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Title: Scott Burton and the Timber Thieves

Author: Edward G. Cheyney

Release Date: May 12, 2018 [EBook #57147]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8


Produced by Roger Frank and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at (This file was
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NEW YORK :: 1922 :: LONDON




Scott Burton sat on the porch of the little cabin on the edge of the forest and looked absently out across the wide beach at the restless waters of the Gulf of Mexico. No one ever would have guessed from his expression now how crazy he had been to see that gulf only the day before. He apparently did not see the water at all. The big waves boomed on the beach unheard and even the little oyster schooner, which glided across the picture on its way to port, failed to catch his attention. He had sat motionless for so long that a great big fox-squirrel, afraid but drawn on irresistibly by his curiosity, had crept nervously up within a few feet of him.

Suddenly Scott shook his head to rid himself of a bothersome fly and the frightened chatter of the squirrel as it whisked behind the nearest tree broke the spell. He gave the intruder a quick glance and turned his attention once more to the open letter which he held in his hand. He had read that letter dozens of times, in fact he knew every word on the typewritten page by heart, but he read it again now in the hope of finding some additional meaning between the lines.

“Washington, D. C.
“September 3, 1913.
“Mr. Scott Burton,
“Okalatchee, Fla.
Dear Mr. Burton:

“Your remarkable work in cleaning up the trouble with the sheepmen on the Cormorant Forest last summer has led us to select you for some special work of a rather delicate character on the Okalatchee. There have been some timber thieves at work on that forest for some time, and so far our officers have been unable to catch them or effectually put a stop to their work. It will be your particular duty to see that these thefts are stopped and the trespassers brought to justice.

“In order that you may have ample authority, you have been appointed deputy supervisor under Mr. Graham and will be given every possible assistance.

“You will report directly to this office.

“Very truly yours,
Martin Spear,
“Chief of Personnel.”

No, he could not see any more in it, and yet it seemed mighty little to tell a man who had been looking forward to that letter for a week and had traveled two thousand miles to get it. He turned the paper over thoughtfully as though he hoped to find some further instructions on the back of it, and then proceeded to review once more the whole situation.

He had been fortunate enough to earn considerable distinction in Arizona, where he had been working as a patrolman, by clearing out a gang of grafters who had been running sheep on the Forest without a permit. This achievement had won for him the chance of an appointment as a ranger, but he had asked for the opportunity to obtain a little more experience as a patrolman before taking up a more responsible position. His request had been granted and he had spent the summer very profitably on the district he had cleaned up so creditably in the spring.

Suddenly, without the slightest warning, he had received a telegram from the Washington office.

“Report Okalatchee, Fla., at once. You will find instructions there.”

He had become attached to the Southwest and had looked forward contentedly to a permanent location there, but he was possessed of even more than the usual young man’s love of travel, and Florida had always been a country of his dreams, a country of fairy tales that he had hardly even dared hope to see. The sudden realization that he was actually going there had driven everything else from his mind, and an hour after he had received the message he was in the saddle on his way to town.

It was only when he was on the train speeding across the vast expanse of Texas, with plenty of opportunity to think, that he had begun to burn with a consuming curiosity to know what his instructions would be. The longer he had traveled the higher his air castles had grown and the more anxious he had become to see those instructions. By the time he had reached New Orleans he was in such a hurry that he could hardly enjoy his ten-hour wait there, though it was the first southern city he had ever been in and a place which he had always longed to see.

The sight of the tall palmetto palms and the moss-covered live oaks drove his imagination to even more fantastic efforts, and finally arrived in Okalatchee he had almost run directly from the train to the postoffice to get those precious instructions. And this letter was all that he had found. He had found that the supervisor’s headquarters were five miles away through the pine woods and the telephone gave him no answer. He had hired an old negro to drive him over. There was no one there, but the door was not locked and he had decided to stay there till some one came. He was not much better off than before he had obtained the letter.

“Well,” Scott thought, “there is nothing to do but wait till the supervisor turns up,” and he proceeded to investigate his new surroundings.

The little three-room cabin, built of rough lumber with battens over the cracks, was exactly like numbers of other ranger cabins he had seen, but its location had been selected with more than the usual attention to beauty and comfort. It nestled just within the edge of a very dense stand of tall, longleaf pines and the little front yard ran out to meet the broad sand beach. Flowerbeds of hibiscus and groups of oleanders lined the walk of crushed oyster shells, and plants with which Scott was entirely unfamiliar were scattered around in great profusion on either side of the cabin. It seemed to Scott as though a woman must have planned it all, for he could not imagine a man taking so much pains with the decoration of his home. He found himself thinking that it was no wonder this fellow had not caught the timber thieves.

Just to the west of the cabin a little creek bordered with titi and sweet jasmine wandered slowly out to meet the blue waters of the Gulf. It could not always have flowed as slowly as it did now, for some time in the past it had built quite a little delta which extended out in the form of a miniature cape, and was covered with a grove of tall, stately palmettos. Far out from the shore a long line of low-lying sand islands broke the horizon. It was certainly an ideal spot.

The interior of the cabin was quite as tastily equipped as the exterior, and the cupboard seemed to be stocked for a long siege. There was nothing lacking even to the luxuries. Scott smiled as he thought of his own bare little shack high up in the southern Rockies with the round bullet hole in the windowpane.

“I don’t care if that sissy supervisor does not show up for a week,” Scott grunted contentedly as he settled down in a comfortable steamer chair on the porch. No one could have asked for a better place to wait. But Scott was not much given to idle comfort, especially when his curiosity was aroused, and it usually was aroused about something. Just now he was almost wild to know something more of this new problem which he had been given to solve. He watched a little flock of sandpipers run along the smooth beach a way, following the very edge of a wave, but long before they had turned the point of the little palmetto cape he jumped restlessly from the chair and went into the cabin to study a map which he had noticed hanging on the wall.

It was a detailed map, showing the irregular boundary of Okalatchee forest and the different types of timber. It was a great sprawling tract of a million acres extending along the gulf to the river on the west, to the farm lands on the east, and north to the big swamp. It was covered with unfamiliar terms he had seen in books, but which had never seemed real to him before. He had always read them before as he would read the names in a fairy tale, and here he was in the very midst of them: pine ridge and cypress swamp, hardwood bottom and gum slough, low hammock and baygall, high hammock and cane break, turpentine orchards and stills.

He marveled at the great number of ridges shown in that flat country, and the many long, stringlike swamps which paralleled the river and the coast. And he wondered where in all that maze of unknown country the timber thieves whom he was supposed to catch were working. He noted several ranger stations shown on the map and wondered whether any of them were connected with the mystery as had been the case in the sheep business in the West, or whether there were really any thieves at all. He remembered reading a story in which men had been convicted on circumstantial evidence of stealing a raft of logs, and it was not till they had served a month in jail that the raft had been found in the bottom of the pond where it had been tied.

If only the supervisor, or any one else who could tell him anything about it, would come. He had not liked the “gum-shoe” game as he had called it when he had been obliged to try his hand at it in the West, but he found himself eager to get at it here because other men had tried it and failed. It seemed to him like a challenge and he was eager to accept it.

He pored over the map, studying the lay of the land and letting his imagination run wild. He had caught those thieves in forty different ways in at least a dozen different parts of the map when the failing light warned him that it was time to get supper and prepare for the night.

He had no instructions or invitation to make use of that cabin or the supplies in it, but there is a certain freemasonry among the men of the woods which was invitation enough for him. He had no hesitation in spreading his blankets on one of the beds and ransacking the cupboard for his supper. There was plenty to choose from and the wood was laid in the stove ready for the match. In half an hour he was sitting down to his lonely meal.

But it was not destined to be a lonely meal. Scott had hardly finished what he probably would have called his “first course,” when he heard a light step on the shell walk, a thud or two on the porch, and a man loomed big in the doorway.


Scott’s first impression was that this was the biggest man he had ever seen. He almost filled the doorway and the crown of his Stetson brushed the frame. His keen eye took in the interior of the cabin in one swift glance as he entered and then focused steadily on Scott, who had risen smiling to greet him.

“Mr. Burton, I presume?” he said, smiling pleasantly and extending a cordial hand. “My name is Graham. Glad to see you.”

“I am afraid that I am trespassing on your property, your provisions and your good nature,” Scott explained, “but I did not know what else to do.”

“Wasn’t anything else to do,” Mr. Graham said as he hung his hat carefully on a nail. “If you have just cooked supper enough for three I shall not say a word.”

Scott involuntarily glanced toward the door.

Mr. Graham noticed the look. “Oh, there isn’t anybody with me,” he laughed, “that’s just the way I feel. Had lunch with a cracker to-day. Maybe you don’t know what that means yet, but you soon will.”

“Well, I wasn’t expecting two men to supper,” Scott laughed, “but I think there is plenty for all three of us.”

Scott started to get another cup and plate, but Mr. Graham had already gotten them for himself and took the seat opposite. He had never seen a man who looked more like his ideal of a woodsman, or one whom he had liked better at first sight. They had not been together five minutes and yet Scott felt as though he had known this big man for months.

“I had word from Washington that you would be down here,” Mr. Graham explained, “but I did not know just when you would come. I had a trip to make and thought I would get it in before you arrived. Found out at the postoffice that you had beaten me to it. What do you think of my hang-out here?”

“It’s a wonder!” Scott exclaimed enthusiastically. “I was just thinking before you came that I would not mind waiting here for you for a week or two.”

Mr. Graham was evidently pleased with his enthusiasm. “Don’t blame you, I feel pretty much that way myself. I ran on to it by chance one time and it took my fancy so that I decided to fix it up for my summer headquarters. I like it so well now that I stay here nearly all the time.”

You fixed it up?” Scott exclaimed incredulously.

“Sure,” the big fellow grinned, immediately divining his thoughts. “Thought some woman did it, did you?”

Scott admitted it rather sheepishly.

“Yes,” Mr. Graham confessed, “I am somewhat of a lady myself when it comes to a love of flowers and beauty. I dawdle around out there in the yard a good share of my spare time. Not many ‘movies’ around here to distract a fellow’s attention.”

And so they talked till the meal was finished, the dishes washed, and the dishrag hung on its proper nail; for Mr. Graham was as orderly in the house as he was in the yard. Then they settled down in the steamer chairs on the porch and gazed in silence for a few minutes at the line of islands shimmering in the moonlit bay. It was like a scene from a fairy tale.

Mr. Graham broke the spell with a sigh. “I could look at a thing like that all night, but I suppose you are burning up to know something of this peculiar job to which they have assigned you.”

Scott admitted that he was rather curious.

“Well, I’ll try to tell you the whole story. The trouble started about two years ago. The Quiller Lumber Company had bought a big bunch of pine and cypress timber up near the edge of the big swamp. They are a small concern and do not have a very large crew. Of course, that means slow work and easy checking for us. Their slowness came to be a standing joke with the ranger up there who looks after the scaling. He used to say in his diary every now and then, ‘Quiller got down another tree to-day.’

“They had been at it about six months when the foreman came down to see me. ‘Have you noticed anything peculiar about our scale?’ he asked. ‘Noticed there has not been much to scale,’ I told him. ‘That’s just it,’ he said, ‘checked up on the stumps any?’ I explained to him that we seldom did that till a considerable quantity had been cut.

“‘Well, I have,’ he said, ‘and more than half of the stuff we have cut ain’t there.’

“He went on to tell me that he had had a night watchman on the boom for two weeks and tried in every way to check the thing up, but the logs kept disappearing just the same. A lot of his niggers got superstitious about it and quit the job.”

“How do they handle their logs?” Scott asked.

“Skid them down to the edge of the big swamp on high wheels and shove them into a bag boom. Then they raft them and float them out into the river.”

“Do they keep them in the boom long?” Scott was thinking again of the story of the sunken logs.

“Oh, they are not in the bottom of the swamp if that is what you are driving at. Murphy has prodded the bottom of that pond with a pike pole a dozen times.”

“Is there a channel through to the river or can they take them out anywhere?”

“I’ve hunted all over there myself and I cannot find a place where they could take them out except through that one channel.”

“I suppose you have had that channel watched?”

“Watched, I had Murphy hidden up there on a point of land for a month and the logs disappeared out of the boom right along just the same.”

“Are you sure that Murphy is all right?”

“Murphy, why, he thinks more of the Service than the Secretary of Agriculture does. No, sir, it is not graft, I am sure of that; but I would give a good deal to know what it is.”

“Do they disappear before or after you scale them?”

“Did go both before and after. We scale them all in the woods now before they put them in the boom, but they are going out of the boom just the same.”

There was a long pause while both men frowned unseeing across the beautiful lagoon. Scott was thinking of the ranger who had been the leader of the sheep gang in the West and wondering how he could best get a check on Murphy. Mr. Graham had long ago gotten past the point where he could think about it logically at all.

“Has the thing been going on ever since?” Scott asked.

“For two solid years,” Mr. Graham answered peevishly. “I have put about half my time on the pesky thing and Murphy hangs around there like a baited bulldog. The foreman is almost crazy about it. He has all but accused the ‘’gators’ of eating the logs.”

“I suppose they take some rafts out occasionally?”

“Sure. They have been taking them out right along. Have speeded up considerably during the past year.”

“Ever check up the delivery of those logs?”

“Many a time, and so has the company. Check to the dot with the scale in the rafts.”

“If you are scaling in the woods you are getting paid for all they cut, aren’t you?”

“Yes, the company is paying all right. They howl and checkscale a lot, but they pay.”

“Then why is the Service interested in it? They are not losing anything by it.”

“No, they are not losing anything on this scale, but it is hurting our other sales and giving the forest a bad name. We do not like to have a thing like that going on under our very noses. Besides, it gets on a fellow’s nerves. I tried my best on it. Hated to give it up, but had to confess myself licked at last. Then I asked the office for help and you are the result.”

“Some result,” Scott grunted. “I am not a professional detective. I just stumbled on to that sheep graft out there by chance, and now look what it’s gotten me into. I had never been to Florida and was glad enough to come down, but there is a fat chance of my solving this mess. It looks about as clear as mud.”

“That’s about the way it looks to me,” Mr. Graham nodded, “about as clear as mud. But all of us here are hypnotized now. We have been mooning over the thing so long that we cannot see straight any more. We may be walking all over some clue which will be perfectly clear to a stranger with an unfogged mind. Don’t give up before you start, man.”

“I’m not giving up,” Scott exclaimed, “far from it. Now that I have come all the way down here I simply have to put the job through, but I’m going to steer clear of these detective jobs in the future. They are too uncertain. Too much depends on luck.”

“Well, here’s wishing you luck,” said Mr. Graham, rising; “we’ll give you all the help we can, and grunt for you. Let’s go to bed, and to-morrow we’ll ride out and have a look at the arena.” He paused for a moment at the porch railing. “Isn’t that fine? You can just imagine old Ponce de Léon threading his way along that beach looking for the Fountain of Youth four hundred years ago, and I’ll bet he stopped and sampled that very creek.”

This historical touch gave the country a new interest to Scott.


Scott and Mr. Graham had an early breakfast together.

“I suppose there is no use in asking a man from the West if he rides?” Mr. Graham laughed.

“Not much,” Scott replied. “If a man lives in that country he has to ride. It almost broke my heart to leave my saddle horse behind, but the ‘super’ there seemed to think that I would be transferred West again and would not be here long enough to make it worth while to ship him East.”

“Humph,” Mr. Graham growled, “judging from my own experience you will be grayheaded before you catch those thieves. Well, I have two ponies here and you can use one of them. He’s not the best in the world, but I guess he’ll do.”

Scott was glad to find the western stock saddle in use here instead of the English saddle he had been used to in his home in Massachusetts. The man who has once become familiar with a stock saddle wants no other. The pony, too, though far from the equal of the big black stallion he had bought from Jed Clark, was a very good one. It was easy to see that Mr. Graham was a connoisseur in more things than cabin sites and flowerbeds. Everything he owned was of the best.

“We’ll take a run up around the cuttings first,” Mr. Graham explained, “have lunch at the turpentine camp, and come back by the river. That will give you a pretty good idea of the whole forest and show you just how the land lies. Then you can study the thing in detail at your leisure and tackle it any way you please. I’ll help you all I can but I have failed at it too often to have any advice to offer.”

“I’ll probably need all the advice I can get whether it is any good or not. I certainly have no ideas about it now, but there cannot be much wrong with seeing the country first.”

Their road—it was little more than some winding wheel tracks—lead through a rather thin stand of tall, yellow pines which were straight and smooth as telegraph poles with only a few flat branches near the top. In places there was scarcely any underbrush on the ground, only a few stray spears of wire grass and a thin layer of dead needles which scarcely covered the white sand. Here and there were large patches of scrub palmetto, just leaves three or four feet high growing up from the snakelike roots which seemed to lie almost on the surface of the ground. With the exception of these palmettoes it did not look very different from the pine forests of the Southwest with which Scott was so familiar.

“Where are all those ridges which are marked on the map hereabouts?” Scott asked, as he looked curiously at the level country. So far he had seen no sign of a hill.

“There is one of them,” Mr. Graham laughed. “Doesn’t look much like the ‘Great Divide,’ does it?”

“I don’t get you,” Scott said, still scanning the country.

“Well, you see this country is all made up of strips of swamp and strips of dry land. The dry land is often not more than two or three feet higher than the swamp, but it is called a ridge just the same. Must seem a little strange to a man from the mountains.”

Just ahead of them appeared a solid bank of dense underbrush, all woven together with climbing vines which arched the road like a gateway. The road dipped slightly under the arch where the ground was black and damp, but rose quickly and was almost immediately out in the open pine woods again.

“That,” Mr. Graham explained, “is a baygall, and this is another ridge. Always be careful how you try to ride through those baygalls where there is no road, they are sometimes very soft and even if they are not you are more than apt to hang yourself in those vines. They have yanked me out of the saddle more than once.”

For two hours they rode through this fascinating country of alternating swamp and pine flats without seeing any one or any sign of human habitation. It seemed to Scott even more deserted than his own wild, rocky mountains. They ducked through a little baygall and suddenly came out on to an open ridge from which all the timber had been cut. A more desolate-looking place Scott had seldom seen. Every stick of timber was gone and under the Forest Service regulations the slashings had been burned so clean that the ground was perfectly bare. The low stumps stood out like tombstones in a cemetery.

“You are approaching the haunted grounds now!” exclaimed Mr. Graham. “This is where Qualley is cutting and over yonder in that swamp lies the enchanted pool where all those logs have so mysteriously disappeared.”

They could hear the sound of axes now and the darkies laughing and shouting at the mules. Soon they overtook the strangest-looking rig that Scott had ever seen. It looked at first like two great wheels rolling along the road alone, but as they drew closer he could make out a pair of mules ahead of them and three long logs hung on chains underneath. He had read of these “high wheels” (they were actually eight feet high), but these were the first he had ever seen. A darky was sitting on the long tongue singing light-heartedly and punctuating his song with entirely unnecessary shouts at the patient mules. When he saw the riders his shiny black face broke into a broad grin.

“Whatever crooked work is going on around here,” Mr. Graham remarked soberly, “these darkies are not in on it. They are always as jovial in their welcome as that fellow there and they are scared to death of this pond.”

“Or they are good actors,” Scott said. He was unwilling to except any one from his suspicion.

Mr. Graham shook his head. “Of course, you are right to suspect everybody. I was just expressing my own convictions. A white man can act scared pretty well but when a nigger turns gray he is scared.”

A little farther on the logging road ended abruptly at a rough log dock on the edge of a pond. It was unlike any other log pond which Scott had ever seen. It was in reality an arm of the big cypress swamp. Great churn-butted cypress trees rose queerly out of the water around it’s edges. They were bare of leaves, but their limbs were draped with great festoons of Spanish moss. A number of long pine logs, some loose and some bound together into rafts, floated quietly on the black waters. Around the head of the pond directly opposite them and back a way from the water were the crude board shacks of the logging crew.

It was a dull, gray day and the whole scene presented a gloomy enough picture.

“So this is the haunted pond?” Scott asked eagerly, as he took in every detail of the surroundings. “It sure looks it to-day.”

“Yes, this is the place, but it has had me baffled for so long now that I am not sure whether it is haunted or enchanted. Seems sometimes as though it must be enchanted.”

They sat their horses and gazed at the pond in silence for several minutes. Mr. Graham had stopped even thinking about the possible solution. Scott was studying all the details of the layout. This was the place where his problem must be solved and he wanted to be familiar with every foot of it.

“What’s that?” he asked suddenly, pointing at a bunch of brush near the opposite side of the pond.

Mr. Graham studied the clump carefully and made out the outline of a man half screened by the foliage. Even as they looked the form melted away.

“Come on!” Scott called as he spurred forward. “Let’s ride around there and see who that is.”

They dashed wildly around the end of the pond on the trail which the logging teams had made. It could not have been much more than a minute till they had reached the point opposite the clump. There was thirty feet of water between it and the shore, and it was screened quite as thoroughly on this side as on the other. They examined it minutely but found no sign of life.

“You stay here and watch it while I go get a boat,” Mr. Graham suggested. He rode back toward the shanties and Scott kept his eyes glued on the spot where he had seen that mysterious figure.

Before Mr. Graham had ridden fifty yards a shrill whistle arrested him. Scott turned quickly at the sound and saw a man walking leisurely toward him along the edge of the swamp. Mr. Graham rode back again to join them.

“Thought you had him that time, didn’t you?” grinned the newcomer.

“Sure did,” replied Mr. Graham good-naturedly. “Was that you out there on that stump?”

The man grinned again and nodded. Scott thought that he looked a little ashamed of his discovery and studied him suspiciously.

“What made you beat it when you saw that we had spotted you?”

“Well, I did not want to wave because I did not want those other fellows to know that I was there. I knew you’d come whooping around here to have a close look, so I slipped out and came along the shore to meet you.”

“Pardon me,” exclaimed Mr. Graham, noting the curious glances the two men were casting at each other. “I had forgotten my manners. Murphy, this is Mr. Burton who has been sent down here by the office to solve this log-stealing mystery. Murphy is the ranger in this district,” he explained to Scott, “and can probably tell you more about this thing than anybody else.”

The two men shook hands and Scott found himself looking into a pair of clear, blue, unfaltering eyes.

“I ought to be able to tell you something about it,” the ranger admitted doggedly, “but I can’t tell you a blamed thing. I’ve sat on that stump out there till I’ve worn it smooth, but I have not found out a thing. Not a single thing.”

“Ever watched at night?” Scott asked.

“Day and night,” he replied. “Watched out there all one night without seeing so much as a bubble on the water, and in the morning Qualley reported another bunch of logs missing. Gone right from under my nose.”

Scott looked mystified but said nothing.

“I’m showing Mr. Burton the layout to-day and letting him get the general run of things. Going over to the turpentine camp for lunch and have to keep moving. You will help him all you can if he wants you.”

“You bet I will!” Murphy exclaimed enthusiastically. “I’ve had my try at it. Now I’d like to see how somebody else goes about it. Call on me any old time,” he called to them as they rode away.

“Funny place for him to be,” Scott commented after a long silence.

“The thing is getting on Murphy’s nerves,” Mr. Graham laughed. “It would not surprise me much to find him in the bottom of that pond in a diving suit. He wakes up in the middle of the night and sneaks over there.”

Scott did not say any more about it, but he decided to keep his eye on Murphy. There might be more than one explanation of his interest. At least he would bear watching. They rode in silence for some time, each absorbed in his own thoughts. All traces of the big swamp were far behind them and they were once more on the open pine ridges.


At first Scott did not notice any difference between this forest and the one they had traversed earlier in the day; he was too busy thinking of that enchanted pond, but he soon realized that there was a difference. There was a little earthen flowerpot hanging near the ground on the side of each tree. On some of the larger ones there were three or four of them. For three or four inches above each cup the tree was scratched as though some great bear had been sharpening his claws there. These scratches were very regular and there was exactly the same number above each cup. At the bottom of the scratches and draining into the flowerpots were two little tin gutters stuck into slits in the tree.

Scott knew that they must be in the turpentine orchard. It was the first one he had ever seen. He was very curious to know all about it, but he did not want to appear too ignorant. “Is this a very large orchard?” he asked.

“About twenty crops,” Mr. Graham answered absently.

That meant over two hundred thousand cups and it seemed to Scott like an enormous number. It did not seem possible to take care of so many. It was not long till they saw a darky in overalls and undershirt shambling about from tree to tree.

“Ever seen them chip?” Mr. Graham asked, suddenly realizing that it must all be entirely new to Scott. Scott admitted that he had not.

“They are pretty clever at it,” Mr. Graham continued, riding over to the darky, who greeted them with a pleased grin. “Show us a good one now, Josh. This gentleman has never seen it done.”

There is nothing that a darky likes better than showing off an accomplishment to a stranger. He was carrying a heavy iron, weighted with a ball at the lower end and bent into a loop of sharpened steel at the top. He gave this instrument a fantastic flourish, leaned down over a cup, and with a few deft strokes cut a new scratch in the outer wood of the tree, perfectly straight and overlapping just a little the streak below it. He repeated the operation on the other side of the cup and straightened up with another grin.

“Pretty good!” Mr. Graham exclaimed approvingly.

“Couldn’t beat dat one, boss,” replied the darky with a chuckle.

“Been over to the pond lately, Josh?”

“Who, me? No, suh, you don’t ketch dis heah niggah hangin’ roun’ deah. Dat eah place hanted, boss, sho nuf hanted. Dey tell me you kin put a log in de watah deah and see it ’solve smack befo’ yo’ eyes.” And his own eyes rolled strangely and showed a broad expanse of white.

“Sounds bad,” said Mr. Graham, laughing as he turned to ride away. “No danger of his stealing any logs out of there,” he remarked to Scott when they were out of hearing. “Looked easy enough to see him cut that streak, didn’t it? Try it yourself once. It would take you ten minutes and then it would look like beaver work. That man has to make the rounds of his crop every week; over three thousand streaks a day.”

Just twenty men were putting two streaks a week over each one of those two hundred thousand cups. It seemed marvelous to Scott. In another place he saw a man with a large wooden bucket and a paddle going from tree to tree, emptying the cups. He emptied his bucket into barrels beside the road and a wagon collected the barrels. Scott could not help thinking what a glorious fire there would be if it ever got started in all that resin.

Before long they came in sight of a group of rough board buildings strung along the road like the main street of a small town.

“That,” Mr. Graham explained, “is the still. The darkies and their families live in those little board shacks pretty much as they used to in slavery days. The company keeps a store here for them, the superintendent lives in that house next to the store and the still is down at the other end of the street. It’s quite a town. They will use this camp for their turpentine operations for thirteen years and then log for three years more.”

Slovenly negro women, many of the older ones smoking pipes, gazed at them from the doorways, and shiny black pickaninnies rolled the whites of their eyes in awed attention as they passed. Near the store they met Mr. Roberts, the superintendent, coming home to dinner. He acknowledged Scott’s introduction very effusively and promptly invited them both in to dinner. His wife was of the cracker type and looked old at thirty-five.

In spite of the man’s cordiality Scott did not like his looks. He had a sallow, malarial complexion, shifty eyes and loose-knit, gangling build. There was a hard, cunning look about his mouth, and he wore a large revolver very conspicuously on his belt. Scott had the feeling that he was being very narrowly watched, but whenever he looked at Mr. Roberts he found him deeply absorbed in something else. They finished their salt pork, hominy and grease-soaked beet greens in comparative silence.

“Reckon maybe you’d like to see the still if you are new to these parts,” Mr. Roberts remarked to Scott.

“Yes,” Mr. Graham answered for him, “we both want to see it. I never get tired of hearing that old still growl.”

They walked down the street a little way to the still. It was not a very imposing-looking building. A roof set on posts over a copper still which was built into a brick firebox. There was a platform at the side on which the crude resin was unloaded from the wagons and dumped into the retort and a shed on the other side where the turpentine was stored. Sitting on the ground and a little apart from the shed was a small army of rough barrels full to the top with solid resin.

Mr. Graham explained the process to Scott. “You see they dump the resin just as they bring it in from the woods into that retort and heat it. The turpentine is boiled out and goes out of that little pipe at the top in the form of gas. Then they run the pipe down through some cold water and the gas condenses into liquid turpentine which they put into those tight barrels. When it makes just the right noise they pour some water into the retort to help the process along. Is she pretty near ready to growl, George?” he called to an old darky who was tending the retort.

“Ought to be pretty nigh, boss,” the old man grinned. It was evidently a familiar question for which he was listening and it tickled him.

“When all the turpentine has gone off they pour the resin into those rough barrels,” Mr. Graham continued. “It hardens so quickly that the barrels do not have to be very tight. They put them together right here.”

“Is that all they have to do to get the kind of turpentine that is used in paint?” Scott asked.

“Oh, some of it is redistilled and refined a little for certain uses but much of it is used just so.”

They walked around the place a little and Scott learned many interesting facts about the turpentine industry. There was a lot more he wanted to know but the old darky called them excitedly. “She’s startin’ to howl, boss.”

They hurried over to the still and could hear a peculiar growling sound coming from the retort. “That’s the stuff,” Mr. Graham chuckled. “Now listen to her when the water goes in.”

The water was poured in and the roar was up to expectations. “That makes her talk,” Mr. Graham laughed. “Now we might as well be going. She won’t growl again for a long time.”

“Dat’s right,” the old darky chuckled. “Won’t be nuffin’ mo’ fo’ yo’ to heah for some time.” He fully appreciated Mr. Graham’s joke of hearing the old still growl.

Mr. Roberts walked back to the house with them to get their horses. “See anything suspicious at the pond this morning, Mr. Burton?” he asked casually.

“Oh, no, nothing except Murphy,” he added with a laugh. He said it as carelessly as he could, but he watched Roberts keenly. He felt somehow that this sallow cracker was surely connected with the pond mystery and he wanted to see if the mention of Murphy’s name as a suspicious character would affect him. If it did, he did not show it. He seemed to have asked the question simply to make conversation and only grinned at Scott’s answer.

As they were mounting Mr. Roberts pulled his revolver and carelessly shot a toad which was hopping across the road some fifteen yards away. “Getting near pay day,” he said in explanation, “and I have to get in practice.”

Possibly it was nothing more than the natural temptation for a man with a gun to shoot any live thing he sees, but Scott, with his intuitive dislike of the man, felt sure that it was meant for a warning display of his skill with a gun and he thought about it in silence on the ride home through the whispering pines.


The next morning Scott started out early. He went alone, explaining to Mr. Graham that he wanted to scout the big swamp and see if he could find any clues. He did not know what they would be but he felt that it would be impossible to hide anything out in the open pine country, and that the key to the mystery must be somewhere in that gloomy swamp. He had studied the map thoroughly the evening before and had made an outline tracing of the swamp to carry with him. Armed with this map and a consuming curiosity he set out on foot for a point on the river where Mr. Graham assured him he would find a small bateau.

It was a bright, sunshiny morning when he started, but even before he reached the river the wind changed to the south and a dense fog rolled in off the gulf. In fifteen minutes the water was dripping from the trees as though from a heavy rain. The effect was almost weird. The trunks of the trees immediately around him were plain enough; at fifty feet they looked like ghosts. He walked in that little circle of forest and felt like a man in a cage. New trees loomed out of the fog ahead, stood boldly out as he passed them, and were quickly swallowed in the shroud behind. The trunks seemed to run up into the very sky and the tops were lost to view. It was Scott’s first experience with a real fog and he realized how easy it would be to get lost.

By keeping a careful watch he finally succeeded in locating the trail to the river and had no difficulty in finding the bateau just where Mr. Graham had told him it would be. It was a peculiar-looking craft twelve feet long and two and a half feet wide in the middle. It was even narrower at the ends which were square like a barge. It was flat-bottomed and fully deserved the description of “tippy” which Mr. Graham had given it. There was a rough, home-made paddle beside it. Scott was used to handling a canoe, but he found this new boat far crankier than anything he had ever seen before. It seemed to lurch sideways without the slightest provocation. In the first mile up the river he came within an ace of upsetting a dozen times. Gradually he learned the balance of it and got along pretty well. It did not seem to draw any water at all. Mr. Graham had said that it would float free on a light dew.

Toward the middle of the morning the fog burned off and the skies were clear once more. The shores were low and fringed with heavy brush, back of which was a strip of mixed hardwood forest made up mostly of hickories, oaks, and gums. It reminded Scott of the tropical stage settings he had seen at the theater. Now and then a little green heron or a big hooper crane would flop silently off an overhanging limb and disappear lazily around a bend in the river. Once he thought he saw the eyes of an alligator sticking out of the sluggish water, but they sank silently before he could make sure. Gray squirrels were scampering all through these hardwood trees, but they, too, seemed to be utterly silent. Scott felt like one of those old Spanish explorers who had made their way through that same country almost five hundred years before. It did not seem as though things could have changed much since then.

Three miles up the river the east bank melted away and the big swamp began. This was the place which Scott had come to explore. He turned the bateau and paddled out of the river into the swamp. The break in the bank was only a narrow one and beyond the passage the strip of hardwoods continued as before, but it was a very narrow strip and back of it as far as the eye could see the swamp ran parallel to the river. The timber was almost as heavy here as it was on the dry land, but they were the great gaunt cypress trees instead of the hardwoods. The cypress is the largest tree east of the Pacific coast forests, and there in the gloom of the swamp decked out in the great festoons of Spanish moss, they seemed giants indeed. Around each one were a number of cypress knees, peculiar, stake-like growths which come up to the surface of the water to get air for the roots. Some stuck up high out of the water, others did not quite reach the surface. These last had a disconcerting way of poking into the bottom of the boat or interfering with the paddle. Several times they almost capsized the cranky little bateau. “Ought to have a pilot for these reefs,” Scott growled, as he threaded his way slowly through them.

He decided to skirt the east shore first and see how large the thing really was. It might take days, even weeks to see it all, but he felt sure that the solution of the mystery was here in this swamp and he did not know any other way to get at it. The swamp seemed even more silent than the river. Scott found it even more fascinating. Occasionally enormous turtles poked heads almost as large as saucers, and about as flat, above the surface and eyed him curiously. He saw several black, hairy spiders with a three-inch spread of legs crawling on the tree trunks, and twice he saw fat, cotton-mouthed moccasins uncoil themselves sluggishly from the trunks of fallen trees and glide silently into the water.

Mile after mile he wound his way slowly among the trees and the cypress knees, always keeping in touch with the ragged shore line, and watching keenly for any sign of a trail or landing place. He found many of them but they all turned out to be animal trails which showed no trace of a human footstep. They were, nevertheless, intensely interesting to Scott. He had always prided himself on his woodcraft, and these medleys of coon, fox, wildcat and deer tracks were offering him new fields to conquer. He became so interested in them that he traveled on and on from one trail to another, wholly forgetful of time. He found dozens of smaller tracks in the black, plastic mud, tracks which he did not know, and it piqued both his pride and his curiosity. He almost forgot his object in coming there.

He had pottered along this way for several miles, following the crooked shore line of the swamp and stopping to examine every trail when a sudden pang of hunger caused him to glance at his watch. It was three o’clock. He laid his paddle across the bateau in front of him and sat there idly watching the shore while he ate his lunch. He had not thought to bring any water and the black waters of the swamp looked uninviting. However, he was well accustomed to eating dry lunches in the Southwest and made out very well. He decided that he would continue his search till four o’clock and then start for home; but he became so interested that he overstayed his time a little. It was half-past four before he realized it.

Scott knew that he could never reach the landing, probably not even find the passage out of the swamp, before dark, if he retraced his course around the jagged shore line. It would be much shorter and quicker to go directly across the swamp to the hardwood bottom and then follow that down to the opening. Unfortunately, the sun disappeared behind a bunch of leaden clouds before he had gone very far and left him without a guide. The sameness of the swamp and the utter lack of landmarks made it hard to hold the course, but he felt pretty sure of his directions and paddled on confidently as fast as the cypress knees and partially submerged roots would let him. Fallen trees and clumps of brush forced him to make many short detours which were very confusing. He had come much farther that morning than he had realized.

He had not seen any trace of the hardwoods along the river when darkness came with the swiftness so characteristic of the southern nightfall. Darkness seemed literally to fall on him. There was not a star in the sky and it was impossible to penetrate the black veil for even a few feet. He almost bumped into the trees before he could make them out, and the cypress knees which he could not see at all seemed to be everywhere. And yet he groped his way along in the hope of reaching the river.

About nine o’clock the skies cleared. The light helped him to make a little faster progress, but he could not see any stars that he knew, and could not make sure of his direction. He had almost come to the conclusion that there was no limit to this swamp, when a bank of black shadow loomed ahead of him. It was a shore line of some kind. Through the screen of brush he caught the shape of a pine tree outlined against the sky. It was not the hardwood strip along the river.

There was no use in going any farther now. He was about as completely lost as he could very well be. The moon would be up about eleven and he might as well wait for it right there. He sat motionless in the boat and listened to the small noises of the night, an occasional splashing along the edge of the swamp, the cry of a night heron, or the rustling of restless, small birds in the branches overhead. A gentle breeze was blowing from the direction of the forest.

Once a faint crackling in the brush, the faintest snapping of a tiny twig sounded loud there on the water, told him something was coming toward him. His eyes had become pretty well accustomed to the uncertain light, and as he watched he recognized the form of a large raccoon making his way out on to a log which extended quite a way into the water. It was not over twenty feet from the boat. Wholly unconscious of the silent observer the coon deliberately began to prepare his evening meal which he had evidently brought with him. He tore it into pieces, just what it was Scott could not see, and carefully dipped a piece in the water. Then he solemnly proceeded to wash it. He rubbed it between his front paws and scrubbed it as thoroughly as any laundress, and in much the same way. When he was finally satisfied of its cleanliness he repeated the process with another piece. His meal ended, he washed his hands and waddled ashore. Scott had often heard that the coon would eat nothing without first dipping it in water, but he had never imagined any such thorough scouring as this. He no longer regretted getting lost. Such a chance as that repaid him several times over.

He was almost sure once that he heard the creaking of a chain, but it was very faint and was not repeated. Shortly the moon came up almost directly in front of him. He was headed straight away from the river. With the shadows to guide him he turned to the west once more. A couple of hours’ paddling brought him to the hardwood bottom land and he soon found a passage through to the river. It was not the same passage where he had come in, but one considerably farther up the river.

From there on he had no trouble in finding his way. The tide was running out and the bateau traveled freely. He had marked the landing well and soon had the boat hidden in the accustomed place. When he sneaked quietly into the cabin it was half-past three, but he stopped to have a look at the pantry before he turned in.

Mr. Graham raised his head and had a squint at him, but he did not ask any questions, he did not have to—he knew what had happened to a man in a strange swamp on a cloudy day.


The next morning Scott went back up the river to continue the exploration of the swamp. He had some provisions along this time and was determined to stay out until he had finished the job. He would lose too much time going back to the cabin every night. He also had a compass. He decided to paddle on past the first channel into the swamp to the one where he had come out the night before, or rather early that same morning. It had appeared to him the night before to be about a half a mile farther up the stream. He had certainly covered much more than that distance now, but had not discovered any sign of it. Perhaps it had seemed shorter traveling downstream. He would go on a little farther. For another half mile he poked along the shore examining every break in the brush which might indicate a passage, but none of them proved to be any more than a little bay in the shore.

He knew now that he must have passed it. He considered paddling on up to the channel which the loggers used and starting his search from there, but he thought it might be better to keep his search a secret till he had completed it, and turned back to hunt once more for the hidden channel.

“Seems funny,” Scott muttered to himself, “that I could stumble through that passage in the night and can’t find it now in broad daylight.”

He paddled briskly back to the place where he had started his careful search. From there on he examined every foot of the shore. He had not gone very far when he stumbled on to a clump of tall brush which overhung the water. Ordinarily he would have passed it without a thought, but he was looking for something now, and he pushed the bushes aside with his paddle to make sure. There, sure enough, he looked into a perfectly clear and open channel through the bank into the swamp. It was broad on the inside like the top of a funnel and it was quite easy to see why it had not impressed him as a hidden channel on his outward trip. He wondered whether its existence was known to the loggers. He examined the shores and the approach, but could not find any trace. Of course that was no proof that boats had not used it, but it was hardly possible that any great number of logs had ever been worked through it without leaving some evidence.

He struck out boldly across the swamp, traveling due east, and soon came to the forest shore. A brief examination told him that he had passed there the day before and he paddled rapidly northward till he recognized the beginning of new territory. From there on he took up a minute examination of the shore line. After his experience with the passage into the river he was even more careful than he had been the day before. All day long he poked slowly in and out of the little bays, scrutinizing every trail and not forgetting an occasional glance out into the swamp. Not a single sign did he see to indicate that any one had ever been in the place before.

Night fell on him unexpectedly as on the night before and he determined to land and camp in the pine forest. He landed on a big log which extended out into the water and made the bateau fast. The night was so clear and warm that he decided not to put up a tent. His sleeping bag would give him all the protection that he needed. As he was still bent on keeping his whereabouts secret and did not know how near to the camp he might be, he determined to go without a fire and content himself with a cold supper. Ordinarily he would have picked a location next to a log or tree, but when he thought of the enormous spiders he had seen and the venomous scorpions of which he had heard, he selected an open spot in a little clearing. He could not put the rattlesnakes and cottonmouths entirely out of his mind, but he tried hard to forget them.

His simple supper was soon eaten and he sat in the starlight once more, listening to the small noises of the night. To the uninitiated these small noises often pass unnoticed and seem only to intensify the stillness. With many of them Scott was already familiar, but in this strange country there were others with which he was wholly unfamiliar. While he was trying to identify some of these he heard once more the creaking of a chain. It had been so faint the night before, and turtles and frogs are capable of such strange, creaking noises, that he had not been sure of it, but it was nearer to-night and he caught a distinct metallic ring in it.

Scott was all excitement now. He listened so intently that it almost hurt, but the sound did not come again. Once he thought that he heard the drip of a paddle but he could not be sure of that. It was possible that he was in sound of the camp. Sound travels far over the water on a still night. He had no idea where the camp was. But if he were close enough to the camp to hear the creaking of a chain he would certainly hear other noises unless the camp was very different from any other he had ever seen. It was a great temptation to scout around the edge of the swamp on foot in an attempt to locate the camp, but that would be foolish and possibly dangerous when he was so unfamiliar with the country. The pine had not been cut here as yet. That was a pretty good indication that he was not anywhere near the camp.

He sat long into the night, long after the moon had risen, listening, but in all that time not another suspicious sound came out of the weird tangle of the swamp. It was past midnight when he relaxed his straining nerves and crawled into his sleeping bag with a shiver, for he had not noticed the damp night chill which had crept into his very bones while he was sitting there motionless. Several times he caught himself listening again, wild-eyed, and even after he finally went to sleep he continued to dream of that creaking chain so vividly that in the morning he could not tell whether he had really heard it again or not.

So eager was he to investigate that curious sound that he could hardly wait to eat breakfast. All his stuff was soon loaded in the old bateau and he set off excitedly on his search. The question was, should he continue to follow the shore line as he had been doing or should he take the direction from which the sound had seemed to come? He decided to follow the shore line. It would be better to complete the shore line and then examine the open swamp. Scott always liked to know what was behind him. He soon found that he had not slept very close to the camp. The shore line was bare of trails here and he traveled at a lively pace. Yet, at the end of an hour, he had not seen anything of the pond or the logging camp.

“This blamed old swamp must connect with the Lake of the Woods,” Scott growled as he paddled on. “It does not seem as though we could have ridden this far the other day.”

When he rounded a point a half mile farther on, where an arm of the swamp ran off to the eastward, he suddenly saw the camp and the log pond before him. He sat motionless in the bateau and looked the place over in detail. It was much as it had been when he saw it before except that there were more logs in the pond. Only one man was in sight. He was working up at the other end of the pond building a section of a raft.

Scott watched this man thoughtfully for some time. He bored a hole through the end of a four-inch pole with a large augur and also bored another hole near the end of one of the logs. Then he drove a wooden peg through the hole in the pole and into the hole in the log. He repeated this operation at the other end of the pole with another log. Then he fastened the other ends of these two logs together in the same way. That made the framework for his raft. With a long pike pole he herded some other logs over to this frame. By pressing down on the pole he made the logs one by one duck under the crosspole and take their places between the two outer logs. When the space was filled this section of the raft was completed. He then proceeded to build another just like it. A number of these sections would be chained together end to end and the long, snakelike raft would be ready for its trip down the river.

“Where in thunder did you spend the night?”

The voice was so close to him and so unexpected that Scott almost upset the cranky little bateau. Then he recognized a face staring at him out of a clump of bushes close beside the boat and realized that he was near the stump where he had seen Murphy perched on their former trip.

“Hello,” Scott answered somewhat uncertainly when he had sufficiently recovered from his surprise. He was chagrined to think that he had not seen Murphy before. “Been there ever since we left?”

The man at the other end of the pond was too far off to hear their voices, but Murphy was afraid their conversation might reveal his hiding place. “Back up out of sight,” he said, “and I’ll join you.”

Scott retreated out of sight of the pond and Murphy soon joined him in a tiny bateau.

“No,” Murphy said in answer to Scott’s question, “I have not been there ever since you left, but I spent the night there. Where were you last night?” he repeated. He seemed to be excited.

“How do you know that I was not at home?” Scott asked suspiciously.

“You’d be some paddler if you got up here this time of morning,” Murphy laughed.

Scott had not thought of that. “I camped down there in the woods a couple of miles, near the edge of the swamp.”

“Did you hear the creaking of a chain about nine o’clock?” Murphy asked with suppressed excitement.

“I thought I did,” Scott replied cautiously.

“So did I,” Murphy exclaimed emphatically. “It was rather faint but it could not have been anything else. There was something doing out there in that swamp somewhere. I took a sneak out that way, but could not find anything.”

There was no doubting Murphy’s sincerity. He was fairly quivering with excitement. His knowledge of the country and his familiarity with the ways of the loggers would be of great help and Scott threw his suspicions to the winds. Moreover, he wanted somebody with whom he could talk. “I heard it the night before, too,” he confided.

“Did you?” Murphy exclaimed eagerly. “I was not here that night. What are you going to do now?”

Scott explained what he had already done and suggested that Murphy join him in completing the examination of the rest of the shore line. Murphy was more than willing.

“They seem to be getting a raft ready to send out now,” Scott said. “Do you know when they will start with it?”

“Usually start about the time the tide turns out. That will mean about five o’clock this afternoon.”

“Have you any grub?” Scott asked.

“No, but I can get some pretty quick. Ought to go to the cabin before I go off anywhere anyway.”

“All right. I’ll go up with you. Then we’ll make the rounds of the river bank and wait down there to see that raft go by.”

They landed well out of sight of the logging camp and struck off through the woods for Murphy’s ranger cabin.


Murphy had a very attractive little cabin back there in the woods and a little wife who looked perfectly capable of running things while he was away, and while he was home, too, if necessary. She did not seem in the least alarmed at the prospect of being alone for possibly two or three days. Murphy tossed the necessary supplies into his pack sack and they were soon on their way back to the bateau. They loaded all the duffle into Scott’s boat and Murphy took the bow paddle.

It seemed that the log pond was a natural, bottle-shaped arm of the big swamp. From the mouth of it to the river a quarter of a mile away a channel had been cleared of all brush and cypress knees which might interfere with the passage of the log rafts, but there were no booms or anything else to separate it from the rest of the swamp.

“They pole the rafts out that channel to the river,” Murphy explained, “and let them drift with the tide and the current the rest of the way.”

“I should think they would be hung up on the banks all the time,” Scott objected.

“Oh, they don’t turn them loose. There are always two men on them. There is a long sweep on each end of the raft, and by means of those they can usually keep in the channel and make the bends all right. Of course they have to tie up when the tide comes in and wait till she turns again. It is an ideal lazy man’s job, and these niggers love it.”

The north shore of the swamp swung considerably farther to the north and they were at least two miles above the channel when they came out on the river. In all that distance they had seen nothing but animal trails similar to the ones which Scott had found lower down. Murphy was able to explain many of the tracks which had puzzled him.

The hardwood strip was wider here and they landed to explore it. It was a quarter of a mile across to the river, but a coon trail was the only sign of life which they discovered.

“Well,” Scott said, “it may not help us any but we have the satisfaction of knowing that nothing goes into or comes out of that swamp except at the logging camp or by way of the river.” He had not been looking for anything in particular and did not know exactly whether he felt disappointed or relieved at not finding it. They knew now where they did not have to look for the thieves and that would help.

They returned to the boat and continued to examine the shore down to the log channel. The strip of dry land was only about four rods wide at this point. The channel was not a natural opening like the two which Scott had found below. It had been dug out and showed very clearly the signs of much use. The banks had been gouged out by the passing rafts, and tramped by many feet. They searched the ground for some distance on either side but could not find anything to show that the men who had made the tracks had ever done more than step ashore to help shove the rafts through the channel.

It was getting rather late in the afternoon but they thought they would have time to paddle downstream to see how many openings there were into the river and get back in time to see the raft come out. As the tide was coming in they stayed in the swamp. It is very often some little thing like this which changes the whole course of events. If they had only gone down the river. But they did not.

They did not examine the shore here with the same care. It did not occur to them that there could be anything there of particular interest. About a mile brought them to the first one. It was much broader and deeper than the one Scott had found in the morning, but was so overhung with trees and brush that it would not be readily noticed from the river. A rather hurried examination did not reveal any traces of use. They did not know how much farther down they would have to go and were anxious to get back before the raft went out. Another mile brought them to another opening.

“That settles that part of it!” Scott exclaimed. “This is where I went in this morning. There is only one more opening below this, and that is down at the lower end of the swamp. I have been all the way around her now. There are just these four channels into the river.”

“And two of them,” Murphy said, “are new ones on me. I have been down that river dozens of times. Funny I never noticed them.”

“They are pretty well screened from the river,” Scott replied. “Don’t look as though either of them had ever been used.”

Without further search they paddled back for the log channel so that they would not be in the way of the raftsmen, and had just time enough to pick a good hiding place before it was dark. The sky was clear and from where they sat they could see the river and the mouth of the log canal plainly. A fire was out of the question and they ate their cold supper in silence.

Scott was getting used to this night gloom in the big swamp now. It did not seem as weird as it had before, possibly because he was not alone, but there was a certain fascination about it which kept his interest on edge. The monotonous splashing of the drooping branches dipping in the current seemed to take on a certain musical rhythm. The booming of the bull bats as they dropped down into the opening over the river and the honking of the lonely night heron fitted in like the solo parts in an orchestra. Suddenly there was a shriek which made Scott’s blood run cold. It certainly could not have been written in the music.

“What in thunder was that?” he whispered excitedly, and then joined in the silent laugh with Murphy. Even before he had finished speaking he had recognized the hunting cry of the great barred owl. There is no more blood-curdling sound, and coming as it did on tensely listening nerves it had raised the hair on both their heads.

“That is enough to make every mouse and small bird in the woods die of heart failure,” Scott whispered.

“Probably what he does it for,” Murphy whispered back. “A little more and he’d got me, too.”

It was not till about eleven o’clock that they heard the sound of voices floating faintly toward them from the direction of the pond. After a long silence they heard them again much nearer, and soon the splash of the poles trailing through the water was distinctly audible. The blow of a hammer and the clank of a chain caused Scott to look at Murphy inquiringly.

“They have to break up the raft to get it out into the current,” Murphy whispered.

After considerable delay and splashing three sections of the raft shot out of the canal and swung downstream as they were caught by the current. They were tied to a tree by a rope and swung back against the near shore. After another delay and more splashing another three sections appeared and settled neatly in behind the others. Two men came quickly out of the shadow on to the raft and chained the two parts securely together. They disappeared to untie the mooring ropes, appeared again quickly to man the sweeps and slowly worked the raft out into midstream as it glided down the silent current. It seemed like a ghost raft on the river Styx.

The two men in the brush watched intently as the raft glided by. No sooner were they out of hearing than Murphy turned excitedly. “Those were white men on that raft,” he whispered. “The light was too uncertain to make them out, but they were white men and one of them looked like Qualley.”

“The fellow in the bow looked to me something like that superintendent at the turpentine camp,” Scott said doubtfully, “but I may have been mistaken. I have never seen him but once.”

“Yes, sir, that’s exactly who it was. Now what do you suppose he is doing over here?”

Before Scott could answer they both heard quite distinctly that clanking of a chain which had come to them the night before from somewhere out there in the swamp. It was much plainer than it had been before and seemed nearer. They listened intently for a few minutes but heard nothing more.

“Let’s take a sneak out that way,” Murphy suggested eagerly.

Scott nodded and they scrambled silently across the neck of land to the boat in the swamp. “Don’t make any noise,” Scott cautioned. “We do not want them to know that we are on the lookout any sooner than we can help.”

The moon had not yet come up and it was so dark back there in the swamp that they made slow progress. Every few minutes they stopped to listen. Once or twice they thought they heard a faint splashing, but sounds are very hard to locate in such a place. After more than an hour of fruitless search they gave it up.

“Now, what?” Murphy whispered as they sat disconsolate in the middle of the swamp.

“How far is it down to the place where they sell those logs?” Scott asked thoughtfully.

“About fifteen miles.”

“Will they make it with that raft to-night?”

“No, they tie up during the flood tide, you know, and they had already lost a couple of hours of the ebb when they started. They will not get more than half way.”

“Let’s follow them,” Scott suggested. “I don’t suppose we shall see anything, but I would like to talk to those people at the mill.”

Murphy agreed and they were soon threading their way through the cypress knees back to the log canal. They reached there just too late to see another bateau disappear up the channel toward the camp. They glided out into the river and paddled silently with the current. As they did not know where they might run on to the raft they approached all the bends cautiously.

“The tide will be turning pretty quick now,” Murphy whispered. “When it does they will tie up, and when they tie up they will go to sleep. That will give us a chance to get around them.”

Some distance farther down they were sneaking cautiously around a bend when Murphy held up his hand in warning and Scott brought the bateau to a stop. Not fifty yards away they could see the shadowy outline of the raft lying close in under the shadow of the trees. There was a small fire burning at the far end of it and they could see two forms flitting about in the flickering light. They had evidently just arrived and were busy making the raft fast to the shore.

The amateur detectives pushed their bateau well in under the shadow of the brush-covered bank and settled down to watch. They did not have long to wait. The men soon completed their preparations and settled down beside the fire. The low sound of voices soon gave place to silence which was in time broken by a long whistling snore.

“That is accommodating of that fellow,” Scott whispered. “If it were not for his music we might have sat here for an hour trying to find out whether he was asleep. Shall we make a sneak for it?”

“Better wait a few minutes,” Murphy suggested, “till we can make sure of the other fellow.”

The other man was either awake or he did not snore. They listened in vain for ten minutes and decided to take a chance on it.

“Think we better try to steal by under the shadow of the opposite shore?” Scott asked.

“Not for mine,” Murphy answered, “the fellow might be awake and mistake us for a deer. I’d rather take a chance on floating right down the middle of the stream.”

Scott thought the suggestion a good one. He had seen one of those men shoot and he did not feel like playing deer for him. The moon was just coming up and would make them uncomfortably conspicuous, but there was nothing else to do unless they wanted to wait there all night. A single shove sent the bateau out from the shore and it floated very slowly down the stream. The tide was just on the turn and it seemed that they would never get by that raft. At last they were out of sight around a bend in the river. They paddled silently for a few minutes. Then Scott’s excitement broke all bounds.

“Did you notice anything peculiar about that raft?” he whispered eagerly.

Murphy shook his head.

“There were eight sections in it.”

“No,” Murphy exclaimed incredulously.

“Yes, sir, I thought it was a mile long from the length of time it took us to get by and I counted the sections. There were eight.”

“Where in thunder did they pick up the other two?”

Neither of them had any answer for that and they paddled on, thoughtfully silent. It was possible that the raft had broken the night before and they were picking up the pieces. There was not much chance now of finding out where they got it. The next best thing would be to see how they got rid of it.

“What’s the matter with our getting some sleep?” Murphy asked. “We can go ashore till the tide turns. They can’t start before that and we can easily beat it out ahead of them.”

There did not seem to be any good reason why they should not and they turned in to the first high land they saw. They built a fire and made the coffee they could not have at supper. The night had turned cold enough for them to get pretty well chilled while they were watching the raftsmen go to sleep. The fire and the coffee soon warmed them up. They hauled their blankets out of the boat and were soon asleep beside the little fire.


Murphy had figured that the tide would turn again at about six o’clock in the morning. By five he was up getting breakfast. Scott soon joined him. There was a cold fog hanging over the river and they crowded close around the fire. The temperature was not conducive to conversation. It was not till the heat of the fire had thawed them out a little that Murphy broke the silence.

“Are you dead sure that there were eight sections in that raft?” he asked. It was the second time that Scott’s observation had proved better than his own and it piqued him a little. The power of observation is one of the woodman’s most valuable faculties.

“I sure am,” Scott replied, “I counted them twice.”

“Do you suppose those fellows are selling those logs to the mill on a separate account?”

“That is what I want to find out if I can. I thought it would be interesting to see how they handle the thing when they come in with the raft.”

Murphy chuckled. “It will be good sport to stand there and see them sell those logs which they have been to so much trouble to steal for the credit of the company.”

They were in high spirits and sent the bateau skimming down the river at a tremendous rate. It was not yet nine o’clock when they landed at the mill dock. They knew that the raft could not get in before ten or eleven. It was the first southern mill Scott had ever seen, with its great open pile of ever-burning sawdust and slabs blazing away as though to invite the destruction of the mill by fire. The upper part of the mill was built like a summer house, with open sides. Instead of the little short logs he had seen in the north the big band saw was ripping up logs forty and even sixty feet long.

The manager saw them and came over for a chat. He knew Murphy and greeted Scott cordially. “Still looking for the timber thieves?” he asked pleasantly.

“Still at it,” Murphy admitted.

“I suppose you get a great many logs in here from all up and down the river?” Scott asked.

“No,” the manager answered, “not now. We used to buy in small lots from many owners, but that was before Qualley started up there. We had quite a supply on hand when he started and he is getting the stuff down to us now just about fast enough to keep us going. We only cut about forty thousand feet a day. I am not sure, but I do not believe that we have bought a log from any one else for almost a year.”

“Are there any other mills on the river?” Scott asked.

“No, this is the only one down this way. There may be some more up the river, but if there are they are a long way up.”

Just then a big doubledeck river steamer with her tall smokestacks and queer-looking stern paddle wheel went by spanking her way up against the current.

“Don’t suppose one of those things would tow a raft up the river?” Scott suggested.

“Too slow for them. They are slow enough any way and a raft tow would cost her more than the logs are worth.”

“I don’t see what good it would do any one to steal logs here, then,” Scott said. “What could they do with them when they get them?”

“That’s what Murphy has been trying to find out for a couple of years,” the manager laughed. “He thought for a while that I was buying stolen property here, but he has never been able to prove it on me. Like to look over the mill, Mr. Burton?”

Scott was glad of the opportunity to keep in touch with the manager till the rafts came in, and eagerly accepted the invitation. They followed the manager through the strange mill which looked so much like a summer house to Scott with its open sides and elevated tramways leading out to the lumber yard. He watched the long logs come dripping up the jack chain on to the log deck, saw the powerful steam nigger toss the great trunks on to the long saw carriage as though they had been so many toothpicks and listened to the shriek of the big band saw as it tore through the screaming log. The explosive exhaust of the shotgun feed as the newly sawed plank fell away from the cant had always sounded to Scott like a shout of triumph. In five minutes that shining ribbon of steel had slashed up the growth of three or four centuries. Perhaps La Salle had marched beneath the branches of that very tree.

It was fascinating to watch the perfect working of those powerful machines, and Scott never tired of it, but he was watching to-day with only one eye, the other was on the bend of the river above the mill. They followed the lumber clear through the sorting shed and even out to the piles in the lumber yard; they examined the dry kiln and watched the noisy flooring machines in the planing mill, and even then the raft had not arrived. Scott glanced questioningly at Murphy. What could be delaying them so long?

It was almost noon before the nose of the tardy raft poked around the distant bend in the river. They were sitting in the office talking as usual of the mystery of the stolen logs. Scott was so glad to see the rafts that he felt like shouting, but he wanted to see what the manager would do. Possibly it would be a little embarrassing for him to have visitors from the National Forest at his elbow when the raft came in. But if Scott expected any such thing he was disappointed.

“Here come some of your runaways now,” the manager remarked with a smile when he caught sight of the raft. “Let’s go down and see what they’ve got.”

The raft was still quite a distance up the river and well out in the middle of the stream, but they could see the men working steadily at the great sweeps edging the clumsy craft over toward the opening in the upper end of the log boom. They made their way out along the double boom to have a look at the logs and to get within speaking distance of the men.

“By George,” Murphy whispered excitedly to Scott, “those are niggers on that raft now.”

Scott paused to get a better look at the men and uttered a suppressed exclamation. He grasped Murphy’s arm. “Look there,” he whispered, “there are only six sections.”

“I thought you were dreaming last night,” Murphy retorted. “Been hanging around the swamp too much at night.”

“Not on your life,” Scott exclaimed decisively. “I’d bet my last cent that there were eight sections in that raft last night when we passed it.”

Murphy smiled incredulously.

“Sort of late to-day,” the manager called to the darkies on the raft.

“Yas, suh,” one of the darkies answered with the usual grin, “we wuz kinda late ketchin’ de tide dis mahnin’.”

“How much did you bring me this time, George?” the manager asked.

“Ah don’t know, suh, but I’se got some writin’ heah fo’ you from Mistah Qualley.”

The raft had floated down against the boom and the darky addressed as “George” handed over a scale bill. The manager glanced at it and offered it to Scott. “Want to check them up?”

Scott looked at it rather doubtfully. The log sizes in that country were all so different from what he was used to that he knew that he could not even estimate the contents of the logs very accurately. He thought that the best thing to do was to admit it.

“You know more about this than I do,” he said, passing the paper on to Murphy.

Murphy glanced at the totals and walked slowly over the raft examining the ends of the logs. “Nobody would get rich on the difference any way,” he remarked when he had finished.

“Where did you tie up for the night?” Scott asked.

George seemed to hesitate for a moment. Scott thought that he started to say something and then changed his mind. “About seben miles up de ribber,” he finally answered.

“Do you always tie up at the same place?”

“Can’t always make it, Cap’n,” the darky grinned. “De tide, she say whar to tie up.”

“Have much trouble getting your raft out through the swamp last night?”

The darky rolled his eyes a little suspiciously. “No, boss, she come through mighty slick.”

Scott saw now that the darky was lying fluently and knew that there was no chance to get any more truth out of him, if, indeed, they had gotten any at all.

“Well, Mr. Brown,” he said, speaking loud enough for the darkies to hear, “I guess the scale is all right. We thought maybe they were slipping some extras into the rafts, but we seem to have been mistaken. I hope you will pardon me for suspecting you, but it is my business right now to suspect every one.”

“Suspect all you please,” Mr. Brown laughed, “but let’s go down to dinner. I wish I were getting those logs. They do not bring me any too many and I have very few on reserve in the pond.”

They accepted Mr. Brown’s invitation to dinner but started up river immediately afterwards.

“Now we’ll see what became of those two extra sections,” Scott said with determination as they lost sight of the mill.

Murphy did not answer. He had not seen those extra sections himself and he was not altogether convinced that Scott had seen them either. Scott knew how Murphy felt about it and that made him all the more determined to find them and prove that he was right.

For a long time they paddled in silence. They kept a sharp lookout on both sides and investigated everything which looked like a possible opening in the low-lying banks. They had not found anything when they turned the bend into the stretch of the river where the raft had been tied up for the night.

There was nothing there. “Must have sunk,” Murphy chuckled.

Scott did not deign to answer. He was a good deal more puzzled than Murphy because he was sure that he had seen them the night before. He directed the bateau over to the place where the raft had been tied. There was plenty of evidence there to show that the rafts had been tied there many times before, but there were certainly no sections there now. Two sections of raft, each forty feet long, are not easily hidden.

“I wonder if that steamer could have picked them up?” he asked gloomily.

“Not likely to,” Murphy grinned. “Those logs will weigh from six to eight tons apiece.”

Scott was absorbed in his own puzzled thoughts and had lost interest for the time being in his surroundings.

“Hello, there!” Murphy exclaimed excitedly as they passed the place where the rear of the raft had been tied.

Scott was instantly alert. Behind the tangle of brush and vines which hung clear down to the surface of the water he could see what looked like an opening in the swampy shore line. He immediately turned the bateau toward it and they forced their way under the heavy screen of vegetation.

They both uttered an exclamation of surprise. They were in what appeared to be the mouth of a bayou about thirty feet wide. The sides of it were swampy and a bend about a hundred feet ahead shut in the view. They paddled silently up the creek with the feeling of a couple of bloodhounds on a hot scent.

“Holy St. Christopher!” Murphy exclaimed excitedly as the bow of the bateau poked around the bend.

Scott could hardly wait to see the cause of the excitement, but even when he did see it he did not grasp the full significance of it at once. Instead of the sleepy, vine-covered bayou which they had so nearly passed by unnoticed—a place so wild that Scott’s imagination had once more jumped back to the old explorers pushing their way into unknown channels which no white man had ever seen before—the bayou stretched out before them like a modern canal. All the bordering brush and overhanging vines had been cleared away. A deep-worn tow path followed close along the northern bank. The shores were deeply gouged and torn as if by the passage of many rafts of logs. Moreover, many of the signs were very fresh.

Scott gazed at it in wide-eyed amazement.

“Maybe you were right about that raft having eight sections,” Murphy mumbled. “Looks as though it might have had eight hundred of them.”


For a few minutes the men sat in wondering silence. The very boldness of the scheme was astounding. Here was a canal carefully and thoroughly prepared for the sole purpose of transporting stolen logs and not more than a hundred feet from the river where steamboats plied up and down and the rightful owner of the logs passed frequently.

“Some nerve!” Murphy finally exclaimed, expressing the thought which was uppermost in both their minds.

“Well, we’ve found where they go,” Scott remarked with a sigh of satisfaction, “but what do you suppose they do with them? Is there any railroad over that way or any other stream to the coast?”

Murphy shook his head. “Not a trace of one unless they have a secret one like this canal.”

“I suppose there is no telling how far this goes,” Scott mused, “but I have a hunch that we better tackle it a little carefully. Any man with the nerve to steal logs the way this fellow is stealing them probably would not hesitate at anything. I doubt if he would welcome a visit from a couple of forest service uniforms.”

Murphy felt for his holster and seemed comforted at finding it where it belonged. His Irish was rising fast at the prospect of a possible fight.

“Suppose we paddle slowly up the bayou,” Scott suggested, “and keep our eyes open. They have been undisturbed so long that I doubt if they keep any kind of guard and we ought to be able to see them before they see us.”

That plan suited Murphy perfectly. He laid his automatic on the bow of the bateau where it would be handy and paddled ahead. They went very slowly, sneaking cautiously up to every bend and stopping frequently to listen. They had covered at least a mile in this way without seeing any signs which looked suspicious or anything to indicate that they were getting any closer to their destination. Not a sound broke the afternoon stillness of the forest.

“Must be selling those logs in Mobile,” Murphy grumbled.

As they poked the bow of the bateau slowly around the next bend there was a tremendous splashing in the water ahead. Murphy snatched up his pistol and Scott whisked the bateau back under the protection of the bank with all his strength. They both looked rather foolish when a bunch of ducks rose noisily honking and finally made it out over the treetops some distance ahead of them.

“They were pretty nearly as badly scared as we were, anyway,” Murphy growled as he resumed his paddle.

Scott estimated that they had come at least four miles from the river and still there was no sign of logs or life. “Think we’ll have provisions enough to last us on this trip?” he asked.

The canal had cleared the river swamp now and lay in a narrow strip of baygall between ridges of pine forest which had been neither logged nor turpentined. They still talked with hushed voices though they were apparently miles from anywhere.

“I wonder if this neck connects with the big swamp over west?” Murphy said. “I have heard about that swamp but have never been there. They say it is a whale of a big one and runs down within a very few miles of the coast.”

“Shouldn’t wonder,” Scott growled as they paddled slowly along. “Seems as though it might connect with the Pacific Coast. Pity Columbus didn’t find it.”

It was getting late in the afternoon when they paused at a bend in the bayou to listen for the hundredth time. They straightened up suddenly and looked inquiringly at each other. The faint but unmistakable whine of a sawmill sounded plaintively from somewhere far ahead of them. The light of triumph was in their eyes now, but they were too excited to talk. Without a word they both bent to their work and paddled eagerly forward. The country on either side was more open now, and there was less chance of their running into any one unexpectedly. Every time they stopped to listen the whine of the saw was more distinct. It seemed too good to be true and they had to listen often to assure themselves that they were not dreaming.

At last they could see the smoke through the trees and finally reached a point where they could make out the hazy outlines of the camp. It was the crudest kind of an outfit. A small portable mill sat out in the open without the protection of even so much as a shed-roof, and scattered about it were three miserable cabins—mere board shacks. Only one little pile of lumber was in sight. They sat for a few minutes and gazed at it in silence.

“Well,” Scott remarked, “there she is. The next question is, how are we going to get close enough to identify our lumber without getting shot?”

Murphy’s Irish blood was boiling. He had been looking for those timber thieves for two years, and now that they were in sight he was for stalking in on them and arresting them.

“Rush ’em!” he exclaimed angrily. “Rush right in on them. Take them by surprise and we can arrest the whole outfit easy.”

“It might be possible, all right,” Scott replied, weighing the possibilities, “but it seems to me doubtful. We have only one gun. There are six of those fellows in sight and probably more in the cabins. If they were all in one bunch we might stand a show, but while we were covering the ones there at the mill it would be a cinch for any one in the cabin to pot us.”

Murphy had to admit the truth of that, but he was in favor of trying it anyway. “What are you going to do then?” he asked peevishly when Scott shook his head in disapproval of the scheme. “Not going to run home and let them get away?”

“No reason why they should run away when they do not know that we have found them. But I was not thinking of running away. My plan is to reconnoiter the place as closely as we can, find out how many men there are here, identify our logs, and possibly close in on them at night. We haven’t any warrant for them, and probably they are not the fellows who are stealing the stuff. They are only hired men and if we arrest them the real thieves who are engineering the job at a safe distance may get wind of it and get away. No, I think we better just hang around here and keep out of sight till we can find out who is running this outfit. Then we can nail him and we’ll have something worth while.”

“Hadn’t thought of that,” Murphy admitted, cooling off a little. “It would be too bad to lose the main guy after all. Best thing we can do is to take to the brush here and wait till dark. Can’t be over half an hour now.”

They tore their eyes from the mill and turned to examine the near-by brush for a good hiding place. “There is a good thick clump over there,” Scott said, pointing to a clump a little way ahead of them, “where we can hide the bateau and ourselves, too. It’s——”

The words died on his lips and his eyes almost popped out of his head. In that very clump of brush there were a pair of big eyes as round as his own and fixed full upon him. Blue, frightened eyes they were, and they no sooner found that they were observed than they disappeared like a flash. Scott shot the bateau forward to have a close look and was just in time to see a very small boy minus any clothes at all streaking it through the brush toward the camp as though his life depended on it—and he probably thought that it did. He had evidently been swimming in the bayou and had been cut off from his clothes by their approach.

“Now we are in for it!” Scott exclaimed, as he pointed out the flying figure to Murphy.

“Where did he come from?” Murphy asked, frowning.

“Out of that clump of brush right there in front of us. I just happened to see his eyes. It is a good thing we were talking in whispers or the little rascal would have overheard every word that we said.”

“Probably heard every word of it anyway,” Murphy growled. “Now they’ll be down here to investigate. Shall we wait for them or go to meet them?” The idea of retreating never so much as entered Murphy’s head.

Scott had other plans. “Maybe if we can get out of here without being seen or leaving any trace behind us, hide the bateau in one of these brush piles and hide ourselves they will not find us and will think that the kid was lying. He was not very large, you know, and they would not put much faith in his story.”

The plan did not appeal to Murphy. He was getting mad again and wanted to fight. “What’ll we gain by that? Why not stay here and scrap it out?”

“Because we are trying to find out a little something about this thing without being seen ourselves,” Scott retorted a little sharply. “Stir them up now and the whole gang may get away before we can do anything with them.”

“I’ll bet I could stop two or three of them,” Murphy growled.

“We’ll land on that clump of grass there on the left where we will not leave any footprints and get the bateau out of the water,” Scott said firmly.

Murphy obeyed in silence. It was easy to see that he did not approve, but he obeyed. Keeping the clump of brush in which the boy had been hiding between them and the camp, they landed on a bunch of roots and lifted the bateau bodily from the water. They made their way carefully to a large brush pile back some fifty feet from the edge of the bayou. There they carefully hid the boat and concealed themselves. “It will be dark in about ten minutes,” Scott whispered. “If they don’t find us pretty quick they will not have much chance of seeing us.”

“Dark don’t bother one of those infernal hounds much,” Murphy grumbled. “They’ll find us easy enough and pull us out of here like a couple of rats.”

A lump popped up into Scott’s throat so hard that it almost choked him. The thought of the keen-nosed hounds with which almost every southern camp is infested had never occurred to him, but he tried to put a bold face on it. “Well, we’ll have to take a chance on that. We can fight if we have to, but we won’t unless we do.”

He was conscious that Murphy was eyeing him curiously with a trace of contempt and he knew that he was being suspected of cowardice, but his judgment told him that his was the wiser plan and he stuck to it, hard as it was.

They had not much more than covered up their tracks and settled down to watch developments when they saw a man riding leisurely from the direction of the camp. He was trying to look unconcerned, but he rode directly toward the clump of bushes where the boy had been hiding. They were both rejoiced to see that the almost inevitable hound was lacking so far, and they were not a little relieved that the rider was on the other side of the canal. He wore the usual overalls, cotton shirt and old felt hat, and was a total stranger to both of them. An old thirty-thirty Winchester was balanced carelessly across the horn of his saddle.

He drew rein on the opposite side of the canal, glanced at the clothes which the boy had left, and ran his eye carefully along the banks in both directions as far as he could see. Evidently it had not occurred to him that the bateau might have been taken out of the water, for his examination was too rapid to take account of anything as inconspicuous as footprints. Without any apparent suspicion he turned toward the river and rode rapidly away down the tow path and out of sight.

“If he keeps that gait up long it will be dark before he gets back,” Scott chuckled.

Evidently the boy had been keeping pretty close watch on the man. The horseman had hardly disappeared from view when the boy came running toward the canal. He moved more cautiously as he approached the clump of bushes and stopped to examine them minutely. Satisfied that there was nothing there he pounced on his clothes and proceeded to change them for the old pair of his father’s overalls which he had on. His curiosity was not so easily satisfied as the man’s. He examined the shore foot by foot to see if the boat had landed, scanned the surrounding country suspiciously every now and then, and once glanced curiously across at the brush pile which concealed the spies. Finally he, too, trailed away down the bank of the canal.

Already the sun had begun to dip below the treetops on the horizon, but it seemed to Scott as though it must have stuck there. Instead of the sudden darkness which usually came with the setting of the sun in that country, the twilight held on and on. They both heaved a sigh of relief when the rim of the sun finally disappeared behind the trees and the dusk settled rapidly over the forest.

“What do you suppose they will think when they don’t find anything?” Murphy grinned.

“Probably lick the kid for ‘seeing things’ and let it go at that,” Scott chuckled.

“I hope he has a reputation already as a fluent liar. That would help some. Well, what is the big idea now?”

They were still talking in whispers for they did not know how close the boy or some of the other searchers might be and voices carry far in the evening stillness of the forest. They could clearly hear the voices at the mill an eighth of a mile away. Scott had been thinking hard of his plan ever since they had crawled into their hiding place and was ready with his answer to Murphy’s question.

“I think that we better stay here for a while till that fellow comes back home. Then he will not be so likely to run up on us from behind. When things have settled down over there we can scout around and see how they get the lumber out of this place, and, if possible, where they take it. They would not dare take it back out and down the river. Possibly we can even get close enough to some of those logs to see if they have your mark on them. Unless you can suggest some better plan.”

Murphy did not have any objections to make. There was nothing in it which suggested running away, and there was some promise of excitement in putting it through. They sat for a while in silence listening for the return of the horseman and the boy. It was almost an hour before they heard voices on the tow path below. It was the man on horseback and the boy half walking and half trotting beside him. They caught enough of the conversation to reassure them. As the pair reached the place where the boy had been swimming the man’s voice asked jeeringly, “Don’t see an elephant or a hippopotamus in them bushes now, do you?”

The boy was protesting vehemently with all the breath his rapid pace had left him. They were soon gone, but that little scrap of conversation was as good as a promise that they would go straight home and to bed.

But they did not wait for them to go to bed. Scott was satisfied that there was no other searching party out and that no one would be sneaking up behind them. They heard the people laughing over at the camp and knew that the boy was being teased about the horrible apparitions he had seen.


“Well,” Scott whispered to Murphy, “let’s get out of here and see what we can find.”

Murphy was ready enough to move and perfectly willing to tackle the whole camp single-handed if necessary, but he was surprised that Scott did not want to wait till the camp was asleep, since he had already taken such precautions to avoid detection. “Think they have settled down yet?” he asked, as they crawled out of the brush.

“No, but I thought we might cut a circle around here and maybe find out how they get the lumber out of here. We can sneak in and look over the mill and the logs later on if we get a chance.”

They took a good look at the location of the pile of brush so that they would be able to locate it again, and started off through the woods to the southward. They moved cautiously so that they would not make any noise, and would be able to hear any one else who might be traveling the woods that night. The sky was clear and they could see fairly well. Before they had gone very far they sighted a road a short distance ahead. When they reached it they were very much surprised to find that it was a railroad. The rails were wooden “two-by-fours” and the ties were slabs from the mill, but it was a railroad just the same. They stood and gazed at it a moment in silent wonder.

“A railroad!” Murphy exclaimed softly. “You’ve got to admire their nerve whatever you may think of their honesty. Wouldn’t that beat you?”

“Imagine building a railroad to haul off stolen goods and getting away with it for over two years right here within a few miles of town.”

“If they had built a steam railroad and a bigger mill no one would ever have found it,” Murphy growled sarcastically. “It’s always the little fellows who get caught. If they had just stolen a loaf of bread or a yeast cake they would have been caught long ago.”

“Let’s follow it up and see where it goes,” Scott suggested, turning down the track toward the south.

They walked in silence for some time, pondering over the gigantic scale on which this fraud was being conducted. There certainly must be some clever men at the bottom of it. They had covered about two miles when the moon peeped over the trees and they discovered a big swamp looming up ahead of them—a great black mass of dense undergrowth barring their way like a wall.

“Must have been some job to put this railroad through that swamp if it is anywhere near as big as it looks,” Murphy remarked. “Jesse James was little more than a piker compared with this bunch.”

The vegetation in the swamp was so dense that it seemed almost like going into a tunnel. Gradually their eyes became used to the darkness and they could see a little better. A small opening in the trees ahead let in the moonlight and Murphy started forward with an exclamation of astonishment. They were on a solid dirt embankment built up there three feet at least above the level of the swamp and ditched deep on either side.

“No half-way measures for them!” Scott exclaimed. “They must have expected to keep this up for a good many years to make all this worth while.”

A sudden inspiration had come to Murphy. He was down in the ditch studying the sides of the old dirt embankment. After a careful examination he started up with a grunt of satisfaction.

“Now I know where I am!” he exclaimed, “or rather where I am going.”

Scott looked at him inquiringly. He had not seen anything which meant anything to him. He waited impatiently for an explanation.

“These people did not build this embankment,” Murphy explained. “It’s as old as the hills. It is one of the first railroad embankments ever built in the United States if it is what I think it is.”

Scott smiled a little incredulously. He had never heard of a railroad in Florida at a very early date, especially in that part of it, and he thought that he knew his history pretty well. Murphy was too interested in what he had found to notice him.

“I have never seen the thing before but I have heard of it often. It ran from Weewahitchka up on the river to the town of St. Joseph down on the gulf. It was built with wooden rails just like this and the cars were pulled by niggers instead of an engine.”

“What was it for?” Scott asked.

“To get the cotton from the back country down to the coast.”

“But why didn’t they take it down through the river instead of hauling it down through this big swamp on this expensive fill?”

“Because there was no deep water harbor at the mouth of the river and St. Joseph had one of the best harbors east of Pensacola.”

“Never heard of it,” Scott retorted. It sounded like an improbable story, and he thought that Murphy must be trying to string him.

“That may be, too. There isn’t any town there now, but at one time it was the second largest cotton shipping port in the United States.”

“Seems rather strange that it should have been so very important and then have disappeared so completely,” Scott protested.

“It was just about wiped out by cholera and yellow fever in 1841. About that time the real railroads began hauling the cotton to other ports on the Atlantic coast and they never rebuilt the old town. They moved most of the frame houses away to other towns on the Gulf and the brick ones went to pieces.”

“Sounds interesting,” Scott said, finally convinced that Murphy was at least trying to tell the truth about it. “Now I suppose they are hauling their lumber down over this same right-of-way and loading it on boats in that fine harbor.”

“That’s my guess,” Murphy replied. “This old railroad embankment probably suggested it to them.”

“Well, let’s follow it up and see for ourselves,” Scott suggested.

They walked rapidly now, for there did not seem to be much chance of meeting any one out there in the swamp. Every now and then the cat owls back in the shadows of the moss-covered cypress trees burst forth into series of weird, unearthly shrieks which made their blood run cold. It sounded to the boys as though two or three women were being murdered at once.

“Gee whiz!” Scott exclaimed, as he ducked vigorously at an unusually explosive screech which seemed to come from directly overhead, “this would be a fine place for a fellow who believed in ghosts. I wonder whether they do their hauling at night or in the daytime?”

“Probably in the daytime if they have nigger labor. They could never get a nigger into this swamp at night, and besides, there are not half a dozen people a year who ever come into this country. A deer hunter now and then; nobody else.”

They had made their way through the swamp for about three miles when the darkness of the swamp gave way to the moonlight of an open pine ridge. It was quite a relief to come out of that gloom and they breathed more freely in the open.

“What’s that?” Murphy exclaimed, suddenly crossing himself and pointing excitedly off into the forest. He was actually trembling.

The sudden exclamation startled Scott. The cat owls had given him the jumps. He followed the direction of Murphy’s gesture and saw a tall white form apparently rising from the palmetto scrub a short distance to one side of the right-of-way. It was an uncanny sight and he shivered in spite of himself.

“Let’s go see,” he whispered with a good deal more confidence than he really felt. They had been whispering again ever since they had entered the swamp.

Murphy hesitated an instant, but followed him closely. They picked their way cautiously through the brush, making as little noise as possible. They were within thirty yards of the hazy white form which seemed now to be sinking stealthily down into the scrub as they approached. Scott could not make it out. He heard the faint click of the safety lock on Murphy’s Luger. His attention was fixed so intently on the crouching figure that he forgot his feet. The next instant he stepped in a hole and fell sprawling.

He jumped to his feet half expecting to find the mysterious figure ready to spring at his throat. It had not moved. He glanced at a stick he had picked up when he fell and dropped it in dismay. He stared at it horrified for an instant. It was a human bone. He relaxed with a nervous laugh. He saw that he had stepped into a grave, the brick top of which had fallen in and exposed its gruesome treasure. When he realized what it was he had no difficulty in recognizing the ghost as a tombstone. Its apparent movement was caused by the shadow of a palm leaf which was waving gently before it in the breeze. It was such a relief that he laughed aloud.

He laid his hand on Murphy’s arm and was surprised to find him trembling violently. Another screech from the cat owls started him pattering a prayer. Murphy was willing and ready to fight anything human at any time regardless of size or weight, but he was superstitious, and the combination of cat owls and graveyard had upset his nerves completely.

Scott could not help but recall the contemptuous look which Murphy had given him back in the boat and he was strongly tempted to remind Murphy now that there was nothing there for a man to be afraid of, but he needed Murphy’s help and did not risk making him angry. However, he enjoyed the joke just the same when Murphy growled, “Let’s get out of here!” and beat an almost precipitous retreat to the railroad track.

Just as they were about to step out on to the open track they stopped and stood as rigid as the trees about them—for a voice had called in impatient tones from no great distance, “Hello, is that you, Bud?”


Scott was thinking fast. He had to decide on a course of action and that quickly. Should they try to hide or should they meet this man and trust to his being a stranger? The voice was too close to give them much chance to hide and the owner of it was probably a good woodsman, thoroughly familiar with the country. On the other hand, this man could not have received any notice from the mill and would have no reason to suspect them. He decided to go ahead; he might learn something from this stranger.

He stepped out into the track and walked slowly forward with Murphy at his elbow. They had not gone a dozen paces when they saw two men coming out of the woods on to the track only a short distance ahead of them.

“Thought I heard you over there in the brush,” one of the men explained. “You were so late comin’ that we started out to meet you.”

By this time the man was close enough to recognize his mistake even in that uncertain light. He stopped short and eyed them suspiciously.

“Thought you was some one else,” he growled. “Where might you be from, stranger?”

Scott evaded the question. “We did not know where we were when we ran on to this track. Where does it go?”

“Where you all trying to get to?” the man countered.

“Old St. Joseph town,” Scott said, remembering what Murphy had told him about the terminus of the railroad.

The man still eyed him curiously. “Ain’t no town there now,” he said.

“I know there isn’t,” Scott replied. “We just wanted to size up the harbor. Do you live here?”

“Campin’ here,” the man said, “huntin’.”

“This old railroad go there?” Scott asked.

The man hesitated a moment. “Goes to where the town used to be,” he said reluctantly. “Reckon we’ll walk back with you. Man we were lookin’ fer don’t seem to be comin’.”

“Where was he coming from? I didn’t know anybody ever came out this way.” The other fellow was asking so many questions that Scott felt justified in asking a good many himself.

“Been out huntin’,” the man replied. “Good many deer out this way.”

They moved forward and the two men moved with them. “What’s the railroad for in this wilderness?” Scott asked.

Again the man hesitated so long that Scott thought he was not going to answer at all. He could hardly have helped hearing him.

“Mill cuttin’ up the line haulin’ lumber down to the harbor,” he finally answered, as though he had weighed all the possibilities and decided to try the truth.

“Must be a pretty big outfit to afford a railroad like this,” Scott continued.

“Reckon it is,” the man replied after another pause. He was evidently giving careful thought to his answers.

“Are they located on the river?” Scott asked.

“No,” the man answered promptly, “they are nowhere near the river.” He did not seem to notice that he had practically denied any knowledge of the mill in his previous answer. Scott smiled to himself.

They walked in silence for a few minutes. Scott knew they must recognize their Forest Service uniforms when they came to the camp fire, even if they had not already done so, and he was trying to think of some way of accounting for them without arousing suspicion. He finally hit upon a plan which he thought might work.

“We tried to get a boat over from Pensacola,” he said, “but could not find any. So we came over on the train and tried to make it cross country. There did not seem to be any direct way of getting here.” He thought that he could see the man relax a little as though relieved by the information.

“Yonder is our camp fire,” the man said, with a shade of cordiality creeping into his voice. “Better come over and have a cup of coffee.”

Scott knew that they were playing with fire, but he did not see any way out of it. They had neither tents nor provisions with them and were counting on getting back to the bateau and out of the country before morning. He decided to accept the invitation in the hope that he could think up later an excuse for getting away.

“Thanks,” he said, “we’ll sit down for a minute anyway. Walking through this sand is pretty tiresome business.”

The camp fire had burned pretty low but the man tossed on a few pieces of light wood and it immediately flared like a torch. Scott looked curiously around for the tent but there did not seem to be any. It did not seem reasonable that they should be camped there without some means of shelter in a country where rain might be expected any time. The gentle plashing of small waves told him that they were close to the beach of the harbor. Murphy and his companion had observed a complete silence. Each was afraid to talk for fear he would spoil the fairy tale which he knew his friend was building up. But Murphy had been using his eyes and he asked a question now to call Scott’s attention to something which he might not have seen.

“What’s the light out there on the water?”

Scott looked toward the sound of the lapping water and saw a light—the dim light of a lantern—bobbing gently up and down some distance away. He looked inquiringly at the stranger.

“Schooner waiting for lumber, I reckon. She dropped in there this afternoon,” he answered carelessly.

This gave Scott a new idea. He thought that it probably accounted for the men not having any tent. They had come in on the schooner and were expecting some one from the sawmill to meet them. It was not a pleasant discovery to make. He had thought that they had been lucky in meeting these men and getting so much information from them. Now he knew that it was little short of a calamity. Some one might drop in from the mill at any minute now with the story of the scare they had had up there that afternoon and it would not take them long to add two and two together. Their story about coming from Pensacola would be immediately discredited and they would be definitely identified as officers from the National Forest. Not only that, but these fellows would know that they had seen the mill, had come up the canal from the river, and had learned of the source of the logs. It was only a question now of how far these men would go in their own defense and to protect their future business. From the looks of the men Scott thought they would stop at nothing.

“Ought to make a pretty cheap operation for them,” he remarked. He spoke as carelessly as he could, but he kept one ear turned toward the railroad track and listened with all his might. He accepted a cup of coffee and racked his brain while he drank for some excuse to get away from them, and yet he did not want to go till he had found out who the men were who were running that mill. He wanted a chance to talk to Murphy to see if he had recognized any one connected with it. He glanced out toward the light in the harbor and was surprised to find that it had disappeared. Then he noticed that a fog had come in off the water while they had been sitting there and had shut from view everything more than twenty feet away. Scott was rather pleased to see this, as it might give them a better chance to get away in case there was any necessity for it.

The two men seemed to be content to leave things as they were. They seemed to want their guests to think that they were no longer suspicious of them, but Scott noticed that they watched them very closely and seemed to be listening as intently as he for the approach of some one from the direction of the sawmill. Slowly another and unexpected sound worked its way into his consciousness. It came from the direction of the light he had seen in the harbor and was undoubtedly the squeak of some rusty oarlocks. It had never occurred to him that there might be other men on board the schooner and that they might come ashore. The odds were piling up against them. He glanced at Murphy and saw that he, too, had heard it.

If he could have caught Murphy’s eye just then he would have made a dash for it and trusted to the fog to get away. Even while he thought of it the boat grated on the beach. Possibly these men would go down to meet their friends.

“Ready to go out, Jack?” a voice called from the water’s edge.

Neither of the men answered at once. Then the one who had been talking to Scott spoke up quietly: “Not yet, come on over to the fire.”

Scott knew now that they were virtually prisoners. These men intended to keep them right where they were till the messenger or whoever it was came from the mill and helped them to decide whether it was safe to turn them loose after what they had found out. He knew very well what the decision would be, but there was no way out of it now. They could fight about as well one time as another and he decided to stay and see what would happen. It would at least give them a chance to identify some one from the mill and possibly learn something more about this mysterious crew.

Murphy evidently thought that the time for action had arrived or was rapidly approaching. He kept Scott in the corner of his eye all the time now to catch any possible signal and toyed absent-mindedly with the flap of his holster. The man beside him was watching his every motion with his own rifle resting conveniently across his knees and his fingers toying with the trigger guard. It was evidently a case of armed truce all around.

They could hear the other men approaching through the wire grass and they soon stepped out into the firelight. There they stopped and gazed curiously at the unexpected guests. Then they looked inquiringly at the man called Jack.

“Couple of fellows from Pensacola,” he explained, “who have come over here to inspect the harbor. They was lost up here on the right-of-way when we found ’em.”

Scott nodded as pleasantly as he could in acknowledgment of the introduction, but Murphy only stared at them sullenly. The two newcomers took their places around the fire and they all sat in silence—waiting. The fog had thickened about them till they could see nothing outside the immediate circle of the firelight; the call of the cat owls still came to them faintly from the distant swamp and the waves lapped on the beach with a melancholy monotony which was getting on Scott’s nerves. He was beginning to wish that something would happen just to break the tension.

Then it came. There was a crunching of heavy boots in the sand and a figure loomed suddenly up out of the fog close on them. He was evidently somewhat dazzled by the firelight and did not notice that there were strangers present.

“Couldn’t make it any sooner, boys,” he apologized. “One of the cars got off the track and we had to unload the lumber to get back on, but they are started now and will be here before long.”

Scott had recognized him the instant he spoke as the superintendent of the turpentine camp.


For a minute which seemed like an hour Scott stared at Roberts with every nerve on edge and every muscle tense. He had not the least idea what would happen when they were recognized, but he felt pretty sure that something would happen and he was prepared for any emergency. Murphy also was watching him keenly. He had not liked Scott’s caution in hiding up there at the camp or his failure to attack these two men when they first met them up on the railroad. He had recognized that they were virtually prisoners when these men had started to lead them back to their camp and he had wanted to fight then, but he had not wanted to cross Scott’s plans. Now he had decided that he would wait no longer. If he saw a good opportunity he was going to try to fight his way out. He did not expect to get very much help in that line from Scott. He recognized his ability in many things, but he did not consider that fighting was one of his accomplishments.

In a moment Roberts’ eyes had become accustomed to the light and the next instant he recognized Scott. His lip curled in a malicious sneer and his hand stole up toward the holster on his belt. He glanced from Scott to Murphy.

“So the kid was right,” he snarled. “He said there were a couple of sneaks in the canal this afternoon and we all thought that he was dreaming.”

“Seems to me you are quite a ways from home yourself, Mr. Roberts,” Scott remarked quietly. He saw they were in for it now and he thought that he might as well anger Roberts to see what he would say. He also watched him keenly to see what he would do. He remembered the frog he had seen this man shoot at the turpentine camp and he did not want to give him too good an opportunity to display his skill now.

Roberts glared at him with a fierce hatred which he did not try to disguise. “Not so far away from home as you will go when you leave here,” he hissed.

“You don’t seem to be as glad to see visitors here as you do at the turpentine camp,” Scott mocked. “It must have spoiled your temper to have to work so hard reloading that stolen lumber.”

Murphy saw the blood surge through the swollen veins of Roberts’ neck and saw his hand spring convulsively toward his automatic. He saw the time for action had come and gathered himself for a spring.

But Scott was ahead of him. He had long ago prepared himself for just such a situation. He shot from the ground as though he had been sitting on a spring. Just as Roberts had drawn his revolver from its holster Scott struck him a tremendous blow on the point of the chin and knocked him sprawling. He had struck blows like that before and knew that there was no need to waste any more time on Roberts who would not be in a condition to do any damage for some time to come, so he turned his attention to the man beside him who had been doing all the talking before Roberts came.

The attack on Roberts had been so sudden and unexpected that it had somewhat dazed the rest of the party. Murphy had been so astonished by Scott’s sudden action that he had lost a valuable instant and in that instant the man beside him had hurled himself upon him bearing him to the ground.

“Go for ’em, Murphy,” Scott shouted, as he turned to the second man who was scrambling to his feet with his rifle in his hand. But the man never had a chance to use the rifle. Just as he straightened up Scott caught him with an upper cut that sent him spinning. His rifle fell at his feet. Scott saw the other two men of the crew rushing upon him. He waited till the last instant as though he was watching the man on the ground and then side-stepped the first of the two with the agility of a cat, tripped him as he went past and met the second one with a terrific blow between the eyes, and followed it with a right swing which felled him like an ox. The man Scott had tripped had picked himself up now and was returning to the fight with renewed fury.

There was no time to lose. Scott dropped suddenly on the rifle at his feet and let the man trip over him again. Then grasping the rifle by the end of the barrel he ran to Murphy’s assistance. He saw the gleam of a knife in the firelight and it almost sickened him. He swung wildly with the butt of the rifle and struck the man’s wrist, sending the knife flying. The rifle swung on through a second circle and came down on the man’s neck with a sickening thud.

Murphy was unhurt and furious. He sprang to his feet and tore at the only remaining one of the crew who was rushing at Scott once more, armed with a stick of firewood. Maddened by the knowledge that he had been blocked out of the fight by a man half his size and largely by his own fault because he had allowed that man to get the jump on him, Murphy paid no more attention to the club which the man had than if it had been a straw. He brushed it aside and literally bore the man to the earth under the fury of his onslaught. He was proceeding to pound him in true Irish fashion when Scott interfered.

“Let him go, Murphy!” he shouted. “Grab Roberts’ revolver and come ahead. We’ve got to get out of here, there is no telling how soon those fellows may come from the mill with that lumber.” He snatched up the other rifle and started down the beach.

A little time before Murphy might have accused Scott of cowardice for running away from the fighting field in this way, but he had no such notion now. He obediently left the man whom he had been pounding with such satisfaction, caught up the automatic from the ground beside Roberts and joined Scott. Except when Scott had spoken and a single roar of rage from Murphy when the man had unexpectedly thrown himself upon him, they had fought in utter silence.

Loaded down with their captured arms, they hurried along the beach toward the east. Looking back they could see some crumpled figures beginning to move painfully about the fire. They had not gone very far when they came to the railroad track and they had not much more than crossed it when they heard the creak of the cars of lumber. They had gotten away just in time. If they had waited five minutes more, four men would have been added to their opponents and the odds would have been hopeless.

“Shall we stick around a while and see what happens?” Scott whispered, “or do you think we better get a little farther away while the getting is good?”

“Don’t see what more we can learn here,” Murphy replied, “unless we sneak back there and shoot the whole bunch. We have guns enough here now to do it.”

“Nothing to be gained by that now. But I would like to hear what those fellows have got to say and what their plans are. It will be a lot easier for us if we know what they are going to do.”

“Seems to me that we better beat it back as fast as we can and get out some warrants for these fellows before they can get out of the country,” Murphy suggested.

“Can’t do it,” Scott replied with decision. “If they are going to leave the country at all—as they certainly will—they will be gone long before we can get to town and there will be no way to trace them. Besides there may be other people mixed up in this thing whom we ought to get, and unless we find out from these men who they are there will be no way of getting them. The other fellows will lie mighty low when they find out that their little scheme has been discovered. No, we can’t leave them now. You stay here and wait while I sneak back there and see if I can find out what they are planning.”

“Nothing doing,” Murphy cried emphatically. “If you go back there I am going with you. Do you think I would let you go back there among that bunch of cutthroats alone?”

“I know it is too bad to miss it, Murphy, but that would not do at all. Two of us could not hear any more than one and if anything happened to us there would not be any one to take back the news and these men could go right on with their little business just as they have been doing for the past two years.”

“It would not take Graham long to find out that we were missing,” Murphy grumbled, “and, believe me, he would turn this outfit inside out in pretty short order when he got started.”

“Judging from the looks of him I guess you are right,” Scott agreed, “but he does not know where we went, does not know anything about this outfit, and would not have a clue to guide him. We have been two years finding this place and he might be two more in finding it again. No, Murphy, my plan is the only sensible thing to do. I know how you feel and I am sorry that you cannot go. If it were just for fun it would be all right, but we are trying to clean this up for the government and it would not be right to risk losing all the advantage we have gained.”

Murphy was forced to admit that it was the only safe thing to do and grudgingly consented to stay behind. He made a plea to go in Scott’s place, but, of course, Scott could not agree to that. He felt that he was directly responsible for the capture of these timber thieves and he could not very well turn it over to any one else.

“That’s the way to look at it,” he said, trying to comfort Murphy, “and now let’s make sure that we understand each other. I am going back there to see if I can find out what they are planning to do. You are going to wait right here till I come back or you are sure that I am not coming back. Remember you are not to come over there no matter what kind of a row you hear or what you may think has happened to me.”

“That is asking a good deal of a fellow,” Murphy objected, “and I don’t know whether I can do it or not.”

“You must do it,” Scott insisted. “We cannot take the risk of having them pot both of us. That is just what they want. If for any reason you feel sure that anything has happened to me, beat it for headquarters as fast as you can go and notify Mr. Graham. Then he will know where to come and where to look. He can probably trace them with hounds or some other way if he knows just where to begin and can get on the trail right away.”

“All right,” Murphy agreed, “but it will be the hardest job I ever had to do.”

“Then it is all settled,” Scott said quickly, without giving Murphy time to think anything more about it or to raise any more objections. “It may be a long time before I can get back, but unless you hear an awful rumpus, wait for me. So long.”

The two men shook hands earnestly and Scott turned back toward the camp fire which they could still see—a dull red spark in the distance.

“Hold on,” Murphy whispered, “you haven’t any gun. Better take my automatic; it is handier than one of those rifles, and they might not be in shape anyway.”

Scott shook his head. “I’ve never learned to use a gun and would be almost as apt to shoot myself as the other fellow.”

Murphy looked at him in amazement. “Well, I’ll admit that you seem to be able to take pretty good care of yourself without one, but I suppose you know that any one of those fellows back there would not think any more of shooting you in the back than they would of shooting a yellow dog, and it is tempting Providence to go down there without a gun of some kind. Take one of the rifles then, you can shoot that.”

“It would only be in my way. I’ve just got to keep out of sight. If they should see me one gun would not do me much good against so many.”

“Then let me go along and have two guns,” Murphy begged.

Scott saw that he would simply have the whole argument to do over again if he stayed there so he simply shook his head and moved off into the night. He had been brought up in the East in the atmosphere of an old New England town where the use of a gun in a fight was never heard of and he had developed a dislike for it which he had never overcome even after a year of life in the Southwest. At one time out there when he had looked for an instant into the barrel of a .45 and had realized with sickening force how helpless an unarmed man was in the face of a deadly weapon he had decided to arm himself. But the shock of that encounter had hardly worn off when he changed his mind. It seemed to him such a cowardly way to fight. He had boxed all his life and was not afraid to stand up to any man, but to shoot a human being and possibly kill him had always seemed beyond him. There were times like the present when he wished that he could use a gun, but as soon as the excitement was over and he had a chance to consider the question calmly he revolted against it.

To Murphy who had always lived in a society where nearly every one “toted” a gun, Scott’s position was altogether incomprehensible. It seemed to him that Scott was simply courting death to go into such a place as that unarmed, and he was strongly tempted to break his promise and go after him. He thought a whole lot more of Scott since he had seen him in that fight there at the camp fire. It was the most wonderful fight he had ever seen. This man whose courage he had doubted had overcome four men and rescued him from the fifth. He sat in the sand with his back against a tree and thought it over.


In the meanwhile Scott was moving cautiously along the beach in the direction of the camp fire. The fog had grown denser and he had to rely on his hearing for anything more than a few feet from him. The moon was completely blotted out but there was very little chance of going astray with the water lapping the beach on one side of him and the camp fire showing as a dull blur ahead. When he stumbled on to the railroad track he stopped and listened intently for a long time. He always had a dread of some one slipping up behind him and felt much safer if he was sure that all his enemies were ahead of him. He did not know how many men there were at the mill or how many had come down with the lumber, and there was always the possibility that some more might come straggling in from that direction.

He caught no sound save the weird screeching of the cat owls back in the swamp and crept on toward the growing light of the camp fire. He was close enough now to catch the blur of shadows passing between him and the fire and hear the rumble of sullen voices. He remembered seeing a clump of brush a little way from the fire on the side away from the beach and decided that his best chance would be to circle around inland and crawl up behind it. There was little chance of detection unless he should run on to one of those stragglers whom he so much dreaded, for the fog was dense enough to pretty well conceal anything outside of the immediate circle of the firelight.

His feet made no sound in the soft sand, but he had to move very cautiously to avoid the chance of striking a dead stick or a tin can. He was so close to them now that the slightest sound might give him away. He had completed his circle and was crawling slowly forward toward the clump of bushes when his heart seemed suddenly to stop beating and he stood frozen in his tracks. The black stub not more than six feet away and on which he had been directing his course had moved.

Had it really moved or was it another case of a waving palm leaf like the one which had fooled them back in the cemetery? He waited, hardly daring to breathe to see whether it would move again. He had a harrowing suspicion that it might be a man who had been watching him and was preparing to spring upon him as soon as he came within range. He argued that it could not be a man, for one of these men would shoot on sight and not wait to come to close quarters; they had probably had enough of that. But he might not be sure whether it was friend or foe and be waiting on that account.

The suspense was frightful, and it seemed to him that he had been crouching in that same cramped position for hours. He had just about decided that he had again been fooled by a stump when the object moved again. His first instinct was to lie flat on the ground to avoid detection, but he realized that that would put him in an utterly helpless position and he decided to wait as he was and be ready for anything. Unless the man did shoot he would stand a very good show of dodging him and losing himself in the fog.

The man came so close that Scott could almost have reached out and touched him. Every muscle in his body was as tense as a steel spring and he could hardly hold himself, it seemed so certain that the only sensible thing to do was to strike first and save himself. The figure passed slowly by and took its place in the sullen circle around the fire. Scott heaved a great sigh of relief and moved a little nearer. He felt that he had to get close enough to recognize the speakers and hear distinctly what was said or he would have accomplished very little by his eavesdropping.

At last he reached his little clump of bushes and peeped cautiously through them at the council of war which was sitting so close before him. They had piled the fire high with driftwood and Scott could make out the faces quite distinctly. He had no trouble in recognizing the five with whom they had fought a few minutes before, but there were four others there now. Evidently they were the men who had brought down the lumber cars. Two of them were sitting with their backs to him. Roberts seemed to be the leader of the gang. He was standing on the opposite side of the fire facing Scott and the others were apparently looking to him for orders. He was staring silently at the fire now with an expression of bitter hatred and Scott noticed with satisfaction that his lower lip was cut and bleeding.

Suddenly he raised his head and glared fiercely around the circle. “We’ve got to get ’em, I tell you. If they ever get back to town or headquarters with that story our business will be cooked and we’ll be more than likely to go to the pen. What good will all the money we’ve made do us then? They can’t get away from us if we keep our eyes open. They don’t know the country well enough to travel it very fast and Mike would get back to the canal long before they could. They would probably try to go that way because they have their boat right there somewhere—the boy saw them this afternoon. If they try to go the other way they don’t know the road. They would follow the beach and would have to cut away inland to get around the swamp. We can hide up there at the head of the swamp and pot them dead easy. There is not one chance in a hundred of their getting by us because we know every foot of the country and they don’t. They are in a regular bottle here and there are enough of us here to cover the neck so that a squirrel could not get through.”

“You can count us out on that stuff,” said the man who had been the spokesman there that evening before Roberts arrived and was evidently the skipper of the schooner.

“What’s the matter with you?” Roberts sneered. “You’re about as much interested in this thing as we are. You’ll lose a pretty business if they blow on our game.”

The man shrugged his shoulders. “I came over here to get a load of lumber, not to help murder anybody. If I can’t get a load here I can get one somewhere else. It may not pay quite so big but it will be a lot safer.”

Roberts glared at him angrily for a moment. He had no scruples himself and the probable loss of the tremendous booty he was getting in those stolen logs made him almost beyond himself with rage. He did not dare speak at first because he knew if he did he would surely say something which would very likely turn these men against him and if they wanted to they could do him quite as much harm as the forest officers. He swallowed hard and finally succeeded in getting sufficient control of himself to speak with apparent calmness, but inside he was almost burning up with rage.

“If that is the way you feel about it,” he managed to say quietly, “you better leave now before you know any more about it.”

“Guess you’re about right,” the skipper said, rising slowly and speaking to his men. “Come on, boys, there is not likely to be much more lumber going out of this port.”

“Might as well load on what is already at the dock,” said one of the men who was sitting with his back to Scott.

“No, thank you,” the skipper replied. “I have a hunch that by the time I got to market with that lumber there might be some inquiries about it that would make it hard to sell.”

“Don’t forget that we have a pretty good notion where to find you if there should ever be any need of it,” Roberts called after him as the crew disappeared into the fog in the direction of the boat.

“I’m not likely to brag much about my connection with this end of the business, unless I am forced to,” the skipper called back.

There was the sound of a keel grating on the sand as the men pushed the boat into the water and the splashing of oars told that they were already on their way back to their schooner. For a few moments the men who were left gazed around the fire in silence, listening sullenly to the retreating sound of the oars. They were discouraged by the defection from their ranks, but were, if possible, in an uglier mood than before.

“Chicken-livered scoundrels,” Roberts muttered, breaking the silence. “If they ever peach on us they will have hoisted their last sail. I’d get him if I had the noose around my neck.”

“Can’t hang us for stealing a little lumber,” one of the other men answered rather uncertainly.

“Maybe you better get out of this bunch, too, if you are getting scared,” Roberts sneered, and the man was silent.

“Well,” Roberts continued, “what are we going to do about it? What do you think of it, Qualley?”

At that unexpected name Scott started so violently that he felt sure they had heard him. He could hardly believe his eyes when the man addressed as Qualley arose and he recognized him as the foreman of the logging camp. It seemed incredible that a man could be such a scoundrel as this man seemed to be—stealing on a gigantic scale from the company who employed him. And all the time for the past two years he had been helping Murphy to hunt for the thieves while he helped the thieves to get away with the logs.

From his attitude it was evident that Qualley was a partner in the deal with Roberts. “There is only one thing we can do now,” he said, “get those two fellows before they get away with the news. We have too much at stake to take any chance on them spoiling it all.”

“Then, let’s get busy!” Roberts exclaimed. He rubbed his hand gently over his bleeding lip and seemed to take considerable satisfaction in the prospect of the work ahead of him.

“Hold on a minute,” Qualley said quietly. “I am just as anxious to get busy as you are, but there are one or two things we ought to settle before we start. What are we going to do if they should get away from us?”

“Don’t see any chance for them to get away,” Roberts objected a little nervously.

“No,” Qualley agreed, “it does not seem as though they could, but there is a bare possibility of it and I would like to get it decided now what we are going to do if they do. The government has a mighty long arm and they will be after us pretty hard if they find out about this business. We ought to have some plan.”

“What’s your plan?” Roberts asked. Qualley was evidently the brains of the party and they looked to him for leadership.

“Well,” Qualley replied thoughtfully, “I’ve been thinking it over and I would suggest something like this: if they do get through us and make their way straight back to headquarters they will have to follow the beach, because there is no way for them to get to their boat with Mike up there watching the canal. It will be at least two days before they can get back. Why not lay for them till to-morrow night? If we have not gotten them by that time it will be because they have gotten by somehow. Then we will know what we are up against. You can go way back in the swamp there to that old cabin—the dogs can’t trail you there—and I’ll go back to the logging camp where I can keep my eye on things and maybe help them hunt.”

“What makes you think they will not take you?” Roberts asked in surprise.

“Why should they? They have not seen me and do not know that I have been mixed up in it at all. I have helped Murphy hunt for the timber thieves so much that he will probably tell me all about it; may ask me to help him out. Then I would have a fine chance to lead them astray.”

“How long do you expect us to stay cooped up in that cabin? I’d rather be in the penitentiary than to try to live in that place for the rest of my life, especially if you are out loose and going where you please.” Roberts was not at all satisfied with the arrangement.

“Well, what do you want to do?” Qualley asked indifferently. “Make a run for it if you want to, but I think you will have a good deal better chance if you lay low for a while, say a month or two, and then try it. It may have blown over a little by that time and they may not be watching so close.”

The plan evidently did not appeal to Roberts. It galled him to think that he might be in a trap while Qualley was not even under suspicion. Scott saw the look of sullen craft on his face and thought that he would not give much for Qualley’s chances if Roberts was ever taken. Probably either one of them would cheerfully watch the other hang if he thought it would improve his own chances any.

No one seemed to be able to think of a better scheme and Roberts finally agreed to it grudgingly. “Let’s be going,” he said. “Unless I miss my guess we’ll have both those would-be detectives bagged before to-morrow night and there will not be any need of anybody hiding in the swamp.”

Qualley arose energetically and stretched himself. “I hope you are right and I don’t see why you shouldn’t be. Joe, you go up and tell Mike to stay on the job there watching that canal until he gets further orders. If they get by him it may mean several years in the pen for him, so he better look sharp. The rest of us will take the short cut across the swamp to the neck and you can join us there as soon as you can make it. The four of us ought to be able to cover that swamp so that a rabbit could not get through.”

They moved slowly away toward the track and Scott chuckled when he heard Roberts call to Joe, “Stop at the camp on your way over and bring me a gun. Those scoundrels stole mine.”


Scott waited till they had disappeared in the fog and then followed cautiously. Suddenly an idea came to him that made the cold chills run up his back. What if they should go over past Murphy and Murphy should mistake them for him? If they would just keep on talking it might be all right, but if they walked in silence Murphy would be almost certain to hail them.

He crept up as close behind them as he dared so that if the worst came he would be there to help Murphy. For the second time in his life he sorely regretted that he did not have a gun. If there was trouble, Murphy would probably be shot before he could get near enough to do anything. If he had only taken Murphy’s advice and his pistol he could at least cause a diversion even if he could not hit anything.

Joe had turned off to follow the track to the camp but the rest of them went steadily on down the beach directly toward Murphy. They had apparently exhausted their ideas in the talk around the camp fire for they had fallen silent now, just what Scott had dreaded. He thought they must be pretty close to Murphy now and he expected every instant to hear his voice. If they would only say something. A sudden inspiration came to him and he deliberately kicked a tree he was passing and stopped behind it. He was listening breathlessly.

“What was that?” Qualley asked in a quiet voice. “Did you hear anything?”

There was a pause and then Roberts answered, “Yes, I heard it. Must have been a pine cone dropping or those cowards out there on the schooner locking their back door.”

Scott heaved a sigh of relief. Certainly Murphy must have heard that if he was not asleep. It was not likely that a man would go to sleep under those circumstances, but the idea worried Scott and he knew that he could not feel comfortable again till he had joined Murphy and put him wise to the situation. It had never occurred to him before he left Murphy that there might be some one else wandering around there and they had not arranged any signals for recognition.

They were all moving again now and he felt certain that they must have passed the place where he had left Murphy. He stopped and listened in silence till long after all sound of the rest of them had died away in the distance. He waited a moment longer and then hissed cautiously. The response was so immediate and so close that he almost jumped out of his skin.

“Begorra,” Murphy exclaimed in a relieved tone as he stepped out from behind a tree close beside Scott, “that’s the first time I ever pointed a loaded gun at a friend, but you been looking down the barrel of my old Luger for the last five minutes and didn’t know it. If you had not made some signal or something pretty quick I’d have blown up.”

“Gee!” Scott exclaimed, grasping Murphy’s hand and sitting suddenly on the ground, “I think I would have felt better if you had shot me. I have been so afraid you would hail those other fellows when they came along that it has just about made me sick. I feel as limp as a dishrag.”

“I came mighty near doing just that thing, too,” Murphy replied cheerfully. “I had my mouth all puckered up to ask you what had kept you so long when one of them spoke. I was already sitting down or I would have dropped same as you did.”

“I was wishing mighty hard that I had taken your pistol as you wanted me to. I saw my mistake when I discovered that those fellows might run on to you here in the dark, shoot you and have it all over before I could ever get near enough to them to do anything.”

“Pretty handy thing to have when you are dealing with a bunch like that,” Murphy said. “But tell me all about it. Where have you been all this time and what happened? Where are those guys going?”

Scott thought a second. “It’s a pretty long story but I guess this is as good a place to tell it as any unless we want to hurry on after those fellows and get ourselves shot.” He went on to tell Murphy all that he had overheard at the camp fire, how their retreat was already cut off from the canal, and how those men who had just passed were on their way to head them off and shoot them if they attempted to make their way around the head of the swamp. When he mentioned Qualley’s name Murphy almost cried aloud.

“To think of the hours that old scoundrel has sat down there in the brush with me and watched to see if he could catch himself stealing logs out of that pond!” Murphy exclaimed angrily. “If I ever catch up with him I’ll punch his head for that if it is my last act.”

“Now the question for us to decide,” Scott said thoughtfully, “is what we are going to do? How are we going to get out of this place? We have been two years getting in here and it looks as though we might be a long time getting out.”

Murphy thought about it for a moment. “We might go west from here instead of east as they expect us to and then go north cross-country till we strike the main line railroad. It would be a long way around and I do not know anything about that country. No telling how many swamps we would get tangled up in or whom we might meet on the way, but it ought to be fairly safe.”

“I thought of the possibility of that,” Scott replied. “Of course, they do not know that we know anything about their plan to head us off. They know that we do not know much about this country here and will not know that we are going across a narrow little neck of land where they cannot miss us. They did not seem to think of the possibility of our going around the other way; maybe it was because you cannot get around that way. At any rate it would take us a long time and the plan does not appeal to me much. I am in favor of having a look at the swamp and seeing if we cannot figure out some way of getting across it.”

“Let’s try it,” Murphy exclaimed enthusiastically, “even if we can’t make it, it will be shorter to wait till they go home than to make a trip around the world as we would have to do if we went west. They only planned to wait for us till to-morrow night.”

So they decided to follow the beach down to the edge of the swamp and try it. They started down the beach, moving rather cautiously and stopping to listen every few minutes, for they did not know that the other men had not stopped along there somewhere and they did not care to run on to them unexpectedly. Scott glanced at his wrist watch. The little luminous hands pointed to half-past eleven. The fog was beginning to fade away. Before they had gone very far the night was clear once more and it seemed almost as light as day.

“That fog must have come on for our special benefit,” Scott whispered. They had become so accustomed to whispering that they did not seem to be able to stop it.

They thought they were a little too conspicuous on the open beach and turned back into the edge of the woods where they could see everything on the beach without being seen. The soil was so sandy and the ground so free from underbrush that they made very little noise. What little breeze there was was blowing in their faces.

Suddenly they caught sight of a moving object in the woods ahead of them. They stopped instantly and watched it with bated breath. They could not quite make it out, but it was moving towards the beach and they knew they would soon have a look at it in the moonlight of the open. Whatever it was it did not seem to be in any hurry. It moved jerkily and stopped so long sometimes that they almost lost track of it. It looked like a man crouching and sneaking along as though stalking something. If it had been coming in their direction they would have been badly worried, and even as it was Murphy had examined his rifle two or three times to make sure that it was in working condition.

When it finally stepped out into the moonlight they looked at each other with a sigh of relief. It was a doe and she seemed wholly unconscious of the presence of any enemy. She walked leisurely and sedately enough until she came to the edge of the water and then the moonlight seemed to go to her head. She twitched her white tail once or twice and suddenly began cavorting around like a calf at play. She pranced aimlessly this way and that, tossing her head and kicking up her heels till the shallow water shone in the moonlight like a shimmering puddle of fire. It was the first time Scott had ever seen the phosphorescent sparkle of salt water and it seemed to him like magic or some fairy business. Every time her slender legs cut the still water they left a trail of flame. It was a wonderful exhibition of unconscious grace and even the practical Murphy looked on in silent admiration.

At last one of her sudden dashes took her to leeward of them and she caught the man-scent. One sniff was enough. She did not stop to investigate further. With flag erect and head held high she seemed to rise from the water like a bird and a couple of wonderful bounds carried her quickly into the protecting shadows of the forest. They could hear her going for a moment and then a clear, sharp, whistling snort from far back in the woods told them that she had stopped to see if she were followed. Another snort and a snapping of dead branches showed that she was not yet satisfied with the distance between them.

“Must smell pretty bad to her,” Scott laughed. “Did you ever see anything prettier than that?”

“If it had not been for those fellows out there in the brush, and if it were not out of season she would have come in awful handy for a midnight lunch. It seems to me like a hundred years since I had anything to eat.”

“If you had taken a shot at her it might have been more than a hundred years before you would have eaten again,” Scott retorted in disgust. He could not understand how a man could look at such a sight as that and think only of shooting. “There is no telling how close we may be to that bunch.”

They had covered about three miles when the pine woods ended abruptly at a little creek and beyond it was a black and forbidding swamp. The undergrowth was dense and tangled and under it they could catch the gleam of the moonlight in the water.

“Gee!” Murphy exclaimed, “I’d hate to tackle that place in the dark. Looks as though it might be a pretty hopeless proposition even in the daytime.”

The prospect was, indeed, discouraging. They had no idea how wide the swamp might be or how deep the water might be in parts of it. Some of those swamps were easy wading, not more than three feet deep, but in others there was as much as ten or twelve feet of water. Scott sized it up as best he could and came to the conclusion that a passage through it at night would be impossible and he doubted very much if the daylight would be a very big help.

He glanced thoughtfully out across the calm and shining waters of the bay. “How far can you swim, Murphy?” he asked suddenly.

“Quite a ways down if the water is deep enough,” Murphy retorted, “but I don’t make much progress ahead.”

“Can’t you swim at all?” Scott asked incredulously.

“No more than a stone. Why, were you thinking of swimming to town?”

“No, not quite that, but I was wondering how far it was to that lighthouse out there. Maybe we could get a boat from them.”

Murphy looked at the winking light in dismay. “Well, it’s pretty hard to judge distance across the water, but I should say that light was at least four or five miles out. No, it would be considerably quicker for me to wait till to-morrow night when those fellows will have left for their retreat in the swamp.”

“We might not gain very much time in going across there,” Scott admitted, “but to tell the truth I do not like the prospect of going up around the head of this swamp and across that narrow neck of land even after to-morrow night. Those fellows may change their minds and decide to stay there a little longer. They would hate to lose us and they might decide to stay a little longer or leave Qualley there to watch another day or so. I don’t so much mind a danger I can see, but I hate to have somebody hanging around in the bushes watching me. At any rate, I don’t suppose that a day or so would make much difference to us. We know where they are going to hide and we could find them there next week just as well as now.”

“Guess that’s right,” Murphy replied slowly, “but if there is any chance of our staying here for two or three days I am going back there now and take a shot at that deer no matter who may hear it. They say the buds of these palmettoes are good to eat but I never thought much of them.”

Scott had a sudden inspiration. “I have it!” he exclaimed. “There must be a hard strip of beach along the edge of that swamp. The tide would build it up there in spite of the swamp. I’ll bet they never thought of that.”

They both ran eagerly forward and waded the creek. It was not more than knee-deep. They were about in the middle of the stream when Murphy looked nervously over his shoulder toward the dark woods behind them. “I wonder if this is the narrow neck they were going to wait for us to cross?” he questioned.

It was an unpleasant thought and they both ran a little faster. Scott was involuntarily writhing his body back and forth as though he could already feel the bullet in his back. Murphy evidently felt the same way about it and his Irish philosophy expressed Scott’s thoughts exactly.

“I wonder why it is,” he soliloquized as he ducked back and forth, “that a fellow would always so much rather be shot some place else than the place where he thinks he is going to be?”

Scott was too busy to answer him. They would not have had nearly so far to wade if they had gone down on to the beach before they took to the water, but they had been so eager to test out their new idea that they had jumped right in up there in the woods. The swamp was opposite them there and they had to wade down till they came to the beach. Murphy’s suggestion that this might be the spot where their enemy was waiting for them had disturbed them so that they were both running through the water now and wondering how they ever got so far away from the beach.

They almost shouted when they rounded the farthest projection of the swamp brush and saw a broad, smooth beach stretching out before them. It seemed too good to be true. They made a mad dash toward it to put that point of brush between them and the imaginary rifles they had conjured up behind them.

Scott reached it first and fell sprawling on his face. He thought for an instant that he had been shot, but he had not heard anything and it felt more as though some one had caught his foot. He had not yet realized what had happened when Murphy landed beside him with a grunt. He put out his hands to lift himself up and gasped with astonishment when he saw them disappear in the smooth sand. His feet seemed to be caught under something and he pushed up his body with his arms to investigate. He was yanked unceremoniously back on to his face. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Murphy go through almost the same contortions.

Thoroughly frightened now he pulled viciously at one hand. It came slowly and heavily from the reluctant sand. Then something seemed to give way in his head. “Quicksand!” he shrieked, and began to struggle with the frenzy of madness.


Weariness, lack of sleep, extraordinary exertion and the tremendous nervous strain under which he had been for the past forty-eight hours had been too much for Scott’s nerves. Now the realization that he was caught in one of those death traps of which he had read such horrible things and actually seen so little had broken him up completely. He lost all control of himself and struggled blindly. Left to himself he would undoubtedly have quickly exhausted his strength and have been slowly buried beneath those treacherous, quivering sands.

To Murphy it had appeared a very different proposition. He had seen many quicksands, and when once the first explosion of exasperation was over his downfall struck him as a good deal of a joke. He mistook Scott’s raving for a burst of anger and that made him laugh all the more. He had worked his way out of the quicksand and stepped back on to the solid ground before he realized what a condition Scott was really in.

Suddenly it came to him. With a single bound he was back beside the struggling man whose ineffective writhing had already worked his arms into the sand to the elbow. He grabbed Scott by the shoulders and lifted with all his might. He could feel his own feet sinking, but that did not worry him; he continued to pull. Slowly Scott’s arms were drawn from the grasping sands. As soon as the hands were free he shook his burden violently.

“Brace up, old man, and come out of it. You’re all right. Stop that struggling and we can walk right out of here. Stop it, I tell you.”

At first Scott did not seem to hear him. He continued to struggle and beat the air wildly even after his hands were clear, but gradually Murphy’s voice seemed to reach him as from a great distance and he looked at him in a dazed fashion like a man coming out of a nightmare.

“You are all right now,” Murphy reassured him. “We’ll be out of here in a minute. Pull up slowly on one foot while I steady you. It will come hard, but it will come all right if you keep at it. Don’t try to do it quick; you can’t do it that way. Just pull slowly and steadily. Feel it coming?”

Scott did not feel it coming at first, and for an instant he was on the verge of falling back into another fit of terror, but he managed to control himself and was rewarded by feeling his foot breaking slowly from the reluctantly yielding sand.

“That’s the stuff,” Murphy encouraged. “Now the other one. Comes hard, doesn’t it?”

It certainly did come hard and Scott felt as nearly utterly exhausted as he ever had in his life, but he had recovered his nerve and continued to pull doggedly. The perspiration stood in beads on his forehead and he could feel his strength oozing out of him. At last, after what seemed like a lifetime of desperate effort, the foot was free.

“Now walk slowly out there on to solid ground,” Murphy advised him. “Don’t try to hurry or you may fall again. It will be sort of hard to lift your feet, but they will come.”

It was needless to advise Scott not to hurry. He could not have hurried if his life had depended on it. Laboriously he worked his way over the few feet of quicksand to the hard ground of the stream-bed. Each step was a struggle. The feeling of the firm earth under his feet instead of that sickening ooze was such a relief that it was all he could do to keep from sitting down in the water right where he was.

With the feeling of security, a hazy thought which had been puzzling him vaguely throughout the struggle took definite form. “What are you standing on, Murphy?” he called back over his shoulder. It had been worrying him to know how Murphy could stand beside him in that sink hole and lift him up.

“I don’t know what it is,” Murphy answered cheerfully, “but I guess it must be the soles of some Chinaman’s feet,” he muttered to himself, “from the depth I’ve gone down here.”

Murphy had stood manfully to his job of freeing Scott, neglecting to move his own feet for fear he might shake Scott’s confidence once more and he had settled to a dangerous depth in the sullen sand. His legs were buried to his knees and he could feel himself sinking steadily deeper. Now Scott was free he devoted his best strength to extricating himself. He pulled desperately but did not seem to make any progress. What he gained on one foot he seemed to lose on the other. He did not want to call Scott back unless his case was hopeless.

Scott, who had reached dry land and thrown himself limply on the beach, looked back and saw him struggling back there in the moonlight. “What is the matter, Murphy?” he called in alarm. “Are you fast now?”

“No,” Murphy lied courageously, “I dropped my gun and I can’t seem to find it.”

Murphy was gaining a little on the quicksand now. Every time he changed feet he could feel the other one rise a trifle, but it was killing work and he wondered whether his strength would hold out long enough for him to free himself. Two or three times he felt as though he would have to give it up; he was even losing interest in the struggle and did not seem to care anything more about it. He knew he was fast approaching the limit of his strength, but he struggled on as in a dream. He no longer knew what he was doing, and he never knew till Scott told him afterwards how he had staggered wearily across the creek and collapsed on the dry beach.

“Did you find your gun?” Scott asked sleepily, but there was no response. Completely exhausted, they both slept soundly on the open beach.


In the meanwhile nothing had occurred to put Qualley and Roberts to sleep. They had followed the beach for only a short distance after passing Murphy and had then turned off into the swamp on a deer trail with which they were familiar. Progress was slow in the darkness of the swamp and the rough going did not better their already ragged tempers. Each was absorbed in his own brooding and there was no talking with the exception of frequent angry exclamations when some one of the party tripped over a hidden stick or root. They were all in an ugly mood, especially Roberts, whose disposition was never very pleasant.

The trail bore away to the northeast and headed for the upper end of the swamp which cut back into the forest from the beach like a big bay. The trail soon lead them across that narrow neck of swamp and out on to an open pine ridge which bordered the big swamp to the east of it. At the point where the trail struck it the ridge was two or three miles wide, but it narrowed rapidly to the northward and terminated three miles inland in a very narrow neck not more than a hundred yards wide between two very dense swamps.

This was the place where they confidently expected to catch Scott and Murphy. Roberts looked at the narrow strip of open pine woods, almost free from underbrush, with a grunt of satisfaction.

“Not much cover for them there,” he growled. “A rabbit could not get across there to-night without our seeing it. Unless they get suspicious and go west on the beach they are ours.”

“Of course,” Qualley replied thoughtfully, “as I said a while ago, there is a possibility that they may go west or try to go north, but I don’t think they will. They probably think that they can travel as fast or faster than we can and would take advantage of the lead they had to beat it straight down the beach for town. They do not know that the swamp is there and when they come to it they will naturally try to get around the end of it. That means about three miles down the beach for them and about five up here if they follow the edge of the swamp. They do not know that this is the only way through, so why should they try to avoid it?”

“Well, let’s get ready for them. They’ll be dropping in on us first thing we know and catch us blabbing here. I’ll take this clump of brush on the edge of the swamp, and Bob and Jim can hide over there on the other side. You can go down just beyond there in that bunch of palmetto and if by any possibility I should miss ’em you would be sure of them.”

Roberts suggested this arrangement because he feared that Qualley, who he thought was not known to be implicated in the crime, might be loath to shoot these innocent men. He had no such scruples himself and wanted a position where he would have the best chance at them.

Qualley raised no objection and they all separated in silence to take up their assigned posts. In about an hour, they figured, their victims ought to be putting in an appearance if they were coming at all. Qualley was apparently dozing comfortably in his clump of palmetto and the two hired men whispered cheerfully enough behind their brush screen. To Roberts alone, burning up as he was with a combination of hatred and fear, the minutes seemed to drag insufferably. He glanced nervously at his watch every few minutes and eagerly stared at the first projection on the edge of the swamp where he expected his victims to appear. As the time he had estimated for their arrival grew nearer, it was all that he could do to keep from crawling out of his hiding place and sneaking down to that point to see if they might not be hiding just around the corner.

More than an hour had passed and still they did not come. Roberts became as restless as a caged tiger. The owls had ceased their weird concert back in the swamp and there was nothing to break the stillness of the night save the never-absent small noises of the night. If only the wind would blow, or a tree drop or anything to break that nerve-racking monotony. Roberts moved irritably from one cramped position to another and still the tardy hours dragged wearily by without any change. Only the moon turned in her course and started the shadows slanting in another direction.

And yet they had not come. A certain chill crept into the air, a forewarning of the break of day. It was the hour when the pulse of the world is at the ebb, when sick men sometimes fail to catch the flood and are stranded in the great Beyond. No man can sit through it in the woods at night and not feel a certain awe, close akin to fear. Roberts felt it. All criminals are superstitious and with the turning of that tide he felt convinced that fate had turned against him. His prey had escaped him and with their escape every hour lessened the chances of his opportunity to enjoy the benefits of his stolen wealth. The possibility of spending the greater part of the remainder of his life in a penitentiary, just when he had acquired the means to enjoy himself, was almost maddening.

The first sudden streak of the southern dawn shot out across the eastern sky and Roberts could stand it no longer. With one last lingering look at that long-watched point he crept from his hiding place and sneaked cautiously back with many a nervous glance over his shoulder to the place where Qualley was stationed.

“Let’s leave the boys here to watch this place and go back to the beach,” he whispered. “Maybe we can track them now in the daylight.”

“Well, if you want to risk it,” Qualley assented, a little reluctantly, “but they have about an equal chance of seeing us first. If they have gone west they have gone so far that we cannot catch them and if they go any other way they must either come here or go up past Mike so I do not see what you will gain, but if you want to go I’m game.”

“We’ll at least know where they did go,” Roberts replied irritably. “Anything is better than waiting here doing nothing.”

Qualley had just risen from his cozy nest and stretched himself when he suddenly grabbed Roberts’ arm and they both dropped quickly back into the shelter of the brush. A man could be very distinctly seen slipping along the edge of the swamp towards them.

Roberts gave a grunt of satisfaction and pushed over the safety on his revolver. “Let me take him,” he hissed.

“All right,” Qualley replied, “but let him get closer. There will be less chance to miss, and besides the other fellow is not in sight yet and you’ll scare him off.”

They waited breathlessly while the man came slowly forward, slipping along from clump to clump and apparently wholly unconscious of their presence. Roberts was so eager to shoot that only constant warnings from Qualley prevented him from taking a shot even at the risk of losing the other man. At last the figure had reached a point almost opposite them on the edge of the swamp. He stepped out into the open an instant and looked about him. He was not more than thirty yards away.

Roberts raised his pistol and aimed quickly. It was an easy shot and not much chance to miss. Just as he fired Qualley shouted and struck up the weapon. The suddenness of the blow knocked the pistol out of Roberts’ hand and the bullet whined harmlessly through the treetops.

Roberts turned savagely upon Qualley with the snarl of a wounded tiger. “Double cross me, will you?” he gasped, snatching at his knife.

“Double cross nothing,” Qualley answered quietly. “Another instant and you would have shot Joe.”

Sure enough it was Joe bringing the rifle from the camp as he had been ordered to do and he was not slow in making himself known when he heard the shot. They had both forgotten all about him.

“Well, I guess that will be sufficient warning to the other fellows,” Qualley remarked after a satisfactory explanation had been made to Joe. “There is not much use in hanging around here any longer now. If they had not started west before that they probably are making pretty good time in that direction now.”

Roberts was too much chagrined to have any reply. He pushed his revolver into his holster with disgust and took his rifle from Joe.

“There is nothing to do now, I suppose,” he grumbled, “except to go down to the beach and see where they did go. I am at least going to have that satisfaction before I sneak off into any hiding place.”

“I’ll go with you,” Qualley agreed. “I’d like to see where they went myself and there is the bare possibility that they have spent the night down there on the beach and were too far off to hear that shot. Joe, you and the other boys watch this pass till we get back.”

There did not seem to be much need for caution now, but they moved rather carefully and scouted the ground pretty thoroughly before they rounded any corners. They hardly expected to find the boys traveling that way in the daytime, but they were not taking any chances on meeting them unexpectedly. When they came to the cut-off trail they had not yet seen any tracks except their own.

“Want to take the trail or follow the edge of the swamp?” Qualley asked.

“Let’s follow the trail,” Roberts growled. He could feel his chances slipping away from him and it made him surly.

They traveled faster now, for there was not much chance of meeting any one in that direction and soon came out of the swamp on to the beach. It was easy to read the signs on the smooth sands of the beach and a glance showed them two tracks going east. They searched more carefully. There were none coming back.

“Must be somewhere between here and the neck,” Qualley said; “there is no possible way out unless they found a boat. I never heard of any one going through that swamp.”

“Not a chance,” Roberts exclaimed with rising spirits, “we’ll get ’em yet.”

The trail was plain enough on the open beach, but it had them worried a little when it turned back into the edge of the forest. It looked as though they might have changed their minds and decided to circle back to the west.

“Wonder if something scared them out?” Roberts asked anxiously, as they searched for the trail in the forest. The anxiety was of short duration, for they soon picked up some tracks in the palmetto scrub and when they had learned its general direction they had no trouble in following the trail.

Qualley guessed the reason for the digression into the forest pretty closely. “Thought they would be less conspicuous in here and might lose us for a while,” he explained. “It would have worked all right last night and caused us considerable delay, at least if we had been hard on their trail as they probably thought we were. Rather clever of them. They make it a little hard for us yet.”

But Roberts was not to be discouraged. He had been down in the dumps a short time before and could see nothing ahead of him but an uncomfortable cell in the penitentiary or an almost equally unpleasant life in a dismal hiding place; now he felt sure of his prey and was in a triumphant mood.

“I would not give them much for their chances,” he retorted grimly, and hastened his pace on the uncertain trail. “In half an hour our worries will be over.”

And it certainly looked as though he was right, for the palmetto scrub had given way to a stretch of open sand and the trail lay clear before them, leading straight to the sleeping men on the beach less than a quarter of a mile away.


Scott awoke in the morning with the sun shining full in his face. He had been so dead to the world that it was hard for him to realize where he was and how he came to be sleeping on the open beach with the waves of the rising tide lapping the sands within a few feet of him. Suddenly the events of the night before came to him and a feeling of horror crept over him when he realized what a risk they had run by exposing themselves in that way right in the enemy’s country.

“Good thing they waited for us instead of coming to look for us,” he thought, as he sat up to reconnoiter. His first glance was down the beach in the direction from which they had come. A chill ran over him that seemed to leave him paralyzed; he just stared. Then he rubbed his eyes to see if he was really awake. It seemed like the continuation of a dream which had been haunting him for a good part of the night.

There were Roberts and Qualley not over two hundred yards away and walking rapidly straight toward them. With the realization that was far from a dream, that these men were only too real and were hastening forward on his trail now eager with the hope of getting a shot at him, Scott came to life with a violent jerk. In two more minutes they could not help seeing him if, indeed, they had not discovered him already.

He formed his plan instantly. There seemed to be only one chance. Flattening himself as close to the sand as possible to escape notice, he reached out quickly and shook Murphy’s shoulder at the same time warning him not to move or speak. Murphy was a light sleeper and he was wide awake the instant Scott touched him, wide enough awake to take in his meaning at once. He simply looked at Scott inquiringly without moving his head or body at all.

“They are after us, Murphy. They are on our trail and not more than a few rods away. Our only chance is to try to slip into the creek without being seen and hide in the bushes over there in the swamp. Careful now, but hurry.”

Murphy took a hasty peek at the two men and felt for his gun. The holster was empty and his face fell. He had pretended to Scott that he had lost it in the quicksand, but he did not know that he had. He had been inclined to fight when he saw that there were only two men in the approaching party, but now there was no chance. He twisted sullenly about on the sand and wriggled down the gentle incline after Scott, who was already headed for the creek alligator fashion. It was uncomfortable business, for they had seen their enemies so clearly that it was hard to realize that they had not been seen. They rather expected to hear the crack of a rifle any minute.

They slid quietly into the water and made for the opposite shore, or rather the opposite rim of brush, for there was no shore there. Scott swam under water and managed to make shelter without coming to the surface. Murphy could not do that, but he held his breath and crawled on the bottom as fast as he could. He had to come up for air, but he stuck only his nose out of water like a hunted loon, and was able to take his next breath in the shelter of a titi bush. They hastily selected a dense bush just beyond for a hiding place and worked their way to it carefully. Fortunately for them the bottom of the swamp was sandy or a trail of muddy water might have betrayed them. They were no farther away from the shore than that. They submerged themselves to their eyes and waited.

“Ought not to have any trouble in keeping cool here,” Murphy whispered with his usual humor. No matter how glum Murphy was feeling, danger immediately brought his wit to his rescue.

They could look out through the small openings in the bush without much danger of being seen. The men were so close that Scott could see the expression on their faces. He could see that Roberts, who was eagerly setting the pace a little way ahead of his companion, was triumphant now and sure that the fight was won. He could even see the ugly cut on Roberts’ lip and how he longed for the opportunity to put another one beside it.

The men had reached the edge of the creek now a little ways above, at the point where the boys had taken to the water the night before in their eagerness to reach those quicksands. They heard a burst of profanity from Roberts. “Taken to the water like a couple of foxes,” he exclaimed angrily. His eye wandered down the bank of the creek and was quick to catch the tracks in the sand where the boys had slept. Roberts almost ran in his eagerness. Qualley walked slowly and thoughtfully, looking for other signs.

Both men stared for a long time at that peculiar-looking conglomeration of tracks with puzzled faces. They could not understand the peculiar trail the boys had made when they had wriggled down into the creek a few minutes before. Scott thanked heaven that there was no way to tell in that dry sand how recently those marks had been made.

Qualley squatted down and examined every detail carefully. “That is evidently where they slept,” he said, pointing to the impressions of the outstretched figures. “I think I know what they did. They went over there and tackled that quicksand and got stuck. They managed to get out of it and came over here on the beach to rest up and decide what they were going to do next. But blessed if I can figure out what they were doing there,” and he pointed to the peculiar slides. He arose suddenly and looked out toward the cape. “Don’t suppose they could have built a raft and made the cape, do you?” he asked, as though questioning himself.

“No signs of their having built one here,” Roberts replied, “but it looks as though they had pulled something into the water. Might have been an old plank, but that would have been water-logged and would not float.”

Qualley turned thoughtfully from the cape and fixed his gaze absent-mindedly on the very bunch of brush behind which the boys were hiding. It seemed to them that he must see them and they both involuntarily sank a little deeper into the water. Between the excitement and the chill of the swamp water their teeth were chattering so that they were afraid it would be heard clear across the creek.

Qualley shook his head slowly. “No, there is only one thing that they could have done; they must have tried to cross the swamp. We can see plain enough that they were here and there are no tracks leading away from here. They did not build a raft and Murphy can’t swim, so there is nothing left but the swamp. Well, I wish them joy of their trip.”

Roberts hated to give in. “There is not much chance of their getting across, but I wish we knew what had happened to them so that we would not be in suspense so long. It will be a week before we can be sure that they did not get away. Possibly they got foxy and followed up the edge of the creek a ways to shake us off the trail.”

“We can soon find that out,” Qualley replied; “we can follow the edge of the swamp up to where the others are waiting and see whether we can pick up any tracks. They could not have passed us that way in the night or we would have heard them. Nothing could move through that brush without making an awful racket, especially at night.”

“If we don’t find anything,” Roberts grumbled, “I suppose it will be up to us to beat it for that cursed cabin and wait to see what happens.”

“Yes,” Qualley said indifferently, “it would not be safe to put it off much longer. I’ll keep a watch out for them around here for a while longer to make sure that they do not come back out of the swamp and then go back to the camp and wait to see if they get back there. If they show up I’ll let you know at once. If they have not come through by the end of a week it will probably be safe to get back to work again.”

When Qualley said that he would watch a while to see that they did not come back the boys’ hearts sank, for they knew that they could not hold out in that cold water much longer, and, as Qualley had said, no one could move in that swamp without making a racket which could easily be heard by any one listening on the other side of the creek. They looked at each other with a sigh of relief when the two men turned and walked off up the edge of the creek together.

They waited breathlessly till they saw the men round a point some distance away with their eyes on the ground watching for any telltale signs. “Well, now what shall we do?” Murphy whispered between his chattering teeth.

“I’ve got to get out of here and get warm before I can even think,” Scott replied. His lips were blue and he was shivering so that he could hardly talk. “I wonder if we could not find a log or something over there on that quicksand where we could get in the sun without being in plain sight of any one who came along?”

They waded over toward the quicksand, feeling their way cautiously and expecting every minute to feel the sand giving way beneath them. A large tree which had fallen with its stump on the solid ground and its top buried in the quicksand offered them just the kind of place they wanted. They crawled quickly on to the fallen trunk and then eagerly out into the sunlight.

“Gee! doesn’t that sun feel fine?” Murphy chattered. “I wish we dared to build a fire. I don’t feel as though I could ever get warm clear through again.”

Of course they did not dare to build a fire and were obliged to content themselves with sitting in the sunlight and beating themselves with their arms to try to stimulate their tardy circulations. It was about a quarter of an hour before their teeth ceased to chatter and they began to feel at all comfortable.

“Now then,” Scott said, basking flat on the log so that he could soak up as much warmth as possible, “which shall it be? Wait here till dark and then try to run the gauntlet up around that neck they have been watching, make a break now to the west and take a chance on getting away before Qualley comes back, or have a try at crossing this swamp?”

Murphy threw a disgusted look at the cold swamp in which he had been soaking for the last half-hour and showed very clearly that no matter what he might think of any of the other schemes he would prefer anything to any more wading. “Gosh!” he exclaimed suddenly with so much feeling that Scott straightened up to see what had happened, “I’d sure hate to be an alligator. Don’t like that plan of going up around that neck much better either. No telling how long they might leave a guard hanging around up there. I’m for a break to the west. There would not be so much uncertainty about that. We’d either make it, or we wouldn’t,” he added with a shrug.

“Might try Qualley’s raft scheme,” Scott suggested.

“Nothing doing!” Murphy exclaimed emphatically. “That would be worse than trying the neck. It would take us hours to float across there and Qualley might come back and practice some long-distance target shooting on us for an hour or so. Even if he missed us he could go around to the head of the cape and catch us when we came out. No, that does not appeal to me.”

As a matter of fact it did not appeal to Scott either. Like Murphy he was in favor of staking everything on a dash to the west. If Qualley did not happen to see them right at the start they would be comparatively safe for the rest of the way. He had wanted to try the swamp till he had found how cold the water could get, now he felt that he would very much prefer being shot.

“All right, then,” he agreed, “let’s make a break for it. We ought to hunt up a log like this or something of the sort where we could get out of here without leaving a trail right on the edge of it, and we better work our way up to that point so that we can see that no one is right on hand to see us start.”

Now that they had decided what to do it seemed as though it was already half done, and they began to feel a great deal more hopeful. They almost forgot that they had been half frozen a little while before, but the thought of wading ashore now reminded them of it. How they hated to get off that log into the cold water.

“Are we ready?” Scott asked, preparing to slide from the log.

“Sure,” Murphy replied cheerfully. “I’d feel a little more like it if I had something to eat, but I guess I can make it.”

They slid quietly off the log into the water and made their way cautiously back toward the creek, keeping a sharp lookout for any one who might have come back to have a last look for them. There was no one in sight on the beach. Keeping just inside the brush on the edge of the swamp, they worked their way up to the point where Qualley and Roberts had disappeared a while before. They could see for quite a distance here and the coast seemed clear.

They could not find any log which would take them out of the creek on the opposite side and clear of the bank, but they selected a large clump of bunch grass for a landing place, took one more look to make sure that no one was watching, and made a dash for it. It seemed to Scott that he had been putting in most of his time lately tearing around the country with the expectation of being shot in the back. They half expected it now. Scott stepped on a stick which broke with a loud crack and Murphy jumped three feet in the air.

“Begorra, I thought they had me that time!” he grumbled as he ran the faster. “I wonder if it would really feel as mean to be shot in the back as a fellow thinks it would?”

“Shut up,” Scott growled. “Think of something pleasant to say, can’t you?”

They had not realized how thin that pine woods was till they tried to hide themselves in it. It seemed as though you could see through it for half a mile. They had run all of that before they felt at all safe and sat down on a log to catch their breath.

“Well, we have passed the worst of it,” Scott panted, “but I’ll feel a lot better when we have crossed that railroad and gotten into a country where we are not likely to run into any one who will be looking for us. It would be just our luck to meet some one on that railroad track.”

They were anxious to have the suspense over and soon started again, traveling in the edge of the woods where they could keep an eye on the beach. They crossed the trail the men had taken the night before and were soon in sight of the track. They reconnoitered before they ventured into the open, but the place seemed completely deserted. The schooner was gone and the bay was empty. They listened a long time, but could hear nothing save the monotonous lapping of the water on the beach.

“Guess it’s all right,” Murphy remarked, walking out into the open. He made his way straight for the old camp fire and began hunting around it as though he had lost something the night before.

“What did you lose?” Scott asked.

“Nothing, I was only hoping that they had lost something to eat here. If I had that deer we saw last night I could chew a leg off her. When did we have anything to eat last, anyway?”

It was a long time since they had had any food and the sight of the empty tin cans around the fire made it seem even longer. They could not find so much as a scrap of bread.

“Cheer up, Murphy,” Scott exclaimed, “we are going into a new country now and we may find a house in the first fifty miles or so. Who knows?”


They were, indeed, going into a new country, that is, a new and strange country to them, but really a very cold country if they were to believe the signs about them. They were scarcely out of sight of the camp-fire site when they stumbled on to the ruins of the old town of St. Joseph. It had evidently been a gay and prosperous place at one time. The outlines of the foundations of huge cotton warehouses were distinctly traceable and the ground was littered with pieces of broken bricks. A little farther on they found a foundation almost half full of broken champagne bottles, and beyond that the oval of a racetrack almost uncanny in its appearance of recent use. There were certain things about it which made it seem as though the place had been suddenly destroyed by an earthquake or other catastrophe only a short time before. It was very hard to realize that there had been no one living there for eighty years.

It was a question with the boys whether they would push on west along the beach in the hope of striking a town in that direction or whether they would turn north to the main-line railroad. Their experience with the blind pocket which they had gotten into the night before made them a little afraid of the beach, and they had no idea how far it might be in that direction before they would come to a town. They knew that the railroad could not be over forty miles north and thought it would be reasonable to expect to find some settlement in that direction. Food was beginning to be a serious consideration.

They stood on the edge of the old town and looked about them. Each knew what was in the other’s mind.

“Let’s try it to the north,” Murphy suggested. “There ought to be some grub somewhere up in that direction.”

That agreed pretty well with Scott’s decisions and they turned toward the north. The country was about as forlorn-looking as any that Scott had ever seen. The big timber had been cut away for some miles, probably to supply the old town, and there was nothing left but a scattering stand of scrub oak on the flat, white sand, with now and then a small patch of scrub palmetto. Aside from the old and blackened stumps there was not a trace of the civilization which had at one time flourished so near there. They had been traveling through this dismal waste for about an hour.

“Don’t look much like anything to eat around here!” Scott exclaimed in disgust.

Murphy did not reply. He was too hungry for words, but after about a half-hour’s silence he answered:

“Wonder why a fellow has to think about something he can’t get all the time. I try to think about something as far away from food as I can and in two minutes I’m longing for a beefsteak again.”

Scott had been trying the same thing and knew that it was true. But they both felt that their strength would hold out for the day all right and they would surely find some habitation before the end of the day. The sand was not soft enough to bother them and they were making good time. At least they did not have to worry about the men who were looking for them over there to the east.

They must have covered about six miles in this way when the same old curse of this country loomed up in front of them in the form of a swamp which stretched as far as they could see to east and west. They both sighted it at about the same time and looked at each other in utter disgust.

“I am for going straight through her,” Scott exclaimed determinedly, “if she is ten miles wide and a mile deep. If you follow the edge of it west it will probably lead to a quicksand on the beach, and if you follow it east you will end up on that same neck where those fellows are waiting for us. This country seems to have been built for their special benefit,” he added bitterly.

“I’m with you,” Murphy agreed doggedly. “I’d rather drown than be starved to death.”

So they held to their course and traveled straight toward the great black swamp. It might have looked like courage to an onlooker, but they themselves knew that it was desperation. If it happened to be a narrow one they would get through all right; if it was a wide one, well—they probably could not do much better by trying to get around.

They were not more than a hundred yards from the swamp when Scott stopped with an exclamation of surprise. They had come upon a distinct trail angling across their course. There were no footprints in it now, but it was a broad trail such as people make, and showed evidence of having been considerably used at no very distant date.

“What do you suppose that is?” Scott asked wonderingly.

Murphy looked at it with little interest. He could not eat it and he no longer had any interest in anything unless it gave promise of dinner. “Leads down to that logging camp unless my geography is crooked and we might as well follow it to the swamp. It’s going our way.”

“Maybe it goes through the swamp,” Scott suggested with a flash of hope. “Wonder where those fellows did get their supplies from? I should think they would have been afraid to get them from the river boats. It would have made their place too conspicuous.”

They followed the trail with curiosity even if without much hope and saw it duck into the heavy brush. As he ducked in after it Scott uttered a shout of triumph. There was a boat chained to a tree at the end of the trail. Like the trail it was far from new but showed signs of use at a comparatively recent date.

Murphy’s spirits came up with a bound. “Well,” he exclaimed, “this is the first piece of real luck we have had in some time. That boat looks almost as good to me as a loaf of bread.”

The question of ownership never entered their heads. They had been in dire need of a boat and Providence had provided one. There were no questions asked. There were no oars, but Murphy cut a pole with his hunting knife and they were soon skimming over the water merrily.

“Set your course due north, boy, and point it out to me, that’s all I ask!” he exclaimed, as he heaved away on the pole. “That swamp water does not look so bad from a boat, does it?”

They had gone with one bound from the dumps of despair to the summit of hope and they were so happy they felt silly. They had not realized how worried they really were. Now nothing seemed impossible. They felt perfectly confident that all their troubles were over and they would soon be at headquarters reporting their great discovery.

They were well out in the swamp, probably a half mile or more when Murphy gave a shout and redoubled his efforts with the pole. Scott thought he had sighted dry land again and stood up in the boat to see. Instead of land it was a house built up on piles in the middle of the swamp.

“Surely no one lives in that house away out there!” Scott exclaimed.

“Probably not,” Murphy replied cheerfully; “but there may be something to eat in it just the same.” And he headed for the house.

There was no smoke coming out of the chimney and nothing to show that it was occupied or had been for some time. The porch in front of it was really a landing with steps coming down to the water. They shouted but there was no answer. Scott thought they were wasting time in stopping there at all, but Murphy was determined to see if there was anything there to eat. He declared that he would never forgive himself if he passed it up now and found out later that there was food in it.

They tied the boat to the steps and went to the door. Murphy pushed it open gently and looked in. It was rather dark inside and it was a few minutes before their eyes became accustomed to the half light. Then things loomed up plainly and Murphy uttered a shout of satisfaction. The shelves all along one corner of the building were piled with provisions of all kinds. A number of bunks were built against the wall at the other end of the building, but they paid very little attention to that except to glance at them to make sure there was no one there. Their interest was centered in those shelves.

“Whew!” Murphy whistled as he gloated over the great store of provisions, “wouldn’t we have been sore if we had passed this up? I don’t know who lives here, but I am going to have one full meal on him whoever he is. Gee! he has enough stuff here to stand a siege of six months.”

“Strange!” Scott pondered as he looked over the supplies. “It does not look as though any one had lived here for several months at least and yet these provisions are all fresh and could not have been here such a great while. This looks like an old house on the outside but from the looks of the floors I don’t believe it has ever been lived in much. I don’t understand it.”

“I am not going to try to understand it till I have had my fill of this bacon and flapjacks. What do you want, tea or coffee? He, whoever he is, has them both here.” Murphy did not seem to care whether the provisions belonged to man or devil, and felt that the mystery could wait for a solution till he had satisfied his appetite.

Scott built a fire in the stove for Murphy and then returned to look things over some more. Suddenly he uttered an exclamation of such profound astonishment that even Murphy paused in his cooking to see what had happened. Scott had found a sales slip wrapped up with one of the bundles and the groceries listed on it were charged to Mr. Roberts.

“By cracky!” Scott exclaimed, looking at Murphy with eyes round with surprise, “I have it. This is the very cabin where those fellows are coming to hide. They keep it stocked up for just such an emergency.”

The fact that they had walked into the very den of the scoundrels who had been out gunning for them all the night before and were probably even then on their way there startled them a little at first. But nothing could divert Murphy’s attention from his frying pan for very long.

“Oh, well,” he said philosophically, “we have their boat, so they are not likely to get here before we have finished dinner. Nothing could stop me from eating now; it would take more than that outfit to spoil my appetite.”

A little chuckle of satisfaction died on Scott’s lips. It would be a good joke on the thieves to find their boat gone just when they needed it, but where would they go if they could not get to the hiding place they had prepared? They might get suspicious and go somewhere else where no trace could be found of them.

“I wonder if they have another boat anywhere?” he exclaimed. “I wish we had not taken this one.”

“Don’t worry,” Murphy replied as he chewed a piece of half-cooked bacon, “I don’t think they would be likely to abandon a place which they have prepared and fixed up the way they have this one. At least they would not give it up so easily.”

“No use in worrying about it now, anyway. We can’t take the boat back without running too much risk and any damage we have done cannot be helped. We’ll eat all of their grub we can and then beat it on across the swamp. We will get Qualley when he comes back to the camp and I have a sneaking idea that it would not take much to make him tell on the other fellows.”

“Any one of them would hang all the others for a plugged nickel,” Murphy growled contemptuously.

So they made the best of their opportunities and gave no further thought to the future trouble they might be piling up for themselves. There was unlimited food and for a long time there seemed to be no end to their appetites, but they were satisfied at last and stretched out on a couple of the benches in supreme contentment.

“Gee!” Murphy exclaimed, “I’m full right up to my Adam’s apple and I’d like to stay right here and sleep for a week.”

But instead of sleeping they both sat suddenly bolt upright and stared wide-eyed at each other. The sound of voices came to them very distinctly.


For at least a minute neither of the boys spoke. They knew that Roberts and his gang had planned on coming there to the cabin that morning, but it had not occurred to them that they could be there so soon. Moreover, they had rather taken it for granted that they had possession of the only boat in the swamp.

Scott realized now that he had been grossly careless. There was no possible justification for their staying in that cabin after they learned whose it was and knew that the others were planning on coming there. He was filled with remorse now and would have given anything to be out of the scrape, but it was too late. They were trapped like a couple of rats and the ferrets were rapidly approaching the only possible way out. Scott fairly groaned. Possibly they would not get out and no news would ever reach the outside world as to what had become of them, but if the truth should ever become known it was maddening to think that they would be reported as having lost out on a most important mission through carelessness and a few hours of hunger.

But trapped and hopelessly outnumbered as they knew themselves to be they had no idea of giving up without a struggle. Scott slipped noiselessly from the bench and grabbed an iron bar which was leaning against the door frame and was evidently intended to bar the door.

“Get that ax-handle over there in the corner,” he whispered to Murphy, “and take your place on the other side of the door. We’ll get as many of them as we can. I’ll take the first one who comes in the door and you take the next.”

They took up their stations and waited grimly with nerves on edge. They expected every instant to hear the boat bump the landing and the thud of feet on the steps. But they did not come. The suspense was terrific. Suddenly Scott remembered their boat tied to the landing. No wonder they did not land. They knew that there were strangers within and probably suspected who it was. They were probably holding a council of war now to determine the best method of attack, for they would not know that the boys had lost their guns in the quicksands.

Scott felt that he must know what was going on at all hazards and he slipped cautiously over to the window in the front of the cabin and peeped out. At first he could see nothing and thought they must have gone around to the other side, but just as he was turning away a moving object quite a distance off in the swamp caught his eye. It was two darkies in a bateau paddling straight away from the cabin. He heaved a sigh of relief. For the moment they were saved. The next instant he realized what it meant and groaned inwardly.

“There goes the news!” he exclaimed bitterly, as he pointed out the rapidly disappearing boat to Murphy. “It may be a long chase now before we ever locate those fellows again, if we ever find them.”

“Oh, we’ll find them all right when the time comes,” Murphy replied cheerfully. “The thing to do now is to get out of this trap as fast as we know how before any one else comes. If we can get away I’m not worrying about the rest of it.”

Scott realized the wisdom of the suggestion, but he thought it best to cover up their tracks as best they could. They quickly straightened up the cabin, put everything as nearly as they could just as they had found it, took one cautious glance around the swamp and hurried out to their boat. They half expected to hear a shot from the back of the cabin. There was no window on that side of the house and they had no assurance that there had not been two bateaux, one of which might be lying in wait for them. But there was no sound and a hurried survey discovered no boat in sight.

“Now for it!” Murphy exclaimed, bending to his pole with all his might. “I wouldn’t stop to eat anywhere else before I get to headquarters if I was starving.”

They did not realize how badly they had been scared in that cabin till they found how hard they were working to get away from it. They were headed due north by the compass and going as fast as they could. Scott had caught up a fishing pole off the landing and was doing his best to help. It was not till they were far out of sight of the cabin that they relaxed a little in their efforts. They were at least a mile from the south edge of the swamp and still there was no intimation that they were approaching the other side.

“Good thing we found this boat,” Murphy commented; “we’d have drowned before this if we had tried to cross this place without it.”

Scott did not reply. He was wondering how far it was from the north edge of the swamp to the railroad track and how long it would be before they could get a train going in their direction. When he had discovered the log canal and the hidden mill he had thought his work in Florida was about completed, and successfully completed. The scare at the cabin had showed him how easy it would be for him to fail completely even yet. He was anxious now to get back to headquarters and place his information where it would be safe.

They had covered at least another mile and were beginning to think that the swamp must extend clear up into Georgia when they began to see some signs of land ahead. They were coming to a fringe of dense underbrush and behind it they could see the tops of pine trees. In a few minutes they were standing on solid ground once more with an open pine forest stretching away to the northward as far as they could see.

“Well, it can’t be more than a hundred miles from here to the railroad!” Murphy exclaimed. “Let’s go.”

They were both anxious to get out of that unknown country where so many unexpected things seemed to happen to them, and set out at a lively pace. The country continued to be dry and open, but it was at least two hours before they saw any sign of life or a road or anything else which would indicate that they were anywhere near civilization. Then they sighted a little cabin far ahead of them in the woods. Smoke was curling from the chimney and two men were leaning on the front fence with their backs toward them.

Scott decided that there could be no danger in approaching these people who could not possibly know anything about them and he wanted to learn the shortest way to the railroad. They advanced in silence and their feet made no sound in the soft sand. The men in the yard turned out to be a couple of darkies and they seemed to be enjoying some huge joke. Their laughter broke out in an almost continuous high-pitched cackle and they were having altogether too good a time to pay any attention to the approach of strangers. In fact, strangers were so rare in that section that no one ever thought of seeing one. The boys were not very far from the cabin when one of the darkies roared between his gusts of laughter, “No, suh, you won’t ketch me tryin’ to steal no grub out of dat cabin ag’in. A little mo’ and we’d a-walked right in on ’em and you know what Mist’ Roberts said de las’ time he ketched us out dere. No, suh, I’ll buy my grub fust.”

Scott stopped in astonishment and stared at Murphy. So that was what had scared them so at the cabin; only a couple of darkies trying to steal some of the supplies. And Roberts had not learned anything of their whereabouts, nor was he likely to from these fellows. It was the first cheerful news he had had for some time.

Murphy cleared his throat loudly and the two darkies jumped almost out of their skins and looked as though they were about to run away. The sight of the two forest service uniforms did not seem to reassure them. The weight of a guilty conscience made them nervous.

“Say, boy,” Murphy called to reassure them, for he was familiar enough with darkies to know that if they were frightened there would be no hope of getting the truth out of them about anything, “which is the nearest road to the railroad station?”

It took the darky a moment to recover from his fright, but the terror died from his face when he realized that the stranger had not said anything about robbing a cabin and he grinned respectfully. “Dat de road right deah, boss, de ain’t no otheh.”

“How far is it?”

“Fo’ miles, suh. Leastways dat’s what dey calls it around heah.”

Murphy wanted to ask what station it was but he did not want to acknowledge that he was as completely lost as all that. So they took the little used track in the sand which the darky had dignified by the name of a road and walked on as though they were perfectly satisfied and knew just where they were going. There was one thing they did know. They knew that they had furnished the darkies with a subject of conversation which would keep them busy for some time to come.

Like most estimates of distance in the country the “fo’ miles” proved to be rather a rough guess and it was pretty well along in the afternoon when they came in sight of the three or four houses which composed the railroad town. The few people who were in sight eyed them curiously when they walked into the station. They were too far from the forest for any one to recognize their service uniforms and every one took them for soldiers.

There was no train till ten o’clock that night. It seemed as though they had eaten enough of Roberts’ supplies out there in the swamp to last them for a week, but they were hungry again already and walked over to the store to get some crackers and cheese for supper. The storekeeper asked them so many questions that they had a hard time eating their lunch after they had bought it, but it at least gave Scott a chance to ask a few questions in return.

“Isn’t there a Mr. Roberts living somewhere around here?” he asked casually.

“He don’t exactly live around heah, suh, but he does his buyin’ heah. He operates a sawmill down to the south of heah. Fine gentleman, suh.”

Scott reserved his opinion about the qualities of the gentleman in question, but Murphy could not suppress a very audible snort of contempt. They picked up what little information they could about the sawmill, which was not much, and strolled outside to wait for the train. They felt fairly safe here, but they would feel safer outside where it was dark.


Scott and Murphy walked out to a little grove of pines a short distance from the station and sat down in the shadow to wait for the train. They did not talk much, for each one was too busy thinking over the scrapes they had been through. They felt that they were through with their troubles at last and that it was only a matter of a few hours now till they would be back at headquarters, on familiar ground and safe from interference, but they had felt that same way so often before that they were almost afraid to say anything about it now.

Their appearance had caused a great deal of speculation and gossip among the loafers around the place and many curious glances were thrown in their direction, but no one came near them. The train was late as usual, but it came at last and they climbed aboard with a certain feeling of relief. There might be a wreck but there would not be any quicksands or swamps and a wreck seemed rather trivial compared with those two things which they had come to hate so cordially in the past few days.

“Well, we are on the home stretch now,” Scott exclaimed comfortably.

“Yes,” Murphy retorted, “for the first time in what seems like a century we know where we are going and how we are going to get there.”

The train stopped at the first station. There did not seem to be much of an excuse for a station there, nor anywhere else along the line for that matter, but the train always stopped at all of them as if it hoped that sometime there might be somebody there. This time it was not disappointed. Scott was looking out of the window and he saw a lone man step across the platform and get on the front end of the car. No one else was in sight there, not even a station agent.

Before he had drawn in his head he felt Murphy grab him suddenly by the knee and squeeze it meaningly. He looked inquiringly at Murphy and then followed his glance up the car. The new passenger was walking slowly toward them and he instantly recognized Qualley. The car lamps evidently dazzled Qualley’s eyes after his wait in the darkness and he had not seen them, but just as he was turning into a seat he stopped for a glance over the occupants of the car and recognized them. With well-feigned surprise he changed his mind about the seat and came towards them, smiling.

“Blamed old fox!” Murphy growled under his breath. “If he knew what we know he would have kept off this train.”

“Well,” Qualley exclaimed good-humoredly, shaking hands with them, “I didn’t expect to see any one I knew on this train. Glad to see you. Good ways from home, aren’t you?”

“Quite a jump,” Scott replied. “We’ve been out having a look at the country. Quite a journey for you, too, isn’t it?”

“Yes, first time I have been out of camp for a long time. Company wanted me to come down here and look over some turpentine prospects. They are thinking of leasing in here.”

“Aren’t you afraid they will take advantage of your absence to steal all the logs in the pond?” Scott asked, and he nudged Murphy secretly with his foot.

“You bet I was,” Qualley replied with a hearty laugh, “and I told the boys not to put any in there while I was gone. Haven’t run on to any likely clues yet, have you?” he added.

“No, nothing new since we saw you last,” and Scott nudged Murphy again. They were having a very good time with Qualley.

As they approached their own station Murphy seemed to grow thoughtful. Suddenly he leaned forward and unbuttoned the flap of Qualley’s holster. “What sort of a gun have you got there, Qualley? I lost my old Luger back there in a swamp. Had it for ten years and would not have lost it for a farm.”

Murphy drew the revolver from the holster and examined it critically. It was a little blue steel automatic .32, very neat and very business-like. “Not quite such a hard hitter as mine,” Murphy commented, “but I guess she’d kill a man at that.”

“Would it!” Qualley laughed. “Well, I rather think it would if you hit him right. I killed a deer with it at forty yards last fall.”

Murphy continued to toy with the gun. He unloaded it, loaded it, and tested the mechanism several times, tried the grip in his hand and aimed it carefully at all the lights in the car. It was not till the train was coming to a stop at their own station that he leaned over and slipped it back into Qualley’s holster.

“Looks pretty good to me,” Murphy remarked, as though thoroughly satisfied with his examination. “Maybe I’ll get one of those next time. It would not be as heavy to tote around as the old Luger and I reckon it would shoot hard enough for anything I want it for. Don’t want to sell it, do you?”

“Not for anything you would give me for it,” Qualley replied. “I need it in my business almost every day.”

“That’s right,” Murphy admitted thoughtfully, “I reckon you do, all right,” and he stepped on Scott’s foot.

They all three got off the car together and started down the trail which lead by a short cut to the supervisor’s headquarters. It was about midnight and there was no one in sight around the station, not even the agent. The moon was doing its best to shine through a thin curtain of clouds and the trail was easy enough to follow. They walked three abreast through the open country and were soon back on the one subject of conversation which had been the common topic with them now for over two years—the marvelous disappearance of those logs.

About a mile from the station the trail crossed a rather wide neck of shallow swamp. In a rainy year it would have been impassable, but it was almost dry now and made very good walking. It suddenly occurred to Scott that Qualley was not going in the direction of his camp. “Doesn’t this trail take you a good way out of your road?” he asked.

“About a mile, but this is the only place where there is a trail across the swamp and I have never had the energy to cut another.”

When the trail entered the swamp it narrowed so that they were obliged to go in single file. Murphy stopped to let Qualley go first, but he politely held back and insisted on them leading the way. Murphy smiled a little to himself, shoved Scott gently into the lead and followed with Qualley bringing up the rear. Conversation was not so easy now and they walked in comparative silence. The ground was so soft and spongy that their feet made very little noise and every little sound was easily heard. It was so dark in the swamp that only the outline of things could be seen.

They were about in the middle of the swamp when Murphy heard a faint sound for which he had been listening intently ever since they had strung out on the narrow trail. It was a gentle slap caused by the falling of a leather flap. He listened now even more intently and was almost immediately rewarded by a sharp click close behind him.

“What was that?” he exclaimed, whirling about.

Scott stopped and turned around to see what was going on and was just in time to see Murphy strike Qualley a crashing blow on the jaw before he even had a chance to answer the question.

“Ah, ha, you old fox!” Murphy exclaimed, as he leaned over the fallen man, “I was a little too smart for you that time. That’s a fine gun you have, but it is not much good without cartridges. Just wait till I load her up and then she will work better.” He picked the gun up from the soft ground where Qualley had dropped it, and taking a clip of cartridges from his pocket he calmly proceeded to load it.

“What’s the trouble?” Scott asked. The whole thing had occurred so suddenly that he had not been able to comprehend it. He had been busy planning out the best method of attacking that cabin.

Murphy explained it as coolly as though nothing had happened.

“It occurred to me back there in the train that it might not be altogether safe to be in the woods with this fellow alone at night when he knew where we were, so I unloaded his gun. When he came down this way with us to cross the swamp I knew that there was something up, for it would have been nearer for him to have walked up the railroad track a way and then cut across. Didn’t you notice how polite I was when I tried to persuade him to walk ahead of me through this swamp? Never knew me to be that polite before, did you? And when he turned out to be more polite than I was, I knew just exactly what to expect. I heard the flap of his holster flip down when he drew his gun and I heard her click when he pulled the trigger. I was afraid he might run away and reload so I dropped him.”

Scott shuddered. He realized how closely he had rubbed shoulders with cold-blooded murder and how easily it could have been carried out if it had not been for Murphy’s forethought. “Must have taken some nerve to let him pull that trigger when you knew just what he was doing. Weren’t you afraid that he might have reloaded?”

“Believe me, I’ve been watching him ever since we got off the train. I knew that he could not reload without my hearing him and I sure listened.”

Qualley groaned and looked about him uncertainly like a man awakening from a dream and trying to get his wits together. Suddenly it came to him and he sat up with a jerk.

“This what you are looking for?” Murphy asked mockingly, as he poked the muzzle of the gun into his face. “Don’t monkey with it, it’s loaded now.”

Qualley realized instantly that he had been outwitted. He could not for the life of him think how they had been lead to suspect him and he was a little bit dazed by the unexpected blow, but his magnificent nerve was unshaken. He looked quietly into the muzzle of the gun with unmoved expression.

“Pretty clever,” he exclaimed admiringly, “but what is the big idea? You swipe the loads out of my gun, and then when I try to shoot an alligator you whirl around and knock me down without warning. If it is supposed to be a joke you are carrying it a little too far.” He was a splendid actor and if Scott had not had such good evidence of his intentions he would have doubted himself rather than this indignant Qualley.

“It’s a good bluff, Qualley,” Murphy jeered, “but it won’t work. You can sue me for assault if you want to when you get out of the pen, but it is too late to sit here in the swamp and argue about it to-night. Get up from there and trot along with us. It’s nearer to headquarters than it is to your camp and I know Mr. Graham will be glad to put you up there over night. We’ll tell Roberts that we reached camp all right so you need not worry about his thinking that you have gone back on him. Come ahead. It was mighty polite of you to let me go first back there, but this time I am going to show the politeness. After you, Gaston. Better take the rear, Scott, I don’t want to take a chance on plugging you if he should make a break for it. Now we’re right. Let’s travel.”

Qualley knew that it was hopeless to try to bluff them now and he took the lead without another word. The little procession was more silent now than it had been before and the grin on Murphy’s face was wider.


It was about one o’clock in the morning when they finally reached headquarters. Hardly a word had been spoken since the argument in the swamp. Scott opened the door and struck a light while Murphy guarded the prisoner. Scarcely was the lamp lighted than Mr. Graham appeared in the doorway in his pajamas.

“Well, by George!” he exclaimed, as he grasped Scott’s hand, “here you are at last. I have scoured the woods from Dan to Beersheba and was just about to order out a searching party to-morrow. Where under the sun have you been?”

“Scouring the woods same as you have,” Scott laughed, “but I guess Murphy can tell you better where we have been than I can. I did not know where we were most of the time. Come on in, Murphy, and bring your friend with you.”

The screen door opened and Qualley walked in closely followed by Murphy. He may have been very much humiliated, but it did not show in his face. He seemed to be the coolest one in the bunch.

“Why, hello, Qualley!” Mr. Graham exclaimed cordially. “I did not know that you were with the boys. Mrs. Murphy told me that you had gone with Burton,” he continued, shaking Murphy by the hand, “but she did not say anything about Qualley.”

“Guess she did not know about him,” Scott grinned, “he joined us later.”

“Well, let’s hear about it. Did you find any clue?”

“This one,” Scott answered, motioning toward Qualley; and at the same time Mr. Graham noticed the pistol in Murphy’s hand.

“What!” he cried in astonishment, “do you mean to say that this man is connected with the robbery?”

“Funny, isn’t it?” Murphy remarked. “First time I ever heard of a fellow robbing himself, informing on himself, and then helping to catch himself.”

Mr. Graham was too much astonished to say a word. He simply stared at Qualley open-mouthed. At last he recovered sufficiently to repeat his request to Scott to tell him about it.

Scott told the whole story of the long search through the swamp, the trip to the mill, the disappearance of the logs from the raft, the discovery of the canal, the elaborate plan that had been developed to manufacture the logs and dispose of the lumber, and all the wild adventures they had after they met the strangers at old St. Joseph’s.

Mr. Graham listened quietly, commenting or asking a question now and then when some point was not quite clear. He had heard of the mill which was shipping from the old port at St. Joseph’s but he had never dreamed of connecting it in any way with the disappearance of the logs from his own forest. He seemed rather amused and very much elated over the whole thing till Scott described Qualley’s attempt to murder them in the swamp on the way over from the station. Then his face suddenly hardened and he glared at Qualley with anything but a pleasant expression.

“So you would be a murderer as well as a thief,” he exclaimed contemptuously.

Qualley did not seem to be in the least abashed. “Now let me explain a few things to you, Mr. Graham, before you get a wrong impression of this thing. The story which these boys tell sounds reasonable enough and I have no doubt they think it is true, but they are altogether mistaken.”

Murphy gave a contemptuous grunt and Scott looked his indignation, but Qualley ignored them completely.

“First, in regard to this ridiculous story of my attempting to murder them. I might rather say that they attempted to murder me. I happened to remember that Murphy had been examining my revolver on the train; I had seen him load it and unload it once or twice and I thought that I better make sure that it was in working order. I took it out to examine it and just then Murphy whirled around and knocked me down without the slightest warning. When I came to he had my gun and made me come along here with him.”

“Sure I whirled and knocked ye down,” Murphy commented with an air of comfortable satisfaction. “I’d been listening for that same little click ever since I heard you talking over your murderous plans down there on the beach.”

“For that I don’t blame them,” Qualley went on plausibly. “I admit that I had a knowledge of what was going on over there at that mill all the time, but my connection with them was not criminal. Roberts was very bitter against them because he knew that his share of the business would take him to the penitentiary if he were caught and the wallop Mr. Burton gave him there on the beach made him worse. I had nothing against the boys and wanted to protect them, but I could not let Roberts see that I did. Consequently I pretended to be as bitter and bloodthirsty as any of them. I saw them in the swamp there when I was talking to Roberts beside the creek, but I did not show them to Roberts. He would have shot them there like dogs.”

“Sounds fine,” Scott remarked sarcastically, “but it’s a wonder you did not say anything about all this when you met us on the train.”

“The public train is not a very good place to talk over such matters as that,” Qualley answered with dignity.

“Qualley,” Mr. Graham remarked good-humoredly, “I’ll have to admit that you are about the smoothest villain I have ever seen, and I have to admire both your nerve and your ingenuity, but I am afraid you will have to tell these things to the judge.”

But Qualley had not yet come to the end of his wiles. “Wouldn’t it be better, Mr. Graham, to get hold of the men who were in active charge of this robbery, all of them, rather than to prosecute one man who was only remotely connected with the thing and let all the others go? I know where those fellows are and can tell you just how you may take them. Otherwise you cannot find them in a thousand years. Promise me my freedom and I will not only do this but will tell you all the details of their crime. A clean sweep.”

Mr. Graham gave him a look of unutterable contempt. “No, Qualley, I still have hopes of being able to find the others myself, but even if I could not I think I would rather prosecute one Judas like you than turn you loose for the sake of catching the others.”

“Suit yourself,” Qualley said with a shrug, “but let me know when you find the others. That’s all.”

“Oh!” Scott exclaimed with a grin, “I guess I forgot to say that we stumbled on to the cabin out in the swamp that Roberts had all stocked up with provisions ready for just such an emergency as this and I have no doubt that it is the one to which Mr. Qualley referred when he suggested that the rest of them should hide in the cabin in the swamp till they heard from him that it would be safe to leave there.”

“Perhaps it is,” Qualley remarked dryly. He had evidently exhausted his resources for he had nothing more to say.

After a few moments of silence Mr. Graham came to a decision. He glanced at his watch. It was a little after two. “We could call up the sheriff, I suppose, and might be able to wake him up in the course of time, but it would be a long time before he could get here. So I guess you boys had better go to sleep here and I’ll take this gentleman over to the sheriff.”

The boys protested that they were both willing and able to finish the job which they had started, but Mr. Graham would not hear of it.

“Nothing doing,” he said in response to their plea. “I’ll see that you get full credit for all that you have done, but I know from your account of your adventures since you left here that you have not had half a night’s sleep. To-morrow we shall have to go after the rest of this bunch and that may mean a pretty hard day’s work. No, I want you to stay here and rest up. I’ve already had about four hours’ sleep to-night.”

They recognized the wisdom of this advice, but it was hard to miss the satisfaction of seeing Qualley actually put under arrest.

Mr. Graham was soon dressed and ready to start. He took the pistol from Murphy and turned to Qualley. “All right, Qualley, let’s go. You fellows see how hard you can sleep till I get back. You may need all you can get, for now that we have a line on these fellows I am not going to stop till I have every one of them behind the bars where they belong.”

Qualley made one more try. “It might be healthier here in the future,” he remarked, “if I was not included in this bunch.”

Mr. Graham turned upon him angrily and glared at him for a minute. Then he burst out laughing. “You must be losing your nerve, Qualley, or your senses, if you think that you can scare me with a threat. I thought that you knew me better than that. Move along and I’ll put you where I will not even have to think about you, to say nothing of being afraid of you.”


It seemed to Scott that he had scarcely closed his eyes when he heard the screen door bang and Mr. Graham was standing in the doorway.

“Well, well,” he laughed, “still pounding your ears? I guess you did not get even as much sleep as I said.”

Scott glanced curiously at his watch and then listened to see if it was running. It was three-thirty. “Thirteen hours,” he gasped in astonishment.

“Humph,” Murphy grunted, “that’s nothing. I’ll bet I could do it again right now.”

“Might as well try it if that is the way you feel about it,” Mr. Graham laughed. “It’s so late now that there is no use in our starting till morning.”

“Oh, that is not the reason,” Mr. Graham assured Scott when he noticed his crestfallen look. “I’m mean enough to have called you at five o’clock if I had been here to do it, but I just this minute got back. The sheriff was not at home and I thought I’d better escort our friend straight to the jail myself. I did not feel as though I wanted to trust anybody as slick as he has proved himself to be to any sheriff’s woodshed for safe-keeping. That is what the sheriff’s wife suggested.”

“There will not be any chance of his getting word to those other fellows, will there?” Scott asked anxiously.

“No, I think not. I impressed it on the warden pretty hard that he was not to be allowed to communicate with any one in any way. I hinted that Uncle Sam was very much interested in his guest’s welfare and he seemed to take it very seriously.”

“Wouldn’t it be a good idea to go down there on the train this afternoon so that we would be on the ground early in the morning?” Scott asked. He was anxious to be doing something now that he was awake.

“I thought of that,” Mr. Graham said, “but I do not want to take the chance. They might have some spies out who would take them the news and we would find the nest empty when we got there. I am not afraid of their running away so soon as this. You said they were planning on lying low there for a couple of weeks. They did not get there till yesterday afternoon, and they would hardly be getting nervous so early. Just how far is that cabin from the railroad station?”

“Must be about seven or eight miles, isn’t it, Murphy?”

“About that, I should say. I hope our swiping that boat did not scare them out.”

“By the way, what did you do with that boat?”

“Left it on the edge of the swamp where we landed.”

“Well, it may make them suspicious, and it may possibly have been the only boat they had, but I do not think so. If they were long-headed enough to rig up that cabin in the swamp against a possible emergency like this I think they probably arranged some pretty sure way of getting to it and the loss of a boat would not be likely to stop them.”

“They had some boats over in the canal,” Scott said, “because I saw them there. They could carry them over there if they had to.”

“We cannot do anything now but hope, anyway,” Mr. Graham remarked. “There is no use in worrying about it. But if you fellows are not going back to sleep right away I wish you would explain to me the exact location of that cabin and all its surroundings so that I will be familiar with the ground when we get there. Are you sure that you will be able to find it again?”

“I don’t think there will be any trouble about that,” Scott answered confidently. “We ran a compass course straight north from it to where we left the boat and while it was not a very accurate course it ought to be straight enough to find a house. I think that I can draw you a pretty good sketch of the whole layout.”

So Scott, with occasional suggestions from Murphy, sketched the cabin and described it as accurately as he could. With this sketch as a basis Mr. Graham planned his campaign for the next day. He pored over it for several hours and it was not till some time after they had finished their supper that he seemed satisfied that it was complete in every detail. He then folded the sketch up thoughtfully and arose with a yawn.

“We shall have to catch that train at four in the morning,” he said, “and if you fellows have any more sleep to make up you better be about it. I am going to bed now.”

“So am I,” said Murphy. “I am not square with the world yet by about ten hours, but if we are not going till morning I am going home to let my wife know that I am still alive. I’ll meet you at the train. Anything in particular you want me to bring along?”

“No, nothing except a shooting iron of some kind. You may have some use for that before we get those other rascals in the jug.”

“There’s where I’ll miss my old Luger,” Murphy said sadly. “I wish I had it out of the bottom of that quicksand, but I guess I can manage. I feel as though I could hit one of those scoundrels with almost anything after the way they were longing for a shot at me.”

With that Murphy started for home and Mr. Graham went in to bed. Scott sat on the porch for a little while alone and thought over the events which had crowded themselves so rapidly into the past few days. It was only a little over a week since he had been sitting on that same porch wondering how he would ever accomplish what seemed to him then the almost impossible task which had been assigned him. Now almost as if by magic it had come suddenly to a successful conclusion. It would be an eminently successful conclusion if they could only capture the rest of the gang in the morning, but even if they did not get them they had discovered their secret, broken up their operations and jailed the ringleader. It could not exactly be called a failure. It had been a most interesting experience and promised to be even more so in the morning, but he hoped it would not lead him into any more assignments for detective work. He had made good twice largely through what he considered remarkably good luck, but he was afraid that he might fall down on the next one.

He did not feel at all nervous at the prospect of going under fire the next day, but he was worried for fear Roberts and his gang would not be in their hiding place. He felt that he would always reproach himself with his lack of foresight in taking that boat and possibly scaring them away. Under the circumstances there was not very much choice left to them, but he forgot that now and thought only of the possible results.

“Oh, well,” he exclaimed at last, “we shall know pretty quick in the morning and there is no use in worrying about it now,” and he followed Mr. Graham to bed. That gentleman evidently was not losing any sleep over the possibilities of the next day’s work. He was sound asleep and snoring like a trooper. Scott soon joined in the chorus and any one passing by the cabin would have found it hard to believe that the two occupants knew they had to dislodge a band of desperate men from a fortified cabin in the morning.

Had they known what was going on in the county jail at about that time they would probably have not been quite so contented, at least they might not have snored quite so loudly.


In the county jail there was a madman, or one not very far from it. As long as Mr. Graham was with him, Qualley had maintained his cool and indifferent air and had never for an instant given up the possibility of obtaining his release by some cunning scheme or inducement. He offered no resistance whatsoever and walked into the jail with the dignified mien of an injured and misjudged man. In fact he told Mr. Graham that he was sorry to see him following this false scent because he knew that he was really a just man and would some day sorely regret his hasty action.

It was so that Mr. Graham left him with no regrets and an earnest request that the jailer watch his prisoner with the greatest caution because he was a bad one. He told him that on no account should the prisoner be allowed to communicate with any one on the outside because he was only one of a large gang and would probably make a desperate attempt to warn his friends.

Left alone, a complete change came over Qualley. His studied dignity fell from him and the look of calm indifference gave way to a burning glare of hatred which contorted his whole face. He sprang to the window and watched Mr. Graham’s shadowy form disappear into the darkness with the look of a wild beast glaring through the bars of its cage.

When the last trace of the supervisor had died away Qualley seemed to lose all control of himself and became a maniac. He shook the bars of his cell furiously, pounded the walls with his bare fists and cursed till he frothed at the mouth. The jailer came to quiet him but fled at the mere sight of him. It seemed that, unarmed as he was, he must break through those concrete walls and iron bars by the sheer fury of his efforts.

The mood passed almost as suddenly as it had come upon him and he threw himself upon the bed panting from his exertions. “Fool,” he growled to himself, “where will that get you? They enjoy seeing you that way.”

Calmly now he began to think over the situation. He was caught and there was not much chance of his escape. There might possibly be some way out of that cell but it would not be by butting down the concrete wall with his head or biting off the iron bars with his teeth. If he was to get out he must use his head but not in the way he had been using it a few minutes before. He was thoroughly ashamed of that.

The first thing to do was to see if he could find a weapon or tool of any kind. There were seldom prisoners in that jail who were under a grave enough charge to make it worth their while really to try very hard to get out and the jailer might have become careless. He began a careful search of the room. The door was locked and seemed to be in good repair as near as he could tell in the dark. The bars in the window were not very heavy but they were too strong to break and they seemed to be firmly set in the concrete. One of them rattled a little and the concrete around the base of it seemed a little rough but it was solid enough. The floor was concrete like the walls.

He dropped to his knees and crawled slowly over the floor. There were only two articles of furniture in the room, a small bed and a chair, both of wood. If he only had a piece of iron and they would give him enough time he felt sure that he could work out of one of those window bars. Even wood might do it in time, but he doubted if they would keep him there long enough. Nevertheless, it would be something to do and something to live for so he set to work to wrench one of the rounds out of the chair.

The round came out easier than he had expected and he tried a few tentative scratches on the concrete at the base of the bar. It raised a little dust, but he realized that it would mean long hours of labor before he could accomplish anything in that way, and there was something else which must be done at once. He did not give a rap for Roberts and, as Murphy had predicted, would have seen him hung without so much as raising a finger to help him. Moreover, he knew that Roberts in a like situation would never have done anything to help him. Just the same he was extremely anxious to get word to Roberts at all costs, not to save Roberts but to warn him that the Service men would be looking for him in the morning so that he would be well prepared. If Roberts could ambush them and murder them he, Qualley, would feel that his debt of hatred had been paid and, too, he might stand some show of getting free, for there was not any one else around there who knew anything about his crime or would be likely to prefer charges against him. Moreover, with Roberts captured, he would not stand any show at all. He very well knew that Roberts would tell everything he knew about him and would rather die than see Qualley get away if he could not make it himself.

So the first thing to do was to get word to Roberts; there would be time enough for the digging when that was done. Perhaps he could catch somebody going by before the jailer was up. He took up his position by the window and watched patiently, but the jail was in an out-of-the-way place and he heard some one moving about in the jail before he had seen any one outside.

Well, possibly the jailer was not above a bribe. He had made plenty of money in the last two years out of the logs he had stolen, he was rich, and he could offer the jailer more money than he had ever dreamed of. He waited anxiously for some one to bring his breakfast. It was about eight o’clock when he heard a door open somewhere and the jailer himself appeared with a tray.

“Calmed down a little, have you?” the jailer asked, eyeing him somewhat doubtfully.

“Yes,” Qualley admitted with a sheepish laugh, “I lost my head for a few minutes last night. It is enough to drive any man crazy to be popped into jail on a false charge with no chance to explain. It’s tough.”

“Yes,” the jailer agreed, “it’s tough all right if it’s true. The judge will straighten it out pretty quick if there is anything crooked about it, but that fellow is not much on making false charges, he isn’t.”

“Well, he has slipped up this time. Didn’t even give me time to go over to the camp and tell them that I would not be back for a few days. If I could have given them a few directions it would have been all right; as it is everything there will go to pot. A lumber camp won’t run itself.”

“Maybe you will get bailed out in a couple of days.”

“Sure I’ll get bailed out in a couple of days, but it is the next couple of days I am worrying about. Say, if I should put up five thousand dollars bail with you, couldn’t you let me slip over there for a day to straighten things out?”

“I’ll telephone the judge and ask him about it,” the man grinned. He seemed to think it was a very good joke, but a glance at his prisoner sent him hastily out the door, for there seemed to be strong indications that Qualley was going to throw another fit. But he managed to control himself quickly.

“Well,” he said, as though he had resigned himself to the inevitable, “if you will not let me go myself, send me a messenger and I’ll have to do the best I can that way.”

“Can’t do it, Mr. Qualley. They gave me strict orders that you were not to communicate with any one.”

Qualley shrugged his shoulders and turned away as though satisfied that he had done his best and was no longer interested in what he could not avoid. There was only one more chance. Possibly he could attract the attention of some passer-by and get him to carry his message. As soon as the jailer had gone he took up his post at the window and watched.

All day long, with the exception of the few minutes when the jailer was in there at mealtime, he watched with infinite patience and still no one came. The shadows were growing very long and another half-hour would bring on the sudden darkness of the southern evening. Gradually Qualley became aware of a faint tune whistled plaintively in the distance. It was the first sign of life he had caught outside the jail all day. He listened intently. The whistling was growing slightly louder. He knew from the plaintive twang to the music that it was a negro and he judged from the sound that the musician was on the road which passed beside the jail.

Twice the whistling died out and he thought the man must have turned into another road, but it started up again, and after what seemed an age a shambling negro hove in sight. It was at least two hundred feet to the road and he was making such a noise with his whistling that there was no chance to attract his attention by any small sound.

At first Qualley tried to catch his eye. He waved a large white handkerchief back and forth across the window, first slowly, then frantically. The darky was evidently not interested in white handkerchiefs. Moreover, he had already passed the line of the window and would soon be wholly out of reach. Qualley stuck two fingers in his mouth and blew one loud, shrill blast. The jailer would probably hear it, but he might not, and there was nothing to lose if he did.

The darky heard it and stopped both his feet and his music. He looked curiously in the direction of the jail. Qualley stuck the handkerchief through the bars and waved it. Then he beckoned violently. The darky caught the signal and hesitated. On general principles he did not like to get too close to the jail, but he evidently thought this might be some comrade in distress and decided to investigate. He ambled rather aimlessly across the field, looking suspiciously to right and left, and finally brought up close to the window. Qualley recognized him as a man who had at one time worked at the camp and the man’s eyes grew big with astonishment when he recognized his old boss behind the bars.

“Listen, George,” Qualley whispered, “they have me jugged here on a false charge and I may not be able to get out for a couple of days. I’ll give you five dollars if you will take a note to Mr. Roberts to-night. He is out there in the cabin in the swamp. You have been there, haven’t you?”

“No, suh,” George answered with suspicious promptness, “I ain’t nevah been to that place.”

Qualley considered a moment. “Well, you know Sam Clark, don’t you?”

“Yes, suh, I knows him all right.”

“Then you can find out from him how to find it. Will you take it?”

“Can’t take it to-night, boss, but I kin git ovah deah with it powerful early in the morning.”

“All right. Wait there a minute.”

Qualley scribbled quickly on a scrap of paper, “They have pinched me. Coming after you in the morning. Be sure to get them.” He folded the paper and slipped it through the bars to George. “That must be there by daylight, George. I’ll pay you when I get out. The jailer has all my money now.”

George hesitated. He usually did business on a cash basis. Moreover, he had known it to be a long time before some people had gotten out of that jail.

Qualley knew what was the matter. “Here, keep this watch till I can pay you,” and he thrust his gold watch through the bars.

George took the watch and Qualley settled down on the bed with a feeling of comfortable satisfaction when he heard the whistling start up again in the distance a few minutes later. It might not do him any good but he would have the satisfaction of knowing that somebody probably would be shot.


Mr. Graham had the conductor stop the train a mile from the station and they dropped off into the woods. “Thought it would be just as well not to stir them up down there at the station,” he explained. “They may have some scouts on the lookout.”

Day was just breaking and they heard some wild turkeys gobbling over in the swamp. It was a tempting sound, but they were after bigger game this morning and held to their course at a round pace. Mr. Graham had explained his plan of campaign to them on the train and they traveled in silence now, each one busy with his own thoughts.

Scott would have doubted his ability to find that bateau, but Murphy was a regular hound in the woods, and he walked to it as confidently as though he were walking down a broad highway. Now and then Scott recognized some landmark and knew that they were on the right course. He could run a compass line with the best of them but Murphy never used a compass unless he was surveying. When they came to the edge of the swamp he glanced about him a moment and nosed through the brush right on to the old bateau.

“Good work,” Mr. Graham commented, and handed him one of the two paddles he had brought along. “You take the bow and limber up your gun. You sit in the center, Burton, and keep that rifle ready. Don’t shoot till I tell you, but when you do, don’t miss.”

The little bateau was quite steady with an extra man seated in the bottom of it and the two expert paddlers sent it skimming through the water at a great rate.

“Better get out your compass, Burton. Murphy is pretty good, but we want a double check on this.”

Long before Scott thought they ought to be anywhere near their destination a cabin suddenly loomed out of the mist quite a way to the left. He pointed it out silently to Mr. Graham, who signaled to Murphy to stop paddling. Murphy gazed incredulously at the cabin and shook his head.

“There is some difference in paddling with two paddles and poling with one pole,” he whispered; “but it does not seem as though that could possibly be the place. Looks like it, though.”

Mr. Graham thought it best to investigate and they started slowly toward the cabin, keeping the trees between them and it as much as possible. There was no sign of life, but it was nerve-racking work to sneak up on the blind side of the cabin never knowing when some unseen marksman might open fire. They stopped immediately back of the cabin and listened intently for a long time. There was no sound. Cautiously they pushed the bow of the boat around the corner, and Murphy, revolver in hand, took a peep at the front. The others could tell from the relaxation of his body that it was the wrong place. They knew it long before he spoke.

Murphy slipped his revolver back into its holster and resumed his paddle. The front window was broken and the door was gone. There was no landing stage and the whole place looked deserted. Mr. Graham had a look inside. There was nothing in it and it did not seem to have been occupied for years.

“Must have been somebody else in hiding some years ago from the looks of this place,” Mr. Graham remarked. “I could not imagine any one living out in one of these swamps unless he could not live anywhere else. Well, let’s make for the next station. I hope we have better luck there.”

Once more they started on their silent way. There did not seem to be any birds in the swamp in the daytime. An occasional squirrel was the only form of life except the cottonmouth moccasins which seemed to be holding a convention of some kind. They were gliding about everywhere in the water and crawling up on to the logs to sun themselves. Scott had never seen so many poisonous snakes in so short a time.

Murphy raised his paddle and pointed ahead and a little to the right. It was not very distinct but they finally made it out. The hazy outline of a cabin peeping through the maze of tall, gray tree trunks and long festoons of Spanish moss. There was no doubt about it this time. Scott recognized the surroundings and he also recognized a thin haze of smoke hanging about the cabin. There was some one in it.

A thrill went through the whole party and they straightened in their seats with every nerve a-tingle. No one knew just exactly what was going to happen, but they felt sure that there would be something and that quickly. Mr. Graham’s plan was to sneak up on the place from the rear. They could then wait in hiding till some one came out. If they could cover one of the party with a gun they might be able to force the surrender of the whole gang without rushing the cabin, which would be a very hazardous thing to do. There was very little chance to take advantage of any cover, and the attacking party would be almost completely at the mercy of the garrison till they could force their way inside.

With this plan in view they sent the bateau slowly and cautiously forward toward the back of the cabin just as they had done with the other cabin a little while before. They ducked nervously from tree to tree like an Indian scout. They were within a hundred yards of the cabin now and no one seemed to have noticed their approach. They were watching the cabin so intently that they did not think to look at anything else. It had not occurred to any of them that some of the occupants of the cabin might be out in boats.

Suddenly a faint sound off to the left of them caught Mr. Graham’s ear and he turned with a start. Not very far from them and headed for the cabin was another bateau. For a moment the cabin was forgotten. They all grasped their guns and gave their entire attention to the boat. It was manned by a single negro and he was paddling leisurely. He apparently had not seen them and did not seem to have a care in the world.

Mr. Graham was undecided whether to signal the negro and warn him away from the cabin, or to lie perfectly still and take a chance on his going on without seeing them. He reasoned that the people in the cabin must have seen the darky approaching from that direction, right in the path of one of the windows, and that to call him to them now would be inevitably to attract attention to themselves. He decided to keep still. It seemed like a poor chance, but about the only one he had. If he had known what the arrival of that negro at the cabin would mean he would probably have risked everything to stop him, for it was the belated George with Qualley’s message.

George stopped paddling every stroke or two to see what time it was. Not that he was in any hurry, far from it, but he was completely fascinated by his new gold watch. It was probably this infatuation which prevented him from seeing the other bateau. He seemed utterly oblivious of everything around him, and with another long look at his precious watch he disappeared around the corner of the cabin without seeing them. They were near enough to hear distinctly the voices which greeted him when he arrived at the landing.

Mr. Graham heaved a sigh of relief, and then suddenly seized his paddle with a new inspiration. These people would surely come out on the porch to see what the negro wanted, were probably out there now, and would be so taken up with him that it might be the best possible opportunity to catch them unaware. He signaled to Murphy and shot the bateau ahead with all his might. He went around the opposite end of the house from the one the negro had taken and ran the bateau close up beside the end of the landing stage.

The whole party was there in a group on the porch, five men and three women. They arrived just in time to hear Roberts swear viciously and angrily crumple up a piece of paper in his hand. The negro was the first to see them and it was the sight of his astonished gaze which caught the attention of the others. The surprise was so complete that for the fraction of a second they stared open-mouthed and motionless.

“Hands up!” Mr. Graham commanded sharply. “I have a warrant here for the whole bunch of you.”

Roberts saw that he was covered, caught in the open without his gun and taken completely at a disadvantage, but he was desperate. He was no coward and he knew that capture meant the penitentiary for him. With a roar of rage he ducked back of the women. The other men followed his example instantly, and they all crowded toward the cabin door, keeping the women between them and those threatening guns. Roberts was cunning enough to know that those men would not run the risk of shooting a woman.

Mr. Graham was furious to see this opportunity slipping from him through such a cowardly trick, but he did not dare to risk a shot. There was only one thing to do now. They must get inside that cabin, for on the outside they would be at the complete mercy of the gang and they very well knew what that would mean.

“Come on, fellows,” he shouted, and scrambled from the boat on to the landing stage. Scott forgot his rifle in his eagerness and bounded up the steps empty-handed close at his leader’s heels.

The door was slammed shut, but Mr. Graham thrust his foot into the crack and the impact of his weight quickly followed by that of Scott’s drove it inward and scattered the confused crowd on the inside to all corners of the cabin. The roar of Murphy’s gun announced his arrival and a man crumpled out of the fight with a groan. It was quickly followed by another roar and Scott felt a streak of fire across his neck and the scorch of burning powder on his cheek. He struck out wildly and cut his knuckles on the muzzle of a pistol, but he had spoiled the second shot which tore some shingles from the roof, and he saw the pistol fly from his opponent’s hand. The next instant Roberts’ face, contorted with the fury of an angry beast, burst through the smoke in front of him.

From the moment that Murphy’s gun fired the first shot Scott had been fighting like a man in a dream. The smoke and the gunfire dazed him, and he did not know what to do. But when that furious face broke through the smoke close to his own he came to himself. He could not understand the noise and confusion of a gun battle, but he had had years of training as a boxer and he knew exactly what to do with that snarling face. He landed on it with every ounce of strength he had in his powerful shoulders and the face went back into the smoke as suddenly as it had come.

The three women were cringing in a terrified group on one of the bunks as far removed from the shooting as possible. They evidently had no idea of taking any part in the fight.

Mr. Graham had grappled with one of the men and was writhing on the floor in the opposite corner of the cabin. The two remaining men had both gone after Murphy. One of them had tackled him from the rear and attempted to pin his arms to his side while the other was wrenching the pistol from his grasp. Scott ran to Murphy’s assistance. Just as Scott reached him the man succeeded in getting the pistol and aimed it pointblank in Murphy’s face, but he had to hesitate for a second because the other man was directly in the line of fire.

That second’s hesitation saved Murphy’s life. Before the man could fire Scott landed a smashing blow behind his ear. The man crumpled up without so much as pulling the trigger. The remaining man let go his now useless hold on Murphy and bolted out of the door. Scott left Murphy to chase him and turned to see if Mr. Graham needed any help, but he did not. He had freed himself and was sitting astride the motionless figure. He jumped up now and looked about him.

“Where is Murphy?” he asked, when he recognized Scott through the coat of black powder with which his face was covered.

“He just chased the last man out the door,” Scott explained.

“Keep these fellows down while I see if he needs any help.”

But Murphy certainly did not need any help. He was down on his knees on the edge of the landing and was pumping the unfortunate man, now at least half drowned, up and down in the waters of the swamp. He seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself.

The reaction was too much for them and they both roared with laughter. Murphy looked up at them and grinned. “Pull him out, Murphy,” Mr. Graham shouted, “we may need him at the trial.”

Murphy rather reluctantly pulled the man out of the water and laid him on the landing. Scott had turned from his glance out of the door just in time to see Roberts regain consciousness and make a motion to crawl toward his gun which was lying on the floor near him. He sprang forward and snatched the gun out of his reach. “I did not expect you to come to yet,” he said coolly. “Move again and I’ll fix you right.”

“Well, I guess we have them pretty well rounded up,” Mr. Graham remarked. “Now we’ll tie them up.” He took a coil of rope from a nail on the wall and proceeded to tie their hands and feet. He tied Roberts first and then the man he had choked so badly. Scott leaned over to help him straighten out the man who had been struck back of the ear and Mr. Graham had his first good look at him.

“Great guns, man!” he exclaimed, “you are all over blood. Where were you hit?”

Scott had been too excited to think anything about himself. In fact he did not realize that he had been hit at all, but now that his attention had been called to it he felt the sting of the streak across his neck. “It can’t amount to much,” he explained apologetically, “because I thought it was a powder burn at the time and had really forgotten it till you spoke.”

Mr. Graham insisted on having a look for himself but was soon satisfied that it was only a slight flesh wound. “Lucky for you, though. A half-inch to the right would have cut your jugular.”

The man whom Murphy had shot had received a glancing shot on the forehead and was only stunned. Murphy’s victim had swallowed a quart or two of swamp water and was feeling too sick to offer any further resistance.

“Five desperate characters smoked out of a stronghold like this and tied up without any one being seriously hurt. That is what I call a pretty good morning’s work,” Mr. Graham exclaimed enthusiastically. “If those women have not turned them loose again,” and he bounded into the cabin.

It would have been a very easy thing for the women to do, for every one had forgotten all about them, but they had not moved. They were evidently too badly scared to think of resistance. Roberts was lying on the floor with his face turned to the wall in sullen resignation.

“The next question is, How are we going to get them out of here? Where are your boats?” Murphy asked one of the women.

She seemed afraid to answer but more afraid not to. “One of the men went fishing in it,” she answered reluctantly.

“Oh, ho,” Mr. Graham exclaimed. “So that’s it. Get on guard, Murphy; he’ll probably be coming back pretty quick to see what all that shooting was about.”

They carried the man in from the landing to get him out of sight and waited.

“By the way,” Mr. Graham asked suddenly, “what has become of that nigger?”

Every one had forgotten him and he had taken advantage of the opportunity to fade away. He was already far out of gunshot of the cabin and still going strong.

They waited in silence now for the absent man to return. They did not have long to wait. He had heard the firing and hurried back to see what all the rumpus was about. He had stopped at a distance and watched the cabin for a long time and not noticing anything suspicious he paddled on to the landing. When his boat touched the dock Murphy stepped out and covered him with his revolver. He was too surprised to resist and came out of the boat without a word with his hands high over his head. He was soon tied up with the rest of the bunch.

The fisherman’s boat was a good-sized scow and they had no trouble in loading all the prisoners on it. They tied their own bateau on behind and all three went to poling.

“Too bad we can’t make them do the work,” Murphy growled, “but I would be willing to pole a scow a long way for the sake of landing this bunch,” and the others agreed with him.


When they landed, the prisoners’ feet were untied and they were marched off toward the nearest railroad station. The women, who had, of course, not been tied up with the others, were given their choice of going home or of going on with the men. They chose to stick by their husbands. It was a queer-looking procession winding through the old pine woods. The prisoners were all sullen and there was not very much conversation.

Mr. Graham attempted to be sociable. “Well, Roberts, you certainly had us buffaloed for a long time, but we have caught up with you at last.”

“Yes,” Roberts snarled contemptuously, “and if you had not stumbled on to that old chain out there in the swamp you would never have caught up with us. It was all Qualley’s carelessness.”

“Qualley’s?” Mr. Graham exclaimed in feigned surprise. “Why, he said that he did not know anything about this business.”

That was too much for Roberts. He raved like a crazy man and cursed Qualley in all the vile terms he could think of as the leader of the whole gang and the man who had persuaded him to go into it against his will. Suddenly he happened to think that he might say something to incriminate himself and shut up like a clam. No further attempts to get a rise out of him had any effect.

They waited beside the railroad track out in the woods because they wanted to avoid the curious crowd which they knew would be embarrassing for both them and the prisoners if they went to the station. When the train finally came they flagged it and arrived at the county seat without seeing more than a dozen people. They turned the prisoners over to the sheriff, who happened to have come down to meet the train, and went on to Okalatchee.

Mr. Graham had to go back to headquarters to write up his report on the case. Murphy was going home to take the good news to his wife, and Scott decided to go with him. There was one point in this mystery which had not been solved: they had not discovered how the logs were taken out of the pond. Mr. Graham tried to persuade Scott to come back to camp and have his wound dressed and get a little rest, but he promised to get Murphy to dress the wound, which he declared was nothing more than a scratch, and thought that he could rest better after he had cleared up the last point in the puzzle.

“Did you hear what Roberts said about stumbling on to that chain in the swamp?” Scott asked, when they were started on the home trail.

Murphy nodded. “That was what we heard all right, but we never had the luck to stumble on to it.”

“As soon as you have told the news to your wife we’ll get out there and have a real look for it.”

Mrs. Murphy was as glad as any of them that the thieves had been caught. “Now,” she exclaimed, “maybe Pat will stay home a little of the time. He has been living at that log pond a good part of the time for the past two years.”

“Yes,” Murphy grinned, “and we are going back there again as soon as I fix up this fellow’s throat, which Roberts came so near slitting for him.”

When Scott had a look at himself in the glass he could easily understand why Mrs. Murphy had been so horrified at the first sight of him. The powder from Roberts’ pistol had blackened all one side of his face till he looked like a half-minstrel, and the flesh wound in his neck, which was really a very shallow one, had bled so profusely that his shirt was all stained up.

“Could not look much worse if I had really been murdered,” he laughed, “but that scratch is almost healed up now.”

“That is because you were so close to the gun that the heat fairly cauterized it, but we’ll have to wash it out just the same and put some antiseptic dressing on it. These gunshot wounds are very apt to cause trouble. Seems as though blood poisoning follows them mighty easy.”

Murphy soon applied a simple dressing and they set off for the old log pond, which had now acquired a new interest. The men, who had already heard of Qualley’s arrest, plied them with curious questions, but they put them off by saying that they had orders not to say anything about it.

“The wooziest thing about this,” Murphy explained, as they walked slowly around the log pond, “is that some logs actually went out of here one night while I was here watching them.”

“Were you alone that night, or was Qualley with you?”

“Qualley was there, too, but he was right in sight all the time.”

“Did he stay right there with you?”

“Let me see. No, he did not stay right there in the brush all the time. As I remember it he went out on the logs once or twice and monkeyed around there when he thought he heard something suspicious, but, as I said, he was right in sight all the time. Of course I did not suspect him then and did not watch him as close as I would now.”

“Don’t remember where he went in the pond, do you?”

“Yes, I remember that, because he always went in the same direction, always over there toward the east side of the pond.”

“Then I guess that is where we had better look first.”

On that side the log pond was separated from the swamp by only a very narrow neck of land which was densely covered with brush. They made their way along this neck, fully expecting to find a narrow channel through which the logs had been floated, but there was no such passage there.

“I have a hunch,” Murphy said as he cut a long pole and made his way back to a point where the neck was not more than three feet wide. There he poked into the bank just below the surface of the water with his pole and struck a hole at almost the first jab. With a shout of triumph he gave the pole a shove into the hole and turned around to look behind him. There was a slight commotion in the waters of the swamp and the pole shot up to the surface some feet from the shore.

“But how did they get the logs down through there?” Scott asked.

“Just like this. I may break my neck trying to ride these logs without my calks, but if I don’t, watch.”

He cut another pole and jumped nimbly on to a log near the edge of the pond. He poled it toward the shore, headed directly toward the tunnel. When the front end of the log was about to touch the bank he jumped to that end, ran toward the other end and jumped quickly to another log. His weight on the front end had caused the log to dip down to the opening and his running along it had given it an impulse which sent it sliding through the tunnel just as the stick had done and it floated free in the open swamp.

“Same way we used to duck them out of the sorting boom,” Murphy explained. “Isn’t that a slick trick, though?”

It seemed little short of marvelous to Scott, who had never acquired the knack of running logs, but he could not stop to enthuse over it now. The next thing to find out was what they did with them in the swamp.

They got a bateau from the camp and paddled around to the place in the swamp where the log was floating. “Right out beyond here somewhere,” Scott cried, “ought to be that chain which we are supposed to have stumbled over.”

They paddled slowly on into the swamp, scanning every tree eagerly. They had not covered more than two hundred yards when Murphy finished the sentence which Scott had begun. “And there she is.”

They paddled swiftly over to the furrowed and swollen butt of an old cypress. Hanging from a spike about a foot and a half above the water was a heavy logging chain. “So you are the guilty party,” Scott exclaimed, as he looked curiously at the chain. “The next question is, What did they do with you?”

Murphy grabbed the chain and began to pull on it. There was no give at first. Then something on the end of it which seemed to be somewhere under the spreading roots of the tree began to swing slowly to one side.

“Feels like an alligator from the way it is swinging around in there,” Murphy exclaimed, as he redoubled his efforts on the chain. Before he could make any further remarks the thing suddenly shot out from under the tree and almost dumped them out of the bateau. It was a heavy, tublike boat which had been caught on one of the roots of the tree, and in it were all the tools and materials needed to build a section of a log raft.

“So that is the way they worked it,” Scott exclaimed. “Now I see the whole thing. They shot their logs out of the pond there at night the way you did a few minutes ago. Then the next day they collected them over here and made them up into rafts. Then when they started for the mill with a log raft they hauled one of these sections, or maybe sometimes two or three of them, out of one of those lower openings in the river bank and hooked it on to their raft. No one would be likely to notice just how many sections they had. Then when they came to their canal down below there they took that section off and no one was any the wiser. Well, it was pretty slick and it worked.”

“And now I think I’ll go back to camp. I did not know how tired I was till now, that it is all over and cleared up, I feel like going to sleep here in the bottom of this boat.”

“Come on over to my place,” Murphy said, “and I’ll lend you a horse.”

So it was that Mr. Graham a little later recognized Murphy’s horse walking slowly toward his barn with Scott asleep in the saddle.


It was late in the morning when Scott finally awoke. He glanced at Mr. Graham’s bed. It was empty. He listened for quite a while, but there was not a sound in the house. When he glanced at his watch he understood why it was. On the table he found a characteristic note from Mr. Graham. “Sleep your head off if you want to and catch up. I’ll be back this evening.”

Scott felt as though he had earned a rest and when he had washed the breakfast dishes he stretched out in a steamer-chair on the little front porch for a good loaf.

The waves were lapping soothingly on the beach, the line of islands still shimmered in the sunshine on the opposite side of the lagoon, and a little oyster schooner glided lazily across the picture. It was almost the identical picture at which Scott had looked with impatient eyes just nine days before. Just nine days! That was all it was and yet how much had happened since then and how different everything looked now.

Then he had been a stranger in a strange land, very much at sea, and wondering what he had to do. Now it seemed as though he was an old inhabitant thoroughly familiar with the country and the ways of the people. And yet how very little he had really seen. Most of his time had been spent in the swamp and there were hundreds of things outside he wanted to know about. Probably the Washington office would get Mr. Graham’s report in another day or two and would wire him to return at once to his station in the Southwest. He wanted to go back there eventually, but he did wish that they would give him a few weeks longer there in the South to look about him.

All afternoon he just sat there on the porch and dreamed.

About supper time Mr. Graham returned in a high good humor. He shouted to Scott merrily as he rode into the yard and strode up the little oyster-shell walk with buoyant step.

“Well, Burton,” he exclaimed, clapping Scott on the knee with friendly hand, “I’ve just done something which pleases me mightily, but it may not be such good news to you. Maybe you have had enough of the sunny South and are longing to be back in the clear atmosphere of your Arizona desert, but I wanted to see a little more of you and I have been exchanging telegrams with Washington most of the afternoon. Finally persuaded them that it was absolutely necessary for you to stay right here with me till the trial was over and those scoundrels were tight in the pen where they will surely go. What do you think of it?”

Scott jumped from his chair and grasped Mr. Graham’s hand, his face beaming with happiness. “The very thing I have been wishing for all afternoon. It seemed a shame to come away down here for such a short time and have to go back again without seeing much of the country outside of the swamps, but I did not suppose it could be managed. You have certainly been kind to me and I appreciate it.”

“Kind, fiddlesticks,” Mr. Graham exclaimed brusquely. “You’ve gotten me out of a tangle with which I have been vainly struggling for over two years, and I have only just begun to pay you back.”

And so it was that Scott spent three very pleasant months in the little cabin with Mr. Graham and learned how gentle, how courteous, and how thoughtful a really big man could be without in any way detracting from his strength. It was a lesson he never forgot and it stood him in good stead in the future.

Before he left he had the satisfaction of seeing the whole gang of thieves on their way to the penitentiary under a fifteen-year sentence and had received a personal letter of thanks from the chief forester of the United States.




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