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THE CAVE BY THE BEECH FORK

A Story of Kentucky - 1815

BY HENRY S. SPALDING, S.J.


New York, Cincinnati, Chicago
BENZIGER BROTHERS
Printers to the Holy Apostolic See
1901




[Illustration: "HE DREW HIS REVOLVERS AND STEPPED QUICKLY TOWARD THE TWO
MEN."]




CONTENTS.


CHAPTER I. A Day's Hunt Along the Beech Fork

CHAPTER II. Owen and Martin Visit the Cave

CHAPTER III. In Which Owen and Martin Learn More About the Wonderful
Cave

CHAPTER IV. The Howards

CHAPTER V. Owen and Martin Meet Old Friends, and Owen Shows How He Can
Use a Rifle

CHAPTER VI. A Visit from Father Byrne

CHAPTER VII. Mr. Howard Is Surprised by a Visitor - Owen Hears of the
Great Shooting-Match

CHAPTER VIII. Happy Days

CHAPTER IX. The Practice

CHAPTER X. The Eventful Day

CHAPTER XI. David and Goliath

CHAPTER XII. Killing Goliath With His Own Sword

CHAPTER XIII. Bertha Hears the News of Victory

CHAPTER XIV. Brother and Sister

CHAPTER XV. Around the Fireplace

CHAPTER XVI. On the Trail of the Runaway Slave

CHAPTER XVII. Carrying the News

CHAPTER XVIII. Saving the Message

CHAPTER XIX. The Tinker Disturbs the Inmates of the Cave

CHAPTER XX. A Day's Sport Along the Beech Fork

CHAPTER XXI. Mr. Lane Has a Difficulty

CHAPTER XXII. Mr. Lane Finds a Solution to His Difficulty

CHAPTER XXIII. The Mark on Stayford's Pistol

CHAPTER XXIV. Tom the Tinker

CHAPTER XXV. Off to the Cave

CHAPTER XXVI. Sealed Forever




The Cave by the Beech Fork.




CHAPTER I.

A DAY'S HUNT ALONG THE BEECH FORK.


"No wonder this river is called the Beech Fork," said Owen, as he rested
his trusty rifle by his side and pointed toward the thickly-clustered
beech-trees, which skirted the banks of a small stream.

"See, too, how close they are to the water's edge; they have taken the
place of the sycamore and willow," said his companion, Martin Cooper, at
the same time seating himself upon the trunk of a fallen tree and
looking in the direction indicated.

"But do you notice anything peculiar about those beech-trees?" asked
Owen.

"Yes; they have long, slender branches."

"And the leaves - see how green they are, while the others are beginning
to fade."

Beautiful, indeed, was the scene before them! The myriad leaves of the
underbrush and the lofty canopies of the trees were dyed with all the
varied colors of an autumn day. Even the thistle, when sheltered by some
impending bough, retained its rose-pink bloom. Patches of sumac nestling
close to the ledge of rocks, where larger growth could not survive for
want of moisture, raised their cones of crimson berries; the sour-gum
was laden with clusters of purple fruit as tempting to the eye as the
most delicious grapes; the hickories were conspicuous by their russet
foliage; the deep-lobed leaves of the white-oak were burning with fiery
red; the ash-trees, scattered here and there, were robed in garments of
purest saffron: only the beech-trees remained unchanged by the autumn
frosts, for their small, serrate leaves were as green and glossy as
during the summer months. Beech, beech, beech; who could number them?
Here nature seemed to have prepared for them a paradise. Other trees
grew there only to bring out by contrast the boundless, unbroken forest
of beech-trees.

"The old forest is a fine place during this month," said Martin. "Still,
I prefer not to spend the night here. Let us start home, for it is
getting late."

"I should like to have at least one shot at a turkey before we go,"
replied Owen. "Say, Frisk," he continued, addressing a bird-dog which
was enjoying a good rest at the side of his master, "old fellow, can't
you find a turkey for us? Why don't you work as Bounce does? Hear how he
is barking and chasing that rabbit."

He had scarcely uttered these words when both boys were startled by a
sudden noise. The leaves rustled, the underbrush of the woods separated
and a large deer bounded past them. Each sprang for his rifle but it was
too late; before either could fire, the coveted prize disappeared behind
a ledge of rocks.

As they stood there, rifle in hand, they were, in dress at least,
perfect types of western huntsmen, though neither had seen his sixteenth
year. Owen Howard's entire outfit was in harmony with the wild and
rugged scenes around him. His gray trousers made of coarse home-spun
cloth, his deer-skin hunting jacket, his fox-skin cap and sturdy
moccasins, all bespoke a life far removed from the busy scenes and
worldly comforts of town or city. He had a bright, piercing eye, a
countenance frank and winning, a voice as clear and musical as the call
of the meadow-lark. He was as nimble as a squirrel. There was about his
whole person an air of singular freedom, and every part of his
well-shaped frame was perfectly developed by continued though not
overtasking labor.

The friend who stood beside him was dressed in the same unique hunter's
costume. He appeared less active, but more robust than his companion.
His face was ruddy, round, and freckled; his long, unkempt hair fell in
reddish clusters from beneath his hunting cap. A look of thoughtful
earnestness was stamped upon his features as he stood and gazed at the
place where the deer had disappeared.

"Probably it'll cross Rapier's Ford," said Owen, recovering from his
surprise. "It has been a favorite crossing for them of late. There's no
harm in trying. I would walk a week for a shot at that fellow."

"All right. Let us hurry on fast," said Martin.

So the two pushed on at a brisk rate toward the ford about a mile below.
They posted themselves so as to cover the narrow path which approached
the river, and waited in true huntsman-like silence. An hour passed, and
no sound of the faithful dog could be heard. At last, far over the hills
his bark was faintly audible. Then the alarm became louder, and a slight
click of their rifles showed that the boys were preparing to give the
deer a warm welcome. If it was far ahead of the hound, as usually
happened, it might rush by them at any moment. Suddenly their attention
was drawn to a spot by the rustling of leaves, and peering from behind
the trees they saw a large turkey-gobbler, strutting along wholly
unconscious of the danger near at hand. What a fine mark it made as it
strolled deliberately by with its head erect and wings arched! Owen was
the first to see it and raised his rifle to fire; but as Martin signed
to him to wait he lowered his rifle and let the turkey pass by. Judging
from the barking of the dog, the deer was making for the ford. Owen felt
comforted for the loss of the turkey, for if the deer passed between
them one or the other would certainly bring it down.

"How I would like to wring the neck off that turkey!" muttered Martin to
himself, for the gobbler persisted in remaining within rifle-shot,
scratching among the dry leaves, and making as much noise as a whole
flock of turkeys.

The boys were disappointed in their expectations, for the deer changed
its course, and again left the river. Another hour passed, and the deep
shades of the forest cast a gloom on all around.

"Helloo, there, Owen!" shouted Martin, emerging from his place of
concealment, and stretching his cramped limbs. No answer came, so he
called again in a still louder voice: "Helloo, there, Owen! Wake up, and
let us move; it's getting dark."

Still no answer came.

"Owen! Owen!" he called, walking toward the place where his companion
had waited. Not finding him, Martin took the horn which hung at his side
and was about to raise it to his mouth, when he heard the report of
Owen's rifle. The latter had given up all hope of killing the deer, and
had crept cautiously away in quest of the gobbler. He had just caught
sight of it in the thick underbrush, but the woods were now so dark that
his aim was not true.

"We are in a pretty plight," said Owen as Martin approached. "Hunting
all day, and nothing to show for our work but a few squirrels."

"Yes!" assented Martin. "And it's seven miles home - dark, too; in half
an hour we won't be able to see ten steps ahead. We stayed at the ford
too long; there is no going home to-night, and that is all about it.
Why, an Indian would get lost a night like this. We must stay here; it
won't be the first night we have slept on the banks of the Beech Fork."

"That's all right for the summer," argued Owen. "But remember that it's
October now, and the nights are frosty."

"What's to be done?" asked Martin, glancing anxiously around the dark
forest.

"I really don't know. But I do know one thing: I am tired and hungry."

"Let us stay here. We won't starve. We'll have the squirrels for
supper."

"Then we'll stay. Squirrels for supper, a soft bed of leaves, and a fire
to drive away the frost. What else does a fellow want?"

"I'll bring Bounce to the camp," said Martin, blowing a loud blast on
his horn.

A deep bark answered the echoes, and soon the faithful dog stood panting
at the side of the young huntsmen.

"Why didn't you bring the deer this way, old fellow?" asked Owen.

Bounce shook his head, as if to say that he did his best, but could not
succeed.

"Well, come on. You've worked hard, and shall have a good supper," said
Martin, as the two boys set to work to prepare for the evening meal.

A large pile of wood was collected, and a fire was started against the
trunk of a beech, which stretched its thick branches on all sides,
forming a natural tent. Martin constructed two cups with the leaves of a
paw-paw-tree, and filled them with clear water from a brook near at
hand. Owen had the squirrels dressed in a jiffy. One was suspended over
the fire by a green twig, while the other was wrapped in damp paper and
placed under the live coals to roast. Thus, two different dishes were
prepared from the same meat. They had also some dry bread left from
their luncheon. Uninviting as their repast may seem to some, to them it
was more savory than the most tempting viands, having, as it did, the
true Spartan seasoning. Bounce and Frisk were not forgotten. They shared
in the day's spoil, and gnawed at the bones until far into the night.

Owen and Martin now collected a large heap of leaves before the fire,
and placed their rifles near by in readiness to receive any wildcat
which chanced to be attracted by the light.

Their last and most important duty was that which every Christian
performs before retiring to rest. Our young friends had pious parents;
they had lived in an atmosphere of simple but deep faith, and would have
considered it almost a crime to neglect their morning or evening
prayers. There, then, they prayed; at night, and in the stillness of a
forest, where giant trees stretched out their branches like the arches
of some great cathedral, and where all around was hushed in holy
silence.

"I do believe it's going to rain," said Martin, catching a glimpse of
the clouds through a rift in the trees as he lay down upon his rustic
bed.

"Why didn't I think of it before? I - I don't see how I forgot it - I
intended to tell you about it - and it is not a mile away," muttered Owen
in a half audible tone.

"What are you saying? Are you dreaming?" asked Martin.

"I was talking about a cave which I found last month when chasing a
'coon - a big one, too."

"What, the 'coon?"

"No! the cave. If it rains to-night I'll take you there. It's better
than a log-house."

"Perhaps it is the one that Mr. Rapier told me about the other day,"
said Martin. "It's in this neighborhood, but no one knows the exact
spot. Long ago, even before Daniel Boone came to Kentucky, the Indians
used to live in it during the hunting season."

"Are there two large rocks before it?" inquired Owen, raising himself up
to a sitting posture and staring at Martin with evident interest.

"Let me see; I believe he said something about two rocks. Now I
recollect; there were two large rocks, one on each side."

"That's the place; and if the rain doesn't drive us there to-night,
we'll see it to-morrow morning."

Owen then lay down again, and was soon fast asleep, dreaming that he
discovered an immense cave, whose entrance was guarded by two dogs as
large as the two rocks which he had seen. His dream was scarcely more
wonderful than the wonders which that cave really contained.




CHAPTER II.

OWEN AND MARTIN VISIT THE CAVE.


It was far into the night when the boys awoke. The fire had burned low,
and the rain which had been falling for an hour began to penetrate their
leafy canopy.

"Owen! Owen!" cried Martin, the first to awake, "it's raining."

Owen was stiff from the chilly night air. He rubbed his eyes and
stretched his limbs for some minutes before he realized his situation.

"Wake up! wake up!" Martin remonstrated, at the same time throwing a
handful of damp leaves into the sleeper's face as an additional
inducement. "You had better take me to that wonderful cave," continued
he.

"I dreamt about the place," said Owen, who was now fully awake, "and
that the two rocks had been turned into dogs."

"You must have been enjoying your dream, for I thought you would never
wake up. I was just going to put a little fire into your moccasins,"
replied Martin.

"That would have brought me in quick time, for a fellow can't sleep and
be roasted at the same time. But come, let us start. It's pretty dark,
and I'll have to turn Indian to find the cave a night like this."

"Keep your weather-eye open, Bounce," said Martin, turning toward the
dog. "Our rifles are damp. If there is a wildcat in the neighborhood,
you must do the fighting. Do you hear, old fellow?"

Bounce shook his head as if to say there was no danger while in his
company.

After plodding along and elbowing their way through the damp bushes, the
boys reached a hill which ran along the bank of the river for many
miles, rising at times to the height of some three hundred feet.
Carefully they clambered up toward the two giant rocks which could
scarcely be discerned in the gloom, Bounce occasionally giving a low
growl of alarm as they approached.

Again and again they stopped and listened, but nothing could be seen or
heard. They therefore concluded that it was only a fresh trail, and that
the animal itself was not near.

"I tell you it's dark," said Martin, who was the first to pass between
the two immense rocks into the cavern.

"Dark as a dungeon," replied Owen in a tone of voice that showed he was
not exactly pleased with the situation.

"All we need is a little fire to make things look home-like," said
Martin, at the same time searching for some dry wood.

As no wood could be found the boys were forced to remain in the dark
cave. Crouched together in a dry corner they tried to sleep, but could
not. Bounce continued to growl, and, since he never gave a false alarm,
they did not feel perfectly at ease. A strange and subdued sound seemed
to issue from the crevices of the rocks. Both boys listened, yet neither
spoke. Was it the dripping of the water from the damp arches above? What
could it be?

"Didn't you hear something?" asked Martin.

"I thought so," replied Owen, "but, when I listened again, I heard
nothing except the dripping water."

Here their conversation was interrupted by a low growl from Bounce.

"Something is wrong," said Martin. "I can't sleep here without a fire.
Let us look for wood again."

As they groped around in the dark searching for wood, Martin slipped,
and at the same time grasped the side of the cave to prevent his
falling. The huge rock yielded, and opened like the massive door of some
great dungeon, disclosing a lurid light farther in the cave.

"Heavens! what is this?" gasped the boy, losing his hold and letting the
rock swing back to its former position.

"A robbers' den," whispered Owen, trembling with fright. "They have not
seen us; let us get away as fast as we can."

Fortunately, the dogs did not bark. The boys would have left the place
unobserved, had not a man met them at the entrance.

"Who are you?" demanded he, in a gruff voice.

"Two boys; we were overtaken by the night, and had to sleep in the
woods. It commenced to rain, and we came here for shelter," said Owen.

"Youngster, don't tell me a lie! Is there no one around here except
yourselves?"

"No, sir! No one!"

"How - a - did you come to know about this cave?" asked the man in a
milder but hesitating way.

"I found it one day when I was out hunting," answered Owen.

"I found it in the same way," said the man. "The rain drove me in here,
too. It isn't a very good place to sleep, still we'll have to hold out
here until morning; so just lie down, boys, and try to take a rest."

"No, sir!" said Martin, looking toward the place where the big door had
opened. "We are going to leave this cave immediately. It's a robbers'
den or it's haunted."

"What! What did you say!" demanded the man, all his former gruffness
immediately returning.

"Robber's den! haunted!" stammered Martin, excitedly. "There's a big
door to the left. I opened it and saw a light."

"You did? You did? You saw a light in there?" growled the man. "Then,
boys, you have seen too much to leave here until I let you go. Don't try
to run away, or I'll kill both of you!" and he emphasized his threat
with an oath, at the same time swinging open the door and ordering the
boys to go into the inner part of the cave.

They obeyed tremblingly, and saw the rock door locked behind them.

"Now, boys," said the man, "this isn't a robbers' den. It isn't haunted,
either. If you sit down there and keep perfectly quiet, I won't hurt
you. But if you don't do as I tell you, you'll get into trouble." With
these words he left them, and passing through another door went farther
into the cave.

Our two young hunters were so frightened that neither spoke for some
time.

By the flickering light of a fire which had been kindled in the center
of the chamber they could examine their dingy prison. It was more than
eight feet high and twenty feet long, with solid rock walls and
incipient stalactites projecting from above. Skins of minks, foxes,
raccoons and wildcats were stretched on forked staves the full length of
the cave; and from their variety and number one would infer that he was
in the rude home of a trapper. Nothing else was visible, not even a
rough bench or a bed of straw. No doubt the occupant of this mysterious
cave had other apartments connected with this one.

Martin was the first to break the awful silence.

"What a fool I was," gasped he, "for telling him - about that door."

"Well, it's too late to cry about it now," replied Owen. "Are you much
frightened?"

"Why - I was so scared - that I thought - I should never recover - my power
of speech."

"My heart stopped beating."

"If mine stopped - it is making up for it now. It isn't beating - it's
hammering."

"I must confess that I don't feel very brave just at present," said
Owen, trying at the same time to force a laugh.

"I only wish we had Bounce in here with us," replied Martin.

"Yes, I am never lonesome in the woods when I have him with me. But,
say, Mart! did you notice that when the man left us, he opened another
door there to the right, and that there was another light farther in the
cave?"

"No; are you sure?"

Owen was about to answer, when the door in question was swung aside, and
the man entered, wearing a mask and carrying a bright torch.

"Well, boys," said he, "I see you didn't try to run away. I've been
thinking the matter over, and have come to the conclusion that I'll let
you go. Of course, you'll have to promise not to say anything about the
cave."

"We'll promise that," said Owen.

"And you will have to keep the promise."

"Oh, we'll do that, too," replied Martin.

"Glad to see you so willing; but we'll settle the whole matter in the
morning. Don't be afraid, I am not going to hurt you. Lie down and try
to rest until I come back. The ground is a little hard, it is true, but
it is dry; and there is no danger of catching cold."

He extinguished the few smouldering coals in the middle of the cave,
where a fire had previously been kept burning to dry the skins. After
again admonishing the boys not to move, he took his torch and departed,
leaving them in utter darkness.




CHAPTER III.

IN WHICH OWEN AND MARTIN LEARN MORE ABOUT THE WONDERFUL CAVE.


Walter Stayford was not the sole occupant of that mysterious cave; he
had a companion with him by the name of Jerry. The two men lived in a
hut, about three miles from the cave, and passed for trappers. They were
well known to all the neighbors, and were both musicians, and often
supplied the music for rural dances and picnics. Jerry especially was
sought for, and it was considered a privilege to have the jolly big
fiddler on the music stand. Whenever he was to play, a special mention
of the fact was found in all the notices which announced the dance
itself. On such occasions his big, round face was one perpetual smile,
his fiddle seemed fairly to talk, and so much did he add to the pleasure
that he received the appellation of "Jolly Jerry." The two trappers
spent weeks and months in the cave and accounted for their protracted
absence from their home by pretending that they had gone on long hunting
expeditions into the central part of the State. Every spring they went
south on one of the many flat-boats or rafts, which carried the products
of Kentucky to the ports along the southern parts of the Mississippi.
There was a third man, who frequently visited the cave, and who was more
directly interested in its secret than either Stayford or Jerry. His two
friends generally called him "Tom, the Tinker."

As the night gradually wore away, the three men were seated around a dim
fire, warmly discussing the fate of the two boys.

"Shoot 'em! shoot 'em," demanded Tom, the Tinker.

"If you two don't do it, I will! They must not leave this cave!"

"Tom, you is drunk or crazy!" said Jerry. "Shoot two boys for a little
chink; never! Not for this cave full of gold and whisky!"

"No one can find it out," replied the Tinker. "People will think that
they were drowned, that they shot each other, or that something else
happened to them."

"I'll do anything but kill," said Stayford; "that I'll never do. I once
knew a murderer who was haunted by a ghost day and night. Besides, what
good would it do?"

"It'll save this cave and everything in it!" said the Tinker; "besides,
those boys are Catholics! I hate them!"

"Tom!" cried Stayford, jumping to his feet, "don't say anything against
the Catholics around here, or I'll make you swallow one of these red-hot
coals. I'm a Catholic, or I should be one. Yes! I - I am one, and don't
you say anything against them!"

Tom was silent.

Stayford looked at him defiantly, and continued, "I told you before,
Tom, not to run down the Catholics, and if you do so again you've got to
take back your words, or whip Walter Stayford!"

"Darn my buttons!" interposed Jerry. "Here you is fighting again. I'll
club both of you until you feel like wild cats under a dead-fall if you
keep on fighting. I reckon we'll turn the boys loose, and - - "

"Be ruined, robbed, sent to jail!" interrupted Tom.

"If you want to lose every cent you has, Tom, and be hauled off to
Louisville and hung, just kill them boys! Just kill them, and you'll
have every man in the country on the trail, like so many hounds, and
they'll follow us up till we're caught!"

"Yes," chimed in Stayford, "and you'll have these holes full of ghosts."

"And if you'd bury them a thousand miles deep, they'd be found. They'd
come up to the top to tell on us somehow, darn if they wouldn't," said
Jerry.

"But boys can't keep secrets!" argued Tom.

"I reckon they can, if we do it this here way. Let 'em know that we are
on to 'em, and if ever they says one word about this here cave, we'll
burn their father's houses, and play thunder in general. I reckon
that'll fetch 'em."

"Well, Jerry," said Tom, "it would be pretty hard to kill two boys for
such a small thing. I don't like your plans, but you have been as sly as
a red fox since we started in the business, and if you haven't lost your
senses, I know you will run things all right."

Tom became himself again as soon as he was convinced that his money was
safe. His last words on leaving the cave at break of day were: "Run it


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