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   Chapter 6 EBEN MAKES A DISCOVERY

Jess of the Rebel Trail By H. A. Cody Characters: 13105

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


After Eben had eaten his breakfast he sat for a few minutes watching his father as he rowed ashore. He next turned his eyes upon the boats searching for the missing girl. He even smiled, a somewhat unusual thing for him, especially at such an early morning hour. He was sitting upon deck, leaning against the mast full in the glare of the slowly-strengthening sun. Presently his left hand was run through his mass of tousled hair, while his right came down with a resounding whack upon his knee. Something out of the ordinary was amusing this tall ungainly youth which would have surprised his father had he been present.

At length he rose slowly to his feet, yawned, stretched himself, and moved cautiously along the deck toward the cabin. He walked around it once without deigning to look at the open door. The second time he shot a swift furtive glance, and caught a fleeting glimpse of someone in the cabin. His heart gave a great leap and he was about to hurry on his way, when a merry laugh arrested his steps, causing him to turn and peer down into the cabin. Then his cheeks crimsoned as he saw the girl standing at the foot of the steps, her face wreathed with a sunny smile.

"Don't be afraid; I won't hurt you," she told him. "I'm as harmless as a kitten."

Instantly Eben's mouth expanded into a grin, and he looked sheepishly around. He knew that he was on forbidden ground, and this added to his embarrassment. At the same time it gave him a certain degree of pleasure, as forbidden sweets are always the most delectable.

"Come on down," the girl invited. "I want someone to talk to, for it is rather lonesome here."

"You'd better come up," Eben found voice to reply. "It's nicer here in the sun."

"I know it is," and the girl's face became sober in an instant. "But I am afraid."

"What are ye afraid of?"

"Those men in the boats, of course."

"That they'll git ye?"

"Yes."

"But they won't out there, though," and again Eben grinned. "I knew ye didn't drown yerself. Ye'd be a fool to do it, wouldn't ye?"

"How did you know?"

"Oh, I saw ye last night headin' fer the 'Eb an' Flo.'"

"Did you see me come on board?"

"No, it was too dark. But when dad wouldn't let me go into the cabin, I guessed what was up. It was nicer down there than floatin' in the river, wasn't it? Wonder where ye'd be now, an' how ye'd feel if ye had drowned yerself."

The girl shivered, and her face turned white.

"Are you hungry?" she unexpectedly asked.

"Why, I jist had me breakfast."

"I know you did, but your father said you are always hungry. Suppose you come down and I'll give you something more. You didn't have much to eat."

To his own surprise Eben at once obeyed, lumbered down the steps, and seated himself by the little table. The girl placed a boiled egg before him, cut a slice of bread, and poured out a cup of coffee.

"I cooked one egg too many," she explained.

"Lucky ye did," Eben replied, as he broke the shell. "Say, it's great havin' you here. What's yer name!"

"Only Jess. I hope you will like it."

"I like it already. I think it's nice. An' say, I won't let anyone git ye."

"That's kind of you. But I thought you hated girls."

"Who told ye that?"

"Your father, of course. Isn't it true?"

"Mebbe it is, an' mebbe it isn't. An' mebbe after all it is. I never did take much stock in girls."

"Why?"

"Dunno, 'cept it's me make-up. Girls are too fussy fer me, so I like to keep out of their way."

"But you came my way this morning, though," the girl smilingly reminded.

"Oh, you're different. I like what you did. You came here to be protected, an' I'm goin' to see that ye are. I won't let them men git ye."

"What will you do if they come on board?"

Eben dropped his knife and fork suddenly upon the table, while his hands clenched hard.

"They won't come on board," he declared. "They'll do well to git close to this boat. Look," and he pointed to a rifle standing in one corner of the cabin.

"Oh, you mustn't shoot," the girl protested. "You might kill someone, and then you would be hung for murder."

"No, it's not likely I'll shoot, though I'll feel like doin' it if them men come snookin' 'round here. I'll jist keep the gun in me hands, that's all. Guess that'll be hint enough fer them fellers."

"Oh, I wish a strong wind would blow," the girl fervently exclaimed. "I want to get away from here, and out of sight of those men searching for me over there."

"It does give one a kind of creepy feelin', doesn't it?" Eben replied. "But I think we'll git a breeze when the tide comes up, an' then we'll show ye what this old tub kin do."

"Won't that be great! I have often longed for a sail on the river in a boat such as this. How you must enjoy this life. I know I should."

"Would ye?" Eben asked. "Well, I guess ye'd soon git tired of it if ye had to do it all the time. It makes a mighty big difference whether ye do a thing fer pleasure or fer business. I don't like it, anyway, an' I'm goin' to git clear of it as soon as I kin. Mebbe I'll follow your example, an' run away."

"Where do you want to go to, and what do you want to do?"

"I want to go to college an' learn to be an engineer."

"An engineer! What, to run an engine on the railroad?"

"No, not that. I want to be a civil engineer, to build bridges, an' do sich things. I'd like it better'n anything else."

"Why don't you, then? Won't your father let you?"

"No. He thinks it's all nonsense. He says he's raisin' me to take charge of this boat some day. But, gee whiz, he's countin' on the wrong chicken. Anyway, by the time dad's done sailin' this boat, it'll be fit fer the scrap heap."

"Why do you want to be a civil engineer?" the girl asked. "Do you know anything about the work?"

"Y' bet I do," and Eben smacked his lips. "I've been studyin' bridges fer years, 'specially the one across the falls. I've a lot of drawin's of it. Would ye like to see 'em?"

"Indeed I should," was the interested reply. "I used to draw some myself."

"Ye did!" Eben looked at the girl in admiration. "I never met anyone before who could draw. Hope ye won't make fun of my scrawls."

"Certainly not. You don't think I would do such a thing, do you?"

Eben made no reply as he was already on his feet, groping with his right hand upon a shelf over his bunk. In a few minutes he brought down a well worn scribbler, opened it, and laid it with pride upon the table.

"There's my drawin's," he began. "No one but meself ever sot eyes upon 'em b

efore."

"You didn't even show them to your parents or sister?" the girl asked in surprise, as she looked upon the first drawing presented to view.

"Indeed I didn't. They'd only make fun of me if I did. I hate to be laughed at, don't you? It riles one all up."

"It does sometimes," the girl acknowledged. "But, then, it is better not to mind what people say or do, but just go on with our work. Why, what nice drawings you have here. I can hardly believe you did them yourself without anyone to teach you."

Eben made no reply, but his eyes shone with complete satisfaction. The girl was seated at the table and he was standing by her side. A thrill of joy possessed him such as he had never experienced before. This beautiful girl appreciated his drawings, and that was enough.

The sketches were crude, but they showed considerable signs of promise, and this Jess realised as she carefully examined them. One bridge, especially, arrested her attention, the one which spanned the falls.

"You must have made a long study of this," she remarked, "I recognised it at once."

"I did, Miss. I spent a whole day there once, an' every time we go under it I see something new. I ain't got it quite right yit."

For a few minutes the girl examined the drawings without speaking. There was a far-away look in her eyes when at length she pushed the book a little from her.

"Your drawings are remarkably good, considering everything," she told him. "But how would you like for me to give you some lessons?"

"How would I like it?" Eben gasped in amazement. "You give me lessons in drawin'!"

"And why not? We shall have time, I am sure, and I have not yet forgotten all I learned."

"Oh, it would be great! But what about dad? I'm afraid he won't let ye. He might think it will spoil me from bein' a captain some day. He wants me to study navigation, or something like that, which I hate."

Before any reply could be made, a slight shock was heard against the side of the boat which startled them both. The girl sprang to her feet, and looked up the stairway. Then the sound of footsteps was heard upon the deck above.

"They are after me!" she gasped. "Oh, where can I hide?"

"Stay right here," Eben ordered, as he leaped toward the stairs. "I'll fix 'em."

His foot had barely touched the first step when his father's body bulked large in the doorway above. Instinctively Eben drew back, and stood on the defensive, with every nerve strung to the highest tension.

Slowly the captain descended, and when he had reached the bottom of the stairway he stopped and looked around. In an instant he comprehended the situation, and a twinkle appeared in his eyes as he turned them upon his son.

"Is this the way ye obey orders?" he demanded. "Didn't I tell ye not to come near this cabin?"

"I know ye did, but that was last night," was the surly reply. "Ye didn't tell me to stay away this mornin'."

The captain stared at his son for a few seconds as if he had not heard aright.

"Well, I declare!" he exclaimed. "I gave ye credit fer some brains, but I guess I was mistaken."

"Don't blame your son, Captain," the girl interposed. "It was not his fault that he is here, but mine. I asked him to come."

"Ye did! Why, I thought ye didn't want anybody 'cept me to know of yer whereabouts."

"But it's different with your son here. He had to find out, anyway, you see, so it was just as well for him to do so this morning."

"So ye waited until I got on shore, eh? H'm, I guess all gals are alike, as sly as a weasel. As soon as the old man was out of the way, you two became very chummy. Fergot everything else most likely. It's a wonder ye weren't paradin' up an' down the deck."

"Oh, we took good care to keep out of sight," the girl laughingly replied. "We had enough sense left for that. This is certainly a great hiding place."

"D'ye think so, Miss? But mebbe it isn't so good as ye imagine."

A startled expression came into the girl's eyes, as she turned them full upon the captain's face.

"Thar, thar, don't be alarmed," the latter comforted. "I didn't mean to frighten ye. I only wanted to warn ye, that's all."

"Did you hear anything about me while ashore?" the girl asked. "Has anyone any suspicion that I am here?"

"It seems that way."

"Oh!"

"Yes," the captain continued, "I was talkin' to a young feller on shore, an' he sent ye his kind regards."

"Not Mr. Donaster! Oh, say it wasn't that man."

"No, it wasn't that critter, but another, an' a fine chap, too. Mebbe ye kin guess his name. He seemed mighty interested, an' asked me a number of questions."

"Did he?" The sigh of relief which the girl gave was more expressive than words. The captain chuckled as he watched her, and his eyes twinkled.

"Yes, Miss, he came along in a car an' tried to pump me dry with his queer questions. An' he was a mighty nice feller, too, good-natured, an' handsome enough fer any gal, no matter how pertic'ler she might be. He told me to take good care of ye. Hello! what's the matter?"

The cause of the captain's exclamation was the expression of confusion which suddenly overspread the girl's face. Eben also noticed it, and for the first time in his life a strange feeling began to agitate his heart. He could not account for it, but intuitively he felt a spirit of resentment against the man with the car. This beautiful girl had come into his lonely, misunderstood life like the sweet invigorating breath of spring, and he could not bear the thought that anyone else should have the slightest claim upon her. It was the jealous unreasoning throb of a first great love. The cabin seemed to be unusually close. He must have fresh air, and he wanted to be by himself that he might think. With a bound he was up the stairs to the deck above.

"Well, I declare!" the captain ejaculated, as he stared after his son. "What's the matter with that boy, anyway? Ye'd think a hull pack of wolves was chasin' him by the way he left this cabin. I can't understand him nohow."

The captain had barely finished speaking when a gust of wind struck the boat, causing the cabin door to close with a bang.

"Guess the breeze has come at last," he remarked. "It should be a big blow after this long calm. You jist keep close here while I go on deck. By the look of things we should be out of this in a few minutes. How'll that suit ye?"

"Oh, I shall be so thankful," the girl declared. "I cannot feel safe while we are so near that search-party. Please get away as soon as you can."

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