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The Fifth String by John Philip Sousa

Part 3 out of 3

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sound that awakened the echoes. Again
came the sharp report of a pistol, and
Dink dodged, as if by instinct. He
wheeled in his seat and shot point-blank
at Foley, but the ball imbedded itself
in the side of the skiff behind and did
no further damage.

``That's tit for tat,'' said Dink, ``but
it wuz a mighty close call fer me. When
the bullet whizzed past my ear I thought
I was plugged, sure.''

There were now not more than fifteen
yards between the boys and their
pursuers. Turning about, Leander saw
Hildey raise his pistol and take careful aim
at him. Quick as thought, the boy
fired first, and Hildey uttered a sharp
cry of pain, as his right arm fell helpless,
and his pistol dropped into the water.

``Curse the luck!'' muttered Foley.
``Don't give up, pard; we'll ketch 'em
afore they git much further.''

Though Hildey's right arm was useless,
he plied the paddle with his left, and the
men continued to gain. As the boys
passed through under the bridge, Leander's
boat was abreast of Sandy, who

``I'll take the swash on the right that
goes through the big marsh and comes
out at the Devil's Elbow. You hug the
channel bank, an' mebbe we'll fool 'em.''

Sandy knew that, after the river left
the bridge, it went almost southerly for
half a mile, then made an abrupt turn
at right angles, pursued its way westward
for another quarter of a mile, and
then met the swash channel, which cut
diagonally through the big marsh. At
this junction of the two streams a whirlpool
called the Devil's Elbow had been
formed, a treacherous spot for small
craft, and requiring rare skill to pass
in safety.

When Sandy told Leander to take the
main channel, it was with a desperate
hope that Foley and Hildey would be
in doubt, for the moment, which skiff to
follow as they came out under the bridge.
Within himself, he reasoned that this
hesitation, on their part, would consume
sufficient time to permit the boys to
gain a lead and reach in safety the landing,
two miles below.

``The chances are jest even-Stephen,''
he said to Gilbert, ``though it separates
us from Leander, till we reach the Devil's

But alas! Sandy's reasoning failed him
for once this time.

As Foley and Hildey came through
under the bridge, the former cried:

``Steer to the right channel an' foller
that boat; that's the one the kid's in.''

``They're after us, darn 'em,'' said
Sandy, ``but we're gittin' ahead bully.
Keep it up, Gil, an' we'll come out all
right, see if we don't.''

Dripping with perspiration, and with
hands burned and blistered, Sandy and
Gilbert were forging ahead and gaining
on their pursuers, straining every nerve
to increase their lead. As they rounded
a bend in the channel, Hildey shouted:

``There's yer chance to plug 'em, pard. Shoot!''

Foley obeyed, and the boys' skiff, which was
a metallic one, was bored through by the
pistol ball. The water poured through
the hole, and Sandy shouted to Gilbert:

``Drop yer paddle; take yer hat an'
put it over the leak, tight as yer kin;
bale with the other hand, or we'll sink
in a minit. Lily, sit up, so yer won't
get wet; but don't show yer head,''
and with a courage born of despair, Sandy
renewed his efforts.

Foley was gaining rapidly, and it
seemed that only a miracle could prevent
the boy's capture before they reached the
Devil's Elbow.

Three minutes passed with only the
sound of the lightning-like dip of the
paddles. Another short bend in the channel,
and a hundred yards ahead was the
confluence of the two currents, which
were ever at war.

``Keep on bailing, Gil,'' cried Sandy,
``an' when we git past the Elbow, if
they're too close to us, I'm goin' to use
my pistol on 'em, but I don't want ter
shoot till I can make the shot tell fer all
it's worth. Steady, Lily; hold tight,
Gil; don't move, I'll git yer through
without swampin', 'cause I knows every
current in the Elbow.''

Through the mad swirl of waters the
boy held his boat, and steered her into
the quiet tide beyond.

Leander and Dink were just turning
the bend of the main channel an eighth
of a mile away, and the skiff containing
Foley and Hildey had reached the outer
current of the eddy.

``Now you've got 'em,'' yelled Hildey,
as Sandy's skiff veered to the left, not
twenty yards from the other.

``Not if I knows it,'' cried Sandy as
he shot square at Foley, the ball going
through the sleeve of his coat, but leaving
him unharmed.

``Curse yer fer a fool!'' came from
Foley, dropping his paddle and standing
up in the skiff, which now had nothing
to guide it but Hildey's exhausted arm.
The skiff was rocking violently. Foley
attempted to balance himself as he raised
his pistol to shoot. In a flash the frail craft
was caught in the conflicting currents, it
careened and capsized, and the two men
were battling for life in the whirlpool.

Sandy was so intent on escape that
he had gone some distance down stream
before realizing he was no longer
pursued. Suddenly an agonizing cry was
borne on the midnight air:

``Help! Help! I'm drownin'!''

The boy rested on his paddle, and
scanned the river in the direction of the

``Don't let's let 'em drown like rats in
a hole,'' said Sandy, and he started his
boat back toward the bend.

``Gil, gimme yer pistol. They may be
tryin' to play some trick on us, an' if
they are, we'll be ready for 'em.''

The precaution was unnecessary, for
when they came near, they saw the
upturned skiff circling around in the eddy,
its paddles bobbing with the waves, and
the hats of Foley and Hildey slowly
drifting toward the bank.

Leander and Dink, meanwhile, had
come up, and with the other two boys
remained for fully half an hour waiting
for some sign of the two robbers, but
in vain; for far beneath the surface of
the water in the maddening current, the
ill-spent lives of Foley and Hildey were
ended. They were dead in the cruel
embrace of the Devil's Elbow.

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