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But, as he’s making plans to turn back, a strange forest girl with a head injury stumbles into their camp; and then two local horsemen join them for the night and, around the campfire, tell them of a gang of notorious bandits who have seized possession of an island in the middle of a lake “some ten miles down the valley” called Lake Sylvan. There is, of course, a rich mine of gold on the two-acre island, and it’s presided over by a dangerous damsel known to all of the thoroughly cowed neighbors as “Lady Sylvan.” Everyone who’s tried to swim out to the island has been turned back or killed by the desperados on the island, who call themselves The Owls. (This seems, to modern ears, a weird name for a gang of desperados to affect. Perhaps all the scarier and more gang-like monikers such as “The Bloods” and “The Crips” and “The James-Younger Gang” were already taken and all that were left were the names of Boy Scout patrols?)
The next morning, one of the two strange horsemen is dead as a doorknob, pinned to his bedroll with a big Bowie knife, and there’s no sign of the girl. The other horseman — who later turns out to be the murderer — tries to pin it on the strange girl, but Dick doesn’t buy it.
His interest piqued, Dick and his friends decide to join the locals in investigating the island by swimming out to it disguised as ducks — that is, each of them wearing a dead, unplucked duck, staged with some quick-and-dirty taxidermy to keep its head from flopping around, so that the island sentries would see not a bunch of invaders swimming ashore, but merely three very tall, stiff, rigidly immobile ducks slowly and silently drifting toward the island, their heads and necks gently rocking back and forth with the wave action like the masts of tiny ships.
This plan goes just as well as you would expect it to, and all our heroes are promptly captured and subjected to a sort of show trial presided over by the girl with the head injury from Scene One, who turns out to have been Lady Sylvan herself. The murderer whom Dick was pursuing is there as well. In good melodramatic fashion all appears lost, and then virtue emerges triumphant with a little help from the abiding love that’s been burning in the breast of Lady Sylvan since that night by the campfire when Dick fixed up her head injury and gave her a blanket.
She, it turns out, is a figurehead; the Owls are actually a gang of “counterfitters” who are, apparently, stealing gold from various places, bringing it onto the island, and pretending to mine it there.
(As a side note, this would not have worked in real life. Assayers in gold country in the late 1800s were surprisingly good at identifying the source of freshly mined gold based on average grain or nugget size and color and nature of impurities, and used those abilities fairly regularly to catch careless stagecoach robbers. Had someone tried this stunt, the locals would have known exactly what they were doing the minute they first tried to have their “diggings” weighed at the local assayer’s office. But, of course, our Philadelphia author didn’t know that.)
In the end, justice is more or less served. Nicademus Noodle, after forcing the murderer to change clothes with him, finds $1,000 in the pocket and hits the road with it. The murderer, thinking he’ll restore his fortunes by burgling the bad guy’s house, gets shot and killed, so Dick’s job is done; nonetheless he insists on riding off into the sunset to his next adventure, without bothering to say goodbye to Lady Sylvan, who we never hear of again.
All in all, it’s a pretty rough little story, stretched with a lot of unnecessary “business.” And the character of Nicademus Noodle, although endowed with resourcefulness and wit, is nonetheless a typical late-1800s African American character — that is, an insulting racial stereotype brought to life. But overall it’s a fun, fast read, and its descriptions of nonexistent Roseburg scenery and geography surely brought a smile to the face of more than one 1880s Douglas County resident.