An unexpected meeting.
“He was here, all right!” said Thad, in an awed tone, as he looked all around him.
Maurice took several steps forward, as if mechanically starting to follow the plain imprints of those big shoes.
“Hold on, there, pard; you wouldn’t want to chase after that critter, now, would you? We haven’t lost anybody, that I know about. The best thing for us is to keep right along the road, and mind our own business. Ain’t I right?” demanded Thad.
“I reckon you are, son; and don’t think I was so silly as to try and follow that creeper. I’m not anxious to see him. Come on, the quicker we get moving the better.”
With that Maurice turned on his heel and started off.
“I don’t want him to get the notion in his head we’re scared about it,” he muttered; “but all the same I think we’d better shinny on our own side, and move along.”
“Keep that gun ready for business, Maurice,” admonished the other, who flourished his stick in a belligerent way while bringing up the rear.
“Don’t you fear about that, my friend. If anybody jumps out at us I’m ready to give him a warm reception!”
Maurice spoke aloud. It was his hope that if the man might be lingering near he would overhear the words, and take warning accordingly.
They hurried along the dimly defined road. It must have been quite some time since vehicles used this, for the marks of wheels were in many places utterly obliterated by the rains of summer and fall.
Three times they really got off the trail; but fortunately their united vigilance told them of the fact before it was too late to remedy it easily.
“Must be getting near George’s place,” grunted Thad, at last, for he was almost out of breath, what with their haste, and the necessity for keeping that head of his at all angles, so as to forestall any treachery on the part of the enemy, whom he felt sure must be dodging their trail all this time, waiting for a chance to get in a telling blow.
“I’m afraid not. Seems to me Mr. Stallings said it was nearly a mile past the swamp; and you see we’ve just got to the worst of that.”
“All right, then; keep hoofing it, pard. We’ve just made up our minds that we’re going to see George at home, and nothing ain’t going to stop us. Get that?” declared Thad.
“Just what I say. Come on again, if you’ve caught your wind.”
Again they pushed on.
Their surroundings seemed even more dreadful than ever; and Maurice realized for the first time what a fearful place a swamp may seem, especially when danger is hovering about, and a hostile figure may spring out from behind any tree.
Even the sudden harsh cawing of a crow that sprang up from the ground and lodged on a branch startled Thad; and when a rabbit bounded away through the brush alongside the road, Maurice involuntarily threw his Marlin half way up to his shoulder as though inclined to press the triggers.