MORE TROUBLE FOR TOM BIGDEN

Let us now return to Tom Bigden, whom we last saw paddling
disconsolately toward the camp where he had left his cousins, Ralph
and Loren Farnsworth, a short half hour before. Tom had expected to
spend a pleasant forenoon at the hatchery, taking lessons in
fish-culture; but his interview with Matt Coyle had knocked that in
the head. The squatter’s astounding proposition, taken in connection
with the dreadful things he had threatened to do in case his victim
failed to comply with his demands, had opened Tom’s eyes to the
disagreeable fact that he had over-reached himself by yielding to his
insane desire to take vengeance on Joe Waring. He knew he could not
enjoy himself at the hatchery with the fear of exposure and disgrace
hanging over him, so he started for camp at his best paddling pace to
ask Ralph and Loren what he should do about it.

“When a fellow like Matt Coyle can lay commands upon me and threaten
me with punishment if I do not obey them—by gracious! Is it possible
for me to get any lower down in the world? I wish I had never heard of
that Joe Wayring. Every thing seems to go smoothly with him without an
effort on his part, but, no matter how hard I try, every thing goes
wrong with me. Did any body ever hear of such luck?”

Tom was angry now as well as frightened, and, what seemed strange to
me when I heard of it, he blamed Joe Wayring, and not himself, for the
troubles he had got into. He must have brought a very black face into
camp with him, for when he ran the bow of his canoe upon the beach in
front of the grove where Loren and Ralph were idling away the time in
their hammocks the former called out:

“Hallo! who are you mad at now?”

“Everybody,” snarled Tom. “Say, Ralph, you remember that after our
interview with the squatter, on the day the constable drove him out of
Mount Airy, you declared that you wouldn’t have had it happen for any
thing, don’t you?”

“I remember it perfectly,” replied Ralph. “I was afraid that trouble
of some sort would grow out of it, and judging from the looks of your
face my fears have been realized. What’s up?”

“That was the first interview I held with Matt Coyle, but I am sorry
to say it wasn’t the last,” continued Tom.

“Have you seen him to-day?” exclaimed Loren.

“I have, and I tell you he’s got me in a box. But hold on a minute. I
want to let you into a secret. It was I who put it into his head to
steal Joe Wayring’s canvas canoe.”

“There,” said Ralph, shaking his finger at his brother. “What did I
tell you?”

“That’s no secret at all,” answered Loren. “We were satisfied from the
first that you knew all about it. You looked very surprised and
innocent, and I know you were mad when you discovered that Matt had
robbed you as well as the rest of us; but you didn’t play your part
well enough to ward off all suspicion.”

These words added to Tom’s fears. “Do you think Joe suspected me?” he
inquired.

“If he did, he made no sign,” replied Loren. “Perhaps one reason why
Ralph and I suspected you was because we could read you better than
Joe could. Well, what of it?”

“Well,” said Tom, desperately, “Matt Coyle tells me that, as an
accessory before the fact, I am liable to punishment at the hands of
the law. That is what he is working on. You have heard that he stole a
couple of valuable guns from an unguarded camp a few weeks ago. There
has been a reward of one hundred dollars offered for the recovery of
those guns, and, as Matt dare not take them up to the Sportsman’s Home
himself, he demands that I shall act as his agent, and share the
reward with him.”

“Demands?” repeated Loren.

“But before he will give the guns into my possession, I must pay him
fifty dollars, cash in hand,” added Tom. “Yes, sir; he _demands_ that
I shall do this under penalty of being denounced to the officers of
the law.”

“Whew!” whistled Ralph. “Here _is_ a go!”

“That Matt Coyle has more cheek than you showed on the day of the
canoe meet, when you purposely capsized Prank Noble and claimed foul
on it,” said Loren. “Are you going to give him the money?”

“He’ll have to; he can’t get out of it. But here’s where the trouble
is going to come in,” said Ralph, who was by no means thick-headed if
he did hate books. “The minute Tom gives him fifty dollars for those
guns, that minute he puts himself completely in the villain’s power.”

“That was the way I looked at it,” said Tom. “But what can I do? What
would you do if you were in my place?”

“The sight of those fifty dollars will show that lazy Matt how he can
make a very nice income without doing a stroke of work,” continued
Ralph. “He’ll go on stealing, and as fast as he accumulates property
he will make Tom buy it of him, no matter whether there is a reward
offered for it or not. There is only one thing you can do. You had
better start for home bright and early to-morrow morning, get fifty
dollars of your father, if he will give it to you, hand it over to
Matt as soon as you can find him, and then shake the dust of the
Indian Lake country from your feet forever, or at least until that
squatter has been placed behind prison bars.”

“But Matt says I need not hope to escape him by going home,” said Tom.
“He reminded me that a constable can catch me in Mount Airy as easily
as he can here.”

“That’s so,” assented Ralph, “but what other show have you? When you
give him the money you will put him in good humor, and I don’t think
he will denounce you until he has had some sort of a row with you. You
must keep him good-natured.”

“And the only way I can do that is by keeping his pockets full,” said
Tom, with a groan. “I won’t do it. I’ll give him the fifty dollars,
because I can’t help myself; and when I part from him he will never
see me again. My supply of spending money is not as generous as it
might be, and Matt shall not see a dollar of it.”

“Here’s another point,” said Loren, swinging himself from his hammock.
“Matt is going to be arrested some day, and what assurance have we
that he won’t tell all he knows?”

“We haven’t any,” said Tom, fiercely; and then, to the surprise of
both his cousins, he broke out into the wildest kind of a tirade
against Joe Wayring and every body who was a friend to him. Knowing
that they could not stop him, they let him go on and talk himself out
of breath.

“I’d like to see something happen to that boy, for if it hadn’t been
for him and his chums I never would have been in this fix,” said Tom,
at last. “Because we wouldn’t toady to them, they slammed the door of
the archery club in our faces, and went against us in every way they
knew how. Well, it is a long lane that has no turning, and we may come
out at the top of the heap yet. Will you fellows stand by me? I mean
will you go home with me, and come back when I get the money?”

Ralph and Loren gave it as their opinion that their cousin Tom ought
to know better than to ask such a question. Hadn’t they always stood
by him, through thick and thin, and made common cause with him against
every one he did not like? Of course they would stay with him until
his trouble with Matt Coyle was settled, and do all they could to help
him.

“I’m glad to hear it, for I should dreadfully hate to be left to
myself in an emergency like this,” said Tom. “But we haven’t a single
hour to lose. Matt said he would give me ten days to go to Mount Airy
and return, and we ought to start to-morrow. Which one of you will go
to the hotel with me after a supply of grub?”

“Let Ralph go,” said Loren. “He’s treasurer. I will stay here and look
out for things about the camp, and perhaps I shall be able to think up
some way for you to wriggle out of Matt Coyle’s clutches.”

Ralph, weary of loafing about the camp and glad of an opportunity to
stretch his arms, readily agreed to accompany his cousin to the
Sportsman’s Home and buy the provisions they would need while on their
way to Mount Airy. The two set out at once, and when they came back at
dark they had a startling story to tell the camp-keeper. The Irvington
bank had been robbed of six thousand dollars, and the thieves had been
traced to Indian Lake.

“I should think there were rascals enough here already,” said Loren,
after he had listened to all the particulars.

“They keep coming in all the while,” replied Ralph, “and the landlords
don’t like it very well. It’s hurting their business. The sportsmen,
especially those who have women and children with them, are leaving as
fast as they can pack up. We’ll be off to-morrow, and I hope we shall
never come here for another outing. Tom, are you sure you can take us
straight to the creek that leads from the pond to the Indian river?
You know we told you that, in the absence of a guide, we should depend
on you to show us the way home.”

“Don’t be uneasy,” was Tom’s confident answer. “I have a good many
landmarks to go by, and I’ll not take you an inch out of a direct
line.”

Of course there was but one thing talked about around that camp fire
between supper time and the hour for retiring, and that was the
attempt on the part of Matt Coyle to make a receiver of stolen
property out of Tom Bigden. The longer they dwelt upon it the darker
Tom’s prospects seemed to become. The fear of what the squatter could
do, if he made up his mind to be ugly, effectually banished sleep from
their eyes for the greater part of the night; and the consequence was
that when they arose from their beds of browse the next morning they
were too cross and snappish to be civil to one another. During the
time that was consumed in cooking and eating breakfast, packing the
canoes, and getting under way, they did not speak half a dozen words
aloud; but they all kept up a good deal of thinking, and no doubt it
was while Tom was in a fit of abstraction that he lost his way. At any
rate, he left the lake at least two miles below the point at which he
ought to have left it. He turned into the creek up which Matt Coyle
and his boys fled on the morning following their encounter with Joe
Wayring and his chums, and Ralph and Loren blindly followed his lead.
Not until they made a landing, about two o’clock in the afternoon, to
eat their lunch, did Tom begin to suspect that he was a little out of
his reckoning. If they had come there a few hours sooner, they would
have seen Mr. Swan and his party; for, as luck would have it, they had
landed within a short distance of Matt Coyle’s old camp.

“I am obliged to confess that I am any thing but a trustworthy guide
for this neck of the woods,” said Tom, after he had looked in vain for
some of the landmarks of which he had spoken the day before. “I don’t
think I ever saw this place until this moment.”

“Well, I am sure I have,” said Loren. “On our way down we camped
within sight of that leaning tree over there. Didn’t we, Ralph?”

“I think so. I am quite sure I shot at an eagle on that same leaning
tree. You fellows fix the lunch, and I will very soon find out whether
I am right or wrong,” said Ralph, getting upon his feet and shoving a
cartridge into each barrel of his gun. “If this is the place I think
it is, I shall find a little clearing back here about a hundred yards,
grown up to briers. Don’t you remember we picked a few berries there
on the way down?”

“I haven’t forgotten about the berries, but I don’t think you will
find that or any other clearing in these thick woods,” answered Tom.
“But go ahead and look, and we will have the lunch ready by the time
you get back.”

Ralph shouldered his gun and disappeared among the evergreens. He was
gone about ten minutes, and then Tom and Loren heard him calling to
them in an excited voice.

“Oh, fellows! Oh, fellows!” shouted Ralph. “Come here. Come as quick
as you know how.”

Tom and his cousin were in no hurry to obey this peremptory summons.
They did not know what they might find back there in the bushes. Their
faces turned white, and the hands with which they pushed the
cartridges into their guns trembled visibly.

“Are you coming?” cried Ralph, impatiently.

“What have you found?” Loren managed to ask, in reply.

“Something that will make you open your eyes,” was the answer. “But it
won’t hurt you. Why don’t you come on?”

These reassuring words brought Tom and Loren to their feet and took
them into the evergreens; but it was not without fear and trembling
that they slowly worked their way toward the place from which Ralph’s
voice sounded, nor did they neglect to hold themselves in readiness to
take to their heels the instant they saw any thing alarming. They
reached Ralph’s side at last, and were astonished beyond measure to
find him holding a Victoria gun-case in one hand and an elegant
double-barrel hammerless in the other. As they came up he raised the
hand that held the case, directing their attention to a finely
finished Winchester rifle that rested against a log near by.

“What’s the meaning of this? Where did you find them?” exclaimed Tom,
as soon as he had found his tongue.

Before speaking Ralph stepped to the end of the log and pointed to the
hollow in it. Then he picked up a bush that appeared to have been
lately cut, and laid it across the opening.

“That’s the way it was when I came along here a few minutes ago,” said
he. “I stumbled against something, and when I looked to see what it
was I found that I had kicked this bush away and exposed the opening.
As I was searching for that blackberry-patch, and nothing else, I was
about to pass on, when something glittering caught my eye. It was the
buckle on this gun-case. That’s my answer to your second question,
Tom. In reply to your first, I say: It means that you need have no
further trouble with Matt Coyle, and you needn’t ask your father for
that money.”

“Do—do you think these are the stolen guns?” stammered Tom.

“Of course they are,” said Loren, confidently. “That one by the log is
a Winchester, and I see the name Lefever on this. I tell you, old
fellow, you are in luck.”

“For once in my life I believe I am,” said Tom, taking the
double-barrel from his cousin’s hand and giving it a good looking
over. “Seen any signs of the berry-patch, Ralph?”

“Never a sign.”

“And you won’t see any in this part of the country, either,” answered
Tom. “We missed our way, and that was a very fortunate thing for me.
I’ve got the weather-gauge of Matt Coyle now. Let’s eat our lunch and
start back for our old camp.”

So saying Tom shouldered the Lefever hammerless and turned his face
toward the creek, Loren following with the Victoria case in his hand,
and Ralph bringing up the rear with the Winchester. They had many a
hearty laugh at Matt Coyle’s expense, but when they sat down to lunch
they began to look at the matter seriously.

“You’ve got the upper hand of him now, and you want to keep it,” said
Ralph. “I don’t think it would be quite safe for you to defy him.”

“By no means,” replied Tom. “I have no intention of doing any thing of
the sort. I shall have an interview with him at the earliest possible
moment, and tell him when he produces the guns I will give him his
money. I can’t be expected to fill my part of the contract until he
fills his; and that’s something he can’t do, thanks to Ralph. Why,
boys, I feel as if I had got rid of an awful load.”

For the first time since he came to Mount Airy to live Tom Bigden was
perfectly happy. According to his way of looking at it, he had turned
the tables on the squatter very neatly, and any sensible boy would
have said that the best thing he could do was to keep clear of that
low fellow in future. But he did not do it. Scarcely a week passed
away before his hatred for Joe Wayring led him into a worse scrape
than the one from which he had just been extricated by his cousin’s
lucky discovery.

I must not forget to say that while the boys were lounging about on
the bank of the creek, eating their bacon and cracker, there was
something going on in the woods behind them. Every thing they did
while they were standing beside that hollow log, examining the guns
that had been found in it, was seen, and every word they uttered had
been overheard by a young ragamuffin who was concealed within less
than a stone’s throw of them. Ralph Farnsworth had come upon him so
suddenly that he did not have time to run far. He shook both his fists
in the air and gnashed his teeth with rage when he saw Tom and his
cousins walk away with the guns in their possession, and as soon as
they were out of sight he came from his place of concealment and crept
toward the log on all-fours. But he did not stop there. He simply
glanced at the hollow as he passed and presently disappeared in a
thicket on the opposite side. When he came into view again he was
closely hugging two small valises, one under each arm. The angry scowl
was gone from his face, and he was grinning broadly and going through
a variety of uncouth antics, expressive, no doubt, of great
satisfaction and delight. He stopped and listened, and the sounds that
came to his ears told him that Tom Bigden and his companions were
shoving off in their canoes and heading down the creek toward the
lake. When their voices died away in the distance he bent himself
almost double, and moved off with long, noiseless strides.

The three canoeists reached their camp in the grove long before dark,
for the swift current in the creek helped them along at the rate of
three miles an hour. Tom’s first care was to make sure of the guns;
and these he at once proceeded to hide in the thick branches of an
evergreen, while his cousins cut wood, made the fire, and cooked the
supper. They had brought very light hearts back with them, but one of
their number, at least, did not sleep any the better for it. It was
Tom, who grew uneasy every time he thought of the coming interview
with the squatter, which he hoped to bring about on the following day.
How was it going to end? That was the question Tom kept asking
himself, and when he saw the day breaking, after an almost sleepless
night, he had not found a satisfactory answer to it.

“I suppose we ought to go to the Sportsman’s Home at once and give
those guns up,” said Loren, as he raked the coals together and threw
on an armful of fresh fuel. “We’ll not touch the reward, of course.”

“Certainly not,” replied Ralph. “But I would freely give a hundred
dollars, if I had it, to see Matt Coyle shut up for a long term of
years.”

“But he will have a trial before he is shut up, and there is no
knowing what secrets he may tell while that trial is in progress,”
said Loren.

“You don’t know how that thought worries me,” said Tom. “It is on my
mind continually. I wish you fellows wouldn’t give up the guns until I
have seen Matt.”

“What good will it do to keep them?” asked Loren.

“I don’t know that it will do any good; but I should like to be with
you when you hand them over to Mr. Hanson. I can’t go up to the
Sportsman’s Home to-day, for I have a most disagreeable piece of work
to do first. The sooner I get that off my hands, the sooner I shall
feel easy.”

Tom ate but little breakfast, for he seemed to have lost all desire
for food. He drank a cup of coffee, and then arose to his feet and
said good-by, adding, as he pushed his canoe from the beach and
stepped into it—

“I shall have something to tell you when I come back. I don’t know
whether it will be good or bad, but when I see you again I shall know
more than I do now.”

“Where are you going?”

“Down to the hatchery. It was while I was on my way there day before
yesterday that I met Matt. I have an idea that he hangs out somewhere
in that neighborhood.”

Tom passed a very pleasant hour with the superintendent, who showed
him every thing of interest there was to be seen about the hatchery,
and took much pains to make all the little details of the science
clear to him, even going back to the time of the Romans, among whom,
it is stated by several writers, the art approached a remarkable
degree of perfection; but it is doubtful if Tom knew any more about
fishes when he went away than he did when he came. He was thinking of
Matt Coyle, to whom the superintendent incidentally referred daring
the progress of the conversation.

“When we first came here, of course we were empty-handed,” said he.
“We set the traps in the outlet to catch fish so that we could get
their eggs; but a few vagabonds of the Coyle stamp made it their
business to cut our nets almost as fast as we could put them in. When
we threatened to have them arrested, they replied that we had better
let them alone or they would set fire to the hatchery. They said they
would fish where they pleased, and nobody should stop them; but they
have thought better of it, and don’t bother us any now. Matt Coyle and
his boys are the worst of the lot. They steal every thing they eat and
wear, but so far they have not interfered with us. When they do, we
shall have them arrested, Hanson or no Hanson.”

“What has he to do with it?” inquired Tom. “Doesn’t he want them to be
arrested?”

“Not just yet; not until he has recovered two stolen guns Matt has in
his possession,” answered the superintendent. “That is a matter of
dollars and cents to both the hotels at the lake, for if those guns
are not restored to their owners the landlords will be ruined.”

“Perhaps if he were shut up for a while he would lose heart, and tell
where the guns could be found,” suggested Tom.

“Swan and the other guides who know him think differently. That was my
idea, and I urged it upon the guides, for I wanted that villain and
all his tribe out of my way. But Swan says Matt is a man who can’t be
driven. However, Rube has his eye on him, and perhaps he will discover
something one of these days.”

“Who is Rube?” asked Tom.

“Our watchman. He used to be one of Hanson’s guides; but he proved too
lazy for the business, so Hanson induced us to bring him down here to
watch the hatchery and act as spy upon Matt’s movements at the same
time. When Swan and his friends destroyed Matt’s camp Rube took him
into his house. He and his family are there now, and Rube is trying
the best he knows how to get into their confidence so that they will
tell him where these guns are concealed. I ought, perhaps, to say that
three members of the family are at Rube’s house now. Where the other
is no one seems to know. Yesterday morning the sheriff made an attempt
to arrest Jake, but the family got warning in time, took to the woods,
and Jake hasn’t come back yet.”

“What had he been doing?” inquired Tom, who was much more interested
in this than he was in the science of fish-culture.

“You heard about the Irvington bank robbery, didn’t you? Well, every
thing goes to prove that the six thousand dollars the thieves secured
is now in Jake Coyle’s hands.”

This was the most astounding piece of news that Tom Bigden had ever
listened to. “How did Jake get hold of it?” he asked.

“Well, the sheriff summoned a posse, caught the robbers after a short
chase, and they told him that the boy they hired to ferry them over
the lake, and who was robbing a cellar when they first spoke to him,
capsized them on purpose and spilled the money out into the water. You
see Jake caught a glimpse of the money when one of the robbers opened
his valise to pay him the five dollars he demanded for ferrying them
over, and made up his mind to have it for his own.”

“I had no idea Jake Coyle was smart enough to do a thing like that,”
said Tom, who could scarcely credit his ears. “Do you believe the
story?”

“Why, the guides tell me that the whole family are sharper than steel
traps. Of course I believe the story. On the way home the sheriff ran
upon a canvas canoe that Matt stole from Joe Wayring up in Sherwin’s
Pond, and the robbers recognized it the minute it was put together as
the one in which they had started to cross the lake. When the sheriff
heard this he knew at once that the ferryman was Jake Coyle, and
nobody else, for he is the one who steals all the grub for the family.
When they came here to be set across the outlet they surrounded Rube’s
house with the intention of arresting Jake, but he and the rest had
been warned, as I told you, and could not be found. After that the
sheriff took one of the robbers up the lake to point out the snag on
which Jake capsized the canvas canoe, but the money wasn’t there.”

“Have you any idea what had become of it?”

“I haven’t the least doubt that Jake went up there night before last,
dived for the valises and took them off in the woods and hid them.
That is what the sheriff thinks, and it is the plan he is working on.”

“I am glad I went to the hatchery this morning,” thought Tom, as he
pulled slowly toward camp after thanking the accommodating official
for the pains he had taken to teach him something. “I have had a good
time, and I have heard one or two things that may be of use to me.”

While on his way from his camp to the hatchery Tom Bigden had kept as
close to the beach as the depth of the water would permit, looking
everywhere for Matt Coyle, but without seeing any thing of him. Better
luck, however, awaited him on his return, for when he came opposite to
a lonely part of the beach, near the spot on which their former
interview was held, he saw the squatter step cautiously out the bushes
and beckon to him. No doubt the man was surprised at the readiness
with which Tom brought his canoe around and headed it for the shore.

“Say,” exclaimed Matt, when Tom had come within speaking distance.
“I’m powerful glad to see you, ’cause I want to let you know that I
can’t wait no ten days for them fifty dollars. I must have it to
onct.”

“What’s your hurry?” asked Tom. He did not exhibit any signs of anger,
although the man was even more peremptory and domineering than he had
been before. Tom knew that the squatter’s triumph would be of short
duration, and he could afford to let him be as insolent as he pleased.

“I’m goin’ to buy some furnitur’ of Rube, an’ he won’t let it go
less’n he gets the cash in his hands first,” answered Matt.

“What do you want of furniture while you are living in Rube’s house?
Why can’t you use his?”

“How do you happen to know that I am livin’ into Rube’s house?”
demanded the squatter, opening his eyes.

“Why, every body knows it,” replied Tom, carelessly. “It is pretty
well known, too, that you narrowly escaped capture when the sheriff’s
posse surrounded that house the other morning. Where are you living
now, and what has become of Jake?”

“Say,” replied Matt, speaking in the confidential tone that had so
exasperated Tom on a former occasion. “I don’t mind telling you all
about it. Things is gettin’ too public around Rube’s house to suit us,
an’, besides, we don’t think he’s the friend to us that he pertends to
be; so we’re goin’ to take to the bresh, an’ there we’re goin’ to
stay. I want some chairs an’ bed fixin’s to furnish my shanty, when I
get it built. Rube’s got ’em, but he wants the ready money for ’em. I
seen you when you was down there to the hatchery, an’ that’s the
reason I come up here to ketch you.”

“All right,” said Tom. “How soon can you produce those guns?”

“I can have ’em here to-morrer mornin’ by sun-up.”

“That’s too early for me,” replied Tom. “We have breakfast about six,
and I can get here by seven; I will be here.”

“Not to-morrer?” exclaimed Matt.

“Yes, to-morrow.”

“But you said you would have to go to Mount Airy after the money.”

“I have seen my cousins since then, and I find that it will not be
necessary for me to go home.”

“Have you got the money?” said Matt, eagerly.

Tom winked first one eye and then the other.

“There, now. I knowed you had it all the time; but you kind of thought
you could beat me in some way or other, an’ that you could get out of
buyin’ them guns. But you know better now, don’t you? I want to be
friends with you, but I tell you, pine-plank, that I won’t stand no
nonsense. I’ll tell on you sure, if you—”

“Now, don’t switch off on that track, for if you do I’ll not listen to
another word,” said Tom, angrily; and to show that he was in earnest
he pushed his canoe away from the beach and turned the bow up the
lake.

Then there was a short pause, during which Matt stood with his hands
on his hips and his eyes fastened searchingly upon the boy’s face. It
was beginning to dawn upon him that Tom was a trifle more independent
than he had been.

“Say,” he growled at last. “What trick are you up to?”

“Why, what makes you think I am up to any trick?” asked Tom,
innocently. “You said you wanted me to buy those guns for fifty
dollars; and I say I will be ready to do it to-morrow morning. Is
there any trick about that?”

“You’re goin’ to bring a constable with you,” Matt almost shouted. The
thought popped into his head suddenly, and made him dance with rage.

“I shall come alone,” was the quiet reply.

“There ain’t no one constable in the Injun Lake country that can take
me up,” Matt went on, furiously. “But if you do bring one on ’em with
you, I’ll tell him that you was knowin’ to my stealin’ of that canvas
canoe.”

“What’s the use of lashing yourself into a tempest for nothing?” said
Tom, coolly. “You can hide in the bushes, and if you see any one with
me you need not come out. I’ll be here at seven o’clock, and when you
put those two guns into my canoe I will put fifty dollars in
greenbacks into your hand. Is that the understanding?”

“Don’t you want me to hide ’em a piece back in the bresh so’t you can
say that you found ’em?” inquired Matt, in rather more civil tones.

“No; I want you to put them into my canoe. I will find them there,
won’t I? Is it a bargain or not?”

“It’s a bargain. I’ll be here; an’ if you ain’t—”

The squatter did not say what he would do if Tom failed to appear at
the appointed hour, for the latter did not linger to listen to him. He
put his canoe in motion again and pulled toward the point above, while
Matt backed up to a log and took his pipe from his pocket.

“Something’s wrong somewheres,” he told himself, as he filled up for a
smoke. “He didn’t act that-a-way t’other day, but was as humble as a
hound purp that had jest been licked. Now, what’s in the wind, do you
reckon? Has he been snoopin’ round in the woods an’ found them
six—whoop!”

The bare thought that perhaps Tom had stumbled upon the valises, and
intended paying him for the stolen guns out of the money that Matt
regarded as his own, was enough to drive the man frantic. He sprang to
his feet, jammed his pipe into his pocket, caught up his rifle, which
he had placed behind a convenient tree, and dashed into the bushes.

“I wonder how Mr. Coyle feels by this time,” chuckled Tom, as he
rounded the point and left the place of meeting out of sight. “My face
must be an awful tell-tale, for Matt knew there was something up as
soon as he looked at me. I expect to have a time with him to-morrow.”

With this reflection Tom dismissed Matt Coyle from his mind, and
thought of Jake and the extraordinary trick to which he had resorted
to gain possession of those valises and their contents. He certainly
did know more when he arrived at camp than he did when he went away in
the morning, and he had so much to tell that it was almost supper time
before the dinner was served. Another sleepless night, a single cup of
coffee in the morning, and Tom was ready for what he fondly hoped
would be his last interview with Matt Coyle.

“I am afraid you are going into danger,” said Ralph, anxiously. “I
shall not draw an easy breath until I see you coming back. Be very
careful, and don’t let him get the slightest advantage of you.”

Although Tom was in no very enviable frame of mind, he made reply to
the effect that he knew just what he was going to do, for he had
thought it all over while his cousins were wrapped in slumber, and
then he sat down in his canoe and paddled away. His heart beat a
little faster than usual when he came within sight of the place where
he was to meet the squatter. The latter was not to be seen; but as Tom
backed water with his paddle, and brought his canoe to a stand-still a
few feet from shore, he came out of the bushes and showed himself.
Acting upon the hint Tom had given him the day before, Matt kept
concealed long enough to make sure that the boy had not brought an
officer with him for company. Tom was really amazed when he looked at
him. Instead of the angry, half-crazy man he expected to meet, he saw
before him (if there were any faith to be put in appearances) one of
the jolliest, happiest mortals in existence. His face was one broad
smile, and he rubbed his soiled and begrimed palms together as if he
already held between them the greenbacks which he thought Tom carried
in his pocket.

“That’s all gammon. He has laid a trap for me,” soliloquized the boy;
and, alarmed by the thought, he gave a quick, strong stroke with the
double paddle that sent the canoe ten feet farther away from the
beach. Matt saw and understood, and for a brief moment a savage scowl
took the place of the smile he had put on for the occasion. But it
cleared away as quickly as it came, and then Matt smiled again.

“Have you got it?” said he, in insinuating tones. “Have you brung the
money with you?”

For an answer Tom winked his left eye.

“I’m powerful glad to hear it,” said Matt. “Come ashore an’ we’ll soon
settle this business.”

“Where are the guns?”

“Back in the woods a piece. I hid ’em in the bresh, ’cause I thought
that mebbe you would rather take ’em out yourself, so’t you could say
you found ’em without tellin’ no lie about it. See?”

“That isn’t according to the agreement we made yesterday,” replied
Tom. “I told you, as plainly as I could speak it, that you must put
the guns into my canoe and I would find them there.”

“Well, how be I goin’ to put ’em in your canoe while you keep it
twenty feet from shore?” demanded Matt. “You come up closter.”

“You go and get the guns. It will be time enough for me to get in
closer when I see that you have got them.”

“An’ it will be time enough for me to get the guns when I see that you
have brung the money with you,” retorted Matt, who was getting so
angry that he could with difficulty control himself.

Tom laid his paddle across his knee and took a purse from his pocket,
all the while keeping a sharp watch upon Matt Coyle, who had moved
down the beach, inch by inch, until he was now standing in the edge of
the water. Taking from the purse a small roll of bills, Tom held it up
before his right eye and winked at the squatter with the other.

“There’s money; now where are the guns?” said he. “I thought you were
in a great hurry to have the business settled.”

“I don’t believe there’s any fifty dollars in that there little wad of
greenbacks,” replied Matt. “Lemme see you count ’em out on your knee.”

Instead of complying with this request, Tom shut up the purse and put
it into his pocket. When Matt saw that, he could no longer restrain
himself. With a sound that was more like a roar than a shout, he
jumped into the water, his arms extended and his fingers spread out
like the claws of some wild beast, and made a long plunge in the hope
of seizing upon the gunwale of Tom’s canoe. But the boy was on the
alert. With one stroke of the paddle he sent the canoe far out of
reach, and in a second more Matt was floundering in water that was
over his head. Knowing that he could not overtake Tom by swimming, he
gave vent to his fury in a volley of oaths, and went back to the
beach; whereupon Tom also returned, and took up his old position.

“It seems that you are the one that is up to tricks,” said he, smiling
in spite of himself at the ludicrous figure Matt Coyle presented in
his dripping garments. “Now, when you get ready, I should like to have
you tell me what you meant by trying to get hold of my canoe?”

“Why didn’t you count out the money on your knee, like I told you,
so’t I could be sure you had brung the fifty dollars?” roared Matt,
shaking both his clenched hands at Tom.

“Didn’t I take your word for it when you told me that you had the
guns? Very well; you will have to take mine when I say that I am ready
to carry out my part of the agreement when you carry out yours. Show
me the guns; that’s all I ask of you. Look here; do you know where
those guns are at this moment?”

“No, I don’t,” answered Matt, blurting out the truth before he
thought.

“So I supposed. Well, I do. When the sheriff and his posse were coming
home, after capturing those bank robbers, they found Joe Wayring’s
canvas canoe, and likewise the Lefever hammerless and Winchester
rifle.”

[Illustration: TOM BIGDEN BLOCKS MATT COYLE’S GAME.]

“Whoop!” yelled the squatter. “’Tain’t so, nuther. They wasn’t all hid
in the same place.”

“I know it,” replied Tom, who knew just nothing at all about it. The
canvas canoe might have been concealed in that hollow log and Tom and
his cousins would have been none the wiser for it; because after the
guns had been brought to light they did not look for any thing else.
“You must remember that there were several men in that posse, and that
they could cover a good deal of ground in an hour’s time. They
searched every inch of those woods, and found—”

Matt opened his mouth and gasped for breath.

“Did they—did they find—”

“No,” answered Tom, who knew what Matt would have said if he could.
“They did not find any money. Your Jake is the only one who knows
where that is.”

“I know where it is, too,” said the squatter, whose lip quivered as if
he had half a mind to cry about it. “But the trouble is that I can’t
find it.”

“Then if you can’t find it you don’t know where it is.”

“I tell you I do too. It’s up there in the same woods that the canoe
an’ guns was hid in,” cried Matt, once more speaking a little too
hastily.

It was now Tom’s turn to open his eyes. After a little reflection he
said—

“If you think the money is in that particular part of the woods, why
don’t you go there and stay till you find it? Or else make Jake show
you where it is.”

“But Jakey won’t do it. He ain’t that sort of a boy.”

“Then denounce him to the sheriff.”

“What’s that?”

“Why, expose him; tell on him. I’ll bet you he will be quite willing
to reveal the hiding-place of those valises when he feels an officer’s
grip on his collar.”

“But what good will that do me? The constable who takes Jakey up will
get the reward that’s been offered, an’ I shan’t see none of it.
Whoop!” shouted Matt, going off into another paroxysm of rage. “Every
thing an’ every body seems to be goin’ agin me this mornin’.”

“Well, then,” said Tom, who had the strongest of reasons for hoping
that the squatter might never fall into the clutches of the law, “if I
were in your place, I would have a serious talk with Jake. I’d tell
him that he is sure to be arrested, sooner or later, that it is
preposterous for him to think he can keep the money, and urge him to
give it up and claim a portion of the reward. Some of it will have to
go to the officers who found the robbers, you know. If you will do
that, I will promise that Joe Wayring will not prosecute you for
stealing his canoe.”

“’Taint no ways likely that Joe would do a favor for you,” said Matt,
in a discouraged tone, “’cause you an’ him don’t hitch.”

“I know we don’t like each other any too well, but I can say a word
for you, all the same. I don’t know that I can do any good here, so I
will go back to camp. I came down according to agreement, but I knew I
shouldn’t make any thing by it. You held fast to those guns too long.
They have been found, and your hundred dollars are up stump.”

“If you knowed it, why did you pester me that-a-way for?” demanded the
squatter, growing angry again.

“Why did you tell me you had the guns hidden a little way back in the
woods when you hadn’t?” asked Tom, in reply. “I saw through your game
at once. Your object was to get me ashore and rob me. You would have
committed a State’s prison offense; but I shall not say any thing
about it unless you wag your tongue too freely about me. If you do
that, look out for yourself.”

So saying, Tom turned his canoe about and started for camp, well
satisfied with the result of his interview with the squatter. He had
kept his temper in spite of strong provocation, and made Matt believe
that he was in no way responsible for the loss of the guns. More than
that, he had given him good honest advice, and kept up a show of
friendship by making a promise he did not mean to fulfill.

“I’d like to see myself asking a favor of that Joe Wayring,” said he,
with a sneer. “It would please him too well, and I wouldn’t do it
under any circumstances. My object was to leave Matt in good humor, if
I could. Of course he was mad because he did not get the money, but
not as mad as he would have been if he had succeeded in getting hold
of the canoe. If he had done that, I calculated to give him such a rap
over the head with my paddle that he wouldn’t get over it for a month.
I don’t think I shall have any more trouble with him this season. Next
vacation I shall steer clear of Indian Lake, and take my outing
somewhere else.”

Ralph Farnsworth and his brother were so very much concerned about Tom
that they did not do any camp work after he went away. As soon as he
was out of sight, they sat down on the bank close to the water’s edge,
and there they remained for four long, anxious hours before Tom came
around the point and showed himself to them. When he saw them waiting
for him he took off his cap and waved it in triumph over his head.

“He was awful mad, and, after trying in vain to get me out on shore so
that he could take my money away from me, he rushed into the water and
made a grab at the canoe,” said Tom, as he ran the bow of his little
craft upon the beach. “But, after all, I didn’t have as much of a time
with him as I thought I should. There’s your purse, Ralph. Now, if one
of you will dish up a good dinner, I think I can do justice to it. I
haven’t had much appetite for a day or two past, but I am ravenously
hungry now.”

With these preliminary remarks Tom Bigden took possession of one of
the hammocks and told his story from beginning to end, saying, in
conclusion—

“That part of the woods seems to be a repository for Matt Coyle’s
stolen goods. If we had looked a little farther we might have found
that money.”

“I wish we had,” said Loren. “Of course we should have laid no claim
to a share of the reward. We would have given our portion to the
guides, and perhaps gained their good will by it. Every time we go to
the hotel after supplies or mail I notice that they look at us
cross-eyed, as if they thought we were good fellows to let alone.”

“And what makes them do it?” Tom almost shouted. “It is because Joe
Wayring and his friends have gained Swan’s ears, and stuffed him full
of lies about us. Ugh! How I should like to see that boy taken
down—clear down; as far as any body can go by land. Say,” he added,
after cooling off a little, “I am ready to give up the guns now. Matt
Coyle may believe that Swan and his party found them at the time they
found Wayring’s canoe, and he may not. At any rate, I do not like to
take the risk of his jumping down on our camp some dark night and
finding them here. So I propose that we get rid of them this very
afternoon.”

The others agreeing, and a bountiful dinner having been disposed of,
the three boys stepped into their canoes and set out for Indian Lake,
taking the guns with them. A more astonished and delighted man than
Mr. Hanson was when they walked into his office and laid the cases
upon his desk Tom and his cousins had seldom seen; but the language in
which he expressed his gratitude for the service they had rendered him
almost made Tom wish that he had held fast to the guns a little
longer. After asking when, and where, and how they had found them, and
listening with the liveliest interest to their story, Mr. Hanson said—

“That villain Coyle shall be arrested to-morrow, if I have unemployed
guides enough in my pay to find him. I should have been after him two
weeks ago, if it hadn’t been for these guns; and now that I’ve got
them I shall not fool with him a day longer. You have fairly earned
the reward,” he added, opening his money drawer, “and I am
authorized—”

“We don’t need money, Mr. Hanson, and we’ll not touch a cent of it,”
interrupted Ralph. “Give it to the guides who lost their situations
when the guns were stolen.”

“Swan and Bob Martin?” said Mr. Hanson. “Well, they are deserving men,
and, although they did not lose their situations on account of the
loss of the guns, because they were working for me and not for the
sportsmen with whom they went into the woods, still I know they would
be glad to have the money. I’ll hand it to them, if you say so, and
tell them I do it at your request.”

“Thank you,” answered Ralph. “We shall be much obliged.”

“Hold on a minute,” said Mr. Hanson, as the boys turned away from the
desk. “The gentlemen who own these guns are not the only ones
benefited by your lucky find. You have saved me the loss of a good
deal of patronage, and I wish to make you some return for it. Whenever
you want any supplies, go to the store-house and get them. They shan’t
cost you a cent.”

Thanking the landlord for his liberality, Tom and his companions left
the hotel and walked slowly through the grounds toward the beach.

“The place is almost deserted,” observed Tom. “There are not half as
many guests here as there were the first time we saw the Sportsman’s
Home.”

“Probably they have gone into the woods,” said Loren.

“Then how does it come that there are so many guides lying around
doing nothing?” asked Tom. “I don’t believe there are many guests in
the woods. They have gone home, or to other fishing grounds where
their camps will not be robbed the minute they turn their backs. Matt
said he would ruinate the hotels, if they didn’t give him work, and he
seems in a fair way to do it.”

“Say,” whispered Ralph. “I didn’t like what Hanson said about having
Matt Coyle arrested.”

Tom was about to answer that he didn’t like it either, when he heard
footsteps behind him and a voice calling out: “Just another word
before you go, boys,” and upon turning around he saw Mr. Hanson in
pursuit.

“I forgot one thing,” said he, when he came up. “Can you make it
convenient to come here day after to-morrow morning? By that time
we’ll have Matt hard and fast, most likely. The sheriff says he will
have to take him to Irvington, that being the nearest place at which
we can have him bound over to appear before the circuit court. I can
prove by Rube Royall, the watchman at the hatchery, that Matt
acknowledged stealing and concealing the guns, and I shall need you to
testify to the finding of them. You will be around, won’t you?”

The boys said they would, but their voices were almost inaudible, and
the faces they turned toward one another when Mr. Hanson had left them
were very white indeed.

“Now we _are_ in a scrape,” said Loren, who was the first to break the
silence. “Tom Bigden, that fellow will tell all he knows about you
just so sure as you get up in court to bear witness against him. You
told him that the guides found and returned the guns.”

“So I did,” groaned Tom. “So I did; but he won’t be long in finding
out that I lied to him, will he? What shall I do? What can I do?
There’s one thing about it,” added Tom, who, although badly
frightened, tried to put a bold face on the matter. “Matt Coyle has
not yet been arrested, and I’ve got so much at stake that I don’t want
him to be. I shall seek another interview with him in the morning,
and, if I can bring it about, I will tell him just what Hanson said
about him. It is all that Joe Wayring’s fault. If he had treated us
decently I wouldn’t have been in this scrape. I’ll do that boy some
injury the first good chance I get.”

On their way to camp the boys kept within talking distance of one
another and discussed the situation. Loren was of opinion that his
cousin Tom had better draw a bee-line for Mount Airy bright and early
the next morning; but Tom and Ralph agreed in saying that that would
be the very worst thing that could be done under the circumstances.
Mr. Hanson had plainly told them that he would need them for
witnesses, and if Tom was foolish enough to run away he had better
make a long run while he was about it and get out of the State, or the
authorities would catch him sure.

“I shall not run an inch. I’ve got to stay and face it down,” said
Tom, quietly; and his cousins knew, by the way the words came out,
that he had decided upon his course. “There were no witnesses present
when I told Matt to steal Joe Wayring’s canoe, and the matter will
simply resolve itself into a question of veracity; and when it comes
to that I think my word will have about as much weight as a tramp’s.
All the same, I don’t want Matt arrested if it can possibly be
avoided.”

Tom slept the sleep of the exhausted that night, and at seven o’clock
the next morning shoved his canoe away from the beach and pulled
toward the hatchery.