CANOE BOYS AND CAMPFIRES
Or, Adventures on Winding Waters
BY WILLIAM MURRAY GRAYDON
Author of "From Lake to Wilderness," "With Puritan and Pequod," "The Camp in the Snow," etc.
THE WORLD SYNDICATE PUBLISHING CO. CLEVELAND—NEW YORK
Made in U. S. A.
Copyright, 1907, by Chatterton-Peck Company
PRESS OF THE COMMERCIAL BOOKBINDING CO. CLEVELAND
I. INTRODUCING THE BOYS 9
II. PLANNING THE TRIP 17
III. THE CRUISE BEGINS 23
IV. ADRIFT IN THE DARKNESS 32
V. DISAPPEARANCE OF NUGGET 40
VI. THE LOST FOUND 48
VII. BATTERS AND JOE 57
VIII. HOW THE DAY DAWNED 74
IX. A SAFE SHELTER 82
X. A TRAMP ACROSS COUNTRY 90
XI. SEARCHING FOR THE CAMP 99
XII. OVER THE CLIFF 107
XIII. WHAT CLAY SHOT 116
XIV. CAUGHT IN THE WHIRLPOOL 125
XV. RANDY'S PROPOSITION 133
XVI. A SHATTERED DELUSION 142
XVII. THE STORM BREAKS 149
XVIII. AT THE MERCY OF THE TEMPEST 156
XIX. ADRIFT ON A LOG 163
XX. MR. DUDE MOXLEY 170
XXI. A MYSTERIOUS WARNING 178
XXII. AN INSOLENT DEMAND 185
XXIII. A DARING ATTEMPT 192
XXIV. AN UNEXPECTED ENCOUNTER 200
XXV. THE SIEGE BEGINS 207
XXVI. BUG'S PROPOSITION 215
XXVII. THE BURNING OF THE MILL 222
XXVIII. A GOOD DEED 229
XXIX. RANDY GOES SAILING 236
XXX. A NIGHT ALARM 243
XXXI. STORMY WEATHER 250
XXXII. THE BROKEN DAM 257
XXXIII. AN UNDERGROUND CRUISE 264
XXXIV. DESPAIR 270
XXXV. NUGGET DISCOVERS A LIGHT 275
XXXVI. HOME AGAIN 280
CANOE BOYS AND CAMPFIRES
INTRODUCING THE BOYS
"I say, Ned, this is beginning to grow wearisome," drawled Randy Moore as he tipped his chair against the wall, and crossed his feet on the low railing in front of him. "Clay promised to be here half an hour ago," he went on in an injured tone, "and if he doesn't come in a few minutes I'm going to have a spin on the river. It's aggravating to sit here and do nothing. I can count a dozen boats between the railroad bridge and Bushy Island."
"I wouldn't mind being out myself," said Ned Chapman, "but we have important business to transact to-night, Randy, and I think it would be wiser to let boating go for once. I have everything planned out in ship shape fashion, and it only wants the seal of approval from you and Clayton."
"Oh! you have, have you?" exclaimed Randy with a sudden show of interest. "That's good news, Ned. If Clay knew the momentous question was to be settled at last, he would stir himself to get here, wherever he is. I'll give him ten minutes' grace."
"You'll give him as many minutes as he needs," rejoined Ned. "There must be some reason for his delay. It's new for him to be late. He's always the first to keep an engagement."
"We'll know when he comes," said Randy wisely. "Stop talking now. I want to count the boats. I never saw so many on the river before."
The two boys were sitting on a narrow balcony that projected from the second floor of a neat but unpretentious boathouse. The rear end of the edifice was built against the sloping base of the river bank.
From the park above a flight of steps, with a single hand rail, led down to the main entrance, which was on the second floor. The other end of the apartment opened on the balcony and faced the Susquehanna river.
From the lower floor, which held a number of boats and canoes, a plank walk sloped to the water's edge, ten or fifteen yards away.
Randy Moore was the fortunate owner of this snug little piece of property. The Harrisburg boys envied him his gun, his dog and his pony, but they would have fairly bowed down before him if by so doing they could have been put on the list of those favored ones who made free and daily use of the boathouse.
A "luck fellow" was the general verdict concerning Randy, and it was a true one. His father was wealthy and never refused to gratify any reasonable desire of his only son. In consequence Randy was somewhat spoiled and self willed, but in other ways he was really a sensible lad.
The fact of his own superior position in life never occurred to him in relation to his companions. He gave himself no airs, and expected no homage or adulation.
His chief fault was a strong and uncurbed will, and he unfortunately had a quick temper. He was just sixteen years old, and was strong and hardy. He had dark eyes and hair, and a pleasing, attractive face.
Randy's most intimate friend, Ned Chapman, differed from him in every respect, and made an admirable foil for the other's impetuous temperament. Ned's father was a merchant in moderate circumstances, and he had just reason to be proud of his son's bringing up.
Ned was a steady, sensible lad, with very rigid ideas of right and wrong. Not that there was anything "priggish" about him. On the contrary, he was always the foremost in any undertaking that provided a little sport.
He was intensely fond of outdoor life, and was an acknowledged authority on everything relating to fishing, hunting, canoeing, and boating. But he did not allow recreation to interfere with his studies.
He and Randy were pupils at the academy, and both stood high in their classes.
Ned was a year older than Randy and half a head taller. He had brown hair, grayish brown eyes, and a deeply bronzed complexion, the result of living much in the open air and under the burning glow of the summer sun.
His face wore an expression of habitual good humor, and he had a rare command of his temper.
His grave displeasure was more dreaded than a passionate outburst would have been.
And now that two of the characters have been introduced to the reader, we must resume the thread of the story.
Randy's stipulated ten minutes had gone by, and five additional ones, when a shrill whistle was heard in the rear of the boathouse.
Both doors were open, and when the boys turned in their chairs and looked through they saw their tardy companion descending the steps that led from the top of the bank.
"It's Clay at last," exclaimed Randy.
"And some one with him," added Ned, as a second figure came into view.
At that instant the lad in the rear slipped, plunged head foremost down the remaining half dozen steps, knocking Clay to one side, and sprawled out in the doorway like a flattened frog.
Ned and Randy sprang up and hurried through the room.
"Why, it's Nugget," they exclaimed in great surprise. "Where did you come from, old fellow? We're awfully glad to see you."
Nugget, otherwise known as Nugent Blundell, rose painfully to his feet and glared at the boys.
"Why don't you ask me if I'm hurt?" he demanded wrathfully. "I believe you fellows greased those steps on purpose."
"See here, Nugget, you don't believe anything of the sort," said Ned. "I'm sorry you fell, and I'm glad you're not hurt. Come, old fellow, shake hands."
Nugget's face assumed a mollified expression, and he accepted a hearty handclasp from Ned and Randy. Then he began to brush the dust from his neat gray suit and patent leather shoes.
Meanwhile Clayton Halsey had been fairly choking with stifled mirth in a dark corner of the room. He now came forward, trying hard to assume an expression of gravity.
He was a short, thickset lad, with a beaming countenance, red cheeks, blue eyes, and light curly hair. He was in the same class at the academy with Ned and Randy, and their constant companion on all occasions. His father was a prominent lawyer.
"What kept you so long?" asked Randy in a slightly aggrieved tone.
"That," replied Clay, pointing at Nugget. "He arrived in town this afternoon, and came to the house after supper. I knew you fellows would be glad to see him, so I brought him along. But what do you think?" added Clay, winking slyly at Ned and Randy, "Nugget says he's going canoeing with us."
This piece of information produced a startling effect. Ned puckered his lips and gave a low whistle. Randy stared at Clay for an instant and then burst into a laugh.
Why this avowal on Nugget's part was received in such a peculiar way will be more clearly understood if a few words be said about that young gentleman himself.
Nugget was a New York boy, greatly addicted to cream colored clothes, white vests, patent leather shoes, high collars, gorgeous neckties, kid gloves, and canes.
He was about seventeen years old, and was tall and slender.
He had gray eyes, a sandy complexion and straight flaxen hair, which he wore banged over his forehead. A vacuous stare usually rested on his face, and he spoke in a slow, aggravating drawl.
Nugget had made the acquaintance cf the boys during the previous summer, which he spent with his uncle in Harrisburg. He was a good enough fellow in some ways, but the several occasions on which he had been induced to go on fishing and boating excursions, had resulted in disaster and ridicule at poor Nugget's expense.
"What Nugget doesn't know about swell parties, and dancing, and operas isn't worth knowing," Clay Halsey had said at that time; "but when it comes to matters of sport he doesn't know any more than a two days' old kitten."
The truth of this terse remark was readily appreciated by Clay's companions, and their present amazement and consternation on learning that Nugget wanted to go canoeing with them, can be easily conceived.
"Are you in dead earnest, Nugget?" asked Randy after a pause.
"Of course I am," was the aggressive reply. "I don't see anything funny about it though. I haven't been very well lately, and father let me stop school a month ahead of time, and come over here. I know he'll let me go canoeing if I write and ask him."
"But canoeing is vastly different from the kind of trips you made with us last summer," said Ned. "There is a good deal of hardship about it. You remember what a fuss you used to make over the merest trifles."
"You'll have to wear rough flannels and old clothes," added Randy. "You can't take kid gloves and patent leathers with you."
"And you'll have to sleep on the ground," put in Clay, "and eat coarse food. No chocolate cake and ice cream about canoeing."
"Oh, stop your chaffing," drawled Nugget sullenly. "I understand all that. I'm not as green as you think. If you fellows can stand it I can. Besides I've been practicing on the Harlem River this spring. I paddled a canoe from the Malta boathouse clear to High Bridge and back. And I didn't raise a single blister."
"I'll bet you wore gloves," said Clay mockingly.
Nugget flushed with anger and confusion, but said nothing.
"It's time to stop that now, Clay," said Ned authoratively. "If Nugget wants to go along I don't see any serious objections. No doubt the trip will do him lots of good. But that question can be settled later. Give us some light, Randy, and I'll show you what I've got here."
PLANNING THE TRIP
It was not yet dark outside but Randy lit the handsome brass lamp that stood on the square oaken table, and the yellow glow shone into every corner of the room.
The apartment was furnished in the manner most dear to the hearts of boys. The polished floor was strewn with soft rugs, and the walls were hung with pictures and amateur photographs. In the corners and over the mantels were fencing foils and masks, fishing rods, baseball bats, creels, and several pairs of crossed canoe paddles which showed traces of hard usage.
When the boys had dragged chairs to the table and seated themselves, Ned drew a little bunch of papers from his pocket, and opened them with a flourish.
"When the question of a canoe trip came up a month ago," he began, "I told you it would be better fun to cruise on some small stream than on the Susquehanna. I knew what I was talking about, because I paddled the whole distance last year, from Lake Otsego to the bay.
"I suggested the Conodoguinet Creek as the best cruising ground we could find around here, and promised to get all the information about it I could. I have kept my promise.
"Here is a map of the Cumberland Valley on a large scale, showing the entire course of the creek, and all its windings. You can examine that at your leisure. First I want to tell you what I have learned.
"Of course you knew that the Conodoguinet was about the most crooked stream in existence. We have evidence enough of that near home. You remember the big bend above Oyster's Dam—three miles around, and one field's length across. Well, there are bigger bends than that further up the valley.
"From the mouth of the creek to Carlile is just eighteen miles in a straight line. By the windings of the creek it is ninety miles. The distance was accurately measured and surveyed a number of years ago.
"Oakville is twenty miles beyond Carlile, and from there I propose that we should start. The upper part of the creek is not quite so crooked, but we are sure of a cruise of not less than one hundred and fifty miles. The creek is navigable all the way from Oakville, and there are not more than twelve or fifteen dams in the whole distance.
"The water is deep, and the current is swift in some places, sluggish in others. The channel winds through heavy timber lands and between high, rocky cliffs. The mountains are not far away. The fishing is splendid, and woodcock and snipe are plentiful."
Here Ned laid down the bundle of notes from which he had been reading.
"It will be a delightful trip," he added eagerly. "The Susquehanna can't compare with it. Instead of having to paddle our twenty or thirty miles a day in the broiling sun, and camp on gravel bars or grass flats, we can drift leisurely in the cool shade of the overhanging trees, stop when we please and as long as we please, and take our pick of a hundred beautiful camping places. In fact it will be a camping trip and canoe trip combined.
"And what's more we will be the first to navigate the creek. No canoe, or boat either, has ever made the winding journey from the head waters to the mouth. It is unexplored territory, except to the farmers and a few stray fishermen. You can take your choice now. Which is it to be? The Susquehanna or the Conodoguinet?"
Ned put the papers in his pocket and sat down.
"I say the creek, by all means, boys," exclaimed Randy.
"Same here!" echoed Clay.
"Aw, yes! that must be a beautiful stream, don't you know," drawled Nugget, in such a serio-comic tone that his companions burst out laughing.
When quiet was restored the map became the center of attraction, and Ned gladly pointed out places of interest and volunteered all sorts of information. As the hours went by the boys waxed enthusiastic over the proposed cruise. The details were mostly planned out, and then a long discussion ensued over the choice of a name for the club.
Many titles were suggested and rejected, but finally Ned struck a happy combination, and the organization was unanimously christened the "Jolly Rovers."
At ten o'clock the boat house was locked up, and the boys climbed the bank, and went down through the city to their respective homes.
Now that the cruise was a settled fact the Jolly Rovers threw all their energies into needed preparations. In the evening, and between school hours they were always to be found at Randy's boat house.
Ned looked forward to the trip with the keen delight of one who had already tasted the joys of canoeing. Clay and Randy—who had not been permitted to accompany Ned down the Susquehanna the previous summer—had bright anticipations to be realized, while Nugget was just as eager as his companions. It had required much persuasion and many promises on Nugget's part to win the desired permission, and when the question was finally decided the new member of the Jolly Rovers was put on a severe course of training.
This embraced rowing, paddling a canoe, and swimming, and before the month of June was over Nugget was fairly proficient in all three. He purchased a second hand canoe which Ned picked out for him, and without the knowledge of his companions he wrote to his father in New York for a canoeing outfit.
The box duly arrived and was opened one evening in the boathouse. The boys feasted their eyes on the array of treasures—fishing rods of spliced bamboo, a portable set of camp dishes that fitted into each other, a pair of brass lanterns, rubber blankets, and several other articles that were of no practical use on a canoe trip.
In the bottom of the box were four shirts of the softest flannel, two pairs of long black woolen stockings, and a canoeing suit of stout brown cloth—knickerbockers, blouse, and a yachting cap.
It was a fine outfit, and the boys good naturedly envied Nugget his luck.
The date of departure was fixed for the first week in July. When the academy closed on the 25th of June little or nothing remained to be done in the way of preparation—thanks to Ned's good generalship.
The four canoes lay in the lower section of the boathouse, radiant in new coats of paint. In the big closet on the upper floor were packed the varied assortment of dishware, lanterns, axes, bottles of oil, cement, cans of white lead, strips of oiled canvas, rolls of blankets, a new A tent, jointed poles for the same, and a bundle of iron stakes.
Such provision as could be taken along—oatmeal, rice, sugar, coffee and flour—had been ordered from a grocer, to be packed in waterproof jars.
Ned Chapman had been very properly chosen commodore of the club, and a couple of days before the start Randy's sister Mary presented the Jolly Rovers with a pennant of crimson and gold satin. The proper place for it was at the bow of the commodore's canoe, so it was yielded to Ned.
With the exception of Randy's single barreled shotgun, no firearms were to be taken along. The boys demurred to this at first, but were finally won over by Ned's sensible arguments. Canoeists cruising through a peaceful country seldom need weapons of defense.
THE CRUISE BEGINS
The first day of July fell on Thursday, and that afternoon the boxes containing the dishes, provisions and other traps, and the four canoes carefully wrapped in coffee sacking, were shipped to Oakville by freight.
On the following morning the Jolly Rovers departed by the seven o'clock train, and a ride of an hour and a half through the beautiful Cumberland Valley brought them to their destination. The canoes were found to be in good condition, and after a brief delay the services of a farmer and his team were engaged.
The inhabitants of the little village gazed with wonder and curiosity on the strange procession as it passed along the straggling street. The boxes and the gayly painted canoes completely filled the bed of the wagon. Nugget was perched on the seat beside the farmer, resplendent in his brown uniform. He held the pennant in his right hand, and waved it in the breeze from time to time.
The others marched with military precision behind the wagon. Randy bore his gun on his shoulder, and Ned and Clay carried paddles. All three wore knickerbockers and Norfolk jackets, and their faces were protected from the sun by canvas helmets with large visors.
For two miles and a half the road wound through a hilly, open country. Then it dipped into a wooded ravine, turned aside to follow a barely perceptible path through a heavy forest, and finally ended at a fording on the edge of the Conodoguinet.
"Here you are, boys," cried the farmer, as he pulled up his horses within a few feet of the water. "I reckon you couldn't have a better day for your start. The creek's in prime condition, too."
Nugget leaped down from the wagon and joined his companions. For a moment or two the boys quite forgot the work that had to be done.
With exclamations of delight they gazed on the narrow blue channel as it poured swiftly around a bend in the woods above and vanished from sight beneath the crooked arches of a mossy stone bridge a quarter of a mile below. The opposite shore was rocky and lined with pine trees, and over their tops could be seen against the horizon the jagged crest line of the Kittatinny Mountains.
"Come on now and get to work," said Ned finally. "My arms are itching to take hold of a paddle."
"So are mine," exclaimed Randy. "Let's be off as soon as possible."
With the farmer's aid the canoes were speedily taken from the wagon and placed on the grass close to the water's edge. They were built on somewhat different lines, but all were serviceable and well adapted for speed. The framework and the canvas were both light, and the average weight was about eighty pounds, unloaded. The canoes were aptly named. The Water Sprite belonged to Randy. It was light and graceful, and owing to its flat bottom drew very little water.
Clay owned the Neptune, a broad decked craft, built somewhat on the order of the primitive Rob Roy. The Imp was narrow and rakish, with a low cockpit and a high bow and stern. Nugget regarded it with the affection that one feels for a favorite dog.
The Pioneer, in which Ned had cruised down the Susquehanna, was a heavy but neatly proportioned craft, and showed traces of wear and tear. They all contained spacious hatches fore and aft.
The boxes were unpacked, and under Ned's supervision the contents were judiciously distributed and stowed away in the different canoes. Then the seats and back rests were arranged in the cockpits, and the canoes were gently shoved into the water.
"Do you fellows expect to reach the river in them flimsy things?" exclaimed the farmer when he saw the four canoes swinging lightly with the current. "I reckon you'll repent it afore you get many miles from here."
"Not much danger," replied Ned laughingly. "A good canvas canoe will stand as much as a rowboat any time. There are no obstructions in the way, are there?"
"I dunno," replied the farmer. "It's a wild and lonesome bit of country that this creek runs through, and I've heard tell of bad water an' whirlpools. The channel winds worse than any serpent. Why, it must be all of two hundred miles to the Big River."
"I hope you are right there," said Ned heartily, as he climbed out on his canoe and fixed the pennant securely on the bow. "Take your seats now," he added to the boys. "Everything's ready for the start."
They obeyed with a rush and a scramble, and Nugget very nearly got a ducking at the outset by thoughtlessly trying to stand up in the cockpit.
Good wishes and farewells were exchanged with the friendly farmer. Then four double paddles dipped the water and rose flashing with silvery drops, four canoes skimmed gracefully out on the swift blue surface of the creek. The Jolly Rovers were off at last.
When they were twenty or thirty yards down stream they turned and waved their paddles to the farmer, who was still standing in open-mouthed wonder beside the empty packing cases. Then a cross current, setting toward the right shore, whisked them out of sight of the spot.
Randy struck up the chorus of a popular boating song, and the others joined in with eager voices. Their jubilant spirits had to find a vent somewhere.
What a glorious thing it was to be drifting haphazard with the rippling current, free as the very air, and the birds that were singing sweetly in the bushes! The narrow vista of the creek brought vividly to mind the pleasures that lay in wait along the twisted miles of its channel—the gamy bass lurking in the deep, shady holes, the snipe and woodcock feeding among the reeds, the tent and campfire with the savory odor of coffee and crisp bacon.
That less pleasant things than these were destined to fall to the lot of the Jolly Rovers ere they should paddle from the mouth of the creek into the broad Susquehanna, occurred to none, else a shadow had marred their bright anticipations at the start.
Side by side the four canoes darted under the middle arch of the old stone bridge, and then Ned took the lead, for it was not seemly that the pennant should be anywhere but in front while the club was on a cruise.
The current soon became sluggish, and the channel wound between thick woods, where the trees almost met overhead. The boys drifted along leisurely, stopping now and then to explore some tempting nook.
At one place, where the water was deep and a great rock jutted from the shore, they put their fishing rods together, and procured worms by pulling up great clods of grass. In half an hour they caught a beautiful string of sunfish and chubs.
About the middle of the afternoon Ned went up to a farmhouse that was visible among the hills and came back with a pail of butter, a loaf of bread and two apple pies. The boys had already lunched on crackers. So they concluded to keep these supplies for supper.
They paddled slowly on, crossing from shore to shore as something new took their attention. A sudden shadow, caused by the sun dipping beneath the hill top, reminded them that evening was at hand. The banks were closely scanned for a camping place, and an admirable one was soon found—a grove of big trees, through which filtered a tiny stream.
The boys landed and dragged the canoes partly out on the grassy slope.
"The tent is the first thing," said Ned, as he lifted the big roll of canvas from the cockpit of the Pioneer, where it had served as an admirable seat.
Randy unlashed the poles from the fore deck of his canoe, and joined them together.
This was a clever invention of Ned's. Each pole was in two parts, and could be put together like the joints of a fishing rod. The ferrule of the ridge pole, which had to endure the most pressure, was longer and stouter than the others. The poles were very light but strong, and the entire six pieces made no perceptible burden when lashed on a canoe.
Five minutes sufficed to raise the tent, and drive the iron stakes at the four corners. Then what articles would likely be needed were taken from the canoes and carried inside.
Ned hunted up two large stones, and placed them a foot apart. He laid four iron rods across them, and proceeded to build a fire underneath.
"That's the best cooking arrangement ever invented," he said. "We used it altogether on the Susquehanna last summer. If I prepare the supper you fellows must do the rest. Clay, you clean those fish. Bring me the salt, pepper and lard, Randy, and then peel some potatoes."
"Can I assist in any way?" drawled Nugget, as he emerged from behind the tent, where he had been slyly brushing off his clothes and shoes.
"Why, certainly," replied Clay. "Clean these fish for me, that's a good fellow."
Nugget rapidly opened and closed his mouth two or three times. "I—I—really—I'm afraid—" he stammered.
"Let him alone, Clay," cried Ned sharply. "Clean the fish yourself. Suppose you set the table, Nugget," he added kindly. "Arrange the plates and knives and forks on some grassy level place, I mean."
While his companions were performing the duties assigned to them, Ned went down to the stream and filled the coffee pot.
"This is spring water, as cold as ice," he exclaimed in surprise. "The source can't be far away."
The sun was now out of sight, and it grew darker and darker as the preparations for supper went on. Randy finished his own work, and helped Nugget arrange the dishes on an outspread square strip of canvas. He lit one of the lanterns and placed it in the center, and a few moments later Ned made the welcome announcement that supper was ready.
The coffee pot and the pans of fried fish and potatoes were gingerly carried over, and then the boys seated themselves at the four corners, crossing their legs under them, tailor fashion.
The ruddy flames mangled with the yellow glow of the lantern, dancing on the bright tinware, and casting the shadow of the tent far into the forest. The brook rippled softly through the ravine, and away up the creek the melancholy cry of a whippoorwill was heard.
"This is what I call glorious," said Ned, as he opened a can of condensed milk and passed it around. "Nothing equals a life in the open air, and no other sport has the same fascination."
"You're right there," stuttered Randy, with his mouth full, "I'd like to live this way half the year round."
"It beats New York," said Nugget decidedly, as he raised a pint cup of coffee to his lips. The next instant he uttered a howl of anguish, and made a frantic grab at the pail of cold water.
"Was it hot?" asked Clay.
"Try it and see," retorted Nugget indignantly as he buried his nose in the pail.
For a little while the silence was broken only by the clatter of knives and forks. Then Ned said slowly, "It does a fellow lots of good to get away from the rush and noise of town life. We are safer here to-night than we would be at home. No peril can come near us. Our only neighbors are the simple, kind hearted farmers—" he paused abruptly, and turned his head to one side.
A strange rustling noise was heard back in the forest It grew more distinct with every second, and the boys looked at each other with fear and wonder. Then a gruff angry bark rang out on the night air, and the elder bushes across the glade swayed violently.
ADRIFT IN THE DARKNESS
Before the frightened boys could realize what was coming, a big yellow dog shot into view and rushed at them with a ferocious snarl. Under other circumstances the Jolly Rovers would have courageously faced the foe, but the attack was so sudden as to preclude the possibility of defense.
The supper party broke up in ignominious confusion. Ned bolted for the nearest tree and went up the trunk like a cat. Randy fled down the slope to the creek, and Clay sought shelter in the bushes on the far side of the rivulet. Nugget stared hopelessly about for an instant, and then, with a shrill cry of fear, he dived through the flaps of the tent.
The dog rushed across the table, tramping the dishes, and unfortunately upsetting the coffee pot. The hot liquid scalded the brute's paws, and snarling with rage and pain, he bolted into the tent after Nugget.
For a second or two there was a terrible outcry. Nugget's appeals for help mingled with the dog's angry barking. Then the tent shook violently and toppled to the ground.
At this interesting juncture the owner of the dog emerged from the bushes—a burly farmer with a very stern cast of features. He carried a lantern in one hand, and a short, thick club in the other.
The fallen tent first attracted his attention. It was wriggling about as though endowed with life, and from underneath came strange, muffled sounds.
The farmer lifted one end of the canvas, and gave it a vigorous jerk, thus liberating the dog, who began to prance about his master. A second pull revealed Nugget's legs thrashing wildly about on the grass. The dog immediately made a dart at them, but the farmer caught him by the scruff of the neck and dragged him back.
The boys had witnessed the whole affair from their hiding places, and now they dropped from the tree, and came timidly forward. At the same moment Randy crept out of the shadows and joined them.
The farmer caught sight of the boys and took a step toward them, still keeping a tight hold on his dog. "What do you mean by trespassin' here, you impudent young rascals?" he demanded savagely. "Get out of this as quick as you can, or I'll give you a taste of this."
He shook his club menacingly.
"I'm very sorry if we have offended you," said Ned quietly. "We did not suppose there would be any objection to our camping here. I don't think we have done any damage."
"Damage!" growled the farmer. "No, I reckon not. You hain't had time for that yet. It was only last night I run two thieving rascals off my land. They hed a camp a little ways down the creek, an' fur two whole days they were livin' at my expense, stealing applies, an' eggs, an' chickens, an' whatever else they could lay their hands on. You people are all alike. You don't have no regards fur a farmer's rights."
"I'm very sorry you have such a bad opinion of us," said Ned. "I assure you we don't deserve it. If you will let us stay here to-night we will go quietly away in the morning."
"No," snarled the farmer. "You can't stay. I won't have it. Pack up at once and git out. And mind you don't stop anywhere within half a mile. I own the land that fur on both sides of the creek."
Just then a diversion was created by the dog. He tore loose from his master and rushed at Nugget, who had meanwhile crawled out from the fallen canvas, and was standing with open mouth and eyes, listening eagerly to the conversation.
"Here, Bowser," shouted the farmer sternly. "Come here, I say."
The brute reluctantly obeyed, while Nugget sought shelter in a young tree.
The angry man turned to the three boys—for Clay had by this time joined the others.
"Get out as quick as you can," he resumed. "I can't stand here all night."
For an instant no one replied. Ned was bent on making another appeal, and was thinking how he could best word it. The chances were that a little persuasion would have induced the farmer to relent, and permit the boys to remain where they were until morning.
But Randy's unfortunate temper blazed up just then, and made a breach that was too wide to be healed.
"It's a confounded shame to turn us off at this time of night," he muttered angrily. "I wouldn't treat a dog that way. If this is a sample of country breeding I'm glad I don't—"
"Keep quiet, Randy," whispered Ned; "you're only making things worse."
The warning came too late.
"You audacious sauce box," cried the farmer. "I'll learn you manners. Take that—and that."
He seized Randy by the collar, and cuffed him soundly on the ears three or four times. Then he dropped him and turned to the others. "Now git out o' here, or I'll treat you-uns the same way," he snarled.
Randy was boiling with rage, but he dared not open his mouth again. Ned and Clay realized that further entreaty was now useless. Without a word they began to pack up, and were finally assisted by Randy and Nugget.
The farmer stood at one side, watching the operation keenly. In a brief space of time the tent and the unwashed dishes were tumbled into the hatches. Then the boys pushed the canoes into the water, and took their seats.
The farmer came down to the shore to see them off.
"Mind what I told you," he said; "no stoppin' within a good half mile."
"Don't say a word," whispered Ned.
His companions wisely obeyed, and in utter silence they paddled out from the shore and headed down stream. Soon a curve in the channel hid from view the dying embers of the campfire and the twinkle of the farmer's lantern.
"Wouldn't I like to get square with that old curmudgeon!" exclaimed Randy; "my ears sting yet. For half a cent I'd go back and trample down his grain or break his fences."
"I wish you'd poison the dog," drawled Nugget. "The brute gave me a horrid fright. The falling of the tent was all that saved me from being chewed up."
"See here, Randy," said Ned in a grave tone. "If you had kept your temper down and your mouth shut, things would have turned out all right. A little reasoning would have pacified that farmer. I thought you had more sense. You heard what the man said, didn't you?
"Two men—tramps or fishermen, probably—had been camping on his land, and doing all the damage they could, and naturally enough he was inclined to take out his spite on us. I don't blame him much. Such a thing would rile any farmer. Most people have an idea that when they get in the country they can do as they please, and for what these ignorant fools do the innocent ones have to suffer. We are finding that out ourselves just now."
"But the old brute might have seen that we didn't belong to that class of people," growled Randy, "and besides he didn't pay any attention to what you said."
"I had no chance to explain who we were," replied Ned. "You spoiled that for me by your impudence. I have no doubt the man was fair enough at heart. If we get in any more scrapes of that kind you must keep your temper down. I'm speaking for your own good, Randy. This isn't the first time your tongue has got you into trouble."
"It would be a good idea to keep his mouth tied shut except at meal times," suggested Clay laughingly.
"If you say that again I'll hit you with my paddle," threatened Randy. "I won't stand any nonsense from you, Clay Halsey."
"No quarreling, boys," said Ned. "That's enough now. We'll let the matter drop."
Clay subsided, and so did Randy. The latter stood a little in awe of Ned's rebukes, and whether he felt the justice of this one or not, he wisely made no more allusions to the farmer.
Indeed there were other things to think about now. The night was dark and gloomy, and it was difficult to perceive the outlines of the shores. The boys were tired and sleepy, but they feared to stop and hunt up a camping ground, lest the farmer should come down and rout them out again. A light would betray them, but without it they could do nothing.
There seemed to be no current at all, and in the dead sluggish water half a mile meant a wearisome paddle.
"I'm awfully hungry," said Nugget in a plaintive tone. "I didn't have ten bites of supper."
"We're all hungry, for that matter," returned Ned, "and sleepy as well. We must find a camping place."
"You had better hurry then," observed Clay. "I believe it's going to rain. The air feels sultry, and there isn't a star in sight."
Almost as he spoke a sullen peal of thunder echoed among the hills, and an instant later a jagged flash of lightning blazed on the surface of the creek.
The boys huddled a little closer together and nervously discussed the situation. A storm was bad enough when they had a snug tent to shelter them, but in their present plight, adrift on the water in pitch darkness, there was no telling what disaster might happen.
"I wish I was home," said Nugget. "I'm awfully afraid of thunder and lightning."
No one laughed at this candid confession. The occasion was too serious for mirth.
"I hardly know what would be best to do," began Ned. "If there is going to be much lightning we will be safer on the water than among the trees on shore. But here comes a gale, if I'm not mistaken. That will make things lively for us."
Ned's prediction was correct. The trees on shore suddenly began to rustle and creak. The water was lashed into short, choppy waves, which turned to white capped billows as the wind waxed stronger. It was evident that this part of the creek occupied an exposed position.
"Keep your canoes trim," shouted Ned. "The wind will drop as soon as the rain comes."
It is doubtful if his companions heard the warning. The force of the tempest had already driven the canoes apart.
For two or three minutes Ned was tossed about at will, momentarily expecting his frail craft to upset. He could see no trace of his companions in the darkness, and when he shouted the roar of the gale almost drowned his voice.
Suddenly he felt a severe shock, and then the canoe stood still. As he partially rose, and peered to right and left, a dim object glided swiftly by him. A second later it disappeared with startling abruptness, and a frantic cry for help rang out hoarsely above the fury of the storm.
DISAPPEARANCE OF NUGGET
Ned knew that the dim object must have been a canoe, but its sudden effacement, and the loud cry for help, were mysteries too deep for immediate comprehension. He shouted with all the power of his voice full half a dozen times, but no answer came back.
Then a happy thought flashed into his mind. When he had satisfied himself by shaking it violently that the canoe was firmly lodged on some object—probably a rock—he leaned forward and took his lantern from the hatch. By holding it low in the cockpit he had no difficulty in lighting the wick.
The lantern was a bullseye, and as soon as Ned turned the flashing glare on the surrounding darkness the mystery was solved. The Pioneer was lodged in mid channel on a timber dam. The bow projected a foot or two over the edge, but could go no further owing to lack of water. None was running over at all at this point, and the slimy timbers protruded six or eight inches above the level of the creek.
While Ned was making these investigations the wind ceased, and he heard close at hand a steady roaring noise, like the furious patter of rain on a tin roof. But it was not rain that produced the noise, though big drops were even then beginning to fall.
A twist of the lantern to the left sent a luminous bar of light along the breast of the darn, and revealed a jagged break, fully six feet wide, through which the freed water poured with the speed of a millrace. The chasm was barely a dozen feet from where the Pioneer had lodged, and Ned's first thought was one of gratitude for his own escape. Then he remembered with a thrill of horror what had happened a moment or two before. Which of his companions had been carried through the break, and where was the unfortunate lad now?
As Ned stood with the lantern turned on the fatal spot, a shout rang out behind him, and the next instant the Water Sprite grounded on the edge of the dam beside the Pioneer.
"I'm glad you lit that lantern, Ned," exclaimed Randy breathlessly. "I came pretty near paddling back up the creek. But where are the other fellows?"
Ned pointed to the broken dam and huskily related what had occurred.
Randy was horror stricken.
"I heard that cry for help, too," he said, "but I had no idea what it meant. Are you sure one of the boys went through?"
"I saw the canoe plainly," replied Ned. "There was just one cry for help, and after that I could get no answer when I shouted."
"We'll hope for the best," said Randy stoutly. "Perhaps he made the plunge all right, and is half a mile down the creek by this time. Great Caesar! I hope both the boys didn't go through. No, there's a light now on the left shore. It's either Nugget or Clay with a lantern."
"Paddle over and bring him back with you," directed Ned. "If he tries to come himself he'll go through the break. Be sure to keep away above the dam though, and when you return don't let my lantern mislead you, because I intend to wade along the breastwork and have a look at that hole. If you head for a dozen feet this side of the light you'll likely land where you are now."
Randy promised obedience, and departed in haste. Ned watched him anxiously until he was out of sight. Then he sounded the water with his paddle, and finding it quite shallow he climbed carefully out of the canoe.
Holding the lantern in one hand, and clutching the projecting edge of the dam with the other, he moved along foot by foot, submerged to his waist. It was well that he had this support, for his feet were on the sloping, mud incrusted planks.
When the broken place was three or four feet away the water began to deepen. Ned stopped and flashed the light on the lower side of the dam. He saw little there to comfort him.
The fall was about six feet, and at the bottom of the long, glassy sheet of water which plunged through the break at a frightful speed, great foam crested waves began, and rolled and tumbled in awful confusion as far as the gleam of the bullseye could reach. That a canoe could go through such a place without capsizing seemed an utter impossibility.
There was no sign of one, however, in the quiet eddies on either side of the raging channel, and with this dismal scrap of comfort Ned retraced his perilous journey to the canoe. He had hardly gained it, and climbed in, when Randy and his companion paddled their craft alongside. That companion was Clay. Nugget, then, was the missing Jolly Rover.
"Discover anything?" demanded Randy.
"No. It looks bad for poor Nugget, boys. If the canoe had gone through all right he would have paddled to shore, and been making a big outcry by this time."
"He can't be drowned. I won't believe it," cried Randy. "See here, Ned, isn't it likely that Nugget caught hold of the canoe when it upset, and clung to it? The roar of the water would account for your not hearing his cries."
"It may be," said Ned reflectively, as he dashed a tear from his eye. "If that's the case we will soon overtake him—provided he doesn't let go his hold. Let's have a look at the right hand corner of the dam."
"Yes, that will be the most likely place," added Clay. "The race is on the other side. I nearly blundered into it."
The boys paddled to shore, following the line of the dam, and a brief search with the lantern revealed an easy path by which the canoes could be carried around.
There was no sign of a house, and Clay reported none on the opposite side, so the mill was probably some distance below.
Under the excitement of the moment the boys scarcely felt the weight of the heavily laden canoes. They carried them, one at a time, up a sloping bank, and then down through the bushes to the water.
When they embarked, and paddled out through the quiet shallows to the swift channel in midstream, the wind had nearly subsided and the rain was falling in a desultory fashion which promised only a brief continuance. In fact stars were visible here and there through rifts in the black clouds. The storm seemed to have gone off in another direction.
A short distance below the dam the water became very sluggish, and the boys knew that if Nugget was ahead of them they must speedily overtake him. So they paddled hard, forgetful of weariness and hunger, and at frequent intervals shouted loudly and called their companion by name.
The lanterns were exposed to view so that Nugget could not fail to see the light if he was anywhere near.
For half an hour the three heartsick lads paddled on steadily, and in that time hardly a word was exchanged. They were in no mood for conversation.
Finally the track of yellow light which shone ahead from Ned's bullseye revealed a bit of an island in mid-channel—a strip of gravel and reeds, with a few stunted bushes growing in the center.
Ned drove the Pioneer on the upper point and stepped out. His companions did the same, and Randy asked wearily: "What are you going to do here?"
"Wait for daylight," said Ned. "It's the only thing we can do. We are a good mile and a half below the dam, and if the canoe was drifting in that sluggish water, we passed it long ago. It has probably lodged on some bar, or along the shore, and will be found in the morning."
"Then you think that Nugget is—is drowned?" asked Clay huskily.
Ned stooped and pulled the canoe up on the bar.
"I don't know," he said in a broken voice. "If Nugget was alive he would surely have heard our shouts or seen the lights. We won't know anything positively until morning. It could do no good to paddle up the creek again in the darkness, so we had better wait here as patiently as we can."
No objection was made to this plan, and the boys crawled in among the bushes and sat down with Clay's lantern between them. The passing storm had not cooled the sultry atmosphere, and no fire or blankets were needed.
All seemed stupefied by the terrible misfortune that had happened, though as yet they hardly realized its full significance. They purposely refrained from talking about it, though each knew in his own heart how wildly improbable was the hope that Nugget was still alive.
The hours of that dark, dismal night wore slowly on. There was plenty to eat in the canoes, but no one was hungry now. A lantern was kept burning at the upper point of the island, and from time to time one of the boys went down to the shore and shouted till the echo rang far among the hills. They must have known that it was but a hollow mockery, and yet there was a scrap of consolation even in pretending that hope was not entirely gone.
Ned insisted that his companions should lie down and sleep. This seemed impossible at first, but after a while drowsiness and fatigue asserted their sway. Randy went down to the canoes and returned with three blankets. He and Clay wrapped themselves up, and chose a soft spot among the bushes. In five minutes they were sleeping soundly.
Ned remained where he was for a long while, keeping solitary vigil over his companions. Then he began to pace up and down the island, and finally he pulled the blanket about his shoulders and sat down on the upper end of the bar with his back against the side of the canoe.
It was his intention to remain awake, but unconsciously his eyelids drooped, and after a feeble struggle or two he sank into a deep slumber.
He knew nothing more until he woke in the gray dawn of the morning. For a few seconds his surroundings seemed familiar. Then the bitter truth flashed into his mind, and he rose with an aching heart. He was stiff and shivering, and the cool breeze that blew down the creek, scattering the light, vapory mists over the surface of the water, made him keenly conscious of the pangs of hunger.
He went up in the bushes and wakened Clay and Randy. They followed him stiffly down to the shore, and after dipping their feet in the cool, rippling water, all sat down on the grass and ate a few crackers. Ned offered to build a fire and make some hot coffee, but the others protested that they did not care for it.
The sun was just peeping above the horizon when the boys pushed their canoes into the water and embarked on the dreaded journey up the creek. Both shores were thickly timbered, and to make the search more thorough Ned kept close to the right bank, while Clay and Randy followed the left.
They paddled with leisurely strokes, maintaining a sharp watch on every patch of reeds and every little inlet. In the first mile there was nothing to reward the searchers—not the slightest trace of the missing canoe or its occupant.
Then the channel made a sharp curve, and when they paddled around it they saw, nearly half a mile above, a gray, weather worn mill, standing in a grove of willows on the right hand shore. The dam was visible a hundred yards or so beyond, and the sunlight was dancing on the foaming torrent that poured through the break.
THE LOST FOUND
Without lessening their vigilance the boys paddled on against the increasing current. When the mill was very near Ned signaled the others to join him.
They quickly crossed to the right shore, and the three canoes were run into a quiet little nook close to the swirling mouth of the race. The mill was twenty yards above, and a little to the right of it a cozy frame house, overgrown with trailing vines, peeped above the willow trees.
"I thought we had better stop here on account of the swift water," said Ned. "We will go up to the dam on foot, and take a look at the deep holes under the breastwork."
Before Clay or Randy could reply a man came briskly through the trees—the miller beyond a doubt, for his clothes and hat were white with flour. He greeted the boys with a smile and a cherry nod.
"I guess you're the chaps I was just starting out to find," he said. "T'other young chap was getting anxious about you, and not much wonder. He feared you were all drowned, and I guess you thought the same about him. It was lucky I run across him this morning. You see I went down to the creek at daybreak to look for a stray cow, and when—"
"Did you find a boy called Nugget?" interrupted Ned in great excitement.
"And a green and white canoe called the Imp?" shouted Randy, as he tossed his cap into the air.
"That's about the way of it," responded the miller. "But come up to the house and see for yourselves. You look as if you were nearly starved."
The boys needed no second invitation. With eager steps and light hearts they followed their guide through the trees, and across the little garden to the rear of the house.
The miller threw open the door, and they rushed in with cries of delight. There sat Nugget at the kitchen table, making a fierce onslaught on ham and fried potatoes. He was rigged out in a suit of clothes three times too big for him, and his brown uniform was drying before the fire.
The boys were so glad to see him that they first laughed and then cried almost, while the miller and his wife looked on in wonder.
Nugget took things very coolly.
"Where did you fellows spend the night?" he asked, after the first greetings were over.
"Where did you spend it?" exclaimed Ned. "You gave us a pretty scare, Nugget. We never expected to see you again."
"Let him spin his yarn while you're eating breakfast," interrupted the miller. "Lizzie, set three more plates out."
A moment later the boys were attacking the food with keen appetites, and as Nugget was now through, he proceeded to relate his adventures.
"When the wind came up and separated us," he began, "I got pretty badly scared. I was afraid it would rain hard, so I took out my canvass apron and buttoned it over the cockpit, close up to my waist."
"Good for you!" said Ned. "If I'm not mistaken that was what saved you."
"Perhaps it was," resumed Nugget. "I paddled on for a little while, trying to find you fellows. All at once I heard an awful roar, and the canoe made a jump as though it was going to stand on end. I gave one yell, and the next thing I knew big waves were jumping all around me."
He paused to shiver at the recollection.
"And what then?" asked Randy breathlessly.
"Then I was more scared than ever," continued Nugget in a reluctant voice. "So I crawled under the apron and snuggled up in the cockpit. There was plenty of room, and the cushion made a nice soft pillow, and—and—I fell asleep."
"Fell asleep!" ejaculated Ned in amazement. "You don't mean it?"
"Why, yes," said Nugget. "I was awfully tired, you know, and I couldn't keep my eyes open. The next thing I remember is that man there helping me out. It was daylight, and the canoe was in a little channel with thick bushes all around."
The boys were not slow to appreciate the ludicrous side of Nugget's adventure, and they laughed long and heartily.
Then the miller told how he found the canoe in a stretch of back water that ran a few yards in from the creek, and how surprised he was when he pulled the apron off the cockpit and saw Nugget fast asleep.
"I noticed that inlet," said Ned, "but I didn't see anything of the canoe."
"Because I pulled it out in the bushes," replied the miller. "The current has a natural drift toward the place, and clogs it up with rubbish sometimes. The lad had a narrow squeeze of it when he went through that hole in the dam. I intend to fix it as soon as the water goes down a little."
"I don't want to go through any more such places," said Nugget. "I suppose that apron was what kept the water out. I shipped a little bit, though I didn't know it until this morning, when I found my clothes all wet. My extra suit is in your canoe, Randy. I had dry shirts, though. Say, wouldn't I look nice marching down Fifth Avenue in this rig?"
The boys laughed at the idea, and then drew their chairs away from the table, and chatted for half an hour with the miller, relating all that had happened on the previous night, and telling him of their proposed trip to the Susquehanna. He, in turn, gave them much interesting information about the creek, where to camp and where to fish.
Ten o'clock came before any one realized it, and the boys prepared to depart, in spite of their host's earnest invitation to stay for a day or two. Nugget changed his clothes, and started for the inlet with the miller, while the others embarked in their canoes, after thanking the miller's wife for her hospitality.
The inlet was half a mile down the creek. The boys reached there first, and were joined by the others two or three minutes later.
Fortunately Nugget's paddle was not lost. He had found it stranded along the shore while on his way to the mill that morning.
The boys lingered a moment to shake hands with their kind hearted friend, and thank him for his services.
"That's all right," said the miller, "only too glad to oblige you. Be sure and stop when you pass here again. My name is John Kling."
"We'll spend a week with you next time," returned Ned, as he grasped his paddle.
"Please have the dam mended before then," drawled Nugget.
The miller laughed and waved his hand, and amid a chorus of "good-byes" the Jolly Rovers paddled away from shore. The shadow of misfortune was forgotten, and the future was full of bright anticipations, as before.
The birds sang among the leaves, the fish leaped in the ripples, and the sunlight danced on the blue water.
The little island, where the boys had spent such a wretched night, was soon far behind, and they entered upon a more beautiful stretch of country than they had yet seen. The water was very sluggish, and on each side were great hills densely covered with pine and spruce trees.
The temptations to stop were so frequent that by mid-afternoon the boys were scarcely five miles from the mill—that is to say by water. It was probably less than half that distance in a straight line.
"I'm really hungry again in spite of that big breakfast," said Clay. "Can't we stop and have lunch?"
"I second that," cried Randy.
The others were of the same mind, and as a very pretty spot happened to come within view about that time, they paddled across to it and landed.
Closer inspection only added to the charms of the place.
It lay on the right shore, at the mouth of a deep, dark ravine. A beach of smooth pebbles sloped back to a grassy bank three or four feet high, and on the plateau above were a dozen or more massive girthed pine trees, whose fragrant needles carpeted the ground. A fair sized brook gurgled through the center over a bed of mossy stones, and emptied into the creek.
"We might travel a good many miles and not find such a place as this," said Ned. "Suppose we stay here for a day or two. Tomorrow is Sunday and we would have to stop then anyhow."
This suggestion was adopted without a dissenting word and the boys became enthusiastic over the prospect. Randy wanted to begin fishing at once, while Nugget proposed an exploration of the ravine. A few sensible words from Ned cooled their ardor, and they started in with a will to arrange the camp.
The tent was staked in a carefully selected spot, and then the canoes were unloaded and placed on the beach in a row, bottom up, so what little water was in them might drain out.
While Nugget and Clay carried the provisions and other articles up to the tent, Ned and Randy washed the dirty dishes of the night before. Then the blankets were put to air on a stout line stretched between two trees, and a great heap of firewood was collected.
"That's all for the present," said Ned, as he finished tying the pennant to the front tent pole. "You can do a little fishing now if you want to. Don't venture far away from the camp, because I'm going up the ravine to look for a farmhouse."
Randy declared that he was tired and would rather stay by the tent, so Nugget and Clay prepared their rods and went down the creek a short distance to a jutting point of rock. With a diminutive hook they caught a couple of minnows, which they used for bait.
For a long time their patience was unrewarded, but finally Nugget had a strike, and after a severe struggle he landed a fine bass that could not have weighed less than a pound. Clay caught a smaller one, and after that the fish stopped biting.
At sundown they put up their rods and went back to camp. Ned had just returned, bringing with him a pair of dressed chickens and a pail of milk.
"These will make us a good dinner to-morrow," he said. "I had a hard time finding the farmhouse. It was more than a mile away, and the path led through the woods for nearly the whole distance. I suppose you are pretty hungry by this time. If you all pitch in and help we'll soon have supper."
In a short time the fire was blazing merrily. Ned was as good as his word, and the menu he set before the boys that night was a tempting one. It included fried bass, ham and eggs, and baked potatoes, with milk and pie for desert.
As the night was warm all indulged in a delicious swim after the supper dishes were cleared up. At nine o'clock they turned in and tied the tent flaps shut. Even this precaution was felt to be unnecessary, since the very loneliness of the place was a protection against harm.
Randy, who occupied the proud position of log keeper to the Jolly Rovers, sat up for a while to jot down the events of the cruise in a blank book. He finally extinguished the lantern with a sigh of satisfaction, and was soon sleeping beside his companions.
Sunday dawned bright and clear, but the boys did not get up until nine o'clock. The pine needles made a couch that was hard to leave. The day was observed in a spirit of proper regard. Its monotony was somewhat alleviated by the dinner of fried chicken, but all were glad when night came.
BATTERS AND JOE
Ned was up with the sun on Monday morning. He pulled the tent flaps wide open, so that the cool air would stream in and awaken his companions. Then he threw a towel over his shoulder and marched down to the mouth of the brook to wash his face and hands.
But this laudable purpose was quite driven from his mind by the discovery which greeted his eyes when he arrived there. On the spit of jutting sand which had formed at the junction of the creek and the brook was the deep imprint of a boat's keel, and close by were half a dozen large footsteps.
They looked quite fresh, and had evidently been made by two persons. Some were long and pointed; others square toed, and shod with nails or pegs.
As Ned gazed on these evidences of a nocturnal visit, he felt pretty much as did Robinson Crusoe when he discovered the print of naked feet on his island.
It was impossible to tell where these strangers had been, since the gravel beach and the grassy soil beyond it left no traces.
Ned washed his face and hands and returned to the tent with a troubled mind. The boys were awake by this time, and he told them of his discovery.
"Hullo! that explains something," exclaimed Clay. "I got awake last night, and struck a match to find the pail of water that was standing outside the tent. I thought I heard a noise down by the creek, but I was too sleepy to bother about it, and went back to bed."
"Then you must have scared these fellows off," said Ned. "That accounts for nothing being stolen. Everything of value was in the tent, however, and I don't suppose they cared to meddle with the canoes."
"Do you think these are the same men that the farmer chased off his land?" asked Randy.
"Very likely," replied Ned. "I'm sorry now that I didn't inquire more about them. The best thing we can do is to break camp and put about ten miles between us and this place."
"That would be cowardly," exclaimed Randy. "We have no reason to be afraid of these fellows. They'll get a warm reception if they meddle around camp again. Let's stay here for one day anyhow. We won't find many prettier places, and besides, I'm anxious to do some hunting and fishing."
Clay seemed disposed to side with Randy, while Nugget favored both sides of the question. He wanted to go, and he was just as anxious to catch some more bass down at the point of rocks.
Ned hesitated for a moment. He knew that it would be the more prudent plan to break camp at once, but the same time he was not inclined to insist upon it, and thus incur the ill will of his companions.
"I see that the majority is against me," he said good naturedly. "But if we get in any kind of a scrape you fellows will shoulder the blame, that's all."
The boys appeared to be satisfied with this arrangement. They trooped off to the brook to wash, while Ned turned aside to make the fire.
After breakfast Randy shouldered his gun and started down the creek in search of snipe or woodcock. Clay and Nugget caught a pailful of minnows and departed for the point of rocks, for this was the time of day when the bass would probably bite best.
Ned did not accompany them. He had the true appreciation of outdoor life, and was never happier than when doing odd bits of work around the camp. He occupied himself in this way for an hour or two—arranging the interior of the tent, hanging the blankets out to air, stacking the wood neatly by the fireplace, and scrubbing the frying pans and the outside of the coffee pot with sand and gravel.
He was scooping out a little fish pond at the mouth of the brook when Randy returned.
"What luck?" he asked, looking up from his work.
"Not a thing," answered Randy in a disappointed tone. "The snipe are all on the other side of the creek. I'm going after them now in my canoe. I tramped along the shore for at least a mile, Ned, and I didn't see a trace of anybody, either on this side or on the other. Our midnight visitors must have cleared out for good."
"I hope they have," said Ned. "What luck are the boys having?"
"Four bass, and one of them is a big fellow. Help me up with my canoe now, will you?"
Ned rendered the desired assistance.
"Don't stay too long," he told Randy.
"I'll be back inside of an hour," was the reply, as the other paddled swiftly down the creek.
Ned finished the fish pond to his satisfaction, and feeling a little tired, he climbed up the slope and threw himself down in a clump of high grass behind the tent. He was gazing dreamily up the creek with his head resting on his outstretched arms, when a boat containing two persons came suddenly into view around the bend.
Ned crept a little deeper into the grass, where he could see without being seen. The boat was now out of sight behind the trees, but when it reappeared a moment later, directly opposite the camp, a single glance satisfied Ned that it was not the same craft which had landed at the mouth of the brook during the previous night.
This was a rude affair known as a "flat." It was long and narrow, with square ends and sides, and from its cranky motion evidently had no keel.
The occupants were young fellows of twenty or thereabouts. They were roughly dressed, and their general appearance was by no means favorable. They stopped paddling in amazement when they caught sight of the camp, and after a brief conversation, which Ned did not catch, they ran their craft on shore a few yards below the mouth of the brook.
Ned shifted his position, and watched their movements curiously. The strangers evidently intended to pitch a camp of their own, for they made frequent trips up the slope, carrying blankets and tin pails, and various other articles. Then they chopped down a number of fine shoots, and constructed, in a brief space of time, a snug lean-to between two big trees.
Having placed their things in this—casting suspicious glances all the while at the tent—they went back to the boat, climbed in, and paddled swiftly down the creek.
Ned rose to his feet, and looked after them in amazement. As the boat vanished around the sharp curve that the creek made immediately below the camp, he noticed for the first time a bait box trailing on behind.
"I understand it now," he muttered. "Those fellows are out for a fishing trip, and they're going down to the rocks to set their lines. I hope they won't get into a row with Clay and Nugget."
The possibility of such a thing made Ned uneasy. He stood in perplexity for a moment or two, and had just made up his mind to go down and look after the boys, when the sound of loud, angry voices reached his hearing.
He hesitated no longer, but leaped down the slope and ran at full speed along the beach. Bursting through a covert of reeds and tall bushes, he emerged within a few yards of the rocks.
On the outermost bowlder, close to the swirling current, were Nugget, Clay, and the two strangers. The flat was drawn out on shore.
As Ned put foot on the nearest rock the taller of the strange lads struck Nugget violently on the arm with a paddle. Clay immediately hit the cowardly fellow in the breast, and in the struggle that followed the latter lost his balance and rolled backward into the swift current. His companion pounced on Clay, and they came down together on the rock, while Nugget stood by, holding his injured arm and shouting for help.
Ned took in the situation at a glance. He saw that the lad in the water was a poor swimmer, and could make no headway against the current. Without stopping to count the cost he threw off his coat, and ran to the edge of the bowlder.
"Bring the boat quick!" he shouted to Clay and his assailant, who had fallen apart and were glaring wrathfully at each other.
Then Ned put his arms together and dived head first into the foaming water. He came to the surface half a dozen yards below, and struck out vigorously for the struggling lad, who was by this time on the point of exhaustion.
Ned was an admirable swimmer, and absolutely fearless in the water.
"Keep cool, and don't struggle," he shouted, as he reached the fellow and put on hand on his collar.
The other had sense enough to obey, and both floated down stream together.
It was out of the question for Ned to reach the shore immediately with his heavy burden, and as Clay and the other lad were slow about launching the boat, the affair might have ended seriously. But just at that time Randy came paddling up the creek in his canoe, and spied the drifting figures.
He was soon alongside, and as the stern of the Water Sprite swung toward them, Ned and his companion each threw an arm over it.
Then Randy paddled for the shore, and landed about sixty feet below the rocks.
Clay and the other stranger reached the spot in the boat just as Ned and the lad he had so nobly rescued, waded out on the beach. The latter shook the water from his clothes and hesitatingly approached Ned.
"I dunno' how to thank you for what you did," he said sheepishly. "I'm mighty sorry I hit that chap. Me and Joe were downright mad because you'uns were fishing thar in our place. You see we come here from the mountains every now and then, and ketch a lot of bass, and sell 'em back at Newville. I reckon it ain't our place anyhow, an' you'uns can fish thar as much as you please. My name is Jim Batters—Batters they allus calls me—and that's my brother Joe there."
"I'm glad to know you, Batters," said Ned, holding out his hand. "You are welcome to your fishing ground. We are going away to-morrow anyhow. As for the quarrel—we'll just let that drop. You had better go up to camp now and dry your clothes."
Batters was not satisfied, however, until he had apologized all around, and made Joe do the same. Nugget had arrived by this time, and he declared that his arm no longer pained him.
Then the whole party went up the creek, some on water and some on land. The two mountaineers were tall, lanky youths with expressionless faces, surrounded by shocks of yellow hair.
They wore homespun clothes and high boots. They were speedily on intimate terms with Jolly Rovers, and gladly accepted Ned's invitation to dinner. They asked many curious questions, and lost themselves in admiration over the canoes.
Ned told them about the nocturnal visitors of the previous night, and inquired if they had seen anything of the men. Both stoutly replied in the negative, but a swift, covert glance that passed between them did not escape Ned's attention.
During the remainder of the day he remembered it more than once. When dinner was over they all went down to the rocks, and Batters and Joe proudly displayed their skill at fishing. In two hours they caught fifteen large bass. For bait they used crabs and lizards, which they had brought from the mountains.
In the evening Randy entertained the country lads with a mouth organ performance, and at ten o'clock the visitors went to their camp on the other side of the brook.
It had been a long day, and the Jolly Rovers were glad to get to bed. They were too drowsy to think about the possibility of another visit from the mysterious boat, and in a very few minutes all were sound asleep.
About midnight—as nearly as he could judge afterward—Ned sat up with a start, firmly convinced that some danger was at hand. As he listened with a wildly throbbing heart, soft footsteps cracked on the pine needles outside, and then the tent flap was torn open, revealing against the lingering embers of the campfire the semblance of a human form.
"Hi! you chaps in thar!" whispered a gruff and unfamiliar voice. "Get awake, quick!"
The words had a soothing affect on Ned's fears, and satisfied him that the visitor—whoever he was—had come in the guise of friendship. He drew a match from his pocket and rubbed it on his trousers. It ignited, and revealed the pale face of Batters, framed between the tent and flap.
"Great Caesar! Is it you?" exclaimed Ned. "What's wrong?"
"Hush! not so loud," whispered Batters. "Put that light out, quick!"
Ned obeyed in haste.
"Now rouse the other chaps, and do it quietly, so they don't make no noise."
This was a pretty stiff order, and Ned had some fears for the result. Happily all went well, and in two or three minutes an audience of four trembling and well nigh panic stricken lads was sitting in the darkness, listening to Batter's ominous tale.
"Joe waked me up a little while ago," he began, "an' said there was a strange boat, an' two men in it, down by the mouth of the run. I tole Joe ter stay an' watch our stuff. Then I sneaked along the shore an' seen the fellows sittin' on the beach along side the canoes.
"I didn't dare go close enough to hear what they was sayin', so I come right up to the tent. I reckon you uns had better make a move afore the canoes get carried off. I'll do what I kin fur you. If we all take paddles and run out yellin' an' screachin' mebbe the fellars will get scared and make tracks without showin' fight."
This proposition rather staggered the boys.
"The thieves probably want more than the canoes," said Ned. "It's very likely they are right outside the tent now. I hardly know what we ought to do."
"Let's give them our money and watches, and anything else they want," suggested Nugget. "If we don't they'll surely cut our throats."
"Keep quiet!" whispered Clay savagely. "If you don't I'll throw you out of the tent."
At this awful threat Nugget subsided and buried his head in his blanket.
Meanwhile Randy, whose temper was beginning to rise at the thought of being robbed, had quietly reached for his gun, and was fumbling with it under cover of the darkness.
An unlucky move dashed the stock against his lantern, and the crash of broken glass followed. At the same moment Batters called in a loud whisper, "Here they are. I see them movin' among the trees."
At this startling news a wailing cry broke from Nugget, and an instant later a gruff voice called distinctly:
"Come out of that one at a time, young fellars. Move lively, an' you won't be harmed."
There was dead silence for a few seconds, and then the command was repeated in a more peremptory tone.
"They ain't got no shootin' weapons," whispered Batters; "only short sticks. I can see 'em by the firelight."
On hearing this, Randy was seized with a sudden access of courage. Gun in hand, he dashed by his companions to the front of the tent.
Batters saw the glint of the weapon and made a futile grab at it.
"Don't do no shootin'," he whispered hoarsely.
The warning came too late. Randy stepped out from the flaps and raised it to his shoulder.
"Make tracks, you villains," he shouted, "or I'll put daylight through you." (This was a favorite expression of Randy's purloined from the life of Kit Carson.) Then, as retreating footsteps were heard, he lowered the weapon a little and pulled the trigger.
The thunderous report was followed by a yell of pain, and two voices hissed out dire threats of vengeance as the baffled men went hastily down the slope.
As Randy turned toward his companions Batters sprang at him and wrenched the weapon from his hands.
"Didn't I tell you not to shoot?" he cried. "Now you've gone an' hit Bug. I kinder feared it might be him, but I wasn't certain. That's him swearin' this very minute. Oh! I'll fix you for this."
Pushing Randy to one side and dashing the gun on the ground, Batters vanished in the darkness, yelling at the top of his voice, "Bug! Bug! it's me!"
The boys were overcome with terror and amazement. Who in the world was Bug, and why should Batters be so anxious about him?
"Why did you do that?" demanded Ned sternly. "If you have shot any one don't expect us to shield you."
Randy did not reply. He staggered into the tent and rolled over in helpless mirth.
"It—it was—a salt cartridge," he finally was able to gasp. "I had—three or four of them. I read how to make them—in a book. Didn't I pepper their legs nicely though.
"I don't care what it was," exclaimed Ned angrily. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself. You'll break up this trip yet with your foolishness."
Randy sobered down in a moment or two, and when he joined the others outside the tent he was disposed to take a less humorous view of his smart performance. A light was visible at the mouth of the brook, and four figures could be seen around it.
Joe had evidently joined his brother. The conversation that was carried on was for the most part inaudible, but now and then a threatening sentence could be heard, or a few words of entreaty.
"Serious trouble will come out of this," said Ned. "For half a cent I'd deliver you over to those fellows, Randy. The worst of it is that they were going away when you fired."
"Dodging behind trees, that's all," replied Randy.
"Not a bit of it," exclaimed Ned angrily. "They were running toward the creek."
As Clay stoutly backed up this assertion, Randy lapsed into sullen silence. He was more frightened than he chose to let appear.
After what seemed a painfully long interval to the waiting boys, Batters came softly out of the gloom and stood before them.
"I reckon there ain't no more danger," he said. "It wasn't Bug what was hit; the other fellow. He's sittin' down thar on the stones now, a pickin' lumps of salt out of his legs with a knife blade. He's mad as blazes too, an' me an Bug had all we could do ter keep him from comin' back here.
"I tole Bug how you saved my life, an' when he heard that he put his foot down an' swore you chaps shouldn't be harmed. Bug ain't bad at heart, he ain't. As soon as the other fellow gits all the salt out they're both going away. They hev a camp somewhere's down the creek."
"But who are these men, Batters, and what do you know about them?" asked Ned.
The lad hesitated for a moment.
"I reckon I might as well make a clean breast of it," he said in a pitiful tone. "Don't you-uns think bad of me an' Joe though, cause we've been brung up different, 'deed we have—."
"Look here, Batters, you needn't tell us if you don't want to," interrupted Ned sympathetically.
He had an inkling of the true state of affairs, and wished to spare the lad what was evidently a painful recital.
"No, I'd better tell," responded Batters. "It's just this way. Bug is big brother to me and Joe, only he's about six years older than us. You see when he was a little chap dad an' mammy lived down near Middlesex, an' Bug he got in bad company. When dad moved up to the Gap, Bug was toler'ble bad, an' since then he's been gittin' worse.
"He was in Carlisle jail twict fer stealin', an' in summer he jest lives shiftless like along the creek, helpin' hisself to the farmers' stuff. Now he dassent come home no more, for dad says he won't own him fur a son. Mammy cries heaps an' says her heart's broke.
"You see dad an' mammy are honest, if they are poor, an' they made me an' Joe promise we'd never take nothin' what don't belong to us. Mammy says she wants us ter grow up the right way, an' not be bad an' wuthless like—like Bug—."
Here Batters broke down and began to cry softly. His sad little tale—alas! only too common in all walks of life!—had deeply moved his hearers, and more than one of the boys had tears in their eyes.
Ned walked over and threw his arm around the weeping lad.
"Don't cry, Batters," he said softly. "Some day Bug will find out his mistake and begin to do better. We don't think any the less of you and Joe on his account. Stick to your mother, and do what she says, and you'll be sure to grow up the right kind of men."
Batters was consoled by this boyish sympathy. He wiped his eyes and looked gratefully at Ned.
"Here, take this," said Nugget, holding out a handsome pocket knife. "It's got four blades, and a corkscrew, and a file."
Batters looked doubtfully at the treasure. Randy had just lighted a lantern, and the rays flashed on the mother of pearl handle.
"I want you to have it," said Nugget, "my father will send me plenty more from New York."
The temptation was too much. Batters took the knife with a smile, and incoherently tried to thank the donor.
All at once the creaking of oars was heard, and a moment later Joe joined the party.
"They've gone," he announced. "T' other fellow got tired pickin' the salt out. Bug tole him he ought to be glad cause now he was well seasoned. Then the fellow jabbed at Bug with a knife. Missed him though."
"Well, I'm 'glad the affair is over," said Ned. "We'll be able to get some sleep now. Batters, suppose you and Joe come in our tent? There is room enough."
Batters hesitated and gave an awkward hitch to his trousers.
"I reckon you'd better not do any more sleepin' here," he said uneasily. "Bug pulled me aside, and said I should tell you-uns to light out afore daybreak, 'cause the other fellar will surely come back an' lay fur the chap what shot him. I dunno where Bug picked him up, or who he is. He looks like a tramp, with his dirty beard and wicked eyes. H's a mighty bad man when he gits riled, Bug says. It's a pity that chap shot him, 'cause they were both running away."
"I know that," replied Ned, "and I'm awfully sorry it happened. It was a mean, contemptible trick under the circumstances. But what had we better do now?"
"Well, I reckon it would be better to pack up and start," advised Batters. "You see Bug and the other fellar have a camp about two mile down the creek. You can slide right past it in the darkness, and if you keep on fur a good ways the fellar what was shot won't find you again. Bug tole me they didn't intend to go much further down the creek. You needn't be afraid to travel by night, 'cause there ain't any bad water near here, an' the first dam is twelve mile away."
Ned was inclined to act promptly on Batters' suggestions, and It goes without saying that the others were of the same mind—especially Randy, who had conceived a mortal fear of Bug's companion.
It was between one and two o'clock when the boys began the work of breaking camp, and as Batters and Joe rendered useful assistance, the heavily laden canoes were in the water half an hour later. The start was made in darkness and silence. Ned thanked Batters for the important service he had rendered that night, and added a few words of comfort and sympathy.
Hands were shaken all around, and hopes expressed of meeting again. Then the Jolly Rovers paddled noiselessly away in the gloom, and Batters and Joe went up the beach to their shelter of pine boughs.
HOW THE DAY DAWNED
It was with no pleasant sensations that the boys found themselves for the second time adrift in the darkness. Not that they had any fears of the journey that lay before them; that was a trifling matter compared to the loss of sleep and the indignity of being routed out of their snug beds through no fault of their own.
There was no open complaint, however, and for ten or fifteen minutes the silence of the night was disturbed only by the low swish of the paddles, as the four canoes moved abreast down midstream.
"This thing is getting monotonous, and I hope it won't happen again," remarked Ned finally, in a very grave voice. "If you fellows had listened to me this morning we would be sound asleep this minute in some place down the creek, instead of floating here in the dark with a forced paddle of ten miles ahead of us."