Chapter XIV. Two Beavers in Peril
 

Neither Harry nor Arnold is quite clear as to just what happened after the rattlesnake made his leap at the charmed boy.

They both are agreed on one point, however. Whenever the subject of marksmanship is brought up, they invariably agree that the man who fired the shot from his rifle that afternoon was the best crackshot they ever saw. His skill surely saved Harry's life.

What really happened was that a stranger, passing through the forest at the moment of the boys' predicament, heard the shots from Arnold's automatic. As the reader knows, the snake, Harry and Arnold were in direct line with Harry between the snake and Arnold. Therefore Arnold was unable quickly to shoot the snake. He tried to distract the attention of the reptile by creating a disturbance, but, as we know, in this he was unsuccessful. The temporary diversion was sufficient, however, to enable the stranger to grasp the situation as he came through a clump of palmettos.

Swinging his rifle to his shoulder he fired, seemingly without taking aim. His bullet sped true to the mark and severed the head of the now thoroughly angered rattler. He was just in time, for already the muscles of steel had started to launch the death dealing fangs.

It was not to be wondered at that Harry and Arnold should feel extremely grateful to the stranger. As he approached they both stepped forward and embarrassed him by the profuse thanks offered.

"Now, boys, don't say another word," he protested. "I like to kill them varmints. It pleased me a heap to be able to he'p youall."

"But we feel that you saved Harry's life, just the same and we want you to understand that we feel under deep obligations," Arnold insisted. "Another moment and it would have been too late."

"Well, I guess it would," acknowledged the stranger. "That's a leetle the biggest snake of that partic'lar kind I ever seen."

"He's big enough to be in a show," declared Harry.

"How'd you like his skin?" inquired their new found friend.

"No, thank you," protested Harry. "I've seen quite enough of him. I couldn't enjoy that skin a bit. But you may have it."

"Thanks. Believe I'll just pull that hide off. I might be able to sell it. Some feller'll be along from up No'th and buy it."

"Why, we're from up North," was Arnold's rejoinder. "Let me introduce my chum and myself before you handle that snake. Shake hands with Harry Harvey and my name is Arnold Poysor. We're from Chicago down here on a pleasure trip in a motor boat."

"Glad to meet you," replied the fellow. "My name's Lopez. They call me Pete when I'm to home. How'd youall like to come over to my house for supper? I live just a piece from here."

"Thank you, but we'd better be getting back," replied Harry. "Our friends will be expecting us shortly, and it's quite a ways back to the shipyard where our boat is on the ways for repairs."

"Only a little ways," asserted Lopez. "I know a short cut through a bayou that'll take you there in less than half an hour. Youall better stay. I'm goin' to have mutton for supper, and my nigger shore knows how to cook mutton. He's a fine cook."

While Lopez urged the boys to stay, he was busy with the carcass of the dead snake and soon had the skin deftly removed. His entreaties for the boys to visit his home were insistent. The boys felt that they owed him such a large debt that they could not decline, although they preferred to proceed in the opposite direction. At length they yielded to the urgent invitation. Lopez started away at a good gait through the forest, closely followed by his new guests, who found some difficulty in keeping pace with him.

"I'm gwine to have mutton for supper," explained Lopez, "and I want to get down to my sheep as they are passin' through a little draw back here a piece. They always go through there about this time."

After a short time the party came to a draw through which ran a small stream of clear water. Here they saw a flock of perhaps two hundred sheep feeding slowly along. All were headed in one direction.

"I see a young wether," Lopez announced as the party drew up beside a giant pine. "Shall I pick him off?"

"Go as far as you like," replied Harry. "I don't know one from another. They all look alike to me."

"See those two drinking by that big dead stub," Lopez said. "Which one shall I take, the one with black on his face or the white?"

"Take the black faced one," replied Arnold. "He's fatter."

"Here goes then," stated Lopez seeming hardly to take aim before pulling the trigger. "The black faced one was what you wanted."

His shot was successful. The black faced sheep fell in his tracks. Lopez swung quickly forward, picked up the sheep and started away with his burden over his shoulder.

"Come on, now," he urged. "The rest of the flock'll go home all right and I want to get to the cabin right soon and get supper."

The boys wondered at his haste to leave the spot. Arnold looked quickly at Harry and exchanged questioning glances, but spoke no word. Harry's hands were busy with the mute language, however.

"Looks mighty suspicious," he telegraphed to his chum.

"Just what I was thinking," declared Arnold in reply.

"We'd better keep our weather eye open," was Harry's next suggestion. "Maybe those are his sheep and maybe they are not."

"You're the wise boy," Arnold agreed. "I mistrust him."

During this time the three travelers had been making good progress. At length they came out into a small clearing in the center of which stood a log cabin surrounded by every evidence of shiftlessness and neglect. A gunnysack did duty as a window and curtain also. The chimney at the end of the building was of sticks and clay while the roof was of "rived" shingles.

At the approach of Lopez and the boys a large negro stepped out to meet them. His face was black as ebony while his teeth were pearly white. His grin was expansive.

"'Deed Boss, I'se powerful glad to see you," he began.

"Shut up," commanded Lopez. "Take this sheep and get some supper on the way just as quick as you can and not a word out of your head. I want you to get supper and I'll do the talkin'. Hear?"

"Yaas, sir, Boss. I done hear you. I sure can get supper."

"Now, boys," stated Lopez with a large, hospitable manner that was intended to be ingratiating, "help your se'fs to whatever you find. Doright, here, will soon have things goin' for supper. Let's set out on the gallery while he's fixin' up things."

Accepting the invitation the boys disposed themselves upon the "gallery," as the veranda is called in that country. They noticed that Lopez continued to hold his rifle. Only glances could be exchanged, however, for Lopez seemed to be watching them.

In a short time the negro announced supper and all went inside. A rough deal table contained broiled steaks from the sheep, while sweet potatoes roasted in the embers of the fire were handed around by the servant. The crude arrangements led the boys to again glance at one another in wonderment.

"Take right holt, boys," urged Lopez, setting the example.

The boys were hungry enough to need no second invitation. Surely the mutton was done to a turn and the sweet potatoes were the most delicious the boys had ever eaten.

After supper Lopez swung round to the boys and demanded:

"What youall here for, anyhow? Give it to me straight."

"Came here for supper," parried Arnold. "And a mighty good one it was. We'd like to hire that cook of yours for the boat."

"You won't need no cook on the boat if you Don't tell me the truth," almost shouted Lopez, with a gleam of hatred in his eye.

"Why, what's the matter?" cried Harry, springing to his feet.

"I'll show you what's the matter," gritted the enraged man. "You think you can come down here and steal what rightfully belongs to us and take it away up North, don't you? I'll show you."

"Why, what do you mean?" cried Harry. "I don't understand."

"Don't you lie to me," shouted Lopez, making as if to strike the boy. "Don't you lie to me! I know what you want."

"Well then, what do we want?" questioned Arnold indignantly.

"Youall want that Spanish Treasure Chest, but you won't get it," savagely vociferated Lopez. "That chest belongs to us."

"Well then," cried Harry with some heat, "why don't you go on and get it instead of annoying a party of boys who are here for a pleasant outing. You make me tired. You act foolish."

"Don't you insult me," almost screamed Lopez. "I'll let Wyckoff settle with you for this. You see if I don't."

"Wyckoff don't worry me any," boasted Arnold with a great deal more composure outwardly than he felt inside. "I don't care a snap of my finger for Wyckoff. He couldn't lick a postage stamp."

"We'll see about that!" shouted Lopez. "Doright," to the negro, "fetch that cord and tie these fellers up. Then you stay here and watch 'em while I go see what Wyckoff wants to do with 'em."

"Yaas, sir, Boss!" replied the negro. "Mah name's Doright 'case Ah always does de rightest Ah knows how. I sure does, Boss. Ever'body what knows me says dat! Ah'm a Doright nigger!"

"Shut up," snapped Lopez. "And stay shut, too. Don't you go talkin' to these boys while I'm gone, or I'll get Mammy Judy to put a conjure on you that'll turn half of you white and the other half green. Now you remember that, or I'll fix you!"

"Yaas, sir, Boss," replied Doright in a shaking tone.

Quickly he obeyed the commands of his master, securely fastening the boys' arms behind their backs with lengths of cord. He then indicated a bed on the floor of the cabin as a place where the boys might rest if they chose.

"Now you stay out here on the gallery and keep your eyes open," commanded Lopez. "I won't be gone more'n an hour if I can find Wyckoff and we'll see what he wants done with these robbers!"

After he was gone Doright took up his post on the gallery. He persistently refused to reply to the boys' questions, and after a time they refrained from trying to elicit any information.

"Looks like that villain Wyckoff was out after us and means business!" Harry ventured. "He seems to have lots of help!"

"I guess this is one of those Spanish moss beds you were telling about, Arnold," Harry said, walking over and kicking the bed.

"Looks like it," replied Arnold, "but just now the springs in the Fortuna berths would suit me a whole lot better. I'm homesick."

"And I'm going home," declared Harry with emphasis.

"How are you going?" queried Arnold. "We can't get away from the negro outside. He's guarding the very door."

"I'll show you how we'll get out. I'm going to burn these cords off my arms, and then I'll set fire to the cabin, and when Doright rushes in, we'll rush out. Before he knows what's up, we'll be away in the woods. I'd like another piece of sheep, though!"

"Funny they brought it in here," commented Arnold. "I'll bet Lopez stole it. He was in a mighty hurry to get here and then brought it inside the cabin. He should have left it outside."

"We won't argue about that now," replied Harry kicking the remains of the fire about. "I'm going to get loose first thing!"

Arnold protested vigorously, but to no avail. Harry maintained that Tom had been kicked and Jack had been shot and therefore a burn or two on his part should be borne unflinchingly. He found considerable difficulty in getting the fire applied to the cords without also burning his own flesh. At last he was triumphant.

Quickly he loosed Arnold. He then threw the remains of the fire into the middle of the mattress. A burst of flame followed. In an incredibly short time the whole end of the cabin was blazing.

Doright horrified fled to the edge of the clearing where he felt safe. Arnold dashed out of the cabin in terror. Turning to find Harry gone he rushed back, entering just as the gallery fell.