moustache and red hair.”
“Well, that fits the rascal who is wanted, pretty closely.”
“It’s queer that he’d come to a place like this,” was Whopper’s comment.
“Maybe he thinks it is best to keep in hiding, at least for the present.”
“But why doesn’t he go elsewhere?”
“He may be afraid to show himself in town, or at a railroad station.”
The matter was talked over for an hour, and then it was decided to visit the old cottage as early as possible on the following morning.
“And let us take our guns,” declared Snap. “And we’ll take a rope, too—in case we have to tie him up.”
The boys could scarcely sleep that night, so excited were they over the prospect ahead. All of them were up at dawn and procured breakfast as quickly as they could. Then the game-bags were filled with provisions, the guns were overhauled, and Snap got the rope he had mentioned.
“Now I guess we are ready,” said Shep.
“Wait till I kick out the fire,” said Whopper. “Don’t want the place to burn up while we are away.”
The fire extinguished, they set off on their journey and were soon a goodly distance from the lake. The snow had disappeared and the day promised to be an unusually warm one. They did not look for any game, and when a rabbit crossed their path nobody shot at it.
“We are after other game to-day,” observed Snap, grimly.
“If only we have the same success as we had when we caught that nigger,” came from Whopper. “That was dead easy.”
“I don’t think we’ll catch him asleep,” said Shep. “He is a wide-awake fellow, if nothing else.”
On and on they went, covering several miles. They passed the trees that were loaded with nuts, but did not stop, and soon came in sight of the clearing.
“Now go slow,” cautioned Snap. “If he sees us from a distance he may take it into his head to run away.”
“Maybe one or two of us had better go forward and investigate,” suggested Giant.
This was thought a good plan, and Snap and Shep went forward, slowly and cautiously, until they gained the very edge of the clearing.
“I see smoke coming out of the chimney,” said Snap. “That would seem to show he is still there.”
The door to the old cottage was tightly closed, and growing bolder, the two young hunters walked to it and knocked loudly.
“See that he doesn’t slip out the other way,” whispered Snap to his chum, and Shep at once ran around to the other side of the building.
As there was no answer to the summons, Snap knocked on the door a second time. Still there was no response.
“Guess I’ll go in,” he murmured, and pushed the door open.
The apartment beyond was the living-room of the old cottage and a glance showed him a smouldering fire in the fireplace. Nobody was visible.
From the kitchen the boy hunter went into the room beyond and then ran upstairs.
“See anybody?” called Shep, as Snap showed himself at a broken-out window.
“No. Call the others.”
Shep did as requested, and soon all of the young hunters were making an investigation of the premises.
“He must have gone away this morning,” said Giant. “See how the fire is still burning.”
“I wish I knew where he had gone to,” said Snap, with a long sigh.
“Perhaps we can find out if we search closely.”
In the cottage they found the remains of some meals the stranger had had, and also some scraps of paper, including an envelope addressed to Lusher Barrock.
“I wonder if that is his name?” said Snap.
“More than likely,” answered Giant. “Did you ever hear of him before?”
They tried to put the pieces of paper together, but the effort was a failure.
“Here is where he did some figuring,” said Whopper, pointing to the board, which contained numerous pencil marks. “Maybe—hullo! look here!”
“What’s up now?” asked Snap, running forward.
“Here is the name of Andrew Felps!”
“Felps!” came from all of the others in a chorus.
“Can that man have been here?” asked Giant.
“I must say, I don’t understand this,” came from Snap. “But I have got an idea.”
“What is it, Snap?”
“Of course I may be all wrong, but I’ll give it to you for what it is worth. Do you remember what my father said about those papers?”
“That they related to a certain patch of timber land?” said Giant.
“Yes; and that the Felps people wanted to get hold of the patch. Well, this Lusher Barrock may be hanging around here trying to sell the papers.”
“To sell them?” said Shep, looking puzzled.
“Exactly. They are of no use to him, but they might be of use to Andrew Felps and his lumber company.”
“You mean that by getting the papers Felps might keep your folks from cutting down the lumber on that tract?”
“Yes, and more. Felps may have some way of getting hold of the land himself, if these papers are destroyed. I don’t know the whole truth of the case, but I know my father wanted the papers and he didn’t want Andrew Felps to learn that they were missing.”
“Snap, I think you have struck the truth,” ejaculated Shep. “I don’t know of anything else that would bring this Barrock—if that’s his name—to this locality. He must be watching his chance to meet Andrew Felps.”
“Would Felps be mean enough to buy the papers from him?” asked Whopper. “Why, that would be dishonest!”
“I think that man is mean enough for anything!” burst out Giant, who was not inclined to forget how badly he and his chums had been treated by the individual in question.
“If this is true, Snap, the best thing we can do is to go over to the Felps camp and watch out for this Lusher Barrock,” said Shep.
“And that is what I am going to do,” answered Snap.
“When will you go?” questioned Whopper.
“As soon as possible.”
“We can’t get to the camp very well from here. We’ll have to go back to Firefly Lake first.”
“Do you suppose this Barrock went that way?”
“Maybe he did, or else he knows of some trail over the mountain.”
“Well, we can go back to the lake, and then start for Lake Cameron without delay,” said Snap, and so it was settled.
THE BOY HUNTERS AND A BEAR
The boys stopped to get dinner and then hurried back to the cabin with all possible speed.
“This has been a long tramp for nothing,” was Giant’s comment, as they trudged along.
“Oh, I don’t think so!” answered Whopper. “I think we have learned a good deal.”
On the way back they could not resist the temptation to shoot what game came in their way and thus brought down several rabbits, a squirrel, four quail, and two wild ducks that chanced to show themselves near the end of the lake.
As they neared the cabin they had to pass the bear trap that had been set so many days. They heard a peculiar grunting.
“Listen!” cried Snap, coming to a halt. “What is that?”
“I am sure I don’t know,” said Shep. “Sounds like some beast in pain.”
“Maybe it is something in the trap!” cried Giant, and moved forward on a run, before anybody could stop him.
As Giant drew in sight of the trap something caught his eyes that brought him stock still in wonder.
There, fast in the trap, lay a small bear, and close at hand was another bear, evidently trying to get the prisoner free!
“Look out there, Giant!” sang out Snap, as he, too, saw the situation.
“Two bears, by all that is lucky!” ejaculated Whopper.
At the sounds of the boys’ voices the free bear turned swiftly. Evidently he was in a rage, and for a good reason, for the bear in the trap was his mate.
“He is coming for you!” cried Shep. What he said was true; the bear was indeed coming for Giant. He stood up on his hind legs and confronted the young hunter. A moment more and his powerful paw must have knocked Giant down and perhaps have killed the lad.
But Snap had somewhat recovered from his astonishment, and raising his shotgun quickly, he pulled the trigger.
The dose of shot took the bear in the side of the face and stung him so bitterly that he fell back a few steps. But this was only for the moment. Soon he gathered himself once more and then turned upon Snap.
“Shoot him!” cried the young leader of the gun club and a second later came the crack of the rifle that Shep carried. The bullet pierced the bear’s side and he rolled over and over in pain.
“Good for you, Shep!” sang out Snap. “Shoot him again, somebody!”
For an answer, both Whopper and Giant fired their shotguns and the bear received both charges in his rump. Again he rolled over and over, uttering a roar that could be heard for a long distance. He tried to arise and did so once, dragging himself toward Whopper, who lost no time in retreating.
By this time Snap was ready for another shot, and growing bolder, he watched his chance, ran in and let the bear have the buckshot directly between the eyes. Then Shep took a second shot also, hitting Bruin in the throat. This was too much for the bear, and with a quiver and a gasp he sank in a heap, and a moment later breathed his last.
“Is he—he dead?” gasped Giant, after the bear had been quiet for a full minute.
“I think so,” answered Snap. “But don’t go near him yet—he may be playing a trick on us.”
“I am not going near him.”
“The bear in the trap is alive!” called out Whopper, who had just made an examination.
All lost no time in reloading their weapons, and then they peered into the trap. The bear under the logs and stones gave a grunt of pain and rage.
“I’ll fix her,” said Snap, and, drawing close, let drive at the bear’s head. It was a telling shot, and soon the bear stretched out, and then the battle with the two creatures came to an end.
“What a magnificent haul!” cried Giant, after they were certain both bears were dead.
“I wonder what Ham Spink and his crowd would say to this?” came from Snap.
“They wouldn’t believe it unless they saw it,” returned Whopper. “Boys, do you know what I think? I think we ought to take those bears home.”
“Just what I think, too,” said Giant. “I want my mother to see them.”
“Well, I am willing,” answered Snap. “But I think we ought to visit Lake Cameron first and see if we can’t find this Lusher Barrock.”
“We can stop at Lake Cameron on the way,” answered Whopper.
It was late in the day already, and by the time they had dragged the bears to camp it was night. As they sat around the camp-fire they talked matters over and decided to break camp the very next day. They had had about all the hunting they wished for the present, and getting the two bears “topped matters off,” as Snap put it.
The bears were loaded into the boat and anchored out in the lake, and then the boys got supper and went to bed. Snap was soon asleep and so were Giant and Shep, and all slept soundly until about midnight, when the leader of the club awoke a start.
“Hullo! what’s up now?” he called out, and this cry aroused Shep and Giant.
“What is it, Snap?”
“Where is Whopper?”
“I don’t know where he is,” answered Snap. “Listen!”
The three did so, and from a distance heard a groan and then a thrashing around in the bushes back of the cabin.
“Something is wrong, that is sure!” gasped Giant. “Whopper must be in trouble!”
“Come on and see,” returned Snap, and catching up his gun he ran from the shelter. Shep and Giant were not slow in following.
When they got outside all had become quiet again, and they knew not in what direction to turn. There was no moon, but the stars shone like so many diamonds in the heavens.
“Where is he?” asked Shep, after a breathless pause.
“I don’t know,” answered Snap. “Hullo, Whopper!” he called out.
There was no reply to his shout and he moved into the bushes cautiously, with the others at his heels. Then, of a sudden, he came upon Whopper, who stood by a bush tugging away manfully.
“Get back!” murmured Whopper. “Get back, you beast! Say, fellows, this is the worst bear of the lot! Down he goes! That makes four bears for yours truly!”
“I know what’s the matter!” shouted Snap, lowering his gun. “He has got the nightmare.”
“Yes, and got it bad, too,” put in Giant. “My! see him hustle with the bush!”
“Shall we wake him up?” asked Shep.
“No—it may not be good for him,” answered Snap.
“Oh, I am going to wake him up!” came from Giant, and before the others could stop him he ran forward and caught Whopper by the arm. “Wake up, Whopper!” he called. “Wake up, old man! You’ve got ’em bad!”
At first Whopper paid no attention. “Then his struggles with the bush ceased and he opened his eyes and stared about him in bewilderment.
“Wh-what is the matter? Wh-where am I?” he stammered, gazing around stupidly.
“You’ve been asleep and dreaming,” explained Snap. “You thought you were after a bear.”
“So I was—after a dozen bears. Did I—I kill any?”
“There are no bears here. You were only dreaming.”
“Oh!” Whopper rubbed his eyes. “No bears at all?”
“None but what we shot yesterday. You went to sleep and the next thing we knew you were out here, pulling at this bush.”
“Where am I?”
“Back of the cabin,” put in Shep. “You had better go to bed again.”
“And please don’t dream of any more bears,” added Giant, with a grin.
Whopper scratched his head in perplexity.
“Funny how I got here! I don’t understand it at all. Oh, but say, I was having the fight of my life!”
“I should say so,” answered Snap, looking around. “You must have pulled up those three bushes yonder. Getting strong in your sleep.”
“I am glad he didn’t dream I was a bear,” remarked Shep. “There wouldn’t have been anything left of me by the time he woke up!”
“I know how it was,” said Whopper, as the full truth dawned on him. “I ate a very hearty supper last night, and when I went to bed my head was full of those two bears we brought down. That gave me the nightmare.”
“Then, after this, we’ll have to send you to bed supperless,” said Snap.
“Not much!” cried Whopper.
A STRANGE MEETING IN THE FOREST
Despite Whopper’s nightmare and what had followed, the boy hunters slept soundly for the rest of the night. All arose at daybreak and procured what was destined to be their last meal in the camp for that season.
“I rather hate to leave the spot,” said Snap, while packing away the breakfast things. “We have had some good fun here.”
“We must come back some time, by all means,” declared Shep. “Maybe this winter.”
“Yes, some hunting up here in mid-winter wouldn’t go bad,” came from Giant. “We could bring snowshoes along and have jolly times.”
“That’s the talk!” ejaculated Whopper. “I have always wanted to go hunting on snowshoes, And we could build a big snowhouse, too.”
“Well, that is something to talk over another time,” put in Snap. “Remember, just now we want to locate that mill robber if we can, and also get those bears home.”
It took quite some time to pack all of the things aboard the rowboat, and the craft was heavily loaded with the outfit and the game.
“Will it carry us, too?” questioned Shep, as he looked at the boat dubiously.
“It has got to carry us,” declared Whopper. “But it will be rather hard rowing.”
All tried the boat and found it would carry them, although the gunwale sank low into the water. Then they cleaned up the camp, shut up the cabin, and were all ready for the start.
“Good-by to the camp!” cried Giant, lifting his cap.
“And hurrah for the first outing of our gun club!” added Snap. And they gave the cheers with a will.
Snap and Whopper took the oars first, and the course was out of Firefly Lake and through the narrow watercourse running into Lake Cameron. It was a cool, clear day, with a stiff breeze stirring the bushes and trees of the forest.
“I see some turkeys!” cried Shep, while on the way. “I must have a last shot!”
“And so must I!” came from the others.
All caught up their guns, and as the boat drifted closer to the game, each let drive. Two of the turkeys were killed outright, while two more were badly wounded and easily secured.
“One each!” said Giant.
“Exactly,” answered Snap. “And now we have got to stop or we’ll sink the boat sure.”
“Well, enough is enough,” said Whopper. “I think, all told, we have had the best luck possible.”
“Even if we didn’t get a silver deer.”
“That’s so—I forgot about that deer. Well, he will keep for another time, eh, fellows?”
It was shortly after noon that they turned into Lake Cameron and landed near the mouth of that body of water. All were hungry, and partook readily of the lunch that had been brought along.
“Now, what’s the next part of the programme?” asked Giant, looking at Snap.
“I don’t think it will be advisable for us to show ourselves to the Felps crowd,” answered the leader of the gun club.
“Oh, let us do a little scout work!” said Whopper. “We can easily hide the boat and get around to the camp on foot.”
The matter was talked over while they ate their mid-day meal, and at the conclusion of the repast they shoved the rowboat with its load into a cove and under some overhanging brushwood. Then, taking only their guns and game-bags and some provisions, they set off for their first camping spot on foot.
“We must be on our guard,” cautioned Snap.
“I do not want any of those men to see us if it can possibly be avoided.”
“We’ll watch out,” answered Shep.
A minute later half a dozen fat rabbits crossed their path directly in front of them. The temptation to bring the game down was strong, but they resisted, not wishing to make any noise. A little later they heard two gunshots at a distance.
“Some of the men must be out hunting,” observed Giant.
“Gracious! I hope they don’t mistake us for game,” cried Whopper.
“Let us walk more in the open,” answered Snap. “Then they can’t make any mistake.”
The way was rocky and uneven, and long before they came in sight of their first camp the boys were somewhat footsore and weary.
“This isn’t the nicest kind of tramping in the world, is it?” came from Shep.
“Don’t say a word,” answered Giant. “I just came within an inch of twisting my left ankle.”
They had a small brook to cross and there stopped for a drink of water. They were just going on again when another distant gunshot sounded out.
“They must be doing a lot of hunting to-day,” observed Snap. “I’d like to know if they can bring anything down.”
“Not if what that old guide said was true,” answered Shep.
They advanced a few yards further, when Shep suddenly halted and made his chums do the same.
“What’s up now?” whispered Whopper. “See a bear?”
“Whopper has bears on the brain,” came from Giant, with a grin.
“I see two men over back of yonder rocks,” answered Snap. “They seem to be doing some hard talking.”
“Who are they?”
“One of them is Andrew Felps.”
“And the other?”
“I don’t know who he is.”
“He is the man we are after!” cried Whopper “Don’t you see his red hair and red moustache?”
“Let us go around the rocks and get closer in that way,” said Snap, and his suggestion was followed out promptly.
“Well, what do you want of me, anyway, Barrock?” they heard Andrew Felps say to the man with the red hair.
“I want to talk business,” answered Lush Barrock, as he was commonly called.
“Well, get to business, then,” went on the lumber merchant. “I am not going to stay here all day. You said you had something to say that would interest me.”
“It’s true, too, Mr. Felps.”
“Well, out with it, then.”
Lush Barrock paused and cleared his throat. Evidently he did not know exactly how to go about what he had in mind to do.
“I reckon you know the Barnaby lumber folks,” he began.
“Yes,” was the short answer.
“They have been trying to get hold of a certain lumber tract up at the Spur Road.”
“What of that?”
“I understand your company has been trying to get hold of the same tract of land.”
“What business is that of yours?”
“None of my business—in one way—but a good deal of my business in another way.”
“I don’t understand you, Barrock. Stop talking in riddles and get down to business.”
“Can I trust you, Mr. Felps? I mean, will you keep a secret?”
“That depends,” answered Andrew Felps, coldly.
“I want to help you so that you can get the best of the Barnaby people.”
“How can you help me?”
“I’ll tell you if you’ll promise to keep the matter a secret.”
“Hum!” The lumber merchant paused for a moment. “Well, go on.”
“You won’t give me away?”
“Well, when they got their right to that Spur Road tract certain papers had to be signed.”
“I know that.”
“Then they had a fire at their sawmill.”
“I know that, too.”
“During that fire those papers disappeared.”
“Ha!” cried Andrew Felps, with interest. “You are certain of that?”
“And you—you—–” The lumber dealer paused.
“In a roundabout way I met the fellow who had the papers. For a consideration he let me have them. If you want them you can have them—provided you will pay the price.”
WORDS AND A BLOW
The boy hunters had listened to the foregoing conversation with intense interest. There could be no doubt but what this Barrock was the man they were after. His tale that he had procured the missing papers from somebody else was pure fiction—gotten up merely to deceive Andrew Felps.
“We ought to make him a prisoner on the spot,” whispered Shep.
“Wait—I want to learn what Andrew Felps will do,” murmured Snap.
“You want me to buy the papers from you, eh?” said Andrew Felps, after a pause.
“Yes,” answered Lush Barrock, boldly.
“Don’t you know that you have no right to the documents?”
“Oh, I don’t want you to preach to me, Andy Felps. If you want the papers, say so. If not—–”
“If not, what?”
“Maybe I’ll return them to the Barnaby folks. I understand Mr. Dodge offered a reward for them.”
“What do you want for the papers?” asked Andrew Felps, cautiously.
“They ought to be worth several thousand dollars, but you can have them for one thousand dollars.”
“Nonsense, Barrock! What would I do with the papers?”
“What, after giving you a thousand dollars for them?”
Lush Barrock nodded. “It’s this way, Felps,” he said. “If you get this contract out of the way I am sure you can make another contract—for your own company. The Spur Road folks feel sore, and I know you can fix matters up with old Haley, who is a miser, and willing to do almost anything for money.”
“Have you the papers with you?”
“Do you want to buy them?”
“I want to see what I am getting, first.”
Lusher Barrock made a movement as if to take something from his breast-pocket.
Just at that moment heavy footsteps sounded out directly behind the four boy hunters, and two men belonging to the Felps crowd appeared upon the scene.
“Hullo! What are you youngsters doing here?” demanded one of the men.
“We—we came over on business,” stammered Snap. He hardly knew what to say, the meeting was such an unexpected one.
“Who is there?” cried out Andrew Felps, and ran around the edge of the rocks. “What, you! Where did you come from?”
Andrew Felps was followed by Lush Barrock. When the fellow who had robbed the sawmill saw Snap and his chums he was almost struck dumb.
“See here,” began Andrew Felps, his face growing dark, “what do you—–”
“Stop him!” yelled Snap, and pointed to Lush Barrock, who had suddenly taken to his heels. “Stop him, somebody!”
Snap made a dash after the robber, and was followed by his three chums. Barrock was a good runner, and soon disappeared into the bushes.
“We must catch him!” panted Snap. “We must not let him get away!”
He went on after Lush Barrock with all speed. The course was through the bushes and over some rocks. Then, of a sudden, a voice sounded out ahead:
“Stop, all of you! If you don’t, I’ll fire!”
“Oh, Snap, do you think he will fire at us?” gasped Giant, and came to a halt, followed by the rest.
“If you fire, so will we!” sang out Snap, and brought around his shotgun. But no answer came back, and now Lush Barrock was both out of sight and hearing.
Yet the boy hunters did not give up the chase. They followed the trail as best they could to a brook, but there lost it in the water. Then they hunted around for a good quarter of an hour, but without avail.
“Too bad!” groaned Snap. “Oh, how I wish I had put my hands on that rascal!”
“He is certainly a bad one,” was Whopper’s comment.
“Yes, and Andrew Felps is almost as bad,” said Shep. “He would have bought those papers.”
They retraced their steps toward the lake, and soon met Andrew Felps and his companions.
“Did you catch him?” asked the lumber dealer, nervously.
“No,” was Snap’s short answer.
“Do you know him?” went on Andrew Felps, curiously.
“I know him to be the man who robbed the sawmill and set the place on fire.”
“Is that so?”
Andrew Felps put on an appearance of great surprise.
“Don’t you know it, too?” said Snap, bluntly.
“Me? Of course not. Why—er—if I knew he was that kind of a man—–” Andrew Felps broke off short. “Were you listening to our talk?”
“We were,” put in Whopper. “We heard every word, too.”
“Ahem! Well, I—er—that is, I was only sounding the fellow,” said the lumber dealer, lamely.
To this Snap did not say anything, although Andrew Felps looked at him inquiringly.
“You don’t suppose I was going to have anything to do with him?” demanded Andrew Felps, after a pause.
“Yes, I do,” said Snap, bluntly.
“Bah! Nonsense! If he had shown those papers I should have taken them away from him.”
“No; to return to their rightful owners.”
To this Snap made no reply. Andrew Felps was clearly disconcerted.
“Evidently you don’t believe me, boy.”
Still Snap was silent.
“See here, do you expect to make trouble for me on this account?” pursued the lumber dealer, growing angry.
“I shall tell the truth, that’s all,” said Snap.
“I see! You’ll try to make it appear that I am in with this—this fellow!” snorted the lumber dealer. “Well, just you take care, or you may get into trouble!”
“If I get into trouble I guess I’ll know how to take care of myself,” returned Snap, stoutly.
He had scarcely uttered the words when Andrew Felps caught him roughly by the shoulder.
“Boy, take care how you talk to me!”
“Let go of me!” exclaimed Snap, with flashing eyes. “Let go, I say!” And he jerked himself away. “Don’t you dare lay your hands upon me again, Andrew Felps!”
“Ha! you imp!” snarled the lumber dealer, and caught hold of Snap once more. This time the boy tried to free himself, but in vain.
“If you don’t let go, I’ll strike you!” he panted, and the next moment he struck out, landing a hard blow on the lumber dealer’s nose. The latter was so amazed he fell back and released his hold.
“Oh, my nose!” groaned the man. “You young scoundrel! I’ll—–”
At that moment came a cry of alarm from a distance.
“Hullo! hullo! Come this way! The woods are on fire! We’ll be burnt out before we know it!”
THE FOREST FIRE—CONCLUSION
The cry was such an unexpected one that for the moment every one who heard it was dumfounded. The men stared at each other and so did the boys. Then all looked up and saw a thick mass of smoke rolling over the forest. The wind was blowing briskly, and soon the smoke began to envelop the entire crowd.
“Say, fellows, we must get out of here!” exclaimed Shep. “We can’t stay, or we’ll be burnt up!”
“That’s the truth,” put in Giant. “Let us get back to our boat.”
“To the camp!” came from Andrew Felps, and ran off, followed by the other men.
“Shall we go after them?” asked Snap.
“What good will it do?” said Shep. “They can get out on the lake in their boat—if the fire gets too strong for them.”
“The wind is blowing it directly to the lake,” said Whopper. “My, but it has gained headway!” he added, looking around.
The smoke was growing thicker, and already they could see the sparks floating overhead. From a distance they heard a wild cry, but could not make out what it was.
Turning around, they started for the spot where they had left their boat.
In their mad rush to gain the craft, they did not notice that they got off the trail until they were halted by a mass of brushwood on all sides of them.
“This can’t be right!” panted Giant. “I didn’t notice this before.”
“We have made some mistake!” ejaculated Shep. “Maybe we are going away from the lake!”
They gazed around. The smoke was growing thicker, and now a few burning brands fell close by.
“One thing is certain, we can’t stay here!” came from Snap. “Let us go straight downhill. That will bring us to water sooner or later.”
This was considered good advice and all acted on it without delay. The smoke was now so thick they could scarcely see in any direction. The light of the sun was obscure, making it as dark as if it was night.
“Here is a little stream!” called out Giant, presently. “This must run into the lake!”
All stepped into the brook and followed it for several hundred feet. Then Snap called a halt.
“Here is our lost trail!”
“Snap is right,” said Shep. “Come on, the boat cannot be far off.”
Once more they went on, the smoke growing so thick they had to crouch down to get their breath. The tears were streaming from their eyes, and Whopper let out a yell as a burning brand floated down on his neck, raising a blister.
“Here is the boat, thank fortune!” said Snap, a minute later.
How they tumbled into the craft they scarcely knew. The painter was cut and they shoved off into the lake, just as a fierce gust of wind sent a cloud of smoke and a shower of sparks down upon them.
“Phew! but that was a narrow escape!” muttered Shep, when the shore had been left behind and they could catch their breath.
“We are not out of danger yet!” said Snap. “This fire may be worse than we think. If it takes in the whole lake district, we’ll be hemmed in on all sides.”
“Look!” exclaimed Giant. “Am I mistaken, or is a storm coming up?” and he pointed to the sky.
“Those are certainly clouds, not smoke,” said Whopper. “Oh, I hope it does rain and puts out the fire. I shouldn’t like to see this fine forest destroyed.”
“Nor I,” added Snap.
“If it is burned down it will be Mr. Felps’s loss,” came from Giant. “He said he had bought the district up, you’ll remember.”
As they pulled along, well away from the shore, they suddenly heard a mad cry for aid.
“What’s that?” asked Snap.
“A man on shore!” ejaculated Whopper. “See him—over on yonder rocks!”
“It is that Barrock!” said Shep.
“Help me!” came from the man, who was waving his arms wildly. “Take me off, or I’ll be burnt up!”
“Let us row to him,” said Snap.
The rowboat was turned in toward shore without delay. In the meantime, to escape the smoke and burning brands, Lusher Barrock rushed into the lake up to his knees.
“Save me!” he bawled again. “I can’t swim!”
“We’ll save you!” answered Snap. “But see here, Barrock,” he added, suddenly.
“You will have to give us those documents you took from the sawmill.”
“I—I—ain’t got them.”
“Well, then, we’ll leave you where you are,” said Snap, just to test the rascal.
“No! no! I—I’ll give you the papers!”
“Very well, then.”
The craft came alongside of the robber and he was helped on board. He was badly scared and trembling from head to foot. A burning brand had come down on his left ear, singeing that member and also his fiery red hair.
“Now give me those papers,” demanded Snap, and without waiting thrust his hand into the man’s pocket and drew them forth. “Have you the money, too?”
“Hand it over or we’ll search you.”
“I’ve got three hundred dollars,” said Lush Barrock, lamely. “I spent about fifty dollars.”
The money was handed over to Snap, and he placed it and the papers in an inner pocket of his jacket. Then the robber was ordered to sit at the bow of the boat and not move, and a pistol he carried was taken from him.
It was not long after this that it began to rain. At first the downfall was not great, but presently there was a perfect deluge and then the boy hunters knew that the danger from the forest fire was over. Looking up the lake they saw Andrew Felps and his party in their launch, unharmed. The camp of the lumber dealer, however, had been burned out clean and clear, along with all of the provisions.
“That’s what he gets for taking our cabin from us,” was Giant’s comment.
Not wishing to meet the lumber dealer again, now that they had made Lush Barrock a prisoner, Snap directed his chums to row out of the lake and on to the river. The boys pulled a good stroke and, despite the load on board the craft, made fair progress.
“This fire will worry the folks at home,” said Shep. “I am glad we made up our minds to break camp.”
“Yes,” answered Whopper. “Everything happened for the best, after all.”
The boat was still some miles from Fairview when they saw another craft approaching. It contained Mr. Dodge and Jed Sanborn.
“Safe, are you?” sang out Mr. Dodge, as he drew near. “We were afraid that forest fire would do you some harm.”
“We had a pretty close shave of it, father,” answered Snap.
“We’ve got a prisoner for you, Mr. Dodge,” sang out Shep, somewhat proudly. “Here is the rascal who set fire to the sawmill.”
“Is it possible!” cried Mr. Dodge.
“That fire was an—an accident,” grumbled Lusher Barrock. “All a mistake.”
“I’ve got the documents he took, and three hundred dollars of the money,” said Snap.
“Well! well! This is famous, boys!” said Mr. Dodge.
“My sakes alive, look at the bears!” called out Jed Sanborn, as Giant pulled aside the canvas that lay over the game. “Who shot ’em?”
“We shot one and caught the other in the trap,” answered Giant. “Don’t you think we did pretty well for boys?”
“Well for boys? Why, men couldn’t do any better. You’re the best boy hunters anywhere!”
The prisoner was transferred to the boat containing Mr. Dodge and Jed Sanborn, and Snap gave to his parent the money and the documents that had been recovered. Then both boats headed for Fairview, which was reached at nightfall.
Great was the surprise of the town folks when it was learned that the man who had set fire to the sawmill had been captured. He was put in jail, and later on tried and sent to prison for a term of years.
There was another surprise when it was noised about that the boy hunters had laid low not only several deer and a good deal of small game, but also two fair-sized bears. The bears were placed on public exhibition at one of the stores and many came to look at them.
Ham Spink and his cronies were intensely jealous, but did not dare to give vent to their feelings. Snap and his chums took no notice of the dudish youth and his followers.
“We have the best of it, and they know it,” said Snap.
“Boys, we must go out again, this winter,” said Shep. “Come, what do you say?”
All agreed instantly, and how they went out, and what good times they had will be told in another volume of this series, to be called, “_Guns and Snowshoes; or, The Winter Outing of the Boy Hunters_.” The best hunting is often to be had when there is snow on the ground, and my readers can rest assured that the four boy hunters made the most of their opportunities.
A while after the boys got home, it was learned that Andrew Felps had escaped with his party, unharmed, but all had lost practically everything they had taken along but the launch. The forest had been much damaged, especially that tract which the Felps Lumber Company had purchased for cutting purposes, so the lumber merchant was out in more ways than one. Nothing was said to him about the talk he had had with Lusher Barrock, and he himself was afraid to open his mouth about it, and soon the incident was practically forgotten. The Barnaby Company went to work at the Spur Road tract and nobody attempted to stop them.
“Boys, we had a dandy time, didn’t we?” said Snap, one evening after he had had his fill of venison steak.
“We had the best time ever!” said Shep. “May we have many more like it!”
“Just wait till this winter!” cried Whopper.
“I am going to kill sixteen deer, twenty bears, two hundred wild turkeys, and about a thousand rab—–”
“Draw it mild, Whopper!” ejaculated Giant. “Wait till the time comes, and then do your best.”
And Whopper did wait, and so did the rest, and here let us leave them and say good-by.