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Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.) 1854-1972, August 03, 1947, Image 126

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Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1947-08-03/ed-1/seq-126/

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BY HUGH B. CAVE
Illustrated by Chiriackm
. -•
A slim chance, but the only way
to prove his innocence. And
Will knew that if he failed . . .
A Short Short Story
Nearing the island, Will Clay crouched
low in the flat-bottomed ’glades boat
and tripled his vigilance. Night was ending.
The big swamp was fast shedding its shroud
of darkness. He had to be wary.
True, the frogs were noisy. But that was
no proof that the men hunting him had not
been here during his absence. No proof they
were not hiding near by to pounce on him.
Frogs got over a scare pretty quick.
He wished he could say as much for him
self. Since his escape from jail two nights ago,
his fear had swelled to terror, driving him on
without rest. He was weak from exhaustion.
He was hungry. Desperate.
The boat nudged the tangle of cypress roots
on shore, and he laid his mud-pole down
gently. Sounds carried far in the swamp’s
nusn. our ne naa ro explore me isiana.
Maybe — just maybe — the man who’d
shot Bert Lorden had been in too big a hurry
to pick up the empty cartridge case from Jus
ride. A slim chance! But it was all he had.
He stole forward through slash pine and
cabbage palms, fighting back his weariness.
Bert Lor den had approached in his boat bom
the south, at dusk, and been shot while still
a hundred feet from the island. Shot low, in
the stomach. The killer must have been on
high ground. It was a miracle the bullet, tear
ing through Bert’s body, hadn’t spun him
out of the boat. A miracle he’d lived to pole
back out and tell his story.
The bigger wonder, though, was why the
killer hadn’t poled out to Bert’s boat and
dumped him overboard, to drown him, while
he lay unconscious. There could be only one
answer — the murder wasn’t deliberate. After
the shooting, the man on the island had fled.
Maybe he’d been scared enough to leave the
cartridge case behind.
Sheriff Downey hadn’t found any case. He
and his men hadn’t looked for one. Their trip
to the island day before yesterday was noth
ing more than a routine visit to a murder
scene. They had their killer, didn’t they?
Will prowled through tangled growth to
ward a likely clear spot. It was a small island
— nothing on it to interest a poacher. But it
was a good place to pitch camp and work out
from. Near by were two small rookeries. A
man snaring egrets might camp here, safe
from any surprise visit bom the wardens...
He looked down. At his feet a stake with
a frayed tag of rope protruded bom the
ground. On hands and knees he found holes
where other stakes had been driven. Someone
had pitched a tent since the last rain... He
began to go over the ground with his hands,
inch by inch. The man who pitched the tent
might have been sitting in it, or just opposite
it, when be heard Bert Lorden’s boat
approaching.
He was dead tired, but he had to work fast!
Sheriff Downey'd been convinced of his guilt
even before he broke out of jail. Now they’d
be searching the swamp for him, with orders
to shoot on sight.
He didn’t blame them for thinking him
guilty. Or Bert, either, for accusing him. For
the hundredth time, as in a nightmare, he saw
Bert eying him wildly from the bed, saying
shrilly, "You done it! You came to me yester
day with a story of a big ’gator you saw on the
island. Said you run across it while takin’
pictures. You knew I’d go there and try for
any ’gator big enough to trap alive and sell
to the carnival over to Holcomb! You knew
I’d get there at dusk and camp overnight.
You were waitin’.”
He remembered the accusing finger jab
bing at him from the bed sheets, and Bert
turning a stricken face to the sheriff. “Will
shot me because I was set against him marry
in’ Helen and takin’ her away ... him with
Vlio rra*V Kicr irlnoo Kto nknlfurmnlia nn<l
things! You ask me, his picture-takin’ is just
a cover-up for poachin’!” ...
A good boy, Bert. Pig-headed, but honest.
It was foolish to hate the sheriff for believing
him. Helen’s father believed, too. Helen her
self had backed away from the bed and stared
across it into Will’s eyes, tom between love
and doubt.
He’d told them in jail that her brother was
mistaken. “There was a big ’gator on that
island. I remembered a fellow in the carnival
advertised for one just last week. He wrestles
them, in a tank. I told Bert.”
Sheriff Downey, a dark, dour man, growled,
“What’s this about you poachin’?”
“I’m not a poacher. I take pictures.”
"For what?”
“You wouldn’t understand. I take pictures
in the swamp — of birds and swamp critters,
of the swamp itself. Some I sell.”
“First I heard of it,” Downey snorted.
“Helen knows. We’ve saved a little money.
We plan to be married and go away, so I can
study and work at it.. . I didn’t kill her
brother! We had arguments, but I never
killed him!”
“You were in the swamp last night?”
“Yes — alone — taking pictures.”
It was hopeless. Maybe breaking out of
jail was hopeless, too. And fleeing into the
swamp in a stolen boat. But nothing had been
more hopeless than sitting in jail with the
townspeople shaking their heads, saying,
“Look at him. Killed the brother of the girl
that loved him. Look at him!” . . .
On hands and knees he searched the ground
WMI Qay dutched the cartridge case, his exultation boiling
where the tent had been. If die killer was a
poacher who’d been caught here by surprise,
he could name the man. Tom Gran nan
prowled this part of the swamp often. Gran
nan had snared egrets since he was old enough
to pole a boat. Surprised here with a catch
of birds, he’d shoot quick enough.
And maybe there was another reason. Tom
Gran nan had been saying around town lately
that Helen was too good for a fool who shot
birds with a camera. Helen was his kind of
girl. Maybe he’d mistaken her brother for
Will Clay.
“Got it!” He reared back on his knees,
clutching the cartridge case, his exultation
boiling up to a kind of madness. A .300 Sav
age. That gun of Grannan’s, that Model 20,
fired a .300 Savage! And they can’t Name it on
me, he thought wildly. The only gun I own is
that old thirty-thirty.
He hurried to the boat. Now if they’d only
listen! But he could make them listen! He’d
go to Helen’s house. Her father would go to
the sheriff with him.
He pushed the boat clear of the cypress
roots and stepped into it, reaching for the
pole. That was when he saw the other boat,
twenty feet away, and the rifle aimed at his
head. “Get back on that island, Clay,” Tom
Gran nan said.
He might have run for it across the island,
plunged into the water and tried to swim.
But Gran nan in the boat could have over
taken him. He backed up, hating the fear
that made him tremble. A moment later
Grannan stood before him, aiming the Model
20 at his chest.
“I’ll take that empty you picked up. It
was real good of you to locate it for me.”
Will fumbled the cartridge case from his
pocket. His last hope. His last chance of coo
.vincing Helen — and the sheriff — he was
Continued on page 16

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