The Strange Story Of Arthur Bridges





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

knee.



"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

folks.



"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

place.



"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'

accounts."



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

problem.



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

revenge.



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."





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