"You've been away quite a while, eh, Jabe?"
"Only three weeks."
"Where was you?"
"'Tendin' to some private business."
"I thought when a man was elected constable he'd got to stay 'round in case he might be needed."
"I didn't ask for the office, an' don't intend to loaf here when there's a chance of makin' a dollar outside."
"What have you been up to?"
"That's my own business."
"Of course it is, Jabe; but I know you're makin' money somehow, an' it seems as if you might give me a show."
"Well, I can't. I had a good thing for a while, but it's busted now."
If Jet had had any doubts as to the identity of the man they would have been dispelled by this last remark, and he listened eagerly for a continuation of the conversation.
"Got company up to your house, ain't you?" the inquisitive party asked.
"How'd you know that?"
"Some of the folks said you brought some friends back."
"It seems as if the people in this town had nothin' better to do than watch their neighbors."
"Then it is true?"
"I've got an old friend visitin' me for a spell, but he's sick now, an' we don't want folks 'round to disturb him."
"That must be Bob," Jet said to himself. "Perhaps he was wounded, and has come here to stay till he gets better. Now, how can I send word to Mr. Harvey?"
This was the one important thing to do in view of what he had learned, but it would be necessary that none of the townspeople should see the letter, and the manager of the company was so angry with him that it was a question if he would attend to the matter.
He seated himself in one corner of the room, where his face could not be seen plainly, and waited for this particular constable to leave the building.
In about an hour the prisoners tired of giving a free concert, and, finding they were not likely to be amused any longer, the visitors took their departure.
From one of his companions Jet begged a few leaves out of a note-book, from another he borrowed a pencil, and thus equipped he sat down to detail what he thought was important news.
"Sending for money to pay your fine, Jet?" one of the party asked jokingly, and this caused the others to think of what they might do.
"I reckon a good many of us had better try the same game," a second man said seriously. "The manager can't get us out of the hole, and we may as well begin to hustle for ourselves."
"It won't cost much to do it," Jet replied, thinking that if a number of letters were sent from the jail his would attract less attention.
Nearly all the party concluded to make the attempt, and a call was made upon the turnkey for envelopes.
Jet offered ten cents to pay for the same, and in a short time the note-book was stripped of its leaves as each prisoner set about making a written appeal for funds.
The question of postage was next raised, and to this Jet was forced to respond, in order that his missive should be sent without delay.
By the time the letters had been made ready, the member of the company who came over on the cars with the manager paid his companions a visit, and, quite naturally, agreed to post the mail matter.
Now that he was reasonably certain Harvey would soon know the exact condition of affairs, Jet felt very light-hearted. It seemed almost positive he had stumbled upon Bob's hiding-place, and if such should prove to be the case, the second man implicated in the murder must be captured within a few days.
Shortly before mid-day the squire came over to interview his prisoners.
It was possible he had been figuring the cost to the town in case this party of twelve should remain contentedly in jail; and perhaps he was beginning to believe the sentence too severe when taken in the aggregate.
"Your manager has been tryin' to talk me into lettin' you fellers out," he began, assuming a friendly tone and air. "I told him that justice couldn't be tampered with, an' have come 'round to see what you're goin' to do 'bout payin' the fines."
"Squire, did you ever try to get blood out of a stone?" one of the party asked.
"What has that got to do with it, eh?"
"Nothing, except that it would be as easy to bleed a rock as to get cash from them who are flat broke."
"But, bless my heart, you can't stay here forever, you know."
"It depends on you. If the manager has made any kind of a fair offer I advise you to accept it, for it will cost something to feed this crowd, and I don't suppose you would care to take the responsibility of starving us to death."
The squire wiped the perspiration from his face, although the room was by no means warm.
"If you could pay somethin' on account, an' give bonds for the rest——"
"I don't believe you could scare up a dollar among the whole of us, and as for bonds—who would sign them?"
"But you can't expect me to let you go free after robbing a man's orchard, an' bein' sentenced in a regular court?"
"Certainly not, and for that reason we have settled down to the belief that we shall be your guests a very long while."
"If I should let you out long enough to give a show, would you come back here?" the squire asked after a long pause.
"Who would get the money taken at the door?"
"It would go toward payin' your fines."
"That's a matter we shall have to discuss, for it isn't a pleasant lookout to give a performance for the benefit of your court when we need money so badly ourselves."
"I'll come back in an hour an' get your answer," the squire replied with considerable show of dignity, as he left the building.
Jet was distressed at the thought that it might be possible the fines would be paid in a short time, for then he could make no excuse for loitering about the town, and even if he should do so there was every reason to believe the constable he was eager to have arrested would recognize him.
Dinner, consisting of soup, with a liberal supply of meat and bread, was served to the prisoners at twelve o'clock, and, half an hour later, the manager arrived to talk with his company regarding the proposition to reduce the fines so far as was possible by giving a performance.
The "funny" man of the party acted as spokesman for his companions, and Jet listened with deepest interest to the following conversation:
"There is no question about persuadin' that idiotic squire to give all hands a few hours' liberty, if you agree to return here as soon as the performance is ended," the manager began.
"And in what way shall we be benefited?"
"At least a portion of the fines will be paid, and it may then be possible to get his consent to our moving on to the next town."
"How will you get there, if he insists on taking all the receipts?"
"There must be some kind of a bargain made whereby we can take car-fares and expenses out of the show."
Although the majority of the prisoners were responsible for the deed which committed them to prison, not one seemed willing to give an evening's work, in order to pay a portion of the amount exacted.
The fines were so large in the aggregate, considering the value of the property taken, that all felt as if it would be the proper thing to let the town support them for a time.
To the manager the case presented itself in a different aspect.
He had made dates ahead, and if the company failed to keep them, after having already disappointed the public once, his position would be that of a veritable bankrupt with whom the owners of the halls would refuse to transact business.
Therefore it was that he spent considerable time urging his company to do as he hoped the squire might approve of, and finally, much to Jet's mental discomfort, he succeeded in extracting a promise from each that he would agree to go on the stage, and afterward return to the jail.
Then he went to try his powers of persuasion on the squire.
During the afternoon the other member of the party who was at liberty, reported that the matter had been arranged satisfactorily, and "dodgers" were now being distributed around the town calling upon the people to aid in "rescuing from imprisonment a number of gentlemen, whose exuberance of spirit rather than evil propensities, had plunged them into sore distress."
More than one of the company predicted that the appeal would be a signal failure, and Jet earnestly hoped these "exuberant gentlemen" would prove truthful prophets.
Evening came, and with the shadows of night the constables arrived to conduct the performers to the hall.
A supper of bread, cold meat, and tea had been served, and, save for the severe headaches with which the intemperate portion of the party were suffering, all were in reasonably good spirits.
Both the squire and the manager were at the door to take the money from the charitably inclined, and the owner of the hall also stood near by to make certain of receiving his rent from the first cash paid over.
Watching through the peep-hole in the curtain, Jet saw the constable in whom he was especially interested seated near the stage, and for an instant he resolved not to appear lest he should be recognized.
A moment's reflection, however, showed him that such a course would unquestionably arouse suspicion, and he settled the matter by blackening his face, a disguise which, under the glare of the footlights, would prove most effective.
The inhabitants of the town did not respond very generously to the "appeal."
When the curtain rose on the first act, there were hardly more than enough in the hall to pay the actual running expenses of the evening, and there was no longer any hope of being able to reduce the amount owed for fines.
Both the manager and the squire looked despondent, the latter particularly so, for he had saddled upon the town what might prove to be a white elephant before the matter was ended.
Despite the discouraging state of affairs the performers did their best, and the audience were delighted. Jet danced until it was impossible to take another step, and then, on being called before the curtain, was forced to bow his thanks instead of responding to the fourth encore.
During all the time he was on the stage he had scrutinized the faces of the spectators, but without recognizing any face other than the one before him, and it was in a decidedly contented frame of mind that he followed his companions back to jail after the result of the "show" was made known.
By this evening's work, after the hall rent, printing and services of the musicians had been paid, the company were able to reduce the entire amount of fines exactly four dollars, and one of the party remarked, laughingly:
"At this rate, by hard work, providing the people are willing to come to a show every night, we may manage to pull through in about three months, which won't be a profitable speculation, considering the fact that we might have bought all the fruit for a dollar at the outside."
On the following afternoon Jet received a reply to his letter, and in it Harvey said:
"Pay your fine and come out of jail at once. You can avoid our constable by remaining with the company the greater portion of the time; but it is necessary you should learn who the visitor is. Can't you walk around that way now and then? I don't fancy Bob will stay in the house all the time. This work can be done better now by you than any one I could send, since the presence of a stranger in the little village would attract attention."
While reading this Jet was busily engaged in trying to make some excuse whereby he could do as Harvey ordered without arousing the suspicion of his companions.
If he had paid the fine in the first place all would have been simple; but reason must be given for leaving after telling the manager that he did not dare to spend the money he had on his person.
A happy thought occurred to him.
Pretending to read after the letter was finished, he contrived, without being seen, to take fifteen dollars from his pocket, and, holding them up triumphantly, he cried:
"Here's enough with which to pay my fine, and I'll have more in a few days if you fellows don't get out."
As a matter of course his companions supposed the money had been taken from the letter.
Several tried to persuade him that it would be useless to spend that amount when by waiting the squire might be forced to free them; but he professed to be sick of life in a jail, and summoned the turnkey to take him to the magistrate's office.
Twenty minutes later he was formally released from custody, and the squire began to believe that two or three more days of imprisonment would force the others to follow Jet's example.
He went at once to the hotel, paid twenty-four hours' board in advance, and on turning, after completing this transaction, found himself face to face with the manager.
"So you concluded that it wouldn't be so very much out of the way to use some of that money, eh?" the latter asked, sarcastically.
"I wrote for funds, and got fifteen dollars by the last mail."
"Was that the best you could do?"
"It wasn't to be supposed I could pay the whole amount."
"No; but since you have friends with money enough to let you loaf around this section of the country, I didn't know but that we might raise a stake somehow."
Now Jet regretted having followed Harvey's advice, for if the manager should make this same remark in the hearing of the constable, many and grave suspicions might be aroused, for, of course, the man would be on the alert for anything which needed an explanation.
"That's where you are making a big mistake," he said, with an assumption of carelessness which was far from natural. "I only wanted to stay here till I could get a job."
"That wasn't the way you talked when I met you the other day; but it doesn't make much difference now, for I am beginning to see my way out of this snarl."
"There's a constable in this town who seems to be pretty well fixed, and he gave me to understand that he might take the company out of jail, providing I'd let him act as treasurer until the amount was paid."
"Which one is he?" Jet asked, trying hard not to betray the eagerness for knowledge which he felt.
"The fellow who took you to jail."
"Are you pretty certain he'll make the trade?"
"Here he comes now to talk the matter over; it won't take us long to find out."
Jet glanced toward the door, and saw the man in whom he felt so great an interest.
The manager, eager to clinch the bargain, advanced to meet him, and the boy, keeping his back toward the new-comer, managed to walk out of the opposite door without being observed.
Now the one question in the mind of the amateur detective was as to why this man should be willing to travel with the show.
It did not require many minutes for him to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion.
"He has got a lot of that counterfeit money with him, and by running the company through a number of towns some distance from here can pass it," Jet said to himself. "Now, what shall I do if he makes the trade?"
The proper thing seemed to be to send a letter at once, and, going to his room, he wrote a full account of what he had heard, concluding by saying:
"To-night I shall lay around his house trying to get a sight of the man who is visiting there."
This done he went into the office once more, and there saw the manager, who was highly elated.
"It is all arranged," he said. "The fines will be fixed in some way to-morrow, and we shall start once more. We only lose to-night's stand, and then go on with a backer who has plenty of money. Will you tell the boys of our good luck, while I make arrangements for sending the posters ahead?"
Jet promised to carry the tidings, and stopped only long enough to add the following postscript to his letter:
"The trade has been made, and the constable will leave here to-morrow with the company. I shall loaf near his house this evening, and walk to the next town to send you a telegram if I learn anything."
This letter he mailed in time for the night train, and then visited the jail, delivering news which the prisoners were not particularly glad to hear, since it gave them no immediate prospect for money.
"We have made up our minds to tire the squire out," one of them said, "and I don't take favorably to the idea of working to pay the fines when there's no real need of it."
Jet did not spend much time trying to induce the prisoners to take advantage of the constable's offer.
It suited his plans best to have them refuse, and, after giving the information, he walked back to the hotel, as if the one desire of his life was to get a good supper.
When the meal was finished the night had fully come, and he would have set out at once to loiter around the constable's house but for the fact that as yet he did not know where that gentleman lived.
While standing in the office trying to make up his mind whom he could approach, in order to get this information, the manager joined him, as he asked:
"What did the boys say when you told them what was to be done?"
"I didn't wait to hear very much; but it struck me that they were not particularly well pleased."
"They think it is foolish to work for the money when it may be possible to tire the squire out by holding on a while and letting the town support them."
"Is it possible they can be such fools? Come with me, and we'll see if it isn't possible to beat some sense into their stupid heads."
Jet did not want to waste the time; but since he could make no good excuse, there was nothing for it but to comply, and the two started at once.
On arriving at the jail, the turnkey informed them that it was against orders to admit any one after dark; but he intimated that the matter might be arranged with any one of the constables who had brought the prisoners there.
"Then it won't take us long to fix it," the manager said, as he beckoned Jet to follow him, and when they were in the open air again, he added: "Barker will see that we get in."
"Who is he?"
"Why, Jabe Barker, the constable who wants to take the company on the road."
Jet made no reply, but congratulated himself on thus having the house pointed out to him without any questions on his part.
A walk of ten minutes brought them to quite a large residence on the outskirts of the village, and the manager said:
"That's where he lives, and I'm told he owns the entire property, so you see we'll have a capitalist to back us."
"I guess I'd better not go any farther with you," Jet said, half-apologetically, as he halted.
"You and he may want to talk business, and, perhaps, it wouldn't look well for me to be where I could listen."
"You are right, my boy. Go back to the hotel, and I'll meet you there in a short time."
Jet turned as if to obey, and walked slowly toward the center of the village, until he saw that the manager had been admitted to the building, when he clambered over a fence, ran across a piece of plowed land, and stood at the rear of the out-buildings when Mr. Barker and the manager emerged.
Not until they were lost to view in the gloom did he dare to make a move, and then he crept softly around in search of a place of vantage from which the house could be watched.
He finally found it immediately behind the woodshed, where, by climbing on the sloping roof, it was possible to look in at the uncurtained windows of the first and second story.
During fully an hour he lay at full length upon the hard boards without seeing that for which he sought.
Now and then a female form would pass one of the lighted windows, but nothing more, and he was beginning to think he had struck the wrong trail, when Barker returned.
He was whistling merrily while coming up the lane which led to the house, and, as if this was a signal, a man came from the building with a pipe in his mouth. Jet's heart beat fast and loud.
Although it was impossible, in the gloom, to distinguish any object clearly, he felt certain that this man was the one whom Harvey was so eager to find. The stature, form, and general appearance was Bob's, and Jet believed his search had come to an end.
It was evident that the two had some business to discuss which they did not care to speak of in the house, where the other members of the family could hear them, for they walked directly toward the shed on which the boy was lying, and, fortunately for his purpose, sat down on a log almost directly beneath him.
"It is all arranged," Barker was saying. "The fool actors kicked at first about working for nothing, as they called it; but we soon brought them to terms."
"When are you going to start?"
"Day after to-morrow."
"Why do you wait?"
"I think we had better find out first what the officers did after we left, and a few hours can't make much difference, for I'll get rid of plenty of the queer to keep us going before we've been out a day."
"I'm not certain that it is best for you to do this thing, Jabe. A minstrel show can be tracked a dozen times where one man could give the officers the slip without trouble."
"I'm not intending to shove so much that there'll be any fuss. Just enough to put us in funds so we can skip if things begin to look black. We wouldn't be in this shape if my advice had been taken; I always insisted that there was no reason why Joe should carry all the cash."
"He's a slick one, Joe is, and could get out of a tight place where you or I would be pulled."
"Well, with all his smartness he's cornered this time."
"That remains to be proven. He may have had to skin out while we were watching the house. If he was arrested we should have heard it before this."
"That isn't certain; none of the gang have showed up yet, and—— Hello! Who is this?"
Jet looked toward the road and there saw the form of a man coming cautiously up the lane as if trying to avoid observation from those in the house.
Bob and Barker were on their feet in an instant both acting ill at ease, until a low, peculiar whistle was heard, which the latter answered in the same manner, and then said to his companion in a tone of relief:
"Now we shall hear the whole story."
"Who is it?"
"Sam, I reckon; yes it is," and Jabe advanced to seize the new-comer by the hand.
"Well?" Bob asked, as if impatient to hear the news.
"We're cornered, or at least poor Joe is. We did all we could, and the result is that I've left the other fellows in jail on the charge of resisting an officer."
Then Sam went on to tell of Jet's appearing in town with his prisoner, and the remainder of the story which is already known.
Bob was silent for several moments after the new-comer ceased speaking, and then said savagely:
"But for me that cub would have been put out of the way before he'd done anything except tell a certain story in New York. Now all I ask is a chance to get hold of him again, and I'll swear to it that he won't do any more mischief."
"What is the New York racket?" Barker asked curiously. "I've noticed that you and Joe had a secret which bothered you more'n this matter did."
"If I don't tell you there'll be no danger of your splittin' on us," was the gruff reply. "What I want to know is whether there's any show of our being tracked to this place?"
"Of course, no man can say that to a dead certainty; but unless the fellows who are jugged give the snap away, we're safe here, providing Jabe can take care of us," Sam replied.
Mr. Barker did not venture any advice, possibly because he feared it might not be safe to have too many guests at his house for the villagers to gossip about.
"What about the house in the woods?" Bob finally asked.
"Two fellows from Albany stayed there a couple of days, and then got tired of waiting. They took the train home last night."
"Did they find anything?"
"No; I went up to the big oak this morning, and there were no signs the ground had been disturbed since we left."
Again Bob was silent, and when he finally spoke Jet was considerably surprised.
"This part of the country is getting too hot for me, and I'm goin' to make a jump."
"Almost any place is better than layin' around so near. What do you say to a hunting trip in the Adirondacks, Sam?"
"It would suit me. How much cash have you got?"
"Enough to see us through."
"Then I'm ready any time."
"When can we leave here, Jabe?"
"I don't reckon you want to go through Albany?"
"Of course not, you fool."
"Then at five to-morrow morning you'll get a train from here to Schenectady, and there are plenty out of there to take you into the mountains."
"I don't fancy running around those big towns," Sam said, hesitatingly.
"Very well, stay behind if you choose; I'm going," and Bob terminated the interview by walking toward the house.
"It's something besides shoving the queer that's crawling on him now," Jabe said, as the short man passed out of hearing.
"I reckon so; but at the same time I'm bound to be with him, for if there is a man in this country who can steer clear of trouble he is the one, and I don't care to be pulled on a charge of counterfeiting."
Jabe made no reply, and a few seconds later the two followed their friend into the house, leaving Jet to ponder upon the magnitude of the task he felt bound to undertake.
Not until everything was quiet did the boy venture to come down from his hiding-place, and then his plans were formed.
"Between now and to-morrow morning I can walk fifteen miles," he said to himself when he had gained the highway once more, "and then I should be mighty near the junction. There I shall be able to telegraph at any hour, and have everything ready to board this five o'clock train when it comes along. But if we should reach the Adirondacks, and those fellows ever got hold of me there, it would be all up with Jet Lewis."
It was, indeed, a desperate undertaking for him to follow these men into the wilderness where he could not call upon his friend for assistance; but never for a moment did he think of shirking the responsibility.
His first move was to see the manager, and represent that he was going down the road a short distance, in order to prevent anything being said to the constable before the two men should leave.
"I'll most likely meet you at the next town," he said, cheerily, as he went up stairs apparently to retire, and half an hour later he had slipped out of the house without being recognized by any one he knew.
At this late hour the village was in a state of repose, and he hurried to the railroad, saying to himself as he started down the track on the ties:
"Now we'll see how many miles I can cover between this and sunrise."
Jet gave no heed to his own fatigue during this night's traveling.
His one desire was to reach the junction in time to send the telegram to Harvey, and make such changes in his costume as would serve to disguise him in some slight degree.
In order to effect this purpose, it would be necessary to travel every moment of the time at full speed.
This he did, and it was one quarter past four in the morning when he arrived at the junction.
He had more than two hours before the train would arrive, and his first care was to send the following telegram to the detective:
"He, with a friend, has just started for the Adirondacks hunting. If possible will let you know where they stop; but I may not be able to get out of the woods while they stay."
It had taken Jet a long while to write the message. He wished to word it so the operator could not understand that he was tracking a man, and yet it was necessary the detective should realize it might be many days before he could send any further information.
If the men had remained at Jabe's house one day after he discovered positively that Bob was there, the whole work would have been finished in a few hours, for an officer could have been sent from Albany to capture him.
Under the circumstances, therefore, nothing could be done, save to follow the men until it should be possible to let Harvey know where an arrest might be effected.
After the message had been delivered to the operator, Jet walked around the town waiting for the stores to be opened.
The "earliest bird" was a clothing dealer, and he "caught the worm" without difficulty.
Jet bought a reefer's jacket, a slouch hat, and such articles of underwear as might be needed. He also invested a dollar in a cheap carpet-bag.
Then he waited a few moments longer for the shoemaker, of whom he purchased a pair of top boots. Tucking his trousers into these, he had the satisfaction of knowing that he bore very little resemblance to the district messenger boy, who had left New York believing his destination to be Yonkers.
"I'd like to buy a gun and some cartridges, if I could get a good bargain," he said to the shoemaker, and the latter replied, eagerly:
"I've got jest what you want."
An ordinary breech-loading, double-barrelled gun was produced from behind the counter, and after some bargaining a trade was made on the basis of eight dollars for the weapon and sixty cartridges.
By this time Jet's stock of ready cash was running low; but he did not feel particularly worried, since there was yet enough remaining to pay his railroad fare to and from the mountains, with something over for the purchase of provisions.
A hearty breakfast at the depot restaurant, a wait of five minutes, and the train arrived.
Jet had good reason to believe his game would go direct to Plattsburgh before striking into the wilderness, for the shoemaker had told him it was the most direct route to the hunting region, and he procured a ticket for that point.
On boarding the train he went into the smoking-car, and there saw the men he intended to fellow.
The seat behind them was vacant, and he took it at once, pulling his hat down over his eyes in such a manner that one could not see his face without considerable difficulty.
The men were half asleep; but the conductor awakened them, and Jet was made glad by a glimpse of their tickets.
They were bound for Plattsburgh as he had guessed, and he resolved that at the next station he would telegraph this information to Harvey.
"I don't suppose he could get a man there before these fellows strike into the woods," he said to himself; "but there's just a chance they'll hang around the town a while, and it is best he should have all the information possible."
At Schenectady it was necessary to change cars, and here Jet found an opportunity to send Harvey word.
On boarding the other train, the boy again succeeded in getting a seat directly behind his men without apparently having been observed by them.
They had not started without an ample supply of liquid refreshments, and both indulged liberally, but not to such an extent as to loosen their tongues.
Jet listened eagerly, but not a word of particular interest or importance to him could he hear.
Owing to several delays, it was nightfall before the train reached Plattsburgh, and now came the hardest part of the amateur detective's task.
It was necessary to keep the men in sight, and yet at the same time avoid being seen by them.
He was convinced that it would be necessary for him to stand watch all night; but fortune favored him in a signal manner.
Observing Bob going toward the ticket-office, he slipped through the crowd, and heard the following conversation:
"When does the next train leave for Saranac Lake?"
"Seven to-morrow morning."
"From what depot?"
"What is the fare?"
"Give me two tickets."
"I reckon that's enough for me," Jet said to himself, joyfully. "There's no question about where they are going, and I can do as I please until morning."
After Bob left the window to rejoin Sam, the boy purchased a ticket for the same point, and then went to a small hotel near the depot where he registered as David Small.
The two men had evidently sought shelter elsewhere, for he saw nothing of them during the evening.
After a hearty supper, which was all the more needed, because he had refrained from buying dinner, in order to husband his rapidly decreasing store of cash, Jet wrote a long letter to Harvey, telling him all he had learned, and urging that some officer be sent to Saranac Lake in order to make the arrest.
"I shall keep on their track as long as I can," he said in conclusion; "but after they get into the woods it's going to be a hard job, and the sooner they are pulled the more certain we'll be of having them."
This done he went to bed and slept soundly until awakened at six o'clock.
Half an hour later he was at the depot, and took a seat in the smoking-car.
Neither Bob nor Sam were there; but they arrived five minutes before the train left, and seated themselves some distance from Jet.
From that time until considerably past noon the boy could do no more than watch his men; but he was well content, knowing they had no suspicion as to being followed.
Then the end of the first stage of the journey was finished, and the real work of trailing the human game began.
Jet loitered around the station asking questions relative to the best way of getting into the woods, but all the while keeping his eye on the men.
Their movements puzzled him.
Neither appeared to be in any hurry to leave the town.
They also asked a number of questions; but Jet was not near enough to overhear the conversation, and then both went to the hotel.
A boy about his own age was standing near the depot platform eying Jet curiously, and the latter asked, more as an excuse for remaining where he was than anything else.
"Do you know where a fellow could find some good hunting?"
"You'd have to go down to the lake, and strike into the woods most anywhere."
"Where is the lake?"
"Down that road a couple of miles."
"Isn't there any other way of getting into the woods?"
"Not unless you strike through the fields, an' then you'd be goin' right away from the best hunting. There's a fork in the road a little more than a mile down, an' the people mostly take the right-hand turn. How far are you countin' on traveling?"
"I don't know; just want to have a little trip."
"I don't reckon you want a guide, eh?"
"I guess I couldn't stand anything quite so expensive. I heard one of them fellers say he wanted, three dollars a day."
"Yes, some of 'em get pretty big prices; but I'd put myself alongside of the best, 'less it comes to deers."
"And how much do you charge?"
"I'll go for nothin', if you'll pay the bills."
"Bills for what?"
"Grub, hire of a boat, powder an' shot, an' sich things."
"Have you got a gun?"
"Of course; but she's not so good as your'n."
"I'll take you along. When will you be ready?"
"In five minutes; I've only got to run home a second to get some things."
"Don't be away any longer than you can help."
The boy started off at full speed; and Jet congratulated himself on having made the arrangement.
"That fellow can do a good deal to help me, and since he lives around here, Bob won't recognize me so quick, because he'll be apt to take me for one of the natives."
Jet's guide returned in a very short time.
He brought with him several fishing-lines, an old muzzle-loading gun, some cooking utensils, and a small bundle of provisions.
"Now, you've got to buy a lot of grub, an' then we'll have so much to carry that a team will be needed to haul 'em. I know where we can get a boat."
"I'll stay here while you pick out as much as we'll need; but don't spend more'n ten dollars."
"Ten dollars! Why, half of that'll be enough."
"Go ahead, an' call me when you've found out how much the bill is."
"Why don't you come, too?"
"I didn't know but I might see a friend, an' I want to kinder watch out for a while."
The boy hurried away, and returned half an hour later.
"The stuff comes to six dollars an' eighty cents, an' we'll have to pay a dollar to get it hauled down."
Jet was averse to losing sight of the hotel door even for a moment; but it was necessary to settle the bill, and he hurried off just as the stage drove up.
He paid the amount asked for, and had turned toward the store door when he saw Bob and Sam, with guns, rods, and quite an amount of baggage, clambering on the roof of the coach.
"Hurry up an' get your team," he said, in a low tone to his new friend. "I'd like to know where that stage stops."
"I can show you any time," the boy replied, carelessly; but he obeyed the injunction, and in a few moments after the public conveyance rolled away the amateur detective was following it.
THE SMALL GUIDE
The driver of the vehicle which Jet had hired did not seem disposed to push his sorry-looking horse to his utmost speed, and the boy experienced no slight amount of mental anxiety through fear that the men would escape him.
Once they entered the woods without his having some idea of their course, the chase would be well-nigh hopeless.
His small guide commenced the process of becoming acquainted by asking Jet's name.
"David Small," was the prompt reply. "What's your's?"
Then Jet was obliged to explain considerably more about himself; he said he lived in Albany, sold news papers there, and, having laid by a little money, concluded to see what the Adirondack region looked like.
"If you don't have to go back too soon, I'll show you the whole place," Jim replied, with an air of profound wisdom such as one might have expected from the oldest inhabitant in the vicinity.
Then the small guide went on to explain where he proposed to take his friend and patron, and before his recital was finished the wagon stopped at the lake side.
Here everything was in a state of seeming confusion. Sportsmen and tourists were setting out for their respective destinations; but Jet had no thought for any, save the two he had followed so far.
"You hire a boat, and I'll stay here," he said to Jim, who hurried away, leaving him where he could see all who left the shore by the water-way.
Again fortune favored him.
Bob and Sam had just concluded their arrangements for a craft, and were loading it not more than twenty yards away.
Before Jim returned they had started alone.
These two who thought more of hiding themselves than of hunting or fishing, did not need a guide.
Jet kept his eyes fixed on them as they rowed leisurely down the lake, and when Jim returned, he said:
"See here, can't we keep about half a mile behind those fellows?"
"What do you want to do that for? They won't know where to find the best sport."
"I've got a particular reason for wanting to see where they stop, an' will make it worth your while."
"Oh, that's all right, I don't want to be paid for anything of the kind! Come on an' help me put this stuff aboard before they get around the point."
Jet was so eager to be off that he did most of the work himself, and Jim promised to take the first trick at the oars.
"Don't pull very fast; I only want to keep them in sight," Jet explained, as he shoved the light craft off and leaped into the stern-sheets.
"You steer, and tell me when we're coming too near, for I can't keep lookin' around. Say, what game are you up to?"
"I don't understand you."
"I reckon you know what I mean. Why do you wanter keep on the track of that boat?"
"I just had an idea, that's all. They are going without a guide, and I'd like to see how they'll come out."
"There's plenty of them kind of fellers who think they can save money by workin' it alone; but they don't travel very far. What's your other reason?"
Unquestionably Jim was suspicious, and Jet began to study the question of how much he could tell him, for it would soon be necessary to make some more definite explanation.
While he was thus trying to decide, the small guide continued to ply him with questions, until he came to the conclusion that the best plan would be to give a portion of the story, otherwise, in case he met the men, Jim might ask them to solve the riddle.
"If you'll cross your throat never to tell a living person till we get out of the woods again, I'll let you into the secret, and what's more, I'll agree to give you twenty dollars, if this job is finished up right."
"Twenty dollars!" the boy repeated, in surprise. "What do you want me to do?" and he turned to look at the boat.
"Nothing just at present but row slowly without turning around. Will you agree not to tell anybody?"
"Of course, an' I'd do a good deal more'n that to earn so much money."
"Then here it is, and if you breathe a single word I wouldn't wonder if you got into jail. I've been hired to watch them fellows till officers can get here and arrest them."
"Then you're a reg'lar detective," Jim cried, breathlessly.
"Hold your tongue, or everybody on the lake will hear you. I ain't anything of the kind. Didn't I say I'd only been hired to watch them so's to let the officers know where they stop?"
"What have they been doing?"
"I don't reckon it's very much; but somebody in Albany seems to think it'll pay to catch them."
"Why didn't the constables come with you?"
"Because nobody but me knew they'd started for this place. It the men make a camp we can send back word; but if they have the least little idea that we're on their trail there'll be a mighty good chance of our getting our throats cut."
"I'll be still as a fish; but I do wish I knew more about 'em."
"If they are arrested you can find out the whole story."
This promise seemed to satisfy Jim, and he rowed on in silence, probably fancying he was doing some skillful piece of detective work, which might be spoiled by so much as the splashing of the oars.
An hour later the men were taking matters so leisurely that it was necessary the boys should make a pretense of landing in order to remain behind, otherwise their evident loitering would have caused suspicion.
Jet explained this to his companion, and the latter proposed that they utilize the time by cooking dinner.
The boat was run ashore, and Jim soon proved that he was a valuable assistant in the woods by preparing a hot lunch, which to Jet was decidedly palatable.
By the time the meal was ended the men were a couple of miles in advance, and the boys resumed the chase, with Jim still at the oars.
"I'll bet you they are bound for the falls," the guide said, shortly after the second start. "If that's so we'll have to make a carry, an' that can't be done between now and sunset."
"What's a carry?"
"A place where you have to lug your boat for a while, an' it's no fun I'll tell you."
"If they do it, I reckon we can."
"Of course, only it's a lot of work."
"We must expect plenty of that before the money is earned."
That Jim was correct in his surmise was shown later when Bob and Sam turned their craft into the stream which led to Round Lake, and then landed, evidently for the night.
"How near shall we go to them?" Jim asked.
"It won't do to stay too far away, for we must make it appear as if we intended to run down the same stream. We'll hold up here."
Jet steered the craft into an indentation on the shore about a quarter of a mile from where the others had stopped, and at a spot from which he could keep them in view.
"I'll rig up a camp, and you keep your eyes on them while you're getting some of the grub out," the small guide proposed.
The boys made preparations for the night, and while so occupied could see that the men were doing the same.
Then fires were lighted in both camps, and Jet watched the one down stream until his eyes closed in slumber, despite all his efforts to keep them open.
The gray light of dawn could be but faintly seen in the eastern sky when the amateur detective awakened, and his heart was made glad by the sight of a glow from the lower encampment.
"They haven't started yet," he said, as he awakened the guide, "and it stands us in hand to be ready to leave the minute they do."
"Better let 'em get to the carry first. When they keep on down the stream, we'll know where they're headed for, an' can get through in time, for I don't reckon there's a chance of their stayin' on Round Lake."
"There may be, and we mustn't run any risks."
The boys were ready to continue the journey some time before the men gave any sign of leaving camp, and they bustled around first in one direction and then another to make it appear as if they were doing work of importance, in case the game should be suspicious.
Not until Bob and Sam had been half an hour on their way would Jim consent to start, and that he had been wise in so doing could be seen after the fatiguing labor of "the carry" had been performed.
The fugitives were not more than two hundred yards in advance when the boys came out of the woods with the last load, and Jim said with a chuckle:
"I knowed they'd take the wrong turn, an' we'd been a good bit ahead if it hadn't been for layin' back."
By working slowly the boat was not reloaded until some time after the men were out of sight, and then when she had been pulled to the entrance of Round Lake, Jet insisted on remaining there a while, concealed by the bushes, to watch the movements of the other craft.
"I swow! They are goin' to stop here after all!" Jim exclaimed, as he saw the men turn toward the shore about a mile from the stream. "There's one thing about it, though, they're bound to leave before many days."
"'Cause there's no game 'round here, an' the fishin' ain't anything to speak of."
"I don't reckon they care, so long as the provisions hold out."
"Of course, they can get fish enough, if they only want them to eat; but I never heard of anybody campin' here."
"That's probably the very reason why they stop; no one would think of looking for them where there's so little sport to be had. Now we'll slip down about half-way between here and there, and build our camp."
This time Jet rowed, and his companion steered the little craft to a small point within less than half a mile of where Bob's boat could be seen.
The guide took upon himself the task of building a shelter, and he had a very respectable looking lean-to finished before night.
The boat was drawn up on the shore; the goods stored underneath her, and everything was ready for the night.
Jim caught four fish from the bank, and these he fried in a most appetizing manner, after which the boys rested from their labors.
A camp-fire had been built, and Jet was lying inside the shanty where the smoke would not disturb him, while Jim remained outside to "brighten the blaze" whenever the fuel should bum too low.
Both were enjoying the luxury of repose when an exclamation from the guide caused the amateur detective to glance quickly toward the water's edge.
That which he saw was sufficient to cause his heart to beat rapidly.
Bob, with his gun thrown carelessly over his shoulder, was coming directly toward them.
There could be no question but that the man was coming for the sole and only purpose of paying them a visit, and Jet was quite confident he had grown suspicious he and his companion were being followed.
The boy's first thought was to edge farther into the shanty, in order to prevent his face from being seen so plainly; but he did not dare make very much of a move lest the man should be aware of his purpose.
"He knows what we're here for," Jim whispered, in a tone of fear.
"Don't let him see you think it. Act as if we wasn't talking of anything but hunting and fishing. Remember he'll kill us, if he knows the truth."
This was sufficient to drive away what little self-possession Jim had left, and he stood stupidly staring at the visitor until Jet said sharply:
"Pick up that hatchet and begin to cut wood; we haven't enough to last over night."
Jim would have obeyed almost any order at that moment. He was so dazed with fear as not to know what he was about, and mechanically he began to do as he was bidden.
Bob advanced leisurely, looked carelessly around at the boat, the stack of provisions and the weapons, after which he asked, much as if it was really a matter of no concern to him:
"Come up here on a hunting trip, eh?"
"More for fishing than anything else," Jet replied, keeping his face in the shadow as much as possible.
"Is this a good place for that kind of sport?"
"We haven't had a chance to find out yet; but my chum caught four from the shore just after we landed."
"Do you live anywhere around here?"
"I'm from Plattsburgh; but Jim lives at the village of Saranac Lake."
"Then he ought to be acquainted with the best fishing grounds."
"He thinks he is, and wanted me to keep on into the upper lake; but after that long carry I thought I'd had enough of such work, and so we've hauled up here a while."
"Going to stay long?"
"I don't reckon we can be away more'n a week."
"Do many of the visitors stop on this lake?" Bob asked, as he turned to Jim, and Jet took advantage of the opportunity to move farther inside the shanty.
"No, sir, they mostly keep farther on. This place has been fished over so much that there's no fun for the city chaps what wanter catch big fellows."
Under Jet's example Jim was rapidly recovering his presence of mind, and since the visitor did not immediately set about killing them, he dared to look him in the face.
This answer seemed to please Bob, and Jet could readily understand why.
He gazed around once more, and then started back, much to the relief of his hosts.
Jim attempted to say something a moment afterward, but Jet interrupted him by crying loudly:
"Don't you think we'd better try to fix this camp up a little more before night?"
"Why, she's good enough," Jim replied, in surprise, as he came to the front of the hut, which gave Jet the opportunity to whisper:
"Don't you dare to say a word about him yet a while. There's no knowing how near he may be."
It was fully a quarter of an hour before the small guide ventured to speak again, and then Jet had seen both the men on the shore in front of their hut.
"You can talk now," he said, as he rose to his feet; "but in the future be mighty careful where those fellows are before opening your mouth about them. What were you going to say?"
"I don't know now; you frightened it out of my head. I swow! but I thought he'd come over to raise the very old Harry with us."
"It wasn't pleasant to see him so near; but now I'm glad he made the visit, for I don't think he suspects anything, and won't have a reason to prowl around. We must spend a good deal of time fishing tomorrow."
"Why don't you send word for them fellers to come up an' nab him?"
"Perhaps we will to-morrow, if they are still here; but you must remember that it isn't yet certain they'll stay very long, and by the time the officers arrived both might be out of the way."
"Of course, you've got the management of this job; but, if it was in my hands, I'd want to have it over as soon as I could."
"So do I; but at the same time it won't do to make a mistake. How long would it take you to walk back to the village, if I rowed you to the falls?"
"Pretty nigh one whole day."
"Would you go up there and send a telegram?"
"Couldn't you come to?"
"No, because they might leave while we were gone."
"Then I s'pose I'd have to do it," Jim replied; but it could readily be seen that he did not care for such a job.
Without saying anything to his companion, Jet decided that if the men should be in this camp on the morning of the second day he would send Jim to the village, and take the chances of their concluding to make a change of location.
Surely Bob would not think of starting off that night, therefore the amateur detective felt it was safe for him to take all the rest he needed, and, after a hearty supper, he and Jim turned in.
The sun was an hour high in the heavens when the boys awakened next morning.
As a matter of course the first thought of both was regarding the game they were watching, and their gaze was at once directed toward the other camp.
Both men could be seen lounging around the fire, and Jet said in a tone of relief:
"It's all right so far. If they are there to-morrow you shall go back."
Jim made no protest unless one might have been read in the expression of his face.
This second day in the woods was spent in a lazy fashion by the occupants of both camps.
It was nearly noon before Jim and his companion were ready to go out fishing, and then the sport was so dull that they did not remain very long.
Half a dozen medium-sized fish was the only result of their labor, and these the guide proposed to roast, because, as he explained, it would save the trouble of cleaning them.
He set about the task in the most approved backwoods style, and succeeded in bringing forth a most acceptable dish.
After this meal the boys did nothing, save watch their neighbors, and when night came Jet began to discuss the details of the return trip, for he was now confident the men were permanently located.
"Go right to the telegraph office as soon as you get home," he said to Jim, "and if the operator asks who sent the message say it was some one you met in the woods who hired you to bring it."
"S'posen he won't take it?"
"There's no danger of that. I'll give you the money, and he'll be bound to do as you say."
"You'll have to stay here all night alone, for, of course, I can't get back the same day."
"I shan't mind it, except that I may be lonesome; but I mustn't think of such a thing now."
Jim brought up various reasons why it would be better both should go; but Jet would not listen to them, and when they laid down to sleep it was understood that the guide would start at an early hour.
Next morning shortly after sunrise Bob and Sam were seen cooking breakfast, and Jet wrote the following message to Harvey:
"Come at once to Saranac lake, and hire a boat to Round Lake. I will watch for you."
When this had been done the amateur detective suddenly realized that if both he and Jim should set out in the craft and but one returned, it might arouse suspicion, therefore he said to the guide:
"It won't pay to run any risks, and you'll have to walk the whole distance. Here's money enough so you can buy anything you think we may need."
He handed Jim three dollars, and that young gentleman was so delighted at having such an amount to spend as he saw fit that all objections to the journey were forgotten.
"Go up along fast as possible; you can take your time coming back," Jet said, as his companion, shouldering the muzzle-loader, was ready to set out, "and don't delay sending that message."
"I'll fix things in great shape," was the confident reply, and then the small guide disappeared amid the foliage.
During the next hour Jet bustled around considerably more than was necessary, in order to make it appear as if both he and Jim were there, and as a means of causing the time to pass more quickly, attempted to cook an elaborate dinner.
This was a failure, however, owing to his lack of skill, and he dined on boiled potatoes, which were not particularly palatable, owing to the fact that they had been thoroughly scorched.
The men appeared to be well contented with their camp. They lounged around near the shore, but without showing any desire to fish, and otherwise behaved as if determined to remain.
When night came Jet felt more than lonely. The night noises of the forest almost frightened him, and only by piling the fire high with wood could he keep his courage screwed to the "sticking point."
He had not slept more than half an hour, and was promising himself a long nap after the sun rose; but when the day dawned he had something more serious to think about.
He watched Bob and Sam as they prepared breakfast, and then, much to his surprise and sorrow, saw them launch the boat, packing into her all their belongings.
"Jimminy! They're going to leave, and I've sent that telegram just at the wrong time. Now, what's to be done?"
There could be no question but that the men were intending to break camp, and, uncertain as to what he should do, Jet watched until all the camp equipage had been stowed on board the craft.
Then they pushed off, rowing leisurely down the lake, and again Jet asked himself what should be done.
To pursue them in the boat, no matter how far in the rear he might keep himself, would simply be to tell the men he intended to watch them, and, unfamiliar as he was with the country or woodcraft, it seemed both foolish and dangerous to follow on land.
Not until those he so ardently wished to keep in sight had rowed fully a mile away did he arrive at any decision, and then he said to himself:
"There's no other way out of it. I must go on, and take the chances. I only hope when Jim comes back he won't be such a fool as to pull down the lake in search of me, for they'd be certain to see him."
Filling his pockets with cartridges, and wrapping in a paper a small stock of provisions, he set off, only to come back a moment later and write on a piece torn from a paste board box:
"I have had to go down the lake. Wait here for me."
This he fastened to a tree where Jim would be most likely to see it immediately on his arrival, and then he started for the second time.
When Jet set out, the boat containing the men was a long distance in advance heading directly toward the lower end of the lake where were a number of small islands.
At first it had seemed a simple thing to follow a craft by keeping close to the edge of the water; but in a short time he learned the difference to his cost.
A STERN CHASE
For a certain distance Jet could walk through the fringe of bushes growing at the water's edge, enabled to see the boat and its occupants distinctly, and then a bit of marsh or small stream would force him to a detour of a mile or more.
"At this rate, I'm making about three times the distance they have to," he said, as he staggered across a shallow water-course so laden with the provisions, and the gun that he could not hold the branches back from his face, and thus received many a severe blow. "Most likely the next time I get to the edge of the lake they will be behind one of those islands, and then what's to be done?"
The catastrophe he feared did not occur quite as soon as he feared, although it came finally.
Twice more he saw the little craft, Sam rowing and Bob steering, and then she had disappeared.
By this time he was so near the outlet of the lake that it was impossible to say whether the men had crossed over into Upper Saranac, or were making camp near by.
During half an hour Jet sat concealed by the bushes where he could have a full view of the water, and no sign of life met his anxious gaze.
The only benefit derived from this halt was that he had lightened the bundle of provisions by making a hearty meal from a portion of its contents, and enjoyed the repose.
"There's no question but that they have either gone into camp on one of the islands, or kept on through the stream," he said, as he rose to his feet; "but I declare I don't know which way to turn."
He finally decided to walk to the outlet, scanning the shores of the island as he passed, and, failing in seeing any signs there, continue on until nightfall.
He tramped steadily for an hour without finding that for which he sought, and by this time was at the carry with the gloom of night settling rapidly around him.
Added to the desolateness of the situation was the sorrow caused by the belief that he had lost the trail at the very time when allowing Harvey to believe the men were where they could be arrested without difficulty.
"If I hadn't sent that telegram," he thought, mournfully, "Jim would have been here to help keep them in sight, or, if we lost them entirely as I have done, he'd have some sort of an idea where they went to."
The thought of the small guide gave him a new idea.
"I'll go back to our camp, if it takes all night," he said, resolutely, turning his face in the direction he believed it was located. "We can come down in the boat and find out whether they stopped on one of the islands."
Now he walked rapidly, in order to cover as much ground as possible before it grew so dark as to shut out surrounding objects from view.
Weary as he was, and owing to the broken ground, his progress was exceedingly slow, and night had fully shut her black curtain down before he reached the edge of the lake.
Then he was forced to proceed at a snail's pace, lest he inadvertantly walked into one of the small streams; but he continued manfully on until it was no longer possible to take another step.
Now came the alarming knowledge that he was lost.
Had he been going in the right direction he should have reached the lake before sunset, and it could not then be less than nine o'clock.
He was no longer able to find the stream which had served him as guide, and stretched himself on the ground at the foot of a gigantic tree feeling as if it made but little difference whether he ever arose again or not.
In utter despair he remained silent and motionless until slumber came to his relief, and he remained wrapped in blissful unconsciousness for several hours.
When he awoke it was yet dark, and he was benumbed with the chill which came from the damp earth.
"There's no need of freezing to death, if I am lost," he said to himself. "Things are so bad now that they can't be much worse, and I may as well make the best of a bad bargain."
By feeling carefully around he succeeded in getting together a small quantity of decaying wood, and this he lighted after some difficulty.
"It's lucky I had to cook dinner to-day, or I shouldn't have had a match." he said, grimly, as he sat about gathering more fuel.
In a short time he had a cheerful blaze, and the warmth, which was so grateful, served to revive his courage.
Slowly the hours passed.
Now and then he fell into a light slumber, but only for a few moments at a time, and it seemed as if forty hours must have elapsed before the sun lightened the sky again.
Toasting some of the crackers on the coals, and refreshing himself with water from a tiny stream, he made ready to continue his search.
Now he took his bearings carefully, with the sun as a guide, and, knowing the lake must lie to the west, pushed straight across the wilderness.
One, two, three hours, and then his heart was made glad by a glimpse of the water.
Never had anything looked as beautiful as did the lake at that moment.
He ran to the bank, and looked out through the bushes.
He was nearly opposite the islands, at the exact spot where the trail was lost on the previous afternoon.
To reach the camp it would be necessary to travel the greater portion of the day, and the important question was as to whether Jim would remain quietly there until he returned.
"There's no use thinking about it; I've got to take the chances," he said, resolutely to himself, and the weary march was resumed.
More than once before the journey came to an end was he tempted to give himself up to the rest he so sadly needed; but the thought that he might be forced to spend another night in the woods alone without a shelter, prevented him from giving way.
The last of the provisions were eaten for dinner.
A halt of half an hour was indulged in, and then he trudged forward once more, traveling a trifle more easily since one of his hands was now free.
It was late in the afternoon when he finally arrived within sight of the encampment; but there were no signs of Jim.
Before reaching the shanty he shouted loudly, receiving no reply, save the mocking echoes.
Now he ran the short distance remaining, and looked around eagerly.
Everything was apparently as he had left them. The notice was still fastened to the trunk of the tree.
The store of provisions was untouched, and he went to the water's edge.
The boat had not been launched, and this in itself was sufficient to show the small guide had not returned.
It was time he arrived, even supposing he remained over night at his home, as had been intimated, and the only reason for delay which he could imagine was that the young gentleman's parents refused to let him continue the hunting trip.
If that had been the case it seemed strange he did not come back to let Jet know he could no longer act as guide and assistant detective.
Thoroughly disheartened Jet threw himself on the ground near the front of the shanty, trying to decide what he could do; when the sound as of some person forcing his way through the underbrush caused a look of joy to come over his face.
An instant later it was replaced by one of disappointment.
Instead of seeing Jim as he had hoped, a very disreputable-looking stranger came from the direction of the upper carry, approaching Jet with a careless "Howdy?"
"Good afternoon," Jet responded.
"Out here on a fishin' trip, eh?"
"Yes, something of that sort."
"Been 'round long?"
"A few days."
"I reckon you don't want to hire a good guide, who can beat any one in this section cooking, eh?"
"No, and I haven't got the money if I did want to."
"I'd go mighty cheap seein's how business is dull."
Jet shook his head.
"Well, there's no harm done. I don't reckon you'd kick agin givin' a feller a bite, eh?"
"Help yourself; the provisions are under the boat."
The stranger proceeded to overhaul the outfit in the most matter-of-fact way possible, even grumbling because certain articles he evidently expected were not to be found.
"How would it do, if I got up a dinner for both of us?" he finally asked.
"All right, go ahead."
It made very little difference to Jet what the fellow did so long as he left him free to think the matter over, and he paid no attention to his movements.
After an hour had passed the stranger invited Jet to "fill up" from his own stock of provisions, and as he accepted the invitation the boy discovered that whatever this man might think of his abilities, he was certainly a very poor cook.
"I'd a-done better if you'd had more stuff," he said, half-apologetically, and then he began an attack on the food which speedily emptied the dishes.
The visitor made no move toward clearing away the cooking utensils; but leaving them where they were last used, proceeded to fill his pipe.
Then he stretched himself out inside the shanty, and took, as he said, "solid enjoyment."
"I allow there's no reason why I can't stay here till morning, eh?"
Much as Jet disliked the proposed companionship, he could not well refuse the request, therefore he gave consent with rather an ill-will.
"Seen anybody else huntin' 'round here?" the fellow asked, after a pause.
"There were two men camping down there a bit, but they left yesterday."
"When did they come?"
"Three or four days ago."
"Do you know where they went?"
Jet fervently wished he did; but he simply answered "no."
The visitor appeared deeply interested in these men; but his host showed such a disinclination to talk that he finally relapsed into silence.
Jet soon fell asleep, and was so tired that he did not awaken again until an hour or more after sunrise.
To his delight the stranger was no longer, there.
He glanced around leisurely, and to his surprise found that more than the man had disappeared.
The boat, his gun, the store of provisions, and even the pot and frying-pan had taken their departure.
"The thief!" he cried, leaping to his feet, and then a thought which was little less than an inspiration came to him.
"He is one of Bob's gang. That is why he wanted to know so much when I spoke of two men. Jabe probably told him where Bob and Sam were bound for, and he came here hunting them."
The idea that he had been tricked by one of the gang he was hoping to run down seemed particularly humiliating, and during at least five minutes Jet stood silent and motionless gazing across the lake.
Then anger took the place of bewilderment, and he managed to say some very vigorous things which might have excited the ire of the gentleman who claimed to be such a skillful cook had he been there to hear.
Scolding doesn't as a rule, make any material difference in a fellow's situation, and this Jet came to understand when he was forced to cease from sheer lack of breath.
"What a fool I'm making of myself!" he exclaimed. "The idea of standing here raving when I ought to be trying to mend matters."
It was difficult, however, when he began to reflect, to decide upon his course.
Should he go toward the town in search of Jim, and also to hire another boat?
That would involve the loss of two days, during which time the officer for whom he had telegraphed might arrive, and, failing to find him, go down the lake on a wild goose chase.
To attempt to search for the men, alone and on foot, seemed the height of folly, and while he stood near the water's edge deliberating upon the question of whether he could replenish his stock of provisions without paying a visit to the settlement, the rustling of the bushes proclaimed an arrival.
Jet looked around, half expecting to see his seedy friend of the previous evening come back to tell him it was all a joke, when the small guide Jim stepped into view.
He was evidently in the best of spirits, and gazed at Jet as if wondering why he was not welcomed more warmly.
"I've made two dollars, though I ain't got 'em yet, since I've been gone," he said, as he threw on the ground in front of the shanty a well-filled bag, "an' now there's as much grub in camp as will last us for a month, providin' we do a little cookin'."
"What made you stay so long?"
"Why, you see, it was to earn the two dollars I was tellin' about. I met a feller the other side of the carry what was askin' if I'd seen two men 'round here fishin', an' we had a real sociable talk——"
"Was that when you were going up to the village?" Jet interrupted.
"And the fellow had black whiskers on his chin, and said he was a guide and cook."
"That's the very one. Have you seen him?"
"I will tell you after your story is finished."
"Well we had a right nice time together. I gave him part of my lunch, an' then he wanted me to come back with him; but I told him I'd got to get to the telegraph office——"
"Did you let him know what you were going there for?" Jet asked, excitedly.
"Of course not, though he tried mighty hard to find out. He was lookin' for a party what's coming through the carry in a day or two, an' has got a job with 'em at four dollars a day. He said they was over to Pine Pond, an' promised to give me two dollars, if I'd see if I could find 'em."
"Why didn't he go?" Jet asked, in a peculiar tone.
"'Cause he didn't know the way."
"Funny kind of a guide not to be better acquainted than a boy who never attempted anything of the kind."
"Well, you see, the most of his work has been done 'round Raquette Lake way."
"So you went over to the pond for him?"
"Yes, it wouldn't take me so very much longer, an' it was earnin' two dollars mighty easy."
"But what about the telegram?"
"Oh, that's all right. He offered to carry it to the village for me, an' to pay the charges out of his own pocket, though it was to be taken from what he owed me when I got back."
"And you gave it to him?" Jet asked, his face growing very pale.
"Yes, it would get there jest the same, an' I'd be helpin' buy the grub," Jim replied, in a matter-of-fact tone, wholly unconscious of the black looks Jet was bestowing upon him. "I couldn't find anybody 'round the pond, an' I reckon the party must have come that very day, for when I got back to the village the man wasn't there; but I'll have the money when he finishes the job."
"Did you ask the telegraph operator if the message had been sent?"
"No; what was the use of that so long as he'd promised to fix everything? But say," Jim cried, suddenly, as he looked toward the water's edge, "where's the boat?"
"Your friend, the Raquette Lake guide borrowed her this morning."
"So he's been here, eh? Did he say anything about meetin' me?"
"Not a word," Jet replied, grimly. "I guess he was too busy getting ready to leave, for he had to pack all our provisions, my gun and the other things which were lying around into the boat."
"What do you mean?" Jim cried, as he gazed about him and failed to see any of their outfit.
"I reckon he's gone to Raquette Lake with the two fellows who were camping over on the point."
"Have they skipped?" and now Jim's eyes were opened very wide.
"Went yesterday morning bag and baggage."
"What'll we do when the officer comes to arrest 'em?"
"See here, Jim, are you so stupid as not to know what has happened?"
"Why don't you tell me?" the guide screamed.
"Because you have been giving me the story. The very jolly fellow you met was a friend of the men I came here to watch; he talked with you long enough to find out that the telegram you were carrying concerned them in some way, and cooked up the yarn about Pine Pond, in order to get hold of it. Then he came down to hunt me, stole the things to prevent our following him, and skipped on to look for his pals."
Jim gazed at his friend with dilated eyes while this explanation was being made, and when Jet concluded, he said in a half-whisper:
"Then I'm to blame for all that has happened?"
"There's no question but you have been the means of informing those fellows what we are here for," was the gloomy reply.
"Do you know where they have gone?"
Jet told of his fruitless journey, and when he concluded, Jim said decidedly:
"They didn't go into the upper lake, if they want to keep out of sight. I'll bet they've landed on Dollar Island."
"Which is that?"
"The one nearest the outlet. It's a good place to camp, and from it they can keep track of everybody coming or going. Suppose that fellow who said he was a guide hasn't found 'em yet?"
"Well, what then?"
"We might catch him before the others find out about the telegram message."
"He has a boat, and we haven't."
"But he's bound to land somewhere, and I know of a trail down this side, which would take us to the outlet in short order. It isn't more'n two miles."
"Are you willing to go and take the chances? Remember if Bob and Sam have learned what we are here for it will likely be a case of life or death with us."
"See here, Dave, I've spoiled all your plans without meanin' to do wrong, an' now I'm ready to take any risks if things can be straightened out. You've got a revolver, eh?"
"Then let's see what can be done."
Jim was thoroughly excited now, and his determination to rectify the error put new life into Jet.
He sprang to his feet at once; reloaded his weapon lest the cartridges should have been dampened during the night in the woods, and while he was thus occupied Jim packed the provisions into a more convenient shape for carrying.
When all was ready, and but a few seconds had been spent in these preparations, Jim led the way to a well defined trail a hundred yards or so from the shore of the lake, saying as he did so:
"It's queer you didn't find this when you were lost."
"I shouldn't have noticed it if I'd come across it, because the most of the tramping was done after dark, and in the morning I thought only of finding the lake."
"We shall see it two or three times before coming to the outlet."
The boys walked at their best pace, Jet carrying Jim's gun, and the latter with the greater portion of the provisions slung over his shoulder.
At the end of a quarter of an hour the trail brought them to the edge of the lake, and they looked out over the water eagerly, but without seeing any signs of life.
Again their way wound through the woods, and when the journey was a trifle more than two-thirds finished they were within sight of the water once more.
"Unless that fellow has made straight for the upper lake, he ought to be 'round here somewhere, so we'd better not show ourselves," Jim suggested, as he crept cautiously down to the fringe of bushes bordering the banks.
The boys were now where they could see between the cluster of islands to the opposite shore, and after gazing for some time in silence, Jet said, as he pointed directly across the lake:
"Isn't that a line of smoke over there?"
"It is, an' I'll bet our man has made camp to watch for his chums. Let's go over!"
It seemed to be a sort of forlorn hope; but the chances were well worth taking in view of the possible result, and Jet replied:
"Go ahead; but we must keep a good watch of the shores in case that should not be the fellow we are searching for."
Jim hardly needed this caution. Since having done so much harm he was careful to a fault, and many times before reaching the outlet did he run to the edge of the wood to search with his eyes the borders of the lake.
Each time he reported that no one was in sight, and always concluded the information with the assurance:
"I'm certain the two men are on Dollar Island."
The outlet was reached and crossed at the expense of a wetting; but the boys thought nothing of that; it was too trifling a matter to be considered at such a time.
From this on there was no trail to follow, and Jim led the way as near the water's edge as possible.
Finally the moment came when they were so near the thin curl of blue smoke that the utmost care was necessary lest a noise should give token of their approach.
Jim crept through the bushes in the most approved manner of alleged Indian hunters, and when they had thus traveled a couple of hundred yards, he motioned for Jet to look as he parted the foliage in front of him.
There on the shore was the boat which had been stolen, and farther up, near a hastily constructed shelter of branches, sat the man who had promised to send the telegram for the small guide.
The man was sitting in front of a small fire, over which he had evidently been cooking, for the frying-pan was close at hand, and the odor of bacon could be distinguished in the air.
Most likely he had just finished his morning meal, and was now solacing himself with a pipe.
The stolen gun had been leaned against a tree close by the hut, and about a half a dozen yards from its new possessor, but on the opposite side from where the boys were crouching.
"What are you goin' to do?" Jim whispered.
"We've got to get hold of him somehow, and by that means prevent Bob and Sam from knowing what we are about."
Jim nodded to show that he agreed fully in this assertion.
"I don't s'pose you'd dare to shoot him."
"Of course not; that would be murder."
"Then how is it to be fixed?"
Jet studied the situation for several minutes, and whispered:
"We must manage to creep around on the other side, and get hold of the gun first. Then I'll cover him with my revolver, and you must do the same with the other weapon. When he sees that both of us have got the drop on him, I reckon there won't be much trouble in keeping him quiet."
Jim did not stop to argue the matter.
According to his opinion the sooner the job was finished, the better, and he started off at right angles with the camp, Jet following him.
The boys moved so slowly and cautiously that not so much as a leaf was disturbed, and the man by the fire heard nothing to arouse his suspicions.
Jim made a needlessly long detour.
Many times before it was ended Jet felt convinced that the guide had made a mistake, and once he stopped the boy to say so; but the latter replied, in the tone of a fellow who knows perfectly well where he is:
"We're all right. The camp is just over there, and I want to come in sight of the lake once more before turning toward it."
Twenty minutes later Jim pointed ahead with a gesture of triumph.
Jet could see dimly through the foliage the outlines of the hut; but the trees hid the man from view.
Now the progress was even more slow and cautious. It seemed at times as if Jim hardly moved, so afraid was he of making a noise; but the advance was certain, and finally he stopped, motioning for Jet to come beside him.
The two were hardly more than a dozen feet from the weapon, and about the same distance farther away was the man they hoped to make prisoner.
His pipe had gone out, his head was sunk on his breast, and there was every indication of his having fallen asleep.
"Can you get the gun?" Jet whispered.
Jim nodded his head.
"Then creep up to it. I'll have the revolver ready, and jump in if he awakens. In case he's still asleep we'll go toward him until he opens his eyes. Start now," and Jet drew his weapon.
The boys advanced side by side until Jim grasped the gun, and then Jet motioned for him to rise to his feet, he setting the example.
They stepped forward softly, each with his weapon leveled at the half-reclining man, who did not so much as move until the boys were close upon him.
Then he lazily opened his eyes, and turned his head ever so slightly.
"Throw up your hands; but don't make the slightest noise, or I'll shoot you as I would a dog!" Jet said, sternly.
The fellow obeyed the first order with alacrity as he saw the muzzles of the weapons within a few inches of his head, and said in a careless tone:
"I reckon you didn't care about lendin' me your outfit."
"That's just the size of it, and there is other business to be settled."
By this time the prisoner had caught a glimpse of Jim's face, and he added with a smile:
"Come to collect that two dollars, eh?"
"We mustn't stand here chinning," Jet said, as he pressed the muzzle of the revolver to the back of the man's head. "Look around for something to tie him with, Jim, and be quick about it."
"What are you up to now?" the fellow growled.
"It won't take long to find out, and I shall be forced to waste this cartridge if you make any row."
"I thought I was behavin' myself in proper shape."
"So you are just at present; but I am ready for any change of plans, and want you to understand fully how little it would take to induce me to send a bullet into your worthless head."
This was sufficient to silence the prisoner.
"I can't find anything but the boat's painter," Jim cried. "Shall we use that?"
"Yes, and be quick about it."
The rope was soon detached from the craft, and, as Jim approached with it, Jet said to the man:
"Now put your hands behind you."
This order was obeyed without a murmur, and the small guide began to tie them securely.
The painter was of sufficient length to serve as bonds for the fellow's legs also, and when he was thus trussed up Jet began fashioning a gag from a piece of pine wood.
Having had this instrument of torture applied to himself on two occasions, he was well prepared to put it on in a proper fashion, although the prisoner begged abjectly to be spared the indignity.
"We have got to take care of ourselves, and I wouldn't trust to your oath if you should swear from now till Christmas."
When it was impossible for the fellow to move or speak, Jet made a thorough search of his clothing, and succeeded in finding, among several unimportant things, the telegram Jim had supposed was sent many hours ago.
"It hasn't been a bad forenoon's work," the amateur detective said, as he wiped the perspiration from his face, for the mental anxiety of the past few hours had caused the big drops to flow down his cheeks as the heat of the sun never could have done.
"What are we going to do with him?"
"Take him back to the camp, of course. It won't pay to let him out of our sight until the officers take charge of affairs."
Before making preparations for the return, Jet scanned closely the shores of the islands, which were situated nearer the opposite side of the lake, hoping to discover some signs of Bob and Sam; but in this he was disappointed.
Nothing in the shape of a boat could be seen, and he said to the small guide:
"I'm afraid they have gone into the other lake."
"It doesn't seem reasonable, and I shan't believe it until we have searched over all those islands."
"How can we do that now we've got this fellow to look out for."
"That's what you must figger out; I'm willin' to carry out whatever you say."
"Of course the first thing is to get back to the camp. Do you suppose we can load that fellow into the boat so in case the men are where our movements may be seen they won't suspect it is a human being."
"Cover him over with a lot of pine boughs."
"That's the idea. Come on; we have no time to lose, for we must do something toward finding the others before night."
Jim hastily gathered an armful of branches and threw them over the prisoner, completely concealing his form, and then the boys carried him to the boat much as if he had been nothing more than a log of wood.
The fellow was laid in the bottom of the craft, and around him were packed the goods he had stolen from the camp.
"It will load the old boat down pretty heavy; but there's no wind blowing, an' we shan't have a very hard pull back," Jim said, as he took his place at the oars, leaving Jet to push off.
It was not much past noon when the start was effected, and the boys had the supreme satisfaction of knowing that the most important of their human game had not been warned of what was being done.
"Say, how would it do to move our camp down opposite Dollar Island after dark?" Jim asked, when they were some distance from the shore. "We could then take the chances of running over to search the place, and wouldn't have so far to go."
"We'll try it," Jet replied, as he steered the boat away from the islands.
When the two arrived at the camp the prisoner was carried into the shanty, and there so covered with boughs and blankets that any one passing would not have had any suspicion a human being was concealed in the vicinity.
A hearty dinner was next on the programme, and then arrangements were made for moving camp.
Jim thought they would not be warranted in building a shanty at the proposed halting-place, unless loose brush could be found, since the noise of an axe might betray their whereabouts, and he also decided against a fire.
"I'll cook up a lot of stuff this afternoon," he said, "and then we must get along with cold grub. Can't you catch some fish while I'm working over there?"
Jet rowed the boat a short distance out into the lake, and soon had all he could do to attend to his line, so rapidly did the finny denizens of the water attack the bait.
He brought ashore as many as would serve them for food during the next three days, and the small guide cooked every one.
All this work was not completed until after nightfall, and Jim was eager to be off.
"It is so dark that they can't see us now," he said, "and after the moon rises things will be different."
"We'll feed the prisoner, for I reckon he needs something by this time."
Jet removed the gag, while Jim stood over the fellow with a cocked revolver, and a plentiful supply of fish, bacon, and water was put in his mouth, after which he was "bottled up" again, as the guide expressed it.
The craft was loaded as before; but this time Jet took the oars, because Jim was so well acquainted with the lake that he was needed at the helm.
"Be careful not to run too near the islands," the amateur detective said, as he made ready for work, "and after we start not a word must be spoken, for sound travels farther on the water than the land."
"Don't pull too hard, and be careful about splashing with the oars."
"Shove off, I'm ready."
During the next hour nothing was said. The little boat moved silently through the waters, and at the end of this time Jet could see the loom of the islands on the right.
They were near the proposed camping-place, and every precaution should be observed.
Suddenly Jim leaned forward, touched his companion on the arm, and pointed to the right.
A light as from a camp-fire could be seen among the trees, and the small guide whispered triumphantly:
"I told you they were there."
"Then we must contrive to get hold of one or both in the morning. It won't pay to wait for the officers."
The small guide steered the boat into the mouth of a tiny creek as skillfully as if it had been noonday, and when her bow grounded motioned for Jet to step ashore.
Then he followed the example and hauled her farther up to prevent any possibility of the craft's drifting away, after which he stood motionless as if awaiting orders.
"How far from here do you count on camping?" Jet asked, in a cautious whisper.
"A short bit straight back is a thick clump of cedars. We could stay there a month without being seen, no matter how many people might come on the lake."
"Take hold of the fellow's feet, and I'll carry his head. He'd better be taken care of first."
Jim obeyed, and thus loaded down led the way to the place he had described.
It was, indeed, just such a spot as Jet would have asked for.
The cedars, with their branches growing to the very ground, covered about fifty square feet of space, and through the center of this apparently impenetrable thickness ran the stream at whose mouth the boat had been brought.
It would not have been possible to put up a decently-sized shanty, because the trees were so near together; but there was ample opportunity for a hundred boys to find comfortable places in which to sleep, and the foliage would shelter them sufficiently well except in case of a rainstorm.
Although it hardly seemed necessary, Jet insisted that the prisoner should be made fast to one of the trees in a sitting posture, and not until this had been done was the balance of the work attended to.
First the provisions were carried into the natural camp, and stored in the center, then the other goods were cared for in the same manner, and nothing but the boat remained to mark their landing.
"It's goin' to be a hard job; but she's got to come here too," Jim said, when they stopped for a moment to rest.
"Do you think we can do it?"
"Oh, yes, she isn't so heavy but that we could take her around a carry, and I reckon it's to be done here."
"How long before the moon rises?"
"Somewhere about midnight."
"Then suppose we try to find out for certain if those camping on Dollar Island are the ones we want to keep in sight?"
"I'm willing if you say the word."
"Then come on. That fellow is safe enough, and we shall be just so much farther ahead with our work."
Jim led the way back to the boat, removed his shoes and stockings as a precaution against making a noise, Jet doing the same, and the two started, with the small guide paddling instead of rowing.
The faint glimmer of light served as a beacon, and toward it they advanced slowly until the boat's bow struck the shore.
Jim motioned for his companion to help him pull her up, and then stole through the woods as noiselessly as a shadow.
The gloom was so dense that it was necessary Jet should hold on to the leader's coat, otherwise they would speedily have been separated, and a watcher ten feet away could not have said a human being was passing.
Thanks to the fire-light, it was not a difficult matter for the two to go straight to the camp, and in a comparatively short time they were where it was possible not only to see the occupants, but to hear everything which was said.
Jet's spirits rose very high as he recognized the two he had followed so long, and now all previous discomforts and suffering were forgotten in the knowledge that he was once more carrying out Harvey's instructions to the letter.
The men had built quite a comfortable looking hut in the center of the island, where it would not be seen from the water, and near by was the boat, turned bottom-up as if they did not expect to use her for some time.
The fact that they allowed themselves a camp-fire at a time when it could be distinguished from a distance was probably owing to the fact that visitors seldom visited this particular lake after dark, since the absence of deer in the vicinity prevented hunters from scouring the banks with a jack light.
Both were ready for trouble, however, as could be told by the guns stacked within reach while they smoked and drank in front of the cheery blaze, and Jet was forced to admit to himself that these men could not be made prisoners with as much ease as in case of the other.
For some time the boys watched in silence, mentally jotting down all the details of the camp for future reference, and then Sam said, with a yawn:
"This is what I call mighty dull sport."
"It ain't very lively, for a fact; but I reckon it's way ahead of what poor Joe's having."
"If it's so bad now what will it be in another week? I don't think I can stand it very long."
"There's nothin' to prevent your goin' any time you get ready; but here I stay for quite a spell."
"What about more liquor an' grub?"
"There won't be any trouble in getting all we want as long as the money holds out."
"And by fall you'll have bark on your back."
"Better that than a striped coat. It isn't so bad as you make out, though. We can move our camp whenever we feel like a change, an' then there's plenty of fishin' an' sich like that the swells call sport."
Sam's only reply was another prolonged yawn as he stretched himself out at full length, and Bob replenished the fire without moving from his seat.
Jet understood that it was time for them to take their departure.
When the men got ready to turn in for the night, one or the other might take a fancy to have a look around to make sure they had no unwelcome visitors, in which case the spies would be discovered.
Motioning Jim to follow his example, he started toward the shore, moving at a snail's pace to prevent a noisy disturbance among the foliage, and not until they were in the boat once more paddling toward the opposite bank did he feel at liberty to draw a long breath.
Arriving at the point from which they started, Jim insisted on carrying the boat to the clump of cedars, and this required so much time and labor that it was nearly midnight before they could seek the well-earned rest.
Even then Jet took pity on the prisoner, and removed the gag sufficiently long to give him food and water, the small guide standing over him with the cocked revolver, lest he should make an outcry.
"What are you boys countin' on doin' with me?" he asked, when his hunger and thirst had been appeased.
"Deliver you to the officers in a day or two."
"Am I to be kept trussed up in this fashion until then?"
"It's pretty rough, I know; but there's no other way out of it. You'd treat us the same or worse if the tables were turned, and we're bound to take care of ourselves."
"I don't reckon it would do any good if I was to swear I wouldn't so much as yip?"
"Not a bit, for we shouldn't dare run the risk you would break your word."
The prisoner had nothing more to say; but obligingly held his mouth open so that Jet might replace the gag, and after this had been done the boys wrapped themselves in their blankets, lying down in the softest spot they could find.
"How are we ever goin' to get the best of them fellers?" Jim whispered when they were ready to go to sleep.
"I don't know; but we must cook up some kind of a plan."
"Don't you think it would be better to send for the officers, an' let them do the job?"
"I'm afraid the fellows will make another move before anybody could get here. You heard what Sam said, and it shows he is so discontented that he'll be insisting on breaking camp very soon, unless he turns his back on this place entirely."
"That's all right enough; but at the same time I don't see that we can do anything without somebody to help us," Jim said, with a sigh, and then he rolled over as if determined not to rack his brain with the perplexing subject any longer.
Neither of the boys slept very soundly on this night. The fact of the prisoner in their midst, and the problem which they must solve shortly, prevented that feeling of restfulness which is necessary for profound slumber.
The sun had not yet risen when Jet awakened, shook Jim into consciousness, and made his toilet in the tiny stream which wound its way through the camp.
"We'll feed the prisoner the first thing, and then keep watch of the island," Jet proposed, and this task was performed as quickly as possible, neither captive nor jailors indulging in conversation during the operation.
There was to be no cooking, and the boys carried as much food as they thought would afford them a hearty meal to the edge of the water, they crouching behind the bushes with their gaze centered on the spot where they knew the camp to be located.
"Have you thought of anything?" Jim asked, while they were eating the not very palatable meal.
Jet shook his head despairingly.
Half an hour passed, and neither spoke.
Then both started as if electrified, for they saw both the men approaching the shore of the island nearest the main land.
"They heard us last night, and are comin' over here to see who has come," Jim whispered, his face growing pale.
It certainly looked as if he had guessed correctly, and Jet drew his revolver.
The men were carrying the boat between them, and on reaching the water launched it.
The distance was not so great but that a conversation carried on in an ordinary tone could be distinguished from one shore to the other, and the first words spoken by the fellows caused the greatest relief.
"Now, don't fool your time away up there," Bob said, sharply, as Sam took his seat in the boat and pushed her off.
"Why? Do you think this is such a pleasant place that I shouldn't lose the opportunity to stay here as many hours as possible?"
"I think that if you once begin drinking you'll get full, and five minutes afterward every loafer in the village will know we are hiding here."
"You must allow I'm a fool."
"So I do, or you'd be willing to stay twenty-four hours longer without liquor rather than run the first minute the bottle is empty."
"There would be jest as much risk to-morrow, as now, so what's the use waitin' with our tongues hangin' out when plenty can be got by takin' a short walk?"
"When shall I expect you?"
"Some time before mornin'. I'll start back within half an hour after I land."
"If you do that there'll be little harm come to us," and Bob disappeared amid the foliage while Sam rowed vigorously up the pond.
"There is no need of our trying to cook up a plan now," Jet whispered.
"Because it is all arranged. We must tackle Bob before Sam comes back."
Jim appeared thoroughly alarmed by his companion's bold statement.
He looked upon Bob as the most desperate of the three men, as really was the case, and the idea of a struggle with him seemed alarming; but yet he said nothing against the plan.
"What puzzles me is why they launched the boat on this side of the island? They had to bring her way across."
"Perhaps they have seen some one on the opposite shore, and don't care to let folks know where the boat started from."