YOUNG CAPTAIN JACK
The Son of a Soldier
HORATIO ALGER, JR.
Author of "Out for Business," "Falling in with Fortune," "Adrift in New York," "Tattered Tom," "Ragged Dick," Etc.
ARTHUR M. WINFIELD
Author of "The Rover Boys Series," Etc.
New York The Mershon Company Publishers Copyright, 1901, by The Mershon Company. All rights reserved.
"YOUNG CAPTAIN JACK" relates the adventures of a boy waif, who is cast upon the Atlantic shore of one of our Southern States and taken into one of the leading families of the locality. The youth grows up as a member of the family, knowing little or nothing of his past. This is at the time of the Civil War, when the locality is in constant agitation, fearing that a battle will be fought in the immediate vicinity. During this time there appears upon the scene a Confederate surgeon who, for reasons of his own, claims Jack as his son. The youth has had trouble with this man and despises him. He cannot make himself believe that the surgeon is his parent and he refuses to leave his foster mother, who thinks the world of him. Many complications arise, but in the end the truth concerning the youth's identity is uncovered, and all ends happily for the young son of a soldier.
In its original shape Mr. Alger intended this tale of a soldier's son for a juvenile drama, and it is, therefore, full of dramatic situations. But it was not used as a play, and when the gifted author of so many boys' books had laid aside his pen forever the manuscript was placed in the hands of the present writer, to be made over into such a book as would evidently have met with the noted author's approval. The success of other books by Mr. Alger, and finished by the present writer, has been such that my one wish is that this story may meet with equal commendation.
Arthur M. Winfield.
February 16, 1901.
I. THE ENCOUNTER ON THE BRIDGE, 1
II. DARCY GILBERT'S STORY, 9
III. A MYSTERY OF THE PAST, 16
IV. ON BOARD THE WRECK, 23
V. OLD BEN HAS A VISITOR, 30
VI. MRS. RUTHVEN'S STORY, 38
VII. A SETBACK FOR ST. JOHN, 47
VIII. THE HOME GUARDS OF OLDVILLE, 54
IX. DR. MACKEY INVESTIGATES, 63
X. THE PAPERS ON THE WRECK, 71
XI. MRS. RUTHVEN SPEAKS HER MIND, 78
XII. THE BOAT RACE ON THE BAY, 86
XIII. DR. MACKEY TELLS HIS STORY, 95
XIV. JACK SPEAKS HIS MIND, 105
XV. CAPTAIN JACK AT THE FRONT, 114
XVI. COLONEL STANTON'S VISIT, 125
XVII. A SCENE IN THE SUMMERHOUSE, 134
XVIII. MEETING OF THE COUSINS, 143
XIX. A SUMMONS FROM THE FRONT, 154
XX. THE STORM OF BATTLE AGAIN, 163
XXI. A LIVELY FIRE, 172
XXII. AFTER THE BATTLE, 180
XXIII. DR. MACKEY'S BOLD MOVE, 188
XXIV. THE HUNT FOR JACK, 197
XXV. A REMARKABLE REVELATION, 204
XXVI. DR. MACKEY SHOWS HIS HAND, 212
XXVII. COLONEL STANTON'S TALE, 220
XXVIII. IN THE HANDS OF THE GUERRILLAS, 228
XXIX. THE ESCAPE FROM THE CAVE, 235
XXX. BROUGHT TO BAY, 243
XXXI. FATHER AND SON—CONCLUSION, 252
YOUNG CAPTAIN JACK.
THE ENCOUNTER ON THE BRIDGE.
"Get out of the way, boy, or I'll ride over you!"
"Wait a second, please, until I haul in this fish. He's such a beauty I don't wish to lose him."
"Do you suppose I'm going to bother with your fish? Get out of the way, I say!" And the man, who sat astride of a coal-black horse, shook his hand threateningly. He was dressed in the uniform of a surgeon in the Confederate Army, and his face was dark and crafty.
The boy, who was but fourteen and rather slenderly built, looked up in surprise. He was seated on the side of a narrow bridge spanning a mountain stream flowing into the ocean, and near him rested a basket half-filled with fish. He had been on the point of hauling in another fish—of extra size—but now his prize gave a sudden flip and disappeared from view.
"Gone! and you made me miss him!" he cried, much vexed.
"Shut up about your fish and get out of the way!" stormed the man on the horse. "Am I to be held up here all day by a mere boy?"
"Excuse me, but I have as much right on this bridge as you," answered the boy, looking the man straight in the eyes.
"Have you indeed?"
"Perhaps you think yourself of just as much importance as a surgeon in the army, on an important mission."
"I didn't say that. I said I had just as much right on this bridge as you. It's a public bridge."
"Bah! get out of the way and let me pass. I've wasted time enough on you." The man tugged nervously at his heavy mustache. "Which is the way to Tanner's Mill?"
To this the youth made no reply. Gathering up his fishing rod and his basket, he stepped to the river bank and prepared to make another cast into the water.
"I say, tell me the way to Tanner's Mill," repeated the man.
"I reckon you had better go elsewhere for your information," returned the boy quietly, but with a faint smile playing over his handsome, sunburned face.
"What, you young rascal, you won't tell me?" stormed the man.
"No, I won't. And I beg to let you know I am no rascal."
"You are a rascal," was the snappy reply. "Answer my question, or it will be the worse for you," and now the man leaped to the ground and advanced with clenched fists. Possibly he thought the youth would retreat; if so, he was mistaken.
"Don't you dare to touch me, sir. I am not your slave."
"You'll answer my question."
"I will not."
"Because you haven't treated me decently; that's why."
"You hold a mighty big opinion of yourself."
"If I do, that's my own business."
"Perhaps you are a Northern mudsill."
"No, I am just as loyal to the South as you or anybody."
"I wouldn't care to take your word on that point, youngster. I am on an important mission, and if you sympathize with our South in this great war you'll direct me to the short way to Tanner's Mill."
"Do they expect a fight at Tanner's Mill?"
"Don't bother me with questions. Show me the road, and I'll be off."
"Keep to the right and you'll be right," answered the youth, after a pause, and then he resumed his fishing.
The man scowled darkly as he leaped again into the saddle. "How I would love to warm you—if I had time," he muttered, then put spurs to his steed and galloped off.
"So he is going to Tanner's Mill," mused the boy, when left alone. "If they have a fight there it will be getting pretty close to home. I don't believe mother will like that."
As will be surmised from the scene just described, Jack Ruthven was a manly, self-reliant boy, not easily intimidated by those who would browbeat him.
He lived in a large mansion, set back some distance from the river, upon what was considered at that time one of the richest plantations in South Carolina.
Mrs. Ruthven was a widow, having lost her husband, Colonel Martin Ruthven, at the bloody battle of Gettysburg. She had one daughter, Marion, a beautiful young lady of seventeen. Marion and Jack thought the world of each other and were all but inseparable.
The sudden taking-off of the colonel had proved a great shock both to the children and to Mrs. Ruthven, and for a long time the lady of the house had lain on a bed of sickness, in consequence.
She was now around, but still weak and pale. Her one consolation was the children, and she clung to them closer than ever.
On several occasions Jack had spoken of enlisting as a drummer boy, but Mrs. Ruthven would not listen to it.
"No, no, Jack! I cannot spare you!" had been her words. "One gone out of the family is enough."
And Marion, too, had clung to him, so that going away became almost an impossibility, although he longed for the glories of a soldier's life, with never a thought of all the hardships and sufferings such a life entails.
The meeting with the Confederate surgeon had filled Jack's head once more with visions of army life, and as he continued to fish he forgot all about the unpleasant encounter, although he remembered that repulsive face well. He was destined to meet the surgeon again, and under most disagreeable circumstances.
"I wish mother would let me join the army," he thought, after hauling in another fish. "I am sure our regiments need all the men they can get. Somehow, we seem to be getting the worst of the fighting lately. I wonder what would happen if the South should be beaten in this struggle?"
Ten minutes passed, when a merry whistle was heard on the road and another boy appeared, of about Jack's age.
"Hullo, Darcy!" cried Jack. "Come to help me fish?"
"I didn't know you were fishing," answered Darcy Gilbert, a youth who lived on the plantation next to Jack. "Are you having good luck?"
"First-rate. I was getting ready to go home, but now you have come I'll stay a while longer."
"Do, Jack; I hate to fish alone. But I say, Jack——" And then Darcy broke off short.
"What were you going to say?"
There was a minute of silence, during which Darcy baited his hook and threw it in.
"You look as if you had something on your mind. Darcy," went on Jack, after his friend had brought in a fine haul apparently without appreciating the sport. "Did you meet a Confederate surgeon on the road?"
"No, I came across the plantation. What of him?"
"He came this way, and we got into a regular row because I wouldn't clear right out and give him the whole of the bridge."
"He didn't hit you, did he?"
"Not much! If he had I would have pitched into him, I can tell you, big as he was!" And Jack's eyes flashed in a way that proved he meant what he said.
"No, I didn't meet him, but I met St. John Ruthven, your cousin. Jack, do you know that that young man is a regular bully, even if he is a dandy?"
"Yes, I know it, Darcy."
"And he is down on you."
"I know that too. But why he dislikes me I don't know, excepting that I don't like to see him paying his addresses to my sister Marion. Marion is too good for such a man."
"Is he paying his addresses to her?"
"Well, he is with her every chance he can get."
"Does Marion like him?"
"Oh! I reckon she does in a way. He is always so nice to her—much nicer than he has ever been to me."
"Has he ever spoken to you about yourself?" went on Darcy Gilbert, with a peculiar look at Jack.
"Oh, yes! often."
"I mean about—well, about your past?" went on Darcy, with some confusion.
"My past, Darcy? What is wrong about my past?"
"Nothing, I hope. But I didn't like what St. John Ruthven said about you."
"But what did he say?"
"I don't know as I ought to tell you. I didn't believe him."
"But I want to know what he did say?" demanded Jack, throwing down his fishing pole and coming up close to his friend.
"Well, if you must know, Jack, he said you were a nobody, that you didn't belong to the Ruthven family at all, and that you would have to go away some day," was the answer, which filled Jack with consternation.
DARCY GILBERT'S STORY.
"He said I didn't belong to the Ruthven family?" said Jack slowly, when he felt able to speak.
"He did, and I told him I didn't believe him."
"But—but—I don't understand you, Darcy. Am I not Jack Ruthven, the son of the late Colonel Martin Ruthven?"
"He says not."
"What! Does he mean to say that my mother isn't my mother at all?" ejaculated Jack, with wide-open eyes.
"That's it exactly, and he added that Marion wasn't your sister."
"I'll—I'll punch his head for that!" was the quick return.
"I felt like doing that, too, Jack, even though he is so much older than either of us. I told him he was a mean fellow and that I wouldn't believe him under oath."
"But how did it all come about?"
"Oh, it started at the boathouse back of Old Ben's place. He wanted to bully me, and I told him I wouldn't let him lord it over me any more than you let him bully you. That got him started, for it seems he was sore over the fact that you took Marion out for a boatride one afternoon when he wanted her to go along with him on horseback. One word brought on another, and at last he said he reckoned you would have to clear out some day—that you were only a low upstart anyway, with no real claim on the Ruthvens."
"He said that, did he?" Jack drew a long breath and set his teeth hard. "Did he try to prove his words?"
"I didn't give him a chance. I was so upset I merely told him I didn't believe him, and came away."
"And where did he go?"
"He started off toward town."
"When he comes back I'm going to find out the truth of this matter."
"I don't believe his story, Jack, and I wouldn't worry myself about it."
"But supposing it were true, Darcy—that I was a—a—nobody, as he says?"
"I should think just as much of you," answered the other lad quickly.
"Thank you for that."
"St. John always talks too much—don't mind him."
"But I shall. If he tells the truth I want to know it—and, if not, I shall take steps to make him take back the stories he is circulating."
"It's a wonder he hasn't gone to the war. Why doesn't he enlist, like the rest of the young men in this neighborhood?"
"He says he must stay with his mother. But the real reason is, I think, that he is a coward."
"Perhaps you are right. I remember once, when there was a cry of mad dog in the town, he hid in a warehouse and was almost scared to death."
"Yes, I remember that, and I remember, too, when Big Bill, the slave, ran away and threatened to kill the first white man he met, St. John hid in the mansion and didn't come outside the door for a week."
"Such a coward wouldn't be above circulating falsehoods."
"I wish I knew just where to find him. I would have it out with him in short order," concluded Jack.
The youth was in no humor for further fishing and soon wound up his line and started for home.
As he passed along over the plantation road his thoughts were busy. Could there be any truth in what St. John Ruthven had said? Was he really a nobody, with no claim upon the lady he called mother and the girl he looked upon as his sister? A chill passed down his backbone, and, as he came in sight of the stately old mansion that he called home, he paused to wipe the cold perspiration from his forehead.
"I will go to mother and ask her the truth," he told himself. "I can't wait to find out in any other way." Yet the thought of facing that kind-hearted lady was not a pleasant one. How should he begin to tell her of what was in his mind?
"Is my mother in?" he asked of the maid whom he met in the hallway.
"No, Massah Jack, she dun went to town," was the answer of the colored girl.
"Did she say when she would be back?"
"Do you know if my sister is around?"
"She dun gone off not five minutes ago, Massah Jack."
"I heard her say she was gwine down to Ole Ben's boathouse. I 'spect she dun t'ought yo' was dar."
Jack said no more, but giving the colored girl the fish, to take around to the cook, he ran upstairs, washed and brushed up, and sallied forth to find Marion.
The boathouse which had been mentioned was an old affair, standing upon the shore of a wide bay overlooking the Atlantic ocean. It belonged to a colored man called "Old Ben," a fellow who had once been a slave on the Ruthven plantation.
As Jack approached it he saw Marion sitting on a bench in the shade, with a book in her lap. Instead of reading, however, the girl was gazing out to sea in a meditative way.
"Marion, I was looking for you."
"Oh, Jack! is that you? I thought you had gone fishing for the day."
"I just got home, after catching a pretty good mess. Want to go rowing with me?"
"Yes, I'd like that very much. I was wishing you or Old Ben would come."
"Or, perhaps, St. John?" said Jack inquiringly.
"No; I didn't wish for him, you tease."
"I am glad of it, Marion. I don't want you to give me up for St. John."
"I do not intend to, Jack. But why are you looking so serious. Have you anything on your mind? I never saw you look so thoughtful before."
"Yes, I have a lot on my mind, Marion. Come, I'll tell you when we are out on the bay."
A rowboat was handy and oars were in the rack in the boathouse, and soon the pair were out on the water. Although but a boy, Jack took to the water naturally and handled the oars as skillfully as the average sailor.
When they were about halfway across the bay he ceased rowing and looked earnestly at the girl before him.
"Marion, I want to find out—that is, I've got some questions to ask," he blurted out. "I don't know how to go at it."
"Why, what in the world is the matter, Jack? You were red a moment ago. Now you are as pale as a sheet."
"I want to know about something awfully important."
"I'm sure I cannot imagine what it is."
"Marion, aren't we real sister and brother?"
The question was out at last, and as he asked it his eyes dropped, for he had not the courage to look into her face. He felt her start and give a shiver.
"Oh, Jack! what put that in your head," she said slowly.
"Never mind that. Tell me, are we real sister and brother or not?"
"Jack, we are not."
"Oh, Marion!" The words almost choked him, and for the moment he could say no more.
"We are not real sister and brother, Jack, but to me you will always be as a real brother," and Marion caught his hand and held it tightly.
"And—and mother isn't my—my real mother?" he faltered.
"No, Jack; she is only your foster mother. But she thinks just as much of you as if you were her real son. She has told me that over and over again."
"You are sure of this?"
"Sure I am a—a nobody." His voice sunk to a mere whisper.
"Yon are not a nobody, Jack. When you were a mere boy of three or four my father and mother adopted you, and you are now John Ruthven, my own brother," and she gave his brown hand another tight squeeze.
He was too confused and bewildered to answer at once. The dreadful news was true, he was not really a Ruthven. He was a nobody—no, he must be somebody. But who was he?
A MYSTERY OF THE PAST.
"I do not know that I have done just right by telling you this," went on Marion. "Mother may not approve of it."
"I am glad you told me. I was bound to find out about it, sooner or later."
"That is true, Jack. But both mother and I dreaded that time. We were afraid you might turn from us. And we both love you so much!"
"It is kind of you to say that, Marion." Jack's face flushed. "You couldn't be nicer if you were my real sister."
"And mother loves you so much."
"I know that, too—otherwise she wouldn't have taken me in as she did."
"What put it in your head to ask me this to-day?"
"Something St. John Ruthven said to Darcy Gilbert. St. John said I was an upstart, a nobody."
"St. John had better mind his own business! It was not cousinly for him to interfere!" And Marion's face flushed.
"I suppose he doesn't look at me in the light of a cousin. He considers me an intruder."
"Well, if he won't count you a cousin he need not count me one either—so there!"
"But you must not hurt yourself by standing up for me," cried Jack hastily.
"I will not hurt myself—in the eyes of those whose respect is worth considering. In the eyes of the law you are my real brother, for my parents adopted you. St. John must not forget that."
"But tell me of the past, Marion. Where did I come from, and how did I get here?"
"It's a long story, Jack. Do you see yonder wreck, on Hemlock Bluff rocks?"
"To be sure I do."
"Well, when that wreck came ashore, between ten and eleven years ago, you had been one of the passengers on the boat."
"Yes. I have heard mother tell of it several times. It was a fearful night and Old Ben, he was our slave then, was out on the bluff watching. Presently there was the booming of a signal gun—showing the ship was in distress—and soon the ship came in sight, rocking to and fro, with the wild waves running over her deck. Not a soul was left on board, captain and crew having all gone down in the ocean beyond."
"But where did they find me?"
"On the beach. Old Ben heard a cry of pain and ran in the direction of the sound. Soon he made out the form of a woman, your mother. She had been hurt by being hit with some wreckage. You were in her arms, and as Old Ben came up you cried out: 'Jack is hungry. Give Jack some bread and butter, please.'"
"Yes, yes! I remember something of a storm and of the awful waves. But it's all dreamy-like."
"You were only three or four years old, and the exposure nearly cost you your life. Old Ben took you and your mother to the boathouse and then ran up to the plantation for help. Father went back with him, along with half a dozen men, and they brought you and your mother to the house. I remember that time well, for I was nearly seven years old."
"But my mother, what of her?" asked Jack impatiently.
"Poor dear! she died two days later. The physicians did all they could for her, but the shock had been too great, and she passed away without recovering consciousness."
"Then she told nothing about me—who I was?"
"No. All she did say while she lived was 'Save my husband! Save my darling little Jack.'"
"Then my father must have been on the boat with her?"
"And they did not find his body?"
"No, the only bodies recovered were those of sailors."
"Didn't they try to find out who I was?"
"To be sure, but, although father did his best, he could learn nothing. Your father and mother had taken passage on the ship at the last moment and their names did not appear on the list at the shipping offices, and none of the books belonging to the ship itself were ever recovered."
"Perhaps they are on the wreck!" cried Jack, struck by a sudden idea.
"No, the wreck was searched from end to end, and all of value taken away."
"I'd like to row over and look around."
"You may do so, Jack. I presume the wreck will have more of an interest than ever for you now."
The distance to Hemlock Bluff rocks was a good mile, but Jack soon covered it and, bringing the boat to a safe corner, he assisted Marion out and then leaped out himself.
"This news is enough to make a fellow's head whirl," he observed, as they walked in the direction of the wreck, which lay high up on the beach.
"I suppose that is true, Jack. But do not let it worry you. You are as dear to mother and me as if you were one of the family."
"But I would like to know who I really am."
"Perhaps time will solve the mystery."
Soon the pair were at the wreck, which lay with its bow well up on the rocks and its stern projecting over the sea.
It was no mean task to reach the deck of the wreck, but Jack was a good climber and soon he was aboard. Then he gave Marion a hand up.
The deck of the wreck was much decayed, and they had to be careful how they moved around.
"I am going below," said the youth, after a general look around.
"Be careful. Jack, or you may break a limb," cautioned Marion.
"I don't suppose you care to go down with me?"
"I think not—at least, I will wait until you have been down."
Soon Jack was crawling down the rotted companion way. At the bottom all was dirty and dark. He pushed open the door, which hung upon one rusty hinge, and peered into the cabin.
"I wish I had brought a lantern along," he murmured, as he stepped into the compartment.
As Marion had said, the wreck had been cleared of everything of value. All the furniture was gone and the pantries and staterooms were bare. From the cabin he passed into several of the staterooms.
"What have you found?" called Marion.
"Any mice down there, or spiders?"
"None, so far as I can see."
"Then I'll come down."
Soon Marion was beside Jack, and the pair made a tour of the wreck from bow to stern. Their investigations proved to be highly interesting, and they spent more time below than they had anticipated doing.
"We must get back, Jack," said the girl at last.
"Oh, there is no hurry! Mother is not at home," answered Jack. It seemed a bit odd to call Mrs. Ruthven mother now that he knew she was not his relative.
So fully another hour was spent below, moving from one part of the big wreck to another. Presently Jack came to a sudden stop and listened.
"What a queer noise, Marion!"
"It is the wind rising. We had better be getting back, before the bay grows too rough for rowing."
"You are right."
Jack ran up the companion way and Marion after him. To their surprise the sky was overcast, and the wind was whipping the surface of the bay into numerous whitecaps.
"We must lose no time in getting back!" cried Jack. "As it is, the wind will be dead against us!"
As quickly as possible he assisted Marion over the side, and then both set off on a run for the little cove where the rowboat had been left tied up.
As they gained the boat Jack gave an exclamation of dismay.
"The oars—they are gone!"
He was right. Marion had shifted their position before leaving the craft, and bumping against the rocks had sent them adrift.
ON BOARD THE WRECK.
"Jack, what shall we do now?" asked Marion, as with a blanched face she gazed into the empty boat.
"Wait—the oars may be close at hand," he replied. "I will make a search."
"And so will I. Oh, we must find them!"
They ran up and down the rocky shore, looking far and near for the oars, but without success. Presently they came to a halt, out of breath with running.
"Gone, sure enough!" groaned the boy. "What a pickle we are in now!"
"We can't stay here, Jack."
"We'll have to stay here, Marion, unless I can find the oars or make substitutes."
"How are you going to make substitutes?"
"I might take some planks from the wreck."
"But you have no tools."
"I have a stout jack-knife."
"It will take a long time, and see, it is already beginning to rain."
Marion was right, the rain had started, and as it grew heavier they withdrew to the shelter of the wreck.
"I wouldn't mind staying here until the shower was over, only I wouldn't want mother to worry about us," went on Marion, when they were safe under cover.
"That's just it. But we do not know if she is home yet."
The rain soon increased, while the thunder rolled in the distance. But they felt fairly safe in the cabin of the wreck, and sat down on a bench running along one of the walls.
"This looks as if it was going to keep up all night," observed Jack, an hour later, after another look at the sky from the top of the companion way.
"Oh, you don't mean we'll have to remain here all night!" exclaimed Marion.
"But I do not wish to remain in such a place all night."
"Are you afraid of ghosts?" and Jack gave a short laugh.
"No, Jack; but you'll admit it isn't a very nice place."
"I know that. But that isn't the worst of it."
"Not the worst of it?"
"No. You must remember that we have nothing to eat or to drink here."
"That is true, but I do not feel much like eating or drinking just now."
"Yes, but you'll be hungry and thirsty before morning, Marion."
"Perhaps. We can drink rain water, if we wish."
Another hour passed and the storm grew more violent. The lightning flashed across the sky and lit up the wreck from end to end. Then a blackness as of night followed.
"We could not row ashore now, even if we had oars," observed Marion, as she listened to the howling of the wind.
"You are right, Marion. My, how it does blow!"
Suddenly, the sounds of footsteps on the deck of the wreck reached their ears.
"Somebody is coming!" said Jack, and looked up the companion way. "Why, it's Old Ben!"
He was right; it was Ben the fisherman who had put in an appearance, market basket in hand.
"Marion! Jack! Am dat yo'?" came in an anxious voice.
"Yes, Ben!" cried both.
"What brought you?" continued the boy.
"I dun thought yo' was a-wantin' ob Ole Ben," grinned the colored man. "I seed yo' rowin' off an' I didn't see yo' cum back, so I says to myself, 'Da is stuck fast on de wreck.' An' den I says, 'Da aint got nuffin to eat.' So ober I comes, an' wid a basketful of good t'ings from de plantation." And he held up the market basket. He was soaked from the rain, and the water ran from his clothing in a stream.
"Ben, you are a jewel!" burst out Marion and patted his wet coat-sleeve affectionately.
At this the old negro grinned broadly. He had always been a privileged character on the Ruthven plantation, and being set free had not ended his affection for his former mistress and her children.
"It was very kind to come over," said Jack. "Does mother know we are here?"
"I dun left word dat I was comin' ober an' dat I thought yo' was yeah, sah," answered Ben.
He had brought all the good things necessary, along with plates, cups, knives and forks, and soon had the spread ready for them. Then he went off to another part of the wreck to wring out his wet garments.
"It was very nice of Old Ben to come to us," said Marion, while eating. "It must have been no easy matter to row from the shore to the rocks."
"Ben is as good a boatman as there is in these parts, Marion. It was kind, and he ought to be rewarded for it."
"Mamma will reward him, beyond a doubt."
The storm kept increasing in violence, and before the strange meal was disposed of the thunder and lightning were almost incessant. Ben had brought a candle along—knowing the darkness inside of the wreck—and this was all the light they possessed, outside of what Nature afforded.
Ben was just putting the dishes back into the basket when there came an extra heavy flash of lightning, followed immediately by a rending clap of thunder which almost paralyzed Marion and Jack. There was a strange smell in the air, and both found their blood tingling in a manner that was new to them.
"The wreck—it's been struck by lightning!" gasped Jack, when he could speak.
"Dat's a fac'!" came from Old Ben. "It was jess like de crack ob doom, wasn't it?"
He ran on deck, and Jack followed him, with Marion on the bottom of the companion way, not knowing whether to go up or remain below.
The bolt had struck the wreck near the stern, ripping off a large part of the woodwork, and had passed along to one side. Just below the deck line a lively fire was starting up.
"De wrack am gwine to be burnt up at las'!" ejaculated Old Ben. "We has got to git out, Massah Jack!"
"Come, Marion!" called back the boy. "It's too bad we've got to go out in the rain, but I reckon we can be thankful that our lives have been spared."
"Yes, we can be thankful," answered the girl. "Oh, what a dreadful crack that was! I do not believe I shall ever forget it."
She came on deck all in a tremble, and with the others hurried to the bow of the wreck. It was much easier to climb down than to climb up, and soon all three stood upon the rocks below, where the driving rain pelted them mercilessly.
"I t'ink I can find yo' a bettah place dan dis to stay," said Old Ben. "Come down to de shoah," and he led the way to where he had left his boat. With Jack's assistance the craft was hauled out of the water and turned upside down between two large rocks, and then the three crawled under the temporary shelter.
Thus the night passed, and by morning the storm cleared away. Looking toward the wreck they saw that only a small portion of the upper deck had been burned away, the rain having put the fire out before it gained great headway.
It did not take Old Ben and Jack long to launch the former's craft again, and this done, they all entered and the fisherman started to row them to the mainland. Jack's boat was taken in tow.
"That was certainly quite an adventure," observed Jack, as they landed. "Marion, I reckon you don't want another such."
"No, indeed!" replied the girl, with a shiver. "I don't believe I'll ever go over to the old wreck again."
"It's a wondah dat wreck aint busted up long ago," put in Old Ben.
"It's a wonder the poor people around here haven't carried off the wreckage for firewood, Ben," said Jack.
"Da is afraid to do dat, Massah Jack—afraid some ob de sailors wot was drowned might haunt 'em."
"I see. Well, I don't think the wreck will last much longer," and with these words Jack turned away to follow Marion to the plantation mansion, to interview his foster mother concerning the particulars of the past. Little did the lad dream of what an important part that old wreck was to play in his future life.
OLD BEN HAS A VISITOR.
St. John Ruthven was a young man of twenty-five, tall, thin, and with a face that was a mixture of craftiness and cowardice. He was the son of a half-brother to the late Colonel Ruthven and could boast of but few of the good traits of Marion's family. He lived on a plantation half a mile from the bay and spent most of his time in attention to his personal appearance and in horseback riding, of which, like many other Southerners, he was passionately fond.
It was commonly supposed that St. John Ruthven was rich, but this was not true. His father had left him a good plantation and some money in the bank, but the young planter was a spendthrift and his mother, who doted on her son, was little better, and soon nearly every dollar which had been left by the husband and father had slipped through their fingers. More than this, St. John took but little interest in the plantation, which gradually ran down until it became almost worthless.
"St. John, my dear, we must do something," the mother would say, in her helpless way. "We cannot live like this forever."
"What shall I do?" would be the son's reply. "The plantation isn't worth working and I have no money with which to buy another place. The niggers are getting so they are not worth their keep."
"But you told me yesterday that we had less than a thousand dollars left in the bank."
"It's true, too."
"What do you propose doing when that is gone?"
"Oh! our credit is still good," was the lofty answer.
"But that won't last forever, St. John."
"Something may turn up."
"Everything seems to prosper at Alice's place," went on Mrs. Mary Ruthven, referring to the home of Marion and Jack.
"I know that."
"And we are continually running behind. St. John, you ought to get after the niggers and other help."
"I wasn't cut out for work, mother," was the sour answer.
"But we really must do something," was the half-desperate response.
"I've got an idea in my head, mother. If it works, we'll be all right."
"What is the idea?"
"I think a good deal of Marion. Why shouldn't we marry and join the two plantations? That would give us both a good living."
"I have thought of such a plan myself, St. John. But there may be an objection."
"Do you think Marion would refuse me?"
"She might. In some respects Alice's daughter is rather peculiar."
"But I don't see why she should refuse me. Am I not her equal in social position?"
"What a question! Of course you are. Still she may have her eyes set upon somebody else."
"I know of nobody. Marion is still young."
"Have you sounded her on the subject?"
"Not yet, but I will soon. She has Jack around so much I never get half a chance to talk to her."
"Always that boy! When I visited Alice last I declare she talked of that nobody the whole time,—what a wonderful man she hoped he would make,—and all that. Just as if he was her own flesh and blood!" and Mrs. Mary Ruthven tossed her head disdainfully.
"She was foolish to allow that nobody to think himself a Ruthven. But I have put a spoke into his wheel, I reckon."
"What do you mean? Did you tell Jack the truth?"
"Not exactly. But I gave a pretty broad hint to his intimate friend Darcy Gilbert, and Darcy, of course, will carry the news straight to Jack."
"Oh, St. John! that may cause trouble. Your aunt wished to keep the truth from the boy as long as possible. She told me she did not wish to hurt his feelings."
"He had to learn the truth sooner or later. Besides, I didn't want him to think himself a Ruthven and the equal of Marion and myself," went on St. John loftily.
There was a moment of silence and Mrs. Mary Ruthven gave a long sigh.
"Well, I would not delay speaking to Marion too long," she observed. "Something must be done, that's sure, and if you wait, Marion and her mother may find out how hard up we really are, and then Marion may refuse you on that account."
"I shall see her before long," answered the son.
He had his mind bent on a horseback ride, and was soon in the saddle and off on a road leading along the shore of the bay. He hoped to find Marion in the vicinity of the old boathouse, but when he arrived there nobody was in sight but Old Ben, who was mending one of his fishing nets.
"Ha, Ben! are you alone?" he said, as he dismounted and came into the boathouse.
"Yes, Massah St. John, I'm alone unless there's some ghostes hidin' around yeah!" and the old negro smiled broadly. He understood St. John's character pretty thoroughly and despised him accordingly.
"I thought Marion might be around here."
"She aint been yeah to-day, sah. She an' Jack was out on de bay in dat awful storm yesterday and I reckon it was most too much fo' dem."
"Out in that awful storm! It's a wonder the boat didn't upset."
"Da was ober to de wrack when de big blow came."
"Did they stay there?"
"I went ober after 'em an' da come in dis mornin', Massah St. John."
"Humph! I am surprised that my aunt should trust Marion with that boy."
"Why not, Massah St. John? Jack can manage a boat as well as I can."
St. John tossed his head and flung himself down upon a seat. "I think my aunt makes a fool of herself about that boy. Who is he, anyway? He's only an ocean waif; of low birth, very probably."
"Dat he isn't!" said Old Ben indignantly. "He's a young gen'man, Jack is, an' so was his father."
"Bah! what do you know about his father?"
"He couldn't be Jack's father without bein' a gen'man—dat's wot I know," went on Ben stoutly. "Why, look at de deah chile! How noble an'—an'—handsome he is!"
"Oh, pshaw, Ben! you had better stick to your nets. What do you know about a gentleman?"
"I knows one when I sees one, Massah St. John," was the somewhat suggestive response.
"Oh, do you? And I know an impudent nigger when I see one!" cried St. John angrily.
"No offense, Massah St. John."
"Then be a little more careful of what you say." St. John tugged at the ends of his stubby mustache. "I wish I had that boy under my care," he went on.
"S'posin' you had, sah?"
"I'd teach him his place. Why should he be reared as a gentleman—he, a poor waif of the sea? Probably he is the son of some low mechanic, perhaps of a Northern mudsill, and my aunt—think of it, my aunt—must bring him up as a Southern gentleman!" The young man leaped up and began to pace the boathouse floor nervously. "I suppose she'll leave him a large legacy in her will."
"I 'spect you is right, Massah St. John; dat boy will be pervided for, suah as my name's Ben."
"You talk as if you already knew something of this?" said St. John quickly.
"I does know somet'ing, sah."
"Has my aunt ever spoken to you on the subject, Ben?"
"I don't know as I ought to answer dat dar question, Massah St. John."
"Then she has spoken. What did she say?"
The colored man hesitated.
"As I said befo', sah, I don't rackon I ought to answer dat dar question."
"But you must answer me, Ben—to keep silent is foolish. Rest assured I have the best interests of my aunt and Marion at heart. Now what did she say?"
"Well, sah, if yo' must know, she said as how she was gwine to leave Massah Jack half de prop'ty."
St. John leaped back in amazement.
"You don't mean that, Ben!" he gasped.
"Yes, sah, I does mean it."
"Half the property?"
"He doesn't deserve it!"
At this the old negro shrugged his huge shoulders.
"Rackon de missus knows what she wants to do."
"But it is not right—to give the boy half the estate. I suppose the other half will go to Marion."
The young man's face grew pale, and he began to pace the floor again.
"She never mentioned me in connection with this, did she?"
"And yet I am her nephew."
"Rackon she dun thought yo' was rich enough, Massah St. John."
"Perhaps I am, Ben. But it is strange that my own flesh and blood should forget me, to take up with a nobody. Did my aunt ever speak of the particulars of what she intended to do?"
"Humph! It's strange. I must look into this." And a few minutes later St. John Ruthven was off on horseback, in a frame of mind far from pleasant.
MRS. RUTHVEN'S STORY.
"I am so glad to see you both back, safe and sound!"
It was Mrs. Alice Ruthven who spoke, as she embraced first her daughter and then Jack.
"And we are glad enough to get back, mother," answered Marion.
"I was so frightened, even after Old Ben went after you. We watched the lightning, and when it struck the wreck——" Mrs. Ruthven stopped speaking and gave a shiver.
"We weren't in such very great danger," answered Jack. Then he looked at the lady curiously.
"What is it, Jack? You have something on your mind," she said quickly.
The youth looked at Marian, who turned red.
"I—I—that is, mother, Jack knows the truth," faltered the girl.
"The truth?" repeated Mrs. Ruthven slowly.
"Yes, Marion has told me the truth," said Jack, in as steady a voice as he could command. "And so I—I—am not your son." He could scarcely speak the words.
"Oh, Jack!" The lady caught him in her arms. "So you know the truth at last?" She kissed him. "But you are my son, just as if you were my own flesh and blood. You are not angry at me for keeping this a secret so long? I did it because I did not wish to hurt your feelings."
"No, I am not angry at you, Mrs. Ruth——"
"Call me mother, Jack."
"I am not angry, mother. You have been very kind to me. But it is so strange! I can't understand it all," and he heaved a deep sigh.
"You have been a son to me in the past, Jack; I wish you to continue to be one."
"But I have no real claim upon you."
"Yes, you have, for my late husband and myself adopted you."
"Marion told me that you never heard one word regarding my past."
"She told the truth. We tried our best, but every effort ended in failure. Your mother called you Jack ere she died, and that was all."
"What of our clothing? Was none of it marked, or had she nothing in her pocket?"
"No, the clothing was not marked, and she had nothing in her pocket but a lace handkerchief, also unmarked. That handkerchief I have kept, with the clothing. And I have also kept a ring she wore upon one of her fingers."
"Was that marked?"
"It had been, but it was so worn that we could not make out the marking, nor could the two jewelers by whom we had the ring inspected."
"I would like to see the ring."
"I will get it," returned Mrs. Ruthven, and left the room. Soon she came back with a small jewel casket, from which she took a ring and a very dainty lace handkerchief.
"Here is the ring," she said, as she passed it over to Jack.
"It looks like a wedding ring," said the youth, as he gazed at the circlet of gold.
"I believe it is a wedding ring."
Jack looked inside and saw some markings, but all were so faint that it was impossible to make out more than the figures 1 and 8.
"Those figures stand for eighteen hundred and something, I imagine," said Mrs. Ruthven. "They must give the year when your mother was married."
"I suppose you are right."
"The ring belongs to you, Jack. I would advise you to be careful of it."
"If you please, I would like to have you keep it for the present."
"I will do that willingly."
The handkerchief was next examined. But it seemed to be without markings of any kind, and was soon returned to the jewel case along with the ring.
"Now tell me how Marion came to tell you of the past," said Mrs. Ruthven, after putting the jewel case away.
"I made her tell me the truth," said Jack.
"But how did you suspect this at first?"
"Because of something St. John said to Darcy Gilbert."
"What did he say?"
"Oh, it doesn't matter much—now, mother. He told Darcy I wasn't your son."
"What else did he say?"
"Oh, I think I had better not say."
"But you must tell me, Jack; I insist upon knowing."
"He told Darcy that I was a nobody, and that I would have to go away some day."
At these words Mrs. Ruthven's face flushed angrily.
"St. John is taking too much upon his shoulders," she cried. "This is no business of his."
"I may be a nobody, but, but"—Jack stammered—"if he says anything to me, I am afraid there will be a row."
"He shall not say anything to you. I will speak to him about this. Leave it all to me."
"But he shall not insult me," said Jack sturdily.
Marion had left the apartment, to change her clothing, so she did not hear what was said about St. John. A few words more on the subject passed between the lady of the plantation and the youth, and then the talk shifted back to Jack's past.
"Some day I am going to find out who I am." said the boy. "There must be some way to do this."
"Are you then so anxious to leave me, Jack?" asked Mrs. Ruthven, and the tears sprang into her eyes.
"No, no, mother; I will not leave you so long as you wish me to stay!" he exclaimed. "It isn't that. But this mystery of the past must be solved."
"Well, I will help you all I can. But do not hope for too much, my boy, or you may be disappointed," and then she embraced him again.
Running up to his bedroom, Jack quickly changed the suit which had been soaked the night before for a better one, and then came below again. He hardly knew what to do with himself. The news had set his head in a whirl. At last he decided to go out riding on a pony Mrs. Ruthven had given him a few weeks before.
The pony was soon saddled by one of the stable hands, and Jack set off on a level road running between the two Ruthven plantations. At first he thought to ask Marion to accompany him, but then decided that he was in no humor to have anybody along.
"I must think this out by myself," was the way he reasoned, and set off at a brisk pace under the wide-spreading trees.
He was less than quarter of a mile away from home when he came face to face with St. John, who was returning from his visit to Old Ben's boathouse.
As the two riders approached each other, the young man glared darkly at our hero.
"Hullo, where are you bound?" he demanded sharply.
"I don't think that is any of your business, St. John," replied Jack, who was just then in no humor to be polite.
"Humph! you needn't get on your high horse about it!"
"I am not on a high horse, only on a small pony."
"Don't joke me, Jack—I don't like it."
"As you please, St. John."
"What's got into you this morning?" demanded the young man curiously.
"Well, if you want to know, I don't like the way you have been talking about me."
"Oho! so that is how the wind blows."
"You have taken the pains to call me a nobody," went on Jack hotly.
"I told the truth, didn't I?"
"I consider myself just as good as you, St. John Ruthven."
"Do you indeed!" sneered the spendthrift.
"I do indeed, and in the future I will thank you to be more careful of what you say about me."
"I have a right to tell the truth to anybody I please."
"I don't deny that. But I consider my blood just as good as yours."
"Do you? I don't."
"Your opinion isn't worth anything to me."
"Humph! still riding a high horse, I see. Let me tell you, you are not half as good as a Ruthven, and never will be. How my aunt could take you in is a mystery to me."
"She is not as hard-hearted as you are."
"She is very foolish."
"She is my foster mother, and I'll thank you to speak respectfully of her," cried Jack, his eyes flashing.
"Of course you'll stick by her—as long as she'll let you. You have a nice ax to grind."
"I don't understand your last words."
"She owns considerable property, and you will try to get a big share of it for yourself, when she dies."
"I have never given her property a thought. I want only what is rightfully coming to me."
"There is nothing coming to you by right. The property ought to go to Marion and the other Ruthvens."
"By other Ruthvens I suppose you mean yourself."
"I am one of them."
"Are you so anxious to get hold of my aunt's plantation?"
"I don't want to see my aunt waste it on such a low upstart as you!"
Jack's eyes flashed fire, and riding close to St. John he held up his little riding whip.
"You shan't call me an upstart!" he ejaculated. "Take it back, or I'll hit you with this!"
"You won't dare to touch me!" howled St. John in a rage. "You are an upstart, and worse, to my way of thinking."
Scarcely had the words left his lips when Jack brought down the riding whip across the young man's shoulders and neck, leaving a livid red mark behind.
"Oh!" howled the spendthrift, and gave a jerk backward on the reins, which brought his horse up on his hind legs. "How dare you! I'll—I'll kill you for that!"
"Do you take it back or not?" went on Jack, raising the whip again.
Instead of replying St. John reached over to hit the youth with his own whip. But Jack dodged, and then struck out a second time. The blow landed upon St. John's hand, and he jerked back quickly. The movement scared the horse, and the animal plunged so violently that the rider was thrown from the saddle into some nearby bushes. Then the horse galloped away, leaving St. John to his fate.
A SETBACK FOR ST. JOHN.
"Now see what you have done!" roared St. John, as soon as he could scramble from the bushes.
His face was scratched in several places and his coat was torn at one elbow.
"It was your fault as much as mine," retorted Jack.
"No such thing. You had no right to pitch into me."
"And you had no right to call me names."
"My horse has run away," stormed the young man.
"So I see."
"If he is lost or hurt you'll be responsible."
"He is running toward home. I reckon he'll be all right."
"What am I to do?"
"That's your lookout."
"Get down and let me ride your pony home."
"I will do no such thing!" cried Jack. The little steed was very dear to him.
"Do you expect me to walk?"
"You can suit yourself about that, St. John. Certainly I shan't carry you," and Jack began to move off.
"Stop! don't leave me like this."
"You are not much hurt. Do you want to continue the fight?"
"I don't calculate to fight a mere boy like you. Some day I'll give you a good dressing down for your impudence."
"All right; when that time comes, I'll be ready for you," returned Jack coolly, and without further words he rode away.
Standing in the middle of the road, St. John Ruthven shook his fist after the youth.
"I hate you!" he muttered fiercely. "And I'll not allow you to come between me and my aunt's property, remember that!" But the words did not reach Jack, nor were they intended for his ears.
There was a spring of water not far away, and going to this St. John washed his face and his hands. Then he combed his hair with a pocket-comb he carried, and brushed his clothing as best he could. He was more hurt mentally than physically, and inwardly boiled to get even with our hero.
Left to himself, he hardly knew what to do. He was satisfied that his horse would go home as Jack had said, but he was in no humor to follow the animal.
"I've a good mind to call on Aunt Alice and tell her what a viper he is," he said to himself. "Perhaps I can get her to think less of him than she does—and that will be something gained."
He walked slowly toward the plantation. When he came within sight of the garden he saw Marion in a summerhouse, arranging a bouquet of flowers which she had just cut.
The sight of his cousin put his heart in a flutter and made him think of the talk he had had with his mother. Why should he not propose to her at once? The sooner the better, to his way of thinking. That Marion might refuse him hardly entered his head. Was he not the best "catch" in that neighborhood?
"How do you do, Marion?" he said, as he strode up to the summerhouse.
"Why, St. John, is that you?" returned the girl. "I did not see you riding up."
"I came on foot," he went on, as he came in and threw himself on a bench. "It's warm, too."
"It is warm. Shall I send for some refreshments?"
"No, don't bother just now, Marion. I came over to see you alone."
"Alone?" she said in some surprise.
"Yes, alone, Marion. I have something very important to say to you."
She did not answer, but turned away to fix the bouquet.
"Can you guess what I wish to say?" he went on awkwardly.
"I haven't the remotest idea, Cousin St. John."
"I want to tell you how much I love you, Cousin Marion."
"Don't think that I speak from sudden impulse. I have loved you for years, but I wished to wait until you were old enough to listen to me."
"And you think I am old enough now?" she said, with a faint smile. "Mamma thinks me quite a girl still."
"You are old enough to marry, if you wish, Marion."
"Marry?" She laughed outright. "Oh, St. John, don't say that. Why, I don't intend to marry in a long, long time—if at all."
His face fell, and he bit his lip. Certainly this was not the answer he had expected.
"But I want you!" he burst out, still more awkwardly. "I want to—to protect you from—er—from Jack."
"Protect me from Jack?"
"Yes, Marion. You know what he is, a mere nobody."
"Jack is my brother."
"He is not, and you know it."
"He is the same as if he were my brother, St. John."
"Again I say he is not. He is a mere upstart, and he will prove a snake in the grass unless you watch him. Your mother made a big mistake when she adopted him."
"There may be two opinions upon that point."
"He knows your mother is rich. Mark my word, he will do all he can, sooner or later, to get her property away from her."
"I will not believe evil of Jack."
"You evidently think more of him than you do of me!" sneered the spendthrift, seeing that he was making no headway in his suit.
"I do not deny that I think the world and all of Jack. He is my brother in heart, if not in blood—and I will thank you to remember that after this," went on Marion in a decided tone.
"You will learn of your mistake some time—perhaps when it is too late."
"Jack is true to the core, and as brave as he is true. Why, he would go to the war if mamma would give her consent."
At this St. John Ruthven winced.
"Well—er—I would go myself if my mother did not need me at home," he stammered. "She must have somebody to look after the plantation. We can't trust the niggers."
"Many men have gone to the front and allowed their plantations to take care of themselves. They place the honor of their glorious country over everything else."
"Well, my mother will not allow me to go—she has positively forbidden it," insisted St. John, anxious to clear his character.
This statement was untrue; he had never spoken to his mother on the subject, thinking she might urge him to go to the front. His plea that he must look after the plantation was entirely of his own making.
"Supposing we should lose in this struggle—what will become of your plantation then?"
At this St. John grew pale.
"I—I hardly think we will lose," he stammered. "We have plenty of soldiers."
"But not as many as the North has. General Lee could use fifty thousand more men, if he could get them."
"Well, I shall go to the front when I am actually needed, Marion; you can take my word on that. But won't you listen to what I have told you about my feeling for you?"
"No, St. John; I am too young to fall in love with anybody. I shall at least wait until this cruel war is over."
"But I can hope?"
She shook her head. Then she picked up her bouquet.
"Will you come up to the house with me?"
"Not now, Marion. Give my respects to my aunt and tell her I will call in a day or two again. And, by the way, Marion, don't let her think hard of me because of Jack. I desire only to see to it that the boy does not do you mischief."
"As I said before, I will listen to nothing against dear Jack, so there!" cried Marion, and stamping her foot, she hurried toward the house.
St. John Ruthven watched her out of sight, then turned and stalked off toward the roadway leading to his home.
"She evidently does not love me as I thought," he muttered to himself. "And I made a mess of it by speaking ill of Jack. Confound the luck! What had I best do now? I wish I could get that boy out of the way altogether, I really do."
THE HOME GUARDS OF OLDVILLE.
The week to follow the events recorded in the last chapter was a trying one for the inhabitants of Oldville, as the district around the Ruthvens' plantation was called.
The army of the North had pressed the army of the South back steadily day after day, until the Confederates were encamped less than four miles away from Jack's home. For two days the cannon-firing could be distinctly heard, and the women folks were filled with dread, thinking the invaders from the North were about to swoop down upon their homes and pillage them.
"Oh, Jack! do you think they will come here?" was the question Marion asked at least a dozen times.
"They had better not," was the sturdy reply. "If they do, they will find that even a boy can fight."
"But you could do nothing against an army, Jack."
"Perhaps not. But I'll do what I can to protect you and mother."
"Old Ben told me that you and Darcy Gilbert were organizing a Home Guard."
"Yes; we have organized a company of boys. We have twenty-three members, and I am the captain," answered Jack, with just a bit of pride in his tones.
"Then you are Captain Jack!" exclaimed Marion. "Let me congratulate you, captain. But have you any weapons?"
"Yes. I have an old sword and also a pistol, and all of the others have pistols or guns. I think, if we were put to it, we might do our enemy some damage."
"No doubt, since I know you and Darcy can shoot pretty straight. You ought to ask St. John to join the command."
"Not much, Marion! Don't you know that St. John is a coward at heart, even if he is a man?"
"Yes, I know it. One of the colored help on his plantation told Old Ben that the cannon-firing so close at hand made him so uneasy he couldn't eat or sleep."
"Is it possible! Now the cannon-firing simply makes me crazy to be at the front, to see what is going on, and to take part."
"Then you must be a born soldier, Jack." Marion heaved a sigh. "Oh, I wish this war was over! Why must the men of the South and the North kill each other?"
"The world has always had wars and always will, I reckon. Do you want to come to town and see us drill?"
"Will it be safe?"
"I think so, Marion. I don't believe the enemy are coming here very soon."
Soon after this Jack and Marion were on their way to Oldville, a sleepy town containing two general stores, a tavern, and a blacksmith shop.
In front of the tavern was a large green, and here a number of boys were playing various games.
"Hurrah, here comes Captain Jack!" was the cry, when our hero appeared.
"Are we to drill to-day?" questioned Darcy Gilbert, as he ran up and nodded to Marion.
"If you will," said Jack. His new honors had not made him in the least dictatorial.
"All right," returned Darcy.
He was first lieutenant of the company, which had styled itself the Oldville Home Guard, and he quickly summoned the young soldiers together.
All had uniforms, made of regular home suits with stripes of white sewed down the trouser-legs and around the coat-sleeves. The boys with pistols were placed in the front rank, those with guns in the second rank. One lad had a drum and another a fife.
"Company, attention!" ordered Jack, coming to the front with drawn sword, and the boys drew up in straight rows across the green. The drum rattled, and presently quite a crowd of old men, women, and children collected to see the drill.
"Carry—arms!" went on Jack, and the guns came to a carry, and likewise the pistols. "Present—arms! Shoulder—arms! Forward—march!"
"Dum! dum! dum, dum, dum!" went the drummer, and off marched the company to the end of the green.
"Right—wheel!" came the next command, and the boys wheeled with the order of a veteran body, for each was enthusiastic to do his best. "Forward!" and they marched on again, and so the marching kept up until the square had been covered several times.
"Halt!" Thus the commanding went on. "Load! Take aim! Fire!"
And twenty-odd gun and pistol hammers came down with a sharp clicking, for none of the weapons were loaded, the boys saving their powder and ball until such time as they might actually be needed. A short parade around the main streets followed, and then Jack dismissed the company.
"It was splendid!" cried Marion enthusiastically. "I declare, Jack, how did you ever get them drilled so nicely?"
"Oh! the fellows take to it naturally. Besides, Darcy did as much as I did."
"No, Jack is our chief drillmaster," put in Darcy. "He takes to soldiering as a duck takes to a pond."
"It's wonderful. Still, I hope you never have to go to war," concluded Marion.
"If we do, we'll try to give a good account of ourselves," said Darcy, as Marion walked away.
"Indeed we will!" cried our hero.
Now she was in town Marion concluded to do some shopping, and accordingly made her way to one of the general stores, a place kept by Lemuel Blackwood, one of the oldest merchants in that part of the State.
Blackwood's store was usually crowded with goods of every description, but the war had all but wrecked his trade, and his stock was scanty and shop-worn.
"How do you do, Marion?" said he, when the girl entered. He had known her from childhood.
"How do you do, Mr. Blackwood?" she returned.
"Pretty fairly, for an old man, Marion. That is, so far as my health goes. Business is very poor, though."
"The war has taken the people's money."
"Yes, yes! It is awful! Sometimes I think it will never end."
"Do you think we will win, Mr. Blackwood?"
At this the old man shook his head slowly.
"I used to hope so, Marion. But now—the most of our best soldiers have been shot down. The North can get new recruits, but we don't seem to have many more men to go to the front."
"Have you any more calico like that which I got a few weeks ago?"
"No, I can't get a single piece, no matter how hard I try."
"What have you in plain dress goods?"
"Nothing but what I showed you before. I tried to get something new last week, but the wholesale houses had nothing, and couldn't say when anything new would come in. Their business has been wrecked, just as mine has been. Two of the best houses I used to do business with are bankrupt."
"Then show me what you have again, please. Mamma and I must have something, even if it is out of date. We'll wear it for the honor of the South."
At this old Mr. Blackwood smiled. "You are a loyal girl, Marion. I like to see it in a person, especially in one who is young. It shows the right training."
"But supposing I was a Northerner," said Marion, with a sly twinkle in her eye.
"It would make no difference in my opinion."
"You believe people should be true to their convictions?"
"Yes, no matter what side they stand upon. We think we are right, and are willing to fight for our opinions. They think they are right, and they are willing to fight, too."
"But who is right?"
Mr. Blackwood shrugged his shoulders. "Let us trust that God will bring this difficulty to a satisfactory conclusion. If we lose in this war, my one hope is that the South will not lose everything—that the North will be generous."
"But they say Grant is a stubborn general. That he will demand everything of General Lee."
"I cannot believe it. I have a cousin who knew Grant, and he said Grant was not so hard-hearted as painted."
"Some say the South, if defeated, will be held in virtual slavery by the North."
"Yes, some hot-heads say everything. I had such a fellow in here yesterday; a surgeon in our army, who gave his name as Dr. Mackey. He was ranting around, declaring that, if we lost, the Northern soldiers would march clear through to New Orleans and loot and burn every village, town, and city, and that neither life nor property would be safe. His talk was enough to scare a timid person most to death."
"A surgeon in our army," said Marion. She had been told by Jack of the meeting on the bridge. "What kind of a looking man was he?"
As well as he could Mr. Blackwood described the individual.
"Did he seem to have a finger on one hand doubled up and stiff?"
"Yes. Do you know him, Marion?"
"I know of him. He met Jack on a bridge some days ago and ordered him off as if Jack were a slave."
"He appeared to be as headstrong as he was unreasonable. I have seen him around here several times, but I cannot make out what he is doing here. He asked me about the wreck on Hemlock Bluff rocks."
"What!" and Marion showed her surprise.
"Yes. He said he had heard of the wreck and was curious to visit it."
"That was strange."
"I asked him why he wished to visit the wreck, but he did not answer the question."
At this point some other customers came in and the conversation was changed. Marion bought what she wanted and went out, and presently joined Jack on the way home.
"It was odd that surgeon should want to visit the wreck," was our hero's comment, after he had heard what the girl had to say. "I wonder if he knows anything of the ship and her passengers? If he does, I would like to interview him, uncivil as he is."
DR. MACKEY INVESTIGATES.
A few days later Old Ben was just preparing to go out in his boat when a visitor appeared at the boathouse. The man was clad in the faded uniform of a Confederate surgeon, and proved to be Dr. Mackey.
"Good-mornin', sah," said Old Ben politely, as the doctor leaped from the saddle and came forward.
"Good-morning," returned the surgeon shortly. "Can you supply me with a glass of good drinking water? I left my flask at camp, and I am dry."
"We has de best ob watah heah, sah," returned Old Ben, and proceeded to obtain a goblet. "Does yo' belong to de army?"
"Yes, I am a surgeon attached to the Fifth Virginia regiment." The visitor gazed around him curiously. "Is this your boathouse?"
"Kind o', sah. It belongs to de Ruthven plantation. But when my ole massa—Heaben bless his spirit—sot me free, he gib me de right to use de boathouse so long as I pleased. I lives in yonder cabin on de bluff."
"Ah! then you were one of Mr. Ruthven's slaves?"
"Colonel Ruthven, sah," said the colored man, with emphasis on the military title.
"He is dead?"
"Yes, sah; killed at de bloody battle ob Gettysburg. He was leadin' a charge when a bullet struck him in de head."
"Too bad, truly. Did he leave much of a family?"
"A widow, sah, an' two chillen, a boy an' a girl."
"I see." The doctor drank the water thoughtfully. "Did—er—I mean, I think I have seen the two young people. They don't seem to resemble each other very much."
"Well, you see, da aint persackly brother an' sister."
"No?" and the surgeon raised his heavy eyebrows as if in surprise.
"No, sah. Massah Jack is only de 'dopted son ob de late colonel."
"Ah, is that really so? A—er—nephew, perhaps?"
"No, he aint no kin to de Ruthvens. He was washed ashoah from a wrack ten or 'leben years ago. I wouldn't tell dis, only it has become public property durin' de las' two weeks."
Dr. Mackey started back. "Ha! I have found the boy at last!" he muttered to himself, as he began to walk the floor.
"What did you say, sah?"
"It's quite like a romance, my man. I should like to hear more of the boy's story."
"Dere aint much to tell, massah. It blowed great guns durin' dat storm. De passengers an' crew was washed ashoah from de wrack, but de only ones wot came to de beach alive was Massah Jack an' his poor dear mother."
"And the mother——" The doctor paused.
"She only libed fo' two days. She died up to de house, leabin' de boy to Mrs. Ruthven. De missus promised to look after de boy as her own—an' she has gone dun it, too, sah."
"Then Mrs. Ruthven doesn't know whose son he really is?"
"No, sah. De boy's mammy couldn't tell nuffin, she was so much hurt."
"But what of the boy's father?"
"He was drowned wid de rest ob de passengers."
"Hard luck—for the boy." The surgeon continued to pace the floor.
"By the way, what is your name?" he asked presently.
"There is a dollar for you."
"T'ank yo', massah; you is a real gen'man," and Ben's face relaxed into a broad smile.
"You were going out in your boat, I believe."
"Yes, massah. But if I kin do anyt'ing fo' yo'——"
"What of this wreck? Is it the same that one can see from the bluff?"
"Yes, massah, de werry same."
"It's remarkable that it should survive so long."
"Well, yo' see, sah, de rocks am werry high, so de most ob de storms don't git no chance at de wrack. Dat storm wot put de boat up dar was de mos' powerful dat I eber seen in all my born days."
"Is it possible to board the wreck now?"
"Oh, yes, sah! I was ober dar only a few days ago. De ship was struck by lightning in dat las' storm, but de rain put out de fiah."
"I would like to visit the wreck. I have some time to spare to-day, and I am curious to see how such a big vessel looks when cast up high and dry on the rocks."
"I can take yo' ober, sah."
"Very well; do so, and I'll give you another dollar."
"I'll be ready in a minute, as soon as I gits my fishing tackle an' bait out of de boat, sah."
Ben hurried to his craft. As he was lifting his things out he saw a man strolling near. The individual proved to be St. John Ruthven, who had come in that direction in hope of seeing Marion alone.
"Hullo, Ben!" cried St. John. "See anything of Marion to-day?"
"She dun went out in a boat, sah."
"What, after that experience in the storm?"
"I should think they would be afraid."
"Da aint so afraid as some folks is, Massah St. John."
"Do you mean that as an insult to me, you good-for-nothing nigger?"
"No, sah. I mean Miss Marion an' Massah Jack are wery stout-hearted."
"My aunt is foolish to let Marion go out with that boy. Some day Marion will be drowned."
"Jack knows wot he is doin', I rackon, sah."
"You don't know him. He is thoroughly reckless. I presume as a nobody his life isn't worth much, but——"
"I rackon his life is as sweet to him as yours is to yo', Massah St. John."
"Can you take me out in a boat after them?"
"Sorry, sah, but I'se gwine to take dis gen'man out, sah."
St. John turned and saw Dr. Mackey standing near, the surgeon having come from the boathouse to listen in silence to the conversation which was taking place.
He had met the doctor at the Oldville tavern the evening before, and bowed stiffly.
"I am sorry to disappoint you, Mr. Ruthven," said the doctor; "but I am curious to visit the old wreck on Hemlock Bluff rocks. Perhaps this man has another boat——"
"Oh, it doesn't matter, Dr. Mackey," answered St. John.
"You are evidently a cousin to Miss Marion Ruthven."
"And a cousin to the lad named Jack."
"He is no cousin of mine—even though my aunt has foolishly treated him as her son."
"He is a waif of the sea—cast up from that wreck; yet my aunt presents him to the world as a Ruthven—when he may be of very low birth."
"Evidently you are proud of your name."
"I am proud, sir, for there is no family in South Carolina which bears a better name. We are descended from St. George Ruthven, one of the knights of Queen Elizabeth's reign."
"I congratulate you, sir, and I now understand how this matter grates upon you. But permit me to state, the boy may prove to be of as high birth as yourself."
"What, Jack? Never!"
"Do not say that. Strange things have happened in this world."
"But he looks as if he came of low birth," responded St. John haughtily.
"There I must disagree with you, Mr. Ruthven."
"Dat's de talk!" muttered Old Ben, as he eyed St. John darkly. "Massah Jack's as good as dat coward any day!"
"As you please, doctor; but I shall hold to my opinion."
Dr. Mackey shrugged his shoulders.
"You have that right. Come, Ben, we will be on the way. Mr. Ruthven, allow me to bid you good-day," and the doctor bowed stiffly.
"Good-day," was the curt response.
Soon the surgeon and Old Ben were in the boat, and the negro was rowing swiftly in the direction of the wreck. St. John walked up the shore, but presently turned to view the doctor from a distance.
"He talks as if he knew a thing or two," muttered the spendthrift to himself. "Can it be possible that he knows something of the past, and is going out to the wreck for a purpose?"
THE PAPERS ON THE WRECK.
As the waters of the bay were quiet, it did not take Ben long to row Dr. Mackey over to the wreck on the rocks.
"Be careful how you steps out, sah," said the colored man. "De rocks am slippery, an' you kin twist an ankle widout half tryin', sah."
"I will be careful, Ben. So this is the wreck?"
"I presume all that was movable in the ship has been carried off?"
"Long ago, sah."
"But the inside of the ship itself was not torn out?"
"No, sah. De folks around yeah is too afraid ob ghosteses fo' dat."
"Ah, yes! so I heard—at least, I would suppose so," replied the doctor, in some confusion. "By the way, you need not remain here. I will visit the wreck alone. You can come back in an hour or so."
"Wery well, massah."
"But don't forget to come back. I don't want to be left here all night."
"Don't worry, sah; I'll be back fo' dat dollah, sah," and Ben grinned.
"Oh, yes! I forgot about the dollar. Well, you shall have it when you take me back to shore."
The doctor walked slowly toward the wreck, glancing back several times to see if Old Ben was following him.
The colored man rowed away in a thoughtful mood.
"Somet'ing is on dat man's mind, suah!" he muttered to himself. "He's gwine ter do somet'ing."
With difficulty the surgeon climbed up to the deck of the wreck. A desolate spectacle presented itself. Everything was charred by the fire.
"Truly a nice place to come to," said the man to himself. "Now, supposing this thing turns out a wild-goose chase, after all? Let me see, the stateroom was No. 15. I wonder if I can still locate it?"
With caution he descended the companion way and entered the main cabin of the stranded vessel. Here he drew from his pocket a candle and lit it.
He walked slowly toward the side of the cabin until he reached a stateroom bearing the number 7 upon the door.
"Seven," he murmured. "And the second from this is eleven. That shows the numbers on this side are all odd. The next must be thirteen, and the next fifteen."
He held the candle to the door, but the number plate was gone. Without hesitation he pushed upon the door, which was already partly open. It fell back, exposing the interior of the stateroom, now bare of all things movable, and covered with dust and cobwebs.
"A dirty job this," he murmured, and set the candle down upon a beam running along the side of a wall. He gazed around the stateroom curiously, as if hardly knowing what to do next.
"The little closet was set in the wall at the foot of the bed. Now which was the foot of the bed? I'll try both ends." He did so, tapping on the woodwork with his knuckles. Presently he found a hole where there had once been a small knob.
"The closet, sure enough!" he cried, and his face took on a new interest. "Now where is that door-knob?"
He hunted on the floor, but no knob came to view. But a bent nail was handy, and this he inserted into the hole sideways, and pulled with all his force. There was a slight creak, and a small door came open, revealing a dark closet about a foot square and equally deep.
If the room was dirty the closet was more so, for a crack at the top had let in both dirt and water, and at first he could see nothing but a solid cake of dirt before him. Digging into this, he presently uncovered a heavy tin box, painted black.
"Eureka! the box at last!" he cried, in a tone full of pleasure. "I am the lucky one, after all!"
He brought the tin box forth and brushed it off. There was a little padlock in front, and this was locked. Bringing a bunch of keys from his pocket, he began to try them, one after another. At last he found one to fit, and opened the box.
"The papers at last!" he murmured, and his eyes gleamed with expectation. "Let me see what there is." He turned them over. "The marriage certificate for one, and letters from his father about that property. And other letters from her folks—all here, and just what I wanted." He shoved the documents back into the box. "The fortune is mine!"
Returning to the closet he cleaned it out thoroughly, to learn if it contained anything more of value. But there was nothing more there, and presently he blew out the candle, hid the tin box under his coat, and returned to the deck.
Ben was rowing not far away and saw the doctor wave his hand.
"Is yo' ready, massah?" he called out.
The colored man said no more, but rowed inshore, and in the meantime the doctor hurried down to meet him.
"Did you find any gold, massah?" asked the colored man, his white teeth gleaming.
"Gold! Why, you foolish nigger, what chance is there of finding gold on a wreck over ten years old? The best thing you can do is to break the boat to pieces and take the wood ashore for fuel."
"But de ghosteses, massah! Besides, Mrs. Ruthven wouldn't let us touch dat wrack nohow."
"On account of the boy, I suppose."
"To tell the truth, my man, I have now as much interest in that ship as has that boy or Mrs. Ruthven. It brings back an exciting passage in my life. My visit to the wreck was made to satisfy me concerning several important questions. I was one of the passengers on that ill-fated ship!"
"Golly, massah, yo' don't really mean dat?" And Old Ben's eyes opened widely.
"Yes, I do. I suspected it before; now I am dead certain of it."
At this declaration Old Ben grew quite excited.
"And did yo' know Massah Jack's fadder, sah?"
"Yes, my man, I knew him very well," and there was a significant smile on the doctor's face as he spoke.
"And was he a gen'man, sah? St. John Ruthven t'inks he was common white trash."
"He was a gentleman of high family—the son of an English nobleman, although born in this country."
"An' Jack's mudder, sah?"
"Was an American lady—a lady belonging to one of the first families of Massachusetts."
"Golly, a Northerner!" and Ben's face became a study.
"Yo' must visit de house, sah, and tell Mrs. Ruthven 'bout dis. She will want to heah de partic'lars wery much, sah."
"Yes, I will visit the Ruthven home," replied the doctor.
"Yo' know de way, sah?"
"I believe I do."
"I can show yo' de way, an' will do it willingly. So you knew Jack's fadder an' mudder! Golly, but aint dat strange—after all dese yeahs, too! Jack will want to see yo', ob course."
"And I shall want to see Jack," replied the medical man.
"Jack's a fine lad, sah."
"I am glad to hear it." But, as he spoke, the face of Dr. Mackey became a study.
"Yes, sah; aint no bettah boy in all dese parts, sah."
While talking Ben was rowing steadily, and it was not long before the pair reached shore.
Then the boat was made fast, the oars put away, and the doctor and the colored man started for the Ruthven mansion.
MRS. RUTHVEN SPEAKS HER MIND.
Leaving the shore of the bay, St. John Ruthven walked slowly toward the home of his aunt.
It irritated him greatly to think that his cousin preferred the society of Jack to his own.
"I must speak to Aunt Alice about this," he said to himself. "It is getting worse and worse."
He found his aunt sitting in the garden reading. She looked up in surprise at his approach.
"Aunt Alice, can you spare me a few minutes?" he said, after the usual greeting.
"Surely, St. John. What is it that you wish?"
"I wish to speak to you about Marion."
"About Marion?" Mrs. Ruthven looked somewhat surprised.
"Yes. I saw her out again in a boat with that boy."
"That boy? Do you mean Jack?"
"Yes. I wonder you trust her to his care—after what happened at the wreck."
"Why should I not? Jack understands how to manage a boat. Marion is safe with her brother."
"But he is not her brother," cried St. John.
"Not in blood, perhaps, but in affection. They have been brought up together as children of one family."
"My dear Aunt Alice, do you think you have done wisely in encouraging this intimacy?" he said earnestly.
"What can you mean?" she demanded. "Jack is fourteen years old and Marion is eighteen."
"Of course. But you know nothing of the boy's parentage. He is an unknown waif, cast upon the shore in his infancy, very possibly of a low family."
"No, you are wrong there. Remember, I saw his mother. Everything indicated her to be a lady. The child's clothing was of fine texture. But even if it were otherwise, he has endeared himself to me by his noble qualities. I regard him as a son."
St. John shrugged his shoulders. "You look upon him with the eyes of affection. To me he seems——"
"A commonplace boy,—a mechanic's child, very possibly,—who is quite out of place among the Ruthvens."
At this Mrs. Ruthven grew indignant.
"You are prejudiced!" she cried. "I will not discuss the matter farther with you. I wish no one to speak to me against Jack. He is as dear to me as Marion herself."
The young man drew a deep breath. "I am silenced, Aunt Alice. But I wish to speak to you about Marion. She is no longer a child, but a young lady."
"Yes, she is now eighteen," answered Mrs. Ruthven slowly. "But to me she seems a child still."
"Well—er—at what age did you marry, aunt?"
"Then, Aunt Alice, you cannot be surprised if I have thought of Marion as my future wife. I love her warmly and sincerely."
At this abrupt declaration Mrs. Ruthven was considerably surprised.
"Why, St. John, do you wish to marry that child?" she exclaimed.
"Why not? She is eighteen."
"Yes, but I had never thought of her as old enough to be married. Have you spoken to her?"
"Yes," he returned slowly, and with a cloud on his face.
"And what did she say?"
"Nothing—that is, she was taken by surprise and did not wish to discuss the matter at present."
Mrs. Ruthven drew a breath of relief. "She was sensible. Have you any reason to think that she loves you?"
"I think she will soon. I am not conceited, Aunt Alice, but I think I have a good appearance and—I am a Ruthven."
"You are much older than she, St. John."
"I am, but a man of my age is still a young man."
"I should not object if she loved you, but I have never seen any indications of it."
"Will you let her know that you favor my suit?"
At this Mrs. Ruthven shrugged her shoulders.
"But I am not sure that I do," she returned slowly.
"Have you heard anything to my discredit?" he demanded stiffly.
"No, no, St. John; but don't be precipitate. Let the matter rest for the present."
"Well, if you insist upon it, Aunt Alice," he said, his face falling.
"It seems to me best."
"But still, Aunt Alice, if Marion allows her affections to drift in another direction——"
"I do not think she will, for the present. She is more interested in the war than in anything else. Why, if I would allow it, she would go off and offer her services as a nurse."
"Don't let her go, aunt—I beg of you."
Mrs. Ruthven looked at her nephew curiously.
"What makes you so afraid of this war, St. John?"
"Afraid? I am not afraid exactly," he stammered. "I was thinking of dear Marion. It would be horrible for her to put up with the hardships, and such sights!"
"But somebody must bear such sights and sounds. War is war, and our beloved country must be sustained, even in her darkest hour."
He trembled and turned pale, but quickly recovered.
"What you say is true, Aunt Alice. I have wanted to go to the front, but my mother positively refuses her permission. She is in mortal terror that the Yankees will come to our plantation and loot the place in my absence."
"Do you think you can keep them from coming?"
"No, but I can—er—I can perhaps protect my mother."
"If you went off, she could come over here and remain with me."
"She wishes to remain at home. The old place is very dear to her. It would break her heart to have the enemy destroy it."
"I should not wish our place destroyed. Yet the only way to keep the enemy back is to go to the front and fight them."
"Well—I presume you are right, and I shall go some time—when I can win my mother over," said St. John lamely.
He wanted to speak of Marion again, but, on looking across the garden, saw his cousin and Jack approaching. Soon the pair came up and Marion greeted St. John with a slight bow.
"We have been out rowing, mother," said Jack, as he came up and kissed Mrs. Ruthven. "It was lovely on the bay."
"Did you go far?"
"We went over to Hoskin's beach. Marion rowed part of the way."
"I hope you had a nice time," said St. John stiffly, turning to Marion.
"We had a lovely time," answered the girl. "Jack is the best rower around here."
"Humph! Why, he's only a boy!" sneered the spendthrift.
"Yes, I am only a boy, St. John, but I reckon I can row as good as you," replied our hero warmly. He had not forgotten the encounter on the road.
"Do you, indeed?"
"Yes, I do. Some day we can try a race. I'll give you choice of boats and beat you."
At this Marion set up a merry laugh.
"I believe Jack can beat you at rowing, St. John," she said.
"I never race with boys," answered the spendthrift, more stiffly than ever.
"I'll race you to-day," went on Jack. "And I've rowed three or four miles already."
"Oh, Jack! you are too tired and the sun is too strong," remonstrated Mrs. Ruthven, although inwardly pleased to see the lad stand up for himself.
"I said I never raced with boys," said St. John.
"I would like to see a race," came from Marion. "I dare you to row Jack, St. John."
"Let us make it to the rocks and back," said Jack. "And you can have any of the boats you please. I dare you to do it," and he looked at St. John defiantly.
"St. John may be tired. Perhaps he has been working," suggested Mrs. Ruthven, although she knew better.
"No, he has been walking and resting along shore," said Marion. "We saw him from our boat."
"I'll give you another advantage, besides choice of boats," said Jack, bound that St. John should not back out. "I'll carry Marion as extra weight."
"Oh, that wouldn't be fair!" cried the girl. "Let St. John carry mamma."
"No, I must decline to go," said Mrs. Ruthven.
"I'll take Marion, and St. John need carry only himself," said our hero. "I am certain I can beat him. I dare him to take me up."
There seemed no help for it, so St. John gave in, and soon the three were on the way to Old Ben's boathouse.
THE BOAT RACE ON THE BAY.
"I think this is a very foolish proceeding," observed St. John as they walked along.
"I think it's going to be lots of fun," replied Marion. "The one who wins shall receive a lovely bunch of roses from me."
"Then I'll win," said the spendthrift, and bestowed a meaning smile upon her, which instantly made her turn her head.
They used a short cut to the beach, consequently they did not meet Old Ben and Dr. Mackey.
When the boathouse was gained they went to inspect the four boats lying there.
St. John knew the boats well, for he was by no means an unskilled rower.
He picked out the lightest of the craft, one which was long and narrow, and also took the best pair of oars.
Marion was going to remonstrate, but Jack silenced her.
"But, Jack, if you have a poor boat, and carry me, too——" she began, in a whisper.
"I'll beat him, anyway," replied our hero. "I know I can do it."
Soon they had the boats out.
Marion half expected St. John to invite her to enter his craft, but in this she was mistaken. The spendthrift was afraid that the extra weight would prove fatal to his success. Yet it angered him to have his cousin go off with Jack.
"Marion, you ought to remain on shore," he said. "The race ought to be rowed with both boats empty."
"Well, if you think best——" she began.
"No, Marion, you are to go with me," put in Jack hastily. "I said I would row with you in my boat, and I will."
"But I am quite a weight——"
"Never mind; jump in."
As there seemed no help for it, Marion entered Jack's boat and our hero pulled a rod away from the shore.
"Now where is the race to be?" asked St. John, as he followed Jack's example and pulled off his coat.
"Let Marion decide that," said the youth promptly.
"Then make it to the Sister Rocks," said Marion. "Each boat must go directly around the rocks."
"That suits me," said Jack.
"It's a good mile and a half," grumbled St. John. He had no desire to exert himself in that warm sun.
"It's no farther for you than for Jack," answered the girl. "Come, are you ready?"
There was a pause, and then St. John said that he was.
"And you, Jack?"
"All ready, Marion."
"Then go!" cried the girl.
The four oars dropped into the water and off went the two boats, side by side.
St. John, eager to win for the sake of finding favor in Marion's eyes, exerted himself to the utmost, and soon forged ahead.
"Oh, Jack! he is going to beat," cried the girl, in disappointment. "I am too much of a load for you."
"The race has but started," he replied. "Wait until we turn the rocks and then see who is ahead."
On and on went the two boats, St. John pulling strongly, but somewhat wildly—a pace he could not keep up. Jack rowed strongly, too, but kept himself somewhat in reserve.
When half the distance to the Sister Rocks was covered St. John was four boat-lengths ahead.
"Ha! what did I tell you!" he cried. "I will beat you, and beat you badly, too!"
"'He laughs best who laughs last,'" quoted Jack. "Marion, sit a little more to the left, please. There, that's it—now we'll go along straighter."
"I wish I could help row," she said. "But that wouldn't be fair. But, oh, Jack! you must beat him!"
Slowly, but surely, they approached the Sister Rocks. Being ahead, St. John turned in, to take the shortest cut around the turning-stake, if such the rocks may be called.
"Too bad, Jack, you will have to go outside," cried Marion.
"Never mind, I'll beat him, anyway," answered our hero, and now let himself out.
The added strength to his stroke soon told, and before long he began to crawl close to St. John's craft. Then he overlapped his opponent and forged ahead.
"Hurrah! you are ahead!" cried Marion excitedly, but in a voice her cousin might not hear. "Keep up, Jack; you are doing wonderfully well."
Our hero did keep up, and when he reached the first of the Sister Rocks he was more than two boat-lengths ahead.
He knew the rocks well, and glided around them skillfully, with just enough water between the rocks and the boat to make the turning a safe one.
"Now for the home stretch!" he murmured, and began to pull as never before. He felt certain he could defeat St. John, but he wished to make the defeat as large as possible. "He'll find even a nobody can row," he told himself, with grim satisfaction.
To have Jack go ahead of him drove St. John frantic, and as he drew closer to the rocks he became wildly excited.
"He must not win this race—he a mere nobody," he muttered. "What will Marion think if he wins?"
The thought was maddening, and he pulled desperately, first on one oar and then on the other. Around the rocks the waters ran swiftly, and before he knew it there came a crash and his craft was stove in and upset. He clutched at the gunwale of the boat, but missed it, and plunged headlong into the bay.
When the mishap occurred Jack was paying sole attention to the work cut out for him, consequently he did not notice what was taking place. Nor did Marion see the disaster until several seconds later.
"St. John will——" began the girl, and then turned deadly pale. "Oh, Jack!" she screamed.
"What's the matter?" he cried, and stopped rowing instantly.
"Look! look! St. John's boat has gone on the rocks and he is overboard!" she gasped.
"How foolish for him to row so close," was Jack's comment. And then he added, in something like disgust, "I reckon the race is off now."
"We must go back for him," went on Marion. "See, he has disappeared."
The girl was right, the weight of St. John's clothing had carried him beneath the surface. The swiftly running water had likewise caught him, and when he came up it was at a point fifty feet away from the nearest rock.
"He will be drowned, Jack!"
"Help! help!" came in a faint cry from the spendthrift. "Help me, Jack! Don't leave me to perish!"
"Keep up, I'm coming!" answered Jack readily, and as quickly as he could he turned his boat and pulled in the direction where St. John had again sunk from sight.
The spendthrift was but an indifferent swimmer, and the weight of his clothing was much against him. Moreover, he was scared to death, and threw his arms around wildly instead of doing his best to save himself.
He had gone down once, and now, as Jack's boat came closer, he went down a second time.
"Oh, Jack! he will surely be drowned!" gasped Marion, and she placed her hands over her eyes to keep out the awful sight.