Charles Roberts.

Reube Dare's Shad Boat





In answer to a remark of Reube on this subject Will exclaimed, But youve got him all right this time, old man. There can be no difficulty in identifying those footprints.

Reube laughed somewhat sarcastically.

Do you suppose, he inquired, that the tide is going to leave them as they are while we go after the Dido, fetch her back, and then go and get those holes in the mud examined by the authorities?

Well, perhaps my suggestion was hasty, acknowledged Will.

After an hours run Wood Point was left behind, and there was the Dido not a mile ahead and well inshore. She had been delayed in the eddies of the cove below the Point. Reube gave a shout of joy and twisted his helm to starboard, while Will warned him to look out for the mud flats with which the cove was choked.

O, said Reube, confidently, I know the place like a book.

The red-and-white pinkie was now rapidly overhauling the vagrant craft when a stiff current caught the latter and she began to race along the curve of the farther shore. Reube was anxious to catch her before she should round the next headland, and get back into rough water. The headland was a low, humped promontory of mingled plaster rocks and yellowish sand, without a tree upon its grassy crest. Shifting his course to intercept the Dido, Reube steered the pinkie straight for the point. Just then the Dido was seen to give a lurch, stop short, and keel over to the gunwale.

Shes run aground! cried Will.

But weve got her safe and will sail her back on next tide, said Reube, heaving a sigh of relief as he saw that his beloved craft stood still, refusing to be rolled over by the push of the yellow tide upon her ribs.

The pinkie was sailing at a great pace.

Better take in the jib, Will, said Reube.

Will sprang up to obey. Just as he rose there was a staggering shock. The pinkie buried her nose in a hidden mudbank. The waves piled over her gunwales; the mast bent without breaking, like the brave, tough timber it was; and Will shot overboard headlong into the foam.

CHAPTER IV.
The Cave by the Tide

ACTING instantly on the impulse of an old sailor, Reube had sprung forward almost with the shock, and started to haul down the mainsail in order to relieve the strain. The next moment, however, while the half-lowered sail was bulging and flapping, he leaped into the bow to help Will. The latter rose with a gasp and stood waist deep, clinging to the bowsprit. His head and arms were bedaubed grotesquely with the mud into which he had plunged with such violence. He gazed sternly at Reube, and exclaimed:

Perhaps youll claim that you know these mud banks as well as I do! I earnestly hope you may, some day, gain the same intimate knowledge of them!

Then he climbed aboard and finished the furling of the sails, while Reube rolled convulsively in the bottom of the boat, unable to control his laughter.

He recovered himself only when Will trod upon him without apology, and threatened to put him overboard.

When the sails had been made snug, and the pinkie bailed out, and the mud cleaned with pains from Wills face and hair and garments, there was nothing to do but watch the Dido in the distance and wait for the tide to fall. In another half hour, or a little more, only a waste of red flats and yellow pools separated the two stranded boats. Reube took off his shoes and socks, rolled his trousers up high, and stepped overboard. These precautions were for Will superfluous; so he went as he was, and congratulated himself on being able to defy all hidden clam shells. Before he went, however, he took the precaution to put out the pinkies anchor, for which Reube derided him.

The pinkies no Western stern-wheeler, to navigate a field of wet grass! said he. I fancy shell wait here till next tide all right!

Yes but then? queried Will, laconically.

Then, replied Reube, well come back for her with the Dido.

Theres lots one never knows! said Will, as he looked carefully to the anchor rope. And as things turned out it was well he did so a fact which Reube had to acknowledge penitently.

The distance between the stranded boats was little more than a quarter of a mile, yet it took the boys some time to traverse it. The bottom of the cove was for the most part a deep and clinging ooze, which took them to the knee at every step, and held their feet with the suction of an airpump. Here and there were patches of hard sand to give them a moments ease; but here and there, too, were the dreaded honey pots for which that part of the coast is noted, and to avoid these they had to go most circumspectly. The honey pot is a sort of quicksand in which sand is replaced by slime a bottomless quagmire which does its work with inexorable certainty and deadly speed. Both Reube and Will knew the strange, ominous olive hue staining the red mud over the mouths of these traps, but they knew, also, that all signs sometimes fail, so they took the boathook with them and prodded their path cautiously. At last, after wading a long, shallow lagoon, the bottom of which was thick with shells, and unfriendly to Reubes bare feet, they reached the runaway Dido.

Breathless with anxiety, Reube climbed over the side, suddenly imagining all sorts of damage and defilement. But his darling was none the worse for her involuntary cruise. She had shipped some muddy water, but that was all that Reube could grumble at. Gandy had been too shrewd to do anything that might look like malice aforethought. In a trice the trim craft was bailed out and sponged dry. Then Will admired her critically from stem to stern, from top to keel, asking a thousand learned questions by the way, and feeling almost persuaded to build a boat himself. But even this interesting procedure came to an end, and at length the comrades threw themselves down on the cuddy roof, and realized that they were hungry. It was long past their dinner time. The tide was not yet at its lowest ebb, and it would be four or five hours ere they could hope to get the boats again afloat.

The only thing they had to eat was a pocketful of dried dulse which Reube had brought with him. This they devoured, and it made them very thirsty. They decided to go ashore and look for a spring. Far away, on the crest of the upland, were some houses, at which they gazed hungrily, but the idea of leaving the Dido and the pinkie for any such long jaunt was not to be entertained for a moment. As they again stepped out into the mud Will repeated the precaution which he had taken in regard to the pinkie. He put out the little anchor, and paid no heed to Reubes derision. To be sure, Reube was both owner and captain, but Will stood not on ceremony.

Not far from high-water mark our thirsty explorers found a clear, cold spring bubbling out from beneath a white plaster rock. The water was very hard, carrying a great deal of lime in solution, and Will lectured learnedly on the bad effect it would have upon their stomachs if they drank much of it. As usually happens, however, this theorizing had small force against the very practical fact of their thirst. So they drank till they were perfectly satisfied, and were afterward none the worse. This, Will insisted, was thanks to the abundance of sorrel which they found amid the grass near by, whose acid was kind enough to neutralize the lime which they had swallowed.

But I say, urged Reube, there are folks back yonder who drink water like this all their lives. The wells in this plaster belt are all hard like this, and some of the people who drink from them live to over ninety.

That proves nothing, said Will, except that they are a long-lived stock. If they had sense enough to go somewhere else and drink soft water they might live to over a hundred!

Reube cared little for argument, always finding it hard to know whether Will was in earnest or not. He lazily changed the subject.

By the way, he remarked, nows just the chance to visit the cave at the end of the Point!

Cave! cried Will, jumping up from the grass. What cave? How can there be a cave round here without me knowing it?

Why, I only heard of it myself last fall, said Reube. You see, the mouth of it isnt uncovered till near low water; and nobody comes near this point at any time, there being nothing to come for, and the shoals and eddies so troublesome. Ive sailed round here a good deal at high and half tide, but no one comes near it when tides out. You see all the broken rocks scattered away out across the flats from the Point. And as for the honey pots between them well, old Chris Boltenhouse, who told me all about the place last fall, said they were a terror. You couldnt step without getting into one. Chris also told me that the Acadians, at the time of their expulsion, had used the cave as a hiding place for some of their treasures, and that when he was a boy quite a lot of coin and silver ornaments had been found there.

Queer, too, muttered Will, how things like that drop out of peoples minds, come back, and are forgotten again! Well, lets look into the hole while weve got time; and the two ran hastily to the narrow end of the turf.

Over the slippery rocks below tide mark they had to move more deliberately, but in a short time they reached the foot of the promontory and stood on the verge of the flats not half an hour above low water. Very villainous indeed looked the flats, with the olive-hued menace spread over them on every hand. But there was no sign of a cave. Scanning the rocks minutely, our explorers skirted the whole front of the headland, but in vain. Then they started to retrace their steps, inveighing against the falsity of traditions. But now, their faces being turned, the rocky masses took on for them a new configuration, and they discovered a narrow strait, as it were, behind a jutting bowlder. It was a most unlikely-looking place for a cave entrance, but Will poked his nose into it curiously. The next moment he shouted:

Found!

Reube sprang to his side. There, behind the sentinel rock, was a narrow, triangular opening of about the height of a man. Its base, some four feet wide, was thickly silted with mud, and its sides dripped forbiddingly. Will stepped inside, and then turned.

Its darker than Egypt! he exclaimed. How are we going to explore it without a light?

Ah, said Reube in tones of triumph, Ive got ahead this time, Will! I happened to bring a whole bunch of matches from home in my pocket to supply the Didos cuddy. And I picked up this on the Point when you were running ahead in such a hurry. And he drew a sliver of driftwood pine from under his jacket.

Good for you, old man! cried Will, joyously. In a second or two the sliver was ablaze, and the explorers plunged into a narrow passage whose floor sloped upward swiftly.

CHAPTER V.
A Prison House

IN their eagerness they forgot to look around before entering the cave. They forgot to look at the tide, which had already turned and was creeping swiftly over the treacherous levels. They forgot everything except that they were in the cave where once undoubtedly had been Acadian treasures, and where, as each dreamed in his heart and denied on his lips, some remnant of such treasures might yet lie hidden.

Will marched ahead carrying the torch and peering with eager enthusiasm into every crevice. The cave was full of crevices, but they were shallow and contained nothing of interest but some fair crystals of selenite, which gleamed like diamonds in the torchlight. A few of these Reube broke off and pocketed as specimens. The cave widened slowly as it ascended, and the slope of its floor kept it well drained in spite of the water ceaselessly dripping from roof and walls. Its shape was roughly triangular, and our explorers sometimes bumped their heads smartly in their haste.

Presently they reached a point where a narrow gallery ran off from the main passage. Which to take was the problem.

It seems to me, said Reube, that if there was any of the old Acadians stuff here it would be most likely to be hidden in the smaller passage.

Acadians stuff! sniffed Will, sarcastically. A lot of that well find!

But, none the less, he acted on Reubes suggestion, and led the way up the side gallery. After running some twenty-five feet the gallery turned a corner and ended in a smooth, sloping face of rock. There was no sign of crevice or hiding place here. Across the sloping face of the rock there ran a ledge about a foot wide some five or six feet above the floor, and the roof of the gallery at this point ascended steeply to a narrow and longish peak.

No risk of bumping our heads here, said Will, as he flung the torchlight along the ledge and showed its emptiness.

Better hurry back and try if we cant finish the main cave before the light goes out, said Reube, pointing to the pine sliver, already more than half consumed. Shielding the flame with his hand to make it burn more slowly, Will led the way with quick steps back to the larger gallery. This now became more interesting. Its walls were strewn with most suggestive-looking pockets, so to speak, full of silt and oozy debris, into which Will and Reube plunged their hands hastily, expecting to find a coin or a silver candlestick in every one. So fascinated were they by this task that they paid no heed to the torch till it burned down and scorched Wills fingers. He gave a startled cry, but had presence of mind enough not to drop it. To make it last a little longer he stuck it on the point of his knife and then exclaimed, in a tone of disappointment:

Reube, we must get out of this while the light lasts and thatll have to be pretty quick!

Rather! assented Reube. Hark!

The word was barely out of his mouth before the two lads were running for the cave mouth, their heads bent low, their hearts beating wildly. The sound which they had caught was a hollow wash of waves. In a few seconds the torch went out, but there was a pale, glimmering light before them, enough to guide their feet. This puzzled them by its peculiar tone, but in half a minute more they understood. It came filtering through the tawny tide which they found seething into the caves mouth and filling it to the very top. Will gave a gasp of horror, and Reube leaned in silent despair against the wall of the passage.

The tide will fill this cave to the very top, I believe, said he.

Yes, answered Will, in a voice of fixed resolve; theres nothing for it but to try a long dive right out through the mouth and into the rocks. We may get through, and its our only chance!

Go on, then, Will. Hurry, before its too late! And have an eye to mother, wont you? Here a sob came into Reubes voice. You know Im a poor swimmer and no diver. Good-bye! and he held out his hand.

But Will was coolly putting on his coat again.

I forgot that, said he, simply. Well, well find some other way, dear old man. Bring along your matches; and he turned back toward the depths of the cave.

For answer Reube merely gripped his arm with a strong pressure and stepped ahead with a lighted match. He could not urge Will to carry out the plan just proposed because in his heart, for all his confidence in Wills powers as a swimmer, he could not believe it feasible. He saw, in imagination, his comrades battered body washing helplessly among the weedy and foaming rocks; while in the cave, for all the horror of it, there would certainly be some hours of respite and who could say what they might not devise in all that time? He had a marvelous faith in Wills resources.

In grim silence, and husbanding every match with jealous care, they explored the main cave to its end. Its end was a horrid, round, wet hole, a few feet deep, and not large enough to admit them side by side. They looked each other fairly in the eyes for the first time since that one glance when they had learned that they were entrapped. Reubes eyes were stern, enduring the eyes of one who had known life long. The boy had all gone out of them. Wills eyes looked simply quiet and kind, but his mouth was set and his lips were white.

This is just a rat hole, Reube, said he. We wont stay here anyway. Seems to me it would be better to have room to stand up and meet it like a man.

Yes, replied Reube, his voice choking with a sort of exaltation at his comrades courage; well go back to the little gallery with the high roof. Well get up on that ledge and well fight it out with the water to the last gasp, eh? Its pretty tough especially for mother!

Well, said Will, with a queer, low tone of cheerfulness which seemed to his friend to mean more than cries and tears, when I think of mother and Ted it sort of comes over me that Id like to say my prayers eh? and for a minute or two, standing shoulder to shoulder, he and Reube leaned their faces silently against the oozy rock in the darkness. Then, lighting another match, they made all haste possible back to the side gallery, ascended it, and climbed upon the ledge. Hardly had they got there when they heard the tide whispering stealthily about the entrance of the passage. They felt that it was marking them down in their new retreat.

When the next match blazed up for they could not long stand the darkness with that creeping whisper in their ears Will gazed steadily at the peak of the roof above his head. The match went out.

Another! he cried, in a voice that trembled with hope.

What is it? asked Reube, eagerly.

Roots! shouted Will, leaping to his feet. Tree roots coming through the roof up there! We must be near the surface, and there is evidently a fissure in the rock filled up with earth. Well dig our way out with our knives and our fingers yet!

But there are no trees on the Point, urged Reube, doubtfully.

Thunder, Reube! but cant there be old roots in the soil? cried Will, impatiently. Dig, man, dig! And he began clawing fiercely at the earth above his head. Reube aided him with fervent energy, and the earth, though hard and clayey, came down about them in a shower. Presently they could reach no farther up.

We must cut footholds in this rock, said Will.

The rock was plaster, but hard, and this took time. When it was accomplished they again burrowed rapidly toward the surface and air and light. They were working in the dark now, because with the rise of tide in the cave the air was growing close and suffocating. Three times they had to cut new footholds in the rock. They toiled in silence, hearing only each others labored breath and the falling of earth into the water beneath them. The tide was now crawling over the ledge where they had first taken refuge. There it stopped; but this they did not heed. The fear of suffocation was now upon them, blotting out the fear of drowning. Their eyes and ears and nostrils were full of earth. They worked with but a blind half-knowledge of what they were doing. All at once there came a gleam of light, and Reubes hand went through the turf. He clawed at the sod desperately, and a mass of it came down about their heads. It troubled them not. There was the clear, blue sky above them. A sweet wind caressed their faces. They dragged themselves forth and lay at full length on the turf with shut eyes and swelling hearts.

CHAPTER VI.
The Blue Jar

IT was some minutes before either spoke. All they knew was that they were once more in the air and light. Then, with a start, Reube sat up and looked about him. He looked, of course, for the Dido. To his inexpressible relief the cherished craft was there in plain sight, riding safely at her anchor, some fifty yards from shore. And there, farther out, rode the pinkie. Reube blessed his comrades foresight.

Will, where would the boats be now? said he, if you hadnt insisted on anchoring them?

Will sat up and surveyed the situation, thoughtfully clearing the mud from his eyes with little bunches of grass.

It was just as well we anchored them, he assented. And now that Ive got my wind, I think I had better swim out to the Dido and bring her in for you. I feel as if I wanted a bath anyway; dont you?

Ill be with you in half a minute, said Reube. But first I want to explore the cave a little more. It seems to me we came away in something of a hurry!

He let himself cautiously down in the hole, feet first.

Will stopped his undressing and stared at him in amazement.

Are you crazy? he cried. Do come out of that beastly hole! The idea of it makes me quite ill!

O, Im not going far, said Reube, and I wont be gone long, either. Dont be alarmed.

As his head disappeared Will ran to the hole and looked down, anxiously and curiously. He saw Reube groping in a crevice filled with soft earth, about three feet below the surface.

What in the world are you after, Reube? he inquired.

That! replied Reube the next instant, holding aloft triumphantly a small blue jar of earthenware. Take it, and give me a lift out of this!

Will deposited the old jar reverentially on the turf, and turned to help Reube up. He half expected that the jar would vanish while his back was toward it; but no, there it was, plain and palpable enough. It had a cover set into the rim, and sealed around the edges with melted rosin; and it was heavy.





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