E-text prepared by Jim Ludwig
FOUR BOY HUNTERS
or, The Outing of the Gun Club
CAPTAIN RALPH BONEHILL
CHAPTERS I. Target Shooting and a Plan II. The Fire at the Saw Mill III. Down the River IV. The Disappearance of the Boat V. Another Start VI. A First Night in Camp VII. Something About a Strange Animal VIII. An Unwelcome Arrival IX. A Night of Discomfort X. Giant and the Maskalonge XI. In a New Camp XII. Shep and the Hollow Tree XIII. Lost in the Woods XIV. The Boys and the Wildcat XV. The Cave in the Mountain XVI. A Successful Deer Hunt XVII. The Rival Campers XVIII. A Mix-Up in Camp XIX. Another Hunt After Dark XX. In a Storm on the Lake XXI. A Camp and a Prisoner XXII. Rabbits, Nuts and a Snake XXIII. After Mountain Brook Mink XXIV. Ham Spink and the Skunk XXV. Surrounded by Wolves XXVI. Something About Trapping XXVII. The Deserted Cottage XVIII. The Boy Hunters and a Bear XXIX. A Strange Meeting in the Forest XXX. Words and a Blow XXXI. The Forest Fire—-Conclusion
My Dear Lads:
This tale of "Four Boy Hunters" is a complete story in itself, but forms the first volume of a line to be called "The Boy Hunters Series," taking the heroes through various adventures while searching for big and little game in the woods and in the mountains.
The boys are bright, lively fellows of to-day, with a natural taste for a life in the open, and a fondness for a gun and a rod. In the present volume they organize their little club, and after a good deal of talk obtain permission to go a number of miles from home and establish a camp on the edge of a lake. From this spot they are driven away by one who is their enemy, and then they go elsewhere. They have fun and adventures in plenty, around the camp and while out after both big and little game, and they help to bring to justice two men who are hiding from the officers of the law. To-day hunting in our country is not what it was some years ago. Many of the best hunting localities have become settled, and it is becoming harder and harder to catch a sight of a deer, or a moose, or a bear, or, in fact, any wild animal of size. In the far West the buffalo has been practically wiped out, and in the East the deer and moose would also be gone were it not for the protection of the law, which makes it illegal to shoot down such game during the closed season.
With best wishes to all who love a gun and love good hunting, I remain, Your sincere friend, Captain Ralph Bonehill.
TARGET SHOOTING AND A PLAN
"Another bull's-eye, I declare!"
"Three bull's-eyes, of all things! Snap, you are getting to be a wonder with the rifle. Why, even old Jed Sanborn couldn't do better than that."
Charley Dodge, a bright, manly boy of fifteen, laid down the rifle on the counter in the shooting gallery and smiled quietly. "I guess it was more luck than anything, Shep," he replied. "Perhaps I couldn't do it again."
"Nonsense," came from Sheppard Reed, also a boy of fifteen. "You have got it in you to shoot straight and that is all there is to it. I only wish I could shoot as well."
"How did you fellows make out?" came from a third youth, as he entered the gallery. He was sixteen years old but hardly as large as the average lad of ten.
"Snap just made three bull's-eyes!" cried Shep Red. "Made them as easily as pie, too."
"And what did you make?"
"Made one bull's-eye and two inner rings. Are you going to try your luck, Giant?"
"Humph!—-I don't think I can hit the back of the building unless they move it up to me," answered Will Caslette. "But I'll take a chance," he added, turning to the keeper of the gallery and fishing five cents from his pocket. "Got to learn to shoot if I'm going on a hunt, you know," he went on, to his chums.
"Then you can go with us?" questioned Charley Dodge, quickly.
"I think so—-mother said she would tell me for certain to-morrow."
The small youth took the rifle handed to him and aiming carefully, pulled the trigger.
"The outer ring," said Shep Reed. "That's not so bad but what it might be worse, Giant."
"Oh, it might be worse!" answered the small youth, coolly. "I might fire out of the window and kill somebody on the back street, or hit a duck in Rackson's pond. Here goes again."
The second shot was a little better, and the third made the bell ring, much to the small youth's delight.
"Hullo, you fellows!" came from the doorway, a lively boy of fourteen came in, curly hair dying and a cap set far back on his head. "Been looking for you all over town for about sixteen hours. Been shooting, eh? I'll bet a can of buttermilk against a shoestring that you all made outer rings."
"Hullo, Whopper!" called the others. "Come in and try your luck."
"Can't—-I'm dead broke this morning," answered Frank Dawson. "I've got to wait a year or two till my next allowance comes in."
"Here's the money," answered Charley Dodge, producing five cents. "Now, Whopper, don't make more than three bull's-eyes."
"I'm going to make twenty-'leven," answered the boy called Whopper. "Don't you know that I once went into a gallery in the city and made one hundred bull's-eyes in succession? The proprietor fainted and didn't get over it for two months."
"Phew! That's the biggest whopper yet!" ejaculated Giant. "Nothing like living up to your reputation."
The boy who could tell big stories on all occasions took up the rifle and shot three times with care, and as a result placed three inner rings to his credit.
"That isn't bad," said Shep Reed. "But Snap is the boss rifleman of this crowd."
"Then we must make him the leader of our gun club," put in Giant. "What do you say, fellows?"
"That's it!" cried the others.
"Have you fellows got a gun club?" came from the man who kept the shooting gallery, curiously.
"We've got something of that sort," answered the newly declared leader. "You see, we expect to go out on a hunting tour this fall and so we got together and called ourselves a gun club."
"The Fairview Gun Club," corrected Whopper. "Nothing like giving a title that looks like something, as the French Count said when he called himself a duke."
"Where is your club going?"
"Oh, just up in the mountains, back of Lake Cameron," answered Snap.
"Is the hunting good there?"
"Pretty fair—-so old Jed Sanborn says."
"Well, I wish you luck. You boys are good enough shots to bring down almost anything," said the shooting gallery keeper.
"Come on up to our orchard and talk things over," said Snap, as he led the way from the gallery, and in a moment more the boys were on the Street and making their way to Mr. Dodge's apple orchard, a quarter of a mile from the center of the town. The other boys knew as well as Snap that there were some fine fall pippins in the orchard, and, like all growing lads, each loved a good apple.
The town of Fairview was not a large one. There was one main street and a side street running to the little depot, at which eight trains stopped daily. There were fifteen shops and stores, a hotel and three churches. The houses numbered less than a hundred in the town proper, although many others were located in the rich farming district close by. Fairview was situated on the Rocky River, which, ten miles below, flowed into a beautiful sheet of water called Lake Cameron. The town was noted for its natural beauty, and in the summertime not a few tourists stopped there.
One of the principal men of the community was Mr. Dodge, Charley's father. He was rich, but preferred to live on his farm instead of moving to the town or the city. He was a school trustee and also held an interest in the summer hotel and in one of the big saw mills on the river.
Sheppard Reed was the only son of a local physician, who, during the past twenty years, had built up a substantial practice in and around Fairview. Shep and Snap, as they were always called, were close chums, and once in a while their own folks would refer to them as the Twins.
Frank Dawson had moved to Fairview only two years before, but had become a general favorite among the boys. He had a habit of exaggerating most woefully, and this had gained for him the nickname of Whopper. From this it must not be inferred that Frank could not tell the truth, for, when it came to the pinch the lad was as truthful as anybody. His "whoppers" were always so big that everybody recognized them as such instantly.
Will Caslette, always called Billy or Giant, was the son of a French widow lady who had come to Fairview on the death of her husband, seven years before. The widow had just enough to live on comfortably, and she took a great pride in her offspring, even though he was so small in stature. But though Billy was small he was "all there," as the other boys said, and promised to become a man, every inch of him.
Arriving at the orchard, the four boys walked to one of the best of the apple trees and with a stick brought down a dozen of the finest apples. Then they selected a warm spot in the sunshine, threw themselves on the sward, and began to eat and discuss their plans at the same time.
"It's a regular windfall for us that the old schoolhouse is going to be shut up next Wednesday," said Snap. "Just think of two months of loafing."
"Bless the storm that ripped off part of the roof," came from Shep.
"And bless the fact that they can't get it mended right away," was Will's comment. "I don't believe they'll open again until after the holidays."
"Of course they won't," said Whopper. "They can't do it. They've got to put on a new roof, mend the water pipes, reset the steps, paint the place, and do sixteen hundred and one things."
"The best thing we can do is to make all arrangements for going on our tour bright and early Monday morning," went on Snap. "We will have from now on to get ready in. That will be plenty of time."
"Humph! I could get ready in an hour," murmured Whopper. "What's there to do anyway? Pick up our guns, pack up some grub, take along a tent and some fishing tackle, and there you are. Easy as sliding off a banana peel."
"Is it?" came from Snap. "That's all you know about it. In the first place, you must remember that this is no outing for a day or two, or even a week. We have got to take supplies for at least a month, if not two months. And I don't want to live in a tent when it gets good and cold. We've got to build a shack of some sort. There will be a hundred and one things to do before we are ready to start. And it is going to cost something, too."
"How much?" asked Giant, anxiously. "Please don't make the amount too high, or I won't be able to stand for my share."
"We'll figure it out," said Snap, producing a note-book and a pencil. "I suppose when it comes to such things as flour, sugar, salt, coffee and the like, we can get them from our homes. But there are other things that we will have to buy. For instance, we will need plenty of powder and shot, and we'll want to take medicines and plasters along, in case of accidents——-"
"I can get those from my father," interrupted Shep. "He has an emergency case that will be just the thing."
"How about——-" began Giant, when he stopped short, to gaze at a man who was running down the road at top speed. "Hullo, Mr. Harrison!" he called. "Where are you going in such a hurry?"
"Goin' to the fire!" was the puffed-out answer.
"Fire?" ejaculated all of the boys, leaping to their feet. "Where?"
"Down the river. Reckon it's the Barnaby mill," and the man went on his way.
The boys gazed down the river and saw a thick volume of smoke rolling skyward. Men and boys were running toward it from every direction.
"It's the mill, as sure as fate!" cried Snap. "Come on, I'm going to the fire, fellows!" And away he started.
"Isn't that the mill in which your father owns an interest?" asked Whopper.
"Yes; he owns a third share," answered Snap.
THE FIRE AT THE SAW MILL
It was indeed the Barnaby place that was going up in flames, and already the fire had gained much headway. The place was composed of the saw mill proper and half a dozen sheds used for the storage of cut lumber. The plant was valued at thirty thousand dollars, so if it was swept away the loss would be a heavy one.
The mill was a good half mile from the orchard, but the boys were all good runners and covered the distance in a few minutes, Shep and Snap arriving there first and little Giant bringing up the rear, with a face as red as a beet.
A dozen men and boys were on hand, besides the mill workers, and a bucket brigade had been formed to throw buckets of water taken from the river on the flames. Some men were bringing out a line of hose, which was presently attached to the engine of the mill itself.
"I am going to help here!" cried Snap, throwing off his coat, and he went to work with a will and the other lads did the same. The buckets of water came along swiftly, but for a long time it looked as if the whole plant was doomed to destruction. The fire was in a shed next to the saw mill itself, a place one end of which was used as an office by the mill company. The wind was blowing the sparks directly to the mill proper.
"Phew! but this is hot work!" cried one of the men. "Can't stand this much longer."
"Don't give up!" pleaded the master of the mill. "Perhaps the wind will change."
It certainly was warm work, as all of the boys found out. The sparks and brands were dropping over them, and once Snap's shirt sleeve caught fire, while Shep had a spark blister his neck and cause him to let out a yell like an Indian.
In the midst of the excitement, Mr. Dodge arrived, and a moment later the local fire engine, an old-fashioned affair purchased from a neighboring city. The stream of water, however, did good service, and the fire was kept largely to the shed in which it had started. The mill itself caught a dozen times, but the flames were extinguished before they did material damage. Finally the wind veered around, blowing the sparks toward a cleared spot in the woods, and then all saw that the worst of the affair was over. But men and boys kept at their labors, and did not stop until every spark of the conflagration had been extinguished.
"Now it is over, I am going down to the river and wash up," said Snap to Shep, and they walked to the edge of the stream, followed by Whopper and Giant. "I feel dirty from head to foot."
"Your father can be thankful that the mill didn't go," said Whopper. "Gosh, what a blaze! I thought the whole county was going to burn up. I got burnt in about 'leventeen hundred spots."
"And I let a bucket of water drop on my foot," put in Giant. "Say, but didn't the edge of the bucket feel nice on my little toe!" and he limped along to the water's edge.
Having washed up, the boys returned to the scene of the fire. They found the mill master, Tom Neefus, in earnest conversation with Mr. Dodge.
"You saw the rascal do it?" asked Snap's father.
"I certainly did," replied Tom Neefus. "I started to catch him, but then I came back to put out the blaze. I made up my mind it would be better to stop the fire than catch the man, even though he was such a villain."
"Who's a villain, father?" asked Shep.
"The man who started this fire."
"Did a man start it?" asked the boy, while several others drew closer to listen.
"So Mr. Neefus says. He caught the fellow at the office desk. In a corner the fellow had thrown a pile of shavings and saturated it with oil. As he ran away he threw a handful of lighted matches into the shavings and they caught instantly."
"I suppose he did that so that he could get away. He knew the men around here would try to save the property instead of going after him."
"Exactly, Charley. He must have been a cold-blooded villain to do such a thing, for it might have been the means of burning down everything," continued Mr. Dodge.
"What was he doing at the desk, Mr. Dodge?" asked Shep.
"He was evidently looking for money or something of value."
"Did he get anything?"
"Nothing, so far as Mr. Neefus knows. The safe was locked up, I believe."
The strong-box mentioned stood in a corner of the office, and the fire had swept all around it. It was quite hot, but after some more water had been poured over it the master of the mill threw it open.
"The books are all right—-the fire wasn't hot enough to touch them," said Tom Neefus. "I don't think—-Ha!"
He stopped short, gazing into a small compartment of the safe. Then his brow contracted.
"What have you discovered?" questioned Mr. Dodge, quickly.
"The money is gone—-and also those papers to that tract of land at Spur Road!"
"The money? How much money?"
"Three hundred and fifty dollars."
"But I thought you said you had the safe locked," went on Mr. Dodge.
"I did have it locked. He must have opened it and then shut it up again before he went at the desk."
The announcement by the master of the mill created something of a sensation, and soon all the men and boys in the vicinity gathered to learn the particulars of the robbery. It was learned that the man who had perpetrated the deed was a tall, slim individual who limped with his left foot when he ran. He had disappeared into the forest bordering the river, and that was the last seen of him. He had red hair and a stubby red moustache.
That very evening a reward of one hundred dollars was offered by the mill company for the capture of the thief, and men and boys for miles around went on the hunt, but without success. Mr. Dodge and the other men of the concern were very much worried, but could do nothing further. The county authorities appeared to be helpless, although the sheriff and two deputies spent two days in trying to get some trace of the criminal. It was as if the earth had opened and swallowed him up.
The loss of the money was bad enough, but it was learned by Snap that this was not the worst of the affair by any means. For a long time the mill company had had a dispute with another lumber concern over the right to cut timber in a locality known as the Spur Road. The Barnaby Company had certain papers for this right—-getting them after much trouble. Now these papers were gone, and the dispute about the Spur Road tract might be again opened.
"I wish I had those papers back," said Mr. Dodge. "If I had them I shouldn't mind the loss of the money so much, although three hundred and fifty dollars is not an amount to be sneezed at."
"Can the thief sell the papers to the Felps Lumber Company, father?" asked Snap.
"He might do that—-if they were mean enough to buy them. But I rather think the Felps folks would be above that—-although they are very, very bitter against us. They can't get any more timber to cut around here, and they don't want to move their plant. The Spur Road tract will keep our mill busy for at least three years."
The excitement of the mill fire and the search after the thief kept the four boys from speaking of the proposed outing for several days. But as soon as the school closed they met at Snap's house to complete their arrangements.
It had been no easy matter for the four to obtain permission to leave home on such an extended trip. Mr. Dodge and Dr. Reed were willing enough, for they had gone out in a similar fashion when boys, and thought it would do their sons good, but with Frank's folks it was different, and Giant's mother shook her head decidedly, and only gave in after a long consultation with the doctor, who had become her physician.
"They will be safe enough, do not fear," said Dr. Reed. "Boys have to become self-reliant, Mrs. Caslette, and the time to start is when they are young." After that the widow said no more, and so it was settled, so far as Giant was concerned. Then the three boys talked the matter over with Whopper's folks, and at last they gave in also, and then the boys danced a regular war-dance in Whopper's back yard, which made even Mrs. Dawson laugh.
"Well, boys will be boys," she said. "But I do hope they don't run into a bear or shoot themselves."
"They are all good shots and know how to handle their guns," answered Mr. Dawson. "They ought to be able to get along. Mr. Dodge told me privately he was going to have old Jed Sanborn keep an eye on them, and Sanborn is one of the most reliable hunters and guides in this district."
As soon as it was settled, the boys began to get their stores ready. It was decided to go down the river as far as Lake Cameron in a rowboat belonging to the Dodges, and from there "tote" their outfit to wherever they decided to camp. If one spot did not suit after stopping there they would move on to some other point.
The outfit was no light one, when it was all gotten together. For clothing, each youth had an extra set of underwear and some socks. Each carried a pair of shoes and wore boots, and also had a coat that would do for both rain and warmth.
Their stores consisted principally of flour, beans, bacon, coffee, sugar, salt, pepper, condensed milk, and a few vegetables, some fresh and others canned. For cooking purposes they had a "nest" of pots and pans, of the lightest ware obtainable, and for eating carried tin plates and tin cups, and also knives, forks and spoons.
Each boy wanted to take along his shotgun, and in addition they took a rifle belonging to Mr. Dodge and a pistol loaned to them by Dr. Reed. Each youth also carried a serviceable pocket-knife and a waterproof match-safe.
"I think we've got about all we need now," said Snap, after looking at the collection. "Now all we want is those rubber blankets and the flannel ones, and then we shall be about ready to start."
"Will the rowboat hold the load?" questioned Whopper. "It seems to me there is about two thousand times too much stuff."
"The boat has got to hold it," came from Giant. "But what I am thinking of is, what a job we'll have carrying the load after we leave the boat."
"Well, if it's too heavy we can make two trips instead of one," said Shep, and so it was agreed.
DOWN THE RIVER
When Snap awoke on Sunday morning, he was very much discouraged, for the sky was overcast, and by church-time it was raining steadily.
"This will make it beastly for a start," he grumbled, while on his way to church in the family carriage.
"Never mind," answered his father. "You can start Tuesday as well as Monday."
"I'd rather start on time," answered the impatient boy. His mind was so taken up by the proposed outing he could scarcely bring himself to listen to the sermon; and what was true of Snap was also largely true of the others.
By nightfall the rain cleared away, and when Snap went to bed the moon was shining brightly. The boy could hardly go to sleep, and when he slumbered, dreamed of being in camp, with wolves and bears and deer on all sides of him. Then he dreamed that it began to hail, louder and louder, and he awoke to hear some pebbles being thrown against the window-pane. He sprang up, rushed to the window and saw Giant standing in the yard, fully ready for a start.
"Hullo, you! How long are you going to snooze?" demanded the small youth. "I've been ready for an hour. Don't you know that this is the all-important day?"
"I do!" cried Snap. "What time is it?"
"Half-past six. I wanted to start by six."
"We're to start at eight o'clock," answered Snap, and hurried into his clothing with all possible speed.
By seven o'clock all of the boys had had a good breakfast and then they bid their folks good-by and hurried down to the river. It was a glorious morning, as clear as crystal after the rain, and with just the faintest breeze blowing.
The stores had been packed away on Saturday in a boathouse nearby, and it was an easy matter to transfer them to the rowboat. The craft was rather crowded with goods and boys, but the lads made the best of it. Only two could use the oars, so they took turns at rowing, Snap and Whopper taking the blades at first, with Giant in the bow and Shep in the stern, steering.
Nearly everybody in the town had heard about the outing, and many came to see them off.
"They'll be back in a week," said one big boy, with a laugh. "Just wait till they catch a rainy spell."
"You're only mad because you can't go along, Ham Spink!" cried Snap.
"Bah! I wouldn't go with you!" retorted Ham Spink. "When I go out I'll do it in first-class style and with an A1 guide. No little two-cent trip for me."
Hamilton Spink was the son of a very aristocratic man who had come to Fairview a year before. Ham, as all the boys called him, was very much of a dude and always thought himself superior to the regular town boys. He smoked cigarettes and played pool and golf and rode horseback, and did as much "showing off" as he possibly could. As a consequence the majority of the boys detested him.
"This isn't a two-cent trip!" cried Shep. "I don't thank you to call it such."
"I'll call it what I please," muttered the dudish youth.
"Oh, dry off and keep cool!" came from Whopper, and he allowed his oar to slip on purpose, sending a shower of water over the youth on the dock.
"Hi! hi! stop!" came angrily, as Ham backed away. "How dare you do such a thing!" and the dudish boy got out a silk handkerchief and began to wipe the water from his face and high collar.
"Excuse me," answered Whopper, drily. "I beg two million pardons, Ham. You see, I was holding the oar this way and I turned it so, and I—-well, I declare, there she goes again!" And once more poor Ham received a shower of water over his rather elegant suit.
"I'll—-I'll have, the constable lock you up!" spluttered the dudish boy, backing away rapidly. "This is—-er—-outrageous—-I'll—- I'll tell your folks!"
"That's right, be a tattle-tale!" came from Giant, and then he began to sing softly.
"Ham in the pan! Ham in the pan! Ham's the best of meat!"
"Ham in the pan! Ham in the pan! Ham is good and sweet!"
"You stop that!" roared Ham Spink, and then, as a dozen boys on the dock took up the darky song, he turned and strode away, with his rather short nose tilted high in the air.
"Do you think he'll call on our folks about this?" whispered Whopper, somewhat anxiously. "I shouldn't like to leave under a cloud."
"Oh! he hasn't got backbone enough to make trouble," answered Shep. But Shep was mistaken, as we shall learn later.
The rowboat was now some distance from the dock, and with a final wave of the hand the boys began the journey to Lake Cameron.
In a straight line the lake was about ten miles from the town, but the river was a winding one, so they had a row of over thirteen miles before them.
"I hope we haven't forgotten anything," said Whopper. "It would be a shame to have to go back, eh, fellows?"
"We are not going back," returned Giant. "If anything has been left behind we will have to get along without it."
Having left the town behind, the boys reached a point on the stream where the trees and bushes were thick on either side. They turned in toward the left bank, where the sun was not quite so strong, for in spite of the fact that it was fall it promised to be warm.
"Be careful along here," cautioned Shep. "There are some big rocks just under the surface."
He had scarcely spoken when there came a terrific bump which almost threw him overboard. Whopper was sent sprawling on his side, and his oar sent a shower of water over Giant.
"Wow!" came from Whopper. "Say, did we strike a fortress or what? I thought I was going to the bottom sure!"
"I said to be careful," answered Shep, as the craft sheered off. "Either move out to the middle of the stream or else go slower."
"No use of moving to the middle of the stream now," said Giant. "I want to land a short distance below here."
"What for?" asked the others.
"I'll show you when we get there."
Presently they came to a clearing where there was a cornfield. Beyond this was a fine apple orchard, and looking among the trees they espied some especially fine apples.
"We may as well take a few along," said Giant.
"Who owns the orchard?" questioned Whopper.
"Pop Lundy," answered Snap. "The meanest farmer in this district."
"Then he won't give us any apples," declared Whopper.
"We'll have to make an appropriation," said Giant, coolly. "He owes me some, anyway. I once did an errand for him in town and he hardly gave me a thank you for it."
"If he catches us he will make it warm."
"We'll keep our eyes peeled."
After a few words more the rowboat was run up under some bushes and all leaped ashore. They made their way through the bushes into the orchard proper and then hurried for the tree that seemed to be bearing the best of the fruit.
"These apples are certainly all right," remarked Shep, biting into one which was extra juicy. "We may as well take all we can carry of them."
It was no easy task to get at the apples, which were rather high up, and one after another the boys got up into the lower branches and then mounted higher. Here they stuffed their pockets until it was impossible to carry another one.
"Well, boys, how much longer be you a-goin' to stay up there, hey?"
The question came from the foot of the tree, and, much alarmed, the four gazed below, to see Pop Lundy standing there, with a stout whip in his hand.
"I say, how much longer be you a-goin' to stay there?" went on the mean farmer, with a glare at them.
"Oh, how do you do, Mr. Lundy?" cried Snap, as cheerfully as he could. "We were just rowing by and we thought we'd sample your apples."
"Really neow, thet was kind, wasn't it?" said the farmer, sarcastically. "Jest come deown and ye can sample this cowhide o' mine."
"Thanks, but I just as soon stay here," came softly from Giant.
"Fine work to be cotched at," went on Pop Lundy. "Stealin' a poor man's fruit. Come deown an' I'll tan yer hide well fer ye!"
He was very angry and now he shook his cowhide whip at them.
At that instant, quite unintentionally, Shep let an apple core drop from his hand. Pop Lundy was looking up when the core hit him plumb in the left eye.
"Yeou villain!" he cried, dancing around. "Want fer to put my eye eout, hey? Oh, wait till I git my hands on ye, I'll show ye a thing or two!"
"Mr. Lundy, supposing we agree to pay you for the apples?" questioned Snap, after an awkward pause.
"How much?" demanded the farmer, cautiously. He was a good deal of a miser and money was very dear to him.
"Oh, a fair price."
"Don't pay him a cent," whispered Giant. "Let us all drop and run for it."
"If we do that he may report the matter at home and make trouble that way," went on Snap. "He can't charge us only a few cents for what we have taken."
"Will ye give me a dollar fer the apples?" asked Pop Lundy.
"A dollar!" ejaculated Whopper. "Humph! I can get a barrel of these apples for a dollar!"
"No, yeou can't! I'm a-goin' to git six dollars fer 'em—-they're the best in these air parts. Make it a dollar an' I'll let ye go."
"This is a regular hold-up," muttered Shep. "Offer him twenty-five cents."
At that moment came a loud cry from the direction of the farmhouse, which was located at the upper end of the orchard.
"Help! help! Simon! Simon! Help me!" came in the voice of a woman.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE BOAT
"Something is wrong sure!" exclaimed Snap, as the cry from the farmhouse was repeated.
He looked below and saw that Pop Lundy was running away, in the direction of the cry for assistance.
"Now is our chance to get away!" cried Whopper, and dropped to the ground, while the others did the same.
"Wait!" came from Snap. "That sounds as if somebody was in great trouble. Hadn't we better go and see what it means?"
"And get caught by Pop Lundy?" queried Giant.
"I don't care," put in Shep. "If I can help a lady I am going to do it."
He hurried off in the direction Simon Lundy had taken and one after another his chums followed. To get to the back door of the farmhouse they had to pass around a chicken house and a pig sty, and as they were doing this they saw a burly negro leap a rail fence not far away.
"What is it, Jane?" they heard the farmer cry, as he dashed into the house.
There was no reply, and coming to the door, the four boys saw that the farmer's wife lay back in a kitchen chair in a dead faint.
"Sumbuddy hez killed her, I guess!" moaned Simon Lundy. "Oh, where is the villain?"
"She isn't dead, only fainted," answered Shep, who had assisted his father on more than one occasion. "Got some smelling salts in the house?"
"I dunno. Ye kin look in the closets."
Shep and the others did so, and soon the son of the physician found something that was beneficial. Yet it was several minutes before the lady of the farm came to her senses and opened her eyes.
"Where is he?" she murmured. "Take him away! Take him away!"
"Who are ye a-talkin' about, Jane?" demanded the husband.
"Thet—-he—-oh, Simon, is it you? Why didn't you come before?"
"Couldn't—-cos I had these young whelps up an apple tree. But wot is it all about anyhow?"
"The big negro—-he wanted something to eat, and then he got saucy and he picked up your watch from the mantelpiece——-"
"My watch!" The miserly farmer sprang to the mantelpiece. "It's gone, sure enough!" he groaned.
"I saw the negro!" cried Snap. "He jumped that fence out there as we came up."
"That's right," put in Whopper. "He was running like a house afire, too."
"Where did he go?"
Nobody knew, but some thought he might have taken to the road. Finding his wife had not been harmed, only badly scared, Simon Lundy ran out to the road and gazed up and down, and the boys did the same.
"I don't see nuthin'," said Pop Lundy.
"Let us run down the road a bit, fellows," suggested Shep.
"Will ye come back?" asked the farmer, anxiously. "I—-er—-I won't say nuthin' about them apples."
"Yes, we'll be back," answered Snap.
The boys spent the best part of an hour on the road, hunting up and down for some trace of the negro, but without success. They knew he was short and stocky and wore a light, checked suit, but that was all.
When they returned to the farmhouse they heard Mrs. Lundy's story in detail. She had been on the point of sweeping the sitting-room when the negro had appeared and asked for Mr. Lundy. She had told him her husband was out, and then the colored man had wanted something to eat. She had refused to give him anything, and then, seeing the watch on the mantelpiece, he had snatched the timepiece and run. She had screamed for assistance and then fainted from excitement.
"Was the watch a valuable one?" asked Snap.
"Yes, it was," answered Simon Lundy. "It was gold and given to me by my father years ago. I wouldn't take a hundred dollars fer it nohow. I was mighty careless to leave it on the mantelpiece, but I didn't want to carry it around in the orchard when I picked apples."
"What will you do about it?" asked Shep.
"I dunno. Go tew teown an' tell the constable, I guess. Be yeou goin' to town?"
"No; we are off on a hunting trip," answered Giant. "And, by the way, we had better be getting back to the boat," he added to his chums.
"Mr. Lundy, we'll give you a quarter for those apples," said Shep.
"All right, as ye please," said the old farmer. He was so upset over the loss of his watch he could think of nothing else.
The boys passed over the money—-that is, Shep did, for he had been appointed treasurer of the expedition. Then, after a few words more, the young hunters hurried back through the orchard to where they had left their rowboat among the bushes.
"Gosh! what a mean man!" was Whopper's comment. "To take that money after what we did to catch that negro."
"It isn't likely that he'll get his gold watch back," said Giant. "That nigger will shake the dust of this locality from his feet as fast as he can."
"More than likely he belongs in some big city," was Whopper's comment. "That is the way those chaps do—-go to a lonely farmhouse and make sure the men are away and then take what they can lay hands on. If he hadn't heard Pop Lundy and us coming he would most likely have ransacked the house from end to end."
They were soon at the river bank and forcing their way through the bushes. Then Snap looked around in perplexity.
"Isn't this the spot where we left the boat?" he questioned, gravely.
"I think so," answered Shep.
"Well, I don't see it."
"Don't see it!" exclaimed Whopper, who was in the rear. "Why, it must be here."
All came out on the edge of the river and gazed up and down the shore in alarm. Not a sight of the boat was to be seen anywhere.
"Wonder if she floated off?" suggested Giant.
"She couldn't," answered Shep. "I tied her up, and did it good, too. There is the exact spot," and he pointed out a stout bush. In the dirt of the bank was the mark of the rowboat's sharp bow.
"Look there!" ejaculated Whopper. "See the size of those footprints—-as big as canal-boats. Do you know what I think?" he almost shouted.
"That nigger ran off with our boat!" came in a chorus from the others.
"That's it. See, there is where he came along the shore. He meant to hide here, when he came across the boat. He saw it was well filled with things and jumped in, and I suppose he rowed off as fast as he could," added Whopper, bitterly. "Oh, wouldn't I like to catch him! I'd make mince-meat of him, I would!"
Whopper stopped short, and all of the boys looked at each other blankly. For some seconds nobody spoke, but each was busy with his thoughts.
"If we can't find the boat——-" began Snap.
"We'll have to return home and give up the trip," finished Giant. "Oh, I don't want to do that!"
"Nor I!" came from the others.
"We must find our boat, that is all there is to it," said Snap. "I don't believe he went up the river, consequently he must have gone down."
"Then let us get another boat and follow him."
"That's the talk!"
But where to get another boat was a question.
Snap ran back to the farmhouse and met Pop Lundy at the door.
"Thought you boys was a-goin' down the river," said the farmer, suspiciously.
"We have learned what became of that nigger."
"He took our boat and ran off with it."
"Well, I vow! Ain't he the pesky rascal, though! Wot be yeou boys a-goin' tew do neow?"
"We want to get another boat, if possible, and follow him. Do you know where a boat can be had?"
"Yes; Ike Welby has a boat. His farm is the next one down from mine. I'll go along. I want to catch him ez much as yeou do."
In a few minutes they were off in a body, all of the boys accompanying the farmer to the next farm. Ike Welby was not at home, but his wife said they could have the boat and welcome, and procured for them two pairs of oars from the barn.
"I am glad that negro didn't come here," she declared. "I should have fainted dead away, too, and he would have gotten everything in the house. I trust you catch the rascal."
"We be a-goin' to try mighty hard," answered Simon Lundy.
There was a small boathouse at the end of the grounds and here was a good round-bottomed boat built for speed as well as pleasure, for in his younger days Ike Welby had been quite an oarsman and had won more than one race. They ran the rowboat into the river, and all jumped in. Then Snap shoved off, and all of the boys got at the oars.
"Now, then, to make things hum!" said Shep. "We must try to spot that nigger before he thinks of going ashore."
The four young hunters were used to rowing together, so they made rapid progress when once they had caught the stroke. Simon Lundy sat in the stern of the craft, gazing anxiously ahead.
"The wuss o' it is he's got sech a tarnal good start of us," remarked the farmer. "He must be a mile away by this time."
"Never mind, we'll catch him before long, if he sticks to the river," said Snap, confidently.
"Wisht I had brung a gun along."
"Yes, that would have been a good thing," was Shep's comment. "And that reminds me," he added to his chums, "all of our weapons were left in the rowboat."
"Yes; and the nigger is well supplied with guns and pistols," came from Whopper. "Maybe he will try to shoot us full of a million holes when he spots us."
"Oh, deary me! Don't say thet!" groaned Simon Lundy. "I—-I don't want to be shot at, not me!"
"He won't dare to shoot!" said Giant. "We can pretend that we are all armed, you know."
On and on sped the rowboat, making excellent progress on the smooth-flowing river. About a mile was covered, and they swept around first one bend and then another.
"I see a boat ahead!" roared the farmer. "She's gone now," he added, as the craft shot behind some bushes, at a point along the river.
The four young oarsmen increased their stroke, and soon gained the point. Then the boat again came into full view and they could see that it was their own craft and that the colored man was rowing along at a good rate of speed.
"There he is!" was the cry.
"Pull, boys, pull!" called out Snap.
They did pull, and soon came closer to the craft ahead. Then the negro chanced to look back and saw them. He was evidently chagrined, and with out delay turned in toward shore, close to where the trees grew thick.
"Stop!" cried Shep. "Stop, you rascal!"
But the negro paid no attention, excepting to renew his efforts to reach the river bank. He sent the rowboat in among the bushes with a loud swish, and hopped ashore. Then the other boat came up.
"Stop!" roared Simon Lundy. Give me back my watch!"
"Don't yo' dar to follow me!" yelled the negro, and showed a big horse-pistol. "If yo' do, somebody is dun gwine to git shot."
"Don't!" yelled the farmer, and fell flat in the rowboat.
The boys were also alarmed, and for the moment knew not what to do. In that space of time the negro darted back of some trees and was lost to view.
"Look out, boys, he'll shoot ye sure!" said Simon Lundy, in a voice full of fear.
"He has gone," announced Snap.
"Are all of our things safe?" asked Shep, anxiously.
"We'll soon find out," put in Whopper, and leaped from one boat into the other. All made a hasty examination and found everything intact. Even their weapons had not been touched, for which they were exceedingly thankful.
"He wasn't expecting us," explained Giant. "He thought he'd get time later to go through our belongings." And the others concluded that Giant had spoken the truth.
What to do next was a question. Simon Lundy said he did not want to follow the negro, since the rascal was armed and evidently full of fight.
"I'll go after him if the others will," said Shep, and the upshot of the matter was that the four boys went on a hunt, leaving the cowardly farmer to watch the two boats. The boys went deep into the woods and even to the road beyond, but saw nothing of the rascal that had disappeared.
"He will be on his guard now and keep out of sight," said Whopper. "I'll bet he don't show himself again in two years."
"Make it ten years while you are at it, Whopper," said Snap, drily.
"Well, do you think he will show up?"
"No. But we may see him some day."
When the four young hunters returned to the boats they found Simon Lundy had hidden himself behind some bushes. He came out rather shamefacedly and asked if they had met the negro.
"Yes; and he said he was coming to chew you up," answered Whopper, with a wink at his chums.
"H-he did!" quaked Simon Lundy. "Sa-say, hadn't we better be a-goin'?"
"We are not going to bother to look for him any more," said Snap, who was disgusted with the cowardly and miserly farmer. "We are going on our way."
"An' what be I a-goin' tew do?"
"Take Mr. Welby's boat back," answered Snap, shortly. "You can row, can't you?"
"A leetle, yes."
"Then, good-by to you," said Shep, and leaped into the rowboat containing the camp outfit.
"Hi! Don't leave me here alone!" ejaculated Pop Lundy, in fresh alarm. "Shove the boat out into the stream."
This they did for him, and soon he was rowing away from the spot as best he could, fearful, evidently, that the negro would come, as Whopper had said, to "chew him up."
"He's about the limit!" was Snap's comment, when Simon Lundy was out of hearing. "How I would love to play ghost on him!"
"He'd have a fit and die," added Shep.
The negro had not disarranged the boat in the least, so they were soon on their way, Shep and Giant taking the oars. Snap leaned back in the stern and stretched himself.
"Tell you what, fellows, our outing is starting with lots of excitement. Wonder how it is going to end?"
"Perhaps it will end very tamely," said Whopper, who was in the bow, munching an apple. "We'll strike several weeks of rain, and not get a shot at anything larger than a rabbit. Then we'll all take cold, and have to send for a doctor, and——-"
"Say, please heave him overboard, somebody!" burst out Giant. "He's just as cheerful as a funeral. We are going to have nothing but sunshine, and I am going to shoot two bears, four deer, seventeen wildcats, eighteen——-"
"Hold on!" shouted Snap. "You have gotten into Whopper's story-bag, Giant, and it won't do."
"Oh, I was fooling!" said Whopper. "We are going to have a peach of a time. We are going to strike an old lodge in the wood—-some an old hermit once lived in—-and find a big pot of gold under the——-"
"Bay window, near the well, just across the corner from the barber shop, next to the school," broke in Shep. "Say, cut out the fairy tales and get to business. Does anybody know that it is exactly ten minutes to twelve?"
"Codfish and crullers! You don't say so!" came from Whopper. "I knew I was getting hollow somewhere. What shall we do—-go ashore and cook dinner?"
"Might as well," came from Snap. "Our time's our own, remember. We haven't got to hurry."
"I know just the spot, about quarter of a mile from here," said Shep. "Our family once went there for a picnic. There's a good spring of water there and a hollow for a fire, and everything."
"Pantry full of dishes and a tablecloth, I suppose," broke in the irrepressible Whopper. "I do love a picnic ground where you can pick napkins off the bushes and toothpicks, too."
The boys pushed the rowboat on its way and soon reached the spot that Shep had mentioned, and there they tied up at a tree-root sticking out of the river bank. Beyond was a cleared space and a semi-circle of stones with a pole in two notched posts for a fire and kettle. They soon had a blaze started and Whopper filled the kettle at the spring and hung it to boil.
"This is just a taste of what is to come," said Snap. "At this meal we'll have our sandwiches, cake and some hot coffee. It will be different when we broil our deer meat, or something like that, and make hot biscuits."
"And roast our bear steaks," put in Whopper. "Just wait till you see the bear I shoot!"
"He means the bear he runs away from," said Shep, and this caused a laugh.
As soon as the water was boiling they made coffee, and then all sat around to enjoy their first meal in the open. The adventures of the morning had given them all good appetites, and they did not stop until the entire allowance had disappeared.
"No more just now," said Snap. "We must keep something for supper and for breakfast, you know. After that we have got to live on regular camp fare."
They lolled around for the best part of an hour, then arose, cleaned up the camp, and started on their journey.
"And now for Lake Cameron!" cried Shep. "May we reach there without further mishaps."
A FIRST NIGHT IN CAMP
Lake Cameron was a beautiful sheet of water, connected with the river by a narrow but deep creek lined on either side with thick blackberry and elderberry bushes. Around the lake the scenery was rather wild, and had it been closer to the railroad would have been a great spot for sportsmen. Even as it was, many came up there to hunt and to fish, and the boys were by no means certain that they would have even a small portion of the locality to themselves.
"I am going to see if I can't get a shot at something on the way," said Snap, as they turned into the creek. "There used to be wild turkeys up here, so Jed Sanborn told me."
"Is Sanborn out hunting?" asked the small youth of the crowd.
"Not just now, Giant. But he said he was coming to see us some time," answered Snap.
Snap had his shotgun ready for use, and so had one of the other young hunters. The rowboat glided along silently. The sun was just preparing to go down beyond the hills to the westward.
"Wait!" called Snap, in a low tone, and stood up. Those at the oars ceased rowing. The leader of the club took careful aim. Crack! went the piece.
"Touch anything?" asked Whopper.
"I did. Go ahead, and I'll pick it up." They rowed on, and a minute later Snap reached out of the boat and hauled in a fine wild turkey that was still fluttering faintly. A twist of the neck put it out of its misery, and the young hunter surveyed his game with satisfaction.
"First prize goes to Snap!" cried Shep. "Boys, we are sure of a turkey dinner to-morrow, anyway."
They continued on their journey, and at length came in sight of Lake Cameron, surrounded by hills and the forest. A moment later Whopper reached for his gun, took careful aim and fired.
"Only a rabbit," he announced. "But that is better than nothing."
"I should say it was," answered Giant, readily. "I'd like to bring down a game-bag full of them. Think of the rabbit pot-pie we could make!"
"Here goes for something," whispered Shep, and fired at a squirrel running around on a fallen tree. But the little creature was too nimble for him and got away unharmed.
"There is no use of my trying to get a shot at anything," announced Giant. "The noise has scared away the rest of the game. As soon as we land I am going to try my hand at fishing."
"You can do that now," replied Snap. "I'll take your oar. There are some flies in yonder little red box, and the white box had a few worms in it."
"I'll try a worm and look for a perch or two," answered the small lad.
He soon had his line out and baited up and began to troll at the end of the boat. In a few minutes he got a bite and pulled up a fair-sized perch. A sunfish followed, then a sucker, and then two more perch.
"What's the matter with that?" he asked, rather proudly.
"Nothing at all, Giant," answered Shep. "Shall I help?"
Giant agreed, and soon Shep had brought in another perch. By this time they had come to a suitable landing, and the rowboat was turned in and hauled well up on the shelving shore.
"I fancy this will make a good camping spot for to-night;" said Snap. "In the morning we can decide upon what we want to do next."
"All right," said Shep. "Let us start up a camp-fire and make ourselves 'to hum,' as the old folks used to say."
Any quantity of dry sticks were to be had, and they had brought with them both an ax and a hatchet, so they soon had the sticks reduced to a proper size for burning. Near the shore were a number of bushes, and they cut out a spot in the center of these and over the top spread the canvas they had brought with them. For a flooring, they gathered some leaves, and over this spread a rubber blanket when it came time to go to bed.
It was very homelike and cheerful, gathering around the campfire, and all of the boys took a hand at preparing the supper which consisted of fried fish, baked potatoes, sandwiches, cake and coffee. They took their time over the meal, and did not finish until after eight o'clock. Then they sat around for an hour discussing their plans and telling stories.
"Now, the question comes up, do we stand guard at night?" asked Snap.
"Oh, let us all go to bed," answered Whopper. "I don't believe any cannibals are coming to carry us off—-or an elephant, either."
"What about a wildcat or a bear?" asked Shep.
"Well, if you are afraid you can stay awake," answered Whopper.
There was a moment of silence and then, close at hand, a hoot-owl let out an unexpected and exceedingly weird call. Whopper gave a jump and so did Shep, and then all of the young hunters laughed.
"I am willing to let the guard slide if the others are willing, too," said Snap; and so it was decided.
They fixed the fire so that it would not go out, and then one after another retired to the shelter among the bushes. The moon was shining far above the trees and the center of the lake glistened like a mass of silver. Occasionally they heard the hoot of the owl, and the far-off bark of a fox, but otherwise all was silent.
When the boys awoke, the sun was shining brightly. Shep was the first to rouse up and he slipped outside and looked around the clearing and on to the lake. Not a person or a creature was in sight. He stirred up the fire and piled on some wood and then began to wash up.
"Hullo! you up already?" The call came from Snap, and soon all of the others sprang up and came from the bush shelter.
"This is fine!" exclaimed Whopper. "My! but the lake looks grand enough to take a bath in."
"Better try it," returned Shep, drily. "But first I'd advise you to wash your face only."
Whopper ran to the shore and took a dip.
"Phew! Cold as Greenland's icy mountain!" he ejaculated. "Say, if a fellow took a bath in that he'd stiffen into a mummy. No swim for me this morning!" And after a good wash he fixed up, and the others followed his example.
All wanted some more perch, and they went fishing for their breakfast in true camping-out style. A mess was procured in less than half an hour, and then they got one of the pans hot, while Snap made coffee and brought out the last of the bread they had brought along.
"Our next bread or biscuits we'll have to make ourselves," observed the youth.
It was so nice to take it easy that the young hunters did not finish their breakfast and clean up again until the middle of the forenoon. During that time they talked matters over once more and decided to row around Lake Cameron and then make up their minds at what point to locate.
Once more the outfit was packed on board of the rowboat and they moved along the lake shore, slowly, taking in the advantages and disadvantages of every spot as they went along. Some places seemed too high and rocky and some too low and marshy, some too barren and others too overgrown with trees and brushwood.
At last the circuit of the lake was finished and then by mutual consent they turned back to a point where there was a sloping, sandy shore. The trees grew close to the water's edge north and south of this point, but there was a cleared spot, and back of this a series of rocks, where they discovered a spring of clear, cold water.
"I think this is the best camping spot of the lot," said Snap. "Anyway, it suits me."
"Couldn't be better, and I am perfectly satisfied," returned Shep.
"Count me in on stopping here," came from Giant.
"Why, this is a perfect paradise," remarked Whopper. "A fairyland of beauty and natural resources. I could live here a million years and never weary of gazing at the lake and——-"
"Looking for something to eat," finished Shep. "No, I don't want a million years of this. But I think a few weeks will do very nicely."
"Well, if we are going to stay here, the question is, what sort of a shelter are we going to put up?"
"Oh, let us build a regular log cabin!" cried Giant. "It will be such fun."
"A log cabin isn't built in a day," answered Snap. "To build a good cabin will take quite some time. But we might build some kind of a shack," he added, as he saw the small lad's face fall. "There are four small trees almost in a square. We can cut them off and they will do for the corner-posts, and another tree in line with two in front will do for a door-post."
"Hurrah! Snap has solved the problem of a cabin!" shouted Whopper. "I declare, Snap, you want to take out a license as an architect and builder. We'll go to work to-morrow—-as soon as we've gotten together something to eat." And in his joy, Whopper turned a handspring on some dead leaves, coming down on his back with a thump. "Wow! I'll not try that again in a hurry!" he grunted.
"We can take turns at building," said Shep. "Each day two can work on the cabin and two can go hunting or fishing. At the start we needn't to go after anything but small game."
"That's it," said Snap. "But if any big game comes our way we can bring it down."
"Or make a try at it," corrected Giant.
SOMETHING ABOUT A STRANGE ANIMAL
They brought the boat up on the sand and placed their things in the shelter of some bushes and rocks, covering everything with the canvas. It was growing late again and there was nothing to do but to try fishing once more and cook the wild turkey. Snap used a fly this time, and brought up a fine lake trout, of which he was justly proud. Up the shore Shep saw some rabbits, and went after them with his shotgun, bringing down a pair that promised good eating.
"How fast the time goes up here!" exclaimed Giant. "Why, it doesn't seem two hours since we got up!"
"That proves that we are enjoying ourselves," answered Snap. "The time won't go quite so fast after we get used to it."
"Well, if we get tired of one spot we can move to another," said Whopper.
It promised to be warm and clear that night, so they slept out under the trees, not far from their camp-fire. All was very quiet, not even a hoot-owl coming to disturb them.
But about four o'clock Snap awoke with a start and sat bolt upright. Something had awakened him, but he could not tell what. He aroused Shep.
"What is it, Snap?"
"That is what I want to know, Shep."
"What do you mean?"
"Something just woke me up. Did you notice anything?"
"I did not."
The talking aroused the other boys and all stared around them. Nothing unusual was to be seen anywhere.
"Snap must have been dreaming," grunted Whopper. "I guess he ate too much supper last night."
After a look around, the boys went to sleep again, and nobody got up until after seven o'clock. Then Giant began to stir around among the stores.
"Well, I declare!" he shouted. "Come here, fellows!"
"What is it?" asked Snap, running forward, followed by the others.
"Struck a gold mine?" queried Whopper.
"We had a visitor last night."
"A visitor?" cried the others, in a chorus.
"Yes. That must have been the noise Snap heard."
"I knew I heard something," murmured Snap. "But what kind of a visitor did we have?"
"A four-legged one," answered Giant. "He rooted among our stores for something to eat."
"Some animal!" ejaculated Whopper. "It's a wonder he didn't try to chew us all up. Is anything gone?"
"Is anything gone? Well, I rather guess?"
"All the fish for one thing!"
"And the rabbits and turkey!"
"And that crust of bread!"
"And about half of the sugar!"
The young hunters gazed about in consternation. Evidently the visitor had rooted around their stores to his heart's content.
"Do you know what I think it was?" came from Shep.
"Worse than that."
"You don't mean a bear, do you?" queried Whopper, with a shiver, and a hasty glance over his shoulder.
"Yes; and there he is!" shouted Snap, and ran for the trees. Helter-skelter the others came after him, Whopper pitching headlong in his flight.
"Hi! hi! Save me!" roared the fallen one. "Don't—-don't let the bear chew me up!"
"Where is the bear?" demanded little Giant, catching up his gun. Then he looked at Snap, who was grinning broadly. "You're fooling! Boys, it was only a joke!"
"A joke?" spluttered Whopper. "Do—-do you mean to say there is no bear?"
"Not here. But there may have been one last night."
"Snap Dodge, you ought to be—-be hung, drawn and quartered, and tarred and feathered in the bargain," said Whopper, severely. "it's an outrage to—-to——-"
"Let it drop, Whopper. Seriously, though, some wild animal has been here and eaten up part of our stores. The question is, could it have been a bear?"
"Let us look around for tracks," put in Giant, and got down on his hands and knees. The others began the hunt also, and soon they came upon some large tracks, leading deep into the woods and up the rocks beyond.
"It was certainly a bear," said Snap, and now his voice had something of seriousness in it. "Boys, I must say I don't like this."
"No more do I," answered Shep. "Why, that bear might have killed us all while we slept!"
"It's queer he didn't visit us," put in Giant.
"I don't know but what he did," said Snap. "Perhaps he woke me up and then ran away. I certainly heard something or felt something."
"This is enough to give one the creeps," was Whopper's comment. "I don't want to sleep where there are bears to crawl over one."
"Somebody will have to remain on guard after this until we get some sort of a shelter built," said Shep, and so it was agreed.
"I am going to build a bear trap, too," said Giant. "An old hunter from the West was telling me of the kind some Indians make. You take some logs and build a sort of raft of them and place it on the ground where the bear is likely to come. You raise one corner of the raft up and fix a couple of sticks under it, each fastened to another stick with a strong cord. On the cord you fasten the bait, and then on the top of the raft you pile some heavy stones. When the bear comes he tries to get at the bait, but the only way he can get under the logs and stones is by dropping down on his side. He works his way in, pulls on the bait, and down come the logs and stones on top of him holding him fast and most likely killing him."
"That's an idea! We'll make such a trap sure!" cried Whopper.
That day was a busy one for all hands. To do as much work as possible on the shelter, only a few hours were spent in hunting and fishing. But their luck was good and long before noon they had a dozen fish to their credit and also half a dozes rabbits, a wild turkey, three squirrels and some small birds.
"There, that will keep us going for a while," declared Snap. "Now let us turn all our attention to the cabin, so we can get away from Mr. Bear, if necessary."
It was no easy matter to chop down the five trees to a height of about eight feet, but once this was done cabin building began in earnest, and by nightfall they had a rude roof over the posts and had the back logged up to a height of four feet. The next day they went at the task at sunrise, finishing the back and putting in the two sides, one with a slit of a window, over which they nailed some slats, so that nothing of size might get through.
"Now this begins to look like something," declared Shep. "I am afraid the front with a door, though, is going to bother us."
"We'll work it somehow," answered Snap, confidently.
In a few days the cabin was complete and it must be confessed that the young hunters were quite proud of their work. They made a sort of mud plaster and with this filled up the chinks between the logs, and the roof they thatched with bark, so as to keep out the rain. The floor they covered with pine boughs, piling the boughs high up at the back for a big couch upon which all might rest at night. They also made a split-log bench and a rude table, from which they might eat when the weather drove them indoors. But they were not equal to building a chimney, and so continued to do their cooking outdoors.
It was well that they hurried their cabin, for the day after it was completed a heavy and cold rain set in, lasting forty-eight hours. Fortunately they had a fair supply of fish and game on hand, so nobody had to go forth while the elements raged. They built a camp-fire close to the doorway of the cabin—-under a sort of piazza top, and there took turns at cooking, and made themselves as comfortable as possible.
"This isn't so pleasant," said Whopper, as he gazed out at the rain. "I hope it doesn't last long."
"Well, we have got to take the weather as it comes," said Shep, philosophically. "We can't expect the sun to shine every day."
"I'd like it to rain during the night and be clear in the daytime."
"Want your weather made to order," laughed Giant.
Fortunately the boys had brought along several books and games. They had agreed that the books should be read only in bad weather, and the games played only when they could not go out, and now these pastimes came in very handy. They had checkers and dominos, and a new card game that was just then "all the rage." When night came they turned in early and slept soundly, the fear of the bear no longer troubling them.
AN UNWELCOME ARRIVAL
The second week passed and they spent a quiet Sunday in camp. They were fortunate in their hunting and brought in large quantities of small game. Shep brought down a silver-tailed fox, of which he was very proud, and Whopper laid low the biggest rabbit they had yet seen. One day Giant and Snap went out for partridge and brought in three, all of fair size. They had also come across the track of some deer, and hoped to get on the trail of big game in the near future.
But Tuesday morning brought a disagreeable surprise. They were just getting ready for dinner, and Giant was out in the boat, fishing, when they heard a noise that was new to them.
"What do you suppose that is?" asked Whopper. "Sounds like an automobile approaching," answered Shep. "But of course it can't be that."
"It's a gasolene launch," declared Snap. "There she is now!" and he pointed to an outlying spur of land, around which the craft was puffing.
The launch was a craft fully forty feet long and correspondingly broad of beam. She was piled high with an outfit for camping, and in the boat were six men, two of whom were evidently camp helpers and guides.
"I believe those men are coming here!" declared Shep, as the launch turned in toward them.
The boys watched the approach of the gasolene launch with interest. It did not take long for the craft to reach a position directly in front of the camp, and there the power was turned off and one of the men prepared to leap ashore.
"Hullo!" ejaculated a man in the stern of the launch, gazing ashore at the cabin. "What in thunder does this mean?"
No one answered him, and a moment later the bow of the launch scraped the sand and one after another the men leaped out. The boat was tied up and the men approached the young hunters.
"I say, what does this mean?" demanded the man who had spoken before. He was a burly individual, with a heavy black moustache and closecut beard. The look out of his eye was far from a pleasant one.
"What does what mean?" returned Snap, as coolly as he could, yet he felt that something "was in the wind."
"This!" cried the man, pointing to the cabin. "Who built that?"
"We did," put in Shep.
"Did you?" sneered the man. "And who gave you permission to do it?"
"Nobody," said Whopper. "We took permission. What have you got to say about it?" he added, not liking the man's tone.
"What have I got to say about it?" ejaculated the bearded man. "I've got a good deal to say about it, seems to me. Don't you know this is my private property?"
"No; we didn't know that," put in Snap, quickly. "Are you Mr. Chester?"
"No; I am Mr. Andrew Felps."
"Oh!" exclaimed Snap, but the word meant a good deal. He remembered that the man named was the head of the lumber company with which the Barnaby Lumber Company had had its dispute over the Spur Road tract. Snap's father had had several interviews with Mr. Andrew Felps, and the feeling engendered was decidedly bitter.
"You boys have no right on this property," went on Andrew Felps.
"I thought Mr. Chester owned this tract of land."
"He did, but he has sold out to the Felps Lumber Company, of which I am the head. Who ar you?"
"My name is Charley Dodge."
"Humph!! Come from Fairview?"
"Is it your father who has the interest in the lumber company there?"
At this discovery Andrew Felps' face grew positively resentful.
"I suppose he sent you up here, eh?" he snarled.
"No. We got permission to go camping out and picked this place as suiting us."
"Well, you knew what was good," put in another of the men.
"Did you see us looking around here a couple of weeks ago?" went on Andrew Felps.
"We did not."
"Who are these—-other kids with you?"
"Thank you, but I am not a kid," put in Shep. "My name is Sheppard Reed, and I am the son of Dr. Reed of Fairview. This is Frank Dawson, and the boy out in the boat is Will Caslette. We all belong at Fairview. As Snap—-I mean Charley—-says, we came to camp out. We have always understood that this was a free camping-out place. Folks have come to this lake for years."
"Well, they are not coming here any more!" cried Andrew Felps.
"After this those who come will pay for the privilege."
"The place isn't fenced in," said Whopper.
"No; but it will be, shortly. I am going to have a wire fence put up."
Seeing there was a dispute going on, Giant came ashore.
"What's the trouble?" he sang out. "Bad news from home?"
"No—-bad news right here," murmured Shep, coming towards him.
"What do you mean?"
"Wait and see."
"I came down here to camp out myself," went on Andrew Felps. "I and my friends picked this very spot over two weeks ago. I am going to have a first-class cabin built here shortly. You boys had no right to cut down the trees."
"Can't we stay here?" blurted out Giant.
"Stay here? Not much! You'll get out just as fast as you can pack up!"
At this announcement the hearts of the boys fell instantly. All thought of the labor they had put on the cabin and the surroundings.
"This is too bad!" cried Whopper. "See here, Mr. Felps, can't we stay if we pay you?"
"No, sir!" was the first answer. Andrew Felps looked at Snap, coldly. "You can go home and tell your father I sent you."
The remark made Snap exceedingly angry and for the moment he lost his temper.
"You are more than mean!" he cried. "We have worked hard to fit up this spot, as you can see. But your meanness is nothing but what I should expect from one who would act as you did about that Spur Road tract of lumber."
"Shut up, you imp!" snarled Andrew Felps, growing red in the face. I have my rights, as you'll soon learn. Pack up your duds and get out at once!"
"Well, you are a gentleman!" cried Shep, also growing angry. "But I've heard about you before—-down to Fairview. Well, we'll go."
"Yes, and mighty quick, too!" roared Andrew Felps, and rushing forward he kicked at the campfire with his foot and sent one of the frying-pans whirling into the bushes.
"I wouldn't be so hard on the youngsters, Andy," said one of the men, in a low tone.
"Oh, I know them, Sam," was Andrew Felps's answer. "That Dodge's father has been trying to get the best of me for years. Do you suppose I am going to give his cub any leeway? Not much!"
Some bitter words followed between the boys and the unreasonable timber dealer, and then the young hunters began to pack up and put their belongings in the rowboat.
"Oh, but wouldn't I like to get square with him!" muttered Whopper, as the work went on.
"Maybe we'll get a chance to square up some day," answered Shep. "I think he is more than mean."
"Here, leave that cabin alone!" came from Andrew Felps, as Snap began to knock down the front end with the ax.
"I may as well take it down, as you don't want it," said the boy.
"You leave it alone, I say."
"Maybe you want to use it?" sneered the youth.
"If so, who is going to stop me? It was built out of my timber, don't forget that, smarty."
"Perhaps you want to steal our outfit," cried Giant, who was boiling with suppressed rage.
"Say another word, kid, and I'll throw you into the lake!" roared Andrew Felps.
He came at Giant so threateningly that the small boy had to retreat. At last the things were stowed on the rowboat and the four young hunters boarded the craft.
"Don't you dare to come back here!" cried Andrew Felps.
"Thank you, I like to pick my company!" returned Whopper.
"What do you mean by that?"
"I like to associate with a gentleman."
"Say that again and I'll make it warm for you!" roared the timber dealer, and would have grabbed up a gun from his launch had not one of his companions prevented the move.
"Here, you might as well keep this while you are at it!" cried Shep, and hurled a dead rabbit ashore. The game was unusually "ripe" and caught Andrew Felps directly across the face. The man staggered back, stumbled over a log and sat down directly in the midst of the scattered campfire!
A NIGHT OF DISCOMFORT
"Hi! Help! I am burning up!"
"Gracious, boys, look at that!" burst from Snap's lips. "He got more than he expected."
"Well, I didn't intend to upset him into the fire," burst out Shep. "I hope he doesn't get burnt."
By this time Andrew Felps had rolled out of the blaze. His coat was on fire and so was one leg of his trousers.
"Dive into the lake, Andy!" called out one of the men, and hurried the unfortunate individual toward the water. There seemed no help for it, and the timber dealer rushed into the icy water, giving a shiver as he did so; and then the danger was over.
"Come, we had better get out of here!" cried Whopper, in a low voice. "He'll be as mad as a thousand hornets now, and ready to chew us up into mincemeat!"
All of the boys were at the oars and without delay, they began to pull a strong stroke.
"Come back here, you young rascals!" cried one of the men of the party. "Come back, I say!"
"We are not going back," declared Snap.
"Not much," put in Shep. "I'd rather jump overboard."
"It served Felps right for being so mean," said Giant. "Just look at all our work gone to waste. It's enough to make one cry."
"And such a fine spot as it was, too," said Shep. "I doubt if we find another to equal it."
"It won't do any good if we do—-on this lake," said Snap. "Andrew Felps will not let us stay here if he has purchased the property—-as he says he has. I am afraid it is all due to me that we have got to move on," he added. "That man hates my father worse than poison."
"It is his natural meanness, that's what it is," said Whopper. "He is mean enough to get drowned, so as to save the expense of a cemetery lot."
While talking, the boys continued to row steadily, and soon a point of land took them out of sight of Andrew Felps and his party. Then they rested on their oars and held a consultation.
"This is certainly something we didn't bargain for," was Snap's comment. "It knocks all of our plans endways, as the saying goes."
"I hope you're not thinking of going home?" said Giant, quickly.
"Home!" cried Shep. "Don't you dare to mention such a thing. No, I am not going home, boys. But one thing is certain, we can't stay at Lake Cameron."
"Let us try our luck at Firefly Lake," suggested Whopper. "That isn't as large as this lake, but it is certainly a nice sheet of water. And the hunting around there ought to be just as good as around here."
The others said they were willing, and a little later they made their way out of Lake Cameron and sent the rowboat along the rocky watercourse in the direction of Firefly Lake. It was now past noon, yet nobody was in the humor for eating.
"The more I think of Andrew Felps the madder I get," said Shep. "I don't see how a man can be so mean. It wouldn't have hurt him a bit to have let us stay there."
"I hope he has no luck at hunting," grumbled Giant. "He deserves to go home skunked."
"He will get some game—-or his guides will get it for him," said Snap. "I wonder if it is possible that he has bought up Firefly Lake, too."
"My gracious, that's so!" ejaculated Whopper. "No use of going there if he has. He'll root us out sooner or later."
"Firefly Lake belongs to half a dozen people," said Giant. "Why, come to think of it, one of my uncles had an interest up there."
"Then I reckon we'll be safe."
It was no easy matter to guide the rowboat through the narrow and swiftly flowing river they were now on, and the young hunters had to give all their attention to the task. Once or twice they struck the rocks rather sharp blows, but no damage was done, for which they were thankful.
"One thing is certain," said Snap, when a wider part of the watercourse was gained. "That gasolene launch can never follow us to this lake. It's too large."
"Yes, and the tramp from one lake to the other is not easy," added Shep. "Old Jed Sanborn told me that."
"Won't Jed be angry when he learns that Felps has bought up Lake Cameron," put in Giant. "That was one of his favorite hunting and fishing places."
They had to go so slow through some portions of the stream that it was nightfall by the time Firefly Lake was reached. It was clouding up, and when the sun went down not a star showed itself.
"This looks as if we were going to have rain before morning," was Shep's comment. "Just our luck—-to be caught in the open."
"Don't croak," said Snap. "No matter what comes, let us make the best of it."
It was almost impossible in the fast gathering darkness to distinguish one part of the shore from another, and they did not know where to land. Seeing a small cove, they made for it, and pulled the rowboat up among some bushes. Then they gathered some firewood, started a blaze, and set about getting a meal which should be a dinner and supper combined.
"Well, I am hungry now and no mistake," said Whopper. "I think I could eat snakes' eggs on toast or pickled eels' feet."
The camp-fire made things look more cheerful, and a hearty meal did much toward restoring good humor. Yet the boys felt sore over the way Andrew Felps had treated them, and for this they could not be blamed.
"To-morrow we'll have to locate all over again," said Snap. "And if we want to be comfortable, we'll have to put up another cabin. But we needn't to make it quite so complete as that other one was."
"Let us look around and see if we can't find some sort of a natural shelter," suggested Shep—-"some cave, or overhanging rocks, or something like that."
"Where the rocks can come down and bury us alive," said Whopper. "Wouldn't that be charming!"
"Whopper, you're as soothing as a funeral!" cried Giant. "We ought to make you build the next cabin all alone."
"Well, I could do that if I had time enough," was the dry reply.
Among the trees the boys found a pretty fair shelter, and here made themselves as comfortable as possible. They covered the stores in the boat with the canvas, piled the wood on the camp-fire, and then lay down to rest, leaving Giant to stand guard for the first two hours of the night.
When Giant called Snap to relieve him it was already raining and the wind was rising. The fire had died down and they did not dare to stir it up for fear the wind would carry the sparks into the forest and cause a general conflagration.
"I guess we are in for it," declared Snap, as he peered around in the darkness. "Just listen to the wind rising!"
Giant retired, leaving the leader of the tour on guard. Snap walked around for a bit, but then had to seek the shelter of the trees as the rain came down heavily.
"Hullo! what's this?" came from Whopper, as he sprang up. "Say, I thought somebody was throwing a pail of water over me!" The rain had come through the tree branches directly down upon his upturned face.
In a few minutes more all of the boys arose, as the wind was now sending the rain in all directions. The tree limbs bent low and threatened to break at every instant.
"Phew!" cried Whopper. "There goes my cap!" And he made a dash after the whirling headgear, catching it just as it was sailing for the lake.
A moment later came a gust of wind that almost lifted them from their feet. The trees of the forest were bent lower than ever, and amid the whistling of the tornado came a crack like that of a big pistol.
"Look out for the tree-top!" yelled Shep, and pulled Snap to one side. All jumped into the open and were just in time to escape about ten feet of the top of the tree, which sailed through the air and bit the lake surface with a loud splash. Then down came half a dozen small branches, several with birds' nests on them.
"This is positively the worst storm yet," was Snap's comment, after a perilous half hour had passed. "I am wet to the skin."
"Don't say a word," groaned Whopper. "I've got about a barrel of water in my shoes and another barrel down my neck!"
"I am going to see if the stores are safe," came from Shep, and he hurried for the boat, followed by Snap. They found that the canvas had torn from its fastenings and was flapping wildly in the wind. The rain had soaked almost everything.
"This is certainly serious," said Snap, as he did his best, assisted by the others, to pull the canvas into place once more and fasten it tight. "We don't want our stores ruined."
"We can thank Mr. Andrew Felps for this experience," grumbled Shep. "I suppose he is snug in our cabin and laughing at us."
"He must certainly be in the cabin," said Giant, who had followed the others to the boat.
They could do nothing to make themselves comfortable, and so had to simply grin and bear it, which they did with the best grace possible. They were afraid to remain under the trees for fear of getting struck by some falling branch.
"Wonder how long this is going to last?" came from Whopper, an hour later. "Looks to me as if it was going to keep up a long time."
"There is no telling," answered Snap. "I think—-hark!"
All listened and heard a strange humming. Then the wind began to tear through the forest with fearful violence.
"It is surely a tornado!" yelled Shep. "Get down, all of you, or you'll be blown to nowhere!"
GIANT AND THE MASKALONGE
The wind was making such a noise that little more could be said, and as the tornado increased all of the boys threw themselves on the ground, between a number of low bushes close to the lake shore. The rain was coming down in veritable sheets and the water was running into the lake in hundreds of rivulets.
"There goes something!" screamed Giant, as he caught sight of an object whirling over their heads. "Looked like a sail."
"It was the boat canvas," answered Whopper. "Maybe the boat will go next. Say, I'd just as lief be at home in my own little bed, eh?"
"Don't mention it," replied Giant, with a sigh.
For fully an hour the wind tore around them in a manner that alarmed the young hunters in the extreme. They could do nothing to save either themselves or their stores, and wondered what the morning would bring forth. More than one imagined that that was the last of the outing and they would have to return home.
But by daybreak the storm let up and the wind gradually died down to nothing but a gentle breeze. At eight o'clock the sun broke from under the scattering clouds and then all heaved a long sigh of relief.
"I never want to put in such a night again," said Shep. "I was afraid every minute was going to be my last."
"This storm undoubtedly did a great deal of damage," said Snap. "I shouldn't wonder if—-oh, look at the top of yonder tree. What is that?"
"It's the patch of canvas we had over the stores!" cried Giant. "The wind took it to the top of the tree. Somebody will have a climb to get it again!"
"I'll go after it later on," said Snap. "The first thing to do is to build a big fire and get dry, otherwise we'll all catch our deaths of cold."
It was no easy matter to find wood dry enough to burn, but once a blaze was started they found branches enough to pile on. They shed the majority of their garments, and soon the warmth dried each piece, much to their satisfaction and comfort.
Whopper had not been idle, and he soon had a pot of hot coffee, to which they added some condensed milk and water-soaked sugar. They also got some fish from the lake, and the entire morning was devoted to "drying out" and getting a substantial meal.
"One comfort," remarked Shep, "we'll not want for firewood while we are here."
"I shouldn't be surprised if we can pick up quite some dead birds and small animals," said Snap. "You generally can after such a storm as this."
After a good meal they felt somewhat better and took a survey of the situation. Then they brought out their stores and set them to dry on some stones in front of the camp-fire. A few articles had been rendered valueless and these they threw away. Late in the afternoon Shep and Giant went fishing, while Snap and Whopper walked for a short distance into the woods.
"We can't go very far," said Snap. "It is too wet in the shade."
"I see one bird already," said his companion, and picked up a fine woodpecker. A thrush and two other birds they could not place followed, and then they ran across a fallen tree under which lay two squirrels.
"This is hunting of a new kind," said Whopper. "Poor chaps!" he went on, looking at the squirrels. "I suppose that storm ripped your home completely to pieces!"
"Wait! I see a good shot!" cried Snap, a few minutes later, and raising his gun took careful aim. The report of the fowling-piece was followed by a wild fluttering and then two partridges dropped down, each seriously wounded. The boys dashed forward, caught the game and quickly put them out of their misery.
"There, we have done enough for to-day," said Snap, but Whopper blazed away, nevertheless, and brought down a rabbit that chanced to be limping across a clearing, having had a paw broken by the storm.
With their game in their bags, the boys started back for the lake front. They were almost to the camping spot when a wild cry of alarm rent the air.
"Help!" came in Giant's voice.
"Let go! Let go!" came from Shep, an instant later.
"I can't! I can't!" answered the smallest of the young hunters.
"Something is wrong!" cried Snap, and dashed for the shore, followed by his companion. When they came to the clearing they found Shep standing up in the rowboat, gesticulating wildly. Giant was in the water and moving at a fairly rapid pace toward the centre of Firefly Lake!
"What does this mean?" questioned Snap.
"He got some kind of a bite and the fish hauled him overboard," answered Shep.
"Why don't you let the fish go?" screamed Whopper.
"I—-I can't," gasped Giant. "The line is twisted around my wrist!"
"Row for him, Shep!" called Snap.
He had scarcely spoken when the fish took another tack, dragging poor Giant toward the shore, some distance above the camp. Snap and Whopper hurried in the direction, and as the little youth managed to get a footing near the beach they ran in up to their ankles and dragged him to safety. Then all three began to haul in on the fishing line.
"I see what it is!" cried Snap. "A maskalonge—-and a whopper, too!"
Snap was right, and it was no mean task to bring the fish to the shore, and even then it flopped around in a manner that scared them a little. The maskalonge was dark gray in color with small black spots, and measured all of four feet and a half from head to tail.
"My, but he is a whopper!" cried Shep, as he ran the boat ashore and surveyed the haul. "No wonder he yanked Giant overboard."
"Giant, you can be proud of such a haul," said Snap. "I guess he's the king-pin of all the pike in this lake."
"Well, I am proud," answered Giant, with a grin. "Just the same, I don't relish being pulled overboard for any fish in the lake. He must weigh something, eh?"
"Fifteen to twenty pounds, I guess," said Snap. "It's too bad we haven't a scales along."
"Weigh him in his own scales," said Whopper, by way of some fun.
"I wish I could send this fish home to my mother," said the small youth. "Wouldn't it make her eyes stick out, though!"
"It certainly would, and some other folks would wonder, too," answered Shep. "But I don't see how you can do it."
Besides the maskalonge, the boys had caught several pike of fair size, so they were assured of enough to eat for several days.
"The best thing we can do to-morrow is to find a suitable camping spot and build a shelter," said Snap. "We don't want to be caught out in the open again."
The canvas at the tree-top was secured, and that night they slept between some bushes with this over them to keep off the night air. Each of the young hunters took his turn at watching, but nothing came to disturb them, although Whopper declared that he heard several foxes not far off.
"I thought they were going to pay us a visit, but when they were about two hundred feet away they took a turn and that was the last I heard of them."
On the following morning the young hunters were in the act of embarking in their rowboat, for a tour around the shore of Firefly Lake, when Shep pointed out a small canoe coming swiftly toward them. In the craft sat a man of middle age, with thick hair and a heavy beard.
"Who can it be?" questioned Whopper.
"Perhaps it is one of the Felps crowd—-to warn us away," spoke up Giant. "If it is, I'm rather for giving him a piece of our mind."
"It is Jed Sanborn!" cried Shep. "He must be out to do a little hunting or fishing on his own account."
Jed Sanborn was a character well known to the people of the district surrounding the lakes. He was a hunter and trapper and had been all his life. He was a bachelor, with no known relatives, and lived in a little cabin on the mountainside, two miles from Lake Cameron. The boys had met him a number of times and knew him to be a good shot and a good-humored individual.
"Hullo, Jed, where are you bound?" sang out Snap, as the hunter drew closer in his canoe.
"Thought I'd find you up here, boys," was the answer. "Have a good time last night?"
"No; we had a beastly time," answered Shep.
"Rained hard, didn't it? Where are you bound now?"
"We were going to look around the lake, that's all. We want to find a good camping-out spot."
"Folks down at Fairview said you were going to Lake Cameron."
"So we were, but Mr. Andrew Felps came along and drove us away."
"And after we had built a cabin, too," put in Giant.
"Huh! that's just like him," responded Jed Sanborn, as he bumped alongside of the rowboat with his canoe "He told me I couldn't hunt or fish around that lake either."
IN A NEW CAMP
"When did you come from Lake Cameron?" asked Snap, after a pause.
"Came from there right now."
"Then you saw the Felps crowd at the cabin we built?" queried Whopper.
"So you built that shelter?"
"And he drove you off? It was dog mean, that's all I've got to say."
"Did he tell you he had bought that land?" went on Snap.
"Yes. Oh, he's as mean as they make 'em, that feller," added Jed Sanborn. "Hullo! Where under the canopy did you git that big maskalonge?" he cried, catching sight of the fish.
"Giant caught it," answered Whopper. "But he was pulled overboard doing it."
"And they had to help me land him," added the small youth, but rather proudly.
"Well, well! this beats the Dutch! Why, I never caught such a fish but once in my whole life in these parts although I've hooked 'em on the St. Lawrence. It's something to be proud of, lad. You're as good a fisherman as is to be found anywhere."
"When did you leave Fairview?" asked Shep.
"The day after you did. I expected to meet you before, but I had to go over to Sand Rock on business and I was delayed. I went up to Lake Cameron, and I almost had a fight with Andrew Felps. He wanted to take away a mink I had caught in a trap. But I wouldn't give it up." And Jed Sanborn pointed to where the mink lay, in the bottom of his canoe.
"Do you know much about this lake, jed?" asked Snap.
"I think I do—-I've spent plenty of time up here, one year an' another."
"Where can we find the best camping place?"
The hunter scratched his head in thought.
"Well. I know of two pretty good spots. Maybe you had better see 'em both an' then take your pick."
"All right, we'll do that," came from Shep. "Will you show us the spots now?"
"Certainly. I haven't got much else to do," answered Jed Sanborn.
He did not tell the lads that he had been asked to keep an eye on them, fearing the information would not be to their liking. He was not to interfere with any of their movements unless he that they were running into positive danger.
In a few minutes more the rowboat and the canoe were on the way up the western shore of Firefly Lake. It promised to be a perfect day, with just sufficient coolness to make it exhilarating. In the trees that lined the lake shore the birds warbled merrily, evidently glad that winter was not yet upon them.
"I reckon it's going to be a good sporting season," said Jed Sanborn, as they pulled along the lake shore. "If so, you boys will be right in it, as the saying goes."
"Well, we are out for all we can get," answered Snap.
It was not long before they came to a spot that looked rather inviting, but there was one drawback—-they would have to go quite a distance for spring water.
"Now I'll show you another spot which may prove better," said the hunter.
They turned one end of Firefly Lake and came up on the other shore. Suddenly Whopper gave a cry:
"That looks good!"
"So it does," answered Shep. "Jed, is that the spot you had in mind?"
"It is, my lad."
"Is there a spring handy?"
"Yes; right behind the big rock to the left—-the purest water in these parts, so I always thought."
They lost no time in going ashore, running the rowboat up into a tiny cove, where an overhanging rock acted as a dock. There was a small, cleared space between the tall trees, and to one side grew a clump of trees in something of a semi-circle. Snap ran forward to investigate.
"Why, Jed, what does this mean!"
"Here is a shack already!"
"Some other hunters must have been here!"
"I was here last season, with two gentlemen from New York," explained the hunter. "I built that shack fer 'em. You can use it until you put up something better—-that is, if you decide to stay here."
"Let us stay by all means!" cried Shep, gazing around. "It's a beautiful spot."
"Better than the one we had to give up at Lake Cameron," came from Giant. "How about hunting, Jed?"
"Jest as good around here as t'udder lake, my boy."
A vote was taken, and all of the boys decided that they would remain at the spot. This being settled upon, they brought their stores ashore and placed them in the shack, so that no further rain could get at them.
"We have lost enough through the rain and that bear," said Snap, and then had to tell Jed Sanborn all about the mysterious midnight visitor.
"Oh, but I wish I had been on hand—-to git a crack at that bear!" cried the hunter. "I ain't had a crack at a bear fer some time. They are gittin' scarce around here."
It was time to eat again, and they made a splendid dinner of some baked maskalonge, Jed Sanborn showing them how to turn out the fish in a manner that was appetizing to the last degree. Shep also made some biscuits, which, if they were not first-class, were far from what boys usually call "sinkers."
"I hope nobody comes to disturb us here," said Snap. "I think if we are left alone we'll have the time of our lives."