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“make a mix of it,” as they expressed it.

No time was lost in getting away from their own camp, and it did not take them long to get to the opposite shore of the lake. Here they took the second rowboat and hid it under some overhanging bushes.

“We’ll make it look as if it drifted here,” said Ham Spink, and this was done, a broken line dragging in the water over the bow.

Arriving at the other camp, the dudish boys proceeded to make themselves at home. Feeling certain Snap’s crowd would not return for some time, they rekindled the fire and cut themselves some meat and took whatever of the stores they wanted. Inside of an hour a good dinner was ready and they sat down to this with gusto.

“Nothing like living on the fat of the land,” observed Ham Spink. “Must say, their coffee is all right.”

“That’s because you made it good and strong,” said another of the boys.

“Here’s a fine can of condensed milk,” said another, helping himself liberally.

“I found some fine sardines,” put in still another. “And here is a tin of fancy crackers.”

“And some good cheese. Say, boys, they must be living pretty well, eh?”

So the talk ran on, while the Ham Spink crowd ate whatever they desired. As the meal progressed, they grew reckless and began to throw things around, so that more than a quarter of the stores were literally wasted.

After the meal was over the boys set to work to hide what remained of the stores, in the brushwood back of the camp. They carried everything out of the cabin, even to the blankets and extra clothing. Some clothing was thrown high into a tree and some shoes were placed under a flat rock.

It was not until four in the afternoon that Ham Spink and his cronies began to think of getting back to their own camp. They were all in rare good humor, thinking they had accomplished something wonderfully smart.

“We must watch for the return of Snap Dodge and his chums,” said Ham.

“To be sure,” put in Dick Bush. “Won’t their eyes open when they see this! I just guess!”

“Finest trick I ever played in my life, don’t you know,” drawled one of the dudish boys.

The fire was kicked out and they took themselves to their boat. A strong wind was coming up, ruffling the surface of Firefly Lake.

“Wish we didn’t have to row in the wind,” said Ham Spink.

“We can take our time,” said another.

They were a lazy, idle set, and wrangled over the question of who should row the boat. At last it was decided that all should take a turn, and they started.

The wind was increasing every minute, and no sooner were they out on the lake than the full blast caused the waves to dash over the side.

“Hi! I don’t like this!” cried one of the boys, in alarm. “The boat may go over—–”

“Well, we have got to get back to our camp,” said Ham, in dismay. He did not like the roughness himself.

To keep the water from coming into the boat they had to row into the wind, and this took them some distance away from their camp. Even as it was, every boy got more or less wet, which put them in an ill humor.

“I didn’t calculate on this when I started out,” grumbled one, as he surveyed his fancy outing costume. “I’ll have to have these pressed again before long,” and he sighed.

There was a point of land around which the wind was sweeping at a furious pace, and to avoid this spot, they decided to tie up their boat in a safe cove and walk to their camp through the woods.

“It’s blowing up another storm,” said one of the boys. “I think it will rain to-night, and rain hard.”

“Won’t those other fellows enjoy it—if they can’t find their things!”

“The things will get wet.”

“Humph! what do we care?” grumbled Ham Spink.

“Maybe they’ll make us pay for anything that is spoiled.”

“I shan’t pay a cent!”

“Nor I!” came from several.

The walk through the brushwood and over the rocks was not so pleasant, and all of the dudish boys were glad when they at last came in sight of the spot where their own camp was located.

“It’s growing awfully dark,” said one. “And just listen to that wind! It’s a regular gale!”

The wind was indeed blowing a gale and all of the boys hurried forward faster than ever, until they stood in the midst of their camp. Then, with startled eyes, they gazed around quickly, and a howl of dismay went up.

“What does this mean?”

“All of our best things are gone!”

“Yes, and the best of the eating, too!”

“Somebody has been here while we were away!”

“I see what it means !” cried Ham Spink, in a great rage. “While we were at the other camp those fellows came here and fixed things up as you see!”

CHAPTER XIX

ANOTHER HUNT AFTER DEER

All unconscious of what was taking place during their absence, Snap and his chums went on their way, in the direction in which Shep had spotted the deer.

Having learned a few points from Jed Sanborn, they kept to the trail and made sure that the wind was not blowing from them to the game they hoped to lay low.

It was a rough and laborious climb up the mountainside, and once they missed the trail and got into a pocket so that they could go no further. Then, on turning back, Shep saw two magnificent wild turkeys and was strongly tempted to bring one of them down.

“If you do, you’ll scare the deer sure,” said Whopper.

“I know it but if we miss the deer I’ll be sorry I didn’t take this shot.”

“Well, that’s the gamble in hunting,” put in Giant. “I saw a rabbit awhile ago I could have had for the asking.”

Having gotten out of the pocket, they went on once more, and shortly before noon reached a knob of the mountain. From that point they made out nine or ten deer a distance to the north of them.

“This is certainly a great chance,” said Snap, enthusiastically. “We don’t want to miss it by carelessness. Remember what Jed Sanborn told us.”

All looked to their firearms, and then went forward with scarcely a word. Coming to the last fringe of brushwood, they got down on their hands and knees and moved on until the game was brought once more into view.

The shot offered was certainly a good one, and in a few whispered words the young hunters decided what they would do. Each was to aim at his own deer and fire as many shots as he pleased. They took their positions, and Snap asked if they were ready. A dead silence followed.

“Fire!”

All of the shotguns went off in a volley, and then the shots came scatteringly. Three of the deer went down, dead, and one was mortally wounded. A big buck got a glancing shot in the flank, and, mad with pain and terror, turned and leaped in the direction of the young hunters.

“Look out!” ejaculated Shep. “He is coming for us!”

“Give him another shot!” yelled Giant. “My gun is empty.”

Snap took hasty aim, but the shot only struck the buck in the side. Then the beast came on, with lowered antlers, as if to pin Snap against a tree.

At that moment Whopper fired, hitting the buck in the right foreleg. Down went the animal, but struggled up a moment later and tried to leap into the brushwood where Shep was concealed.

As he came down over the doctor’s son, the boy was badly frightened and gave the buck a shove with his hand. Weak from loss of blood the beast fell over. Then Shep struck him a blow over the head with the gun stock and Giant finished him with a shot at close range. In the meantime the other deer that had been mortally wounded was put out of its misery; and then the short but sharp contest came to an end.

“What a haul!” ejaculated Snap, as he reloaded his weapon. “This is something to make town folks stare!”

“We must send some of the deer home,” put in Whopper.

“Yes, yes!” cried the others.

It was with tremendous pride that the four young hunters looked the game over. The deer were young and tender, and the buck had a fine head, fit for mounting.

“This haul will open the eyes of the Spink crowd,” remarked Whopper.

“If they weren’t so mean we might send them some venison,” said Shep.

“They wouldn’t thank you for it,” broke in Giant. “They are too high-toned for that sort of thing.”

With so much game the boys hardly knew what to do. The deer were heavy and it was all two of them cared to do carrying one between them, hung from a pole.

“Well, we have got to get them to the lake somehow,” said Snap. “So the sooner we get at the job the better. Don’t grumble.”

“Grumble?” shouted Shep. “Why, I feel like singing.” And he broke into a merry whistle.

They took the deer down to the lake in three trips. It made them pant to climb over some of the rocks, and when the job was done they were all out of breath.

“Have you fellows noticed how the wind is rising?” remarked Giant, as he paused to wipe the perspiration from his forehead.

“Yes,” answered Shep. “We are surely fixing for a storm.”

“By the way, Shep,” came from Snap, “don’t you wish you had shot a turkey instead of the deer?”

“Don’t say turkeys,” replied the doctor’s son, reproachfully. They had brought the deer close to the spot where the rowboat had been tied up, and now Whopper went to get the craft. Soon he returned in anxiety.

“Didn’t we tie up here?” he questioned.

“Certainly,” answered Giant.

“The boat is gone.”

“Gone!” came from all of the others.

“Yes.”

A rush was made for the lake front, and they gazed in blank amazement at the spot where the craft had been left.

“We haven’t made any mistake, have we?” asked Snap, slowly.

“No; this is the very spot,” said Whopper. “I know it by that tree yonder.”

“Whopper is right,” put in Giant.

“Then one of two things has happened. Either the boat drifted away—–”

“It couldn’t drift away—it was too well tied.”

“Then somebody took it.”

“Perhaps the fellow who visited our camp!” cried Whopper.

There was a moment of awkward silence. Each youth was wondering what was best to do next.

“Hi, you fellows!” came from nearby. “Stop!”

They turned, to find themselves confronted by Dick Bush, the dude, and another of the rival campers, named Carl Dudder.

“What do you want?” asked Snap, shortly.

“You’ve been over to our camp, haven’t you?” blustered Dick Bush.

“What makes you think that?” asked Whopper.

“Because you turned everything upside down and ran off with some of our things.”

“We haven’t been near your camp,” put in Giant. “We have been out after these,” and he pointed to the game.

When the dudish youths saw the deer they were astonished.

“Did you kill all those?” cried Carl Dudder.

“We did.”

“To-day?”

“Yes.”

“Then you weren’t near our camp?” questioned Dick Bush, uneasily.

“We haven’t been within a mile of your camp,” answered Snap. “We left our boat here this morning and went directly into the mountains. We just got back—to find our boat gone.”

“Well, I’ll be blessed!” gasped Carl Dudder, and then he gave his companion a peculiar look.

“Do you know anything about our boat, Bush?” demanded Snap, sharply.

“Why—I—er—that is—–”

“Don’t say anything!” whispered his companion, quickly.

“What’s that?” asked Shep. “So you do know, eh? What have you done with the boat?”

“I—er—I didn’t say I knew.”

“But you do know—your actions show it!” shouted Whopper. “Boys, don’t let them get away until they tell us where our boat is!”

Snap and the others were quick to act, and Dick Bush and Carl Dudder were at once surrounded.

“Look here—you—you let us go!” said Dick Bush. His face showed how uncomfortable he felt.

“Tell us where the boat is.”

“I—er—I don’t know.”

“That isn’t true,” said Whopper. “Tell the truth, Bush, unless you want us to duck you in the lake!”

At the mention of a ducking the dudish boy lost the most of his courage.

“Don’t do that!” he whined. “I—that is, it was only a joke. We—er—we took the boat to the other side of the lake.”

“So that we could walk around to our camp, eh?” said Snap, his eyes showing his anger.

“It was, as Dick says, only a joke—and we got paid back for it,” put in Carl Dudder.

“How?”

“Somebody came to our camp and robbed us. We thought it was your crowd.”

“Were you really robbed?” asked Shep.

“Yes; some of our best clothing is gone and also some of our stores.”

“Well, we were not near your camp, I can give you my word of honor on that,” said Snap.

“Then some common thief must have come along and done it.”

CHAPTER XX

IN A STORM ON THE LAKE

Snap and his chums were much interested in what the rival campers had to relate, and questioned the two dudes closely. They could see that both Bush and Dudder were unusually ill at ease.

“Well, all this doesn’t help us any,” said Shep. “It is going to storm and I want to get back to camp. Trot around that boat, or else lend us yours.”

“We’ll have to lend you ours,” said Dick Bush. “But—but—–”

“But what?”

“I—er—I can’t tell you,” answered Bush, and turned away.

“Is there anything else wrong?” asked Giant. “Maybe you were over to our camp.”

“Were you?” asked Snap, catching Carl Dudder by the arm.

“Let go!”

“I want you to answer me, Dudder.”

“I wont answer!”

“Then it is true.”

“What did you do at our camp?” asked Shep.

“Go and find out!”

Carl Dudder had scarcely spoken when he found himself flat on his back, with Snap on top of him. In the meantime the other boys caught hold of Dick Bush.

“We must get at the bottom of this,” said Snap. “Something is wrong here, that is certain.”

“It wasn’t my plan,” whined Dick Bush, who seemed to be more cowardly than his companion. “I—I didn’t do hardly anything.”

“Well, you can’t blame it on me,” retorted Carl Dudder.

“Maybe it was Ham Spink’s plan,” suggested Whopper.

“It was.”

“And what did you do?”

“Hid your stuff on you,” said Dick Bush, in a low tone.

“Anything else?”

“Well, we—er—we took a little meat and had some dinner while we were over there.”

After that the two dudish boys confessed what had been done, laying the greater part of the blame on the others of their party. Snap and his chums were rightly indignant.

“We ought to duck you in the lake and then have you locked up,” said Snap. “It is what you deserve.”

“No, no!” came with a shiver from Dick Bush. “Let us off, and I’ll pay my share of the damage done.”

“It isn’t a question of money,” said Shep. “It’s your utter meanness.”

The wind was now blowing so violently that the boys began to grow alarmed, and after a brief talk, Snap and his chums decided to follow Bush and Dodder to their camp, taking their guns with them. The deer were hung up in some trees, out of the reach of other animals.

The coming of Snap and his friends to the rival camp produced another stormy scene, and for awhile it looked as if there would be an open fight. The young hunters “laid down the law” good and hard, and Ham Spink and his crowd were much alarmed in consequence.

“You had no right to touch our things, and I could have you arrested for it,” said Snap. “Now our boat is gone, I am going to claim yours until we get ours back.”

“That ain’t fair!” cried Ham Spink.

“It has got to be fair,” answered Snap, stubbornly.

“Most of our stores are gone, too,” growled the dudish youth.

“That isn’t our fault.”

“Will you—er—will you sell us one of your deer?” faltered another of the crowd.

“If you absolutely need it, yes; otherwise, no,” said Shep.

“Yes, we need it. We are almost cleaned out of everything.”

“One of you has got to go with us,” said Snap, a moment later.

“What for?”

“To show us where our things are.”

“We’ll tell you where they are,” said several. They were afraid to cross the lake in such a wind.

The secret was revealed, and a few minutes later Snap and his chums started for the boat, which was close at hand.

“You can have this boat as soon as the wind lets up,” said Giant.

“And what of the deer?”

“You can take the smallest,” said Snap. “But mind, don’t touch the others, or it will be the worse for you!” he added, sternly.

It was dark and blowing a full gale when the four young hunters embarked. They realized that the journey to their camp would be a perilous one, and wished that the other crowd was more friendly, so that they could remain with them all night. But they had not been asked to stay and were too proud to mention it.

“Phew! but this is a sockdollager!” was Whopper’s comment. “Blowing about two thousand miles an hour, I guess. I hope it doesn’t send us to the bottom.”

“Don’t be so cheerful,” said Shep. “Boys, we have got to do some nice work with the oars, or else ship a lot of water,” he added, gazing out on the black and angry lake.

“Well, come on,” said Giant. “The sooner we get at it the sooner we’ll be on the other side.”

All took their places at the oars, and a few strokes sufficed to send them well out into Firefly Lake. Here they felt the full force of the breeze, and in a twinkling Shep’s cap was blown from his head.

“My cap!”

“Here it is,” answered Snap, passing it over. “Say, boys, this is a corker sure! Can anybody see ahead?”

“I can see a little,” said Whopper. “But not a great deal.”

They rowed on, bending low to escape the fury of the wind. The rowboat rocked violently, and every time she went down some water came in over the gunwale.

“Let us move down the lake,” suggested Shep. “We can’t go straight across. We can come up again on the other shore—if the wind will let us.”

Presently they reckoned that they had reached the middle of the lake and here all was very dark. They ceased rowing in order to get their bearings.

“I am a little twisted,” said Snap. “Can we be in the vicinity of Humpback Rock?”

“Perhaps we are,” answered one of the others.

Again they took up the oars. The wind tore along at a frightful rate of speed and the water was a mass of whitecaps.

“I think—–” began Giant, when there came a sudden thump. The rowboat had struck the mass of rocks just mentioned, lying near the center of the lake. The craft tipped over and into the lake went the four young hunters, with a loud splash.

As Snap went down he felt Shep on top of him. Then they clasped hands and came to the surface. Not far away was the upturned rowboat.

“Shep, are you all right?”

“I—I guess so,” was the chattering reply. “Oh, but it’s cold!”

A moment later Giant loomed up in the darkness, and all three of the boys took hold of the overturned boat.

“Where is Whopper?” asked Shep.

“I don’t know,” answered the smallest of the young hunters. “What a happening!”

“We must find Whopper!” cried Snap. “Hello, Whopper!” he called, as loudly as he could.

A distant cry came back. Then those on the boat continued to call and soon they made out their chum, swimming desperately some yards away.

“Come this way,” said Shep.

“I—I—–can’t swim! I’ve got—a—a chill!” was the despairing answer.

Hearing this, both Snap and Shep lost not a moment in going to Whopper’s assistance. He was on the point of going down when they caught hold of him and brought him over to the rowboat.

As best they could all four of the young hunters climbed up on the keel of the boat, placing Whopper between them.

“It’s as cold as Greenland,” said Whopper. “What are we to do?”

“I don’t know—drift, I reckon,” answered Snap.

“The wind will carry us down the lake,” said Giant, who appeared to suffer the least of all. “But I say, boys, all of our guns are gone, and other things, too!”

“Well, never mind that just now,” said Snap. “Let us be thankful if we save our lives.”

“What, you don’t think there is serious danger?” asked the small youth.

“Doesn’t it look like it, Giant?”

“The wind is coming up again!” cried Shep, and just then they felt its full force. With the wind came a dash of rain, pelting them mercilessly. Truly, they were in a position as uncomfortable as it was dangerous.

CHAPTER XXI

A CAMP AND A PRISONER

Slowly the minutes went by. The wind continued to blow strongly and the rain came down as hard as ever. All of the boys were capless, and the cold chilled them to the very marrow of their bones.

“I’d give all I am worth to be in camp near a big fire,” came from Giant, presently.

“I can’t sit up mu-much lon-longer,” put in Whopper, weakly. “I am like a—a lump of ice already!”

“I think we must be getting close to shore,” said Snap, as bravely as he could. “Keep up your courage.”

He was at the end of the boat and allowed himself to slip down into the lake.

“Hi! Come back!” called Shep, in fresh alarm.

“I am only going to see how deep it is,” was the reply.

A few minutes later Snap announced that he could touch bottom. All strained their eyes and thought they could see the shore at a short distance.

Snap forced the craft in that direction and soon found himself in water but three feet deep.

“We are all right now, boys!” he called out. “Come, let us pull the boat in.”

They did so, and soon the four young hunters were standing in the sopping wet brushwood on the edge of the lake. They had no idea where they had landed and only a dim notion regarding the location of their camp.

“I think the best thing we can do,” said Snap, “is to stay around here somewhere and start a good big camp-fire. If we try to get back to our camp we may get lost and also take our death of cold. The quicker we start a fire the better it will be for us.”

“All right, start a fire,” said Whopper. “But it is going to be no easy matter—with all the wood so wet.”

“Look yonder, boys!” cried Giant. “Am I mistaken, or do I see a light?”

“It certainly is a light,” said Shep, looking in the direction pointed out—a place quite a distance from the lake. “Maybe some other campers are around.”

“I hope so,” said Snap. “Perhaps we can get something to eat.”

All were hungry as well as cold, and the idea of a meal appealed to them strongly. Snap led the way through the low brushwood in the direction of the camp-fire, which was burning under a series of overhanging rocks.

“Let me see what sort of a place it is first,” warned Snap, as they drew closer. “We don’t want to run into any tramps or worse.”

Nobody appeared to be around the camp-fire, which was burning brightly in spite of the rain and wind. It was a well-sheltered spot, and in the rocks was a hollowed-out place, against which leaned some split logs, forming a rude shack.

Catching up a firebrand, Snap gazed into the shack. He gave a good look and then came outside and held up his hand for silence.

“I’ve made a discovery,” he whispered, excitedly.

“What?” asked the others.

“Do you remember that negro who stole Pop Lundy’s watch?”

“Yes.”

“Well, he is in there, fast asleep!”

“That rascal!” cried Shep. “Are you sure?”

“Look for yourselves.”

They did so and saw that it was the same colored man beyond the shadow of a doubt. He rested on a couch of pine boughs, flat on his back and snoring lustily. He was evidently the only occupant of the camp.

“Look there!” whispered Giant, pointing to a tin can that had had some condensed milk in it. “That looks like our stuff!”

“Look at the clay pipe,” put in Whopper. “Do you know what I think?”

“He is the rascal who looted our camp?”

“Yes; and maybe he is the fellow who looted the Spink camp, too.”

“Let us make him a prisoner!”

All were willing, and they looked around for a rope.

“Here is his horse-pistol,” said Snap, picking it up. “I think I’ll keep it for the present.”

A rope happened to be handy, and with great care they fastened one end around the negro’s right wrist. Then they brought that hand over to the other and tied the two together. With another piece of the, rope they tied one ankle fast to the other.

The job was just finished when the negro awoke in a lazy sort of way. He stared stupidly at the young hunters and then his eyes opened widely and he sat bolt upright.

“Wha-what’s dis?” he stammered. “Whar did yo’ cum from?”

“Stay where you are,” ordered Snap, sternly, and flourished the horse-pistol.

“Do-doan yo’ shoot me!” cried the negro.

“Then stay right where you are. If you try to get up this pistol may go off.”

“Has yo’ been a-follerin’ me?”

“Never mind. We have found you and you are our prisoner,” put in Shep.

“Huh! Does yo’ t’ink I’se afraid ob foah boys!”

“Well, do you want to be shot?” asked Snap, holding the pistol on a level with the colored man’s head.

“Stop!” screamed the rascal. “Don’t do dat! It might go off!”

“Then you keep quiet.”

“What have you done with Simon Lundy’s gold watch?” asked Giant.

“Don’t know nuffin’ about any gold watch.”

“Yes, you do. You took it—there is no use of your denying it,” came from Shep.

“Is dat man around?” asked the colored rascal, suspiciously.

“Are you alone here?” asked Snap, ignoring the question.

“Suah I is. Say, boys, yo’ let me go an’ I’ll make it all right wid yo’,” went on the evildoer, struck by a sudden idea.

“What is your name?” asked Whopper.

“Jeff Thompson.”

“Where do you belong?”

“Over to Hamilton.”

“What did you do with that gold watch?”

“I ain’t said dat I had de watch.”

“But we are positive you took it,” said Snap “Come, tell us where it is.”

“I dun hocked it,” was the low answer.

“Hocked it?” queried Giant.

“Yes, pawned it fo’ six dollahs.”

“Where?”

“At Levy’s store in Williamsport.”

“Where is the ticket?” asked Shep.

“Heah in my pocket. I’se a poah man, dat’s wot I am,” went on Jeff Thompson. “I didn’t hab no wuk an’ I was des’prit. So I tuk dat watch. I meant to git it back some day.”

“No doubt,” said Snap, sarcastically. “Give me the ticket,” he added, and stowed the pawnbroker’s receipt carefully away in his own clothes.

After that Jeff Thompson confessed that he had visited both the camp of the young hunters and that of Ham Spink’s crowd and taken such things as struck his fancy. He was a shiftless mortal and half intoxicated and did not care much what became of himself.

The boys were too cold and hungry to listen, just then, to his story in detail, and threatening to shoot him if he dared to move, they piled some more wood on the fire, rummaged around through the stores Thompson had collected and prepared themselves a hot and welcome meal. The negro watched them for awhile and then turned over and pretended to go to sleep again.

“Maybe he is playing ‘possum,” whispered Shep.

“We’ll keep our eyes on him,” answered Snap. The boys were glad enough to crouch close to the fire and get dry and warm. They piled on as much wood as possible, and drank a large quantity of hot coffee, to keep from taking cold. And thus the night wore slowly away. Each got a few “cat naps,” but that was all.

About three o’clock the storm went down and by sunrise the rain and the wind were a thing of the past. The boys were around early, and they gave Jeff Thompson such a breakfast as they thought he needed. The negro begged for his liberty, and when he could not get it began to grow abusive.

“Here, none of that!” said Snap, decidedly. “You keep quiet, or I’ll place a gag in your mouth.”

“I ain’t gwine ter let no foah boys do me up!” cried the negro.

“Let us gag him!” cried Whopper, and began to make a gag of a tree root. But then Jeff Thompson cooled down and said no more.

The young hunters hardly knew what to do, and after a consultation it was decided to look for their own rowboat and then take a message to Ham Spink’s crowd. The boat was easily located in the daylight, and Whopper rowed across the lake and told his story to the rival campers.

“Humph! that negro ought to be locked up!” said Ham Spink. “He took the very best of our stores!”

“Well, you will have to help take him to town,” said Whopper.

“We’ll do that, too,” was the answer.

CHAPTER XXII

RABBITS, NUTS AND A SNAKE

It was arranged that Snap and Whopper, with two of the Spink crowd, should take Jeff Thompson and turn him over to the authorities, at the same time notifying Simon Lundy of what they were doing and giving him the pawn-ticket for the watch.

The boat belonging to the Spink crowd was righted and the oars were located, and this craft was used for the trip. The negro was tightly bound, so that it was impossible for him to make any trouble.

“We are going to do what we can to put the camp in order,” said Shep, when the others were ready to leave. “And we are going to hunt for our guns, too.”

The trip from Firefly Lake to Lake Cameron did not take long, and then began the journey to Simon Lundy’s farm. They landed at the foot of the orchard. Leaving the negro in charge of Whopper, Ham Spink and Carl Dudder, Snap ran up to the house.

“Is Mr. Lundy in?” he asked of Mrs. Lundy, who answered his summons at the door.

“Simon! Somebody wants to see you!” said the woman.

“What’s wanted?” asked the miserly farmer, coming forward.

“We have caught that thief, Mr. Lundy.”

“Do tell!” burst out Mrs. Lundy.

“Did you git my watch back?” questioned the farmer, eagerly.

“No; but here is a pawn-ticket for it.”

“How much did he pawn it fer?”

“Six dollars.”

“I ain’t goin’ to pay it, not me!” ejaculated Simon Lundy. “The pawnbroker is got to give it up without any pay.”

The farmer put on his coat and walked down to the boat with him. Then he got in, and all rowed to Fairview as fast as they could.

Their coming produced something of a sensation, as the boys were not expected. The negro was locked up promptly, and a constable went off with Simon Lundy to recover the watch. Then Snap and Whopper went home, to remain overnight. The boys passed lightly over the trials through which they had passed, fearing that if they told the bare truth they would not be permitted to go away to finish the outing.

Early in the morning, Snap and Whopper had a plain talk with Ham Spink. It scared the dudish and overbearing youth, and as a consequence he obtained for them some additional stores, to take the place of those used or destroyed by the Spink crowd.

“I’ll make everything right,” said Ham Spink. “Only keep mum.” And he was as good as his word.

In the meantime, Shep and Giant worked with a will to put the camp in order once more, and also brought across the lake the deer that had been shot down. It made them exceedingly angry to see how the camp had been treated by Ham Spink and his cronies.

“Those fellows don’t know what a joke is,” said Shep. “This is past being funny.”

“Wait—Snap will make them toe the mark,” answered the smaller youth. “He said he would do it before he left.”

During the afternoon the two boys took the rowboat and also some lines and a drag-net and rowed over to the vicinity of Humpback Rock, where the tipping over had occurred.

“You can see how shallow the water is here,” said Shep. “We ought to find at least some of our things.”

“Here is where the boat went over,” answered Giant, and gazing down into the water he added:

“And there is one of the guns!”

They hooked the weapon up without a great deal of trouble, and soon located another gun and then a game-bag. This encouraged them, and they kept at the task until sundown, finding all the outfit but one game-bag, which Shep declared of little value, as the strap was broken.

“This is better luck than I anticipated,” said Giant. “Now we must clean the guns without delay.”

The entire evening was spent in overhauling and oiling the guns, and in drying out the gamebags. They also dressed one of the deer, hanging up the meat as before. The Spink crowd had taken the smallest of the game and for this they were to pay regular market prices.

When Snap and the others got back they brought with them a whole boat-load of provisions and other things, and were followed by Jed Sanborn in his canoe. The hunter had agreed to take the deer to Fairview for them. He was joyful to think they had had such luck.

“Don’t need me to show ye how to bring down deer,” he observed, with a grin on his homely face. “You have done prime, boys, prime, an’ I’m proud of ye!”

A portion of the provisions was left at the camp and then Ham Spink and his crony crossed the lake, while Jed Sanborn remained with Snap and the others.

“Had to buy a deer from ye, did they?” chuckled Jed Sanborn, when Spink and Dudder were out of hearing. “They won’t never make no hunters, not if they try a hundred years. I’d starve to death afore I’d buy meat here, with the woods so full o’ things to shoot!”

“I laid down the law good and hard,” said Snap. “I don’t think they will give us any more trouble.”

“I think Dudder is rather ashamed of himself,” said Whopper. “But Ham Spink is so thick-skinned it doesn’t strike through.”

“What did they do to the negro?” asked Giant.

“Locked him up for trial.”

“Did Pop Lundy get his watch back?” asked Shep.

“Yes, after a little trouble. The pawnbroker was awfully mad. He wants to send the colored fellow to jail, too.”

Snap and Whopper were glad to learn that the outfit had been recovered and they had Jed Sanborn look at the guns to make certain that all were fit to use.

“Didn’t hurt ’em a mite,” said the old hunter. “But they couldn’t have stayed in the water much longer.”

“It was lucky the boat went over where the water was shallow,” said Giant. “Had the water been deep perhaps we shouldn’t have gotten back a thing.”

After the old hunter had departed with the deer, the boys set to work in earnest to fix up their camp once more. Some of the things had been spoiled by the heavy storm, but Ham Spink had “made good,” as Snap said, so nothing was really lost, so far as the young hunters were concerned.

After several days of rest the boys felt once more in proper trim for sport, and went out after a bunch of rabbits and squirrels. They were fairly lucky, and three o’clock of the afternoon found them on the return to the camp.

“Let us look for some nuts,” suggested Whopper.

The others were willing, and made their way to a group of trees growing some distance up the lake shore. Nuts were to be had in plenty, and soon they had their pockets and the corners of their game-bags well filled.

“I see another tree with some extra large nuts!” cried Shep. “Come on!”

He led the way to the tree in question, which grew on a bit of land projecting far out into the lake. They soon had some of the big nuts and were about to return whence they had come, when Snap uttered a cry:

“A snake!”

“Where?” came from the others.

“There—under the tree roots.”

Snap was right; a big snake was close at hand, under some tree roots over which they had just stepped.

“I don’t want anything to do with a snake,” gasped Giant. “Let us get out of here!”

Then all of the young hunters gazed at each other in dismay. The snake was directly in their path to the shore proper.

It was a water reptile and all of five or six feet long. As they approached, it raised its head and gave a curious hissing sound.

All of the boys crowded back. Only Whopper had his gun, the other weapons having been left at the foot of the other nut trees. The snake certainly looked ugly. Evidently it did not like having its domain invaded.

“I’ll give it a shot!” cried Whopper, and raised the shotgun carefully. But just as he was on the point of firing, the reptile disappeared.

“Where is he?”

“He went under the tree roots.”

“Maybe he took to the water.”

The four young hunters gazed anxiously. Then of a sudden they saw the snake again. It came up through the tree roots almost at their feet, hissing more viciously than ever.

CHAPTER XXIII

AFTER MOUNTAIN BROOK MINK

“Shoot him, Whopper!”

Such was the exclamation from all of the others, and in haste the lad named took hasty aim and pulled the trigger.

The shot was a poor one, the charge merely tearing across the side of the water snake. With another hiss it whipped around and in a twinkling had itself curled around Whopper’s left leg.

“Hi! take him off! Take him off!” screamed the young hunter, in terror. “Don’t let him bite me!”

Snap sprang forward. His one idea was to save his chum, and he did not think of his own peril.

“Beware!” cautioned Giant.

Watching his chance, Snap put his foot on the tail of the water snake. The reptile whipped around wildly and wound itself about the lower limbs of both boys.

“I’ll get a gun!” yelled Shep, and made a dash for the nearest of the firearms.

“Don’t shoot us!” called out Whopper.

Catching up a weapon, Shep came up close and let drive almost in the face of the water snake. It was a telling shot, and the reptile whipped wildly this way and that. Then it fell into the water and was quickly lost to sight.

“Is—is he gone?” gasped Whopper.

“Yes,” answered Giant. “Shep finished him.”

“That was no joke,” said Snap, when he could speak. He was trembling from head to foot.

“A joke? Well, I reckon not!” spluttered Whopper. “Ugh! It makes me shiver to think about it.”

“Let us get out of here,” came from Snap. “Remember, where there is one snake there may be more.”

“Then I am going to quit right now!” cried Shep, and lost no time in leaving the neighborhood, followed by the others.

The boys concluded that they had had adventures enough for one day and went back to camp. Here two of the lads set to work to make a rabbit pot-pie, with dumplings. They had seen such things made at home and went at the task with care. When the pot-pie was served all declared it “the best ever.” Perhaps the dumplings were a trifle heavy, but what of that? Living in the open air had sharpened their appetites wonderfully and nobody was disposed to quarrel over the meal.

The next day was rather cold and misty and they kept in or near the cabin. Snap had brought some extra sugar and also some chocolate along, and the morning was devoted to candy-making, some with nuts and some without. The candy was very good, and while they ate a fair share, the rest was put away, to be eaten a little at a time.

So far, since leaving their first camp, they had not seen or heard of Andrew Felps, but that afternoon an old hunter strolled into their locality and asked if they could furnish him with a meal and a shakedown until morning, offering three rabbits in payment.

“I think we can accommodate you,” said Snap. “And you can keep your rabbits.”

The face of the old hunter looked familiar, and while he was eating, it came out that his name was Jack Dalton and that he had been one of the two guides who had come up to Lake Cameron with the Felps party.

“I got sick of working for that crowd,” said jack Dalton. “They wanted to make a regular nigger of me and I up and told Felps I wouldn’t stand for it.”

“Is the other guide with them?” asked Shep.

“Humph! Dad Begow ain’t no reg’lar guide—he’s only a camp follower—dish-washer, an’ like that. He pertends to be a guide, but he ain’t no good at shootin’. Yes, he’s with ’em, but he only stayed because they raised his wages. They wanted to raise mine when they saw I was really goin’, but I told ’em money wasn’t everything.”

“I don’t wonder that you got sick of Andrew Felps,” put in Giant. “You know how he treated is.”

“It was dirt mean, lad, an’ I about told him so, too. But the Felpses always was a hard crowd to deal with. He thought he was gettin’ one in on Mr. Dodge when he fired you out.”

“I thought as much,” said Snap. “He is very bitter against my father.”

“It is because of the lumber business—he wanted the tract of lumber to cut that the Barnaby Company got hold of,” went on Jack Dalton. “How are you a-makin’ it?”

“Fine!” said Snap, and then he and his chums told of all the game that had been brought down—they having kept a record in a little book the leader of the gun club carried.

“That’s first-class, boys,” said the guide. “Couldn’t be better. Now, all they got were two wild turkeys, some rabbits and one small deer. I led ’em to a fine herd o’ deer, but they wanted to do the shootin’ all alone. When it came time to let drive, Felps and one o’ the other men got buck fever and shot wild, and most of the deer got away. That was one thing made me sick. They can’t shoot fer sour apples.”

“And they’ll blame their ill luck on you, when they get home,” said Whopper.

“More’n likely. But I don’t care fer thet. Folks in these parts know what Jack Dalton kin do. Jest you ask Jed Sanborn about it.”

“Yes, Sanborn has spoken about you,” answered Snap. “He said you had brought down some of the biggest deer and bears in these parts.”

“Exactly so, boy, although I don’t want to blow about it. Tootin’ yer own horn ain’t perlite. But I ain’t afraid o’ what sech a feller as Andy Felps says.”

That night Jack Dalton told them the story of a bear hunt, which was more than ordinarily interesting. He said that bears were by no means plentiful in the lake region and yet there were a few around, some of pretty fair size.

“You’ll run across one when ye least expect it,” said the old hunter. “When that happens, take your time an’ shoot to kill. If ye don’t, Mr. Bear may come up an’ hug you to death, jess fer the fun o’ it.”

“I am going to set a bear trap,” said one of the boys, and told of the plan, which was approved by Jack Dalton.

Before leaving the next morning the old hunter told them where he thought they could bring down a mink or two, and after his departure they set off, to see what luck they might have.

The weather was now getting colder and there was a promise of snow in the air. Yet about ten o’clock the sun broke through the clouds and then it grew a bit warmer.

“A little snow will make hunting very fine,” declared Snap, as they trudged along. “As it is now, it is next to impossible to track any big game.”

The spot Jack Dalton had mentioned was nearly two miles from their camp, along a rocky watercourse flowing into a small lake between Lake Cameron and Firefly Lake. Here, among the rocks, was a favorite haunt of the mountain brook mink, as they are popularly called.

As they neared the locality, the young hunters looked to their weapons and then advanced with caution. The water, gurgling over the rocks, drowned the sounds of their advance, and so they came upon the mink without being discovered.

Two of the animals were in sight, one on either side of the small stream. As all wanted the honor of bringing down the mink, Shep and Snap fired at one and Whopper and Giant at the other. The aim of the boy hunters was true, and the game dropped down where they stood.

“Fine mink these,” declared Snap, after an examination. “Just look at the heavy fur.”

“You are right,” answered Whopper. “But the fur will he thicker yet later in the season.”

With the mink in their game-bags, they pushed on up the tiny watercourse and not long after roused up some partridge, the game going up with a rush that at first scared them. But they shot as quickly as they could, and each had a partridge to his credit.

“This day is opening finely,” declared Whopper. “We are bound to get about a hundred birds and animals, I’ll wager.”

“That’s right, pile it on,” answered Shep, with a grin. “I thought you had been keeping down lately.”

“Oh, a hundred is nothing,” said Whopper, airily. “Maybe I’ll get that many myself. I once heard of a man who shot two hundred wild turkeys in a day.”

“I don’t call that sport,” put in Giant. “I call that butchery.”

“So do I,” answered Snap. “Even as it is, I sometimes think we are shooting too much.”

“Well, if we don’t bring the game down somebody else will,” said Whopper.

“Some day they’ll have to pass some more laws, protecting game,” was Shep’s comment. “If they don’t, there won’t be anything to shoot inside of the next fifteen or twenty years.”

“My father said that some folks were advocating a law to stop all deer-shooting for two years or longer,” said Shep. “That would give them a chance to multiply.”

“Well, I am going to shoot what I can—now I am out here,” said Whopper.

CHAPTER XXIV

HAM SPINK AND THE SKUNK

But the boys’ streak of luck came to an end as quickly as it began. Try their best, they could locate no more large game, and had to content themselves with a squirrel and a few fair-sized birds.

“I am getting tired of this,” remarked Shep, after they had tramped across several hills. “Let us call it off and get back to camp.”

The others were willing, and they turned their footsteps in the direction of the cabin. Half of the distance was covered when Snap stopped his companions.

“Look over on yonder hill,” he said. “Isn’t that Ham Spink’s crowd?”

“It is; and there is Ham in advance,” answered Whopper.

“Let us go over and see what they have got,” put in Giant, curiously.

The curiosity of the others was also excited, and they turned in the direction Snap had pointed out, and soon came up to one of the rival hunters.

“Hullo!” cried Snap, good-naturedly. “How are you getting along?”

The boy addressed was Dick Bush, and he answered with a scowl.

“Shot any deer lately?” asked Whopper.

“No,” was the surly response.

“Got anything at all?” asked Giant.

“One rabbit. Have you anything?” went on Dick Bush, also curious.

“Oh, a few things,” was Snap’s careless answer, and he winked at his chums.

“We have some birds and a squirrel,” said Whopper.

“Oh, we didn’t shoot any birds,” put in Ham Spink, coming up. “Ain’t that fine?” and he held up a medium-sized rabbit.

By this time the whole crowd had surrounded our friends. All the rival campers had were two rabbits and a small woodchuck that was of no account.

“How do you like these?” said Snap, and showed up the mink and the rest of the game.

At the sight of the game, Ham Spink’s eyes opened widely, and the others from the rival camp showed their astonishment.

“Where did you get all that game?” asked the leader of the other camp.

“Shot it.”

“Not to-day.”

“Yes, to-day,” answered Giant, proudly.

“Then somebody must have helped you,” said am Spink, enviously. “Maybe Jed Sanborn is around.”

“No; we brought this game down alone.”

“Where did you get the mink?”

“Up that little brook you see yonder.”

“I didn’t know there was any mink around here,” came from Carl Dudder. “Guess I’ll look for some myself.”

“Well, I wish you luck,” said Snap, pleasantly.

“Yes, you wish us a pile of luck!” burst out Ham Spink. “I rather guess you wish we wouldn’t bring down a thing!”

“No; I am not so mean, Ham. There is enough for all in these woods.”

“Bah! don’t tell me!” snorted the dudish youth, and stalked off, followed by two of his cronies.

Ham Spink was dressed in as fine a hunting outfit as he could procure, and his shotgun was an expensive nickel-plated affair—the kind of a gun some old hunters who know will not have for a gift.

Ham Spink had just caught sight of a small animal, hidden in the long grass of a glade but a short distance away.

“I am going to bring it down, whatever it is!” he cried to Dick Bush. “Keep back!”

“Ham’s found something to shoot at!” cried one of the other boys.

They all held back, to give their leader a chance to show his ability. Snap and his chums watched curiously.

“I don’t see anything—–” began Giant, and then he burst into a laugh. “It’s a skunk!”

“A skunk?” repeated Shep. “If that’s so, Ham had better give it a wide berth.”

It was indeed a skunk, dark in color and with a bushy tail. As it moved along in the grass it looked somewhat like a large black cat. Excited, Ham Spink ran close, took hasty aim and let fire.

The skunk was hit but not badly wounded. It swished around, and an instant later the dudish young hunter received a stream of liquid over his cheek and shoulder that almost paralyzed him.

“Oh! oh! Take it away!” screamed poor Ham. “Oh, dear me!”

“Phw! what a stench!” gasped Dick Bush, falling back a step or two.

“That’s a skunk!” yelled Giant. “Get out of the way—unless you want your clothing ruined!”

The offensive odor was now so powerful in that vicinity that nearly all of the young hunters fell hack to another position some distance away. In the meantime the skunk ran for the bushes and disappeared from view.

“Oh, dear! Oh, this is—is fearful!” gasped Ham Spink, putting his thumb and forefinger to his nose. “Wha-what am I to do?”

“Ham has caught it and no mistake!” whispered Snap.

“He’ll be as sweet as a bag of bone fertilizer after this,” was Shep’s comment.

“You’ll be able to smell him ten miles off,” vouchsafed Whopper. “You’ll recognize him in the dark with your eyes closed.”

“Hi, you! Don’t you make fun of me!” bawled the dudish youth, turning wrathfully on our friends.

“I hope the shooting was good, Ham,” said Snap, drily.

“Don’t be afraid to bury yourself, Ham, if you feel like it!” added Shep.

“I—I’ll bury you!” stormed the unfortunate youth. “Oh, what a mess!” he groaned. “Dick, what shall I do?”

“I don’t know,” was the answer. “Only please keep away from me. The—er—the odor makes me sick, really it does.”

“Huh! I’m sick myself. I didn’t know it was a skunk. Why didn’t somebody warn me?”

“Take off your clothes and bury them,” suggested Giant. “That sometimes takes the smell away.”

“Oh, hang the clothes! I’ll burn them up!” growled Ham. “What shall I do for myself?”

“Wash yourself with carbolic soap,” suggested Shep.

“I haven’t any.”

“Then take a mud bath,” came from Whopper. “After that use common soap, and you’ll be rid of the worst of it.”

“I suppose you think you’ve got the laugh on me,” grunted Ham Spink. He was about as angry and helpless as he could be.

“Oh, we are weeping for you, Ham!” said Shep. “Come on, fellows!” and he started off and soon his friends followed him.

“Oh, but he does smell prime!” said Whopper, when they were out of bearing. “He’d down a cologne factory in one round!”

“It is certainly awful!” answered Snap. “It was too bad to spoil that nice suit of clothes.”

“I am thankful that we didn’t meet the skunk,” came from Giant.

“I remember meeting a skunk years ago—when I was a little boy,” said Shep. “I thought it was a cat and wanted to pick it up. I think the skunk was getting ready for me when our dog came along and scared the thing away.”

Ham Spink was indeed in a sorry plight. The smell was so bad that none of his friends wanted to go near him, and they begged him to keep his distance. In anger he stalked back to his camp, and there took off the almost ruined suit and buried it in the ground for forty-eight hours, which removed the worst of the odor. Following the advice given, he washed himself in a mud paste, allowing the mud to dry on him at the heat of the fire. Later he washed the mud off and used some heavily scented toilet soap, and thus removed the worst of the odor from his person. But it was a good week before he felt as clean as he had previous to the encounter with the obnoxious animal.

CHAPTER XXV

SURROUNDED BY WOLVES

From Jack Dalton the boys had heard of a beautiful silver deer, said to be roaming the woods on the hills back of Firefly Lake, and Whopper and Giant talked a great deal of going after the game and seeing if they could not lay the deer low.

“I know we can do it if only we can spot the animal,” said Giant. “And think what a feather it will be in our cap.”

“I am going after that deer, even if the others won’t go,” added Whopper, and so it was finally decided that Whopper and the small youth should go in quest of the silver deer, while Snap and Shep remained at the camp, to try their hands at erecting a trap for beavers and also some traps for birds. It may be added that deep in the woods they had erected a bear-fall and baited the same, but so far no bear had shown himself in that vicinity, although the wolves had stolen the bait on two occasions.

In order to be prepared for big game, Whopper and Giant took along one shotgun and the rifle, and also a hunting-knife. One game-bag was filled with provisions, for they did not know how long the outing would last.

The boys started off in the best of spirits, taking to a trail the old hunter had pointed out to them. There had been a flurry of snow during the night, but this was soon melted by the sun which, at breakfast time, had come out as brightly as ever.

“What a beautiful spot this is!” said Giant, gazing back to the lake before plunging into the woods. “It is strange that so few folks come up here to camp.”

“Well, it’s lucky for us,” answered Whopper. “We shouldn’t care for many—especially of the Andrew Felps kind.”

“Oh, don’t mention him, Whopper. It makes me angry to think of him, and I don’t want my day’s fun spoiled.”

Soon the vicinity of the lake was left behind, and then the boys began to climb the first rise of ground. Fortunately, the trail was good and they made rapid progress. Arriving at the top of the hill, they gazed around eagerly.

“Nothing in sight so far,” said Whopper, after a long pause.

“Well, the day is young yet,” was the hopeful answer.

Again they went on, and this time scared up several rabbits and also several animals they could not name, so quickly did they disappear again. The boys did not fire, however, being determined to do nothing to scare the deer away, should the game be within hearing.

When, about noon, they came to a clear spring of water, they were glad enough to sit down and rest and partake of their noonday lunch, washing it down with copious draughts of water.

“Folks can say what they please,” remarked Whopper, smacking his lips. “When one is good and dry, nothing is so satisfying as a drink of plain, clear water.”

“You’re right there, Whopper. How some men can prefer liquor is beyond my comprehension.”

“They don’t know what is good for them, that’s why, Giant.”

The boys looked around the spring with care and made out several tracks which they thought might belong to a deer. These led along the trail they were following, and once more the boy hunters moved on, refreshed by the rest and the lunch, and cheered by the hope that they might soon get a glimpse of the game they were after.

Less than a quarter of a mile further on they found that the trail came to an abrupt end in something of a glade at the foot of another hill. There had been a landslide during the summer and this had obliterated the path.

“Here’s a go!” cried Whopper, gazing around in perplexity. “I suppose old Jack Dalton didn’t know about this landslide.”

“We must be careful—if we go on, Whopper. That land may give way. We don’t want to get underground again.”

“Not much! Once was enough.”

They walked along the hill, and at last came to something that looked a little like a trail. Then they went forward once more, covering a good mile. The vicinity was full of rocks, and they had to pick their way with care, for fear of tumbling down into a crevice, or twisting an ankle.

“This is growing worse, Whopper,” said Giant, coming to a halt for breath. “I had no idea it was so rough, had you?”

“No. One thing is certain—we are not on the trail.”

“Just what I was thinking.”

“We are getting deeper and deeper into this mess. We’ll have to turn back.”

“And without that deer! That’s too bad!”

“We may see the deer elsewhere.”

They walked on a hundred feet further, reaching an opening surrounded by rocks on every side. Here was a tall tree, with branches hanging low to the ground.

“I’m going up into the tree and look around,” said Whopper.

He hung his rifle on one of the limbs and began the ascent. Giant did likewise, and soon the pair were close to the top of the tree.

By parting the topmost branches they got a fairly good look of the country for a long distance on every side. They could see the waters of Lake Cameron shimmering in one direction, and the waters of Firefly Lake shimmering in another, and they also caught several glimpses of Rocky River, and some other bodies of water still further away.

“Nothing of the deer,” sighed Whopper, after a long look around.

“Let us make sure,” came from Giant, and swept every point of the compass with his sharp eyes.

“I see something far to the north of here,” he announced. “But what it is I can’t make out.”

Whopper looked in the direction, but could see nothing clearly.

“Something is moving among the bushes,” he said, slowly. “It may possibly be a deer, but I doubt it.”

It was rather pleasant in the tree, and they rested near the top for some time. Then, of a sudden, Whopper started up.

“What’s that, Giant?”

“What’s what?”

“That noise below.”

“I don’t hear anything.”

“I do, and I am going down to see what is doing.”

Whopper began to descend and the smaller youth followed him.

“Well, I never!”

“Wolves!”

“Yes, and look at the number!”

The words were true. Under the tree a number of wolves had congregated. There were at least twenty-five or thirty of them, and they were all of good size.

As soon as they saw the boys they retreated a few feet and then began to snarl savagely.

“Say, Whopper, I don’t like this,” observed Giant, with a grave shake of his head.

“I don’t like it myself.”

“They don’t look extra friendly.”

“Friendly? I guess not. They are mighty savage.”

“I wonder where they came from?”

“I am sure I don’t know. Perhaps from over the mountains. Don’t you remember Jed Sanborn telling us of the packs of wolves over near Pine Mountain?”

“Yes.”

The two boy hunters had not ventured to the lowest limb of the tree. Now, as Whopper started to step down, one of the wolves, large and savage, leaped up at him with a vicious snarl.

“Not to-day!” cried Whopper, and drew himself up again. “I don’t want you to sample my leg!”

“If we only had our guns!” sighed Giant.

“I wanted to get them, Giant. But I don’t know if it will do any good—there are so many of them. One or two less won’t count.”

The wolves now seemed to grow impatient and snapped and snarled loudly as they crowded around the tree and tried to leap up towards the boys. They were evidently a hungry lot.

“I’ve got an idea!” said Giant, presently. “I am going to cut a notched stick and reach down for the guns with that.”

“Just the thing!” answered his chum. The stick was soon cut, and then both boys went “Fishing” with it. Both the gun and the rifle were hanging up by straps, and it was an easy matter to catch the notch under the straps and hoist the weapons up to where the youths stood.

“Hurrah! So far so good!” cried Giant. “Now then, we’ll give the wolves something that will surprise them.”

“Yes; but don’t forget one thing, Giant. The shots will surely scare the game away from around here, and that will mean good-by to the silver deer—at least for the present.”

“Well, we have got to do something.”

“I agree on that.”

“I’ll take that savage-looking fellow right below us.”

“And I’ll fire at the one over yonder. Are you ready?”

There was a pause.

“Yes.”

“Then fire!”

And the shotgun and the rifle spoke up almost as one piece.

CHAPTER XXVI

SOMETHING ABOUT TRAPPING

When the smoke cleared away the two boy hunters saw two wolves stretched upon the ground, dead. The rest of the pack had retreated, yelping and snarling more frightfully than ever.

“That’s the time we did it!” cried Whopper, reloading the rifle, while Giant attended to his shotgun.

“But it hasn’t sent them away,” was the answer of the smaller youth. “Here they come back!”

Giant was right. Sniffing suspiciously, the remaining wolves came as close to the tree as before. Strange to say, they scarcely paid any attention to those that had been killed.

“Let us fire again,” said Whopper, and his companion nodded. Once more the weapons rang out and again two of the wolves dropped. This time the remainder of the pack grew scared and vanished into the brushwood as if by magic.

“They have gone!” cried Giant, excitedly. “I thought that would make ’em skip.”

“Don’t be so sure about that,” was Whopper’s reply. “They may be watching us from behind the bushes. If they—I see one of them now!”

“Let us give them another shot!”

Again the weapons were discharged, both boys thinking it great sport to lay the wolves low. This time two more were hit, but merely wounded. They ran away yelping with pain, and the balance of the pack went after them. Looking from the tree, the boy hunters saw them cross an open space some distance away and then plunge into the woods of the next hillside.

“That finished them,” said Whopper, drawing a sigh of relief. “They are now thoroughly scared and I don’t think they’ll dare to come back.”

Nevertheless, the boys remained in the tree for half an hour longer. But the wolves were really gone, and at last they dropped to the ground.

“This ends hunting for to-day,” remarked Giant. “It’s too bad!”

“Well, we shot something,” answered Whopper, grimly, and pointed to the wolves.

“What shall we do with them?”

“Leave them here. But no, let us take the smallest along. The meat will make good bait for the traps.”

After that there was nothing to do but to start back for the camp, and this they did without further delay. It was a hard walk and they often stopped to rest. On the way they were fortunate enough to stir up some partridge and brought down three, and also got two rabbits.

“Well, we’ll not go back empty-handed, after all,” said Whopper.

It was long past dark when they came in sight of the camp-fire, which Snap and Shep were keeping burning brightly on purpose, so that it might light their way.

“Here they come!” cried Snap, and ran forward to meet them. “What’s this? A wolf, I declare! Then you didn’t find the silver deer?”

“We didn’t get a chance,” said Giant, and then he and Whopper told their story.

“You can be thankful that you escaped from those wolves,” said Snap.

“I thought wolves didn’t attack folks excepting in the dead of winter, when they couldn’t get anything to eat,” remarked Shep.

“That is usually the case,” answered Snap. “But once in a while they do as they did to-day—when there is a large pack of them.”

Snap and Shep had made their traps and had some success at fishing, having caught four pike of fair size and also several catfish.

That night came a fall of snow, which covered the ground to the depth of several inches. In the morning it was so cold they were glad enough to hug the fire until nearly noon.

In the afternoon Whopper went out on the lake and soon came back with news.

“What do you think?” he called out. “The Spink crowd is leaving!”

“Breaking up camp?” queried Giant.

“Yes; they are loading everything in their boat.”

This announcement produced a mild sensation, and after a consultation, Snap and his chums decided to row across the lake and watch proceedings.

Ham Spink and his cronies were indeed leaving, and in far from a good humor. None of them was a good shot and they did not possess the patience necessary to become good hunters or fishermen. As a consequence they had brought down very little game and caught only a few fish. Their stock of provisions brought from home was running low, and each boy in the camp had voted the outing a failure.

“Going to leave us?” called out Snap, as he and his friends rested on their oars a short distance from the rival camp.

“Yes,” was Ham Spink’s surly response.

“What’s the matter? Don’t you like the hunting here?” asked Whopper.

“Oh, don’t be so inquisitive!” came from Dick Bush. “I guess you are glad enough to see us go.”

“Not at all,” said Giant. “You are welcome to stay, so long as you don’t interfere with our doings.”

“We don’t think much of this place,” grunted Ham Spink. “It may be good enough in the middle of summer, but not now, when winter is coming on.”

“Are you going right home, Ham?” asked Snap.

“What business is that of yours?”

“I thought if you were, you might sell us what stores you have left over.”

“We have nothing to sell to you,” was the cold reply.

“We might make a trade,” put in Shep. “We have got some plump partridge and rabbits to spare.”

“Humph! Are you saying that just to tease us?”

“Not at all. Here are the rabbits and the partridge, too,” and the doctor’s son held them up.

Now, as it happened, Ham Spink and his cronies were very anxious to take some game home, but had nothing but one rabbit and a little squirrel. They gazed longingly at the plump game Shep exhibited.

“Let us take them,” whispered Dick Bush. “Nobody will know how we got them.”

At this Ham Spink’s eyes brightened. He was not above telling an untruth when he felt like it.

“What will you take for what you have?” he called out.

“What have you got?”

The rival campers looked over such provisions as they had left, and enumerated the articles—sugar, cocoa, flour, some canned goods, and some preserves. Snap and his chums went ashore and investigated.

“We’ll trade even,” said Snap at last, after talking with his chums. “But on one condition.”

“What is that?”

“That you take some letters home for us and deliver them as soon as you arrive.”

“All right, we’ll do that,” said Carl Dudder.

The trade was made on the spot, and the letters written; and on the following morning Ham Spink and his cronies left the vicinity of Firefly Lake. It was the last our friends saw of the dudish youth and his friends for some time to come.

“I think he feels sick all over,” remarked Shep, after the other crowd had departed.

“He certainly isn’t in high spirits,” commented Snap.

“I’ll wager a new cap against a balloon that they tell everybody in town they shot those partridge and the rabbits,” came from Giant.

“Sure thing!” exclaimed Whopper. “And they’ll say they shot about a thousand other things besides. I know ’em. They can all blow to beat the band when they want to.”

On the following Monday it was clear and cool, and the boys set out to look at their beaver traps, of which three had been placed in position. To their delight, two of the traps held beavers; and to their astonishment, the third trap held a muskrat.

“Hullo! here is something I wasn’t looking for!” cried Snap. “He’s a fine haul,” he added, looking the muskrat over.

“And the beavers are fine, too,” added Shep. “Boys, I think we can count ourselves lucky and no mistake.”

“Let us set the traps again,” said Whopper, who was excited over the haul. This was done, and the boy hunters returned to their camp well pleased at what they had caught.

“I wish we’d get something in the bear trap,” said Giant. The small youth had set his heart on getting a bear before it should be time to return home.

On the day following, Shep and Giant went out after nuts and were gone the best part of the day. When they returned to the camp they were both excited and wanted to see Snap without delay.

“What’s it all about?” asked the leader of the gun club.

“We may be mistaken,” answered Shep, “but we think we have made a discovery of importance.”

“What kind of a discovery?”

“We think we have located the man who set fire to the sawmill and ran away with those documents!” answered Giant.

CHAPTER XXVII

THE DESERTED COTTAGE

Giant’s announcement filled Snap with keen interest, and he wanted to know at once all Shep and the small youth could tell.

“We went directly up the lake,” said Giant. “Took the road around the rocks that Jed Sanborn showed us. We found the nut trees, and—-”

“Never mind the nut trees,” interrupted Snap. “Tell me about that man.”

“Well, back of the trees is a cleared spot—maybe it was a farm some years ago, and in the midst of the clearing is an old, half-tumbled-down cottage. We walked over to the cottage and looked in at the window.”

“And we saw a man sitting on a box with a barrel before him,” put in Shep. “On the barrel he had a board and on the board were spread some papers that the man was looking over. The man was tall and thin, and had red hair and a short, red moustache”

“That tallies with the man who stole the money and the papers!” cried Snap, excitedly. “Did he limp, too?”

“Slightly, with his left foot.”

“He must be our man. But what is he doing around here?”

“I don’t know,” answered Shep. “As soon as he saw us he jumped up and put the papers in his pocket.”

“What did you do?” asked Whopper.

“He asked us what we wanted, and Shep told him we were out nutting,” said Giant. “Then he asked us who we were.”

“Did you tell him?”

“We did,” said Shep; “and then we asked him who he was, but he put us off. He said he was out tramping the mountains for his health.”

“Did he seem to be staying at the cottage?”

“Yes; at least he had a bag full of provisions with him, and a gun, too.”

“Was he alone?”

“He seemed to be.”

“Did you see the documents he had, closely?”

“Not very,” said Giant. “But we saw something of a map on one of them.”

“One of the stolen papers was a map of that lumber tract,” said Snap, thoughtfully. “Boys, if that is the rascal who set fire to the sawmill we ought to capture him,” he continued.

“That’s the talk!” cried Whopper. “But we want to be sure of what we are doing. It won’t do to arrest the wrong man.”

“If we could only get a look at those papers,” said Shep, “they would surely tell the tale.”

“Did he look like a guilty man?” went on Snap.

“He acted scared when he saw us, and he got the papers out of sight in a jiffy. And he is certainly tall and thin, and has a red