THE SQUATTER TURNS UP AGAIN

ONE fishing excursion is much like another, and any boy who has handled
a nicely-balanced bait-rod when the black bass, perch, and yellow pike
were hungry and full of fight, as they were on the morning of which we
write, will have a clearer idea of the sport Tom Bigden and the rest
enjoyed there on the pond than we could possibly give him. We did not
follow them through the rapids to tell how they played their fish and
how many they caught, and so we shall have but little to say about it.
Joe Wayring affirmed that the twenty minutes’ fight he had with a nine
pound pike, which began in less than half a second after he dropped his
hook into the water, gave him solid comfort and enjoyment for a week
afterward; but whether or not he found any comfort in something that
happened when they went ashore to eat their lunch, is another matter
altogether.

About eight o’clock the fish gave notice that they had quit business for
the day by refusing to notice any of the lures that were dropped among
them, and then the boys discovered that their long pull before breakfast
had made them hungry.

“Did you ever eat a fish that had been baked in the ashes?” inquired
Joe, addressing himself to Tom and his cousins. “Then you have yet one
enjoyment in store for you. You won’t think much of house-cooking after
you have eaten one of Roy’s dinners. We know a nice place on the point
above, with an ice-cold spring handy, and we’ll—”

“Excuse me for interrupting,” said Loren, suddenly. “But did you ever
see a dog like that before?”

The speaker was not a little surprised by the effect his words produced
upon some of his companions. They all looked in the direction indicated
by his finger, and then Joe began pulling up his anchor with almost
frantic haste, while Arthur and Roy reached rather hurriedly for their
guns.

“You can’t do any thing with him from here,” said Joe.

“And if we paddle for the shore he will see us and take to his heels,”
added Roy.

“Why who—what are you going to do to him?” stammered Ralph.

“We’d be glad to shoot him if we could,” replied Joe. “He’s no dog. He’s
a half-grown bear.”

Tom and his cousins, of course, asked a good many questions with their
lips and more with their eyes, but Joe and his two friends were too busy
to answer them. They made all haste to raise their anchors, and then
pulled rapidly but silently toward the shore, all the while keeping a
close watch over the movements of the bear, which was wandering
listlessly about, now and then stopping to look into the water or to
sniff at a log, as if he were hunting for something he had lost. Tom and
his cousins thought he looked too small for a bear, but as he did not
walk or act like a dog or any other animal they had ever seen at large,
they were forced to conclude that he really was a bear, and that he was
in search of his breakfast. They didn’t know whether to be afraid of him
or not; but when they saw how anxious Joe and his two friends were to
bring themselves within shooting distance of him, they lost no time in
pulling up their own anchors and falling in behind them. The bear,
however, was not to be taken unawares. He did not appear to notice their
approach, but he had his eyes on them nevertheless, and when he thought
they had come close enough, he left the beach and lumbered off into the
bushes.

“There!” said Tom, who was glad to see the last of him. “He has taken
himself safely off.”

“We expected it,” said Roy, redoubling his exertions at the paddle. “If
we only had Mars with us we could see more fun with him in half an hour
than we could in a week’s fishing. He begged hard to be allowed to come,
but Joe made him stay behind. You see, he won’t sit anywhere but in the
bow, and he is so heavy that he makes a canoe hard to manage in rough
water.”

“He wouldn’t trail the bear, would he?”

“Of course he would, and be glad of the chance. If he found him, he
would set up such a yelping that you would think there were a dozen dogs
in the woods.”

“What are you going to do now?” inquired Ralph, as the six canoes ran
their bows upon the beach, one after the other.

“We are going to stretch our legs, and that will be a comfort after
sitting in such cramped positions for four long hours,” replied Joe, at
the same time catching up his double-barrel and springing ashore with
it. “We’ll follow up his trail, which we can easily do for a mile or
more, because all the ground about here is swampy, and when we lose it,
we’ll knock over a few squirrels and go up to the point and eat our
breakfast. Keep close to us, or else stay within sight of the beach. The
woods are thick, and you could get lost without half trying.”

Led by Arthur Hastings, the boys ran up the shore of the pond until they
reached the place where the bear had turned off into the bushes, and
then the pursuit began in earnest. Whether or not Loren and Ralph were
as anxious to get a shot at the game as they pretended to be, it is hard
to tell; but they made a great show of eagerness and enthusiasm, and
Tom, not wishing to be out-done, floundered along the trail behind them.
But he did not keep his companions in sight for more than five
minutes—in fact, he didn’t mean to. He gradually fell to the rear, and
when the bushes closed up behind Roy Sheldon, who was the last boy on
the trail, Tom sat down on a log and thought about it.

“That bear doesn’t belong to me, and I don’t know that it is any concern
of mine whether they find him or not,” said he to himself. “It is easier
to sit here in the shade, even if one does have to fight musquitoes,
than it is to go prancing about through a swamp where the water, in some
places, is up to the tops of a fellow’s boots.”

Tom suddenly brought his soliloquy to a close and jumped to his feet.
There was a frightened expression on his face, but the determined manner
in which he gripped his gun showed that he had no intention of running
away until he had had at least one shot at the bear; for that it _was_
the bear which occasioned the slight rustling in the thicket a short
distance away, Tom had not the slightest doubt. Probably the animal had
made a short circuit through the woods, and was now coming back to the
pond to finish his breakfast. While these thoughts were passing through
Tom’s mind, the bushes toward which he was gazing parted right and left,
and a big red nose, with a shock of uncombed hair above and a mass of
tangled brown whiskers below it, was cautiously thrust into view, being
followed a moment later by the burly form of Matt Coyle, the squatter.
He was as ragged and dirty as ever, and carried a heavy rifle on his
shoulder.

The meeting, which was entirely unexpected, was a surprise to both of
them. To tell the truth, Tom was more alarmed when the squatter emerged
from the thicket than he would have been if the bear had made his
appearance. Matt Coyle was very angry at the Mount Airy people on
account of the indignities they had put upon him, and who could tell but
that Tom Bigden himself was included in the list of those against whom
he had threatened vengeance? The squatter seemed to read the thoughts
that were passing in the boy’s mind, for as soon as he could speak he
hastened to say:

“You needn’t be no ways skeary about meetin’ us. We ain’t forgot that
you was the only one who said a kind word to us while we was down
there”—here Matt gave his head a backward jerk intending, no doubt, to
indicate the village of Mount Airy—“an’ of course we ain’t got nothing
agin you.”

Tom drew a long breath of relief as he listened to these words. Matt
wouldn’t do any thing to him, and neither would he injure any of his
property.

“But as fur the rest of ’em, they had better watch out,” continued the
man, in savage tones. “I shan’t forget ’em, an’ I’ll even up with them
some day. It may be five year, an’ it may be ten; but I’ll even up with
’em.”

“What are you and your boys doing now?” inquired Tom. He did not like
the way the squatter glared around him when he spoke of the village
people, and he wanted to turn the conversation into another channel if
he could.

[Illustration: TOM UNEXPECTEDLY MEETS MATT COYLE.]

“We ain’t doin’ nothin’,” was the surly reply, “’cause why, we ain’t got
nothin’ to do with. We ain’t got a bite of meat in the house, an’ I was
after that there b’ar when you fellers come up an’ skeared him away. So
thinks I to myself, I’ll jest go down to the pond where their boats is,
an’ I’ll take the best one of ’em an’ cl’ar out afore they gets back.
Then I’d have somethin’ to do with.”

“Where would you go?”

“Up to Injun Lake. I’m the bulliest kind of a guide fur that neck of the
woods, an’ so’s my two boys; but you see we ain’t got no boats, an’
we’re too poor to buy ’em.”

“Why don’t you go to the hotels and hire out to them?” demanded Tom; and
then he wondered if there were a landlord in the world who would trust a
boat-load of passengers, ladies and children for instance, to the care
of the walking whisky barrel he saw before him.

“Didn’t I try that very thing down there”—another backward jerk of the
head—“an’ didn’t they tell me that they didn’t have no use fur sich
lookin’ fellers as me an’ my boys was?” exclaimed Matt Coyle, fiercely.
“They did fur a fact. But if I had a boat of my own I could go up to
Injun Lake where they ain’t so perticular about the clothes a man wears,
so long as he understands his business, an’ I’d make piles of money,
too; ’cause why—I’d work fur less’n the reg’lar hotel guides. See?”

“Yes, I see; but how long would it be before the regular guides would
run you out, the same as the Mount Airy people did? They would make the
country so hot for you that you couldn’t stay there.”

“Suppos’n they tried that little game on?” answered Matt, laying down
his rifle long enough to shake both his huge fists in the air. “Ain’t
that somethin’ that two can play at? I’d break up the business of
guidin’ in less’n two seasons.”

“How would you do it?”

“Yes, I would,” Matt went on. “If I only had a boat that was easy to
slip around in an’ light to tote over the carries, I’d make the folks
who come there fur fun so sick of them woods that they wouldn’t never
come there no more; then what would become of them two big hotels when
there wasn’t no custom to run ’em?”

“How would you go about it?” repeated Tom.

“Oh, there’s plenty of ways,” answered the squatter, shaking his head
knowingly.

“Give us one of them.”

“Wal, s’pos’n I should see a big party, with childern among ’em, start
out from one of them hotels as big as life, an’ I should foller along
after ’em, easy like, an’ some day, when there wasn’t no men folks
about, I should slip up, grab one of them childern an’ run him off to
the mountains? An’ s’pos’n one of my boys should happen to be loafin’
around that hotel when the party come back without the child, an’ should
hear that a reward of a hunderd, mebbe two hunderd dollars had been
offered fur his safe return? Couldn’t my boy easy hunt me up, an’
couldn’t I tote that young un back to his pap an’ claim them dollars?
Eh?”

Tom was so astounded that he could say nothing in reply. Matt Coyle was
a great deal worse than he thought he was. The squatter saw that his
solitary auditor was interested, and went on to tell of another way in
which he could break up the business of guiding in the wilderness about
Indian Lake, in case the people living there didn’t treat him and his
family as well as Matt thought they ought to be treated.

“Or s’pos’n there wasn’t no childern into the party,” said he. “There’d
be fine guns an’ fish poles an’ lots of nice grub, in course; an’
couldn’t I slip up to their camp when there wasn’t no body there to
watch it, an’ tote some of them guns an’ things off into the bresh an’
hide ’em? Oh, there’s plenty of ways to bust up guidin’ an’ them big
hotels along with it. They would think twice before bein’ too rough on
me, ’cause they know me up there to Injun Lake.”

And the man might have added that that was the very reason they drove
him away from there—because they knew him.

“But the trouble is, I ain’t got no boat of my own to run about with.
The punt, she’s too heavy, an’ I ain’t got no other,” continued Matt
Coyle; and then he stopped and looked hard at Tom, and Tom, in return,
looked hard at Matt. An idea came into his head; or, to speak more in
accordance with the facts, Tom suddenly recalled some words which the
squatter had let fall at the beginning of their interview.

“You said you were on your way to the pond to pick out a boat when you
met me,” said Tom. “Well, why don’t you go ahead and get it? There is
one among them that will just suit your purpose. It is a canvas canoe.
It is very light, and you can pack it across a four mile portage without
any trouble at all. If you don’t want to do that, you can take it to
pieces and carry it in your hand as you would a grip-sack. It will hold
up eight hundred pounds, and you can’t over-turn it by rocking it from
side to side.”

“Who belongs to it?” inquired Matt, who had never heard of such a craft
before.

“Joe Wayring; and his father is one of the Mount Airy trustees. Your
house was on his land, and if Mr. Wayring had said the word, you might
have been living happily there now, with plenty to do in the way of
boating and guiding and with money in your pocket,” said Tom, hoping
that this reference to Mr. Wayring and the influence he might have
exerted in Matt’s behalf, if he had seen fit to do so, would make the
squatter angry, and awaken in him a desire to be revenged on the son
since he could not harm the father in any way. The plan succeeded
admirably. Matt laid his rifle on the ground so that he could shake both
his fists, and the oaths and threats he uttered when he had thus
relieved himself of all incumbrance, were frightful to hear. He did not
yell, as he would like to have done, for he knew that the boys who had
gone in pursuit of the bear were not far away; but he hissed out the
words between his clenched teeth, and kicked and trampled down the
bushes in his rage.

“I’d take the boat now, even if I knowed it wouldn’t be of no use to
me,” said he, as soon as he could speak. “It’ll cost ole man Wayring
five an’ mebbe twenty dollars to buy him another—”

“More than that,” said Tom. “A good deal more.”

“Wal, it’ll be jest that much out of his pocket whatever it is,”
answered Matt Coyle. “Where did you say them boats was?”

“Right down there on the beach,” replied Tom, indicating the direction
with his finger. “You know which one I mean, don’t you? You’re sure you
can tell a canvas canoe from a Shadow or a Rob Roy?”

“Am I sure that I can tell a pipe from a shot gun?” retorted Matt.

“Yes, I suppose you can do that, but I am not so positive that you can
tell one canoe from another,” answered Tom. “Of course it wouldn’t be
safe for me to go down to the beach with you, for if Joe should happen
to be anywhere within sight, I’d be in a pretty fix. You may be sure I
shall not so much as hint that I saw you here in the woods, and you
mustn’t lisp it to a living person.”

“Course not,” said Matt. “Mum’s the word between gentlemen.”

Tom could scarcely restrain an exclamation of disgust. It looked as
though this blear-eyed ragamuffin considered himself quite as good as
the boy he was talking to.

“Take the canoe just as it stands,” continued Tom, “and you will find a
good lunch as well as a fine fishing-rod in it. Be lively now, for Joe
may come back at any moment. I’ll keep out of sight, for of course I
don’t want to know any thing about it.”

“I don’t care fur them new-fangled poles what’s got a silver windlass
onto the ends of ’em, an’ I wouldn’t tech it if I didn’t think I could
sell it to somebody; but I’ll go fur the grub, I tell you.”

So saying Matt Coyle went through with some contortions with the left
side of his face which were, no doubt, intended for a friendly farewell
wink, and stole off toward the beach; while Tom turned and walked away
in the opposite direction. When he thought he had put a safe distance
between himself and the pond, he sat down to await developments. Nor was
he obliged to wait long. A rifle cracked away off to the left of his
place of concealment, then a shot gun roared, and presently voices came
to him from the depths of the forest. Joe and his companions had given
up the chase, and were now on their way back to the pond, shooting
squirrels as they came. Tom knew when they passed by within less than a
hundred yards of him, and he knew, too, that they were surprised because
they did not meet him in the woods or find him on the beach, for they
set up a series of dismal whoops as soon as they reached the water’s
edge.

“Now for it,” thought Tom, drawing his hand over his face and looking as
innocent as though he had never been guilty of a mean act in his life.
“I’ve got to meet them some time, and it might as well be now as an hour
later. Whoop-pee!” he yelled in answer to the shouts that were sent up
from the shore of the pond.

Tom’s ears also told him when Joe Wayring first discovered that his
canvas canoe was missing. The yells suddenly ceased, and Tom heard no
more from Joe and his companions until he came out of the woods and
halted on the beach a short distance from the place where they were
standing. They were gathered in a group around Roy Sheldon, who was bent
over with his hands on his knees, and his eyes fastened upon a
foot-print in the mud. They were listening so eagerly to something Roy
was saying, that Tom walked up within reach of them before any of the
group knew that he was about.

“What have you found that is so very interesting?” inquired Tom, who
knew that he ought to open the conversation in some way.

“Oh, here you are,” exclaimed Hastings. “We could not imagine what had
become of you. Until we heard you call out there in the woods, we
supposed that the bear had come back, and that you had gone after him in
Joe’s boat.”

“Not by a long shot!” cried Tom, who saw very plainly what Arthur was
driving at. “I haven’t seen the bear since I lost sight of you, and if I
had, I should have gone away from him and not toward him. I have no
ambition to shine as a bear hunter, and consequently I am here safe and
sound.”

“But Joe’s canoe isn’t,” said Roy.

Tom looked, and sure enough the place where Joe had left his boat when
he went into the woods was vacant. With much apparent anxiety and
uneasiness he turned toward his canoe as if to satisfy himself that his
own treasures were safe, when Roy broke out with—

“Oh, you’re a sufferer the same as the rest of us. Your lunch and your
fine bait-rod have gone off to keep Joe’s canoe company. He took all our
rods and his pick of the fish, too, and it is a great wonder to me that
he was good enough to leave us our paddles.”

Tom was really surprised now, and he was deeply in earnest when he said:

“If I ever meet the man who did that I’ll have him arrested if I can
find any one to make out a warrant for him.” Then suddenly recollecting
that he was not supposed to know who the thief was, he added: “Do you
suspect any body?”

“No, we don’t suspect; we know,” answered Joe. “Look at that!”

“Can you tell a man’s name by looking at the print of his foot in the
mud?” asked Tom.

“I can tell that man’s name, for I know how he was shod the last time I
saw him,” replied Joe. “It was Matt Coyle. He made a good many threats
before he left the village, and he has begun to carry them out already.
He has put up his shanty somewhere in the vicinity of this pond, and
will make it his business to do some damage to every hunting and fishing
party that comes here.”

“Well, what are we standing here for?” exclaimed Tom, who had expected
before this time to hear somebody propose an immediate pursuit of the
robber.

“We might as well stay here and take it easy, as to get wild and rush
around through the woods for nothing,” replied Joe; and Tom was
surprised to see how ready he was to give his boat up for lost. “In the
first place, we couldn’t overtake the robber, and in the second, we
couldn’t recover our property if we did. The day of reckoning will
surely come, but we can’t do any thing to hasten it.”

The idea that the squatter would disturb any of the things in the other
canoes had never entered into Tom’s mind. Matt seemed to remember, with
as much gratitude as such a man was capable of, that Tom was one of the
few who sympathized with him when he was ordered out of Mount Airy, and
yet he had made little distinction between his property and that
belonging to the sons of the trustees who ordered him away. There was no
sham about his rage. He was angry because his elegant rod and German
silver bass reel had disappeared, and because he knew that he would
never dare have Matt Coyle arrested for the theft. If the latter should
go before a magistrate and repeat the words that had passed between Tom
and himself not more than half an hour ago, wouldn’t he be in a pretty
scrape? He was in one already, for the squatter had a hold upon him, and
subsequent events proved that Matt knew how to use it to his own
advantage.

“HOW in the world did you manage to get separated from us so quickly?”
asked Roy, addressing himself to Tom Bigden. “The last time I saw you,
you were bringing up the rear all right, but when we lost the trail and
stopped to hold a consultation, you were not to be seen.”

Tom had been expecting this, and he was ready with his answer. Pointing
to his boots, which he had purposely stuck into a mud-hole, shortly
after his companions left him, he said:

“I got mired in the swamp, and by the time I could crawl out and pour
the water from my boots, you had left me so far behind that I could
neither see nor hear any thing of you. If I had come directly back to
the pond instead of wasting time in looking for you, I might have been
able to stop Matt Coyle’s raid on our canoes.”

“I doubt it very much,” replied Joe Wayring. “No doubt Matt has been
watching us all the morning and waiting for us to come ashore so that he
could steal something, and I believe he would have made his ‘raid’ if we
had all been here to oppose him. As it was, he had full swing, and there
are none of us hurt.”

“That’s my idea,” said Arthur. “Judging by his countenance Matt is a bad
man and a desperate one. Well, we have lost our rods and reels, which
must be worth considerably more than a hundred dollars, but we have
learned one thing, that we ought to profit by, and another that we can
use to our advantage. To begin with, so long as Matt Coyle is allowed to
stay about in this neck of the woods—”

“And I guess he’ll stay here as long as he has a mind to,” observed Roy.

“Well, I guess he won’t,” retorted Arthur.

“I know what you mean,” said Roy. “You mean that the arm of the law is
strong enough to snatch him out of the swamp. I don’t dispute it. The
trouble is going to be to get hold of him. If he finds the low lands
getting too warm for him, he will take to the mountains; and you know
that there are a good many places among them where a white man has never
yet set his foot.”

“He’ll come out, all the same,” answered Arthur; “but as long as he
stays around, Sherwin’s Pond is no place for hunting and fishing
parties, unless they bring some one with them to watch the camp while
they are rambling about in the woods. We must warn the hotel people as
soon as we get back to town.”

“You said there was something we could use to our advantage,” suggested
Joe.

“Yes. We can see any amount of sport here this fall with the grouse. We
flushed a lot of them while we were gone,” he added, turning to Tom,
“but of course we didn’t shoot at them.”

“Why not?” inquired the latter.

“Why, because the close season isn’t over yet, and the birds are
protected by law.”

Tom and his cousins had nothing to say, but they wondered if Arthur
Hastings always obeyed the game laws when he was alone in the woods.
They had not much respect for him if he did. They could not lay claim to
any great skill themselves. An October grouse on the wing would have
been as safe from harm a dozen yards away from the muzzles of their
double-barrels, as though he had been on the other side of the globe.
They always killed their game sitting; and they would shoot at a robin
as soon as they would shoot at a wild turkey.

“We didn’t come down here to go home hungry,” said Joe, pointing to a
bunch of squirrels that lay at the foot of the nearest tree. “We’ll have
two courses to our dinner or breakfast, or whatever you call a meal
eaten at this time of day, and there’s plenty of water in the spring to
wash it down with.”

The boys were all hungry, and there was nothing appetizing in looking
forward to a breakfast of meat and fish. Joe Wayring and his friends did
not mind it, for they had eaten many such meals during their vacation
wanderings in the woods; but Tom Bigden was not much accustomed to
roughing it, and he condemned the squatter almost as bitterly for
walking off with the hard-boiled eggs, sardines, canned fruit and bottle
of cold coffee, which he had provided as his share of the common dinner,
as he did for stealing his fishing-rod.

“When Matt opens my bundle and finds all that buttered tissue paper in
it I guess he’ll wonder,” said Joe, as he stepped into Roy’s canoe and
picked up one of the joints of the double paddle. “He won’t know what I
intended to do with it; do you, Bigden?”

After a little reflection Tom concluded that he couldn’t tell what use
the buttered tissue paper could be put to, unless Joe intended to start
a fire with it, and the latter went on to explain.

“We always take a supply with us as a substitute for a frying-pan,” said
he. “After cleaning the fish in good shape, we wrap him up in this
tissue paper, and then add three or four thicknesses of wet brown paper.
In the meantime, the fellow whose business it is to see to the fire has
taken care to have a nice bed of coals ready. We rake these coals apart,
put in the fish, and cover him up so quickly that the paper around him
has no time to get afire, and there he stays until he is done. Then we
poke him out, and when the paper is taken off the skin and scales come
with it; and if you relish a well-cooked fish, there he is.”

“But how do you know when the fish is done?” asked Ralph.

“A potato is as good a clock as you want to go by,” answered Joe.

“A potato?” repeated Ralph.

“Yes. I brought several with me, intending to put them on the table
after they had done duty as clocks, but they have gone off with the
sugar, lemons and other good things I had in my bundle. As soon as your
fish is covered up in the coals,” continued Joe, “put your potatoes in
alongside of him and cover them up also. You can test them with a sharp
stick at any time, and when they are done, which will be at the end of
half an hour, if your fire is just right, poke them out, break them open
and place them on a flat stone which you have previously washed, to
cool. Then poke out your fish, take off the wrappings and fall to work.
But we shall have to use boards this trip—there are plenty of them lying
around loose on the point, unless Matt Coyle has carried them off to
patch up his shanty—and make our noses do duty as clocks.”

Tom did not understand this, either; but believing that he had made a
sufficient airing of his ignorance of woodcraft for one day, at least,
he asked no more questions.

Half an hour’s steady paddling brought the boys to the point, on which
they landed to prepare their meager breakfast. That it was a favorite
resort for parties like their own was evident. Beds of ashes surrounding
the mossy bowlder from beneath which the spring bubbled up, marked the
places where roaring camp-fires had once been built, and the empty fruit
and meat cans that had been tossed into the bushes told what good
dinners had been eaten there.

Joe Wayring at once set off to hunt up a couple of suitable boards,
another started a fire, two more fell to work upon the fish and
squirrels, and the rest found employment in gathering a supply of fuel,
and providing birch-bark plates and platters. Although Tom and his
cousins did their full share of the work, they did not neglect to keep
an eye on their more experienced companions; and they were astonished to
see how easily one can get on without a good many things which the
majority of people seem to think necessary to their very existence. When
the fish had been cleaned and washed in the pond, they were spread out
flat and fastened with wooden pins to the boards, which were propped up
in front of the fire; while the squirrels were impaled upon forked
sticks and held over the coals by Arthur Hastings and Roy, who turned
first one side and then the other to the heat, until they were done to a
delicious brown.

“If Matt Coyle had only been good enough to leave us the bacon, which I
was careful to have put up with my lunch, these squirrels would be much
better than they are going to be,” said Arthur, addressing himself to
Ralph, who manifested the greatest interest in this rude forest cookery.
“Their meat is rather dry, you know, and a strip of nice fat bacon
pinned to each side of them would furnish the necessary grease—that
isn’t a very elegant word, I know, but it expresses my meaning all the
same—and give them a flavor also. It would make the fish more palatable,
too. My advice to you is, always take a chunk of bacon with you if you
are going to cook your dinner in the woods.”

“What’s he doing?” inquired Ralph, nodding toward Joe Wayring, who stood
around with his hands in his pockets, now and then elevating his chin
and sniffing the air like a pointer that had struck a fresh scent.

Arthur laughed heartily.

“Joe’s timing the fish,” was his reply. “When they smell so good that he
can’t wait any longer, he will know they are done; and then dinner will
be ready. It’s rather a novel way, I confess, but Joe hits it every
pop.”

This was the first time that Tom and his cousins had ever sat down to a
meal that was composed of nothing but fish and meat, but it tasted much
better than they thought it would. Perhaps the reason was because they
were hungry. At any rate they disposed of all that was placed before
them, and would have asked for another piece of squirrel if there had
been any more on the big slice of bark that did duty as a platter.

“This meal will give you an idea of what we could have done if that
squatter had not stumbled on our canoes while we were after that bear,”
said Roy, who stood holding the empty platter in one hand and his light
bird gun in the other. As he spoke, he sent the platter flying over the
pond, and broke it into inch pieces by the two charges of shot he put
into it before it struck the water. “What’s the next thing on the
programme?” he continued. “I don’t much like the idea of undertaking
that long carry during the heat of the day, but I don’t see what else we
can do unless we are willing to stay here and be idle for hours to come.
We can’t fish any more, that’s certain. We haven’t brought our long bows
with us, and who wants to shoot squirrels with a shot gun? Not I, for
one.”

There was no debate upon the question Roy had raised. They had their
choice between going home, and staying where they were until the sun
sank out of sight behind the mountains; and they were not long in making
up their minds what they would do. When Joe Wayring picked up his gun
and stepped into Roy’s canoe (it was a Rice Laker, and not being decked
over, it could easily accommodate him and its owner), the others got
into theirs, and the fleet started toward the upper end of the pond.

We have said that Mirror Lake and Sherwin’s Pond were fifteen miles
apart, and that there were about twelve miles of rapids in the stream by
which they were connected. This, of course, would leave three miles of
still water; but the trouble was, it could not be made use of by any one
going from the pond to the lake. At every one of the points at which the
rapids ceased and the stretches of still water began, the banks were
high and steep, and so densely covered with briers and bushes that the
most active boy would have found it a difficult task to work his way to
the water’s edge, and an impossible one if he had a canoe on his back.
This being the case our six friends had a long portage (they generally
called it a “carry”) to look forward to; but three of them, at least,
went at it as they went at every thing else that was hard—with the
determination to do it at once and have it over with. Arthur Hastings
went first with his little Rob Roy on his back, Joe Wayring followed
close behind him with all the guns and paddles he could carry (the rest
of them were lashed fast in the cock-pits so that they would not fall
out when the canoes were turned bottom up), and they led their
companions nearly a third of the distance before they put down their
loads and leaned up against a tree to rest.

“This is my last visit to Sherwin’s pond this season,” panted Arthur, as
he drew his handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the big drops of
perspiration from his forehead. “It’s too much sugar for a
cent—altogether too much.”

“Every time you come through here on a hot day you say the same thing,”
observed Joe.

“I know it; but I am in dead earnest now. The game isn’t worth the
candle.”

“What’s the matter? Are you sorry that you didn’t smash your canoe in
the rapids?” asked Roy.

“Or didn’t you catch fish enough to suit you?” chimed in Ralph.

“Perhaps he is disgusted because he didn’t shoot that bear,” said Joe.

“It’s hard work,” repeated Arthur. “The fun of running the rapids,
catching a nice string of bass and seeing a bear, does not repay one for
the horrors of this fifteen mile carry. It is worse for me to-day than
it ever was before, because we have been so very unlucky. We have used
our rods for the last time, and Joe will never see his canvas canoe
again.”

This was the way in which Arthur and his two friends referred to their
losses whenever they referred to them at all. There was no unreasonable
exhibition of rage, such as Tom Bigden would have been glad to indulge
in, if he could have found the least excuse for so doing.

If Tom had possessed even the semblance of a heart, it would have smote
him when he saw how patiently Joe and his chums bore up under their
misfortunes. If Matt Coyle had turned the matter over in his mind for a
whole month, he could not have hit upon anything that was so well
calculated to render these three boys miserable, as was the piece of
villainy which he had that day carried out at the suggestion of Tom
Bigden. Tom was glad of one thing: His companions did not ask him any
questions, and consequently he was not obliged to tell them any lies.

The boys rested a good many times while they were on the carry, and when
at last they launched their canoes on the broad bosom of the lake they
were so weary and devoid of ambition, that it was a task for them to
paddle down to the boat-houses; but, like their arduous journey across
the portage, it was accomplished at last by steady and persevering
effort, and when they separated near the middle of the lake and pulled
away toward their respective homes, they told one another that the next
time they went down to the pond they would see to it that Matt Coyle had
no chance to spoil their day’s sport.

“There’s something about that business that don’t look just right to
me,” said Ralph Farnsworth, as soon as Joe and his friends were out of
hearing. “I don’t mind my own loss, but I am really sorry for Joe
Wayring.”

“So am I,” said Loren. “He prized that canoe very highly. I believe he
would rather have lost his handsome breech-loader. I tell you we made a
mistake in having any thing to do with George Prime. Wayring and his
crowd are much the better lot of fellows.”

These remarks settled one thing to Tom Bigden’s satisfaction. Ever since
his interview with the squatter he had been asking himself whether or
not he ought to take his cousins into his confidence, and now he knew
that he had better not. He was afraid, as well as ashamed, to show them
how far his unreasonable enmity toward Joe Wayring had led him, and so
he said nothing.

Great was the indignation among some of the Mount Airy people when it
became known that Matt Coyle had turned up again when he was least
expected, and that he had walked off with a hundred and fifty dollars
worth of property that did not belong to him. But Mount Airy, as we have
seen, was like other places in that it numbered among its inhabitants
certain evil-minded and envious persons, who were never so happy as when
they were listening to the story of some one’s bad luck. George Prime
and the boys who made their head-quarters in his father’s store were
delighted to hear that the squatter had begun operations against Joe and
his chums, and hoped he would “keep it up” until he had stolen or
destroyed every thing they possessed. They declared that they were sorry
for Tom and his cousins, but when they came to say that much to them by
word of mouth, as they did the next afternoon when Tom, Ralph and Loren
dropped into the drug-store on their way to the post-office, they did it
in such a way that Tom became disgusted, and left without buying the
cigar he had intended to ask for.

“The more I see of those fellows, the less I like them,” said Tom; and
then he was about to open his battery of abuse upon Prime and his
friends, when he discovered several of the Toxophilites coming down the
side-walk. “I’ll tell you what’s a fact, boys,” Tom added in a lower
tone. “It’s a lucky thing for us that we didn’t buy those cigars. Here
comes Miss Arden with a whole crowd of girls, and there isn’t a street
or alley that we could slink into if we had a weed in our hands.”

The boys lifted their hats as the girls came up, and passed on rejoicing
over their escape. If they had been caught in the act of smoking they
might have said good-by to all their hopes of getting into the archery
club. A little further on they stopped in front of the window of a
jewelry store, where some of the prizes that were to be distributed at
the canoe meet had been placed for exhibition. Their three companions of
the previous day were there, and their attention was concentrated upon a
beautiful blue silk flag, trimmed with gold fringe and bearing in its
center the monogram of the Mount Airy canoe club, which occupied a
conspicuous position among the prizes.

“That’s some of Miss Arden’s handiwork,” said Joe Wayring, after he had
cordially greeted Tom and his cousins. “It is to go to the first one who
walks the greasy pole.”

“Great Moses!” ejaculated Tom. “To what base uses—”

“That’s just what I said,” interrupted Arthur Hastings. “I told her,
too, that it wouldn’t make half the fun the greasy pig did, and you
ought to have seen her stick up her nose. Another thing, now that I
think of it: Unless the wind is just right, the flag will wallop itself
over and around the pole until it is all covered with grease.”

“And the boy who is lucky enough to capture it will have to take it into
the water with him, and there is her elegant prize ruined at the start,”
chimed in Joe Wayring.

“Don’t you think Miss Arden had wit enough to provide for that?”
exclaimed Mr. Yale, the jeweler, who happened to overhear this remark.
“Do you see that little flag beside the blue one? Well, that is intended
to represent the prize. If you are fortunate enough to capture that, you
can fly the blue pennant at your masthead.”

Miss Arden was right when she told her friends that she was sure that
the gallant fellows who belonged to the canoe club would work harder for
her flag than they would for a greasy pig. Every one of the boys who
stopped in front of Mr. Yale’s window that afternoon to look at the
prizes, told himself that if he did not win that flag it would be
because some lucky member walked off with it before he had a chance to
try for it.

During the next two weeks little or nothing happened in or about Mount
Airy that is worthy of note. A deputy sheriff and constable went down to
Sherwin’s Pond to arrest Matt Coyle, and, after a three days’ search
returned empty-handed. They found the place where the squatter had built
his shanty, but it was gone when they got there, and so were Matt and
his family. The authorities at Indian Lake were requested to keep a
look-out for him, but Matt was too old a criminal to be easily caught.
He and his boys offered themselves as guides to the guests of the
hotels, but when they were told that they were not wanted, they set
themselves to work to carry out the programme of which Matt had spoken
to Tom Bigden on the day he stole Joe Wayring’s canoe—that is, to break
up the business of guiding in the region about Indian Lake, and to make
the people who came there for recreation so sick of the woods that they
would never come there again. Whether or not they succeeded in their
object shall be told further on.

Tom Bigden and his cousins never knew how near they came to being
black-balled when their names were brought before the canoe club at its
next meeting. Prime and his friends were suspicious of Tom. The latter
kept away from the drug-store altogether; he and his cousins were often
seen in Joe Wayring’s company, and Prime said that looked as though Tom
wasn’t in earnest when he promised to assist in carrying out the
arrangements that had been made for defeating Joe and Arthur at the
coming canoe meet.

“I’ll vote for him,” said Prime, after Noble, Scott, and one or two
others had labored with him for a long time, “but if he plays us false,
as I really think he means to do, he can just hang up his fiddle, so far
as the Toxophilites are concerned. I’ll take pains to let Miss Arden and
the rest of the girls know that he and his cousins smoke and play
billiards and cards on the sly, and they’ll make dough of his cake in
short order.”

“The agony is over at last,” said Tom, after Joe Wayring and his
inseparable companions Arthur and Roy, who came over in the _Young
Republic_ the next morning to announce the result of the ballot, had
gone home again. “Bear in mind, now, that we are to stick to our
original programme and win if we can. If we find that we have no show,
and that the prizes must go to Wayring and his friends, or to Prime and
his followers, we’ll stand by Wayring every time. We’ll teach that
drug-store crowd that the next time they make up a slate they had better
put our names on it if they expect us to help them.”

It never occurred to Tom and his cousins that possibly Joe Wayring, and
all the other boys who believed that friendly trials of strength and
skill, like those that were to come off during the canoe meet, should be
fairly conducted, would not thank them for their interference. Joe had
warned all his friends that there were boys in the club who had been
“booked” to win by fair means or foul (of course he did not tell them
where he got his information), and they made some pretty shrewd guesses
as to who those boys were. Being forewarned they were forearmed, and
they did not want any help. Tom found it out on the day the races came
off.