“This is certainly something we didn’t bargain for,” was Snap’s comment. “It knocks all of our plans endways, as the saying goes.”
“I hope you’re not thinking of going home?” said Giant, quickly.
“Home!” cried Shep. “Don’t you dare to mention such a thing. No, I am not going home, boys. But one thing is certain, we can’t stay at Lake Cameron.”
“Let us try our luck at Firefly Lake,” suggested Whopper. “That isn’t as large as this lake, but it is certainly a nice sheet of water. And the hunting around there ought to be just as good as around here.”
The others said they were willing, and a little later they made their way out of Lake Cameron and sent the rowboat along the rocky watercourse in the direction of Firefly Lake. It was now past noon, yet nobody was in the humor for eating.
“The more I think of Andrew Felps the madder I get,” said Shep. “I don’t see how a man can be so mean. It wouldn’t have hurt him a bit to have let us stay there.”
“I hope he has no luck at hunting,” grumbled Giant. “He deserves to go home skunked.”
“He will get some game—or his guides will get it for him,” said Snap. “I wonder if it is possible that he has bought up Firefly Lake, too.”
“My gracious, that’s so!” ejaculated Whopper. “No use of going there if he has. He’ll root us out sooner or later.”
“Firefly Lake belongs to half a dozen people,” said Giant. “Why, come to think of it, one of my uncles had an interest up there.”
“Then I reckon we’ll be safe.”
It was no easy matter to guide the rowboat through the narrow and swiftly flowing river they were now on, and the young hunters had to give all their attention to the task. Once or twice they struck the rocks rather sharp blows, but no damage was done, for which they were thankful.
“One thing is certain,” said Snap, when a wider part of the watercourse was gained. “That gasolene launch can never follow us to this lake. It’s too large.”
“Yes, and the tramp from one lake to the other is not easy,” added Shep. “Old Jed Sanborn told me that.”
“Won’t Jed be angry when he learns that Felps has bought up Lake Cameron,” put in Giant. “That was one of his favorite hunting and fishing places.”
They had to go so slow through some portions of the stream that it was nightfall by the time Firefly Lake was reached. It was clouding up, and when the sun went down not a star showed itself.
“This looks as if we were going to have rain before morning,” was Shep’s comment. “Just our luck—to be caught in the open.”
“Don’t croak,” said Snap. “No matter what comes, let us make the best of it.”
It was almost impossible in the fast gathering darkness to distinguish one part of the shore from another, and they did not know where to land. Seeing a small cove, they made for it, and pulled the rowboat up among some bushes. Then they gathered some firewood, started a blaze, and set about getting a meal which should be a dinner and supper combined.
“Well, I am hungry now and no mistake,” said Whopper. “I think I could eat snakes’ eggs on toast or pickled eels’ feet.”
The camp-fire made things look more cheerful, and a hearty meal did much toward restoring good humor. Yet the boys felt sore over the way Andrew Felps had treated them, and for this they could not be blamed.
“To-morrow we’ll have to locate all over again,” said Snap. “And if we want to be comfortable, we’ll have to put up another cabin. But we needn’t to make it quite so complete as that other one was.”
“Let us look around and see if we can’t find some sort of a natural shelter,” suggested Shep—“some cave, or overhanging rocks, or something like that.”
“Where the rocks can come down and bury us alive,” said Whopper. “Wouldn’t that be charming!”
“Whopper, you’re as soothing as a funeral!” cried Giant. “We ought to make you build the next cabin all alone.”
“Well, I could do that if I had time enough,” was the dry reply.
Among the trees the boys found a pretty fair shelter, and here made themselves as comfortable as possible. They covered the stores in the boat with the canvas, piled the wood on the camp-fire, and then lay down to rest, leaving Giant to stand guard for the first two hours of the night.
When Giant called Snap to relieve him it was already raining and the wind was rising. The fire had died down and they did not dare to stir it up for fear the wind would carry the sparks into the forest and cause a general conflagration.
“I guess we are in for it,” declared Snap, as he peered around in the darkness. “Just listen to the wind rising!”
Giant retired, leaving the leader of the tour on guard. Snap walked around for a bit, but then had to seek the shelter of the trees as the rain came down heavily.
“Hullo! what’s this?” came from Whopper, as he sprang up. “Say, I thought somebody was throwing a pail of water over me!” The rain had come through the tree branches directly down upon his upturned face.
In a few minutes more all of the boys arose, as the wind was now sending the rain in all directions. The tree limbs bent low and threatened to break at every instant.
“Phew!” cried Whopper. “There goes my cap!” And he made a dash after the whirling headgear, catching it just as it was sailing for the lake.
A moment later came a gust of wind that almost lifted them from their feet. The trees of the forest were bent lower than ever, and amid the whistling of the tornado came a crack like that of a big pistol.
“Look out for the tree-top!” yelled Shep, and pulled Snap to one side. All jumped into the open and were just in time to escape about ten feet of the top of the tree, which sailed through the air and bit the lake surface with a loud splash. Then down came half a dozen small branches, several with birds’ nests on them.
“This is positively the worst storm yet,” was Snap’s comment, after a perilous half hour had passed. “I am wet to the skin.”
“Don’t say a word,” groaned Whopper. “I’ve got about a barrel of water in my shoes and another barrel down my neck!”
“I am going to see if the stores are safe,” came from Shep, and he hurried for the boat, followed by Snap. They found that the canvas had torn from its fastenings and was flapping wildly in the wind. The rain had soaked almost everything.
“This is certainly serious,” said Snap, as he did his best, assisted by the others, to pull the canvas into place once more and fasten it tight. “We don’t want our stores ruined.”
“We can thank Mr. Andrew Felps for this experience,” grumbled Shep. “I suppose he is snug in our cabin and laughing at us.”
“He must certainly be in the cabin,” said Giant, who had followed the others to the boat.
They could do nothing to make themselves comfortable, and so had to simply grin and bear it, which they did with the best grace possible. They were afraid to remain under the trees for fear of getting struck by some falling branch.
“Wonder how long this is going to last?” came from Whopper, an hour later. “Looks to me as if it was going to keep up a long time.”
“There is no telling,” answered Snap. “I think—hark!”
All listened and heard a strange humming. Then the wind began to tear through the forest with fearful violence.
“It is surely a tornado!” yelled Shep. “Get down, all of you, or you’ll be blown to nowhere!”
GIANT AND THE MASKALONGE
The wind was making such a noise that little more could be said, and as the tornado increased all of the boys threw themselves on the ground, between a number of low bushes close to the lake shore. The rain was coming down in veritable sheets and the water was running into the lake in hundreds of rivulets.
“There goes something!” screamed Giant, as he caught sight of an object whirling over their heads. “Looked like a sail.”
“It was the boat canvas,” answered Whopper. “Maybe the boat will go next. Say, I’d just as lief be at home in my own little bed, eh?”
“Don’t mention it,” replied Giant, with a sigh.
For fully an hour the wind tore around them in a manner that alarmed the young hunters in the extreme. They could do nothing to save either themselves or their stores, and wondered what the morning would bring forth. More than one imagined that that was the last of the outing and they would have to return home.
But by daybreak the storm let up and the wind gradually died down to nothing but a gentle breeze. At eight o’clock the sun broke from under the scattering clouds and then all heaved a long sigh of relief.
“I never want to put in such a night again,” said Shep. “I was afraid every minute was going to be my last.”
“This storm undoubtedly did a great deal of damage,” said Snap. “I shouldn’t wonder if—oh, look at the top of yonder tree. What is that?”
“It’s the patch of canvas we had over the stores!” cried Giant. “The wind took it to the top of the tree. Somebody will have a climb to get it again!”
“I’ll go after it later on,” said Snap. “The first thing to do is to build a big fire and get dry, otherwise we’ll all catch our deaths of cold.”
It was no easy matter to find wood dry enough to burn, but once a blaze was started they found branches enough to pile on. They shed the majority of their garments, and soon the warmth dried each piece, much to their satisfaction and comfort.
Whopper had not been idle, and he soon had a pot of hot coffee, to which they added some condensed milk and water-soaked sugar. They also got some fish from the lake, and the entire morning was devoted to “drying out” and getting a substantial meal.
“One comfort,” remarked Shep, “we’ll not want for firewood while we are here.”
“I shouldn’t be surprised if we can pick up quite some dead birds and small animals,” said Snap. “You generally can after such a storm as this.”
After a good meal they felt somewhat better and took a survey of the situation. Then they brought out their stores and set them to dry on some stones in front of the camp-fire. A few articles had been rendered valueless and these they threw away. Late in the afternoon Shep and Giant went fishing, while Snap and Whopper walked for a short distance into the woods.
“We can’t go very far,” said Snap. “It is too wet in the shade.”
“I see one bird already,” said his companion, and picked up a fine woodpecker. A thrush and two other birds they could not place followed, and then they ran across a fallen tree under which lay two squirrels.
“This is hunting of a new kind,” said Whopper. “Poor chaps!” he went on, looking at the squirrels. “I suppose that storm ripped your home completely to pieces!”
“Wait! I see a good shot!” cried Snap, a few minutes later, and raising his gun took careful aim. The report of the fowling-piece was followed by a wild fluttering and then two partridges dropped down, each seriously wounded. The boys dashed forward, caught the game and quickly put them out of their misery.
“There, we have done enough for to-day,” said Snap, but Whopper blazed away, nevertheless, and brought down a rabbit that chanced to be limping across a clearing, having had a paw broken by the storm.
With their game in their bags, the boys started back for the lake front. They were almost to the camping spot when a wild cry of alarm rent the air.
“Help!” came in Giant’s voice.
“Let go! Let go!” came from Shep, an instant later.
“I can’t! I can’t!” answered the smallest of the young hunters.
“Something is wrong!” cried Snap, and dashed for the shore, followed by his companion. When they came to the clearing they found Shep standing up in the rowboat, gesticulating wildly. Giant was in the water and moving at a fairly rapid pace toward the centre of Firefly Lake!
“What does this mean?” questioned Snap.
“He got some kind of a bite and the fish hauled him overboard,” answered Shep.
“Why don’t you let the fish go?” screamed Whopper.
“I—I can’t,” gasped Giant. “The line is twisted around my wrist!”
“Row for him, Shep!” called Snap.
He had scarcely spoken when the fish took another tack, dragging poor Giant toward the shore, some distance above the camp. Snap and Whopper hurried in the direction, and as the little youth managed to get a footing near the beach they ran in up to their ankles and dragged him to safety. Then all three began to haul in on the fishing line.
“I see what it is!” cried Snap. “A maskalonge—and a whopper, too!”
Snap was right, and it was no mean task to bring the fish to the shore, and even then it flopped around in a manner that scared them a little. The maskalonge was dark gray in color with small black spots, and measured all of four feet and a half from head to tail.
“My, but he is a whopper!” cried Shep, as he ran the boat ashore and surveyed the haul. “No wonder he yanked Giant overboard.”
“Giant, you can be proud of such a haul,” said Snap. “I guess he’s the king-pin of all the pike in this lake.”
“Well, I am proud,” answered Giant, with a grin. “Just the same, I don’t relish being pulled overboard for any fish in the lake. He must weigh something, eh?”
“Fifteen to twenty pounds, I guess,” said Snap. “It’s too bad we haven’t a scales along.”
“Weigh him in his own scales,” said Whopper, by way of some fun.
“I wish I could send this fish home to my mother,” said the small youth. “Wouldn’t it make her eyes stick out, though!”
“It certainly would, and some other folks would wonder, too,” answered Shep. “But I don’t see how you can do it.”
Besides the maskalonge, the boys had caught several pike of fair size, so they were assured of enough to eat for several days.
“The best thing we can do to-morrow is to find a suitable camping spot and build a shelter,” said Snap. “We don’t want to be caught out in the open again.”
The canvas at the tree-top was secured, and that night they slept between some bushes with this over them to keep off the night air. Each of the young hunters took his turn at watching, but nothing came to disturb them, although Whopper declared that he heard several foxes not far off.
“I thought they were going to pay us a visit, but when they were about two hundred feet away they took a turn and that was the last I heard of them.”
On the following morning the young hunters were in the act of embarking in their rowboat, for a tour around the shore of Firefly Lake, when Shep pointed out a small canoe coming swiftly toward them. In the craft sat a man of middle age, with thick hair and a heavy beard.
“Who can it be?” questioned Whopper.
“Perhaps it is one of the Felps crowd—to warn us away,” spoke up Giant. “If it is, I’m rather for giving him a piece of our mind.”
“It is Jed Sanborn!” cried Shep. “He must be out to do a little hunting or fishing on his own account.”
Jed Sanborn was a character well known to the people of the district surrounding the lakes. He was a hunter and trapper and had been all his life. He was a bachelor, with no known relatives, and lived in a little cabin on the mountainside, two miles from Lake Cameron. The boys had met him a number of times and knew him to be a good shot and a good-humored individual.
“Hullo, Jed, where are you bound?” sang out Snap, as the hunter drew closer in his canoe.
“Thought I’d find you up here, boys,” was the answer. “Have a good time last night?”
“No; we had a beastly time,” answered Shep.
“Rained hard, didn’t it? Where are you bound now?”
“We were going to look around the lake, that’s all. We want to find a good camping-out spot.”
“Folks down at Fairview said you were going to Lake Cameron.”
“So we were, but Mr. Andrew Felps came along and drove us away.”
“And after we had built a cabin, too,” put in Giant.
“Huh! that’s just like him,” responded Jed Sanborn, as he bumped alongside of the rowboat with his canoe “He told me I couldn’t hunt or fish around that lake either.”
IN A NEW CAMP
“When did you come from Lake Cameron?” asked Snap, after a pause.
“Came from there right now.”
“Then you saw the Felps crowd at the cabin we built?” queried Whopper.
“So you built that shelter?”
“And he drove you off? It was dog mean, that’s all I’ve got to say.”
“Did he tell you he had bought that land?” went on Snap.
“Yes. Oh, he’s as mean as they make ’em, that feller,” added Jed Sanborn. “Hullo! Where under the canopy did you git that big maskalonge?” he cried, catching sight of the fish.
“Giant caught it,” answered Whopper. “But he was pulled overboard doing it.”
“And they had to help me land him,” added the small youth, but rather proudly.
“Well, well! this beats the Dutch! Why, I never caught such a fish but once in my whole life in these parts although I’ve hooked ’em on the St. Lawrence. It’s something to be proud of, lad. You’re as good a fisherman as is to be found anywhere.”
“When did you leave Fairview?” asked Shep.
“The day after you did. I expected to meet you before, but I had to go over to Sand Rock on business and I was delayed. I went up to Lake Cameron, and I almost had a fight with Andrew Felps. He wanted to take away a mink I had caught in a trap. But I wouldn’t give it up.” And Jed Sanborn pointed to where the mink lay, in the bottom of his canoe.
“Do you know much about this lake, jed?” asked Snap.
“I think I do—I’ve spent plenty of time up here, one year an’ another.”
“Where can we find the best camping place?”
The hunter scratched his head in thought.
“Well. I know of two pretty good spots. Maybe you had better see ’em both an’ then take your pick.”
“All right, we’ll do that,” came from Shep. “Will you show us the spots now?”
“Certainly. I haven’t got much else to do,” answered Jed Sanborn.
He did not tell the lads that he had been asked to keep an eye on them, fearing the information would not be to their liking. He was not to interfere with any of their movements unless he that they were running into positive danger.
In a few minutes more the rowboat and the canoe were on the way up the western shore of Firefly Lake. It promised to be a perfect day, with just sufficient coolness to make it exhilarating. In the trees that lined the lake shore the birds warbled merrily, evidently glad that winter was not yet upon them.
“I reckon it’s going to be a good sporting season,” said Jed Sanborn, as they pulled along the lake shore. “If so, you boys will be right in it, as the saying goes.”
“Well, we are out for all we can get,” answered Snap.
It was not long before they came to a spot that looked rather inviting, but there was one drawback—they would have to go quite a distance for spring water.
“Now I’ll show you another spot which may prove better,” said the hunter.
They turned one end of Firefly Lake and came up on the other shore. Suddenly Whopper gave a cry:
“That looks good!”
“So it does,” answered Shep. “Jed, is that the spot you had in mind?”
“It is, my lad.”
“Is there a spring handy?”
“Yes; right behind the big rock to the left—the purest water in these parts, so I always thought.”
They lost no time in going ashore, running the rowboat up into a tiny cove, where an overhanging rock acted as a dock. There was a small, cleared space between the tall trees, and to one side grew a clump of trees in something of a semi-circle. Snap ran forward to investigate.
“Why, Jed, what does this mean!”
“Here is a shack already!”
“Some other hunters must have been here!”
“I was here last season, with two gentlemen from New York,” explained the hunter. “I built that shack fer ’em. You can use it until you put up something better—that is, if you decide to stay here.”
“Let us stay by all means!” cried Shep, gazing around. “It’s a beautiful spot.”
“Better than the one we had to give up at Lake Cameron,” came from Giant. “How about hunting, Jed?”
“Jest as good around here as t’udder lake, my boy.”
A vote was taken, and all of the boys decided that they would remain at the spot. This being settled upon, they brought their stores ashore and placed them in the shack, so that no further rain could get at them.
“We have lost enough through the rain and that bear,” said Snap, and then had to tell Jed Sanborn all about the mysterious midnight visitor.
“Oh, but I wish I had been on hand—to git a crack at that bear!” cried the hunter. “I ain’t had a crack at a bear fer some time. They are gittin’ scarce around here.”
It was time to eat again, and they made a splendid dinner of some baked maskalonge, Jed Sanborn showing them how to turn out the fish in a manner that was appetizing to the last degree. Shep also made some biscuits, which, if they were not first-class, were far from what boys usually call “sinkers.”
“I hope nobody comes to disturb us here,” said Snap. “I think if we are left alone we’ll have the time of our lives.”
While they ate they discussed the question of putting up another cabin. Giant was very eager to go ahead and so was Whopper—both loving the work fully as much as they loved hunting and fishing.
“All right, we’ll build a cabin,” said Snap. “But first we must get together something to eat, as we did before.”
That afternoon all went out hunting with Jed Sanborn and he showed them where to find a good supply of rabbits, and took them to a hollow among the hills where the partridges were thick. All fired at once, and as a consequence they got eight of the game. Their rabbits numbered sixteen, and they also brought down three squirrels. Coming back to the camp, Jed Sanborn took a long shot at some wild ducks that were flying overhead and brought down two, which he added to their stock.
“Now, do a little fishing, and you’ll have enough to eat fer a week,” he said.
“Before you go away I want you to show us how to set some traps, Jed,” said Snap.
“I’ll do that,” was the answer, and the very next day the old hunter made for them a trap to catch birds, another for mink and also a beaver trap.
“When I come ag’in I’ll bring you something to put in the beaver trap,” said the hunter. “It’s a stuff we call barkstone. The beavers can’t resist it nohow. As soon as they smell it they have to walk right into the trap after it.” He referred to castoreum, a liquid obtained from the beaver, or castor, itself and having a powerful odor which acts on the animal just as catnip acts on a cat.
The weather had now turned off colder and they were glad to huddle close to the camp-fire at night. Before going to bed the hunter told the boys a bear story that all pronounced a “rattler.”
The building of the new cabin began in earnest the next day, and Jed Sanborn told them how it might be put together to the best advantage, and even aided in cutting down some of the necessary logs.
“I’ve got to go back to town to-morrow,” he said. “But I’ll come back here before very long. I’ll bring you anything you want.”
“In that case I’ll make out a list,” answered Snap, and did so, with the aid of the others. Jed Sanborn left the next day at noon; and it was some time before they saw him again.
“And now to get at this cabin in earnest,” said Shep, after the departure of the hunter.
Jed Sanborn had shown them how they might pile up some rocks for a rude chimney, banking up the lower part outside with dirt, and this they finished first. Then the top was put on the new structure and the sides, one end having a small door and the other an even smaller window. The flooring was of hard dirt, with cedar boughs in two corners for couches. In the shack they found a rude bench and a table, and these they transferred to the cabin. When they tried their new fireplace they found it worked well, the smoke going up the rude chimney without difficulty.
“Now, this is something like!” declared Giant, as he surveyed the work. “Even in a storm we can be quite comfortable here.”
“Providing the roof doesn’t leak,” declared Shep. “When it rains we must watch for leaks and try to stop them up—with bark or with the canvas.”
SHEP AND THE HOLLOW TREE
For several days after the cabin was finished, the boys rested from their labors and took it easy. An unusually warm spell followed the short cold snap and one day, at noon, all took a dip in the lake. But the water was so cold they remained in only a few minutes and all were glad enough to hurry back into their clothing.
“A cold bath like that goes a good ways,” declared Shep. “If a fellow stayed in too long he’d freeze to death.”
“Why, my back is full of icicles now!” declared Whopper. “Feels as if I had gotten locked in a refrigerator by mistake.”
“Like the tramp they caught at Westport last summer,” came from Giant, with a laugh. “He stole a ride on the cars and got into a refrigerator car by mistake. The car was packed with ice and wasn’t opened for forty-eight hours after it started. The poor tramp was about half dead when they got him out.”
Early on the following Friday morning, Shep and Snap went out on a hunt, leaving Whopper and Giant to look after the camp and fish, if they felt like putting out any lines. It was a bright, breezy day and all of the boys were in the best of humor.
“We may not be back until late,” said Snap, as he and Shep moved away. “So don’t worry if you don’t see us.”
“All right—we’ll save you some supper,” answered Whopper.
Snap and Shep had decided to try their luck in the woods to the north of Firefly Lake, taking to an old deer trail that Jed Sanborn had pointed out to them. They were after any game that might appear, but did not look for anything big, for the older hunter had informed them that it would be next to impossible to spot any deer until the snow was on the ground.
Each youth carried his shotgun and his gamebag, containing his dinner, and also a good supply of ammunition.
The boys walked a good half mile before they saw any indications of game. Then Snap called a halt and pointed to a little clearing. Looking through some brushwood, Shep made out half a dozen wild turkeys, feeding peacefully.
“We ought to get at least two of them,” whispered Snap. “All ready?”
“Then fire when I tell you.”
They came a little closer, and both boys took careful aim. At the word the two shotguns rang out, and to the delight of the two young hunters down came three of the wild turkeys. The rest flew away among the trees and were lost to sight immediately.
“That’s a haul!” cried Shep, and ran forward.
“Look out!” screamed Snap, an instant later. “One of ’em is coming for you!”
His warning proved true, and before Snap could retreat the wounded wild turkey had flown directly into his face and was cracking the boy with its strong wings.
“Get away! Oh, dear!” sang out poor Shep, and tried to beat the wounded creature off, but the wild turkey was full of fight and renewed the attack with vigor.
“I’ll fix him! Down with your hands!” ejaculated Snap, and, rushing in, he hit the turkey with the stock of his gun. The creature fell to the ground and before it could arise Snap had his foot on it; and then the little battle came to an end, and soon all three of the wild turkeys were dead.
“Well, that’s the first I knew a wild turkey would attack a fellow,” declared Snap, as he nursed a scratch on his left cheek. “Phew, but he gave me some regular prize-fighter blows!”
“Wild creatures of all kinds will fight if cornered,” answered his chum. “Be thankful that he didn’t try to pick out your eyes.”
“Yes, that is what I was looking out for,” answered Shep.
Having secured the game, they moved onward once more, up a small hill and then through the hollow beyond. But though they kept on until noon nothing further worth shooting at presented itself.
Sitting down in the sun, the boys ate their lunch and took a drink from a tiny brook flowing into the lake. Then they tramped onward once more for another mile.
“Humph! This sort of hunting doesn’t amount to anything,” grumbled Snap. “If we hadn’t run across those turkeys we should have been skunked.”
“Let us go a little further,” answered Shep. “Here are two trails. Supposing I take the one over the hill and you the one nearest to the lake. If we don’t see anything we can come back here.”
So it was agreed, and a minute later they separated. Shep took to rather a rough path and more than once felt that he would have to turn back and give up.
“But I am not going back till I hit something,” he told himself, and just then a distant shot reached his ears. “Snap must have spotted something. I must do as well.”
A hundred feet further on he came to an old and wide-spreading tree. On the branches he discovered two squirrels of good size. Without delay he blazed away, and when the smoke drifted away saw that both of the creatures were stone dead. They had not dropped to the ground, but were caught in two crotches of the tree, at a spot well over his head.
“I’ll have to climb up to get them,” he murmured, and threw down his gun and his game bag. A limb was handy and he swung himself up into the tree and worked his way toward the trunk, where the squirrels lay.
The tree was old and partly split in half and the center of the trunk was hollow. Just as he reached out to take hold of one of the squirrels, his foot slipped and he began to slide down into the hollow. He clutched at the smooth wood, but could not stay his progress, and like a flash he disappeared from the sunlight into almost utter darkness!
Unfortunately for the young hunter, the tree was hollow to its very roots, and he went to the bottom, reaching it with a jolt that made his teeth crack together. His hands were above him and he was wedged in so tightly that he could not bring them down.
“Well, of all things!” he murmured, when he could catch his breath. “I am a prisoner now and no mistake!”
He looked up, but a slight twist of the tree cut off the sunlight from overhead, although he could see dimly after his eyes became somewhat accustomed to the semi-gloom.
Shep waited to get back his breath, and then started to feel around for something by which he might raise himself. Not a projection of any sort was at hand.
“How in the world am I to get out of this?” was the question which he asked himself.
He could not answer the riddle, and the cold perspiration stood out on his forehead. Was it possible that he must remain a prisoner in the tree forever?
“I’ve got to get out somehow!” he told himself, desperately. “I must get out!”
Again he felt around, and tried to raise himself by means of his feet. He went up several inches, but that was all, and a moment later slipped down again.
It must be confessed that Shep was now thoroughly alarmed, and he trembled a little as he thought of the possible outcome of this unlookedfor adventure. Perhaps he would have to remain there until he died of hunger and thirst. Long afterwards his friends might find his bones.
Then he thought of crying for help and gave half a dozen shouts. But no answer came back, for nobody was in that vicinity.
Again he tried to raise himself, and by a mighty effort got up a distance of a foot and a half. But that seemed to be the limit and, utterly exhausted, he dropped back, gasping for breath.
“It’s no use,” he mused, dismally. “I’m caught in a regular vise.”
Then he thought of cutting his way out of the tree and after a long struggle managed to get at his jack-knife. But cutting in the position he occupied was a slow process, and made his hand ache long before he had even a hole through which he might peer.
At last he gave up the attempt and stood still, not knowing what to do next. He felt that he was as good as buried alive. What was to be the outcome of this perilous adventure?
LOST IN THE WOODS
Snap had fairly good luck while on the hunt. He shot half a dozen rabbits and one of the plumpest partridges he had yet seen.
As he moved along, he listened for some shots from Shep, but, hearing none, concluded that his chum was having no success.
“It’s too bad,” thought Snap, at length. “Perhaps I had better go back and get him to come this way.”
With his game in his bag and over his shoulder, he retraced his steps to where he had separated from Shep and began to call his chum. Not getting any answer, he started after the other young hunter.
“He must have gone back,” he mused, coming to a halt when he was within a hundred feet of the tree in which poor Shep was a prisoner. “And if that is so I may as well go, too. He might at least have waited for me.”
Whistling carelessly to himself, Snap made his, way back to the camp. He found nobody at hand, but presently Whopper hove into sight with some fish, followed by Giant.
“Hullo! That’s a nice haul!” cried Whopper. “How did Shep make out?”
“I don’t know. Isn’t he here?”
“I haven’t seen him.”
“Neither have I,” put in the smallest of the young hunters. “I thought he went out with you.”
“So he did; but we separated, and I thought he came home, as I couldn’t find any trace of him.”
“Oh, I guess he’ll come along after awhile,” observed Whopper. “Maybe he is trying to bring in an extra lot of game.”
“I didn’t hear him doing any shooting,” answered Snap.
However, he was not much disturbed, and the boys sat around the camp for an hour, waiting for Shep to return. Then they prepared dinner, and while eating talked about the sports still to come.
“I tell you, I don’t much like this,” said Snap, at last. “I wish Shep was back in camp.”
“Do you think anything has really happened to him?” questioned Giant, quickly.
“I don’t know what to think.”
“Let us fire a signal.”
This suggestion from Whopper met with approval, and they fired a signal long before agreed upon—two shots in rapid succession. They waited impatiently, but no answering shots came back.
“Let us go out and look for him,” said Giant. “Perhaps he has fallen into a hole and broken a leg, or something like that.”
“Oh, there are lots of things could happen to a fellow out here,” answered Whopper. “But I thought we could trust Shep to take care of himself.”
They waited a while longer, and then, putting the camp in order, set out on the hunt for the missing member of the gun club.
It was an easy matter to reach the spot where Snap and Shep had separated. Then they took to the trail Shep had followed, until they came to a bit of a clearing.
“Oh my! look there!” ejaculated Giant, suddenly. “Come back of the bushes, quick, before they see you!”
Having hauled his companions behind the bushes, he pointed to a spot beyond one end of the lake.
“I don’t see anything,” said Snap.
“I do!” cried Whopper. “Some deer!”
“Yes, three or four of ’em!” cried the little hunter. “Oh, if we could only get at ’em!”
“I think I understand now,” came from Snap. “Shep must have gone after those deer.”
“Like as not—and he didn’t answer our signal for fear of scaring them,” answered Giant.
The sight of deer filled the three young hunters with enthusiasm, and for the moment they gave up the idea of finding Shep. Snap thought he saw a path leading around the lake end, and proposed they go after the game without delay.
“It’s our first chance at deer, and it may be our last,” he said. “Even if Shep did go after them we may as well do our share toward bringing some of ’em down.”
The others were willing enough to go after the deer, and away they went, pushing through the brushwood and over the rocks, in an endeavor to get around the end of the lake which, at this locality, formed a long V-shape, each side overhung with trees and bushes.
They were making good progress, and Whopper was in advance, when the young hunter let out a cry of alarm:
“A snake! A rattlesnake!”
He was right, the rattlesnake was there, and in order to get out of the way of the reptile they rushed pell-mell into the woods until they suddenly found themselves in a swamp over their ankles. They kept on until they reached higher ground and then paused in the midst of some tall brushwood.
“That was certainly a scare!” gasped Giant. “I don’t want any rattlesnakes in mine!”
“Nor I,” put in Whopper. “Gosh! He was about a hundred feet long! And did you see the eyes? Regular electric eyes!”
“Phew! It takes Whopper to tell the plain truth,” said Snap, with a grin. “But he was bad enough, I admit,” he continued. “If he hadn’t been I shouldn’t have legged it as I did.”
“Don’t forget that we are out after the deer,” said Giant, after the excitement had somewhat died away. “What direction is the game, anyway?”
They looked around them and then for the first time noticed that they were surrounded by tall trees, which all but shut out the sunlight. Then the sun went under a cloud, making it quite dark.
“Come on, this is the way,” said Whopper, and the others followed him without question, but they seemed to get deeper and deeper into the forest, and at last came to a halt close to the base of a series of big rocks.
“I think we have missed it,” said Snap, gazing around sharply.
“Missed it?” queried Giant. “What do you mean?”
“I mean we are not getting around the end of the lake at all.”
“Do you think we are lost?”
At this the leader of the gun club shrugged his shoulders.
“You can put it that way if you wish, Giant.”
“Oh, dear! I don’t want to be lost!”
“Oh, we are not lost!” put in Whopper, briskly. “Come on.”
“Do you want to climb over the rocks, Whopper?” asked Snap.
“No; let us go around them.”
They attempted to do this, only to find themselves caught in a tangle of undergrowth from which it was almost impossible to extricate themselves. Then they came out at a point that was all but surrounded by big rocks. It was now so dark they could scarcely see in any direction.
“We may as well face the truth, fellows,” said Snap. “We are lost.”
“Lost!” came from both of the others.
“Yes, lost. And how we are to get out of the mess I don’t know.”
“Well, this is the worst yet!” came with a groan from Whopper. “We start out to find Shep and end up by getting lost. If he is back in camp he will have the laugh on us.”
“This means good-by to the deer,” said Giant. “But I don’t care—if only we get back to camp in safety.”
“Let us climb a tree and look around,” suggested Snap.
This advice was followed, but try their best they could not locate their camp, although they saw Firefly Lake at a distance to the south of them. The sun was setting behind a bank of clouds and soon it grew positively black beneath the trees.
It must be admitted that the young hunters felt in anything but a cheerful frame of mind. Giant suggested that there might be more rattlesnakes at hand, and this made all nervous and on constant guard against reptiles.
“Are we going to stay here all night?” demanded Whopper, after a spell of silence.
“I don’t see what else we can do,” answered Snap.
“If we do have to stay, I am going to have a fire,” put in Giant. “And somebody ought to remain on guard.”
“To be sure, Giant. All of us can take turns at watching and at keeping the fire going.”
Wood was handy, and finding something of a cleared space, they built a fire and over this cooked the single squirrel Giant had brought down shortly after leaving the regular camp. It was not much of a meal, but it was all they had, and with it they had to be content.
Even with one on guard, it was rather hard for the other two to go to sleep, though they were worn out by their long tramping around. They slept only by fits and starts, and they were glad enough when morning came and they saw the sunlight stealing over the tree-tops.
“And now for the camp!” cried Snap. “I hope nothing has happened there during our absence.”
THE BOYS AND THE WILDCAT
“Oh, what a night! What a night!”
It was Shep who uttered the words. The long spell of darkness had at last gone, and looking up overhead he could see a bit of sunshine striking the edge of the hollow.
In vain he had tried to get out of the tree. Every plan had proved unsuccessful, and he had been held a prisoner through the long hours which seemed to have no end.
He was both hungry and thirsty and had slept only by winks, as the saying goes.
He no longer dared to think of the future, fearing he would go mad. Was he really to remain there to die of thirst and hunger? Was the hollow tree to prove his coffin?
A bird fluttered down into the hollow and startled him. He raised his hand softly and tried to catch it, but like a flash the bird was gone, and he was left as lonely as before.
Another hour passed and his thirst seemed to grow upon him every minute. Then he grew desperate, and bracing himself, tried with all of his strength to burst the hollow tree asunder. But the effort availed nothing.
Presently he heard something that caused him to rouse up. It was the sound of a shotgun, discharged at a distance.
“They must be out—perhaps they are looking for me!” he murmured. “I hope they come here!” And he breathed a silent prayer that they might not pass him by in his sore distress.
A little later he heard a curious scratching at the top of the hollow. He strained his eyes and saw a bushy tail swishing around.
“A wild animal!” he thought. “Will it come down on top of me?”
He gave a low call and the animal disappeared. But then, after a period of several minutes, it came back again and this time looked down into the hollow tree, longingly.
Shep was right; it was indeed wildcat that had come to pay him a visit, and the beast seemed to be in anything but a good humor as it glared down upon the imprisoned young hunter.
Would the beast spring down upon him? That was the question Shep asked himself. As quickly as he could he raised his hand which contained his jack-knife.
“Scat!” he hissed, and, alarmed once more, the wildcat backed away from the hollow and sat down on a limb of the tree to think matters over. As a matter of fact, the hollow tree was one of the wildcat’s favorite haunts and it did not know what to make of it to find it thus strangely inhabited.
In the meantime the three young hunters who had lost themselves in the woods were doing their best to find their way back to camp. They had reached a small opening and Whopper raised an unexpected cry:
“Shep’s gun, as sure as fate!” ejaculated Snap.
“And his game-bag,” added Giant. “What can this mean?”
“I think” began Snap, and then chanced to glance up into the tree. He caught a full view of the wildcat, and stopping his talk, took quick aim and fired. The wildcat turned over in the air, gave a second whirl, and then disappeared from view.
“Where did he go to?” asked Giant, recovering from his astonishment.
“Fell into the tree,” answered Whopper. “Hark!”
They listened and heard a faint cry for help.
“Where is that from?”
“The tree! Shep must be in the tree!”
“And the wildcat’s on top of him!”
“I’m going to his help!” exclaimed Snap, and began to climb up the hollow tree without delay.
When he gained the opening he peered down into it.
“Shep! Are you there?” he called out, anxiously.
“Yes,” was the faint answer. “Is that you, Snap?”
“Yes. Is that wildcat alive?”
“I guess not. But he has almost smothered me.”
“How did you get down there?”
“Slipped down. Get something and help me to get out.”
“Poor Shep! What a place to be in all night!” was Whopper’s comment. “I wouldn’t go through that for two billion dollars!”
“I’m going to cut a pole with a notch on the end,” said Snap. “We can pull him up with that.”
A number of saplings were handy and Snap soon had the pole he desired. Then all three of the boys climbed into the tree and lowered the pole.
“All ready?” cried Snap.
“Yes,” was the muffled answer from the bottom of the hollow.
“Take care, or somebody will slip out of the tree,” cautioned Giant. “Our footing isn’t of the best.”
All three of the young hunters strained on the pole with all their might. At first they could not budge the doctor’s son, but at last they gained a few inches, and then the rest was easy.
“I’m glad I am out of that,” gasped Shep, when he could step on one of the tree’s branches. “I don’t know what I should have done had you not happened along.”
“We started to look for you and got lost,” answered Whopper, and then told the story.
Shep was so weak he could scarcely use his feet and they had to help him to get to the ground. He told of his night of horror and of the experience with the wildcat. He was exceedingly thankful that they had shot the animal.
“We may as well take our time getting back to camp,” said Snap. “I shan’t feel like doing anything else to-day.”
“I am going to do nothing but rest,” answered Shep.
Arriving at the camp they were thankful to find everything just as they had left it. A fire was started up and preparations made for a substantial meal. Then all took a good wash and ate their fill, after which they declared they felt much better.
“I have learned one lesson,” said Shep. “I am going to give hollow trees a wide berth after this.”
“And when I go out after deer I am going to make sure of where I am traveling,” said Whopper. “Don’t catch me getting lost fifteen miles from nowhere again!”
The wildcat had been brought along, and during the afternoon Snap skinned the carcass and hung the pelt up to cure. The carcass was thrown away, as they did not know what else to do with it.
After that several days passed quietly and then came another rain lasting the best part of a night. To their satisfaction the new cabin did not leak at all, everything remaining as dry inside as before the downpour.
“Now we have a cabin worth having,” was Snap’s comment. “I hope that rain just leaked in all over Mr. Andrew Felps and his crowd.”
“Oh, don’t mention him!” cried Shep. “I hate to even hear the name!”
After the rain it was considerably colder and they were not slow in putting on some of the heavier underwear they had brought along. By the suggestion of Snap they also spent one whole day in cutting firewood and piling it up beside the cabin door.
“There is no telling what we may strike soon,” said Snap. “If a heavy fall of snow should arrive it wouldn’t be very nice to be caught without a good supply of wood.”
“Oh, we could go out in the snow and cut some,” said Giant.
“Not if it was real deep,” put in Whopper. “I’d rather have the wood on hand, as Snap says.”
The boys had not forgotten about the deer they had seen, and one somewhat cloudy morning they started across the lake in the rowboat, taking their guns and some provisions along. They headed directly for the spot where the game had been seen and then hunted for the trail.
“Here it is!” cried Shep, presently. “And it looks to be fresh.”
“You are right,” answered Snap. “And that proves that the deer have been here since that heavy rain. Now, boys, if we follow this trail with care we may be able to bring down something worth while.”
And then they set off to follow the trail, little dreaming of the strange adventure in store for them.
THE CAVE IN THE MOUNTAIN
The opposite shore of the lake was rocky and full of brushwood, and it was rather difficult to follow the deer tracks, which occasionally led directly across the rocks. Once in a while they would miss the trail and then a grand hunt for prints would be instituted, until the trail was recovered. They passed over one small hill and then came to a broad hollow, fronting something of a mountain.
“I see some deer!” cried Whopper, pointing with his hand. “Five or six of ’em.”
The young hunter was right, and all gazed at the game with longing eyes. The deer were more than a third of a mile away, on the mountainside.
“Let me see,” said Snap, “the wind is blowing from the west. So we had better make a semicircle and come up on the other side of the game. If we don’t, the wind will carry our scent to them and they’ll be off like a shot.”
Silently the others followed the directions of their leader, and once again they plunged into the brushwood. The way was harder than before and more than once they had to halt, not knowing exactly how to proceed.
“This is dead loads of fun,” grunted Whopper. “Never had such fun since I was born. It’s almost as good as chopping wood when the other fellows are playing ball!”
“Do you want to go back?” questioned Snap, quickly. “For you can if you wish, you know.”
“Humph! not much. I’m going to see the end of it.”
“Then, don’t grumble,” put in Giant. “It’s harder work for me to climb the rocks than you.”
On they went until they came to another opening. They gazed forward eagerly, but to their chagrin the deer had disappeared.
“Now what do you make of that?” came quickly from Shep.
“They can’t be far off,” said Snap, cheerfully. “Perhaps they are just beyond the bushes yonder.”
Up the mountainside they went, sometimes abreast and then in Indian file. Soon they came to a mass of heavy undergrowth.
“Gracious, what a tangle this is!” cried Giant. “I don’t seem to be \able to get through, no matter how hard I try.”
“I’ll help you,” answered Snap, and worked his way to the small youth’s side.
“Say, fellows, the bottom isn’t very safe here!” exclaimed Whopper, a second later. “It’s all spongy!”
“Let us get out!” put in Shep, thinking of his experience in the hollow tree.
They tried to turn, but before they could make any progress felt the brushwood sinking rapidly. Then came a crashing of branches and vines, and down slipped all four of the young hunters, from the bright light of day into utter darkness!
All gave yells, for they were thoroughly frightened. They were pitched together in a heap, and held tight to one another as they went down, first a distance of fifteen or twenty feet and then twice further.
“We are in water!” gasped Shep, when he could speak. The water was up to their ankles, but speedily it reached their knees.
At last, when the downward movement had come to an end, the boys drew long breaths and tried to gaze around them. They were in a mass of brushwood, and this brushwood seemed to be floating on the water. All was pitch dark around them, for they had not come down straight, but in something of a zig-zag fashion.
“Well, of all things!” came from Whopper. “Are we going down to the center of the earth?”
“It looks like it.” answered Giant, with a groan.
“One thing seems to be certain, fellows—we are not meant to get those deer.”
“That looks to be true,” answered Snap.
“This is about as bad as being down that hollow tree,” said Shep. He was more than glad that he was not alone.
Having recovered their breath a little, the young hunters tried to decide upon what would be the best thing to attempt next.
“We have got to get out, that is all there is to it,” said Snap.
“Well, I am willing,” said Whopper, gravely.
“See any stairs around?” asked Giant.
“Maybe Snap has spotted an elevator,” said Whopper, with a grin. “If so, Snap, press the button by all means.”
“I don’t think this is any laughing matter,” said the leader of the gun club.
“No more do I,” answered Shep, quickly. “The sooner we get out of this hole the better.”
“We are moving again!” ejaculated Giant, and all felt that he was right. The whole mass of brushwood floated off on something of an underground stream, carrying the boys with it. The movement continued for a distance of at least two hundred feet and then the bushes became stationary.
As it was still pitch dark around them, Snap lit a match and set fire to a dry bush. By the light, they saw they were in a hollow that was not unlike a cave in the mountain. At their feet ran the stream that had carried them forward, disappearing under some overhanging rocks. On all sides were rocks and dirt, with here and there a decayed tree root, showing that they were not very far under the earth’s surface.
“Here’s an adventure,” was Shep’s comment. “We must be careful, or we’ll bring down that dirt above us and be buried alive.”
“We are about buried alive now,” said Giant. “I’d give a good bit to be out of this hole.”
Stepping from the brushwood, the boys made their way to the dirt and rocks beyond. By this time each had a kind of a torch, so the place was fairly well lighted.
Walking back a distance, they saw where the smoke curled to—through the shaft down which they had fallen so unceremoniously. But the top of the shaft was hidden from their view.
“I don’t know how we are going to get up that,” was Shep’s comment, after looking the ground over. “If we try it we may bring all the dirt and rocks down on our heads.”
“Just my idea of it,” answered Snap. “Let us try to find some other way out.”
They walked back and forth in the cave and then, by common consent, sat down on some flat rocks to consider the situation.
Nobody felt like joking, for all felt the seriousness of the situation.
“That water must come to the surface somewhere,” said Snap. “But it may be a good distance from here.”
As they were wet to the knees, one after another got down in the stream and examined the rocks. Some thought they saw daylight under the water beyond the rocks, but nobody was sure.
“If it wasn’t so cold a fellow could take a dive and find out,” said Shep. “But I don’t want a dive in such water as that,” and the others agreed with him.
It was noontime and Whopper suggested that they have something to eat.
“I am willing,” said Snap. “But don’t eat too much. There is no telling how long we’ll have to remain down here.”
So they ate sparingly, and washed the meal down with water from the underground stream, which was as pure as it was cold.
The afternoon was passed in looking around the cave. All they found of interest were the bones of several wild animals.
“Perhaps they fell into this place and couldn’t get out again,” suggested Shep, gloomily.
Snap had obtained a long stick and with this he was poking at the ceiling in various spots. He worked with care, and the others watched him with interest.
“There, look at that!” he cried, presently. “The stick has gone through into something!”
He withdrew the stick as he concluded, and the boys saw a single ray of light shoot down upon them. All sprang to the opening quickly.
“There is daylight there, that is sure!” cried Whopper, and his voice had a ring of hope in it. “Let us dig away a little dirt and see what comes of it.”
All were willing, and they poked at the dirt with care, using such sticks as they could find for the purpose. At first the ground came away slowly, but soon Snap noticed several cracks.
“Look out there!” he cried. “Something is coming down! Get back!”
All leaped out of danger and the next moment down came a mass of dirt, rocks and brushwood, scattering in all directions. The downfall left a hole all of two yards in diameter, and they could easily look out on the sky.
“Hurrah!” cried Whopper. “This is how the young hunters escape from their underground dungeon cell!”
The fall of the dirt and rocks had left a mound on the center of the cave floor, and by mounting this they were enabled to pull themselves to the earth’s surface. It is safe to say that never were boys more delighted to get out of a hole.
“After this I am going to be careful where I step,” said Shep. “First it was a hollow tree and then this cave. Maybe the next time I won’t get out at all,” and he gave a little shiver.
A SUCCESSFUL DEER HUNT
While they were in the cave all thought concerning the deer had been vanished, but now they were at liberty once more the four young hunters were just as eager as ever to get a shot at the game.
“We must hurry if we want to do anything,” said Snap. “It is such a gloomy day that it will be dark soon and then the deer will surely give us the slip.”
On they went, up the mountainside, but now taking care that they should go into no more caves. Thus several hundred feet were covered. Then of a sudden, Snap held up his hand.
All listened and heard a crashing in the brushwood. Like a flash, five deer leaped into view, rushing across a small opening. They saw the boys and were out of sight again in a twinkling, before a gun could be raised at them.
“Why didn’t you shoot?” cried Shep to Snap.
“Why didn’t you?”
“I didn’t have my gun ready,” came from Whopper.
“Neither did I,” added Giant.
The four young hunters gazed at each other sheepishly enough. Their long tramp had been all in vain.
“We’re a lot of doughheads,” grumbled Shep. “Come all the way for those deer and then—–Oh, say, let’s go back home!”
“I wasn’t thinking the deer would come this way,” said Snap. “But this proves the truth of Jed Sanborn’s words. He told me when I went hunting I must be ready for a shot all the time.”
There was an awkward silence. The boys were bitterly chagrined.
“Can’t we follow them up again?” asked Giant.
“Not to-night,” answered Whopper. “They may go several miles before they stop. They got so close to us that they were thoroughly scared. My, what an opportunity we lost for bagging at least four of them!”
“We better not tell anybody of this experience,” said Whopper. “If we do, everybody will have the laugh on us.”
It was growing dark already and they thought the best they could do would be to go down to the lake and row back to camp. During the day they had allowed some small game to pass unmolested, and this now added to their discomfiture.
“I am going to stir up something before I go back,” declared Whopper.
“So am I,” added Snap.
It took the best part of an hour to get back to the lake shore, and on the way they discovered several rabbits, some squirrels, and over a dozen birds of good size. The bringing down of this game served to raise their spirits a bit, but they still felt decidedly sore whenever they thought of the deer.
It was nightfall when they rowed across the lake and struck the shore in front of their camp. While Giant tied up the boat the others hurried to the cabin.
“Hullo! somebody has been here!” exclaimed Snap, glancing around hastily.
His words were true, as the others could readily see. All of their stores had been overhauled and some few of them taken away. On the floor lay the broken bowl of a clay pipe and near it some half-burnt tobacco.
“Hullo! Anybody around here?” called out Shep, and ran outside to gaze around. No answer came back, nor did anybody show himself.
“It was evidently a man, and he smoked a clay pipe,” said Snap.
“Couldn’t have been Jed Sanborn?” asked Whopper. “He smokes, sometimes.”
“No; Jed wouldn’t tumble the stores around in this fashion,” answered Snap. “And, besides, if he came here he would most likely be back now to see us. No; this is the work of some stranger.”
“Maybe somebody from the Felps camp,” put in Giant, who had come up.
“That is possible,” said Snap.
“Let us see just what is missing,” said Shep.
They made a careful examination of all the things in the camp. One lad had lost some underwear, another a pair of socks and a handkerchief and another a blanket. Some provisions were gone, also a knife and fork, a cup, a frying-pan and half a dozen other things.
“Whoever was here evidently fitted himself to camp out,” observed Shep. “I wish we could catch him! I’d give him a piece of my mind.”
“So would I,” added Whopper.
All were too tired, however, to hunt for the interloper and all they did that evening was to get supper and take it easy. When they turned in it was raining, but by midnight the stars came out one by one.
“After this I shall hate to leave the camp all alone for fear somebody will run off with our things,” remarked Snap, while at breakfast.
“Just the way I feel about it,” answered Shep. “Yet we can’t watch the things all the time.”
For several days they remained close to the camp and then received a second visit from Jed Sanborn.
He reported that everything was going on well at Fairview, and listened to what they had to tell with much interest.
“Yes, you must get those deer by all means,” he said. “But about the feller that come here and took your things. He must have been a mean critter an’ no mistake!”
Jed Sanborn was quite willing to go out with them after the deer, and the start was made on the following morning. They were soon across Firefly Lake, and then the old hunter showed the boys an easy trail over the hill and up the distant mountain.
“Gracious! This beats going through the bushes!” cried Giant.
“It’s a pity we didn’t know of this trail before,” said Whopper. “It might have saved us from going about ‘steen miles out of our way.”
“Well, you’ll know it after this,” said Jed Sanborn, with a quiet smile. “Can’t learn everything in a day, ye know. The woods is like book larnin’—ye have got to learn a page at a time.”
They walked along until nearly noon and then came to something of a clearing. Here all took a sharp gaze around and at last saw two deer far over to the eastward.
“We can walk straight for ’em,” said the old hunter. “The wind is blowing our way.”
Once more they hurried on, this time with hopes beating high. Half the distance was covered when Jed Sanborn halted the boys.
“Look to your guns, lads. Is every gun ready for use?”
“Mine is!” came from one after another, as the examination was made.
“Good! Now remember, if we come up to the deer and you shoot, aim for the one that’s in line with you—that is, the boy on the left takes the left deer, the boy on the right takes the deer on the right, a boy in the middle takes one in the middle, and so on. Do you understand that?”
They all said that they did.
“Very good. Now, one thing more. Don’t get scared. Shoot quickly, but take as good an aim as you possibly can. If the deer is coming toward you, let him git putty close before you let drive.”
Having issued these instructions, the old hunter moved on once more, and the boys followed. Each had his weapon ready for use, and each advanced with as little noise as possible.
The deer were in a little glade, cropping the tender grass around a small spring. They were six in number, including a fair-sized buck, who occasionally raised his head, as if on guard. But the wind, as Jed Sanborn had said, was blowing directly from the deer to the hunters, so nothing in the air gave the game the alarm until it was too late.
When the old hunter raised his hand, the boys knew it was a signal to halt. Jed Sanborn crouched low and wormed his way to some bushes fringing the glade, and the young hunters did the same.
It was a thrilling sight and it made the boys tremble in eager anticipation. Not a word was spoken, for they scarcely dared to breathe.
In a minute each hunter had his gun into position, Giant resting on a rock and Whopper in the crotch of a low tree.
“I’ll take the buck,” whispered Jed Sanborn. “Ready?”
Crack! went the several firearms, in a scattering volley, and the buck and one of the others pitched headlong, not to rise. Another deer was hit in the side, but leaped into the bushes and was soon lost to sight. Still another went limping off on three legs.
“After ’em! Finish ’em up!” yelled Jed Sanborn, and led in the chase, across the glade and into the brushwood beyond. Here they caught sight of the limping deer, and all of the boys gave it a shot, which finished it in short order.
“Three, anyway,” was the old hunter’s comment. “Not so bad.”
“You brought down the buck and Snap brought down the deer near him,” said Whopper.
“And all of you brought down the third one,” said Snap. “I think as Jed says, it is not such a bad haul.”
“Can we get the others?” asked Giant, anxiously. “I want to do better than I have.”
“No use of going after ’em now,” said the old hunter. “They will run too far. Some day—listen!”
They listened, and from a distance heard two gun shots, followed by several more.
“Somebody else is out,” said Shep. “Wonder who it can be?”
He was destined to find out before he was many hours older.
THE RIVAL CAMPERS
It was no light matter to get the three deer down to the lake shore. The old hunter showed the boys how to lash the game to long poles, resting the poles on their shoulders as they walked along.
“I believe I’ll take the buck to town,” said Jed Sanborn. “I can get a good price for him there.”
“Will you take one of the deer home for us?” asked Snap, after consulting with his fellow-members of the gun club.
“Sure I will, lad.”
“We want the meat divided,” came from Shep. “Give each family its fair share.” And so it was arranged, and the boys told Jed Sanborn to tell their folks that all was going well and they were “having the time of their lives.”
After Jed Sanborn had departed the four boys set to work to cut up the deer they had kept. They nailed the hide up so that it might he preserved, and then cut a fine venison steak for supper.
“Now we’ve got a real camp!” cried Snap, enthusiastically. “Just think of it! Deer meat!” And he fairly danced a jig for joy.
It was certainly a happy gathering, and the young hunters voted the venison steak the best meat they had ever eaten.
“Well, I declare!” cried Whopper, presently, as he gazed across the lake. “Am I mistaken, or is that a camp-fire I see.”
“It certainly is a fire,” answered Snap, leaping to his feet.
“Maybe it belongs to those persons we heard shooting, after we shot the deer,” suggested Shep.
The boys were curious to know what sort of folks could be in that vicinity, and after it was talked over, Snap and Whopper entered the rowboat and moved over the lake in the direction of the strange light.
“I see three persons moving around,” announced Snap, as they drew closer. “Let us remain on the lake until we make sure what sort of people they are.”
They drew closer with caution and at last made out five young men, among them Ham Spink, the Fairview dude, who was, as usual, smoking a cigarette.
“It’s the whole Ham Spink crowd,” muttered Snap—“Ham and Dick Bush, Carl Dudder, Sid Foley and Sam Anderson. I didn’t know they were coming up here.”
“Ham said something about going hunting,” answered Whopper. “Don’t you know how he stuck up his nose at our way of going out?”
“Yes, I remember. But I don’t see that their camp looks any better than ours does,” went on Snap. “See, they have a fancy striped tent. That looks well, but it can’t be very warm.”
“They have one of those patent cook stoves, Snap. They don’t use the camp-fire to cook by.”
“Well, I’d just as soon use the regular fire.”
“See, they have a wash-stand and a regular looking-glass,” went on Whopper. “Nothing like being in style, is there?”
During their conversation the two boys had allowed their craft to float close to shore. Now one of the lads in the camp saw the boat and leaped up in alarm.
“Somebody is coming, fellows!” he called out.
“Oh, it’s only Snap Dodge and Whopper Dawson,” drawled Ham Spink, lighting a fresh cigarette. “What do you want?” he asked, abruptly.
“Nothing,” answered Snap, coldly.
“Then why did you come over?”
“We wanted to find out who was camping here, that’s all.”
“Humph! You are over there, ain’t you?” went on Spink.
“Had any luck hunting?”
“Just wait till we get down to business. We are going to bring down everything in sight,” went on Ham Spink. He could hardly talk without “blowing his own horn,” as some of the boys put it.
“Were you out for something this afternoon?” asked Whopper, curiously.
“What business is that of yours?” asked one of the other boys.
“None at all.”
“Yes, we were out. We got two fine wild turkeys,” answered Ham Spink. “To-morrow we are going after some deer we saw early this morning.”
“Maybe you won’t get them, Ham,” said Snap.
“Why not, I’d like to know?”
“We got three of them this afternoon.”
“Three deer!” came from nearly all of the rival hunters.
“Oh, that’s a fairy-tale,” came from Ham Spink. “You can’t make me believe it.”
“It is true,” said Whopper. “Jed Sanborn was along. He took two of the deer to town, and we have the other at our camp.”
“Humph! Think you are some pumpkins, I suppose,” sneered Ham Spink. “Well, let me tell you one thing: Don’t you dare to interfere with our hunting after this.”
“We have as much right to hunt here as you have.”
“We saw those deer first and it was our right to shoot them.”
“Then why didn’t you shoot?”
“Next time we will,” said one of the other boys.
“How long are you going to stay here?”
“As long as we please.”
A few more words passed, and then Snap and Whopper turned their boat around and started back for their own camp.
Hardly had they done this when something whizzed through the air and landed in the bottom of the boat with a squashing sound. It was a tomato that was overripe, and the center splashed over both boys.
“Who threw that?” cried Snap, in anger.
There was no answer.
“Whoever threw that is too cowardly to own to it!” went on the leader of the Fairview Gun Club.
“Do you mean to say we are a set of cowards?” blustered Ham Spink.
“Yes, you are, to do such a mean thing as that in the dark.”
Just then another overripe tomato came whizzing over the rowboat. Had not Whopper ducked his head he must have been struck.
“Wait, I’ll give them a dose of shot!” cried Whopper, reaching down into the boat as if to take a gun. As a matter of fact, the boys had brought no weapons with them.
“Hi! hi! Don’t you dare to shoot!” roared Ham Spink, in terror.
“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” came from some of the dude’s friends.
“Are you going to throw any more things at us?” demanded Whopper.
Some of the boys on shore were so scared that they ran for the nearest trees and got out of sight.
“We ought to give them a shot or two,” said Snap, seeing the joke of the situation. “Maybe it will put some common sense into them.”
“Don’t!” came once more from three of the boys on shore, and they drew further out of sight than ever.
“You are a set of cowards,” said Snap. “Now, don’t you dare to make any more trouble for us. If you do, you’ll surely get into hot water.”
“We’ll—er—let you alone if you’ll let us alone,” answered Ham Spink, in a voice that trembled.
“Very well, then, see that you remember that,” said Snap.
A moment later he and Whopper rowed away and soon the darkness hid them from the view of the Spink party. Then the boys on shore drew a sigh of relief.
“What rowdies!” declared one boy, who was as dudish as Spink. “I really believe they would have shot us, don’t you know!”
“Very, very rude,” said the youth who had thrown one of the tomatoes.
“They ought to be locked up for threatening us,” declared Ham Spink. “It is an outrage that we cannot come here for an outing without being bothered by such low creatures.”
“I tell you what we can do,” piped in one of the crowd. “Let us go over to their camp some day when they are away and hide all their things on them.”
“Yes, that’s an idea!” cried several. “It will be lots of fun, and they won’t know who did it.”
“Well, we want to be certain that nobody is around,” said Ham Spink. “For if they caught us at it they would surely kill us.”
“Oh, we’ll be careful!”
A MIX-UP IN CAMP
After the deer hunt the young hunters were content to take it easy for several days, lolling around the camp, or going out fishing on the lake or up the river beyond.
While fishing one day, Giant and Shep ran into several of the Spink crowd and some unpleasant words passed. When the rival campers separated, the feeling upon both sides was very bitter.
“I don’t like those chaps at all,” was Shep’s comment. “I am sorry they came to Firefly Lake.”
“They make me sick,” was the way Giant expressed himself. “And they are such dudes, too, with their fancy hunting outfits and patent fishing gear.”
“And not one of them can shoot worth a cent,” said Snap.
“How do you know that?”
“I saw them at the shooting-gallery one day. They couldn’t make a single bull’s-eye, try their best, and lots of times they didn’t even hit the target.”
On Friday, Shep came into camp from a walk up the lake and his face showed his excitement.
“I saw some more deer!” he cried. “Come on, all of you! It’s the chance of our lives!”
This announcement filled the crowd with excitement, and soon they were asking all sorts of questions of the doctor’s son. He had looked across the upper end of the lake and had seen seven or eight deer making their way along one of the mountain trails.
“We’ll take to the boat and go over,” said Snap. “Hurry up and get some provisions together. This may keep us out all day.”
The boys set to work with a will, and in twenty minutes were ready for the trip. They kicked out the camp-fire, shut up the cabin and then leaped into the rowboat and took up the oars.
“I suppose the cabin is safe,” said Snap, a little anxiously.
“Safe enough,” answered Shep, whose mind was on the deer.
The young hunters rowed up the lake with all speed, and, landing, tied their craft fast among the bushes.
“This will be an all-day chase, I guess,” said Giant.
“Well, what of it?” returned Whopper. “Our time is our own. I hope we get at least one deer.”
The young hunters soon passed out of sight of the shore, and a moment later another rowboat appeared, containing Ham Spink and his particular crony, Dick Bush.
“Say, Ham, did you hear what they said?” asked Dick Bush, eagerly.
“I certainly did, Dick,” drawled Spink.
“They expect to be gone all day.”
“This will give us the chance we have been looking for.”
“By jove! that’s so!”
“We can go over to their camp and do just as we please, and they will never know who did it.”
“Not unless they come back sooner than we expect.”
“We can stop them from coming back in a hurry.”
“I don’t see how.”
“Over yonder is their boat. We can tow that along. When they find the boat gone they’ll have to walk around the end of the lake, and that will take a long time.”
“So it will. Do you think it is safe to take the boat now?”
“We can wait a little while.”
They waited, and at last, thinking the coast clear, pulled the other craft from the bushes and tied it to the stern of their own boat. Then they wound up their lines, for they had been fishing, and lost no time in rowing to their camp, where they had left their cronies lolling in the sun, smoking cigarettes and playing cards.
“Hullo! where did you pick up the boat?” asked one of the other boys.
“It belongs to the Snap Dodge crowd,” answered Ham Spink. “Boys, we have got the chance of our lives to get square with that crowd now,” he added.
Matters were speedily explained, and all of the dudish boys present voted it would be just the thing to go over to the other camp and