During this time, also, Frank March had improved so rapidly that he was able to sit up and take an interest in what was going on. He had become much attached to Mrs. Elmer, and seemed very happy in her company. Neither she nor the children had asked him any questions concerning his past life, preferring to wait until he should tell the story of his own accord.
On the third evening of his being with them he was helped into the sitting-room, and lay on the sofa listening intently to Mrs. Elmer as she read to Mark and Ruth a chapter from a book of travels that they had begun on the schooner. As she finished and closed the book, the boy raised himself on his elbow, and said,
“Mrs. Elmer, I want to tell you something, and I want Mark and Ruth to hear too.”
“Well, my boy,” said Mrs. Elmer, kindly, “we shall be glad to hear whatever you have to tell, if it won’t tire and excite you too much.”
“No, I don’t think it will,” replied Frank. “I feel as if I must tell you what a bad boy I have been, and how sorry I am for it. More than a month ago I stole father’s gun and dog, and twenty dollars that I found in his desk, and ran away from him. Ever since then I have been living in the woods around here, hunting and fishing. When the weather was bad I slept in the kitchen of this house, and when you folks moved in, it seemed almost as if you were taking possession of what belonged to me. The first night you were here I crept into the kitchen and stole a loaf of bread and a duck.”
“There!” interrupted Mark, “now I know where I saw you before. It was you who looked into the window and frightened me that first night, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” said Frank; “and I meant to scare you worse than that, and should have if the alligator hadn’t caught me. I saw you and your father go down the river that morning, and heard him say he was going to Tallahassee, and I waited then for you to come back alone. I drew out the shot from one barrel of my gun, and was going to fire a charge of powder at you when you got close to the point. I thought perhaps you would be so scared that you would upset your canoe and lose your rifle overboard. Then I thought I might get it after you had gone, for the water is shallow there, and I wanted a rifle awfully.”
“Oh! what a bad boy you are,” said Ruth, shaking her pretty head. “Yes, I know I am,” said Frank, “but I ain’t going to be any longer if I can help it.”
“How did that alligator get you, anyway?” asked Mark, who was very curious upon this point.
“Why, I pulled off my boots because they were wet and hurt my feet; then I lay down to wait for you, and went to sleep. I suppose the ’gator found it warm enough that day to come out of the mud, where he had been asleep all winter. Of course he felt hungry after such a long nap, and when he saw my bare foot thought it would make him a nice meal. I was waked by feeling myself dragged along