The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Wilderness Trail, by Henry Bedford-Jones

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Title: The Wilderness Trail

Author: Henry Bedford-Jones

Release Date: February 16, 2022 [eBook #67418]

Language: English

Produced by: Al Haines


The Wilderness Trail


Author of
"Splendour of the Gods," "The Kasbah Gate," etc.




The year 1810 was more commonly known, at least in the Kentucky wilderness, as the thirty-fourth year of the Independence of the United States. Backwoods folk are simple folk, proud of what they and their fathers have done.

Although split with vexatious questions of Federal or Democrat, rent asunder by argument over the Great Conspiracy of Aaron Burr, and menaced always by the gathered allied hordes of Tecumthe across the Indiana border, the settlers in and around Louisville forgot all these things in the one supreme fact that this was the thirty-fourth year of the United States.

Law had come into the country, to the bitterness of many. Land-titles and sorry scoundrels had in combination ousted many a less famous man than Colonel Daniel Boone from his holdings. Whisky and lawless border-life, to say nothing of the more lawless river-ways, had ruined more than one good man both in morals and reputation. Some said the western country had gone to the dogs; others said that the dogs had all come to the western country. Both sayings were true, in a sense.

So, then, in this thirty-fourth year of the United States, an old man stood on the Beargrass Creek Road, just out of Louisville, and swore volubly. A horseman had spattered him with mud. To his right was a fringe of trees, to his left the mudhole, and just beyond him was a bend in the road.

The old man was only five feet ten, but was thewed like a giant. As he wiped the mud from his cheek and glared at the returning horseman, he displayed a strong, keen-eyed face which sat well above powerful shoulders and barrel-like chest.

"Consarn the lawyers!" he cried angrily. "If I had my way, I'd hang every cussed lawyer in Kaintuck! Hanging's too good for 'em. Consarn 'em, I'd——"

The horseman had reined in at the bend and was now back beside the old man. He was a large athletic man, dressed in fine blue broadcloth, with pudding cravat and ear-high coat collar. He leaned over in his saddle with a smile.

"Sir, your pardon! The offence was unintentional. I take it that you have a grudge against lawyers, eh?"

"Huh!" The other grunted angrily, yet with none of the sputtering fury of old age. His words seemed calculated, in fact. "Huh! Hain't lawyers robbed me right and left an' driv me out o' Kaintuck? You're like all of 'em, consarn ye, slick and smooth! I ain't lived seventy-six year 'thout bein' able to read a man's face. Ye black-hearted Wyandot, why didn't ye turn out o' the way—huh?"

At these final words the horseman went white to the lips. He was handsome, dark of hair and eye, with thin lips, virile features, and powerful hands. Despite the careful attire and courtly air, however, there was an indescribably cruel curve to his thin lips and nostrils, an arrogance in his bearing, which seemed rather out of place in democratic Kentucky.

"Sir, I asked your pardon," he said in a deep voice, twitching his riding-whip against his boot. "In deference to your age I pass over your words——"

"Cuss yer impudence!" broke out the old man hotly, a flame leaping out in his blue eyes. "You're one o' them Louisville vultures, huh? I kin tell. Pass over my words, do ye? Well, ye git down out'n that saddle an' I'll give ye somethin' better to pass over. Hump down, consarn ye—I'll pay out one debt more on yer carcass afore I go back to Missoury!"

The old man did not look his seventy-six years. The wrathful earnestness of his bearing bespoke his entire willingness to chastise the lawyer, while there was a dangerous vitality in his high-browed face. The other gazed down steadily, contempt sitting in his proud dark eyes.

"I have no quarrel with you, sir," he returned slowly. "Yet if you would seek redress through the courts, you may seek me at Louisville, where I am well known. My name, sir, is Charles Duval, and I regret that my apology did not——"

His stately courtesy and slight trace of contempt served only to infuriate the old man the more. With one swift forward stride, he gripped the bridle of the horse.

"Git down out'n that saddle," he broke in. "I aim to git a feel o' yer hide right here an' now, consarn ye! I don't want no courts."

"Hands off, you fool!" whipped out Duval, deadly pale. He made as if to raise his riding-crop, put paused and twisted in the saddle at sound of a cheery voice from the bend of the road just behind him. It was a vibrant joyous voice, and the lilt of song rose clearly on the afternoon air.

Oh, I fit with Gen'ral Washington an' I'd like to fight some more,
An' I'm going to join with Gen'ral Clark when next we go to war!
I'll tote my Kaintuck rifle, and I'll raise the Kaintuck boys,
And we'll sculp the bloody Britishers——

The singer jogged around the bend of trees and came to an abrupt halt as he sighted the two. His horse was good, his deerhide dress bad, his rifle brass-mounted, and his head bare. Glinting brown hair, a brown, clean-shaven face of youth and strong lines, and clear brown eyes formed a symphony of woods-colouring.

"Well, well!" His eyes twinkled slightly as he surveyed the scene before him. "Is this a highway robbery, friends? Strength assailed by old age—what an allegory we find here! And why not make youth the mediator, may I ask?"

His appearance seemed to quiet the rage of the old man, who released the horse's bridle and stepped back calmly. The newcomer met the steady look of Duval, but the twinkle passed from the brown eyes.

"Well?" he snapped suddenly. "Are you dumb, sir? I believe you intended to strike this old man with your whip?"

"Sir, you are at liberty to formulate your own beliefs," returned Duval coldly. "Kindly get out of my path at once."

"Ah, this is more like it!" exclaimed the stranger quickly. "And if I refuse?"

A tide of passion flooded over Duval's swarthy face. He pushed his horse toward the new-comer, lifting his whip. There was a slight, almost negligent motion, and he found himself staring into the mouth of the long rifle which had reposed on the brown man's saddle-bow.

"Well, try it," smiled the stranger, but with a glint in his brown eyes as they rested on Duval's furious face. "I fancy my powder is still a bit too good for wasting, unless you force me. If you wish to pass, sir—take the mud."

For a moment Duval was choked by his rage. While plainly no coward, he was checked both at sight of the ready trigger-finger and the cold purpose in the brown eyes. The old man, watching keenly, stooped and picked up his fallen cap of coonskin.

"Devil take you," cried Duval hoarsely, the intensity of his passion clenching all his face into wild fury. "Sir, I—I——"

Whatever he might have said was stopped by a thud of hoofs. Once more the bend in the quiet Beargrass Creek Road was invaded at a critical moment, and this time by a girl who rode from the direction whence Duval had come. And as before, the arrival broke off threatening hostilities.

She was a beautiful girl enough, with her fresh firm face and clear grey eyes, and the red-gold hair falling over her shoulders. Her steed was bony and her gown was homespun, but Duval swung his horse around with a graceful bow and swept his hat to his stirrup as she drew rein.

"May I ride back to town with you, Madam Trigg?" he asked quietly, giving no hint of the storm which a moment before had convulsed him. "It seems there are strangers and odd characters about, and it may well——"

He was interrupted by a cry of surprise. The girl slipped from her saddle as the old man stepped forward, and with a swift hug and a laugh of rippling delight she flung her arms about his neck.

"You!" she cried. "Why, where on earth did you come from?"

"Come from town," said the old man jerkily. He stared into her excited eyes with a flush of pleasure on his rugged old face, and seemed lost to all around. "Come in with some beaver, Kitty. Paid the ol' debts, every last man, thank God! Clean's a whistle now. Goin' out to Dick Taylor's, comin' to see you-all, then goin' back home. Be in town to-morrow sure."

His abrupt awkward speech drew another hug and a kiss from the girl, who then turned to her horse and scrambled to the saddle.

"Be sure you come, then!" she cried merrily, and looked at Duval: "I thank you for the courtesy, sir, and avail myself of it right gladly——"

She broke off at sight of the brown-eyed stranger, who had not moved. Duval touched his spurs and brought his horse beside hers.

"Out of the way," he commanded sharply. "This lady wishes to pass."

The leather-clad stranger smiled a little.

"And so she shall, friend Duval," he drawled easily. "I told you once that you might take the mud."

"Confound you, sir—would you dare shoot me?" broke in Duval furiously. "I dare you to do it, sir!"

"Well, that's a dare easily settled!" laughed the other, but his eyes remained very steady. Pressing his steed with his knee, he moved aside and left the inner edge of the road clear. "The lady is not hindered. As for you, if you doubt either my ability or my will, why not test the matter?"

Duval noted the crooked trigger-finger, muttered an impatient word, then turned and splashed through the muddy water. The girl went on, still gazing at the stranger. As he drew upon the dry road and waited, Duval turned.

"Take care of yourself!" he cried, his face livid.

"That is my business in life, thanks," returned the stranger, lightly, and so he found himself alone with the old man. Carefully uncocking his rifle, he swung down from the saddle and gripped hands with the other.

"Well, you seem to be in no great need of help," he chuckled, surveying the huge chest of the grey-haired man. "What's the matter, anyway? Did you have a fuss with his excellency?"

"Kind of that way," grinned the old man, to whom speech now seemed to come slowly. "Muddied me, the cussed law-shark! All alike, consarn 'em."

"Well, now he's gone, can you tell me where Colonel Dick Taylor lives?"

"Goin' there," grunted the other, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. His keen blue eyes searched the younger face shrewdly. "Young man, ye handled him right. You're a fine fellow. How are ye named?"

"Norton, John Norton," smiled the younger man. "I'm a captain in the Seventh Infantry, or was, and came up from New Orleans after resigning. So you're going to the Taylors, eh? Know young Zach? Do you live around here?"

"Uh-huh, I know him. Used to live here." The old man's face darkened as he glanced around. "Them cussed lawyers skun me out o' my land, consarn 'em! Live in Missoury now. Lots o' game there. Come back here to pay my debts—no man can't say I ain't honest. Them moccasins ain't Cherokee-made, are they?"

"What's your name?" asked Norton with frank interest. He clucked to his horse, and the steed followed them as they trudged along the road. The other only glanced down at the moccasins.

"Name's Boone," he grunted. "Them moccasins, now—they sartin look kind o' like——"

"Boone?" Norton stopped abruptly, a puzzled wonder in his eyes. "You're not Colonel Boone, by any chance? Colonel Daniel Boone?"

"That's me. About them mocc——"

"Well, by thunder!" Norton gasped, then laughed aloud as he seized Boone's hand in a hearty clasp and looked deep into the keen blue eyes. "Why, Colonel, I spent two days looking you up in Missouri, over on the Femme Osage! Your wife said you had gone east, either to Virginia or Tennessee. I was mighty anxious to see you—in fact, that's why I threw up my army commission."

"Huh! To see me?" Boone looked at him, then jerked his head. "Well, come along to Dick's. Find the wife well, did ye? Now tell me 'bout where ye got them moccasins——"

John Norton was lost in amazement at the manner in which he had chanced on the one man in the country he most desired to meet. Daniel Boone was not greatly honoured in that day. He had been out of the public view for twenty years and was not of the self-assertive type; his fame seemed to be dying out with the older generation of frontiersmen. Driven into the South-west, he still made long, lonely forays through the South and East, hunting and trapping and seeking the solitude he loved.

At Femme Osage, Norton had missed him by a month. Then the young ex-officer had come on by flatboat to Fort Massac, and from there overland to Louisville. He said no more of his journey than this, but Boone looked at the delicate yet decisive profile, the brown eyes which could twinkle like a star or leap out hard and cold like a sword—and nodded to himself.

"Ye knew Zach down to N'Orleens, mebbe? He's in the Seventh, ain't he?"

"Yes," nodded Norton. "We were great friends, till he came North with fever. How is he? All right?"

Boone chuckled. "The cuss has got married, Norton."

"What? He has?" Norton whistled, then broke into a laugh. "Someone here?"

"No—him and me brung her over from Maryland. Got here a month ago. We located beaver on the way, so I went back an' got enough pelt to pay up some ol' debts here in Louisville—consarn them lawyers!"

Norton was not altogether surprised at Zach Taylor's marriage. He had gained his captaincy at the time Zach joined the regiment in New Orleans as lieutenant. Barely had the two men become friends when young Taylor went home on sick-leave. This had been two years before, and the reason for his prolonged absence was now evident. Norton's business concerned Colonel Richard Taylor, Zach's father, no less than it did Boone, so he had come on to Louisville after missing the old frontiersman at Femme Osage. Now, by a fortunate chance, he had come upon Boone as well—a good presage, he reflected. He was like to have need of all the friends he could muster.

The two tramped along between the cottonwoods, and in a few moments sighted the clustering log and frame buildings of the Taylor farm, six miles above the city itself. Colonel Taylor, or "Colonel Dick" as he was known along the frontier, had been Collector of the Port of Louisville until Louisiana ceased to be foreign territory, in 1804, but for the past six years had abstained from politics altogether and devoted himself to his farm. With the exception of George Rogers Clark, who lived across the river from Louisville, he was the town's most prominent citizen, however; an old friend of President Madison, his influence at Washington bore no little weight.

As the two men approached the farm, negroes came running out, Boone was recognized with a delighted shout, and from the different buildings appeared the family itself. Colonel Taylor and his wife were joined by Zach and his bride, and while Norton's horse was led away he met with an exuberant welcome from the hard-featured kindly-eyed lieutenant, his own elder by two years.

"Dad, this is Captain Norton," cried Taylor, introducing his friend in mad delight. "He's the man I've told you about so much—the officer who cleared out those river pirates by Nagatoches! Margaret—Mother! Upon my word, Jack, what the devil brought you here?"

This final outburst of helpless amazement evoked a general laugh, and Norton found himself placed at his ease by the quiet hospitality of old Colonel Dick. Boone was the guest of honour, however, and the old frontiersman was at once accorded an easy chair by the fireplace when the party gathered inside to hear the news.

Of this Boone brought little enough, beyond the fact he had cleared off his old debts and was ready to start for Missouri with a dollar in his pocket and a clear mind.

"You just missed Kitty Grigg," said Colonel Dick. "She was out here to visit Margaret, while I was trying to keep that skunk Duval from ridin' home with her——"

"Ye didn't do it," chuckled Boone. "We met 'em—consarn them lawyers!"

He proceeded to give a brief account of the meeting, which drew a roar of applause from Zach and his father. Norton, however, was bent on more serious matters than visiting, and waved aside the eager questions which rained upon him.

"No, there's no news—General Harrison is keeping things pretty quiet along the border, and the last I heard there was no immediate talk of a British war. I believe Zach's going to get a captaincy before long, though. I've resigned, and the older officers won't transfer into the Seventh; they think the regiment won't last long——"

"You've resigned?" broke in Zach blankly. "Why—good Lord, Jack! You ain't goin' to take up farming? Got married?"

"Neither one," laughed Norton easily. "I have letters to you, Colonel Taylor, to Governor Harrison, and to Colonel Boone here—and I want help. There's been a good deal of piracy of late, as you may know, and my business here is to get that mysterious fellow, Blacknose——"

His words were drowned in a sudden crash, as Boone knocked over one of the huge andirons with his foot. Zachary Taylor darted to the door and slammed it with a bang; Mrs. Taylor went white, and Colonel Dick started abruptly.

"My dear Norton," he said quickly, frowning, "your business here had best wait until the morning, when we will go to town with Colonel Boone and talk it over then. Margaret, will you see that the guest-cab in is made ready? How did you make out with your beaver, Daniel?"

And Norton fell into an amazed silence, while old Boone told of his hunting trip, Why had the mere name of a river-pirate brought fear to such men as these, and pallor to the faces of the two women?

"By thunder!" he exclaimed inwardly, listening to the old frontiersman's jerky sentences. "I wonder if I've struck a bigger thing than they dreamed of at New Orleans?"


Upon attaining his majority three years before, John Norton had gained a commission through the influence of his uncle, a merchant at New Orleans. Yellow fever had left him alone in the world six months afterward, and he had looked forward to a career in the army. By a curious combination of circumstances, however, he had now resigned that career to enter on a more hazardous and difficult task.

What he remembered of his life had been centred about New Orleans, but beyond a casual acquaintance with his uncle's business he had not lingered about the city save for a few weeks at a time. A few years of wandering in the Southern woods with friendly Indians, traders, and frontiersmen had given him a thorough mastery of woodcraft; with this his brief military career had not interfered, for he had conducted several treaty-making or mapping expeditions through eastern Louisiana, once as far as Florida.

Now, however, a new service had offered itself to him. The Ohio Valley trade came largely to St. Louis and New Orleans, by means of arks and flatboats. It was easy to float down with the current, and men took down their wares, sold them, and came back overland, for the return river journey was difficult. A few years before, banditti had been numerous until the Kentucky riflemen had broken up the Harpe and Mason gang of pirates. Since that time there had arisen a new king of the lawless, whose doings had all but paralyzed the river trade.

"Let me give you my own story first, gentlemen," said Norton quietly, as he rode between Colonel Dick and Boone, with Zach just ahead. "Since you seem to jump at the very name of Blacknose, things must indeed be in a poor state up here."

The others merely nodded. All four were riding slowly toward Louisville; the sun was but recently up, and in the brisk morning air all thought of danger or trouble seemed very vague and distant. Yet Boone's keen gaze never left the roadside.

"As you will, sir," responded Colonel Dick courteously. "My son has told us of you, and we would be only too glad to hear of your family. I knew a gallant gentleman of your name—a Major Charles Norton, of my own Virginian regiment under General Washington."

"He was my father." And Norton's face darkened.

"What, sir—your father!" Colonel Taylor drew rein suddenly.

"Yes. He brought his family west, expecting to settle at Cincinnati—he was a member of that society, of course, and was attracted by the name. He had barely reached there when he found a message from my Uncle John, who had gone to St. Louis. My father decided to join him, and undertook the trip with a brother officer named Moore.

"This was in the fall of 1790, when I was four years old. During the winter my father and Captain Moore built a large ark, and early in the spring embarked both families, with their property and slaves. The ark passed Louisville, and after that—it vanished."

"Good heavens, sir—what do you mean?" demanded Colonel Taylor, staring. Norton smiled.

"River pirates. I was fetched to St. Louis by my old nigger mammy in a crazy canoe; she died before she could more than tell who I was, having been shot. Beyond a doubt the ark was surprised, either by Indians or pirates, only my devoted old black mammy getting me away. The rest were never heard from again——"

Norton proceeded to give a brief account of how his uncle had adopted him, later removing to New Orleans, and of how his own life had fitted him for the task in hand.

"Now, as you all know," he continued calmly, "the river somewhere between here and Fort Massac has been terrorized by a band of river pirates. Whether whites or Indians, no one knows, for the simple reason that they take no prisoners. For some reason the rumour has crept out that their leader is called Blacknose, and is a member of the old Mason gang. This may or may not be true——"

"For heaven's sake, man, don't speak that name!" broke out the younger Taylor. "If any group discusses the name in these parts, they suffer for it. Dad urged the Legislature to send out the militia to guard the river against him; three days later our barns were burned. The same thing has happened to other men. We know nothing more about the gang than you do, except that it must have an excellent spy system."

Norton listened, his face setting into cold lines.

"No one asks you to talk of him," he returned grimly. "I'll do all that's necessary. Three months ago the New Orleans merchants got together to discuss the damages being wrought upon the river-trade; they knew I was a woodsman and that I had had the luck to break up that Nagatoches gang, so they came to me. I accepted the task of smashing this Blacknose, and I mean to do it. Gentlemen, my letters."

With this, he handed a letter each to Boone and Taylor, then moved a few paces on to the side of the lieutenant.

"See here, Norton," exclaimed the latter, with a glance at his father, "let me join you in——"

"Not much, Zach." And Norton smiled grimly. "You're a farmer, not a woodsman; besides, you've a bride to take care of. No—that's final."

Taylor said no more, and John Norton gazed out at the view beyond the little rising knoll on which they stood. It was close enough to the river to be in sight of the falls, and directly opposite them, on the Indiana shore, was Clarksville. Norton's eye lingered a moment on the large house which stood at the point of rocks; he had learned on the previous day that this was the home of George Rogers Clark, one of the great frontier heroes, but now an old man and crippled.

His gaze swept on to Louisville, half of its one street hidden by a rising knoll of cot ton woods. The stone court-house, the bell-roofed taverns, the Gault gardens at the upper end of town—Norton looked past these to Shippingsport, the little harbour below the falls, and his eyes narrowed. Here began his trail, as he knew well. From Shippingsport went out every ounce of freight to New Orleans from Louisville and all points up-river, for only experienced pilots could bring any craft through the falls. Louisville was to all intents the starting-point of river traffic, and somewhere between Louisville and Fort Massac, at the juncture of the Ohio and Mississippi, had vanished a full third of all the rich cargoes sent down in the past three years.

Having already mapped out a vague plan in his mind, he turned to the two older men, and smiled slightly. Boone had just finished spelling out his letter painfully enough, and was staring at it in disgust; Colonel Taylor was looking at his horse's head with a stern sadness, the cause of which the younger man knew only too well.

"One moment, Colonel Dick," said Norton gently. The two gazed up quickly. "I wish to draw you into nothing which can——"

"Captain Norton," broke in the other sternly, "I have never refused to do my duty, whatever the consequences, nor do I intend to falter now. My aid is yours, sir."

"You mistake me," smiled Norton, trying to offset the hint of tragedy in the other's eyes, "Since conditions here are as you inform me, there is no reason for my incriminating you. If these river pirates really have a spy system in effect, my mission will be discovered sooner or later. Do you go on to town with Zach; from this moment we are strangers. The only good you can do me is to request those whom you can trust that they will supply all I demand and draw on the New Orleans merchants who signed that letter to you. For your sake and that of your family, do as I ask. In this manner you can serve me best. Colonel Boone will, I am sure, bear me out in this."

The old frontiersman nodded quickly. Colonel Taylor hesitated, then stretched a hand to Norton.

"God bless you, my boy—and if you need help in the open, come to me."

Norton smiled, exchanged a handgrip and a word with Lieutenant Taylor, and watched father and son ride off toward the town. Then he turned to Boone, to find the old man looking glumly at him.

"Well?" he laughed questioningly. "Has Blacknose taken the heart out of you, or have you forgotten how to fire a rifle?"

To his intense amazement, Boone nodded and spat in the road.

"Yep. That's it. See here, Norton: I fit Injuns all my life and I ain't quit yet, but my hide's got to feelin' good on my back. Now I'm goin' to help you, but I ain't goin' to hunt them river pirates. I ain't ripe to die, not by a good ways! No, sir! I'm a God-fearin' man, Norton, and I ain't huntin' after trouble."

"What do you mean?" queried the perplexed Norton, taken utterly aback by the old man's attitude. "What can I count on——"

"You listen here." Boone's blue eyes wandered off among the trees as he spoke. "I ain't afeard o' no man livin', but I got a wife to pervide for. Now, we'll go down to the tavern and I'll bring you a feller who knows the hull country around here and who'll act as go-betwixt for anything you want. How you fixed on the military end?"

"I've letters to General Harrison from General Wilkinson, which will allow me to make use of the militia if I wish. Why?"

"Well, you 'tend to the military yourself an' listen here." Boone leaned over and dropped his voice, his eyes still on the trees. "Ye know where Blue River runs into the Ohio? Well, forty-five mile down the river from here, an' twelve mile this side o' Blue River, there's a big rocky cliff on the Injianny shore, with a cabin an' mebbe more cabins under it. But you stay on the Kaintuck side, mind. D'reckly opposite that cliff, ye'll find a big cottonwood blazed north an' south. Head right south from that there tree, an' in less'n two mile you'll find a cabin. That's where Red Hugh lives. Go an' find him if he's there; if he ain't, wait till he comes back. Tell him 'bout me sending ye, and ask fer help if ye need it."

"Who's Red Hugh?" demanded Norton, wondering.

"That's more'n I can tell ye." And Boone shook his head. "I've knowed him off an' on hard on twenty year. He raises crops there, an' goes on reg'lar spring an' fall hunts after Injuns. They killed off his fam'ly, I reckon, an' God ain't softened his heart yet—though He will some day, I reckon. He most gen'rally does— Lay down! Quick!"

The last three words shot out with vehement force; instinctively, Norton obeyed the swift gesture and ducked forward. Something sang over his head, almost brushing his hair; there came a crack on the wind, and he looked up to see a little drift of white rise from a clump of cottonwoods a hundred yards away.

Before he quite realized what had happened, the rifle was torn out of his hand and Boone was sighting. The flint fell uselessly, and with a muttered curse the old frontiersman slipped from his horse and ran for the trees whence had come the shot. Norton, now comprehending, was after him instantly.

Active though he was, he had hard work keeping up with Boone. Together they gained the trees, to find nothing more than a slight tinge of powder on the air, until Boone leaned over the ground, pointing.

"Here he was, the skunk! Come on, now."

His trained eye making out the tracks, Norton followed. After five minutes they came out on Beargrass Creek, and on the opposite shore was no trail.

"Slipped us," cried Boone savagely. "Consarn him! He might ha' gone up or down, so let's git out o' here whilst our hides are safe."

Whereupon, the old woodsman turned and incontinently made for the horses, as did Norton. The assassin had had time to reload, and tracking him in the river bed was impossible. When they had regained the horses, Boone held out something to Norton.

"Find the feller who owns this, an' ye've got him. I reckon your errand has slipped out, friend."

Norton smiled faintly at the grim sarcasm in the old man's voice, and looked at the object. It was the plug of a powder-horn evidently dropped in haste. Finely carved in greyish horn, the stopper was crossed lengthwise by a band of red.

"You find a feller with a horn what's got a red streak in it," went on Boone, "and a wooden plug; he's wearin' Shawnee moccasins instead o' boots; he's left-handed, 'cause he rested his rifle that side o' the tree, an' I wouldn't wonder but what he was cross-eyed."

"Huh? Why cross-eyed?" queried Norton, frowning, and dropped the plug in his shirt.

"'Cause he didn't see me a-watchin' them trees," cackled the old man, and swung up to his saddle. "Now let's git away from here; it makes me plumb scared. What do you reckon ye'll do first off?"

"Take advice," smiled Norton easily. "All I can get. I fancy the pirates are in league with some one here, for they've dropped on the best cargoes and let the poor ones pass by. It looks as if they had spies here, sure enough."

"An' one of 'em's wearin' Shawnee moccasins," chuckled Boone. "Well, afore ye git desp'rit, go see Red Hugh. Now, you git up to the tavern an' wait till I come. I'm a-goin' to see Kitty Grigg."

"Kitty Grigg?" Norton's mind went back swiftly to the girl he had glimpsed on the previous day. "Who is she, Colonel?"

"Well, Ol' Abel Grigg 'lows she's his daughter," returned the other slowly. "'Fraid Abel ain't much account, though. He was with me back in the Blue Lick massacree, and cert'nly fit good, but went bad later. I've knowed Kathleen sence afore I went to Missouri, and if she's Abel's daughter, then, by gum, I'll sculp myself!"

"Grigg lives at Louisville, then?"

"No—he's a hunter, mostly. Has a farm back o' town a piece. Well, see ye later! What tavern ye goin' to?"

"The 'Steuben Arms', just beyond Doctor Gault's residence."

Boone nodded, and rode off along a forest trail leading to the south, while Norton pursued his course into town.

Who had fired that shot? He thought of Duval's threat, but Duval was no woodsman, and the assassin was, as his method of escape testified. It seemed much more likely that, as Boone had said, some hint of his mission had leaked out.

How that could have been, Norton knew not. He had breathed no word of it to any man from leaving New Orleans until reaching the Taylor farm, nor had he discussed either piracy in general or Blacknose in particular. He had kept his ears open along the frontier but had learned nothing; no one had ever seen Blacknose, no one so much as knew whether there were a Blacknose or not. The name was a rumour, a border myth—and only in Louisville was it backed up by reality, reflected Norton.

He had not been sent on any false trail, that was certain. Neither the up-river farmers and merchants nor those of New Orleans could give him any definite information; yet both they and Norton knew well that in this year of grace, 1810, when settlements and cabins were scattered all along the Ohio and Mississippi, flatboat after flatboat could not vanish into thin air with their crews.

Norton's private opinion had been that Blacknose was a renegade who led a band of Indians and kept in touch with some one at Louisville for information. That opinion was sorely shaken by what the Taylors had said, however. He began to think the whole affair was engineered by river pirates alone, and so rode slowly into town, lost in thought. Nor did he forget the horn plug which now reposed in his pocket. Sooner or later he would find the man who wore Shawnee moccasins and whose powder-horn was mottled with a red streak, and he promised himself that something unpleasant would happen to the gentleman in question.

As he splashed through the mud in front of the courthouse, he saw the figure of Duval going up the steps. The lawyer had not observed him, however, and Norton watched him disappear inside. For the Far West the courthouse was a stately building, with its two stories, ornate cupola, and handsome pillars.

The Louisianian rode slowly on down the one principal street toward the lower end of town, and so came to the "Steuben Arms", whose host had once served under the fiery baron in the late war. Indeed, it was for this reason alone that Norton had chosen the place, for it was none of the best; he had been disappointed in finding Bower an infirm, mumbling old veteran.

Dismounting, he gave his reins to the waiting negro, nodded to old Bower as he passed through the public room, and sought his own chambers. He had no desire to hang about below-stairs, since the inn seemed frequented by rivermen.

The morning was well advanced when, in response to a knock, Norton opened the door and admitted Colonel Boone and a stranger. This stranger was a peculiar individual, even for a time when the border was crowded with peculiar personages. He was dressed in a dirty shirt with dirty ruffles, an ancient beaver, ancient scarlet velvet breeches, shoes which had burst at the toes, and a greatcoat of reddish fustian. Below a greasy and dishevelled wig, his face was small and pinched, yet very ruddy and healthy; he seemed to Norton an odd little old man, and his black eyes twinkled perpetually.

"Captain Norton, my friend, Mr. Elisha Ayres, Gent.," declaimed Boone with something like a grin. "Ayres, young Norton's the likeliest feller I've seen in a coon's age."

"That, sir," averred Mr. Ayres in a slow and precise tone, "is a truer knighthood than any which could be bestowed by the crowned heads of the Old World! I trust you appreciate the honour, Mr. Norton, sir! I am yours to command."

"You can trust Mr. Ayres, Norton," continued Boone. "Now, I'm goin' to git home. Pow'ful glad I met ye, Norton, and if ye need to do a little shootin', go find Red Hugh. Ye can trust Elisha——"

"You're not starting for Missouri—now?" inquired the astonished Norton.

"Not yet—goin' to crack a bowl o' punch at Doc Gault's first." And Boone shook hands with both men, then turned to the door. Norton had a last glimpse of the barrel-like chest, grey hair, and keen eyes; then Boone was gone with a final wave of the hand.

"Well, Captain Norton," began Ayres in his dry precise manner, "Colonel Boone has told me of your mission in these parts, sir. I congratulate you heartily, sir, and I congratulate these United States upon having a public servant of your spirit——"

Norton smiled to himself. He began to think that Boone had made the best of a bad bargain by passing off the first person he had picked up as an assistant.

"What is your business, Mr. Ayres?" he inquired, wondering how best to get rid of the ruddy-cheeked little man.

"I am a schoolmaster, sir"; and as he spoke, Ayres settled back in his chair and pulled forth a pipe. "By the way, Mr. Norton, the man who shot at you this morning is a hunter from down-river. His name I do not know, but he wears a fox-skin cap with the brush hanging, dresses in buckskin like yourself, and wears a black beard."

Norton started.

"Are you jesting, sir? Do you know this man?"

"I do not." And Ayres fell to work with flint and steel, until he had a light for his pipe. "I saw him last week, and chanced to note the redstreaked powder-horn. When my friend Colonel Boone told me of it, I remembered. That is all. Ah—one point further—he was discussing some of our host's excellent Virginia whisky, in company with one Charles Duval, Gent., a fellow townsman of mine."

While Norton was still trying to assimilate the information imparted by this queer individual, the bell on the roof banged out its summons to dinner. Ayres arose with a grandiose bow.

"You will honour me, sir, by your company below? Then we can discuss matters at our leisure."

Norton swallowed hard, nodded, and followed to the door. He began to think that he had sadly misjudged Colonel Daniel Boone.


Norton rather regretted his hasty choice of taverns. The "Steuben Arms" had in its day been a fine inn, but its day was done. Located conveniently to Shippingsport, its clientele now consisted largely of rivermen, merchants, and such of the townsmen as found its rates better suited to their purses than those of the new taverns.

Passing through the deserted travellers' room, Ayres led his guest on into the public dining-room, where the long table was already partially filled. At the upper end sat Bower, the host—a feeble old man with tobacco-stained beard. The overhead fans were pulled by a negro girl in the corner.

Ayres settled down in a chair at an unoccupied space, Norton following suit. Then, when the little man had nodded to Bower and signed to a negro waiter, he turned and spoke in a low voice.

"Now, Mr. Norton, had you any definite plan of action? ... Until the table fills up, we will pass unnoticed."

Norton nodded, glancing around. A number of rivermen were talking loudly; two or three merchants were discussing prices—and profanity hung over the long room like a cloud.

"Well," he returned slowly, "I thought that a boat might be well laden here, quietly pick up a force of men farther down the river, and so be used as a lure. With such a spy system as seems to prevail, however, that looks rather hopeless."

Ayres nodded.

"A good plan, sir, a good plan, yet doubtful of success. As you say, the people in question would hear of it and you would be laughed at for your pains. The case, sir, calls for circumspection."

"Quite so," agreed Norton drily, "Have you any suggestions to make, sir?"

"I hope to have some, Captain Norton. Granted that an organization exists, we may presuppose it to be composed of white men. Negroes or Indians would be sure to let out the secret. Given, then, white men: these might be scattered settlers, or they might be a small band of determined men down-river, whose friends and directors work from Louisville or some such point. We may take it, I trust, that one or two members of the gang ship on the designated boats and act as accomplices in the crime."

Ayres paused, in order to absorb a huge pinch of snuff—after which he allowed the waiter to get out of hearing, and prepared to attack his dinner.

"You are aware," he went on calmly, "that the richer cargoes go down in a fleet, under an experienced commodore. Invariably, one or two boats vanish overnight—but never at the same point in the river. It would be easy for a member of the crew to untie the moorings and let the boat slip down the stream. Now, remember these points; and remember also that if there is a down-river band, they must have a hiding-place where the stolen cargoes can be stored away until disposed of."

Concluding his speech with extreme haste, Ayres abruptly began his dinner as the nearer seats were filled up. Gathering that the discussion was ended for the present, Norton applied himself to dinner also. Whisky was circulating freely, and while they ate, the rivermen filled the room with tales of river life, most of which were more spicy than refined.

"Gen'lemen, yew hear me!" broke out one of two men opposite Norton—a big, hairy man of immense build. His companion was bronzed, gloomy-eyed, and stern-faced, and both had been absorbing vast quantities of white whisky. "Gen'lemen," boomed the big fellow, glaring around, "thar's gwine to be war. I'm tellin' yew! War! Yew hear me!"

"We hear ye all right," piped up a shrill voice. "Who's the war with?"

"Gen'lemen, your health!" And the big man emptied his glass. "Thet thar feller they call the Prophet—the one-eyed crazy dog, he's a-stirrin' up the Injuns. Yew hear me, gen'lemen, ol' man Harrison he's gwine to need Kaintuck rifles afore long! Who said ol' Dan'l Boone was in town?"

Whereupon there followed an excited discussion of Boone. In the midst, the gloomy-eyed companion of the big man brought down his fist with a crash on the table.

"This here generation's got to suffer for its sins!" he roared out in a vibrant voice, fastening his eye on Norton. "Friends, read the prophecies of the inspired Richard Brother! There'll ye find set forth about the Injun war, and the cursed Federals ruining the country! That there inspired man, he was a prophet. Damnation to the Federals, say——"

The gloomy-eyed man said no more, for a roar went up at his words.

"Ye drunken Democrat," cried some one, "take that!"

With which a heavy pitcher of molasses struck the gloomy-eyed man above the ear, smashed, and sent him down senseless. His big companion sprang up like a cat, drew back his arm, and a knife flashed across the room in a flame of glittering light. It did no harm, save to precipitate a general fight. Norton was just rising to escape, when a deep cold voice broke in upon the uproar:

"Gentlemen, make way!"

Norton started. He looked up to see the figure of Duval entering the door, against which two fighting cursing men had reeled. Duval took them by the shoulders and tore them apart; one went spinning down the room; the other crashed into the wall, and the lawyer strode forward.

That display of strength was not lost upon John Norton, nor the calm which instantly followed. Instead of being mobbed, Duval seemed to inspire these rivermen with fear—all save the big hairy man opposite Norton. He alone paid no heed; having caught the man who had laid out his companion, he was administering a sound thrashing when Duval caught him by the shoulder and tore him loose.

"Go to your seat," commanded Duval, cold and immobile. The other glared at him.

"Who the devil are yew?" he demanded hoarsely. "Take yer hand off'n me—I'm liable to sculp ye! Yew hear me! I'm gwine to lay out this cussed Federal. I don't care ef he's Blacknose hisself!"

A startled silence fell, while Duval still gazed coldly into the big man's eyes. There was something terrible in the lawyer's immobility; then Norton saw that he was holding a small pistol against the big man's chest.

"Go to your seat," he repeated icily. The other felt the pistol, glanced down at it, and obeyed sullenly. Norton felt a hand on his arm.

"Let us go, sir," murmured Ayres very softly. Norton nodded, rose, and they left the room together.

Five minutes later they were sitting side by side in the chairs before the tavern, pipes out. Norton's thoughts were dwelling on this man Duval, and he wondered afresh if the lawyer had been behind that attempted assassination of the morning. The man hardly seemed of such a nature; he had quieted the rivermen by sheer force of voice and muscle, and was plainly a man known and feared.

"Who is this Duval?" asked Norton, glancing at his friend.

"A lawyer, sir, who speaks of going to the Legislature next fall. He comes of a good Virginia family, settled here some three years since, and has a fair practice. A rising man, sir, a rising man. One of our ablest citizens, and already talks of raising a company in case General Harrison has trouble with the redskins."

Norton thought he detected a faint hint of sarcasm in the precise voice, but Ayres's pinched, red-cheeked face was expressionless.

"Well, have you any sort of plan, Mr. Ayres?"

"An excellent one, sir," came the surprising answer. Ayres knocked out his pipe slowly. "I would suggest that you follow Colonel Boone's advice, and go to see this man Red Hugh, of whom he told you. When you have seen him, you may expect a messenger from me at the Blue River settlement—on the Kentucky side, remember, for there are two. I may find it feasible to put your prior plan into operation and use a rich-laden flatboat for lure."

"Hm!" Norton looked at the other keenly. "Do you seriously believe that Duval had anything to do with the man who shot at me this morning?"

He was amazed, upon meeting the black eyes of his friend, to find them in a terrible earnestness.

"Sir,"—and the dry precise voice quivered the slightest bit—"it is my honest belief that if you remain in this town overnight, you will be murdered."

Startled, Norton gave the other a keen look. Then he smiled slightly.

"Murdered? Man, what do you mean? Is that gang——"

"I cannot say what I mean, sir," returned Ayres, rising. "I hardly know myself. God forgive me if I misjudge Charles Duval! But, sir, this is my sincere advice: go and find Red Hugh, and go within the hour. You are a woodsman; therefore go by the trails and not by boat. Trust no man. Sir, I—I have been doing much quiet investigation of late, and I am appalled. The whole thing is indefinite and terrible. Most of what was said in the dining-room there was lost upon you, but not upon me; and, sir, I will make you this prediction: That big riverman, who only came in from Cincinnati to-day, and who took the name of Blacknose in vain—that man will die."

"Good Heavens, Ayres!" Norton rose, aghast at the solemn earnestness of the little schoolmaster. "Do you know what you're saying? This isn't the Indian border, but——"

"Sir, this is Louisville, State of Kentucky, in the thirty-fourth year of the Independence of the United States of America," responded Ayres gravely. He bowed. "You may count upon hearing from me, Mr. Norton, at Dodd's tavern at the Blue River settlement. Let your task be to scour the woods and settlements, meantime. Sir, your servant, and—and may God keep you!"

Whereupon, with another bow, the little man turned and marched stiffly away, his absurd beaver cocked jauntily over one ear and his fustian greatcoat fluttering behind him. Norton stared after him, then sank into his chair and drew out his tobacco.

"By thunder!" he muttered slowly to himself, the while he stuffed his pipe, watching the lessening figure. "I seem to have set foot in a hornet's nest—and came near to getting stung this morning! Now, I wonder what that little fox of a schoolmaster suspects, and why he imagines I am in danger here in the town itself!"

The very thought was amusing to Norton. He knew very well that in such centres of civilization as New Orleans, St. Louis, and Louisville, men did not condone murder. Even in the newer river settlements, the older generation who had passed through the lawless pioneer days were savagely set upon upholding a rude justice. Boone himself exampled this, for Norton had heard of how the old frontiersman had made himself a terror while acting as magistrate in Missouri.

That he had anything to fear in Louisville, therefore, seemed impossible to Norton. Duval might well have hired the assassin of the morning; yet it was more likely that some hint of his mission had leaked out, thought the Louisianian. There was most certainty a secret organization of river-pirates; so much had been amply proved to him, but he was still inclined to smile at the terror it inspired.

"Still," he reflected sagely, "men like Taylor and Boone aren't exactly fools. And I rather believe Elisha Ayres is no fool, either. So, my assailant is black-bearded, wears a brushed fox-skin cap, and has a red-streaked powder-horn! Something gained, at all events. Mr. Ayres, I believe I will heed your warning."

Having plenty of money, Norton called one of the negroes loafing in the sun and ordered his horse saddled, then went down the street to the store of Audubon & Rosier, where he found the junior partner and purchased a few supplies. As he was leaving, Rosier leaned over the counter with a cautious glance at the door.

"Your pardon, sir I believe your name is Norton?"

"It is, sir," returned the surprised Louisianian.

"Colonel Taylor spoke to me of you," went on the other rapidly. "You may rely upon us absolutely, sir. If by chance you meet my partner somewhere in the woods, do not fear to trust him. He is slightly touched in the head, but save for his long wanderings is—" A man passed outside, and without a change in his low tone Rosier continued. "As I was saying, sir, General Harrison can control the Indians excellently——"

Norton took the hint and passed out with a nod, storing away in his mind the name of the senior partner, Audubon. It occurred to him that if he was joining forces with a hermit Indian-slayer and a schoolmaster, a half-crazed merchant who evidently spent his time wandering in the woods would make a good third.

Returning to the tavern, he found it deserted in front, though a murmur of loud voices came from the dining-room. It seemed slightly odd that dinner was not yet over, but he went to his room, got his things, and after some search located Bower's daughter in the kitchens. He paid her his bill, then went around to the front for his horse.

Now John Norton was no fool, as may have been previously inferred. Despite his respect for the law, Ayres's words had set his nerves on edge, in conjunction with what had happened that day. Like all woodsmen, he much preferred danger in the woods to danger in the town; as he tied his purchases and rifle to his saddle, he found himself glancing nervously over his shoulder. And even as he set foot in the stirrup, he paused.

There was a horrible shuffling step from the doorway behind, and he whirled, hand on knife, to see the big hairy riverman clutching the door-post. The giant's face was terribly convulsed, and one hand gripped at a knife-haft whose blade was buried in his side. Barely had Norton comprehended, when the man pulled the knife free, coughed, and fell dead. With the same instant there rose a shrill yell from the doorway behind, and men came crowding out.

"There he is! Thar's the murderer!" went up the shout. "Git him, boys!"

A pistol flashed, and the ball sang past Norton's ear. Dodging behind his horse, he realized everything in a flash; Ayres's prediction had proved terribly true, and what was worse, the murderers were trying to fasten the crime on him. More, they were trying to kill him before he had a chance to deny his guilt. Whether Duval's work or not——

Sensing all this as he dodged, Norton wasted neither time nor movement. Before the first of the crowd poured out across the dead man, he made a flying leap for the saddle, gained it, and sent his horse ahead on the jump. He knew his one chance lay in getting out of town within the hour—as Ayres had predicted.

Another pistol cracked behind him, and another. The balls whistled harmlessly past, but served to draw attention. Several men leaped into the road, shouting; Norton drove his horse at them with a yell, and they fell away. Without thought, he had headed up-town and now had no choice but to continue his way along the south road.

The last of the fine brick houses was almost past, and the uproar behind him was being swelled by voices and bells. The final house was a splendid mansion—Norton knew it for that of a Doctor Gault. As he pounded past the terraced gardens, he glanced up to the doorway and caught sight of a group of figures—Colonel Taylor, Zach, Boone and others. A wave of the hand came to him, a shouted farewell, and Louisville fell behind.

"And now for the chase," thought Norton grimly, pulling in his steed a trifle. "They'll fasten that murder on me and get me—if they can. It's a neat manner to be rid of an enemy—the second attempt in one morning, the day after my arrival in town! Now I would call that quick work, brainy work, but desperate work. Whoever he is, Blacknose fears me—good! If I can match his villainy with honest woodcraft, he shall fear me more."

Twisting in the saddle, Norton looked back, having caught a sudden thud of hoofs. He thundered past a cross-roads, and although the town was shut out behind, the horseman who followed was plainly visible. He wore a crushed beaver-hat, scarlet breeches, and a fluttering greatcoat; as Norton gazed in amazement, the other waved him onward. Ayres, for it was no other, drew up at the cross-roads, carefully spattered mud over the road from a puddle, then departed at a gallop by the eastern track and was lost to sight.

"Covering my trail—the old fox!" exclaimed Norton. "Mr. Ayres, my compliments. You may be a schoolmaster, but John Norton owes you his life this day!"

And he rode on to the south.


That there would be pursuit Norton knew well enough. He knew also that if he were caught, he would not be brought back to Louisville alive; Blacknose, being a person of sufficient wit to make so shrewd and swift a plot, would have him safely shot in order to preclude all possible danger. Once past Sullivan's ferry, where the post-road crossed the Ohio to Vincennes seven miles below Shippingsport, Norton knew that he would have the wilderness ahead and his own good wits to rely upon.

More than once he pondered on the subject of Charles Duval. He more than suspected the lawyer of being at the bottom of the affair at the tavern, though this seemed hardly possible on sober second thought. He had seen nothing of Duval in the crowd about the door, but the memory of how the man had silenced the riot during dinner still remained with him. Duval had influence, it seemed, and he was also a prominent citizen.

John Norton was pre-eminently just. He admitted to himself that he had taken an instant dislike to Duval upon meeting the latter on the Beargrass Creek Road the day before. The dislike was based on no solid ground. Duval was the type of man best fitted to capture the liking of frontiersmen—strong, powerful, unafraid and brainy. None the less, Norton did not like him. Either, he considered, his errand had been noised abroad and the river-pirates had tried to eliminate him that morning, or else Duval had been behind the two attempts on his life.

"And if I'm to take my choice," he thought, "I'd say it was the pirates."

None the less, it was with a distinct shock that a moment later he recognized Charles Duval slowly riding toward him. Norton drew rein, astounded.

His track had degenerated into a mere forest trail, since he had struck away from the main pike which Ayres had followed, to throw off the pursuers. Trees were on every side, and Norton could only conjecture that he had come some four miles from the town. Yet here was Duval riding toward him—Duval, whom he had supposed was even then urging on his pursuers!

With him was walking a man, and Norton eyed the pair keenly enough as they approached. Duval's horse was warm, but not foam-flecked, and it was a warm day; the lawyer had been doing no furious riding; so much was clear. Almost reluctantly, Norton instantly absolved him of any complicity in the plot at the tavern. The man with him was very tall and gaunt, dressed in backwoods style, carried a rifle, had a bushy grizzled beard, a thin, hooked nose and very deep-set dark eyes. He had not been at the tavern.

The pair sighted Norton almost as he saw them, and stopped for an instant in evident surprise. He saw Duval say something in a low voice; then both came forward. To Norton's great surprise, the lawyer advanced with hand outstretched and a smile upon his face which seemed sincere enough.

"Sir," exclaimed Duval heartily, "I must ask your pardon for my words of yesterday. I was somewhat in liquor, and irritated at the moment. May I have the honour of your name, sir?"

Norton, with no hint of his inward amazement, gripped the other's proffered hand and looked squarely into Duval's dark eyes. He read there only a sincere regret, however, and after giving his name proceeded to compliment the lawyer on his evident prestige among the rivermen as exemplified at the tavern that noon. Duval's eyes narrowed a trifle.

"Yes, I saw you go out," he returned, "and left myself shortly after. As to those flatboat-men, if some one did not overawe them occasionally they would run the town. By the way, Mr. Norton, meet Mr. Grigg, one of our old settlers and a solid farmer of the vicinity."

This designation seemed to draw a grin from Grigg, who stuck up a huge paw with a muttered "Howdy!" to Norton. The latter found the backwoodsman's face a mixture of savagery, cunning and boldness; he wondered idly what Duval had to do with such a man.

"Mr. Grigg and a neighbour are having a land dispute," smiled Duval smoothly, as if reading the thought of Norton, "but we hope to settle it out of court. Thinking of buying a farm hereabouts?"

"No, I'm just on a tour," returned Norton easily. "I'm from Cincinnati, originally."

Which was quite true, but misleading. For one thing, Norton recollected that the man Grigg must be the father of the strikingly beautiful girl he had met on the Beargrass Creek Road yesterday; also, Colonel Boone's description of Grigg did not quite coincide with that just given by Duval. Remembering what Boone had said regarding Grigg's parentage of the girl, Norton eyed the man with no great favour.

Duval, of course, seemed to have no suspicion of what had happened at the tavern—which happening, indeed, having been too recent for him to know of it. Norton concluded the lawyer had left the place while he was absent at the store of Audubon & Rosier, and that after his leaving, the rivermen had formulated their plot. He wondered vaguely whether or not the redoubtable Blacknose himself had been present at dinner.

"Well, I must be going forward," he said. "Can you tell me if this trail will lead me around toward the river?"

"After a bit," nodded Duval, inspecting Norton's outfit piece by piece. "It runs past Mr. Grigg's farm, then forks. Take the fork to the left, which circles around to the river a few miles down. Your servant, sir!"

He bowed, Norton returning the compliment, and the three separated.

Passing through some marshy cane-brake, the Louisianian presently came to higher ground, found the trees thinning, and perceived hemp and tobacco fields to the right. He was thinking of his own situation, however, and wondering at Duval's change of front. What had caused the lawyer to take this sudden attitude?

Norton himself was a man who neither explained nor apologised for his own actions, and knew Duval for the same kind of man. There must be something behind his abrupt apology and surprising amiability, he concluded, though he was at a loss to conceive what it might be. Colonel Taylor had spoken none too warmly of Duval the day before, else he might have thought that Taylor had mentioned him and his errand to the lawyer, as he had done to Rosier.

"By thunder!" frowned Norton, gazing at the few negroes at work in the fields among the scattered stumps and girdled trees. "There's something almighty strange about this whole affair. Well, I'm out of it now, and if they can reach me in the woods—let them! I guess I'll call on the charming Madam Kitty Grigg. Hm! Duval seems to have been ahead of me there, too. I'm afraid that if I lingered in Louisville, Mr. Duval and I would get farther than apologies——"

He laughed a little, feeling that if he came to hand-grips with Duval the result might be dubious, but worth chancing. And so he came to Grigg's cabin, for farm it was not.

There was no mistaking the place; the girl herself was sitting on the steps of the log shack, at work sewing. Behind him, Norton saw the back-ends of the plantations he had passed, whose buildings were perhaps a mile or more distant. Grigg's cabin was placed amid a grove of half-dead maple and walnut—girdled but never cleared. Even as Norton drew rein and dismounted, the girl rising at sight of him, a sudden thought came into his mind: Duval had said that he was in liquor the day before. Now Norton had seen enough drunken men to know that Duval lied in that statement.

Dismissing this thought, however, he advanced to the shack with a smile. He had no cap and had neglected to buy one in town, and his brown hair and bronzed face were very good to look upon in the warm afternoon sunlight.

"This is Madam Kitty Grigg?" he smiled, bowing, "I met your father and Mr. Duval upon the road, and finding that I had to pass here, determined to crave the courtesy of a drink of water."

She looked at him steadily for a moment, one hand at her breast. Once again Norton noted the clear beauty of her grey eyes and gold-red hair, the character and fresh womanliness of her whole face.

"Sir—you met—my father and Mr. Duval?" she said slowly. Norton comprehended the alarm in her eyes, and laughed again.

"Aye, that I did, Kitty!" he cried gaily. "And your Mr. Duval did me the honour of an apology for what happened on the Beargrass Creek Road yesterday. But pardon—my name is John Norton, at your service now and always."

She looked into his eyes for a moment longer, then turned and walked around the corner of the house, beckoning. Norton followed, to find a spring trickling up beneath a crab-apple tree. Gravely, she dipped out a gourd of water, held it to him, and he drank.

"Thanks, Kitty!" he sighed. "You have nigh saved my life this day——"

"Then you had best save it for yourself," she returned quickly, yet with a laugh in her eyes, "by departing speedily. If Charles Duval gave you an apology, look to your steps, sir!"

"Eh?" Startled out of his gay mood, Norton looked keenly at her. "Now what may you mean by that, sweet Kitty?"

The girl, however, only shrugged her shoulders and laughed.

"'Tis easy to see you are from Louisiana, Mr. Norton"—and he marvelled at the ringing timbre of her voice—"since from you it is 'Kitty' and 'sweet Kitty', while our Kentuckians will ever have it 'Madam Grigg' or mayhap 'Miss Kathleen'."

"Faith, I had it Kitty from Colonel Boone," laughed Norton easily.

"Oh, but he is an old family friend—a second father." Abruptly, the girl fell serious, and put out an imploring hand to his arm, as she glanced at the trail. "Pray, Mr. Norton—go at once! You are in danger, I assure you——"

"Not a bit of it," broke in Norton soberly. "I'm in the woods to get out of danger, Miss Kitty. Even now, I suspect that horsemen are searching for me on the Lexington post-road. But I would like to know what makes you think I am in danger——"

"Because my father allows no one around here"—and the girl drew back with a slight flush. Norton thought of Duval, but forbore to mention the obvious. "But—what do you mean? Why are men searching for you? Are you jesting?"

"Well, it's more or less of a joke," he laughed, seeing her quick alarm. Plainly, she knew more than did he; whether from Abel Grigg or not, danger threatened and she was afraid. So, with a light air, he told her of what had chanced at the tavern.

She listened quietly, her eyes flitting from his face to the trees and back again. She was stirred out of herself. Norton had never seen so rare a girl in all his life—clear, incisive, with grey eyes that could harden into ice or sparkle into star-glints. The brown homespun fell loosely enough about her slender figure, but Norton's fancy transformed it into brocade, and he imagined this girl as she would look were she dressed in the fashion of the New Orleans belles.

"By gad," he thought to himself, reaching the end of his story, "Boone was right! She is no daughter of Grigg's. What a glorious girl she is!"

"Evidently, sir, it was a plot against you," she said, her brow wrinkling deliciously in thought. "But why did you not stay and face the absurd charge?"

"For many reasons"—and Norton was instantly on guard—"chief of which was that I have important business down the river. I believe that I take the left fork from this trail, do I not?"

"If you wish to reach the Tennessee settlements, yes," she returned drily. "If you want to reach the river, take the right fork, which brings you out just below the post-road at Sullivan's ferry."

"Eh? You are certain of that?"

"Of course!" There was wonder in the clear grey eyes. "Why?"

"Oh, no reason at all—I must have been hugely mistaken in my notions of your roads hereabouts," he smiled. "You see, I am going to the Blue River settlements and am a stranger in this country. Did you see Colonel Boone this morning?"

Norton was not at all surprised to find that Duval had directed him to the wrong road. He had half suspected as much, and guessed that when the lawyer reached town he would set the pursuers going in the right direction. He was, however, no little astonished when the girl shook her head in reply to his casual question. Though Boone had not said it in so many words, he had distinctly understood that the frontiersman had seen the girl that morning.

"No, Mr. Norton—I was looking for him even now. Was he in town?"

"He came to town with me from Colonel Dick Taylor's this morning, Kitty—or let us say Kathleen, which is more dignified and has a right Irish touch to it. I thought he had intended to visit you long ere this!"

"So had I," she returned, her eyes on the circling trees. "Still, he will be here before he leaves Kentucky. He was doubtless detained on business."

Norton nodded, remembering Elisha Ayres. Probably Boone had sought the little schoolmaster and the latter had detained him. Well, so much the better; friends were at work, and there seemed to be sore need of them all.

"When you see him, then, tell him of seeing me here," said the Louisianian. It would be well to have Boone kept informed. "He is a very good friend——"

"Wait," the girl broke in quietly, frowning. "What are you going to do? If the rivermen are after you, as it seems they are, you would be very foolish to take the river trail——"

"I am a woodsman, sweet Kitty," he laughed easily, "and I am willing to take my chance against any white man save only Boone—and perhaps one other. Would that honest Davy Crockett were here with me! He and I have had many a trail together, but—well, no matter. Trust me, Kitty; the forest can harm me not."

"But the river can, my confident paladin of Louisiana! Bethink you, the rivermen can use canoes to get ahead of you, lay an ambush——"

Norton uttered an ejaculation. She was right—he had overlooked the river. With a sudden anxiety in his brown eyes, he looked at her gravely, thinking hard. His was no lack of self-reliance, else he had not been on this present errand. But he was in a strange country, and the Kentuckians and rivermen were strange to him; above all, to find himself so swiftly and shrewdly attacked, as he had been that morning, was disconcerting. He longed for some man at his back, some man like young Crockett or old Boone, not dreaming what manner of man Fate was even then leading to his comradeship.

"What think you I had best do, Madam Kathleen?" he asked quietly. She flushed a little under his serious eyes, but met the look frankly.

"Take the Tennessee trail," she returned slowly. "Since you are a woodsman, and look it, this will be easy for you. Take the fork to the left, as you first intended; after a few miles, strike west and work back north to the river gradually, through the woods. Blue River is only forty-five miles distant. Do your enemies know your destination?"

"No—it is known only to Mr. Elisha Ayres, who is my friend and helper."

"Oh—you know him, then!" The grey eyes widened suddenly, and he was amazed at their quick friendliness and warmth. "Why, 'twas he who taught me learning! Well, then, by all means circle around through the woods to the Blue River, and God preserve you, sir!"

"I doubt not He will," responded Norton gravely.

He knelt beside the spring and dipped the gourd, more as an excuse for his stay than because he wished a drink. The girl refused the proffered vessel, and Norton put it to his lips.

As he drank, his eyes fell on the shadow cast by the corner of the log cabin. A tuft of grass suddenly leaped from shadow to sunshine; some moving object at the corner of the cabin had caused the change. Norton was on his feet instantly, and a leap took him to the corner, hand on knife.

Quick as he was, he found the front of the cabin deserted. His horse was grazing quietly; there was no flutter of leaves, no swing of branches, to show that anyone had fled hastily into the trees. Half-wondering if he had been mistaken, he glanced down at the ground by the cabin corner, as the alarmed Kathleen joined him.

"Ah!" he cried swiftly, stooping over a faint mark on the ground. "Get me that rifle from my saddle, Kitty! Here is a gentleman who wears a patched moccasin—"

"Stop!" The girl caught his arm as he rose, and her face was set in swift alarm. "It was my father—I told you he did not like to have strangers around! I patched that moccasin myself—please go, and quickly!"

"Hm!" Norton looked at her. "Does it occur to you, Kathleen, that your worthy father may have overheard what we said about my journey? By the way, are you so certain that he is your father?"

"Why—what mean you?" The colour ebbed from her cheeks as she gazed at him. "Of course he is my father! Please depart, sir——"

"Nay, I dislike to be hurried." And Norton calmly pulled out his pipe. He was angry, but it showed only in his narrowed eyes. "Now our mutual friend, Colonel Boone, seems to have an idea that Abel Grigg is not your father, sweet Kitty. I confess that the same thought has come to me, since seeing him. Have you any coals inside?"

She stamped her foot, half in anger and half in dismay.

"Good lack, sir, will you not be gone?"

"Not until you fetch me a coal, at all events."

She looked at him, read determination in his face, and with an impatient gesture ran to the cabin door and vanished inside. After a moment she appeared with a brand in her fingers, evidently pulled from the fire inside. Smiling, he took it and set it to his pipe.

"Ah, that is better! Now, Kitty, as to your birth: Do you know anything of your mother?"

He fully expected fresh expostulation from her; instead, she nodded quietly.

"Yes, though I do not conceive your right to question me, sir."

"My right is the interest of a gentleman," he said gravely, and she flushed. "May I ask who your mother was?"

"I—I do not know her name," stammered the girl, helpless wonder in her eyes. "Her initials were H.E.M., but my father never speaks of her."

"You mean, Abel Grigg never speaks of her," corrected Norton. A new anger flashed into the girl's face.

"Oh, you are insufferable!" she cried bitterly. "I have tried to help you, and your impertinent curiosity——"

"Nay, Kitty, it is only the interest of a gentleman, as I said before," smiled Norton, "Still, you are right. My curiosity is impertinent, it may be, and if you were not the fairest maid I think I have ever seen, perhaps my interest in you would be less. Frankly, I expect to return to this vicinity before a great while, and shall look forward to seeing you again. But tell me, please—how is it that you know your mother's initials, but not her name?"

She looked at him for a long moment, divided between anger at his cool insistence and comprehension of the iron will behind his gentle courtesy. Her hand went to her dress.

"Because of this. It used to be my mother's, father has said——"

She laid a pin in his hand, and Norton stared down at it in rank incredulity. He turned it over and saw the graven initials on the back, "H.E.M." Then, reaching inside his buckskin coat, he brought out its duplicate and laid it beside the other. Both pins were identical—a small golden eagle, with half-obliterated enamel.

"By thunder!" said Norton very softly, "Kitty, do you know what this is?"

"No—a pin, that's all," she looked up at him, perplexed. He turned over his own pin, showing her the twined initials graven there, "C.N.—E.D."

"This was my only legacy from my father," he continued slowly. "Ask Colonel Boone to tell you the story. My father was Charles Norton, my mother Eliza Darby—their initials, you see. But how on earth did you get yours? It could not have belonged to your mother, unless your father had given it her. And if Abel Grigg was an officer in the Revolution—then I'm a liar!"

"But what is it?" she queried, wide-eyed. He came to her side, pointing to the two little gold eagles, and explained:

"This broken enamel, here, showed Cincinnatus at the plough—the Roman story, if you remember"—and she nodded to his words. "The motto was 'Omnia relinquit servare rempublicam'. Kitty, this eagle is from the order of the Society of the Cincinnati, composed only of Revolutionary officers and their eldest male descendants. I am a member, in virtue of my father's having been one before me—but how on earth did you get this? Does your father know what it is?"

"No, because I have asked him," she returned, excited interest in her eyes. "He says it is just a bauble—but please, please go now! He was here, and I'm afraid that—that——"

"Very well, Kitty." And returning one of the eagles to her, he replaced the other beneath his leathern shirt. "Say nothing to him of this, mind. I'll investigate it when I return. Farewell—and remember, I'll come back sooner or later!"

He raised her hand to his lips, bowing, and turned to his horse. He scarcely remembered more than that he rode off with a wave of his hand; his brain was in a wild riot of thought. It was a moral certainty that Abel Grigg had no right to wear that golden eagle, and in fact knew nothing about it—where, then, had Kathleen Grigg's eagle come from?

"'Just a bauble,' eh?" muttered Norton, his lips tightening in anger. "Friend Grigg, I would be pleased to have you repeat those words to me! By thunder, you'd learn something about the Revolution in a confounded hurry!"

And so he rode off into the wilderness, nor looked back to see the girl gazing after him, hands at her breast.


Gradually, Norton's mind settled out of chaos into order. The girl was no daughter of Abel Grigg; so much was certain. He felt a hot anger at thought of her in the hands of such a man. There was no chance that Grigg had lied to her about the eagle, for his very use of the term "just a bauble" showed Norton that the backwoodsman had not known what it was. No man who was a member of the Cincinnati but reverenced the order and all it stood for, and whenever he thought of those words Norton felt hot anger thrilling him.

Turning to his own situation, he dismissed the remembrance of Kitty Grigg for the present. Had her father overheard their conversation? If so, there was a bare chance of finding trouble waiting near Blue River. He saw, however, that she had suggested the wisest course to him. Half an hour later, coming to a fork in the trail, he promptly turned off to the south.

His best plan now lay in finding the man Red Hugh, of whom Boone had spoken, and enlisting his services. There might also be a messenger at Dodd's Tavern, if Ayres kept his word.

Norton perceived very plainly that he had been neatly driven out of Louisville as a fugitive, but he firmly intended to return otherwise—for divers reasons. If he was to detect the river-pirates or whoever formed the band of Blacknose, he must do it by means of scouting along the river. It might require weeks and months of arduous work and woods-living, and such a man as Red Hugh would prove invaluable. Were Boone right in his description of the man who slew Indians—and Norton knew of too many such to doubt—this Red Hugh would be more than apt to know all the river-haunts this side the Mississippi.

"After all," he told himself cheerily, "things seem to have turned out very well! If Ayres does not forget his promises, we may yet bring Blacknose to book."

He passed one or two scattered cabins that afternoon, shot a wild turkey, and camped for the night beside a creek, in perfect content. In case Grigg had not overheard his plan, he decided to let the man think he had followed the Tennessee trail; he was not at all sure that Duval and Grigg were not leagued against him, and knew better than to trust in the lawyer's seeming apology. Kitty's words rang in his mind—"If Charles Duval gave you an apology, look to your steps!"

"She knew the breed all right," he reflected, the next morning. "I should have known better myself. Well, now for the north and west!"

He made no effort to hide his camp. As the creek ran north, seemingly to the Ohio, he led his horse along its bed for a good mile, picked hard ground for the emergence, and rode off, leaving a carefully covered trail. Even were he followed, his pursuers would be a day or two later, he knew, so before noon he flung off all care and rode on through the woods.

Another turkey and a small deer fell to his rifle that morning, after which he wended his solitary way in peace, with meat and to spare. Stopping at noon, he lighted a small fire and proceeded to smoke enough of his fresh meat to last for a few days, as he was going on to the river, where game was thinned out. He had been following no trail and had seen no one all that morning; the forest seemed limitless and desolate, empty of all human life.

Norton, however, did not relax his vigilance. While he was engaged with his meat, he paused suddenly, caught up his rifle, and drew the feather from the touch-hole. He heard no sound, but he had a subtle warning that someone was near; before he had unstopped his powder-horn, the bushes opposite were flung aside and two Indians appeared.


They gazed at him, motionless, with only the single word of peace, and Norton returned the stare with interest. Both men were dressed in beaded buckskin; both wore medals and carried Kentucky rifles, and both were unpainted; the larger man was strikingly handsome, while the other, who possessed but one eye, had a wild ferocity in his features.

Without a word more, the larger man laid his rifle on the ground and made an inquiring motion toward the meat. Norton told them to help themselves, and endeavoured to make them talk; but neither would say a thing, save for a swift exchange of gutturals between themselves.

He watched them in no little interest as they ate, and came to the conclusion that they were no ordinary warriors. He knew little of the northern tribes, but from the fact that the one-eyed man wore moccasins of unmistakable Cherokee make, he guessed the two had been on a trip to the south. Having none of the Kentuckian's contempt for the Indian, Norton went on about his work quietly though watchfully, rather perplexed by the oddity of their silence. Pouring fresh powder into his pan, he set his rifle ready to hand, whereat he thought the handsome Indian smiled a little.

When they had eaten the better half of his deer, they both drew out small pipes of the precious calumet stone—a thing which in itself marked them as men of rank. Norton silently proffered them tobacco. The handsome chieftain made the ceremonial of four puffs and handed his pipe to Norton, who repeated it, thinking they would now talk. In this he was mistaken. The one-eyed man emitted a grunt as Norton made the four puffs in Indian fashion to the four quarters of the heavens, but that was all. Although he ventured a question, neither replied.

With that Norton gave a shrug, rose, and began tying his smoked meat to his saddle. He wished that he knew more about the northern redskins, for these were certainly men of some importance, but his experiences had been confined to Creek, Cherokee, and Seminole, while these two were quite clearly of a different race—whether Shawnee, Miami, Wyandot, or Ottawa he could not tell.

As he turned to pick up his rifle, the larger man rose and came forward, smiling. He reached forth an empty powder-horn, which was finely carved, and indicated by signs that Norton was to give him powder; it was not a demand, but a courteous request. Norton, at first inclined to anger, found himself suddenly impressed by this unknown Indian; having plenty of powder himself, he at length assented and poured a few charges into the empty horn.

At this, the Indian gravely proffered him a shilling—and Norton noted that it was English money. He was well aware that he was going through a remarkable experience, there being little enough money in the settlements themselves, to say nothing of Indians using it—a thing unheard of.

"You're welcome," he smiled, waving back the coin. "I don't wish payment—you're quite welcome, though I don't suppose an Indian would ever hand me out free powder."

Whether he was understood or not, he could not tell. The one-eyed man, still sitting over his pipe, grunted out something; the other turned with swift anger in his face and poured forth a flood of words. Norton guessed shrewdly that the one-eyed man had expressed entire willingness to give him free powder at any time—from the end of a rifle.

Abruptly, the friendly chief turned to Norton again, and made signs for the latter to remove his moccasins—at the same time unfastening his own. Puzzled, the Louisianian hesitated a moment and finally obeyed, seeing that the other meant it. Then the Indian held out his moccasins—ankle-high, and elaborately beaded and quilled. Norton drew back, glancing at his own torn and stained and unbeaded pair, which he had obtained from a Creek squaw on his way north.

"You mean to exchange with me?" he asked, wondering. "No, I can't do that, man! Why, those moccasins of yours are magnificent! Want to sell them?"

A lightning flash of terrible anger shot into the swarthy features, but was gone instantly. Again the Indian nodded and held out his moccasins. Understanding that he was being paid in this fashion for his hospitality, Norton reluctantly accepted, amazed that an Indian should even think of payment. When he had donned the new and unusually fine pair of the Indian, he put out his hand—and met a smiling refusal to shake.

Frowning, he turned to his horse and mounted. As he rode away, his friend sent him a wave of the hand; then he splashed across the shallow creek near his camp, and the strange pair of redskins were lost behind him. It was odd, undoubtedly; that refusal to shake hands had been a very manly way of saying they were enemies, yet he knew there was no Indian war going on at present.

Unable to account for the whole experience, he dismissed it from his mind. It was one of the weird silent happenings which the wilderness holds in store for those who penetrate her fastnesses; strange things, memories which remain for ever, yet which may never react upon the future, the ebb and flow of Dead Sea tides leaving nothing upon the shores of life save the brine of wasted energy. Had John Norton known who his two guests were, however, he might not have considered the incident closed, so far as he himself was concerned. To them, indeed, it might well prove a momentary thing.

So he dismissed it lightly enough, and looked ahead. As he sat by his campfire that night and considered his situation, he found it good. He was to seek a certain unnamed settlement on the Indian shore, twelve miles this side of the Blue River, and on the Kentucky side would find Red Hugh; then on to Blue River, Dodd's tavern, and the messenger from Ayres. That afternoon he had seen the river hills to the north; so by keeping due west, getting off early, and pushing hard, he might find Red Hugh's cabin by the next night. He must have come a good twenty miles, he considered, of the forty-five lying between Louisville and his destination, for all that he had taken a circuitous course.

Before sunrise he was up and on his way again. Two hours later he drew up on a rising knoll amid the hills, and saw the signal-fire of Destiny awaiting him.

It was a spiral of blue smoke, ascending from the valley beyond, and perhaps a mile away. Norton sat watching it for a moment; to his trained eye it showed a fire of green wood, too small for a careless settler's building, too large for that of Indian or backwoodsman.

Since his meeting with the two redskins, Norton had regained his caution. He knew that the Kentucky woods were filled with adventurers and peculiar individuals of all descriptions, to say nothing of Indians who might or might not be hostile. So, having made certain that there were no settlers' cabins in the vicinity, he dismounted and went forward on foot. His horse, an Indian pony he had bought at Fort Massac, followed at a little distance behind him, treading almost as silently as did Norton himself.

After proceeding some distance, he tied the beast to a tree and went on more cautiously still, for that fire interested him. It was evidently built by someone who feared nothing in the woods, yet was a stranger to woods' ways, and Norton thought for a fleeting instant that he might have chanced upon the retreat of Blacknose. With his rifle ready loaded and primed, he stole forward, using all his woodcraft.

But his all was not enough, it proved. While he was crossing a thickly overgrown hollow, he flushed up two cardinals from a canebrake just ahead, and as the birds went up Norton realized that his cunning had been in vain. He was just about to plunge into the high canebrake when the tall yellowish stalks were brushed aside to disclose a figure of nearly his own height, and a white man stepped forth.

For a moment the two men stared at each other in mutual surprise and admiration, for both were striking in looks—Norton in his capable, alert, piercing-eyed way, the stranger in sheer manly beauty. He was an inch shorter than Norton, was this stranger who had risen from the midst of the cane; the effeminacy of the long hair curling over his shoulders was at once offset by a strong nose, large mouth, and square chin, and very large, deep-set, commanding dark eyes.

Norton was startled by the appearance of this man, who seemed not of the woods and yet a woodsman. He wore a magnificent ruffled shirt of finest French linen, flung open at the throat to display a neck as bronzed as Norton's own; his coat and knee-breeches were of black satin, his knee-high moccasins of rude home make; a watch fob-ribbon hung on one side of his belt, a powder-horn and hunting-knife opposite. Over one ear was stuck a long crayon, while in his hand he held a thin board with paper fastened to it.

"Parbleu!" exclaimed the stranger, then continued instantly in excellent English, staring hard at Norton: "Your coming was most unfortunate, sir! You frightened away the finest specimen of Kentucky cardinal I have seen this year!"

"Accept my apologies, monsieur," smiled Norton, speaking in French. "You are a Frenchman, then?"

"I? Not at all!" cried the other. "I was born in Louisiana, removing later to France, but this is my country. Who are you, sir, who speak French so excellently in this wilderness? Do you come from the French Grant up-river?"

"No, I gained that language in New Orleans," returned Norton, wondering greatly who this eccentric stranger might be. "I regret having frightened away your bird—I trust you did not anticipate dining upon him?"

The other looked bewildered.

"Eh? Dining? Do you eat such birds, sir?"

"Heavens, no!" And Norton laughed despite himself. "But what else could you want of him?"

The stranger broke into a frank laughter; so winning and direct was his whole attitude that the puzzled Norton felt an odd liking for the man.

"It seems we were both mistaken then! I was limning the bird—but come to the higher ground in here. Did you ever see a cardinal's nest?"

"I never looked for one," returned Norton curtly. He followed to a small patch of drier ground in the centre of the cane-brake, and the stranger eagerly pointed to a nest in the branches of a young cottonwood, to one side.

"Sit down—stay quiet!" commanded the other quickly. "They will return in a half-hour, sir——"

"Then I'll be on my way," broke in Norton drily, "for I have other business than watching birds, sir."

He turned, when the stranger set down the paper and board, on which only a few sketchy lines were visible, and caught at his arm.

"Pardon, sir—one moment! Are you lately from Louisiana? Do you know that country well?"

"I've lived there all my life, practically," said Norton. "Why?"

"Well"—and the other seemed to forget his birds temporarily—"I was but a child when I went to France, and last year I heard a monstrous strange story of Upper Louisiana, which I have never been able to authenticate. I met one of the men who had been on Colonel Burr's ill-fated expedition, and he assured me that on the banks of the Missouri there is a mountain of salt——"

"Travellers' tales," laughed Norton, but the other continued quickly:

"Wait, sir! He also stated very decidedly that had Colonel Burr succeeded in his venture, he would have been joined by a great tribe of Indians. This tribe inhabit a country of some nine hundred square miles, around the salt mountain, fight always on horseback, and are armed with the short Spanish carbines——"

"My dear sir," inquired Norton in frank wonder, "are you in earnest?"

"Of course I am!" And indeed there was no mistaking the eager interest of the stranger's handsome face. "I am a student of ornithology, sir—that is, I pursue the study in my spare time—but I am also keenly interested in such matters of ethnology, and if you could enlighten me as to this Indian tribe, I would appreciate it. You seem a person of no little refinement and culture——"

"Thank you," laughed Norton heartily. "Well, sir, I can assure you that this tale is a myth in all its branches, is not worthy of credence, and your informant was wholly wrong. I trust that is sweeping enough. Now, as I am in some haste, I will leave you to your birds and pursue my way. Do you know how far I am from the Blue River?"

"I do not, sir"—and the frank eyes twinkled at him. "I have been in camp here for a week past, watching this pair of birds at work. Fortunately my sketches are completed, but my provisions are gone, and I have lost my spare flints and cannot shoot. How say you—shall we seek the Blue River together, sir, and become gentleman adventurers through the wilderness?"

Something in the merry, careless, wholly engaging manner of this man made the Louisianian warm toward him. He could not mistrust that frank, sturdy, piercing-eyed face; here was a man in whom there was no guile, and almost involuntarily Norton struck his hand into that of the other.

"Done!" he laughed happily. "By thunder, sir. I like you! Hold on, though." He paused in dismay as a sudden thought struck him. "I must refuse your company, sir, for your own good. I am in some danger, and if you travelled with me it might turn out badly all around."

"Danger?" And when the other frowned Norton discovered a strange quality of power in the strong face. "Do not tell me you are a criminal."

"I'm not." Norton hesitated, in some embarrassment. Another steady look from the deep-set eyes of the stranger, and he concluded suddenly to open his heart to this man, to whom he felt so greatly drawn. "Frankly, sir, I am in Kentucky for the purpose of rooting out a gang of river pirates known as Blacknose's gang. Their organization has discovered my purpose, and——"

"Oh, is that all!" And the other laughed, passed his arm through Norton's, and gently urged him through the canes ahead. "Nonsense, friend! En avant!"

"I guess you don't know much about that gang," grunted Norton.

"Well, I ought to," retorted the other drily. "Last year I lost a dozen hogsheads of the finest tobacco, some prime ginseng cured in Canton fashion, and a good load of flax! I know them, and appreciate your danger. I am with you, sir, and with all my heart—there's the hand of John Audubon on it!"

"Audubon!" repeated Norton, his eyes kindling. "Why, I met your partner at Louisville—" He halted abruptly.

"And I'll wager that Rosier told you I was touched in the head, eh?" Audubon broke into a peal of ringing laughter. "Every man to his trade! Rosier cannot understand why I will not settle down behind the counter and make money. Nay, but I cannot! Now come along—here is my camp."

Norton followed into a small glade of cottonwoods, where a horse grazed beside a rudely erected brush shelter. He remembered that Rosier had said his partner was touched in the head, but he did not need to remember what else Rosier had said. He knew already that he could trust John Audubon—in fact, he felt that he could more than trust him.


Within an hour the two men had become firm friends. They were alike only in the saving grace of humour, for Audubon had been trained in a gentler school than Norton. The latter was amazed to find that his new comrade, as Rosier had said, left his family and business at Louisville, in order to spend weeks in the woods; yet when Norton saw the drawings and sketches of birds which Audubon proudly displayed, he was forced to confess that the long weeks had borne fruit.

"I can't see what use they are, except to science," he said ruefully, "but I presume you get out of them the same keen satisfaction that I get out of a trail well blazed or a hunt well finished."

"Exactly," laughed the other. "But enough of this. Tell me about Blacknose."

Norton did so, relating all that had happened to him since his eventful arrival at the Taylor farm. Audubon listened in keen interest, stroking his long powerful chin but saying nothing. When Norton had made an end, the naturalist—for this, and not shopkeeping, was his real profession—quietly bundled up his drawings in a portfolio. He arranged them neatly and in precision, and not until he had buckled the last buckle did he break the silence which had fallen. Then his eyes clenched on the keen sword-gaze of Norton, and he smiled.

"I will go with you. My wife is with General Clark, and need fear nothing; I myself am accounted as a little crazed, so no man would hurt me. But let them wait! The day is coming when this country of ours shall take her rightful place among the nations who sit at the feet of science! Look at our bison and elk, our countless new species of every bird and animal——"

He broke off suddenly, laughed at his own hot enthusiasm, and continued.

"But, sir, your pardon. You are a soldier, and I am not—but in truth I have served in the navy of France, so let us demolish these river pirates together. Poor Rosier would scarce credit me joining you, I fear!"

Norton smiled. He liked this animated, vivacious, strong young fellow immensely, and was far too well educated to share in the prejudices of the Kentuckians against him. Audubon had been in Louisville only a few months, his life having alternated between France and America, but his business venture with Rosier had been sadly crippled by the activity of the river pirates, and also by his own indifference. He did not lack energy for any pursuit which attracted him, however, and flung himself into Norton's problem with a whole-hearted enthusiasm which delighted the Louisianian.

The latter went over each point, from the description of the would-be assassin to his last meeting with Duval and Grigg. On this last, Audubon managed to throw some faint light.

"Grigg was accused of horse-theft this spring," he said thoughtfully. "He was even had up in court, but Duval defended him most ably, and had him acquitted. I have often seen them together, too. This fellow Duval is a most able lawyer, Norton; he is said to be a second Hercules in strength, and seems to have plenty of money. So you met the famous Colonel Boone, eh? I hope for that pleasure some day; he is a famous man, a famous man!"

Norton tried to elicit some information about the two mysterious Indians whom he had met, but Audubon merely shook his head, knowing nothing of the redskins and caring less.

"As to this river piracy, one of our merchants, a Mr. Tarascon, last year tried to capture the men. His hogsheads of tobacco were privately marked in a certain place, and after losing two cargoes he had all the river captains watching for them. One Captain Brookfield, who runs a horse-power barque of forty tons, stated later that he had received a number of hogsheads from a settler at Blue River. He believed them to be the ones in question, but the private mark had been branded over very cleverly. So that plan came to nothing."

"At least," exclaimed Norton eagerly, "it would go to show that the Tarascon boats were looted between Louisville and Blue River, eh? Of course, others have vanished at different points; a band of pirates with confederates on the boats would not be so foolish as to commit all their piracies at one spot, especially after what happened to the Mason and Harpe gang through just such work. Well, I believe we can do no better than to seek this man, Red Hugh—if indeed you are willing to incur the risk of helping me."

"Do you wish me?" Audubon looked at him calmly. "I do not want to intrude——"

"Why man," and Norton laughed in sheer happiness until his brown face lost all its cold grimness and expressed only eager delight—"when I left Louisville I wished that one of two men were with me—one of them Daniel Boone, the other a younger frontiersman named Crockett, whom I know well. Now I extend that to a third, and the third is named Audubon; I think, perhaps, that I would sooner have this same Mr. Audubon than either of the other two! You are a man, sir."

Audubon put out his hand, and Norton gripped it, eye to eye.

"And you," returned the other slowly, "are—well, that compliment gains its whole value, sir, in coming from you. I can say no more."

It was enough, and with a song in his heart Norton returned to get his horse, while Audubon gathered his scattered belongings and made ready to depart. The bird-lover had a small double-barrelled rifle which he had bought in Philadelphia some years before, and when he had replenished his stock of ammunition from Norton's store, the two set forth.

They were a strange pair—Audubon in his black satin and French shirt, Norton in his buckskin and magnificent moccasins. Both were well versed in threading wilderness pathways, however, and it was no great task to find the Ohio. Late that afternoon they pushed their horses to the brow of a small hill, and saw the great river lying before them. The hills, which drew close to the Ohio at Blue River, were some distance back from the banks at this point, dense patches of canebrake appearing along the lower ground. The summer heat had thoroughly dried out the canes, and at sight of the yellow-brown patches Norton nodded.

"I rode along the Indiana shore from Fort Massac to Louisville," he said, "and remember seeing these canebrakes from across the river. We're almost opposite a little settlement called Doe Run——"

"Yes," added the other quickly, "and we are some eight miles from the spot indicated to you by Boone. I went down-river to Henderson last month and remember seeing that rocky cliff on the Indiana shore. What think you—shall we press on and find your Red Hugh to-night, or wait till morning?"

Norton decided to camp where they were. The afternoon was far gone; there were no settlements on the Kentucky shore, and they would stand little chance of finding Red Hugh's cabin at night. So he went on with the horses, while Audubon went after meat; by the time Norton had made camp on a small hillock of dry ground among the canebrakes, his companion came in with a wild turkey and news that a storm seemed coming up from the south.

When darkness came down and their bird was cooking, Audubon's prediction was justified by a shrill whispering of the canes as the wind stirred them. A brush shelter was soon thrown up, however, and the two men settled down in comfort, regardless of the weather.

Norton found that his companion agreed with him on the course to be pursued. Leaving Ayres out of the case, they could do nothing but scout along the river shores, and with the help of Red Hugh might hope to accomplish something. This settled, the horses were picketed and Norton fell asleep to the rustling of the canes and the soughing of the wind in the cot ton woods.

He wakened once, to find the fire burned out, the sky overcast, and a stiff gale sweeping over the valley. No rain had fallen, however, and despite the uneasy feeling that should have warned him, Norton slept once more.

When he was roused again, it was by a shrill scream from a horse, followed almost instantly by a rush of feet and a volley of shots. Norton was on his feet at once, with a shout to his companion; Audubon was already up, however, as his voice testified.

"The cane's afire, Norton! A spark must have caught it——"

"Sparks don't fly against the wind," grunted Norton.

They stood silent, dismayed by the spectacle around them and by the truth of Norton's remark. Dawn had come up; the high wind from the south was still blowing, and the canebrake was afire along the edge of the higher ground behind them. The two horses had disappeared, frightened by the veil of smoke drifting over the camp.

"Had the canes been afire along the river below," went on Norton grimly, "we could lay it to our own fire. But this seems to me the work of other hands, Audubon. The canes have been fired at a dozen places——"

"Then we had best lose no time getting out of here," cried the other. "Hello! Where's my rifle?"

"Gone, with mine," Norton grunted angrily as he realized what had occurred. "The enemy has trapped us and——"

"What? You mean——"

"Blacknose," nodded Norton, pale to the lips. "No use trying to break through that line of fire, because we're hemmed in all round."

Audubon stared blankly at him, cursed, then turned his eyes to the fire-sweep. Both men were quite well aware of their position. An enemy had removed their rifles and freed their horses, and the fire would do the rest.

The thirty-foot canes were blazing fiercely, the drifted smoke and flames completely cutting off all egress by the neck of higher ground through which the two had entered toward the shore. As the fire took hold, the explosions of water in the cane-joints became continuous; so loud were they that Norton could not but imagine himself in the midst of a battle. Audubon stared at the spectacle, awe-struck, for the flames and smoke were rising high; he already held his precious portfolio, seeming to care for nothing else.

The two men were soon aroused to their danger, however. Across the little opening on which they stood slipped an immense rattlesnake, followed quickly by a rush of rabbits; from one side came a tremendous crashing amid the canes, and by the lurid glare which paled the growing daylight, Norton made out the form of a bear crushing his way in panic toward the river.

"Come on," he cried hastily, turning. "Our only hope is the river, Audubon! If we can splash through the shallows beyond the edge of the fire, we'll be safe."

"Lead the way, then," returned the other calmly. "Good God, what a sight!"

His leathern shirt already hot against his skin, Norton turned and plunged to where the bear was still crashing through the canes. The river was a hundred yards away, and so thick were the high canes that to force a passage was impossible; their only hope lay in following the course of the frightened bear. With hot anger raging in him against the fiends who had laid this trap, and with quick realization that Audubon's shot at the turkey the previous evening must have drawn their foes upon them, Norton dashed forward into the muck.

It was high time, for the nearer canes were already being fired by sparks. On every side the explosions were crashing out while small animals scurried past in blind panic. A moment later the two friends gained the shore, however, and as they did so a canoe appeared a dozen feet away, paddled by a single man.

"Help!" cried Norton eagerly. "Come in here and get us off, friend!"

The canoe was drifting slowly, and even as the two plunged out into the shallow water, they were halted abruptly. The high brake around them shut out the glare from behind, and by the rapidly increasingly daylight they saw that the single occupant of the canoe was covering them with a rifle.

"Hold on, thar!" he cried hoarsely. "This gun's primed!"

And Norton recognized Audubon's double-barrelled rifle. There was now no doubt as to the identity of the canoeist—it was he who had thieved their rifles and set the cane-brake afire.

"You'll pay for this work," exclaimed Norton, trying to repress his rage. His hand went to his belt. Audubon, also realizing at once who the man was, took a forward step.

"Come on, Norton—wade around the brake——"

"Stop!" The man in the canoe levelled the rifle full at them; he was barely three yards away, and an eddy of the stream floated the canoe around. "You-all ain't in no danger. This here's a warnin' to git. They's a flatboat comin' around the bend—swim out an' git took off; stay on her clar to Saint Looey, an' keep out o' this country, you"—and Norton perceived that the remarks were addressed to him.

He also perceived something else. The man was holding the rifle at his left shoulder; he was bearded, wore a buckskin coat and a cap of fox, with the brush hanging over his back. Norton started suddenly. He had no need to see powder-horn or moccasins.

"So you're completing your work, eh?" he cried savagely. "You're the man who shot at me on the Beargrass Creek road the other day, eh?"

The villainous face of the man contracted.

"Ain't no 'lasses sticking to your feet, is they?" he jeered. "Right ye are, pardner. Now, you-all git aboard that flatboat an' stay thar, see?"

Norton thought swiftly, his hand closing on the hatchet in his belt. This was one of the Blacknose gang, beyond a doubt, and was the man whom Ayres had seen talking with Duval. Was it possible that——

"Who hired you for this dirty work?" he demanded swiftly. "Tell me who Blacknose is, and I'll give you five hundred dollars—"

"Git out an' swim, ye cussed spy," snarled the man evilly. "I ain't goin' to miss ye next time——"

Norton, who had drawn his hand behind him, flicked forward his wrist in an underhand throw, having no chance to raise the tomahawk. Even as the steel flamed out, the man caught the motion and fired; Norton flung himself forward, felt a hot sear of pain across his head, and plunged bodily on the canoe.

It was a desperate expedient, but Norton was too hot with anger to care for possibilities. Before the man could fire his second barrel, Norton's weight sent the canoe over backward; he went with it, felt himself grappled, and had a brief glimpse of Audubon leaping at the canoe as he went under.

The water was little more than knee-deep, but Norton felt something sting at his shoulder and knew his opponent had a knife out. Smashing down with his fist through the smother, he tried to free himself of the hand at his throat, but vainly. Already wounded, he felt a terrible weakness stealing over him, and the water choked his lungs. His fingers closed on a wrist, and he gripped it desperately as he struggled up to get his head above the water.

In this he succeeded, pulling his opponent with him, and for a moment the two men stood breast to breast. The riverman fought with an appalling savagery, snarling like a beast, and Norton knew his case was desperate. Blood blinded him: the hand about his throat drew tighter; and with only his right hand holding off the menacing knife, he put down his left hand to his belt in a last desperate effort.

The other saw his object, but could not prevent it without loosing his hold on Norton's throat. Snarling again, he threw himself forward; Norton was not braced against the move, and went over backward into the water. It was life or death now, and the Louisianian knew it. Jerking his own knife free, he lashed out frantically. The blade drove home, but he pulled it free and struck, again and again.

Wounded, throttled, choked with mud and water, Norton felt himself loosed from that terrible death-grapple. He tried weakly to lift himself erect, but could only raise his head from the water, sobbing in the smoke-laden air, while burning cane-flakes fell all around. He could see nothing, but felt hands lifting him and heard the voice of Audubon in his ear. The words sounded faint and very far away.

Norton was by no means unconscious, but he was weak and nauseated and half-drowned. He was well assured that never again would he have to seek a left-handed man with red-streaked powder-horn. He needed no glimpse of the horror-struck visage of Audubon to tell him that their enemy would fire no more canebrakes.

He felt Audubon bundle him over the side of the canoe, with much difficulty, but was too weak to offer any assistance. Then Audubon himself climbed aboard and began to paddle the craft out into the river. Norton lay in the grip of a deadly coma until a burning flake settled on his back and aroused him as it ate through his leather shirt. He rolled over, quenched the burning in the water that half-filled the canoe, and sat up.

Clutching at the gunnels, he stared about. Behind was the roaring mass of flame which had so nearly swallowed them, and they were already in the swift current of the stream. The river made a sharp bend just above them, toward which the smoke was drifting; they had already swept out of the murk, and Norton saw a flatboat floating down-river, half a mile away.

Setting his teeth against the giddiness swirling over him, he reached down and grasped a paddle. At his feet were the rifles; Audubon must have recovered them, then. As he got his paddle over the side, Audubon looked around with a ghastly smile.

"All right, Norton?"

"Right enough. Keep her going."

Little by little he conquered himself. He was very weak, but as they neared the flatboat he managed to wave his paddle. The crew of the boat were lined up with rifles, but as Audubon stood up, at some risk to the canoe, they recognized his figure and got out their sweeps. Five minutes later they were alongside, and Norton fainted.


Sitting on a big tobacco hogshead and watching the Indiana shore, with Audubon standing gloomily at his side, Norton felt his bandaged head tenderly and considered what was to be done.

"I saved the canoe from going under," said Audubon, "then rescued the rifles. I could give you no help until I saw your head come up. By the way, this was in the canoe."

He held out a powder-horn—mottled, with a streak of red running through it. Norton stared down at it, then with a grim laugh reached into the coat which hung in the sun with his other clothes, and drew out the stopper Boone had found on the Beargrass Creek road that morning. The plug slipped deftly into place; the horn matched perfectly.

"Well, so much for an assassin," he said grimly. "Now that you've had your initial taste of the work our foemen do, have you lost taste for the enterprise?"

"Not unless the enterprise has lost taste for me," laughed Audubon, with a glance around. The crew of the flatboat were safe out of hearing. "I told our friends here that we had set fire to the canes ourselves, by accident——"

"Good. Am I badly hurt? Where are we?"

"You should have care; the bullet scraped along your skull, and you have a knife-gash in the side. We have just passed Buck Creek, and the rocky cliff for which we were making lies about three miles downstream. Best let Red Hugh pass, go to the Blue River settlement, and wait there until you are recovered."

Norton made no other reply than to reach for his half-dried clothes. The other looked at him, his fine face wrinkled into a frown of anxiety.

"It's rank madness, Norton!" he said quietly. "You're scarce able to walk, and are like to suffer——"

"I am going to find Red Hugh, if I die the next hour."

Norton finished drawing on the fine-beaded moccasins, slipped the red-streaked horn over his shoulder by its thong, and looked at his comrade. He felt shaky indeed, but so clearly did his whole manner evince the iron determination within him, that Audubon shook his head resignedly and turned to his own garments.

"The canoe is towing astern," he said simply.

Norton reached for his buckskin shirt, and staggered under a swirl of pain and weakness. Instantly the other was at his side, with a rush of protestation against trying to leave the hospitable flatboat.

"I am going to find Red Hugh," said Norton doggedly, and resumed his dressing as his head cleared.

They were slipping down the stream fast. Already the high cliff mentioned by Boone as a landmark was in sight, far ahead, and Audubon departed to find the captain. The latter readily assented to take the flatboat in close to the Kentucky shore, and sent his crew to the sweeps. The boat was going through to St. Louis, and her captain carried some freight for Audubon, so that the latter met with prompt obedience.

Meanwhile, Norton sat in the sun and wiped the wet rifles mechanically. Every trace of the storm had vanished and the morning was coming up splendid in summer warmth. Norton knew they were in a grave situation, however, and said as much when his comrade rejoined him.

The man whose canoe they now held had undoubtedly been one of the Blacknose gang, and Norton strongly believed he had been one of a cordon of spies stretched at intervals along the river. Were this the case, the conflagration would be noticed, the man's body might be found, and the gang would waste no more warnings. Norton's one hope lay in getting ashore unobserved, pre-supposing the river to be watched; if the flatboat ran in close to the wooded Kentucky shore, he and Audubon might land unobserved by anyone who watched from a distance. The river seemed deserted, save for the distantly smoking canebrake far behind. Whether there were any Blacknose spies aboard the flatboat could not be told.

So, with fresh ammunition and weapons and with rifles well-oiled, Norton and Audubon stood in the bow as the ungainly flatboat swept into an eddy and approached the well-wooded bank. On the opposite shore, the rocky cliff with its cabin below was still a trifle down-stream; above them rose a bluff, a solid mass of virgin timber that stretched through to Tennessee with cabins scattered in its depths. Save at Henderson and Louisville, the Kentucky shore was poorly settled as yet, Shawnee raids from the Wabash having discouraged too ambitious families.

The boat swept in to the bank, almost underneath a huge cottonwood, and with a hasty farewell to the river-captain, the two men leaped ashore and lost no time in reaching the summit of the bluff.

It was a harder task than it looked, however, and a good twenty minutes had passed when at length the two panting men gained the crest of the bluff and paused to rest. Norton knew he was in bad shape and conjectured that malaria had touched him, for the uncleared lands along the Ohio were notorious in this respect. With all his stubborn will set upon reaching Red Hugh, he tightened his lips and said nothing to Audubon of his reeling senses and disordered vision.

The flatboat was already far on her way to Henderson, once more hugging the Indiana shore. Norton motioned Audubon to lead the way, and in five minutes they struck upon a faint trail which ran along the crest of the bluffs.

"Well, the Indians had their uses after all," sighed Audubon, as they came upon it. "Whew! That was a stiff climb, Norton! Now where is this blazed tree of yours?"

Norton collected himself into coherency.

"Directly opposite that cliff on the Indiana shore—a big cottonwood, blazed north and south. We head straight south from it to reach Red Hugh's cabin."

"Well, we're not opposite that cliff yet. Come along!"

The trail ascended the bluff-crest toward a knoll which topped it. Norton caught himself staggering more than once; his wounds throbbed and ached, and his brain seemed on fire. None the less, he knew he was in no mortal danger, and was filled with a grim satisfaction over the events of that morning.

"There's no telling how many rivermen that fellow has murdered," he thought to himself, "and he tried his bloody work once too often. So that's one snake out of our path! If the current only swept his body away, our friend Blacknose will be in a pretty wonder as to what became of him."

The trail was steeper now, and he clambered up painfully after Audubon. At last, fearing lest his senses slip away altogether, he sank down on a huge root.

"Do you look for the tree," he said as the other turned. "I must rest a moment."

With an anxious glance at his white face, Audubon nodded and broke into the trees, for they were already on the knoll. Norton leaned back, faint and giddy, and as his eyes fell on the trail he noted idly that it was hard rocky soil, indented with the unmistakable marks of horseshoes. In his present state of mind this conveyed nothing to him; a settler might have passed along by the trail, or any wandering pedlar might have made the tracks.

He leaned back and closed his eyes, utterly relaxing himself and grateful for the brief rest. He seemed to ache all over, and for almost the first time in His life his whole body seemed wearied and fatigued. A strange lassitude had come over him.


At the excited whisper he opened his eyes and sat up, to see Audubon peering through the bushes, finger on lip. The other beckoned hastily.

"Come in here! Be cautious."

Already refreshed by his rest, Norton crept into the bushes. Audubon's excited eagerness put him on the alert at once, and he stole after the other with all the silent care of an Indian. Reaching a densely overgrown covert, Audubon paused and held up a hand, listening. From above there came a low trilling bird-song, but Norton could make out nothing else.

"What is it, man? What did you find?"

"Listen!" whispered Audubon softly. "Isn't it like a goldfinch singing under its breath? The same little trills, the same sustained sweet notes in between—but it's a vireo, Norton! Would you guess it?"

Norton stared, but his friend was in deadly earnest. He heard the hidden bird change its song suddenly, and Audubon gripped his arm hard.

"There—that's the real vireo song, with the pulse-like, clear-cut notes! Did you ever hear such a thing before? That bird was giving a real goldfinch trill, man——"

"Where's the cottonwood?" broke in Norton drily. The other looked at him, his face blank on a sudden.

"Why—why—I clear forgot——"

Norton laughed, but Audubon suddenly gripped his arm harder. The bird above had broken off in mid-song, for no apparent reason. From somewhere outside the covert came the rattle of a stone, followed by a horse's snort.

"Keep quiet," breathed Norton, looking into the deep eyes of his friend. "Someone's on the trail."

Audubon nodded, and the two men stood tense and motionless, every nerve on edge. With startling abruptness there came a deep curse from the trail.

"Damn it, pull up! I ain't no Injun!"

There followed a chuckle in another voice—one that sent Norton's hand to his rifle.

"Winded, Abel? Well, there's no haste. What did that boat put in for?"

"How'n tarnation do I know?" growled the first. "Wa'n't none o' our boys on her."

"So much the better for her, then," laughed the second. "It's odd we didn't meet Tobin, Abel!"

A grunt replied. Norton glanced at his friend, his brown eyes aflame.

"Duval," he murmured under his breath. "Who's the other? Abel Grigg?"

Audubon nodded quickly, and his face was set in eager surmise.

"Is Tobin the man we—we met this morning, Norton?"

Norton pursed up his lips in a silent whistle, staring. Was the thing possible after all? He had vaguely suspected it before, yet it seemed incredible. He replied to the question with a mute shake of the head, as Duval's voice continued. It seemed that Duval and Grigg were pausing for breath on the trail opposite the covert.

"Listen here, Abel: this thing has to be finished up sharp, or that fool is apt to blunder on something that'll bring the Regulators down on us." Duval's voice was earnest, cold, menacing. "He got away from the boys at Louisville, and unless Tobin has met him and is attending to him, you'll have to do the work. I'll be busy in court at Henderson for a week to come."

"I'll 'tend to him," growled Grigg. "How 'bout layin' fer that cargo comin' down nex' month in Cap. Brookfield's hoss-boat? We could ship a couple o' the boys on her an' do the business by them islands at the Wabash."

"Not so bad," returned Duval. "Lay it to a bunch of Shawnees, eh?"

"Sure. That feller Tecumsey and his brother, the Prophet, is raisin' hell all through the tribes, Duval, an' they's goin' to be a blow-up mighty sudden on the border. Now looky here. If you're a-goin' on to Henderson, I'll leave ye here an' go to meet the boys, so I want to settle this business of ourn. How much you goin' to turn over fer the gal, eh?"

"I've told you before, Abel, that I'll give you five hundred cash and what stuff we've got in the cache. Take it or leave it."

"Well, that 'baccy in the cache will fetch about two hundred at Saint Looey, eh? Then we got that flax out o' the last boat, an' them ten kegs o' 'lasses—all right. You see to makin' out the papers an' I'll sign 'em. The gal won't consent, mebbe, but I'll swear she ain't of age. You got to have a preacher weddin', though."

"Of course, you fool!" And there was an exasperated note in Duval's voice. "Haven't I said I wanted to marry her? But you've got to clear out, understand—go to New Orleans or Saint Louis, I don't care which, and stay."

"I'll do that, all right. Well, see ye at Henderson."

"Take care of that spy, mind!" called Duval. Only silence ensued. Then came a faint thud of hoofs, and again silence.

Norton and Audubon stared at each other. The former had forgotten his illness in his high excitement, for now he knew beyond a doubt that fate had given over his enemy into his hand.

"By thunder!" he ejaculated slowly. "Audubon, we've got the whole game on the table before us! The mysterious Blacknose is Abel Grigg, and Duval is in league with him—is probably the brains of the organization. The black-hearted scoundrel! When we tell what we've just heard now——"

"Who'll believe us?" broke in Audubon gravely, and shook his head. "It won't do, Norton! Duval is too prominent a man to be smashed without clear evidence. Besides, we wouldn't break up the gang by nabbing him and Grigg alone. Depend upon it, we could do little against that clever villain without more evidence than those words. But what a blackguard he is—to be robbing his own townsmen!"

"And that girl—Grigg's daughter!" broke in Norton, a flame of rage sweeping through him. "Did you hear them? He's buying the girl, Audubon—buying her! Damn it, man, did you ever see that girl?"

Audubon gazed at him, astonished at the outburst.

"Yes," he replied slowly, "I've seen her once or twice in the store. Do you think that's really what they meant? Why, it can't be possible, Norton!"

None the less, Norton knew that the thing was true. He drew a deep breath as the full realization of his triumph broke over his mind. By a stroke of sheer luck he had solved the mystery of Blacknose—but was it luck? Had not one thing led to another in marvellous sequence—the cane-brake, the fire, the flatboat, the landing, and finally the vireo singing the song of a goldfinch? Surely, there was more than luck in all this!

A new burst of rage came into his heart at thought of Kitty Grigg, however. So this evil-hoary old backwoodsman who was not her father was planning to sell her to Duval! Norton inwardly vowed that such a sale should never be consummated. He remembered the girl as he had last seen her by the cabin, glorious in her unstained beauty and her fine clear poise—and groaned. With a sudden movement he reached inside his shirt and took out the little gold eagle still pinned to it.

"Audubon," he cried earnestly, "I swear by this emblem, which stands for the things I hold dearest—my country, and my father's memory—that before Duval carries through his purpose regarding Kitty Grigg, I'll do to him as I did to his servant this morning! So help me!"

The bird-lover gazed at him searchingly.

"Then—you know the girl?"

"Know her? Yes!" exclaimed Norton hotly. "I know her, and she's no daughter of Abel Grigg! Who her real family was will not be hard to find out if I can get in touch with some of the officers of the Cincinnati—but now for work. Audubon, you heard what those devils said about a horse-boat belonging to a Captain Brookfield. Do you know anything of such a craft?"

The other nodded, frowning.

"Yes. Brookfield is an odd genius who has invented a way of driving his forty-ton boat by horse-power against the river-current. He is at Louisville now, taking contracts for his next trip down the river, and sails next month."

"Well, see here!" Norton felt the fever gripping him again, but had already glimpsed a plan of action. "You get back to Louisville, see Elisha Ayres, and tell him about it. Ayres will communicate with me at Blue River."

"And you——!" queried the astonished Audubon.

"I'll trail that devil of a Grigg," said Norton hastily. "He said he was going to meet 'the boys', and if I can find their cache we'll nab the whole gang! By thunder, Audubon, we've the whole thing in our hands now!"

"But—wait!" cried Audubon hastily, as Norton turned toward the trail. "First, get this man Red Hugh! If he's a hunter, as Boone said, then you and he together will have no trouble picking up Grigg's trail, and you may need another rifle badly."

For a moment Norton considered this, while the fever swirled through him. He was sorely tempted to plunge off on the trail of Abel Grigg, but knew that there was sound advice in Audubon's words.

"All right," he said shortly. "Come—we'll find Red Hugh first."

His excitement overbore his illness for the moment, and returning to the trail he led the way to the very crest of the knoll. Duval and Grigg had been swallowed up in the forest, but staring them in the face was a giant cottonwood, blazed north and south. Pointing to it silently, Norton wheeled and headed away from the river into the trees.

How far they went through that wilderness he never knew, for after ten minutes he was fighting desperately against the pain and sickness which came over him. Worse than all, he was growing terribly weak; once he caught himself reeling, and only by a great effort did he keep on. Audubon had a small compass, by which they held directly south as Boone had commanded.

Then, almost without warning, Norton felt his knees giving way. He was very clear-headed, but he seemed to have lost the power of motion. With a single low groan he caught at a tree, missed it, and plunged down. Audubon was over him on the instant, raising him against the tree, dread anxiety in face and voice.

"It's just—weakness," gasped Norton. "A touch of fever, I think. Get Red Hugh—put him on the trail of Grigg. I'll be all right with a bit of rest. Hurry, man!"

Audubon looked about, biting his lips. Before he could reply, however, a bush to one side of them waved slightly, the sunlight glinted on a rifle-barrel, and a voice rang out in harsh command:

"Hands up, you skunk! Drop that rifle—quick!"

Helpless, the naturalist obeyed. Norton tried to reach his rifle, but could not move, and with another groan of despair fell back, waiting grimly for what might come.


Into the clearing before them stepped a strange figure, rifle still covering the startled Audubon—a tall man clad in buckskin and coonskin cap, with, of course, moccasins. He was gaunt and huge-boned, grey hair falling over his shoulders and a grizzled red moustache and beard half-hiding his face. For all that, Norton was startled by the man's features.

They were anything but those of a riverman. True, the sunken grey eyes held a smouldering ferocity which was almost madness; but the high brow, fine nose, and shapely head, even the delicate lines of mouth and chin beneath the flowing beard—all these expressed a keen intelligence, almost a nobility, which was utterly astounding to Norton.

"What's this—what's this!" The stranger lowered his rifle suddenly as his eyes fell on Norton's features. Carefully uncocking the weapon, he stared at the two friends, an indescribable expression of chagrin overspreading his countenance. "Gentlemen, I must crave your pardon. From his moccasins I took this gentleman for an Indian,"—and he gravely indicated Norton—"for he is deeply browned and his features were all but hidden from me. God be thanked I did not shoot first!"

"Amen to that!" cried Norton feebly, essaying a faint smile. Audubon, no less astonished at the looks and speech of the stranger, made a slight bow, and spoke coldly:

"If your murderous impulse has quite abated, sir, pray lend this gentleman your aid. We are seeking the cabin of a man called Red Hugh. Do you know where it is?"

From what Boone had told him, and from the appearance and manner of the stranger, Norton had a very shrewd suspicion that this was no other than Red Hugh himself. Leaning on his long rifle, the man surveyed the two friends critically.

"Well," he returned at length, "I may say yes to that question, sir. But I will barter my information for yours. You, sir"—and he bent his sunken grey eyes on Norton—"are wearing a pair of Shawnee moccasins. As you probably know, the beads and quill-work on those moccasins are peculiar. In fact, there is only one man besides yourself in the Northwest who wears such moccasins, and he is an Indian—the only Indian I have ever held under my rifle and spared. Where did you get them?"

Norton sat up, fighting off the dizzy weakness that all but mastered him. The man's words sent eager curiosity through him.

"I had them from an Indian," he returned quickly, and gave a brief account of the two he had encountered. Before he finished, a fresh spasm of nausea overwhelmed him, and he sank back in Audubon's arms.

"Enough of this talk," cried the naturalist angrily. "If you will guide us to this Red Hugh, sir, pray do so at once. We come to him from Colonel Boone——"

"If you had said that before, you would have bettered matters," broke in the tall stranger. "I am he whom you seek. Come."

Norton had lost all interest in the proceedings, for he could no longer fight off the fever. Between them the other two got him to his feet and half-carried him along a faint trail indicated by Red Hugh. After what seemed centuries to the reeling Norton, they came to a cabin, and he dimly felt himself carried inside. He knew little of what happened next, save that he drank a bitter draught and fell asleep.

When he wakened, he stared around him with wondering eyes, trying to place himself. He tried to move, and found himself too weak to raise his arm; yet the terrible sickness had passed.

He was lying on a couch of skins, and by the deepness of the sun outside he guessed it was mid-afternoon. The cabin was a bare place enough save for the furs heaped around the floor, but directly opposite him, beside the hearth, was a strange contrivance made of a stretched elkskin almost covering the side wall. From where he lay he could see a row of words across the top of the big skin, clearly done in red paint as if with a brush:


Under each tribal name was smaller writing which he could not read.

For a space he stared at the thing in wonder. Then, with a rush, he remembered that he lay in the cabin of Red Hugh, and all which had gone before. There was work to be done! Abel Grigg must be trailed to his meeting-place with the other pirates. Norton made a terrible effort to rise, but collapsed with a groan of despair.

At the sound, a figure darkened the doorway, and he looked up to see the tall form of Red Hugh bending over him. His head was lifted and a rolled skin set beneath it: then the old backwoodsman drew up a stool, fetched a bowl of hot broth from the fire, and set to work feeding him with a spoon.

"Talk later," he said gently. "First, you must eat. You have slept since yesterday, friend, and——"

Norton, feeling new strength with the first mouthful of broth, pushed the spoon away desperately. The words shocked him into energy, and again he tried to sit up.

"Since yesterday!" he exclaimed. "But Grigg must be followed——"

The iron hand of Red Hugh pushed him back.

"Eat!" And the deep command forced him to obey. "You lack only strength, Norton, and that will come in a few days. Now, to relieve your anxiety, your friend Audubon told me all that had passed. We tried to trail Grigg, but the scoundrel had covered his tracks like an Indian and I feared to leave you alone here. So Audubon went back to Louisville to confer with Ayres, and for the present matters must be left as they are."

"Then you know my errand?"

"Yes. Audubon told me the whole affair. Now finish this broth."

Leaning back, Norton obeyed, in a mingling of disappointment and content. It was hard that Grigg should have escaped, yet this Red Hugh seemed a capable person to trust in. Norton could not but wonder at the man. According to Boone, Red Hugh had spent the past twenty years here on the border, yet his manners and speech were those of a cultivated gentleman—and Norton could not understand the incongruity of it.

The rich broth gave him new life. When the last drop was gone, Red Hugh proceeded to cram an ancient pipe with tobacco, sternly denying the luxury to his guest, and settled himself beside the couch.

"Shawnee moccasins! Shawnee moccasins!" he muttered slowly, then brought his keen eyes to Norton's face. "Audubon said you were from New Orleans?"

"Yes," returned the Louisianian, with curiosity again stirring in him. "You seemed to recognize those moccasins, sir—how shall I call you?"

"Call me by my name—Red Hugh," said the other gruffly. "That is all the name I have held these twenty years, and it is good enough to die under. As to those moccasins, sir, you seem to have entertained an angel and a devil unawares."

"Those two Indians?" demanded Norton eagerly. "Who were they, then?"

"He with one eye is called the Prophet," puffed Red Hugh slowly. "The bitterest-hearted devil unhung! The other, his brother, is the finest man on the border to-day, the one redskin I am proud to call friend. He has sat here where you now lie, telling me of his dream; he has built a town on the Wabash, not far from Vincennes, where he hopes to gather all the Indian tribes in peace, teaching them to lay aside the rifle and till the soil. Neither he nor his followers touch liquor—sir, God will punish our race for the evils we have brought upon these Indians! The man of whom I speak is a Shawnee, humbly born yet recognized as chieftain by a dozen tribes. His name is Tecumthe, or as the border makes it, Tecumsey."

The amazed Norton listened to this speech in blank astonishment. He had heard little of the two Indians in the South, and only on his Northern trip had he learned much of Tecumthe or his famous brother, the Prophet. Along the border they were hated bitterly, and that he had himself aided the two was no small surprise.

Even more amazing, however, was the way in which Red Hugh spoke. From Boone, Norton had understood that the man hunted Indians, as more than one frontiersman did, like wild animals.

"Tell me this," he asked, bewildered. "I thought you hated all redskins, Hugh? If that is true, what care you for the evil we have brought upon them, and why do you think so highly of Tecumthe?"

The other puffed in silence for a moment, his face set like stone.

"Look at that elk-hide yonder," he said, at length, gesturing with his pipe toward the stretched skin, his voice deeply stirred. "Norton, that skin bears record of a hundred and a score Indians I have slain. Twenty years ago a band of red devils murdered my whole family, my wife, my children, killed my dearest friend, left me for dead——"

He paused, and after a space continued, his voice firmer.

"I recovered, and having naught to live for save vengeance, I took vengeance. Every redskin I have slain has been a warrior under arms, and I have hunted them without pity or mercy, even as they have hunted me. This man Tecumthe is different. His heart is white, Norton. While the Prophet is stirring up war, Tecumthe is urging peace; he has a great vision of uplifting his race—but he cannot do it. His men are murdered along the frontier and he can get no justice. His lands are stolen, and Harrison will do nothing. If he loses the Wabash Valley, the Shawnees will be thrown back on the Sioux and Blackfeet, their mortal enemies. Well, let us get off this subject, Norton. You know who I am, and that is enough. We have to deal, not with Indians, but with men worse than Indians."

"Yes," said Norton bitterly. "This gang of river-pirates has murdered more men within the last year or two than have all all the Indians since Fallen Timbers. Too bad Grigg escaped you; we had the whole gang under our hand right there, could we have trapped him."

Red Hugh laid aside his pipe and fell to stroking his grizzled beard as they discussed what was to be done. Norton was dismayed to find that he would be unable to get around for several days, though Red Hugh promised him a complete cure from his fever and wounds.

Nor could he obtain the information for which he had hoped, from this strange character. Red Hugh, who seemed well educated and only a trifle "touched" on the subject of killing Indians, had a supreme contempt for the settlers along the river, in the main. He had been only once to Louisville, and had lived his solitary life as far as might be without concerning himself with settlements. He knew nothing of the Blacknose gang, though he stated bluntly that once he and Norton set themselves to hunt down the pirates, it would be a matter of short accomplishment.

So with that small ray of comfort, Norton went about his recovery, impatiently enough. When three days had passed, he felt nearly himself once more; but in that space of time he had discovered many things.

In the first place, he was forced to reverse his earlier impressions of Red Hugh. While he was ill, the man took a lively interest in caring for him; no sooner was Norton on his feet, than Red Hugh relapsed into a brooding morose individual who refused to talk about himself or his doings and only betrayed interest in Blacknose. Studying the man, Norton concluded that he had been a gentleman and a man of some consequence, but since the destruction of his family had devoted his whole life to revenge with a consequent loss of sanity on other topics.

He seemed to have absolutely no other business in life than killing Indians, for a living was easily gained by hunting. He had never troubled to take up land, and since there were no settlements in the vicinity, no one interfered with his squatting. All his vivacity and gentle care vanished as soon as Norton regained strength, and with this interest gone, he would sit and stare by the hour at his terrible elkskin.

This Norton also found of keen interest, for every "hunt" had been carefully set down as to date and result. When they took the field against Blacknose, he conjectured shrewdly that Red Hugh would re-awaken once more, for judging by the elk-skin he was possessed of considerable prowess in the man-hunt. He must have gone about his revenge with a terrible skill; more than once the painted record showed that parties of two and three Indians had fallen to his rifle.

John Norton was in no sense horrified, though not at all in sympathy with the old man. There were many like him along the border. The settlers conceived and treated the red men as beasts, which too often they were, and no man was ever brought to justice for killing an Indian. Red Hugh's grievances were purely personal, however, and more than once Norton recalled Boone's words—"God ain't softened his heart yet, though He will some day, I reckon." That day, it seemed to Norton, was very far distant.

Only once, after that first talk with the man, did he ever refer to his slain family. He had been examining Norton's moccasins, on the third evening, and suddenly he favoured the Louisianian with one of his searching looks.

"If you were up in the Shawnee country," he said abruptly, "these leathers would either get you killed or crowned, Norton! Any Indian across the Ohio would recognize them instantly. Well—well——"

He stared into the fireplace, puffing at his pipe. After a moment he continued slowly as if musing to himself:

"They were Wyandots, a big war-party of them, and their chief wore moccasins with split soles. They killed us all, women and children alike—and after I recovered I went straight into the Wyandot country. I found that chief, a year later, and shot him in the midst of his own village; old Simon Kenton was with me, and we had a hard fight before we got away. Well, I had my revenge, but it did not bring back the dead wife and the little ones—the little ones——"

Upon that he strode from the cabin suddenly, and Norton never referred to his own similar story, deeming it best to keep Red Hugh's mind as far as possible from Indian atrocities. The man seemed no more than sixty years old, and save for that one topic his brain was as vigorous as that of Norton himself.

By the fourth evening the Louisianian was nearly himself again. Red Hugh's knowledge of herbs had rid him of the fever almost at once, and strength came back to him surely and swiftly. Burning with anxiety to waste no time, yet conscious of the necessity of regaining his strength, he had forced himself to bide in the idleness of recuperation, but now he could do so no longer. There was work to be done, and he was bent upon keeping control of things—for his own career lay in the balance. He had not resigned his commission in mad haste, but after much deliberation; did he succeed in eliminating the Blacknose gang, New Orleans and the Government had promised great things.

More than this, however, he had Kitty Grigg in mind. Once the present affair was concluded he promised himself a trip to Cincinnati, where many of the original members of the famous Order had settled. It should not be difficult to make inquiries and perhaps gain a clue to the girl's real family, he thought. So, calling Red Hugh into a gloomy consideration of the problem immediately at hand, he announced his intention of beginning work next day.

"The first thing is to go to Blue River and get word from Elisha Ayres," he said thoughtfully. "I can't go back to Louisville unless that murder charge is cleared up, which should have been done by this time. If not, we'll have to go on a thorough scout of the river, because Grigg and his band of pirates are somewhere down-stream."

Red Hugh nodded.

"Where are you going to meet the messenger from Ayres?"

"At Dodd's Tavern—Kentucky side."

"H'm!" The other frowned. "I haven't been there for two years, Norton, but I don't recall any tavern or settler of that name at either of the Blue River settlements. However, your friend doubtless knew what he was talking about."

"He seemed to," said Norton drily. "Blue River is only about twelve miles from here——"

"I have a canoe down on the shore. Feel strong enough to paddle?"

"Quite. If we find no word from Ayres, we can go on below Henderson and spend a couple of weeks scouting through the woods. The gang must have some sort of a rendezvous, Hugh, and it certainly has a cache of the stolen goods, for Grigg has to be careful in disposing of them. Which side of the river would you search?"

Red Hugh stared at his elk-hide, tugging at his grizzled beard.

"Well," he returned slowly, his deep-set eyes flaming a little, "they'd be like to use either side, Norton. If we skirmished around on the Indiana side around the Wabash, we might strike one or two Indian parties——"

"None of that," broke in Norton, understanding that ominous flame in the man's eye. "We're after Blacknose, not after scalps. Just impress that on your mind and save further trouble. If you give me your help in this thing, there'll be no Indian hunting."

The big man turned his slow gaze to Norton's face, and for a moment the Louisianian expected trouble. Red Hugh stared at him; Norton met the look firmly, resolved not to compromise this matter, much as he needed the man's help and advice. At length Red Hugh nodded, reluctantly.

"I like you, Norton," he said, his grim visage softening strangely. "You're a man. You're like another Norton I once knew—well, best not to speak of that. Now as to hunting this Blacknose gang: we are more like to find them on the Indiana side. If aught went wrong with their plans, they could escape to the Indian country, or else lay the blame for their crimes on the Shawnees. There are several bands of Miamis along there, also. It may well be that through some Indians we can get trace of the gang, if naught else serves."

Upon this, they made ready to set forth at dawn. Norton discarded his own battered powderhorn for the fine red-streaked one which the assassin Tobin had formerly carried—an act which was destined to bring dire results upon himself before the game was played out. He forgot the fact that this red-streaked horn was distinguished by its very oddness and beauty.

With the dawn they set forth for the blazed cottonwood and the Ohio, carrying their rifles and a quarter of venison. Upon reaching the bluff over the river, Red Hugh turned abruptly aside and led Norton down to the wooded banks, where he presently fished out an Indian birch canoe and paddles from a clump of dense bushes. Two canoes were paddling upstream along the opposite shore, and when these were past, they put their craft in the water and started for Blue River.

The river hills ran close to the stream on each side, and except for the little group of cabins under the high rocky cliff opposite them the banks were unsettled as far as Blue River. Norton paddled easily, drinking in fresh strength with the sun-bright morning air, and could scarce realize their journey was nearly done when Red Hugh pointed to Blue River ahead. They had passed Indian Creek and two islands without sight of other river-craft, and now held in to the Kentucky shore.

"Colonel Boone's brother, Squire, began that settlement"—and Red Hugh pointed across to the clustering cabins opposite. "Now if you can see any signs of a tavern over here, you beat me."

In truth, Norton gazed at the Kentucky settlement which they were approaching, and his heart sank. Ayres must have made some mistake—yet the schoolmaster had been very explicit in his directions. The settlement consisted of two cabins, one of them fast falling to ruin; a few tobacco-drying sheds; a small section of cleared land; and a half-naked woman staring hard at them. Two or three entirely naked children appeared as they paddled in, and as the slatternly woman raised her voice, a still more slatternly man came slouching from the tobacco-sheds, rifle in hand. There was no sign of any road or ferry, and this was most certainly no tavern. Norton landed with some dismay.

"Is this the Kentucky Blue River settlement?" he inquired of the suspicious man—a loose-jawed, fever-smitten person who lacked all interest in life.

"I reckon they call it that, stranger. Who be ye?"

"We're looking for Dodd's Tavern," returned Norton quietly. "If you can tell——"

"Eh? Dodd's Tavern? Well, by gum!" The man stared at him, then turned to the woman behind him. "Go git that gal."

The woman went to the house. Red Hugh drew up his canoe and joined Norton, and together they waited for what was evidently to happen. The woman reappeared from the cabin, nodded, and fell to staring. A moment later Kitty Grigg emerged, and came forward with a glad, eager little cry at sight of Norton.

"Captain Norton! Oh, I'm so glad you've come—I had almost given you up!"

"You!" Norton grasped her hand, thunder-struck. "Why, girl—what does this mean? How came you here?"

"By boat," she laughed. "And I have news from Mr. Ayres."


Utterly astounded as he was at sight of Kathleen Grigg, and even more so by Ayres having chosen such a messenger, Norton drew her out of earshot of the curious settlers to the canoe, and introduced Red Hugh. The latter stared at the girl, then stretched forth a huge hand and touched the flame of her red-gold hair with trembling fingers, awe in his whole face.

"Kitty Grigg!" he muttered thickly, as the half-frightened girl shrank back to Norton's arm. "Kitty Grigg! Yet she has the face of my own Mary—oh, God in heaven!"

Abruptly, he turned his back upon them and stood leaning on his rifle, his shoulders shaking. Norton realized swiftly that the old man had found some resemblance in her to that wife whom he had lost in such tragic fashion, and in quick pity he gave the girl a warning look and hastened to change the current of Red Hugh's thoughts.

"But, Kitty—how on earth came Ayres to send you, of all people?" he cried in half-anger, half-wonder. "He knew there was danger in it——"

"Listen, please," she broke in, her hand on his arm and her eyes searching his face hungrily. "After you left me, that day, I saw Colonel Boone and told him what you had said. He knew nothing about the pin, but he said to trust you and—and I do. Then father went off on a month's hunt, so I was going to visit with Mistress Zach Taylor had not Mr. Ayres and Mr. Audubon come to see me——"

"Audubon? When was this?" queried Norton, frowning.

"Four days since—directly he returned after leaving you with him"—and she nodded toward Red Hugh, flushing slightly as she did so. "Mr. Audubon related all that had happened to you and him, but as he was going away with Mr. Ayres they were not sure whom to send here until they thought of me. You see, I would not be suspected or watched, and there was a skiff all ready to——"

"But—then you must know——" Norton broke off suddenly, staring into her level grey eyes, wondering if she had been told who Blacknose really was. She looked steadily at him, read his thought, and her face went pale.

"Yes," she nodded quietly. "Mr. Audubon told me all about it. I do not quite believe it can be possible, despite what you and Mr. Audubon heard. You see, sir, Mr. Duval has exerted some influence over my fa——"

"Over Abel Grigg, you mean," interrupted Norton gravely. He was all the more astonished that she had come on this mission, knowing what she did.

"Over—him," she went on, avoiding the issue. "But he's not bad at heart, really! And I came here partly to ask you to help him—I mean, if you find there is a gang of pirates, don't be too harsh with him until he is proven guilty——"

"I promise you that, sweet Kitty," smiled Norton. Then of a sudden the warmth died out of his brown eyes, and his face went hard. "Perhaps you were not told how he agreed to sell you to Duval, eh?"

"Yes," she almost whispered. "I—I—oh, I do not know what to think or say! But never mind that now, Mr. Norton; Mr. Ayres said that you were to return to Louisville at once——"

"You just said he and Audubon were going away?" broke in the puzzled Norton.

"They'll be back when you get there. Mr. Ayres has a plan about some boat, and has gone up-river to get some men he can trust. The riverman who was murdered had two brothers——"

"Hold on," laughed Norton. "How can I go back when everyone thinks I committed that murder? Straighten me out little by little, Kitty!"

"Nobody thinks you did it. Mr. Ayres found that the knife with which the man was murdered belonged to someone else, and also established the fact that you had been outside the tavern all the while. So that is all right. The owner of the knife escaped in a canoe."

"And I'll wager his name was Tobin," exclaimed Norton quickly. She looked at him, surprised.

"What—how did you know that?"

"Because I met Mr. Tobin myself." Norton smiled grimly and glanced at his powder-horn. "Well, that's a relief, Kitty! Now, how about getting back?"

"I came down in a skiff that was going to Henderson," she explained. "That was day before yesterday, and the skiff was to start back this morning and stop for me. Mr. Ayres knew there was no tavern here, but that was why he used the name, in case of suspicion."

"So—I am beginning to understand! This Mr. Ayres is a sly fox, eh?"

Norton whistled softly. In asking for Dodd's Tavern he had merely made use of a password which was known to the vacuous-eyed settler, and had thus precluded any possibility of mistake.

"Wait here, Kitty," he said, and crossed to Red Hugh. The latter swung about, showing his usual grim searching expression. "You heard it all, Hugh?"

"Yes." The big man nodded.

"Well, I fancy that Ayres is going to load up a boat and use it as a lure," went on Norton in a low voice. "It may well be Brookfield's horse-boat, of which we heard Duval and Grigg speaking, and which will leave Louisville in two or three weeks. Hold on!" And he turned to the watching girl again. "What did you say about Ayres going away to raise some men?"

"I'm not quite sure myself," she answered, "but I gathered that he was going for that purpose—he spoke about some men whose relatives had disappeared with the vanished boats——"

"That's it, then," said Norton quickly. "He'll get a few men he can rely upon implicitly and stow them aboard the boat. Then, when Blacknose attacks, he'll find what he hadn't bargained for, Hugh! Now will you come back to Louisville? That skiff ought to be along in an hour or two, if she left Henderson this morning——"

"No," broke in Red Hugh decisively. "You stay here and take Madam Grigg back, Norton. I'll scout through the woods for a bit, then will pick up your boat at Henderson when she comes down. You'll be aboard her?"

Norton assented with a nod.

"Good. If there's no sign of me at Henderson, I'll signal you from Diamond Island, just below—be sure and take the left-hand channel, for I'll be on the Kentucky side. Brookfield's boat, eh? All right—I'll watch out for you."

With a final look at Kitty Grigg, Red Hugh touched his cap and went to the canoe with Norton. The latter took out his rifle and equipment; then Red Hugh stepped into the craft and shoved off. A wave of the hand, and he paddled off upstream in the direction whence they had come that morning. Norton stood watching him out of sight, a most unwelcome feeling of loneliness stealing upon him; despite the man's glum silences and bloodthirsty pursuit, he had a strange fascination for Norton.

"Who is that man? Is he the—the Red Hugh of whom Mr. Audubon spoke?"

The Louisianian turned, and smiled into the girl's wondering grey eyes.

"I doubt if there be two of that name, Kitty! Aye, he's the man, and an odd one. Come—let's sit on the bank over here where we can watch the river. I trust your skiff will return as she promised, for a night in this place would be little to my liking."

"Oh, they're kindly folk enough, but terribly poor," she returned, as Norton led her down the bank under the shade of a clump of cottonwood. "And such wretched, happy, dirty little babies! I wish I could do something for them."

He watched her, fascinated by her fresh beauty, wondering anew how this pearl of womanhood came to be fixed in the squat cabin of Abel Grigg. For a space they sat in silence; she gazed out over the river, hands clasped in her lap, while Norton filled his pipe and smoked, feeling suddenly content with all things.

It was coming out all right, he felt, despite the failure to trail Grigg down and trap the whole gang. Of the relation between Grigg and the girl beside him, he never bothered, being perfectly convinced in his own mind that she was another man's daughter. He remembered the promise he had given her, but the deeper memory of that verbal bill of sale had impressed him with a hatred and contempt for both Grigg and Duval, which nothing would eradicate from his mind.

He recalled the vow he had taken upon that golden eagle, and perhaps the thought leaped to Kathleen's mind, for she turned with a sudden little laugh.

"Oh, I forgot! Have you still got that gold eagle pin?"

"Yes." Norton put his hand to his breast. "Why?"

He could not understand the half-smile that lay in her eyes as she looked at him. Knowing that he was puzzled, she laughed again.

"Haven't you looked at it since that day?"

"No—but I will now."

He reached inside his shirt and unfastened the pin. As the sunlight fell on it, he frowned slightly; the broken enamel on its face did not seem—suddenly he turned it over, and read the initials "H.E.M."

"By thunder!" he exclaimed, looking up at the laughing girl. "I handed you the wrong pin, eh? It was a mistake, Kathleen——"

She nodded. "Yes. I discovered it after you had gone, so when I came I brought this one of yours with me."

Norton looked at the pin she held out, recognizing it for his own. Yet he made no move to take it. Much as it meant to him, being his only memorial from the father he could not remember, he only looked at it and admired the slim beauty of the palm on which it lay. Hers was not the hand of a backwoods woman, he thought.

"Listen, Kitty," he said slowly. "Just as soon as I've cleared up this Blacknose affair here, I'm going to Cincinnati and find out who the owner of this pin of yours really was. A number of the Cincinnati are there or in the neighbourhood, and they will have records of the Order. Let me keep your eagle until then, and you keep mine as an earnest that I will return yours."

He found her face suddenly grave.

"I do not want to lose it," she said quietly. "It means a good deal to me, after what you have said——"

"Nor do I want to lose mine," he broke in, smiling. "Oh, you are not so easily rid of me, Kitty! I will find your true name for you, and that's a promise; until then, I will keep your eagle and do you keep mine in pledge of my return. Not that you need the pledge, since it would be a far harder matter to keep away from your eyes——"

"Fie, sir!" And she interrupted merrily enough. "And how many pledges have you left behind in Louisiana?"

"Two," returned Norton, so that for a moment her face became as serious as his own. "One to my friend, Davy Crockett, in shape of my finest rifle; and one to the traders who sent me hither, in shape of a promise that I would wipe out Blacknose. Tell me, Kitty, do you wish to marry Charles Duval?"

"Do you think I wish it?" And she inspected him with half-frightened eyes.

"Well"—Norton shifted his rifle uneasily,—"he is a person of note, is a gentleman of family—and is able to buy you with money."

"So much might be said for the Indian Tecumthe," she returned, flushing at the brutality of his last words. "No, I shall not marry him."

"Bravely said," nodded Norton, and felt tremendously relieved. Of course, he told himself, his only interest lay in saving this helpless girl from two scoundrels. "Well, even if Abel Grigg swears you're under age——"

"There's the skiff coming!" she cried quickly. "Just crossing over."

Norton glanced up. Perhaps a mile down the river and with her eight sweeps bringing her slowly across in a long slant for the Kentucky side, was a large boat. There was no hurry, he calculated, for she would require a good fifteen or twenty minutes to head over across the swift current of the Ohio——

"——then you take this horse and rejoin the boys. I'll get back in that boat."

The cold, commanding words rang out clearly from somewhere behind and above.

Norton stiffened; with one quick motion he unstopped his powderhorn and poured some black grains into the pan of his rifle, as it lay across his knees.

"The durned spy must ha' lit out," came the growl of Abel Grigg's voice. "Tobin ain't showed up, neither."

The Louisianian glanced swiftly at Kathleen. She was staring at him wide-eyed, her face ghastly in its sudden pallor. He knew that she must have realized instantly what had occurred—Duval, on his way home from Henderson, had met Grigg and intended to turn over his horse to the backwoodsman and catch this skiff back to Louisville. Cursing the mischance of fate which had led to such a happening, and thinking only of keeping the girl unseen, Norton leaned forward and whispered, with a gesture toward the trees:

"I'll back them into the woods. Get under those trees, and when the boat comes get aboard."

"No," she returned, with a shake of the head. "Why should I be afraid?"

Reading determination in her eyes, Norton cursed again, silently, and leaped up. Discovery was certain; his only chance now lay in holding up the two men and surprising some confession from them. With Audubon as sole witness, he could hardly hope to force Duval into court; but with Kathleen's testimony and that of the settlers, there was a bare chance. His rifle ready, he left the girl and sprang up the bank.

A curious scene greeted him, and one which showed that Elisha Ayres had not selected this settler's cabin by any vagary. The squalid woman and babies had vanished; the settler himself sat in the doorway of his shack with his rifle ostentatiously in hand; paying no heed to him, Duval and Grigg were standing near the landing, the latter holding the horse's bridle in one hand, his rifle in the other. Duval had a pair of pistols in his belt.

"Hands up, gentlemen!" commanded Norton sharply. "Drop that rifle, Blacknose!"

As Norton levelled his weapon, the settler in the doorway rose also, watching the other two. Duval, whirling with one terrible convulsion of his features, looked into Norton's rifle and forced the look from his face; Grigg obeyed the command with a snarl, his powerful, hook-nosed face grimacing in surprise and consternation.

"Why—sir! What is the meaning of this, Mr. Norton?"

Duval's expression of astonishment was an excellent counterfeit. His virile, dark, thin-lipped face showed only blank surprise, but this did not deceive Norton.

"You're a pretty pair of scoundrels!" he said grimly. "Your game's up, Duval, so no need to play innocent. Grigg, you're known for Blacknose. I think you'll both go to Louisville on that boat, but you'll go bound."

He saw Grigg's eyes widen and his jaw fall in astonishment, and needed not the step behind him to know that Kathleen had come up. Duval, however, maintained his cold poise.

"You are making a grievous mistake, Captain Norton," he returned, softly. "You must either be out of your senses or——"

"So?" chuckled Norton easily. "You remember how you and Blacknose there paused on your way to Henderson a few days ago, and held a conversation just before you parted company? There were witnesses to that conversation, my friend."

Grigg went livid, and his bushy grizzled beard quivered as he stared at Norton. Duval, however, showed no sign of emotion beyond a tightening of his lips; his dark eyes glittered ominously, and the cruel curve of his nostrils deepened. In that moment Norton knew that he had lost his play, and would get nothing out of this man. Grigg opened his mouth to speak, but Duval shut him up sharply.

"I said, sir, that you were mistaken," returned the lawyer coldly. "The tenor of that conversation must have been misunderstood by you. Madam Grigg, your servant."

He bowed slightly to the girl. With an inward groan, Norton lowered his rifle. If he brought the matter to an issue, he knew well that he would fail; neither Duval nor Grigg had mentioned Blacknose by name, and the conversation was incriminating only by inference. And inference counted for nothing in the Kentucky courts.

"Duval, I'm going to get you." And Norton suppressed the rage within him, his voice as cold and level as that of the lawyer. "You're the man behind this Blacknose gang, and Grigg there is Blacknose. I know that much, and I'm going to prove it some day."

"You will have far to travel before that day, sir," returned Duval with a thinly veiled sneer.

"Perhaps." And Norton smiled a little as their eyes clinched. "Not as far, however, as the road your friend Tobin has already travelled."

The shot told. Duval's eyes narrowed suddenly; then a hoarse cry broke from Grigg, who pointed at Norton's waist.

"Look thar! The cuss has got Tobin's horn——"

"What is that to us?" Duval whirled on him, with so terrible a face that Grigg fell back. "What is Tobin to us, you fool? Do you know him?"

"No," stammered Grigg, giving Norton a furious look. "No, I don't know him."

The Louisianian smiled in contempt. Duval had outguessed him shrewdly, and he would now get no evidence out of either man.

"Captain Norton"—Duval turned to him with a smooth smile—"I trust you perceive your mistake."

"Yes," returned Norton quietly, giving the man a hard look. "You're smarter than I thought, Duval. But you'll swing yet—mark that!"

The lawyer made no reply, beyond a cold sneer. A glance showed Norton that the settler's rifle had vanished, and knowing that Duval would not dare shoot him down with the approaching boat so near, he lowered his own rifle and stood leaning on it. Grigg, however, stepped forward with an oath.

"I got a word to say here," he cried savagely, glaring past Norton at the girl. "What you doin' here, Kitty? You and him was settin' under the bank makin' love, eh? What you doin' here?"

Norton turned with a helpless gesture. The girl did not heed him, but looked at Grigg, pale but calm.

"Be careful what you say"—and her voice trembled a little. "I came here with a message for Mr. Norton. Further than that, it is no business of yours."

"Hey! No business o' mine, ain't it?" shot out Grigg, his gaunt head flung forward until with his keen-hooked nose he looked uncommonly like the bird of prey that he was. "Looky here, gal, don't you talk to your o' dad like that! Now you're here, you'll come along o' me into the woods fer a spell——"

The girl drew herself up angrily.

"You're no father of mine, Abel Grigg," she cried out, and Norton could not but admire the proud spirit of her. "I know that now, and you've no authority over me!"

Grigg stood as though paralysed. Duval stared at the girl for a moment, then turned and whispered a few low words to his companion. Norton would have given much to know what they were, but their effect was evident.

With a complete change of manner, Grigg forced the anger from his face and spoke in a low wheedling voice which yet had a ring of sincerity in it.

"Looky here, Kitty! You ain't meanin' that——"

"I mean what I say," she flashed back at him. "I know you're not my father, and so does Captain Norton. That's enough."

Grigg flung Norton one malignant glance.

"Well, gal," he said slowly, "that's true. I ain't your dad."

"Who am I, then?" demanded Kathleen swiftly.

"I dunno." The backwoodsman shook his head, and Norton could not but believe he spoke the truth. "I found ye nigh on twenty year back, Kitty, in an Injun camp. Wyandots, they was, an' I bought ye fer a new horn o' powder an' a gun. That thar's God's truth, gal. They wouldn't say nothin' 'bout ye. Now I've told, gal, you won't go back on the ol' man? Come 'long into the woods a spell——"

"I think not," broke in Norton drily. "Grigg, we know all about how you want to sell Kitty to this skunk of a Duval. She'll have nothing more to do with you. That's flat."

"You've been an' set her up to this, hey?" snarled Grigg suddenly, turning on the Louisianian. "All right! I'll make ye pay afore I'm done with ye!"

Duval gave the angry man a look, and again Grigg flung off his rage swiftly.

"Kitty, won't ye go with me?" he said slowly, picking up his rifle.


Duval stood aside, watching, a shadowy sneer on his powerful features. A glance at the river showed Norton the skiff some three hundred yards away and slowly approaching the landing. Grigg, leaning on his rifle and clawing his grizzled beard, looked at the girl with a sudden sadness in his deep eyes.

"Kitty," he said very slowly, the harsh timbre of his voice accentuating his words and lending them sincerity, "I've brung ye up as best I could. When the ol' woman died ten year back, it was you helped to bury her. 'Member that? Ye allus called me Dad, didn't ye? I've done right by ye, gal, accordin' to my lights. Ain't I give ye the best I could? Ain't I paid ol' Elisha Ayres to give ye learnin'? You ain't lacked fer nothin', Kitty, even if I am poor."

Norton, listening, forbore to interfere. It occurred to him that Grigg was making a desperate fight for a valuable piece of property, yet there was truth in what the man said. And Kathleen knew it. Struggle sat in her face.

"Kitty, gal," went on Grigg with renewed earnestness, "I ain't askin' much of ye. I've allus give ye the best I had, ain't I? Now, looky here. Fur's anyone knows, you're my daughter an' I could force ye any ways I wanted to. But I don't. I love ye, gal, an' all I want is fer you to stick by me a bit longer. I'm gettin' old, Kitty, an' ain't as well able to take care o' myself as I used to be. If you're mixed up with that spy feller, Kitty, ye've done me a mighty bad turn, but I ain't carin' fer that. Now ain't you a-goin' to come along o' me, little gal? You ain't a-goin' to leave the ol' man, be ye?"

"What do you want of me?" Sorely shaken, the girl looked at him. "Why shouldn't I go back home, then?"

"Because I need ye, gal," returned Grigg earnestly. "I'd 'a' brung ye afore, only I didn't know as I'd need ye. They's a camp down-river a piece, where I aim to set out quite a spell, an' I want ye to cook an' take care o' things fer us. Kitty, don't go back on me after I done brung ye up all them years! Even if ye don't love me, don't ye reckon ye owe me somethin'? I've took good care on ye, gal——"

Terribly pale, the girl turned to Norton. He read the weariness of her eyes, and started to speak, but she stopped him:

"No—he's right, Mr. Norton. I owe him some duty, though it will never go so far as marrying that man." And she flashed Duval one contemptuous glance. "Good-bye, Mr. Norton—and God bless you!"

Norton bowed over her hand, bringing it to his lips. The touch thrilled him, and for a long moment he looked down into her grey eyes, not trusting himself to speak.

"Good-bye, for the present," he said huskily, his finely-chiselled face very tender, "And remember—I shall see you again."

With no more words she turned to Grigg, who helped her to the saddle of Duval's horse, and they started away. Norton gazed after them, feeling the girl's high character grip at his heart-strings; then he turned at a hail from the river landing.

"Hey, you fellers! Who's fer Louisville?"

"All right!" replied the Louisianian. He looked at Duval, and his eyes flamed out like a sword. "Duval," he said softly, "you're a yellow dog! You've tried murder and failed; now play your last card and do it soon, or you're gone!"

Immobile, his face set as though carven in stone, Duval gazed at him. Then his strong white teeth flashed out in a slow smile. "If you wish to make your last will and testament, Captain Norton, anyone in Louisville can direct you to my office. Sir, your servant!"

And with a bow he passed down to the waiting boat. Norton followed, smiling a little, his heart sore within him for Kitty Grigg.

"But, by gad, it's in the open now!" he thought. "Duval is smart, but his craft has sprung a leak—and the tide will swamp him whether I live or die!"


The trip to Louisville was uneventful, yet significant. As Norton went aboard the boat, the captain touched his arm and whispered.

"Captain Norton?"


"The lady——"

"Does not return with us, sir."

The captain stepped back and signed to his men. Of these there were ten—all big, bearded men who kept silent for the whole trip, though Duval tried to converse with them more than once. Nor did any address Norton after he was aboard. Save for the captain's orders, the trip was made in silence.

When they were rowing past the bluff behind which Red Hugh dwelt, Norton searched the woods in vain for any sign of his friends, and caught Duval's eye roving over the bluff as well. Buck Creek and Salt River were passed without stoppage, and when Norton offered to pay his passage, he was informed that it has been paid; Duval, a little later, was taxed a dollar, which he paid promptly. At length Sullivan's ferry swept by and Shippingsport hove in sight ahead.

Norton knew nothing of what had been going on in his absence, but there were a large number of craft, both keel and flatboats, in the Louisville harbour, while loading of freight was proceeding busily.

The skiff rowed in through the vessels to a wharf, and Norton saw a small figure in scarlet breeches and fustian greatcoat waiting for their landing. He leaped out with a cry of joy, and greeted Elisha Ayres with a strong grip of the hand. The little schoolmaster straightened his greasy wig, and turned to meet Duval with a low bow.

"Your servant, Mr. Duval!" he said, in his dry precise manner.

The lawyer bowed slightly, fastened his cold gaze on the pinched, twinkling-eyed face of Ayres, and passed on without speaking. With a chuckle, Ayres passed his arm under Norton's and turned.

"Come, Mr. Norton. Do not talk, if you please."

In no little wonder, Norton accommodated his step to that of the other, and they walked through the little town toward Louisville. Ayres placed no ban of silence upon his own tongue, however; he chattered volubly, pointed out various objects of interest, and paused at the top of the hill to turn Norton toward the harbour.

"Just to our right, Mr. Norton, is the Berthoud rope-walk—one of the finest, I may say, in the United States. There is Mr. Berthoud's residence just beyond us. Now from here we get a truly remarkable view of the shipping; you will observe that a half-dozen keels are being laden for New Orleans, under command of Commodore Peters. The outside craft is the gunboat of Captain Nevitt, which carries a small cannon. To the left you will see Captain Brookfield's horse-boat—a most ingenious contrivance, sir."

At length Norton caught the drift of all this volubility, and gazed at the "horse-boat" with no little interest. It was a large craft of forty tons, with an ungainly gallery on the upper deck. On this, as Ayres pointed out, six or seven horses worked a treadmill which in turn worked the large side-paddles, over each gunwale. The boat was a decided novelty, and as Brookfield had broken a number of paddles on his trip up-river, she would be delayed from joining the fleet under Peters and Nevitt, which was leaving in two days.

When Norton had finished his inspection, Ayres turned him toward the city again and they proceeded on their way. Duval had disappeared. Mindful of the rapidity with which things had happened to him on his previous visit, Norton kept a watchful eye on the passers-by; he had an uneasy sense of being watched, and perceived that an unduly large proportion of the men were roughly dressed but excellently armed. It seemed to him that Duval must have filled the town with his own men, and things began to loom up darkly before him.

"These, sir, are the hanging gardens of Mr. Buttet"—and Ayres paused as they reached the lower end of town, speaking in his usual oratorical style and with a sweep of his hand toward the handsome brick house to their left. "From here we gain an excellent view of the river—one of the finest views in the United States, I may say, sir. Yonder you perceive Jeffersonville in Indiana; a little to the left, the magnificent falls of the Ohio. Beyond this, Clarksville and the Silver Creek hills, with the forests and Rock Island completing the panorama. And just ahead of us, sir, an interesting episode is about to be enacted, if I mistake not."

Norton, who was paying little heed to the view but much to what passed around him, loosened his knife in its sheath; the "interesting episode", he concluded swiftly, would be enacted by something better than fists. Lounging on the board walk a dozen yards ahead, and eyeing him with insolent and provocative glances, were two huge rivermen. Both were idly whittling at small sticks, and Norton had no doubt of their intent.

Fastening his eyes on the pair and already angered by their insolent looks, he flung off Ayres's restraining hand and stepped forward. Then, however, something very odd took place.

Swinging around the corner at which the two rivermen stood, came three tow-clad farmers with a snatch of drunken song. One of them lurched heavily against the nearer riverman, who shoved him away with a snarling curse.

"Who—who you shovin'?" demanded the farmer thickly.

"Git out, ye drunken fool," snapped the big riverman angrily, his eye was still on Norton. "Move on—we ain't got time to spend on ye."

"Whoop-ee!"—and the farmer gave vent to a wild howl of rage. "Hurray fer Jefferson! Damn the Democrats! Shove me, will ye? I'll learn ye! I'm a cross betwixt a streak of chain-lightning and a bear-cat! I was sired by a thunderbolt an' riz by an alligator an' I eats rattlers fer breakfast—whoop-ee!"

With which peroration he gave the riverman no chance for the usual exchange of personal history, but with an astonishingly accurate blow for a drunken man landed his right on the riverman's jaw. His two companions instantly fell upon the second riverman and with a whirlwind of blows and dust and flashing knives and yells, all five drove out into the street and left the sidewalk clear.

"Come, sir"—and Norton felt Ayres pluck his arm. "They will lodge the two men in jail, but we must not be detained as witnesses."

In a flash the real meaning of the scene broke upon the Louisianian, and with a grunt he strode off beside Ayres. Something most amazing must have happened in the city of Louisville, he thought. A week previously, mention of Blacknose had been enough to get a man his death; now, two members of the mysterious gang were openly assaulted in the streets! His last view of the combat, through the gathering crowd, showed one of the farmers perched on the body of a riverman and industriously gouging for the eyes of his enemy in true border fashion.

Five minutes later Norton found himself led toward a good-sized brick house which stood back from the street amid spacious gardens. This, announced Ayres, belonged to Mr. Tarascon, a prominent merchant, who expected Norton as his guest. Comprehending dimly that the schoolmaster must have moved with tremendous activity in his absence, the Louisianian strode up the steps to be greeted quietly by a small elderly Frenchman—no other than the owner of the place. He was unmarried, it appeared, and when Norton addressed him in his own tongue, he cried effusively that the house no longer belonged to him but to his honoured guest. Moreover, the words were quite sincere.

The afternoon being practically over, Tarascon and Ayres accompanied Norton to his room—a spacious bedroom on the ground floor, and there left him with a darkie to attend his personal wants, and a great variety of clothes to choose from. With a sigh of relief, Norton bathed and discarded his buckskin for a plum-coloured suit; he was a gentleman once more in place of a woods rover; and when he inspected the cravat which the grinning darkie had adjusted, he could scarce believe that at daybreak he had been sitting in a canoe with an acknowledged Indian-slayer, rifle in hand. The day was far from done, however. When he was dressed, the negro ted him through a dark corridor to two rooms blazing with candles: one a dining-room of gigantic size, the other an equally large music-room. Still blinking at the lights, Norton found his hand gripped by Audubon and then perceived that he had come into a gathering of men.

"Gentlemen, Captain John Norton!" announced Mr. Tarascon, and turned, smiling. "Perhaps you had best introduce our friends piecemeal, Mr. Audubon!"

A dozen men were present—Colonel Taylor, Rosier, Ayres, and others of the Louisville merchants to whom Audubon introduced the Louisianian. Colonel Boone had returned home to Missouri, while Norton found that his friend, Zach Taylor, had been ordered to Vincennes to join General Harrison; barely had he been made acquainted with all there, however, when Colonel Taylor rose and with a gesture obtained silence.

"Mr. Norton"—and it was easy to see that the old border fighter felt bitterly the shame of his words—"when you were here last, this town was in a peculiar state, sir. As you are only too well aware, the very name of Blacknose spread terror; men were murdered and property destroyed almost with impunity; the secrecy of this gang of river-pirates and its thorough organization seemed to hold us all spellbound. I acknowledge it with shame, sir. Then, with your coming, all this was changed."

As Colonel Dick paused, Norton felt himself the centre of attention. He was himself too interested in what was coming to heed this, however, and merely nodded.

"You had barely arrived, Mr. Norton, when an attempt was made upon your life; a few hours later you were accused of a dastardly murder and only the quick wit of Mr. Ayres threw the pursuers from your track. We had given you up for lost, sir, when Mr. Audubon returned to town and at once communicated with Mr. Ayres. The result, you see here."

"I fancy I have seen the results before this," smiled Norton drily, and told of the encounter he had witnessed in town. A quick nod passed around.

"We can trust every man here," declared Audubon quietly but impressively. "The grounds of this house are guarded by armed men, Norton——"

"But how do you know they can all be trusted?" demanded the Louisianian keenly.

"Because, sir," spoke up Ayres, "Mr. Audubon and I enlisted them personally. We went up-river and carefully selected only those who had lost brothers or sons or fathers with the boats which have vanished down the river. Every man of us here has sustained heavy losses in property from the same cause. In short, sir, we have raised a company of Regulators, with which to exterminate this pestilent Blacknose gang."

Norton whistled to himself, eyeing the energetic little schoolmaster in some admiration as the whole thing broke over his mind. So then, they were fighting secrecy with secrecy, organization with organization!

Now he understood a good deal which had mystified him—the words of Kitty Grigg, the odd silence of his boatmen, the manner in which the two bellicose rivermen had been disposed of. Ayres had been swift and clever, also; by enlisting only the relatives of the men who had disappeared with their boats, during the past two years, all possibility of treachery was removed and the "Regulators" were certain to be animated by a live hatred of Duval—but did they know of Duval yet? Norton flung a quick glance around and found all waiting for him to speak. "How many here know who Blacknose is, Audubon?"

The words were like a shock; Norton needed no other answer to his question than the startled questioning look which ran over the faces in a flash.

"Only Ayres," returned the bird-lover, gravely. "It is a thing we cannot prove definitely, and it would be much better to destroy the whole gang at one blow. We will lay our suspicions before these friends of ours to-night, and take counsel."

While Audubon was speaking, a white-haired negro flung back the curtains which shut off the dining-room, and now announced dinner. Mr. Tarascon rose.

"Then—you have ascertained something definite, Mr. Norton?"

"Yes. I may say that we have ascertained everything."

In the startled silence all grouped themselves about the long table, Norton sitting between Tarascon and Ayres. Then, while the deft silent negro slaves waited upon them and the long dinner was discussed, Norton and Audubon related what they had overheard on the bluff near the blazed cottonwood, the Louisianian adding the conversation between Grigg and Duval that same morning.

Being wealthy and very hospitable in a land then noted for its inhospitality, Mr. Tarascon had provided his best wines for the occasion, both of French and Spanish. In consequence, certain honest merchants, who were more accustomed to home distilled corn liquor, drank wisely but too well of the rarer vintage; and no sooner had the two friends finished their tale than the table leaped into wild uproar.

For this, Norton was by no means sorry. The issue came squarely forward; Was it possible that Charles Duval could be in alliance with such a gang of thieves and pirates? To many of those present it was hard of credence; and one estimable old merchant, who wore a high black stock, a red peruke, and a coat cut in the fashion of the nineties, arose and pounded the table in vinuous indignation.

"Gentlemen, I refuse to believe this monstrous concoction!" he roared fervidly. "I have known Charles Duval for ten years, and I knew his father before him. Our friend and esteemed neighbour Henry Clay, now a member of Congress, knows him——"

"Yes, Clay knows him?" broke in a loud laugh from someone. "Clay knocked him down in front of the courthouse at Lexington last summer——"

"I refuse to believe it!" continued he of the black stock. "This charge is not proven, my friends. I will go and bring Charles Duval himself to deny it to your face——"

And shaking his fist, the angry old merchant shoved back his chair and started for the door. Norton would have sprung up to check him, but was restrained by Audubon's hand; the others glanced at one another in wondering fear, bewildered. Were the merchant to carry out his purpose, ruin was certain to fall upon them; yet Tarascon only sat at the head of the table and smiled as he sipped his wine. And, as the merchant flung open the door, it was seen to be guarded by a tall tow-clad man and barred by a rifle.

"Sir—Mr. Tarascon—what means this!" spluttered the merchant, turning.

"It means, sir, that my cellars are wide and my caution is wider," returned the host with only a veiled threat. He smiled very politely but his eyes were keen as he glanced at the men who lined the table.

"Gentlemen," he went on quietly, "you can readily understand that whether Mr. Norton and Mr. Audubon are correct or not in their suspicions, no word of what we are about must come to Mr. Duval. Each man of you here to-night is a gentleman; before you leave this house, you pass me your words to that effect. Else, you do not leave. It is very simple. We are going to stamp out this damnable river piracy, and I promise you that every justice shall be done Mr. Duval. Sir, pray return to your seat. Boy, fetch that Oporto I had from New Orleans last fall."

Norton, watching, perceived that he had fallen among men of weight. Tarascon was obeyed by the angry merchant, amid a grave silence, and Colonel Taylor was the first to pledge his word to secrecy. One by one the others followed suit, after which Elisha Ayres rose, pledged Norton's health in his grandiloquent manner, and fell to discussing the plan which he had already elaborated with Audubon.

This plan of action needed co-operation by the merchants there gathered, and it was based upon Norton's own idea. Brookfield's horse-boat was to be chartered and laden with a particularly valuable cargo, in which lading each of the merchants should risk an equal share. Brookfield himself was a man above suspicion, already enrolled in Ayres's "Regulators", and willing to risk his craft in the venture.

The boat would be another three weeks in lading, or perhaps less. Thus ample time would be given Blacknose in which to learn of its rich cargo and prepare an ambuscade. At Henderson the boat would secretly pick up twenty of the "Regulators", who would stow themselves below-decks in readiness for an attack.

Norton was to ship openly as a passenger, spreading abroad the report that his visit to Louisville had been barren of results, and in the meantime he was to remain as the guest of Tarascon in Louisville. Ayres drily assured him that he would be well guarded. With her rich cargo, the boat would be almost certain to be attacked; all that was necessary was for a prisoner or two to be made, in which case they would turn State's evidence and the rest of the gang could be hunted down readily enough.

"Once we ascertain definitely who Blacknose is," said Audubon, "we cut off the whole affair. Personally, I have no doubt of the matter; but to those of you who cannot believe Duval guilty, I would say—wait. This whole matter must be conducted with the greatest secrecy; let no hint of it get to your slaves, for the gang no doubt has many of our slaves in its pay."

"It's a good plan," stated Norton thoughtfully, frowning. "Almost too good, my friends. We must not overplay our hand—do not say too much about the rich cargo, for example. Duval, or Blacknose, is no fool! The thing seems all cut and dried, and that is why I fear—well, wait and see. When the time comes, we can show no mercy; that gang is pitiless, more savage than the redskins, and from the moment Brookfield's boat casts off her moorings at Shippingsport it becomes a war to the knife. Well, gentlemen"—and with a smile he rose, glass in hand—"for the rest of this evening let us cast care aside, and so allow me to propose a toast to the gentleman whose wig sets awry over a very excellent set of brains—Mr. Elisha Ayres, gentlemen!"

And the toast was drunk standing, while the little schoolmaster wriggled in huge delight and tried to straighten his greasy wig. None the less, Norton remained thoughtful that evening—for he could not forget the girl with gold-red hair whose hand had come to his lips that day, and whose gage he wore inside his shirt.


As Norton had thought, Mr. Elisha Ayres had formulated a plan which was almost too good. During the week following the meeting at Tarascon's house, he found that what appeared excellent by candlelight looked somewhat full of shreds and patches by the cold light of day.

The Regulators, to be sure, were unobtrusive but efficient, numbering twenty, and neither the Tarascon house nor Norton himself was ever unguarded. No more attempts were made upon Norton; yet the day after that dinner-party a brawl took place in the "Steuben Arms" in which one of the Regulators and a settler from down near the Wabash managed to kill each other. The settler seemed unknown in the town, which was a significant fact.

"Public sentiment is rising, sir," observed Audubon on hearing of it from Ayres, as they walked with Norton in the Tarascon gardens next day. "I would imagine that Duval is caught napping. Most of his men are down-river with Grigg, beyond a doubt, and while he must be perfectly aware of something going on, he is helpless. Further, he is engaged in court at Lexington."

During that idle week Norton might have gone to Cincinnati had not Brookfield been expecting to get away soon. The lading of his boat and the repair of her paddles had gone forward faster than had been looked for, and now the rivermen hoped in all confidence to be off before the following week was up. His crew consisted of six men only, and he could trust but two of them.

"Set the departure for next Saturday, then," commanded Norton, as he and Ayres and Audubon consulted with Brookfield on the Monday. "Give our friend Duval time to make his preparations, for we must make sure of all. On Friday send the Regulators down the river on horseback so that they can pass Henderson before daybreak and pick us up near Diamond Island."

On the table was a chart of the Ohio, and Audubon broke in, placing his finger on the Wabash settlement.

"You mind the settler who was slain last week? He came from this settlement, and must have been one of Duval's men. There is a clue for us; besides, Grigg and Duval agreed to waylay the boat near the Wabash."

The others nodded soberly.

"Mr. Norton's idea is very good," said Ayres. "Captain Brookfield, set your departure for the Saturday morning. It is only a hundred miles to Henderson by trail, and we will send out the Regulators Friday; they will pick you up here at Diamond Island, twelve miles below Henderson, on the Kentucky shore beyond the plantation of Mr. Alvis."

To this Brookfield agreed. He would reach the island some time on Sunday, and the Regulators would thus have plenty of time to make the journey by land, avoiding Henderson itself. So, with all plans fully settled, there was naught to do save to wait and watch.

Captain Brookfield announced his departure and rushed his lading, and with that the situation began to tighten up, Duval, having been engaged in court at Ledington for two days, returned to town on Wednesday; and Norton saw that with his return the lawyer had taken swift warning of some sort.

The plot was known to a dozen citizens at most, and the little border town remained as quiet and sleepy as ever; but beneath the surface there was a furious boiling of the pot. Since the double killing at the "Steuben Arms," the Regulators had been forbidden the tavern. Now, however, Duval openly made the place his headquarters. He had a plantation a few miles up-river, it seemed, but stopped at the tavern when in town. And on the Wednesday, Norton found the trap ready laid for his bait.

He had been riding below the falls with Audubon, and on their return they rode past the "Steuben Arms". As they jogged along, Norton saw a negro step into the tavern courtyard and loose a bird from a small wicker cage. At the action, he caught his friend's arms swiftly.

"That bird—watch it! What is it?"

Audubon whistled, and watched the bird as it circled up to pick its course, and finally shot off to the westward. He took out his pocket-compass, inspected it, then quietly beckoned Norton to ride on.

"Southwest by west and a half west," he returned, a flush of excitement on his high cheeks. "A carrier pigeon for the Wabash, Norton! Now ends all mystery, and the stage-players can no more fool the audience."

"By gad!" breathed Norton softly, his brown eyes flaming out at Audubon. "He uses carrier pigeons, eh? Then Duval must be concocting his plan against the horse-boat with Grigg and the gang—and if we could but bring down one of those pigeons we could nip him like a flea!"

"Good," nodded the other. "Let us come out to-morrow morning, with that little double-barrelled gun of mine. The birds will not fly too high, I think."

So it came about that Norton went back to his woods garments with the next morning. Tarascon's slaves had greased his old buckskins, so that the stiffness was gone from them and Norton donned them and his fine moccasins with a feeling of joy. At breakfast he confided to Tarascon what his mission was.

"If we bring down a bird and find a message," he concluded, "we had best jail Duval at once."

The other nodded quietly, his dark eyes sparkling.

"One of my slaves informed me this morning," he returned, "that Duval was preparing for a journey—though I had said nothing to any of my slaves. But trust the darkies to know what's afoot!"

"It's a poor sword that has not two edges," said Norton, frowning.

"Certainly—that is just what we risk, Mr. Norton," and Tarascon departed gloomily to his business.

Norton rode out, met Audubon and Ayres, and the three wended west of town with rifles ready. All that day their watching proved vain, however, for no pigeon passed overhead save for a flock of wild birds. This was on the Thursday, and the horse-boat was to sail on the Saturday.

With the next morning all three were out again, and still came no result. The Regulators left Louisville that morning—twenty of them, all mounted and armed, with instructions to meet the boat at Diamond Island, twelve miles below Henderson. All day the three friends watched from the riverside, but no pigeon appeared, and with the evening Norton gave up all hope of thus cornering Duval.

Ayres and Audubon returned to the Tarascon house for dinner. During the meal, their host was summoned outside and returned, leading a badly-frightened slave.

"News, my friends!" cried Tarascon eagerly. "This boy is one of the hostlers at the "Steuben Arms", and I have paid him to keep an eye on Duval——"

"It's a poor sword that hasn't two edges," broke in Norton glumly.

"Confound it, cease your croaking!" exclaimed Audubon gaily. "Out with the news, Tarascon! Don't heed him."

Tarascon smiled and settled into his seat, white the negro waited, rolling his eyes in fright until the merchant tossed him a dollar.

"Now, boy, you say Mr. Duval is leaving to-morrow?"

"Yas, suh. He done got three hosses waitin' foh him."

"Making ready for a quick trip, eh?" said Ayres. The merchant nodded.

"Have you overheard anything about his plans, boy?"

"Yas, suh. Ah done heard him talkin' wif a man. He reckoned they was gwine to beat Cap'n Brookfield's boat to Henderson, suh."

"Two of them, eh? Anything more?"

"No, suh."

Upon this, Tarascon dismissed the slave, and the four friends discussed the news. They finally reached the conclusion that Duval intended to meet the pirates and take part in the attack on the horse-boat, after which he would doubtless flee the country, as he must know that there was something afoot.

"So much the better," cried Audubon gaily. "Success to the Regulators!"

"All very well," retorted Norton. "But I don't like this slave business. What we can do, Duval can do."

His forebodings were drowned in Oporto, however. Next morning the four again gathered at breakfast, after which all mounted and rode through town toward Shippingsport to see Norton off. It was early, and few people were astir, for Brookfield was making a swift trip to Henderson and wanted to make the most of the day. As they passed the "Steuben Arms," Norton sent a casual glance at the place; then he reined in suddenly.

His quick eye had caught sight of a negro just emerging on the courtyard, a wicker cage in his hand. With a sudden thrill of excitement, he spurred from the road and clattered down on the startled slave. The cage held a pigeon.

"Give me that bird, boy," he said, leaning over.

"Dishyer bird b' longs to Mr. Duval, suh"—and the darkie drew back. The other three had followed Norton, however, and hemmed in the slave so that his escape to the doorway behind was cut off.

"Watch him, Audubon!" cried Norton.

Without further parley he leaned down and grasped the cage from the shrinking negro. Opening it eagerly, he found a tiny slip of paper under the bird's wing, and carefully loosened it.

A glance around showed him three saddled horses to one side, and he knew they had been just in time. Then, unfolding the paper, he read the message written thereon. It was unsigned.


Meet me as planned. B's boat leaves to-day. Have arranged all satisfactorily. Norton goes with boat.

Silently he passed the note to Ayres, and the others crowded together over it, while the negro watched in affright. Ayres looked up.

"It is Duval's hand," he said, his voice quivering with excitement. "What's to be done?"

"Seize him," said Norton curtly. "Mr. Tarascon, will you go on to the port and tell Brookfield that I will meet him at Diamond Island instead of going with him from here? Ayres, there is no court in session now?"

"No," returned the schoolmaster. "What would you do?"

"Take care of Duval, then ride to Henderson and catch the boat," snapped Norton, as the plan of action took rapid shape in his brain. "Gentlemen, we must bring out our charges in public and lay Duval by the heels, thus cutting off the head of the gang. Ayres, do you hasten and collect our friends and others at the courthouse, in the court-room. Audubon and I will fetch Duval. Off with you, now!"

There was a moment of startled silence as all four realized that now indeed the crisis had come. Then Tarascon wheeled his horse, Ayres followed suit, and the two swept out of the courtyard at a gallop. Norton and Audubon dismounted.

"Take us to the chambers of Mr. Duval, boy."

The negro obeyed, trembling with fear, and the two men followed him through the tavern to Duval's room, there dismissing him. In response to their knock, the lawyer himself, plainly astonished, opened the door. He was dressed for a journey, with pistols at his belt, and Norton surveyed him with a grim smile.

"Mr. Duval, some time ago you proffered me your services did I desire to draw up my will. That time has come, and as I can find no other lawyer and am in some haste, I beg of you to serve me."

Duval was puzzled. He looked into Norton's grim eyes, then at Audubon, and one hand rested on the pistol at his side.

"Do you jest, sir?" he asked coldly,

"I do not jest with you," returned Norton. Then the hatred within him burst all bounds, and he suddenly flung up his rifle. "Curse you, Duval, we've got you! Out of there!"

His flint was up, and Duval knew better than to resist. He came out into the passage, coldly insolent.

"This time you have gone too far, Mr. Norton. I follow you, but you shall——"

"You do not follow—you go before," snarled Norton. "Guide him, Audubon. I'll keep him covered."

In Norton's heart was wild triumph. No sooner had they left the tavern than a crowd began to assemble; while Audubon went on with Duval, the Louisianian took their horses in hand and followed, his rifle covering the lawyer ahead.

Ayres had already stirred the town into wild excitement, and now Norton perceived a fresh danger as the crowd lagged on their heels. Were it made public that Duval was none other than Blacknose, the man would be mobbed instantly, and this must be prevented at all costs. He was relieved to see Tarascon, returning from the port, break through the wondering crowd and clatter to his side.

"Ride on," he said swiftly to the merchant. "Station guards at the courthouse doors. This affair must not be taken out of our hands. Allow only prominent citizens in the courtroom—ah, there is Colonel Taylor!"

Taylor, it appeared, had ridden into town to see Norton off, and joined them in some wonder at the scene as Tarascon departed. It was well he did, for the crowd, seeing that Norton held Duval a prisoner, was uttering threats and gathering courage to rescue the supposed victim of an assault.

The presence of Taylor held them quiet, and so the procession came to the courthouse. Duval must have known that his time had come, but he walked very proudly, without a word. Men were streaming into the courthouse, and at the door stood Tarascon, Ayres, and two men with rifles who pressed back the crowd. Two more appeared to take charge of Duval, though in some bewilderment.

Entering the courtroom itself, Norton strode to the judge's bench and faced the assemblage, his friends beside him. Duval was held at the opposite side of the room. To his surprise, Norton found the crowd very quiet, very grave, almost to fear. One and all were citizens of weight and prominence.

Quietly, the Louisianian addressed them and charged Duval with being the mysterious Blacknose, relating all his former evidence and finally reading out the note. After one startled gasp, the men facing him sat quietly and listened while Audubon and Ayres sustained the charges.

Through it all Duval stood immobile, until at length Norton looked at him and asked if he had anything to say. Then the lawyer drew himself up arrogantly.

"Gentlemen"—and the deep timbre of his voice rang out proudly as all faces turned to him—"do you not perceive how ridiculous is this charge? Need I say more?"

To his amazement, Norton found that the words met with silence—a silence partly of wonder, partly of doubt. Duval was very calm, very powerful, holding the assemblage by the sheer force of his personality and will. Then a man leaped to his feet.

"Confound it, sir," he cried at Duval, "explain that note! Explain why——"

"I—explain?" broke in Duval ringingly. "Guilty men explain; I do not! Have you not seen that this Mr. Norton hates and fears me? Did not his bitterness ring through every word he spoke? My friends, I have lived among you all my life; some of you are my clients and know me well. If you can think that I would thus deal with you then I wash my hands of you, and my blood be on your heads!"

Dismayed though he was, Norton could not but admire the keen spirit of the man. Duval knew he was lost, yet was making a desperate fight—for what? A word of explanation and the crowd would have been at his throat; instead, he defied them and they doubted everything.

A wild storm of voices arose, and as Tarascon began to quiet it for a hearing, Norton saw Duval take a slow backward step. The lawyer's hands were on his pistols, and in a flash Norton caught the man's intent.

"Stop him!" he shouted, but the words were lost.

Quick as a cat, Duval had seized the right moment. Whirling on the two men who guarded him, he sent one staggering with his fist; the other he shot through the body. As the roar of the pistol crashed out and the doorway was hidden by smoke, Norton leaped forward.

Fighting his way through the maddened crowd of cursing shouting men, he won to the door and sprang through the corridor to the outer doorway, Audubon at his heels. Too late! He caught another pistol-shot and saw Duval galloping away down the street like mad.

Norton flung up his rifle and fired from the steps, over the heads of the shouting crowd, who were scattering in alarm. Duval's steed gave a leap, but the lawyer pressed him onward; the next instant a surge of men swept up and the mob met those crowding out from the courthouse.

"Blacknose! Duval is Blacknose!"

A wild savage yell shrilled up at the words. At the same instant Norton felt Audubon's hand on his arm.

"Out the back way!" said the bird-lover excitedly. "We will get horses and after him. Ayres has gone for the steeds. Quickly!"

And cursing all things in his bitterness, Norton turned and fought clear of the crowd.


Within a short half-hour of Duval's dramatic—and tragic—escape from the courthouse, Norton and Audubon were at the head of a dozen well-mounted men, led horses with them, and they left Louisville at a gallop along the post road.

Duval, it was learned, had gained the "Steuben Arms" and had then galloped off with his three horses, one other man with him—a riverman, who was evidently of the gang.

Behind, the town was in a ferment, but Norton galloped along in grim silence. In his party were Ayres, Tarascon, and Colonel Dick Taylor; all had steeds of the best and all were driven by the same flame of rage which burned in Norton's heart.

Yet not the same. Norton knew they must catch Duval before Henderson was reached, in order that the gang might have no warning; but he was thinking more of Kitty Grigg than of the gang itself. Did Duval get away, he would doubtless carry out the attack on the horse-boat, and the gang would then scatter with their loot. At least, such would be the intention, for so far as Norton knew, Duval was ignorant of the plot to trap the gang; nothing had been said of it at the courthouse.

The fourteen men galloped along the post road toward Sullivan's ferry, and there was no sparing of horseflesh that morning. Norton set a terrific pace, and with a thunder of hoofs they swept into the little settlement at the ferry and found Sullivan himself.

"Two men and three horses—which way?"

"Henderson road, twenty minutes since," shouted Sullivan. "What's the matter?"

"Blacknose! Duval is Blacknose!"

With the yell, Norton dug in his moccasined heels and once more they galloped away, leaving the ferryman staring after them in wild surmise. The lawyer had a good start, and his horses were of the best.

With the thought of Kitty Grigg pounding at his heart in time with the thunder of hoofs behind, Norton rode on like a madman. Did Duval escape, the girl would be in his power.

"He shall not escape," vowed Norton inwardly. "Faster!"

And again he urged his mount to fresh efforts, his led horse pounding at his side. Behind, the fourteen were strung out along the uneven blazed trail in frantic pursuit.

They were following a "trace" which struck southwest to avoid the windings of the river, for it was thus that their quarry had gone. The road was not worthy the name, yet was the shortest route to Henderson.

"Hold up, man—hold up!" came the voice of Audubon. "You'll kill our steeds at this rate!"

"When they die, your led horses remain," flung back Norton, and dug in his heels once more. His beast was white with foam already, but held to its steady gallop; all the horses were finely bred, out of the best blue-grass country around Louisville, and could be depended on till the last.

Without slacking the mad gait, Norton drew in his second horse; flinging his leg over the saddle, he changed seats successfully. It was a splendid bit of horsemanship, but his followers could not emulate it.

"Hold up, Norton!" roared Taylor. "Wait for us to change——"

"I'm after Duval," he retorted, and looked around. "Let the rest wait!"

Half the fourteen were already drawing rein, preparing to change their mounts; Audubon alone swung to his spare horse at full gallop, and pounded on with a ringing laugh.

Five minutes later Norton saw a man standing in the road ahead, and drew in slightly. The man was a settler, watching them in staring wonder.

"Anyone passed?" flung out Norton, pulling up.

"Two men—three horses, fifteen minutes since," came the answer. "What's gwine on——?"

"After them!" shouted Norton, and loosened his reins.

Mile after mile wound past. They were in the full wilderness now, the "trace" being nothing but a rudely blazed trail winding amid girdled trees and short stumps. Settlers were scarce and the road was little travelled, but as Norton whipped into a branch and leaned down, he could see hoof-marks in the soil beneath him, and the sight lent him fresh eagerness.

A yell and a crash from behind made him twist about in the saddle. Two of his men had smashed together and gone down in a mad heap; another plunged full into them; the rest leaped clear. It required skill to follow that road at full speed, but Norton never slackened.

Ever at his flank rode Audubon, rifle on saddle, while Ayres and Taylor followed next. Tarascon had fallen behind; looking back after a little, Norton saw the merchant's horse falling, and sent back a wild laugh.

"Sauve qui peut! After them!"

Twenty miles on their way, and still ten men rode with Norton as he topped a crest and swung down toward a dipping bowl of bottom-land, strewn with canebrakes. Even as he glimpsed the danger, Audubon shouted:

"'Ware, Norton! They've fired the canes!"

A low drift of smoke was rising from the road below where it struck through a patch of canes. Norton saw it, but sent his horse onward in grim resolve. The fire was newly started; five minutes later and they must have gone around through the swamps.

His staring-eyed horse never faltered beneath his hand, but went driving at the smoke-veil. The led beast tried to tug free and all but tore the Louisianian from his saddle, but he dragged savagely on the reins and all went well. One horrible choking moment, and they were through; on the rising ground beyond, he drew up and again changed saddles.

Ayres and Audubon followed, then Colonel Taylor, whose spare beast had broken away. Four more came through, but as a puff of wind lifted the smoke Norton could see the rest vainly trying to drive their maddened steeds at the fire. He laughed a little.

"After them! Duval can't last at this pace!"

Ten minutes later Taylor's horse foundered and the old border fighter fell behind, swearing volubly. Now there were but six men after Norton, and a little later they perceived how desperate was Duval's plight when they came upon a dying horse in the road, still saddled.

"After them!" shouted Norton again.

Duval and his companion had but three horses at the start, and had killed one of those; with luck, the chase would now be short. Norton's steeds were both white with foam, trembling as they pounded onward, but there was good distance in them yet, and his changes kept them fairly freshened.

Still the miles thundered behind them, and now there were but five men at his heels, for one had gone down. Audubon shouted out as they dipped down toward another canebrake.

"Five miles more and we get fresh horses! There's a tavern where they keep changes——"

His words were drowned in a scream from one of the men close behind. Up from the canebrake a hundred yards ahead drifted a little fleck of white; in the road lay a struggling horse.

"Run to earth!" yelled Norton, never looking back at the man who dragged in his stirrup, shot through the heart. "On them!"

He knew his mistake the next moment, however. Duval was not run to earth yet; it was his companion whose horse had gone down, and who had thus tempted fate. Norton went into the canes with a wild leap; he plunged on the riverman before the latter could reload.

The riverman, a tall bearded scoundrel, flashed up a pistol at Norton and the bullet flew through his hair. The Louisianian rode him down; the horse stumbled at the impact, and Norton went over the brute's head into the muck. Rising, he heard a rifle bang out and caught his steed's bridle over the relaxing body of the riverman. Ayres lowered his rifle, white-faced.

"No hurt," cried Norton. "After him!"

Remounting, he caught his other horse and pounded on, his sole thought a savage desire to get at Duval. Besides Audubon and Ayres, but two others were left; one of these was mired a mile farther on, and they swept away from him before he could change beasts.

Good though the horses were, they were staggering terribly. The Louisianian was wild with impotent rage; he knew well that Duval would secure a fresh mount at the tavern ahead, and would get the best. With a frenzy of curses he drove on his steed, let his spare horse drop behind, saw Ayres pull up with a cry of despair, and thundered on over the last mile, hoping against hope.

And all in vain. The tavern was a low building set in a clearing, barns and tobacco sheds behind, and just beyond was a clump of settlers' cabins. As they came in sight of the place, still a half-mile distant, Norton had plain sight of a figure riding from the tavern at full gallop. With a groan he turned a drawn face to Audubon.

"How far to Henderson?"

"Fifty miles—we have come half-way, and the day is dying."

With a start, Norton perceived that the afternoon was indeed well forward. While the reeling horses galloped on, he turned to the bird-lover and directed him to secure fresh beasts.

"We'll get food and eat it later"—and he nodded toward the remaining man, a Scotch farmer from above Louisville. The latter grunted, and so they swept up to the squalid tavern.

Its proprietor, an open-mouthed, staring person, met their quick demands with a slow shake of the head, watching them slip to the ground. Before he could reply to them, Norton had shoved him aside with an impatient oath and strode on into the tavern, the Scotch farmer at his heels.

In the kitchens out behind the main building they found negro slaves at work, and amid frightened screams Norton seized what food was in sight. Flinging down a dollar in payment, Norton led the way back.

Negroes were already leading out half a dozen horses from a near-by pasture while Audubon pacified the tavern-keeper with a gold-piece. In five minutes the saddles were transferred, and the three set out at a breakneck gallop on their new mounts, eating as they rode.

The difference in horses was instantly apparent to Norton. Although he urged the beasts relentlessly, when darkness fell they had caught no further glimpse of Duvai. Even his desperate frenzy was forced to give way before the gathering shadows.

"Hold up or you'll be brained," cried Audubon as a bough nearly took Norton out of the saddle. "This is rank madness, man!"

The Louisianian refused to listen, but pressed on. Five minutes later his horse went down in a mud-hole, its leg broken, while he himself received a nasty fall against a stump.

Sobered by the pain and the shaking-up, he shot the poor beast and mounted his spare steed, riding on at a slower pace and in gloomy silence For an hour the three proceeded more slowly, until a glimmering against the horizon announced the rising moon.

"Duval is in the same boat," observed Audubon. "We can be sure that he'll keep the trail, for it's his only hope."

Norton did not reply. Duval must keep to the "trace" indeed; unless he passed Henderson ahead of them he was lost. His only hope lay in meeting his own gang or else in getting down the river ahead of his pursuers by means of a boat or canoe.

When the moon came up at length, Norton renewed the chase at a gallop, and the freshened horses responded nobly to his urgings. It was sheer madness to go sweeping through the dark woods at that pace, but Norton was far past caring.

"Kitty Grigg! Kitty Grigg!"

The name pounded through his heart with the pound of the hoofs on the dew-wet turf. He was just changing saddles at midnight, when the Scotchman drew up alongside, spent.

"Take my fresh horse, Mr Norton. This beastie o' mine is done, and I'll be done, too, in anither hour."

Norton nodded, and with a word to Audubon, rode on. Out of all the fourteen who had thundered out of Louisville, he and his friend alone were left. To judge from his own stiffened and wearied body, Audubon must be made of iron to stand the pace.

With three led horses, they did not spare the brutes while the moonlight lasted, one of the mounts foundering an hour later. At last the moon died into the darkness preceding dawn, and with only the horses they rode left to them, they drew up for a brief rest.

"We must be hard on Henderson," said Norton shortly, lighting his pipe, for he would not sleep.

"Ten miles from there, I think," responded Audubon "There's a fork in the trail somewhere ahead. One trace goes to Henderson; the other proceeds to the river near Diamond Island, I believe."

With the first gleam of grey in the sky, they were up and off; and now as the daylight increased, Norton again urged the poor steeds to the utmost.

An hour after dawn Audubon halted him with a shout, and just beyond them he perceived that the trail bent around to the north, a fainter trail continuing from it to the left and west. He pulled up and dismounted stiffly.

"By gad! Audubon, which trail for Henderson?"

"The northern."

"Then we've got him! He's gone on to strike the river, and here are the marks where the Regulators turned off to Henderson yesterday!"

Norton leaped into his saddle and his jaded steed again took up the road. The other horse was spent, however. A mile farther on, and Norton turned at a cry to see Audubon go down.

"I'm done!" shouted Audubon, scrambling to his feet. "On, Norton! Good luck!"

For a bare instant the Louisianian hesitated, then dug in his heels and sent his sobbing beast ahead, his face grim. Everything now depended on him alone.

It was Sunday morning, he knew, and he wondered if there were any church-bells in Henderson. His horse was staggering now, and he had to watch closely lest he be sent headlong into the trees.

The Regulators had arrived at Henderson yesterday, according to the trail. No doubt they had passed through town or avoided it, going on along the river-bank to Diamond Island, where there was a large plantation. Then, with the miles slipping behind, Norton caught a gleam of water ahead and greeted it with a hoarse shout. The Ohio!

His beast coughed, straddled out, and sagged down. Norton slipped to the ground, rifle in hand, and with stiffened, stumbling feet ran forward, pouring a fresh priming in the pan as he ran. Where were the Regulators? Where was Duval? Where was Red Hugh? Had the wilderness trail swallowed them all?

Gasping and sobbing for breath, he followed the faint track to the water's edge, broke out from the last trees, and found himself on the river's brink. Then he uttered a groan of dismay and sank down, panting. Far down the stream, with a single man paddling furiously, was a canoe; as he looked, it swept around the lower end of the island and vanished.

Duval had escaped.

Slowly Norton pulled himself together. Twenty feet away was a horse, gasping out its life beside the river; Duval must have known where a canoe lay cached. From where he was, Norton had an excellent view of Diamond Island and the river.

He was a mile below the ferry and the upper end of the island, which was diamond-shaped. Henderson lay twelve miles up-river. The island, partly timbered and partly under cultivation, was four miles in length, and the stream in front of Norton was a quarter of a mile in width.

Suddenly, staggering a little, he sprang to his feet. Up the river he had made out a shape impossible to mistake; Brookfield's horse-boat was floating down the swift current, keeping close to the Kentucky shore, and it was a scant half-mile above—he had come just in the nick of time, then!

Norton remembered that the boat was to have started from Henderson that morning, and also that Red Hugh had promised to meet it near the head of Diamond Island. Was he aboard, then, with the Regulators?

Norton watched the ungainly craft as it came down. He saw sweeps put out and knew that he had been observed, for the craft slowly forged in toward him. Brookfield was standing in the bow, and beside him was a tall figure which Norton recognized with a thrill of wild relief. Red Hugh had kept his word!

Slowly the craft neared the bank, and Norton waded out through the shallows to meet her. At length he came near enough to grip the hand of Red Hugh and so clambered up over the rail as the crew pushed the boat out again. For a moment he sat helpless, weak and unstrung, looking around. He saw the six men of the crew, but there was no sign of the Regulators.

"All is well?" he asked hoarsely as Brookfield strode over and helped him to his feet. "Have the Regulators come aboard?"

"All is well—but what mean you about the Regulators?" queried the other, in seeming surprise.

"Eh?" Norton stared at him, tottering at the knees and clutching at Red Hugh for support. "Are you crazed? They were to have met you at the island——"

"Your pardon, sir, but I have Mr Ayres's writing otherwise"—and Brookfield hastily produced a folded paper. Norton took it, still a-stare, trying to pull himself together and meet the situation.

"By gad, sir, one of us must be mad, then!" he broke out, and turned on Red Hugh. "What's all this, Hugh? Where did you get aboard?"

"A mile up-stream, by the ferry."

"For God's sake, sir," broke in the captain, terrible fear on his countenance, "read that note which Ayres sent me at Henderson!"

"He sent you none," cried Norton wildly, and opened the paper. He saw the same writing which he had seen in the note taken from the carrier-pigeon—the writing of Charles Duval, though the note was signed by another name.

Captain Brookfield.

Sir:—The plans are changed. The Regulators will not come aboard your boat but will follow after in a skiff. Do you proceed and leave all to me.


Norton looked up, and all things were in a haze before his eyes. Dimly he realized that there had been awful treachery somewhere; dimly he remembered how he had warned Tarascon against the slaves. He tried to speak, but only a hoarse murmur came from his lips.

Duval had tricked them—tricked them! He had known their plot all along and had set a counterplot with devilish ingenuity; this note must have been waiting at Henderson for a day or two——

With a terrible effort to warn Brookfield, Norton screamed out something and fell in a heap as his knees gave way. The strain and the shock had mastered him, and he lay senseless on the deck while the others stared, ignorant of what had chanced, and the horse-boat swept on down-stream.


A trickle of whisky through his lips brought Norton to his senses. A terrible lassitude had come upon him, but he shook it off with an effort and sat up in the arms of Red Hugh.

Brookfield was standing, watching him, biting at his moustache in anxiety. Behind them Diamond Island was fast slipping into the distance, while the boat's crew was watching Norton from afar, curiously. He looked out at the three-mile stretch of wide river, saw the clustered settlements which lined the banks on the opposite shore, and then—remembered.

"That letter was forged," he said slowly, striving to force himself into coherent calm. Brookfield jumped at the word.

"Forged—impossible!" he returned swiftly. "Why, Mr. Norton, I met two of the Regulators at Henderson last night, and they themselves said they had been recalled by Mr. Ayres and yourself——"

"Duped!" murmured Norton, and compressed his lips. Duval had sent another note to the Regulators, then! Had probably sent it days ahead!

The whole thing now lay plain before his mind. Cunning as a fox, Duval had known of their scheme almost from the first, beyond a doubt. Thinking that Norton would embark on the boat as originally planned, he had forged the letter from Ayres, together with another to the Regulators. Thus Norton and the richly-laden craft together would come into the hands of Grigg and the gang. Naturally, he could not have foreseen what had happened at the last moment.

Carefully and slowly, Norton told the other two what had taken place in Louisville, of that terrible ride, and lastly of how Duval must have tricked them all around. When he had finished, Red Hugh was plucking thoughtfully at his beard while Brookfield was staring at him in alarmed dismay. For this, Norton did not quite see the reason.

"It is not yet too late to repair matters, even though our plans have gone awry," he stated, as new hope began to creep through him. He got to his feet, shakily. After all, there was no great hurry. Thank heaven, he had been able to meet Brookfield and so warn him in time!

"How—repair matters?" frowned the captain.

"Why, 'tis simple enough"—and Norton essayed a faint smile. "We'll merely get back against the current to Henderson and take the Regulators aboard——"

"Think you I carry horses on my down voyage?" asked Brookfield, the veins in his stolid face standing out under his stress of emotion as he spoke. "Man, to get back is impossible! With only nine of us aboard in all, we could never row this craft upstream, and I have no horses to work the machinery."

Norton nodded, grasping the point, and looked out across the bulwark. They were now some seven miles below Diamond Island, and another island was in sight ahead. There seemed to be few settlements below.

"Well, then, we had best tie up at the first settlement which we reach, Captain Brookfield. There we can either take some extra men aboard to serve in place of the Regulators, or else you can tie up and wait till I can get back to Henderson for our own men——"

"That would take too long," broke in Red Hugh, speaking almost for the first time. "True, we might take some extra men aboard, but we know not whom we can trust down here. And Duval is ahead of us, eh?"

Norton nodded. Duval had probably crossed over to the Indiana shore, for they had caught no sight of him. At this juncture the sadly bewildered Brookfieid left them, to take charge of the island passage, and the Louisianian despatched Red Hugh in search of food and drink.

While he was making a hearty meal, which put new strength and life into his jaded body, Brookfield rejoined the two of them, and all discussed the situation, which began to assume rather alarming proportions.

Norton's suggestion was the most conservative. By tying up at one of the settlements they could take men aboard, and might find trustworthy men who could be initiated into the whole plot. Red Hugh, however, who had seemed to awaken thoroughly to the affair, now made a counter-proposal.

"Gentlemen, we are by no means cowards, I believe," he said, his deep-set grey eyes flaming a little as he spoke. "We are not so far from the Wabash at present. How about it, sir?"

Brookfield nodded gravely.

"Some twenty miles, for Slim Island is just ahead. Why?"

"Well, it seems to me that from what Captain Norton says," went on Red Hugh calmly, "all escape is cut off to Duval in the rear. He cannot well return to Louisville but must go on to Louisiana if he is to get away—and he must do so before this boat or others get down the river to give warning of him. And since it is most like that his gang has their camp somewhere near the Wabash, the militia would speedily make an end of him now that the secret of Blacknose is known."

"True enough," assented Norton. "Though he might also escape by way of Vincennes and Detroit to Canada. But what next?"

"Why should we not continue as we first planned?" said Red Hugh deliberately. "We will pass the Wabash by nightfall, so let us continue without pausing to tie up to-night, and if we run past Duval, so much the better. We can give warning of him at the lower settlements; at Fort Massac—"

"And from Fort Massac we can quarter back with men to find him," broke in Norton hastily.

"But what if he attacks us on the way?" argued the worried Brookfield. "He will know that we bear news of him, after all that has chanced behind us. He will not easily allow us to escape to bear this news down-river and so cut off all his chances——"

"Let him attack!" said Red Hugh boldly. "Not all of your crew are traitors, and Mr. Norton and I can keep good watch! Those dogs have only dared to destroy in the dark; one shot, and they will turn tail——"

"I doubt it," interrupted Norton drily. "Duval is no coward." He said no more for a little, but looked over the water with a frown.

Somewhere in that wilderness was Kitty Grigg, and practically in the power of Duval. Up to a certain extent, he believed Abel Grigg would protect her; but that protection would not go far with such a man as Duval. At thought of how he had failed in his task, of how he had been outwitted and snared and duped, he groaned inwardly. A great weariness closed in upon him, and he turned haggard eyes on the two men beside him.

"Settle it as you will," he said slowly. "I care not, gentlemen; I must have sleep. Whatever decision you reach, I will agree to it. Now show me a place to sleep in peace, Brookfield."

The anxious-eyed riverman nodded and led him forward to a cabin, where Norton turned in on a bunk and was asleep instantly.

While he rested, the other two discussed the situation for an hour or more. Brookfield was in dread anxiety for his ship and cargo, bitterly regretting that he had ever entered upon the venture. Red Hugh, in some contempt, stuck firmly to it that his plan was the best.

In the end, his insistence overbore the hesitation of the other, who helplessly consented to continue the voyage. After all, they were not far behind Duval, and there was a good chance that they might slip past down the river before the gang would expect them. Moreover, by not stopping they would not be so liable to attack as they would be if tied up over-night after the usual river fashion.

Of the six men who composed the crew, Brookfield could trust two of them, brothers, to the death; of the other four he was by no means so certain. Once the decision had been reached, Red Hugh instructed these two men to sleep on deck that night with their rifles ready at hand.

Toward sunset Norton was aroused, and came on deck to find that they were just approaching Wabash Island. They passed by the Indiana sound, and when darkness fell the Wabash itself lay behind them and Brookfield breathed more freely.

The Louisianian agreed to the proposed plan. Red Hugh took watch until midnight, but as Norton no longer felt the need of sleep after his day-long slumber, he remained on deck with the hunter.

Brookfield himself slept little. He was exceedingly anxious for the safety of his craft, and after an hour of sweeping along through the pitch darkness, his over-wrought nerves went to pieces.

"Gentlemen," he broke out nervously, approaching Norton and Red Hugh as they were smoking together in the bow, "I can stand this no longer! I beg of you, let us set in to the bank and be done with this strain! We need fear no attack here; we are just above Shawneetown, in a well-settled district, and not even Blacknose would take the chance of making an attack on us here."

Red Hugh was furiously angry, but Norton quieted him. He saw that the responsibility for ship and lading had quite unnerved Brookfield, and felt sorry for the man. Moreover, it looked very much as though Duval would never dare an attack in this well-settled district of the river.

That their plans were turned topsy-turvy mattered nothing to him. He was indifferent as to what course was adopted, and said so.

"If it will please you to seek the bank, then do it," he said quietly. "It seems there may be danger in whatever we do, so do you act as you think best in the matter, Captain Brookfield."

With obvious relief, the latter quickly routed out his men and set them at the sweeps, grumbling and cursing. Red Hugh went to his bunk in the cabin in huge disgust with everyone in general; Norton, however, remained on deck, determined to watch the night out at least.

The boat was fetched close in to the Indiana shore and after carefully sounding the channel, Brookfield at last tied her up to a huge jutting tree. Norton ascertained that they were three miles above Shawneetown, which was a large settlement of nearly thirty cabins, and that Brookfield's spirits had now bounded high above any thought of danger.

None the less, Norton stayed in the bow, one of the two trusted men agreeing to keep watch in the stern, for he would take no chances. The night was peaceful, warm, and rippling; had it not been for Kitty Grigg, the Louisianian would have been more than content to pursue his journey to the south and let Duval be dealt with later. He had already resolved to leave the boat at Fort Massac; with Red Hugh, he could work back on a scout along the——

Whether the horse-boat had been watched and followed, or whether her riding-light had betrayed her position, Norton never knew for certain. He was just filling his pipe afresh when all his dreams were shattered abruptly.

From the shadows aft beneath the horse-gallery there flitted a little sparkle of steel in the moonlight, and a knife thudded into the bulwark between his uplifted arm and his side.

Norton dropped his pipe with a crash, and fell back motionless, his hand on his rifle. Every sense was on the alert instantly, every fragment of woodcraft to the fore. From the shore he heard nothing except the soft ripple of waves, but there was a low murmur aft, and the sound of wood striking on wood, as though a boat had ground into the stern. The man on guard there, Norton concluded swiftly, must have been finished off by another knife.

Suddenly and softly, a man appeared crawling forward in the shadow of the port bulwark, watching his recumbent figure; Norton recognized one of the crew. Quietly he shifted his rifle as he lay, hot rage swelling within him. A moment later the man's body came in line with the sights, and Norton pulled trigger.

The roar of the shot blew the night quiet to shreds. The riverman gave one convulsive spring and dropped half across the bulwark, where he lay motionless. Norton leaped up with a shout of alarm.

"Brookfield! Hugh! On deck!"

Then he dropped behind a huge tobacco hogshead as another shot split the night and the bullet sang past his ear. From somewhere aft there came a wild confusion of voices, oaths, and the scuffle of feet. Norton feverishly reloaded, taking the pistol from his belt also. Beyond all doubt, Blacknose had struck.

The next moment, while he was still ramming his bullet home, a swarm of dark figures appeared rushing forward, along the port side of the deck. A shot and the roar of Brookfield's stentorian voice sounded from the stern. Norton caught up his pistol and discharging it into the mass of figures stopped them momentarily; he was answered by a scattering fire which swept above him harmlessly.

Upon that, the whole craft leaped into a mad swirl of fighting yelling men in utter confusion. Brookfield appeared on the horse-galley up above the deck, his pistols in hand, and he fired down twice into the crowd. A dozen shots replied, and Norton saw him reel and go down.

With a rush, the assailants now came at him in the bow. By this time the Louisianian had re-primed, and without hesitation he flung up his long rifle and fired at short range.

He had got two of the pirates in line, and both went down with a yell; at the same instant there swelled up a wild war-whoop, and the tall figure of Red Hugh appeared in the moonlight. As his yell shrilled high, he fired into the group of men; instead of breaking before him, they closed on him instantly. Red Hugh's prediction was proving terribly false, Norton thought swiftly.

Somewhere the cold terrible voice of Duval was directing the attack. Norton had no more chance to reload. Other dark figures came running forward, and a moment later Red Hugh on the fore-deck and Norton in the bow were surrounded by a whirl of fighting men.

For a little, Norton almost believed that they would clear the ship unaided. Both were fighting with clubbed rifles, and the long six-foot guns made terrific weapons for such close work. The pirates must have emptied their own guns, for they fired no more shots, and there was no chance to reload; the battle had become hand to hand, savage in its brutality.

Twice Norton swept his gun-butt down full upon a man, and each time the pirate went down like an axed ox with his skull crushed; the Louisianian was now fighting for his life, and realized it thoroughly. A tomahawk struck him and fell to the deck with a clang, thrown unskilfully; Norton leaped forward and whirled his rifle on the thrower with all his strength.

As he did so, his foot slipped and he half-fell; the rifle came down on a hogshead and shattered in his hands. With one savage yell of exultation, the enemy closed in upon him.

Then, out of the turmoil of blows and shouts and curses, rose the clear laugh of Norton as his foes drew back. He was on one knee, pressed against the bulwark, but he held knife and tomahawk in hand, and somewhere ir the press before him he had caught sight of Duval. The man's face goaded him, and while his foes drew back a pace, Norton laughed again and leaped into the midst of them, striking savagely.

His weapons flashed and bit in the moonlight, and with a thrill he heard the war-whoop of Red Hugh rising again. His assailants were all masked save for Duval, whom he had not seen again; the next instant, however, he caught sight of Grigg coming at him.

There was no mistaking the man's size and figure, despite his mask and the black paint which covered his face and clotted his beard. From one side a clubbed rifle swung down on Norton; he warded it off, and seeing that the man was one of the treacherous crew-members, flung out his tomahawk. The keen edge bit into the man's brain and he went down. Then Grigg was leaping out.

Whirling, Norton ducked the knife-thrust. There was no chance to use his own weapon, and as he swung around he brought up his fist, closed on the knife-haft, and drove it straight into Grigg's beard. All Norton's weight was behind the blow, and the big man went down with a single groan, caught full on the point of the chin and knocked senseless.

In the same moment, Norton realized that all was lost. A wild yell of triumph had quavered up, and now a solid mass of men came charging down on him. Red Hugh had been overcome at last. Then, as Norton drew back and faced the snarling ring of savage masks and weapons, the uproar quieted with unexpected suddenness to the cold voice of Duval.

"Quiet, boys!"

He stepped forth, unarmed, dominant, terrible. Norton, his chest heaving and with a wild riot of sheer hatred surging high in his brain, watched the man as there fell deep silence—a silence broken only by the groaning of wounded men and the peaceful ripple of water.

"Surrender, Mr. Norton," said Duval calmly. "You——"

"Dog!" snarled Norton, mad with rage and with the pain of his wounds and bruises. "Yellow dog!"

And dropping his knife, he sprang out upon Duval, for there was no thought of surrender in his mind. A single yell of warning from the circle of men; then the two were fighting like madmen with their bare fists.

Try as he would, Norton found his blows blocked, while Duval's fists hammered home upon him terrifically. Slowly his rage cooled of its flaming fury, and with new caution he realized that this was no common adversary. He staggered into a clinch, desperate.

A moment more, and Norton felt savage joy as he began to drive his fists into Duval's face and felt himself slowly mastering the other. Back went Duval—and back again, with Norton sending in relentless blows, while the lawyer fought back in grim silence.

Then a sudden low growl swept the watching circle as Duval reeled and clutched out at the air. Too late, Norton saw a rifle thrust between his legs. He tripped, and as he did so three men flung themselves on him bodily.

At last he went to the deck—pummelled, covered with slight knife-wounds, but still fighting savagely. Little by little they pinned him down, drew hands and feet together, bound him fast.

Brookfield's horse-boat was captured.


Norton was badly battered. More than one knife had nicked his flesh, and Duval's fists had given him a badly cut lip and a bruised and bleeding face, but he was hurt in no vital place. Now, as he lay bound, for the first time he began to take coherent stock of the river-pirates.

Three of the boat-crew had been of the gang; the others, with Brookfield, were dead. Two of the traitors had also fallen and with them five more of the gang; three others lay sorely wounded. Besides these, eight sound men remained, with Grigg and Duval. Red Hugh had been stunned, and for some reason both he and Norton were not knifed as they lay. Instead, they were lifted and carried down into one of the four large skiffs at the stern of the horse-boat.

With them were placed the three wounded men, and then the others fell to work under orders from Grigg, now recovered from Norton's blow.

The four skiffs were drawn up alongside, and the best of the cargo was rapidly transferred from the larger boat. Helpless, Norton watched operations; now that the work had been carried through, the men had removed their masks.

All appeared to be either woodsmen or settlers, men of the roughest and most brutal type on the border. From their snatches of talk he gathered that they had made a common settlement on the upper reaches of the Saline River. This was in a purely Indian country, where the last remnants of the once powerful Ohio tribes had gathered under protection of the still more powerful Shawnees.

"We'll git them thar Miamis on the rampage," observed one of the pirates at work above him, with a coarse laugh. "Ought to have one more high ol' time afore we split up, eh?"

"Got to use up that licker," growled another in assent. "What's the chief goin' to do with them two fellers?"

The answer, fortunately, was lost on Norton. It was just as well for his own peace of mind that he gained no inkling of Duval's plan till later.

With the best of Brookfield's rich cargo stowed away in the four skiffs, the eight sound men piled down into one of them; by grim irony that cargo which was to have served for a lure had now been taken by the intended victim, and Norton writhed in his bonds at the thought. The boat in which he lay, with Red Hugh and the wounded, was taken in tow with the other two; Grigg descended among the men and took charge, and last of all came Duval. Even before he came, Norton saw why he had lingered, and what was intended.

As the four skiffs pulled out and drew away in a slow line, the horse-boat slowly drifted out into the stream, her lines severed. The moon had by this time gone down, but looking back, Norton saw a burst of flames from the boat. She drifted away with her load of dead, the fire rising high into a pyramid of flame and smoke above her ungainly shape.

Then they were passing out of the river by a narrow channel, and to his surprise the Louisianian found that this led into a good-sized lake, some ten miles across. The eight men who occupied the forward boat rowed steadily through the darkness, Grigg giving them low directions; there was a faint glare on the horizon, denoting the burning craft they had abandoned. After an hour or more of this progress, they drew in to a low shore ahead.

Norton was lifted and flung on shore, and as Red Hugh was sent after him, he saw that the latter had recovered consciousness. Then, while the cargoes were being transferred to wagons, Grigg and Duval engaged in a swift discussion as to the disposal of the wounded men.

"I won't have them around the camp at this juncture," came the cold tones of the lawyer. "When this business has been finished we'll have to separate and had best start here. Send two men with the wounded over to Kentucky in one boat, and sink the other three here as usual."

So two of the raiders rowed off with the three wounded men, these being unable to ride. The other boats were sunk under the shore-trees, and with their trail covered behind them, the raiders started. Norton and Red Hugh were lifted to a wagon, just as the grey dawn was breaking.

The Louisianian was too firmly bound to dream of getting free, and attempted no converse with his companion. Having fallen between two huge sacks of flax, he could see nothing and at last dropped into a troubled sleep, broken at short intervals by the jolting of the wagon.

Toward noon the first and only halt of the journey took place; and here occurred an incident which to Norton seemed slight enough at the time, but which was destined to have tremendous consequences later.

The stop had been made near a rude cabin built beside a spring, and when Norton had been lifted out of the wagon, he saw that it was an Indian clearing. The redskin farmer and his squaw were being forced into cooking for the party, whom they seemed both to hate and fear, probably with good cause.

Red Hugh lay beside Norton on the ground, watching grimly, in silence. Indeed, the old man had said no word that morning, and in his silent watching and his motionless endurance Norton read a tacit menace of strength restrained. Duval sent the Indian squaw to feed the prisoners some cornpone, refusing to loosen their bonds, while one of the men stood guard.

As the woman bent over them, Norton heard Red Hugh murmur something in the Indian tongue. The guard stopped him harshly, but the wrinkled squaw looked at Norton, then started at sight of his moccasins.

"Git to work," growled the guard, striking her roughly over the head. "You got a man o' your own, so don't make eyes at them fellers!"

This kindly pleasantry drew a roar of applause from the others, and after giving the prisoners a gourd of water each, the squaw retired, still watching Norton. A half-hour later the party had again taken up its way. Now, however, Red Hugh lay beside Norton on the wagon.

"I told that squaw to look at your moccasins," he whispered softly to the latter. "She looked to me like a Shawnee, though her husband was a Delaware. If she takes the hint and Tecumthe hears of this affair, I feel sorry for these devils when the Shawnees avenge you."

"Nonsense," returned Norton, laughing harshly. "You're away off the track, Hugh. Tecumthe will never bother his head over me, even if he hears of it. Our only hope is that Audubon or Ayres will get after us in alarm with the Regulators, and will trace us."

"They won't trace this gang," returned the other. "Two of 'em are wiping out the tracks after us."

Neither of them said more, Norton relapsing into a troubled doze. Just as evening was drawing on, they came to the journey's end. And at last Norton found himself in the headquarters of the gang.

It was a settlement rather than a cache, consisting of a little cluster of buildings. Two of these were large sleeping cabins for the men, where a few slatternly women appeared at the doors with loud ribaldry. Another was a large kitchen and dining-room, with a lean-to where dwelt Grigg and his daughter. Norton felt his heart ache for the helpless girl.

Behind all, at the edge of a small stream which passed beyond the settlement, was a long low building where the stolen goods were stored, as it appeared. Besides these, there were two outlying shacks where some of the men lived with Indian wives or worse; farther downstream was a corn-patch, with signs of cleared ground beyond, along the banks of the stream.

The whole place was doubtless a year or two old, and bespoke thorough organization. Duval, who now seemed quite at home and absolutely in authority, was beyond doubt the organizer, for he seemed to rule the place with an iron hand. Norton and Red Hugh were carried into the big store-barn and left, unguarded but bound. The men at once fell to work fetching in the goods brought by cart, adding them to the quantities already laid up in the cache.

Norton was wondering what had become of Kitty Grigg, when, through the open doorway of the barn-like building, where barrels and casks and sacks were piled high around the walls and floor, came a dim shape against the dusk outside.

"Mr. Norton!" sounded the girl's voice, softly.

"Over here, Kitty," returned Norton cheerfully, and a moment later she was kneeling beside him, sobbing.

"Oh, what has happened?" she asked, grief-smitten. "Duval is in Abel's room, and they're talking about me! I'm afraid—I don't know what they're planning to do, and it seems——"

"Have you been harmed, girl?" asked Red Hugh, and his voice was grim.

"No—but—Duval has sent for a circuit-rider from Vincennes, and means to marry me—soon——"

Norton perceived that all barriers were down between them, and that she no longer doubted concerning the identity of Abel Grigg with Blacknose. Quietly and without holding anything back, he told her of the attack on the boat, and all which had preceded it.

This was no time for tears, and under the influence of his steady grave voice the girl calmed herself. Norton had taken her hand between his own bound ones, and gradually left her regaining steadiness and poise.

"Can you get a knife and free us to-night?" he asked suddenly. "We could take horses and get away——"

"No," she returned hopelessly. "It would be no use. Abel"—and Norton noted that she no longer spoke of him as father—"Abel keeps men on guard always, and he is usually on watch himself. We have two rooms in that lean-to behind the kitchen, and I cannot get out without his knowing——"

Came the sound of steps and the glitter of light from the doorway behind her. With a low gasp of fright, the girl rose and fled to the far end of the place, where she crouched behind some piled kegs. Norton twisted about to see Grigg, Duval, and two men enter with lanterns.

Setting down their lights, the four grouped themselves comfortably on kegs around the two prisoners. Norton noted without grief that his fists had left the face of Duval badly marked, while the lawyer stared down at his captive in savage hatred. Red Hugh was completely disregarded, but Norton was soon to find that the old man had been taken alive for very definite reasons.

"Your race is done, Captain Norton," said Duval coldly. "I presume that you are now quite satisfied of your folly? I hope to have a very pretty scene for you to-morrow night, when Madam Grigg and I will be united in holy matrimony—save the mark!"

The others joined in the laughter, as Duval kicked Norton roughly. The Louisianian did not reply.

"Well, let's hear about it, Cap," spoke up one of the evil-eyed men impatiently enough. "The boys want to split the stuff and be off, so if we're a-goin' to have any fun first——"

"You'll have your fun," broke in Duval easily. "Look at Mr. Norton's powder-horn and see if you recognize it."

The two leaned over Norton, pulling the red-streaked horn into view. A curse broke from them, and one of them kicked Norton again.

"Tobin's!" burst out the man vengefully. "Did the cuss git Tobin, Cap? That's why he ain't showed up?"

"Exactly"—and Duval smiled cruelly. "Tell the other boys about it. Now to-morrow the circuit-rider we sent Darby after last week will be in from the north. To-morrow night Miss Kitty and I will be married. One of you go over to the Miami village and bring 'em all over for a jamboree, squaws and all."

"We'll git the squaws all right," jeered one of the men.

"The next morning," continued Duval, "we'll divide the stuff and separate. Grigg, here, will take you and the bulk of the cache up to Vincennes, where you can sell it and scatter—and do it fast!"

"How 'bout you?" queried one of the men. Duval leered knowingly.

"My wife and I go to Detroit, and from there over the border. This country is too hot to hold me, boys, but you aren't known yet."

"Well, what about these two fellers?" demanded Grigg heavily, with a black look down at Norton. "Why not shoot 'em and have done? I don't aim to leave no spies to tell on me——"

"We'll have better fun than that"—and Duval held up a lantern. "This fellow with the beard is Red Hugh, the Indian killer. Understand? After we've had our fun out of the Miamis, we'll give them back some of their weapons and turn 'em loose on these two. There'll be a show worth seeing, eh?"

A cold thrill ran over Norton, while the others broke into wild applause of Duval's ingenuity. The Louisianian knew well what was intended. Like other settlers along the border, this gang of Duval's was accustomed to a certain form of "sport" at the expense of their redskin neighbours.

This took the form of gathering the Indians, taking away their weapons, and then plying them with whisky. At the proper moment they would be set to fighting, and the resultant encounter would often last for hours, without great danger to the combatants, but with intense amusement to the watchers.

Now, however, Duval had injected another element into it. The name of Red Hugh seemed well known, and even Norton could guess what would happen when the drunken Miamis would be given their weapons and let loose upon their deadly enemy. It was a sure, amusing, and ingenious scheme to get rid of the two prisoners.

The two men went out, laughing, and Duval turned on Grigg.

"I have the papers made out for your signature, and we'll throw the fear of hell into that circuit-rider. You're sure Darby will get the right one—the loose-jawed, weak-mouthed one? If he got that blasted Quaker Dennis, we'd have a stiff time persuading him all was right. The girl will kick."

"Darby's wise enough to get the right feller," rejoined Grigg. "Whar's that five hundred ye promised me?"

"Here—come on outside." Duval rose, with a clink of coins. The two left the place, taking their lanterns with them.

As the girl came stealing back to his side, Norton felt like rebuking her for the feeling which had caused her to accompany Abel Grigg into the woods; then shame struck him, and pity and love. For a moment he held her hand in silence; then she had pulled free and was gone, sobbing.

"Curse those devils!" muttered Red Hugh thickly.

Norton echoed the words, and after that there was silence.

Slowly the night dragged away between dozing and the pain of their bonds. Shortly after daylight one of the slatternly women came with food and water and fed them amid a stream of ribaldry and curses. Norton was glad when at length she departed and left them alone.

A guard was stationed at the door, but no speech passed between the two captives. Red Hugh stared up unblinking at the beams above, a wild ferocity gathered in his blood-stained face. Toward noon there was shouting and the thud of hoofs from outside, and Duval entered hastily with Abel Grigg. Norton rightly conjectured that the circuit-rider had arrived.

"Give him that far cabin," ordered the lawyer hurriedly and in a low voice. "Keep him quiet in there and don't let him suspect anything yet. I'll visit him later. He's a coward, from his face, and I'll fix him up right."

At last that long day came to an end; as sunset darkened the barn-like structure, the camp awoke into activity. Hogsheads and casks and sacks were piled to the roof at the far end, where half a dozen whisky kegs were also set out, ready to be broached later.

Around the walls were hung lanterns, while the centre of the floor was cleared for the fun. Norton and Red Hugh, still fast bound, were placed on a pile of sacks near the door, in partial obscurity.

From the scattered talk of the men Norton gathered that they intended carrying off some of the prettiest of the Miami squaws after the debauch; also, all seemed well with their projects and they were in high fettle, for the Miamis had arrived.

An hour later the lanterns were lighted and the gang assembled. Grigg brought in the angry and frightened Kitty, forcing her to a place not far from the two prisoners, he himself standing beside her. At sight of her white features, Norton tugged desperately but vainly at his bonds, raging.

In all there were fourteen of the gang, and five women—most of them already half-drunk and all of them brutish in the extreme. The circuit-rider did not put in an appearance.

Now the Miamis were brought in, men at the door relieving them of their guns as they came, and Grigg shaking hands with the warriors in turn. Of these there were a score. Norton was rather surprised to find that the squaws, all enveloped in blankets from head to heel, numbered nearly twice as many as the braves. One or two of the gang attempted familiarities, but these Duval rebuked with an iron fist.

They were squalid red men enough, were these Miami warriors; liquor-sodden, shuffling, and debased in the extreme. One alone seemed of superior quality. He was a tall figure, blanket-swathed to the waist, who, after his handshake with Grigg, cast a swift glance around and then stood immobile not far from Norton's recumbent figure. Kitty watched in evident ignorance of what was going on; she was soon undeceived.

"Broach the kegs, boys!" shouted Duval suddenly, when the last of the Miamis had entered.

With a yell of delight the men sprang forward. In five minutes the six kegs were surrounded by a grunting, struggling mass of Miamis, the squaws standing to one side and eating strips of dried venison which the raiders handed out freely.

Norton and Red Hugh lay side by side on the sacks. Grigg stood with Kitty, a few feet distant, and between them was the tall Indian, his blanket drawn over his head. Grigg urged him to drink, but he refused with a guttural negation, meeting with no more importunity. Indeed, the whites were drinking with as much abandon as the warriors, save for Duval and Grigg alone.

A few moments later the warriors were shoved back from the kegs and their knives and tomahawks removed to the pile of rifles beside the door. Then one of the gang stepped in and by dint of some rough horse-play, highly amusing to his comrades, provoked two of the red men into a rough and tumble fight.

Within five minutes the whole group of warriors was engaged in a frenzied scuffle, amid roars of laughter from the watchers. In their drunken awkwardness they did little damage, and every eye watched save that of Kitty; she had covered her face with her hands and stood trembling.

"Give 'em more licker!" roared Grigg suddenly, and rushed across the floor.

No sooner had he moved than the tall Indian took one swift step toward Norton. A knife flamed in his hand, and the startled Louisianian contracted shrinkingly.

Then the knife had severed the cords at his ankles, and he looked into the face of Tecumthe.

"Be quiet!" warned the chief in English.


Norton lay in paralysed amazement while his wrists were freed, and Tecumthe turned to Red Hugh. The Indian, wasting no time on questions, seemed quite conversant with the whole situation.

"Be ready," he whispered rapidly. "Take the young woman from the door when I strike!"

Red Hugh grunted, and Tecumthe once more assumed his negligent attitude as Grigg returned across the floor.

Norton's wild surge of astonished delight soon passed. The thick moccasins had protected his ankles to some extent, but his hands were for the moment useless, all circulation stopped by the tight thongs.

After all, Tecumthe could do little against this murderous gang by himself. How, then, did he intend to "strike"? Did he have a band of his warriors outside?

"It wasn't such a wild shot about those moccasins after all," came Red Hugh's chuckling whisper. "Looks like he's going to give us a chance to slip away. Work your arms a bit."

The Louisianian nodded, and very slowly perceived life creeping back into his numbed hands. Grigg and the rest were roaring at the antics of the drunken, fighting Miamis; Duval, perched on a big hogshead at the far end of the room, was inciting them to further efforts.

Locked in pairs, the warriors were striking, kicking, rolling over the floor in a bestial encounter which left Norton shocked to the core; he had heard of these affairs often but had never seen one before.

Duval's men were plying them with liquor amid wild shouts of encouragement, and were fast growing drunk themselves; so far, however, they were too much interested in their amusements to bother the squaws, who stood lined up against the farther wall and grouped around the door.

Again Grigg's interest got the better of his prudence, and with a bellow he leaped out to join in the horse-play. Kitty, left alone, shrank past the tall figure of Tecumthe toward Norton, who put out his hand and gripped her arm.

"Quiet!" he said softly, as she turned with a startled exclamation. "Be ready to make for the door, Kitty."

Wide-eyed, she stared into his face for a moment, and under cover of her body Norton half rose to take the pistols which Tecumthe passed him. He put one into the hand of Red Hugh then waited.

There was not long to wait. With a sudden movement, Tecumthe flung the blanket from his splendid figure and stood forth in all the glory of his half-naked bronze, unpainted. His voice rang out like a clarion:

"Peace, dogs!"

Some of the Miamis ceased their scuffling; others continued: one startled oath passed around the line of white men as they saw him step forward. He made no pause, but raised a clenched fist.

"Dogs of white men!" And his clear voice seemed to hold even Duval transfixed. "Outcasts from your own race! Murderers! Why do you thus debase my red brethren, the Miamis? I know you—who you are and what you do in the Shawnee country. I know your crimes. I am going to show my white brethren that Tecumthe can punish murderers better than they!"

As the dread word Tecumthe passed through the hall, Duval leaped to his feet with a yell of warning. It was too late. The line of squaws flung off their blankets and stepped forth as warriors in all the glory of Shawnee war-paint, rifles in hand. From outside came one shrill war-whoop—and the interior of the building became an inferno as the first rifles roared out.

Awful as the thing was, Norton had no pity for Duval's gang. He leaped up, seized Kitty, and with Red Hugh at his side made for the doorway. Here a Shawnee halted them with levelled rifle, but after a look at Norton waved them on outside.

Kitty had fainted, mercifully.

The whole clearing seemed covered with yelling, whooping demons. As the three emerged, Norton saw that the kitchens had been fired, the flames lighting up the whole scene. An instant later, while Red Hugh was taking the feet of the senseless girl, Tecumthe himself joined them and led them across the clearing to one of the farther cabins.

Here, under guard of a stalwart warrior, who went leaping off at sight of his chief, they found a trembling, terror-smitten circuit-rider who was too frightened to do more than grovel before the chief. Tecumthe kicked him away, and Norton lowered Kitty's body to the pallet in the corner.

Despite all he knew about this gang, despite their intentions, he felt himself somewhat a traitor to his own race. Red Hugh must have felt much the same thing, for he was standing glaring at the chief, his eyes terrible.

"It is not vengeance," said Tecumthe composedly, watching the low building with gloomy eye. "It is justice. A squaw met my men; they told me of one who wore my moccasins, in bonds. I knew of these white men, and I came in haste. That is all."

"It's not all," cried Norton with sudden remembrance. "There are women in that place——"

"Right!" broke out Red Hugh. "Tecumthe, we must have them, no matter what manner of women they are!"

"Go," said the chief, nodding. "My men have seen your faces and you are safe."

Norton sprang out on the word, and the two men ran side by side to the building. At the doorway, the scene within was horrible; the place was filled with powder-smoke, one corner was afire from a burst lantern, and from the door were pouring drunken Miamis, some of them still fighting together.

And through the fire and smoke white men and red were battling like madmen, with axe and knife and pistol and clubbed rifle. Norton well knew the danger he was in from both sides, but shoving through the crowded mass of Miamis he dashed within, Red Hugh at his heels.

In one corner were crouching the five terrified women, and as the Louisianian fought his way through the struggling, yelling groups, he saw a tall Shawnee tomahawk one of the drabbled figures.

With a yell of fury, he raised his pistol and fired; the warrior sprang high in his death agony, and before he fell Norton was stripping him of knife and tomahawk. Then he turned, and with Red Hugh tried to get the four remaining women to the door.

They were terror-stricken, hysterical creatures, mad with fear and liquor and obscenity, but they were women. As Norton fought his way across the floor, he caught glimpses through the smoke of the combat which raged around him—glimpses which remained etched on his memory for ever.

Grigg, with a huge axe, was standing back to back with Duval, fighting a way across the place amid a surging wave of the redmen. A drunken, trampled Miami was striking right and left with a knife; screams and oaths and prayers rose high as the Shawnee steel bit deep, while over all shrilled the dread war-whoop, keen and terrible.

"God!" breathed Norton. "It's not a fight, but a massacre!"

How they did it he never knew, but between them, he and Red Hugh managed to get the shrieking women to the door and outside. The scene at the door was wild; pirates and Shawnees and drunken Miamis were all mingled in a horrible-struggling mass, trampling dead and wounded indiscriminately. And behind them all, the fire had seized on the whisky kegs and was climbing high through the whole building.

Norton breathed a prayer of thanks that Kitty Grigg knew nothing of what was going on; by dint of ceaseless efforts he got the four women to the shack, at the door of which still stood Tecumthe. Driving them inside, where Kitty lay motionless on the pallet, he jerked the weak-mouthed circuit-rider to his feet.

"Look after them, you," he snarled, and rejoined the chief and Red Hugh outside.

Forth from the long barn, whose farther end was now all aflame, was pouring a rout of men, white and red intermixed, battling to the death. One of the rivermen started across the clearing, but a dozen bullets from the watching warriors caught him; the place seemed to vomit death and destruction. With a dark look Tecumthe, who had himself struck no blow, turned to Red Hugh.

"Bear witness, Captain Moore," he said sternly, "that we take neither scalps nor plunder! We make no war upon white men, but upon murderers——"

"Moore?" cried Norton suddenly. He caught Red Hugh by the arm and swung him around. "Is that your name—Hugh Moore? You're not the Captain Moore who left Cincinnati with my father——"

"God in heaven!" broke out Red Hugh hoarsely, gripping him and staring into his eyes. "Are you Charles Norton's son—look out!"

With a sudden movement, Norton was flung a dozen feet away.

Whether they had broken through the cordon of Indians or had escaped from some rear entrance of the burning building, Norton never found out; but Grigg and Duval, axe and tomahawk in hand, were leaping across the clearing, a string of Shawnees behind them.

Red Hugh's action was all that saved Norton from Duval's tomahawk, which sang over his head and thudded into the building behind him. Duval himself followed it instantly, and gripped Norton as he was rising; while Grigg swung his axe at Norton from the side, to be grappled and flung back by Red Hugh.

Norton saw Tecumthe motion his warriors back, and then saw no more, for he was fighting with a madman. Duval seemed crazed, as he might well be; Norton had whipped out his knife, but had no chance to use the weapon, for the other had gripped his wrists and was throwing all his iron strength into the desperate struggle.

All four of the fighting men crashed together and went down in a confused mass. The shock broke Duval's hold, and as they came up Norton drove with his knife. He felt the steel bite, but still Duval fought on, flinging himself forward bodily and bearing Norton down again.

Meantime, Grigg and Red Hugh were engaged in a mighty struggle, strength against strength, giant against giant. Reeling over the turf, the four men again came together in mad collision; as they did so, Norton sent his knife home for the second time, and now Duval fell away from him.

Barely had he done so when Red Hugh's pistol crashed out. Grigg had taken warning, and ducked, flinging his arms about Moore's waist. Directly behind him was Norton, and as the shot flamed out, the Louisianian flung his arms wide and toppled over the body of Duval.

Then, for the first time, Tecumthe leaped forward. Frenzied by what he had done, Red Hugh had beaten Grigg back with the pistol-butt, and Grigg flashed out his tomahawk to throw. Before his arm came up, Tecumthe had sprung between them like a thing of steel; his own knife flamed in the lurid glare, and Grigg collapsed.

Red Hugh stood for a moment, pistol in hand. There was a look of awful grief on his face, and without a word he knelt over Norton.

For a moment he felt the heart of the Louisianian, fumbled under the latter's shirt, and then held up a small gold eagle.

"Good God," he muttered slowly, as he held the eagle up to the lurid light of the burning buildings. "What's this? What——"

For he had turned over the pin, and had read the letters graven on its under side. Slowly he tottered up, then looked at the uncomprehending Tecumthe, a terrible horror in his eyes.

"Hugh Edward Moore—my own pin—I've killed him——"

And then, with a terrible cry, he fell upon Norton's body.


Norton awoke, with the strange and persistent idea that the face of Audubon was bending over him. It was nonsense, of course; he turned his head, and saw that he lay quite alone, opposite a doorway. The sun was warm and bright outside.

What of that horrible nightmare, that hell of death and madmen, of which he had dreamed? The very remembrance brought out the cold sweat on his brow; he lifted his hand and found his head bandaged.

Yet, looking out that doorway, he slowly recalled what had happened on that night of horror, for he was gazing across the clearing where it had taken place. There was no doubt of it; a hundred yards away were the ruins of the burned building, the cache-barn; he himself, then, must be lying in that shack to which he had brought the women?

The place seemed deserted, however. There were no Indians in sight; no bodies strewed the clearing; everyone seemed to have vanished and left him alone in desolation. No—he was mistaken after all; a voice strangely like that of Audubon lifted faintly to him.

"—so do you see how he is, sir. I must look to the litter."

"Good heavens, am I mad?" thought Norton. He strained to sit up, but found himself too weak. An instant later a tall, stooping figure darkened the doorway and came to his side with a cry of joy.

For a moment Norton shrank away, not recognizing the man who had come to his knees beside the pallet. Yet—it must be! The shaggy hair was trimmed, the shaggy matted beard was gone; but from the heavily lined face, the deep-set eyes of Red Hugh were looking at him.

"Man—man—we thought you never would come round!" And Red Hugh clasped his hand in a warm pressure.

"By gad, what has happened to you?" Norton essayed a feeble smile of wonder. Then like a stab memory came back to him; this was no other than Captain Hugh Moore, the same who had been his own father's friend and brother-officer!

"Quiet!" commanded Moore sharply, as Norton struggled to sit up in his high excitement.

"Tell me quickly—are you the same Moore——"

"Yes, lad, the same." Moore forced him back on the pallet, yet with tender hands. "Oh, lad, had I but known before! Why on earth did you not tell me your story, tell me——"

"How should I know who you were?"

"True"—and the other nodded, his stern face very sad. "You said you came from New Orleans, too; I never dreamed of the truth until I had heard the tale from Kitty and Mr. Audubon——"

"For God's sake, tell me what has happened!" broke out Norton, unable to stand the suspense longer. "Is Audubon here?"

"Yes, Audubon came two days ago, bringing the Regulators——"

"How long have I been here?"

"It is three days since—since I shot you with my own hand," returned the other bitterly. "Oh lad, when I owe everything in the world to you, to think that I myself——"

"Tush, you owe me nothing," interrupted Norton, bewildered. "Then the Regulators followed us after all?"

"Yes. Audubon met them at Henderson, read the forged note, and followed us in another boat. He was too late. They found Brookfield's craft burned to the edge and at length picked up the trail and came on. Tecumthe and his warriors had already departed—but let me show you something."

While Moore was still fumbling in his pocket, Audubon stepped into the shack. He gripped Norton's hand, and the two friends looked at each other for a moment, until Norton got out a low word.

"Thanks, my friend! I hoped you would come——"

"We did nothing," smiled Audubon gravely. "The work was done, and we could but bury the dead and care for the living. If he is able to be moved, Captain Moore, we had best start soon that we may reach the river by evening. The litter is ready."

Moore bent his head in a gesture of assent.

"Very well, bring the litter here to the door and we will start. Waken Kitty."

"Yes," added Norton eagerly. "Is she well?"

"Quite," laughed Audubon, and stepped from the door. "She has been nursing you."

With his departure, Moore stooped and placed something in Norton's hand. The Louisianian gazed at it with a thrill of remembrance. It was the golden eagle belonging to Kitty.

"Eh?" He looked up sharply. "Where got you this——"

"From your shirt, lad. Why, Norton—don't you see?"

"See?" repeated Norton, amazed. "What mean you?"

With a great laugh Red Hugh plunged to his knees and caught Norton's hand; the man seemed transformed with some mad joy too great for words. Half in fear, Norton drew back, and at this Moore only laughed out again.

"Oh, blind, blind!" he cried ringingly. "And you knew that Kitty had been found among Indians, that this pin was hers—yet you never suspected it!"


Two riders were walking their horses along the Beargrass Creek Road, on the way to Colonel Taylor's farm. They drew rein at a bend, just beyond which was a fringe of trees and a dried mudhole.

"I brought you to this road for a purpose, Kitty," said Norton gravely. "Do you remember the spot?"

She looked at him and nodded, and her look sent a little flame of happiness dancing into his brown eyes. He swung out of the saddle, and she slipped down into his arms, the movement loosing her red-gold hair until it flooded down about his hands.

"Oh, Kitty—Kitty!"

He looked into her eyes and could say no more for a moment. So they stood together, gazing each at the other, while the two horses moved away and began to crop the grass, unheeded.

Then Norton drew away from her, freed his hands, and soberly unclasped a golden eagle from his coat. He looked at it, then held it to her.

"Kitty—sweet Kitty—I brought you here away from your father and our friends, here where we first met—there is something I must tell you——"

He faltered, and with a quick laugh she flung back her hair.

"Mr. Norton"—and there was mimicry in her voice—"I—I too have something to tell you!"

"Yes?" he said gravely, stiffening a little. "Yes?"

"Nay, but I would not take precedence of a soldier, sir!"

And she made him a laughing curtsy, perhaps to hide the great glory of womanhood that shone in her face.

"Then, my news is this," said Norton, lifting a tress of her hair to his lips. "A regiment of riflemen from Kentucky has been formed; trouble is brewing with England; There is trouble on the frontier. I have been offered the command of this regiment, Kitty. I ask you—will you take this emblem of all that is dearest to me, and take with it the heart of John Norton? A soldier's life and pay is not much to share——"

"Soldiers do not serve for pay," she said very steadily, and put her hand upon his, clutching the golden eagle of the Cincinnati between them. "Nor do women serve that they may share—oh, my dear! You have not yet told me the dearest thing of all——"

And so they told each other.



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