Oliver Optic.

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

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The overloaded bateau, rendered an escape by
fast rowing impossible, and the fugitives continued
to pull steadily, as before. Dan had his gun in a
position where he could use It when occasion re-
quired. The two men pulled up to within a short
distance of the bateau, and rested on their oars.

"Where ye gwlne with all that stuff ?" demanded

"We belong to a party of gunners up here,'' re-
plied Dan, boldly; for he was determined to make
the most of the circumstances.

"Where be they?"

"Up to Chicot — about ten miles from here."

"Ha, ha, ha !" laughed Longworth, glancing at
his companion. "That's a good story, but it won't
go down."

"You open your mouth wide enough to take
anything dov/n," answered Dan, smartly.

"Can't swallow that story, nohow," said the
overseer. "But who's that boy with you?"

"None of your business. I don't make stories
for you to laugh at."

"Yes, you do, my boy. But you needn't row
any furder. We want ye both,"


"You can't have us."

''We'll see about that," added the man, as he
raised his fowling-piece.

"No use — 'tain't loaded," snarled the other man
in the boat.

"Mine is," replied Dan, elevating the piece.

Longworth cursed his companion for the revela-
tion he had made, and proceeded to load the gun.
In the meantime Dan dropped his piece, and began
to pull again.

"Stop, now. I don't want to destroy vaPable
property with this yere iron, but I must if you don't
stop," continued the overseer, as he finished load-
ing his gun.

"Perhaps I can destroy as much valuable proper-
ty as you can," said Dan, as he took his fowling-
piece again.

"You must come with me. I know that nigger
in the boat with you, and I reckon you belong to
Colonel Raybone."

"I, you villain! How dare you insult me? I
am a free white man."

"Perhaps you be, but you've been advertised
enough to let any man In these yere parts know
you. That nigger belongs to my neighbor. If


youVe a mind to come in quietly, Fll see you let
off without any whippin'."

"I have no mind to come in, either quietly or
otherwise," replied Dan.

"Then the wust's your own"; and Longworth

The ball whistled within a few feet of Dan's
head; but, unterrified by the peril, he raised his
gun and fired.

"Fm hit !" groaned Longworth, as he sank down
into the boat.

The other man in the boat with Longworth took
the gun, loaded it, and fired. At that moment
Dan had stooped down to pick up his shot pouch,
and Quin being the more prominent party in the
bateau, the other man fired at him.

"De LoM sabe me!" groaned Quin, as he placed
both hands on his chest.

Dan was ready to fire again ; but, to his astonish-
ment, he saw the man who had shot his companion
seize the oars and pull away from the spot as fast
as he could.

It was evident that the fate of his companion had
appalled him; and seeing Dan nearly ready to dis-
charge his gun again, he hastened to widen the dis-
tance between them. He rowed with the despera-


tion of a doomed man. As the boat receded, Long-
worth raised himself up, as if to assure the fugi-
tives that he was not dead.

Dan pointed the gun at the retreating boat for
some time, and then fired, but not with the Inten-
tion of hitting his savage foes. They were slave
drivers, but he did not wish to kill them.

The boat shortly disappeared, and Dan turned
his attention to his wounded companion. The ball
had passed through his lungs, and had penetrated
a vital organ. Deeply affected by the event, he
did what he could to stanch the blood; but poor
Quin was past the aid of any surgery, and breathed
his last a few minutes later.

Fearful that other pursuers might soon appear,
Dan worked the boat up the bayou as rapidly as
he could alone; but It was late at night when he
reached the camp. Then he wept; then the tears
of Lily mingled with his own over the corpse of
the honest and faithful Quin, whose spirit had
soared aloft, where the black man is as free as his
white oppressor.



The death of poor Quin filled his companions
with sorrow and dismay. There was weeping all
night long on board of the Isabel. He had been
a true and faithful friend to each Individual of
the party, and they were all sincerely and devotedly
attached to him. With this sad bereavement came
the sense of personal peril, for those who had slain
their associate would not be content till they had
driven his companions from their covert, and shed
their blood or again reduced them to slavery.

Lily was disposed to abandon all her hopes in
despair, and Cyd trembled with fear as he thought
of what the next day or the next week might bring
forth. But the energy and firmness of Dan soon
quieted their fears, and restored. In some measure,
the confidence which had before prevailed In the

"We have defeated the slave hunters twice, and



we can do it again," said he, as he rose from his
seat at the cabin table, around which, as Dan ate
his supper, the party had considered their sad and
perilous condition.

"It's terrible to think of poor Quin," said Lily.
"He was so good and kind."

"And we have one arm less to assist in our de-
fense. Don't cry any more, Lily. I'm afraid we
haven't seen the worst of it yet."

"Can't we do something? Can't we get away
from this place?" asked Lily.

"That is impossible. The water is too low to
float the Isabel down to the lake, even if she were
ready to go. It will take several days to rig her,
and put her in order for our voyage."

"What will become of us?"

"I don't know. I hope for the best. Don't
cry, Lily. I am not afraid of anything. If we
are resolute, we can defend ourselves, if the slave
hunters should find us, which I don't think they

"It's awful to think of fighting and being shot,"
murmured Lily, as she cast a tender glance at Dan.

"I thought of all these things before we started,
and I will not shrink from them now. But come,
Cyd; we must go to work and unload the bateau."


The stores, which had been procured at such a
terrible sacrifice, were taken on board the Isabel,
while the body of poor Quin was laid upon the
trunk cabin, and covered up with a blanket. As
they lifted the lifeless form from the bateau, Dan
could not but recall the extravagant joy of the de-
ceased when the stores were safely embarked. The
scene which followed was a sad commentary on the
hopes which the honest fellow had cherished only
a few hours before.

It was necessary that the corpse should be buried
that night, for the weather was warm, and none
knew what were to be the events of the coming
day. A suitable spot was selected on one of the
adjacent islands, where Cyd and Dan dug a shal-
low grave. The remains of poor Quin, wrapped
in the blanket, were then conveyed in the bateau
to the spot, and deposited in their final resting
place. By the dim light of the lantern, Dan read
a chapter from his Testament, and then all of them
knelt around the grave. No audible prayers were
repeated, but the hearts of these sincere mourners
were filled with the spirit of prayer; and He who
wants no vain words to praise Him, accepted the
solemn but silent service.

The grave was filled, and the fugitives used all


their Ingenuity to conceal the broken ground, that
it might not betray them to the ruthless slave
hunters, who might soon visit the spot. With sad
hearts they returned to the camp. Dan was nearly
exhausted by the fatigue and anxiety of the last
two days; but he could not sleep while there was
anything to be done to prepare for the expected
visit of the slave hunters. His first care was to
put all the arms and ammunition in readiness. He
then showed Lily how to load a gun, that she might
assist them in the defense.

On the islands they had collected a great quan-
tity of logs, to serve them for fuel during the win-
ter. These were carried upon the deck of the
Isabel, and so arranged as to form a kind of breast-
work, to shield the boys from the bullets of the
enemy. By noon on the following day, everything
that could be thought of to conceal or defend the
camp had been done. They were ready for the
slave hunters then, and if Quin had only been with
them they would have felt confident of the result
of an attack.

In the afternoon Dan was so worn out that he
could endure no more, and at Lily's urgent request
he went below, and was soon asleep. Cyd was
fully alive to the necessities of the occasion. He


kept his eyes and ears wide open, but he neither
saw nor head anything that indicated the approach
of an enemy. Lily, though very much alarmed,
was as resolute as her companions; for she knew
and felt what slavery would be if its shackles were
again fastened upon her. She was a gentle, timid,
shrinking girl; but she determined to die rather
than be restored to the tyranny of her capricious
mistress, and the more terrible fate which would
eventually overtake her.

The long, gloomy night that followed passed
away, the anxious watchers still keeping vigil by
turns upon the deck of the Isabel. The next day,
while Lily was keeping watch, both Dan and Cyd
being asleep in the cabin, she heard the dip of oars
in the bayou. Her heart beat a furious tattoo
against her ribs, and she almost sank with horror
as she listened to the sounds which indicated the
approach of the dreaded enemy. It was her duty
to call Dan; but she seemed to be riveted to her
seat. The sounds came nearer and nearer, and
soon she could hear the voices of the slave hunters.
She could distinguish the curses that fell from their
lips as they advanced, and she was faint and sick
with apprehension.

The Isabel was moored at some distance from


the bayou, which led to the lake; but through the
dense foliage which shrouded the boat, she could
discover the slave hunters. They were now not
forty rods distant, and the slightest sound might
betray their hiding place. With quivering lips and
trembling limbs, she peered through the bushes to
ascertain whether the boat turned up the channel
which led to the camp. It was a moment of ter-
rible suspense; a moment fraught with the issues
of freedom or slavery — life or death.

Why did she not call her companions, who were
sleeping peacefully In the cabin, while she was
torn and distracted by these agonizing fears ? She
dared not do so, lest one of them should speak and
betray them all. Cyd was impetuous, and a word
from him might render futile the labors and the
perils of months.

Hardly daring to breathe lest It should undo
them, she watched the progress of the boat. The
slave hunters paused at the mouth of the channel,
consulted for a few moments, and then the bow
of the boat was turned toward the camp. With
a gasp of horror, Lily crouched down upon the
floor of the standing-room, and crept toward the
cabin door. A torrent of despair seemed to be
turned loose upon her soul. She grasped the side


of the cabin door, when suddenly all her strength
forsook her, and she sank senseless upon the floor.
The terrible agony of the tremendous moment was
more than she could endure, and she fainted.

The frail and delicate watcher had failed in the
important duty she had assumed at the very in-
stant when her warning notes were most needed,
and the fugitives were then apparently at the mercy
of the slave hunters. Dan slept, Cyd slept; both
wearied out with watching and hard work, all un-
conscious that their gentle, willing sentinel had
failed them, and that the fiends they dreaded were
within pistol shot of their retreat. They slept, and
were silent. Lily, senseless upon the floor of the
standing-room, pale and motionless as a marble
statue chiseled in the form of angelic beauty, was
silent as the grave. Not a breath of air stirred the
forest leaves, not a ripple agitated the waters. It
was perfect stillness in the camp. There was no
sound to disturb the solemn quiet of that temple
of nature, save the ribald speech of the slave hunt-
ers, mingled with fiendish curses.

There was none to keep watch and ward in the
camp of the fugitives — none but He who watches
over the innocent when they sleep and when they
wake. He was there keeping ceaseless vigil by


the senseless maiden, and over the sleeping boys.
"He doeth all things well"; and the very silence
that reigned in the camp saved the fugitives from
the keen scrutiny of the enemy.

The hunters remained in the vicinity for a few
moments, and finding no clew to the fugitives,
turned their boat, and went back to the bayou.
They proceeded up the stream a few miles farther,
and then, abandoning the search in this direction,
returned to the lake.

Still Dan slept, and Cyd slept, and Lily still lay
silent in marble stillness upon the floor at the door
of the cabin.



The deep silence which pervaded the camp was
first broken by Dan. He woke slowly from his
profound slumbers, looked about him for a mo-
ment, then glanced at Cyd, who, contrary to his
usual custom, did not snore. Everything was still ;
his ear was not saluted by the sharp crack of a
slave hunter's rifle, and no curses disturbed the
solemn silence of the place. Everything seemed
to be secure, and he wondered that the enemy had
not yet appeared.

He was tempted to turn over and go to sleep,

for he still felt very weary, and his repose had

not restored his wonted vigor. But he concluded

to go on deck, as every prudent skipper should,

before he finished his nap. Rising leisurely from

his bunk, he made his way to the standing-room,

where he was almost paralyzed at the discovery of

Lily lying apparently dead upon the floor.



Dan was prompt and decided In action; and
taking the insensible girl in his arms, he placed her
upon the cushioned seat. Tremulous with emotion,
he bent over her to ascertain whether his worst
fears were to be realized. Her heart beat; there
was life, and there was hope.

"Cyd! Cyd!" shouted he. In tones which would
have roused a sleepier boy than his fellow-fugitive,
and which, had it been heard a quarter of an hour
sooner, would have brought the slave hunters upon

Cyd leaped from his couch as the Imperative
tones of Dan reached his ears, fully believing that
the enemy, for whom they had been so patiently
preparing, was upon them. Seizing a gun which
lay upon the table, he rushed aft, ready to do his
share In the Impending battle.

"Wha — wha — whar's de nigger hunters?" de-
manded he, furiously.

"They are not here; there Is no danger," re-
plied Dan, calmly, as he continued to rub the tem-
ples of Lily.

"Posslfus ! Wha — ^wha — ^what's de matter wid
'Missy Lilly?" cried he, as soon as he saw the In-
sensible form of the maiden.

"Bring me a pitcher of water, Cyd,"


"Is she dead?" gasped the poor fellow, as he
obtained a better view of the pale face of Lily.

"No, no; bring me the water — quick!"

Cyd obeyed the order, and Dan sprinkled her
face with the contents of the pitcher. He then left
her for a moment to procure some lavender in her
cabin. Though not a very skilful nurse, he had
seen a lady faint, and knew what to do upon such an
emergency. He applied the lavender and the cold
water so vigorously, and yet so tenderly, that Lily
soon began to show signs of returning conscious-

'What's de matter wid her?" demanded Cyd for
the tenth time, for Dan was too busy to waste time
in answering idle questions.

"She is better," mused Dan, as he pushed back
the curls that had strayed forward upon the
patient's face.

"Hossifus! Dis chile knows what ails Missy
Lily," continued Cyd, opening his mouth to the
utmost of its tension, and exhibiting all its wealth
of ivory.

"What's the matter with you, Cyd? Shut your
mouth and behave like a decent man," added Dan,
rebuking the levity of his companion.

"GossifusI Dis chile knows all about dat; been


dar hisself," chuckled Cyd. "Dis chile n^ber t'Ink
Missy Lily drink too much whisky."

"Silence ! you rascal ! How dare you think such
a thing?" replied Dan, sternly; for he was vexed
enough to pitch Cyd overboard for indulging in
such a suspicion.

"Mossifus! Dat's jus' de way dis chile was."

''Silence! She had fainted. She is better now.
See 1 She is opening her eyes."

Dan continued to bathe the temples of Lily with
lavender till her consciousness returned, and the
terrible incident which had preceded her fainting
was present to her mind. Suddenly, as Dan left
her for a moment, she sprang upon her feet, and
rushed to the place where she had stood gazing at
the approaching boat.

"Where are they?" gasped she.

"Lie down again, Lily. You are too weak to
stand," interposed Dan, as he put his arms around
iher waist to support her.

"Where are they? Oh, we are all lost!" ex-
claimed she.

"What do you mean by lost?"

"Where are they?"

"Who, Lily? What is the matter with you?"

"Haven't you seen them, Dan?"


"Seen whom?"

"The slave hunters!" gasped Lily.

"I haven't seen any one," replied Dan, calmly?
for he began to fear that the mind of his fair
charge was affected.

"They are here — close by us, Dan. We shall
all be taken."

"There is no danger, Lily. We are perfectly
safe. Be calm, my dear. You have been dream-

"No, I have not been dreaming. I haven't even
been asleep. It was all real; but I have been a
faithless sentinel."

"Now you are better, Lily, tell me all about
it," continued Dan, seating her upon the cushions.

Lily related the incident which had transpired
while her companions were asleep below ; but Dan
could hardly believe so strange a story, and insisted
that she must have dropped asleep and dreamed it.

"I know I was not asleep."

"Why didn't you call me ?"

"I was afraid that some noise might attract the
attention of the slave hunters, and I deferred it
till I was sure they would discover us. Then I
was creeping on the floor, so that they should not
see me, to the cabin, when I fainted."


*'Hossifusl" gasped Cyd, appalled at the nar-
row escape of the party.

^'Don't you believe me, Dan? I am very sure
I was not asleep/' added Lily, earnestly.

Dan was compelled to believe the story, and he
shuddered as he thought of the peril that had
menaced them while they were all so helpless.
Though he concluded that it was not safe to trust
Lily on the watch, he did not utter a word of re-
proof to her for not calling him sooner.

*'You think I did wrong, Dan, not to call you.
I know you do, though you will not blame me."

*T can't help thinking what might have hap-
pened if the slave hunters had found us while we
were all asleep," replied Dan, seriously. "But I
will not blame you, Lily."

"The slave hunters did not find us. I think
it was all for the best, Dan, that I fainted."


"If I had waked you and Cyd, you might have
made a noise that would have exposed us," an-
swered Lily, very solemnly. "I think it was the
good God that took my strength away in order to
preserve us all."

"It may be; but I had rather be awake when
there is any danger,"


"If you had been awake, you might have been
shot; and then what would have become of us?"

Lily was fully satisfied that her fainting was ai
special providence, which had saved them all from
capture or death. Dan was not so clear upon this
point, and resolved never to sleep again when there
was a possibility of an attack.

For several weeks after these exciting incidents,
all the fugitives confined themselves to the Isabel
and the islands on either side of her. Indeed, be-
tween Dan and Cyd, it was about enough for them
to do the necessary work, and keep 'Vatch and
watch" during the day and night. As nothing
more was seen or heard of the slave hunters, they
concluded that the search had been abandoned, and
they soon ceased to dread their approach. Dan
ventured to hunt again, and everything went off as
before, though all the party missed Quin very

The autumn passed away; the winter came, and
then the spring. If our space would permit us to
record the daily life of the young fugitives while
they remained in the swamp, it would, no doubt,
be interesting to our readers; and for their sake,
no less than for our own, we regret that our limits
do not admit of this lengthened narrative. They


had many trials from cold and storms, from higK
water in the bayou and low water In the casks,
from alligators and buzzards; but they lived
through it ail. Lily was sick a fortnight, and Dan
a week; their fuel gave out in the coldest of the
weather; and an alligator bit off the heel of Cyd's
boot; and a hundred other events occurred which
would bear an extended recital; but we turn from
them with regret, to the closing events in the career
of the young fugitives.

With the high water in April, Dan and Cyd
went to work, In the most vigorous manner, to pre-
pare the Isabel for the uncertain sea voyage which
was before her. After a month of hard labor she
was rigged, the sails bent, her water casks filled, a
supply of fuel put in the fore hold, and the remain-
ing stores conveniently stowed for the cruise.

On the fifteenth of May everything was in readi-
ness; the obstructions in the channel were removed;
and at sunset, with a smashing breeze, the Isabel
hauled out of the channel, and commenced her



At the period of which we write, the railroad
through the Teche country had not been construct-
ed, and the population was very sparsely scattered
over this region. Most of the available land, how-
ever, was occupied; but, of course, none of the
little villages which spring up around railroad sta-
tions, and which, in the course of years, grow into
large towns and cities, had yet appeared.

With many doubts and fears in regard to the
future, the young fugitives commenced the voyage
to the Gulf. It was seventy miles from the camp,
as it was absolutely necessary that the trip should
be performed by night, for the lake, at the season
of high water, was navigable for small steamers,
which, with other crafts, occasionally passed over
its turbid tide. In the passage down, they were
liable to meet some of these boats ; and though the

search for the runaways had long since ceased, the



Isabel might be recognized, and the mystery of her
singular disappearance explained.

Dan was determined to be very cautious, and to
expose his party to no risks which could possibly
be avoided. The voyage was perilous enough at
best, and he was not disposed to trifle with the
good fortune which had thus far attended the ex-
pedition. He knew nothing of the navigation of
the lake, or of the Atchafalaya River, through
which he must pass to the Gulf of Mexico. He
was therefore exposed to many perils. The boat
might get aground at a perilous point, which might
expose them to an examination from some inquisi-
tive slaveholder. He might be stopped by a
steamer, or overhauled by a boat, and the fugitives
taken into custody because they could not give a
good account of themselves.

Then, if he succeeded in reaching the Gulf, he
knew that a day's sail at the most would take him
out of sight of land; and he had nothing but a
small compass and a map of the coast of Texas
and Louisiana to guide him. He had no expecta-
tion of being able to reach the free North in the
Isabel. He depended upon being picked up by
some vessel bound to New York or Philadelphia;
and he had read the newspapers and listened to


the conversation of his master and his guests enough
to know that shipmasters were very cautious about
carrying slaves to the North. But he had made
his plans, and hoped he should be able to overcome
even this most formidable difficulty.

To contend against all these adverse circum-
stances, he had a good boat, though she was not
fully adapted to a sea voyage. With her light
draft, she had but a slight hold on the v/ater;
yet Dan was an excellent boatman, and trusted In
his skill to overcome the deficiencies of his vessel.;
The Isabel was well provisioned for at least a
month; and if the weather was even tolerably fa-
vorable, he felt confident that he should be able
to contend successfully against the elements. At
any rate he feared the ocean, storm, and distance

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Online LibraryOliver OpticWatch and wait : or, The young fugitives ; a story for young people → online text (page 9 of 12)