Jack and Jarvis jumped off the car and struck out for home. Carkeek and his Cornishmen followed the lads until they were well clear of the village, to protect them, and then Carkeek said:—“Me and the others like for to hear ’e talk, mister, and we like for to ’ear ’e talk more.”
“All right, Goliath,” said Jack. “Come over any time and we’ll make plans.”
Two days later the boys, returning from the city, were met by Jane and Jessie in the big carriage to be driven home. Halfway to Four Oaks the carriage suddenly halted, and a confused murmur of angry voices gave warning of trouble. Jack opened the door and stood upon the step.
“Fifteen or twenty drunken miners block the way,—they are holding the horses,” said he.
“Let me out; I’ll soon clear the road,” said Jarvis, trying to force his way past Jack.
“Sit still, Hercules; I am slower to wrath than you are. Let me talk to them,” and Jack took three or four steps forward, followed closely by Jarvis.
“Well, men, what do you want? There is no good in stopping a carriage on the highroad.”
“We want work and money and bread,” said a great bearded Hun who was nearest to Jack.
“This is no way to get either. We have no work to offer, there is no bread in the carriage, and not much money. You are dead wrong in this business, and you are likely to get into trouble. I can make some allowance when I remember the bad whiskey that is in you, but you must get out of our way; the road is public and we have the right to use it.”
“Not until you have paid toll,” said the Hun.
“That’s the rooster who said we drank whiskey and didn’t work. He’s the fellow who would rob a poor man of his liberty,” came a voice in the crowd.
“Knock his block off!”
“Break his back!”
“Let me at him,” and a score of other friendly offers came from the drunken crowd.
Jack stood steadily looking at the ruffians, his blue eyes growing black with excitement and his hands clenched tightly in the pockets of his reefer.
“Slowly, men, slowly,” said he. “If you want me, you may have me. There are ladies in the carriage; let them go on; I’ll stay with you as long as you like. You are brave men, and you have no quarrel with ladies.”
“Ladies, eh!” said the Hun, “ladies! I never saw anything but women. Let’s have a look at them, boys.”
This speech was drunkenly approved, and the men pressed forward. Jack stood firm, his face was white, but his eyes flamed.
“Stand off! There are good men who will die for those ladies, and it will go hard but bad men shall die first.”
The Hun disregarded the warning.
“I’ll have a look into—”
“Hell!” said the slow-of-wrath Jack, and his fist went straight from the shoulder and smote the Hun on the point of the jaw. It was a terrible blow, dealt with all the force of a trained athlete, and inspired by every impulse which a man holds dear; and the half-drunken brute fell like a stricken ox. Catching the club from the falling man, Jack made a sudden lunge forward at the face of the nearest foe.