"Think you see a ghost; or was it a 'coon whisked past, smelling our fine spread here? Speak up, can't you, and tell us?" Toby managed to find his tongue, and as usual when excited made quite a mess of his explanation. "W-w-why, y-y-you s-s-see, I t-that is, there's s-s-somebody oh! look for yourselves and you'll understand quicker'n I c'n tell you!"
"All r-r-right, I will," the accommodating Toby assured him. "Well, you s-s-see, there's so many hencoops afloatin' along seems like there might be a dog or a rooster settin' on top of one, and I thought if I had a chance to get out on the b-b-bridge span I'd try and rope one of the same. I've p-p-practiced throwing a lariat some, and I t-t-think I might snatch somethin' from a watery g-g-grave."
"Huh! s-s-see him pickin' something up. P'r'aps it's an owl's feather," sneered Toby. "Now he's beckoning to us to come on, fellows!" cried the eager Steve. With that the entire bunch started forward, filled with a desire to learn what Max had discovered. He was smiling as they hurriedly approached, and yet at the same time the frown upon his face told that Max found himself puzzled.
"Always ready to hilp the ladies be me sowl, Oi've married three of thim already. An' wus this Hicks's orthers, Stutter?" "N-n-no, not exactly," Brown admitted, with evident reluctance. "B-but ye s-s-see, she's a g-great friend o' B-B-Bill's, an' so I reckon it 'll be all r-right. Don't s-see how n-no harm kin be d-d-done."
"Now point exactly to the spot where, as you say, you saw the staring eyes," Max went on. "T-t-that's easy done. S-s-see where that bunch of wintergreen p-p-pokes up l-like the tuft of an Injun's war bonnet r-r-right there it was, Max." "All right," remarked the other, quickly. "Now, the rest of you just hold your horses a bit and give me a chance to look around."
"Yes, its delivery means life or death for Heaven's sake, take me to him!" For a single breathless moment Brown hesitated, his eyes on the girl's upturned face, evidently questioning her real purpose. "I c-can't right n-now, Miss," he finally acknowledged, gravely; "that's s-straight; fer ye s-s-see, he 's down the 'I-I-Independence' shaft."
"A cabin!" echoed Bandy-legs; but there was relief rather than chagrin in his voice, and the pole Steve clutched steadied a little. "Sure it is, and nothing more!" remarked Owen. "B-b-but, f-f-fellows, did yon ever s-s-see such a c-c-cabin?" demanded Toby. "Well, it does look kind of queer," admitted Steve, "but mebbe that's just because of the shack being abandoned so long.
He had always had a decided weakness for collecting all sorts of wild animals, and that might explain why he displayed such extraordinary excitement now. "There, right over past the end of the r-r-raft, where it s-s-sticks up like a c-c-church spire!" he stuttered, pointing as he spoke. "Now watch everybody, when he pokes his old h-h-head up again. There, don't you s-s-see?
Even Steve raised his head to stare at Owen, though it required an effort for him to break the strange spell the milk-white pearl seemed to have cast about him. "Tell us what you mean, Owen," begged the broad-shouldered young Samson, with the bowed legs. "Yes, p-p-please do, b-because you s-s-see, we're all worked up now." "Then listen, fellows," said Owen, impressively.
Sampson would tell the story for the evening. "I d-don't know about th-that," said Will. "You s-s-see, b-boys, if I tell it I shall have to d-do it b-by fits and starts. If you w-want a s-story told straight ahead, g-g-get somebody whose tongue w-will w-wag when they want it to. If you want a y-yarn j-j-jerked out, I am your man."