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HOME > Inspiring Novel > A Son of Courage > CHAPTER XV BILLY'S PROBLEMS MULTIPLY
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 Recovery of the stolen goods caused considerable excitement in the Settlement. For a week or so nothing else was talked of and conjecture ran rife as to why the thieves had not made off with their pillage rather than hide it in the haunted house. Harry O'Dule came in for a plenty of praise for the part he had played in finding the loot but beyond hinting that the job had been more than easy for the seventh son of a seventh son, he was reticent on the subject. That he should have returned the liquor almost intact, to the owner, was a conundrum to all who knew him, with the exception of Billy and Maurice.  
Billy was anything but easy in his mind during these exciting days. Who were the two strangers who had searched old Harry's hut? Were they the same two he and Maurice had seen in the woods on the night of the storm? If so, why did they send a message to Hinter, and what was its significance? Where was Gibson's Grove, anyway? These questions bothered him, and pondering upon them robbed him of appetite and sleep. Maurice and Elgin were no help to him in a dilemma of this kind and the new boy, Jim Scroggie, he knew scarcely well enough to trust.
It was, perhaps, just as well for Anson that he kept out of Billy's way during this period. However very little that Billy did was missed by his pale blue eyes. He knew that his step-brother had visited the haunted house alone and had searched it nook and corner. For what? He had seen him fasten his rabbit-foot to a branch of a tree and dig, and dig. For what? He wanted to find out but dared not ask. Perhaps Billy was going crazy! He acted like it. Anson made up his mind that he would confide his suspicions in his mother. But on the very day that he had decided to pour into Mrs. Wilson's ear all the strange goings-on of his brother, Billy caught him out on a forest-path alone and, gripping him by the shoulder, threatened to conjure up by means of witchcraft at his command a seven-headed dragon with cat-fish hooks for claws who would rip his—Anson's—soul to shreds if he so much as breathed to his mother one word of what he had seen.
In vain Anson declared he didn't know anything to tell. Billy looked at him calmly. "You been follerin' me an' I know it," he said. "Croaker saw you, an' so did Ringdo."
Anson's mouth fell open in terror. "You don't mean—" he commenced, then gulped, unable to proceed.
"That Croaker's a witch? Of course he's a witch, an' so's Ringdo. They both know exactly what you're thinkin', an' what you're doin'. Listen, you," as Anse shivered. "Didn't you dream, jest t'other night, that Croaker was bendin' over you to peck your eyes out?"
Anse nodded a reluctant admission.
"Well, s'pose it wasn't any dream? S'pose it was all real? An' s'pose, if I hadn't waked up in time to stop him, he'd have picked your eyes out an' put in fisheyes in their place? Then you couldn't see anythin' unless you was under water. An' s'pose, when I asked Croaker what he wanted to do that awful thing fer, he up an' told me that you'd been spyin' on me an' you didn't deserve to own human eyes? I say s'pose all this. Now then, Anse, you best mind your own business an' let your mouth freeze up close, else you're goin' to have an awful time of it. If I get Croaker to say he won't gouge your eyes out till I give the word it's more'n you deserve."
Hope stirred in Anson's fear ridden soul—hope which Billy remorselessly killed with his next words.
"But I couldn't get no promise out o' Ringdo. He says you're workin' 'gainst us."
"But I ain't, Bill. Cross my heart, I ain't," protested Anson. "Why should I be?"
"Maybe jest 'cause you're a sneak," Billy answered, "but you're my brother an' I don't want anythin' horrible to happen to you if I kin help it. The best thing fer you to do is keep mum, an' when you see me strikin' off anywhere look t'other way."
"An' you'll see that Ringdo don't bite me, Bill?" pleaded Anson. "You'll keep him off me, won't you?"
Billy considered. "I'll try," he promised, "but it's goin' to take a whole lot of coaxin' to do it. That old witchcoon has been prowlin' down through the tamarack swale huntin' copperhead snakes for a week now, gettin' ready to do fer somebody er other."
"Oh gollies!" gasped Anson. "What's he huntin' copperheads fer, Bill?"
"Why to poison his teeth with. He's loadin' up fer somebody, sure as shootin'. Gosh! I am sorry you've been sech a fool, Anse. Jest think, one little scratch from that coon's teeth and—'
"Bill," Anson's voice was husky with terror. "You won't let him touch me, will you, Bill?"
"I'll keep him away from you so long as you keep away from us, an' hold a close tongue in your head," Billy promised. "Understan', though, it's goin' to be a mighty hard thing to do; I saw him trying the bark of that elm jest under our winder only this mornin'. He's likely aimin' to shin up that tree an' fall on your face, most any night, so if you want your eyes an' your life you'd better do what I say."
"I'll do jest as you say, Bill," Anse promised, fervently, and Billy knew that he meant it. "All right, that's a go," he said and went off to the menagerie to feed his pets.
* * * * *
Something else was to happen shortly to make Billy feel that his world was full of mysterious agents sent for no other purpose than to give him fresh worries.
That evening, as he drove the cattle down along the Causeway for water he met two teams of horses hauling loads of greasy-looking timbers and black, oily pipes. The men who drove the teams were strangers to him. Scroggie, or Heir Scroggie, as he was now commonly called in the neighborhood, sat beside the driver of one of the wagons.
"He's movin' a saw-mill up into the big woods," thought Billy. "But where in the world did it come from!" he pondered as he looked after the creaking loads.
He was not long to remain in doubt on that point. As he approached the lake road another load of timbers and metal rounded the corner. Two men were seated on the load, a big, broad-shouldered man and a thin one. Some little distance behind another man was walking. It was Hinter.
As the load drew close to where Billy stood partly concealed by a clump of red willows, the driver halted his team for a rest after the pull through the heavy sand, and apparently not noticing the boy, spoke in guarded tones to his companion.
"If I had only listened to you, Jack, we wouldn't have lost that whisky," he said. "I was dead sure nobody would go near that place. And at that we didn't find what we did the job to get, did we? It'll be just our luck to have that will turn up in time to cook our goose, yet."
"Well, Tom, I reckon it's none of our funeral whether it turns up or not," growled the other. "We're gettin' paid well fer what we're doin', ain't we? If it turns up, Scroggie and the boss'll have to do their own worryin'."
The driver cracked his whip and the load went on, swaying and creaking as it left the soft sand for the corduroy.
A little further on Billy came face to face with Hinter. "How are you, Billy?" spoke the man, pleasantly. "Still driving the cows down to the lake for water, I see."
"Yep; they don't seem to take to the crick water," Billy replied. "It's sort of scummy an' smells queer."
Hinter laughed constrainedly. "I've been pretty w............
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