The Golden Pears/Chapter 4

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IV

When Lunmer Andrest took up the trail of the enemy who had wrecked his floating home, he followed it to the near side of a dry bayou that bordered the Clinchell plantation. There he saw where a barefoot boy had approached the flour track and departed again—a messenger. Then he found the tracks of old Clinchell himself. He knew those tracks, for he had often had occasion to observe them.

The vandal's trail led from Clinchell's tracks down the dry bayou to a pool of water, in which the man had washed his boots, as the water and an adjacent gum log showed. Andrest searched around till he found the departing direction of the cleaned boots, but following the trail was much more difficult now. He finally lost the track in a cane-brake, and was obliged to leave it.

He cut through the swamps to Si Hed Jesnie's cabin, which stood at the entrance to an untouched bottom-land wilderness extending over hundreds of square miles of gum, cypress, oak, and other trees, canebrakes, lotus lakes, and sunken lands.

Jesnie was sitting on the steps of his split-board cabin, smoking his home-made pipe with a cane-root stem. He nodded gravely in reply to Andrest's greeting.

"Jesnie," Andrest began, "you've always been a friend of mine."

"I suttinly have, suh!"

"I've never refused you a favor, nor asked one from you. I've always done the best I knew for you and all my neighbors."

"You suttinly have, Lun!"

"Now I've a favor to ask—one that nobody ever need know about—but you needn't to give it if you think it 'd hurt any friend of yours. When I went home to my shanty-boat this morning it was gone—the stakes pulled up. I followed down the river, and it was aground on Culler's Shoals. When I went into it, everything was all tore up—flour and meal on the floor, and a pail of water throwed onto it. My seine-net was dragged into it. I had a can of canvas waterproofing, and it was spilled around. All my feathers and whittled tricks was mixed into the mess. I had a lot of shell tricks—you know those things out of clams—and they was all scattered around. Course I tracked back. I found where the scoundrel who done it jumped up the bank. I tracked him by the clods of flour and meal on his boots to Clinchell's dry bayou. From there the man went to a pool and washed his boots off. I trailed him over yon side the Turkey Ridge cane-brake, but he lost himself there."

"I understand, suh, perfectly," Jesnie nodded.

"You know what I want to know?"

"I expect I could guess some."

"Well, will you tell me is anybody 'sides old Clinchell feeling mean toward me?"

"Suppose you ask names?" Jesnie suggested. "I'm friendly to my neighbors."

"I don't remember but one man ever was provoked at me," Andrest said, as if thinking aloud. "It was last election. I argued with a man. A man's a fool arguing about politics, without he's political himself. I had quick words with Rip Morlung. Is Rip unfriendly?"

"I wouldn't say he's unfriendly," Jesnie said slowly; "but, you see, in a business way—if he just didn't care, up or down—"

"Somebody might get him to do something for money, even if he himself didn't allow to be mean?"

"Rip wouldn't kill you"—Jesnie shook his head—"not right off by his own self. He isn't that unfriendly. He just don't care, I should say. Course old Clinchell's mean—but he's bonded!"

"And he might get Rip to—"

"He come here—I'm telling you!—he come here to see me. I told him where he'd find Rip—"

"That's what I wanted to know, Jesnie," Andrest exclaimed. "I'm a lot obliged to you. I won't forget. Good day, sir!"

"Good day!"

Andrest turned and struck away through the timber toward his cabin-boat. He dragged it up the shoals and moored it against the west bank of the Culler eddy, and began to clean out the mess the raider had made. He shoveled it into a pail, and then stirred out the flour and meal by repeated filling with water. This salvaged the cartridges. It also salvaged the clam-shell tricks that he had gathered because they were pretty. He washed the faces of the grotesques that he had carved for amusement out of hardwood knots and knuckle pieces.

Before nightfall he had cleaned and mopped out the cabin. The weavings and plaitings which he had made from pretty feathers were all muddied with the meal and flour, but he tried to save them, too, washing them as best he could. If it had not been for the waterproofing he would have been able to clean up most of them; but, as it was, he had to put them aside for future care.

When he started to cook his supper he found that his salt was emptied out and spoiled. That fact added to the cold rage that filled him. He could not eat saltless squirrels that night, for he was not hungry enough. Instead of eating, he shouldered his short thirty-thirty rifle, put fifteen feet of trot-line into his hip-pocket, nicely coiled, and set forth into the brakes, wearing his bear-paw moccasins.

Andrest knew the brakes, night or day. He could tell where he was by looking at the sky on a dark night. The shape of the tree-limbs against the clouds would show whether he was on high or low land. He knew which trees grew in the eternal muck and which on the ridges. Of course, if he found switch-cane or pole-cane, he knew he was on a ridge; and if he did not recognize the place, he knew from his previous course whereabout he was.

The dark in the sunken lands had no terrors for him. He was so angry now that he could hardly lose his way if he tried.

He knew where he wanted to go. He went straight across the bottoms until he struck Netormine Lake. This was seven miles back from the St. Francis River. Following the shore of this tree-grown lake, he struck a cut-bank, which he climbed, and then he followed the edge of the cane-brake around.

Stopping at last, he listened. Sure enough, there was music in the swamp! Some one was playing a fiddle. The sound was weird, like a ghost's harping. Andrest did not mind that; he crept in the direction from which the music came, pushing noiselessly through the cane-brake, inch by inch, till at last he saw the reflection of a fire on the trunk of a big gum-tree ahead of him.

There was a clearing in the cane-brake, an opening about forty feet across, under the big gum-tree. In this clearing was a little hutch, hardly eight feet square, built of split boards and poles. In front of the open side was a log fire flaring and smoking. Sitting on a log-end was a man, fiddling away for his own satisfaction and company.

The man was Rip Morlung, fugitive from justice and swamp-angel. This was his "main home," and he did not suppose that any one save himself knew where it was. If he had suspected that another man shared his secret, though that other man was counted his truest and safest friend, he would have fled on the instant and built himself another hut in some other brake.

Just by accident Lunmer Andrest had stumbled upon the hiding-place, and he had told no one about it. The knowledge was of a kind that was none of his business until he was obliged to use it in self-defense.

Then he was right glad that he had told no one, least of all Rip Morlung, what he knew. Andrest listened to the music for two hours, and between tunes he listened to Morlung talking to himself. Scouters often get into the habit of talking aloud to themselves back in the brakes.

"I earned fifty easy thataway!" Morlung exclaimed. "I shore mussed up that little old shanty-boat—yes, I did! I bet Andrest 'll quit these yere swamps! Old Clinchell shore was glad he come to me! Impident little pup—sass me, will he? Course I've no mean feelings for Andrest, but he needed settin' down, runnin' around and meeting Sue Belle Clinchell. Course old Clinchell's mad. Why wouldn't he be? 'Oh, come on now, my dicky-bird!’"

Morlung interrupted his soliloquy with a burst of violin music. He played a long, lively tune, "Come On Now, My Dicky-Bird," and listened enraptured to his own music.

Thus he played, and thus Andrest listened appreciatively. The hour grew late. Toward midnight the scouter put his violin tenderly into its case, worked a set of shells through the breech of his repeater, and carefully cleaned it, cleaned his two big revolvers, and counted his fifty silver dollars over and over again.

"Hue-e!" Morlung grinned aloud. "I shore earned fifty silver wheels easy to-day! It were easier ner holding up a commissary—yes, indeed! I'll jes' put this away where I'll find it when I come back."

He walked to the foot of the big gumtree and, lifting out a handful of sticks and chips and clods, pulled into view a stone jug. One by one he slipped the silver dollars into the jug, and as they fell Andrest heard them strike other coins. Morlung replaced the jug, covered it over, and packed it down.

Having thus prepared for the night, he bit off a chunk of plug-tobacco, crawled back into the hut, hung his belt on a fork, and stretched out upon the bunk that he had constructed of poles and canvas. A minute or two later Andrest heard him snoring.

The watcher settled himself where he sat and dozed into sleep. He was awakened by a turkey calling out in the swamp, and saw that dawn was at hand.

Morlung slept late that morning. When at last he stepped out to stir up the coals of his log fire, he neglected to put on his belt with its revolver holsters. As he stooped to roll the log-ends around, Andrest called sharply:

"Hands up, Morlung!"

Morlung's two hands dropped to his waist as he straightened and turned to face the ambush; but his revolvers were not there. Facing the muzzle of the rifle, he had but two choices—one to surrender, the other to make a motion toward his hut, and die.

The fugitive hesitated for only a moment, and then he surrendered. Andrest stepped into the little clearing. When he was at short range he told Morlung to turn and face the other way and put both hands behind him. This done, Andrest looped his piece of trot-line around his captive's wrists and bound them fast. Then he tied the scouter's elbows together with another set of loops.

"What you got ag'in' me, Andrest?" Morlung began, whining. "I've never been mean to you! You ain' givin' me up for the reward, are you? There's fellers with lots bigger rewards on 'em than there is on me. I'd help get—"

"You didn't wash the tops of your boots clean, that's why," Andrest interrupted. "Look at that flour and corn-meal on the hang-down of your hip-boots! You didn't wash them clean, that's why!"

"Sho!" Morlung exclaimed. "You—you don't think I did anything, do you?"

"You tore my boat up," Andrest declared grimly. " You were paid ten dollars by old Clinchell first, and then you went back and he gave you forty dollars more. You hired out to tear my boat up; you did it. The damage you did amounts to pretty nearly as much as your reward will come to, and I'm going to—"

"I got some money!" Morlung pleaded. "Don' take me back! They'll send me to the farm for twenty years—"

"I don't want your money. I'm takin' you in for the reward, to pay me for having my boat tore up, and to get shet of such as you. After all I've been here, mindin' my own business, you hire out to a rich old scoundrel to drive me out of this country! No, sir, Morlung, I don't leave this country, but you do! Now march!"

Andrest, while he talked, had found the few things that Morlung had stolen on his raid, and with these in his pockets and game-bag he drove Morlung through the cane and out to the nearest trace. Two hours later they were at the shanty-boat. Andrest took the skiff and rowed down to Deerport, where he drove Morlung up the street to the court-house.

Sheriff Ferris was there.

"Morning, sheriff!" Andrest greeted him.

"Morning, Andrest! Who you got this time?"

"Rip Morlung. You'd know him, only he hasn't shaved off his whiskers."

"Well, that's so, I declare! I expect you want the reward?"

"Yes, sir. He didn't mind his own business, so I went after the reward, sheriff."

"How is that?"

"He tore my shanty-boat up, cut it loose, and let it drift down to Culler's Shoals, more'n three miles from where I had it."

"I don't blame you, Andrest. There's another man up there I'd like to get, too—Hen Fretnel."

"No, sir! Hen don't trouble me and I don't trouble him," Andrest declared promptly. "This man hired out to do me a mischief, and no man can do that and not get the worst of it."

"I think that's so, Andrest; that's what I've been noticing lately. I'll write you the order for the reward."

Sheriff Ferris wrote an order on the Deerport National Bank. Having taken the prisoner to the jail and locked him in, he accompanied Andrest to the bank and introduced him to the cashier.

"This is Mr. Andrest," he said, "the gentleman who just brought Rip Morlung in. I gave him an order for that reward."

"Good!" replied the cashier, reaching for the money drawer. "I believe I've heard of you before, Mr. Andrest, haven't I?"

"Heard of me?" Andrest asked, surprised that a banker could have heard of him.

"Why, yes—President Lesgar mentioned you. You brought us a good bit of business the other day!"

"Brought you business!" Andrest repeated. "Why, I never was in here in my life before!"

"Perhaps not, but indirectly you helped the banking business a good deal. Do you want to take this money with you, or will you leave it here on deposit until you have a chance to invest it?"

"I never had any money in a bank." Andrest shook his head doubtfully. "I don't know about it. Rich fellows have money in banks, but I—I didn't know as poor men could."

"Young man"—the cashier threw up the brass gate over the desk—"let me tell you something. When you have five hundred dollars, you can put it into any bank in the State."

"I thought—I 'lowed a man would have to have a million dollars, or something like that!" Andrest exclaimed. "If five hundred would let me in, why, I could have come in a long while ago—I sure could!"

"You have more than this? I tell you what you need, young man—it's a course in finance! Can you read?"

"Oh, yes—right smart!"

"Well, you take this little folder and you read it. I just happened to hear the other day that you ship an average of eighteen dollars' worth of fish a week—and you have initiative—that's it!"

"Which?" Andrest asked.

"You don't wait for some one else to do what needs doing—that's initiative. Now I'll deposit this in the bank for you, and give you a bank-book. When you've read that folder, you'll know something about money and investing and putting money to work for you. We'll help you. Do you realize that you can put that five hundred to work for you, and make it earn money while you're sitting still?"

"Money work?" Andrest laughed. "Shucks!"

"That's right! Every dollar of that money will earn six cents every year; that's thirty dollars. If you had a thousand dollars, it would earn sixty. If you had two thousand dollars, it would earn more than two dollars a week."

"Sho!" Andrest exclaimed. "I'll sure read this piece of paper!"

"All right!"

The cashier handed Andrest the bank-book, and the youth walked down the street to a lunch-room, where he ate a square meal. He returned to his cabin-boat and began to read the folder that told about making money work for a man. For years he had been reading newspapers, magazines, and books, but without understanding more than the stories.

The little booklet began with a head-line:

 

PUTTING MONEY OUT AT INTEREST.

 

He learned that a poor man had a right to do that; and when he read the amounts of money necessary for embarking on this preserve of the wealthy and the great, he was surprised.

"Why," he laughed with surprise, "I could put a right smart of money out to work! Why, I bet I got more'n a hundred pounds of silver dollars in my jugs! Sho! I never knowed what I could do with it!"

He read the entry in his bank-book that showed his deposit of five hundred dollars. It looked businesslike and important. He laughed with delight. He was just ready to learn about finance, and the cashier of the bank had caught him at the psychological moment. He read the little folder, which told about saving money and putting it to work in mortgages, bonds, stocks, and trade. It was a very little primer of finance, but it was the first reader of a new education for Lunmer Andrest.

When the sun set, and night fell quickly upon the bottoms, he did something he had never done before—he tacked heavy pieces of canvas over his shanty-boat windows so that no one could look in at him. He had never felt before that this was a necessary precaution. No one would ever want to harm him, he had thought; but conditions had changed now. He had a desperate enemy, a man who was under bonds to keep the peace, but who would not hesitate to hire whom he could to menace or harm a victim of his wrath.

Pinning up those curtains before he lit his lamp made Andrest wince.

"I'm peaceable!" he exclaimed. "I never harmed any man! Why couldn't they leave me alone? Haven't I the right to talk to Sue Belle if she'll let me? I bet I have, if I shoot that old scoundrel!"

He put away his bank-book and picked up the pail into which he had poured the concentrates of his salvage from the mess on the floor. He sorted out more of the pretty little clam-shell tricks and cartridges. He put the cartridges into tin baking-powder boxes, and the shell tricks he rolled on the table, setting them down in circles and squares and fanciful figures.

Some of the shell tricks were pink, some white, some lilac—there were quarts of them of a hundred different shapes. He had dozens that looked like little round posies. He had a pound or so that were shaped like the teeth of dogs, cats, and other animals—some bright white, and some dull and dark.

He had often amused himself with these teeth, making grinning skulls out of them, some with almost black fangs, and some with gleaming white grins. Having tired of one picture, he would draw another one with the varied shapes and colors.

Thus he had passed many of his evenings. Sometimes he would spend a good deal of time thinking—thinking hard. He was in a swamp-land wilderness. His back track led to a dim and fantastic memory of great cities where he had been hungry and unhappy, skulking like a street cat, keeping out of sight of people for fear of a kick or a slap. Down here in the swampland he was a man among men. He never was hungry.

People had nearly always left him alone; but now he felt their menace. The threat surrounded him with a blankness which his mind could not penetrate. He felt as if the swamp woods contained jeopardies of attack and hurt. Having felt that menace, he realized his own weakness.

There he had been burying his silver dollars, when he might have put them out to work for him! That idea of having money work was a rift in the Dark Bend gloom of ignorance that surrounded him.

Through all the visions of his imagination there threaded one steady, unchanged figure—that of Sue Belle Clinchell.

"She's friendly!" he told himself. "If it wasn't for her I'd light out, but she's friendly! I 'low I'll get to see her again right soon!"