Are known the world over for their clear

THE boats made an early start the next morning, and reached the pond at
nine o’clock. Half an hour later they had crossed it, and were moving up
the creek where I performed my first exploit, and Joe Wayring so
narrowly escaped capture by Matt Coyle and his boys. It annoyed me to
think that the squatter and his family had enjoyed so good a supper, and
that I had unwittingly provided it for them. It would not have soothed
my feelings much if some one had told me that, although that was the
first meal I had caught for them, it would not be the last.

“Now, then,” said Mr. Swan, after he and his party had listened to Joe’s
description of the exciting incidents that happened in the creek on the
evening of the previous day, “we will divide ourselves into two fleets
and take opposite sides of the stream. As we go up, let every one of us
keep a bright lookout for a sign. Those robbers could not have got into
their scow or landed from it without leaving a trail, and that is what
we want to find.”

In obedience to these instructions four of the boats kept to one side of
the creek, the remaining four pulled over to the other bank, and the
hunt began in earnest. Every inch of the shore on both sides was closely
scrutinized, but up to three o’clock in the afternoon nothing suspicious
had been discovered. Mr. Swan began to believe that they had passed the
trail long ago without seeing it, and said as much to his employer,
adding—

“That villain is sharper than two or three men have any business to be.
He and his family, the old woman included, can go through the woods
without leaving trail enough for a hound to follow. They never forget to
be as careful as they know how, for they have so long lived in constant
fear of arrest that—”

The guide suddenly paused, and looked earnestly at Joe and his
companions, whose actions seemed to indicate that they had found
something that would bear looking into. Their boat was loitering along
two or three rods behind the others, Roy and Arthur doing the rowing,
while Joe was stretched out flat on the knapsacks, his chin resting on
his arms which were supported by the gunwale, and his eyes fastened upon
the bank. All at once he started up and said, in a low tone:

“Cease rowing. Look at that.”

“Look at what?” demanded Roy, after he and Arthur had run their eyes up
and down the bank without seeing any thing that was calculated to excite
astonishment. “At those bushes growing in the water? That’s nothing, for
we’ve seen bushes growing in the water ever since we came into the
creek.”

“I am aware of it; but if you will look closely at these particular
bushes, you will see that the bark is scraped off some of them, and that
they all lean away from the creek as if some heavy body had been dragged
over them,” answered Joe. “Back port and give way starboard. Let’s turn
in here; and if we don’t find something or other on the opposite side, I
shall wonder.”

The rowers obeyed, without much confidence as to the result, it must be
confessed, and when Mr. Swan and his party arrived, having all turned
back to see what it was that had attracted the attention of the boys,
neither they nor their boat were in sight. There was something on the
bank, however, that instantly caught the sharp eye of one of the guides,
who at once proceeded to take himself to task in a way that would have
excited his ire if any one else had done it.

“Hit me over the head with a paddle, somebody,” said he. “I’m going to
throw up my position when I get back to the lake, and quit guiding. I
ain’t no good any more. I come along here not ten minutes ago, and
didn’t see what them boys saw at once. Look at them bushes, and then
look at that,” he added, pulling his boat closer to the bank, and
placing the blade of his oar in a little depression in the edge of the
water. “Matt Coyle shoved that scow of his’n over them bushes, and
that’s what barked them and made them bend over that way. He suspicioned
that some of us would see it, so he come back and stood right there
where my oar is, and tried to straighten the bushes up with a pole or
something.”

“That’s so,” said Mr. Swan, to his employer, “Didn’t I tell you that he
was a sharp one? The tricks that that fellow don’t know ain’t worth
knowing.”

Just then a twig snapped on the bank and Joe Wayring came into view.
“Don’t talk so loud,” he whispered, as he held up his finger warningly.
“Matt’s scow isn’t twenty feet from here, and that’s all the proof I
want that his camp is close at land.”

Instantly seven pairs of oars were dropped into the water, and as many
boats were forced through the bushes and into the little bay on the
other side. There lay the piratical craft which had done her best to
send the skiff to the bottom of the pond, but nothing was to be seen or
heard of her crew.

“Keep still, every body,” cautioned Mr. Swan, in the lowest possible
whisper. “They’re out there in the woods, but remember that they ain’t
caught yet, and that they won’t be if their ears tell them that we’re
coming.”

Joe afterward said that the trail that led from the scow into the bushes
was so plain that a blind man could have followed it; so it seemed that,
for once, Matt had forgotten to be careful. No doubt he thought that the
bay in which his scow found a resting-place, was so effectually hidden
by the bushes in front of it, that it would never be discovered by a
pursuing party. We have seen that he had good reason for this belief. If
Joe and his chums had decided to remain at the lake and enjoy themselves
there while their skiff was being repaired, instead of joining their
forces with Mr. Swan’s hunting party, it is probable that the squatter’s
retreat never would have been discovered; and neither would the
pursuers—well, I’ll wait until I get to that before I tell about it.

Mr. Swan, who was the acknowledged leader of the party, at once
shouldered his rifle and began following up the trail, the others
falling in in single file behind him. They moved so silently that I
could not hear a leaf rustle; and I told myself that the surprise and
capture of the squatter and his whole shiftless tribe was a foregone
conclusion. I afterward learned that Mr. Swan and the guides who were
with him thought so too. Before they had gone fifty yards, the former
suddenly stopped and whispered to the man next behind him—

“We are close upon them. I smell smoke.”

“And I smell coffee,” replied the man to whom the words were addressed,
and who sniffed the air as if he were trying to locate the camp by the
aid of his nose instead of his eyes, “and bacon.”

Shaking his hand warningly at the men behind him, the guide moved
forward again with long, noiseless strides. Presently he discovered a
thin blue cloud of smoke rising above the bushes close in front of him.
He looked at it a moment, and then dashed ahead at the top of his speed,
his eager companions following at his heels.

A few hasty steps brought them to the little cleared spot in a thicket
of evergreens in which Matt Coyle had made his camp. On one side of it
was a lean-to with a roof of boughs, and on the other was the fire, with
a battered coffee pot simmering and sputtering beside it. Scattered
about over the ground were several slices of half-fried bacon, which had
been hurriedly dumped from the pan. A few broken plates and dishes that
stood on a log close at hand, bore silent testimony to the fact that the
squatter’s wife was just getting ready to lay the table, when news was
brought to the camp that Mr. Swan and his party were coming. Under the
lean-to were some worthless articles in the way of wearing apparel and
bed-clothes, but every thing of value had disappeared. There was nothing
like a hammerless shot gun or a Winchester rifle to be found.

“The nest is warm, but where are the birds?” exclaimed Mr. Swan’s
employer, who had jumped into the clearing with his coat off and his
fists doubled up, all ready to carry out his threat of pounding Matt
Coyle before he was sent to jail.

“Didn’t I say that they were sharp?” replied the guide. “The birds have
took wing.”

“Then take to your heels and catch them,” exclaimed his employer. “Can’t
you follow a trail? They can’t have been gone more than five minutes. A
hundred dollars to the man that will capture that villain for me.”

“And I will add a hundred to it,” cried the owner of the stolen
Winchester.

The guides did not need these extra inducements, for they had more at
stake than these two strangers who spent two months out of every twelve
in the woods, and the rest of the year in the city, following some
lucrative business or profession. The guides’ bread and butter depended
upon their exertions, and they were no whit more anxious to effect
Matt’s capture now, than they were before the two hundred dollars reward
had been offered them. At a word from Mr. Swan they separated and began
circling around the lean-to to find the trail; but this did not take up
two minutes of their time. They found five trails; and a short
examination of them showed that they all led away in different
directions.

“That trick is borrowed from the plains Indians,” said Joe, when Mr.
Swan announced this fact to his employer. “Whenever the hostiles find
themselves hard pressed by the troops, they break up into little bands,
and start off toward different points of the compass; but before they
separate, they take care to have it understood where they shall come
together again.”

“That’s a fact,” assented the owner of the Winchester. “I have been
among those copper-colored gentlemen, when I had nothing to depend on
except the speed of my pony; but how does it come that you are so well
posted? Have you ever hunted on the plains?”

“No, sir; but I have the promise that I shall some day enjoy that
pleasure,” answered Joe. “My uncle told me about it. He’s been there
often. Now the question in my mind is: Did Matt, before his family
scattered like so many quails, appoint a place of meeting? If he did,
that’s where we ought to go.”

“Young man, you are a sharp one,” said the gentleman, admiringly. “What
do you say, Swan?”

The guide appealed to could not say any thing, and neither could the
others. Unfortunately they did not know that the squatter had made
friends with the vagabonds living in the vicinity of the State hatchery.
If they had known it, that was the place they would have started for
without loss of time, but they wouldn’t have caught him if they had gone
there.

“There’s a good deal of hard sense in Joe’s head,” said Mr. Swan, after
a short pause. “Of course, Matt and his family will come together again
somewhere, but you see the trouble is, we don’t know what point they are
striking for.”

“Can’t you follow the trails and find out?”

“Take the plainest one of them trails, and I’ll bet every thing I’ve got
that you can’t follow it a hundred yards,” said Mr. Swan. “It is going
to take us a good long month to hunt them down, and we’ll be lucky if we
do it in that time.”

“But we can’t wait so long,” protested one of the guests. “We must
return to the city to-morrow. Our business demands our attention.”

The guides consulted in low tones, and so did their employers. Finally
one of the latter wrote something on a card and handed it to Mr. Swan,
saying:

“If we have done all we can, we might as well go back to the hotel; but
before we start, we make you this offer: We will give a hundred dollars
apiece to the man who will find our weapons, capture the thief and hold
him so that we can come and testify against him. Or, we will give fifty
dollars apiece for the guns without the thief, and the same amounts for
the thief without the guns. Boys, you are included in that offer.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Arthur. “It would afford us great satisfaction if
we could be the means of restoring your property to you.”

“Before we leave here we’ll fix things so that Matt won’t find much to
comfort him if he should accidentally circle around this way after we
are gone,” said Mr. Swan. “Pile on every thing, boys.”

The “boys” understood him and went to work with a will. In less time
than it takes to tell it, the lean-to was pulled down and thrown upon
the fire, the bed-clothes and dishes were piled on top, the bacon was
driven so deeply into the ground by the heels of heavy boots that a
hungry hound could hardly have scented it—in short, every thing that
Matt and his family had left behind in their hurried flight, was utterly
destroyed. His scow was not forgotten. They would knock it out of all
semblance to a boat when they went back to the creek.

Having started a roaring fire, they were obliged to stay and see it burn
itself out, for they dared not leave it for fear that it might set the
woods aflame. So they stood around and saw it blaze, grumbling the while
over the ill luck that had attended their efforts to capture the cunning
squatter, and it was fully three-quarters of an hour before Mr. Swan
thought it safe to return to the boats. This delay gave Matt Coyle
plenty of time in which to carry out a very neat piece of villainy, some
of which I saw, and all of which I heard.

While the scenes I have just described were being enacted in the
clearing, there were lively times in the little bay of which I have
spoken. You know we were left in company with Matt’s scow, the boat in
which I rode being drawn up on the bank on one side of him and Mr.
Swan’s on the other; and no sooner had the hunting party disappeared in
the bushes, than we began reviling him the best we knew how. The only
reason we didn’t break him into kindling wood at once, was because we
couldn’t. Our will was good enough.

“Get away from here,” said _Wanderer_. (That was the name of Mr. Swan’s
boat. He had always lived and worked in the company of gentlemen, and he
did not like to occupy close quarters with so disreputable a fellow as
the scow.)

“Get away from here yourself,” was the report. “I was here first, an’
I’m going to stay.”

“I’ll bet you will,” said _Bushboy_. (That was the name of the boat Joe
and his chums hired at Indian Lake.) “But you may be sure of one thing:
You will stay a wreck.”

“That’s so,” said I. “Joe Wayring will never go away leaving him above
the water. He’ll break him up so completely that his thief of a master
won’t know him if he should happen along this way again.”

“He will never come this way again until he is on his road to jail,”
said _Wanderer_. “Mr. Swan is after him, and he’s going to catch him,
too.”

“Wal, Matt’ll go to jail knowin’ that he’s done a right smart of damage
sence he’s been layin’ around loose in the woods, an’ if I am busted up,
I shall have the same comfortin’ knowledge. Fly-rod has seed me afore. I
captured his friend, the canvas canoe—”

“Where is he now?” I interrupted.

“Out there in the bresh, hid away so snug that nobody won’t ever find
him,” was the taunting reply. “Them guns is hid out there too, but not
in the same place. Matt come purty near gettin’ you as well as the
canoe. I heard him say that he almost overtook Joe while he was a
runnin’ through the woods with you in his hand.”

“Yes; and Matt would have got me over the head if he had been able to
run a little faster.”

“An’ Joe would have got a hickory over the back, I tell you,” said the
old scow. “How do you reckon that that skiff I sent to the bottom of the
pond feels by this time?”

“You didn’t send him to the bottom of the pond,” said I, angrily. “You
tried hard enough, but you didn’t make it.”

The bait-rods and the boats took up the quarrel, and while I listened, I
waited impatiently for the return of the hunting party. Presently I
heard a slight rustling in the thicket at the head of the bay, but it
was not made by the persons I wanted to see. It was Matt Coyle that
stuck his ugly face out of the bushes, and his bleared and blood-shot
eyes that traveled from one to another of the boats that lay before him.
Then he turned and whispered to some one behind him and the whole family
came and stood upon the bank. Their sudden appearance made it plain to
all of us that the squatter and his backers, after “scattering like so
many quails,” had run just far enough in different directions to
bewilder their pursuers, after which they “circled around” and came back
to the bay, intending to continue their flight in the scow, which would
leave no trail that could be followed. It was evident, too, that there
had been an understanding among them before they separated; otherwise
they would not all have been there. When Matt’s gaze rested upon the
trim little boats before him, he said in a low but distinct voice—

“Whoop-ee! Jest look at all them nice skiffs, will you? Ain’t we in luck
though? Never mind the scow. She’s done good work fur us, but we’ll
leave her behind now an’ travel like other white folks do. Old woman,
you go round to all them boats an’ pick up the grub what’s into ’em;
Jakey, you an’ Sam ketch up the poles an’ cookin’ things an’ every other
article you can get your two hands onto. Dump them that’ll sink into the
water an’ chuck them that won’t sink as fur into the bresh as you can,
so’t they won’t never find’ em no more. While you are doin’ that, I’ll
pick out two of the best boats fur our own.”

“Say, pap, what’s the reason we don’t carry off the things in place of
throwin’ on ’em away or sinkin’ ’em?” asked Jake.

“’Cause we can’t sell ’em, an’ we don’t want to be bothered with totin’
’em. You will save time if you do jest as I told you. We want to get
away from here as sudden as we can.”

“An’ what’ll we do with the boats that we don’t take with us?” continued
Jake. “Will we bust ’em up?”

“Now, jest listen at the fule!” exclaimed Matt, angrily. “The noise we
would make in bustin’ on ’em up would bring ole Swan back here a
runnin’; an’ I don’t care to see him with all them other fellers at his
back.”

The vagabonds worked with surprising celerity, and in a very short space
of time two of the finest boats in the lot had been pushed into the
water, and the old woman was piling provisions into them by the armful,
while Jake and Sam busied themselves in disposing of the other things as
their sire had directed. I was sent whirling through the air toward the
opposite side of the bay, and sad to relate, was stopped in my headlong
flight by a tree, against which I struck with a sounding whack. There
was a loud snap, and I fell to the ground helpless. My second joint was
broken close to the ferrule.

I lay for a long time where I had fallen—so long that I began to wonder
if I was to remain there until my ferrules were all rusted to pieces and
I became like the mold beneath me. I heard Matt and his family leave the
bay in the stolen boats. I knew when they forced their way through the
bushes into the creek, and was greatly astonished to know that they
turned down stream toward the pond, the direction in which their
pursuers would have to go when they returned to the hotel. But Matt, the
sly old fox, had reasoned with himself on this point before he adopted
these extraordinary tactics. It lacked only about half an hour of
night-fall, and Mr. Swan and his party would soon be obliged to go into
camp; while Matt knowing every crook and turn in the creek, could travel
as well in the dark as he could by daylight. Before the sun arose, he
would be miles away and among friends. If Mr. Swan took it for granted
that he had gone up instead of down stream, and went that way himself in
hope of being able to overtake him, it would give the squatter just so
much more time in which to make good his escape. It was a very neat
trick on Matt’s part.

At last, after a long interval of waiting, I heard voices and footsteps
on the other side of the bay. The birds having flown there was no need
of caution, and some of the returning party were talking in their
ordinary tones, while others were shouting back at their friends in the
rear. My acute sense of hearing told me when they came out of the
bushes, and I also caught the exclamations of rage and astonishment that
fell from their lips when they saw what had been done in the bay during
their brief absence. The guides were almost beside themselves with fury,
but the two city sportsmen laughed uproariously.

“We’re a pretty set, I must say,” I heard one of them exclaim. “If I
hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I never should have believed that any
man living could play a trick like this upon us. Two of the best boats,
all the rods, provisions and dishes, as well as the frying-pans are
gone. I think we had better camp right where we are, start for home at
the first peep of day and never show our faces in the woods again.”

“Hallo! What’s this here?” cried one of the guides, who, for want of
something better to do, had stepped into the skiff and shoved out into
the bay. He looked down into the clear waters as he spoke, then seized
the boathook, and after a little maneuvering with it, brought one of the
frying-pans to light.

“And what’s that over there on the other side?” exclaimed the familiar
voice of Mr. Swan.

“Why, it’s my unlucky bait-rod, as sure as the world,” said Arthur
Hastings. “But he was lucky this time, wasn’t he? If he hadn’t lodged in
the friendly branches of that evergreen, I should have thought that Matt
Coyle had carried him off again.”

These unexpected discoveries led to a thorough examination of the bay
and of the bushes surrounding it, and the result was most satisfactory.
Before dark every single article that Jake and Sam had thrown away, had
been recovered. There was nothing missing now except the boats and the
provisions; but the loss of these things did not put the party to any
great inconvenience. There was an abundance of game in the woods, plenty
of fish to be had for the catching, and Matt’s scow could easily carry
the four men who had lost their skiffs.

But little more remains to be told. Mr. Swan and his party camped “right
where they were” that night, made an early start the next morning, and
reached Indian Lake on the afternoon of the following day. The chums
found their skiff in the best possible condition, and looking very nobby
in her new dress, by which I mean a fresh coat of paint. They gave it
another day in which to dry, then laid in a supply of provisions and
fearlessly turned their faces toward the wilderness; while the two city
sportsmen, thoroughly disgusted with their failure, and by the trick
that Matt had so neatly played upon them, set out for home declaring
that they would never visit Indian Lake again until their guns had been
restored to them, and the man who stole them was safely lodged in jail.

During the next few days I had nothing to do but make myself miserable
while the other rods caught the fish that were served up three times a
day until the boys grew tired of them. I was glad when Joe said that it
was time to start for home, but sorry for the disappointment he met when
he got there. Uncle Joe, who was to have taken them upon an extended
tour, “either East or West, they didn’t know which,” had suddenly been
called away on important business, and the probabilities were that if
they took their contemplated trip at all it would not be until near the
end of the vacation; and then it would have to be a very short one. But
Joe didn’t get sulky, as some boys would have done under like
circumstances. He wrote to his uncle, found out when he was coming home,
and suggested an immediate return to Indian Lake. Arthur and Roy were
delighted with the proposal, and I was at once given into the hands of a
skilled mechanic, who in two days’ time mended my broken joint so neatly
that no one could tell, even with the closest scrutiny, that there had
ever been any thing the matter with it. Joe came after me on the
afternoon of the second day, and when he carried me to his room and
stood me in the corner where I was to stay until something that he
called “ferrule cement” had had time to harden, whom should I see but my
old friend, the canvas canoe, occupying his usual place in the recess,
and looking none the worse for his forced sojourn among the Indian Lake
vagabonds.

“Well, I swan to man!” I exclaimed, unconsciously making use of an
expression which I had heard so often that I had become quite familiar
with it. “How in the name of all that’s wonderful did you get back?”

“Glad to see you, old fellow,” replied the canoe, in his jolly, hearty
fashion, “but sorry to hear that you got crippled. Where have you been?”

“Just got back from the doctor’s shop. I am all right again, or shall be
in a few days. When and how did you return?”

“Came yesterday. Mr. Swan brought me. Found me hidden under a pile of
brush, not more than twenty feet from the place where he and his party
stood when they burned the squatter’s shanty. I saw and heard every
thing that happened there.”

“Well, tell us all about it. I know you must have had some adventures
during your absence.”

“Indeed I have; and I have brought a heavy load of anxiety back with me.
How I wish I could warn Joe and his chums! The threats I heard made
against them were enough to make even a canvas canoe shudder.”

With these preliminary remarks the canoe settled himself for an
all-night’s task. I have not space enough in this book to repeat what he
said, and besides, the narrative of my exploits, which so far are
neither many nor brilliant I confess, is ended for the time being; so I
will gladly step aside and give place to my accommodating friend, who is
a more experienced story-teller than myself, and who, in the second
volume of this series, will describe many interesting and some exciting
incidents which happened during his captivity. His story will be
entitled: THE ADVENTURES OF A CANVAS CANOE.