Boy Trapper Series
By HARRY CASTLEMON,
AUTHOR OF "THE FRANK NELSON SERIES," "THE SPORTSMAN'S CLUB SERIES," "GUNBOAT SERIES," &C.
PHILADELPHIA HENRY T. COATES & CO.
FAMOUS CASTLEMON BOOKS.
Gunboat Series. By Harry Castlemon. 6 vols. 12mo. Frank the Young Naturalist. Frank on a Gunboat. Frank in the Woods. Frank before Vicksburg. Frank on the Lower Mississippi. Frank on the Prairie.
Rocky Mountain Series. By Harry Castlemon. 3 vols. 12mo. Cloth. Frank among the Rancheros. Frank at Don Carlos' Ranch. Frank in the Mountains.
Sportsman's Club Series. By Harry Castlemon. 3 vols. 12mo. Cloth. The Sportsman's Club in the Saddle. The Sportsman's Club Afloat. The Sportsman's Club among the Trappers.
Frank Nelson Series. By Harry Castlemon. 3 vols. 12mo. Cloth. Snowed Up. Frank in the Forecastle. The Boy Traders.
Boy Trapper Series. By Harry Castlemon. 3 vols. 12mo. Cloth. The Buried Treasure. The Boy Trapper. The Mail-Carrier.
Roughing It Series. By Harry Castlemon. 3 vols. 12mo. Cloth. George in Camp. George at the Wheel. George at the Fort.
Rod and Gun Series. By Harry Castlemon. 3 vols. 12mo. Cloth. Don Gordon's Shooting Box. Rod and Gun Club. The Young Wild Fowlers.
Go-Ahead Series. By Harry Castlemon. 3 vols. 12mo. Cloth. Tom Newcombe. Go-Ahead. No Moss.
Forest and Stream Series. By Harry Castlemon. 3 vols. 12mo. Cloth. Joe Wayring. Snagged and Sunk. Steel Horse.
War Series. By Harry Castlemon. 5 vols. 12mo. Cloth. True to his Colors. Rodney the Partisan. Rodney the Overseer. Marcy the Blockade-Runner. Marcy the Refugee.
Other Volumes in Preparation.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1878, by PORTER & COATES, in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
I. A GLANCE AT THE PAST II. DAVID'S VISITORS III. AN OFFER OF PARTNERSHIP IV. MORE BAD NEWS V. DAN IS ASTONISHED VI. BRUIN'S ISLAND VII. WHAT HAPPENED THERE VIII. DOGS IN THE MANGER IX. NATURAL HISTORY X. A BEAR HUNT XI. TRAPPING QUAILS XII. WHERE THE POINTER WAS XIII. TEN DOLLARS REWARD XIV. SOME DISCOVERIES XV. BOB'S ASPIRATIONS XVI. DON'S HOUNDS TREE SOMETHING XVII. CONCLUSION
A GLANCE AT THE PAST.
"Don't worry about it, mother. It is nothing we can help."
"It seems to me that I might have helped it. If I had gone to General Gordon when your father first spoke about that barrel with the eighty thousand dollars in it, and told him the whole story, things might have turned out differently. But in spite of all he said, I did not suppose that he was in earnest."
"Neither did I. That any man in his sober senses should think of such a thing! Why, mother, if there had been so much money buried in that potato-patch, the General would have known it, and don't you suppose he would have found it if he'd had to plough the field up ten feet deep? Of course he would."
"But just think of the disgrace that has been brought upon us."
"Father is the only one who has done anything to be ashamed of, and he made matters worse by running away. If he would come home and attend to his business, no one would say a word to him. The General told me so this morning."
"I am afraid you couldn't make your father believe it."
"Perhaps not, but if I knew where to find him I should try."
It was David Evans who spoke last. He and his mother were talking over the strange incidents that had happened in the settlement during the last few days, and which we have attempted to describe in the preceding volume of this series. The events were brought about by a very foolish notion which Godfrey Evans, David's father, suddenly got into his head.
During our late war it was the custom of the people living in the South to conceal their valuables when they heard of the approach of the Union army. They were also careful to take the same precautions to save their property when it became known that the rebel guerillas were near at hand; for these worthies were oftentimes but little better than organized bands of robbers, and the people stood as much in fear of them as they did of the Federals. These valuables, consisting for the most part of money, jewelry and silverware, were sometimes hidden in cellars, in hollow logs in the woods and in barns; but more frequently they were buried in the ground. The work of hiding them was sometimes performed by the planters themselves, if they happened to be at home, but it was generally intrusted to old and faithful servants in whom their owners had every confidence. It not unfrequently happened that these old and faithful servants proved themselves utterly unworthy of the trust reposed in them. Sometimes they told the raiding soldiers where the property was concealed, and at others they ran away without telling even their masters where the valuables were hidden. General Gordon's old servant, Jordan, was one of this stamp. He went off with the Union forces, who raided that part of Mississippi, and before he went he told a rebel soldier, Godfrey Evans, who happened to be at home on a furlough, and who was skulking in the woods to avoid capture, that he had just buried a barrel containing eighty thousand dollars in gold and silver in his master's potato-patch, and that none of the family knew where it was.
This Godfrey Evans had been well off in the world at one time. He had property to the amount of fifteen thousand dollars; but, like many others, he lost it all during the war, and returned home after the surrender of General Lee to find himself a poor man. His comfortable house had been burned over the heads of his wife and children, who were now living in a rude hut which some kind-hearted neighbors had hastily erected; his negroes, who had made his money for him, were all gone; his cattle had been slaughtered by both rebel and Union troops, and his mules and horses carried off; his fine drove of hogs, which ran loose in the woods, and upon which he relied to furnish his year's supply of bacon, had wandered away and become wild; and Godfrey had nothing but his rifle and his two hands with which to begin the world anew. But it was hard to go back and begin again where he had begun forty years ago. The bare thought of it was enough to discourage Godfrey, who declared that he wouldn't do it, and made his words good by becoming a roving vagabond. He spent the most of his time at the landing, watching the steamers as they came in, and the rest in wandering listlessly about the woods, shooting just game enough to keep him in powder, lead and tobacco. His sole companion and friend was his son Daniel, who, being a chip of the old block, faithfully imitated his father's lazy, useless mode of life. Mrs. Evans and the younger son, David, were the only members of the family who worked. They never lost an opportunity to turn an honest penny, and there were times when Godfrey and Dan would have gone supperless to bed if it had not been for these two faithful toilers.
Godfrey disliked this aimless, joyless existence as much as he disliked work, and even Dan at times longed for something better. They both wanted to be rich. Godfrey wanted to see his fine plantation, which was now abandoned to briers and cane, cultivated as it used to be; while it was Dan's ambition to have two or three painted boats in the lake, to have a pointer following at his heels, and to do his shooting with a double-barrel gun that "broke in two in the middle." He wanted to take his morning's exercise on a spotted pony—a circus horse, he called it; and to wear a broadcloth suit, a Panama hat and patent leather boots, when he went to church on Sundays. Don and Bert Gordon had all these aids to happiness, and they were the jolliest fellows he had ever seen—always laughing, singing or whistling. Dan thought he would be happy too, if he could only have so many fine things to call his own, but he could see no way to get them, and that made him angry. He hated Don and Bert so heartily that he could never look at them without wishing that some evil might befall them. He threatened to steal their horses, shoot their dogs, sink their boats, and do a host of other desperate things, believing that in this way he could render the two happy brothers as miserable as he was himself.
Godfrey and Dan lived in a most unenviable frame of mind for a year or more, and then the former one day happened to think of the barrel which old Jordan had told him was hidden in the potato-patch. He spoke of it while the family were at dinner, and announced that he and Dan would begin the work of unearthing the BURIED TREASURE that very night. If they didn't find it the first time they tried, they would go the next night; and they would keep on digging until they obtained possession of it, if they had to dig up the whole state of Mississippi. Dan almost went wild over the news. He and his father spent a few minutes in building air-castles, and then Godfrey, who felt as rich as though he already had the money in his possession, hurried down to the landing, entered the store there and called for a plug of tobacco, which the merchant refused to give him until he showed that he had twenty-five cents to pay for it.
Although Dan and his father had great expectations, which they believed would very soon be realized, they did not neglect to pay attention to small matters, and to pick up any stray dollars that chanced to fall in their way. David was a famous dog-breaker, and Don Gordon had offered him ten dollars to train a pointer for him. The offer was made in the presence of Dan and his father, and the former at once laid his plans to obtain possession of a portion of the money. While the two were on their way to the landing, where a shooting-match was to be held that afternoon, Dan stopped at General Gordon's barn, and having borrowed a shovel, with which to dig up the buried treasure, he went to the house, where he found Bert reading a book. He told him that David had sent him there after five dollars, as he wished to buy a new dress for his mother, and Bert, although he was well aware that, according to the agreement his brother had made with David, the money was not to be paid until the pointer was thoroughly broken for the field, advanced him the amount he requested. Arriving at the landing, Dan got the bill changed for notes of smaller denomination, and, while he was picking up his money, was surprised by his father, who was greatly amazed to see his son with such a roll of greenbacks in his hand. Knowing that Dan was too lazy to work—too much of a gentleman was the way Godfrey expressed it—he could not imagine where the money came from, and Dan refused to enlighten him on this point, fearing that if he did his father would go straight to Don Gordon and ask for the rest of the ten dollars. Godfrey urged and commanded to no purpose, and was obliged to be satisfied with the loan of a dollar, which he promised to return with heavy interest as soon as the barrel was found. He paid seventy-five cents of it for the privilege of entering as one of the contestants in the shooting-match, and the rest he used in purchasing the plug of tobacco for which the grocer had refused to credit him. He won nothing during the match, while Dan, to his father's great disgust, came in for one of the first prizes—a fine quarter of beef.
When the shooting-match was over, the father and son returned to the little hovel they called home. Dan at once put the mule into the cart and started back to the landing to bring home his quarter of beef; while Godfrey, by pretending to fall asleep on the bench in front of the cabin, was able to carry out a little stratagem that suddenly suggested itself to him. He knew that Dan was a thrifty lad in spite of his laziness, and that he believed in laying by something for a rainy day. He was never out of ammunition for his rifle, but he always took care to keep his little stock hidden away, so that his father could not find it. By watching him on this particular day, Godfrey was lucky enough to find out where the boy's hiding-place was. He went to it as soon as Dan drove away in the cart, and found there a goodly supply of powder, lead and caps, and also three dollars and twenty-five cents in money; all of which he put into his pocket.
Dan came back from the landing in due time, and his father, who had been calculating on having a good supper that night, was astonished to find that the beef had been sold. He was enraged at first, but when he learned that Dan had received three dollars and a half for it, he was quieted at once, and a happy thought came into his mind. He sent Dan into the woods to shoot some squirrels for supper, and while the boy was gone he went to the hiding-place and put back the ammunition and money just as he found them, believing that when Dan returned he would put the three dollars and a half there too. Nor was he mistaken. The boy presently came back with squirrels enough for supper, and as soon as he thought he could do so without being seen by any one, he went to his storehouse, and having made sure that the property he had already hidden there was safe, he added to it the sum he had received for the quarter of beef, and went away happy. His father was happy too for he had seen the whole operation.
Godfrey was too tired to dig for the buried treasure that night, so Dan went to bed as soon as it was fairly dark. His father waited until he was soundly asleep, and then went to the storehouse and took out all it contained. Dan's rage when he discovered his loss the next morning was something to wonder at. He knew where his property was, and he demanded its immediate return, threatening in case of refusal, to tell General Gordon about the barrel in the potato-field. This frightened Godfrey, who gave up the contents of his pockets, but not until he had forced Dan to tell him where he obtained the money he had seen in his hands at the landing the day before. He was astonished when he learned that it came from Bert Gordon, and set his wits at work to conjure up some plan, by which he might obtain possession of the rest. He went over to the General's at once, and there learned that Don and Bert had gone down to the landing with their father, where they were awaiting the arrival of two cousins, whom they were expecting from the North. Godfrey followed them there with all haste, sought an interview with Don, and by telling him some plausible story, induced him to advance the other five dollars. Godfrey hoped in this way to get the start of Dan and enjoy his ill-gotten gains all by himself, but Dan was there and saw it all, and his father, alarmed by the look he saw on his face, divided the money with him. Of course David knew nothing of this. He was saving those ten dollars for his mother. He did not expect to spend a cent of it on himself; and how he first learned of his loss and what was done about it, perhaps we shall see as our story progresses.
The two young gentlemen, Clarence and Marshall Gordon, for whom Don and Bert were waiting, and who landed from the steamer, Emma Deane, that morning, had been sent away from the city by their father, in order that they might be out of the way of temptation; but, as it happened, one of them ran directly into it. Clarence, the older, was anything but a model boy. He was much addicted to ale and cigars, and thought of nothing in the world so much as money. He was a spendthrift, and, like Godfrey Evans, had a great desire to be rich, but he never thought of working and saving in order to gain the wished-for end. This good old-fashioned and safe way was too long and tedious for him, and he was constantly on the lookout for a short road to wealth and consequent happiness. Before he had been twenty-four hours under his uncle's roof, he thought he had discovered it, and this was the way it came about:
Clarence and his brother arrived at the General's house in the forenoon, and before night came, the former wished most heartily that he had stayed at home. He was lonely and utterly disgusted with the quiet of the country, and the old-fashioned, prosy way his two cousins had of enjoying themselves. Music, horseback-riding, hunting, fishing and visiting made up the round of their amusements, and Clarence could see no fun in such things. As soon as it grew dark he slipped out of the house, and leaning over a fence that ran between the barnyard and a potato-patch, lighted a cigar and settled into a comfortable position to enjoy it. He had not been there many minutes, before he was startled by the stealthy approach of two persons, a man and a boy, who stopped a short distance from him and began digging with a shovel. Clarence listened to the words which the man uttered for the encouragement of the boy, who was doing the work, and was amazed to learn that there was a fortune hidden in that field, and that these two had come there to dig it up. In his eagerness and excitement Clarence leaned half way over the fence, puffing vigorously at his cigar all the while. The little round ball of fire glowing through the darkness caught the eye of the boy, who showed it to his companion, and the two, frightened almost out of their senses, took to their heels, leaving the eavesdropper lost in wonder.
Clarence was almost overwhelmed by the discovery he had just made. It was an opportunity too good to be lost, and he at once resolved that if there were eighty thousand dollars buried in that field, he must have a share of the money when it was brought to light. In order to bring this about, he must find out who this man and boy were. He had a very slight cue to guide him, but he followed it up so skillfully that by noon of the next day he knew as much about the eighty thousand dollars as Godfrey did, and had formed a partnership with that worthy, Dan being dropped as a useless encumbrance. They met, according to agreement, as soon as it grew dark. It happened that there was one who witnessed their interview, and heard all that passed between them, and that was Don Gordon, who had just returned from the landing, whither he had been to mail a letter to his cousin. Not finding the hostler about when he came back, Don attended to his pony himself, and was about to shut up the barn for the night, when he discovered what he supposed to be a thief prowling about. The lighted end of a cigar glowed through the darkness a moment later, and then Don saw that the prowler was his cousin Clarence. Greatly amused at his mistake, he was about to make his presence known, when it occurred to him that since Clarence had taken so much pains to get out of sight of the family, in order that he might enjoy his cigar, perhaps he would not like it if Don caught him in the act; so Don remained in his place of concealment, heard every word that was said when Godfrey came up, saw both of them get over the fence in the potato-patch, and followed and watched them while they were digging for the barrel.
Now, Don was one of the most inveterate practical jokers in the world, and the most accomplished one we ever saw. Godfrey had received more than one proof of his skill. He had been tripped up when there was no one near him; his hat had been knocked off his head by invisible hands, and he had seen horrid great things with eyes of fire staring at him from fence-corners, until he had become fully satisfied that the General's lane was haunted, and he would go a mile around through the fields before he would pass through it after nightfall. Here was another opportunity to frighten him, and Don knew just how to do it. Before he went to sleep that night, he had thought of something that beat all the other tricks he had heard of far out of sight.
The trouble began the very next morning. While Godfrey was sitting on the bench in front of his cabin, deeply engrossed with his own thoughts, Dan came rushing up with a face full of terror, and conveyed to him the startling intelligence that a "haunt"—a Northern boy would have called it a ghost—had been seen at General Gordon's barn. It looked exactly like old Jordan, the negro, who had buried the treasure in the potato-patch; but of course it couldn't be old Jordan, for he had never been heard of since he ran away with the Yankees, and everybody believed him to be dead. Godfrey listened in great amazement to his son's story, and, to satisfy himself of the truth of it, went up to the barn, with his rifle for company. He had not been there many minutes before he received convincing proof that Dan had told the truth, for he saw the object with his own eyes—a feeble old negro, dressed in a white plantation suit, and wearing a battered plug hat, who limped along in plain view of him, and finally disappeared, no one could tell how or when. That was enough for Godfrey. He started for home at the top of his speed, and scarcely dared to venture out of doors that night. He had an appointment with Clarence Gordon at dark, but he would not have passed that barn in his present state of mind, if he had known that he could make twice eighty thousand dollars by it.
Bright and early the next morning, Clarence came down to see why he had not kept his promise, and talked to him in such a way that Godfrey finally agreed to meet him that night, the boy promising to protect him from anything in the shape of a ghost that might cross their path. He kept his appointment this time, but he was sorry enough for it afterward, for the first object on which his eyes rested, when he and his companion reached the potato-field, was old Jordan, digging away as if he too were in search of the buried treasure. Godfrey would have taken to his heels at once, but Clarence, who did not believe in "haunts," walked up and seized the negro by the arm. After much argument, Godfrey was induced to do the same, and then his fears all vanished, for it was a veritable human being that he took hold of and not a spirit, as he feared it was. He declared, too, that the interloper was the missing Jordan, beyond a doubt, and that he had come there to steal the money he had buried in that same field years before. The negro was commanded to point out the spot where the treasure was hidden, but nothing could be learned from the old fellow. He would not speak at all, until Godfrey threatened to punch him in the ribs with his shovel, and then he denied all knowledge of the barrel. Upon hearing this, Clarence and his companion seized him by the arms, dragged him across the field, over the fence and down the road to Godfrey's potato-cellar, where he was tied to a stanchion with a plough-line and left with the assurance that he should never see daylight again until he told where the fortune was to be found.
Godfrey was stirring the next morning before it was fairly light, and the first sound that fell on his ears caused him to start and tremble with terror. He listened until it was repeated, and then started post haste for General Gordon's house. When he reached it, he found the whole plantation in an uproar. Don was missing and a search was being instituted. Clarence came out about this time, and Godfrey told him a most astounding piece of news. It wasn't old Jordan at all whom they had captured the night before, it was Don Gordon. Godfrey was sure of it, for he had heard him whistle as nobody in the world except Don Gordon could whistle. As soon as Clarence recovered from his amazement and terror, he mounted Don's pony and set out for the potato-cellar to see for himself. When he reached it, he found that the prisoner had already been liberated by somebody (it was Bert, who was guided to his place of confinement by Don's loud and continued whistling) and was no doubt on the way home by that time. What was Clarence to do? Of course he could not go back to the plantation and face his relatives after what he had done, and there was no other house in the settlement open to him. Just then he heard the whistle of a steamer coming up the river, and that settled the matter for him. He would go home. He jumped on the pony and was riding post haste toward the landing when he was waylaid by Godfrey Evans, who robbed him of twenty dollars, all the money he had in the world. As soon as he was released, Clarence made his way to the landing on foot, reaching it just in time to secure passage on the Emma Deane, pawned his watch for money enough to pay his way home, and finally reached his father's house in safety, only to be packed off to sea on the school-ship, where he remains to this day.
Don Gordon reached home with his brother's assistance, and has been a close prisoner there ever since, not yet having recovered from the effects of his night in the potato-cellar. Godfrey Evans is hiding in the swamp somewhere, fearing that if he comes home he will be arrested for three offences—robbing Clarence, assaulting Don, and trying to steal the eighty thousand dollars, which he still firmly believes to be hidden in the potato-patch. A week has passed since the occurrence of the events which we have so rapidly reviewed, and now that you are acquainted with them, we are prepared to resume our story.
"And if your father doesn't come back, how are we to live this winter?" asked Mrs. Evans, continuing the conversation which we have so long interrupted. "How is he to live?"
"His living will trouble him more than ours will trouble us," replied David, who, knowing that he was his mother's main dependence now, tried hard to keep up a brave heart. "It will be cold out there in the swamp pretty soon. I saw a flock of wild geese in the lake this morning, and that is a sure sign that winter is close at hand. Father had no coat on when he went away, and he was barefooted, too. And as for our living, mother, who's kept you in clothes and coffee, sugar and tea, for the last year?"
"You have, David. I don't know what I should do without you. You are a great comfort to me."
"And I'm never going to be anything else, mother. I never made you cry, did I? I ain't going to, either. I can take care of you, and I will, too. If I can't get work to do, I can hunt and trap small game, you know; and if I only had a rifle, I am sure I could kill at least one deer every week. That, reckoning venison worth six cents a pound, would bring us in about thirty dollars a month. Who says we couldn't live and save money on that?"
"But you don't own a rifle," said his mother, smiling at the boy's enthusiasm.
"Well, that's so," said David, sadly. "But," he added, his face brightening, "I shall have ten dollars coming to me as soon as Don Gordon's pointer is field-broken, and you shall have every cent of it. Besides, you haven't forgotten that I'm going to get a hundred and fifty dollars for trapping quail for that man up North, have you?"
"Have you heard from him yet?"
David was obliged to confess that he had not.
"He may have made a bargain with some one else before Don's letter reached him," continued Mrs. Evans. "You know this is not the only country in which quails are to be found, and neither are you the only one who would be glad to make a hundred and fifty dollars by trapping them."
"I know it, mother; but even if I can't get that job, I can get some other that will bring us in money," said David, who was determined to look on the bright side of things. "I'll earn another ten-dollar bill before the one I get from Don Gordon is gone, you may depend upon it."
With this assurance the boy kissed his mother and hurried out of the door, and Mrs. Evans, after clearing away the remnants of their frugal breakfast, also went out to begin her daily toil at the house of a neighbor. David made his way around the cabin, and was met by Don's pointer, which, coming as close to him as the length of his chain would permit, waited for the friendly word and caress that the boy never failed to bestow when he passed the kennel in which the animal was confined. The greeting he extended to his four-footed friend was a short one this morning, for David had other matters on his mind. He confidently expected that a few days more would bring him the wished-for order from the man who had advertised for the quails, and when it came he wanted to be ready to go to work without the loss of an hour; so he was spending all his spare time in building traps. He had four completed already, and just as he had got boards enough split out for the fifth, he heard the clatter of horses' hoofs on the road and looked up to see Bert Gordon and his brother ride up to the fence.
"Why, Don, I am glad to see you out again," exclaimed David, dropping his hammer and hurrying forward to greet his friend.
"Thank you," replied Don, accepting David's proffered hand. "I assure you I am glad to be out again, too. It's a fearful bore to be tied up in the house for a whole week, but I was bound to come down here this morning, if I had to come in the carriage, for I have news for you," added Don, putting his hand into the breast-pocket of his coat.
"Has it come?" asked David, in a voice that trembled with excitement.
"It certainly has. It was addressed to me, you know, and so Bert opened it. The man says, he wants fifty dozen live quails immediately, and—but there it is, read it for yourself."
Don produced the letter, and David took it with a very unsteady hand. A hundred and fifty dollars was a fortune in his eyes, a larger one too than he had hoped to earn for some years to come. He opened the letter and one glance at it showed him that the money was his, if he could only capture the required number of birds. They were to be trapped at once, the sooner the better, put into boxes, which were to be marked C. O. D. and forwarded, charges paid, to the address at the bottom of the letter.
"Cod," repeated David, whose opportunities for learning how business was transacted had been very limited, "does he mean codfish?" Don and Bert laughed heartily.
"No," said the former, as soon as he could speak. "C. O. D. means 'collect on delivery.'"
"O," said David, in a tone of voice which showed that he did not yet fully understand.
"It is nothing to be ashamed of," said Bert; "we didn't know what the letters meant until father told us."
"That's so," said Don; "how is a fellow to know a thing he has never had a chance to learn? Now when the birds are caught, you put so many of them in a box and on each box you mark the value of its contents. You send a notice of shipment to the man, and he will know when to look for the birds. When they arrive he pays the amount of your bill to the express agent, and the agent forwards it to you. You run no risk whatever, for the man can't get the quails until your bill is paid."
"Now I'll tell you what we'll do," said Bert, who saw by the expression on David's face that his brother had not made matters much clearer by his explanation, "you go to work and catch the quails, and when you have made up the required number, we'll help you ship them off."
"That's the idea," said Don. "We'll do anything we can for you."
"Thank you," answered David, who felt as if a tremendous responsibility had been removed from his shoulders.
"I'll write to the man to-day, informing him that you will go to work at once," added Don. "I don't suppose you could tell, even within a week or two, of the time it will take you to fill the order, could you?"
"I shouldn't like to make a guess," said David. "The birds rove around so that a fellow can't tell anything about them. They are plenty now, but next week there may not be half a dozen flocks to be found."
"Then I will write to him that the best you can say is, that you will lose no time. How does the pointer come on?"
"Finely," said David. "He works better than half the old dogs now. He's smart, I tell you."
"He takes after his owner, you see. I hope to get firmly on my feet next week, and if I do, I want to try him. Good-by."
"Now, there are two friends worth having," thought David, gazing almost lovingly after the brothers, as they rode away. "I don't wonder that everybody likes them. A hundred and fifty dollars! Whew! won't mother have some nice, warm clothes this winter, and won't she have everything else she wants, too?"
The boy did not see how he could possibly keep his good fortune to himself until his mother came home that night. His first impulse was to go over to the neighbor's house, and tell her all about it, but he was restrained by the thought that that would be a waste of time. He could make one trap in the hour and a half that it would take him to go and return, and the sooner his traps were all completed, the sooner he could get to work. His next thought was that he would let the traps rest for that day, go down to the landing, purchase some nice present for his mother and surprise her with it when she came home. Of course he had no money to pay for it, but what did that matter? Silas Jones was always willing to trust anybody whom he knew to be reliable, and when he learned that his customer would have a hundred and fifty dollars of his own in a few weeks, he would surely let him have a warm dress or a pair of shoes. When his money came he would get his mother something fine to wear to church; and, while he was about it, wouldn't it be a good plan for him to send to Memphis for a nice hunting outfit and a few dozen steel traps? Like his father, when he first thought of the barrel with the eighty thousand dollars in it, David looked upon himself as rich already; and if he had attempted to carry out all the grand ideas that were continually suggesting themselves to him, it was probable that his hundred and fifty dollars would be gone before he had earned them.
"Halloo, there!" shouted a voice.
David looked up and saw another horseman standing beside the fence—Silas Jones, who kept the store at the landing, and the very man of whom he had been thinking but a moment before.
"Come here, David," continued Silas. "I am out collecting bills, and I thought I would ride around and see if you have heard anything of that respected father of yours during the last few days."
"No, sir; we haven't," answered David, hanging his head.
"Well, I suppose you know that he owes me eight dollars, don't you?" said Silas.
"I knew he owed you something, but I didn't think it was as much as that," replied David, opening his eyes. In his estimation, eight dollars was a debt of some magnitude.
"That's the amount, as sure as you live, and if I had charged him as much as I charge others, it would have been more. I made a little reduction to him, because I knew that he didn't own more of this world's goods than the law allows. What is to be done about it? Am I to lose my money because he has run away?"
"O, no," said David, quickly. "I'll pay it, and be glad to do so. We may want groceries some time, you know, when we have no money to pay for them."
"That's the way to talk. Pay up promptly and your credit will always be good."
"All I ask of you," continued David, "is that you will wait about a month longer, until——"
"Can't do it; can't possibly do it," exclaimed Silas, shaking his head and waving his hands up and down in the air. "Must have money to-day. My creditors are pushing me, and I must push everybody whose name is on my books."
"But my name isn't on your books."
"Your father's is, and if you have any honor about you, you will see the debt paid."
"That's what I mean to do, but I can't pay it now."
"Can't wait a single day," said Silas. "If the money isn't forthcoming at once, you can't get a single thing at my store from this time forward, unless you have the cash to plank right down on the counter."
"I have always paid you for everything I have bought of you," said David, with some spirit.
"I know it; but your father hasn't, and if you want me to show you any favors, you will pay that debt to-day. You have always been called an honest boy, and if you want to keep that reputation, you had better be doing something."
So saying, Silas wheeled his horse and rode away, leaving David lost in wonder.
AN OFFER OF PARTNERSHIP.
This was the first time David had ever heard that a son could be held responsible for debts contracted by his father. At first he did not believe it; but Silas seemed to think it could be done, and he was a business man and ought to know what he was talking about. The truth of the matter was, that Silas Jones was a hard one to deal with. He wanted every cent that was due him and more too, if he could get it. It made no difference how poor his customers were, he always found means to make them pay the bills they contracted at his store. The eight dollars that Godfrey owed him looked almost as large in his eyes as it did in David's. He could not bear to lose it, and he did not care what tricks he resorted to to get it. When he rode away he took all David's peace of mind with him, "Wasn't it lucky that I didn't go down to his store and ask him to trust me for a dress for mother?" thought the boy; as he picked up his hammer and resumed work upon his trap. "He would have refused me sure. Now there is only one way I can pay that debt, and that is to ask Don Gordon for the ten dollars he promised to give me for breaking his pointer. That's something I don't like, for the money isn't fairly earned yet, but I don't see what else I can do. Mother must have something to eat, and the only way I can get it is by making a friend of Silas by paying him this debt father owes him. I don't care for myself, and as for Dan—let him look out for number one. That's what he makes me do."
While David was soliloquising in this way he heard a footstep near him, and looking up saw his brother Dan, whose appearance and actions surprised him not a little. His face wore a smile instead of the usual scowl, he had no coat on, his sleeves were rolled up, and he carried a frow in one hand (a frow is a sharp instrument used for splitting out shingles), and a heavy mallet in the other. He really looked as if he had made up his mind to go to work, and David could not imagine what had happened to put such an idea into his head. He stopped on the way to speak to the pointer and give him a friendly pat, and that was another thing that surprised his brother. Dan would have acted more like himself if he had given the animal a kick.
"He's up to something," thought David. "He wouldn't act that way if he wasn't. I shouldn't wonder if he wants part of that money I am going to get from Don Gordon, but he needn't waste his breath in asking for it. Every cent of it goes into mother's hands."
"Halloo, Davy!" said Dan, cheerfully. "I thought mebbe you wouldn't care if I should come out and lend you a hand. I hain't got nothing much to do this morning."
David made no reply. He was waiting to hear what object his brother had in view in offering his assistance, and he knew it would all be made plain to him in a few minutes.
"You got a heap of traps to build, hain't you?" continued Dan. "When be you goin' to set 'em?"
"I am going to set some of them to-night," was David's reply.
"Fifty dozen is a heap of birds, ain't it?" said Dan.
"How do you happen to know anything about it?" demanded David, who was greatly astonished.
"I heerd you an' Don talkin' about it."
"Where were you at the time?"
"O, I was around," answered Dan, who did not care to confess that he had intentionally played the part of eavesdropper.
David was silent, for he wanted to think about it. Here was another piece of ill luck. His experience had taught him that if he wished to make his enterprise successful, he must keep it from the knowledge of his father and Dan. If they found out that he expected to earn so much money, they would insist on a division of the spoils, and if their demand was not complied with, there would be trouble in the cabin. He had no fear of his father now, but here was Dan, who was an unpleasant fellow to have about when he was crossed, and he seemed to know all about it. There were troublous times ahead; David was sure of that.
"What does that feller up North want with so many quails, anyhow?" asked Dan, as he placed one of the oak blocks upon its end and began splitting off a shingle with the frow. "He can't eat 'em all by hisself."
"No, he wants to turn them loose and let them run," replied David, with as much good nature as he could assume. "You see they had an awful hard winter up there last year, and the quails were all killed off."
"Wall, what does the fule want to let 'em go fur, arter he's bought 'em?"
"Why, he wants to stock the country. He belongs to a Sportsman's Club up there. He and his friends will have a law passed keeping folks from shooting them for two or three years, and then there'll be just as many birds as there were before."
"Is that the way them rich fellers does?"
"That's what Don says."
"It's mighty nice to be rich, ain't it, Davy; to have all the money you want to spend, a nice hoss to ride, one of them guns what breaks in two in the middle to do your shootin' with, an' shiny boots an' a straw hat to wear to church! I wish me an' pap had found that thar bar'l with the eighty thousand dollars into it. I wouldn't be wearin' no sich clothes as these yere."
"That's all humbug," exclaimed David. "The silver things that old Jordan buried, the spoons, knives and dishes, were all dug up again and are in use now every day. General Gordon never had eighty thousand dollars in gold and silver."
"Don't you b'lieve no sich story as that ar," replied Dan, with a knowing shake of his head.
"That's what the Gordons say, anyhow."
"In course they do; an' they say it kase they don't want nobody diggin' arter that thar bar'l. They wants to find it theirselves. How much be you goin' to get fur these quail, Davy? As much as twenty-five dollars, mebbe thirty, won't you?"
This question showed that Dan didn't know all about the matter, and David took courage. "Yes, all of that," he replied.
"More, I reckon mebbe, won't ye?"
"I think so."
"You won't get fifty, will you?" said Dan, opening his eyes.
"I hope I shall."
"Whew!" whistled Dan. He threw down his frow and mallet and seated himself on the pile of shingles, with an air which said very plainly, that with such an amount of money in prospect there was no need that any more work should be done. "That's a fortin, Davy. It's an amazin' lot fur poor folks like us, an' I can't somehow git it through my head that we're goin' to git so much. But if we do get it, Davy, we'll have some high old times when it comes, me an' you."
"You and me!" exclaimed David.
"Sartin; I want some good clothes an' so do you. 'Twon't be enough to get us a hoss apiece. I do wish I had a circus hoss like Don Gordon's, but we kin get some better shootin' irons, me an' you kin, an' mebbe we can git a boat to hunt ducks in, an' some of them fish-poles what breaks all in pieces an' you carry 'em under your arm. An', Davy, mebbe we'll have a leetle left to get something fur the ole woman."
"For mother! I rather think she'll get something," said David, in a tone of voice that made his brother look up in surprise. "She'll get it all, every cent of it."
"Not by no means she won't," exclaimed Dan, striking his open palm with his clenched hand. "No, sir, not by a long shot. You kin give her your shar', if you're fule enough to do it, but mine I'll keep fur myself. I'll bet you on that."
"I didn't know that you had any share in this business."
"Whoop!" yelled Dan.
He dashed his hat upon the ground, jumped up and knocked his heels together, coming down with his feet spread out and his clenched hands hanging by his side, as if he were waiting for an attack from his brother.
"No, sir," said David, quietly but firmly, "this is my own business. If you want money, go to work and earn it for yourself. You've got six dollars and six bits hidden away somewhere that you never offered to share with me or mother either."
"I know it, kase it is my own. I worked hard fur it too."
"I don't know how, or when you got it," answered David, who little dreamed that his brother had more ready money than that, and that the most of it rightfully belonged to himself, "and I have never asked you for any of it. The money I shall receive for these quails will be mine, all mine."
Dan uttered another wild Indian yell and once more went through the process of preparing himself for a fight, leaping high into the air, knocking his heels together, coming down with his feet spread out and his hands clenched, and when he was fairly settled on the ground again, he exclaimed:
"Dave, does you want me to wallop you?"
"No, I don't," was the reply; "but if you do you won't keep me from doing what I please with my own money."
"But it won't be your own when you get it. I'm older nor you be, an' now that pap's away I'm the man of the house, I want you to know, an' it's the properest thing that I should have the handlin' of all the money that comes into the family. If you don't go 'have yourself it's likely you won't tech a cent of them fifty dollars when it comes. If you don't go to crossin' me, I'll give you your shar' an' I'll take mine; an' we'll get some nice things like Don and Bert Gordon has got."
"But how does it come that you will have any share in it? That's what I can't understand."
"Why, I kalkerlate to help you set the traps an' take out the quail when they're ketched, an' do a heap of sich hard work."
"I intend to do all that myself, and it isn't work either. It's nothing but fun."
"But I'll have a shar' in it anyhow," said Dan, with a grin, which showed that he felt sure of his position, "kase look at the boards I've split out fur you."
David laughed outright. "How many of them are there?" said he. "Five; and I could have split them out in less than half the time you took to do it, and made better boards besides. I can't use these at all."
"Dave," said Dan, solemnly, as he picked up the frow and mallet, "I see you're bound to go agin me."
"No, I am not, and I don't want you to go against me, either."
"Yes, you be. You're goin' to cheat me outen my shar' of them fifty dollars, ain't you now?"
"You will have no share in the money. It will all belong to me, and I shall give it to mother."
"Then, Dave, not a quail do you ketch in these yere fields so long as you hold to them idees. Don't you furget it, nuther."
"What do you mean?" asked David, in alarm. "What are you going to do?"
"I don't make no threatenings. I only say you can't ketch no birds so long as you go agin me, an' that's jest what I mean. If you come to me some day an' say, 'I wus wrong, Dannie, an' now I'm goin' to act decent, like a brother had oughter do,' I'll give you my hand an' do what I can to help you. You've got a big job afore you, an' you can't by no means do it alone. You'd oughter have somebody to help you, an' thar's a heap of hard work in me, the fust thing you know."
"That's so," thought David, running his eyes over his brother's stalwart figure; "but I guess it will stay there."
"We can make them fifty dollars easy, if we pull together; but you can't make 'em by yourself, an' you shan't, nuther. You hear me?"
As Dan said this he disappeared around the corner of the cabin, leaving his brother standing silent and thoughtful. He came out again in a few minutes with his rifle on his shoulder, and without saying another word to David or even looking toward him, climbed over the fence and went into the woods. When he was out of sight, David sat down on one of his traps and went off into a brown study. He was in a bad scrape, that was plain; and the longer he thought about it, the darker the prospect seemed to grow. He had his choice between two courses of action: he must either take Dan into partnership, divide the money with him when it was earned, and permit himself to be browbeaten and driven about as if he were little better than a dog; or he must make an enemy of him by asserting his rights. Which of the two was the more disagreeable and likely to lead to the most unpleasant consequences, he could not determine. If Dan were accepted as a partner, he would insist on handling all the money, and in that case Mrs. Evans would probably see not a single cent of it; for Dan did not care who suffered so long as his own wishes were gratified. If he stuck to the resolution he had already formed, and went ahead on his own responsibility, Dan would smash his traps whenever he happened to find them (he was always roaming about in the woods, and there was hardly a square rod of ground in the neighborhood that he did not pass over in the course of a week), and liberate or wring the necks of the birds that might chance to be in them. He never could capture so many quails if Dan was resolved to work against him, and neither could he make his enterprise successful if he allowed him an interest in it. David did not know what to do.
"I might as well give it up," said he to himself, after a few minutes' reflection. "I'll go up and tell Don that I can't fill the order; and while I am about it, I might as well ask him for that money. Perhaps, if I pay father's debt, Silas Jones will give us what we need until I can find something to do."
With this thought in his mind, David arose and went into the cabin. He put on the tattered garment he called a coat, exchanged his dilapidated hat for another that had not seen quite so hard service, and bent his steps toward General Gordon's house. While he was hurrying along, thinking about his troubles and the coming interview with Don Gordon, and wondering how he could word his request so that his friend would not feel hard toward him for asking for his money before it had been earned, he was almost ridden down by a horseman, who came galloping furiously along the road, and who was close upon him before David knew there was any one near.
"Get out of the way, there!" shouted the rider. "Are you blind, that you run right under a fellow's horse that way?"
David sprang quickly to one side, and the horseman drew up his nag with a jerk and looked down at him. It was Lester Brigham, one of the neighborhood boys of whom we have never before had occasion to speak. He was comparatively a new resident in that country. He had been there only about a year, but during that time he had made himself heartily detested by almost all the boys about Rochdale. Of course he had his cronies—every fellow has; but all the best youngsters, like Don and Bert Gordon and Fred and Joe Packard, would have little to do with him. He had lived in the North until the close of the war, and then his father removed to Mississippi, purchased the plantation adjoining General Gordon's, and began the cultivation of cotton.
Mr. Brigham was said to be the richest man in that county, and Lester had more fine things than all the rest of the boys about there put together. He took particular pride in his splendid hunting and fishing outfit, and it was coveted by almost every boy who had seen it. He had four guns—all breech-loaders; a beautiful little fowling-piece for such small game as quails and snipes; a larger one for ducks and geese; a light squirrel rifle, something like the one Clarence Gordon owned; and a heavier weapon, which he called his deer gun, and which carried a ball as large as the end of one's thumb. He had two jointed fish-poles—one a light, split bamboo, such as is used in fly-fishing, and the other a stout lancewood, for such heavy fish as black bass and pike.
If there was any faith to be put in the stories he told, Lester was a hunter and fisherman who had few equals. Before he came to the South, it was his custom, he said, to spend a portion of every winter in the woods in the northern part of Michigan, and many a deer and bear had fallen to his rifle there. He could catch trout and black bass where other fellows would not think of looking for them, and as for quails, it was no trouble at all for him to make a double shot and bag both the birds every time. There were boys in the neighborhood who doubted this. Game of all kinds was abundant, and Lester was given every opportunity to exhibit the skill of which he boasted so loudly, but he was never in the humor to do it. He seldom went hunting, and when he did he always went alone, and no one ever knew how much game he brought home.
"Your name is Evans, isn't it?" demanded Lester.
David replied that it was.
"Are you the fellow who intends to trap fifty dozen quail in this county, and send them up North?"
"I am," answered David.
"Well, I just rode down here on purpose to tell you that such work as that will not be allowed."
"Who will not allow it?"
"I will not, for one, and my father for another."
"What have you to say about it?" asked David, who did not like the insolent tone assumed by the young horseman. "Do the birds belong to you?"
"They are as much mine as they are yours, and if you have a right to trap them and ship them off, I have a right to say that you shan't do it."
"Why not? What harm will it do?"
"It will do just this much harm: it will make the birds scarce about here, and there are no more than we want to shoot ourselves. O, you needn't laugh about it, I mean just what I say; and if you don't promise that you will let the quail alone, you will see trouble. I am going to get up a Sportsman's Club among the fellows, and then we'll keep such poachers and pot-hunters as you where you belong. No one objects to your shooting the birds over a dog—that's the way to shoot them; but you shan't trap them and send them out of the country. Will you promise that you will give up the idea?"
"No, I won't," answered David.
"Then you'll find yourself in the hands of the law, the first thing you know," exclaimed Lester, angrily. "We won't stand any such work. Don Gordon ought to be ashamed of himself for what he has done. He's the meanest——"
"Hold on, there!" interrupted David, with more spirit than he had yet exhibited. "You don't want to say anything hard about Don while I am around. He's a friend of mine, and I won't hear anybody abuse him. He's the best fellow in the settlement, and so is his brother; and any one who talks against him is just the opposite."
Lester seemed very much astonished at this bold language. He glared down at David for a moment and then slipping his right hand through the loop on the handle of his riding-whip, pulled his feet out of the stirrups and acted as if he were about to dismount. "Do you know who you are talking to?" said he.
"Yes, I do," replied David, "and that's just the kind of a fellow I am."
Lester looked sharply at the ragged youth before him and then put his feet back into the stirrups again and settled himself firmly in the saddle. He felt safer there. "I'll be even with you for that," said he. "You shan't catch any quail in these woods this winter. I'll break up every trap I find and I'll make the rest of the fellows do the same."
Lester gave emphasis to his words by shaking his riding-whip at David, and then wheeled his horse and rode away.
MORE BAD NEWS.
David's feelings, as he stood there in the road, gazing after the retreating horseman, were by no means of the most pleasant nature. He was naturally a cheerful, light-hearted boy, and he would not look on the dark side of things if he could help it. But he couldn't help it now. Here was more trouble. If he had been disposed to give up in despair when he found that his brother was working against him, he had more reason to be discouraged when he learned that a new enemy had suddenly appeared, and from a most unexpected quarter, too. That was the way he looked at the matter at first; but after a little reflection, he felt more like defying Dan and Lester both. What business had either of them to interfere with his arrangements, and say that he should not earn an honest dollar to give his mother, if he could? None whatever, and he would succeed in spite of them. He would get that grocery bill off his hands the first thing, and when he was square with the world, he would go to work in earnest and outwit all his foes, no matter how numerous or how smart they might be. He would tell Don all about it and be governed by his advice.
Having come to this determination, David once more, turned his face toward the General's house. A few minutes' rapid walking brought him to the barn and there he found the boy he wanted to see. The brothers had just returned from a short ride—Don was not yet strong enough to stand his usual amount of exercise—and having turned the ponies over to the hostler, were on the point of starting for the house, when David came in.
"Halloo, Dave!" exclaimed Don, who was always the first to greet him. "Traps all built?"
"Not yet," answered David, trying to look as cheerful as usual.
"You have plenty of nails and timber, I suppose. If not come straight to us. It will never do to let this thing fall through for want of a little capital to go on," said Don, who was as much interested in David's success as though he expected to share in the profits of the enterprise.
"I have everything I want in the way of nails and boards," replied David, "but I—you know—may I see you just a minute, Don?"
"Of course you may, or two or three minutes if you wish. Come on, Bert. I have no secrets from my brother, now," said Don with a laugh. "I kept one thing secret from him and got myself into trouble by it. If I had told him of it perhaps he would have made me behave myself. Now what is it?" he added, when the three had drawn up in one corner of the barn, out of earshot of the hostler.
David was silent. He had made up his mind just what he wanted to say to Don, but Lester Brigham's sudden appearance and the threats he had made had scattered all his ideas, and he could not utter a word.
"Speak up," said Bert encouragingly. "You need not hesitate to talk freely to us. But what's the matter with you? You look as though you were troubled about something."
"I am troubled about a good many things," said David, speaking now after a desperate effort. "In the first place, there are two fellows here who say I shan't trap any birds."
"Who are they?" demanded Don, surprised and indignant.
"My brother Dan is one of them."
"Whew!" whistled Don, opening his eyes and looking at Bert.
"I didn't want him to know anything about it," continued David, "for I was certain that he would make me trouble; but he found it out by listening while I was talking about it, and wanted to join in with me. I told him I didn't want him, and he said I shouldn't catch any birds."
"Did he say what he would do to prevent it?" asked Bert.
"O, it's easy enough to tell what he will do," exclaimed Don. "He'll steal or break the traps and kill the quails. There are plenty of ways in which he can trouble us, if he makes up his mind to it."
"Who is the other?" asked Bert.
Don whistled again, and then looked angry.
"When did you see him, and what did he have to say about it?" he asked. "Has he any reason to hold a grudge against you?"
"I didn't know that he had until I met him in the road this morning. He says he won't have me trapping quails and sending them off North, because it will make them scarce here. He says he is going to get up a Sportsman's Club among the fellows, and then he will keep pot-hunters like me where we belong."
"Oho!" exclaimed Bert. "It seems to me that he is taking a good deal upon himself."
"That is what he has done ever since he has been here, and that's why there are so many boys in the settlement who don't like him," said Don. "But he mustn't meddle with this business. He can't come down here into a country that is almost a wilderness and manage matters as they do up North. Father told me the other day that in some states they have laws to protect game, and it is right that they should have, for there are so many hunters that if they were not restrained they would kill all the birds and animals in a single season. The most of the hunters live in the city, and when they get out with their guns they crack away at everything they see; and if they happen to kill a doe with a fawn at her side, or a quail with a brood of chicks, it makes no difference to them. Sportsman's Clubs are of some use there, but we have no need of them in this country."
"He wants the quails left here, so that he can shoot them over his dog," continued David.
"O, he does! When is he going to begin? He has been here more than a year, and nobody has ever heard of his killing a quail yet. He must keep his fingers out of this pie. We can't put up with any interference from him. Any more bad news?" added Don, seeing that David's face had not yet wholly cleared up.
"Yes, there is," replied the latter, speaking rapidly, for fear that his courage might desert him again. "Just after you left me this morning, Silas Jones rode up and dunned me for eight dollars that father owes him."
"Why, you have nothing to do with that," said Bert.
"Nothing whatever," chimed in Don. "You tell Mr. Jones that if he wants his money he had better hunt up your father and ask him for it. You don't owe him anything, do you?"
"No, but he says that if I don't settle that bill, he'll never let me have a thing at his store again unless I have the money in my hand to pay for it. I haven't a cent of my own, and I thought if you could let me have the ten dollars you promised me for breaking the pointer, I should be much obliged to you."
"If I would do what?" asked Don, in amazement.
"Why, David," said Bert, "the money was all paid to you in less than twenty-four hours after the dog was placed in your keeping."
"Paid to me?" gasped David.
"Well, no, not to you, but to your order."
"To my order!" repeated the boy, who began to think he was dreaming.
"Yes, to your order," said Don. "We left the pointer in your hands at noon, while you were at dinner. In less than an hour afterward, Dan came over and said that you wanted five dollars to buy a dress for your mother, and Bert gave him the money. The next forenoon your father met me at the landing and told me you wanted the other five to buy some medicine for your mother, who was ill with the ague, and I gave it to him, and I just know I made a mess of it," added Don, bringing his hands together with a loud slap.
It was plain from the looks of David's face that he had. The boy listened with eyes wide open, his under jaw dropping down and his face growing pale, as the duplicity of which his father and brother had been guilty was gradually made plain to him, and when at last his mind grasped the full import of Don's words, he covered his face with his hands and cried aloud. Don and Bert looked at him in surprise, and then turned and looked at each other. They who had never wanted for the necessities, and who had never but once, and that was during the war, lacked the luxuries of life, could not understand why his grief should be so overwhelming; but they could understand that they had been deceived, and even the gentle-spirited Bert was indignant over it. The impulsive Don could scarcely restrain himself. He walked angrily up and down the floor, thrashing his boots with his riding-whip and cracking it in the air so viciously that the ponies danced about in their stalls.
"Dave," said Bert, at length, "are we to understand that your father and brother came to us and got that money without any authority from you?"
"That's just what they did," sobbed David.
"And you never saw a cent of it?"
"Not one cent, or mother either."
"Well, what of it?" exclaimed Don. "Brace up and be a man, Dave. A ten-dollar bill is not an everlasting fortune."
"I know it isn't much to you, but it is a good deal to me. You don't know what the loss of it means. It means corn-bread and butter-milk for breakfast, dinner and supper."
"Well, what of that?" said Don, again. "I have eaten more than one dinner at the Gayoso House, in Memphis—and it is one of the best hotels in the country—when corn-bread and butter-milk were down in the bill of fare as part of the dessert."
"Well, if all the folks who stop at that hotel had to live on it, as we do, they would call for something else," replied David. "How am I to settle Silas Jones's bill, I'd like to know?"
"Never mind Silas Jones's bill. If he says anything more to you about it, tell him that you don't owe him a cent."
"And how am I to send my quails away? That man said the charges must be paid."
"Ah! that's a more serious matter," said Don, placing his hands on his hips, and looking down at the floor.
"It is all serious to me," said David, brushing the tears from his eyes, "but I'll work through somehow. I'll go home now and think about it, and if I don't earn that money in spite of all my bad luck, it will not be because I don't try."
"That's the way to talk," said Don, giving David an encouraging slap on the back. "That's the sort of spirit I like. Bert and I will see you again, perhaps this afternoon. In the meantime we'll talk the matter over, and if we three fellows are not smart enough to beat the two who are opposing us, we'll know the reason why."
David hurried out of the barn, in order to hide his tears, which every instant threatened to break forth afresh, and Don, turning to the hostler, ordered him to put the saddles on the ponies again. "Father is down in the field," said he, to his brother, "and it may be two or three hours before he will come to the house. I can't wait so long, so we'll ride down there and talk the matter over with him. He hasn't forgotten that he was a boy once himself, and he will tell us just what we ought to do."
The ponies were led out again in a few minutes, and Bert, having assisted his brother into the saddle, mounted his own nag, and the two rode down the lane toward the field. Of course they could talk about only one thing, and that was the ill-luck that seemed to meet their friend David at every turn. The longer Bert thought and talked of the trick that had been played upon himself and his brother, the more indignant he became; while Don, having had time to recover a little of his usual good nature, was more disposed to laugh over it. He declared that it was the sharpest piece of business he had ever heard of, and wondered greatly that Godfrey and Dan, whom he had always believed to be as stupid as so many blocks, should have suddenly exhibited so much shrewdness. Bert declared that it was a wicked swindle; and the earnestness with which he denounced the whole proceeding made Don laugh louder than ever. Of course the latter did not forget that the trick which so highly amused him, had been the means of placing David in a very unpleasant situation, but still he did not think much about that, for he believed that his father would be able to make some suggestions, which, if acted upon, would straighten things out in short order.
"Well, Don, how does it seem, to find yourself in the saddle again? You appear to enjoy the exercise, but Bert doesn't. He looks as though he had lost his last friend."
This was the way General Gordon greeted his boys, when they rode up beside the stump on which he was seated, superintending the negroes who were at work in the field. Bert brightened up at once, but replied that he thought he had good cause to look down-hearted, and with this introduction he went on and told David's story just as the latter had told it to him and his brother. The General listened good-naturedly, as he always did to anything his boys had to tell him, and when Bert ceased speaking, he pulled off a piece of the stump and began to whittle it with his knife. The boys waited for him to say something, but as he did not, Bert continued:
"We came down here to ask you what we ought to do about it, and we want particularly to know your opinion concerning the trick Dan and his father played on us."
"That is easily given," replied the General. "My opinion is that Master Don is just ten dollars out of pocket."
"You don't mean that I must pay it over again?" exclaimed Don.
"No, I don't mean that, because you haven't paid it at all."
"Why, father, I——"
"I understand. Dan made a demand upon Bert, and Bert borrowed five dollars of his mother and gave it to him. Godfrey came to you for the other five, and you gave it to him. David has not yet been paid for breaking the pointer."
"No, sir; but we supposed that his father and brother had authority to ask us for the money."
"You had no right to suppose anything of the kind. You ought to have paid the money into David's own hands, or else satisfied yourselves that he wanted it paid to some one else. Among business men it is customary, in such cases, to send a written order. You must pay David, and this time be sure that he gets the money."
"Whew!" whistled Don, who was very much surprised by this decision. "That will make a big hole in the money I was saving for Christmas; but David needs it more than I do, and besides it belongs to him. What shall we do to Godfrey and Dan? They obtained those ten dollars under false pretences, did they not?"
"I don't know whether a lawyer could make a case out of that or not," said the General, with a laugh. "I am afraid he couldn't, so you will have to stand the loss. Perhaps you will learn something by it."
"I am quite sure that I have learned something already," replied Don. "But now about Dan and Lester. How are we going to keep them from interfering with David?"
"Why, it seems to me that I could hide my traps where they would never think of looking for them, and where I would be sure to catch quails, too. If I thought I couldn't, I would set them all on this plantation, and any one who troubled them would render himself liable for trespass."
"Aha!" exclaimed Don, who caught the idea at once.
"But, in order to throw Dan off the scent entirely, you might have David come up to our shop every day and build his traps there. He will find all the tools he wants, and those shingles we tore off that old corn-crib will answer his purpose better than new ones, because they are old and weather-beaten, and look just like the wood in the forest. When I was a boy, I never had any luck in catching birds in bright new traps. When the birds are caught, he can put them into one of those unoccupied negro cabins and lock them up until he is ready to send them off."
"That's the very idea!" cried Don, gleefully. "We knew that if there was any way out of the difficulty, you would be sure to see it."
The General bowed in acknowledgment of the compliment, and the brothers turned their horses about and rode away. When they reached the barn Don was willing to confess that he was very tired. Riding on horseback is hard work for one who is stiff in every joint and lame all over; but Don could not think of going into the house and taking a rest. He had been a close prisoner there for a whole week, and now that he had taken a breath of fresh air and stirred his sluggish blood with a little exhilarating exercise, he could not bear to go back to his sofa again. He proposed that they should leave their ponies at the barn and go up to David's in the canoe. They would take their guns with them, he said, and after they had paid David his money, they would row a short distance up the bayou, and perhaps they might be fortunate enough to knock over a duck or two for the next day's dinner.
Bert, of course, agreed to the proposition, and went into the shop after the oars belonging to the canoe, while Don went into the house again after the guns. When he came out again he had a breech-loader on each shoulder and David's ten dollars in his pocket. Paying that bill twice did make a big hole in his Christmas money, for it took just half of it.
The brothers walked along the garden path that ran toward the lake, and when Don, who was leading the way, stepped upon the jetty he missed something at once. The canoe was gone. They had not been near the jetty for a week, and the last time they were there the boat was all right. It could not have got away without help, for it was firmly tied to a ring in the jetty by the chain, which served as a painter, and even if that had become loosened the canoe would have remained near its moorings, for there was no current in the lake to carry it from the shore. Beyond a doubt, it had been stolen. Don would not have felt the loss more keenly if the thief had taken his fine sail-boat. The canoe was almost as old as he was, and in it he and Bert had taken their first ride on the lake and captured their first wounded duck.
"It's gone," said Don, after he and Bert had looked all around the lake as far as their eyes could reach, "and that's all there is of it. But we'll not give up our trip. We'll go in the sail-boat."
The sail-boat had been dismantled, and the masts, sails, rudder and everything else belonging to her had been stored in the shop under cover. While Bert was gone after the oars, Don drew the boat up to the jetty, and having stowed the guns away in the stow-sheets, he got in himself and took another survey of the lake to make sure that the canoe was nowhere in sight. It was hard to give it up as lost.
Bert came back in a few minutes, and having shipped the oars shoved off and pulled down the lake. A quarter of an hour afterward they landed on the beach in front of Godfrey's cabin. They found David wandering listlessly about in the back yard with his hands in his pockets; and when he came up to the fence in response to their call, they saw that he had been crying again.
"David," exclaimed Don, putting his hand into his pocket, "we've got news for you that will make you wear a different looking face when you hear it. After you went home, we rode down to see father, and he told us—Eh!" cried Don, turning quickly toward his brother, who just then gave his arm a sly pinch.
"Let me tell it," said Bert. "We'd like to see you at our house this evening about five o'clock; can you come?"
"I reckon I can," answered David. "Was that the good news you wanted to tell me?"
"No—I believe—yes, it was," said Don, who received another fearful pinch on the arm and saw his brother looking at him in a very significant way. "You come up, anyhow."
"We've got some work for you to do up there," said Bert. "It will not pay you much at first, but perhaps you can make something out of it by-and-by. It will keep you busy for two or three weeks, perhaps longer. Will you come?"
David replied that he would, and turned away with an expression of surprise and disappointment on his face. The eager, almost excited manner in which Don greeted him, led him to hope that he had something very pleasant and encouraging to tell, and somehow he couldn't help thinking that his visitors had not said just what they intended to say when they first came up to the fence.
"What in the name of sense and Tom Walker was the matter with you, Bert?" demanded Don, as soon as the two were out of David's hearing. "My arm is all black and blue, I know!"
"I didn't want you to say too much," was Bert's reply, "and I didn't know any other way to stop your talking. There was a listener close by."
"A listener! Who was it?"
"David's brother. Just as you began speaking I happened to look toward the cabin, and saw through the cracks between the logs that the window on the other side was open. Close to one of those cracks, and directly in line with the window, was a head. I knew it was Dan's head the moment I saw it."
"Aha!" exclaimed Don. "He had his trouble for his pains this time, hadn't he? Or, rather, he had the trouble and I had the pain," he added, rubbing his arm.
Bert laughed and said he thought that was about the way the matter stood.
DAN IS ASTONISHED.
Many times during his life had David had good reason to be discouraged, but he had never been so strongly tempted to give up trying altogether and settle down into a professional vagabond, as he was when he left General Gordon's barn and turned his face toward home. He had relied upon Don to show him a way out of his trouble, but his friend had not helped him at all; he had only made matters worse by telling him more bad news. Nothing seemed to go right with him. There was Dan, who never did anything, and yet he was better off in the world and seemed to be just as happy as David, who was always striving to better his condition and continually on the lookout for a chance to earn a dollar or two. Why should he not stop work and let things take their own course, as his brother did? He reached home while he was revolving this question in his mind, and the first person he saw when he climbed the fence and walked toward the shingle-pile to resume work upon his traps, was his brother Dan.
"Whar you been an' what you been a doin' of?" demanded the latter, as if he had a right to know.
"I've been over to Don's house," answered David; "and while I was there I found out that you and father borrowed my ten dollars."
"'Tain't so nuther," cried Dan, trying to look surprised and indignant.
"I believe everything Don and Bert tell me. They have never lied to me and you have."
"Whoop!" yelled Dan, jumping up and knocking his heels together.
"I mean every word of it," said David, firmly. "You have got me into a tight scrape, but I'll work out of it somehow. And let me tell you one thing, Dan; you'll never have a chance to steal any more of my money."
"Then why don't you divide it like a feller had oughter do?" asked Dan, angrily.
"Why don't you divide with mother and me when you have some?"
"Kase I work hard for it an' it b'longs to me; that's why." And knowing by his past experience that he could not hold his own in an argument with his brother, Dan turned about and went into the house.
David worked faithfully at his traps, paying no further heed to his brother's movements. He tried to keep his mind on what he was doing, but now and then the recollection of the heavy loss he had sustained would come back to him with overwhelming force and the tears would start to his eyes in spite of all he could do to prevent it. Then he would throw down his hammer and wander about with his hands in his pockets, wondering what was the use of trying to do anything or be anybody while things were working so strongly against him.
It was during one of these idle periods that Don and Bert came up. David's hopes arose immediately when he caught sight of Don's smiling face, for he was sure that he was about to hear something encouraging. Indeed, Don's first words confirmed this impression; but it turned out that they had come there simply to offer him work that would keep him busy for two or three weeks. Of course David wanted work, but just then he wanted money more. He wanted to pay that grocery bill, so that he could look Silas Jones in the face the next time he met him.
When the brothers got into their boat and rowed away, David went back to his traps, while Dan, who had been disappointed in his hopes of hearing some private conversation between the visitors and his brother, shouldered his rifle and disappeared in the woods.
David worked away industriously until the sun told him that it was nearly four o'clock, and then he put on his coat and started off to keep his appointment with Don and Bert. He found them waiting for him at the General's barn, and he was not a little surprised when they seized him by the arms and pulled him into the carpenter-shop, the door of which they were careful to close and lock behind them.
"Now I know we can talk without danger of being overheard," exclaimed Don. "We've got lots to tell you; but in the first place," he added, opening his pocket-book, "there's your money."
The expression of joy and surprise that came upon David's face as he hesitatingly, almost reluctantly, took the crisp, new bill that was held toward him, amply repaid Don for the loss of the pleasure he had expected to derive in spending the money for Christmas presents.
"Why, I understood you to say that father and Dan had drawn this money," said he, as soon as he could speak.
"So they did, but my father says the loss is mine and not yours."
David drew a long breath. He understood the matter now. "It isn't fair that you should pay it twice," said he.
"I haven't paid it twice; that is, I haven't paid you at all. It's all right, David, you may depend upon it. They'll never fool us again. If I should ever have any more of your money, nobody could get it except yourself."
"Or mother," added David.
"O, of course. I wouldn't be afraid to trust her."
"I was in hopes that you would have a good deal of my money in your hands some day," continued David. "I was going to ask you to keep my hundred and fifty dollars for me; but I don't know now whether I shall ever get it or not."
"Of course you'll get it," exclaimed Bert. "You are not going to give up the idea of trapping the quails, are you?"
"No, but I don't know that I shall make anything at it, for Dan and Lester can break up my traps faster than I can make them."
"Well, they'll not break up a single one of your traps, because——"
Here Don began and hurriedly repeated the conversation which he and Bert had had with their father a few hours before. As David listened the look of trouble his face had worn all that day gradually faded away, and the old happy smile took its place. His confidence in his friends had not been misplaced; Dan and Lester Brigham were to be outwitted after all.
The traps and the "figure fours" with which they were to be set, could be built there in the shop, Don said. There were tools and a bench and everything else needful close at hand, so that the work could be done in half the time that David had expected to devote to it. As fast as the traps were completed they were to be set in General Gordon's fields. They would be safe there and Dan Evans or Lester Brigham or anybody else who came near them, would be likely to get himself into trouble. The negroes were always at work in the fields in the daytime, and if they were told to keep their eyes open and report any outsiders who might be seen prowling about the fences, they would be sure to do it. The best course David could pursue would be to say nothing more about trapping the quails. Let Dan believe that he had become discouraged and given up the enterprise. If he wanted to know what it was that took his brother over to General Gordon's house so regularly, David could tell him that he was doing some work there, which would be the truth; and besides it would be all Dan had any right to know.
As fast as the birds were caught, they could be locked up in one of the empty negro cabins; and any one who found out that they were there and tried to steal them, would run the risk of being caught by Don's hounds. It was a splendid plan, taken altogether, and David's eyes fairly glistened while it was unfolded to him. He thanked the brothers over and over again for their kindness and the interest they took in his success, and might have kept on thanking them if Don had not interrupted him with—
"O, that's all understood. Now, before you begin work on those traps we want you to help us one day. We've had a good deal of excitement and some good luck since we last saw you. We have recovered my canoe, which somebody stole from me, and we have found out that there is a bear living on Bruin's Island."
"He must be a monster, too, for such growls I never heard before," said Bert.
"Didn't you see him?" asked David.
"No. We landed to explore the island, and while we were going through the cane he growled at us, and we took the hint and left. We didn't have a single load of heavy shot with us. We're going up there to-morrow, and we want you to go with us. We'll go fixed for him, too. We'll have a couple of good dogs with us; I'll take my rifle; Bert will take father's heavy gun; and we'd like to have you take your single-barrel. If he gets a bullet and three loads of buckshot in his head, he'll not growl at us any more. If we don't get a chance to shoot him, we'll build a trap and catch him alive the next time he comes to the island. Will you go?"
Of course David would go. He would have gone anywhere that Don told him to go. He promised to be at the barn at an early hour the next morning, and then showed a desire to leave the shop; so Don unlocked the door, and David hurried out and turned his face toward the landing. He had money now, and that grocery bill should not trouble him any longer.
"If there ever was a lucky boy in the world I am the one," thought David, whose spirits were elevated in the same ratio in which they had before been depressed. "I'll earn my hundred and fifty dollars now, and mother shall have her nice things in spite of Dan and Lester. It isn't every fellow who has such friends as Don and Bert Gordon. But I shall have a hard time of it, anyhow. Dan will be so mad when he finds out that he can't ruin me, that he will do something desperate."
David, however, did not waste much time in thinking of the troubles that might come in the future. He preferred to think about pleasanter things. He was so wholly engrossed with his plans that it seemed to him that he was not more than five minutes in reaching the landing. There was no one in the street, and nothing there worth looking at, except General Gordon's white horse, which was hitched to a post in front of Silas Jones's store. As David approached, the General himself came out, accompanied by the grocer, who was as polite and attentive to his rich customers as he was indifferent to the poor ones.
"Ah, David!" exclaimed the General, extending his hand; "how are times now? Business looking up any?"
"Y-yes, sir," stammered the boy, who could scarcely speak at all. He was not abashed by the rich man's presence, for he had learned to expect a friendly nod or a cordial grasp of the hand every time he met him; but he was very much astonished by the greeting which Silas Jones extended to him. No sooner had the General released David's hand than it was seized by the grocer, who appeared to be as glad to see him as though he knew that the boy had come there to buy a bill of goods worth hundreds of dollars.
"It never does any good to give away to our gloomy feelings," said the General. "There are many times when things don't go just as we would like to have them, but the day always follows the night, and a little perseverance sometimes works wonders."
David understood what the General meant, but it was plain that the grocer did not, for he looked both bewildered and surprised. He bowed to his rich customer, as he rode off, and then, turning to David, conducted him into the store with a great deal of ceremony.
"Mr. Jones," said David, who began to think that the grocer must have taken leave of his senses, "I have come here to settle father's bill."
"O, that's all right," was the smiling reply. "It isn't fair that I should hold you responsible for that debt, and I have concluded that I will not do it. Your father will pay me some time, perhaps, and if he doesn't, I'll let it go. The loss of it won't break me. Can I do anything for you this evening?"
David was more astonished than ever. Was this the man who had spoken so harshly to him no longer ago than that very morning? What had happened to work so great a change in him? It was the General's visit that did it. When Don and Bert left their father, after holding that short consultation with him in the field, the latter took a few minutes to think the matter over, and when his hands had finished their work, he mounted his horse and rode down to the landing, to have a talk with Mr. Jones. What passed between them no one ever knew, but it was noticed that from that day forward, whenever David came into the store to trade, he was treated with as much respect as he would have been had he been known to have his pockets full of money.
"Want anything in my line this evening?" continued the grocer, rubbing his hands; "a hat or a pair of shoes and stockings for yourself, a nice warm dress for mother, or——"
"O, I want a good many things," replied David, "but I shall have only two dollars left after your bill is paid, and that must keep us in groceries for at least a month—perhaps longer."
To David's great amazement, the merchant replied: "Your credit is good for six months. As for your father's debt, I wouldn't let you pay it if you were made of money. Better take home some tea, coffee and sugar with you, hadn't you? It is always a good plan to replenish before you get entirely out, you know."
"O, we were out long ago," said David, who could not help smiling at the mistake Silas made in supposing that tea, coffee and sugar appeared on his mother's table every day. "We haven't had any in our house for almost a month."
"Is that so?" exclaimed the grocer, "Then I'll put up some for you, and lend you a basket to carry it home in."
David leaned upon the counter and began a little problem in mental arithmetic, with the view of ascertaining how much of his money it would take to keep his mother supplied with the luxuries the grocer had mentioned for one month, and how much he would have left to invest in clothing for her; but before the problem was solved the grocer had placed three neat packages, good-sized ones, too, on the counter, and was looking for a basket to put them in.
"Now, then," said he, briskly, "what next? A dress for mother or a pair of shoes for yourself? The mornings are getting to be pretty cold now, and you can't run around barefooted much longer. Ah, Dan! how do you do?"
David looked up and was surprised to see his brother standing by his side. He was surprised, too, to notice that the grocer greeted him almost as cordially as he had greeted himself but a few minutes before. David was not glad that he was there, for the expression on Dan's face told him that he had seen and heard more than he had any business to know. David made haste to finish his trading after that, and when he had purchased a dress and a pair of shoes for his mother, and a pair of shoes and stockings for himself, he handed out his ten-dollar bill in payment. Dan's eyes seemed ready to start from their sockets at the sight of it.
"Never mind that, now," said the grocer, pushing it back. "Perhaps you will need it some day and I can wait six months, if you are not ready to settle up before."
Dan's eyes opened still wider, and when his brother, after thanking the grocer for his kindness and confidence, gathered up his purchases and left the store, he followed slowly after him, so wholly lost in wonder that he never recollected that he had six dollars in his own pocket, and that he had come there to spend the best part of five of it. He walked along at a little distance behind his brother, looking thoughtfully at the ground all the while, as if he were revolving some perplexing question in his mind, and then quickened his pace to overtake him.
"Le' me carry some of them things," said he, as he came up with David.
"No, I thank you," replied the latter, who knew that Dan never would have offered to help him, if he had not hoped to gain something by it. "I can get along very well by myself. The load is not a heavy one."
"You're an amazin' lucky feller, Davy," continued Dan. "What you been a doin' to Silas, to make him speak so kind to us poor folks?"
"I haven't done anything to him. I don't know how to account for it, any more than you do."
"What's the matter, now? Forgot something?" asked Dan, as his brother suddenly stopped and looked toward the landing, as if he had half a mind to turn around and go back there.