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   Chapter 4 UNDER COVER

Jess of the Rebel Trail By H. A. Cody Characters: 14447

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

By the time the captain reached the side of the boat, Eben had his small skiff tied to the deck-rail. He was standing up, a tall, gaunt, ungainly youth, freckled faced, and sandy haired. He wore a dark-brown sweater, and a pair of overalls, baggy at the knees. He did not speak as his father approached, but mechanically handed up to him a jug of molasses, and several paper parcels. He then leaped lightly upon deck, and headed for the cabin. But the captain detained him by laying a firm and heavy hand upon his shoulder.

"Keep out of thar," he ordered. "I've jist been scrubbin' an' don't want ye to dirty the place up."

The tone of his father's voice caused Eben to swing suddenly around.

"Me feet ain't dirty," he drawled. "An' s'pose they are, what's the difference? The cabin ain't no parler. Let me go; I'm most starved."

But the captain's grip increased as he yanked his son a few feet back.

"I'm in charge of this craft," he reminded, "an' what I say goes. Yer not goin' down into that cabin to-night, so jist make up yer mind to that fust as last."

The boy now stared in speechless amazement. Never before had he seen his father so agitated, nor heard him speak to him in such a manner.

"D'ye understand?" the captain asked.

"Understand what?"

"That yer not goin' down in that cabin. Isn't that what I jist said?

Where are yer ears?"

A sullen look leaped into the boy's eyes, and with an effort he shook himself free from his father's grasp.

"D'ye mean it?" he growled.

"Sartinly I mean it. An' what's more, I don't want ye to ask any fool questions. We'll eat an' sleep on deck to-night, up forrad. I'll bring the grub an' clothes from the cabin, but you stay out."

Eben was about to reply in an angry manner, when the form of his countenance instantly changed, and a peculiar expression, half-humorous, appeared in his eyes. He stood looking at his father for a few seconds in an absent-minded manner. Then, without a word, he picked up the jug of molasses and strode up forward. The captain gazed after him in astonishment, greatly wondering what had come over his son to make him so obedient all of a sudden. He said nothing, however, but went at once down into the cabin where he found the girl making herself perfectly at home tidying up the place.

"Eben's come," the captain laconically remarked,

"So I understand," and the girl smiled.

"Ye heard what was said, eh?"

"Certainly. I'm not deaf."

"Sure, sure. Me temper got the best of me to-night. But I couldn't help it, fer that boy did more'n stir me up. Guess he's cooled down now, though I'm mighty surprised that he knuckled under so soon. It's not a bit like Eb's way, let me tell ye that."

"I am very sorry to give all this trouble," the girl acknowledged. "I feel ashamed of myself."

"Most likely ye do, Miss. We all feel that way at times. But I must git a hustle on, an' tote up some clothes fer the night, an' a snack of grub fer Eben. He's mighty fond of his stummick, that boy is. He'd eat every hour of the day, jist the same as a chicken, an' then wouldn't be satisfied."

Captain Tobin was much surprised that his son asked him no questions that night. He did not even refer to the cabin, but after he had eaten two large slices of bread, well soaked in molasses, he stretched himself out upon the deck, drew a heavy quilt over his body, and was soon fast asleep. The captain, however, did not sleep for some time. He sat upon the cover of the hatchway and puffed at an old corn-cob, which had been brought into service after the ruin of his favourite clay pipe. It was a beautiful night, and not a breath of wind ruffled the surface of the river. The captain was thinking seriously, as he was greatly puzzled what to do with the girl who had thrust herself so unceremoniously upon him. He could not put her ashore, that was quite evident, and he knew that he could not keep her presence a secret from Eben for any length of time. And then there was Martha. What would she and Flo say when they heard of it? This thought brought the perspiration to his forehead, causing him to shift uneasily. And the neighbours! What a rare bit of gossip it would be when they heard of it. And hear of it they certainly would, and he would be disgraced. It was somewhat late when he at length rolled himself up in his blanket by his son's side. Silence reigned near the cabin, and he fell asleep feeling that he had done the best that he could under the circumstances.

He awoke early, and scrambled to his feet. Eben was still asleep, so he moved about as quietly as possible so as not to disturb him. Far off in the east the dawn of a new day was breaking, and the sky was resplendent with the soft rosy tints of the virgin morn. From the shore came faint twitterings of birds just awaking from slumber. Presently the raucous honks of autos some distance down the road fell upon his ears. In a few minutes the cars appeared, and drew up at the wharf not far away. Several men alighted, and from their actions the captain could tell that they were very much excited. Then more autos arrived, until about twenty men were standing upon the wharf and the road. He wondered what they wanted, and what had brought them there at such an early hour. When, however, he saw them rowing from the shore in several flat-bottom boats, the meaning of the commotion flashed upon his mind. They were searching for the missing girl, believing that she had been drowned the night before. The captain was in a quandary. His first impulse was to hail the men, and tell them that the missing one was safe. But what would the girl think of him if he betrayed her? No, he would not do such a thing without speaking to her first. He glanced toward the cabin, and to his surprise saw smoke coming from the stove-pipe protruding through the roof of the cabin. The girl, he knew, must be awake, so he might as well inform her at once.

He hurried away aft, and paused at the cabin door. It was open, and glancing down he saw the girl busily engaged in preparing breakfast. The appetising odour of coffee greeted his nostrils, and he heard something sizzling in the frying-pan. Just then the girl glanced up, and a bright smile of welcome illumined her face. Her cheeks were flushed with the heat and exercise, and the captain thought he had never beheld a more charming face.

"Good morning," she greeted. "Come in; breakfast is almost ready."

"Well, I'll be hanged!" the captain ejaculated as he descended the stairs. "What in time are ye up so early fer?"

"Isn't the cook always supposed to be up early?" the girl questioned, while her eyes sparkled with merriment.

"S'pose so," and the captain scratched his head in a dubious manner. "But I wasn't lookin' upon you as a cook, fer I had no idea that ye understood anything about a kitchen."

"Well, then, you were much mistaken. Just sit down, and try this egg-on-toast, and this coffee. I have learned a few things, so am not altogether useless. Cooking is one of my accomplishments, though, perhaps, I may not suit such an expert as you."

After the captain had washed himself in the granite-iron basin, and carefully brushed his hair, he sat d

own at the little side-table. His breakfast was already before him, but he would not touch it until the girl was ready for hers. He noted with appreciation that the oil-cloth on the table was especially clean, and how neatly the few dishes were arranged.

"Well, this is some breakfast," he complimented. "I never expected to find this awaitin' me."

"Are you satisfied with your cook now?" the girl smilingly asked.

"Satisfied!" The captain paused in the act of lifting his cup of coffee to his lips. "Did I ever say I wasn't satisfied?"

"Not exactly, though you acted that way last night."

"I know I did, an' I'm of the same opinion still. I'm not satisfied while them fellers are out draggin' the river fer yer body."

At these words a startled look came into the girl's eyes, and she dropped her fork upon her plate.

"Dragging the river for my body!" she gasped.

"Sure, thar are several boats not fer from here now, an' the men in 'em seem mighty excited. It does seem a pity fer 'em to be doin' sich a thing while you are safe an' sound in this cabin. Thar's something uncanny about it, which is not at all to my likin'. Don't ye think I'd better holler out, an' tell 'em that you're all right?"

"No, no," the girl protested, rising to her feet. "Don't say a word. If they think I'm drowned, all the better. That's just what I want them to think."

"Good Lord!" The captain stared in amazement at the agitated girl. "What am I to do, then? I can't stay here an' see them poor fellers doin' sich a useless job. An' besides, they must be about heart-broken."

"Indeed they're not," the girl emphatically declared. "If they are the ones I believe they are, you needn't worry about them, for they have no hearts to break. I must have a peek at them."

"Be careful, if ye don't want to be seen, Miss," the captain warned, as the girl stood, on one of the steps and cautiously peered out. She was instantly down again, her face very white.

"There's a boat coming straight for us!" she excitedly explained. "It's only a short distance off. Go on deck quick and send the men away. Don't let them come on board."

With a bound the captain was up out of the cabin. He was determined to protect the girl, although he felt that he was making a fool of himself. But while she was on his boat, and under his care, no one was going to molest her. He stood silently watching the row-boat as it drew near. It contained three men, two at the oars, and one seated astern.

"Say," the latter called out, "did you see a young woman drifting about here in a boat last night?"

"Did I see what?" the captain asked, apparently surprised.

"A young woman, Miss Randall, in a boat last night? She has disappeared, and we're afraid she's drowned."

"No, I didn't see any young woman driftin' around here in a boat last night," the captain replied. "What makes ye think she's drowned herself?"

"Because a boat was found adrift in South Bay last night, containing one oar and a woman's hat. The hat belonged to Miss Randall, and as she is missing, it is feared that she either drowned herself or met with an accident."

"Dear me, that's serious. Why would she want to drown herself?"

"Oh, some family trouble, I guess. Her folks wanted her to marry a man she had no use for. That's him standing there on the wharf now."

"Ye don't tell!" The captain turned his head and looked shoreward. "Wonder why he isn't helpin' to search fer his sweetheart. He seems to be mighty cool about the affair."

"Oh, he's afraid of soiling his hands and clothes." The man spoke in a low voice, for he was now close alongside. "He's Lord Something-or-Other's son, an' wouldn't think of associating with such common cusses as us. He belongs to the upper-crust, doncher-know." The man smiled, and his companions grinned. It was quite evident that they were all familiar with the story.

"An' so ye say the gal yer lookin' fer is Miss Randall, daughter of

Henry Randall, the big lumber merchant?" the captain asked.

"That's who she is; his only daughter."

"An' he wants her to marry that?" and the captain motioned toward the wharf.

"Sure. Is it any wonder she'd want to commit suicide? She'd be a fool if she wouldn't. But, there, we must get back to work. We just dropped alongside, thinking ye might have seen her drifting around, last night, and heard a scream or a splash."

"What makes ye think it was around here she done the deed?" the captain asked.

"Because her folks have their summer house a short distance below the wharf, and the boat which was found drifting in South Bay belongs to Bill Sanson up on the hill. Aren't they reasons enough?"

"It does look reasonable," the captain acknowledged. "I s'pose her pa an' ma are about crazy over her disappearance. I know I should be about Flo."

"Her father isn't home," the man explained. "He's away somewhere on a business trip. As for her mother, well--" He paused, pulled a plug of tobacco out of his pocket, and bit off a chew. Then he turned to his companions. "Come, boys, suppose we get back? We've wasted too much time already."

The captain watched them as they rowed away, and his eyes twinkled with merriment. He was smiling when he returned to the cabin. The girl there was smiling, too, although it was easy to tell that she had been greatly agitated.

"Have they gone?" she asked in a low voice.

"Oh, yes, they've gone back to look fer you. Say, Miss, I don't like this bizness one bit. It's a mighty spooky affair, an' gits on me nerves. Don't ye feel a bit shaky yerself?"

"I suppose I should," the girl thoughtfully replied. "But under the circumstances I can't. Don't you remember what that man told you?"

"About you marryin' that Lord Fiddlesticks?"

"Yes, though that is not his name."

"I know it isn't, but it doesn't matter. But, thar, I must take some grub to Eben. He'll be down here soon, I'm sartin, if I don't head him off. Thar's nuthin' like grub to hold that boy in check. I've got to go ashore this mornin' to git some tea. Eben fergot all about it last night."

"Will you get a few things for me?" the girl asked. "I will make out a list at once."

"I was expectin' something like that, Miss. I knew ye wouldn't be satisfied with what this cabin contains, but would want many things extry. I s'pose ye'll order a hull outfit of table linen, a set of chiny dishes, a new coffee pot, an' dear knows what all. I'd have to go to the city fer them things."

"No, not at all," the girl laughingly replied. "I can get along nicely with what you have here. I only need something for myself, as I came away without anything, not even a comb. I hope you don't mind."

"Oh, I don't mind, as fer as I'm consarned. But I'm wonderin' what

Martha an' Flo'll think if they ever hear of it."

"I am sure they will be pleased, Captain, when they know how kind you have been to an unfortunate girl. When I see them I shall explain, so everything will be all right."

"I hope so, Miss. But if ye knew Martha as well as I do mebbe ye wouldn't feel so sure. Anyway, I s'pose it can't be helped now. Jist have yer list ready when I come back from feedin' Eben, an' I'll do the best I kin."

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