CAPTURED AGAIN

“Beneath a hemlock grim and dark,
Where shrub and vine are intertwining,
Our shanty stands, well roofed with bark,
On which the cheerful blaze is shining.
The smoke ascends in spiral wreath;
With upward curve the sparks are trending;
The coffee kettle sings beneath
Where sparks and smoke with leaves are blending.”

Joe Wayring’s voice rang out loud and clear, and the words of his song
were repeated by the echoes from a dozen different points among the
hills by which the camp was surrounded on every side. Joe was putting
the finishing touches to the roof of a bark shanty; Roy Sheldon, with
the aid of a double-bladed camp ax, was cutting a supply of hard wood
to cook the trout he had just cleaned; and Arthur Hastings was sitting
close by picking browse for the beds. The scene of their camp was a
spring-hole, located deep in the forest twelve miles from Indian Lake.
Although it was a noted place for trout, it was seldom visited by the
guests of the hotels for the simple reason that they did not know that
there was such a spring-hole in existence, and the guides were much
too sharp to tell them of it.

Hotel guides, as a class, are not fond of work, and neither will they
take a guest very far beyond the sound of their employer’s dinner
horn. The landlords hire them by the month and the guides get just so
much money, no matter whether their services are called into
requisition or not. If business is dull and the guests few in number,
the guides loaf around the hotel in idleness, and of course the less
they do the less they are inclined to do. If they are sent out with a
guest, they take him over grounds that have been hunted and fished
until there is neither fur, fin, nor feather left, cling closely to
the water-ways, avoiding even the shortest “carries,” their sole
object being to earn their wages with the least possible exertion.
They don’t care whether the guest catches any fish or not. But our
three friends, Joe Wayring, Roy Sheldon, and Arthur Hastings, were not
dependent upon the hotel guides for sport during their summer outings.
Being perfectly familiar with the country for miles around Indian
Lake, they went wherever their fancy led them, and with no fear of
getting lost.

“And on the stream a light canoe
Floats like a freshly fallen feather—
A fairy thing that will not do
For broader seas and stormy weather.
Her sides no thicker than the shell
Of Ole Bull’s Cremona fiddle;
The man who rides her will do well
To part his scalp-lock in the middle,”

sang Joe, backing off and looking approvingly at his work. “There,
fellows, that roof is tight, and now it can rain as soon as it
pleases. With two acres of trout right in front of the door, and a
camp located so far from the lake that we are not likely to be
disturbed by any interlopers—what more could three boys who want to be
lazy ask for?”

“There’s one thing I would like to ask for,” replied Roy, “and that is
the assurance that Tom Bigden and his cousins will go back to Mount
Airy without trying to come any tricks on us. I wonder what brought
them up here any way?”

“Why, they came after their rods, of course,” answered Arthur. “You
know I sent them a despatch stating that their rods were in Mr.
Hanson’s possession, and that they could get them by refunding the
money that Hanson had paid Jake Coyle for them.”

“But they have been loafing around the lake for a whole week, doing
nothing but holding stolen interviews with Matt Coyle and his boys,”
said Roy. “I tell you I don’t like the way those worthies put their
heads together. I believe they are in ca-hoots. If they are not, how
does it come that Tom and his cousins can see Matt as often as they
want to, while the guides and landlords, who are so very anxious to
have him arrested, can not find him or obtain any satisfactory news of
him?”

“That’s the very reason they can’t find him—because they want to have
him arrested, and Matt knows it,” observed Joe. “But why Tom doesn’t
reveal Matt’s hiding-place to the constable is more than I can
understand. Did it ever occur to you that perhaps Matt has some sort
of a hold on those boys, and that they are afraid to go against him?”

“I have thought of it,” replied Arthur. “I have never been able to get
it out of my head that Tom acted suspiciously on the day your canvas
canoe was stolen. He played his part pretty well, but I believed then,
and I believe now, that he knew that canoe was gone before he came
back to the beach.”

“I know Tom didn’t show much enthusiasm when we started after that
bear, and that he did not go very far from the pond,” assented Joe.
“It is possible that he saw Matt steal my canoe, and that he made no
effort to stop him; but I think you are mistaken when you say that
they are in ca-hoots. I don’t believe they have any thing in common.
Tom is much too high-toned for that. I know that he has been seen in
Matt’s company a time or two, but I am of the opinion that they met by
accident and not by appointment.”

“But Tom knew the officers were looking for Matt, and what was the
reason he didn’t tell them that he had seen him?” demanded Arthur.

“He probably would if he hadn’t thought that we were the ones that
wanted him arrested,” replied Joe. “Tom and his cousins do not like
us, and Matt Coyle might steal us poor, and they would never lift a
hand or say a word to prevent it. But we are safe from them now. Even
if they knew where to find us, Matt and his boys are much too lazy to
walk twelve miles through the thick woods just to get into a fight
with us.”

Perhaps they were, and perhaps they were not. Time will show.

If you have read the first volume of the “Forest and Stream Series,”
you will recollect that the story it contained was told by “Old
Durability,” Joe Wayring’s Fly-rod. In concluding his interesting
narrative, Fly-rod said that he would step aside and give place to his
“accommodating friend,” the Canvas Canoe, who, in the second volume of
the series, would describe some of the incidents that came under his
notice while he was a prisoner in the bands of the Indian Lake
vagabonds, Matt Coyle and his two worthless boys, Jake and Sam. I am
the Canvas Canoe, at your service, and I am now ready to redeem that
promise.

You will remember that the last duty I performed for my master, Joe
Wayring, was to take him and Fly-rod up to the “little perch hole,”
leaving Arthur Hastings and Roy Sheldon in the pond to angle for black
bass. Joe preferred to fish for perch, because he was afraid to trust
his light tackle in a struggle with so gamey a foe as a bass; but, as
luck would have it, he struck one the very first cast he made, and got
into a fight that was enough to make any angler’s nerves thrill with
excitement.

The battle lasted half an hour; and when it was over and the fish
safely landed, Joe discovered that it was growing dark. While he was
putting Fly-rod away in his case I happened to look up the creek, and
what should I see there but the most disreputable looking scow I ever
laid my eyes on? I had never seen him before, but I knew the crew he
carried, for I had had considerable experience with them. They were
the squatter and his boys, who, as you know, had sworn vengeance
against Joe Wayring and his friends, because Joe’s father would not
permit them to live on his land.

Matt and his young allies discovered Joe before the latter saw them,
and made an effort to steal alongside and capture him before he knew
that there was any danger near; but one of the impatient boys
carelessly allowed his paddle to rub against the side of the scow, and
the sound alarmed Joe, who at once took to the water and struck out
for shore, leaving me to my fate. But I never blamed Joe for that,
because I knew he could not have done any thing else. He had paid out
a good deal of rope in order to place himself in the best position for
casting, and he could not haul it in and raise the anchor before his
enemies would be upon him.

“So that’s your game, is it?” shouted the squatter, when he saw Joe
pulling for the shore with long lusty strokes. “Wal, it suits us I
reckon. Never mind the boat, Jakey. She’s fast anchored and will stay
there till we want her. Take after the ’ristocrat whose dad won’t let
honest folks live onto his land less’n they’ve got a pocketful of
money to pay him for it. Jest let me get a good whack at him with my
paddle, an’ he’ll stop, I bet you.”

Now we know that Matt didn’t tell the truth when he said that Joe
Wayring’s father would not let any one live on his land except those
who had money to pay for the privilege. Mr. Wayring was one of the
most liberal citizens in Mount Airy. Nearly all the men who were
employed as guides and boatmen by the summer visitors lived in neat
little cottages that he had built on purpose for them, and for which
he never charged them a cent of rent; and when Matt Coyle and his
family came into the lake with a punt load of goods, and took
possession of one of his lots, and proceeded to erect a shanty upon it
without asking his permission, Mr. Wayring did not utter one word of
protest. It is true that he was not very favorably impressed with the
appearance of the new-comers, but he thought he would give them an
opportunity to show what they were before he ordered them off his
grounds. If they proved to be honest, hard-working people they might
stay and welcome, and he would treat them as well as he treated the
other inhabitants of “Stumptown.”

But it turned out that Matt Coyle was neither honest nor hard-working.
He had once been a hanger-on about the hotels at Indian Lake. He
called himself an independent guide (neither of the hotels would have
any thing to do with him), but, truth to tell, he did not do much
guiding. He gained a precarious subsistence by hunting, trapping,
fishing, and stealing. It was easier to steal a living than it was to
earn it by hunting and trapping, and Matt’s depredations finally
became so numerous and daring that the guides hunted him down as they
would a bear or a wolf that had preyed upon their sheep-folds, and
when they caught him ordered him out of the country. To make sure of
his going they destroyed every article of his property that they could
get their hands on, thus forcing him, as one of the guides remarked,
to go off somewhere and steal a new outfit.

Where Matt and his enterprising family went after that no one knew.
They disappeared, and for a few weeks were neither seen nor heard of;
but in due time they rowed their punt into Mirror Lake, as I have
recorded, and Matt and his boys at once sought employment as guides
and boatmen. But here again they were doomed to disappointment. The
managers of the different hotels saw at a glance that they were not
proper persons to be trusted on the lake with a boatload of women and
children, and told them very decidedly that their services were not
needed. The truth was they drank more whisky than water, and guides of
that sort were not wanted in Mount Airy.

Matt and his boys next tried fishing as a means of earning a
livelihood; but no one could have made his salt at that, because the
guests sojourning at the hotels and boarding houses, with the
assistance of the regular guides, kept all the tables abundantly
supplied. This second failure made the squatters angry, and they
concluded that affairs about Mount Airy were not properly managed, and
they would “run the town” to suit themselves. But they could not do
that either, for they were promptly arrested and thrust into the
calaboose.

After they had been put in there twice, the trustees concluded that
they were of no use in Mount Airy, and that they had better go
somewhere else. Accordingly Matt received a notice to pull down his
shanty and clear out. The officer who was intrusted with the writ had
considerable trouble in serving it, but he had more in compelling the
squatter to vacate the lot of which he had taken unauthorized
possession. Matt and his boys showed fight, while the old woman, who,
to quote from Frank Noble, “proved to be the best man in the party,”
threw hot water about in the most reckless fashion. After a spirited
battle the representatives of law and order came off victoriously, and
Matt and his belongings were tumbled unceremoniously into the punt and
shoved out into the lake. This made them almost frantic; and before
they pulled away they uttered the most direful threats against those
who had been instrumental in driving them out of Mount Airy “because
they were poor and didn’t have no good clothes to wear,” and they even
went so far as to threaten to burn Mr. Wayring’s house. But you will
remember that it was Tom Bigden, a boy who hated Joe for just nothing
at all, who put that idea into Matt’s head.

Being once more adrift in the world, the squatter made the best of his
way to Sherwin’s pond to carry out certain other plans that had been
suggested to him by that same Tom Bigden, who never could be easy
unless he was getting himself or somebody else into trouble. Between
the lake and the pond there were twelve miles of rapids. Having run
them scores of times under the skillful guidance of my master, I may
be supposed to be tolerably familiar with them, and to this day I can
not understand how Matt ever succeeded in getting his clumsy old punt
to the bottom of them in safety. He must have had a hard time of it,
for the bow of his craft was so badly battered by the rocks that it
was a mystery how he ever took it across the pond and up the creek to
the place where he made his temporary camp. With his usual caution he
concealed his shanty in a grove of evergreens, and waited as patiently
as he could for something to “turn up.” Tom Bigden had assured him
that he could make plenty of money by simply keeping his eyes open,
but Matt did not find it so.

“I don’t b’lieve that ’ristocrat knew what he was talkin’ about when
he said that some of them sailboats up there in the lake would be sure
to break loose, an’ that I could make money by ketchin’ ’em as they
come through the rapids, an’ givin’ ’em up to their owners,” said the
squatter one day, when his supply of corn meal and potatoes began to
show signs of giving out. “There ain’t nary one of ’em broke loose
yet, an’ if any one of them p’inters an’ hound dogs that we’ve heared
givin’ tongue in the woods ever lost their bearin’s I don’ know it,
fur they never come nigh me.”

“He said that if the things he was talkin’ about didn’t happen of
theirselves, he’d make ’em happen,“ suggested Jake.

“What do you reckon he meant by that?”

“Why, it was a hint to you to go up to the lake some dark night, an’
turn the boats loose,” replied Jake. “Then they’d come down, an’ we
could ketch ’em an’ hold fast to ’em till we was offered a reward fur
givin’ ’em up. But, pap, since I’ve seed them rapids, I don’t b’lieve
that no livin’ boat could ever come through ’em without smashin’
herself all to pieces, less’n there was somebody aboard of her to keep
her off’n the rocks.”

“No more do I,” answered Matt, “an’ I shan’t bother with ’em, nuther.
I ain’t forgot that they’ve got a calaboose up there to Mount Airy,
an’ that they’d jest as soon shove a feller into it as not. But
something has got to be done, or else we’ll go hungry for want of grub
to eat.”

So saying, Matt shouldered his rifle, and set out to hunt up his
dinner, and on the same day Joe Wayring and his two chums, accompanied
by Tom Bigden, and his cousins, Ralph and Loren Farnsworth, ran the
rapids into Sherwin’s Pond, to fish for bass. They caught a fine
string, as every one did who went there, and were talking about going
ashore to cook their breakfast, when they discovered a half-grown bear
on the shore of the pond. Of course they made haste to start in
pursuit of him—all except Tom Bigden. The latter told himself that the
bear did not belong to him, that it was no concern of his whether he
were killed or not, and sat down on a log and fought musquitoes while
waiting for Joe and the rest to tire themselves out in the chase and
come back.

Now Matt Coyle had his eye on that bear, and wanted to shoot him too,
for, as I have said, his larder was nearly empty. He was ready to do
something desperate when he saw Joe and his companions paddle ashore
and frighten the game, but presently it occurred to him that he might
profit by it. He knew that the boys would never have come so far from
home without bringing a substantial lunch with them, and as they had
left their canoes unguarded on the beach, what was there to hinder him
from sneaking up through the bushes and stealing that lunch? Turn
about was fair play. And, while he was about it, what was there to
prevent him from taking his pick of the canoes? Then he would have
something to work with. He could go up to Indian Lake and make another
effort to establish himself there as independent guide; and, if he
failed to accomplish his object, he could paddle about in his canoe,
rob every unguarded camp he could find, and make the sportsmen who
came there for recreation so sick of those woods that they would never
visit them again. In that way he could ruin the hotels as well as the
guides who were so hostile to him. It was a glorious plan, Matt told
himself, and while he was turning it over in his mind he suddenly
found himself face to face with Tom Bigden.

You know the conversation that passed between these two worthies, and
remember how artfully Tom went to work to increase the unreasonable
enmity which Matt Coyle cherished against Joe Wayring. After taking
leave of Tom, the squatter plundered all the canoes that were drawn up
beside me on the beach, first making sure of the baskets and bundles
that contained the lunches, gave them all into my keeping, and shoved
out into the pond with me. If I had possessed the power wouldn’t I
have turned him overboard in short order? Matt was so clumsy and
awkward that I was in hopes he would capsize me and spill himself out;
but, although he could not make me ride on an even keel, he managed to
keep me right side up, and, much to my disgust, I carried him safely
across the pond and up the creek to his shanty.

As the squatter was impatient to begin the business of guiding so that
he could make some money before the season was over, and anxious to
get beyond reach of the officers of the law who would soon be on his
track, he lost no time in breaking camp and setting out for Indian
Lake. Before he went he burned his shanty and punt, so that the Mount
Airy sportsmen could not find shelter in the one or use the other in
fishing in the pond. He spent half an hour in trying to take me to
pieces, so that he could carry me in his hand as if I were a valise,
and finally giving it up as a task beyond his powers, he raised me to
his shoulder and fell in behind his wife and boys, who led the way
toward Indian Lake.

During the short time I remained in Matt Coyle’s possession I fared
well enough, for I was too valuable an article to be maltreated; but I
despised the company I was obliged to keep and the work I was expected
to do. Matt’s first care was to lay in a supply of provisions for the
use of his family; and as he had no money at his command and no
immediate prospect of earning any, of course he expected to steal
every thing he wanted. This was not a difficult task, for long
experience had made him and his boys expert in the line of foraging.
Nearly all the guides cultivated little patches of ground and raised a
few pigs and chickens, and when their duties called them away from
home there was no one left to guard their property except their wives
and children. The latter could not stand watch day and night, and
consequently it was no trouble at all for Matt and his hopeful sons to
rob a hen-roost or a smokehouse as often as they felt like it. But, as
it happened, the very first foraging expedition he sent out, after he
made his new camp about two miles from Indian Lake, resulted most
disastrously for Matt Coyle. He ordered Jake and me to forage on Mr.
Swan, the genial, big-hearted guide of whom you may have heard
something in “The Story of a Fly-rod;” or, rather, Jake was to do the
stealing, and I was to bring back the plunder he secured.

The young scapegrace had no difficulty in getting hold of a side of
bacon and filling a bag with potatoes, which he dug from the soil with
his hands, but there his good fortune ended. While he was making his
way up the creek toward home, he was discovered by Joe Wayring and his
two friends, Roy and Arthur, who were going to Indian Lake for their
usual summer’s outing. Of course they at once made a determined effort
to recapture me, and Jake in his mad struggle to escape ran me upon a
snag and sunk me, thus putting it out of his father’s power to go into
the business of independent guiding. The fights that grew out of that
night’s work were numerous and desperate, and Matt declared that he
would “even up” with the boys if he had to wait ten years for a chance
to do it.

It was the work of but a few moments for my master, with the aid of
his friends, to bring me back to the surface of the water where I
belonged. He took me home with him when his outing was over, and there
I lived during the winter in comparative quiet, while Joe and his
chums were made the victims of so many petty annoyances that it was a
wonder to me how they kept their temper as well as they did. Matt
Coyle and his boys could not do any thing to trouble them, because
they were afraid to show themselves about the village; but Tom Bigden
and his cousins were alert and active. They bothered Joe in every
conceivable way. They made a lifelong enemy of Mars by sending him
home through the streets with a tin can tied to his tail; they shot at
Roy Sheldon’s tame pigeons as often as the birds ventured within range
of their long bows; they overturned Joe’s sailboat after he had hauled
it out on the beach and housed it for the winter; and one night I
heard them talk seriously of setting fire to the boathouse. Loren and
Ralph Farnsworth, however, were not willing to go as far as that,
knowing, as they did, that arson was a State’s prison offense, but
they agreed to Tom’s proposition to break into the boathouse and carry
off “that old canvas canoe that Joe seemed to think so much of,”
because they could do as much mischief of that sort as they pleased,
and no blame would be attached to them. It would all be laid at Matt
Coyle’s door.

If I had been able to speak to him I would have told Tom that he was
mistaken when he said this, for Joe Wayring knew well enough whom he
had to thank for every thing that happened to him that winter. Tom and
his allies forgot that their foot prints in the snow and the marks of
their skates on the ice were, as Roy expressed it, “a dead give away.”

Joe, however, did not say or do any thing to show that he suspected
Tom, for he was a boy who liked to live in peace with every body; but
when he came down to the boathouse the next morning and found that
some one had been tampering with the fastenings of the door, he took
me on his shoulder and carried me to his room, where I remained until
the winter was passed and the boating season opened.

In the meantime I made the acquaintance of Fly-rod, who has told you a
portion of my history, and who was as green a specimen as I ever met;
but what else could you expect of a fellow who had never seen any
thing of the world or caught a fish! A few Saturdays spent at the
spring-holes and along the banks of the trout streams proved him to be
a strong, reliable rod, and by the time the summer vacation came Joe
had learned to put a good deal of confidence in him. One of the most
noteworthy exploits Fly-rod ever performed was capturing that big bass
at the perch-hole. That was on the day that Matt Coyle and his boys
came down the creek in their scow and made a captive of me and chased
my master through the woods; and this brings me back to my story.

I need not assure you that I was deeply interested in the exciting
scene that was enacted before me. I rode helplessly at my moorings and
watched Joe Wayring as he swam down the stream with his sturdiest
strokes to get clear of the lily-pads before attempting a landing, and
then I turned my attention to Matt Coyle and his boys, who had come to
grief in their efforts to force their way to the shore.

“Back out!” shouted Matt, when he found that his scow could neither
ride over or break through the strong, tangled stems of the lily-pads.
“Be in a hurry, or he’ll get sich a start on us that we can’t never
ketch him.” And then he swung his heavy paddle around his head and
threw it at Joe, just as the latter crawled out upon the bank.

Joe saw the missile coming toward him, and when it struck the ground
he caught it up and threw it back. He didn’t hit Matt, as he meant to
do, but he struck Jake such a stunning blow in the face that the boy
could take no part in the pursuit that followed. It came pretty near
knocking him overboard. I would have laughed if I could, but I did not
feel so jubilant when I heard Matt say:

“Sam, you an’ Jakey get into the canoe an’ paddle down the pond so’s
to cut him off when he tries to swim off to the skiff.”

In obedience to these instructions the two boys took possession of me,
hauled up the anchor, and paddled swiftly down the creek, while Matt
kept on after Joe, who was running through the woods like a frightened
deer. When we came out into the pond I saw him standing on the bank
beckoning to Arthur and Roy, who lost no time in bringing the skiff to
his relief. I saw Joe run into the water and strike out to meet them,
and I also heard him say:

“Boys, never mind me. I’ve got my second wind now and can swim for an
hour. Go up there and capture my canoe, or else run over him and send
him to the bottom. Don’t let those villains take him away from me
again.”

But Arthur and Roy did not think it best to act upon this suggestion
until they had taken care of Joe; and by the time they had got him
into the skiff it was too late for them to do any thing for me; for
Jake and his brother had put themselves out of harm’s way by pulling
for the shore, where Matt was waiting for them. When they reached it
they lifted me from the water and carried me so far into the bushes
that they knew Joe and his friends would not dare follow them, and
then each of them sheltered himself behind a tree. Matt and his boys
were afraid of Roy Sheldon, who was a swift and accurate thrower, and
when the latter rose to his feet to see what they had done with me
they thought he was about to open fire on them with potatoes, as he
had done once or twice before.

“I’m onto your little game,” shouted the squatter, peeping out from
behind his tree and shaking his fist at the boys in the skiff. “You
don’t fire no more taters at me if I know it. Your boat is here, an’
if you want it wusser’n we do, come an’ get it. ’Tain’t much account
nohow. Now then,” added Matt, as he saw the boys turn their skiff
about and pull back toward the other side of the pond, “ketch hold of
this canoe, all of us, an’ we’ll tote him up to the creek.”

“Say, pap,” Sam interposed, “why don’t we foller ’em over there an’
gobble up their other boat an’ bust up their things?”

“That’s what I say,” groaned Jake, who wanted revenge for the stinging
blow that Joe had given him with Matt’s paddle. “We’re better men than
they ever dare be. I shan’t rest easy till I larrup that Joe Wayring.”

“Now jest listen at the two fules!” exclaimed the squatter, in a tone
of disgust. “Have you forgot the peltin’ they give us with our own
taters last summer? ’Pears to me that you hadn’t oughter forget it,
Jakey, ’cause when you got that whack in the stummik you raised sich a
hollerin’ that you could have been heared clear up to Injun Lake.
Seems as though I could feel that bump yet,” added Matt, passing a
brawny fist over his cheek where a potato, thrown by Arthur Hastings’
hand, had left a black and blue spot as large as a hen’s egg. “We’ll
wait till they get camped for the night, an’ then we’ll go over there
an’ steal ourselves rich.”

If Matt had taken another look at the boys instead of being in such
haste to carry me up to the creek, he never would have thought
seriously of making a night attack upon their camp. Joe and his
friends had received a reinforcement in the person of Mr. Swan, a
hotel guide whom Matt Coyle had good reason to remember. The guide had
taken an active part in driving him and his vagabond crew out of the
Indian Lake country, and he was looking for him when he met Joe and
his chums. But Matt, believing that the boys had no one to depend on
but themselves, was sure that by a stealthy approach and quick assault
he could wipe out all old scores and enrich himself without incurring
the smallest risk, and he and his allies grew enthusiastic while they
talked about the great things they meant to do that night.

During the progress of their conversation I learned, for the first
time, what had become of the rods and reels that Matt stole from Joe
and his party in Sherwin’s pond. Jake, who acted as his father’s
agent, had sold them to Mr. Hanson, the landlord of the Sportsman’s
Home, for four dollars apiece—all except the one belonging to Arthur
Hastings, which Jake affirmed had been broken by a black bass. For
that he received two dollars. I learned, further, that Matt had failed
again in his efforts to find employment as guide for the Indian Lake
country. The hotels would not hire him, and neither would the guests
to whom he offered his services. This left Matt but one resource, and
that was to carry out his oft-repeated threat that if he couldn’t act
as guide about that lake nobody should. He had already robbed three
camps, and he had the satisfaction of knowing that by doing it he had
created great consternation among the summer visitors. The ladies
protested that they could never think of going into the woods again as
long as that horrid man was about, and the sportsmen who had suffered
at his hands told their landlords very plainly that they would not
come near Indian Lake again until they were assured that Matt Coyle
had been arrested and lodged in jail.

“They’re afeared of me, them folks up there to the lake be,” chuckled
the squatter, who was highly elated over the success of the plan he
had adopted for ruining the hotels and breaking up the business of
guiding. “I would have worked hard an’ faithful for ’em if they had
give me a chance to make an honest livin’; but they wouldn’t do it,
’cause I didn’t have no good clothes to wear, an’ now they see what
they have gained by their meanness. I won’t be starved to death, an’
that’s jest all there is about it.”

“Say, pap, what be you goin’ to do with them two fine guns that’s hid
up there in the bresh?” inquired Sam.

“I ain’t a-goin’ to do nothin’ with ’em,” was the reply.

“Then why can’t me an’ Jake have ’em?”

“Now jest listen at the blockhead!” Matt almost shouted. “Ain’t you
got sense enough to know that if a guide should happen to ketch you
runnin’ about the woods with one of them guns in your hands you would
be ’rested an’ locked up for a thief? I didn’t take them guns ’cause I
wanted ’em, but jest to drive them city sportsmen away from here. They
ain’t goin’ to bring fine things into these woods when they know that
they stand a chance of losin’ ’em. An’ if there ain’t no guests to
come here, what’s the guides an’ landlords goin’ to do to make a
livin’?”

“I’ve made a heap of money for you, pap, by sellin’ them fish-poles
an’ takin’ back the scatter-gun you hooked outen one of them camps,
an’ you ain’t never give me nothin’ for it,” said Jake. “I reckon it’s
about time you was settlin’ up.”

“All right, I’ll settle up with you this very minute,” answered his
father, cheerfully. “You can have this here canvas canoe for your own.
Does that squar’ accounts betwixt us?”

It wouldn’t if I had had a voice in the matter, or possessed the power
to protect myself; but I was helpless, and from that moment Jake
claimed me as his property. He agreed, however, to lend me to his
father as often as the latter thought it safe to go prospecting for
unguarded camps. Half an hour later I was floating in the creek
alongside the scow, and Matt and his boys were building a fire and
preparing to regale themselves upon the big bass which Fly-rod had
unwittingly caught for their supper. While they were thus engaged they
talked over their plans for the night, and decided what they would do
with the valuable things they expected to capture in Joe Wayring’s
camp.

“This here is the great p’int, an’ it bothers me a heap, I tell you,”
said Matt, flourishing the sharpened stick that he was using as a
fork. “Joe an’ his friends are purty well known in this part of the
country, an’ so’s their outfit; an’ if we steal all they’ve got, as I
mean to do afore I am many hours older, about the only things we can
use will be the grub.”

“Don’t you reckon they’ve got new fish-poles to take the place of them
you hooked from ’em up in Sherwin’s pond?” inquired Sam.

“I know they have, ’cause they wouldn’t come here without nothing to
fish with, would they? But ’twon’t be safe to try to sell ’em right
away, ’cause if we do folks will suspicion something.”

“I’ll bet you I won’t take’em up to the lake to sell ’em,” said Jake
very decidedly. “The folks up there know that you stole them fine guns
we’ve got hid in the bresh, an’ they’d ’rest me for helpin’ of you.
But there’s one thing I want, an’ I’m goin’ to have it too, when we
get Joe’s property into our hands, an’ that’s some new clothes,” added
Jake, pulling his coat-sleeve around so that he could have a fair view
of the gaping rent in the elbow. “These duds I’ve got on ain’t fitten
to go among white folks with.”

“I don’t see what’s to hender you gettin ’em, Jakey,” said his father,
encouragingly. “If we get the skiff an’ everything what’s into it, in
course we shall get the extry clothes they brung with ’em, an’ you an’
Sam can take your pick.”

“An’ I’m goin’ to give that Joe Wayring the best kind of a poundin’ to
pay him for hittin’ me in the face with your paddle,” continued Jake.

“You can do that, too, an’ I won’t never say a word agin it. All them
fellers need bringin’ down, an’ I’d like the best way to see you boys
do it. Now there’s that skiff of their’n,” added Matt, reflectively.
“She’s better’n the scow, ’cause she’s got oars instead of paddles,
an’ can get around faster.”

“An’ she’s big enough to carry us an’ our plunder, an’ she’s got a
tent, so’t we wouldn’t have to go ashore to camp when we wanted to
stop for the night,” said Sam. “But we’d have to steer clear of the
guides, ’cause they all know her,”

“We’ve got to steer clear of them anyhow, ain’t we?” demanded Matt. “I
reckon we’d best take her for a house-boat, an’ use the canvas canoe
to go a prospectin’ for camps.”

Matt and his boys continued to talk in this way until darkness came to
conceal their movements, and then they stepped into the scow and
paddled toward the pond, leaving me tied fast to a tree on the bank. I
knew they were going on a fool’s errand. They seemed to forget that
Joe and his friends never went into the woods without taking a
body-guard and sentinel with them; and, knowing how vigilant Arthur
Hastings’ little spaniel was in looking out for the safety of the
camp, I did not think it would be possible for the squatter, cunning
as he was, to steal a march upon the boys he intended to rob. If Jim
aroused the camp there would be the liveliest kind of a fight, and I
was as certain as I wanted to be that the attacking party would come
off second best.

The squatter was gone so long that I began to grow impatient; but
presently I heard loud and excited voices coming from the direction of
the pond, mingled with cries of distress, the clashing of sticks, and
other sounds to indicate that there was a battle going on out there.
Although it seemed to be desperately contested, it did not last long,
for in less than ten minutes afterwards I saw the scow coming into the
creek. The very first words I heard convinced me that, although Matt
and his boys had failed to surprise and rob Joe’s camp, they had
inflicted considerable damage upon him and his companions. To my great
satisfaction I also learned that my confidence in Jim, the spaniel,
had not been misplaced.

“If I ever get the chance I’ll fill that little black fice of their’n
so full of bullet holes that he won’t never be of no more use as a
watchdog I bet you,” said Sam, in savage tones. “We could have done
jest what we liked with that there camp, an’ every thing an’ every
body what’s into it, if it hadn’t been for his yelpin’ an’ goin’ on.”

“Now, listen at you!” exclaimed his father, impatiently. “I’m right
glad the dog was there an’ set up that yelpin’, ’cause if we’d went
ashore, like we meant to do, we’d a had that man Swan onto us.”

“Well, what of it?” retorted Sam. “Ain’t you a bigger man than he is?”

“That ain’t nuther here nor there,” answered Matt, who knew that he
could not have held his own in an encounter with the stalwart guide.
“Fightin’ ain’t what we’re after. We want to do all the damage we can
without bein’ ketched at it.”

“All I’ve made by this night’s work is a prod in the ribs that will
stay with me for a month,” groaned Jake, who, as I afterwards learned,
had received several sharp thrusts from the blade of Roy Sheldon’s
oar. “Pap, you spiled our chances of gettin’ that skiff for a
house-boat when you told us to run into her. She’s at the bottom of
the pond by this time. Didn’t you hear the planks rippin’ and crackin’
when we struck her?”

“Wal, then, what did they put theirselves in our way for!” demanded
Matt, angrily. “Didn’t you hear me tell ’em not to come nigh us,
’cause it would be wuss for’em if they did? I seen through their
little game in a minute. They wanted to keep us there till Swan could
come up an’ help ’em. What else could we do but run into ’em?”

This made it plain to me that the squatter had not acted entirely on
the defensive—that he had made a desperate effort to send the skiff
and her crew to the bottom of the pond; but, being better posted in
natural philosophy than he was, I did not believe that he had
succeeded in doing it. An unloaded skiff will not sink, even if her
whole side is stove in, and I was positive that Matt Coyle would see
more of that boat and of the boys who owned it before the doors of the
penitentiary closed upon him.

In spite of Jake’s protest and Sam’s, Matt decided to camp on the bank
of the creek that night, and go home in the morning. The boys were
afraid that the guide might assume the offensive and attack them while
they were asleep; but their father quieted their fears by assuring
them that he would not attempt any thing of the sort, ’cause why, he
couldn’t. The skiff was sunk, Swan’s canoe wasn’t large enough to
carry more than one man at a load, and the guide, brave as he was
supposed to be, would not think of coming up there alone. More than
that, he did not know where to find them.

Knowing that Matt’s home was wherever he happened to be when night
overtook him, I felt some curiosity to see the place he had chosen for
his temporary abode. I was ushered into it early on the afternoon of
the following day. It was located about twenty miles from the pond,
and Matt reached it by turning the scow out of the creek, and forcing
him through a little stream whose channel was so thickly filled with
bushes and weeds that a stranger would not have suspected that there
was any water-way there. The stream, which was not more than twenty
feet long, ended in a little bay, and there the scow had to be left,
because his crew could not take him any farther. He was too broad of
beam to be carried through the thick woods, and besides he was too
heavy.

I forgot to say that my new owner, Jake Coyle, navigated me up the
creek. He was very awkward with the double paddle at first, but skill
came with practice, and before we had gone half a dozen miles I was
carrying him along as steadily and evenly as I ever carried Joe
Wayring. When we reached the little bay of which I have spoken, Jake
ran me upon the beach alongside the scow, and set to work to take me
to pieces. Having more mechanical skill and patience than his father,
he succeeded after awhile, and then he put me on his shoulder and
carried me along the well-beaten path that led to the camp. But before
this happened I was witness to a little proceeding on the part of Matt
Coyle which showed what a cunning old fox he was. Catching up a long
pole that had probably been used for the same purpose before, the
squatter went back to the stream through which we had just passed, and
carefully straightened up all the bushes that had been bent down by
the weight of the scow.

“There!” said Matt, when he had finished his task, “Swan an’ some more
of them guides will be along this way directly, but I bet they won’t
see nothin’ from the creek to tell ’em that we are in here. Of course
the bresh don’t stand up squar’, like it oughter, an’ the bark’s
rubbed off in places; but mebbe Swan an’ the rest of ’em won’t take
notice of that.”

I afterward learned, however, that Matt knew his enemies too well to
trust any thing to luck. Some member of his family stood guard at the
mouth of the stream day and night. The old woman was on watch when we
came up the creek but I did not see her, for as soon as she discovered
Matt’s scow approaching she hastened to camp to get dinner ready.

The camp was pleasantly located in a thicket of evergreens, and with a
little care and attention might have been made a very cheerful and
inviting spot; but it was just the reverse of that. Matt and his tribe
were too lazy to keep their camps in order or to provide themselves
with any comforts. I never knew them to have such a thing as a camp
broom, which any of them could have made in ten minutes, and I doubt
if their dishes ever received a thorough washing. They could not
muster up energy enough to pick browse for their beds, but were
content to sleep on the bare ground. All they cared for was a camp
that was so effectually concealed that the Indian Lake guides would
not be likely to stumble upon it, a lean-to that would keep off the
thickest of the rain, and plenty to eat. Of course they would have
been glad to have money in their pockets, but they did not want to put
themselves to any trouble to earn it. Matt contended that he and his
family had as good a right to live without work as some other folks
had.

“So you got your canvas canoe back, did you, Jakey?” said the old
woman, as her hopeful son came in at one side of the camp and went out
at the other. “Where did you find him agin?”

“Up there to the pond,” replied Jake. “That Joe Wayring, he was
fishin’, an’ we crep’ up clost to him afore he knew we was there, an’
then it would a made you laugh to see him take to the water an’ streak
it through the woods with pap arter him. Don’t I wish he had ketched
him, though? Do you see any thing onto my face?”

The old woman replied that one of his cheeks was slightly discolored.

“Joe Wayring done that with pap’s paddle,” continued Jake, “an’ I’m
goin’ to larrup him for it the first good chance I get. I’ll l’arn him
who he’s hittin’. Yes, this canoe is mine now, sure enough, for pap
give him to me to keep. I’m goin’ to hide him out here in the bresh
till I want to use him.”

This piece of strategy on the part of my new master made it impossible
for me to take note of all that happened in and around the squatter’s
camp during the next two days, for the evergreens partially concealed
it from my view, and Matt and his allies talked in tones so low that I
could not distinctly hear what they said; but on the afternoon of the
third day I saw and heard a good deal. About three o’clock, while Sam
Coyle was dozing on the bank of the creek and pretending to stand
guard over the camp, he was suddenly aroused to a sense of his
responsibility by seeing a light skiff come slowly around the bend
below. Mr. Swan, the guide, handled the oars, and the man who sat in
the stern was the owner of the Lefever hammerless that Matt Coyle had
stolen and concealed in the bushes. They kept their eyes fastened upon
the bank as they moved along, and Sam knew that they were looking for
“signs.”

“An’ I’m powerful ’feared that they will find some when they get up
here,” thought the young vagabond, trembling all over with excitement
and apprehension, “’cause didn’t pap say that he couldn’t make the
bresh stand up straight like it had oughter do, an’ that the bark was
rubbed off in places? I reckon I’d best be a lumberin’.”

Sam turned upon his face and crawled off through the bushes, but not
until he had seen Mr. Swan’s boat reinforced by four others, whose
occupants were looking so closely at the shores as they advanced that
it did not seem possible that a single bush, or even a twig on them,
could escape their scrutiny. Sam lost no time in putting himself out
of sight among the evergreens, and then he jumped to his feet and made
for camp at the top of his speed. The pale face he brought with him
told his father that he had a startling report to make.

“Be they comin’?” said Matt, in an anxious whisper.

“Yes,” replied Sam, “they’re comin’—a hul passel of boats, an’ two or
three fellers into each one of ’em. The man you hooked that
scatter-gun from is into Swan’s boat, an’ he looks like he was jest
ready to b’ile over with madness.”

“Grab something an’ run with it,” exclaimed the squatter; and as he
spoke he snatched up the frying-pan and dumped the half-cooked slices
of bacon upon the ground.

For a few minutes there was a great commotion in the camp. Matt and
his family caught up whatever came first to their hands, and presently
emerged from the thicket, one after the other. They all carried
bundles of something on their backs, and at once proceeded to “scatter
like so many quails,” and scurry away in different directions. This
was one of their favorite tricks—the one to which they invariably
resorted when danger threatened them; but before they separated they
always agreed upon a place of meeting, toward which they bent their
steps as soon as they thought it safe to do so. It was no trouble at
all for them to elude the officers of the law in this way, and even
the guides, experienced as they were in woodcraft, could not always
follow them.

Jake Coyle was so heavily loaded down with other plunder that he could
not carry me away with him. That was something upon which I
congratulated myself, for I was sure that the guides and their
companions would not leave until they had made a thorough examination
of the woods surrounding the squatter’s camp; but in this I was
disappointed.

They set fire to every thing that Matt had left behind in his hurried
flight, and went back to the bay to find that the enemy had been
operating in their rear. While they were waiting for the fire they had
kindled to burn itself out, Matt and his family “circled around” to
the bay in which they had left their scow, and went to work to pay Mr.
Swan back in his own coin. Every thing that would sink was thrown into
the water, and every thing that wouldn’t was sent whirling through the
air toward the woods on the opposite side of the bay. That was the way
my friend Fly-rod got crippled. He brought up against a tree with such
force that his second joint was broken close to the ferrule. After
doing all the damage they could without alarming the guides, Matt and
his family took two of the best boats and made their escape in them.

I judged that Mr. Swan and his party were a pretty mad lot of men when
they returned to the bay and saw what had been done there during their
absence. They were so far away that I could not catch all they said,
but I could hear Joe Wayring’s voice, and longed for the power to do
something that would lead him to my place of concealment. I also heard
the owner of the stolen Winchester say:

“We will give a hundred dollars apiece to the man who will find our
weapons, capture the thief, and hold him so that we can come and
testify against him. Or, we will give fifty dollars apiece for the
guns without the thief and the same amount for the thief without the
guns. Boys, you are included in that offer.”

I knew that the last words were addressed to Joe Wayring and his
chums, for I heard Arthur thank him, and say that it would afford him
and his friends great satisfaction if they could find and restore the
stolen guns. I did not suppose that the boys would ever think of the
matter again, having so many other things to occupy their minds; but
subsequent events proved that I was mistaken.