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HOME > Inspiring Novel > A Son of Courage > CHAPTER IX MOVING THE MENAGERIE
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 Billy and Maurice, taking the short cut to the Wilson farm across the rain-drenched fields next morning, were planning the day's programme.  
"Now that we've got ol' Harry's charm along with my rabbit-foot," Billy was saying, "we ought'a be able to snoop 'round in the ha'nted grove an' even hunt through the house any time we take the notion. Maybe we'll get a chance to do it to-day."
"But, darn it all, Bill," Maurice objected, "there won't be no ghost to lead the way to the stuff in the daytime."
"Well, if we take a look over the place in daylight we'll know the lay-out better at night, won't we? Trigger Finger Tim did that most times, an' he always got away clean. Supposin' a ghost is close at your heels, ain't it a good idea to have one or two good runways picked out to skip on? We're goin' through that ha'nted house in daylight, so you might as well make up your mind to that."
Maurice was about to protest further when the rattle of loose spokes and the beat of a horse's hoofs on the hard road fell on their ears.
"That's Deacon Ringold's buck-board," Billy informed his chum, drawing him behind an alder-screened stump. "Say, ain't he drivin'? Somebody must be sick at his place." Then as the complaining vehicle swept into sight from around the curve, "By crackey, Maurice, your Pa's ridin' with him."
Maurice scratched his head in perplexity. "Wonder where he's takin' Dad? It's too late fer sheep-shearin' an' too early fer hog-killin'; an' that's 'bout all Dad's good at doin', 'cept leadin' the singin' at prayer-meetin'. Wonder what's up? Gee! the deacon is sure puttin' his old mare over the road."
"Keep quiet till they get past," cautioned Billy. "Say! we needn't have been so blamed careful about makin' our sneak if we'd knowed your Pa was away from home."
"Oh, look, Bill," said Maurice, "they're stoppin' at your place."
The deacon had pulled up at the Wilson's gate. "He's shoutin' fer Pa," Billy whispered, as a resounding "Hello, Tom!" awoke the forest echoes. "Come on Maurice, let's work our way down along this strip o' bushes, so's we kin hear what's goin' on."
The boys wriggled their way through the thicket of sumach, and reached a clump of golden-rod inside the road fence just as Wilson came out of the lane.
"Mornin', neighbors," he greeted the men in the buckboard, "won't you pull in?"
"No," said the deacon, "we're on our way to Twin Oaks, Thomas. Thieves broke into Spencer's store last night. We're goin' up to see if we can be of any use to Caleb. We'd like you to come along."
Wilson's exclamation of surprise was checked by Cobin Keeler, whose long arm reached out and encircled him. He was lifted bodily into the seat and the buckboard dashed on up the road, the clatter of its loose spokes drowning the loud voices of its occupants.
The boys eat up and stared at each other.
"You heard?" Billy asked in awed tones.
Maurice nodded. "They said thieves at the store." Forgotten, for the moment, was old Scroggie's ghost and the buried treasure in this new something which promised mystery and adventure.
"Hully Gee!" whispered Billy. "Ain't that rippin'."
"Ain't it jest?" agreed Maurice. "Say, Bill, there ain't no law ag'in shootin' robbers is there—store-robbers, I mean?"
"Naw, why should there be? That's what you're supposed to do, if you get the chance—shoot 'em, an' get the reward."
"What's a reward?"
"Why, it's money, you ninny! You kill the robbers an' you get the church collection an' lots of other money besides. Then you're rich an' don't ever have to do any work; jest fish an' hunt an' give speeches at tea-meetin's an' things."
"Oh, hokey! ain't that great. How'd you come to know all that, Bill?"
"Why I read it in Anson's book, 'Trigger-Finger Tim er Dead er Alive.' Oh, it's all hunky, I tell you."
"But, Bill, how we goin' to kill them robbers?"
"Ain't goin' to kill 'em," his friend replied. "Trigger-Finger Tim never killed his; he took 'em all alive. All he did was crease their skulls with bullets, an' scrape their spines with 'em, an' when they come to they'd find themselves tied hand an' foot, an' Trigger-Finger smokin' his cigarette an' smilin' down on 'em."
"Gollies!" exulted Maurice. Then uncertainty in his tones, "A feller 'ud have to be a mighty good shot to do that though, Bill."
"Oh shucks! What's the use of thinkin' 'bout that now? We've gotta catch them robbers first, ain't we?"
"Yep, that's so. But how?"
Billy wriggled free of the golden-rod. "Come on over an' help me move my menagerie an' we'll plan out a way."
They climbed the fence and crossed the road to the lane-gate.
"Now, then," said Billy, "you scoot through the trees to the root-house, while I go up to the kitchen an' sneak some doughnuts. Don't let Ma catch a glimpse of you er she'll come lookin' fer me an' set me to churnin' er somethin' right under her eyes. An' see here," he warned, as Maurice made for the trees, "don't you get to foolin' with the snakes er owls, an' you best keep out of ol' Ringdo's reach, 'cause he's a bad ol' swamp coon in some ways. You jest lay close till I come back."
Whistling soundlessly, Billy went up the path to the house. He peered carefully in through the screened door. The room was empty and so was the pantry beyond. Billy entered, tiptoed softly across to the pantry and filled his pockets with doughnuts from the big crock in the cupboard. Then he tip-toed softly out again.
As he rounded the kitchen, preparatory to a leap across the open space between it and the big wood-pile, Mrs. Wilson's voice came to him, high-pitched and freighted with anger.
"You black, thievin' passel of impudence, you!" she was saying. "If I had a stick long enough to reach you, you'd never dirty any more of my new-washed clothes."
On the top-most branch of a tall, dead pine, close beside the wood-pile, sat the tame crow, Croaker, his head cocked demurely on one side, as he listened to the woman's righteous abuse. Croaker could no more help filling his claws with chips and dirt and wobbling the full length of a line filled with snowy, newly-washed clothes than he could help upsetting the pan of water in the chicken-pen, when he saw the opportunity. He hated anything white with all his sinful little heart and he hated the game rooster in the same way. He was always in trouble with Ma Wilson, always in trouble with the rooster. Only when safe in the highest branch of the pine was he secure, and in a position to talk back to his persecutors.
He said something now, low and guttural, to the woman shaking her fist at him in impotent anger. His voice was almost h............
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