Oliver Optic.

Watch and wait : or, The young fugitives ; a story for young people online

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tempts to get into the boat."

"Yes, sar! Dat's jus' what I'se gwine to do.
I'll broke de head ob any nigger hunter dat's gwine
to come in dis boat, for sartin."

"Now, stoop down, both of you, and let them
fire over our heads as they come up."

Dan crouched down in the bottom of the Isabel,
with the gun ready for use when the decisive mo-
ment should arrive; Quin and Cyd did the same,
and the Intrepid skipper proceeded to give them
such instructions for repelling the assault as the oc-
casion required. Ail of them were to keep their


places till the pursuers were close alongside, when
the four guns, which were ready for use, were to
be discharged. They hoped this would be sufficient
to drive them off. If it should not, a fifty-six-pound
weight, taken from the ballast in the run, was to
be pitched into the boat, as she came alongside,
which would break out a hole in its bottom, and
sink it before the enemy could get on board; Cyd
was then to do duty with his boat-hook, and the
others with similar weapons.

The slave hunters showed some hesitation in
boarding the schooner. The; guns which had been
fired from her had undoubtedly inspired them with
a proper respect for those on board of her. The
Isabel lay with her sails hanging loosely from the
gaffs for half an hour, and still the enemy did not
come up to her.

"We's gwine to hab a shower," said Quin.

"And a squall, too, I'm afraid," added Dan,
as he cast his eyes anxiously over the rail, to ob-
serve a pile of dense black clouds, which had sud-
denly rolled up the midnight sky.

"VVhar's de boat?" asked Cyd.

"She lies off here only a little way from us. If
she v/ill only keep still till we can get a breeze,
we shall be all right."


"Let 'em come on ; dis chile's all ready for 'em,"
replied Cyd.

"Have you got over being scared?"

"Never was skeered."

"You said you were."

"Cyd's only jokin' den. I done feel so kinder
stirred up. I done want to holler — make de nig-
ger feel good."

"Hush I They are coming!" exclaimed Dan,
whose quick eye detected a stealthy movement on
the part of the boat.

"Hallo! In the boat, thar," shouted the slave

"Well, what do you want?"

"We're goin' to come on board of yer."

"No, you are not. You are all dead men if you
attempt it."

"What do you want to shoot us fur? We ain't
a-goin' to hurt yer."

"You fired first, you infernal chicken thieves!'
We know what you are," replied Dan, who thought
it best to class them with these depredators — men
who frequent the western and southern rivers, plun-
dering boats or houses, as opportunity presents.

"We ain't no chicken thieves."

"Keep off. We know you," repeated Dan.


This conversation was followed by another
pause, during which the careful skipper had an-
other opportunity to examine the weather indica-
tions. They were decidedly unfavorable. It was
probable that a squall, If not a tornado, would soon
burst upon them, and he deemed it prudent, even
at the risk of being shot, to haul down the jlb-
topsall, the staysail, and the gaff-topsalls. This he
succeeded In doing ; but he had scarcely finished the
job, without giving himself time to stow the extra
sails, before he saw the boat of the pursuers dash-
ing rapidly toward the Isabel. The slave hunters
had at last made up their minds what to do. They
meant to risk the encounter.

Just then a sharp flash of lightning illumined the
lake, followed by the muttering thunder. A few
fitful flashes of lightning had before glared on the
gloomy scene ; but now it gleamed fiercely from the
somber clouds, and the heavy thunder rolled an
almost incessant peal.

''Ready! Ready, now!" said Dan, earnestly,
as he sighted his gun at the trio in the boat, which
the lightning plainly revealed to him.

"All ready," replied Quin.

"Now give it to them," said Dan, as he dis-
charged his gun^ and grasped another,


Quin did the same. The pursuers' boat was not
more than ten rods from them, but, from the want
of skill In the marksmen, the discharge proved

"Put In! Put In!" yelled one of the slave hunt-
ers. "Never mind their firing. They can't hit

Dan and Quin fired again.

'Tm hit !" roared one of the enemy, with a hor-
rible oath. "Don't go no furder."

"Keep her a-goin' !" replied another. "We'll
fix 'em In a minute now."

The boat dashed up toward the Isabel ; but Dan,
as soon as he had fired, leaped from his place, and
seizing the fifty-six-pound weight, plumped It full
into the bottom of the boat. The fugitives heard
the pine boards crash, as the weight broke Its way
through, and went to the bottom of the lake.

"Stand by, now !" shouted Dan, as he seized his
club, and dealt a heavy blow upon the head of the
slave hunter who was In the act of leaping on board
the schooner.

, "We're sinking!" cried another of them; and
the gunwale of the bateau In which they sailed
was nearly submerged.

They had no time to act upon the aggressive;


it was all they could do to secure their own safety.
Just then, the expected squall struck the Isabel,
and though Dan had before cast off all the sheets,
she careened over till the water flowed into the
standing-room. Her watchful skipper sprang to
the helm, and in an instant she righted partially,
and darted forward like a steed pricked with the

"We are safe!" exclaimed Dan, as Lily rushed
from her cabin, startled by the exciting events which
had just transpired.



"Haul down the foresail, Cydl" shouted Dan,
as the Isabel gathered way, and forged ahead. "Be
quick, but be careful of yourself !"

With the assistance of Quin, Cyd got the fore-
sail in, though it was not without a deal of hard
tugging, for the wind now blew a fierce gale. As
soon as sail was thus reduced, the sheets of the jib
and mainsail were secured, and the schooner lay
down to her work, dashing through the water at
a furious rate.

"We are all right now, Lily," said Dan. "Go
Into your cabin again, or you will be blown away."

"Were any of you hurt In the fight?" asked Lily,
as loud as she could scream, for the wind howled
fearfully through the rigging of the schooner.

"No, we are all well and hearty. Go to the
cabin, Lily."

She returned to her place of security, and seemed

. i4e


to be satisfied that the hour of peril had passed,
for the thunder and the lightning, the dashing
waves and the roaring wind, had no terrors com-
pared with those produced by the presence of the
slave hunters.

The Isabel labored fearfully In the heavy squall,
and it was only by the exercise of all his skill that
Dan could keep her right side up. He was obliged,
as the gusts of wind struck her, to ease off the
sheets, and to luff her up. By the glare of the
lightning he obtained the position of the boat In
the lake, or he might have run her on shore, and,
with the beautiful craft, wrecked all the hopes of
his party.

"Here, Cyd and Quin, stand by to reef this main-
sail! We can't stand this long," said Dan, as he
threw the Isabel up Into the wind.

"Possifusl" yelled Cyd, above the howling of
the tempest. "Ye all go to de bottom, for sartin."

"No, we won't; stand by, and work lively. Let
go the peak halyards," replied he, as he cast off
the throat halyards on the other side. "Haul down
the sail as fast as you can, Quin."

With the jib still drawing full, the Isabel con-
tinued steadily on her course, while Dan and Cyd
put a double reef in the mainsail, Quin standing


at the helm in the meantime, and acting under the
direction of the skipper.

*'Now, up with it," added Dan, when the reef-
points were all taken up.

The mainsail was hoisted, and again the Isabel
dashed madly on her course, for she had now all
the sail she could carry in that fierce blow. Dan
stood at the helm, with his eyes measuring the dis-
tances, as the vivid lightning revealed the bearings
of the shores. Cyd was ordered to the forecastle
to keep a sharp lookout ahead, while Quin was
directed to bale out the boat, for at least a hogs-
head of water had poured in over the side when the
flaw struck her.

The wind came in heavy gusts, each one of which
threatened to "knock down" the Isabel; and if her
skipper had not been a thorough boatman, such
must have been her fate. By skilfully meeting the
flaws as they struck her, he prevented her from cap-
sizing. Under ordinary circumstances he would
have deemed it highly imprudent to carry any sail,
and would have anchored the boat with a long
cable; but this was the battle of freedom, and suc-
cess was worth any risk and any peril which it
might require.

The tempest, however, was of short duration..


When the rain began to pour in torrents, the gale
subsided. The reefs were shaken out, and, finally,
the foresail was set again. The wind continued
to blow pretty fresh, but all danger was at an end.

"What you 'pose come ob dem men?" asked
Quin, as he finished his task of baling out the boat.

*'I don't know; but I feel confident that not all
of them are able to tell what has happened to

"One of them was hit wid de shot," added

"And I struck one over the head with a fender."

"Dem two mus' be gone killed dead for sure,"
said Quin, with solemn earnestness.

"Of course it was not possible for them to get
ashore, for their boat was stove all to pieces. Do
you know them, Quin?"

"Yes, sar; dey's all nigger hunters."

"Could they swim?"

"I dunno; but I 'speck they could."

"It would not make much difference whether
they could or not. The wind blew a hurricane for
a few moments."

"Quin t'inks dey must be all dead," replied the
man, shaking his head.

I'm afraid they are; but It was not our fault.



If I thought they were, I would not go down the
lake any farther," added Dan, musing.

"I feels almost sartin dey's gone to dar reward
— *may de good Lo'd hab mercy on dar sinful
souls; "

Dan considered the question for a time in silence,
and finally determined to put the boat about, and
head her for his destination at the northwesterly
corner of the lake. The rain still came down in
torrents; but as all on deck were provided with
rubber coats, belonging to the boat, which had
been provided for the use of the planter and his
guests on board, they did not suffer, and were not
even very uncomfortable. But if they had been,
it would not have been regarded as a serious mat-
ter, amid the fierce excitements of that eventful

The storm was nothing more than one of those
sudden showers which come up so unexpectedly at
the South. We once passed through a tornado in
Louisiana, which came in a shower that gathered
upon a blue sky in less than half an hour. It tore
up tall trees as though they had been cornstalks,
and rolled up the Mississippi so that it looked like
a boiling caldron. In half an hour more the sun
was shining gaily on the scene of devastation, as


though Nature had no terrors In her laboratory of

In an hour after the exciting scene on the lake.
the Isabel had a gentle breeze and fair weather.
Cyd still maintained his position on the forecastle,
and Lily once more ventured Into the standing-
room. Dan gave her a minute account of the affray
with the slave hunters, and concluded by stating
his belief that all three of them had been drowned
in the lake.

Lily shuddered at the thought ; for the taking of
human life, even In defense of the freedom which
she valued more highly than life itself, seemed a
terrible thing to her gentle heart.

"Perhaps they are not dead," said she.

"Perhaps not; but it Is hardly possible that they
could have swum ashore. We were at least three
miles from the land, and their boat was all stove
to pieces."

"Dey might hab hold on to de boat," suggested

"But there was an awful sea for a few moments.
Why, the water dashed clean over our decks,"
added Dan. "One of them may have saved him-
self, but I am confident the other two must have
been lost."


*'HI, Dan!" shouted Cyd, from his position at
the heel of the bowsprit.

"What Is It, Cyd?"

"Dar's something ober dar," added Cyd, point-
ing over to leeward, as he walked aft

"What Is It?"

"Cyd t'Inks It's de boat ob de slabe hunters."

"Perhaps It Is," said Dan, musing. "And our
wounded or dying enemies may be clinging to it.
Shall we save them?"

"Hosslfus! Dey kill us ef we does," exclaimed

" 'Lub your enemies,' " said Quin, piously. "Let
us sabe dem If we can. We kin tie dar hands and
fotch 'em ober dar."

"I don't think they are there."

"We must save their lives," added the gentle

"And perhaps lose our own; but I will overhaul
the boat, to satisfy myself whether the men were
lost or not," said Dan, as he let out the mainsheet
and put up the helm. "Stand by with the boat-
hook, Cyd."

In a few moments the Isabel had run up to the
wreck of the boat, and Cyd grappled it with the
boat-hook. There were no men clinging to it, but


in the bottom of the boat, covered over with water,
lay the body of one of the slave hunters. It was
probably the one who had been shot. He had not
been killed at once, for he had spoken after he was
hit; it looked as though he had been drowned In
the bottom of the boat where he lay.

The fugitives were filled with horror at this dis-
covery. Poor Lily had nearly fainted, and if Cyd
had been shot himself, he could hardly have made
a stronger demonstration. Quin uttered many
pious ejaculations, showing that he had, from his
heart, forgiven this man, v/ho, an hour before, had
thirsted for his blood. Dan, though not less im-
pressed than his companions, was calm and resolute.

"This body may betray us," said he. "We must
sink It in the lake."

"Ugh!" exclaimed Cyd, with a thrill of horror.

"We have no time to spare," added Dan, briskly.
"Bring up another fifty-six, Quin."

The weight was brought up and tied to the corpse
of the slave hunter, as it lay In the boat. Dan then
ordered his companions to tip the boat over; but
Quin, asking for a moment's delay, threw himself
upon his knees, and commenced an earnest prayer
In behalf of the deceased, supplicating forgiveness
for his bloodthirsty enemy. Dan listened reverently


to the prayer, while Lily sobbed as though the de-
parted slave hunter had been her dearest friend,
instead of the bitter foe of her race.

The service was ended; the boat was careened
till the body rolled out, and disappeared in the
depths of the lake.

"May de good Lo'd hab mercy on his poor, sin-
ful soul, for de lub of Jesus' sake!" exclaimed
Quin, as the corpse sank to its resting place.

"Make fast the boat to that cleat on the quarter,
Cyd," said Dan, as he hauled aft the sheets, and
put his helm down.

Cyd obeyed, and the Isabel filled away upon her
course again. Lily was calmer now, but she was
still much impressed by the solemn and awful scene
of which she had just been a witness.

"It's all over now, Lily. Don't think any more
about it," said Dan, in soothing tones.

"It is terrible — isn't it, Dan?" replied she, with
a shudder.

"It is, Lily; but there was no help for It. All
that we have done was in self-defense."

"But it is awful to think of killing them."

"It Is better as it is than If we had let them take


"Did you really mean to kill them, Dan?"


"Not if I could help it; but I would have killed
a dozen of them rather than be carried back Into

"We didn't kill 'em, Missy Lily," Interposed
Quin. "Dey done drownded. De good Lo'd strike
'em down jus' like he did de 'Gyptians in de Red
Sea, In de midst ob dar wickedness. We didn't kill
'em, Missy Lily."

"That's it, Lily," added Dan, endorsing the ex-
planation, though the religious aspect of the case
was not so strongly Impressed upon his mind as
upon that of his pious companion.

"We might have saved them," continued the
gentle-hearted girl, who derived but little consola-
tion from the words of Quin. "You might have
taken them on board when the squall came."

"Why, Lily, I had just smashed their boat with
my own hands, and I wasn't going to put my head
into the lion's mouth. It is best as it is, Lily. The
death of these men will remove all danger from our
path, for no one has seen us except them."

"But how awful !" sighed she.

"I told you, Lily, before we started, that terrible
things might happen to us. You shall be free ; let
this thought comfort you."

But It did not comfort her, and she continued to


bewail the catastrophe that had befallen the slave
hunters till the attention of her companions was
called to the position of the Isabel.

"Dar's land on de bof sides of us," called Cyd,
who had again been stationed at the heel of the
bowsprit to act as lookout man.

"All right! I see It/' responded Dan. "Quin,
let go the foresail halyards. How does It look
ahead, Cyd?"

"Dark as de back of dis chile's hand."

"Look out sharp!"

"Do dat, for sartln."

The Isabel continued slowly on her course, for
the woods on the shore now began to shelter the
sails from the full force of the wind. The corner
of the lake grew narrower with every moment she
advanced, till the boat was not more than a couple
of rods from either shore. She was running up
one of the tributaries of the lake.

Presently the creek was less than thirty feet wide ;
and having passed round a bend so as to hide her
from the open lake, Dan ordered his companions
to make fast to a tree, as he ran her up to the shore.



The place where the Isabel had been moored
was in the midst of a gloomy and extensive swamp.
Though Dan had never been here before, he had
heard of the region, and from the first had deter-
mined to conceal his party within its deep and al-
most impenetrable morasses. The swamp was about
fifteen miles in extent from north to south, and ten
from east to west. It was full of bayous and
lagoons, and inhabited only by herons, alligators,
and other wild animals of the southwest.

It was impossible to penetrate the swamp with-
out a boat, for the terra firma of the region con-
sisted only of islands covered with trees, most of
them surrounded by shallow and muddy waters. It
is doubtful whether any human being had ever
fully explored this extensive swamp ; and Dan was
confident that if he could succeed in making his
way with the Isabel to a distance of two or three



miles from the lake, his party would be free front
intrusion, unless, indeed, the slave hunters made a
business of driving them from their covert.

The information of the leader of the expedition
in regard to the swamp was exceedingly limited.
All he knew had been derived from Colonel Ray-
bone, who, in conversation with some of his friends,
had mentioned the region, and given a partial de-
scription of it. He had learned that the bayou,
which was the outlet of the waters of the swamp,
was obstructed by fallen timber a short distance
from the lake. As runaway slaves could not live
In this desolate place, there had been no occasion to
pursue them into its deep recesses.

The party on board the Isabel were very much
fatigued by the labor and excitement of the night ;
and when the schooner was safely moored, Dan de-
clared that nothing more should be done until the
party had rested themselves. It was not yet day-
light, and the boat was In a secure position.

*'But we must not all go to sleep," added Dan»
**I intend to keep a watch night and day while we
stay In this place, if it should be for a year.''

"Hossifus ! What's de use of keepin' de watch?"
yawned Cyd, as he stretched himself, and opened
his mouth wide enough to take In a small alligator.


^'Suppose half a dozen slave hunters should come
up here while we are all asleep?" replied Dan,

" 'Pose dey come when we're all awake — ^what

**We can beat them off, as we did those last

^'Gosslfus! Some ob us git killed for shore, if
dey keep shooten wid de guns."

"Better die than be taken, Cyd. We must be-
lieve this before we can be sure of success."

"Dat's what Vs gwlne to do," added Quin. "Dis
chile will fight till dey ain't notin' lef ' ob him — ^ye
kin be shore ob dat."

"Possifus ! Den, If you's all gwine to fight, Cyd
ain't gwine to be out ob de fashion, for sartin. I's
don't know much about de guns, but Cyd kin split
a two-inch plank a-buttin' agin' It. I's can't shoot,
but I can butt," grinned Cyd. "You kin bet your
life dis chile ain't no coward, nohow."

"You did very well last night, Cyd, and I hope
you will stand up to your principles," said Dan.

"What's dem?"

"What do you think, Cyd?"

"Hossifus! Cyd t'inks he's sleepy," yawned he.


opening his mouth In a fearful gape. "Fs stand
up to dat, for shore."

"Very well ; but one of us shall stand watch while
the others sleep. Which shall It be?"

"I'll be de fus'. I done sleep some last night,"
said Quin. "You didn't shet your eyes once."

"Whose turn next?"

"Cyd's, for sartin. You'm did a big t'Ing last
night, Dan. We all done gwlne to de bottom ob
de lake, or de nigger hunters hab us for shore, if
'twan't for you, Dan. You kin sleep all day."

"I'm very tired, and need rest, for we have hard
work before us; but you must keep awake, who-
ever is on the watch. Our lives depend upon the
man on the watch."

"You kin trust me, Dan," replied QuIn.

"So you kin me," added Cyd.

Dan examined all the guns, to see that they were
in condition for immediate use, and then turned In,
to obtain the rest he so much needed. Lily had
already retired, and before the weary skipper could
close his eyes, Cyd was snoring like a sleepy alli-

QuIn was tired and sleepy, as well as his com-
panions ; but It was a matter of conscience with him
to keep awake. He walked up and down the stand-


ing-room in his bare feet, that the noise might not
disturb the sleepers, to guard against the possibility
of being unfaithful to the solemn duty which had
been imposed upon him. The sun rose bright and
clear, and the solitary sentinel still kept vigil over
the sleeping party in the cabin. Two hours, four
hours elapsed, and Quin still paced the deck. It
was full six hours before the sleepers showed any
signs of life.

Lily was the first to wake and come on deck.
In a whisper she told Quin to go to his berth, and
permit her to keep the watch. At first he objected;
but her persistence finally overcame his scruples,
and he crept softly to his bunk in the forward
cabin. In a few moments he was sleeping as sound-
ly as the rest. The two boys were physically In-
capable of going without their rest. They were
growing, and to sit up all night, filled with anxiety
and excitement, was more than they could bear with-
out Nature's strongest protest.

They slept hour after hour, and Lily faithfully
performed her duty as sentinel over them. The
swamp was as still as the house of death; not a
sound was to be heard, for even the alligators were
motionless, as they sunned themselves upon the dead
logs of the lagoons.


Dan, having slept eight hours strong, was the
first to appear on deck. As he looked at his watch
he was surprised to find It so late, and surprised to
find Lily acting as watch on deck. His orders had
been disregarded; but Lily was too powerful an
advocate with him to permit any blame to be cast
upon his companions. She persuaded him that
everything which had been done was for the best.
Cyd soon after made his appearance, having slept
all he could at one stretch, and the boys proceeded
to get breakfast. Ham and eggs, coffee and toast,
constituted the repast, prepared by the skilful hand
of Lily, though she was assisted by her willing

Quin did not wake till the meal was ready to be
put upon the table; and the party all sat down to
this princely banquet In the forward cabin, with the
feeling that they were fortunate beyond all other
fugitives that had ever escaped to the swamp.

After breakfast — or rather dinner, If we desig-
nate the meal by the time of day — Lily Insisted
upon her right to clear off the table and wash the
dishes, which was yielded after some discussion,
though with the proviso that Cyd should assist In
the heavy work. While they were thus engaged,

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