A DOG WITH A HISTORY

“YOU don’t want to say that out loud, Frank,” observed Scott.

“Say what out loud?” demanded Noble, after he had taken a few long pulls
at his cigar to make sure that it was going again.

“That you hope Matt Coyle will have the courage to carry out the threats
he made yesterday.”

“Of course not. But I can express my honest sentiments here, for we are
all friends, I take it. Matt’s speech was a short one,” said Noble, once
more addressing himself to Tom Bigden and his cousins, “but it was to
the point. ‘You see all them there sail-boats ridin’ at anchor, an’ all
them fine houses up there on the hill?’ said Matt. ‘Wal, the boats’ll
sink if there’s holes knocked into ’em, an’ the houses’ll burn if
there’s a match set to ’em, I reckon. Good-by till you hear from me
agin.’ He hasn’t got a very handsome face at any time, Matt hasn’t, and
his intense rage, and the black and blue lump as big as a hen’s egg,
which had been raised on one of his cheeks by a whack from a guide’s
fist, made him look like a savage in his war-paint. He was in dead
earnest when he uttered the words, and if the Mount Airy boys, and men
too, who have incurred his enmity don’t hear from him again, I shall be
surprised.”

“And disappointed as well,” added Prime.

“I didn’t say that,” replied Noble.

“Of course you didn’t. Nobody said it, but I think we understand one
another.”

Ralph and Loren looked frightened, while Tom drew admiring applause from
the boys and gave expression to his feelings at the same time by dancing
a few steps of a hornpipe.

“Well, we must be off,” said he, suddenly. “Another engagement, you
know.”

“What’s your hurry,” exclaimed Prime. “Stay and smoke another cigar.”

“Can’t,” replied Tom, turning a significant look upon Loren and Ralph,
who wondered what new idea he had got into his head. “We’ll go and see
Wayring according to promise, and then start for home.”

“But we haven’t said a word about organizing that new archery club,”
interposed Noble. “Prime told us that you three fellows were strongly in
favor of it.”

“So we are,” was Tom’s reply; “and some day, when we have plenty of
leisure, we’ll talk it over. We are happy to have met you, and will now
say good-by until we see you again.”

So saying, Tom bowed himself out of the store-room followed by his
cousins, who could hardly hold their tongues until they reached the
street, so impatient were they to know what he was going to do now. They
were certain of one thing, and that was, that Tom did not think as much
of George Prime and his friends as he thought he was going to.

“I am disgusted,” declared Loren, as soon as they were safely out of
hearing.

“Not with me, I hope,” said his cousin.

“Yes, with you and with the fellows we have just left.”

Tom thrust his hands deep into his pockets, looked up at the clouds and
laughed heartily.

“I expected it,” said he; then he stopped laughing and scowled fiercely.
His merriment was forced, and he was as angry as he ever got to be.

“Are you willing that Prime and his crowd should lay out a programme for
the races without saying a word to us about it?” demanded Ralph, who
forgot that that was just the way in which he and his two companions had
treated Prime.

“And did you really ask Wayring to propose our names at the club’s next
meeting?” chimed in Loren.

“No, to both your questions,” replied Tom, emphatically. “They must be a
bright set of boys if they think we are going to let them rule us. Why,
that was the reason we decided that we did not want any thing to do with
Wayring and his followers. But I have thought better of that resolution,
and I’m going to make friends with Joe if I can.”

“And cut Prime and the rest?” exclaimed Ralph.

“Not directly. Look here,” said Tom, suddenly stopping in the middle of
the sidewalk and facing his cousins. “We’ve got our choice between two
cliques, both of which have showed a disposition to make us do as they
say. Now which one shall we take up with? I prefer Joe’s. He and his
friends are in the majority, and they are not one bit more overbearing
than Prime and _his_ friends. Besides, they will let us win a race if we
can do it fairly, but the crowd we have just left want all the honors
themselves.”

“If you try to carry water on both shoulders you will be sure to spill
some of it,” observed Loren.

“I’ll risk that,” replied Tom, confidently. “I didn’t ask Joe to take
our names in to the club, but I’m going to before I am ten minutes
older.”

“Why didn’t you ask Prime or Noble to take them in?” inquired Ralph.

“Because I didn’t want Joe to know that we had become intimate enough
with those two boys to ask favors of them. Now, then, here we are. You
know Joe invited us to call as often as we could, so we are sure of a
welcome if he is at home. Stand ready to back me, if you think
circumstances require it, but don’t be surprised at any thing I say.”

As Tom uttered these words he opened one of the wide gates that gave
entrance into Mr. Wayring’s grounds, and the three walked up the
carriage way toward the house, until their progress was stopped by the
sudden appearance of one of Joe’s pets—a Newfoundland dog, which came
out from among the evergreens and stood in their path. He was a
noble-looking fellow, and although he was gray with age, the attitude of
defiance he assumed seemed to say that he considered himself quite as
able to keep intruders off those premises as he had been during his
younger days.

“Come on,” shouted a familiar voice. “Mars won’t trouble you. He don’t
like tramps,” added Joe Wayring, leaning his double paddle against the
side of the house, and coming forward to greet his visitors. “But
fellows like you could go all over the place; and so long as you did not
pick up any thing, Mars would not say a word to you. How are you, any
way; and where are you going on foot? Why didn’t you come over in your
canoes, so that we could have a little race all by ourselves? Come on.
Sheldon and Hastings are down to the boat-house waiting for me.”

“We came over to ask a favor of you,” replied Tom, as soon as Joe gave
him a chance to speak. “Would you mind taking in our names at the next
meeting of the canoe club?”

“On the contrary, I shall be pleased to do it,” answered Joe, readily.
“You have been pretty sly since your canoes came to hand, but we know
more about you than you think we do,” he added, as he led the way
through the carriage-porch and down the terraced bank toward the
boat-house.

“I don’t quite understand you,” said Tom.

“I mean that we have watched you while you were taking your morning and
evening spins up and down the lake, and we have come to the conclusion
that some of us are going to get beaten. I’ll say this much for you,
Bigden: I never saw a Shadow canoe get through the water, until I saw
yours going down the lake yesterday afternoon.”

“Thank you,” said Tom. “Do you know who are booked for winners this
year?”

“Booked!” repeated Joe. “There’s nobody booked. The best men will win,
as they always have done.”

“I am afraid you are mistaken.”

“Oh, no; I guess not. We don’t have any jockeying here, and if any
member of the club should so far forget himself as to interfere with one
of the contestants, he would never row another race on this lake.”

“I know some boys who are going to take their chances on it,” said Tom,
quietly.

“On fouling the head man so that somebody else can win?” cried Joe.

“That’s just what I mean.”

Joe could hardly believe his ears, and neither could Loren and Ralph
believe theirs. This, then, was what Tom meant when he cautioned them
against being surprised at any thing he might say! They _were_
surprised—they couldn’t help it; and in order that Joe might not see
their faces they fell behind, and allowed him and Tom to go on ahead.

“You know boys who are going to try to win by foul means!” repeated Joe.
“I didn’t suppose that there was any one in the club who would be so
mean. It is true that last year a certain canoeist persisted in keeping
as close to me as he could, and drove the bow of his craft toward the
stern of my own as often as he got the chance; but I thought it was
accident, while some of my friends on shore declared that it was his
intention to run into me, and claim the race because I got in his way.
But, as luck would have it, I was able to paddle fast enough to keep out
of his road. It seems to me that if I couldn’t win a prize fairly, I
shouldn’t want to win it at all.”

“I know who that fellow was,” said Tom, “and I know, also, that he tried
his very best to foul you. It was Prime. I heard all about it.”

Tom and his cousins supposed that Joe’s next question would be: Who told
you about this plot, and what are the names of the boys who are “booked”
to win by fair means or foul? But greatly to their surprise Joe
propounded no such inquiry. The latter knew very well that if some one
had not reposed confidence in him, Tom never would have heard of any
plot; and Joe was too much of a gentleman to ask him to violate that
confidence. He wanted to turn the conversation into another channel, and
so he began talking about Mars, who was walking along the path before
them.

“That fellow is the only foreigner in the party,” said Joe. “He was born
and received the rudiments of his education on the bleak shores of
Newfoundland.”

“Then how did you come to get hold of him?” inquired Tom.

“I was up there two winters ago with my uncle, hunting caribou.”

“What sort of an animal is that?” asked Tom. He spoke before he thought,
and was provoked at himself for it. He did not want to be constantly
asking information of a boy who never came to him for any. As Tom would
have expressed it: “He didn’t care to make Joe and his friends any more
conceited than they were already.” Joe, however, was not at all
conceited; but if Tom Bigden had known as much as he did, and been as
expert in all sorts of athletic sports, he would have thought himself
too grand to associate with common fellows.

“The caribou is the American reindeer, but it is not broken to harness
like the European animal of the same species,” replied Joe. “It is
hunted as game, and Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland are the
best places to go to find it. Uncle Joe went up there two years ago,
taking Hastings, Sheldon and myself with him. We went in a little
fishing schooner that was bound from Gloucester to the Bay of Fundy for
swordfish.”

Tom would have been glad to know where the Bay of Fundy was, and what
the schooner’s crew intended to do with the swordfish after they caught
them, but his pride would not let him ask. The sequel proved that it was
not necessary, for Joe went on to explain.

“The Bay of Fundy runs up between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, as you
of course know as well as I do, and the fish are used for food. When
they are put on the market they are sliced up like halibut. They are
caught with harpoons. They are ugly, I tell you, and when one of them
weighing four hundred pounds comes flopping over the rail and begins to
swing that sword of his around like lightning, you may be sure that he
gets all the room he wants.”

“What do you do with the swords after they are taken off?”

“Keep them as curiosities or sell them, just as you please. There is
great demand for them. I have one that I should not like to part with.
It belonged to a two hundred pounder. The sailors thought they had
killed him before they hauled him aboard; but he gave one expiring flop
after he reached the deck, and the point of his sword cut a big hole in
the leg of my trowsers. If I had been a little closer to him, he might
have injured me very badly. If a man had his only weapon of offense and
defense made fast to his nose, he wouldn’t do much with it, would he?
But it just suits the swordfish, which, according to Captain Davis,
delivers his blows so rapidly that he will kill half a dozen out of a
school of albicore before they can get out of his reach.”

“But what has all this got to do with Mars?” inquired Tom.

“I came pretty near forgetting about him, didn’t I?” said Joe, with a
laugh. “Well, we went back to Gloucester with Captain Davis, who, as
soon as he had disposed of his swordfish, fitted out for the banks—for
codfish, you know—and went with him. He was to land us at some little
fishing hamlet, whose name I have forgotten, where we were to obtain
guides and go back into the interior after caribou; but he managed to
run the schooner ashore in a thick fog, and there we stuck until Mars
brought off a line to us. That was all that saved us. The sailors hauled
in on it, and finally brought aboard a larger and stronger line to which
a hawser was made fast. We took a turn with that around the capstan, and
after a good deal of hard work, succeeded in pulling the schooner over
the bar into deeper water nearer the shore. We got off just in the nick
of time, too; for that night a storm came up, and raised a sea that
would have made short work with us if we had been exposed to its fury.”

“Were there men on shore opposite the place you struck?” inquired Tom.

“Certainly. If there hadn’t been, who would have tied the line to the
dog’s collar and told him to take it out to us?”

“I should think they would have gone to your assistance in their boats,”
replied Tom.

“So they would, under ordinary circumstances; but no boat that was ever
built could have lived a moment in the surf that was breaking over the
bar when we ran on to it. I don’t understand to this day how Mars
managed to get through it. I have seen him swim a good many times since
that day, and in smooth water he doesn’t seem to be any better than any
other dog. It is when the wind is blowing and the white caps are running
that he shows what he can do. Uncle Joe was so well pleased with the
dog’s performance that as soon as he could find his owner, he offered to
buy him. Of course the man didn’t want to sell, but he was poor, and
when he thought of the comforts that the hundred dollars which uncle
counted out before him would buy for his wife and children, he came to
the conclusion that we could have the dog. He’s mine now, for Uncle Joe
gave him to me as soon as the bargain was struck.”

“Did you get any caribou?”

“Plenty of them, and, would you believe it? we had to take along a
supply of food for that dog the same as we did for ourselves. He
wouldn’t look at any thing except salt meat or codfish. I really believe
he would have starved with a meal before him that would have made any
other dog’s mouth water. But he is civilized now, and takes his rations
like other white folks. He’s got a history, Mars has, and if his
adventures and exploits were written out, they would make a good-sized
book.”

A loud and hearty greeting from the two boys who were standing on the
dock in front of the boat-house, put a stop to the conversation. Tom and
his cousins expected that the first thing Joe Wayring did would be to
acquaint his two friends with the fact that a plot had been formed to
keep the best man from winning at the next canoe meet, and to throw the
different races to those who could not by any possibility win them
fairly; but again they were disappointed. Joe did not say a word on the
subject, and the reason was because it was too serious a matter to be
discussed in the presence of boys with whom he was so little acquainted.

“A dog that will fetch a bone will carry one,” was Joe’s mental comment.
“Tom and his cousins may be friendly to us, and then again, if there is
any truth in this report, they may have brought it to me on account of
some spite they have against those from whom they got it. It’s best to
keep on the safe side, and so I will hold my tongue until I have a
chance to speak to Hastings and Sheldon in private. We have received
warning, and if they beat us, it will be our own fault.”

“We were just going over to ask you three fellows to come out and take a
spin with us,” exclaimed Hastings. “We have had our eyes on you, and to
tell you the truth, we don’t quite like the way you handle those paddles
of yours.”

“Of course we don’t ask you to do your best—indeed we would be foolish
to expect it,” chimed in Sheldon. “But still we should like to try a few
short races with you, if you don’t mind.”

“We shall be glad of the chance to see how much we lack of being good
canoeists,” said Loren, readily. “We’ll walk back and go around the foot
of the lake—”

“Oh, no,” interrupted Joe. “That’s too hard work, and besides it would
take up too much time. There’s my skiff. We can put her into the water
and step the mast in a minute, and she’ll take you over flying. Come in
here; I want to show you something. We three belong to the committee
which was appointed to draw up a programme for the meet,” added Joe,
taking a folded paper from a little writing desk that stood in one
corner of the boat-house, “and here’s what we shall submit to the club
at the next meeting.”

Tom Bigden and the Farnsworth boys ran their eyes over the paper, and
the only things they found in it that possessed any particular interest
for them were the following:

“_Portage race._—Paddle a quarter of a mile, carry canoe twenty-five
yards over a stony point, re-embark and paddle back to starting point.

“_Single paddling race._—Half a mile and return.

“_Hurry-Skurry race._—Run ten yards, swim twenty-five yards, paddle
three hundred yards.”

These were the ones, as we know, which Tom and his cousins had “booked”
themselves to win. Then there were sailing races, tandem races, and boys
and girls’ races; and the meet was to wind up with a greasy pole walk.

“You fellows must certainly enter for that,” said Sheldon. “You have no
idea how much sport there is in it. Some of the Mount Airy people say
that it is the best part of the performance.”

Tom replied that he did not know just what a greasy pole walk was, and
reminded Sheldon that he and his cousins were not yet members of the
club.

“But you will be members before the day set for the races, you may be
sure of that,” said Joe. “I’ll propose you at the next meeting, and I
know there will not be a dissenting vote.”

“I wish you could give us the same assurance in regard to the archery
club,” said Tom.

“So do I, but I can’t,” answered Joe; and then, as if that were a
subject that he could not talk about just at that time, he hastened to
add: “I can soon tell you what a greasy pole walk is. Did you notice
that high derrick built on the end of our pier? Well, a long, stout spar
is run out from that derrick, and after being braced and guyed so
securely that it will not sway about under any reasonable weight, it is
thickly covered with slush to make it slippery. There is a prize of some
sort at the outer end of it, and the boy who can walk along the pole and
capture that prize before he falls off into the water, is the best
fellow.”

“What is the prize?” inquired Ralph.

“Last year there were so many lucky fellows that we had to provide
several of them,” was the reply. “The one that created the most fun was
a pig in a bag. Noble captured that, and I tell you he had a time of it.
You see, the pig was greased as well as the pole, and the bag was tied
in such a way that when Noble dived for it—that was the only way he
could get hold of it, you know—the mouth of the bag opened and the pig
slipped out. Then the uproar began. Noble, who is a plucky fellow and a
splendid swimmer, didn’t know that the pig was greased, and he tried for
a long time to tow him ashore by one of his hind legs, but, of course,
he couldn’t do it. At last he began to suspect something, and the way he
larruped that pig over the head with the bag to make him turn toward the
shore, was a caution. He finally succeeded in his object, and the
instant the pig’s feet touched the beach, Noble sprung up, threw the bag
over his head and secured him easy enough. Whatever you do, you mustn’t
miss the greasy pole walk.”

“I suppose we shall be laughed at if we tumble off the pole into the
water?”

“Certainly. That isn’t down in the programme, but it is a part of it,
all the same.”

“How many trials does each contestant have?”

“Only two. You see, there are so many of us and so much fun in trying to
secure the prize, that if we didn’t set some limit to the number of
trials, the boys would keep on trying for an indefinite length of time.”

While the boys were talking in this way they had pushed Joe’s skiff out
of the boat-house into the water, stepped the mast and unfurled the sail
that was wrapped around it. Every thing being ready for the start, the
little fleet set out for the opposite side of the lake, Tom and his
cousins in the skiff, and Joe and his companions in their canoes. The
skiff was made fast to Mr. Bigden’s pier, and a quarter of an hour later
three more canoes shot out of the boat-house, and the trials of speed
began. They continued nearly all the afternoon, and when the rival
factions bade each other good-night and paddled off toward their
respective boat-houses, there was a decided feeling of uneasiness among
some of them, while the others were correspondingly confident and happy.

“It doesn’t seem possible that this is Bigden’s first season in a
canoe,” said Sheldon, as soon as Tom and his cousins were out of
hearing. “He is going to crowd the best of us this year, and if he keeps
up his practice until the next meet, there won’t be a boy in the club
who can touch him with a ten-foot pole. He’s going to make an expert.”

“I’ll just tell you what’s a fact,” said Loren, after the canoes had
been wiped out and hoisted in their slings, “I am not so much afraid of
Joe and his crowd as I was. I don’t think there will be any need of the
fouling business. I kept pace with Hastings in spite of all he could do
to shake me off, and could have passed him if I had let out a little
more strength.”

“That shows how much you know about these things,” said Tom, in reply.
“Do you suppose that Hastings did the best he could? I kept up with Joe
without any very great exertion, but I don’t crow over it. They had
plenty of speed in reserve, but you will have to wait till the day of
the races if you want to see what they are capable of.”

The sequel proved that Tom was right.

“NOW that we are here by ourselves,” continued Ralph, “I’d like to ask
you why you told Joe that the best man was not to be allowed to win at
the next meet. I never heard of such a thing before in my life. What do
you suppose Prime and his crowd would say to you if they should find it
out?”

“I don’t believe they will ever find it out,” replied Tom, who did not
seem to think that he had been guilty of any thing mean. “If I have
formed a correct estimate of Joe Wayring’s disposition and character, he
is a boy who knows how to hold his tongue. I posted him simply to
off-set the coolness and impudence displayed by Prime and his friends in
shutting us out of all the races, without so much as saying by your
leave. Since they would not give us a chance to win some of the prizes,
I say that _they_ shall not win _any_ of them. We are not going to play
into the hands of boys who work against us.”

“That’s what I say,” exclaimed Loren. “But I thought Joe acted very
indifferently.”

“Because he did not ask me to go into the particulars of the scheme, and
give him the names of the fellows who were in it?” said Tom. “I thought
so myself at first, but after turning the matter over in my mind, I came
to the conclusion that his indifference was put on; and that the reason
he did not ask me to go into details was because he was afraid I would
say to him that I was taught not to tell names and tales too.”

“It seems to me that that is about the size of it,” Loren remarked. “But
look here, Tom. You have undertaken a pretty big contract if you expect
to keep on the right side of both those crowds. One or the other of them
will very soon have reason to suspect you, and then down you will go.
What are you going to do about the races?”

“My proposition is, that we keep up our regular exercise and training,
and do the best we can to carry out our own programme, leaving Prime’s
clique and Joe’s to carry out theirs, if they are able to do it. If we
find that we stand no show, I would much rather see Joe and his friends
win than Prime and _his_ friends.”

“So would I,” said Ralph. “Now I should like to have some one tell me
what excuse we have for being down on those boys. We got mad at them
simply because they would not break their rules and take us into their
archery club.”

“And wasn’t that reason enough?” cried Tom, hotly. “I wasn’t used to
such treatment while I lived in the city, and I won’t submit to it now.
I don’t think any more of Hastings than I did on the day he so coolly
told me that he would not help me get into their club. I don’t care
whether he wins or not. What I mean to say is, that Prime and the rest
shall not carry off any of the prizes if I can help it. I intend to show
them that the next time they want any help from me, they had better let
me have a voice in making up the programme; and I shall do it in such a
way that they can not possibly misunderstand me. You two can do as you
please, of course; but if you are going to weaken, I wish you would say
so at once, so that I may make my arrangements accordingly.”

Ralph and Loren hastened to assure their cousin that they had not the
slightest intention of going back from their original agreement, and
that they would stick to him through thick and thin, no matter what
happened; but still they wished that Tom would learn to like Joe
Wayring, and give up his idea of being revenged upon him for slights
which were wholly imaginary. Joe had a much larger following than Prime
and Noble, through him they could get more invitations to parties,
picnics and hunting and fishing excursions than they could in any other
way, and his influence might eventually gain for them an honor which
they craved above all others—a membership in the Toxophilites; for those
young ladies they met at Miss Arden’s lawn party were handsome and
stylish, that was a fact, and Ralph and Loren had more than once told
themselves that they would even be willing to give up their cigars, if
by so doing they could win the privilege of shooting with those same
young ladies twice a week. If they became intimate with George Prime,
and were often seen in his company, the Toxophilites would drop them
like so many hot potatoes; and then, when invitations for any social
gathering were issued, they would be left out in the cold, the same as
George was. But whatever they decided to do they must keep on the right
side of Tom, for if they did not, he would be sure to make things
unpleasant for them. It looked as though Ralph and Loren would have to
do the very thing against which they had cautioned their vindictive
relative, that is, try to carry water on both shoulders and take their
chances of spilling some of it.

“Now we’ll take Joe’s skiff back and put it where we found it, provided
the boat-house is open,” said Tom. “If there is any boy in the world who
ought to be supremely happy, he is the fellow. He has every thing he can
ask for, including a rich and good-natured uncle, who takes him off on
hunting and fishing trips nearly every year. Why that boy, young as he
is, has shot caribou and moose and caught salmon.”

Yes, Joe Wayring was happy, but it was not wholly on account of his
pleasant surroundings. His source of happiness was within himself, and
he knew it. He had been taught that lesson at the same time that he was
being instructed in athletics and field-sports. He thought more of
others than he did of Joe Wayring, and he would go into the dumps in a
minute if he saw any of his friends in a disconsolate mood. If things
didn’t go right with him—and they went wrong sometimes, as they do with
every body—it made no sort of difference with Joe’s good-nature. He kept
his troubles to himself; but Tom would get angry and go into the sulks
and make all around him miserable. While going on the principle that
whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well, Joe was nevertheless
perfectly willing to be beaten by any one who could do it fairly; but
Tom wanted to be first at any cost. This was the principal difference
between the two boys.

Tom cast off the skiff’s painter while Loren and Ralph stepped the mast
and shook out the sail, and in twenty minutes more they found themselves
in the boat-house, where Joe and his two friends were waiting for them.

“I saw you coming and took the cover off one of my pets so that you
could take a look at her,” said the former, directing the attention of
his visitors to a neat cedar shell in which he had been wont to win
honors before he became a convert to canoeing. “She has taken me first
by the judges’ boat in more than one hotly-contested race while I was
going to school at Dartmouth Academy. Handsome, isn’t she? No doubt you
will be surprised to hear me say it, but _there_ is something that I
think more of than I do of her.”

As Joe said this, he pointed toward an ungainly looking object which lay
on the floor at the further end of the boat-house. It was a canvas
canoe, whose battered sides bore evidence to numerous encounters with
sharp-pointed rocks and snags.

“It must be on account of its associations,” replied Loren, looking
first at the clumsy canoe and then at the clear-cut lines of the shell.
“If I had my choice between the two, it would not take me long to make
up my mind which one I wanted.”

“Of course not. There is as much difference between them as there is
between a trotter and a plow-horse; but each one has served the purpose
for which it was intended, and served it well, too. I like the canoe
better, because she was the first thing in the shape of a boat I ever
owned. She has carried me a good many hundred miles, first and last, and
although she has often got contrary and spilled me out into the water
when I wasn’t expecting it, I have had any amount of fun with her
exploring creeks and ponds that I could not otherwise have reached. She
is fourteen feet long, weighs fifty pounds fully equipped, and packs in
that little chest you see there. I know she isn’t very good-looking, but
when it comes to running the rapids she is there, every time. That’s the
reason I took her out of the chest. We are going down to Sherwin’s Pond
to-morrow after bass; will you join us?”

Tom and his cousins replied that they would be glad to do so, and Joe
went on to say:

“You see, the fishing in the pond is better than it is in the lake. The
people who come here to spend the summer do not often go down there,
because there is no wagon road through the woods, and they are afraid to
trust themselves to the rapids. Well, they are frightful to look at,
that’s a fact, but—”

“We know that very well,” interrupted Ralph. “We have gone down there a
dozen times with our minds fully made up that we would run those rapids,
or smash our canoes in trying, and we have as often come back without
making the attempt. When we reached the place where the water leaves the
lake, and goes foaming and boiling over the rocks in the gorge below,
our arms always went back on us.”

“Your arms?” repeated Sheldon.

“Yes. Our hearts were brave enough for any thing, but our cowardly arms
wouldn’t pull the canoes into the rapids.”

“Oh!” said Sheldon. “Well, your cowardly arms were the wisest part of
you, for you certainly ought not to try to go through until you know
where the channel is. Those rapids have been run hundreds of times,
though not always without accident to be sure, and if you will follow
close in our wake to-morrow, we’ll take you safely to the bottom.”

“We must make an early start,” said Hastings, “for we want to reach the
pond just about the time the first rays of the sun strike the water. Can
you be ready at four o’clock? All right. Catch a good supply of minnows
to-night, and then you won’t have to waste valuable time over it in the
morning.”

“And take the strongest and stiffest bait-rod you have,” added Joe.
“Leave your fly-rods, if you have any, at home, for you will have no use
for them. About June 1st, when the bass season opens, those who know how
to throw a fly have very fine fishing among the rocks close to the
shore; but as the weather grows warmer the fish gradually draw off into
deep water, and all the bass we shall catch to-morrow will be near the
middle of the pond where the springs boil up.”

“And don’t forget your gun,” said Sheldon.

“Nor your rubber blankets,” chimed in Hastings.

“Do you think it will rain?” asked Ralph.

“We hope not, and indeed there are no signs of it. When we reach the
head of the rapids we will pull off our heaviest clothing, so that we
will be ready for a swim in case we are unlucky enough to capsize, and
the things we don’t wear we will wrap up in our rubber blankets so that
they won’t get wet.”

“Suppose we get down all right,” said Loren. “How are we going to get
back?”

“We’ll shoulder our canoes and come up the portage road which has been
cut through the woods around the rapids. For that reason we don’t want
to take any thing with us that we can possibly dispense with.”

After listening to a few more hints like these, Tom and his cousins set
out for the post-office; and having secured their mail they went home by
the road that led around the foot of the lake, running at the top of
their speed all the way through the woods to improve their wind. Their
skiff, patent minnow buckets and dip nets were at once brought into
requisition, and by the time the supper bell rang, they had caught bait
enough to last them through a long day’s successful angling.

Promptly at four o’clock the next morning Tom Bigden opened the front
door of the boat-house, and waved his hat in response to a similar
signal of greeting which came to him from over the lake. Joe Wayring and
his friends were just putting their canoes into the water.

“Splendid day,” said the former, when the two little fleets came
together near the middle of the lake. “There’s going to be just wind
enough to ripple the water, but not enough to raise a sea, and I
wouldn’t take a dollar for my chance of catching the finest string of
bass that has been seen in Mount Airy this year.”

“So say we all of us,” exclaimed Sheldon; and this suggested the song
which every school-boy knows, but to Tom Bigden’s ill-concealed disgust,
it was sung to the words: “Joe Wayring is a jolly good fellow,” and that
was a sentiment in which Tom did not fully concur. It put him in bad
humor for the whole of the day, or, rather, until circumstances threw in
his way an opportunity to make that jolly good fellow as miserable as he
was himself. After that he felt better.

Under the steady motion of the sinewy arms which swung the long double
paddles, the light canoes made quick work with the three miles that lay
between the boat-houses and the lower end of the lake, and presently
Arthur Hastings turned toward the nearest shore, looking over his
shoulder as he did so to call out to the canoeists behind him:

“Let’s make believe this is a hurry-skurry race, and that there is a
prize in the pond waiting for the man who reaches the bottom of the
rapids first.”

The challenge was promptly accepted. In a twinkling the little crafts
were going toward the beach with greatly increased speed, and in a
remarkably short space of time six young athletes, clad only in
flesh-colored tights, were prancing around their canoes, busily engaged
in wrapping their clothing in their water-proof blankets, and lashing
their rods and minnow buckets fast so that they would not be thrown out
into the water by a heavy lurch, or even by a capsize. Tom Bigden was
the first to shove his canoe away from the shore, but there he had to
stop. He was not acquainted with the channel, and needed a guide to show
him the way through; but he won the second place, and was prompt to fall
into it when Arthur Hastings caught up his paddle and pulled away from
the beach.

Tom and his cousins had often viewed the rapids from the bank while
trying in vain to screw up courage enough to attempt their passage, and
if they looked dangerous to them then, they looked ten times more
frightful when they surveyed them from their canoes on this particular
morning. The sight of them was enough to make any body’s nerves quiver.
They looked as steep as the roof of a house, and the bottom of the gorge
through which they ran, seemed to be literally covered with bowlders.
Tom could not see a single place which looked wide enough to admit of
the passage of a canoe.

“What do you think of them?” asked Arthur, as he and Tom backed water
with their paddles to keep their canoes from taking the plunge before
they were ready.

“Who was the first man who went down here?” said Tom, in reply.

“One of the hotel guides.”

“Was he a graduate of a lunatic asylum, or did he go there afterward?”
inquired Tom.

Arthur laughed until the woods echoed.

“Neither,” he answered, as soon as he could speak. “He’s got a level
head on his shoulders yet, if one may judge by the constant demands that
are made upon his time. Some of the people who come here every summer
like him so well that they begin to make bargains with him before the
ice is out of the lake. They wouldn’t do that if they had any reason to
believe he was crazy, would they? Well, what do you say?”

“I say, go ahead whenever you get ready,” was the response.

“All right,” said Arthur, who saw by the expression on Tom’s face that
he had no intention of backing out. “Now, watch every move I make, and
let me get at least twenty or thirty feet ahead of you before you start.
Look out for both ends of your boat. You won’t run on to an isolated
rock unless you try, because the water runs away from it. That has a
tendency to throw the bow from the obstruction, and the stern toward it;
so the minute the bow is out of harm’s way, drop your paddle into the
water on the side opposite the rock, and use it the best you know how.”

“Why, that will throw me square upon the rock,” cried Tom.

“No, it won’t,” insisted Arthur. “It will throw you away from danger,
and the current rushing around the rock will carry you still further
away. But if you use the paddle on the other side, you will come up
against the rock ker-chunk; and then you will have to swim the rest of
the way down, because the stern of your canoe will, most likely, be
smashed in. Understand?”

Tom replied that he did; whereupon Arthur settled his cap more firmly on
his head, took his paddle in both hands and with one bold stroke sent
his frail craft into the rapids. The moment the current caught him in
its grasp, he began to shoot ahead like a boy coasting down hill. Tom
shut his teeth hard and gripped his paddle until the muscles on his bare
arms stood out like a gold-beater’s; and so intent was he upon watching
every move his guide made, that he forgot to look out for himself, until
he was called to his senses by a warning shout from his friends behind.

“Look out, there,” yelled Joe and Roy, in concert. “You’ll be over the
brink the first thing you know.”

Tom heard the warning, but it came too late. He dropped his paddle into
the water and made desperate efforts to check his canoe, which had
already gained rapid headway; but the swift current had taken firm hold
of him, and finding that it was much stronger than he was, he resolved
to go ahead and trust to luck to keep from running into Arthur Hastings,
in case the latter met with an accident.

[Illustration: SHOOTING THE RAPIDS.]

Tom afterward said that he did not remember much about that wild ride.
He was lost in admiration of Arthur Hastings’s skill as a canoeist, and
followed in his wake through all the turns he made, which were so
numerous and bewildering that Tom did not see how one boy’s head could
contain them all. It was a lucky thing for him and his cousins that they
did not attempt to go through there without a guide. He did not hear the
waters foaming and roaring around him, nor did he see a single one of
the rocks past which he went with such speed that the wind whistled
through his hair; but he did see the smooth surface of the pond the
instant he came within sight of it, and when he shot into it, propelled
by the momentum he had acquired during his descent of the rapids, he
called out gleefully that he had not touched a solitary obstruction on
the way.

“Of course not,” answered Arthur. “If you had, you would not be as dry
as you are now. There is a clearly defined channel all the way through
the gorge, and you won’t touch any thing if you keep in it. What would
happen to you if you should get out of it, I don’t know; but I think you
would be fortunate if you came off with a simple capsize.”

It was a thrilling sight that was presented to their gaze as they sat
there in their canoes at the bottom of the rapids and watched the others
as they came down. First Joe Wayring dashed into view around the bend,
closely followed by Ralph Farnsworth, who seemed to be quite as much at
his ease as his guide was, and handled his paddle and managed his canoe
quite as skillfully. By the time they reached the smooth water at the
foot Roy and Loren came in sight, and in five minutes more the little
fleet was reunited. The hearts of three of the canoeists beat a trifle
faster than usual, but they had accomplished the run in perfect safety,
and without a wetting, and they were ready to try it again at the very
first opportunity.

“Take time to learn the channel before attempting any thing reckless,”
cautioned Joe. “After that you can come down by yourselves as often as
you feel equal to the task of carrying your boats back over the
portage.”

The boys went ashore long enough to put on their clothes, untie their
rods, and put fresh water on their minnows, and then they were ready for
the bass.