CIRCUMSTANCES ALTER CASES

MR. ARMSTRONG sat in his counting-room deep in thought. An arrangement
had been made with his creditors by which he was allowed to go on. It
was his ambition to repay them their confidence by paying all claims
upon him dollar for dollar. But he found it up-hill work. His resources
were contracted, and success was, to say the least, problematical. This
was the reason of his present abstraction. He was anxiously considering
what measures to adopt in order to facilitate the attainment of the end
he had in view.

“If I only had the eighty thousand dollars’ worth of securities that
scoundrelly clerk robbed me of,” he said to himself, “all would be well.
I could clear off all liabilities to-day, and start afresh with the most
encouraging chances of success. But I suppose there isn’t one chance in
a hundred of my ever recovering a cent from that source.”

Just then an intimate friend, Hugh Osborn, entered.

“You seem in a brown study, Armstrong,” he said.

“Yes; I was thinking about my affairs.”

“Your creditors have allowed you to go on?”

“Yes, and I want to justify their confidence.”

“Oh, you’ll do that.”

“I hope so, but business is dull, and it’s hard work getting back to my
old position. If I only had the money Lincoln abstracted, all would be
well.”

“What efforts have you made to recover it?”

“I have informed the police, but thus far I have heard nothing.”

“Have you done nothing further?”

“Yes,” said Mr. Armstrong, hesitating. “I have sent a special messenger
to California to hunt up the defaulter.”

“Come, that’s enterprising. Who is your special messenger?”

“You will laugh at me if I tell you.”

“Why should I?”

“Because my messenger is a boy of sixteen.”

“You are not in earnest, surely?”

“Yes, I am.”

“What could induce you to employ a mere boy?”

“He is one of my creditors—Tom Temple. He volunteered to go, and asked
for no allowance for expenses.”

“Very kind, no doubt, but you might as well have sent nobody.”

“You may be right. Still Tom is a bright, smart lad.”

“I hope you don’t base any very extravagant hopes on this mission.”

“I never have been very sanguine, Hugh, for the mission presents
difficulties even to man. Still I would rather trust Tom than some men.”

“My old friend, you are foolish to expect anything from a boy of
sixteen. Such boys are confident, no doubt; it is a characteristic of
that age, but what could one do against a crafty rogue?”

“You may be perfectly right. Still you wouldn’t speak of Tom with such
contempt if you knew him. He will make a very smart man.”

“I see he has managed to impress you with a belief in his ability.”

“It is true. I have seldom met a boy who seemed so plucky and
self-reliant.”

“That may all be, but he will fail in his mission. Excuse my expressing
myself so positively, but it isn’t worth while to deceive yourself. Face
all the difficulties of your situation, and form no groundless hopes.”

The merchant was about to reply, when the door of the counting-room
opened, and with an elastic step in walks our hero.

“Tom Temple!” ejaculated the merchant in amazement.

“Yes, Mr. Armstrong, it is I,” said Tom. “I am glad you haven’t
forgotten me.”

“So this is the young man you sent on a wild-goose chase, Armstrong?”
said Hugh Osborn, smiling.

Tom turned toward the speaker.

“Perhaps it was a wild-goose chase,” he said quietly, “but it is
possible to catch wild geese sometimes.”

“What do you mean, Tom?” inquired Mr. Armstrong in excitement.

“_I mean this, that I’ve recovered the bonds, and here they are!_”

And to the astonishment of both merchants, Tom produced the belt and
drew out the contents.

“As I live, they are all here!” exclaimed Mr. Armstrong.

“Impossible!” ejaculated Hugh Osborn, arching his brows.

“Quite possible,” said Tom. “Don’t you believe your eyes?”

“What do you say now, Hugh, to the absurdity of employing a boy of
sixteen in such a commission? Very foolish, no doubt, but _here are the
bonds_!”

“Did you recover those bonds yourself, young man?” asked Hugh Osborn.

“I rather think I did,” said Tom; “that is, with the help of a
highwayman. You see I needed a little assistance.”

“Give us the story, Tom,” said Mr. Armstrong.

So Tom told the story, which was listened to with astonishment by the
two merchants.

“What do you say now, Hugh?” demanded Mr. Armstrong in triumph.

“Say? I say that if this young man wants a situation, I’ll engage him
this very day to enter my counting-room.”

“I think he ought to give me the preference. What do you say, Tom? Will
you accept a clerkship at a hundred dollars a month?”

“Thank you, gentlemen, both,” said Tom, bowing, “but the fact is, I’ve
adopted a rich uncle, and I can’t make any arrangements without
consulting him.”

“NATHAN,” asked Mrs. Middleton, “have you ever heard anything of our old
boarder, Tom Temple?”

“No, my dear, except that he went to California in the steerage, I
believe. I suspect he was very destitute.”

“I am glad of it,” said Mrs. Middleton emphatically. “It does me good to
see pride have a fall, and that boy was the proudest upstart I ever
met.”

“He certainly had a great appetite, my dear, and was very particular
about his accommodations.”

“To think of his insisting on a mattress! Really, Nathan, we were fools
to give up to him.”

“Well, my dear, we got very high board for him.”

“Very true; I wouldn’t have stood his impudence otherwise. Squire
Davenport’s family got disgusted with him. He put on his airs even with
them. So he went in the steerage, did he?”

“So I heard.”

“I warrant he would have been glad to get back to our home, much as he
turned up his nose at it.”

Here there was a knock at the door, and a minute later the servant
entered, ushering in our hero.

“Good gracious!” ejaculated Mr. Middleton. “Is it you, Thomas?”

“Yes, sir,” said Tom; “here I am, alive and kicking. I didn’t think
you’d remember me. How do you do, Mrs. Middleton?”

“I am well,” said the lady stiffly.

“I thought you were in California, Thomas,” said Mr. Middleton.

“So I was.”

“We heard that you were reduced to going by steerage,” remarked Mrs.
Middleton with spiteful triumph.

“You were misinformed,” said Tom coolly, “I went first-class, and
returned in the same way.”

“Oh, indeed. I heard that you had a few hundred dollars left. You must
have spent it all by this time.”

“You will doubtless be glad to learn that I have got my fortune all
back,” said Tom, glancing mischievously at the faces of his friends, in
which surprise contended with mortification.

“Is that so?” ejaculated Mr. Middleton.

“Quite so. The ship supposed to be lost has returned; Mr. Armstrong has
recovered sufficiently to pay me back my ten thousand dollars, and the
mining stock turns out to be good. Besides that I have been adopted by a
rich man, who has made me his heir.”

“My dear Tom,” exclaimed Mr. Middleton, whose opinion of our hero had
risen about a hundred degrees, “permit me to congratulate you. I always
felt a deep, a paternal interest in the welfare of my dear friend’s son.
I am truly glad to hear that your fortune is recovered. If you would be
content again to share our humble home, we would gladly receive you back
on the same terms as before.” And he pressed Tom’s hand very cordially.

“Mr. Temple,” said Mrs. Middleton, her face wreathed in smiles, “won’t
you stay to dinner at least? I shall be truly glad to have you.”

“Thank you,” said Tom. “Since you are so pressing I will; but I am
afraid I can’t come back to board, as my uncle wishes me to reside with
him.”

Before Mr. Middleton could express his disappointment, Squire Davenport
was ushered into the room. He stopped short at the sight of Tom, and
frowned slightly, looking to Mr. Middleton for an explanation.

“Squire Davenport,” said Nathan, “you will be glad to hear that our
young friend has recovered his fortune. Indeed he tells me that he is
richer than ever. Isn’t it so, Thomas?”

“Yes, sir, I believe so.”

“Ahem!” said the squire, pausing long enough to change his voice and
expression. “I am very glad to hear it. Master Temple, you were once
intimate at my house. Won’t you come to tea this evening?”

“Thank you,” said Tom demurely, “if you think it will be agreeable to
your family.”

“They will all be delighted to see you,” said the squire hastily.

“Thank you, I’ll come,” said Tom.

To judge by Tom’s reception, all the Davenports were very fond of him.
And yet the day before they would have vied with one another in speaking
contemptuously of him. But _then_ he was supposed to be poor. Now he was
master of one fortune, and heir to another. It is only the way of the
world.

There was one of the family whom Tom was really glad to meet, and that
was Mary Somers, to whom he paid much more attention than to Imogene,
greatly to the latter’s disgust. Poor Mary had to submit to more than
one covert sneer, but Tom paid his chief attention to her for all that.

Ten years have passed by. Tom is a young merchant, bold, enterprising
and successful. Mary Somers is his wife, and Mr. Stoddard, happy in
their love and respect, lives with them. The Davenports are proud of
their connection with their once despised poor relation, and thankfully
accept her invitations. Imogene is unmarried and is likely to become a
sour old maid. James Davenport is a clerk in the employ of Tom, through
poverty being forced to work, very much to his disgust. Mr. and Mrs.
Middleton still live. They have become more penurious than ever, but
their opinion of Tom has changed. “My dear young friend, Tom Temple,
once an inmate of my family,” says Nathan, and his wife echoes it. How
gold reveals the virtues of those about us! As for Tom, he has greatly
improved. The bold, aggressive qualities which once made him a bully
have been diverted to business, and have made him energetic and
enterprising. So we leave him better than we found him, and with every
prospect of a happy and prosperous career.

————————————————————————

OVER AND UNDER.

——-

BY CAPTAIN R. M. HAWTHORNE.

——-

JUD JARVIS attained the eighteenth anniversary of his birth last
November, and found it the most memorable day of his life.

He had been hunting in the woods along the upper Kanama river, had eaten
his lunch, and now, finding himself a good six miles from home, began
working his way back, hoping to gain a second shot at the stag that had
dashed off at such speed that the youthful hunter was quickly left
behind. Although deer were once plentiful in that section, they were now
so scarce that it was quite an exploit for the best marksman to bring
one down. Jud took his dog along, but just before starting the game, he
scurried off on a false scent, and had not been heard or seen since.

The weather was unusually mild for the season, and Jud stood on the
margin of the swift Kanama that was free from ice, debating whether he
should cross in the dugout at his feet, in the hope of finding the game
on the other shore, or whether he should turn about and search for the
animal on the same side of the stream.

“He ran straight for the water, and most likely swam across; I think he
was hit hard and will not go far, but it is so late that I may not come
up with him before dark—helloa!”

A crashing of the undergrowth on his left was followed by a bound that
carried the stag a dozen feet into the water. Like a diver, he sank out
of sight, even his spreading antlers disappearing from view, but almost
instantly the noble head came up over a rod away, the wealth of prongs
spreading above the wet snout like the disjointed rigging of a ship. He
swam with such powerful strokes that a deep wave opened out behind him.
He was fully fifty feet from shore, before Jud rallied from his
amazement.

“I’ve got you this time, my fine fellow,” he muttered, bringing his gun
to his shoulder.

In the flurry of the moment, he did not recognize the meaning of a
humming shriek which accompanied the report of his weapon. But the
cartridge driven from his breech-loader was a defective one. There was a
depression in one side of the lead which caused it to give out a quick,
intense noise like that of a common nail when thrown in the peculiar
manner known to all boys. Not only that, but the defect in the missile
caused it to deflect just enough to make a clean miss.

Quite sure, though, that he had inflicted a mortal hurt, Jud was afraid
the stag would reach land and get too far away to be overtaken before
night. He shoved the dugout into the water, threw his gun in, followed
it himself, caught up the paddle and worked with might and main to
overtake the game.

Swiftly as a stag can swim, he is no match for a man in a dugout. Jud
gained fast, and, before the middle of the stream was reached, he was
abreast of the deer, but a dozen yards or so above. He curved down
toward him, and had passed half the intervening distance, when the
fugitive wheeled about, or headed toward the shore he had left a few
minutes before.

His protruding eyes, and the whiffing snort which sent a fine spray from
his nostrils, proved that he saw his peril and was desperately swimming
away from it.

Now was the time for another shot. Jud hastily pulled the lever to throw
out the old shell and push a new cartridge into place; but every one
knows the “obduracy of inanimate things” at such times. Something got
out of order, and, with an impatient exclamation, he lowered his piece
to adjust it.

Before he could do so, the angry snort that he had heard before sounded
so close at his elbow that he looked around. That which he saw was
startling indeed. The stag was plowing like a steam-tug through the
water and coming straight for the boat. His fierce front left no doubt
of his earnestness, and Jud Jarvis awoke to the fact that while he was
hunting the stag, the stag had turned about to hunt him.

The movement was so unexpected that the usually clear-headed youth was
thrown into a panic. His gun could not be fired until the hitch was
removed, and believing he had no time to do that, he plunged overboard.

In that trying moment, Jud could not forget the valuable rifle in his
hand. He meant to hold fast to that, come what might. He was a strong
swimmer, and he went down until one foot touched the pebbly bottom.
Immediately he gave a light spring, which sent him upward like a cork.
Flirting the water from his eyes he looked about him.

The dugout almost touched his nose, so that for the moment he saw
nothing of the stag. If the latter had struck the craft with his antlers
he had failed to overturn it.

“I may as well make some use of you,” reflected Jud, catching hold of
the gunwale with one hand, and placing his rifle within; “I think the
gun will be as safe there as anywhere.”

He swam to the stern with the intention of climbing into the rude craft,
when the stag came into view. He was moving around the boat, intently
looking for the youth that had dared to shoot at him. With a sagacity
hardly to be expected, he discerned the guilty from the innocent, and,
instead of making a blind assault upon the dugout, he waited for the
hunter to reappear. When he did so, he gave him his undivided attention.

Jud’s panic was gone. His hands were free and he was afraid of no animal
in the water. The current was cold, for the autumn was well along, but
he cared nothing for that. He “trod water” until the bouquet of prongs
was almost upon him. He did not fear them, for, as is well known, the
most effectual weapons of the deer species at certain times are his fore
feet. Rearing on his hind legs, he brings his forward hoofs close
together, the fronts turned down so that they become a couple of joined
knives, capable of inflicting a frightful gash. The stag of course
appeals to his antlers, and they are formidable in the way of defense,
but when his sharp hoofs will serve him better, he is quick to use them.

It was these hoofs that Jarvis feared. He was in front of them, and
their movement while swimming was such as to gouge his chest if he
should be struck. Therefore, at the right moment, he dived under the
stag.

Touching bottom as before, Jud opened his eyes and looked toward the
sky. The water was of such crystalline clearness that, when paddling
along, he could see the pebbly bed, except in the very deepest portion.
He had subjected his eyes, however, to a most trying ordeal. The contact
of the water with the sensitive organs caused a smarting sensation, and
the former assumed a yellow tinge which interfered with his vision.

But he was blessed with unusually strong eyes, and when he looked up he
saw the stag over his head. He seemed to be a huge, grotesque creature
walking through the translucent atmosphere on his hind legs. His body
was almost erect, and the swiftly moving legs churned the water, as if
they were beating the air.

The fact that he hardly shifted his position showed that he was holding
himself almost stationary until his foe should reappear. He had turned
upon his persecutor, and was waiting to destroy him.

The latter now did a clever thing. He came up so noiselessly that the
brute did not hear him. He had to blink pretty hard to clear the
moisture from his smarting eyes, but when he did so, it was as he
expected; he was within six feet of the game, but directly behind him.
The dugout was fifty feet down stream.

One long stroke carried Jud across the space. The stag heard the soft
swash, and possibly caught sight of the figure stealing upon him, but,
before he could turn his head, each hand grasped an antler with iron
grip.

“Now, swim, old fellow, but you’ve got to take me along.”

It was the turn of the stag to fall into a panic. He flirted his head
and whirled round and round in his effort to dislodge the incubus, but
he could not do so. Jud laughed at the discomfiture of the animal.

“You’re doing quite well, but not so well as you think you can do.”

Jud’s expectation was that the stag would tire himself out, and then,
finding he could not free himself of his load, would make for shore
again. The youth meant to let go as soon as land was reached. No doubt
by that time the animal would be glad enough to make off. He would be
likely to escape altogether, for he certainly showed no signs of being
badly wounded, if indeed he had been hit at all. If he should turn to
assail Jud, after the latter let go his horns, he could easily avoid him
in the water.

It looked as if Jud’s theory was to be verified, for, after a few blind
circlings, the stag, with a disgusted sniff, made for the bank toward
which he had headed on entering the river.

Peering through the little forest of antlers in front, the lad noticed
that the trees along the shore were sweeping backward with amazing
velocity; then he caught a roar, rapidly swelling into a deep boom, and
gazing to the left, he saw the dugout bowing, dancing and turning on its
own center in a cloud of rising mist. It was on the very point of
plunging over the falls.

Jud thought no more of the stag. Unless he could reach shore within a
few seconds, he must follow the dugout or be drowned. Releasing the
antlers, he dropped to the bottom of the river, impelled to do so by a
curious hope that he would thus gain a chance to help himself along.

The depth was nearly as great as in the middle of the stream. He tried
to catch hold of the stony bottom, but it glided so swiftly from his
grasp that he felt the pain of the friction. The slight reaction sent
him upward again, and he struggled fiercely to reach shore. He had about
the same distance to travel as the stag, but the latter was a rod
further down stream.

The youth strove as only one can who is striving for his life, but he
was closer to the falls than he was to land, and he quickly saw that
nothing could save him from going over. To struggle longer could only
exhaust his strength without giving him any advantage. With great
coolness, he turned to the left, so as to face the falls, and braced
himself for the ordeal.

“I have never heard whether any one can go over them and live to tell of
it, but the question will be settled in the next two minutes.”

The river where it poured over the rocks was compressed into a volume
less than a hundred feet in width. The mass of water was ten feet in
depth, and the descent was three times as great. The narrowing of the
stream gave it great velocity, and the churning of the enormous mass at
the base sent up continual clouds of mist, which, when penetrated by the
sun’s rays, showed a beautiful rainbow.

At the point where Jud put out in a boat, it was safe to paddle across,
but he had been so absorbed in his hunt for the stag, that he forgot all
about the falls until it was too late to extricate himself.

Curious thoughts often come to a person when in such extremity. Jud saw
the dugout bobbing up and down like the cork of a fishing line, until it
vanished from sight. He wondered how many times it would turn over, and
whether it was possible for it to keep upright, and in case it was not
capsized what would become of his fine rifle? If that were saved, into
whose hands would it fall? What did the stag think of the situation, and
did he appreciate what zanies he and Jud had made of themselves in their
eagerness to destroy each other? How delicately beautiful was the faint
rainbow spanning the mist! Would his father and mother understand the
means by which he had lost his life? He was their only child, and the
pang of sorrow which pierced his heart was because he knew they would
never recover from their grief over his loss.

Other singular fancies were crowding upon him, but he was now so close
to the falls that they occupied all his thoughts. He saw that the stag
was struggling with that blind instinct which all animals show in the
extremity of peril. His savage efforts had carried him a little closer
to shore, but it availed nothing, and he swept toward the falls
broadside on. By some mischance that can hardly be understood, the
animal, on the very rim of the overflow, turned on his back, after the
manner of a horse when he lies down to roll. The legs were seen for an
instant sawing the air, and then hoofs, body, and antlers, were mixed in
one general swirl and over they went.

Jud Jarvis was thrilled, as he shot with arrowy swiftness toward the
battle of the waters. He uttered the same prayer that he had uttered
night and morning since his infancy, and compressing his lips, and
drawing a deep inspiration, bravely awaited the issue.

Just then it seemed to him that the vast bulk of water, in which he hung
suspended, had become motionless, and the rocky wall below was fighting
its way up current with a vicious fury that caused all the turmoil; then
the rushing Kanama, accepting the challenge, leaped at the rocks to beat
them back. But the lad was borne forward with a dizzying sweep, as if
hauled through mid-air, and then he shot downward, into the smothering
foam and shivering water, amid a war like that of thousands of cannon.

Through it all Jud never lost consciousness, nor his presence of mind.
He held his breath until it seemed his lungs must burst. He knew that
the continual hammering of the waters at the base of the falls had worn
a cavity of great depth, to the bottom of which he had been carried by
the mountainous mass above. But this had to hurry out to make room for
that which was forever rushing after it, and he went with it.

He felt faint and strange, and there was one moment when a singular
ringing in his ears and a strangling sensation warned him that he was
“on the line,” and that one step more meant unconsciousness, to be
quickly followed by death. By a mighty effort, however, he rallied, and
retained command of himself.

“A man _can_ go over these falls and live to tell of it,” he thought;
“and that’s what I am going to do.”

The gasp which he gave brought the cool, life-giving air to his lungs,
and the staring eyes saw that though the water was still agitated, the
yeasty foam was so small a portion that he could support himself. It was
becoming clearer every minute, and the falls were rapidly receding
behind him.

After drifting several rods, Jud caught sight of the dugout, almost
within reach.

“And it is right side up!” he exclaimed, with delight; “can it be—I
shall soon know.”

A few strokes carried him to the hollowed out log, which was not riding
so high as when he saw it above the falls. Peeping over the gunwales he
observed that it was so nearly full of water that it was floating
because of the buoyancy of the log itself. A shout of delight escaped
him when he saw his rifle lying in the water at the bottom. By a run of
good fortune that could hardly happen again, it was saved to him.

Holding the stern with one hand, Jud began working the boat toward
shore. The water rapidly became calmer, and the task was not difficult.

“I wonder how the stag made out,” he said, as the nose of the dugout
struck land; “he went over in a style of his own, and I am afraid—Well,
if that doesn’t beat everything!”

At that very moment the body of the stag heaved up from the water, and
he walked out not more than twenty feet away. As soon as he was clear of
the river he stopped, lowered his head, and a sort of earthquake shook
his whole system, the drops of water flying in a shower from every part
of his body. Having flirted off most of the moisture, he slowly turned
halfway round, and surveyed the dripping biped, as if seeking to find
out whether he was the young man who was responsible for this wholesale
overturning of things.

Meanwhile, Jud was doing his utmost to get his rifle in shape for
service. He gave as much attention to the stag as to his weapon, in case
the brute charged before the youth was ready, he meant to take to the
stream again, for he had already proven that he was safe there.

The cartridges had kept dry in their waterproof chamber, and the slight
disarrangement was quickly made right. The barrel was freed from most of
the moisture, and the weapon was again ready for service. Jud had missed
his two previous shots, but he was confident it could not happen again.
The game was now his own.

Possibly the stag could not satisfy himself as to the identity of the
youth, for after a prolonged stare he swung back his head and slouched
off toward the woods. Jud raised his breech-loader and took careful aim
at the head held so proudly aloft. The finger was pressing the trigger,
when the rifle was lowered again.

“We’ll call it square; you’ve saved your life; you may go; good-by!”

————————————————————————

A STRANGE CRAFT.

——-

BY GEOFFREY RANDOLPH.

——-

MY young friends Jim and Joe Allison are emphatic in declaring that they
will never, never forget their adventure in Florida last summer. When
you come to learn the particulars, I am sure you will take the same view
of it that they do.

Jim and Joe are brothers, the first sixteen and the second fourteen
years old. Last autumn they came to the north to attend school, and
perhaps some of the readers of boys’ papers have made their
acquaintance. If so, you will agree with me that they are bright, manly
fellows, who, if their lives are spared, will become useful and popular
citizens.

The father of the Allison boys was an officer of the Confederacy. With
the wreck of a once handsome fortune, he went back to his old home in
Florida, after the close of the war. He was still a young man, and had
been fortunate enough to go through the whole “unpleasantness” without a
scratch. He married an estimable lady from the north, who, in addition
to her many fine qualities, had the not objectionable one of
considerable wealth. So it came about that Colonel Allison bought a fine
orange plantation in the land of flowers, and it was there that his
daughter and two sons were born.

Like the boys of the south and west, Jim and Joe were accustomed to
horses, guns and roughing it from earliest boyhood, though rather
curiously neither of them could swim a stroke. They spent many an hour
in the pulseless pine forests, in the oozy swamps and the dry barrens,
finding enjoyment and sport where you and I would see nothing but
wretchedness.

Only a few weeks before they went to the north they engaged in the
memorable hunt of which I am going to tell you. Suspecting that it would
be the last one they would be able to have together for a long time (for
they were busy with their preparations for leaving home), they agreed to
make it a thorough one so far as it was in their power to do so.

They told their parents not to be anxious if they saw nothing of them
for two or three days, for they meant to go a long distance up the St.
John’s and had resolved not to come back until they had obtained some
experience worth the telling.

An hour later the boys had entered their dugout, in which they put up a
sail, and with a mild but favoring breeze they moved at a fair rate up
the river, which is probably the most widely known of any in Florida.
They were provided with a substantial lunch, for though professional
sportsmen might have scorned to make a provision that implied their own
lack of skill, the brothers had no compunctions in the matter.

There was nothing in the woods that could take the place of Dinah’s corn
cake, nor was there any game which the boys could prepare by the camp
fire to be compared to the cold roast chicken which the same skillful
cook took such pains to make ready for them. So, in going this long
hunt, the boys did not mean to place any dependence on their guns for
food.

It was quite early in the morning when they started. The St. John’s,
with its shores sometimes wooded, and often low and marshy, wound in and
out through the forest, but the current was sluggish, and it was not a
difficult task to paddle the light dugout.

Now and than the youths took a shot at some of the game of which they
caught a glimpse along the shore. It was not yet noon when they met a
steamer, whose sputtering wheel at the stern churned the water into
muddy foam, and whose deck was filled with excursionists. Many of these
waved their handkerchiefs at the boys, who returned the salute.

By and by Jim remarked that if they meant to have a genuine
old-fashioned hunt, they would have to leave the main river, where they
met too many people. So they turned up the next tributary they saw.

Jim used the paddle until tired, and then Joe did the same. By this time
it was high noon, and observing a small island ahead they agreed to make
a landing there and take lunch. They could have done this just as well
in the boat, but they had been in their cramped posture so long that
they wanted to “stretch their legs.”

The island on which they landed was a small one, being no more than a
hundred feet in length, and its widest portion was less than half of
that. The middle was perhaps three or four feet above the level of the
water, so that the patch of land resembled one of those patent door
mats, which, being raised in the center, shed all the water that falls
upon them.

There was not a particle of vegetation on the island—not so much even as
a spear of grass. There were a few twigs and bits of limbs that had
floated down and lodged against the upper point, but altogether there
was not an armful.

It was of no concern to the boys that they found this strip of sand so
uninviting, for they did not mean to stay there more than an hour or two
at the most. The sun was hot, and they would have enjoyed the luxury of
stretching beneath some shady tree; but since that was out of the
question they did not bemoan it. The umbrella which they had brought
answered very well as a substitute. Its long handle was jammed into the
sand near the middle of the island, and its shade almost sheltered their
bodies.

Protected in this fashion, they brought forth their big lunch basket,
and fell to with an appetite such as I trust all of you possess.

In making their way to the camping site, as it may be called, Jim
Allison carried the umbrella and lunch basket. More from habit than
anything else Joe brought the rifles with him. He did not dream that any
necessity would arise for their use, but had some idea that he might lie
under the shade of his umbrella, and pick off something in the river or
along shore.

The division of the stream, produced originally by the sandy bar or
island, caused the curving water to wear away the main shores on either
side, until the river at that portion took upon itself the character of
a lake or lagoon. From the island to either bank was a distance of fully
two hundred yards, so that it would have taken good marksmanship on the
part of the boys to bring down anything on the main land.

One peculiarity had been noted by both. The region seemed to be a
favorite one with alligators. They could be seen basking in the sun
along the banks, with here and there a snout moving lazily over the
water in quest of prey. They were not liable to disturb the boys so long
as they remained in the dugout, but if by some chance they should be
capsized among a school of them, it might have gone ill with our young
friends.

“I think,” remarked Jim, speaking as well as he could with his mouth
full of corn cake, “that after ascending a few miles further we’ll land
and take to the woods.”

“Not a bad idea,” spluttered Joe, from behind the cold chicken that
threatened to suffocate him; “we can build a fire and sleep in the woods
to-night; then we’ll have all day to-morrow for the hunt, and can go
home the next day.”

“Yes; there isn’t much in this sort of business; we must have a time
that we can tell the boys about when we go up north.”

Just then the speaker happened to look down stream, and noticed a boat
that appeared to be approaching.

“Who can that be?” he asked in astonishment.

“My gracious!” gasped Joe, leaping to his feet, “_it is our dugout_!”

Such was the fact. They had left it drawn up so slightly on the shingle,
that it had swung loose, and was already a hundred feet below the
island.

The astounded lads looked in each other’s face, speechless for a full
minute. Well might they ask themselves what should be done, for you will
bear in mind that neither of them knew how to swim, that they were in a
lonely region where they could not be certain of any person passing for
days or weeks, and that there was nothing on the island from which
anything in the nature of a raft or float could be constructed.

The boys were plucky, and had either one of them known how to swim, he
could have helped the other to the main land, and they would have
considered the adventure of a nature that need cause little misgiving.
They concluded that the only thing to be done was to fire their guns and
shout, in the faint hope of attracting the attention of some one within
call.

Accordingly, they discharged their rifles, and yelled and whistled until
the sun sank in the west, but without the slightest evidence of success.

As the day advanced, the alligators showed more signs of life. They swam
back and forth in the river, and at one or two points a number engaged
in a fierce fight, causing no little splashing and turmoil in the water.
Occasionally one of them would run his hideous snout against the island,
but they did nothing more than stare at the youngsters, when they
whirled about and swam into deep water again.

While the brothers had no special fear of these huge reptiles, they were
not without misgiving, for they well knew that they occasionally
attacked persons. They kept close watch, therefore, and it was well that
they did.

Just as the sun was sinking, and while the river glowed with the yellow,
horizontal rays, they were startled by the approach of the largest
alligator on which they had ever looked. They did not see him until he
was close to the island, and indeed in the act of leaving the water and
coming toward them. He was fully eighteen feet long, and there could be
no doubt that he meant to attack the boys. His size, age, and appetite,
would not permit him to stop at trifles.

“I’ll take the right eye,” said Jim.

“And I the left,” said Joe in an undertone.

The boys had cast aside their umbrella, and kneeling on one knee they
took careful aim at the monster. Like the patriots at Bunker Hill, they
waited until they saw the whites of the enemy’s eyes, and then they
fired together.

The distance was short, and the aim so true, that either bullet would
have proved fatal. As it was, the alligator, with a horrible whiffing
snort, swung spasmodically about, clawed the sand into showers, and then
died, as any creature must whose brain has been bored through by two
leaden pellets.

That was a dismal night to Jim and Joe. They feared that the other
reptiles would come upon the island to attack the slain monarch, in
which case they were likely to give some unpleasant attention to the
boys. But fortunately the saurians did not do so, and when the sun rose
in the morning, matters may be said to have been _in statu quo_.

The main suffering of the boys was for water. They had brought a bottle
with them, but that was exhausted on the first day, and they waited
until they were extremely thirsty before drinking from the muddy current
that swept sluggishly by.

By noon, they began to feel serious alarm. They had used up nearly all
their ammunition, and had shouted and yelled till their heads ached and
their voices were husky. There were no more signs of any one else being
in the solitude than there would have been in the middle of Sahara.

Disconsolate Joe was leaning on his elbow under the shade of the
umbrella, wondering how many days it would be before their parents would
miss them, how many weeks before the party of search would set out, and
how many months before their remains would be found bleaching upon the
sandy island—that is, provided the alligators did not make a feast upon
them.

He happened to be looking at the huge carcass of the reptile, when he
noticed that beneath the flaming heat it was distended to double its
natural size. It was a frightful looking sight indeed.

“Jim,” said he, turning to his brother, “that carcass is swollen enough
to float like a cork.”

“Let’s try it then,” said he, brightening up; “the other alligators are
asleep, and it’s the best hour out of the twenty-four.”

Inspired by the new thought, they ran to the bloated mass and made the
attempt to get it into the water. It was an exhausting task, and they
could not have moved it far, but by great labor they succeeded in
swinging it into the current. It proved to be wonderfully buoyant, and
when the boys perched themselves upon the back their combined weight did
not sink it more than half under water.

Their hearts throbbed fast when they found themselves at last floating
with the current. They were not without dread that the scent of the
carcass would bring others to the spot, but the voyage of the singular
boat was so quiet that the siesta of the other alligators was not
disturbed. They floated down stream until, at a bend in the river, they
swung so close to land that they saw the water was shallow; and
springing off they waded ashore.

Jim and Joe discovered nothing of their dugout, and were obliged to make
their way down to the St. John’s, where they were fortunate enough to
hail a passing steamer, which landed them near their home.