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The Strange Story Of Arthur Bridges

From: Far Past The Frontier

Putting down his book, Ree looked thoughtfully into Tom's face.

"Of course," said he, "John and I have wondered about that--that
matter--but we have considered that you had some reason for not talking
of it, or telling us what it meant; and it was really none of our
business. But I want to say, Tom, that I would rather you would not tell
me anything which I must keep from John. He and I--well, you know how we
have always been together, and we have no secrets from each other."

"Bless ye, Ree, lad," exclaimed the old woodsman, "ye kin tell him all ye
please of what I'm goin' to tell ye. The only reason I don't talk before
him is--he's so full o' fun ye know; and ain't always keerful what he
says. I don't keer when we're spinnin' yarns; but this here--it ain't no
triflin' thing."

"It's John's way. He would not hurt your feelings for anything, Tom."

The hunter did not answer at once, but buried his face in his hands. Ree
could plainly see that some great trouble was on his mind. Presently,
however, he raised his head, and with a sigh clasped his hands over his

"Arthur Bridges," he began, "was as fine a young feller as ever the
Colonies produced; an' excep' for bein' a little wild, ye wouldn't a'
asked to clap yer eyes on a promisin'er chap. It was odd he made up t' me
the way he did, me bein' old enough to be his father, a'most, but ye see
we was both at Valley Forge together, an' all men was brothers there. We
had jist one pair o' shoes betwist us,--Art an' me--an' he wore 'em one
day, an' me the next, an' so on. When grub was scant, we shared each with
t'other, an' when he got down sick I took keer on him.

"Art tol' me all about himself then, an' it was pitiful. His ol' pap back
in Connecticut was as pesky an' ol' Tory as ever did the Continental
troops a bad turn; but his mother was loyal as anybody could be. She was
born an' bred in this kentry, an' her husband had come from England; that
was just the difference betwixt 'em, to start on. The upshot on it was,
that Art believed as his mother did, an' it was nat'ral as could be that
he should run off an' join General Washington's army. That is what he did
anyhow, an' his father swore that he hoped the lad would be killed,
though his mother was prayin' for his safety night an' day.

"Once in a long time Art would get some word from home--always from his
mother, tellin' him to stick true through thick an' thin an' all would
come right by an' by. I guess maybe he believed it would, too; but I
didn't ever have much hope on it myself. Bein' a little wild, as ye might
say, Art got wilder yet in the army, though there was always a great love
for his mother in him. But he got so toward the last that he hated his
father--yes, hated him fearful. Then for a long stretch he didn't hear
nothin' from home an' didn't see anybody as had heard anything about his

"That's how matters stood when the war was over. He says to me as how he
was goin' home, anyhow, an' I tol' him he better do that same. As for me,
I was always for rovin' an' I lit out for Kaintucky which we was hearin'
was a great place for fightin' an' huntin'. So that's how it come about
that Art an' me parted company.

"I was in Kaintucky an' 'round thar for more'n four years; some o' the
time with Col. Boone an' some o' the time with other chaps. Then I got to
longin' to go back east an' I went. I wasn't thinkin' o' meetin' up with
Art Bridges again, as I reckoned on him bein' up in Connecticut all
settled down an' married, prob'ly. But who should I meet up with one day
but Art himself, lookin' wilder an' more reckless than when I seen him
last. He comes up to me and slaps me on the shoulder an' calls me by name
a'most before I knowed him. An' it did give me a big surprise to see how
he had changed; not so much in looks as in his ways. He was that rough
like. After a while he tol' me all about himself, an' I could a jist
cried tears for him like a baby.

"He had got started home, he tol' me, after the fightin' was over, an' I
don't know but he might a' been pretty near there--I don't just
remember--but anyhow, who should he meet up with one day in a tavern, but
a cousin o' his who looked so much like him they would 'a passed for
twins anywhere. This here cousin's name was Ichabod Nesbit, an' the first
thing he did when he saw Art was to shake hands with him like they was at
a funeral an' say as how he had some awful bad news to tell him. An' then
he went on to tell him as how his mother had died months before, an' his
ol' pap was livin' on an' cursin' the Colonies with pretty nigh every
breath--an' cursin' his own son. This Nesbit feller told Art, too, as how
the ol' man had run through all his property an' was livin' alone an'
actin' like a crazy man.

"Waal, Art was for goin' back to see the ol' man anyhow, to see if he
couldn't do somethin' to straighten him up some; but this cousin,
Ichabod, tol' him as how he hadn't better do it, sayin' as how if he
could come home an' bring a fortune, folks would say it was all right;
but if he was comin' home with only the clothes on his back, why, he had
better stay away; because he couldn't do nothin' with his father anyhow.
An' somehow this is jist the way Art was brought to look at it, an' it
upset him terrible. For of course the soldiers didn't have no pocket full
o' money an' it was pretty true, likewise, as how he didn't have much
more'n the clothes on his back, jist as Ichabod said. Pretty blue, an' a'
most sick from all his plans o' goin' home bein' spoiled, Art turned back
right thar and led a rovin' life for years. He was quick an' sharp, an'
picked up a livin', but that was 'bout all for he couldn't settle down no

"All this an' a lot more 'bout what he had been doin', Art tol' me there
in Philadelphia, an' I was for gettin' him to go back west with me. But
no, he wouldn't; an' me bein' no hand to make out around the towns, I
jist went back to the frontier an' beyond. I was in Kaintucky an' in this
northwest kentry clean to Detroit. I got to know Simon Kenton, the Injun
fighter, an' I made some big huntin' an' fightin' trips with him an'
other fellers.

"An' so time run along till this last summer a year ago, I takes it into
my head one day to go east agin; an' when I had my mind made up there was
no stoppin' me. I didn't go to Philadelphia right off, but to New York. I
wanted to see the big piles o' furs that come in thar.

"Now it turned out that one day in New York who should I meet up with but
Joel Downs who was with us--Art an' me--in the army. We was talkin' away
thar, when he asked me did I know what had ever become o' Art Bridges?
An' it turned out that he went on to tell me then all 'bout how Art's
father was dead, an' his mother left alone, workin' hard to manage the
farm, though they was well off, because she wanted Art to have a nice
place when he come home. For she wouldn't believe the stories that was
told around (by Ichabod Nesbit, I've been thinkin') that Art was dead. So
she was waitin' an' waitin' for Art to come an' never knowin' how the
poor boy had been lied to by his 'ornery cousin, an' thinkin' he'd come
some day.

"Waal, ye kin jist guess how I felt when I heard all this! For I saw
through it quicker'n wink that that 'ornery Ichabod was tryin' to make
folks think Art was dead, an' schemin' to get hold of the property that
would be Art's if he ever come home alive. But I never says a word 'bout
this to Joel Downs. Not much! I wasn't goin' to have him goin' back to
Connecticut tellin' folks as how Art was leadin' a wild life an' goin' to
the dogs.

"No, sir; I jist begun huntin' for Art Bridges. I went to Philadelphia
first, an' got some track on him, findin' out as how he had gone off to
Kaintucky--lookin' for me, I guess. I went off to Kaintucky too, jist as
fast as I could. I got some track on him again, as how he had gone back
to Philadelphia, We must 'a passed on the road somewheres. Back to
Philadelphia I went again, an' found out as how Art had gone west to
Duquesne--Fort Pitt, or Pittsburgh they call it now. So I started for
Fort Pitt, an' on the way I met up with you young kittens on your way
into this red devils' own kentry.

"An' I come on into this kentry because I found out at Fort Pitt that Art
had gone on west intendin' to make his way to Detroit, huntin' an'
trappin' an' tradin'. He expected to go on to Detroit next spring an' get
a place with a big fur company in charge o' some tradin' post or other,
away off somewheres, he didn't keer where--he was jist that sick of the
kind o' life he was leadin', an' wanted to get 'way off from everybody.

"But that ain't all! There was a man thar as said Ichabod Nesbit had been
seen 'round thar, an' he was lookin' for Art Bridges, too. An' I know
that that 'ornery cousin was lookin' for Art to murder him. I felt it in
my bones. He wanted to be sure Art was dead an' then he would go back an
'pass himself off as Art Bridges an' have the property anyhow. Then when
I heard as how Ichabod had passed himself off as Art in one place, I was
sure I was right. But he didn't need to do no murder 'nless it was him as
hired the bloody varmints to do it for him," and the hunter's voice grew
husky, "for that--that thar scalp--it was Art Bridges'--an' oh, if I had
been jist a day sooner! For the blood on it was hardly more'n dry!"

Tom Fish sunk his face in his hands and a convulsive half-sob, half-sigh
shook his body from head to foot, as though with ague.

Ree Kingdom drew nearer the sorrow-stricken man and took his big hand in
his own.

"Tom," he said, "it is a sad, sad story. I know just what you suffer. But
listen, Tom. It is not absolutely certain that the scalp we saw was that
of your friend. No man could positively swear to it, just by seeing the
color of the hair. And here is another thing I have been wanting to tell
you, Tom, but I did not like to interrupt you. I know how Arthur Bridges'
mother has been waiting and waiting for him to come. I have heard what
she has suffered, for she is a sister of a Mrs. Catesby at whose home I
lived and who was like a mother to me. But Mrs. Catesby's husband, who is
now dead, was not an agreeable man and the sisters hardly ever saw each
other. They lived far apart, but now Mrs. Catesby has moved to town and
they will be nearer one another. Mrs. Catesby was so kind to me, Tom,
that I would be mean indeed if I would not try to help you find her
nephew. But I will help you, and if he is now in this part of the country
we will hear of him sooner or later through the Indians."

"No, there is only one thing to do, an' it is for me to do it," Tom Fish
replied without looking up. "You can't help, Ree, an' ye'd only get into
a row an' spoil all yer own plans. It is fer me to squar' accounts--an'
I'll--do it. For I tell, ye, Ree, I ain't mistaken. I'd know that silky
dark ha'r of Art Bridges' if I seen it in Jerusalem. Oh, it's too
bad--it's too bad!"

Ree could make no answer, and in another minute Tom Fish straightened up
and said he would turn in. He told Ree to do the same, and as he lay
himself down the boy heard him saying:

"We must all die--all die--an' them that's left can only squar'

Never before had the land of friends and civilization seemed to Ree to be
so far away as it did that night. His busy thoughts kept him awake until
nearly morning. He knew what Tom Fish meant when he said he would "squar'
accounts." In other words he would make the Delawares pay for Art
Bridges' death. There would undoubtedly he trouble which would put an end
to their plans for trading and home-making in this new country. They
could not fight the redskins one day, and be received as peaceable
traders the next.

And on the other hand, if Arthur Bridges, a peaceable trader, had been
murdered, might he and John not be in greatest danger of the same fate?
Was it not true that the Indians were treacherous and not to be trusted
though they seemed friendly? Even if Tom began the fight alone, would not
the Indians blame him and John as being friends of his, and attack them?

At last Ree went to sleep, resolving to persuade Tom Fish to await
developments. He believed they could find out through Fishing Bird just
where and how the bloody trophy which was at the root of their
difficulty, had been secured. That might throw great light on the

John was early astir next morning and began preparations for the visit to
the Indian town for the council meeting at which the bargain for their
land was to be finally confirmed. Ree was strangely silent as he also
arose and ate the breakfast which John had ready.

Tom Fish likewise had nothing to say except that he stated that he would
remain at the cabin while the boys were away, and might be doing some
work at chinking the walls.

It was in the early winter, but the day came out bright and clear.
Greatly the boys enjoyed the bright sunshine and the bracing air as they
took their way through the woods, crossing the river at last, and
following a much used trail which took them toward the Delawares'
village. This was a new route to them, but it was the course the Indians
traveled and they found it better than the unbroken way they had
previously taken in going to the lake beside which Capt. Pipe's people
lived. As they walked along Ree told the story of Arthur Bridges as Tom
had told it to him, and earnestly they discussed their situation.

In three hours the boys came to the Indian town, and Capt. Pipe called a
council to settle the bargain for the land. There was speech making as
before, but less of it, and then came a feast. But this too, was less
formal than before. The Indians seemed about to go on a hunting
expedition and had less time for other matters.

The Delawares promised to do much trading with the young Palefaces, and
the boys would have considered their prospects very bright had it not
been for the likelihood of trouble arising through Tom Fish's desire for

The little information Ree secured from Fishing Bird was not at all
re-assuring, either. That agreeable, but none the less wily, savage would
give him no satisfaction when he questioned him concerning the bloody
trophy Big Buffalo had had, declaring, indeed, that no white man had been
killed by the Delawares for a very long time.

The boys started on their homeward way in time to arrive before dark, and
reached the clearing just after sundown. With a hop, step and jump John
ran forward and up the ascent, to the door.

"Why, where is Tom?" he called as he entered. "The fire is out and there
is no sign of him anywhere. He said he would stay here all day."

Next: Treed By Wolves

Previous: Building A Cabin

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