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Produced by an anonymous Project Gutenberg volunteer









Black Caesar's Clan


by

Albert Payson Terhune






THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED, MOST GRATEFULLY
TO MY FRIEND
JOHN E. PICKETT
EDITOR OF
"THE COUNTRY GENTLEMAN"



CONTENTS

I THE HIDDEN PATH
II THE MAN IN THE DARK
III THE MOCKING BIRD
IV THE STRANGER FROM NOWHERE
V TRAPS AND TRAPPER
VI IN THE DAY OF BATTLE
VII SECRETS
VIII THE SIEGE
IX THE FIGURE IN WHITE
X THE GHOST TREE




FOREWORD


A wiggling, brainless, slimy atom began it. He and trillions
of his kind. He was the Coral Worm ("Anthozoa," if you prefer).

He and his tribe lived and died on the sea-bottom, successive
generations piling higher on the skeletons and lifework - or
the life-loafing, for they were lazy atoms - of those that went
before. At last the coral reef crawled upward until in
uncharted waters it was tall enough to smash a wooden
ship-keel.

Then, above the surface of the waves it nosed its way, grayish
white, whalebacked. From a hundred miles distant floated a
cigar-shaped mangrove-bud, bobbing vertically, through the
ocean, until it chanced to touch the new-risen coral reef.
The mangrove, alone of all trees, will sprout and grow in salt
water. The mangrove's trunk, alone of all trunks, is
impervious to the corrosive action of the sea.

At once the bud set to work. It drove an anchor-root into the
reef, then other roots and still others. It shot up to the
height of a foot or two, and thence sent thick red-brown roots
straight downward into the coral again.

And so on, until it had formed a tangled root-fence for many
yards alongshore. After which, its work being done, the
mangrove proceeded to grow upward into a big and glossy-leaved
shade-tree, making buds for further fences.

Meanwhile, every particle of floating seaweed, every dead fish
or animal, all vegetation, etc., which chanced to wash into
that fence-tangle, stayed there. It is easier for matter, as
well as for man, to get entangled in mangrove roots than to
get out again.

The sun and the rain did their work on this decaying stuff.
Thus, soil was formed, atop the coral and in the hollows
scooped out of its surface by wind or tide.

Presently, a coconut, hurled from its stem in the Bahamas or
in Cuba, by a hurricane, set its palmleaf sail-sprout and was
gale-driven across the intervening seas, floating ashore on
the new-risen land. There it sprouted. Birds, winds, waves,
brought germs of other trees. The subtropical island was
complete.

Island, key, reef - reef, key, island - with the intervening
gaps of azure-emerald water, bridged, bit by bit, by the
coral, - to-day a sea-surface, to-morrow a gray-white reef,
next day a mangrove hedge, and the next an expanse of
spectacular verdure and glistening gray-white sand.

So Florida was born.

So, at least, its southern portion was born, and is still in
daily process of birth. And, according to Agassiz and many
another, the entire Peninsula may have arisen in this fashion,
from the green-blue sea.

Dredge and shovel are laboring hard to guide or check the
endless undersea coral growth before bay and channel and
lagoon shall all be dry land. The wormlike, lazy,
fast-multiplying Anthozoa is fighting passively but with
terrific power, to set at naught all man's might and wit.

In time, coral sand-spit and mangrove swamp were cleared for a
wonderland playground, of divine climate whither winter
tourists throng by the hundred thousand. In time, too, these
sand-spits and swamps and older formations of the sunny
peninsula furnished homes and sources of livelihood or of
wealth to many thousands more, people, these, to whom Florida
is a Career, not a Resort.

As in every land which has grown swiftly and along different
lines from the rest of the country, there still are mystery
and romance and thrills to be found lurking among the keys and
back of the mangrove-swamps and along the mystic reaches of
sunset shoreline.

With awkward and inexpert touch, my story seeks to set forth
some of these.

Understand, please, that this book is rank melodrama. It has
scant literary quality. It is not planned to edify. Its only
mission is to entertain you and, - if you belong to the
action-loving majority, to give you an occasional thrill.

Perhaps you will like it. Perhaps you will not. But I do not
think you will go to sleep over it. There are worse
recommendations than that for any book.

ALBERT PAYSON TERHUNE.

"Sunnybank,"
Pompton Lakes,
New Jersey.





BLACK CAESAR'S CLAN




CHAPTER I

THE HIDDEN PATH


Overhead sang the steady trade wind, tempering the golden
sunshine's heat. To eastward, under an incredibly blue sky,
stretched the more incredibly multi-hued waters of Biscayne
Bay, the snow-white wonder-city of Miami dreaming on its
shores.

Dividing the residence and business part of the city from the
giant hotels, Flagler Avenue split the mass of buildings, from
back-country to bay. To its westward side spread the shaded
expanse of Royal Palm Park, with its deep-shaded short lane of
Australian pines, its rustling palm trees, its white church
and its frond-flecked vistas of grass.

Here, scarce a quarter-century ago, a sandspit had broiled
beneath an untempered sun. Shadeless, grassless, it had been
an abomination of desolution and a rallying-place for
mosquitoes. Then had come the hand of man. First, the Royal
Palm Hotel had sprung into stately existence, out of
nothingness. Then other caravansaries. Palm and pine and
vivid lawn-grass had followed. The mosquitoes had fled far
back to the mangrove swamps. And a rarely beautiful White
City had sprung up.

It was Sunday morning. From the park's bandstand, William J.
Bryan was preaching to his open-air Sunday School class of
tourists, two thousand strong. Around the bandstand the
audience stood or sat in rapt interest.

The Australian-pine lane, to the rear, was lined with all
manner of automobiles, from limousine to battered flivver.
The cars' occupants listened as best they could - through
the whirr of sea-planes and the soft hum of Sabbath traffic
and the dry slither of a myriad grating palm-fronds in the
trade-wind's wake - to the preacher's words.

The space of shaded grass, between lane and hotel-grounds and
bandstand, was starred by white-clad children, and by men who
sprawled drowsily upon the springy turf, their straw hats
tilted above their eyes. The time was mid-February. The
thermometers on the Royal Palm veranda registered
seventy-three. No rain had fallen in weeks to mar the
weather's perfection.

"Scientists are spending $5,000,000 to send an expedition into
Africa in search of the 'missing-link'!" the orator was
thundering. "It would be better for them to spend all or part
of that money, in seeking closer connection with their
Heavenly Father, than with the Brutes!"

A buzz of approval swept the listeners. That same buzz came
irritatingly to the ears of a none-too-sprucely dressed young
man who lay, with eyes shut, under the shifting shade of a
giant palm, a hundred yards away. He had not caught the
phrase which inspired the applause - thanks to the confusion of
street sounds and the multiple dry rattle of the palm-fronds
and the whirring passage of a sea-plane which circled above
park and bay. But the buzz aroused him.

He had not been asleep. Prone on his back, hat pulled over
his upper face, he had been lying motionless there, for the
best part of an hour. Now, stretching, he got to his feet in
leisurely fashion, brushed perfunctorily at his rumpled
clothes, and turned his steps toward the double line of plumy
Australian pines which bordered the lane between hotel grounds
and avenue.

Only once did he hesitate in his slouching progress. That was
when he chanced to come alongside one of the cars, in the long
rank, drawn up in the shade. The machine's front seat was
occupied by a giant of a man, all in white silk, a man of
middle age, blonde and bearded, a man who, but for his modern
costume, might well have posed as a Norse Viking.

The splendid breadth of shoulder and depth of chest caught the
wanderer's glance and won his grudging approval. Thence, his
elaborately careless gaze shifted to the car's rear seat where
sat a girl. He noted she was small and dainty and tanned and
dressed in white sport-clothes. Also, that one of her arms
was passed around the shoulder of a big young gold-and-white
collie dog, - a dog that fidgeted uneasily and paid scant heed
to the restraining hand and caressing voice of his mistress.

As the shabby man paused momentarily to scan the car's three
occupants, the girl happened to look toward him. Her look was
brief and impersonal. Yet, for the merest instant, her eyes
met his. And their glances held each other with a momentary
intentness. Then the girl turned again toward the restless
dog, seeking to quiet him. And the man passed on.

Moving with aimless slowness - one is not long in Southern
Florida without acquiring a leisurely gait the lounger left
the park and strolled up Thirteenth Avenue, towards the bridge
which spans the Miami River and forms a link between the more
thickly settled part of the town and its southerly suburbs.

As he crossed the bridge, a car passed him, moving rapidly
eastward, and leaving a choky trail of dust. He had bare time
to see it was driven by the Norse giant, and that the girl had
moved to the front seat beside the driver. The collie
(fastened by a cord running through his collar from one side
of the tonneau to the other) lay fidgetingly on the rear seat.

For miles the man plodded on, under the wind-tempered
sunshine. Passing Brickell Avenue and then the last of the
city, he continued, - now on the road, now going
cross-country, - until he came out on a patch of broken beach,
with a background of jungle-like forest.

The sun had gone beyond the meridian mark during his ramble
southward, and the afternoon was hurrying by. For the way was
long, though he had tramped steadily.

As he reached the bit of sandy foreshore, he paused for the
first time since stopping to survey the car. An unpainted
rowboat was drawn up on the beach. Half way between it and
the tangle of woodland behind, was a man clad only in
undershirt and dirty duck trousers. He was yanking along by
the scruff of the neck a protesting and evidently angry
collie.

The man was big and rugged. Weather and sea had bronzed him
to the hue of an Arab. Apparently, he had sighted the dog,
and had run his boat ashore to capture the stray animal. He
handled his prize none too gently, and his management was
calling forth all the collie's resentment. But as the man had
had the wit to seize the dog by the scruff of the neck and to
keep himself out of the reach of the luckless creature's
vainly snapping jaws, these protests went for nothing.

Within thirty feet of the boat, the dog braced himself for a
new effort to tear free. The man, in anger, planted a
vigorous kick against the collie's furry side. As his foot
was bare, the kick lost much of its potential power to injure.
Yet it had the effect of rousing to sudden indignation the
dusty youth who had stopped on his tramp from Miami to watch
the scene.

"Whose dog is that?" he demanded, striding forward, from the
shade, and approaching the struggling pair.

"Who the blue blazes are you?" countered the barefoot man, his
eyes running contemptuously over the shabby and slight-built
figure.

"My name is Brice," said the other. "Gavin Brice. Not that
it matters. And now, perhaps you'll answer my question.
Whose dog is that?"

"Mine," returned the barefoot man, renewing his effort to drag
the collie toward the boat.

"If he's yours," said Brice, pleasantly, "stop hauling him
along and let him loose. He'll follow you, without all that
hustling. A good collie will always follow, his master,
anywhere."

"When I'm honin' for your jabber," retorted the other, "I'll
come a-askin' for it."

He drew back his foot once more, for a kick. But, with a lazy
competence, Brice moved forward and gave him a light push,
sidewise, on the shoulder. There was science and a rare
knowledge of leverage in the mild gesture. When a man is
kicking, he is on only one foot. And, the right sort of
oblique push will not only throw him off his balance, but in
such a direction that his second foot cannot come to earth in
position to help him restore that balance.

Under the skillfully gentle impact of Brice's shove, the man
let go of the snarling collie and hopped insanely for a second
or so, with arms outflung. Then he sat down ungracefully on
the sand.

Scarce had he touched ground when he was up.

But the moment had sufficed for the collie to go free.
Instead of running off, the dog moved over to Brice, thrust
his cool muzzle into the man's hand, and, with wagging tail,
looked up lovingly at him.

A collie has brains beyond most dogs. And this collie
recognized that the pleasant-voiced, indolent-looking stranger
had just rescued him from a captor who had been treating him
abominably. Wherefore, in gratitude and dawning adoration, he
came to pay his respects.

Brice patted the silken head so confidingly upraised to him.
He knew dogs. Especially, he knew collies. And he was hot
with indignation at the needlessly brutal treatment just
accorded this splendid beast.

But he had scant time for emotions of any kind. The beach
comber had regained his feet, and in the same motion had lost
his self-control. Head lowered, fists swinging, he came
charging down upon the stripling who had the audacity to upset
him.

Brice did not await his onset. Slipping lithely to one side
he avoided the bull-rush, all the time talking in the same
pleasantly modulated drawl.

"I saw this dog, earlier in the day," said he, "in a car, with
some people. They drove this way. The dog must have chewed
his cord and then jumped or fallen out, and strayed here. You
saw him, from the water, and tried to steal him. Next to a
vivisectionist, the filthiest man God ever made is the man who
kicks a dog. It's lucky - "

He got no further. Twice, during his short speech, he had
had to twist, with amazing speed, out of the way of
profanity-accompanied rushes. Now, pressed too close for
comfort, he halted, ducked a violent left swing, and ran from
under the flailing right arm of his assailant.

Then, darting back for fully twenty-five feet, he cried out,
gayly:

"I won't buy him from you. But I'll fight you for him, if you
like."

As he spoke, he drew from his pocket a battered and
old-fashioned gold watch. Laying it on the sand, he went on:

"How does this strike you as a sporting offer? Winner to take
both dog and watch? How about it?"

The other had halted in an incipient charge to take note of
the odd proposition. He blinked at the flash of the watch's
battered gold case in the sunshine. For the first time, he
seemed a trifle irresolute. This eel-like antagonist, with
such eccentric ideas as to sport, was something outside the
beach-comber's experience. Puzzled, he stood scowling.

"How about it?" queried Brice. "I hope you'll refuse. I'd
rather be kicked, any day, than have to fight. But - well, I
wouldn't rather see a good dog kicked. Still, if you're
content with what you've got, we'll call it a day. I'll take
the dog and be moving on."

The barefoot man's bewilderment was once more merging into
wrath, at the amused superiority in Brice's words and
demeanor. He glowered appraisingly at the intruder. He saw
Brice was a half-head shorter than himself and at least thirty
pounds lighter. Nor did Brice's figure betray any special
muscular development. Apparently, there could be but one
outcome to such a battle.

The man's fists clenched, afresh. His big muscles tightened.
Brice saw the menace and spoke again.

"It's only fair to warn you," said he, gently, "that I shall
thrash you worse than ever you've been thrashed before in all
your down-at-heel life. When I was a boy, I saw George Siler
beat up five men who tackled him. Siler wasn't a big man.
But he had made a life-study of leverage. And it served him
better than if he'd toted a machine gun. I studied under him.
And then, a bit, under a jui-jutsu man. You'll have less
chance against me than that poor collie had against you. I
only mention it as a friendly warning. Best let things rest
as they are. Come, puppy!" he chirped to the highly
interested dog. "Let's be on our way. Perhaps we can find
the people who lost you. That's what I've been wanting to do,
all day, you know," he added, in a lower voice, speaking
confidentially to the dog, and beginning to stroll off toward
the woods.

But the barefoot man would not have it so. Now, he
understood. This sissyfied chap, with the high and-mighty
airs, was bluffing. That was what he was doing. Bluffing!
Did he think for a minute he could get away with it, and with
the dog?

A swirl of red fury swept to the beach comber's brain.
Wordless, face distorted, he flung himself at the elusive
Brice.

So sudden was his spring that it threatened to take its victim
unaware. Brice's back was turned to the aggressor, and he was
already on his way toward the woods.

Yet, with but a fraction of an inch to spare, he turned to
face the oncoming human whirlwind. This time he did not dart
back from the rush. Perhaps he did not care to. Perhaps
there was not time.

Instead, with the speed of light, he stepped in, ducking the
hammer-fist and plying both hands with bewildering quickness
and skill, in a shower of half-arm blows at the beach comber's
heart and wind. His strength was wiry and carefully
developed, but it was no match for his foe's. Yet the hail of
body-punches was delivered with all the effect that science
and a perfect knowledge of anatomy could compass.

The beach comber grunted and writhed in sharp discomfort.
Then, he did the one thing possible, by way of reprisal.
Before Brice could dodge out of his close-quarters position,
the other clasped him tight in his bulgingly powerful arms,
gripping the lighter man to his chest in a hug which had the
gruesome force of a boa-constrictor's, and increasing the
pressure with all his weight and mighty strength.


There was no space for maneuvering or for wriggling free.
Clear from the ground Brice's feet were swung. The breath was
squeezed out of him. His elastic strength was cramped and
made useless. His lungs seemed bursting. The pressure on his
ribs was unbearable. Like many a better man he was paying the
price for a single instant of overconfidence.

One arm was caught against his side. The other was impeded
and robbed of all efficient hitting power, being pinioned
athwart his breast. And steadily the awful pressure was
increased. There was no apparent limit to the beach comber's
powers of constriction. The blood beat into Brice's eyes.
His tongue began to protrude from a swollen throat.

Then, all at once, he ceased to struggle, and lay limp and
moveless in the conqueror's grasp. Perceiving which, the
beach comber relaxed the pressure, to let his conquered enemy
slide, broken, to the ground.

This, to his blank amaze, Gavin Brice neglected to do. The
old ruse of apparent collapse had served its turn, for perhaps
the millionth time. The beach-comber was aware of a
lightning-quick tensing of the slumped muscles. Belatedly, he
knew what had happened, and he renewed his vise-grip. But he
was too late. Eel-like, Gavin had slithered out of the
imprisoning arms. And, as these arms came together once more,
in the bear-hug, Brice shot over a burning left-hander to the
beach-comber's unguarded jaw. Up flew the big arms in belated
parry, but not soon enough to block a deliberately-aimed right
swing, which Brice drove whizzing into the jaw's point.

The brace of blows rocked the giant, so that he reeled
drunkenly under their dynamic force. The average man must
have been floored and even knocked senseless by such
well-directed smashes to so vital a spot. But the
beach-comber merely staggered back, seeking instinctively to
guard his battered face, and to regain his balance.

In at the reeling foe tore Gavin Brice, showering him with
systematic punches to every vulnerable spot above the belt
line. It was merciless punishment, and it was delivered with
rare deftness.

Yet, the iron-bodied man on whom it was inflicted merely
grunted again and, under the avalanche of blows, managed to
regain his balance and plunge back to the assault. A born
fighter, he was now obsessed with but one idea, namely, to
destroy this smaller and faster opponent who was hurting him
so outrageously. As far as the beach comber was concerned: it
was a murder-battle now, with no question of mercy asked or
given.

The collie had been viewing this astounding scene in eager
interest. Never before, in his short life, had he seen two
humans fight. And, even now, he was not at all certain that
it was a fight and not some intensely thrilling game. Thus
had he watched two boys wrestle and box, in his own puppyhood.
And, for venturing to jump into that jolly fracas, he had been
scolded and sent back to his kennel.

Yet, there was something about this clash, between the giant
who had mistreated him and the softer-voiced man who had
rescued him, which spoke of mad excitement, and which stirred
the collie's own excitable temperament to the very depths.
Dancingly, he pattered around the fighters, tulip ears cocked,
deep-set eyes aglow, his fanfare of barks echoing far back
through the silent woods.

The beach comber, rallying from the dual jaw-bombardment,
bored back at his foe, taking the heaviest and most scientific
punishment, in a raging attempt to gather Brice once more into
the trap of his terrible arms. But Gavin kept just out of
reach, moving with an almost insolent carelessness, and ever
flashing some painful blow to face or to body as he retreated.

Then, as the other charged, Gavin sidestepped with perfect
ease, and, when the beach-comber wheeled clumsily to face him,
threw one foot forward and at the same time pushed the larger
man's shoulder violently with his open palm. It was a
repetition of the "leverage theory" Gavin had so recently been
expounding to his antagonist. It caught the lunging giant at
precisely the right non-balance angle, as he was turning about.
And, for the second time, the beach-comber sat down on the
trampled sand, with unexpected suddenness and force.

Gavin Brice laughed aloud, with boyish mischief, and stood
back, waiting for the cursing madman to scramble to his feet
again. But, as the beach comber leaped up - and before he
could get fairly balanced on his legs - another foot-and-palm
maneuver sent him sprawling.

This time the puffing and foaming and insanely-badgered man
did not try at once to rise. Instead, his hand whipped back
to his thigh.

"My clumsy friend," Brice was saying, pleasantly, "I'm afraid
you'll never win that watch. Shall we call it a day and quit?
Or - "

He broke off with an exclamation of genuine wrath. For, with
astonishing swiftness, the big hand had flown to the hip of
the ragged trousers, had plucked a short-bladed fishing knife
from its sheath, and had hurled it, dexterously, with the
strength of a catapult, straight at his smiling adversary's
throat.

The sub-tropic beach comber and the picaroon acquire nasty
tricks with knives, and have an uncanny skill at their use.

Brice twisted to one side, with a sharp suddenness that all
but threw his back out of joint. The knife whizzed through
the still air like a great hornet. The breath of its passage
fanned Gavin's averted face, as he wrenched his head out of
its path.

The collie had watched the supposed gambols of the two men
with keen, but impersonal, interest. But here at last was
something he could understand. Instinct teaches practically
every dog the sinister nature of a thrown object. The man on
the ground had hurled something at the man whom the collie
had begun to love. That meant warfare. To the canine mind
it could mean nothing else.

And, ruff a-bristle and teeth bared, the dog flew at the beach
comber. The latter had followed his throw by leaping to his
feet. But, as he rose, the collie was at him. For an
instant, the furry whirlwind was snarling murderously at his
throat, and the man was beating convulsively at this
unexpected new enemy.



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