Read CHAPTER XVII - IN LUCK AGAIN. of The Boy Scouts in the Blue Ridge / Marooned Among the Moonshiners, free online book, by Herbert Carter, on ReadCentral.com.

BOB was quite as eager as his companion to hurry forward and see what that cry of a girl’s voice might mean. Whoever heard of a Southern boy unwilling to act in similar circumstances?

The two of them had noted the quarter from whence the shrill scream came, and were making a bee line for it as fast as the rough nature of the ground permitted.

“Keep back, thar, you ugly critter! Don’t you dar jump at me! Oh! if I could on’y git free, I’d show you!” they heard just beyond the fringe of bushes.

Bursting through these, and the scene lay before them. It was a girl, a real mountain girl too, who had called out. She was half bent over, as though trying all her might to wrench her foot free, for it seemed to be caught in a crevice of the rock, as in a vise.

Not ten feet away from her crouched an ugly wildcat. Its ears were bent backward toward its body; the yellow eyes seemed to glow with an ugly fire; and there could be no doubt but that the animal was getting ready to jump at the girl, possibly angered by the red sunbonnet she wore.

She had managed to pick up a stone, with which she was ready to do battle in case the cat really attacked her. Thad saw this, and admired her grit, even though he believed that she would have suffered dreadfully, had the fight ever come off.

Bob gave a cry of rage as he saw what it all meant. He too snatched up a stone, and made directly for the wildcat, as though such a thing as fear did not enter into his calculations. And Thad, a little wiser, seeing an excellent club handy, made out to get that in his grip ere following his chum.

Despite the coming of these two new enemies the wildcat showed no sign of beating a retreat. There may have been some reason for this unexpected bravery on the animal’s part. Usually it is only when darkness comes that bobcats are dangerous; and in the daytime they will generally retreat before the coming of human foes.

There may have been kittens somewhere close by; and a mother cat will attack anything that moves in defense of her offspring.

But just then Thad was not bothering himself with trying to understand why the fierce beast acted in that altogether remarkable way. What they wanted to do was to influence the animal to leave the neighborhood, and the quicker this were done the better they would be pleased.

“Go slow, Bob!” Thad called out, fearful lest his impulsive comrade dash up so close that in another instant the cat would be upon him, clawing, biting, and doing all manner of damage.

He swung his club in as ferocious a manner as he could, and made all sorts of threatening gestures as he rushed forward.

Thinking that if they approached from two separate quarters the beast might grow more or less confused, and possibly slink away, Thad did not follow directly in the track of his friend, but made a little detour.

Bob came to a pause. He was not more than a dozen feet away from the beast now, and there was danger that if he closed in any more the expected collision must take place.

Thad saw him draw his arm back. Undoubtedly Bob meant to hurl the heavy rock he had snatched up. If he missed his aim, he would then be entirely unprotected. But then Bob had pitched on a baseball team several seasons, and was said to have a very clever delivery, with the faculty of getting the ball over the rubber with clock-like precision. And a crouching wildcat, only a dozen feet away, is a large enough object to be counted a sure thing by an experienced ball player.

So even as Thad looked and wondered, he saw Bob let drive. And when the rock actually struck the cat between its glaring eyes, hurling it over backwards, Thad could not help letting out a yell.

“Good shot, Bob!” he cried. “Get another, quick, for he’s coming after you like hot cakes!”

He himself was closing in on the cat all the time he shouted after this manner. In another moment they were all in a confused bunch, the enraged and wounded wildcat screaming and snarling; Thad pounding away every chance he got; Bob kicking wildly at the animal, as he looked for a chance to get hold of another stone; and the whole making quite a lively circus.

Several times Thad landed with such a will on the side of the springing wildcat that the wretched beast was knocked clean over. But with a desperation that was simply astonishing it would get together, and come flying back again, as though it really possessed the nine lives its tribe is given credit for.

Of course this could not last long. The game was too one-sided, with two against one; and in the end the cat was glad to jump into the bushes, with a parting expression of hatred in the form of a snarl.

The panting boys stood and looked at each other. Each of them had a few rents in their khaki trousers; and might have been served even worse only that their puttees protected the lower part of their limbs.

“Whew! that was a hot time!” gasped Thad. “Did you see how many times I bowled the thing over, and only to have to defend myself again? Give me a mad wildcat for gameness. They haven’t their equal going, pound for pound.”

“And I hit him when I threw that stone; I’m proud of that shot, suh!” declared the Southern boy, with a grim smile.

“Say, it was a right smart throw, all right; but s’pose yuh come and help me outen this trap now, strangers,” came from the mountain girl.

As they turned toward her, and advanced, Thad saw immediately that she was not the little Bertha whom he had looked upon, sitting beside Reuben Sparks, and with her golden hair, seeming very much like a fairy.

This girl was slender, and with coarse, black hair. She was garbed in common homespun clothes, and wore shoes that were doubtless much too large for her feet. One of her ankles had been caught tightly in the crevice of the rock. She might have managed to extricate herself if given a little time; but the sudden appearance of that ugly fighting wildcat had upset her; so that she had twisted and squirmed until her foot was held as though in a blacksmith’s vise.

Bob in his usual impetuous way might have been impelled to tug at that imprisoned foot, and add to her sufferings; but Thad, who was cooler, set about discovering just how it was gripped; then, as gently as he could he gave it a sudden turn, and the thing was done.

The girl uttered a little scream as a pain shot through her ankle; but then she realized that the way the boy had gone about it was the right one. Results count every time. When a man succeeds, the path he has taken is looked upon as a shining example to the rising generation; should he fail, the same route is pointed out as beset with unsurmountable difficulties.

“I’m right glad you kim along in time,” the girl remarked, as her black eyes scanned the faces of the two boys who had done her such a good turn.

“Had you done anything to the cat; or was it just crazy for a fight?” asked Bob, as he looked more closely at the angular girl; and Thad thought he could detect that in his manner to tell he might have recognized her.

“’Pears like it was jest brim full of scrap, mister,” she went on. “I was acomin’ down ther side o’ the mounting, paying ’tention to my own business, when I jest made er fool o’ myself, like ye see, an’ gut a foot fast atween the rocks. Then the critter showed up, and started makin’ a row. I tried all I knowed how to break loose, but it was no go. An’ I was jest agwine to hit the animal atween the eyes if it jumped me, when you-uns arriv. But I’m glad ye kim. ’Tain’t nice to git yuh face all clawed to ribbands by cat’s claws. Yep, I’m glad ye helped me outen it.”

Thad saw that she was a character, this girl of the Blue Ridge. Rough and uncouth, she might be, still she possessed the qualities that real heroines were once made out of in the days of Joan of Arc.

Doubtless she must be the daughter of one of the poor “white trash” mountaineers who spend their time between making moonshine whiskey, and dodging revenue men. It struck Thad at the moment that perhaps, since they had been enabled to do her a good turn, she might be willing to assist them. Such a girl ought to know a good deal of what was going on back in the mountains. Her people must talk about the strange things that happened; perhaps she might be able to even tell Bob something about the prisoner who was said to be kept up there somewhere, working at the sour-mash in the never raided Still of Phin Dady.

With this bright idea in his mind Thad decided that fortune had indeed played another nice trick upon them, and one that would perhaps be to their advantage.

“Do you live near here; and will you be able to limp home?” he asked; for he saw that the ankle was somewhat swollen, and must pain more or less; although the girl scorned to show it by her manner.

“A right smart ways off from heah, stranger,” she replied; “but then they be some o’ my friends nigh this, who’ll take keer o’ me. Ye did hit up that ere onary cat some handsome, an’ I shore think it won’t want to tackle a pore gal ther next time it sees one.”

“Perhaps we might help you along to the home of your friends,” said Thad.

She looked at him keenly, for even the daughters of moonshiners grow to be suspicious of those whom they do not know.

“‘Tain’t no need, stranger; I kin take keer o’ myself, I reckon. Not that I ain’t feelin’ ‘bliged to ye, fur offerin’. I kain’t furgit thet ye done me a good turn. Mebbe I ain’t good lookin’ like thet leetle cousin o’ yours, Bob Quail; but it’s the on’y face I’ll ever hev; and no gal likes to be scratched an’ gouged bad by the pizen claws o’ a wildcat.”

“Will you tell your father about this, Polly?” asked Bob, excitedly, Thad thought.

“’Pears like I hadn’t orter keep it from him,” she replied, slowly, watching the expressive and handsome face of the young Southerner closely. “Thems as don’t think Phin Dady keers fur his fambly, but they don’t know. Reckons he’d jest ’bout lay down his life fur me, pore looker as I am!”

Thad drew a big breath. Really things were rushing forward by leaps and bounds now. For not only had the girl recognized his companion, who wished to keep his identity under cover while in the mountains; but this same Polly, as Bob called her, had now disclosed herself to be the daughter of the moonshiner, Old Phin Dady!