THE HISTORIAN OF THE WAYRING FAMILY

I AM called “Old Durability”; but for fear my name may prove misleading,
and cause those of my readers who are not acquainted with me to fall
into the error of supposing that I am a very aged article, I desire to
say, at the outset, that I am only four years old, and that I have been
in active service just sixteen months. During that time I have seen a
world of excitement and adventure, and have performed some exploits of
which any fly-rod might be justly proud. I have hooked, at one cast, and
successfully landed, two black bass, weighing together eight and a
quarter pounds; I have so often been dumped in the cold waters of
mountain lakes and streams that it is a wonder my ferrules were not
rusted out long ago; I have been dragged about among snags and
lily-pads, by enraged trout, pickerel and bass; I have been stolen from
my lawful owner, been kept a prisoner by boys and tramps who either
could not or would not take care of me, and one of my joints has been
broken. Of course, I was skillfully patched up, but, like the man whose
arm has been fractured, I am not quite as good as I used to be, and am
reluctant to exert all my strength for fear that I shall break again in
the same place. I can’t throw a fly as far as I could when I took my
finest string of trout in front of the “sportsmen’s home” at Indian
Lake, and when I am called upon to make the attempt, my ferrules groan
and creak as if they were about to give away and let me fall to pieces.
For this my master laid me up in ordinary (that is what sailors say of a
war vessel when she goes out of commission, and is laid up in port to
remain idle there until her services are needed again), saying, as he
did so, that my days of usefulness were over, but that he would keep me
for the good I had done.

After having led an active life among the hills, lakes and forest
streams almost ever since I could remember, you may be sure that I did
not relish treatment of this sort. After doing my level best for my
master, and landing more than one fish for him that he ought to have
lost because he handled me so awkwardly—after going with him through
some of the most exciting scenes of his life, and submitting to
treatment that would have used up almost any other rod, must I be laid
upon the shelf in a dark closet and left to my gloomy reflections, while
a new favorite accompanied my master to the woods, caught the trout for
his dinner, slept under his blanket, and listened to the thrilling and
amusing stories that were told around the camp-fire? I resolved to
prevent it, if I could; so when my master took me out of my case one day
to assist him in catching a muskalonge he had seen in the lake back of
his father’s house, I nerved myself to do valiant battle, hoping to show
him that there was plenty of good hard work left in me, if he only knew
how to bring it out.

The muskalonge, which was lurking in the edge of the lily-pads ready to
pounce upon the first unwary fish that approached his lair, took the
frog that was on the hook at the very first cast, and then began the
hardest struggle of my life. My rheumatic joints complained loudly as
the heavy fish darted up and down the lake, and then dove to the bottom
in his mad efforts to escape, but I held on the best I knew how until he
leaped full length out of the water, and tried to shake the hook from
his mouth; then I was ready to give up the contest. He was the largest
fish I ever saw.

“Scotland’s a burning!” exclaimed Joe. “Isn’t he a beauty? If this old
rod was as good as he used to be, wouldn’t I have a prize in a few
minutes from now?”

I ought to have told you before that my master’s name is Joe Wayring;
and a right good boy he is, too, as you will find before my story is
ended. Nearly all the young fellows of my acquaintance, and I know some
of the best there are in the country, have some favorite word or
expression which always rises to their lips whenever they are surprised,
excited or angry, and the words I have just quoted are the ones Joe
always used under such circumstances. No matter how exasperated he was
you never could get any thing stronger out of him.

I will not dwell upon the particulars of that fight (my joints ache yet
whenever I think of it), for I set out to talk about other matters. It
will be enough to say that I held fast to the fish until he became
exhausted and was drawn through the lily-pads to the bank; then the
gaff-hook came to my assistance, and he was safely landed. He was a
monster. I afterward learned that he weighed a trifle over nineteen
pounds. Wasn’t that something of an exploit for an eight ounce rod who
had been threatened with the retired list on account of supposed
disability? I was so nearly doubled up by the long-continued strain that
had been brought to bear upon me, that when my master threw me down on
the ground while he gave his prize his quietus with the heavy handle of
the gaff-hook, I could not immediately straighten out again, as every
well-conditioned rod is expected to do under similar circumstances.

“Why, what in the world have you got there?” cried Joe’s mother, as the
boy entered the kitchen, carrying me in one hand and dragging the fish
after him with the other. She seemed to be a little afraid of the young
fisherman’s prize, and that was hardly to be wondered at, for his mouth
was open, and it was full of long, sharp teeth.

“It’s the biggest muskalonge that was ever caught in this lake,” replied
Joe, as he laid me down upon a chair and took both hands to deposit his
fish upon the table. “Didn’t he fight, though? I say, Uncle Joe,” he
added, addressing himself to a dignified gentleman in spectacles, who
just then came into the room with the morning’s paper in his hand, “I
shall not need that new split bamboo you promised me for my birthday,
though I thank you for your kind offer, all the same. This old rod is
good for at least one more summer on Indian Lake. There is plenty of
back-bone left in him yet.”

Uncle Joe was a rich old bachelor and very fond of his namesake, Joe
Wayring, on whom he lavished all the affection he would have given to
his own children, if he had had any. He was an enthusiastic angler, a
skillful and untiring bear and deer hunter, and he generally timed his
trips to the woods and mountains so that Joe and some of his particular
friends could go with him.

“He is the most durable rod I ever saw,” added my master.

“Well, then, call him ‘Old Durability’,” suggested Uncle Joe.

The boy said he thought that name would just suit me, and from that day
to this I have been known by every one who is acquainted with me as “Old
Durability”.

Having introduced myself, because there was no one to perform the
ceremony for me, and told you how I came by my cognomen, I will now go
back and relate how I made the acquaintance of my master, Joe Wayring.

If you will review your own life, boy reader, you may be able to find in
it some incident, which happened, perhaps, long before you were out of
pinafores, and which you remember perfectly, while all your life
previous to the occurrence of that particular incident is a blank to
you. Just so it was in my own experience. When I first came to my
senses, I found myself snugly tied up in my case and standing in a
corner, looking through a glass door into a large store in which guns of
all makes and fishing tackle of all kinds were kept for sale. At first I
was greatly bewildered. I felt, if I may judge from what I have seen
during my trips to the woods, like a boy who has just awakened from a
sound sleep; but after a while my wits came to me, and then I found that
I was not alone in the show-case. There were a dozen or two fly and bait
rods standing in the corner beside me, and a little further down,
looking toward the back end of the store, were single and
double-barreled shot-guns, muzzle and breech-loading rifles, game-bags,
creels, hunting knives, dog-whips, and almost every thing else that a
sportsman is supposed to need. In the show-case, which rested on the
long counter in front of me, were revolvers, pen-knives, lines, leaders,
flies and ordinary fish-hooks without number; and on the opposite side
of the store was an array of barrels containing glass balls, traps for
throwing those balls, bicycles, tricycles, rowing and lifting
machines—in fact, I saw so many things that I did not then know the name
or use of, that I became confused while I looked at them.

“Hallo, there! Have you waked up at last?” cried a voice, breaking in
upon my meditations.

A short investigation showed that the voice came from the case that
stood next on my right. I did not know, of course, what sort of a rod he
was, or whether or not he would prove to be an agreeable acquaintance;
but wishing to be civil, I replied that I _had_ waked up, and that, if
he could tell me, I should be glad to know where I was and how I came
there.

“Why, you are in a one-horse country town, a thousand miles from
nowhere, and you have always been here,” was the answer, given as I
thought in a tone of contempt. “I have traveled. I came all the way from
New York.”

“Who are you?” I ventured to ask; for my new acquaintance spoke in so
dignified and lofty a tone, that I stood somewhat in awe of him.

“I am a split bamboo,” said he; and then I saw very clearly that he was
disposed to throw on airs, and to lord it over those who were not as
fortunate as himself. “I am a gentleman’s rod, and it takes the ducats
to buy me. I am worth forty-five dollars; while I see by the card tied
to your case, that you are valued at only six and a half.”

Not being quick at figures at this early period of my life, I could not
tell just how much difference there was between forty-five dollars and
six and a half, but I knew by the way the bamboo spoke, that the gulf
that separated him from me was a wide one. I have learned some things
since then. I know now that the qualities of a fly-rod do not depend
upon the varnish that is put on the outside of him, any more than a
boy’s qualities of mind and heart depend upon the clothes he wears. The
stuff he is made of and the company he keeps have much to do with the
record he makes in the world. While I was turning the matter over in my
mind, somebody who had been listening to our conversation, suddenly
broke in with:

“You are neither one of you worth the money you cost.”

I looked around to see who the new speaker was, and presently discovered
him in the person of a handsome bird gun, who rested upon a pair of
deer’s antlers a short distance away.

“You can’t bring a squirrel out of the top of the tallest hickory in the
woods, or stop a woodcock or a grouse on the wing, but I can,” continued
the double-barrel.

“I can catch a trout, if I have some one to back me who understands his
business, and that’s more than you can do,” retorted the bamboo,
spitefully. “I can throw a line sixty or seventy feet; I heard the
proprietor of this store say so.”

“And I can throw shot sixty or seventy yards, which is three times as
far as you can throw a line,” shouted the double-barrel. “You seem to
think yourself of some consequence because you came from New York. I
came all the way from England, and that is on the other side of the
ocean.”

“So you are an assisted immigrant, are you?” cried the bamboo, in tones
indicative of the greatest contempt. “Well, that’s all I care to know
about you.”

The disputants grew more and more in earnest the longer they talked, and
pretty soon there were some hard words used. I took no part in the
controversy, for I felt rather bashful in the presence of those who had
seen so much more of the world than I had, and who were worth so much
more money, and besides I could not see what there was to quarrel about.
My sympathies were with the bamboo, arrogant as he had showed himself to
be, because he was an American like myself; but still the English
fowling-piece, “assisted immigrant” though he was, had a right to live
in this country so long as he behaved himself, and as he was a showy
fellow, I had no doubt that he would get out of the store before either
the bamboo or myself. And so he did. While the dispute was at its height
the door opened and a young man came in—a tall young man, with very thin
legs, peaked shoes, gold eye-glasses and a downy upper lip. He walked
with a mincing step and drawled out his words when he talked.

“A dude!” whispered the bamboo.

Before I could ask what a “dude” was, the proprietor came up, and the
talking was for a moment hushed. Being impatient to be released from the
show-case so that we could see what was going on in the great world
outside, each one of us cherished the secret hope that we might find
favor in the eyes of the prospective purchaser. We were so inexperienced
and foolish that we didn’t care much who bought us, so long as we got
out.

“I—aw! I want to look at a nice light bird gun,” said the young man;
“something you can recommend for woodcock and the like, don’t yer know?”

“Why, that’s a countryman of mine,” exclaimed the double-barrel, who
seemed to be highly excited by the discovery.

The bamboo hastened to assure me that he wasn’t—that he was an American
trying to ape English ways.

“Do you want a hammerless?” asked the proprietor.

“I—aw! They come pretty ’igh, don’t they?”

“Not necessarily. Here’s one worth a hundred and twenty-five dollars,”
replied the storekeeper; and as he spoke, he opened the show-case and
took from it a double-barrel who was so very plain in appearance, that I
had not before taken more than a passing glance at him. “I judge from
your speech that you are an Englishman, and if you are, you of course
know more about this make of guns than I can tell you. It is a Greener.”

The young man seemed pleased to know that he had succeeded in making the
proprietor believe that he was not an American, but he did not seem to
appreciate the gun, nor did he handle it as if he were accustomed to the
use of fire-arms. He hardly knew how to bring it to his face properly.

“I—aw! Hit’s wery fine, no doubt,” said he, after he had made an awkward
pretense of examining the gun, “but I—aw! I want something a little more
showy and not quite so ’igh-priced, don’t yer know? Something that I can
take pride in exhibiting to my ’unting friends, don’t yer know?”

“We have guns that are more showy than this, but they are cheap affairs,
and we don’t recommend them. How would this one suit you?” said the
proprietor; and as he spoke, he opened another door in the show-case,
and took my bragging friend down from his place on the antlers.

It may have been all imagination on my part, but I would have been
willing to affirm that his nickel-plated ornaments grew a shade dimmer
as he was taken out of the case, and I am of the same opinion still. By
his boasting he had led us all to believe that he was worth at least two
or three hundred dollars; and you can imagine how surprised we were when
we learned that he was valued at a very small fraction of that sum.

“Aw! That looks more like a gun,” said the customer. “That’s a piece,
don’t yer know, that a fellah can show to his friends. Hit’ll shoot, I
suppose?”

“Oh, yes, it will shoot, but it will not do as clean work as the one I
just showed you.”

“Hi’ll take the risk. ’Ow much for ’im?”

“Twenty-five dollars; and that includes a trunk-shaped case,
loading-tools, wiping-rod and fifty brass-shells.”

The young man handed over the money and went out, after requesting that
his purchase might be sent up to the Lambert House at once, as he wished
to start for the woods on the following day. As soon as the door was
closed behind him, the proprietor called out to the porter:

“Oh, Rube! Come here and take this Brummagem shooting-iron up to the
hotel. Thank goodness it is the last one we have in stock, and I’ll
never buy another.”

“I wonder how that boastful bird gun feels now,” whispered the bamboo.
“His pride had to take a tumble, didn’t it? There’s no Brummagem about
me, I can tell you.”

“What do you mean by—by—” The word was too hard for me, and I stumbled
over it.

“By Brummagem?” said the bamboo, who felt so good over the discomfiture
of the English fowling-piece that he was disposed to be friendly as well
as civil. “Why, it’s something that is fine and showy, but which is not
in reality worth any thing. A Yankee would say that that double-barrel
was a ‘shoddy’ article.”

“I feel guilty every time I sell one of those guns,” continued the
proprietor. “They are made in Birmingham, England, at the cost of nine
dollars apiece by the dozen.”

“That dude will never hurt any thing with it,” observed the porter, who
had taken a good look at the customer and heard all that passed between
him and his employer.

“I hope he will not hurt himself with it,” answered the latter. “What
does he want to go into the woods for? He doesn’t know a woodcock from
an ostrich.”

“He goes because it is fashionable, I suppose,” said Rube; and I
afterward found out that that was just the reason. I saw him in the
wilderness a few weeks later, and had an opportunity to exchange a word
or two with the Brummagem breech-loader. The latter looked decidedly
seedy. He was covered with rust, his locks were out of order, and he had
been put to such hard service that every joint in his make-up was loose.
The second time I met him he could scarcely talk to me, because there
was not much left of him except his stock. His ignorant owner—but we’ll
wait until we come to that, won’t we?

The next customers who came into the store were an elderly gentleman and
a young lady. I certainly thought my chance for freedom had come, for
when the gentleman said that his daughter wanted to look at a fly-rod,
something light enough to be managed with one hand, and strong enough to
land a perch or rock-bass, the proprietor pushed open the door in front
of me and took me out.

“Aha!” exclaimed the bamboo. “Your fate is to be the companion and
plaything of a little girl, who will probably set you to catching
sunfish and minnows, and throw you down in the mud when she gets through
with you. I know that I am destined for the trout streams, and I have an
idea that I shall be taken to Canada to have a shy at the lordly salmon.
Good-by; but I am sorry for you.”

I did not thank the bamboo for his words of sympathy, because I did not
believe they were sincere. I thought I could detect a hypocritical twang
in them; but before I could tell him so, I was taken out of my case, and
for the first time given an opportunity to see how I looked.

“There is a rod I can recommend. Lancewood throughout, nickel-plated
ferrules and reel-seat and artistically wound with cane and silk,” said
the proprietor, glibly. “I will warrant him to do good work, and if the
lady breaks him she will not be much out of pocket—only six dollars and
a half.”

“Oh, I don’t want a cheap thing like that,” exclaimed the young lady,
who would not take a second look at me after she heard that I was worth
so little money. “I want a nice rod.”

The storekeeper laid me on the show-case, and brought my friend the
split bamboo out for exhibition. He was a splendid looking fellow, and I
did not wonder that the young lady went into ecstasies over him, and
declared at once that he was just the rod she had long been wishing for.
Neither could I resist the temptation to say to him, as he was put back
into his case:

“What do you think now of your chances of going among the trout streams
and of taking a shy at the lordly salmon! Good-by; but I am sorry for
you.”

The bamboo was so crest-fallen that he could make no response. He was
carried away by his new owner, and I did not see him again until I was
almost ready to be laid upon the shelf in my master’s closet, to enjoy a
long winter’s rest after a season of the hardest kind of work. The pride
and arrogance were all gone out of him, and he did not look much as he
did when he left the store. If he had been a man, folks would have
called him a tramp.

THE bamboo having been disposed of I was returned to the show-case,
where I spent two very lonely days. The rods around me were worth more
money than I was, and feeling their importance they would scarcely speak
to me, even to answer a civil question; so all I could do was to hold my
peace and listen to their conversation. But fate had decreed that I
should not long remain a captive. One afternoon there came into the
store a gentleman in gold spectacles, accompanied by two bright boys
about fifteen years of age. They must have been well known to the
proprietor, for he shook their hands with all the cordiality which
shopkeepers know how to assume toward their rich patrons, and greeted
them with:

“Ah, colonel, I am glad to see you. Well, Joseph, have you come after
that rod?”

“Yes, sir,” answered one of the boys, a curly-headed, blue-eyed lad, who
looked so good-natured and jolly that I took a great fancy to him at
once. “You remember what I told you the last time I was here, Mr.
Brown—that I want something light and strong and inexpensive. I can’t
afford to pay a high price for a rod that I may break at the very first
cast. You know I never threw a fly in my life.”

“Yes, I know that,” said Mr. Brown, “and I know, too, that as a bait
fisher you have few equals and no superiors among boys of your age.”

“I thank you for the compliment, but I am afraid I don’t deserve it,”
said the blue-eyed boy, modestly.

“Oh, yes, you do. Now here’s a rod that will suit you exactly,” answered
the proprietor, pushing open the show-case and laying hold of me. “He
weighs only eight ounces, hangs beautifully, and will answer your
purpose as well as one worth five times the money. Only six and a half,
and that’s cheaper than you could steal him, if you were in that line of
business.”

“What do you say, Uncle Joe?” asked the boy after he and his companion,
whom he addressed as Roy Sheldon, had shaken me up and down in the air
until it was a wonder to me that they did not break my back.

“Since Mr. Brown has recommended him, I say that you can’t do better
than to take him,” was the reply, and that settled the matter. I had a
master at last, and a good one, too, if there were any faith to be put
in appearances. I took him for a restless, uneasy fellow who would not
let me rust for want of use, and I found that I had not been mistaken in
my opinion of him.

Joe, as I shall hereafter call him, next purchased, under his uncle’s
supervision, three long water-proof lines, a Loomis automatic reel, a
dozen cream-colored leaders of different lengths, a creel who afterward
became my constant companion, and a fly-book filled with all the most
tempting lures known to anglers, such as coachmen, white millers, red
and brown hackles, and many other things whose names I did not know.
With these under his arm and me on his shoulder he set out for home
accompanied by Roy Sheldon, Uncle Joe taking leave of them at the door,
saying that he was going to the post-office.

“I wish every fellow in the world had an uncle like that,” said Joe, as
he turned about and waved his hand to the gentleman with the gold
spectacles.

“So do I,” answered Roy, “excepting, of course, Tom Bigden and his
crowd.”

“I don’t except even them,” said Joe. “Tom pulls a lovely oar, and I
never saw a fellow who could play short stop or train a spaniel like
him. I have nothing against any of them, and should be glad to be
friends with them if they would let me.”

“But haven’t you seen to your satisfaction that they won’t let you?”
demanded Roy, rather sharply. “They’ve got something against you, and
they’ll continue to make you suffer for it; see if they don’t.”

I wondered what it was that any one could have against so fine a young
fellow as my new master appeared to be, and it was not many days before
I found out. Tom Bigden and his followers _did_ make Joe suffer, but it
was principally through his friends, that is, through his sail-boat, his
shell in which he used to train for his races, his canvas canoe that had
carried him safely down the most difficult rapids in Indian River, and
finally through me. In fact, I became a regular shuttle-cock of fortune,
and was so roughly knocked about from pillar to post, that it is a
wonder to me that I am as good a rod as I am.

After a few minutes’ walk along a quiet street shaded on each side by
grand old trees, Joe and his companion turned into a wide carriage-way
which led them by a circuitous route through a little grove of
evergreens to the house in which Joe lived—a fine brick mansion, with
stone facings, a carriage-porch at the side door, and a croquet ground
and lawn tennis court in front. Behind the house the grounds sloped
gently down to the shore of a beautiful lake, with an island near the
center, and with banks on each side that were thickly wooded, save where
the trees and undergrowth had been cleared away to make room for the
cozy summer residences of the visitors who came there every year. For
Mount Airy, that was the name of the village in which Joe Wayring lived,
was acquiring some fame as a watering place. There were four springs in
the vicinity, whose waters were supposed to possess some medicinal
virtues, the scenery was grand, the drives numerous and pleasant, and
the fishing (and the shooting, too, in the proper season), could not be
surpassed.

At the foot of the path that led from the carriage-porch to the lake,
was a boat-house which afforded shelter to some of Joe’s friends whose
acquaintance I was soon to make, and a short distance from its door his
sail boat, the _Young Republic_, rode at her moorings. It was indeed a
pleasant scene that was spread out before me; but before I had time to
admire it sufficiently, Joe and his companion went up the stone steps
three at a jump, rushed into the hall, fired their caps at the hat-rack,
and without waiting to see whether or not they caught on the pegs at
which they were aimed, ran up the wide stairs that led to the floor
above. I held my breath in suspense and wondered what in the world was
the matter now; but I afterward learned that I had no cause for
uneasiness, and that that is the way boys generally conduct themselves
when they go into a house. It saves them the trouble of hunting up their
father and mother and telling them that they have got home without being
run over by the cars, or knocked down by a runaway horse, or drowned in
the lake.

The room into which Joe conducted his friend was like the private
sanctum of every other boy who delights in the sports of the woods and
fields, with this exception: It was in perfect order, and as neat as a
new pin. Joe’s mother wouldn’t have it any other way, and neither would
Joe. Indeed it was a favorite saying of his that if folks would keep
away and let his things alone (by “folks” he meant to designate old
Betty, the housekeeper, who, according to Joe’s way of thinking, was
“awful fussy”), he could find any thing he wanted, from a postage-stamp
to a spoon-oar, on the darkest of nights, and without a lamp to aid him
in the search.

The room looked a good deal like a museum I afterward saw, only it was
on a much smaller scale, of course, and it contained so many rare and
curious things that Joe’s friends were always glad of an invitation “to
step up for a few minutes.” Uncle Joe’s love for the rod and gun had led
him to roam all over his own country, as well as to some remote corners
of foreign lands, and during these rambles he never forgot the boy at
home who thought so much of relics and souvenirs of all kinds, and took
such good care of them. He gave Joe the Alpine stock which had assisted
him in his ascent of Mount Blanc; the Indian saddle and bridle he had
used when fleeing from the agency at the time the Utes rose in rebellion
and killed Meeker and all the other whites who did not succeed in making
good their escape; the head of the first bison he had ever shot, and
which, having been mounted by an expert taxidermist, had been hung above
the looking-glass over the mantle to serve as a resting place for the
sword and pistols Uncle Joe carried during the war, the elk-horn bow,
quiver of arrows, scalping knife and moccasins presented to him by a
Sioux chief; and for the prize lancewood bow won by my master at a
shooting match; for Joe was an archer, as well as an angler and wing
shot, and he had been Master Bowman of the Mount Airy Toxophilites until
he became tired of the office and gave it up. These articles, and a good
many others which I did not have time to look at, were so neatly and
artistically arranged that it did not seem to me that a single one of
them could be moved without spoiling the effect of the whole. Nothing
looked out of place, not even the black, uncouth object that lay in a
little recess on the opposite side of the room. Having never seen any
thing just like him before, I could not make out what he was, and I
waited rather impatiently for his master to go out of the room so that I
could speak to him; but Joe did not seem to be in any hurry to leave. He
stood me up in a corner, and then he and Roy seated themselves at a
table in the middle of the room, and proceeded to “fix up” a debate that
was to be held at the High School on the afternoon of the coming Friday.
The question was: “Ought corporal punishment in schools to be
abolished?” No doubt it was a matter in which both Joe and Roy had been
deeply interested in their younger days, but it did not affect me one
way or the other, and consequently I paid very little attention to what
they said. My time was fully taken up with the strange things I saw
around me.

At last, to my great satisfaction, the boys concluded that they could
“fix up” the matter while sailing about the lake in the _Young
Republic_, better than they could while sitting by the table, especially
if they could find some boat to race with, so they bolted out of the
room with much noise and racket, and left the house, banging the hall
door loudly behind them. Then I turned to speak to the object that
occupied the recess on the other side of the room, and found that he was
quite as willing to make my acquaintance as I was to make his.

“Hallo!” said he; and I afterward learned that that is the way in which
school boys and telephones always greet each other.

“Hallo!” said I, in reply. “Who are you? if I may be so bold as to
inquire.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” answered my new acquaintance, cheerfully.
“Everybody who sees me for the first time wants to know all about me. I
don’t suppose I am much to look at—indeed, I know I am not, because I
can see my reflection in the mirror over the mantle—but I am the boss
boat on the rapids, and am worth more on a ‘carry’ than all the cedar
and birch-bark canoes in America. I am the historian of the Wayring
family, or, rather, of the youngest branch of it,” he added, with no
little pride in his tones. “I carry secrets enough to sink any ordinary
craft, and if I only had the power to communicate some of them to my
master, perhaps he wouldn’t open his eyes! I am a canvas canoe, at your
service.”

“Oh!” said I.

“Yes,” said he. “And unless my judgment is at fault, you are a fly-rod.
I heard Joe say that his uncle was going to get one for him.”

“That is just what I am,” I made answer. “Nickel-plated ferrules and
reel-seat, artistically wound with cane and silk, and lancewood
throughout.”

My lofty speech did not have the effect I thought it would. The canvas
canoe seemed to have rather an exalted opinion of himself, and I did not
see why I should stay in the background for want of somebody to praise
me, and so I praised myself; and that’s a bad thing to do. I only
succeeded in exciting the merriment of every occupant of the room, for I
heard derisive laughter on all sides of me.

“Don’t throw on airs, young fellow,” said the canvas canoe, as soon as
he could speak. “You have come to the wrong shop for that sort of work.
I wouldn’t boast until I had done something, if I were in your place. If
there is any good in you, you will fare well in Joe’s hands, and he will
do your bragging for you; but if you fail him when the pinch comes, you
will most likely be chucked into the lake, or given away to the first
little ragamuffin he can find who wants a rod that is good for nothing.
So take a friend’s advice and hold your tongue until you have seen
service.”

I felt somewhat abashed by this rebuke, for, of course, I was desirous
of making a favorable impression upon those with whom I was to be
associated all the days of my life. I thought I had made them despise
me; but the next words uttered by the canvas canoe showed me that I need
have no fears on that score.

“A boat and a rod generally go together, you know,” said he; “so I
suppose that you and I will see much of each other hereafter.”

“And how about me?” piped a shrill voice close beside me.

I looked down, and there was the creel. I had not thought of him before,
and it was plain that the canoe hadn’t either, for he exclaimed, in a
tone of surprise:

“Who spoke? Oh, it was you, was it? Well, I don’t know just what Joe
will do with you, for he never owned a creel before. He has always
carried his dinner in his pocket when he went trouting, or in a basket
if he went out on the lake after bass, and brought his fish home on a
string; but he will find use for you, you may depend upon that. He is a
busy boy, is Joe, and he keeps every body around him busy, too.”

“I understood you to say that you are the historian of the Wayring
family,” I ventured to remark, when the canoe ceased speaking.

“Of the youngest branch of it—yes. I have been a member of this
household for a long time. Can’t you see that I am a veteran? Don’t you
notice my wounds? I have been snagged more times than I can remember, I
have had holes punched in me by rocks, and some of my ribs have been
fractured; but I am a pretty good boat yet. At least Joe thinks so, for
he is going to take me somewhere this coming summer, probably up into
Michigan to run the rapids of the Menominee; and, to tell you the honest
truth, I am looking forward to that trip with fear and trembling. I have
heard Uncle Joe say that those rapids were something to make a man’s
hair stand on end; but if my master says ‘go’, I shall take him through
if I can. I have carried him through some dangerous places, and whenever
I have got him into trouble, it has been owing to his own carelessness
or mismanagement.”

“I suppose he thinks a great deal of you?” said I.

“Well, he ought to,” replied the canoe, with a self-satisfied air. “I
have stuck to him through thick and thin for a good many years. I was
the very first plaything he owned, after he took it into his head that
he was getting too big to ride a rocking-horse. He used to paddle me
around on a duck pond, where the water wasn’t more than a foot deep,
long before it was thought safe to trust him with a rod or gun. But Joe
does not seem to care much for a gun. He is fairly carried away by his
love of archery, and a long bow is his favorite weapon.”

“Do you know who Tom Bigden is, and what Joe has done to incur his
ill-will?” I inquired.

“I have some slight acquaintance with that young gentleman,” answered
the canoe, with a laugh. “It was through him that I was snagged and sunk
in the Indian Lake country. I don’t know how the fuss started, and
neither does any body except Tom Bigden himself; but I suppose that
fellow over there and a few others like him, are wholly to blame for
it.”

“What fellow? Over where?” I asked; for of course the canvas canoe could
not point his finger or nod his head to tell me which way to look.

“This fellow up here,” said a new voice, which came from over the
bookcase.

I looked up, and there was another lancewood bow, resting on a pair of
deer’s antlers. He was not quite as fancy as the prize bow of whom I
have already spoken. His green plush handle was beginning to look
threadbare, and that, to my mind, indicated that he had seen service.

“You wouldn’t think that a few insignificant things like that could be
the means of setting a whole village together by the ears, would you?”
continued the canoe.

“Insignificant yourself,” retorted the long bow; but I was glad to
notice that he did not speak as if he were angry. The various articles I
saw about me all cherished the most friendly feelings for one another,
but when they had nothing to do, they were like a lot of idle
boys—always trying to “get a joke” upon some of their number. “You never
won a prize for Joe, did you? Well, I have. Go and win a race before you
brag. You can’t; you’re much too clumsy. One of those Shadow or Rob Roy
canoes out there on the lake would beat you out of sight in going a
mile.”

I cared nothing at all for this side sparring. I knew that I would have
plenty of time in which to listen to it during the long winter months,
when canoe, long bow and fly-rod would be laid up in ordinary, while
skates, snow-shoes and toboggans took our places in the affections of
our master for the time being. For I saw snow-shoes and a toboggan
there, and I knew what they were, because I had seen some like them in
Mr. Brown’s store. They came from Canada, and were almost as full of
stories as the canoe was. Joe had worn the snow-shoes while hunting
caribou in Newfoundland in company with his uncle, and the toboggan had
carried his master with lightning speed over the ice bridge at Niagara
Falls. Many an hour that would otherwise have dragged by on leaden wings
did they brighten for us by relating scraps of their personal history,
and at some future time I may induce them to put those same narratives
into print for your benefit; but just now we are interested in Tom
Bigden. We want to know why he disliked Joe Wayring, and what made him
take every opportunity he could find to annoy him.

“When you talk about racing you don’t want to leave me out,” observed
the toboggan, “for I am the lad to show speed. Give me a fair field, and
I would not be much afraid to try conclusions with an express train. And
it takes as much, if not more, skill to manage me than it does to handle
an awkward canvas canoe, who is always bobbing about, turning first one
way and then another as if he were too contrary to hold a straight
course.”

“I wasn’t intended for a racing boat, and I know I can’t compete with
such flyers as you and a Rob Roy,” said the canvas canoe, modestly; and
I afterward found that none of my new acquaintances were half as
conceited as they pretended to be. They boasted just to hear themselves
talk, and because they had no other way of passing the time when they
were unemployed; but each was perfectly willing to acknowledge the
superiority of the other in his own particular line of business. “I was
intended for a portable craft—something that can be folded into a small
compass and carried over a portage without much trouble; and in that
respect I am far ahead of a stiff-necked Canuck, who, having made up his
mind just how much space he ought to occupy in the world, would rather
break than bend to give elbow-room to his betters.” “You wanted me to
tell you something about Tom Bigden, I believe,” added the canoe,
addressing himself to me. “Well, it is a long story, but you will have
plenty of time to listen to it; for if Joe and Roy have gone out on the
lake, they will not return much before dark. You ought to know the full
history of Tom’s dealings with Joe, for you may become the victim of
persecution as the rest of us are and have been ever since Tom came
here; and if you were not posted, you would not know how to account for
it. A long time ago—”

But there! I never could learn to tell a story in the words of another,
so I will, for a time, drop the personal pronoun, which I don’t like to
use if I can help it, and give you in my own homely way the substance of
the narrative to which I listened that afternoon. But please understand
one thing before I begin: The historian was not a personal witness of
all the incidents I am about to describe. He couldn’t have been, unless
he possessed the power of being in half a dozen different places at the
same time. He saw and heard some things, of course, but much of his
information had been obtained from the long bow, and from Joe and his
friends, who had freely discussed matters in his presence; and by
putting all these different incidents together, he was able to make up a
story which, to me, was very interesting. I hope it may prove so to you.