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Our Fellows: Skirmishes with the Swamp Dragoons written by Harry Castlemon who was a prolific writer of juvenile stories and novels. This book was published in 1872. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.
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Skirmishes with the Swamp Dragoons
CHAPTER I. WHO OUR FELLOWS ARE.
CHAPTER II. AN UNINVITED GUEST.
CHAPTER III. MARK’S ADVENTURE.
CHAPTER IV. A FRIEND IN NEED.
CHAPTER V. WE TALK THE MATTER OVER.
CHAPTER VI. MARK MAKES A DISCOVERY.
CHAPTER VII. OUR CHRISTMAS TURKEYS.
CHAPTER VIII. A RIDE AFTER THE INDIANS.
CHAPTER IX. CAUGHT AT LAST.
CHAPTER X. I STAND PICKET.
CHAPTER XI. THE TABLES TURNED.
CHAPTER XII. TOM IS ASTONISHED.
CHAPTER XIII. TOM TELLS HIS STORY.
CHAPTER XIV. TOM’S PLAN.
CHAPTER XV. DANGEROUS WORK.
CHAPTER XVI. OUR STRATAGEM.
CHAPTER XVII. TAKING THE BACK TRACK.
CHAPTER XVIII. AN UNEXPECTED DELIVERANCE.
CHAPTER XIX. “MARK TWO TIMES.”
CHAPTER XX. CONCLUSION.
Capture of Luke Redman
My name is Joseph Coleman, and at the time my story begins I was sixteen years of age. Mark was my twin brother; and he looked and acted so much like me, or else I looked and acted so much like him, that only our very intimate friends could tell us apart. We always dressed alike, and that, no doubt, had something to do with the remarkable resemblance we bore to each other.
Many were the mistakes that were made in regard to our identity—some of them laughable, others proving exactly the reverse, especially when I was called upon to stand punishment for his misdeeds. On one occasion Mark got into a difficulty with a half-breed. About a week afterward, while I was riding along the road, I met this same half-breed with a big switch in his hand, and all that saved me from a severe whipping was the speed of my horse.
Then there was our old enemy, Tom Mason, who had been badly worsted in an attempt to whip Mark, and ever since that time he had been robbing my traps, shooting at my dog and killing my doves, thinking all the while that he was revenging himself upon Mark, when he was in reality punishing me.
At the time of which I write we lived in Warren County, ten miles below Vicksburg, where our father owned an extensive plantation. He cultivated one thousand acres of cotton and six hundred acres of corn. He owned one hundred and fifty working mules and horses, twice as many young cattle, which ran loose in the swamp, and about twenty-five hundred hogs. It required from sixty to seventy-five cows to supply the plantation with milk and butter, and almost as many dogs to protect the stock from the wild beasts.
Just think of that! Think what music this pack must have made when in pursuit of a bear or deer, and imagine, if you can, the delightful concerts to which we listened on bright moonlight nights!
Perhaps you will wonder if we needed all these dogs. We should have been sorry to part with them, for they were as necessary to our existence as our horses, cows or mules.
Warren County at that time was almost a wilderness. Wolves, foxes and minks were numerous, and our henroosts would have been cleared in a single night, if the dogs had not been there to protect them. Wild-cats were abundant, and panthers were so often met with, that traveling after dark was seldom undertaken for pleasure. Bears, however, were the principal pests. They were, to quote from the settlers, “as plenty as blackberries,” and employed their leisure time during the night in roaming about the plantations, picking up every luckless hog and calf that happened to fall in their way.
I must not forget to say that our fellows had nothing to do with all these plantation dogs. The most of them belonged to father, a few to the overseer, and the rest to the servants.
Our pack numbered only five dogs. Mark was the happy possessor of Rock and Dash, two splendid deer-hounds, which, for size, speed, endurance and courage, were unequaled in all that country except by Sandy’s Sharp and Music. These four hounds were animals worth having. They could run all day, and when they once started on a trail, they never left it until the game, whatever it was, had been killed, or they were called away.
I laid claim to Zip. He was what we boys called a “bench-legged catch-dog”—that is, his fore legs stood wide apart and curved outward, like those of a bulldog, and he was used for catching and holding game.
He was yellow all over except his head, which was as black as jet. His nose and ears were as sharp as those of a wolf, and he was bobtailed.
Zip was unlike any other dog I ever saw. There were a good many queer things about him, and he had at least one peculiarity that every body noticed. He never wagged his tail sideways, as other dogs do, but up and down, and he never wagged it at all except when following a warm trail.
There were five of us boys—Duke Hampton, his cousin, Herbert Dickson, Sandy, Mark and myself. We were near neighbors—that is, we lived about a mile and a half apart—and we were together almost all the time. We always spoke of one another as “our fellows,” and we had finally come to be known by that name all over the country. Sandy merits a short description.
His name was Gabriel Lucien Todd—an odd name, perhaps, but it suited him, for he was an odd boy. No one ever thought the race of giants extinct after seeing him. When he was thirteen years old he was as tall and heavy as his father, and much stronger. Indeed Sandy often boasted that he could pull as many bales of cotton on a wagon as any yoke of oxen in Warren County.
That, of course, was saying a great deal too much; but his strength was really something wonderful. He could outlift any two of our fellows, without puffing out his cheeks, but we could all take his measure on the ground as fast as he could get up.
There were other noticeable things about Sandy, such as his utter disregard for all the proprieties of language, his bright-red hair, and his extreme good nature, which I seldom saw ruffled. The first was by no means the result of ignorance, for Sandy, besides being a capital scholar in other respects, was looked upon by our fellows as a walking repository of grammatical knowledge.
He wrote splendid letters—and that is an accomplishment that every boy, or man either, does not possess—and he would correctly analyze and parse any sentence you could give him, no matter how complex; but when it came to talking he was all afloat. He twisted his sentences into all sorts of awkward shapes, and sometimes used words that had but little connection with the idea he wished to communicate. It was not the result of carelessness either, for he made some desperate attempts to “talk proper,” as he expressed it, especially in the presence of strangers; but the harder he tried the more he blundered.
After saying this much, it is scarcely necessary to add that Sandy was as slow as an elephant in all his movements, and that he never got surprised at any thing that happened.
Mark’s room and mine was regarded as the headquarters of our fellows. On one side two windows looked out upon a wide porch, and on the other was a fire-place, backed up by an immense brick chimney.
An unpainted board over the fireplace formed the mantel, on which were a collection of books, a couple of lamps, an ornamental clock, and a few articles of curiosity, such as alligators’ teeth, bears’ claws, stone arrow-heads and hatchets.
Two pairs of deer’s antlers were fastened to the wall over the head of the bed, and on them hung our guns, game-bags, shot-pouches, riding-whips, gloves and hunting-horns. These last were of great use to us. They were simply cows’ horns scraped thin and supplied with carved mouth-pieces. They were used principally for calling the hounds during a bear or deer-hunt (it may astonish you to learn that every dog knew the sound of his master’s horn and would obey no other), and with them we could talk to a friend on a calm day a mile distant.
I have lately learned that when boys in a city want a companion, they will station themselves in front of his gate and whistle. We did not go to all that trouble. If Mark and I had any thing exciting on hand, and wanted our fellows to join in, one of us would go out on the porch and blow three long blasts on his horn.
We were always sure of an answer, and in a few minutes here would come Sandy Todd from one direction, and Duke and Herbert from the other. We had written out a regular code of signals, and each of us kept a copy at hand for reference, so that there could be no mistake.
We could tell our friends that we wanted them to go hunting, fishing or blackberrying with us; we could ask them to come over and pay us a visit; and we could tell them when to expect us. We had signals of distress, too, and we were all bound to give heed to them when we heard them.
I ought to say that this idea did not originate with us; we learned it from the settlers, who also had a code of signals which had been in use as long as I could remember.
If a planter some evening took it into his head that he would like to go bear-hunting on the following day he would go out with his horn and blow five long blasts and three short ones; and, like us when we called our fellows, he was certain of a reply.
The neighbor who heard him first would respond, then another and another would follow, until all the men in the settlement for two or three miles around, had agreed to go bear-hunting, and that, too, without having seen one another.
Perhaps, now that you have heard so much about our fellows, you would like to have them personally presented. Step into headquarters, and I will introduce you. After that, if you think you would enjoy a four-mile gallop before supper, we will find you a good horse to ride. We are going down the bayou to visit an Indian camp: and if you have never seen one, now is your chance.
The boy who sits in that big arm-chair, thrumming on his guitar and tickling the dog’s ears with the toe of his boot, is my brother Mark. If you don’t find him in some mischief every time you meet him, you mustn’t think it is his fault.
Do you see that broad-shouldered, long-legged, awkward-looking fellow sitting on the floor at the opposite side of the fire-place, with a hammer in his hand and a pan of hickory nuts by his side? That is Sandy Todd, the strongest boy and the best shot in our party.
That curly-headed, blue-eyed fellow, who smiles so good-naturedly every time he speaks, and who sits at the table devouring the hickory-nuts as fast as Sandy cracks them, is Herbert Dickson. He is blessed with a good deal of flesh, is Herbert, and sometimes answers to the name of “Chub”; at others, “Ducklegs.”
I have known plenty of boys at school to be badly deceived in that same Herbert Dickson. As clumsy as he looks, he can run faster and jump higher and further than any other fellow of his age in the settlement. There is nothing in the world that Herbert more enjoys than the astonishment and chagrin of some lithe young fellow who may have challenged him, “just for the fun of the thing,” to run a race; for I don’t remember that I ever saw him beaten.
On the table at Herbert’s elbow is a chessboard with men scattered over it. I am sitting at one end of it, and the tall, dark, dignified-looking youth, in blue jeans roundabout and heavy horseman’s boots, who is sitting opposite me, is Duke Hampton, than whom a better fellow never lived. He is an acknowledged leader. He settles all our disputes, when we have any—which, by the way, does not often happen—and is the projector and manager of most of our plans for amusement. He is handsome and polite, and, of course, a great favorite with the girls. He is a boy of high moral principle, strictly truthful, and honorable even in the smallest matters, and these qualities render him a favorite with the men. He is the most daring and graceful rider among our fellows, and, next to Mark, the best wrestler. He is a good chess-player, too; but by some unaccountable fortune I have driven him into a tight corner.
I do not suppose there is any necessity that I should again introduce myself. If it will help to place me in your good books, however, I will tell you that I own the swiftest horse and the best dog in the settlement. Black Bess has never been beaten in a fair race, and Zip has yet to find his equal as a fighter and bear dog. I am not so modest but that I can tell you, also, that I am the champion hunter among our fellows. I killed a bear alone and unaided, and his skin now hangs on that nail at the foot of the bed; but my companions, one and all, are determined to equal me in this respect, and consequently I do not expect to hold the honors much longer. But here comes our little negro, Bob, to announce that the horses are waiting, and we must off for the camp if we intend to be back in time for supper.
We found our horses at the door, saddled and bridled, and held by two negro boys, who, judging by the tugging, pulling and scolding which they kept up, found it something of a task to restrain the fiery steeds, which were impatient to be off. As I have told you about our dogs, I will say a word about these horses. One of them has considerable to do with my story.
The most prominent animal in the group was Herbert’s horse, a magnificent iron-gray, large and good-natured like his master, very fleet, and able to carry his heavy rider like a bird over any fence in the country. He went by the name of Romeo.
The handsomest horse belonged to Duke Hampton. He was a chestnut-sorrel, with white mane and tail, and four white feet. He was a good one to go, and was as well trained as any horse I ever saw in a circus.
He would lie down or stand on his hind feet at the command of his master, and pick up his gloves or riding-whip for him. His name was Moro.
The homeliest horse was called Beauty. He was a Mexican pony, and belonged to Mark. He was a famous traveler—he would go on a gallop all day, and be as fresh and eager at night as when he started out in the morning; but he was so handy with his heels, and had such an easy way of slipping out from under a fellow when he tried to mount him, that, with the exception of his master, who thought him the very best horse in the world, there was not a boy among us who would have accepted him as a gift. But bad as Beauty’s disposition was, it was much better than that of Sandy’s mare, which answered to the name of Gretchen.
She was named after Rip Van Winkle’s wife. She was a large, raw-boned, cream-colored animal, and had an ugly habit of laying back her ears and opening her mouth, when any one approached her, that would have made a stranger think twice before attempting to mount her.
The fleetest, as well as the gentlest horse, was my little Black Bess. She was a Christmas present from an uncle who lived in Kentucky; and I thought so much of her that I would have given up every thing I possessed, rather than part with her.
I said that Bess was the swiftest horse in the group. She had demonstrated the fact in many a race, but somehow I never could induce the others to acknowledge it. Sandy stubbornly refused to give up beaten, and so did Herbert; and even Mark, with his miserable little pony, made big pretensions.
We never went anywhere without a race; and on this particular morning Herbert, who was the first to swing himself into the saddle, leaped his horse over the bars, and tore down the road as if all the wolves in Warren County were close at his heels.
I was the last one out of the yard, but I passed every one of our fellows before I had gone half a mile, and when I reached the outskirts of the Indian camp, they were a long way behind.
The camp, as I saw it that afternoon, did not look much like the illustrations of Indian villages which you have seen in your geographies. Instead of the clean skin-lodges, and the neatly-dressed, imposing savages which you will find in pictures, I saw before me a score of wretched brush shanties, which could afford their inmates but poor protection in stormy weather, and a hundred or more half-starved men and women, some of whom were jumping around in the mud and yelling as if they were greatly excited about something.
There were plenty of these people in Warren County at the time of which I write. They were Choctaws—the remnant of a once powerful tribe, who gained a precarious living by hunting, fishing, stealing and cotton-picking. This band had been encamped on our plantation during the last two weeks. The women had been employed by father to pick cotton, and their lords and masters were now having a glorious time over the money they had earned.
The warriors—lazy dogs, who thought it a disgrace to perform any manual labor—had remained in their wigwams, passing the days very pleasantly with their pipes, while their wives were at work in the cotton-field; but now that the crop had been gathered and the money paid, they had thrown away their pipes and picked up their bottles. In plainer language, we rode into the camp just in time to witness the beginning of a drunken Indian jubilee.
The men were dancing, shouting, fighting, wrestling, going half-hammond (a Northern boy would have called it a “hop, skip and a jump”), and trying to run races; while the women stood around in little groups, chattering like so many blackbirds, and watching all that was going on with apparently a great deal of interest.
I do not suppose that the Indian boys drank any thing stronger than the muddy water that flowed in the bayou, on the banks of which the camp was located; but, at any rate, they seemed to be animated by the same spirit that possessed their fathers, for we saw them engage in no end of fights, foot-races and wrestling matches.
Presently a smart, lively young savage, the son of the principal chief of the band, who had easily thrown every one of his companions whom he could induce to wrestle with him, stepped up to us, and fastening his eyes upon Mark, asked him if he would like to come out and try his strength. Now, if Mark had been in good health, the challenge would have been promptly accepted; and if I am any judge of boys, that young Indian would have found himself flat on the ground before he could have winked twice; but he was just recovering from an attack of his old enemy, the chills and fever, and for that reason was obliged, much to his regret, to turn a deaf ear to the Indian’s entreaties.
“Oh, yes, you come,” said the young wrestler, after Mark had told him, perhaps for the twentieth time, that he was out of condition; “I show you what Indian boy can do. I put you down as quick as lightning. Eh! You come?”
As he spoke he stepped back and spread out his sinewy arms, as if waiting for Mark to jump into them.
“Go off about your business, Jim,” said Duke. “Haven’t you sense enough to see that the boy has had the ague? If he was well, he would throw you or any other young Indian in the camp. Go away now, I tell you, or I’ll take hold of you; and if I do, I will put you down a little quicker than lightning.”
“Isn’t he a splendid-looking fellow?” said Mark, gazing admiringly at the young savage’s supple form, which, cold as the day was, was stripped to the waist. “Look at the muscles on his arms! I believe I’ll try him just one round.”
“Don’t do it, Mark,” I interposed.
“Well, if you say so, Joe, I won’t; but I should really like to take a little of that conceit out of him. I’ll soon be up to my regular wrestling weight,” he added, addressing himself to the Indian, “and then I will see what you are made of.”
“Ugh!” grunted Jim. “I wait for you.”
We spent an hour walking about the camp, and then returned to the house. The jubilee was kept up all night, and we went to sleep with those wild Indian whoops ringing in our ears. To me there was something almost unearthly in the sound, and I thought I could imagine how our early settlers felt when they were aroused from their sleep at dead of night by just such yells uttered by hostile red men.
The next day our fellows accompanied some of the settlers on a deer-hunt—all except Mark, who, being too weak to ride all day on horse-back, remained at home with his hounds for company; and, for want of something better to do, assisted the plantation blacksmith at his work by blowing the bellows for him.
The Indians were quiet all the morning, no doubt making up for the sleep they had lost the night before, but about eleven o’clock they began their dancing and shouting again. After that, Mark did not perform his part of the work very well, for his attention was fully occupied by the sounds that came from the camp.
Finally the horn was blown for dinner, and Mark started toward the house. Just as he was passing through the gate that led into the garden, he was startled by a loud yell, which was followed by a great commotion in the kitchen, and the next moment out came mother and half a dozen young lady visitors.
A very fat negro woman brought up the rear, carrying in her hand a platter of roast beef, which she was too badly frightened to put down, and the screams that saluted Mark’s ears were almost as loud and unearthly as those which came from the Indian camp. He did not like the look of things, but, being a resolute fellow, he determined to find out what was going on in the house. He had two friends upon whom he could rely in any emergency, and, with a word to them, he was off like a shot.
“Oh, don’t go in there!” cried mother, when she saw him running toward the kitchen, followed by his hounds. “He will kill you! He’s got a big knife!”
Mark, who was too highly excited to hear any thing short of a terrific peal of thunder, kept on, and when he reached the door discovered the cause of the disturbance in the person of a tall, dignified-looking Indian, who was acting in a very undignified manner.
As Mark afterward learned, the savage had walked into the parlor, where all the ladies were sitting; thence into the kitchen, where active preparations for dinner were going on, attracting the attention of the cook by flourishing a knife, and uttering an appalling yell; after which he made known the object of his visit by exclaiming:
“Ugh! Me big Injun, an’ me hungry.”
The yell and the sight of the knife occasioned a hurried stampede among the women, and the savage, being left alone, proceeded to help himself to what he liked best.
The table was loaded with good things, but there was not so very much left upon it by the time this uninvited guest had got all he wanted. He filled his mouth, and his arms, too, and when Mark discovered him he was walking through the sitting-room toward the porch, demolishing a custard-pie as he went.
Mark was impulsive, and, without stopping to consider what might be the consequences of the act, he started in hot pursuit of the Indian, resolved to punish him for what he had done, and to teach him better than to take such liberties with what did not belong to him.
He came up with the robber just as he was about to descend the steps that led down from the porch. The latter, wholly intent upon his meal, never thought of looking for an enemy in the rear, until Mark dashed against him like a battering-ram—an action which caused the Indian to flourish his heels in the air, and fall headlong to the ground, scattering the bread, meat, pies and cakes, with which his arms were loaded, about in all directions. Mark followed him down the steps, not to attack him, of course, but to keep off the hounds, which would have torn the savage in pieces if they had not been restrained.
“Don’t let those dogs hurt him,” said mother, who had mustered up courage enough to come back to the house.
“No, ma’am,” replied Mark. “Now, old fellow,” he added, as the robber rose slowly to his feet, “you had better take yourself off. Your room suits us better than your company.”
But the savage had no intention of taking himself off. He glared fiercely around him for a moment, and finding that he was opposed by nothing more formidable than a few frightened women, a boy of sixteen and a couple of dogs, he caught up his knife, and gave a war-whoop.
Mark was badly frightened, but he did not show it.
“Look here, old gentleman,” said he, with a pretty show of courage, “you had better not try to hurt any body with that knife. Put it away, and go back to camp where you belong.”
The savage paid no more attention to his words than if he had not spoken at all. He wanted to be revenged upon something for the fall he had received, and not daring to molest either the ladies or Mark, he charged furiously upon the hounds, which nimbly eluded all his attacks, and easily kept out of reach of the knife.
“Do you see what he is doing, mother?” shouted Mark, astonished and enraged at the Indian’s attempts to injure his favorites. “Say the word, and I’ll make the dogs stretch him as if he were a ’coon.”
“No! no!” answered mother, hastily. “Don’t make him angry, and perhaps he will go away after a while.”
“He is as angry as he can be already,” replied Mark.
The boy curbed his indignation as well as he was able, and watched the savage as he followed up the hounds, which barked at him, but kept out of his way. They ran under the house, but the robber crawled after them and drove them out. They were too well trained to take hold of him without the word from their master; but they grew angrier every minute, and finally, as if they feared that their rage might get the better of them if they remained longer in sight of their enemy, they sullenly retreated up the steps that led to the porch.
“Hold on, there!” shouted Mark, as the Indian, yelling furiously, prepared to follow the dogs into the house. “Keep away from there, I tell you.”
But the noble warrior did not stop. Striking right and left with his knife, he sprang up the steps into the midst of the women; and Mark, believing that it was his intention to attack them, yelled quite as loudly as the Indian.
“Hi! hi! Pull him down, fellows!” he shouted.
The hounds understood that yell; they had been waiting for it. As quick as thought one of them turned and sprang at his throat; the other seized him by the shoulder from behind, and the savage was thrown flat on his back—stretched as if he had been a “’coon.”
It was astonishing how quickly all the fight was shaken out of that ferocious Choctaw. He made one or two wild cuts at his assailants, then the knife dropped from his grasp and he lay like a log upon the porch. He was so still, and the blood flowed so freely from the numerous wounds he had received, that Mark became frightened and spoke to the hounds, which released their enemy very reluctantly. He never would have robbed any more dinner-tables if they had been allowed to have their own way with him.
“Ugh!” roared the Indian, when he found himself free from the teeth of the hounds. “Wh-o-o-p!”
He was not seriously injured; he had been “playing ’possum.” He raised himself to a sitting position and gazed about for a moment with a bewildered air, and then jumped to his feet, bounded down the steps and drew a beeline for camp at a rate of speed that made Mark open his eyes.
He did not stop to look for gates, or to let down bars. Whatever may have been that Indian’s claims to courage, he could certainly boast of being a swift runner and a most remarkable jumper.
“Oh, you awful boy! What have you done?” chorused all the visitors, as Mark entered the house.
“I’ve saved somebody from being hurt—that’s what I’ve done,” was the cool reply. “I am the only man about the house, and of course it was my duty to protect you.”
“But don’t you know that an Indian never forgives an injury? He will have revenge for that. He will come back here with his friends and kill and scalp us all.”
“Well, he had better bring a good many friends if he intends to try that,” said Mark, shaking his head in a very threatening manner. “I’ll take Rock and Dash and whip his whole tribe. How long before dinner will be ready, mother?”
For an answer to this question he was referred to the cook. Now, Aunt Martha was an old and favorite servant, who had somehow got it into her head that she had a perfect right to grumble at any one, from her master down to the smallest pickaninny on the plantation. Having recovered from her fright, she was scolding at an alarming rate over the loss of her fine dinner, and for want of some better object upon which to vent her spite she opened upon Mark the moment he entered the kitchen.
Being unable to obtain any satisfactory replies to his questions, he walked off whistling to drown the clatter of the cook’s tongue, and as he went down the steps he heard her say to herself:
“Dat ar is a monstrous bad boy. He’s boun’ to be de def of all us white folks.”
At the end of an hour Mark was again summoned to dinner, which this time passed off without interruption. Aunt Martha had recovered her good nature, and sought to restore herself to favor by stepping down from her high position as head cook, and condescending to wait upon “young mass’r,” whose plate she kept bountifully supplied.
When Mark returned to the shop after eating his dinner, he noticed that an unusual silence reigned in the Indian camp. Not a yell, or a song, or even the bark of a dog came from the woods, which were so still that Mark almost believed them to be deserted.
As he could not help feeling somewhat uneasy over what had been said in regard to the savage coming back with re-enforcements, he kept his eye turned in the direction of the camp, and presently discovered a gray streak moving through the cotton-field.
As it approached he saw that it was an Indian; and when he reached the fence Mark recognized the young wrestler, who appeared to be intensely excited about something. He breathed hard after his rapid run, his eyes had a wild look in them, and he was in so great a hurry to communicate the object of his visit that he began shouting to Mark as soon as he came within speaking distance.
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