“Men, we’re wastin’ time!” repeated young Desha.
“Get the horses!” ordered Dunwody of the nearest black.
It was twilight when the little cavalcade from Tallwoods arrived at the old river town of St. Genevieve. The peaceful inhabitants, most of them of the old French strain, looked out in amazement at the jaded horses, the hard-faced men. By this time the original half dozen riders had received reinforcements at different plantations, so that a band of perhaps thirty armed men had assembled. It had needed little more for the average listener than a word telling the news.
Brief inquiry at St. Genevieve informed them that the little steamer Helen Bell had passed the town front that day soon after noon. As she depended almost as much upon poles and lines for her up-stream progress as upon her steam, it was thought likely she would tie up for the night at some point not more than ten or twelve miles up-stream. Dunwody therefore determined to ride across the river bed at its shortest distance, in the attempt to intercept the steamer, relying upon chance to secure small boats near at hand should they be necessary. His men by this time were glad enough to dismount and take some sort of refreshment before this last stage of their journey.
It was dark when again they mounted, and the old river road, full of wash-outs, stumps and roots, made going slow after the moon had sunk. They had, however, no great distance to ride. At a point ten miles up the river they came upon a small huddle of fishermen’s huts. At one of these Dunwody knocked, and the frightened tenant, at first almost speechless at the sight of so many armed men, stammeringly informed him that the steamer had passed late that evening and was, in his belief, tied up at a little towhead island not more than half a mile up-stream.
“What boats have you got here?” demanded Dunwody.
“No boat at all, Monsieur,” rejoined the habitant.
“Maybe so four, five feesh boat, that’s hall.”
“Bring them out!” was the terse order.
They dismounted and, leaving their horses tied in the wood at the roadside, they went to the water’s edge and presently embarked, a half dozen men in each of as many long river skiffs, of the type used by the fishermen in carrying out their nets. Dunwody and Clayton were in the foremost boat and each pulled an oar. The little flotilla crawled up-stream slowly, hugging the bank and keeping to the shadows. At last they were opposite a low, willow-covered island, and within a narrow channel where the water, confined between two banks, flowed with swifter current. At length, at Dunwody’s quiet signal, all the boats paused, the crews holding fast to the overhanging branches of the trees on the main shore of the river.
“She’s out there, just across yonder island,” he whispered. “I think I can see her stack now. She must be tied up close. We can slip in on this side, make a landing and get aboard her before she can stop us, if we’re careful. Keep perfectly quiet. Follow us, boys. Come on, Clayton.”