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The Rover Boys on the Plains/Chapter 4

CHAPTER IV


TROUBLE WITH NEGROES


"The rolling, the rolling,
The rolling river for me!
The rolling river, the rolling river,
That carries us down to the sea!"

So sang Songbird Powell the next morning when he came out on deck after a refreshing night's rest.

"Songbird, you're a regular lark," remarked Dick.

"I feel like one," was the answer. "Who wouldn't feel good on such a glorious morning as this?"

"Maype you didn't haf some ghosts drouble you?" put in Hans with a grin.

"Forget it, Hans," answered Dick. "It's too fine a morning to think of ghosts."

It was indeed a glorious morning, clear and balmy. The ladies of the party were much pleased, and so were the girls. All gathered on the deck to take in the sights before breakfast was announced by Aleck.

A big schooner, was passing with all sails set, and, not long after this, a large steamer, bound up the Mississippi, hove into sight.

"Now, we'll get some big swells," remarked Sam, and he was right. Soon the houseboat began to rock in a fashion that pleased the boys, but alarmed the girls.

"When the houseboat rocks like that, I'm always afraid we'll be swamped," said Grace.

"There is little danger of that," said Captain Starr. "The wash would have to be much heavier before it could do any damage."

The morning passed pleasantly enough. The ladies spent the time over their fancy work, while the girls and boys read, played games and also sang and played. There was a piano on the Dora, and the boys had a guitar and a banjo along.

They were at dinner and discussing their next stopping place, when, without warning, there came a shock that threw Aleck flat on the floor, with a trayful of cup-custards over him.

"Fo' de lan' sake!" gasped the colored man. "Has we struck a stone wall?"

"Whow!" ejaculated Fred, who had had some hot coffee spilled on his knee. "This isn't pleasant, I can tell you."

Dick was already running on deck, and the others followed. They saw that Captain Starr's face was full of concern. Not another craft of any kind was in sight, and they were a good two hundred feet from shore.

"Didn't we strike something, Captain?" asked the eldest Rover.

"Reckon we did, sir," was the answer.

"What?"

"A sunken tree, most likely. They are the worst things to be met with on the Mississippi. More than one boat has been sunk by a hidden tree trunk."

"Did the snag poke a hole into us?" asked Tom.

"If it did, we had better make for shore."

"I'll look around and see," said the captain, and did so, accompanied by the boys and Aleck. For the time being, dinner was forgotten.

Fortunately, no great damage had been done. One side board had been loosened, but this was easily nailed tight, and then the houseboat proceeded on her way as before.

"I've heard of boats being wrecked by these snags," said Songbird.

"One boat I was on, some fifteen years ago, was wrecked that way," said Captain Starr. "She was running at full speed, when we struck a big tree that had rather a sharp point The point ran through into the cabin and killed two people, and the boat sank in ten minutes."

"Excuse me from such a disaster as that," was Fred's comment, while Nellie, who had heard the story, shuddered.

That evening, they tied up close to the village of Canston. Not far south was a large plantation, employing a great number of negroes, and some of these came down to take a look at the houseboat.

As soon as the Dora was tied up, Captain Starr made a thorough examination of the craft, to make certain that she had received no injury below the water-line. Dick accompanied him, and so did Songbird.

"She is O. K.," announced the captain. "There isn't a leak as big as a flea anywhere."

Aleck, Tom and Sam went down into the village to procure some stores for the houseboat, and while there learned that there had been a row at the plantation and two negroes had been seriously hurt. As a consequence of the quarrel, one burly negro called Watermelon Pete had run away.

"He's a bad egg, that Watermelon Pete," said the storekeeper in speaking of the affair. "I wish he'd leave this locality for good."

When the boys got back to the houseboat, they found the others hunting all over the Dora with lanterns.

"What are you looking for?" asked Tom.

"Grace thinks she saw a big negro come on board," answered Dick. "We are trying to root him out."

The houseboat was searched from end to end, but nothing could be discovered of any intruder.

"Must have sneaked off again," said Sam. "If he did, I hope he didn't steal anything."

"We'll keep our eyes open after this," said Captain Starr.

The night passed quietly enough, but, for some reason she could not explain, Grace awoke long before the others. She tried to go to sleep again, but, finding that a failure, dressed and went out on the deck.

She had been out only a few minutes, when, on walking past the dining-room window, she saw a sight that filled her with amazement. By the closet was a burly negro, filling a carpetbag with silverware!

"Oh!" she cried. "Stop that!"

At the sound of her voice, the burly negro turned and scowled viciously at her.

"Yo' dun keep quiet!" he said in a low, intense voice.

"I shall not," answered Grace. "Help, somebody!" she called.

"Hush up, yo'!" fairly hissed the burly intruder, and sprang for the doorway. In another moment he had Grace by the arm. "Don't yo' make anudder sound, or yo'll git sumfing yo' won't lak!"

"Oh!" gasped the poor girl. She wanted to say more, but the words stuck in her throat. The negro still held her, and his grasp was like that of steel.

"Are yo' gwine to shut up?" asked the intruder.

"Le—let me go, please!"

"Ain't gwine to let yer go. Be still now, heah?"

Grace did hear, and, as the negro glowered at her, her heart almost stopped beating. She gazed around, and so did the negro. Not another person was in sight.

"Come into de room," went on the negro after a painful pause, and he literally dragged her forward to the door. "If yo' be still, yo' won't git hurt."

Holding her with one hand, he continued to fill his carpetbag with the other. Spoons, knives and forks were rapidly stowed away, and they were followed by some napkin rings and other articles of value.

As the negro worked, Grace recovered some of her self-possession. She did not dare to cry out, and tried to think of some other method of arousing the others on the boat. Her eyes fell upon a bell pull hanging from the wall and, on the sly, she gave it a violent jerk.

The rope connected with a bell in the cook's galley. This was close to where Aleck was sleeping, and it caused the cook to arouse with a start.

"Dis chile mus' hab done overslept hisself," he exclaimed, and then, as the bell rang once more, he sprang up in a hurry. "Sumt'ing wrong, dat's suah as yo're boahn!"

Throwing himself into some of his clothing, he ran out on deck and to the dining-room. One glance was enough, and he raised a shout which aroused everybody on the houseboat.

The shout told the intruder that his game was up, and, carpetbag in hand, he started to run away. But Aleck put out his foot, and the other negro went sprawling at full length.

"Yo' stay right dar!" roared Aleck Pop wrathfully. "Don't yo' 'tempt to git away, nohow, 'less yo' want to go to yo' own funeral."

"Yo' ain't gwine ter stop me!" yelled the thief, and sprang up, hurling the cook to one side. Then he started for the shore.

By this time Sam was coming out of his stateroom. He saw the fleeing negro and made after him, catching the rascal just as he was about to leap ashore.

"Not so fast!" he sang out, and caught him by the arm.

"Yo' can't hole me!" stormed the burly fellow, and tried to twist himself loose. But, before he could break away, Captain Starr was at hand, quickly followed by Tom and Hans.

"Vot's der madder, vos he a robber?" asked Hans. "Schoot him der sphot on!"

"Git back, dar, I'se a dangerous coon!" ejaculated the burly negro, and suddenly produced a big revolver of the old civil war kind. "Don't dare lay han's on me ag'in!"

At the sight of the pistol, all fell back, and in a twinkling the negro was over the side and running for the nearest patch of woods.

"Let us go after him," said Dick, and the others agreed. But pursuit was useless, the burly negro was gone. Later they learned that he was Watermelon Pete, the rascal who had gotten into a row at the nearby plantation.

"Are you hurt, Grace?" was Sam's first question after the chase had come to an end.

"No, but that colored man nearly scared the life out of me," she answered, and then told her story.

"I wonder if we'll ever see him again," said Fred.

"Most likely not," answered Dick. But he was mistaken. He was to meet Watermelon Pete, and under circumstances as surprising as any that he had yet encountered.

"Well, there is one satisfaction," remarked Songbird. "He didn't get away with any of the stuff."

"No, but he mussed de dinin'-room all up!" growled Aleck. "An' dat silber has got to be shined up ag'in befoah we kin use it."

During the day, several half-intoxicated colored men came on board of the Dora and made it decidedly unpleasant for all hands.

"We may as well get out of here," said Dick, and the others agreed with him.

Two negroes were on board at the time, and Captain Starr ordered them ashore.

"Give us some rum, an' we'll go," answered one of them impudently.

"You're going, and without any rum!" cried Dick wrathfully, and ran the colored man to the gangplank. Sam and Tom caught hold of the other colored man and did likewise.

"Let go ob me!" roared one of the fellows, and then both of them began to struggle and use language not fit for polite ears to hear.

"Dump them into the river—the bath will do them good," suggested Songbird, and in a trice this was accomplished, and both went down with a loud splash. By the time they had managed to crawl to the shore through the mud, the houseboat was a good distance out into the stream. The negroes shouted and shook their fists, but the Rovers and their friends, and even Aleck, laughed at them.

"Dem fool niggers don't know nuffin'," growled the cook. "I'se 'shamed ob 'em, I is!"

"Perhaps they won't be so fresh when another houseboat comes along," said Fred.

"Or else they'll do their best to get square," put in Tom.

The journey down the river was continued, and soon the plantation and the village were left far in the distance.