Mass' George, by George Manville Fenn.
George Bruton, son of Captain Bruton is a young teenager. His father's plantation is in Georgia. The time is around the middle of the eighteenth century. Although not keen on the idea of slavery, Captain Bruton determines that he will buy one of them and will try to treat him extremely well. The man has a son, whom the family nickname Pompey, Pomp for short. Eventually these two become relaxed, realising that there will be no hard treatment for them, and the two boys, George and Pomp, become fast friends. They have various adventures, including attacks by alligators, floods, fire, Red Indians, Spaniards, snakes, ants, and several other nasties.
The book very largely consists of dialogue between the two boys, starting at the point when Pomp can barely speak English, which he soon masters after a fashion (which his father never does), and going on to the point when Captain Bruton decides to free the two slaves, who had comported themselves well during a prolonged series of attacks by Indians, and later by Spaniards from Florida as well.
It's quite a long book, but the action is well-sustained, and you will enjoy it. NH
MASS' GEORGE, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
Interesting? My life? Well, let me see. I suppose some people would call it so, for now I come to think of it I did go through a good deal; what with the fighting with the Spaniards, and the Indians, and the fire, and the floods, and the wild beasts, and such-like adventures. Yes; it never seemed to occur to me before, you know, me—George Bruton, son of Captain Bruton of the King's army, who went out with the General to help colonise Georgia, as they called the country after his Majesty King George the Second, and went through perils and dangers such as no one but English gentlemen and their brave followers would dare and overcome.
You'll find it all in your histories; how the General had leave to take so many followers, and carve out for themselves land and estates in the beautiful new country.
My father was one of the party. He went, for he was sick at heart and despondent. He had married a sweet English lady—my mother—and when I was about six years old she died; and after growing more and more unhappy for a couple of years, his friends told him that if he did not seek active life of some kind, he would die too, and leave me an orphan indeed.
That frightened him so that he raised himself up from his despondent state, readily embraced the opportunity offered by the General's expedition, sold his house in the country to which he had retired on leaving the army, and was going out to the southern part of North America with me only. But Sarah would not hear of parting from me, and begged my father to take her to be my attendant and his servant, just as on the same day Morgan Johns, our gardener, had volunteered to go with his master. Not that he was exactly a gardener, though he was full of gardening knowledge, and was a gardener's son; for he had been in my father's company in the old regiment, and when my father left it, followed him down and settled quite into a domestic life.
Well, as Morgan Johns volunteered to go with the expedition, and said nothing would suit him better than gardening in a new country, and doing a bit of fighting if it was wanted, and as our Sarah had volunteered too, it fell out quite as a matter of course, that one day as my father was seated in his room writing letters, and making his final preparations for his venturesome journey, and while I was seated there looking at the pictures in a book, Morgan and Sarah came in dressed in their best clothes, and stood both of them looking very red in the face.
"Well?" said my father, in the cold, stern way in which he generally spoke then; "what is it?"
"Tell him, Sarah," I heard Morgan whisper, for I had gone up to put my hand in hers.
"For shame!" she said; "it's you who ought."
"Now look you," said Morgan, who was a Welshman, and spoke very Welshy sometimes, "didn't you just go and promise to help and obey? And the first thing I tells you to do you kicks."
"I am very busy," said my father. "If you two want a holiday, say so."
"Holiday, sir? Not us," said Morgan, in a hesitating way. "We don't want no holiday, sir, only we felt like as it was our dooty to tell you what—"
"To tell me what?"
"Yes, sir; seeing as we were going out to a savage country, where you've got to do everything yourself before you can have it, and as there'd be no parsons and churches, we thought we'd get it done decent and 'spectable here first."
"My good fellow, what do you mean?" said my father.
"Why, what I've been telling of you, sir. Sarah says—"
"I did not, Morgan, and I shouldn't have thought of such a thing. It was all your doing."
"Steady in the ranks, my lass. Be fair. I'll own to half of it, but you know you were just as bad as me."
"I was not, sir, indeed," cried Sarah, beginning to sob. "He deluded me into it, and almost forced me to say yes."
"Man's dooty," said Morgan, dryly.
"What!" cried my father, smiling; "have you two gone and been married?"
"Stop there, sir, please, begging your pardon," said Morgan; "I declare to gootness, you couldn't make a better guess than that."
"I beg your pardon, sir," said Sarah, who was very red in the face before, but scarlet now; and as I sit down and write all this, as an old man, everything comes back to me as vividly as if it were only yesterday—for though I have forgotten plenty of my later life, all this is as fresh as can be—"I beg your pardon, sir, but as you know all the years I have been in your service, and with my own dear angel of a mistress—Heaven bless her!"
"Amen," said my father, and, stern soldier as he was, I saw the tears stand thick in his eyes, for poor Sarah broke down and began to sob, while Morgan turned his face and began to blow his nose like a trumpet out of tune.
"I—I beg your pardon for crying, sir, and it's very weak, I own," continued Sarah, after a few minutes' interval, during which I hurriedly put my arm round her, and she dabbed down and kissed me, leaving my face very wet; "but you know I never meant to be married, but when Morgan comes to me and talks about what I was thinking about—how you and that poor darling motherless boy was to get on in foreign abroad, all amongst wild beasts and savages, and no one to make a drop o' gruel if you had colds, or to make your beds, or sew on a button, and your poor stockings all in holes big enough to break any decent woman's heart, and to Master George's head—"
"I can wash my own head well enough now, Sarah," I said.
"Yes, my dear; but I don't believe you'd do it as well as I could, and you know I never let the soap get in your eyes. And when, sir, Morgan comes to me, and he asks me if I'd got the heart to let you both go out into the wilderness like that without a soul to look after you, and tells me as it was my dooty to marry him, and go out and look after the housekeeping for you both, while he did the garden, what could I say?"
Poor Sarah paused quite out of breath.
"Say?" said my father, smiling, but looking very much moved. "You could only say yes, like the good, true-hearted woman you are."
"Oh, sir!" exclaimed Sarah.
"You have both relieved me of a great deal of care and anxiety by your faithful, friendly conduct," continued my father, "for it will make what I am going to seek in the wilderness quite a home at once. It is not the wilderness you think, for I know on very good authority that the place where we are going is a very beautiful and fertile country."
"Can't come up to Wales," said Morgan, shaking his head.
"Perhaps not," said my father, smiling; "but very beautiful all the same. I ought to warn you both, though, while there is time to draw back, that the land is entirely new."
"What, wasn't it made with the rest of the world, sir?" said Morgan, staring.
"Yes, of course," said my father; "but I mean it has never been inhabited more than by a few Indians, who passed through it when hunting. No houses; not so much as a road."
"Then there won't be no taverns, Sarah," said Morgan, giving her a nudge.
"And a very good thing too," she replied.
"So that," continued my father, "I shall have to help cut down the trees to build my own house, make my own furniture, and fence in the estate— in short, do everything."
"Well, I don't see nothing to grumble at in that, sir, so long as there's plenty of wood," said Morgan.
"There'll be too much wood, my man," said my father, smiling, "and we shall have to ply the axe hard to clear our way."
"Any stone or slate, sir?"
"Plenty of stone, but no slate that I am aware of."
"No," cried Morgan, triumphantly. "I knew there'd be no slate. That proves as it won't come up to Wales. There isn't such a country for slate anywhere as Wales. Well, sir, but even if there's no slate, we can make shift. First thing we do as soon as we get out, will be for me to rig the missus up a bit of a kitchen, and we shall take a few pots and pans in a box."
"Oh, I shall go well provided with necessaries," said my father.
"Then pray don't forget a frying-pan, sir. It's wonderful what the missus here can do with a frying-pan."
"Do be quiet, Morgan Johns," said Sarah.
"Shan't," he growled. "I'm a-telling of the truth. It's wonderful, sir, that it is. Give her a frying-pan and a bit o' fire, and we shan't never hurt for a bit o' well-cooked victuals."
"But—" began my father, when Morgan rushed in again.
"Washin', sir, I forgot all about the washing. We shall want a tub and a line. Trees 'll do for tying up to, and you'll see we shall none of us ever want for clean clothes."
"Do be quiet, Morgan."
"I shan't, Sarah. It's only fair as the master should know what you can do, look you."
"But I wish you people to think seriously now, while there is yet time," said my father.
"Seriously, sir? Oh yes, we've been thinking of it seriously enough, and—I say, missus, do try and do without flat-irons; they're very heavy kind o' traps for a man to take in his kit."
"Come, come," said my father; "you had better think better of it, and not embrace such a rough life."
"We have thought better on it, sir, and the very best too. We're coming, and if you won't take us, we'll come without. And look you, sir, of course you'll take some guns, and swords, and powder and shot."
"Then don't forget some tools: spades, and hoes, and seeds, and some carpenter's things and nails. You can't think what a deal can be done with a hammer, a saw, and a few nails."
"Then you mean to come?"
"Mean to come, sir?" cried Morgan, in astonishment. "Why we got married o' purpose; didn't we, Sarah?"
"Oh yes, sir; that's the very truth."
"And we shall be obliged to go now."
I did not see where the obligation came in, but I supposed it was all right.
"Then I can only say thank you heartily," cried my father, warmly; "and for my part, I'll do my duty by you both."
"Of course we know that, don't we, Sarah? Or else we shouldn't go."
"My dear master!" said Sarah, and she bent forward and kissed his hand before clapping her handkerchief to her eyes, and rushing out of the room.
"She'll be all right, sir, soon," whispered Morgan. "And look you, I'll begin getting together all sorts of little tackle, sir, as I think 'll be useful out yonder. Knives and string, and—look you, Master George, strikes me as a few hooks and lines wouldn't be amiss. A few good fish in a frying-pan, cooked as Sarah can cook 'em, arn't to be sneezed at now and then."
He gave us both a sharp nod, and hastily followed his wife, while I stayed to pester my father with endless questions about our new home.
The month which followed was one scene of excitement to me. We went into lodgings in Bristol, and my father seemed to be always busy making purchases, or seeing the different gentlemen who were going out with us in the same ship.
I recollect many of their faces. There was the General, a firm, kindly-looking man, who always seemed to me as if he could not possibly be a soldier, he was too quiet. Then there was Colonel Preston, a handsome, florid gentleman, ten years older than my father, and I heard that his wife, two sons and daughter were to be of the party.
In a misty kind of way, too, I can recollect that the gentlemen who came and had long talks with my father, used to chat about the plantations in Virginia and Carolina, and about a charter from the King, and that the place we were going to was to be called Georgia, because the King's name was the same as mine.
Then, too, there was a great deal of talk about the enemy; and as I used to sit and listen, I understood that the Spaniards were the enemy, and that they lived in Florida. But every one laughed; and my father, I remember, said gravely—
"I do not fear anything that the Spaniards can do to hinder us, gentlemen, I am more disposed to dread the climate."
A great deal that followed has now, at this time of writing, become confused and mixed up; but I can remember the cheering from the wharves as our ship floated away with the tide, people talking about us as adventurers, and that soon after it came on to blow, and my next recollections are of being in a dark cabin lit by a lantern, which swung to and fro, threatening sometimes to hit the smoky ceiling. I did not pay much heed to it though, for I was too ill, and the only consolation I had was that of seeing Sarah's motherly face by the dim light, and hearing her kindly, comforting words.
Then, after a very stormy voyage, we seemed, as I recollect it, to have glided slowly out of winter into summer, and we were off a land of glorious sunshine at the mouth of a river, up which we sailed.
I know there was a great deal done afterwards in the way of formal taking possession in the name of the King, and I can recollect being delighted with the show that was made, and at seeing my father and the other gentlemen wearing gay clothes and sashes and plumes, and with swords buckled on. Even Morgan partook of the change, and I well recall how he came to me just before he landed, in a kind of grenadier uniform, with sword and musket and belts, drawing himself up very stiff and proud-looking as he let down the butt-end of his firelock with a loud bang upon the deck.
"Do I look all right and soldierly, Master George?" he whispered, after a glance round to see that he was not overheard.
"Yes," I said, "you look fine. Is your gun loaded?"
"Not yet, my lad."
"Pull out your sword and let's look at it."
"By and by, my lad," he said; "but tell me; I do look all right, don't I?"
"Because Sarah's got a nasty fit on this mornin'. Don't tell her I told you; but she said I looked fit to be laughed at, and that there'd be no fighting for me: Indians would all run away."
"Oh, never mind what she says," I cried. "I wish I was big enough for a soldier."
"Wait a bit, boy, you'll grow," he said, as he busily tightened a well-whitened belt. "You see it's so long since I've been soldiering, that I'm a bit out of practice."
There was no enemy, Indian or Spaniard, to oppose us, and before long the land had been roughly surveyed and portioned out, my father, as an officer of good standing, being one of the earliest to choose; and in a very short time we were preparing to go out on the beautiful little estate that had become his, for the most part forest-land, with a patch or two of rich, easily-drained marsh on both sides of a little stream which ran, not far away, into the great river up which we had sailed, and upon which, just below us, was to be formed the new city.
Then time glided on, and as I recall everything I can, I have recollections of the gentlemen of the expedition, and common men, soldiers and others, coming with their swords and guns to our place, and all working hard together, after setting sentries and scouts to give warning of danger, and cutting down trees, and using saws, and helping to roughly build a little wooden house, and put up a fence for us.
Then, after getting our things in shelter, my father and Morgan joined in helping to build and clear for some one else; and so on, week after week, all working together to begin the settlement, till we were all provided with rough huts and shelters for the valuable stores and ammunition brought out. After which people began to shift for themselves, to try and improve the rough places first built.
With a new place, every touch makes a difference; and when some of those touches are given by the hand of a gardener, nature begins to help.
It was so at our Georgia home. Every bit of time my father or Morgan could find to spare, they were digging, or trimming, or planting, till Sarah would set to and grumble to me because they would not come in to their meals.
"I wouldn't care, sir," she would say, "only the supper's getting spoiled."
"But the home made more beautiful," replied my father; and then I have heard him say as he glanced through the window at flower and tree flourishing wonderfully in that beautiful climate, "If my poor wife had lived to see all this!"
Early and late worked Morgan, battling with the wild vines and beautiful growths that seemed to be always trying to make the garden we were redeeming from the wilderness come back to its former state. But he found time to gratify me, and he would screw up his dry Welsh face and beckon to me sometimes to bring a stick and hunt out squirrel, coon, or some ugly little alligator, which he knew to be hiding under the roots of a tree in some pool. Then, as much to please me as for use, a punt was bought from the owners of a brig which had sailed across from Bristol to make her last voyage, being condemned to breaking up at our infant port.
The boat, however, was nearly new, and came into my father's hands complete, with mast, sail, ropes, and oars; and it was not long before I gained the mastery over all that it was necessary to learn in the management.
Morgan's fishing-tackle came into use, and after a little instruction and help from the Welshman, I began to wage war upon the fish in our stream and in the river, catching, beside, ugly little reptiles of the tortoise or turtle family—strange objects to be hauled up from muddy depths at one end of a line, but some of them very good eating all the same.
The little settlement throve as the time went on, and though the Indians were supposed to be threatening, and to look with very little favour upon the settlement so near their hunting-grounds, all remained peaceful, and we had nothing but haughty overbearing words from our Spanish neighbours.
To a man the officers and gentlemen who had come out turned their attention to agriculture, and many were the experiments tried, and successfully too. At one estate cotton was growing; at another, where there was a lot of rich low land easily flooded, great crops of rice were raised. Here, as I walked round with my father, we passed broad fields of sugar-cane, and farther on the great crinkled-leaved Indian corn flourished wonderfully, with its flower tassels, and beautiful green and then orange-buff ears of hard, sweet, flinty corn.
Then came long talks about the want of more help, and one of the settlers braved public opinion, and every one began to talk about how shocking it was for an English gentleman to purchase slaves. But before many months had passed there was hardly a settler without slave labour, the principal exception being my father.
It is hard to paint a picture in words, but I should like those who read this to understand what my home was like when I was about twelve years old, a great strong healthy boy, with cheeks burned brown by the sun.
Our place began with one low erection, divided by a rough partition into two—our room and the Morgans'; most of our meals being eaten in the big rustic porch contrived by Morgan in what he called his spare time, and over which ran wildly the most beautiful passion-flower I had ever seen.
But then as wood was abundant, and a saw-pit had been erected, a more pretentious one-floored cottage residence was planned to join on to the first building, which before long was entirely devoted to the servants; and we soon had a very charming little home with shingle roof, over which beautiful creepers literally rioted, and hung down in festoons from our windows.
Every day seemed to mellow and beautify this place, and the wild garden dotted with lovely cypresses and flowering shrubs, mingled with every kind of fruit-tree that my father and Morgan had been able to get together. Over trellises, and on the house facing south, grape-vines flourished wonderfully. Peaches were soon in abundance, and such fruits familiar to English people at home as would bear the climate filled the garden.
My father's estate extended for a considerable distance, but the greater part remained as it had been tilled by nature, the want of assistance confining his efforts to a comparatively small garden; but he used to say to me, in his quiet, grave way—
"We might grow more useful things, George, but we could not make the place more beautiful."
And I often used to think so, as I gazed out of my window at the wild forest, and the openings leading down to the stream and away to the swamp, where I could hear the alligators barking and bellowing at night, with a feeling half dread, half curiosity, and think that some day I should live to see one that I had caught or killed myself, close at hand.
Now and then Morgan used to call me to come and see where a 'gator, as he called it, had been in the night, pointing out its track right up to the rough fence of the garden.
"You and I'll have a treat one of these days, my lad."
"Yes," I used to say; "but when?"
"Oh, one of these days when I'm not busy."
"Ah, Morgan," I used to say, impatiently, "when you're not busy: when will that be?"
"Be? One o' these days when we've cut down all the wood, and turned all that low flat swamp into plantation. You see I'm so busy just now."
"Oh, very well," I said, "I shall go by myself."
"That you won't, look you," he cried. "I heard you promise your father you wouldn't go alone. You're not much of a boy, but you're too good to feed alligators with, or let the rattlesnakes and 'cassins try their pyson on."
"But they wouldn't, I should take care."
"Take care? Do you know, there's 'gators big as trees in these swamp-holes. I shouldn't wonder if there's some of the old open-countenanced beauties big round as houses. Why, Master George, I believe there's fellows out there as old as the river, and as could take you as easy as I do a pill."
"Don't believe it."
"Ve-ry well then; only mind, if one does take you across the middle, give you a pitch up in the air, and then catch you head-first and swallow you, don't you blame me."
"Why, how could I, if he swallowed me?" I said.
"Oh, I don't know. You might holler or knock, if you had a stick in your hand."
"Oh, is it! There's plenty of room in 'em, and they're as hard as horn. But you take my advice, and don't try."
"Well, then, come with me; I know several holes where I think they live."
"How do you know that?"
"Because I've seen the footmarks leading down to them all plain in the mud."
"Then you've been going too far, and don't you run no risks again."
I walked away discontentedly, as I'd often walked away before, wishing that I had a companion of my own age.
Some of the gentlemen settled out there had sons; but they were away, and at times the place seemed very lonely; but I fancy now that was only just before a storm, or when everything felt strange and depressing. At other times I was happy enough. Every morning I had three hours' good study with my father, who very rarely let me neglect that. Then in the afternoon there was always something to do or something to see and help over. For, as far as my father's means would allow, he planned and contrived endless things to make our home more attractive and convenient.
One week it would be the contriving of rough tree-trunk steps down from the bank to the water's edge, so that the boat was easily reached, and ringbolts were driven into cut-down trees, which became natural posts for mooring the boat.
Another time during one of our walks, he stopped by a lovely pool out toward the swamp—a spot of about an acre and a half in extent, where the trees kept off the wind, and where the morning sun seemed to light up the bottom, showing every pebble and every fish as if seen through crystal glass.
"There," he said, "that will be ten times better than bathing in the river. I always feel a little nervous about you there. This shall be your own private bathing-pool, where you can learn to swim to your heart's content. That old fallen hickory will do for your dressing-room, and there are places to hang up your clothes. I don't think you can come to harm here."
Of course I was delighted, and at the same time a little disappointed; for the fact that the pool was perfectly safe took away somewhat from its attractiveness, and I began to think that there was no stream to carry one along; no very deep places to swim over and feel a thrill at the danger; no holes in the banks where an alligator might be smiling pleasantly as he thought how good a boy would be to eat.
I am obliged to run quickly through my early unadventurous days, skipping, as it were, from memory to memory of things which happened before life became serious and terrible for us all at the plantation, and storms and peril followed rapidly after the first pleasant calm. For it seems to me now, as I sit and think, that nothing could have been happier than the life on the river during the first days of the settlement. Of course, everybody had to work hard, but it was in a land of constant sunshine, of endless spring and summer days—cold weather was hardly known—and when a storm came, though the thunder and lightning were terrible and the rain tremendous, everything afterwards seemed to bound into renewed life, and the scent of the virgin forest was delightful. All worked hard, but there was the certain repayment, and in what must have been a very short time, the settlers had raised a delightful home in the wilderness, where all was so dreamy and peaceful that their weapons and military stores seemed an encumbrance, and many felt that they would have done more wisely if they had brought agricultural implements instead.
Before we left England, as I have told you, the adventurers who met at my father's rooms talked of the ruthless savage—the lurking Indian of the forest and prairie, and also of our neighbours the Spaniards; but as soon as we reached the place, it seemed to all that the Indians did not exist; and as to the Spaniards, they were far south, separated by long stretches of open land, forests, river, and swamp, and might, for aught we knew, be at the other side of the world.
I was sitting indoors one bright sunny day, and I had just reached finishing distance with a Latin translation my father had left me to do, when I heard a quick "Hist!" Looking up, I saw Morgan at the window.
"'Most done?" he said.
"Then come along, I'll show you something."
I bounded out, to find him armed with a stick about six feet long, provided with a little fork at the end made by driving in a couple of nails and bending them out.
"What is it?" I cried, excitedly.
"Enemy. Get yourself a good stout stick."
I ran to the tool-shed and came back directly, panting.
"Now," I said, "what enemy is it—an alligator?"
"No. You said you didn't believe there were any snakes here. I've got one to show you now."
"Yes; but where?"
"Never you mind where. All you've got to do is to creep after me silent like; and when you see me pin him down with this fork, you can kill him."
"But what a cowardly way," I cried; "it isn't fair."
"Well, look you, I never did see such a boy as you are, Master George. Do you know what sort of a snake it is?"
"How should I? You wouldn't tell me."
"Well, you talk as if it was a little adder, foot and half long, or a snake at home that you might pick up in your hand. Why, it's a real rattlesnake."
"Oh!" I exclaimed, excitedly.
"Over six foot long, and as thick as my wrist."
"Pooh!" I said, with my imagination full of boa-constrictors big enough to entwine and crush us up. "That's nothing!"
"Nothing! Do you know one bite from a fellow like this will kill a man? And you talk about fighting fair. Nice lot of fairness in the way they fight. You come along, and promise to be very careful, or I shan't go."
"Oh, I'll be careful," I said.
"But if you feel afraid, say so, and I'll go alone."
"I don't feel afraid," I replied; "and if I did," I added with a laugh, "I wouldn't say I was."
"Not you," he muttered, and he held up a finger, and led the way down by the garden, and from thence into the uncleared forest, where a faint track wandered in and out among the great, tall, pillar-like trunks whose tops shut out the light of day, all but where at intervals what seemed to us like rays of golden dust, or there were silvery-looking lines of finest cobweb stretching from far on high, but which proved to be only delicate threads of sunshine which had pierced the great canopy of leaves.
Beyond this I knew that there was an opening where all was warm and glowing that was subdued and gloomy now, and it was not long before I saw, without a doubt, that Morgan was making for this clearing, and in all probability for one of the patches of stony ground that lay full in the sunshine, baked and hot.
It was very cool and silent in among the trees, whose great trunks towered up so high, and though we could hear a chirp now and then far above us in the leaves, all was as still as possible, not so much as a beetle or fly breaking the silence with its hum.
There was the opening at last, and as we neared it, the tree-trunks stood out like great black columns against the warm golden light.
Morgan held up his hand, and for the moment I felt as if we were going to do something very treacherous, till I recalled reading about some one having died twenty minutes after the bite of one of these snakes, and that made me feel more merciless, as I followed my leader, who kept picking his way, so that his feet should not light upon some dead twig which would give forth a snap.
The next minute we were out in the sunshine, and here Morgan stopped for me to overtake him, when he placed his lips close to my ear, and whispered—
"I'd been over to the bathing-pool to get some o' that white sand out of the bottom, when as I come back, I see my gentleman coiled up fast asleep. He's over yonder, just this side of the pine-trees, left of that big sugar-loaf—the light-green one."
He pointed to a tall cone-like cypress, and I felt that I knew the rough, bare, stony place exactly.
"Ready?" he whispered again.
"Then you must walk this time like a cat. Perhaps he's gone, but he may be fast asleep still."
He made a point with his fork to show me how he meant to fix the reptile to the ground, and I took a good grip of my rake-handle, intending to try and disable the monster by one blow.
This part of our journey was much more tedious than the other, for we were now getting close to the spot, and we knew that though sometimes it was possible to walk close by a snake without disturbing it, at other times the slightest sound would send it gliding rapidly out of sight.
We approached then in the most stealthy way, Morgan holding his fork the while as if it were a gun, and we were advancing upon the enemy.
Low growth had sprung apace about the clearing, so that we could not get a sight of the spot till we were close by, when Morgan softly parted the bush-like growth, peered out, drew back, and signed to me to advance, moving aside the while, so that I could pass him, and peer out in turn.
I was not long in availing myself of the opportunity; and there, not a dozen feet from me, lay twisted about, something like a double S, a large specimen of the serpent I had so often heard about; and a curious shrinking sensation came over me, as I noticed its broad flat head, shaped something like an old-fashioned pointed shovel, with the neck quite small behind, but rapidly increasing till the reptile was fully, as Morgan said, thick as his wrist; and then slowly tapering away for a time before rapidly running down to where I could see five curious-looking rings at the end of the dull grey tail.
"A rattlesnake," I said to myself, as with a kind of fascination I eagerly looked at the line which marked the gaping mouth showing plainly in an ugly smile; then at the dull creamy-brown and grey markings, and the scales which covered the skin, here and there looking worn and crumpled, and as if it was a trifle too big for the creature that wore it as if it were a shirt of mail.
I should have stood there staring at the repellent-looking creature for long enough, had not Morgan softly drawn me back, and then led the way round to our left, so that we could have the sun behind us, and approach the dangerous reptile without having to rustle through the bushes close at hand.
"Mind you keep back, my lad, till I've got him safe," whispered Morgan, "then hit him hard."
"Is it as dangerous as they say?" I asked.
"Worse, look you; that's why I want to pin him first. I might hit him a good crack, but snakes are hard to kill, and he might throw his head about and bite even then, though I arn't quite sure even now that they don't sting with their tails."
"I'm sure they don't," I whispered back.
"Ah, that's all very well, Master George, but I don't see as you can know much better than me. Anyhow, I'm going to risk it; so here goes, and when I say 'now,' bring down that rake-handle as big a whop as you can with both hands, right on his back."
I nodded, and we stood out now on the barren, stony patch close to the fir-trees, with the sun casting our shadows in a curious dumpy way on the earth, and our enemy about thirty feet away.
Morgan signed to me to stand still, and I obeyed trembling with excitement, and eagerly watching as he cautiously approached with his pole extended before him, ready to make a dart at the snake, whose head lay half turned for him, and its neck temptingly exposed, ready for the fork which should hold it down.
On went Morgan, inch by inch, his shadow just before him, and in spite of his injunction, I could not refrain from following, so as to get a good view of the encounter; and besides, I argued with myself, how could I be ready to help unless I was close at hand?
Consequently I stepped on nearer too, till I could see the reptile quite clearly, distinguishing every scale and noting the dull, fixed look of its eyes, which did not seem to be closed, for I was not familiar then with the organisation of snakes.
As Morgan went on the stillness of the clearing seemed terrible, and once more I could not help thinking of what a treacherous act it was to steal upon the creature like that in its sleep.
But directly after, the killing instinct toward a dangerous enemy grew strong within me, and I drew in my breath, my teeth were set fast, and my fingers tightened about the rake-handle, ready to deliver a blow.
All this took very few minutes, but it seemed to me to last a long time, and thought after thought ran through my mind, each one suggestive of danger.
"Suppose Morgan misses it," I said to myself; "it will be frightened and vicious, and strike at him, and if he is bitten I shall be obliged to attack it then, and I shall not have such a chance as he has, for the head will be darting about in all directions."
Then I began to wish I had gone first, and hit at it as it lay, with all my might.
Too late now, I knew; and as I saw in imagination Morgan lying helpless there, and myself striking hard at the snake, never taking into consideration the fact that after a deadly stroke the animal would rapidly try to escape, and glide away.
Morgan was now so near that I saw the shadow of his head begin to creep over the snake, and it loomed so black and heavy that I wondered why the reptile did not feel it and wake up.
Then I stood fast as if turned to stone, as I watched my companion softly extend the pole he carried, with the fork nearer and nearer the creature's neck, to remain perfectly motionless for a moment or two. There was a darting motion, and Morgan stood pressing the staff down as the serpent leaped into life, writhing, twining, and snapping its body in waves which ran from head to the tail which quivered in the air, sending forth a peculiar low, dull, rattling noise, and seeming to seek for something about which to curl.
"I've got him, Master George. Come along now; it's your turn."
I sprang forward to see that the evil-looking head was held down close to the ground, and that the jaws were gaping, and the eyes bright with a vindictive light, literally glittering in the sun.
"Can you hold him?" I said, hoarsely.
"Oh, yes; I've got him pretty tight. My! See that? He is strong."
For at that moment the snake's tail struck him, and twined about his left leg; untwined, and seemed to flog at him, quivering in the air the while, but only after writhing horribly, twisting round the pole which pressed it down, and forming itself into a curious moving knot.
"I can't hit at it now," I said, hoarsely; "it will strike away the pole."
"Yes; don't hit yet. Wait a bit till he untwissens himself; then give it him sharp, look you."
"You won't let it go?" I said.
"Not a bit of it, my lad. Too fond of Morgan Johns to let him stick his fangs into me. Now you've got a chance. No, you haven't; he's twisted up tighter than ever. Never mind, wait a bit; there's no hurry."
"But you are torturing it so," I cried.
"Can't help it, Master George. If I didn't, he'd torture me and you too. Well, he does twissen about. Welsh eel's nothing to him."
For the snake in its rage and pain kept twining about the pole, treating that as the cause of all its suffering. Morgan stood there full of excitement, but though longing to deliver a blow that should paralyse if it did not kill our enemy, I could not get the slightest chance.
"Ah, we ought to have had a cut at him before he twined about my pole," said Morgan, after this had been going on for some minutes; "but it wasn't your fault; there wasn't time."
"No," I said, gloomily, "there was no time. Now then, hold tight."
I made a rapid stroke at the long, lithe body which suddenly untwisted to its full length, but my rake-handle only struck the ground, for the serpent was quicker than I, and it threw itself once more in a series of quivering folds about Morgan's pole.
"Well, he is strong," cried the latter. "But I have it. I'm getting a bit 'fraid he'll work quite a hole, and get out, and I'm not at all sure that the nails arn't giving. Look here, Master George; put your hand in my pocket, and pull out and open my big knife ready for me. Then you shall hold the pole, and I'll go down and try and cut his head off."
"But will that be safe?" I said. "Hadn't we better leave go and run away?"
"What, and leave a customer like this free to hunt about our place? Now you wouldn't like to do that, I know."
"No; I shouldn't like to do that," I said; "but it would be terrible if he got away."
"Well then, out with my knife—quick! I'm beginning to wish we'd left him alone, for it'll be chizzle for both of us if he do get loose."
I hastily took his knife from his pocket, and opened it.
"That's your style, Master George. Now then, stick it across my mouth, and then take hold just under my hands. You must press it down hard, or he'll heave himself out, for he's mighty strong, I can tell you. Got hold?"
"Yes," I said, as I took hold of the pole, keeping my feet as far away as I could from the writhing knot, for fear it should suddenly untwine and embrace my legs.
"That's right, press down hard. Think you can hold him?"
"I don't know; I think so."
"Now, look ye here, my lad, thinking won't do; you've got to hold him, and if you feel as you can't you must say so. Rattlesnakes arn't garden wums."
"I'll try, and I will hold it," I said.
"There you have it, then," he said, releasing the pole, and leaving it quivering and vibrating in my hands. "Now then, I'm going to wait till he untwines again, and then I'm going to have off his head, if he don't work it out before. If he do, you've got to run as hard as you can: jump right away, my lad, never mind me."
I nodded; I could not speak, and I stood holding down the pole, seeing the snake striving to draw its head back between the little prongs of the fork, and knowing that if it did our position would be terrible.
"Now then, hold him tight," cried Morgan; "I'm going to lay hold and draw him out a bit, so as to get a cut through somewhere."
I did not speak, but pressed down with all my might, feeling my eyes strained as, with a shudder of dread, I saw Morgan stoop and boldly seize hold of the snake.
But the touch only seemed to make the great living knot tighten, and after a try Morgan ceased.
"No," he said, "it won't do. I shall only drag him out, for I'm not at all sure about those nails. I say, my lad, I really do wish we had let him alone, or had a go at him with a gun."
I tried to answer, but no words would come, and I wanted to look hopelessly at Morgan, but I could not take my eyes off the great, grey, writhing knot which was always in motion, heaving and working, now loosening, now tightening up.
"Hah!" cried Morgan, suddenly, as once more the horrible creature threw itself out to full length, and he sprang forward to seize the neck just as a wave ran along the body from tail to head; and as I pressed the pole down hard, the head rose like lightning, struck Morgan right in the face, and I saw him fall backward, rolling over and over; while, after writhing on the ground a moment or two, the snake raised its bleeding head, and I saw that it was drawing back to strike.
I don't know how it happened exactly; I only can tell that I felt horribly frightened, starting back as Morgan fell over, and that then, as the snake was preparing to strike, being naturally slow and weak from its efforts, the pole I held in both hands came down heavily, and then again and again, till our enemy lay broken and twisting weakly, its back broken in two places, and the blood flowing from its mouth.
I was brought to myself again by a hearty shout just as I was trying to get rid of a shuddering sensation of fear, and wanting to go to Morgan's help—asking myself what I ought to do to any one who had been bitten by a rattlesnake.
"Brayvo! As they say, Master George. You did give it him well."
"But—Morgan—arn't you stung—bitten, I mean?" I faltered.
"Me? No, my lad. He gave me a flop on the cheek with the back of his head as he shook himself loose, and I didn't stop to give him another chance. But you did bring that down smart, and no mistake. Let's look at the end."
He took hold of the pole and examined the place where the two nails had been driven in to form the fork.
"Yes," he said, thoughtfully. "I was beginning to be afraid of that— see here. This nail's regularly bent down, and it opened the fork out so that when he snapped himself like a cart-whip he shook himself clear. Know better next time. I'll get a bit of iron or an old pitchfork, and cut the tines down short on purpose for this sort of game, Master George. Ah, would you?" he shouted, as he made a dart for where the snake was feebly writhing itself toward the undergrowth, and catching it by the tail snatched it back to lie all together, writhing slowly. "Wait till I find my knife. Oh, here it is," he said. "No. Never mind, give me yours. I'll look afterwards. Dropped it when I rolled over yonder."
I took out my knife and opened it.
"Oh, I say, my lad, don't look so white. Wern't 'fraid, were you?"
"Yes," I said, huskily. "I could not help being frightened."
"Not you," said Morgan, roughly; "you wasn't half frightened, or you wouldn't have done what you did. Now then, my gentleman, you're never going to bite and kill any one, so—there—and there!"
As he spoke he placed one foot a few inches from the rattlesnake's head, the creature opening its mouth and making a feeble attempt to bite, but the next moment my keen knife had divided the neck, and Morgan picked up the piece.
"Now look ye here, Master George, I shouldn't wonder if this gentleman's got two sharp teeth at the top here like an adder has at home. They're the poison ones, and—yes, what did I tell you?"
He laughed as he opened the creature's wide mouth with the blade of the knife, and drew forward two keen-looking fangs, to show me.
"There you are," he said. "Just like adders', only theirs is little tiny things just like a sharp bit of glass, and they lay back in the roof of their mouths so that you have to look close to see 'em."
"Throw the horrible poisonous thing away," I said.
"Yes; we'll pitch it all together in the river. Some big alligator will think it's a fine worm, and I hope he'll like it. One moment; I must find my knife."
He threw down the rattlesnake's head, and then said thoughtfully—
"No; let's take it up to the house, Master George, and let your father see the kind of game he's got on his property. I'll show it to my Sarah too, or she won't believe it was such a big one, or got such poison fangs."
"You'll have to carry it home," I said, with a shudder.
"No, I shan't, Master George, and it's of no use for you to try to make me believe you're afraid, because I shan't have it. You killed it, and I'll twist up a bit o' grass to make a rope, and you shall carry it home to show master and our Sarah. I can tie it to the end of the pole. Stop a minute; where's my knife?—must be just here."
He went straight for the low growth and bushes, and began peering about while I stood leaning on the pole and looking down at the slightly heaving form of the serpent, when my attention was taken by a hoarse cry from Morgan.
"What's the matter?" I said, as I saw that he was bending forward staring in among the bushes.
He did not reply, and feeling certain that he had found another rattlesnake, I raised the pole once more, and went to where he stood, when my lips parted, and I turned to call for help, but stopped there, for I found myself face to face with a similar object to that which had arrested Morgan. A tall, keen-faced, half-naked Indian stood before me, with his black hair gathered back and tied up so that a few eagle feathers were stuck through it; a necklace or two was about his neck and hanging down upon his breast; a pair of fringed buckskin leggings covered his legs; and he carried a tomahawk in one hand, and a bow in the other.
Almost before I could recover from my surprise, I saw that we were completely surrounded, for at least a dozen more were dotted about the clearing.
At that moment Morgan seemed to get the better of his start, and backed to where I stood, with the Indian following him in a slow, stately manner.
"We're in for it, Master George," whispered Morgan. "What shall we do— run?"
"It would be of no use to try," I whispered.
"Not a bit, lad, they'd run us down directly. Hold up your head, lad; you arn't afraid of a rattlesnake, so you needn't be afraid of these furreners. What are they—Injuns?"
"Yes," I answered; "Red Indians," though I had never seen one before.
"Ah, well, look you, there's nothing to mind—they arn't poisonous. I shall ask them what they want. I say, what are they all coming close up to us for?"
"I don't know," I said, as I made a strong effort not to be afraid, and to keep from thinking about the stories I had heard of the Indians' cruelty, as the party came forward, evidently at a sign from the man who had faced me, and who wore more feathers than the rest.
"I say, Master George," whispered Morgan again, "hadn't I better ask 'em what they want?"
"It's of no use. I don't think they would understand."
"Well," said Morgan, coughing to clear his throat, "I'm a soldier, and I've been in a fight before now, so I know a little about it. We're surprised, Master George, by the enemy, and without arms. First dooty is to retreat, and you being my officer, you says we can't."
"I'm sure we can't," I said, talking to Morgan, but looking sharply round at the Indians, who all stood gazing at us in the sternest and most immovable way.
"Quite right, lad. Madness to talk about running, but I'd give all the wage I've got to take dooring the next ten year, look you, to be able to let the master know."
"Shall I call to him?"
"Only bring him up to be took prisoner too. Here, let's make the best of it," cried Morgan, jauntily. "How are you, gentlemen?—strangers in these parts, arn't you?"
The only man to take any notice of this easy-going address was the Indian I imagined to be the chief, and he uttered a grunt.
"Ah, I thought so. Nice country isn't it, only we've got some ugly customers here.—Sure they can't understand, Master George?"
"I feel nearly sure."
"So do I, lad.—Ugly customers, snakes—see?—snakes."
He took the pole quickly from my hand, and at the same moment I saw, as it were, a shock run through the group of Indians, each man taking tightly hold of the tomahawk he carried.
But Morgan did not notice it, and thrusting the end of the pole under the snake, he raised it up.
"See?" he cried. "We just killed it—no, we didn't, for it isn't quite dead."
The Indians looked at him and then at the snake, but in the most stolid way, and I stood wondering what was to come next.
"Know what it is, I suppose?" continued Morgan, who kept on talking in an excited way, as if to gain time while he tried to think out some plan, as was really the case; but the audience merely looked on frowningly, and I saw the chief draw back slightly as Morgan picked up the head and pointed to its fangs with his finger.
The thoughts of the risk he might be running made me forget for the moment any that was threatening us from the Indians, and I cried, in warning tones—
"Be careful; it may be dangerous though it's dead."
"Yes; this seems to be dead," replied Morgan; "but I say, Master George, I don't know whatever to do."
"Scrape a hole first, and bury that horrid thing," I said; "and then perhaps we shall see what they are going to do."
"Not to kill us, are they?" he whispered.
I could not help giving a start of horror, and looking wildly round at the Indians, who stood like so many statues looking on, as, in a hasty, excited way, Morgan roughly kicked away some of the loose gravel, and then with the rake-handle scraped out a good-sized hole, into which he threw the snake's head and dragged the body, raking the loose gravel back over them and stamping it down.
"Now then, Master George, what 'll us do next?"
"I don't know; let them take us away as prisoners, I suppose. We must not try to run away, because they would follow, and we should lead them home. Shall we run into the woods?"
"Never get there, my lad," he replied, sadly. "They'd have us before we got a hundred yards."
All doubt as to our next proceedings were put an end to at once, for the chief laid his hand upon my shoulder, and said, in a deep voice, something which was quite unintelligible to us both.
I shook my head, but he grasped my arm firmly, and pointed toward the forest.
"He means us to go," I said; and in obedience I walked toward the darkest part, but the chief checked me, and pointed toward the spot where our faint track lay which led toward the house; and feeling constrained to obey, I gave Morgan a disconsolate look, and went slowly on with the Indian walking by my side.
"We can't help it, Master George," said Morgan. "Don't be down-hearted, lad. Perhaps they don't mean any harm, and let's hope your father or my Sarah will see us in time to shut up the place, and get the guns down from the racks."
The distance was very short, but it was the most painful walk I ever had, for I felt as if I was being the guide to take the enemy right to the place my father had toiled so hard to win from the wilderness, and twice over I tried to deviate from the path, and lead the party into the forest, so as to bear right away from the house.
But it was of no use. A strong hand gripped my arm instantly; there was a stern look, a low, deep utterance, and the chief pointed again to the right track.
It was useless to try and misunderstand him, and at last, after two more feints, I felt that there was nothing else to be done but to allow myself to be forced onward.
Just before we came in sight of the house, the chief said something, and two of the men pushed Morgan forward till he was close to me, and one of the men walked on his left and the other came behind.
"See what that means, Master George?"
"No; what does it mean?"
"That Indians are clever as white men, and they've put us in the front rank to keep any one from firing at them."
I saw it plainly enough now, for as we advanced, my father appeared at the window, and I saw a gun in his hand.
He started as he caught sight of us two prisoners, but feeling, I suppose, that any attempt at defence was useless under the circumstances, he left the window for a moment or two, and I heard his voice speaking. Then he reappeared, and climbed out of the window, the door being closed and fastened.
He stepped forward boldly with the firelock resting on his arm, and walked to where the Indians had halted, holding out his hand in token of friendship, but it was not taken, the Indians' eyes running from him all over and about the place, as if they were astonished at what they saw.
"Tell me quickly," said my father, "but be cool. Everything depends upon our treating them in a friendly way, and not being afraid."
I told him how we had been surprised, and his face looked very grave as he listened.
"Well," he said, "we are in their power. If I fired it might bring help, but it would be too late to benefit us; and for aught we know, the rest of the tribe may already be up in the settlement. Stay with them and don't attempt to escape."
The Indian chief watched us curiously as my father talked to me, and two of his men half started forward as my father turned away to go back to the house.
But a word from the chief checked them, and every eye was fixed upon the returning figure, as my father walked to the door, beat upon it, called Sarah to open, and then passed in.
The faces of the Indians were a study, but they preserved their stolid looks, and uttered a sigh of satisfaction as my father appeared again with such provisions as the place afforded, and proceeded to offer them to our visitors.
I watched everything attentively, and saw the men stand fast without looking either at my father or the provisions which he placed before them, till the chief said a few words in a loud tone.
Then with an eagerness in sharp contrast to their former apathy, they seized the food and began to eat.
My father spoke to the chief again and again, and the Indian said something coldly in reply; but they were wasted words, and the rough meal was partaken of in comparative silence.
"They only mean to be friendly, father, do they?" I said at last.
"It is impossible to say; they may prove treacherous," he replied. "But don't talk, and if you grasp anything they seem to want, tell me, so that I can satisfy them. It would be terrible if they attempted to destroy all we have been at such pains to get together."
"Couldn't we all make a dart for indoors, sir?" said Morgan, in a whisper. "We have got plenty of weepons there, sir, and might manage to keep them off till help came."
"The risk is too great," said my father. "These men are as active as leopards, and before we could get within doors we should each have an axe in his brain."
"But, begging your pardon, sir, we can all run."
"As fast as a tomahawk can fly? No; they are peaceful now, and friendly; let us treat them as friends, and hope that they will soon go."
At that moment the chief made a sign with his hands to his lips, a sign that was unmistakable, and a large pail of water was fetched out by Morgan, and drunk from with avidity.
This done, the Indians sat and stood about watching everything within reach, while we were in the unpleasantly helpless state of being unable to speak, or to make them understand, and in the more unpleasant or perilous position of being unable to grasp their intentions.
As the time went on my father appeared to grow more hopeful. He had evidently come to the conclusion that it was useless to attempt resistance, and he seemed to think that our friendly treatment might win the respect of these stern, morose-looking men. Then, all at once, I saw that his hopes were dashed. He looked at me wildly, and I saw the firelock he held tremble in his hand.
"Try and be firm, George," he said, quietly, "and do not look as if I am saying anything serious to you," he continued, laughing.
"I understand, father," I said, cheerfully, though my heart kept giving great thumps against my ribs.
"Can you hear what I am saying, Morgan?" continued my father, pleasantly, and not appearing to pay the slightest attention to the Indians.
"Every word, sir; but it's hard work, for I want to run indoors to try and comfort that poor woman who is trembling there."
"So we all do," said my father, and he looked quite merry; "but don't look like that, man. It is inviting an attack if these men do mean evil."
"Right, sir; I am quite laughing now," said Morgan.
"Ah, that's worse," cried my father, "that ghastly grin will ruin us. There, listen to what I am saying. When these savages attack us, it will be in some treacherous way, so as to get the advantage of us without injury to themselves. If they do attack, never mind who goes down, the survivors must rush into the house and defend it to the last, for that poor woman's sake. Fight hopefully if I am not with you; for as soon as firing begins it may bring help from the settlement."
"Then why not fire at once, sir?" cried Morgan, earnestly.
"Because, as I intimated before, it would bring help, but help that came too late."
The calm forced way in which my father spoke seemed to be the most terrible part of the whole day's work. The inaction was bad enough, and to sit there expecting that at any moment the Indians might turn upon us and kill us with their axes, made it almost impossible to sit there as my father wished; but sit there we did, and as my eyes wandered from one to the other of the weird, fierce-looking Indians, who seemed to be doing nothing but watch us for an excuse to make an attack, it made my brain swim.
How it was all burnt into my memory, and how I can picture it all now! The bright garden, the flowers, and the promise of fruit, and the house beginning to look more lovely every month; and now in front of it Red Indians squatting about, or standing with their bows strung, arrows in a case behind them, and axes in hand, ready at the word from their chief to spring upon us.
All at once the chief uttered a peculiar sound, and the men who were seated sprang to their feet, and stood watching the tall, fierce-looking fellow.
He spoke again, and without a word they all moved off quickly toward the settlement, making straight for Colonel Preston's estate.
I sat there watching them till the last man had disappeared. Then all the bright sunshiny scene around began to swim, and wave, and grow distant, and all was blank.
"Better, my boy?"
"Yes. What is it? I felt so sick and strange."
I was lying on my back looking up at my father, who was bending over me bathing my forehead with cold water.
"The sun—a little overdone. There, you are better now."
"Ah, I recollect," I said, "Where are the Indians?"
"Hush! Don't get excited. They are gone now."
"Yes, I know," I said; "gone to Colonel Preston's."
"Hist!" he cried, as I heard steps close by, and Morgan came hurrying up.
"Couldn't get far, sir. I was making haste, and getting close up to the last man as I thought, when three of the savages jumped up just in my path, and held up their bows and arrows in a way that said, plain as any tongue could speak, 'go back, or we'll send one of these through you.'"
"The chief knows what he is about," said my father, "and we cannot communicate. Now then, get inside, and we will barricade the place as well as we can, in case of their coming back. Can you walk now, George?"
"Yes, father, the giddiness has gone off now," I said; and I sprang up, but reeled and nearly fell again.
"Take my arm, boy," he said, as he helped me toward the window, and I climbed in by it, when the first thing my eyes lighted upon was the figure of our Sarah, down on her knees behind the door with her eyes shut; but a gun was leaning up against the wall; and as she heard us she sprang up, seized it, and faced round.
"Oh! I thought it was the Indians," she said, with a sigh of relief.
"Perhaps we have been frightening ourselves without cause," said my father, helping Morgan to fix up the strong shutter with which the window was provided. "The Indians are gone now."
"Yes," muttered Morgan, so that I could hear, "but they may come back again. I don't trust 'em a bit."
"Nor I, Morgan," said my father, for he had heard every word; "but a bold calm front seems to have kept them from attempting violence. If we had been shut up here, and had opened fire, not one of us would now have been alive."
"Never mind, sir," said Morgan. "If they come back let's risk it, and show a bold front here behind the shutters, with the muzzles of our guns sticking out, for I couldn't go through another hour like that again. I was beginning to turn giddy, like Master George here, and to feel as if my head was going to burst."
"Go up into the roof, and keep a good look-out from the little gratings; but keep away, so as not to show your face."
"Then you do think they'll come back, sir?"
"Yes, I feel sure of it. I am even now in doubt as to whether they are all gone. Indians are strangely furtive people, and I fully expect that a couple of them are lying down among the trees to watch us, for fear we should try to communicate with the others. I am afraid now that I made a mistake in settling down so far from the rest. Ah! Listen! A shot. Yes; there it is again."
"No, sir," said Morgan, "that wasn't a shot: it was—there it goes again!—and another."
Two distant sounds, exactly like shots, fell again upon our ears.
"Yes," cried my father, excitedly, "the fight has begun."
"Nay, sir, that was only a big 'gator threshing the water up in some corner to kill the fish," cried Morgan; and he passed up through the ceiling into the roof.
As Morgan went out of sight, and took his place in the narrow loft between the sloping rafters, my father busied himself loading guns, and placing them ready by the openings in the shutters which I had always supposed were for nothing else but to admit the light. And as he worked, Sarah stood ready to hand him powder or bullets, or a fresh weapon, behaving with such calm seriousness, and taking so much interest in the work, that my father said, gravely—
"Hardly a woman's task this, Sarah."
"Ah, sir," she replied, quietly; "it's a woman's work to help where she is wanted."
"Quite right," said my father. Then, turning to me, he went on, "I am a soldier, George, and all this is still very horrible to me, but I am making all these preparations in what I think is the right and wisest spirit; for if an enemy sees that you are well prepared, he is much less likely to attack you and cause bloodshed. We are safe all together indoors now, and with plenty of protection, so that if our Indian visitors come again, we are more upon equal terms."
"Do you really think they will come again, father?" I said.
"I'm afraid so. We have been living in too much fancied security, and ready to think there was no danger to apprehend from Indians. Now we have been rudely awakened from our dream."
"And if they come shall you shoot, father?"
"Not unless it is absolutely necessary to save our lives. I cannot help feeling that we ought to be up at the settlement, but I should have been unwilling to leave our pleasant home to the mercy of these savages; and, of course, now it is impossible to go, so we must make the best defence we can, if the enemy returns."
All this was very startling, and from time to time little shudders of dread ran through me, but at the same time there was so much novelty and excitement, that I don't think I felt very much alarmed. In fact, I found myself hoping once that the Indians would come back, so that I could see how they behaved now that we were shut up tightly in our house, all of which was very reprehensible no doubt; but I am recording here, as simply and naturally as I can, everything that I can remember of my boyish life.
The preparations for attack were at last ended, and after securing and barricading door and window in every way possible, we sat down to wait for the first sign of the enemy, and I was wondering how long it would be before we saw the Indians return, when I suddenly awoke to the fact that I was terribly hungry.
I don't suppose I should have thought of it, though, if Sarah had not made her appearance with bread and meat all ready cut for us, and very welcome it proved; Morgan, on receiving his share passed up to him in the loft, giving me a nod and a smile before he went back to continue his watch.
And this proved to be a long and weary one. The afternoon sun slowly descended; and as it sank lower, I could see that my father's face grew more and more stern.
I did not speak to him, but I knew what it meant—that he was thinking of the coming darkness, and of how terribly difficult our watch would be.
"Yes," he said, suddenly, just as if he had heard my thoughts; "they are naturally quiet, stealthy people, and the darkness will give them opportunities which would be full of risk by day. I am afraid that they are waiting in ambush for the night, and that then they will come on."
"I hope not," I thought; but I would not have let my father see how frightened I was for all the world; and trying to be as cheerful as I could under the circumstances, I went up and joined Morgan to help him watch from the latticed openings in the roof, with the garden gradually growing more gloomy, and the trees of the forest beyond rapidly becoming black.
Then darker and darker, and there was no moon that night till quite late.
Beyond the possibility of there being some reptile about that had crawled up from the river, hungry and supper-hunting, there had never seemed to be anything about home that was alarming, and night after night I had stolen out to listen to the forest sounds, and scent the cool, damp, perfumed air; but now there was a feeling of danger at hand, lurking perhaps so close that it would not have been safe to open the door; and as I watched beside Morgan from between the window-bars, we were constantly touching each other, and pointing to some tree-stump, tuft, or hillock, asking whether that was an Indian creeping cautiously toward the house.
Somehow that seemed to me the darkest night I could remember, and the various sounds, all of which were really familiar, seemed strange.
Now there was the plaintive cry of one of the goat-suckers which hawked for moths and beetles round the great trees; then, after a silence so profound that it was painful, came the deep croak of the bullfrog rising and falling and coming from a hundred different directions at once. Then all at once their deep croaking was dominated by a loud barking bellow; and as I listened with my hands feeling cold and damp, I caught hold of Morgan.
"What's that?" I whispered, excitedly.
"My arm," he replied, coolly. "Don't pinch, lad."
"No, no; I mean the sound. What noise was that?"
"Oh! Why, you know. That was a 'gator."
"Are you sure? It sounded like a man's voice."
"Not it. Who did you think could be there? Nobody likely to be out there but Indians, and they wouldn't shout; they'd whisper so that we shouldn't know they were near."
I was silent again, and sat watching and listening as sound after sound struck my ear, making it seem that the wilds had never been so full before of strange noises, though the fact was that nothing was unusual except that I did not realise that I had never been in danger before, and sat up to listen.
All at once I jumped and uttered a cry, for something had touched me.
"Hush! Don't make a noise," said a familiar voice. "I only wanted to know whether you could make out anything."
"No, father. Only the frogs and alligators are barking and bellowing."
"Can't see any sign of Indians, nor any red light from over toward the settlement?"
"No, sir. All's quiet," said Morgan.
"It isn't, father," I whispered. "I never heard so much noise from out by the river before. There, hark!"
We all listened in silence as a loud bellowing sound came from a distance.
"There!" I whispered, in awe-stricken tones.
"Only one of the reptiles by the stream," said my father, quietly.
"But don't you think it's because some one is there?"
"No; certainly not. Keep a sharp look-out on both sides, Morgan, and warn me if you see the slightest movement, for it may be a crawling, lurking Indian."
"We'll keep a good look-out, sir, never fear," said Morgan, and we resumed our watch—if watch it could be called, where we were more dependent upon our ears than upon our eyes.
Morgan was very silent and thoughtful till I spoke to him.
"What did my father mean about the red glare over at the settlement?"
"Hah!" he ejaculated, and he was again silent for a minute or two. Then in a quick whisper, "I was just thinking about that, Master George, when you spoke, and that it was the enemy we had to fear the most."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Fire, my lad, fire. I dare say that with our guns and swords we may keep them off; but that's how they'll get the better of us."
"Yes; they'll get something blazing up against the house, and the moment it catches fire it's all over with us."
"What! Set fire to the house?"
"Yes, Master George, that's what your father's afraid of. No; I'm wrong there. I was at the wars with him, and I never saw him afraid—not even to-day. Takes a bold man to come out of his fort and go up to the enemy as he did—twelve to one—expecting every moment a crack from a tomahawk. He hasn't got any fear in him; but he thinks about the fire all the same. Now then, don't talk, but keep a sharp look-out, or they may steal on to us without our seeing them."
All this was said in a low whisper as we tried to keep a good look-out from the little trellised dormers; and the minutes stole on and became hours, with the darkness seeming to increase till about midnight. Then all looked darker, when Morgan pressed my arm, and I gave, a violent start.
"I? Asleep? No! Yes; I'm afraid I must have been," I said, feeling the colour come burning into my face.
"Look yonder," he whispered.
I looked from the grating and saw that, all at once, as it appeared to me, the tops of the trees were visible out to the east, and it grew plainer and plainer as I watched.
"Moon's getting very old, Master George," whispered Morgan, "but yonder she comes up."
"Then it will soon be light."
"No; but not so dark."
"Then the Indians won't come now?" I said eagerly.
"I don't know much about them, Master George, but from what I've heard say from those who do, Indians always comes when they're not expected, and if you're to be ready for them you must always be on the watch."
The overpowering sense of sleep which had made me lose consciousness for a few minutes ceased to trouble me now, and I stood watching eagerly for the time when the moon would rise above the trees, and send its light across the clearing in front of the house. I waited anxiously, for there had been the lurking dread that the Indians might creep up to the garden through the darkness, unseen, and perhaps strike at my father down below before he could be on his guard.
Once the moon was up, I felt that we should have light till daybreak, and with that light a good deal of the shivering dread caused by the darkness would pass away.
It was a long, very long while before the moon reached the tops of the trees, but when it did, the clearing and the gardens seemed to have been transformed. Long shadows, black as velvet, stretched right away, and trees were distorted so that I felt as if I was dreaming of seeing a garden upon which I had never set eyes before.
At last, almost imperceptibly, the moon, well on to its last quarter, appeared above the edge of the forest, and I was in the act of drawing myself back with a feeling of satisfaction that all was safe, when I saw something dark lying close to the shadow cast by a tree.
"Would Indians lie down and crawl?" I whispered.
"More likely to than walk, if all I hear's true, Master George."
"Then look there!" I whispered, as I pointed to the dark, shadowy figure.
"Where, lad? I can't see anything."
"There; just at the edge of that long, stretched-out shadow."
Morgan drew in his breath with a faint hiss.
"It's moving—he's moving," he whispered; "crawling right along to get round to the back, I should say. And look, sir, look!—another of 'em."
I just caught sight of the second figure, and then crept to the rough trap-door opening.
"Father," I whispered, "come up here. Bring a gun."
He was beneath the opening in a moment.
"Take hold of the gun," he said. "Mind!—be careful"—and he passed the heavy weapon up to me.
The next moment he was up in the rough loft, and I pointed out the figures of the Indians.
I heard him too draw in his breath with a faint hiss, as he stretched out his hand for the gun, took it, softly passed the barrel out through the open window and took aim, while I stood suffering from a nervous thrill that was painful in the extreme, for I knew that when he fired it must mean death.
I involuntarily shrank away, waiting for the heavy report which seemed as if it would never come; and at last, unable to bear the suspense longer, I pressed forward again to look hesitatingly through the window, feeling that I might have to fire a gun myself before long.
All at once, as the suspense had grown unbearable, the barrel of the firelock made a low scraping noise, for my father was drawing it back.
"A false alarm, George," he said, gently.
"No, no," I whispered; "look—look!" for I could see both figures crawling along slowly, flat on their breasts.
"Yes, I see them, my boy," he said; "and I was deceived too, for the moment, but we must not waste shot on creatures like these."
"Why, if it arn't a pair o' 'gators," said Morgan, with a suppressed laugh. "Well, they did look just like Injins, and no mistake."
I felt so vexed at making so absurd a mistake, that I remained silent till my father passed the gun to me.
"Take hold," he said, gently. "It was a mistake that deceived us all. Better be too particular than not particular enough."
He lowered himself down into the room below, and I passed him the gun before going back to where Morgan leaned against the window.
"There they go, Master George," he said, laughing. "You and me must have a new pair o' spectacles apiece from the old country if we have to do much of this sort of thing."
"I did not think I could have been so stupid," I said, angrily; and going away to the other window, so that I should not have to listen to my companion's bantering, which I felt pretty sure would come, I stood gazing at the beautiful scene without, the moon making the dark green leaves glisten like silver, while the shades grew to be of a velvety black. Every here and there patches of light shone on the great trunks of the trees, while their tops ran up like great spires into the softly-illumined sky.
The excitement had driven away all desire for sleep, and we watched on listening to every sound and cry that came from the forest surrounding, wonderfully plain in the silence of the night, which magnified croak, bellow, or faint rustling among the leaves or bushes, as some nocturnal creature made its way through the trees.
At times the watching seemed to be insufferably dreary and wearisome; then something startling would send the blood thrilling through my veins again; and so on and on, till the moon began to grow pale, the light to appear of a pearly grey in the east, golden flecks glistened high all above the trees, and once more it was new day, with the birds singing, and a feeling of wonder impressing me, it appeared so impossible that I could have been up and watching all night.
"Master George!—Master George!"
The call was repeated, for I did not answer the first, my mouth being expanded to its fullest stretch in a tremendous yawn.
"Come down, and have some breakfast. You must want it sore."
The very fact of Sarah mentioning it made me feel a horrible sinking sensation, and as soon as my father gave leave for one of us to leave the post at the window, I came down to find that, though we up in the narrow loft had heard nothing, Sarah had been for some time preparing a good meal, which, whatever might be the perils awaiting us later on, we all ate with the greatest of enjoyment.
We had hardly finished when Morgan gave the alarm, and my father hurried to his post of observation, but only to conceal his piece directly, as he uttered the word "Friend!"
For our nearest neighbour, Colonel Preston, a tall, stern, rather overbearing man, came up, followed by a couple of men.
"I've come to give you warning, Bruton," he said.
"I tried to send you warning last night," replied my father.
"What! You know?"
"Do you not see how we are barricaded?"
"Oh, I thought it was because you were just getting up. The Indians came by here then?"
"Yes," said my father; and he briefly told of our adventure, and the watch we had kept.
"Well," said the colonel, sharply, and as I thought in rather a dictatorial way; "it all goes to prove that it was a mistake for you to isolate yourself here. You must move close up to us, so that in a case of emergency we can all act together."
"It would be better," said my father, quietly.
"Then you will come?"
"No; I selected this place for its beauty, as you chose yours. I should not like to give it up."
"You'll repent it, Bruton. You must have had a narrow escape last night."
"I do not know," said my father, thoughtfully. "Of course we were very suspicious of the reason for the Indians' visit, but they did us no harm."
"Nor to us. Our numbers overawed them, I suppose."
"Our numbers did not overawe them here," said my father, smiling; but he added rather bitterly, "If they had meant mischief, we could not have counted on your help."
"Nor we on yours," said the colonel, in a rather irritable manner. "Well, of course I have no right to dictate to you; but I may as well tell you that as soon as the Indians left us, we met together, and determined to erect a block-house or fort ready to flee to in case of emergency. It is for you to chose whether you will join us in the work."
"I shall join you, of course," said my father, quietly; and, refusing any refreshment, evidently to the great disgust of his men, who exchanged glances which evidently meant breakfast, the colonel walked off.
"See those two fellows, Master George?" whispered Morgan, as my father stood gazing thoughtfully after the colonel.
"Never see two look more hungry in my life. They'd have cleared us out, see if they wouldn't. Good job there arn't many in the settlement like 'em."
"Why?" I said.
"Because we should soon be having a famine in the land. What are you laughing at, lad?"
"You," I said, as I recalled a number of Morgan's performances with the knife and fork.
He looked at me fiercely, and as if he were terribly offended; for Morgan's Welsh blood had a way of bubbling up and frothing over like mead; but directly after there was a bit of a twitch at one corner of his mouth, then a few wrinkles started out at each side of his face about the eyes, and began to spread all over till he was showing his teeth.
"Ah, well, Master George," he said, "I can see through you. Perhaps I aren't such a very bad trencherman. Sarah says I do eat. But what's the harm? Man can't work well without; nor more can't a fire burn without you keeps on putting plenty o' wood. But I say, my lad, when those Injin fellows came down upon us, I began to think I should never be hungry again. Did I look very much frightened?"
"No; I thought you looked very brave."
"Did I? Did you think so, Master George?"
"Now, you're not making fun of me, are you?"
"Well, come, I'm glad of that," said Morgan, brightening up; "because do you know, Master George, 'twix' you and me, I don't think I'm quite so good that way as I ought to be. I tried hard not to seem in a fright, but I was in one all the same, and seemed to feel arrows sticking into me, and them chopping at me with tomahawks. Wasn't pleasant, look you, was it?"
"No, and it was no wonder."
"No, sir, it warn't. But I say, Master George, you didn't feel so bad as that, did you?"
I glanced round to see if my father was within hearing, and then said with a laugh—
"I'm afraid I felt ever so much worse."
"Then we'll shake hands over it," said Morgan; "but I say, Master George, I'd give everything to know whether the master felt scared too."
"I don't think he did. Oh, I'm sure he did not. See how erect and firm he was."
"Ah, that's being a soldier, sir. They drill 'em up into being as stiff as can be, and to look as if they like it when they're being shot at. That's what makes English soldiers such fine fellows in a battle."
Further discussion was put an end to by the coming up to us of my father.
"You heard what Colonel Preston said, George?"
"About being safe, and the risk of fresh attacks by the Indians?"
"Yes, father; we heard every word—didn't we, Morgan?"
"Oh yes; everything, sir."
"Well," said my father, "it is quite possible that this party came to spy out the land so as to prepare for a descent. If this is so, there is a good deal of risk in staying here. I have made up my mind what to do under the circumstances."
"Oh, master! Oh, Captain Bruton!" broke out Morgan; "don't say that after the pains we took in getting our garden in order, and in helping to build the house, and never happy unless I was going to do something to make it look pretty, you're thinking of moving and letting some one else come in?"
"I think the risk is very great in staying; and that for your wife's sake, my son's, and yours, I perhaps ought to give up this, and go and take up fresh land close to my brother settlers."
"But, begging your pardon, sir, don't you think nothing of the sort again. What do you say, Master George?"
"Oh, I shouldn't like to go away from here," I said.
"There, sir! Hear that?" cried Morgan. "Why, if you come to reckon it up, how do you know that you're going to be safer there than here? If the Injins come, that's where they'll go for first, and we're just as likely to be killed there as here."
"And then look at the place, sir, all along by the big river. It arn't half so healthy as this. I never feel well there, and I know the land arn't half so rich."
"But we must study safety, my man," said my father.
"Of course we must, sir, so what's the good of being scared about some Injins, who may never come again, and running right into where there's likely to be fevers—and if some day there don't come a big flood and half drown 'em all, I'm a Dutchman, and wasn't born in Carnarvon after all."
"But there is another consideration, Morgan; we have some one else to look after—your wife."
"Oh, don't you trouble about me, sir," cried Sarah; and we looked up in astonishment. "I came out here to look after you and Master George, not for you to look after me."
"Why, what are you doing up there?" said my father, as Sarah's nose showed between the bars of the window of the loft.
"Keeping a sharp look-out for Indians, sir."
"That's right Sarah," cried Morgan. "And, I say, you don't think we had better go, do you?"
"Certainly not," said Sarah, sharply. "Just as we're getting the place and my kitchen so snug and comfortable. I should think not indeed."
"There, sir," cried Morgan, triumphantly.
"Well," said my father, "I had made up my mind to stop, at any rate as far as I was concerned, but I wished to give you all the opportunity of going up to the settlement."
"'Tchah, sir! I don't call that a settlement. But, begging your pardon, captain, speaking as an old soldier to an old soldier," continued Morgan, "what you say is ridickerlus."
"Morgan!" cried my father, sternly.
"Can't help it, sir, even if you order me pack-drill, or even black-hole and a flogging. Why, its ridickerlus for you as an officer to tell your men to forsake you and leave you in the lurch."
"But, my good fellow—"
"Ah, I haven't done yet, captain. You've worried me and gone on till it's mutiny in the ranks, and I refuse to obey."
"Well, George," said my father, "you hear this; what do you say?"
"I say it would be a horrid pity to go away and leave the place, father. Oh, don't! I like it ever so! And we're so happy here, and I don't believe the Indians will come again."
"Then you would not be afraid to stay here and take our chance? No," he said, reverently, "place ourselves in His hands, my boy, and be content."
"Amen to all that, sir, says I," cried Morgan, taking off his hat; and then I saw him close his eyes, and his lips were moving as he turned away.
"Thank you, Morgan," said my father, quietly; "and thank you too, my boy. We will not give up our restful, beautiful home for a scare. Perhaps if the Indians find that we wish to be at peace with them, they may never attempt to molest us. We will stay."
Morgan gave his leg a slap, and turned round to me.
"There, Master George!" he cried. "Why, with all these fruit and vegetables coming on, I should have 'most broke my heart, and I know our Sarah would have broken hers."
That day was after all a nervous one, and we felt as if at any moment an Indian might appear at the edge of the wood, followed by a body perhaps a hundred strong. So our vigilance was not relaxed, neither that day nor during the next week; but nothing occurred to disturb our peace, and the regular routine went on.
From what we heard at the settlement the idea of building a block-house had been for the present given up; but Morgan came back one morning, after a visit to the colonel's man, with some news which rather disturbed my father.
"Small schooner in the river?"
"And you say that several of the gentlemen have been buying?"
"Yes, sir; that's right," said Morgan, "and the blacks are put to work in their plantations."
My father frowned and walked away, while I eagerly turned to Morgan for an explanation.
"Oh, it's all right enough, sir, what I tell you," said Morgan; "and seems to me they're right, so long as they treat 'em well. Here's lots of land wants clearing and planting, and one pair of hands can't do it, of course, and there's no men to be hired out here, so the gentlemen have been buying slaves."
"What a shame!" I cried. "How would you like to be bought for a slave?"
Morgan looked at me, then at the sky, then down at the ground; then away straight before him, as he took off his hat and scratched one ear.
"Humph!" he ejaculated, suddenly; "that's a puzzler, Master George. Do you know I never thought of that."
"It seems to me horribly cruel."
"But then, you see, Master George, they're blacks, and that makes all the difference."
I could not see it, but I did not say so, and by degrees other things took my attention. There was so much to see, and hear, and do, that I forgot all about Indians and blacks; or if they did come to mind at all as time went on, I merely gave them a passing thought, and went off to talk to Morgan, to set a trap, to fish, or to watch the beautiful birds that came into the sunny clearing about my home.
"There," said Morgan, one day, as he gave the soil a final pat with his spade, "that job's done, and now I'm going to have a bit of a rest. Leaving-off time till the sun gets a bit down."
"What have you been planting?" I asked.
"Seeds, my lad; flower seeds, as I've picked myself. I like to keep raising the useful things, but we may as well have some bright flowers too. Where's the master?"
"Then what do you say to a bit of sport?"
"Another rattlesnake?" I cried.
"No, thank ye, my lad; meddling with rattlesnakes may mean bringing down the Indians, so we'll let them alone."
"Well, perhaps it is, my lad."
"But what have you found?"
"What do you say to a 'coon?"
"Oh, they get into the hollow trees, where you can't catch them."
"Well then, a bear?"
"A bear!" I cried; "a real wild bear?"
"Ah, I thought that would set you off; but it arn't a bear; they're up among the hills."
"What is it then? How you do hang back from telling!"
"Course I do. If I let you have it all at once, you wouldn't enjoy it half so much."
"Oh, I know," I cried, "it's going to fish after those ridiculous little terrapins, and they're such horrid things to take off the hook."
"Birds? An eagle?"
"No; guess again, nearly right; something as lays eggs—"
Morgan shook his head.
"Not an alligator, is it?"
He wrinkled up his face in a hearty laugh.
"Alligator it is, sir. I found a nest yesterday."
"And didn't tell me. I want to see an alligator's nest. I never could find one."
"Ah, you didn't look in the right kind of tree, Master George."
"Don't talk to me as if I were a baby, Morgan," I said; "just as if I didn't know better than that."
"Oh, but you don't know everything. I got awfully laughed at once for saying squirrels build nests in trees."
"Oh, but they do," I said; "I've seen them."
"'Course you have; but when I said so, some one laughed, and asked how many eggs you can find in a squirrel's nest.—So you don't believe the 'gators build in trees, don't you?"
"No; but I believe they lay eggs. How many are there in this?"
"Oh, it isn't that sort of nest. I mean a nest where he goes to sleep in; and you and me's going to wake him up, and try if we can't catch him and bring him home."
I could not help thinking of the Indians, as I went with Morgan to make the preparations, which were simple enough, and consisted in arming himself with a long pole and giving me one similar, after which he put a piece of rope in his pocket, and declared himself ready.
We went off in the same direction as that chosen when we killed the rattlesnake, but turned off to the left directly, and made for the bank of the river, that bore away from the landing-place, towards a low, moist part, intersected by the meandering stream which drained the marshy part.
Here we had to proceed rather cautiously, for the place was full of decayed trees covered with brilliant green and grey moss, and looking solid, but which crumbled away at a touch from the foot, and often concealed holes into which it would have been awkward to fall, since we did not know what kind of creatures lived therein.
"Seem to have lost the place," said Morgan, after we had been going along for some time pretty well parallel with the river.
"Oh, Morgan!" I exclaimed, impatiently.
"No; I have it," he cried. "I remember that tree with the long moss hanging down so far. The ground's harder here too. More to the left, Master George. There you are at last."
"But where's the nest?" I said.
"Why, there it is, my lad; can't you see?"
I looked round, but there was nothing visible but a few footprints in a muddy spot, and a hole of very moderate size, evidently going some distance down into the moist, boggy soil.
"Is this it?"
"Yes, of course."
"But you said a nest."
"Well, I meant, as I told you, his nest, his snuggery. Now I'm going to see if he's at home."
I looked on full of doubt, for the whole proceeding seemed to me to be very absurd, and I felt sure that Morgan was mistaken.
"I don't believe he knows any more about alligators than I do," I said to myself, as I saw him thrust the long pole down into the hole.
"I tried this game on yesterday, Master George, and he said he was at home."
"Nonsense!" I cried, pettishly.
"But I'm afraid he has gone out for a walk this time, and it's a case of call again to-morrow. No," he added, energetically, "it's all right. Says he's at home."
"Why, what do you mean?" I cried.
"Got a bite," said Morgan, grinning. "You try. But mind he don't come out with a rush. He might be nasty."
I hesitated for a moment, then leaning my own pole against a bush, I took hold of the one Morgan gave into my hands, and moved it slightly.
"Well?" I said. "I don't feel anything."
"Give it a bit of a stir round, my lad," he said.
I moved the pole a little, and then jumped and let go.
"What's the matter?" cried Morgan, laughing.
"Something bit the pole, and made it jar right up my arm."
"That's him. I told you he was at home. Now then, you aren't afraid, are you?"
"Not a big one, is it?"
"No, not very; only tidy size; but we shall see if we get him out."
I looked rather aghast at Morgan, for the idea of getting a large alligator out there in the marshy place, and both of us unarmed, was rather startling.
"Now then, give him a good stir up."
Sooner than seem afraid, but with my heart beating heavily, I took hold of the pole, and gave it a good shake, and left go again, for it seemed as if some one had given it a good rap with a heavy stick, and a jarring sensation ran up my arm.
"No mistake about it this time," said Morgan, grinning. "Puts me in mind of sniggling for eels, and pushing a worm at the end of a willow-stick up an eel's burrow in a muddy bank. They give it a knock like that sometimes, but of course not so hard. Well, why don't you go on?"
"Go on with what?" I cried, wishing myself well out of the whole business.
"Stirring of him up, and making him savage. But stop a moment, let's have this ready."
He took out the piece of rope, and made a large noose, laying it on some thick moss, and then turning to me again.
"Now then, my lad, give him a good stir up. Don't be afraid. Make him savage, or else he won't hold on."
With a dimly defined notion of what we were aiming at, I gave the pole a good wrench round in the hole, feeling it strike against something, and almost simultaneously feeling something strike against it.
"That's the way, sir. Give it him again."
Growing reckless now, and feeling that I must not shrink, I gave the pole another twist round, with the result that it was snatched out of my hand.
"He has it," cried Morgan, excitedly. "Feel if he has got it fast, Master George."
I took hold of the pole, gazing down with no little trepidation, in the expectation of at any moment seeing some hideous monster rush out, ready to seize and devour me.
But there was no response to my touch, the pole coming loosely into my hand.
"Give him another stir up, Master George. They tell me that's the way they do it to make them savage."