Great Scott

“Human natur’!” yelled Jake, when the ball sung through the air close
to his ear. “I’m shot! Whoop! I’m killed.”

He let go his hold upon the snag and fell back into the water with a
sounding splash; but rising with the buoyancy of a cork, and finding,
to his astonishment, that he was not at all injured, he swam rapidly
in my direction, but so silently that I could not hear the slightest
ripple. The robbers, if such they were, were struck dumb by the
alarming sounds that had been called forth by their random shot; but
at length one of them broke the silence.

“I hope you’re satisfied,” said he, in savage tones. “You have added
murder to burglary, and now we are in for it, sure. I’m off this very
minute.”

“Where are you going, Tony?” asked his companion, in pleading tones.

“I’m going to get ashore and strike out through the woods the best I
know how. I don’t care where I bring up, so long as I put a safe
distance between myself and the guides who will be on our trail at
daylight. They’ll track a fellow down as a hound would.”

“Are you going to desert me? I can’t swim ashore.”

“Then walk. The water isn’t up to your neck.”

“But the mud! What if it should be a quicksand?”

“The mud isn’t an inch deep. That boy told us a pack of lies from
beginning to end. He capsized us on purpose; but I am sorry you shot
him. Come on, if you are going with me.”

“Must we leave the money behind after all the risk we ran to get it?”

“The money can stay where it is till the rust eats it up for all I
care,” replied Tony, who was very much alarmed. “I wouldn’t stay here
a minute longer after what you have done for all the money there is in
America.”

“But there are six thousand dollars in those grip-sacks,” protested
Jim, “and that amount of cash don’t grow on every bush.”

“I know it; but there’s no help for it that I can see. You have
knocked us out of a fortune by being so quick with your revolver.”

Here the speaker broke out into a volley of the heaviest kind of
oaths, and Jake Coyle sat composedly in the canvas canoe listening to
him. The boy’s courage came back to him the instant he found himself
in the boat with the double paddle in his hand, and instead of making
haste to return to the other shore, as I thought he would, he kept
still and waited to see what his late passengers were going to do.
Although he was not more than twenty yards from them they could not
see him, for, as I have said, the night was pitch dark.

“I knowed by the way them fellers went snoopin’ around that suller,
an’ by the funny story they tried to cram down my throat, that they
wasn’t sportsmen like they pertended to be,” soliloquized Jake, giving
himself an approving slap on the knee. “An’ I knowed the minute I seed
that money that it wasn’t their’n, an’ that’s why I upsot ’em into the
lake. Whoop-pee! I’ve got a silver mind up there by that snag, an’
to-morrer night I’ll slip up an’ work it.”

Hardly able to control himself, so great was his delight over the
success of his hastily conceived plans, Jake sat and listened while
the robbers floundered through the water toward the shore; and when a
crashing in the bushes told him that they had taken to the woods, he
headed me for the place where he had left the stolen provisions. Six
thousand dollars! Jake could hardly believe it. It was a princely
fortune in his estimation, and it was all his own; for no one except
himself and the robbers knew where it was, and the latter would not
dare come after it, believing, as they did, that their chance shot had
proved fatal to Jake. It would be an easy matter for the boy to bring
the two grip-sacks to the surface by diving for them, but what should
he do with the money after he got hold of it? Unless he went to some
place where he was not known, it would be of no more use to him than
those fine guns were to his father. There was but one store within a
radius of fifty miles at which he could spend any of it, and Jake knew
it would not be safe to go there. The store was located at Indian
Lake, and that was the headquarters of the guides who were so hostile
to his father’s family.

“It’s a p’int that will need a heap of studyin’ to straighten it out,”
thought Jake, putting a little more energy into his strokes with the
double paddle. “But I’m rich, an’ I needn’t stop with pap no longer’n
I’ve a mind to. That’s a comfortin’ idee. Wouldn’t him an’ Sam be
hoppin’ if they knowed what had happened to-night? I don’t reckon I’d
best have any thing more to say to Rube about them guns. I don’t care
for fifty dollars long’s I got six thousand waitin’ for me.”

Jake found the bags where he had left them, and also the five dollars
which the robbers had paid him for ferrying them across the lake. He
loaded the bags into the canoe, after putting the money into his
pocket, and set out for home, which he reached without any further
adventure. He took a good deal of pains to avoid the watchman at the
hatchery, although there was really no need of it. Rube knew well
enough that the food Matt’s wife served up to him three times a day
had never been paid for. The first words he uttered when he presented
himself at the breakfast table the next morning proved as much.

“Beats the world how you folks keep yourselves in grub so easy,” said
he, as he drew one of the stools up to the well-filled board. “I never
see you do no work, an’ yet you never go hungry. Well, I don’t know’s
it’s any of my business; but I’d like mighty well to make it my
business to ’rest them two robbers that’s prowlin’ about in these
woods.”

“What robbers?” inquired Matt; while Jake, taken by surprise, bent his
head lower over his cracked plate and trembled in every limb.

“I don’t know’s I can give you any better idee of it than by readin’ a
little scrap in a paper that Swan give me early this morning,”
answered Rube, pushing back his stool and pulling the paper in
question from his pocket.

“Swan!” ejaculated Matt, his face betraying the utmost consternation.
“Has he been round here?”

Rube replied very calmly that the guide had been around there, adding—

“Him an’ a whole passel of other guides an’ constables come to see me
this morning at the hatchery afore sun-up. They told me all about it
an’ give me this paper. They was a lookin’ for the robbers.”

“An’ don’t you know that they’re lookin’ for me too?” exclaimed Matt,
reproachfully. “An you never come to wake me up so’t I could take to
the bresh an’ hide? Spos’n I’d been ketched all along of your not
bringin’ me word?”

“But you see I knowed you wasn’t in no danger,” replied the watchman.
“They wouldn’t be likely to look for you in my house, an’ me holdin’
the position of watchman at the State hatchery, would they? Besides,
they don’t care for you now. They’re after a bigger reward than has
been offered for you. There’s six hundred dollars to be made by
’restin’ them robbers, an’ that’s what brung Swan an’ his crowd up
here so early. They tracked the robbers through the woods as far as
Haskinses’, Swan and the rest of the guides did, an’ there they found
a steeple pulled outen the suller door an’—Hallo! What’s the matter of
you, Jake?”

“There ain’t nothin’ the matter of me as I knows on,” said the boy,
faintly.

“I thought you sorter acted like you was chokin’. Well, they routed up
Haskinses’ folks, an’ when Miss Haskins come to go into the suller she
said she had lost some ’taters, turnups, bacon, butter, and pickles,”
continued Rube; and as he said this he ran his eyes over the table and
saw before him every one of the articles he had enumerated. “Miss
Haskins allowed that the robbers must a bust open the door to get grub
to eat while they was layin’ around in the bresh. Mebbe they did an’
mebbe they didn’t; but that’s nothin’ to me. They couldn’t track the
robbers no furder’n the suller; but they’re bound to come up with ’em,
sooner or later. Townies ain’t as good at hidin’ in the woods as you
be, Matt.”

The squatter grinned his appreciation of the complaint, and Rube
proceeded to unfold his paper. When he found the dispatch of which he
was in search, he read it in a low monotone, without any rising or
falling inflection or the least regard for pauses. It ran as follows:

“BANK THIEVES GET $6,000.

“Irvington, Aug. 3.—The cashier of the First National Bank went to
dinner about noon yesterday, after closing and locking the vault and
doors of the building. Thieves entered the bank by a back door and
secured about $6,000, mostly in specie, which had been left in trays
just inside the iron railings. Two strangers wearing long dark coats
and black felt hats were seen coming out of the alley about the time
the money was supposed to have been stolen, and suspicion rests upon
them. The sheriff is in hot pursuit, and the thieves have already been
traced as far as Indian Lake. That is bad news. The Indian Lake
vagabonds will give them aid and comfort as long as their money holds
out, and the officers will have an all-winter’s job to run them to
earth. A reward of six hundred dollars has been offered for the
apprehension of the robbers.”

Rube folded the paper again and said, as he winked knowingly at Matt
Coyle—

“You see that Swan and the rest of the guides have got bigger game
than you to look after, an’ if they’ve got an all-winter’s job onto
their hands, you’re safe, so fur as bein’ took up is concerned; I mean
that they won’t go out of their way to hunt you up.”

Having finished his breakfast Rube took possession of one of the
shake-downs, while Matt and his family adjourned to the open air to
give him a chance to sleep.

“The Injun Lake vagabones will give ’em aid an’ comfort as long’s
their money holds out,” quoted Matt, seating himself on a convenient
log and knitting his shaggy brows as if he were revolving some deep
problem in his mind. “That means us, I reckon; don’t you? I’d give ’em
all the aid an’ comfort they wanted if I could only find ’em, I bet
you. I wish we were livin’ in the woods now like we used to. We’d
stand enough sight better chance of meetin’ ’em than we do here so
nigh the hatchery.”

“An’ what’s the reason we ain’t livin’ in the woods, quiet and
peaceable?” exclaimed Sam. “It’s all along of Joe Wayring an’ the rest
of them Mt. Airy fellers who burned us outen house an’ home, so’t
we’ve got to stay around the settlements whether we want to or not.”

The mention of Joe Wayring’s name seemed to set Matt Coyle beside
himself with rage. He jumped to his feet and strode back and forth in
front of his log, flourishing his arms in the air and uttering threats
that were enough to make even a canvas canoe tremble with
apprehension. Why Matt should feel so spiteful against my master I
could not understand. Joe had no hand in driving him out of Mount
Airy, neither did he lend the least assistance in destroying Matt’s
property. The trustees and the guides were the responsible parties,
but Matt did not give a thought to them. The innocent Joe was the
object of his wrath, and he promised to visit all sorts of terrible
punishments upon him at no very distant day.

“We’ll tie him to a tree an’ larrup him till he’ll wish him an’ his
crowd had left us alone,” said Matt, in savage tones. “We’ll larn him
that honest folks ain’t to be drove about like sheep jest ’cause they
ain’t got no good clothes to w’ar. But six thousand dollars!” added
Matt, coming back to the point from which he started. “That’s a power
of money, ain’t it?”

“Six hundred you mean,” suggested Sam.

“That’s the reward that’s been offered for them robbers.”

“Who said any thing about the reward,” exclaimed Matt, almost
fiercely. “I wasn’t thinkin’ of the reward. I was thinkin’ of the six
thousand.”

“Wouldn’t you try to ’rest ’em, pap, if you should find ’em?” inquired
Sam.

“Not if I could make more by givin’ ’em aid an’ comfort, I wouldn’t.
Say,” added Matt, giving Sam a poke in the ribs with his finger. “Six
hundred dollars is nothin’ alongside of six thousand, is it? Them
fellers will have to camp somewhere, if they stay in the woods, won’t
they? An’ is there a man in the Injun Lake country that’s better’n I
be at findin’ camps an’ sneakin’ up on ’em? Jakey, go into the shanty
an’ bring out that canvas canoe of your’n. Go easy, ’cause Rube wants
to sleep after bein’ up all night. More’n that, I want him to sleep;
for I don’t care to have him know what I am up to. I suspicion that
he’s watchin’ me.”

“Where be you goin’, pap?” asked Jake, in some alarm.

“Up to Haskinses’ to take a look around his landin’,” replied Matt.
“You didn’t see any thing of them robbers while you was workin’ about
that suller, did you, Jakey?”

“Didn’t see hide nor hair of nobody,” was the answer. “If I’d seen ’em
I’d been that scared that I never would quit a runnin’.”

“Well, they was up there somewheres, ’cause Swan an’ his crowd tracked
’em that fur. But they couldn’t foller ’em no furder, an’ that proves
that the robbers must have crossed the lake right there.”

“I don’t reckon they did, pap,” replied Jake, whose uneasiness and
anxiety were so apparent that it was a wonder his father’s suspicions
were not aroused. “’Cause where did they get a boat to take ’em over?
Haskins don’t own but one, an’ he’s got that up to Injun Lake.”

“I don’t know nothin’ about that,” answered Matt, doggedly. “Them
robbers got across the lake somehow, an’ I am sure of it. Leastwise it
won’t do any harm to slip up there, easy like, an’ look around a bit.
Go an’ bring out the canoe, Jakey.”

I did not wonder at the white face the boy brought with him when he
came into the cabin and took me out of the chimney corner, and neither
was I much surprised to hear him mutter under his breath—

“I do wish in my soul that I’d busted a hole into you when I run you
onto that snag last night. Then pap couldn’t have used you this
mornin’. I’ll bet he don’t never go out in you no more.”

“Now, then,” said Matt, “put him together, ready for business—you can
do it better’n I can—while I go in after my pipe an’ rifle.”

“Say, Jakey,” said Sam, in a delighted whisper, as Matt tip-toed into
the cabin, “if pap finds the camp of them robbers won’t we be rich
folks, though? He ain’t goin’ in fur the reward, pap ain’t. Looks to
me as though he had got his eye on them six thousand.”

That was the way it looked to Jake too; and although he knew that his
father could not find the money, hidden as it was under five feet and
more of muddy water, he was afraid that he would see something at
Haskins’ landing that would make him open his eyes. And Jake’s fears
were realized. In less than an hour after he and his brother put me
into the water at the head of the outlet, Matt had paddled up to
Haskins’ landing and was taking in all the signs he found there with
the eye of an Indian trailer. Nothing escaped his scrutiny. He saw the
impress of Jake’s bare feet in the mud, the prints of boots, the marks
of the canvas canoe on the beach, and noted the place where the bags
had been left while the robbers were being ferried across the lake.
Then he sat down on a log, smoked a pipe, and thought about it.

“What was that boy’s notion for tellin’ me that them robbers couldn’t
have crossed the lake ’cause they didn’t have no boat, do you reckon?”
said he, to himself. “Come to think of it, he did look kinder queer
when I said I was goin’ to look about Haskinses’ landin’ jest to see
what I could find here, and I’ll bet that that boy knows more about
them robbers than any body else in these woods. He took ’em over,
Jakey did—all the signs show that. Course he didn’t do it for nothin’,
so he must have money. Now what’s to be done about it?”

This was a question upon which the squatter pondered long and deeply.
If Jake had earned some money the night before, of course Matt ought
to have the handling of it, for he was the head of the family; but how
was he going to get it? He knew the boy too well to indulge in the
hope that he would surrender it on demand, and as for whipping it out
of him—well, that wouldn’t be so easy, either; for Jake was light of
foot, and quite as much at home in the woods as his father was. It
wouldn’t do for Matt to come to an open rupture with his hopeful son,
for if he did who would steal the bacon and potatoes the next time the
larder ran low? Sam was too timid to forage in the dark, running the
risk of encounters with vicious dogs and settlers who might be on the
watch, and even Matt had no heart for such work. He must bide his time
and pick Jake’s pocket after he had gone to bed, unless—here the
squatter got upon his feet, knocked the ashes from his pipe, and
shoved the canvas canoe out into the lake.

“Them robbers must have made pretty considerable of a trail, lumberin’
through the bresh in the dark, an’ what’s to hender me from follerin’
’em?” he soliloquized, as he plied the double paddle. “Havin’ been up
all night they oughter sleep to-day, an’ if I can only find their
camp—eh?”

Matt Coyle began building air-castles as these thoughts passed through
his mind. He paddled directly across the lake, avoiding the snag on
which I had been overturned the night before, passing over Jake’s
silver mine, which he might have seen if he had looked into the water,
and presently he was standing on the spot where the robbers made their
landing when they waded ashore. Here another surprise awaited him.
There were no signs to indicate that the canvas canoe had been there
before, and neither were there any prints of bare feet to be seen.
Boot-marks were plenty, however, and the ground about them was wet.

“Now what’s the meanin’ of this yer?” exclaimed Matt, who was greatly
astonished and bewildered. “What’s the reason Jakey didn’t land his
passengers on shore ’stead of dumpin’ them in the water? Do you reckon
he tipped ’em over an’ spilled that money out into the lake? If he
did, ’taint no use for me to foller the trail any furder.”

Little dreaming how shrewd a guess he had made, Matt filled his pipe
and sat down for another smoke. While he was trying to find some
satisfactory answers to the questions he had propounded to himself, he
was aroused by a slight splashing in the water, and looked up to see a
light canoe close upon him. It had rounded the point unseen, and was
now so near that any attempt at flight or concealment would have been
useless. So Matt put on a bold face. He arose to his feet with great
deliberation, picked up his rifle, and rested it in the hollow of his
arm.

“No one man in the Injun Lake country can ’rest me,” I heard him say,
in determined tones, “an’ if that feller knows when he’s well off he
won’t try it. Well, I do think in my soul! If that ain’t the boy that
told me to steal Joe Wayring’s boat, I’m a sinner. He’s the very chap
I want to see, for I’ve got use for him. Hello, there!” he added,
aloud. “Powerful glad to see you agin, so onexpected like. Come
ashore.”

Tom Bigden (for it was he) paused when he heard himself addressed so
familiarly, and sat in his canoe with his double paddle suspended in
the air. He gave a quick glance at the tattered, unkempt figure on the
beach, and with an exclamation of disgust went on his way again.

“Say,” shouted Matt, in peremptory tones. “Hold on a minute. I want to
talk to you.”

“Well, I don’t want to talk to you,” was Tom’s reply. “Mind your own
business and let your betters alone.”

If Tom had tried for a week he could not have said any thing that was
better calculated to make Matt Coyle angry. The latter never
acknowledged that there was any body in the world better than himself.
Lazy, shiftless vagabond and thief that he was, he considered himself
the equal of any industrious, saving and honest guide in the country.

“Who’s my betters?” Matt almost yelled. “Not you, I’d have you know. I
can have you ’rested before this time to-morrer, if I feel like it,
an’ I will, too, if you throw on any more of your ’ristocratic airs
with me. Mind that, while you’re talkin’ about bein’ ‘my betters.’”

“Why, you—you villain,” exclaimed Tom, who could not find words strong
enough to express his surprise and indignation. “How dare you talk to
me in that way?”

“No more villain than yourself,” retorted Matt, hotly, “an’ I dare
talk to you in any way I please. You don’t like it ’cause a man who
ain’t got no good clothes to wear has the upper hand of you an’ can
send you to jail any day he feels in the humor for it, do you? Well,
that’s the way the thing stands, an’ if you want to keep friends with
me, you had better do as I tell you.”

Tom Bigden was utterly confounded. Never in his life before had he
been so shamefully insulted. Do as that blear-eyed ragamuffin told
him! He would cut off his right hand first. Almost ready to boil over
with rage, Tom dipped his paddle into the water and set his canoe in
motion again.

“Well, go on if you want to,” yelled Matt. “But bear one thing in
mind: I’ll leave word at the hatchery this very night, an’ to-morrer
there’ll be a constable lookin’ for you. You forget that you told me
to steal Joe Wayring’s boat down there to Sherwin’s Pond last summer,
don’t you? You knowed I was goin’ to take it, you never said or done a
thing to hender me, an’ that makes you a ’cessory before the fact,”
added Matt glibly, and with a ring of triumph in his voice. “Now, will
you stop an’ talk to me, or go to jail?”

Tom was frightened as well as astonished. He _had_ forgotten all about
that little episode at Sherwin’s Pond, but the squatter’s threatening
words recalled it very vividly to mind. He knew enough about law to be
aware that an accessory before the fact is one who advises or commands
another to commit a felony, and Tom had done just that very thing, and
thereby rendered himself liable to punishment. It is true that there
were no witnesses present when he urged Matt to steal the canvas
canoe, but there were plenty of them around, when he advised him to
steal the hunting dogs belonging to the guests of the hotels, and to
turn the sail boats in Mirror Lake adrift so that they would go
through the rapids into Sherwin’s Pond.

“Great Scott!” ejaculated Tom, as these reflections came thronging
upon him thick and fast. “What have I done? I have put my foot in it,
and this low fellow has the upper hand of me as sure as the world.”

I am of opinion that Tom would have given something just then if he
had not been in such haste to take vengeance upon a boy who never did
the first thing to incur his enmity.

“I allowed you’d stop after you took time to think the matter over,”
chuckled Matt, when he saw the boy lift his paddle from the water and
rest it across his knee. “I ain’t forgot that you spoke kind words to
me an’ my family down there to Mount Airy when every body else was
jawin’ at us an’ tryin’ to kick us outen house an’ home, an’ I’d be
glad to be friends with you,” he added, in a more conciliatory tone.
“But I ain’t goin’ to stand no airs of no sort. Now, come ashore so’t
I can talk to you.”

“What do you want to say to me?” asked Tom, who could hardly refrain
from yelling in the ecstasy of his rage. The man talked as though he
had a perfect right to command him. “Speak out, if you have any thing
on your mind. I can hear it from my canoe as well as I could ashore.”

“Well, I shan’t speak out, nuther,” answered Matt, decidedly. “I ain’t
goin’ to talk so’t they can hear me clear up to Injun Lake. Come
ashore.”

Tom reluctantly obeyed; that is, he ran the bow of his canoe upon the
beach, but that was as far as he would go.

“I am as near shore as I am going to get,” said he, with a little show
of spirit. “Now what have you to say to me? Be in a hurry, for my
friends are waiting for me.”

“Well, you needn’t get huffy about it,” replied Matt, backing toward
his log and pulling his pipe from his pocket. “I can tell you in a few
words what I want you to do for me, an’ as for your friends, they can
wait till their hurry’s over. Say,” added the squatter, sinking his
voice to a confidential whisper, “you know I told you when I stole
this here canvas canoe that I was comin’ to Injun Lake to go into the
business of independent guidin’. You remember that, don’t you?”

“Well, what of it?” was the only response Tom deigned to make. “No
matter what I remember. Go on with what you have to say to me.”

“Don’t get in a persp’ration,” continued Matt, with the most
exasperating deliberation. “Yes; that’s one thing that made me take
the canvas canoe—so’t I could go into the business of guidin’ on my
own hook; but when I got here I found that the landlords wouldn’t have
nuthin’ to do with me, an’ the guests wouldn’t, nuther. So I took to
visitin’ all the camps I could hear of, an’ helpin’ myself to what I
could find in ’em in the way of grub, we’pons an’ sich. I told you
that was what I was goin’ to do. You remember it, don’t you?”

Tom made a gesture of impatience but said nothing.

“Yes; that’s what I done, an’ it wasn’t long before I kicked up the
biggest kind of a row up there to Injun Lake,” said the squatter,
pounding his knees with his clenched hands and shaking all over with
suppressed merriment. “The women-folks dassent go into the woods for
fear that they would run foul of me when they wasn’t lookin’ for it,
an’ some of the guests told Hanson—he’s the new landlord, you
know—that if he didn’t have me took up an’ put in jail they’d never
come nigh him agin. Oh, I tell you I’ve done a heap since me an’ you
had that little talk up there to Sherwin’s Pond, an’ I’m goin’ to do a
heap more before the season’s over. I said I’d bust up guidin’ an’ the
hotels along with it, an’ I’m goin’ to keep my word. I’ll l’arn them
’ristocrats that I’m jest as good as they ever dare be, even if I
ain’t got no good clothes to wear.”

Tom Bigden was intensely disgusted. Matt talked to him as unreservedly
as he might have talked to an accomplice. When he paused to light his
pipe Tom managed to say—

“You hinted last summer that you intended to kidnap little children if
you got a good chance. Have you tried it?”

“Not yet I ain’t, but there’s no tellin’ what I may do if they don’t
quit crowdin’ on me,” replied Matt, with a grin. “That is one of the
tricks I still hold in my hand. I must have money to buy grub an’
things, an’ since I ain’t allowed to earn it honest, as I would like
to do, I must get it any way I can. An’ this brings me to what I want
to say to you.”

“I am very glad to hear it,” answered Tom. “Now I hope you will hurry
up. I am getting tired of listening to your senseless gabble. I am in
no way interested in what you have done or what you intend to do. What
do you want of me? That’s all I care to know.”

“Don’t get in a persp’ration,” said the squatter again. “Yes; I
visited all the camps I could hear of, like I told you, an’ among
other things I took outen them camps were two scatter-guns an’ a
rifle. One of the scatter-guns I give up agin, an’ I got ten dollars
for doin’ it, too.”

“Well, what do I care about that?” said Tom, when Matt paused and
looked at him. “I tell you I am not interested in these things. Come
to the point at once.”

“I’m comin’ to it,” answered the squatter. “I give up one of the
scatter-guns, like I told you, but t’other one an’ the rifle I’ve got
yet. There’s been a reward of a hundred dollars offered for them two
guns—fifty dollars apiece—an’ I want it.”

“Then why don’t you give up the guns and claim it?”

“Now, jest listen at the fule!” exclaimed Matt. “I dassent, ’cause
there’s been a reward of a hundred more dollars offered for the man
that stole them guns. That’s me. I can’t go up to Injun Lake to take
them guns back to the men that owns ’em, an’ I’m afeared to send the
boys, ’cause they would be took up the same as I would. See?”

“Yes, I see; but I don’t know what you are going to do about it.
You’ve got the guns, and if you are afraid to give them up you will
have to keep them. I don’t see any other way for you to do.”

“I do,” said Matt; and there was something in the tone of his voice
that made Tom uneasy. “I don’t want the guns, ’cause I can’t use ’em;
but I do want the money, an’ that’s what I am goin’ to talk to you
about. I want you to buy them guns—”

“Well, I shan’t do it,” exclaimed Tom, who was fairly staggered by
this proposition. “I’ve got one gun, and that’s all I need. Besides, I
am not going to become a receiver of stolen property.”

“I’ll give ’em to you for twenty-five dollars apiece,” continued Matt,
paying no heed to the interruption, “an’ you can take ’em up to Injun
Lake an’ claim the whole of the reward. You’ll make fifty dollars by
it.”

“I tell you I won’t do it,” repeated Tom. “I’ll not have any thing to
do with it. I’m not going to get myself into trouble for the sake of
putting money into your pocket.”

“There ain’t no need of your gettin’ yourself into trouble less’n you
want to. When you take the guns up to Hanson you can tell him that you
found ’em in the bresh—that you didn’t know who they belonged to, an’
so you made up your decision that you had better take ’em to him. See?
That’ll be all fair an’ squar’, an’ nobody will ever suspicion that I
give ’em to you. Come to think on it, I won’t give ’em to you,” added
Matt. “You hand me the twenty-five dollars apiece, an’ I will tell you
right where the guns is hid, an’ you can go up there an’ get ’em. Then
when you tell Hanson that you found ’em in the bresh you will tell him
nothing but the truth. What do you say?”

“I say I haven’t got fifty dollars to spend in any such way,” answered
Tom. He wished from the bottom of his heart that he had pluck enough
to defy the squatter, but he hadn’t. It cut him to the quick to be
obliged to sit there and hear himself addressed so familiarly by such
a fellow as Matt Coyle, but he could not see any way of escape. The
man had it in his power to make serious trouble for him.

“Ain’t you got that much money about your good clothes?” asked Matt,
incredulously.

“I haven’t fifty cents to my name.”

“You can’t make me b’lieve that. You wouldn’t come to Injun Lake
without no money to pay your expenses. Don’t stand to reason, that
don’t.”

“My cousin Ralph carries the purse and foots all our bills; but he
hasn’t half that amount left. We are pretty near strapped and almost
ready to go home.”

“Well, I won’t be hard on you,” said Matt. “I am the accommodatin’est
feller you ever see. Go home, ask your pap for the money, an’ come
back an’ hand it to me. That’s fair, ain’t it? Mount Airy is a hundred
miles from Injun Lake. You oughter go an’ come back in ten days. I’ll
give you that long. What do you say?”

“I’ll think about it,” replied Tom, whose sole object just then was to
get out of hearing of Matt Coyle’s voice. As he spoke he placed one
blade of his paddle against the bottom and shoved his canoe out into
deep water.

“That won’t do, that won’t,” exclaimed Matt. “I want to know whether
or not you are goin’ to bring me that money.”

“That depends upon whether I can get it or not.”

“’Cause you needn’t think you can get away from me by jest goin’ up to
Mount Airy,” continued Matt. “There’s constables up there same’s there
is at Injun Lake, an’ a word dropped at the hatchery will reach ’em
mighty easy. If you want me to be friends with you, you won’t sleep
sound till you bring me that fifty dollars.”

“I wonder if any other living boy ever submitted so tamely to such an
insult,” soliloquized Tom, as he headed his canoe up the lake and
paddled back toward the point. “That villain holds me completely in
his power. He can disgrace me before the whole village of Mount Airy
any time he sees fit to do so. The minute he is arrested and brought
to trial, just that minute I am done for. If I give him fifty dollars
for those guns, how much better off will I be? He will have a still
firmer hold upon me. He’ll rob other camps, compel me to buy his
plunder by threats of exposure, and the first thing I know I shall be
a professional ‘fence’—receiver of stolen goods. By gracious!”
exclaimed Tom, redoubling his efforts at the paddle as if he hoped to
run away from the gloomy thoughts that pressed so thickly upon him.
“What am I coming to? What _have_ I come to?”

“There, now,” I heard Matt mutter, as he stood with his hands on his
hips, watching Tom Bigden’s receding figure. “I’ve done two good
strokes of business this morning. I’ve brought that feller down a peg
or two, an’ I have pervided for gettin’ shet of them guns in a way I
didn’t look for. I thought for one spell that they wasn’t goin’ to be
of no use to me, but now I shall make fifty dollars clean cash outen
’em. He’ll bring it to me, for if he don’t I’ll tell on him sure, an’
then he’ll be in a pretty fix with all them people up there to Mount
Airy knowin’ to his meanness. It hurts these ’ristocrats to have a
feller like me to talk to ’em as I talked to that Bigden boy; I can
see that plain enough. Well, they ain’t got no business to have so
much money an’ so many fine things, while me an’ my family is so poor
that we don’t know where our next pair of shoes is comin’ from.”

Highly pleased with the result of his interview with Tom Bigden, Matt
shoved the canvas canoe into the water and pulled slowly toward the
outlet, once more passing directly over Jake’s silver mine. Perhaps
the sunken treasure had some occult influence upon him, for he
straightway dismissed Tom from his mind, and thought about Jake and
the robbers and the six thousand dollars.

“Don’t stand to reason that Jakey would a told me that he hadn’t seen
them robbers less’n he had some excuse for it,” said Matt, to himself.
“He did see ’em, an’ I know it. He took ’em across the lake, too. He
didn’t do it for nothing, so he’s got money. I’ll speak to him about
it when I get home, an’ then I’ll make it my business to keep an eye
on him.”

Having come to this determination Matt dismissed Jake as well as Tom
from his thoughts, and made all haste to reach the outlet, not
forgetting as he paddled swiftly along to keep a close watch of the
woods on shore. Mr. Swan and a large squad of guides and constables
were in there somewhere, and Matt Coyle had a wholesome fear of them.
When I ran upon the beach at the head of the outlet, I was not very
much surprised to see Jake step out of the bushes and come forward to
meet his father. The boy must have been in great suspense all the
morning, and although he was almost bursting with impatience to know
whether or not his father had discovered any thing during his absence
he could not muster up courage enough to ask any questions. But Matt
began the conversation himself.

“Jakey,” said he, reproachfully. “I didn’t think you would get so low
down in the world as to go an’ fool your pap the way you done this
mornin’. You told me you hadn’t seen hide nor hair of them robbers,
an’ that wasn’t so. You did see ’em, an’ you took ’em across the lake,
too. But you didn’t land ’em on this side; you dumped ’em out into the
water. Now how much did you get for it?”

Jake was not so much taken aback as I thought he would be. He had been
expecting something of this kind and was prepared for it. He knew that
his father was an adept at reading “sign,” and he was as well
satisfied as he wanted to be that his five dollars ferry money would
never do him any good. The question was: How much more had his father
learned? Did he know any thing about the silver mine? Jake didn’t
believe he did, else he would have been more jubilant. A man who knew
where he could put his hand on six thousand dollars at any moment
would not look as sober as Matt Coyle did.

“I didn’t get nothin’ for dumpin’ on ’em out, pap,” replied Jake,
after a little pause. “That was somethin’ I couldn’t help. The night
was dark, an’ I didn’t see the snag till I was clost onto it.”

“Well, what become of the six thousand dollars they had with ’em?”
inquired Matt, looking sharply at the boy, who met his gaze without
flinching. “Did you see any thing of it?”

“I seen a couple of grip-sacks into their hands, but I didn’t ask ’em
what was in ’em,” answered Jake. He looked very innocent and truthful
when he said it, but his father was not deceived. He had known Jake to
tell lies before.

“What become of the grip-sacks when you run onto the snag an’ spilled
’em out?” asked Matt.

“They hung fast to ’em an’ took ’em ashore an’ into the woods where I
didn’t see ’em no more.”

“How much did you get for takin’ the robbers over the lake?”

“Jest five dollars; an’ there it is,” said Jake, who knew that the
money would have to be produced sooner or later.

“Now jest look at the fule!” shouted Matt, going off into a sudden
paroxysm of rage. “Five dollars, an’ them with six thousand stolen
dollars into their grip-sacks! Jake, I’ve the best notion in the world
to cut me a hickory an’ wear it out over your back.”

Jake began to look wild. When his father talked that way things were
getting serious.

“Hold on a minute, pap,” he protested, as Matt pulled his knife from
his pocket and started toward the bushes. “How was I goin’ to know
that they had all that money an’ that it was stole from the bank? If I
had knowed it, I would a taxed ’em a hundred dollars, sure; but I
thought they had clothes an’ things in them grip-sacks.”

Matt paused, reflected a moment, and then shut up his knife and put it
into his pocket.

“Why didn’t you tell me that you had made five dollars by takin’ ’em
over ’stead of sayin’ that you hadn’t never seed ’em?” he demanded.

“’Cause I wanted to keep the money to get me some shoes,” answered
Jake, telling the truth this time. “Winter’s comin’ on, an’ I don’t
want to go around with my feet in the snow, like I done last year.
I’ll give you half, pap, an’ then you can get some shoes for
yourself.”

To Jake’s great amazement his father replied—

“No, sonny, you keep it. You earned it, fair and squar’, an’ I won’t
take it from you. I shall make fifty dollars hard cash outen them guns
we’ve got hid in the bresh, an’ that will be enough to run me for a
little while. Now take your boat to pieces an’ bring him up to the
house.”

So saying, Matt Coyle walked off, leaving Jake lost in wonder.

“Well, this beats me,” said the boy, after he had taken a minute or
two to collect his wits. “Pap wouldn’t take half my five dollars, an’
he’s found a way to make fifty dollars outen them guns! I don’t
b’lieve it,” added Jake, his face growing white with excitement and
alarm. “He’s found my silver mind; that’s what’s the matter of him.”

The contortions Jake went through when this unwelcome conviction
forced itself upon him were wonderful. He strode along the beach,
pulling his hair one minute and clapping his hands and jumping up and
down in his tracks the next, and acting altogether as if he had taken
leave of his senses. I had never before witnessed such a performance,
having always been accustomed to the companionship of those who were
able to control themselves, under any and all circumstances. After a
little while he ceased his demonstrations, and picking me up bodily,
carried me into the bushes and left me there.

“I won’t take him to pieces, nuther,” said Jake, aloud. “I’ll leave
him here so’t I can get him without pap’s bein’ knowin’ to it, an’
when night comes I’ll go up an’ see after my silver mind. If pap has
found it, he’ll have to give me half of it, cash in hand, or I’ll tell
on him.”

Although Jake really believed that his “claim” had been “jumped,” he
did not neglect to make preparations for working it in case he found
his fears were groundless. He came back to me about the middle of the
afternoon, and as he approached I saw him take a long, stout line out
of his pocket. What he intended to do with it I could not tell; but I
found out an hour or two afterward, for then I had a second visitor in
the person of Matt Coyle, who came stealing through the bushes without
causing a leaf to rustle. He stopped beside me and picked up the line.

“He didn’t take the canoe to pieces an’ carry him up to the house,
like I told him to, an’ he’s stole his mam’s clothes-line and brung it
down here,” said Matt to himself. “Now, what did he do that for? He’s
goin’ to use ’em both to-night, Jakey is, an’ what’s he goin’ to do
with ’em? He’s a mighty smart boy, but he’ll find that he can’t fool
his pap.”

The hours passed slowly away, and finally the woods were shrouded in
almost impenetrable darkness. The time for action was drawing near. I
waited for it impatiently, because I was sure that the temporary
ownership of those six thousand dollars would be decided before
morning, and I felt some curiosity to know who was going to get them.
While I was thinking about it, Jake Coyle glided up and laid hold of
me. In two minutes more I was in the water and making good time up the
lake towards the sunken silver mine; but before I had left the woods
at the head of the outlet very far behind I became aware that we were
followed. I distinctly saw a light Indian Lake skiff put out from the
shadow of the trees and follow silently in our wake. The boat was one
of the two that had been stolen by Matt and his family on the day that
Mr. Swan and his party burned their camp; and, although the night was
dark, I was as certain as I could be that its solitary occupant was
Matt Coyle himself. He held close in to the trees on the left hand
side of the lake, and as often as Jake stopped and looked back the
pursuer stopped also; and, as he took care to keep in the shadow, of
course he could not be seen.

“Pap thinks he’s smart,” muttered Jake, after he had made a long halt
and looked up and down the lake to satisfy himself that there was no
one observing his movements, “an’ p’raps he is, but not smart enough
to get away with the whole of them six thousand. If I don’t find them
grip-sacks, I shall know sure enough that he’s been here before me;
an’ if he don’t hand over half of it the minute I get home I’ll tell
on him afore sun-up. Here I am, an’ it won’t take me long to see how
the thing stands.”

As Jake said this, he drew up alongside the snag and dropped the
anchor overboard. He must have been in a fearful state of suspense,
for I could feel that he was trembling in every limb. When he came to
divest himself of his clothes, preparatory to going down after the
money, his hands shook so violently that he could scarcely find the
few buttons that held them together. He didn’t dive, for the splash
could have been heard a long distance in the stillness of the night,
and might have attracted somebody’s attention. He made one end of the
clothes-line fast to a brace, took the other in his hand, and,
lowering himself gently over the stern of the canoe, drew in a long
breath and sank out of sight. He was gone a full minute; but before he
came to the surface I knew he had been successful in his search, for I
could tell by the way the line sawed back and forth over the gunwale
that he was tying it to something. An instant later his head bobbed up
close alongside, and then Jake essayed the somewhat difficult task of
clambering back into the canoe. Being a remarkably active young
fellow, he accomplished it with much more ease than I expected; and no
sooner had he gained his feet than he began hauling in on the line
with almost frantic haste.

“I’ve got one of ’em! I’ve got one of ’em!” he kept on saying over and
over again; and a second afterward one of the little valises was
whipped out of the water and deposited on the bottom of the canoe.
“Pap didn’t find my silver mind, like I was afeard of, an’ it’s mine,
all mine. I’m rich.”

Forgetting where he was in the excess of his glee, Jake jumped up and
knocked his heels together; but when he came down I wasn’t there to
meet him. He gave me a shove that sent me to one side, and Jake
disappeared in the water. He was greatly alarmed by the noise he made,
and during the next five minutes remained perfectly motionless.
Supporting himself by holding fast to the anchor rope, he waited and
listened. He was so quiet that he scarcely seemed to breathe; and all
this while an equally motionless and silent figure sat in the skiff,
not more than fifty yards away, taking note of every thing that
happened in the vicinity of the snag.

The deep silence that brooded over the lake deceived Jake, and he made
ready to go down after the rest of the money. He was not out of sight
more than half a minute, and again the sawing of the line told me that
he had found the object of his search. There was another short,
frantic struggle to get into the canoe, a hasty pull at the rope, and
the second valise was jerked out of the water and placed safely beside
its companion. Jake Coyle had worked his silver mine to some purpose.