The teacher was a man named Lockwood. He kept telling us that we ought to read about farming, and study the business by which we expected to live; and this made a deep impression on me. Lockwood was a real teacher, and like all such worked without realizing it on stuff more lasting than steel or stone,—young, soft human beings. I did not see that there was much to study about as to driving on the canal; and when I told him that he said that the business of taking care of the horses and feeding them was something that ought to be closely studied if I expected to be a farmer. This looked reasonable to me; and I soon got to be one of those driver boys who were noted for the sleekness and fatness of their teams, and began getting the habit of studying any task I had to do. But I was more interested in cattle than anything else, and was sorry when spring came and we unmoored the old boat and pulled down to Albany for a cargo west. This summer was like the last, except that I was now a skilled driver, larger, stronger, and more confident than before.
I used to ask leave to go on ahead on some fast boat when we drew near to the Sproule farm, so I could spend a day or two at farm work, see the family, and better than this, I am afraid—for they were pretty good to me—look the cattle over, pet and feed the calves, colts and lambs, count the little pigs and generally enjoy myself. On these packet boats, too, I could talk with travelers, and try to strike the trail of John Rucker.
I had one never-failing subject of conversation with the Sproules and all my other acquaintances—how to find my mother. We went over the whole matter a thousand times. I had no post-office address, and my mother had depended on Rucker’s getting Captain Sproule’s address at Syracuse—which of course he had never meant to do—and had not asked me to inquire at any place for mail. I wrote letters to her at Buffalo as she had asked me to do in her letter, but they were returned unclaimed. It was plain that Rucker meant to give me the slip, and had done so. He could be relied upon to balk every effort my mother might make to find me. I inquired for letters at the post-offices in Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany and Tempe at every chance, but finally gave up in despair.
I had only one hope, and that was to find the hump-backed man with the black beard—the man Rucker was talking to on the boat we had passed on our voyage eastward before I found my home deserted. This was a very slim chance, but it was all there was left. Captain Sproule had noticed him, and said he had seen him a great many times before. He was a land agent, who made it a business to get emigrants to go west, away up the lakes somewhere.
“If your stepfather had any money,” said the captain, “you can bet that hunchback tried to bamboozle him into some land deal, and probably did. And if he did, he’ll remember him and his name, and where he left the canal or the Lakes, and maybe where he located.”