey showed increased alarm over the situation.
"Jack, let us come to terms," he said presently.
"For reasons of my own I do not wish to visit Mrs. Ruthven's house while Colonel Stanton is under her roof."
"Surely you are not afraid of a sick man, even if he is a Yankee spy."
At this the surgeon winced.
"It is not that. I—I——"
"I will not listen to you. March!"
"March, I say, or Old Ben shall fire on you."
With something resembling a groan the surgeon went on, and in a few minutes more the party gained the piazza, and Jack was using the big knocker on the door lustily.
"Who is there?" came from an upper window, and then Mrs. Ruthven uttered a cry of joy. "Jack!"
"Yes, mother; I am back again; safe and sound," he answered.
Mrs. Ruthven was soon down and let him in. She was naturally startled to behold Dr. Mackey, especially as a prisoner.
"What can this mean?" she began, and then looked at Jack curiously. "Jack, do you know the truth?"
"What truth, mother?"
"That this man is an impostor."
"I have thought so all along. But what do you know of this?"
"Colonel Stanton is here, Jack. He knows Dr. Mackey only too well."
"So I supposed from what this fellow said."
"No, to St. John."
"My dear Mrs. Ruthven, this is all a dreadful mistake," burst in the surgeon. "I do not know Colonel Stanton at all. I spoke of a Colonel Stanwood—quite a different person, I can assure you."
"I do not believe you, Dr. Mackey," answered Mrs. Ruthven emphatically.
"You are very hard upon me, madam."
"I think I have a right to be hard upon you, sir. You have tried your best to rob me of my son."
"But he shan't do it, mother," put in Jack warmly.
"No, Jack, he'll never be able to do that—now," answered Mrs. Ruthven significantly. And then she added, "See to it, Ben, that he does not get away. I wish to speak to Jack in private."
"He shan't git away from Old Ben, nohow," answered the faithful negro.
Mrs. Ruthven led Jack into the parlor and closed the door carefully.
"My boy, I have a great surprise for you," she began. "Do you think you can bear it?"
"What surprise, mother?" he asked quickly.
"Colonel Stanton is here, wounded. He has told me something of his past, and it concerns you."
"Yes, Jack. You are not Dr. Mackey's son at all, but the son of the colonel."
"I am Colonel Stanton's son!" gasped our hero, hardly able to frame the words.
"I knew you would be amazed. But it is true, as he has proved beyond the shadow of a doubt."
"But—but——" Jack tried to go on, but words failed him. He the son of the colonel—the son of a Yankee officer? It was something of which he had never dreamed. Yet, even on the instant, he remembered how much the colonel had impressed him, and what a gentleman he had thought the officer.
"I will tell you the story," went on Mrs. Ruthven, and did so. Jack was all attention, and when he learned the true depth of Dr. Mackey's villainy his eyes flashed fire.
"Now I understand why he didn't wish to meet Colonel Stanton face to face," he said. "No wonder he is afraid."
"Your father is sleeping now," continued Mrs. Ruthven. "He is improved, but still somewhat weak. You can go to him when he awakens. I think it will be best, for the present, to keep the fact of Dr. Mackey's capture a secret."
"You are right, mother."
The matter was talked over, and Dr. Mackey was later on taken to a garret room and tied fast to an old four-poster bedstead, a piece of furniture weighing considerably over a hundred pounds. Then Old Ben was placed at the door to watch him.
Just before the colonel awoke Jack went in to see him. As our hero looked at that handsome face his heart beat rapidly. He bent over and kissed the colonel's forehead, and this awoke the wounded man.
"Jack, my son!" murmured the colonel, as his eyes rested on the face of the youth. "My son, at last!"
"Father!" was the only word Jack could utter, but, oh, how much it meant! Then he caught his parent by both hands, and for a moment there was utter silence.
"I was so afraid something had happened to you," went on the colonel. "Oh, Jack! you do not know how glad I am that we have found one another!"
"And I am glad, too," replied our hero. "Do you know I was drawn to you from the first time I saw you?" he added.
"And I was drawn to you—even though you were a little Confederate," and the colonel smiled.
"And you are a Yankee!" cried Jack. "But I don't care what you are, father," he continued hastily. "Blood is thicker than water; isn't it?"
"Yes, Jack; and what is more, I trust this cruel war will soon be over, and we will have no North and no South, but just one country."
Jack remained with his parent for over an hour, then went off to see what could be done with Dr. Mackey.
It was the middle of the forenoon when Marion discovered St. John coming, accompanied by several Confederate soldiers.
"He has come to arrest my father," said Jack. "But he shan't do it."
"He will be surprised when we show him Dr. Mackey as a prisoner," returned Marion.
She went to let her cousin in, and St. John began at once to speak of Colonel Stanton.
"He is a spy," said the spendthrift. "You should be ashamed to harbor him in your house. These men will place him under arrest."
"I don't think they will," put in Jack, as he came forward. "So you are here to do Dr. Mackey's dirty work, are you," he added.
"Eh? What—er—do you mean?" stammered St. John.
"You are found out, St. John," said Mrs. Ruthven, coming on the scene. "And let me tell you that hereafter it will be best for you to remain away from this place. You schemed to steal some of my things, but you shall not do it."
"Why, Aunt Alice——" he began.
"It is true. Do you know that Dr. Mackey is a prisoner?"
At these words St. John fell back and grew very pale.
"A prisoner, did you say?" he faltered.
"Yes. He has plotted against not only Jack and myself, but also against the Federal officer who is under my roof, badly wounded."
"You mean Colonel Stanton?"
"He is a spy, aunt."
"He is nothing of the sort. He is a brave officer, and as such deserves the best of treatment. St. John, the less you mix up in this affair the better it will be for you."
A stormy scene followed, and St. John came out of it considerably frightened, especially when he was told that the colonel was Jack's father and that Dr. Mackey was proved to be a thorough villain.
"I—I won't ask for this arrest just now," he said, to the men he had brought along. "We will let the matter drop for the present. The man is too sick to be moved, anyway." And soon after he hurried away, and his companions with him. He never showed himself at his aunt's door again.
"And we are well rid of him," said Marion. "He is as cowardly as he is unprincipled."
On the day following Jack's return home there was a long-drawn battle in the mountains between the Federal troops and the guerrillas, which resulted in the killing off of a number of the outlaws, including those who had held our hero a prisoner. In this contest Gendron was also killed, and he died without revealing what he knew of Dr. Mackey's past.
The outlaws' camp was thoroughly searched, and here were found the goods stolen from the trader who had been attacked in the storm, and also a number of other things of value, including the tin box taken from the wreck of the Nautilus. Later on this box, with its contents, was turned over to Colonel Stanton.
"My precious papers!" said the officer to Jack, as he looked them over. "My son, nothing now stands between us and our fortune."
A few words more and we will bring this tale to a close.
Colonel Stanton's recovery was slow, and by the time he got around again the great Civil War was a thing of the past. For this the colonel was truly thankful, and so were Jack, Mrs. Ruthven, and Marion.
As soon as it was possible to do so, the colonel resigned from the army. This done, he set to work to prosecute Dr. Mackey and recover the fortune due himself and Jack. As a result of these movements Dr. Mackey received a term of ten years in prison, and inside of a year the Stantons, father and son, came into possession of a fortune worth a hundred and fifteen thousand dollars.
Colonel Stanton had thought at first to go back to the North and settle down, but Mrs. Ruthven hated to part with Jack, and it was decided that all should remain at the plantation. A year later the colonel married the widow, so that Mrs. Ruthven, now Mrs. Stanton, became once more Jack's mother.
"And that is just what I wanted," said Jack, after the wedding.
The ceremony at the plantation was a double one, for at the time Mrs. Ruthven married the colonel Marion gave her heart into the keeping of Dr. Harry Powell, who had now set up a lucrative practice for himself in Philadelphia. The double wedding was a grand affair, and was the talk of the neighborhood for a long time afterward. The Ruthvens from the other plantation were invited, but while Mrs. Mary Ruthven came, St. John was conspicuous by his absence.
St. John was now a worse spendthrift than ever, and it was not long before the plantation went under the hammer, and Mrs. Mary Ruthven was compelled to live upon her sister-in-law's charity. St. John drifted to New Orleans and finally to the West, and that was the last heard of him. Let us trust that he saw the error of his ways and turned over a new leaf.
As for Jack, he proved to be indeed the son of a soldier, for some years later he entered West Point Military Academy, and graduated with high honors. From the Academy he, too, went West, but as an officer at one of the well-known forts. His career here was full of daring and honor, and he speedily rose to the position of colonel, which he filled with all of his old-time bravery and loyalty.