Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Inspiring Novel > A Son of Courage > CHAPTER X IN LOST MAN'S SWAMP
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
 The August days were passing swiftly, each fragrant dawn marking another step towards that inevitable something which must be faced—the reopening of the Valley School by a new teacher. Billy's heart saddened as the fields ripened and the woods turned red and gold. For once his world was out of tune. Maurice Keeler was sick with measles and Elgin Scraff lay ill with the same disease. Taking advantage of this fact, the Sand-sharkers had grown bold, some of the more venturesome of them going even so far as to challenge Billy to "knock the chip off their shoulders."  
Billy had not only accommodated the trouble-seekers in this regard but had nearly knocked the noses off their freckled faces as well, after which he had proceeded to lick, on sight, each and every Sand-sharker with whom his lonely rambles brought him in contact. But his victories lacked the old time zest. He missed Maurice's "Gee! Bill, that left swing to his eye was a corker"; missed Elgin's offer to bet a thousand dollars that Billy Wilson could lick, with one hand tied behind him, any two Sand-sharkers that ever smelled a smoked herrin'. Victory was indeed empty of glory. And so the glad days were sad days for Billy. It was an empty world. What boy in Billy's place would not have been low-spirited under like conditions? What boy would not have paused, as he was doing now, to itemize his woes?
He was seated on a stump in the new clearing which sloped to Levee Creek, fingers locked about one knee, battered felt hat pulled over his eyes. The green slope at his feet lay half in the sunlight, half in the shadow. Across from a patch of golden-rod, the cock bird of a fox-scattered quail-covey whistled the "All's Well" call to the birds in hiding. Ordinarily Billy would have answered that call, would have drawn the brown, scuttling birds close about him with the low-whistled notes he could produce so well: but today he was oblivious to all save his thoughts.
Two weeks had passed since the robbery of the Twin Oaks store and that which he and Maurice had planned to do towards finding the Scroggie will and capturing the thieves had, through dire necessity, been abandoned. Sickness had claimed Maurice just when he was most needed. For days Billy had lived a sort of trancelike existence; had gone about acting queerly, refusing his meals and paying little attention to anybody or anything.
It had become a regular thing for his father to say each morning, "I guess you ain't feelin' up to much today, Billy; so all you have to do is watch the gap and water the cattle"; which was quite agreeable to Billy, because it gave him an opportunity to be by himself. Men who sit in the shadow of irrevocable fate are always that way; they want to be left alone—murderers on the eve of their execution, captains on wrecked ships, Trigger Finger Tim, who was to be shot at sunrise, but wasn't.
Billy wanted to shadow old Scroggie's ghost and so discover the will; he wanted to seek out the robbers of the Twin Oaks store and earn a reward; he wanted Maurice Keeler with him; he wanted to hear Elgin Scraff's laugh. But all this was denied him. And now a new burden had been thrust upon him, compared with which all his other woes seemed trivial. Old Scroggie's namesake and apparent heir had turned up again. Billy had seen him with his own eyes; with his own ears had heard him declare that he intended to erect a saw-mill in the thousand-acre forest. This meant that the big hardwood wonderland would be wiped away and that Frank Stanhope would never inherit what was rightfully his.
It seemed like an evil dream, but Billy knew it was no dream. Scroggie, astride a big bay horse, had passed him while he was on his way to the store with a basket of eggs for his mother, and he had pulled in at the store just as Deacon Ringold had taken the last available space on the customers' bench outside, and Caleb Spencer had come to the door to peer through the twilight in search of the Clearview stage, which was late. Noticing the stranger on horseback Caleb had hurried forward to ask how best he could serve him.
Hidden safely behind a clump of cedars Billy had watched and listened. He had heard Scroggie tell the storekeeper that he and his family had come to Scotia to stay and that he intended to cut down the timber of the big woods. He had then demanded that Spencer turn over to him a certain document which it seemed old man Scroggie had left in Caleb's charge some months before his death. Billy had seen Spencer draw the man a little apart from the others, who had gathered close through curiosity, and had heard him explain that the paper had been taken from his safe on the night of the robbery of his store. Scroggie had, at first, seemed to doubt Caleb's word; then he had grown abusive and had raised his riding-whip threateningly. Here Billy, having heard and seen quite enough, had acted. Placing his basket gently down on the sward he had picked up an egg and with the accuracy born of long practice in throwing stones, had sent it crashing into Scroggie's face. Gasping and temporarily blinded, Scroggie had wheeled his horse and galloped away.
But today Billy, musing darkly, knew that Scroggie would do what he had said he would do. The big woods was his, according to law; he could do as he wished with it, and he would wipe it out.
With a sigh, Billy slid from the stump and stood looking away toward the east. What would Trigger Finger Tim do in his place? When confronted by insurmountable obstacles Trigger Finger had been wont to seek excitement and danger. That's what he, Billy, would do now. But where was excitement and danger to be found? Ah, he knew—Lost Man's Swamp!
Billy's right hand went into a trouser's pocket; then nervously his left dived into the other pocket. With a sigh of relief he drew out a furry object about the size of a pocket-knife.
"Ol' Rabbit-foot charm," he said, aloud. "I jest might need you bad today." Then he turned and walked quickly across the fallow toward the causeway.
Some three miles east of the imaginary line which divided the Settlement from the outside world, on the Lake Shore road, stood a big frame house in a grove of tall walnut trees. It was the home of a man named Hinter—a man of mystery. Before it the lake flashed blue as a kingfisher's wing through the cedars; behind it swept a tangle of forest which gradually dwarfed into a stretch of swamp-willow and wild hazel-nut bushes, which in turn gave place to marshy bog-lands.
Lost Man's Swamp, so called because it was said that one straying into its depths never was able to extricate himself from its overpowering mists and treacherous quicksands, was lonely and forsaken. It lay like a festering sore on the breast of the world—black, menacing, hungry to gulp, dumb as to those mysteries and tragedies it had witnessed. It was whispered that the devil made his home in its pitchy ponds, which even in the fiercest cold of winter did not freeze.
For Billy, who knew and understood so well the sweeping wilderness of silence and mysteries, this swamp held a dread which, try as he might, he could not analyze. On one other occasion had he striven to penetrate it, but as if the bogland recognized in him a force not easily set aside, it had enwrapped him with its deadly mists which chilled and weakened, torn his flesh with its razor-edged grass and sucked at his feet with its oozy, dragging quicksands. He had turned back in time. For two weeks following his exploit he had lain ill with ague, shivering miserably, silent, but thinking.
And now he was back again; and this time he did not intend to risk his life in those sucking sands. From a couple of dead saplings, with the aid of wild grape-vines, he fashioned a light raft which would serve as a support in the bog, and carry his weight in the putrid mire beyond. Strange sounds came to his ears as he worked his way across the desolate waste toward the first great pond—scurrying, rustling sounds of hidden things aroused from their security. Once a big grey snake stirred from torpor to lift its head and hiss at him. Billy lifted it aside with his pole and went on.
Great mosquitoes whined about his head and stung his neck and ears. Mottled flies bit him and left a burning smart. The saw-like edges of the grass cut his hands and strove to trip him as he pushed his improvised raft forward. Once his foot slipped on the greasy bog, and the quicksands all but claimed him. But he pushed on, reaching at last the black sullen shallows, putrid and ill-smelling with decayed growth, and alive with hideous insects.
Great, black leeches clung to the slimy lily-roots; water lizards lay basking half in and half out of the water, or crept furtively from under-water grotto to grotto. And there were other things which Billy knew were hidden from his sight—things even more loathsome. For the first time in his life he experienced for Nature a feeling akin to dread and loathing. It was like a nightmare to him, menacing, unreal, freighted with strange horrors.
One thing Billy saw which he could not understand. The greasy surface of the shallow pond was never still, but bubbled incessantly as porridge puffs and bubbles when it boils. It was as if the slimy creatures buried in the oozy bottom belched forth their poisonous breath as they stirred in sleep.
So here lay the reason that the swamp-waters never froze even when winter locked all other waters fast in its icy clutch! What caused those air bubbles, if ai............
Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading

Login into Your Account

  Remember me on this computer.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved