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HOME > Inspiring Novel > A Son of Courage > CHAPTER VIII LUCK RIDES THE STORM
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 Beneath the shadow of the coming storm the forest gloom deepened to velvet blackness. Suddenly a tongue of lightning licked the tree-tops and a crash of thunder shattered the stillness. A few heavy rain-drops spattered on the branches above the heads of the waiting three. Billy and Maurice, a strange terror tugging at their heart-strings, waited for old Harry to give the word forward. But Harry seemed to be in no great hurry to voice such command. Fear had gripped his superstitious soul and the courage loaned him from the squat demijohn was fast oozing away.  
Above, the blue-white lightning zig-zagged and the boom of the thunder shook the earth. A huge elm shivered and shrieked as if in agony as a darting tongue of flame enwrapped it like a yellow serpent, splitting its heart in twain.
Billy found himself, face down, on the wet moss. Maurice was tugging at his arm. The stricken tree had burst into flame, beneath the ghostly light of which path, creek and pine-grove stood out clear-limned as a cameo against a velvet background. Billy noted this as he sat dazedly up. He and Maurice were alone; old Harry had vanished.
"He's gone," Maurice answered his chum's look. "Took to his heels when the lightnin' struck that elm. The shock knocked us both down. He was gone when I come to."
Billy grinned a wan grin and pressed his knuckles against his aching eyes. "So's my milk-snake," he said. "Guess I spilled him out o' my pocket when I fell. Gee! that was a close call. Say, Maurice, ain't it queer though? I was feelin' mighty scared an' trembly afore that bolt fell, but now I feel nervy enough to tackle any ghost. How 'bout you?"
"By gosh! that's jest how I feel, Bill. That lightnin' knocked all the scare plumb out o' me. I don't like these no-rain sort of thunderstorms though," he added. "They're always slashin' out when they're least expected."
"Well, the lightnin' part of this un's about past us, Maurice. But the rain's comin'. Guess that ol' elm's done fer. She's dead, though, else she wouldn't burn like that. By hokey!" he broke off, "will you look here?"
He picked up something that glittered in the firelight, and held it up for his chum's inspection.
"Old Harry's fairy arrer," gasped Maurice. "Oh say, Bill, ain't that lucky? He must have lost it in his scramble to get away."
"Likely. Now I move we go right over into that ha'nted grove. What you say?"
Maurice swallowed hard, "I'm blame fool enough fer anythin' since I got knocked silly by that bolt," he answered, "so I'm game if you are."
"Watch out!" warned Billy, grasping him by the arm and jerking him to one side, "that struck elm is goin' to fall." A rainbow of flame flashed close before the boys, as the stricken tree crashed across the path, hurling forth a shower of sparks as it came to earth. Then inky darkness followed and from the black canopy which a moment ago had seemed to touch the tree tops the rain fell in torrents.
"Bill, Oh Bill! where 'bouts are you?" Maurice's voice sounded muffled and far away to his chum's ears.
"I'm right here," he answered.
"Gollies! but ain't it dark? I can't see anythin' of you, Bill."
"Ner me, either. I guess we'll have to give up the hunt fer t'night, Maurice. Anyways, we don't know jest how to work ol' Harry's fairy arrer."
"No, we'll have to find out. Say, Bill, where 'bouts is the path?"
"Gee! how am I to know; it's right here somewheres, though."
"I guess I've found it, Bill. Come over close, so's I kin touch you, then we'll be movin' 'long. Hully gee! but I'm wet. Got both them charms safe?"
"Right here in my two fists, Maurice."
"Well, hang to 'em tight till we get away from this ha'nted grove. Ghosts don't mind rain none—an' he's liable t' be prowlin' out. Say, can't y' whistle a bit, so's it won't be so pesky lonesome?"
Billy puckered up his lips, but his effort was a failure. "You try, Maurice," he said, "I can't jest keep the hole in my mouth steady long enough t' whistle."
"Gosh! ain't I been trying," groaned Maurice. "My teeth won't keep still a'tall. Maybe I won't be one glad kid when we get out 'a here."
For half an hour they groped their way forward, no further words passing between them. The heavy roar of the rain on the tree tops made conversation next to impossible. The darkness was so dense they were forced to proceed slowly and pause for breath after bumping violently against a tree or sapling. They had been striving for what seemed to both to be a long, long time to find the clearing when Billy paused in his tracks and spoke: "It's no use, Maurice. We're lost."
Maurice sank weakly down against a tree trunk, and groaned.
"I guess we've struck into the big woods," Billy informed him. "Anyways, the trees are gettin' thicker the further we go."
"Gee! Bill, there might be wolves an' bears in this woods," said Maurice, fearfully.
"Sure there might but I guess all we kin do is take our chance with 'em."
"Well, I'd rather take a chance with a bear than a ghost, wouldn't you Bill?"
"Betcha, I would. Say Maurice," he broke out excitedly, "there's a light comin' through the trees. See it? It's movin'. Must be somebody with a lantern."
"I see it," Maurice replied in guarded tones. "Bill, that light's comin' this way, sure as shootin'."
"Looks like it. Wonder who it kin be? Maybe somebody lookin' fer us."
The two boys crouched down beside a great beech. The light, which had not been a great distance from them when first sighted, was rapidly approaching. Billy grasped his chum's arm. "Look," he whispered, "there's two of 'em."
"I see 'em," his friend whispered back. "Gosh! looks as though they're goin' to tramp right onto us."
However, the night-roamers of the forest did not walk into them. Instead they came very close to the boys and halted. The man who carried the lantern set it down on the ground and spoke in gruff tobes to his companion, a short, heavy-set man with a fringe of black beard on his face.
"I tell you, Jack, we'll hide the stuff there. It'll be safe as a church."
"I say no, Tom," the other returned, surlily. "It won't be safe there. Somebody'll be sure to find it."
The other man turned on him angrily. "Who'll find it?" he retorted. "Don't be a fool, Jack. You couldn't pull anybody to that place with a loggin' chain. It's the safest spot in the world to hide the stuff, I tell ye. Besides, the boat orter be in in a few days, and we kin slip the stuff to Cap. Jacques without the boss ever knowin' how far we've exceeded his orders."
"All right," gruffly assented his companion, "if you're so cock sure, it suits me all right. Come on; let's get out of this cussed woods. Remember we've got some work before us tonight."
The man named Tom picked up the lantern and moved on, cursing the rain and the saplings that whipped his face at every step. His pal followed without a word.
The boys waited until the lantern's glow grew hazy through the slackening rain, then they sprang up and followed. Three-quarters of an hour later the trees began to thin. Unwittingly the strangers had guided them into the clearing.
As they reached the open the rain ceased altogether. High above a few pale stars were beginning to probe through the tattered clouds. The men with the lantern were rapidly moving across the stumpy fallow, towards the causeway.
"Will we foller 'em, Bill?" asked Maurice eagerly.
Billy shook his head. "I'd sort o' like to," he said, slowly, "jest to find out what game they're up to, but I guess if we know what's good fer us we'll go home an' take off these wet duds. Hard lookin' customers, wasn't they?"
"Hard, I should say so! I'll bet either one of 'em 'ud murder a hull family fer ten cents. Say, Bill, maybe they're pirates; you heard what they............
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