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作者:未知      更新:2018-03-11 22:35      字数:10612
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    “HAND 'em out here, I say,” repeated Godfrey, “an' don't waste no time in thinkin' about it, nuther!”

    “You've turned highwayman, have you?” said the boy, recovering his power of speech by an effort. “Well, you shan't have the money. I have use for it myself, and I could easily use more if I had it.”

    “So can I use it,” said Godfrey, “an' I'm going to have it, too. Yer mighty good to yerself, ain't ye? Yer going off to yer home, fifteen hundred miles away, an' leave me to bear the brunt of this business as best I can. But I ain't agoin' to stay nuther. I'm goin' away, too. Hand 'em out here!”

    “And what shall I do?” asked Clarence, who began to grow alarmed when he saw how determined Godfrey was. “How shall I get home without any money to pay my way?”

    “Hand 'em out here, I say, an' be quick about[Pg 269] it,” answered Godfrey, making an effort to put his hand into the boy's pocket. “I don't care how ye get hum. Ye got me into this scrape an' ye must pay my way outen it; that's how the thing stands.”

    “I'll not go home at all,” exclaimed Clarence, doubling himself up and resisting to the utmost all Godfrey's efforts to force his hand into his pocket. “I'll stay and see this thing out on purpose to have you arrested.”

    “I shall be miles back in the swamp in less'n an hour,” replied Godfrey, becoming enraged at the boy's opposition and throwing him flat on his back in the road. “I've got my rifle with me, an' the fust man that follows me will come to his death!”

    Clarence did not doubt this in the least, for the expression on Godfrey's face told him that he was terribly in earnest. He was like a child in the angry man's grasp, but knowing how much depended on the small stock of money he had in his pocket he fought desperately to retain possession of it, but all to no purpose. Godfrey rolled him over, face downward, and holding him fast with one hand, quickly found the pocket-book with the other and pulled it out. He was about to examine it to make sure that the money was in it, but just then his ear caught the[Pg 270] clatter of a horse's hoofs on the hard road. He listened to it a moment, and then jumped up and ran into the thicket from which he had just emerged; while Clarence, being equally anxious to avoid observation, scrambled to his feet with all haste and plunged into an opposite thicket. Almost overcome with the violence of his exertions he lay flat upon the ground, behind a convenient log, until the horseman came in sight, and then quickly ducked his head and held his breath. It was his uncle. He passed swiftly along, looking neither to the right nor left, and disappeared around a bend in the road.

    “Whew!” panted Clarence. “Wasn't that a narrow escape? What if I had waited to tell him about the robbery, as I at first meant to do? This is a little ahead of any experience I have had yet.”

    Clarence looked up and down the road to make sure that the coast was clear, and then came out and crossed over to the opposite side to look for Godfrey. He was not to be seen. Clarence listened intently, but could hear nothing but the sighing of the wind through the branches of the trees. He called Godfrey's name as loudly as he dared, but no answer was returned.

    “He's gone,” thought the boy, “and so are my[Pg 271] twenty dollars; and here I am, two miles from the landing, afoot and alone. I wish I dared stay and have that fellow hunted up and punished. But I'd much rather lose the money than face my uncle after he finds out what I have done. I declare, I'm a nice-looking fellow to go among folks,” he added, looking down at his coat, which was sadly soiled and torn. “And the worst of it is, I shall continue to look this way for some days to come.”

    Clarence thumped his clothes energetically to knock the dust out of them, settled his hat firmly on his head and set out at his best pace in the direction of Rochdale. He ran almost all the way, and the last half mile he made in remarkably quick time considering the circumstances, for he heard the Emma Deane whistle as she approached the landing. When he turned into the street on which the post-office stood, he was almost ready to drop with fatigue, but he was obliged to run faster than ever, for he heard the bell ring, and he knew that that was a signal to the crew to stand by the lines. He hoped there would be no one at the landing to see him, but he did not know the habits of the planters living in the vicinity. They were out in full force, and Clarence, as he dashed through them with his hat in his hand and[Pg 272] the perspiration streaming from his face, excited no little astonishment, as he knew by the remarks he heard on every side. He staggered up the staging, and unable to go a step farther, sat down on the stairs that led to the boiler-deck, and panted loudly. The mates of the boat and the shipping clerk thought they recognised him, but were not quite sure about it; and that was not to be wondered at, for he looked very unlike the dashing, fashionably-dressed young fellow who had spent his money so freely for ale and cigars on the down trip.

    “Is this you, Gordon?” exclaimed the clerk.

    “It's what is left of me,” gasped Clarence.

    “Why, how did you ever get into this fix? Your clothes are torn”

    “I know,” interrupted Clarence. “Wait until I recover my breath, and I'll tell you all about it.”

    Clarence reached the steamer just in time; for, as he sank panting and exhausted upon the stairs, the lines were cast off, and in five minutes more the Emma Deane was on her way up the river. The clerk superintended the getting out of the freight that was to be put off at the next landing, and then came and sat down beside Clarence, who, by this time, began to feel a little more like himself.

    Clarence Escapes on the “Emma Deane.”

    [Pg 273]“Am I not a pretty looking object?” said the latter.

    “Well, I've seen you when I thought you looked better,” answered the clerk, with a laugh. “Been taking a rough and tumble with somebody ashore?”

    “No,” replied Clarence.

    “You left your baggage, didn't you?”

    “I have none. I am only going to Cairo on business for my uncle. I left home on a skittish young horse, that I was to leave at the landing until my uncle could send for him, but he did not bring me all the way. He threw me up there in the woods, and dragged me about twenty yards with my foot in the stirrup, before I could free myself. But I had no idea I was so badly used up,” said Clarence, rising to his feet and pulling off his coat. “If I had, I should have gone back and made a new start with another suit of clothes. I say, haven't you an extra coat to sell? The rest of my clothes will do until I reach Cairo.”

    “Perhaps I can accommodate you,” said the clerk. “Come up to my room, and after you have taken a wash and a brush you'll look better.”

    Clarence accompanied the clerk to his room in Texas (that is the name given to the upper cabin in[Pg 274] river steamers), and after he had bathed his hands and face, and given his clothes a thorough brushing he proceeded to make an estimate of the damages he had received. He decided that his trowsers, boots and vest would pass muster, and so would his shirt and collar, although they were both pretty badly rumpled; but the coat was torn beyond all repair, and was fit only for somebody's rag-bag. The clerk thought so too, and took down from a nail in his room a coat which he said he didn't need, and which Clarence might wear and welcome if he were only going on to Cincinnati; but as he was to stop off at Cairo, perhaps he had better buy it. Clarence thought now that he would have played his game a little sharper if he had said nothing about stopping at Cairo; but, in order to make the story he had yet to tell appear reasonable, he was obliged to hold to what he had already said.

    “Unfortunately I am not going to Cincinnati,” said he. “My business will take me no farther than Cairo. What's the coat worth?”

    “Well, I don't think five dollars would be too much; do you?”

    “O, no. I'll willingly give you that.”

    Clarence laid down the coat, thrust his hand into[Pg 275] his pocket, and then stopped and looked at the clerk, while a blank look settled on his face. After standing motionless for a moment, he began with frantic haste to empty all his pockets. This done he sank down on the clerk's bed, his hands dropped by his side, and he looked dejected enough.

    “Is it gone?” asked the clerk, who readily understood this pantomime.

    “Yes, sir, it's gonemy pocket-book with an even hundred dollars in it. Now, am I not in a nice fix? How am I going to pay my fare to Cairo and back?”

    “It must have dropped out of your pocket when your horse threw you,” said the clerk.

    “That's just the way it happened, and every cent I had was in it, too.”

    Clarence looked up and saw that the clerk's gaze was fastened on his watch that lay on the bed; and that same watch, which was a birth-day present from his mother, was the boy's sole dependence now. When he was passing through the brier-patch, on his way to the cellar where his cousin was confined, the long chain, which dangled from his button-hole, was constantly catching on the bushes, and Clarence had unhooked it and put it into his pocket with the watch. Probably that was all that saved the time-piece, for[Pg 276] had Godfrey Evans seen the chain, he might have taken that and the watch as well as the money.

    “Do you suppose there is any one on board who will advance me anything on that?” asked Clarence, brightening up as if the idea had just occurred to him.

    “I was thinking about it,” replied the clerk. “You might try our chief engineer. He's always trading watches when he thinks he can make any thing by it.”

    “I don't want to sell the watch,” said Clarence. “I only want to borrow some money on it. I shall return to Rochdale at once, and by the time you come down again, I shall be ready to redeem it.”

    “I understand,” said the clerk. “The engineer is in his room now.”

    “Then let's try him at once. Come with me, will you? You know him better than I do.”

    The clerk showed Clarence the way into the engineer's room, where that officer, having just come off watch, was taking his usual forenoon nap. He greeted Clarence cordiallyhe had smoked more than one cigar at the boy's expense during the down tripand listened patiently to the story he had to tell. He examined the watch and said he would[Pg 277] advance fifty dollars on it, provided the owner would be ready to redeem it the next time the Emma Deane stopped at Rochdale. This Clarence readily promised to do; so the money was paid at once, the officer pocketed the watch, and the boy went out feeling as if a mountain had been removed from his shoulders. He gave the clerk five dollars for his coat, paid his fare to Cairo, and still had left a sum of money sufficiently large to take him home, provided he did not spend too much for cigars and ale. Half an hour later he was sitting on the boiler deck with his chair tilted back, his feet on the railing, a cigar between his teeth, and looking as happy and contented as though he had never known a moment's trouble in his life.

    “Things don't look quite as dark as they did,” said he, throwing back his head and watching the smoke as it ascended from his cigar. “I didn't lose anything by making friends of the officers of this boat on the down trip. Now that I am safely out of the scrape, I'd give something to know what is going on down there at the plantation. Forty thousand dollars? The last chance I shall ever have to make a fortune has slipped through my fingers; and all through Don's interference. He deserved just what[Pg 278] he got, and I hope it will teach him to mind his own business.”

    During the journey homeward this was the burden of the boy's reflections. He knew that by his conduct he had destroyed his chance of living on intimate or even friendly terms with his uncle's family, but for that he cared not; he scarcely even thought of it. If he had only found the barrel, and received his share of the contents, he imagined he would have been supremely happy. He reached home in safety, and of course his parents were very much surprised to see him. He told his mother the whole truth, keeping back nothing, and left her to tell his father. Mr. Gordon did not have much to say until he had had time to write to his brother in Mississippi. What sort of an answer he received to his letter, Clarence never knew; but one bright morning, shortly after the letter came, he was ordered to be ready to start for New York at four o'clock that afternoon. Then he knew that his father's patience was all exhausted, and that he was to be placed where he would be controlled by an iron hand. Entreaties and promises of better behavior in future were alike unavailing. To New York he went, and his father accompanied him. Mr. Gordon came back alone,[Pg 279] and the next time anybody heard from Clarence, he was off the coast of France in the school ship. “The officers are awful hard on us,” wrote Clarence, and there were volumes in that short sentence. If any boy desires to find out the full meaning of it for himself, a voyage across the water and back will teach him more than he will care to know. Clarence is in the school ship now; and a letter Mr. Gordon lately received from the captain, states that a steadier, more obedient young sailor never lived. Discipline has worked a great change in him, and it is to be hoped that he will profit by it when his term of service expires.

    And where was Don all this time? While Clarence was tossing recklessly about on his bed, alternating between hope and fearhoping that matters would come out all right after his night's exploit, and fearing that something might happen to defeat his plansDon was passing the time drearily enough in Godfrey Evans's cellar. The position in which he was confinedhe was standing with his back against the stanchionmade it impossible for him to obtain a wink of sleep, and he spent the long, gloomy hours in useless struggles to free himself, and in thinking, not of himself, but of Clarence. How[Pg 280] could his cousin escape the consequences of his rash act, unless he could free himself from his bonds, and reach home before his absence was discovered? This was the question that troubled Don; and whenever it arose in his mind, he would work desperately to free one of his hands, knowing that if that much could be accomplished, he could reach the knife he carried in his pocket, and in two seconds more the rope could be cut into inch pieces. But the knots held, in spite of all his attempts to loosen them, and Don finally gave up in despair, and waited as patiently as he could for daylight, telling himself the while that he had done all he could to save his cousin from exposure, and now Clarence must look out for himself.

    The morning came at last, and Don's heart bounded with hope when he saw the first rays of the sun shining through the cracks in the door. He was pretty well tired out by this time, and the cords seemed to have grown tighter about his ankles. He began shouting to attract attention as soon as he thought there was any possibility of making himself heard; and when he grew tired of that, he set up a shrill whistle. That startled somebody. It was Godfrey Evans, who now for the first time became aware that there was some one besides old Jordan tied up in his[Pg 281] cellar. He recognised the whistle the first time he heard it, and almost overwhelmed with amazement and alarm, started off to tell Clarence Gordon of the astounding discovery he had made.

    Don whistled at intervals as long and as loudly as his breath would permithe had grown too hoarse to shout nowand at last, when he had become almost discouraged, he heard hasty steps approaching the cellar. A moment later something bounded down the stairs, and Don saw the nose of one of his hounds thrust under the door.

    “Carlo!” he exclaimed, so highly delighted that he could scarcely speak loud enough to make himself heard.

    The dog whined in answer, and standing on his hind legs placed his fore feet against the door, which gave away beneath his weight, and the animal bounded into the cellar. Don's gaze happened to be directed toward the head of the stairs when this occurred, and there he saw his brother Bert, stooping down and looking in.

    “Anybody there?” asked Bert, for it was so dark he could not see into the cellar.

    “Come here and find out,” said Don.

    Bert uttered an ejaculation of astonishment, and[Pg 282] came down the steps in two jumps. All he could see when he entered was the white coat Don wore, but he recognised the voice as he had recognised the whistle.

    “Cut the rope first,” exclaimed Don, “and afterward ask as many questions as you please.”

    “The rope?” repeated Bert.

    “Yes. Come nearer and you will see that I am wrapped up in a plough-line.”

    Bert was profoundly astonished, but he wisely refrained from making any inquiries. His knife was out in an instant, and a few passes with the blade liberated Don, who made a feeble attempt to walk and fell forward into his brother's arms.

    “Don't be uneasy,” said Don, who knew by the exclamation his brother uttered that he was greatly alarmed. “I'm all right, only I feel as if I had the rheumatism. I've been tied up there ever since nine o'clock last night.”

    “Why, Don!” cried Bert. “Who put you there?”

    “If I tell you, will you promise not to say a word about it?”

    “No, I won't,” replied Bert, quickly. “No one shall treat you so and then go off scot-free if I canWhy, Don, what in the worldI mean how”

    [Pg 283]Bert had by this time assisted his brother to the door where he had a fair view of him.

    “You mean that if I am your brother, I have changed into a black man during the last few hours, don't you?” said Don, laughing heartily at the expression of astonishment on Bert's face. “In me you beholdby the way, you don't remember old Jordan, do you?”

    “No, I do not.”

    “Well, I am he; the identical old nigger!”

    “Don,” said Bert, reproachfully, “you didn't”

    “Yes, I did,” replied Don, as he sat down on the lowest step and stretched his arms and legs. “I am the one who cut up all those shines at the barn, and made the hands think old Jordan had risen from the dead. I am sorry now, but the temptation was so strong I couldn't resist it. But didn't I scare everybody, though?”

    “But, Don,” said Bert, who could not understand the matter at all, “how came”

    “I know what you want to find out,” said his brother, “and 'thereby hangs a tale'a long one, too. I'll tell it while I am resting.”

    With this introduction Don began and told a story that made Bert open his eyes wider than ever. He[Pg 284] related as much of the history of the buried treasure as he had been able to learn, told how he had first found out about it, and gave a glowing description of the plans he had formed to frighten the two conspirators, as he called them. He described minutely all the incidents connected with his capture and confinement in the cellar, and when he told of the coolness and determination with which Clarence had conducted the whole proceeding, Bert's astonishment was almost unbounded.

    “That was a joke that was no joke,” said Don, in conclusion. “The tables were turned on me in a way that would have amused me greatly, had it not been for the fact that I knew Clarence was likely to suffer for what he had done. I didn't care for myself, although I assure you there was no fun in being tied up for almost twelve hours. Where is Clarence now?”

    “I left him at the barn, waiting for your horse to be saddled, so that he could start out in search of you. Godfrey was there too, and I heard him promise father that he would look through the woods and see if he could discover any signs of you.”

    “Did either of them know that they had captured me instead of old Jordan?”

    [Pg 285]“I heard nothing to indicate the fact.”

    “What did the folks have to say about it?”

    Bert replied that the folks had had a good deal to say about it, and suggested that if his brother was able to walk to the fence where the pony was hitched they had better start for home at once. The sooner Don got there, the sooner would the anxiety of his mother and sisters be relieved.

    “Well, I must face the music some time,” said Don, resignedly, “and I suppose I might as well do it now as an hour later. But I can't go home in this shape. Help me down to the lake so that I can wash the black off my hands and face.”

    It was a matter of no little difficulty for Don to walk so far; but, by Bert's assistance, he reached the shore of the lake at last, and having taken a long and hearty drink of the water, and washed off the blacking, he felt better. It was while he was thus engaged that Clarence visited the cellar.

    After Don had rested a few minutes and refreshed himself with another drink of water, Bert brought up his pony, and his brother managed to climb into the saddle. Bert walked by the pony's side, and of course had a multitude of questions to ask about things which Don had not thought to mention in his story.[Pg 286] Now, that his surprise and indignation had somewhat abated, he could laugh heartily at his brother's description of his adventures. They met no one while they were on the way home, and Don was glad to find that there was nobody about the barn. He hurried into old Jordan's room, and when he had put on his own clothes, Bert helped him into the house. His mother and sisters met him at the door, and greeted him as though they had not seen him for a year or more. An explanation was at once demanded, but as Marshall was present, Don gave it to his mother in her own room. About the time he finished his father came in, and then the story had to be told over again. Of course the general and his wife were greatly amazed, and they were troubled and perplexed, too. They were troubled because they had expected better things than this of Clarence, and perplexed because they did not know just what ought to be done now. It was plain that Clarence was not a fit associate for any decent boy, and the sooner he was at home, where he belonged, the better it would be for him and Don, too.

    “What did they say about it?” asked Bert, as soon as he had a chance to speak to his brother privately.

    [Pg 287]“They didn't say much,” was the reply. “Clarence must go home, and that I think will end the matter.”

    “Perhaps he is on his way home already,” said Bert. “I know I should start at once if I were in his place. I couldn't face anybody after an act like that.”

    “That is because you have never been guilty of a mean act in your life,” said Don. “One gets hardened to such things after a while. I know it by my experience at school. Probably Clarence has been in more scrapes than you and I ever dreamed of.”

    That was not only very probable, but very true; but still he was not sufficiently hardened to face the consequences of this, which was one of the worst scrapes he had ever been in.

    Half an hour later, Don's pony came home riderless. The hostler told the general that he came from toward the landing, and that he had seen Clarence going that way a short time before. Upon hearing this, the general set out at once for Rochdale, where he learned from some of the hangers-on that his nephew had been seen to board the Emma[Pg 288] Deane, and as he had not come off again he must have gone up the river on her. This being the case, there was nothing to be done now but to communicate with his father and await developments.

    A few weeks cleared up everything. Clarence had reached his father's house in safety, and the same letter that brought the information, contained also a sum of money sufficient to defray Marshall's expenses to his home. The boy seemed glad to go, and his cousins rarely heard from him afterward.

    And what did the general say to Don? Not a word. The latter limped about the house for nearly a week before he was able to sit in the saddle again, and his father wisely concluded that if his night's experience in the cellar had not cured him of his love of practical joking, nothing that he could say would help the matter any. Of course, both the boys were eager to learn the truth concerning the buried treasure, and as soon as Marshall went away, they spoke to their parents about it. Then it came out that either old Jordan had wilfully misrepresented things, which was probable, or else that Godfrey's lively imagination and his great desire to be rich without labor, had led him to magnify the contents[Pg 289] of the barrel, which was still more probable. The old negro had certainly buried a barrel on the morning the levee was cut, and it contained silver-ware that, in good times, could have been bought for a thousand or fifteen hundred dollars. The barrel was dug up by another negro as soon as the soldiers were gone, and the most of the silver-ware was in use now, and had been ever since the war. The general thought this a good place to say something the boys would remember. People do sometimes get rich without labor, he said, but their wealth does not, as a rule, last long. To learn the value of money, one must work for it. There is but one sure way to become prosperous, and that is to be industrious, saving and honest. Had Godfrey remembered this, he might have been living at home, a happy and contented man, instead of hiding in the swamp for fear of arrest. The general never thought of having him arrested, and would not have said a word to him if he had met him in the road; but Godfrey knew something that the general didn't know: he had been guilty of highway robbery, and he thought it best to keep out of sight. Of course, he went on from bad to worseone always does,[Pg 290] unless he grows better every dayand the people in the neighborhood often heard of him after that. Perhaps we also shall hear of him, and of some of our other characters, in the second volume of this series, which will be entitled, The Boy Trapper.

    THE END.
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