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- The Four Canadian Highwaymen - 1/26 -


THE FOUR CANADIAN HIGHWAYMEN

OR,

THE ROBBERS OF MARKHAM SWAMP.

BY EDMUND COLLINS

PREFACE.

The following story is founded on fact, everybody about this part of Canada who is not deaf having heard of the gang at Markham Swamp.

I have no doubt that some of my friends who are in the habit of considering themselves "literary," will speak with despair and disparagement of myself when they read the title of this book. They will call it "blood and thunder," and will see that I am on my way to the dogs.

Well, these people are my friends after all, and I shall not open a quarrel with them. For they themselves have tempted the public with stupid books and essays; and they failed in finding buyers. Therefore they have demonstrated for me that a stupid book doesn't pay; and I will not, even for my best friend, write anything but what the people will buy from me. I am not a Fellow of the R.S.C., and if I produced anything dreary I could not look for the solace of having that discerning association clap their hands while I read my manuscript.

As to my subject being blood and thunder, as some of the _litterateurs_ will describe it, I have only to say that the author of _Hard Cash_ wrote more than a dozen short stories laid upon lines similar to mine. A young man fighting for a place in literature, and for bread and butter at the same time, need not blush at being censured for adopting a literary field in which Charles Reade spent so many years of his life.

By-and-by, when I drive a gilded chariot, and can afford to wait for books with quieter titles and more dramatic worth to bring me their slow earnings, I shall be presumptuous enough to set such a star before my ambition as the masters of English fiction followed.

E. C.

TORONTO, 1st August, 1886.

CONTENTS

CHAPTER I.

THE PRETTY ASTER AND MR. HAM

CHAPTER II.

A GATHERING STORM

CHAPTER III.

THE DUEL

CHAPTER IV.

TO THE EDGE OF MARKHAM SWAMP.

CHAPTER V.

THE ROBBERS OF MARKHAM SWAMP.

CHAPTER VI.

THE WAYS OF ROBBER LIFE.

CHAPTER VII.

ROBBERS AT HOME AND ABROAD.

CHAPTER VIII.

UNDERGROUND MYSTERIES OF THE SWAMP

CHAPTER IX.

DISCIPLINE AND OTHER INCIDENTS

CHAPTER X.

BURIED ALIVE IN HIS ROOM

CHAPTER XI.

SCENES LEADING TO THE CLIMAX

CHAPTER XII.

THE CAPTURE OF THE 'MOST' BEAUTIFUL MAIDEN.

CHAPTER XIII.

'ALL'S WELL THAT END'S WELL.'

MARY HOLT'S ENGAGEMENT

THE FOUR CANADIAN HIGHWAYMEN;

OR,

THE ROBBERS OF MARKHAM SWAMP.

CHAPTER I.

THE PRETTY ASTER AND MR. HAM.

It was the autumn of the year, and the dress of the Canadian woods at that season, forty years ago, differed little from the gaudy garbs of now. Near a small village not far from the town of Little York, I choose as the place for the opening of this true story.

The maple, of all the trees in the forest, was the only one so far frost-smitten and sun-struck. The harvests had been gathered, and the only tenants of the fields were flocks of pigeons that came to feed among the stubble; for many a ripe ear fell from the heads in the tying of the sheaves; many a shower of the golden grain had fallen as the load, drawn by slow oxen, lurched and swayed along the uneven ground.

Nestling in a grove of primeval pines that sentinelled the placid, shining waters of the Don stood a low, wide-eaved cottage. It was completely clad in ivy; and upon the eastern side there was a dull copper tinge through the matted masses of the Virginia creeper.

Many of the earlier flowers had faded; but the pinks and the poppies were still rich in blood; and the sunflower sturdily held up its yellow face like 'a wizened sorcerer of old,' as a fair and gifted friend of my acquaintance puts it. The cottage and the grounds about it were the property of an English gentleman of taste and means. The nearest dwelling had an air of luxury, and round about it stretched wide areas of land from which the harvest of wheat and oats had been taken. Here and there in the distance a group of boys might be seen with their fishing rods in their hands; for at that day the Don stream was not foul by the drainage of fields, and shrunken from the downpour of the sun, and from the loss of its sheltering forest. Trout and often salmon-trout went into its quiet retreats in the face of the spring freshets; and many a congregation of foam bubbles did it hold upon its breast to screen the greedy, vigilant speckled trout.

In a little summer house through whose latticed sides the gadding vines were so interlocked and twined, as to remind you of the legend of Salmacis and Hermes' son, sat a girl. Her wide-brimmed hat rested upon the seat beside her, and round about it was a double girdle of ivy, as if twining there. Looking through the door of the dainty place you could not see the girl's face; for she had turned her head, and her chin was resting upon her slim, white hands, as she read from a book that lay upon her lap.

Her hair you could see, for it hung over her shoulders and down her white dress, like 'a gold flag over a sail.' For myself I usually prefer dark hair for women; but ah! who could have gainsaid the glory of those luxurious coils that hung over that sweet neck and draping the curving shoulders! Through the open doorway the sun streamed upon it; and the soft tangles gleamed like ruddy gold. Hence you will see that the colour was not that insipid 'blonde' with which shallow girls may adorn their heads for the sum of ten cents.

But although her face could not be seen, anyone looking at the balance of the head, the statuesque neck, would have surmised that it was beautiful.

A tall, lithe, well-built young man, who had a few moments before entered the cottage, walked into the garden from the back door. His eye was one that the casual observer would describe as 'full of mischief;' but behind the sunny brightness was a pensive cast. He walked softly towards the arbour, and stood for several seconds looking at its beautiful occupant. Then, in moving his foot, the dry branch of a rose-bush snapped, and the girl turned her head.

'Ah, it is you, Roland--pardon me, Mr. Gray.'

'Yes; I have come here to eat your apples and your peaches; and to despoil the grove of their woodcock.'


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