ON THE RIGHT TRACK AT LAST

A more astonished trio than Matt Coyle and his boys were when they
heard Arthur Hastings’s voice, and looked up to find the muzzle of his
double-barrel pointed straight at their heads, had never been seen on
the shores of No-Man’s Pond. They really believed that they had seen
Arthur and Roy in the woods going toward Indian Lake, and when they
made a prisoner of Joe Wayring they thought they held him at their
mercy. But, although Matt was surprised at the interruption, he was
not to be easily beaten. He uttered a faint cry, which had more than
once sent his whole family scurrying into the bushes, and in less time
than it takes to write it he and his boys were out of sight. They
wormed their way through the bushes with astonishing celerity, and by
the time Roy and Arthur reached the shore and released the captive
from his bonds Matt and his allies were lying prone behind a log a
short distance away, with their rifles pointed over it, waiting to be
attacked.

“Jakey, you an’ Sam was certainly mistaken when you said that the
fellers we seen goin’ through the woods was the same ones that always
went with Joe Wayring,” whispered Matt. “If it was them, how did they
happen to come up in that there canvas canoe the way they did? My luck
has turned agin me onct more, ain’t it?”

“That Bigden boy played a trick on you,” said Jake. He passed his hand
over his battered face and could hardly repress a howl when he saw
that it was covered with blood.

“I told you I’d lick ye if we didn’t find the money in Joe’s camp,
didn’t I?” said his father, fiercely. “Now I reckon you see that I was
in earnest, don’t you? If you had brung me the money the minute you
got hold of it, I would have went halvers with you, an’ you wouldn’t
have had that lookin’ face, an’ I wouldn’t have been put to so much
trouble. Next time bear in mind that your pap is boss of this here
house. You say that Bigden boy played a trick onto me. I begin to
suspicion so myself; but, if he did, where’s the money? Jakey, did you
hide them grip-sacks in that hole where you said you did?”

“Sure’s I live an’ breathe I did,” replied Jake, edging away from his
father when he saw how savagely the latter scowled at him. “It was
there the last time I seen it; but I don’t know where it is now.”

“What be we waitin’ here for?” interrupted Sam. “Joe ain’t got the
money, an’ why don’t we go somewheres else an’ look for it? Mam’ll be
scared if we don’t come home purty quick.”

“Where else shall we go an’ look for it?” demanded the squatter.

“Why, down to—anywheres,” said Sam, with some confusion.

“You had some place in your mind when you spoke,” Matt insisted. “Down
where?”

“Anywheres on the other side of the lake. It ain’t never been brung
over here, an’ I didn’t think so none of the time.”

Very gradually it began to creep into Matt’s head that Sam had not
acted at all like himself since their party left Tom Bigden’s camp to
go in pursuit of Joe Wayring. The boy had been opposed to it from the
first, and showed great anxiety and impatience to return to camp and
relieve his mother’s suspense. How did she know but that they had
fallen into the clutches of the law; and how was she going to find out
unless one of their number went home to assure her that they were all
safe and sound? It wasn’t at all like Sam to express so much concern
for his mother’s comfort and peace of mind, and why should he do it
now, Matt asked himself, unless he had some reason for desiring to go
back to the cove?

“An’ what should Sammy want to go back there for, less’n it’s to look
after something he’s left behind?” soliloquized the squatter. “An’
what’s he left there if it ain’t them two—Whoop! That’s it, sure’s
you’re born.”

“What’s the matter of you, pap?” exclaimed Sam.

Almost involuntarily Matt uttered the last words aloud, and of course
his boys heard them and desired an explanation. Sam looked frightened;
but Jake’s face was so badly wounded that no one could tell what its
expression was. Matt looked surprised, then thoughtful, and finally
replied:

“Yes, sir; that’s it. That Bigden boy done sent us up here on a wild
goose chase jest to draw suspicion from himself. He is the one that’s
got the money, and he’s had it all the time.”

“You’ve hit center, pap, sure’s you’re a foot high,” exclaimed Sam. “I
wondered why that Bigden boy was so ready to tell us where the money
was, an’ now I know. Will we go home now, pap?”

“We’ll start at onct, an’ by this time to-morrer we’ll have the money
an’ the Bigden boy too. If he don’t tell us what he’s done with it,
we’ll tie him to a tree like we done with Joe Wayring. He ain’t got
Joe’s pluck, Tom ain’t, sassy as he lets on to be, an’ when he sees a
hickory whistlin’ before his eyes he’ll tell us all we want to know. I
didn’t think Tom would have the cheek to fool me that a-way when he
knows well enough that I’ve got the upper hand of him.”

The squatter said this as if he was in earnest, and as if he really
thought he had got upon the track of the money at last; but while he
talked he kept close watch of Sam’s face, and saw enough there to
satisfy him that his own boy, and not Tom Bigden, was the one who
could tell him right where to look to find the lost treasure.

“Well, what be we waitin’ here for?” repeated Sam, who was impatient
to be off.

“I kinder thought that mebbe them fellers would make a rush on us
soon’s they turned Joe Wayring loose,” answered Matt, “an’ I wanted to
be ready for ’em. But I don’t reckon they’re comin’, so we’ll go
along. Jakey, I didn’t lick you ’cause we didn’t find the money in
Joe’s camp, but to pay you for not turnin’ it over to me when you
found it.”

“Be you goin’ to look in Tom Bigden’s camp for it?” inquired Jake.

“I be,” replied Matt, who had already determined upon a very different
course of action.

“Well, you remember that Tom took away his blankets an’ every thing
else when we was there, don’t you?” continued Jake. “That looked to me
as though he was goin’ somewheres else to camp, or goin’ home. If you
don’t find him nor the money nuther, then who you goin’ to lick?”

“Yon needn’t worry about that,” said the squatter slowly, and in a
tone which he meant to be very impressive. “If I don’t find the money
the very first time tryin’, I’ll tumble onto the feller who knows
where it is; you may be sure of that.”

Sam grew frightened again, while Jake shut his teeth hard and said to
himself:

“That means me. But he won’t tumble onto me agin, I bet you, ’cause
when he gets on t’other side the lake I won’t be within reach of him.
I’m goin’ to do something that’ll make pap’s eyes bung out as big as
your fist when he hears of it. I ain’t goin’ to be pounded for
nothing, an’ that’s all about it.”

“Yes,” continued Matt, who felt more confident of success now than at
any other time during his search for the money. “I shall make a go of
it by this hour to-morrer; you hear me? Jakey, you remember the old
blanket Tom Bigden give us that I used fur a knapsack to carry our
grub in, don’t you? Well, I dropped it when we was getting’ ready to
make our rush on Joe’s camp. It’s up there in the woods about two
hundred yards from here. Mind the place, don’t you? Well, go an’ get
it.”

“I’ll go,” said Jake to himself, “an’ it’ll be the last arrant I go on
for one while, I bet you. What’s the use of me goin’ over on t’other
side of the lake, when the men I want to see is on this side? I’ll go,
but I won’t never come back. Pap ain’t goin’ to find that money, an’
he ain’t goin’ to give me another lickin’ like he done to-day,
nuther.”

If Matt could have seen and interpreted the expression that Jake’s
face wore as he crawled away in obedience to this order, he might have
called him back and gone himself or sent Sam; but he was too busy
filling his pipe to notice the boy, and besides it had never occurred
to him that he could drive any of his family to rebellion. But he had
done it, for Jake never came back to him. He seized the blanket when
he found it, threw it over his shoulder, and struck out for Indian
Lake.

“He can go hungry for all I care,” muttered Jake, halting now and then
and looking back to make sure he was not pursued. “He’ll go hungry
many a time this winter, if the law don’t catch him, for that lazy Sam
of our’n wouldn’t dare show his head out of camp after dark; so who’s
goin’ to steal grub for him to eat?”

Having determined upon this course, Jake held to it with surprising
resolution, and his father and his brother waited long for his coming.
At last Matt became angry at his unaccountable absence, but he never
once suspected Jake’s fidelity.

“Mebbe he’s gone an’ got himself ketched by them fellers,” suggested
Sam.

“More likely he’s gone an’ lost himself or missed the place where I
left the blanket,” growled the squatter. “I do think we’d best be
lookin’ into the matter.”

“Well, go on, an’ I’ll stay here till you come back,” said Sam, with
suppressed eagerness.

“I don’t reckon that would be the best plan in the world,” answered
Matt, who was not to be taken in by any such artifice. “Do you,
Sammy?”

“Then you stay an’ let me go.”

“I don’t think that would be the best thing either, ’cause if you went
alone them fellers might jump outen their camp an’ ketch you. We’ll
both go, an’ then they can’t harm us, an’ we won’t get lost, nuther.”

Sam was well enough acquainted with his father to know that the latter
had had his suspicions aroused in some mysterious way, and he had
suddenly hit upon a plan to outwit him. If he could separate himself
from Matt for just five minutes he would put for the outlet at his
best pace, induce one of the resident vagabonds to set him across, and
then he would secure his treasure and go somewhere—anywhere—so long as
he could hold fast to the money and be out of his father’s reach.
Perhaps, on reflection, he might decide to give it up and claim the
reward; but that was a matter that could be settled at some future
time. Did the squatter suspect this little game? Whether he did or not
he nipped it in the bud by giving Sam to understand that wherever one
went the other would go also, and that there was to be no separation.

“You see, Sammy,” said Matt, as he led the way toward the place where
he had left the blanket, “if me an’ you stick together we won’t nuther
get lost nor ketched, one or t’other of which has most likely happened
to Jakey. ’Tain’t like him to stay away less’n he’s got some excuse
for it.”

“Aw! Jake ain’t ketched,” said Sam, who knew that the only thing he
could do was to put a good face on the matter and bide his time. “If
he was, wouldn’t we have heard him whoopin’? He’s lost; that’s what’s
went with Jake.”

“Well, if he is, he’s lost the grub as well as himself, ’cause there’s
right where I left the blanket,” said Matt, pointing out the exact
spot. “He won’t stay lost, for Jakey’s a master hand to find his way
around in the woods. He’ll put for the outlet, most likely, an’
there’s where we will go, too. You toddle on ahead an’ I’ll foller.”

This meant that the squatter was resolved to keep Sam where he could
see him, and the latter was careful to do nothing out of the ordinary.
When it became too dark for them to continue their journey they
lighted a fire and went supperless to bed, with nothing but the leaves
for a mattress and the spreading branches of an evergreen for a
covering. They slept, too, for Sam thought it wasn’t worth while to
escape from his father’s control while they were so near the outlet.
He could not get across before daylight, for the boats were all on the
other side, and, more than that, Sam was too much of a coward to
deliberately undertake a two-mile tramp through a piece of dark woods.
It would be time enough for him to make a move when he was on the same
side of the lake that the money was.

Father and son resumed their journey at the first peep of day, and at
breakfast time were standing on the bank of the outlet below the
hatchery, signaling for a boat. The same accommodating vagabond who
had ferried them across two days before responded to their hail, and
showed a desire to pry deeper into their private affairs than Matt was
willing he should go.

“Jake’s gone off about his business, and if the old woman ain’t left
camp she’s there yet,” growled the squatter, in reply to the
ferryman’s eager questions. “I’ve got some things to tend to that I
forgot about, an’ that’s why I come back. No; we won’t go into your
house an’ get breakfast, but you can give us a bite to eat as we go
along if you’re a mind to.”

“Did you—you didn’t see any body lookin’ for you, I reckon?” said the
ferryman at a venture. “Well, that’s queer. I’ve heard that there’s as
many as a dozen or fifteen constables an’ guides follerin’ of you an
Jakey.”

“Which side the lake?” inquired Matt, anxiously.

“This side—the one you’re jest leavin’.”

This was something that was in Matt’s favor, but he little thought he
had his friend the ferryman to thank for it. The latter had hung
around the hatchery all the previous day, and made it his business to
put every party of officers and guides who crossed the outlet on
Matt’s trail, first stipulating for a small share of the reward in
case the information he gave them led to the squatter’s arrest. But he
had played squarely into Matt’s hands. The road that led to his camp
was clear, and all he had to do was to keep a close watch upon Sam,
who, for some reason or other, showed an almost uncontrollable desire
to take to his heels. At last Matt became satisfied that that was just
what the boy meant to do; and after they had left the hatchery out of
sight, and were walking along the carry Indian file, munching the
bread and meat the ferryman had given them, he came to the conclusion
that it was time for him to put into operation the plan he had
determined upon the day before. Suddenly thrusting what was left of
his breakfast into his pocket, Matt took one long step forward and
laid hold of Sam’s collar. As quick as thought the boy threw both arms
behind him and jumped. His object was to leave his coat in his
father’s grasp, and the only thing that prevented him from doing it
was the fact that one of Matt’s long, muscular fingers had, by the
merest accident, caught under the collar of Sam’s shirt. The collar
stood the strain, Matt’s finger was too strong to be straightened out,
and Sam was a prisoner.

“Aha!” said the squatter, looking into the boy’s astonished face with
grim good-humor. “You didn’t look for your old pap to be so cute, did
you? Didn’t I give you fair warnin’ that a man who had spent the best
years of his life in dodgin’ guides an’ constables wasn’t to be beat
by his own boys? You’ve been mighty cunnin’, you an’ Jakey have, but
I’m to the top of the heap now. See it, don’t you?”

“What be you goin’ to do, pap?” inquired Sam, when he saw his sire put
his disengaged hand into his pocket and draw forth the same stout cord
that had once been used to confine Jake’s hands and feet. “I won’t run
from you, an’ I’ll show you where it is, sure.”

“Where what is?” demanded the squatter, who wanted to be sure that he
had got upon the right track at last.

“Where the valises is—the money.”

“There now, you little snipe!” cried Matt, drawing back his heavy hand
as if he had half a mind to let it fall with fall force upon the boy’s
unprotected face. “Oughtn’t I to lick ye for makin’ me tramp
twenty-four miles on a wild goose chase after that money, when you
knowed where it was all the while? Dog-gone it! I’ve a good notion—”

“What’s the use of r’arin’, pap?” interrupted Sam. “You never offered
to go halvers with me, did you? That’s all I was waitin’ for. You’ll
get it now, so what’s the use of gettin’ mad about it?”

“You’re right I’ll have it now,” said Matt, as he proceeded to tie
Sam’s hands behind his back. “You was kalkerlatin’ to show me where
the money was soon’s I offered to go halvers with you, was you? Then
what did you try to jump outen your jacket for when I grabbed you?”

“’Cause I was afeared you’d lick me like you did Jake before I got a
chance to talk to you. Don’t draw them ropes so tight. What you tyin’
me for, anyway?”

“So’t you can’t run away an’ leave me,” replied Matt. “I’ve seed the
day when I could ketch you before you’d went ten foot, but I ain’t as
young as I was then. You ain’t done fair by me. You’ve fooled me all
along, you an’ Jakey have, ’an you might take it into your head to
show me the wrong place. If you do, I won’t have to go fur to find
you. Now tell me true: Did Jake hide the money in that there hole
where he said he did?”

Sam replied that Jake had told a straight story. He did hide the
valises under the roots of the fallen poplar, but he (Sam) had taken
them out and concealed them in another place.

“There you be, tied hard an’ fast with one end of the rope, an’ I’ll
jest hold the other end in my hand an’ be ready to jerk you flat if
you try to run,” said Matt, when he had finished his task of confining
Sam’s hands behind his back. “Now put out at your best licks, and go
straight to the place where you hid them grip-sacks. What had you made
up your decision to do with them six thousand?”

“I was goin’ halvers with you an’ mam an’ Jake,” began Sam.

“Aw! Shucks!” exclaimed Matt.

“An’ then I was goin’ to buy some good clothes an’ things for myself.
Now, pap, you’re goin’ to go halvers with me, ain’t you? An’ after you
get it, you won’t lick me like you done Jake, will you?”

“That’s a p’int that will take a heap of studyin’ before I can say
what I’m goin’ to do,” replied Matt cautiously. “I ain’t seen the
money yet. Show me that first, an’ then I’ll talk to you. I don’t
reckon that you’ve disremembered where you put it, have you? ’Cause if
you have—”

The squatter did not think it necessary to finish the sentence. He
stopped, took his ready knife from his pocket and looked around for a
switch. This alarmed Sam, who made haste to assure his father that he
had the bearings of the hiding-place of the valises firmly fixed in
his memory, and that he could go to it without the least difficulty.

“If you do that, you won’t get into no trouble with your pap,”
answered Matt, winking at Sam, and then cutting down a hickory which
he proceeded to trim very carefully. “But you an’ Jakey do have sich
short memories sometimes that I’m afeared to trust you; so I’ll be on
the safe side. If I find the money where you say you left it, I won’t
say a word about the twenty-four mile tramp you made me take for
nothing; but I’ll l’arn you that the next time you find six thousand
dollars you had better bring it to me without no foolin’, instead of
keepin’ it for your own use.”

These words frightened Sam, who saw very plainly that he need not hope
to escape without a whipping, even if his father found the money. And
if he didn’t find it, if some one had been there during his absence
and stolen the valises from him, as he had stolen them from Jake, then
what would happen? Sam thought of his brother’s battered countenance
and shuddered. Keeping his gaze fixed upon his father’s face, he moved
his arms up and down, and discovered that they were not as tightly
bound as he had supposed. In fact, Sam told himself that if his father
would go away and leave him alone for two minutes he would not find
him when he returned.

“How do you like the looks of that, Sammy?” said Matt, shutting up his
knife and giving the switch a vicious cut in the air. “It’s mighty
onhandy an’ disagreeable to be a pap sometimes, leastwise when you’ve
got two sich ongrateful boys for sons as you an’ Jakey be. This is all
your own doin’s an’ not mine.”

“I’ll never do it ag’in,” whined Sam, who wasn’t half as badly
frightened now as he was before he found that he could move his hands.
“The next time I find six thousand dollars layin’ around loose in the
woods I’ll bring it to you; the very minute I find it, too.”

“Then you’ll be doin’ jest right an’ I won’t switch you. Now we’re all
ready an’ you can toddle on agin. I hope them valises ain’t a very fur
ways from here, ’cause I’m in a monstrous hurry to handle the money
that’s into ’em.”

So saying the squatter picked up the free end of the rope and followed
Sam as if he were a blind man, and Sam the dog that was leading him.
He must have been pretty near blind, or else he did not make the good
use of his eyes he generally did, for he surely ought to have seen
that the cord that encircled the boy’s wrists was very slack, and that
it would have fallen to the ground if Sam had not kept his arms spread
out to hold it in place. After two miles had been passed over in this
way, Sam stopped in front of the evergreen in which he had placed the
valises. The big drops of perspiration that stood on his forehead had
not been brought out by the heat, but by the mental strain to which he
was subjected. From the bottom of his heart Sam wished he knew what
was going to happen during the next two minutes.

“Why don’t you go on?” Matt demanded.

“Here we be,” answered Sam, faintly. “Look in that tree an’ you’ll
find ’em if somebody ain’t took ’em out.”

“Whoop!” yelled Matt, knocking his heels together and making the
switch whistle around his head. “Took ’em out? Sam, do you know what
them few words mean to you? If any body has took ’em out I’m sorry for
you. Did you say the valises was in the tree?”

“Yes. I tied ’em fast among the branches so’t the wind wouldn’t shake
’em out. Go round on t’other side, stick your head into the tree an’
you’ll find ’em.”

Trembling in every limb with excitement, the squatter dropped the
rope, placed his rifle and Sam’s carefully against a neighboring tree,
and disappeared behind the evergreen. The instant he was out of sight
Sam brought his wrists close together, and the rope with which he was
confined fell to the ground.

“I’ll show pap whether or not I am goin’ to stay here an’ take sich a
lickin’ as he give Jakey,” thought Sam, as he wheeled about and
reached for his rifle. “I wish I dast p’int this we’pon at his head
an’ make him go halvers with me if he finds it. But shucks! What’s the
use? He’d steal it from me the first good chance he got, an’ then I
wouldn’t have none an’ he would have it all. I’ll do wusser’n that for
him,” muttered Sam, as he moved away from the evergreen with long,
noiseless strides. “I’ll hunt up old man Swan an’ tell him that if
he’ll go snucks with me on the reward I’ll show him where pap is.
There, sir! I do think in my soul he’s found it.”

These words were called forth by a dismal noise, something between a
howl and a wail, that arose behind him. Sam had often heard it and he
knew the meaning of it. Sure enough his father had found one of the
valises. He seized it with eager hands, tore it loose from its
fastenings, and dropped it to the ground. It was broken open by the
fall, and gold and silver pieces were scattered over the leaves in
great profusion. For a moment Matt gazed as if he were fascinated;
then he fell upon his knees among them and began throwing them back
into the valise, at the same time setting up a yelp that could have
been heard a mile away.

“Luck has come my way at last,” said he, gleefully. “Sam, I won’t lick
you, but I must do a pap’s dooty by you an’ punish you in some way for
not bringin’ it to me the minute you got hold of it, so I’ll keep it
all an’ you shan’t have none of it. Sam, why don’t you come around
here an’ listen to your pap?”

But Matt didn’t care much whether Sam showed himself or not, he was so
deeply interested in the contents of the valise. After carefully
picking up every coin that had fallen out of it, he gathered the
shining pieces up by handfuls and let them run back, all the while
gloating over them as a miser gloats over his hoard. When he had
somewhat recovered himself he jumped to his feet and dived into the
tree after the other valise. He found it after a short search, and
placed it on the ground beside its fellow.

“Whew!” panted Matt, pulling off his hat and wiping his dripping
forehead with his shirt-sleeve. “It’s mine at last, an’ I’m as rich as
Adam was (I disremember his other name), but I have heard that he had
the whole ’arth an’ all the money an’ watches an’ good clothes an’
every thing else in it for his own. I ain’t got that much, but I’ve
got enough so’t I won’t have to work so hard nor go ragged no more.
Say, Sam, come around an’ take a peep at it an’ see what you might
have had if you’d only been a good an’ dutiful son. Sam! Where’s that
Sam of our’n gone, I wonder.”

And Matt’s wonder increased when he walked around the tree and found
that the boy was nowhere in sight. There lay the cord with which his
arms had been bound, but Sam was missing and so was his rifle. That
made the whole thing clear to Matt’s comprehension.

“The ongrateful an’ ondutiful scamp!” cried the squatter, angrily.
“This is another thing that I owe him a lickin’ for—runnin’ away from
his pap. He’ll get it good an’ strong when he comes home, I bet you,
an’ so will Jakey. Whoop! I’m boss of this house, an’ I don’t want
none on you to disremember it. Now, what shall I do with my money so’t
I can keep it safe? I reckon I’d best hunt up the ole woman an’ ask
her what she thinks about it.”

So saying the squatter took his rifle under his arm, seized a valise
in each hand, and set out for the cove.

Matt Coyle would have been utterly confounded if he had known, or even
suspected, how completely his family had been broken up by the events
of the last few days. He labored under the delusion that Jake and Sam
had run away simply to escape the punishment they so richly deserved;
but they had only made a bad matter worse, Matt told himself, for they
would be obliged to return sooner or later, and then they might rest
assured the promised whipping would be administered with added
severity. But Jake and Sam had gone away with the intention of staying
away. They were afraid of their brute of a father, and the cold chills
crept all over them whenever they thought of the New London jail. They
could not see the justice of being beaten or locked up for something
they did not do, and the only recourse they had was to go to those
whom they had been taught to regard as their enemies—the guides and
the officers of the law. With the exception of his wife, the
squatter’s family had all turned against him. Her he found dozing over
a fire on the bank of a cove. Without saying a word Matt walked up and
showed her the valises.

“What’s them, an’ where’s the boys?” she drowsily asked.

“Now listen at the fule!” shouted Matt. “Ain’t you got a pair of eyes?
Them’s the six thousand dollars that’s been a-botherin’ of us so long,
an’ the boys have run off to get outen the lickin’ I promised ’em. But
they’ll come back when they get good an’ hungry, an’ then I’ll have my
satisfaction on ’em. You’ve got a little bacon an’ a few taters left,
I reckon, ain’t you? Well, dish ’em up, an’ I’ll tell you where I’ve
been an’ what a-doin’ since I seen you last.”

The dinner his wife was able to place before him did not by any means
satisfy the cravings of Matt’s hunger, and when it had been disposed
of there was not a morsel of any thing eatable left in the camp; and,
worse than that, Jake was missing, and there was nobody to steal
another supply. Matt talked as he ate, and by the time he was ready
for his pipe he had given his wife a pretty full history of his
movements during the last two days.

“This ain’t a safe country no longer after me tyin’ Joe Wayring fast
to a tree an’ promisin’ to lick him if he didn’t tell me where the
money was,” said the squatter in conclusion. “He never had the money,
Joe didn’t; Sam knew where it was all the while an’ never told me. But
Joe won’t be nonetheless mad at me, an’ I reckon I’d best be lookin’
for new quarters for a while. I’m goin’ to take the money an’ skip
out. I do wish in my soul I had a boat. I’d run a’most any risk to get
one.”

“Where would you go?”

“I’ll tell you,” replied Matt confidentially. “I’ve been studyin’ it
over as I come along, an’ have made up my decision that I’d be safer
if I was onto their trail ’stead of havin’ them on mine; so I’ll put
as straight for Sherwin’s Pond as I can go an’ stay there till the
thing has kinder blowed over.”

“An’ what’ll I do?” inquired the old woman.

“You? Oh, you ain’t done nothin’ that the law can tech you for, an’
you had better hang around Rube’s an’ get your grub of him. You can
pay him for it by slickin’ up his house an’ washin’ dishes for him,
you know.”

“What’s the reason I can’t have some of the six thousand to pay him
with?”

“Now listen at you!” vociferated Matt. “Don’t you know that if you
should offer him money he would know in a minute that you had seen the
six thousand an’ have you took up for it? I tell you, ole woman,”
added the squatter, who was resolved to hold fast to every dollar of
his ill-gotten gains as long as he could, “my way is the best; an’ if
you ain’t willin’ to it, you can jest look out for yourself. Now I’m
off. I’ll be back directly the thing has kinder died down, like I told
you, an’ then we’ll put out for some place where we can spend our
money an’ live like folks. Jakey an’ Sam’ll be back in a day or two,
to-night, mebbe, an’ they’ll look out for you.”

The old woman did not say anything more, for she knew that it would be
useless. She lazily smoked her pipe while Matt fastened the valises
together and slung them over his shoulder as he would a knapsack, said
“so-long” in a drawling, indifferent tone, and saw him disappear in
the bushes.

“For the first time in my life I feel like I was a free man,”
soliloquized the squatter, as he lumbered away through the woods. “I
ain’t a-goin’ to be bothered any more wonderin’ where Jakey is to get
a new pair of shoes ag’in snow comes, or how I’m to wiggle an’ twist
to find Sam a new coat, or ask myself whether or not the old woman’s
got bacon an’ taters enough for breakfast. Rube’ll take care of her,
’cause he’ll suspicion right away that I’ve got the money an’ that
I’ll be sure to come back to her some day. I’ll take care of myself;
an’ as for the boys—I won’t think two times about them ongrateful
scamps. They tried their best to cheat me outen my shar’ of this
money, an’ now I’ll see how much they’ll get.”

The squatter continued to talk to himself in this style during the
three hours he consumed in reaching the “old perch hole” at the mouth
of the creek, which must be crossed in some way before Matt could
fairly begin his journey to Sherwin’s Pond. What he was going to do or
how he was going to live after he got there, seeing that there were no
farmers in the immediate neighborhood upon whom he could forage, Matt
had not yet decided; but when he found his progress stopped by the
creek he told himself that he might as well rest a bit and smoke a
pipe or two while he thought about it. He hunted up a log and seated
himself upon it, but almost instantly jumped to his feet and dived
into the bushes. It was at that very moment that our party came into
the creek. By “our party” I mean Joe Wayring, Arthur Hastings, and Roy
Sheldon in the skiff, and Mr. Swan, whose canoe was towing behind. As
I have before stated, I occupied my usual place on the skiff’s stern
locker, where I could see every thing that went on and hear all that
was said. On this occasion I saw more than any one else did. I had a
fair view of the valises on Matt’s back as they were disappearing in
the thicket, but I can’t imagine how they escaped the observation of
the sharp-eyed guide who sat facing the direction in which the boats
were moving. I afterward learned that Matt heard Mr. Swan’s voice when
he cautioned the boys to speak in a low tone, and be careful how they
allowed their oars to rattle in the rowlocks, and I know that when he
cast off from the skiff and led the way up the creak the squatter
stole silently through the woods and kept pace with him.

“That was a close shave, wasn’t it?” chuckled Matt, peeping through
the leaves to mark the position of the boats in the creek and then
dodging back again. “A little more an’ they’d have ketched me,
wouldn’t they? Now, what did they come in here for, an’ where be they
goin’, do you reckon? I’d most be willin’ to say that I’d give a
hundred dollars of this money if I had one of them boats of their’n.
Then I could go all the way to the pond without walkin’ a step. I’ll
jest toddle along with ’em an’ see what they’re up to; an’ if they
leave them boats alone for a minute they won’t find ’em ag’in in a
hurry.”

The boats moved so slowly and the creek was so crooked that the
squatter had no difficulty in keeping up with us. Indeed, he often
gained half a mile or more by running across the points while we went
around them. I have already told you what Mr. Swan and the boys did
when they reached the mouth of the little stream that led from the
creek to the cove. They found the camp deserted, as I have recorded,
the old woman having set out for Rube’s house very shortly after Matt
left her alone; and when they came back to the creek, intending to go
into camp there, they found their boats gone.

I thought all along that Matt was following us up the creek, for if I
had not caught two distinct views of his evil face peering through the
bushes I had certainly seen something that looked very much like it.
All doubts on this point were dispelled from my mind before Joe
Wayring and his companions had been gone five minutes. While they were
moving through the evergreens to surround the camp, as the guide had
directed, Matt Coyle came out and showed himself. The celerity with
which that vagabond worked surprised me. He had made up his mind what
he would do, and he did it without the loss of a second. He made the
painter of Mr. Swan’s canoe fast to a ringbolt in the stern of the
skiff and shoved it away from the bank. Then he pushed off the skiff,
stepped in as soon as it was fairly afloat, and headed it down the
stream, using one of the oars as a paddle. Presently the current took
us in its grasp and hurried us along at such a rate that we were
around the first point before I fairly comprehended the situation.
This was the second time, to my knowledge, that the cunning squatter
had executed a very neat flank movement upon Mr. Swan and his party.
Matt must have thought of it, for I heard him say,

“That’s two times I’ve got the better of you when you reckoned you had
me cornered, ain’t it? Whoop-pee! Luck’s comin’ my way ag’in, sure
enough. Now I’m all right. I’ll take Jake’s old canvas canoe, if I can
make out to put him together, ’cause he’s light to handle an’ won’t
bother me none if I have to take to the bresh. The other boats I’ll
hide so’t nobody won’t never find ’em ag’in. But first I’ll hunt me a
good quiet place an’ have a tuck-out. There’s grub an’ coffee an’
sugar an’ sich in the lockers of this skiff, an’ I’m hungry for some
of it.”

The country about was full of little waterways, and Matt, being
perfectly familiar with every one of them, had no trouble in finding
the “quiet place” he sought. He paddled over to the farther side of
the creek, kept along close to the bank for a mile or so, and then
pushed the skiff into the bushes. The overhanging branches shut out
every ray of light, and it was so dark that I could not see what sort
of a place we had got into even when we stopped; but I heard the
squatter moving around on the bank, and saw by the aid of a match
which he struck on his coat-sleeve that he was lighting a fire. When
the dry leaves and sticks he had gathered in the dark blazed up, I
could see nothing but a solid mass of hemlock boughs above, and other
masses, equally impervious to light, on all sides of me. It was a
better hiding-place than the cove, and the squatter went on building a
roaring fire, knowing full well that the blaze could not be seen from
the other side of the creek where the discomfited guide and his
puzzled young allies were standing, wondering what had become of their
boats.

Having gathered wood enough to keep the fire going as long as he had
use for it, Matt drew the bow of the skiff high upon the bank and
proceeded to overhaul the lockers. With a contemptuous grunt he caught
up Fly-rod, who was lying on the locker beside me, and tossed him into
the bushes. A second later he sent Arthur’s rod and Roy’s to keep him
company. The cartridges, which were intended for the boys’
double-barrel shot-guns, and which he could not use in his old
muzzle-loader, Matt incontinently dumped overboard; also the lemons,
three gun cases, and as many portfolios filled with writing materials;
but the pocket hunting knives and one double-bladed camp ax he laid
aside for his own use. At last he came to the articles he was looking
for—half a side of bacon, a whole johnny-cake, two canisters
containing tea and coffee, another filled with sugar, and about half a
peck of potatoes. He felt in every corner of the lockers in the hope
of finding a supply of smoking tobacco; but that was something that
never found a place in Joe Wayring’s outfit.

Having provided himself with an excellent supper, Matt went ashore to
cook it. First he opened the valises and placed them where he could
feast his eyes upon their contents, and then he cut off several slices
of bacon which he proceeded to broil with the aid of a forked stick.
For a platter he used a piece of bark; and every time he put a slice
of the meat upon it he would grab a handful of coins from one of the
valises and allow them to run slowly through his fingers, laughing the
while and shaking his head as if he were thinking about something that
afforded him the greatest gratification. He spent an hour over the
meal, then replenished the fire and laid down for a nap, covering
himself with Roy Sheldon’s warm blankets. When he awoke he cooked and
ate another hearty supper, shook himself together, and declared that
he felt better and in just the right humor to begin his lonely journey
to Sherwin’s Pond.

His first task was to put me together; and to my surprise and disgust
he accomplished it with very little trouble. Then, in order to make
sure that he had not overlooked any thing that he could use, he gave
the skiff a second examination, and took possession of all Mr. Swan’s
provisions. Every other article belonging to the rightful owners of
the boats he dropped overboard or flung into the bushes.

“Mebbe they’ll find ’em ag’in some day an’ mebbe they won’t,” muttered
the squatter, as he extinguished the fire preparatory to shoving off
in the canvas canoe. “But if they do it will be long after I am safe
outen their reach. They’ll never think of lookin’ for me so nigh Mount
Airy as Sherwin’s Pond is, an’ there I’ll hide as snug as a bug in a
rug till my grub’s gone, an’ then—why, then I’ll have to steal more,
that’s all.”

In a few minutes Matt had pushed the canvas canoe through the bushes
into the creek, and was plying the double paddle with sturdy strokes.
He could travel in the dark as well as by the light of the sun, and he
did not go a furlong out of his course during the whole of the
journey. Neither did he have a pleasant time of it. From the hour we
started to the time we arrived within sight of Sherwin’s Pond the rain
fell in torrents. This was a point in Matt’s favor, for it was not
likely that sportsmen or tourists would venture abroad in such weather
unless necessity compelled them; but the unusually high water that
came with the rain was to his disadvantage. Indian River ran like a
mill-sluice, and the current, strong at all times, became so turbulent
and powerful, and its surface was so thickly covered with driftwood
and trees that had been floated out of the lowlands, that canoe
voyaging was not only difficult but dangerous as well. On one occasion
I barely escaped being stove all to pieces. This frightened the
squatter so that he gave up traveling by night, and took to the water
only when he could see where he was going and what obstacles he had to
encounter. More than that, he converted the stolen blankets into bags,
put the cargo as well as the valises into them, and lashed them fast
so that they would not spill out in case I were overturned by any of
the floating _débris_. But that was a bad thing for Matt to do, as I
shall presently show you.

The sight that met my gaze when we came where we could see Sherwin’s
Pond was one I never shall forget. That little body of water had a way
of getting ugly upon the slightest provocation, but I never saw it in
so angry a mood as it was on this particular day. It was filled with
currents which were running in every direction; at least that was what
I thought after I had watched the erratic movements of the logs and
stumps that were swimming on its surface. Its numerous inlets had
filled the pond more rapidly than its single outlet could relieve it;
consequently the pond looked higher than the river, and going into it
was like going up hill. Joe Wayring, fearless and skillful canoeist
that he was, would have thought twice before attempting to go any
farther; but Matt had grown reckless, having journeyed nearly a
hundred miles without a ducking, and all he did was to hug the bank a
little closer and put more strength into his strokes with the double
paddle. He got along well enough until he came to the place where the
mouth of the river widened into the pond, and then came the very
disaster I had been looking for. Before Matt could tell what his name
was, the current seized me and whirled me out into the middle of the
stream as if I had been a feather, sending me there, too, just in time
to receive the full force of a terrific blow from the roots of a heavy
tree which came rushing along with the torrent. Nothing that was ever
made of water-proof canvas could remain afloat after a collision like
that. I rolled over and began filling on the instant; and while the
eddies were whirling me about, and the gnarled and ragged roots of the
tree were enlarging the hole that had been torn in my side, and I was
sinking deeper and deeper into the water, I heard Matt Coyle utter one
feeble, despairing cry for help, saw him make a frantic grasp at the
slippery trunk of the tree as it swept by, and then I settled quietly
down to the bottom of the river, taking the blanket-bags and their
contents with me. This, thought I, is the end of every thing with me.
I had expected and hoped to go to pieces in the service, but not in
the service of such a fellow as Matt Coyle, who had undoubtedly made
way with himself as well as me, while trying to do a most foolhardy
thing. There was not one chance in a thousand that I would ever be
found, or that the Irvington bank would ever learn what had become of
its money. When Joe Wayring and his friends went home they might pass
directly over me, and I would have no power to attract their
attention. I knew Joe would miss me sometimes, but I wasn’t so
conceited as to think that he could not get another canoe that would
more than fill my place. I thought of these things, and then I asked
myself what had become of Matt Coyle. If he were a strong swimmer he
might succeed in making a landing after the current had carried him a
mile or so down the river, provided he could keep out of the way of
the driftwood. One thing I was sure of. He would never find me or the
money, either. Neither would any body else. If the squatter got ashore
I did not see how he was going to live, for the rifle on which he
depended principally to supply his larder during the winter was tied
fast to my ribs. If he succeeded in evading the officers of the law,
he would have to go to work. I didn’t see any other way for him to do.

While I was lying peacefully in my bed at the bottom of the river,
wondering how long it would be before the never-ceasing friction of
the current would annihilate me utterly, some events that have a
slight bearing upon my story were happening in the world above.

“Stand perfectly still, boys,” said Mr. Swan, when he and his young
friends halted on the bank of the creek and discovered that their
boats had vanished during their brief absence. “Stand still, or you’ll
muss the ground up so that I can’t see the villain’s tracks.”

“You don’t think they have been stolen, do you?” exclaimed Arthur
Hastings.

“I don’t think nothing else,” answered the guide. “I’ve handled a boat
too long to go away and leave it without pulling it so far out on the
bank that the current can’t carry it off. I’ve noticed that you are
middling particular about that, too. Of course our boats were stolen.
It’s one of Matt Coyle’s tricks.”

“Well, I _am_ beat!” cried Joe.

“And under our very noses, too,” exclaimed Roy.

“It isn’t quite as bad as that, but it’s bad enough,” said Mr. Swan,
who was angry as well as surprised. “This is the second time he has
played this game on us, and I don’t see why I didn’t tell one of you
to stay here.”

While the guide talked he scraped a few dry leaves and twigs together
and touched them off with a match. When they blazed up more fuel was
thrown on, and presently Roy pointed out something. It was the print
of a big foot in the mud close to the water’s edge.

“What better evidence do you want than that?” said Mr. Swan. “Matt
Coyle is the only man about Indian Lake who wears such a shabby
foot-gear and the only one who lugs a hoof of that size around with
him. I know, for I have followed his trail plenty of times.”

“Then he must have been the one who kindled that fire.”

“It’s very likely.”

“He may have been intending to camp there for the night when we
frightened him away,” added Arthur.

“He may have been in camp,” assented the guide, “but we never
frightened him. He had wind of our coming long before we got here. Of
course I don’t know how he got it, but that’s the way the thing
stands.”

“Well, what’s to be done?”

“Nothing at all to-night. We’ll camp right where we are, and at
daylight we’ll go back to the hatchery.”

“Camp right here,” repeated Joe, dolefully. “No blankets, no supper to
eat, and no nothing.”

“Go back to the hatchery,” murmured Roy, “and confess ourselves beaten
again by that villain, Matt Coyle. Oh, we’re the best kind of fellows
to go on a hunt after so cunning a criminal as Matt, ain’t we?”

Arthur Hastings was too angry to say any thing except that he was glad
the squatter had not run away with his gun as well as his skiff. Mr.
Swan was equally glad to have his beloved brier-root and a plentiful
supply of smoking tobacco in his pocket. If he had left them in his
canoe, as he usually did, he would have had the prospect of a
miserable night before him. As it was, he smoked and told stories, and
in listening to them the boys forgot that they had no blankets to
cover them, and that they would not find a bite to eat till they
reached the hatchery the next day.

When morning came Joe and his friends had nothing to do but brush the
leaves from their clothes, smooth their hair with their hands, perform
their ablutions in the creek, and then they were ready for their
ten-mile walk. Mr. Swan spent a few minutes in looking about Matt’s
old camp, but did not find any thing to tell him how long it had been
deserted or which way the squatter and his family had gone. They
arrived at the hatchery tired and hungry, and the bountiful breakfast
the superintendent placed before them was a tempting sight. That
official laughed when he heard how Matt had stolen up behind them and
run off with their boats, and scowled when Roy told him what he and
his boys had done in their camp at No-Man’s Pond.

“Why, what in the world could have put it into Matt’s head that you
had the money?” inquired the superintendent; and without waiting for
an answer he continued: “It beats the world where that money has gone,
but I think we’ll soon get on the track of it. Did you see the
watchman as you came by his shanty? Then perhaps you don’t know that
the old woman was taken into custody last night?”

“No,” replied Joe. “We hadn’t heard of that. What’s the charge?”

“Oh, she was taken in on general principles. I don’t suppose she can
be held as an accessory, for she hasn’t gumption enough to suggest or
plan the robberies that her worthy husband has committed; but she knew
all about them and can give the officers more help than any body else.
You see, ever since Matt and his family left Rube’s cabin, the deputy
sheriff has taken to sleeping there; and last night who should come
poking along but the old woman! When she found that she was a
prisoner, she lost heart and answered all the questions the sheriff
asked her. She didn’t have the pluck to stand out, and I don’t wonder
at it. She looked as though she was almost starved. She ate more grub
than you four are going to eat, judging by the way Joe is backing away
from the table already.”

“That’s good news,” said Mr. Swan. “Where’s Matt now?”

“On his way to Sherwin’s Pond.”

“I wonder if that’s so, or whether the old woman just made it up.”

“I am not sure about that, and neither was the sheriff. I loaned him a
boat and a couple of my men, and he’s gone up to Indian Lake with the
woman. From there he will take her to Irvington. He says she will have
to stand her trial with the rest of the family.”

“I don’t believe that Matt went to Sherwin’s Pond,” said Joe, after
thinking the matter over. “He would be in more danger there than he
would if he stayed here. The old woman told that story to throw the
sheriff off the track.”

“Mebbe not,” replied the guide. “Don’t we know by experience that the
squatter is a master hand to slip around and operate in the rear of
his pursuers? What more natural than he should run up to the pond to
get behind us, thinking he would be safer there than in the Indian
Lake country? At any rate, there’s where I am going as soon as I can
get a boat.”

“All right,” said Joe. “Any thing to keep busy.”

“But if I was in your place I wouldn’t go there just yet,” added the
guide. “You want your boat and the other things Matt stole, don’t you?
Well, then, hire a boat of Hanson, go up the creek, explore every
little stream that runs into it on the right hand side as you go up,
and you will find some of them. You won’t find all, of course, for
Matt kept one of the boats, all the provisions, and every thing else
that would be of use to him. After you have done that, you can come up
to the pond, and you’ll be sure to find me and some of the boys there.
That would be my plan.”

A very good plan it was, too, the boys told one another, and they
decided to adopt it. After the superintendent had set them across the
outlet, they made the best of their way toward Indian Lake, where Mr.
Swan said they would sleep that night. The first persons they saw,
when they entered the hotel and approached the clerk’s desk to ask if
they could hire a skiff for a few days, were Jake and Sam Coyle. But
they were not as ragged and dirty as usual. Their faces had been
washed, their hair combed, and somebody had given them whole suits of
clothes.

“Where did you catch them?” inquired Roy.

“Right here in front of the house,” answered the clerk. “They came in
and gave themselves up.” And then he went on to tell their story
pretty nearly as I have told it. For once in their lives Jake and Sam
had told the truth, and the sheriff knew whom he must find in order to
recover the money. Of course the boys did not know where their father
had gone, but the officer put implicit faith in the old woman’s story.

“There’s where we’ve got to go, Swan,” said the sheriff, “and there’s
where we shall find our man, if we find him at all. I have engaged
four unemployed guides to go with me, and you will be a big addition
to our party. Joe and his friends—”

“They ain’t going,” said Mr. Swan; and then he told _his_ story,
whereat the sheriff laughed uproariously.

“But you are not to blame,” said he, consolingly. “Matt would have
played the same game on any body else. But he’s got to the end of his
rope now, for I know just what I have to work on. Don’t neglect to lay
in a good supply of provisions, for it may take us two or three weeks
to catch him, and I am not coming back without him.”

Bright and early the next morning two parties left the Sportsman’s
Home and started away in different directions, the sheriff and his
posse heading for Indian River, and Joe and his friends striking for
the “old perch-hole.” They followed Mr. Swan’s advice to the letter,
and slept that night in the same camp that the squatter had occupied
two nights before. They found the most of their things, too, some in
the bushes, some floating in the creek, and the heavy articles, like
the two extra camp-axes and superfluous dishes, at the bottom of it.

“Joe’s unlucky canoe is gone again, and so are our blankets and all
our grub,” said Roy,

“The possession of the six thousand dollars must have made Matt
good-natured, or he would have smashed our boats before he left.”

“Perhaps he didn’t think it best to waste time on them,” said Arthur.
“He might have broken them up in a few minutes with the axes, but we
might have heard him. The cove isn’t so very far from here.”

Having recovered the most of their property the boys became impatient
to join the sheriff’s posse; but they were not well enough acquainted
with the country to make the journey to Indian Lake in the dark. So
they built a cheerful fire, cooked a good supper and finally went to
sleep wrapped in the new blankets they had purchased to take the place
of those Matt Coyle had carried off. Two days later they had returned
Mr. Hanson’s boat in good order, settled their bills at the hotel,
placed Mr. Swan’s canoe under cover, and were on the way to the pond
in their own skiff. They grumbled at the rain, as the squatter had
done when he passed that way a few hours in advance of them, and did
most of the rowing with the awning up and their rubber coats and hats
on. After they had made about fifty miles up the river they began
telling one another that if the sheriff had gone on to Sherwin’s Pond
he had made a mistake.

“Just see how the current runs,” said Joe, as he tugged at his oar.
“Matt, strong as he is, never could have forced the canvas canoe
against it. He’s camped somewhere, waiting for better weather, and we
are getting ahead of him.”

The other boys thought so, too, but as they could not tell what else
they ought to do they kept on; but they did not attempt to run out of
the river into the pond. As Arthur said, “it looked too pokerish.” The
rain had ceased, but the water was still high, the driftwood was
coming down in great rafts, and the current was so strong that they
could not stem it with their three oars. There was nothing for it but
to tie up to the bank in some sheltered spot, set the tent, get their
stove going to drive the dampness out of it, and make themselves
miserable until the water fell. As for hunting up Mr. Swan and his
party, that was out of the question. The boys knew by experience that
there was no fun in traveling through a piece of thick woods when
every thing was dripping wet. Their quarters, although a little
cramped, were dry, warm, and comfortable; they had an abundance of
provisions in the lockers, and if it had not been for their impatience
to be doing something to aid in the search they might have enjoyed
themselves. On the morning of the third day of their forced
inactivity, they were surprised to hear a hail close at hand. They
looked out and saw a boat with two Mount Airy constables just coming
out of the pond into the river.

“Well, well,” said one of them, as they came alongside the skiff and
laid hold of the gunwale to keep themselves stationary while they
talked to the boys. “You have had a time of it, haven’t you?”

“Seen any thing of Mr. Swan and the sheriff and the rest of them?”
asked Arthur, in reply.

“No. Are they in this part of the country?”

“Here’s where they started for. But if you haven’t seen them how do
you know that we have had a time of it? You have not been to Indian
Lake this summer, have you?”

“No; but we’ve read the papers.”

“The papers?” echoed Joe.

“Yes. The New London _Times_ is full of it. It told how Matt Coyle
tied Joe to a tree and threatened him if he—”

“I wouldn’t have had my mother hear of it for any thing,” interrupted
Joe. “Of course it worried her.”

“Well, rather; but your father’s mad and so is your uncle Joe. They’ve
offered a thousand dollars apiece for Matt Coyle’s apprehension, and
that’s what brought us out here in the rain.”

“What brought the sheriff up here, any way?” said the other officer.
“Where is he now?”

Roy Sheldon, who generally acted as spokesman, replied by relating a
long and interesting story, saying in conclusion that he didn’t know
where the sheriff was, but he and a posse had come to Sherwin’s Pond
because Matt had come there, believing it to be the safest place for
him. His wife said so.

“Mebbe she did, but that was a blind,” replied the officer. “Three
boat-loads of us have been out in all the rain, scouring the country
high and low, and not the first sign of any body did we see. Swan and
his crowd must have gone way up some of the creeks, or else we should
have met them.”

“Didn’t the papers say that my friends rescued me from the squatter’s
clutches?” inquired Joe.

“Of course they did, but that didn’t make your folks feel any easier
about you. They’ll worry till they see you among them safe and sound.”

“Boys,” said Joe, decidedly, “I’m going home; but you needn’t go. You
want to see Matt caught, and I’d like to; but I must go to mother as
soon as I can. If you will set me on the other side of the creek I
will start without a moment’s delay.”

“Not much we won’t put you on the other side of the creek and leave
you to walk twenty-five miles through the wet woods alone,” answered
Arthur. “You ought to go; I can see that plain enough; so we’ll all
go.”

“I think you ought,” said the constable. “Your folks will all be
uneasy till they see you. They think you and Matt are still in the
Indian Lake country, and are afraid he will do some harm to you.”

That settled the matter. After a little more conversation the officers
went back into the pond to see if they could find any signs of the
sheriff and his posse, while the boys cast off the lines that held the
skiff to the bank and headed her down the creek. They must make a
journey of seventy-five miles in order to get above the rapids that
lay between Mirror Lake and Sherwin’s Pond. The narrow streams they
followed were so difficult of navigation, and the various currents
they encountered were so strong, that it took them four days to
accomplish it; but the sight of Mirror Lake, with all its familiar
surroundings, amply repaid them for their toil.

Of course they went to Joe’s home first, for he was the one who had
been tied to the tree and for whose safety the Mount Airy people were
mostly concerned. If they had been fresh from a battle-field they
could scarcely have met a warmer greeting than that which was extended
to them when they walked into Mrs. Wayring’s presence and Uncle Joe’s.
The former, in spite of their protests, insisted on making heroes of
them.

“Well,” said Uncle Joe, when he had listened to a hurried description
of their various adventures, “I don’t suppose you were at all
disappointed when you found that I could not take you on that trip
that we had been talking about for a year or more?”

“Oh, yes, we were,” exclaimed Joe. “But we couldn’t think of spending
more than half the vacation in doing nothing, and that was the reason
we went back to Indian Lake.”

Leaving Roy and Arthur in conversation with his relatives, Joe
Wayring, who had been taught to take care of his things as soon as he
was done using them, took his gun under one arm and Fly-rod under the
other and went up to his room. A few minutes afterward the boys heard
him calling to them from the head of the stairs to “come up” and “come
quick.” They went, and found Joe walking about his room in great glee,
trundling an elegant nickel-plated bicycle beside him. On the table
lay a card to which he directed their attention. Roy picked it up and
read:

“I am a present for Joe Wayring, and hope in some degree to recompense
him for the disappointment he must have felt when he found that his
uncle could not take him on a trip this summer. Use me regularly and
judiciously, and if you do not say that life has suddenly doubled its
charm—if you do not, before the end of the year, notice a thousand and
one improvements in yourself, both physically and mentally, then I
shall have failed of my mission. There are two others like me in town,
and one of my relations, ridden by Thomas Stevens, the
trans-continental cyclist, is now on his way around the world.

“AN EXPERT COLUMBIA.”