Don Gordon's Shooting-Box
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ďSo be I,Ē said Dan, who was delighted at the prospect of going back to his old way of living.
ďSo ye shall, Dannie. Weíve done niggersí work long enough, aní now weíll be gentlemen agin, like we used to be. Thar ainít no call fur you aní me to work so hard every day, when everybody else takes it so easy down thar at the landiní; aní we wonít do it, neither. Hereís Dave makiní a power of money, and as he ainít of age yet, every cent he íarns ought to go into my own pocket. It shall go thar too, or Iíll make a bigger furse here in the settlement nor I did afore. Gordon neednít go to pokiní his nose into the matter, either, for he wonít scare me as easy as he did the last time.Ē
ďHow much would a deer be worth at eight cents a pound, pap?Ē inquired Dan.
ďWal, that depends. If he weighed a hundred aní twenty pounds, heíd bring as much as five or six dollars, I reckon; aní if he weighed two hundred aní fifty pounds, like the one I killed three winters ago, heíd be worth fifteen, aní mebbe twenty-five dollars,Ē answered Godfrey, who was no quicker at figures than he used to be.
ďThatís a heap more nor I could make chopping wood,Ē said Dan.
ďCourse it is. A smart hunter like yourself oughter be able to get a deer every day, to say nothiní of the turkeys ye might trap aní shoot. íSides yeíd be doiní a gentlemanís work aní not a niggerís.Ē
This conversation took place between Dan and his father one bright summerís day when they were returning home from the landing, whither they had gone under pretense of looking for work. Mrs. Evans knew there was something wrong the moment they appeared at the door, and she was not long in finding out what it was. Godfrey and Dan had worked faithfully during the whole of the winter and spring, and Mrs. Evans, although she did not see a cent of the money they earned, David being expected to look out for her comfort, began to believe that their reformation was complete, and that it would prove to be lasting; but now she learned, to her great sorrow, that she had been too hasty in coming to these conclusions. When she saw that the axes were thrown aside, and that the rifles, which had so long been idle, were daily taken down from their hooks, she knew that bad times were coming again. And they came apace, too. Godfrey and Dan seemed to have lost all their skill as hunters, for the game they brought to the landing did not amount to much. It is true that they made some money, but it all slipped through their fingers without doing them any good, and by the time cold weather came they were as ragged and lazy as they had ever been, and just as ready to engage in any scheme that would bring them money without work.
Meanwhile Lester Brigham mustered up courage enough to come out of his retirement, and was somewhat surprised as well as vexed to learn that he might have done so long ago if he had felt so disposed, and that his voluntary banishment was entirely needless. Nobody paid much attention to him.Fred and Joe Packard, and all the other decent boys who lived in the neighborhood, greeted him pleasantly whenever they passed him on the road, and no one except the loafers at the landing had anything to say to him concerning his past conduct. These gentlemen of leisure could not resist the temptation to question him regarding that terrible bear-fight on Bruinís Island, in which he and the absent Bob had won so much renown, and now and then they reminded him that he had assisted in burning Don Gordonís shooting-box; but they did it all so good-naturedly that Lester could not get angry at them.
ďDonís got another shantee over there on the point, and I shouldnít be sorry to see that go up in smoke like the old one did,Ē a man of the Godfrey Evans stamp said to Lester one day. ďíTainít no use to him and Bert, and by building it there they have taken the bread out of the mouths of a good many folks who live about here. As soon as school is out theyíll come home, get a party of their friends together, and kick up such a rumpus there on the lake that all the birds will be driven out of the country; and when a poor man gets out of bacon he canít have a duck or goose for dinner, for there wonít be any for him to shoot.Ē
Every time Lester Brigham rode away from the landing Ė he very soon fell into the habit of going there as regularly as Godfrey and Dan did Ė he carried with him the impression that the Gordons were not held in very high esteem, and that he and Bob Owens had the sympathy of all the best people in the settlement. Encouraged by this belief, he began making efforts to work his way into the good graces of the Packard boys, but he failed utterly. Fred and Joe were warm friends of the Gordons, and they met his advances in so freezing a manner that Lester was highly enraged, and straightway set his wits at work to conjure up some plan for getting even with them. He wished for Bob Owens more than he had ever wished for him before (if Bob had been there he would not have joined him in any plan for mischief or revenge, for he was not that kind of a boy now); but as the only friend he had ever had since he had been in the settlement was many miles away, and Lester could no longer bear to live alone, he was forced to look for another associate Ė one who had plenty of time at his disposal, and who would accompany him on all his hunting and fishing excursions. He found him at last in the person of Dan Evans, who lost no time in turning their intimacy to account.
Lester, as we know, was provided with all the implements that any sportsman could possibly find use for, but he was a very poor shot, and he knew nothing whatever about hunting. He had, however, a larger amount of pocket money than he could spend in Rochdale, and whenever Dan Evans made a good bag, Lester would select from it such birds or animals as he fancied, pay the cash for them, and carry them home to show as trophies of his own skill. Of course Dan was not just such a companion as he would like to have had, but he was better than no friend at all, and in his presence Lester could brag to his heartís content. No matter how unreasonable the story he told, Dan never disputed it or even looked incredulous. He was much too cunning for that.
ďIf I had the money that your brother brought my father last night, I wouldnít be here to-morrow at this time,Ē Lester said to Dan one day. He had of late grown very tired of life in Mississippi, and was almost constantly urging his father to let him go somewhere, he didnít much care where, so long as he could find ample opportunity for recreation, and would not be required to work or study. Mr. Brigham had threatened to send him away to school if he did not leave off bothering him, and Lester was so very much afraid he would carry his threat into execution, that he began to think seriously of leaving home as his friend, Bob Owens, had done. The only thing that stood in his way was the want of money. ďWhen the mail was distributed last night my father got a letter with five thousand dollars in it,Ē continued Lester. ďHe gets that much on the fifteenth day of every month from his agent who is selling off our property in the North.Ē
Dan opened his eyes in great surprise. Five thousand dollars was not so large an amount as he and his father had hoped to make by digging up the barrel of gold and silver that was supposed to be buried in General Gordonís potato-patch, but still it was a lot of money Ė a much greater sum than Dan ever expected to earn by honest labor.
ďI donít want you to say anything about it,Ē continued Lester, ďfor it is my opinion that there are a good many men about here who would not be any too good to waylay Dave and rob him if they knew that he was entrusted with the care of so much money.Ē
Dan protested that he wouldnít think of such a thing; but still the information he had received seemed to make an impression upon him, for he became very silent and thoughtful after that, and Lester could hardly get a word out of him. He seemed to have suddenly lost all interest in hunting, for he missed several fair shots, and finally declaring that he did not feel in the humor for sport, he abruptly abandoned his companion, leaving him to continue the hunt alone or to go home, just as he pleased. An idea had suggested itself to Dan, and he wanted to get off by himself so that he could turn it over in his mind and see what he could make of it.
ďFive thousand dollars,Ē said Dan to himself, as he hurried through the woods. ďThatís a right smart chance of money, the first thing you know. And to think that our leetle Dave should have the handliní of it! Dave makes stacks of greenbacks by ridiní around the country doiní nothiní, he wears good clothes all the time, and hereís me Ė Dog-gone my buttons, Iíve got just as good a right to have five thousand dollars as Mr. Brigham has. I wish I was mail-carrier. I wouldnít ask to go moreín one trip, aní after that nobody in this country wouldnít ever set eyes onto me again.Ē
Dan seemed to know where he was going and what he intended to do when he got there, for he kept straight ahead without once slackening his pace, paying no heed to the squirrels which barked at him as he hurried along, and making his way around the foot of Diamond lake, he finally reached the levee that ran along the bank of the river. Here he found a dilapidated house-boat which had been tied up to the bank for a month or more Ė long enough, at any rate, for Dan to become very well acquainted with the men who owned it. He had met them while hunting in the woods, had showed them the best places to set their traps for minks and ícoons, had taken part with them in shooting-matches at the landing, and had given them information which rendered it comparatively easy for them to forage upon the hen-roosts and smoke-houses of the planters who lived in the neighborhood. They had drawn a good many secrets from the boy Ė one especially that they intended to use for their own benefit as soon as the opportunity was presented.
Dan walked up the plank that ran from the shore to the bow of the house-boat, and entered the cabin without ceremony. It was as dismal a hole as he had ever looked into, and Dan, accustomed as he was to gloomy surroundings, wondered how anybody could live there. It contained but one apartment, and that was used as a kitchen, sitting-room, dining-room and bed-room. The men were lounging in their bunks, while their wives were gathered about the rusty stove puffing vigorously at their well-blackened cob-pipes. When the boat careened under Danís weight, one of the men sprang from his bunk and made an effort to conceal a couple of chickens he had just been picking; but as soon as he saw who the visitor was, he laid them down again, for he knew he had nothing to fear.
ďMorniní. I reckon I skeered ye jest a trifle, didnít I? How wet ye be in here,Ē said Dan, glancing at the little pools of water that filled every depression in the rough, uneven floor.
ďCome in aní take a cheer, Dannie,Ē said the man who had tried to hide the chickens, while the other two sat up in their bunks and nodded to him. ďIt is damp, thatís a fact; but, you see, it rained powerful yesterday, the roof aint by no means as tight as it might be, aní the ole scow leaks water awful. We canít hardly keep her pumped out.Ē
ďThen what makes ye stay here?Ē asked Dan. ďI know a nice, tight leetle house over thar on the shore of the lake, with two big rooms into it, aní thar aint nobody lives thar.Ē
ďWeíve seen it; but itís locked up.Ē
ďWhatís the odds? Take something aní pull one of the steeples out, aní ye kin get in as easy as falliní off a log.Ē
ďWe donít want to get into no trouble. Who owns it?Ē
ďDon Gordon; but heís off somewhere goiní to school, aní tharís no telliní when he will be to hum.Ē
ďDoes he live thar when heís to home?Ē
ďNo. He jest stays there a leetle while aní shoots ducks aní geese. Thatís what he built it fur.Ē
ďRich folks always has nice things,Ē said one of the men who had not spoken before, ďbut we poor folks has to take what we can get. Weíre just as good as Geníral Gordon too, every day in the week.Ē
ďSo be I,Ē said Dan, ďaní I wouldnít stand back if I wanted to go thar. Thar aint no sense in Donís liviní in that shantee when his fatherís got a big house with carpets aní a pianner into it, aní chiny aní silver to set the table with.Ē
ďNo, thar ainít,Ē said the man who had done the most of the talking and who answered to the name of Barlow. ďWeíll move our duds over thar, if we can get in, aní stay thar until we can fix our boat up a little. If everything works right, weíll have a better one before long.Ē
He got upon his feet as he spoke and drew from under his bunk a short bar of iron, which had more than once come into play when Barlow wanted to force an entrance into somebodyís smoke-house. Carrying this in his hand, he went ashore with Dan, who led the way through the woods toward Don Gordonís shooting-box. It was the work of scarcely a moment to pull out one of the staples, and when that had been done, the door swung open, and Dan and his companion went in to take a survey of the interior. It was dry and comfortable, as clean as it could possibly be, and Barlow at once decided that he would live there as long as he remained in that neighborhood.
ďItís nice to be rich,Ē said he, seating himself in one of the empty bunks, after touching a match to the pile of light wood which the lawful owner of the shooting-box had left in the fire-place. ďItís nice to have horses aní hounds aní niggers to work for you, while you have nothing to do but ride around the country aní enjoy yourself. Thatís the way Iíd live if I had the chance to make money that your brotherís got.Ē
ďYes, Dave makes right smart,Ē said Dan, with some pride in his tones, ďaní he donít do no work, nuther. But heís scandalous mean with what he íarns. He gives it all to mam, aní me aní pap never have none of it. Heís gettiní mighty tired of Daveís way of doiní, pap is, aní tíother night he told Dave that he could jest fork over every cent of his íarninís, aní let pap have the handliní of íem. Dave, he said he wouldnít do it, aní Iím looking for the biggest kind of a furse up to our house when next pay-day comes.Ē
ďYour pap has got the right to every cent Dave makes till he is twenty-one years old, aní Dave canít hender him from takiní it,Ē said Barlow. ďI íspose he carries a heap of money between the landiní aní the county-seat in that mail-bag of hisín.Ē
ďI should say he did!Ē exclaimed Dan. ďOnly last night he brought in five thousand dollars for Mr. Brigham Ė the father of that boy who was down here with me tíother day. Lester said so this morniní. He told me too that Dave brings in just that much on the fifteenth day of every month.Ē
Barlow started and looked hard at Dan, and then he looked down at the floor. ďWal, if I was Dave,Ē said he, after a momentís pause, ďIíd bring in jest one more of them letters, aní then Iíd skip.Ē
ďSo would I,Ē said Dan. ďWhat does Brigham want with that money? Heís got moreín he can use already. Lester said so.Ē
ďThatís always the way with rich folks, Dannie. The more they get the more they want; aní me aní you aní everybody like us could starve for all they care. Weíre jest as good as they be too. Itís a wonder to me that somebody donít go for Dave aní take some of them letters away from him.Ē
ďI donít care if they do,Ē answered Dan. ďIf I should see íem doiní it, I wouldnít lift a hand to hender íem. That would bring Dave down from his high hoss, fur Geníral Gordon wouldnít never hire him to tote the mail agin; aní then heíd have to scratch for a liviní the way me aní pap does.Ē
ďIt would serve him right, for beiní so stingy,Ē said Barlow.
ďBut the feller that goes for him had better watch out,Ē continued Dan, ďfur Dave, he carries a double-barrel dissolver in his pocket. It shoots six times, aní he knows how to use it.Ē
ďI donít reckon that would stand in the way of anybody who wanted them letters,Ē said Barlow, with a laugh. ďIf Dave should see a couple of loaded rifles lookiní him square in the face, he wouldnít think of his six-shooter.Ē
ďMebbe he wouldnít,Ē said Dan. ďBut if I could ride that mail-route the next time Brighamís money-letter comes in Ė if Dave could be tuk sick, or get lost in the woods, or something soít I could take his place Ė the fellow that wanted them five thousand wouldnít have no trouble, for I shouldnít have no dissolver with me. But heíd have to give me half.Ē
This was the idea that had so suddenly suggested itself to Dan Evans Ė to get David out of the way for one day so that he could carry the mail, and give Barlow and his two friends a chance to secure a portion of Mr. Brighamís money. If Barlow had jumped at the bait thus adroitly thrown out, Dan would have proposed that, after the robbery had been accomplished, they should all take to the flat-boat, push it out into the river, and let the current take it to New Orleans, where they would divide the money and separate, Dan going his way and Barlow and his companions going theirs. Dan thought it was a splendid idea, but Barlow knocked it into a cocked hat by the very next words he uttered.
ďYou couldnít take your brotherís place even for a single day,Ē said he.
ďWhat fur?Ē demanded Dan, who was greatly surprised. ďCanít I ride that thar colt of hisín as well as he kin?Ē
ďI íspose you can; but that ainít the pint. Youíve never been swore in fur a mail-carrier, aní so you would have no right to tech that mail-bag. If Dave should be tuk sick or get lost in the woods, Geníral Gordon would have to carry the mail himself.Ē
ďWhoop!Ē yelled Dan, jumping up and knocking his heels together. ďHeíd be a wusser man to fool with nor Dave, fur heís an old soldier.Ē
Barlow made no reply. The boy had given him something to think about, and he was as anxious to be rid of his presence as Dan was to get rid of his friend Lester Brigham. He left him without taking the trouble to assign any reason for his hurried departure, and went back to his boat. In the course of the day he and his friends transferred their luggage to the shooting-box, and there they lived until they were ordered out by its indignant owner. As their time was not fully occupied they had leisure to talk about the mail-carrier and Mr. Brighamís money; and we shall presently see how their numerous consultations resulted.