Thereupon, as the sheriff asked the reason he had for believing such a thing, Maurice started in to explain. He told of finding something of value on the boat that belonged to George Stormway’s wife, Bunny Badgeley that was—how the man with the red-top had tried to steal the packet and was baffled by reason of Thad’s cunning trick; how his chum had seen him just outside the hamlet of Morehead Landing, the tracks on the road, and finally the figure seen by the clump of bushes.
“Yes,” broke in Thad just then, and his chum saw that an expansive grin covered his face as he spoke, “and if the gentlemen will only take a squint up over their heads they will see the party in question squattin’ on that limb right above us, where he hid himself, I reckon, thinkin’ to just drop down on whichever held the gun!”
Then there was an immediate craning of necks; and loud laughs from the members of the Mississippi sheriff’s posse attested to the fact that they had discovered what strange fruit that live oak bore.
The great good news.
“It’s a big fat ’possom!” shouted one of the posse, swinging his gun upward, as though getting ready to shoot.”
“You’re away off, Dexter; look closer and you can see the ringed tail of a ’coon!” jeered a second.
“If we had the dawgs hyah we’d have a heap o’ sport, gents; but as it is, I reckon as how we’ll jest have tuh fill him full o’ lead, an’ let her go at that!” exclaimed a third member of the party.
These various remarks, while evidently spoken in a spirit of levity, aroused strenuous opposition above. There was an immediate movement of the object straddling the limb. Then two arms waved vigorously, and a high-pitched voice sounded:
“Hold on, thar, yo-uns! I ain’t a ‘coon, but I’m acomin’ down right smart, all the samee. Don’t let loose on me, boys; I ain’t wuth the powder. I jest wants some un tuh kick me for bein’ sech a fool as tuh think you-uns was thet bunch o’ swamp-hiders!”
The speaker slid along the limb to the body of the tree and began to make his way toward the ground.
Maurice looked at Thad, and there was perplexity in his eyes. He understood the sly tactics of the red-headed man, and wondered whether they would succeed in hoodwinking the sheriff and his posse.
The question was soon answered, for hardly had the cracker reached the ground than Sheriff Jerrold stepped up to him, that piercing eye fastened on the ugly face of the climber.
“Yer under arrest, Jeff Corbley!” he said, making a motion to one of the others to bind the fellow.
“Me? What fur, sheriff? I declar I jest clim’ thet tree ’cause I was skeered. I hed a squint o’ yer crowd acomin’ over the rise, an’ I spected ’twar them coons hustling out fur grub. They got it in fur me, an’ I jest het up ther tree quicker nor lightnin’.”