GUNS AND SNOWSHOES
The Winter Outing of the Young Hunters
by CAPTAIN RALPH BONEHILL
AUTHOR of "FOUR BOY HUNTERS," "FOR THE LIBERTY OF TEXAS," "THE WINNING RUN," "FLAG OF FREEDOM SERIES," ETC.
BOY HUNTERS SERIES
By Captain Ralph Bonehill
FOUR BOY HUNTERS Or The Winter Outing of the Young Hunters.
GUNS AND SNOWSHOES Or The Outing of the Gun Club
GUNS AND SNOWSHOES
I. INTRODUCING FOUR BOYS
II. A QUARREL IN THE SNOW
III. THE RESULTS OF SNOWBALLING
IV. THE EXPLOSION
V. OFF FOR CAMP
VI. CHICKENS AND MINCE PIE
VII. A DISMAYING DISCOVERY
VIII. THE FIRST NIGHT IN CAMP
IX. INTO A HOLE AND OUT
X. OUT AFTER DEER
XII. A CRY FOR HELP
XIII. IN CAMP ONCE MORE
XIV. IN WHICH A TRAMP DISAPPEARS
XV. SOMETHING OF A CHASE
XVI. AN EVIL COMPACT
XVII. FUN IN THE CAMP
XVIII. AN UNEXPECTED PERIL
XIX. THE FIGHT WITH THE BUCK
XX. SHOOTING WILD DUCKS
XXI. A TOUCH OF A BLIZZARD
XXII. A REMARKABLE CHRISTMAS
XXIII. IN TROUBLE ONCE MORE
XXIV. A DISAGREEABLE MEETING
XXV. AT THE CAMP ONCE AGAIN
XXVI. THE TRAIL THROUGH THE SNOW
XXVII. THE CAPTURE OF THE TRAMP
XVIII. FOUR BOYS AND A BEAR
XXIX. UNEXPECTED VISITORS
XXX. A SURPRISE—GOOD-BYE
My DEAR LADS:
This story is complete in itself, but forms volume two of a set known under the general title of the "Boy Hunters Series," taking the heroes through various adventures while out hunting and fishing, in the woods and mountains, and on rivers and lakes.
The boys are bright, lively lads of to-day, with a strong liking for a life in the open air and a keen taste for hunting both big and little game, and for fishing in various ways. In the former volume, entitled, "Four Boy Hunters," they organized their little dun Club and obtained permission to go a number of miles from home and establish a camp on the edge of a lake. From this spot they were driven by enemies, and then settled at another camp, where they had various adventures and not a little fun, and in the end cleared up a mystery which had bothered them not a little.
In the present story we have the same boys and almost the same locality, but the time is now winter, and in the pages which follow are related the sport the boys had in the snow and on the ice, and something about a new mystery, which ended in rather a surprising fashion.
As I have said before, hunting, especially in our eastern states, is not what it was years ago. Almost all of the big game has disappeared, and the fellow who can get a deer or a moose without going a good many weary miles for the game is lucky. Yet in some sections small game is still fairly plentiful, and a bag full of rabbits or wild ducks is much better than nothing.
With best wishes to all who love the woods and waters, a gun, a dog, and a rousing campfire, I remain,
Your sincere friend,
CAPTAIN RALPH BONEHILL.
GUNS AND SNOWSHOES.
INTRODUCING FOUR BOYS
"Hurrah, boys, it's snowing at last! Aren't you glad?"
"Glad? You bet I'm glad, Snap! Why I've been watching for this storm for about six months!"
"There you go, Whopper!" answered Charley Dodge, with a grin. "Six months indeed! Why, we haven't been home six months."
"Well, it seems that long anyway," said Frank Dawson, who was usually called Whopper by his chums, because of his exaggerations when speaking. "I've just been aching to see it snow."
"So that we can take that trip we proposed," put in Sheppard Reed, quickly. "I guess we are all waiting for that."
"I am anyway," came from Will Caslette, the smallest lad of the four, who had gathered at their usual meeting place in the town where they resided. "Our camping out last summer was immense. If only we have half as much fun this winter!"
"We will have, Giant," broke in the boy called Whopper. "Didn't I tell you I was going to bring down sixteen deer, twenty bears, two hundred wild turkeys, a boatload of wolves, and—"
"Phew, Whopper! Every time you name 'em over the list gets longer!" cried Charley Dodge. "If you bring down so much game there won't be anything left for other hunters."
"Well, I'll leave you a bear or two," said Whopper cheerfully.
"Leave me one lone wild turkey, Whopper dear," came mournfully from Shep Reed.
"Say, if you're going to talk like that I won't leave anything," burst out Frank.
"Whopper may bring down all the game, but I'll wager he can't throw a snowball as straight as I can," said Charley, taking up some snow. "See that spot on the fence yonder? Here goes for it!"
The snowball was launched forth with swiftness and with a thud struck the spot directly in the center.
"Hurrah! A bull's-eye for Snap!"
"Humph! I can do that too!" cried Whopper, and forthwith proceeded to make a good hard snowball. Then he took aim, let drive, and the ball landed directly on the top of the one Charley had thrown.
"Good for you, Whopper!" said Charley enthusiastically.
"Ah, I could do that a thousand times in succession," answered the youth given to exaggeration, coolly. "Why, don't you know that one day there were six Tom cats on a fence and I took a snowball and hit 'em all?"
"What, with one snowball?" queried the little lad called Giant.
"Sure thing, Giant."
"Why, I made the snowball bounce from the head of one Tom cat to the head of the next," answered Whopper, unabashed.
"Well, if that isn't the worst yet!" roared Shep. "Say, we ought to roll Whopper in the snow for that!"
"Right you are!" cried Snap. "Come on!"
"Hi! hold on!" yelled Whopper in alarm, but before he could resist he was landed on his back in the snow, and the others proceeded to roll him over "good," as Shep expressed it. The rolling process at an end, a general snowball fight ensued between all of the boys, and also several others who chanced to be passing.
The scene was the town of Fairview, a place containing a main street and also another thoroughfare running to the tidy little railroad depot, where eight trains stopped daily. The town was made up of fifteen stores and shops, three churches, a hotel, and a livery stable, while just outside were a saw mill and several other industries. The place was located on the Rocky River, which, ten miles below, flowed into a beautiful sheet of water called Lake Cameron.
To those who have read a previous volume of mine entitled, "Four Boy Hunters," the lads skylarking in the snow need no special introduction. For the benefit of others let me state that Charley Dodge was the son of one of the most influential men of that district, a gentleman who was a school trustee and also part owner of a big summer hotel and one of the saw mills. Sheppard Reed was the son of the best-known local physician, and he and Charley,—always called Snap, why nobody could tell—were such chums they were often spoken of as the Twins.
Frank Dawson had come to Fairview a little over two years before, and had speedily made himself a prime favorite. As we have seen, he loved to exaggerate when telling things, yet with it all Whopper, so called, was as truthful as anybody. As Snap said, "you could always tell Whopper's whoppers a mile off," which I think was something of a whopper in itself, don't you?
The youngest lad of the four was Will Gaslette, always called Billy or Giant. He was the son of a French widow lady, who thought the world of her offspring. Although Will was small in size, he was sturdy and self-reliant, and promised to become all that his mother hoped for him.
During the previous summer the four boys had organized the Fairview Gun Club and obtained permission to go camping for a few weeks in the vicinity of Lake Cameron. They had started in high spirits, and after a number of minor adventures located on the shore of the lake. From this spot, however, they were driven by a saw mill owner named Andrew Felps, who ran a company that was a rival to the concern in which Mr. Dodge had an interest. The boys were made to give up their comfortable camp, and then they went to Firefly Lake, a mile away. Here they hunted and fished to their heart's content, being joined in some of their sports by Jed Sanborn, an old hunter and trapper who lived in the mountains between the lakes. They had some trouble with Ham Spink, a dudish youth from Fairview, who, with some cronies, located a rival camp across the lake, but this was quickly quelled. Then, during a forest fire, they captured a long-wanted criminal, and came home at last loaded down with game, and with the firm determination to go out camping again during the winter.
"We couldn't spend our time more pleasantly," was what Snap said. "Just think of a cozy camp in the snow, with a roaring camp-fire, and plenty of game on all sides of you! Um! um! It's enough to make a fellow's mouth water!"
"Oh, we'll have to go!" had been Shep's answer. "Of course we'll have to go to school, but we are going to have a long vacation around the holidays—"
"And we can ask for our Christmas presents in advance," Giant had interrupted. "If we go out, I know what I want?"
"A pair of snowshoes."
"Oh, we'll all want those," had come from Whopper. "And sleds, too—for our traps."
"And another shot-gun."
"Yes, and plenty of blankets. It's no fun to camp out in winter if you can't keep warm."
And so the talk had run on, until the winter outing of the Gun Club became almost a certainty to them. But there were certain restrictions, one of which, placed on all of the boys by their parents, was that they should end the term at school with good averages in all their lessons.
"You must get at least eighty-five per cent. out of a possible hundred in all your lessons," said Doctor Reed to Shep, "otherwise you cannot go," and the other parents said practically the same thing to Snap, Whopper and Giant. And then the boys pitched in with a will, resolved to come out ahead, "or know the reason why," as Snap said.
A QUARREL IN THE SNOW
The snow lay on the ground to the depth of four inches and was still coming down thickly. It was the first fall of the season, and was late,—so late, in fact, that the boys had been afraid there might come no fall at all. Fast and furiously flew the snowballs and each lad was hit many times.
"How is that?" sang out Whopper, as he planted a snowball directly in Snap's ear.
"And how's that?" returned Snap quickly, and sent a chunk of soft snow down Frank's collar.
"Wuow!" spluttered Whopper. "Hi! that isn't fair! Oh, my poor backbone!"
"Here you are, Giant!" called out Shep, and hit the little lad in the back. "Sorry, but it can't be helped. I—Oh, my!" and Shep bent double as a snowball thrown by Giant with much force took him directly in the stomach.
"Just to remember me by!" sang out Giant. "Here's another," and the ball struck Shep in the elbow. "Small favors thankfully received and big ones granted in return. There you are!" And still another snowball landed on Shep's neck.
Five other boys had come up, and now the contestants were lined up on both sides of the street not far from a corner, where there was a turn running down to the depot. As the snowballing went on a distant locomotive whistle sounded out and the afternoon train from the East rolled into the station. Several passengers alighted and among the number was Andrew Felps, of the Felps Lumber Company, the man who had caused the boy hunters so much trouble the summer previous.
Mr. Andrew Felps was in a bad humor. He had gone to the city on business and matters had not turned out as he had expected. Now he had gotten back, dressed in his best, and wearing a new silk hat, and he had no umbrella with which to protect himself from the snow-storm. More than this, his coachman, who generally met him when he came in on the train, was not in sight.
"Bah! I'll have to walk I suppose," muttered the saw mill owner, as he looked around for a carriage and found none. "Just the time you want a rig you can't find one. I'll discharge Johnson as soon as I reach home."
With his coat buttoned up around his neck, and his head bent low to escape the scudding snow, Andrew Felps hurried away from the depot and up to the main street of Fairview. Then he made another turn, presently reaching the spot where our heroes and the other lads were having their sport.
"Hi! here comes old Felps!" cried Giant. "We ought to give him something to remember us by!"
"Don't you do it!" returned Snap quickly. "He doesn't know what fun is, and he'd be sure to make trouble."
Some other boys were coming up, and the snowballs began to fly more furiously than ever. Snap, Shep, Whopper and Giant were on one side, and a boy named Carl Dudder and five other town lads on the other side. In the midst of the rallies came a yell of alarm, followed by several loud cries of rage.
"Hullo! look there!" exclaimed Whopper. "Old Felps has been knocked into the middle of next month. There goes his hat in the snow too! Who threw at him?"
"I didn't," answered Giant, promptly.
"Neither did I," came from Snap.
"Nor I," added Shep.
The saw mill owner was flat on his back, his silk hat on one side of him and a package of books and papers on the other.
"Maybe he slipped on some ice," suggested Snap.
"Hi! hi! who threw that snowball!" roared Andrew Felps, savagely, as he arose to his feet. "You young villains! I'll have the law on you for this!"
He scrambled to his feet and glared around him. All of the boys had stopped throwing at once and gazed at him curiously.
"Ha! I know you!" went on Andrew Felps, striding up to Snap. "It was you who hit me in the ear and knocked me down!"
"No, sir, I did not," answered Charley.
"I know better! I saw you do it!"
"You are mistaken, Mr. Felps! I was throwing across the street."
"Don't tell me! I know better, Dodge. You hit me and you did it on purpose."
At this Snap merely shrugged his shoulders.
"I'll have the law on you," fumed Andrew Felps.
"Snap didn't hit you," said Shep.
"Ha! then perhaps you threw the snowball," said the saw mill owner suspiciously.
"I did not."
"I know you boys, and I have not forgotten your work against me last summer," growled Andrew Felps.
"And we haven't forgotten you," answered Snap, coldly. "You have no right to accuse me of something I didn't do."
"Bah! If I find out who hit me I'll make it warm for him!" And having thus delivered himself Andrew Felps picked up his silk hat and his bundle and went on his way, in a worse humor than ever.
"Isn't he a darling?" observed Whopper sarcastically. "How I would love to own him for a brother!"
"I wonder who did hit him?" mused Snap. "The snowball couldn't have come from over here."
"I know who hit him," said a little boy named Benny Grime.
"Who was it, Benny?"
"Ham Spink!" cried Snap and Shep in concert.
"Why, he isn't here," said Whopper.
"He just came up, threw one snowball, and ran away. I guess he meant to hit somebody else and the snowball hit Mr. Felps instead," went on the small boy. "Don't let him know I told you, or he'll wax me good for it."
"I shan't tell Ham," said Snap. "But this is strange," he continued.
"Thought Ham was too much of a dude to throw snowballs," was Whopper's comment. "Why, he wears a new necktie every day now, and new patent leather shoes, and new gloves, and—"
"Don't pile it on too thick, Whopper," laughed Shep. "But I admit, he is a dude and no mistake."
"And a sneak—to run away as soon as he hit old Felps," finished Giant.
There was no time to say more, for the snowball battle was again raging, more furiously than ever. The balls flew on all sides, and grown folks, coming in that direction, kept out of the way as much as possible.
"Here comes old Mammy Shrader!" cried Snap, presently. "We must be careful not to hit her."
The woman he referred to was old and feeble and very short sighted. She had a faded shawl over her shoulders and carried a market basket on one arm. She went out nursing among the poor people and was well known throughout the entire neighborhood.
As the old woman came on a snowball was thrown at her from the other side of the street.
"Say, don't do that!" called out Snap, angrily. "Leave Mammy Shrader alone!"
He has scarcely uttered the words when another snowball was thrown at the aged female. This hit her on the cheek and caused her to utter a cry of pain. She tried to save herself from falling, but could not, and went down in a heap.
"For shame!" ejaculated Shep and ran to help the old woman to arise. In the meantime Snap, with flashing eyes, hurried across the street and confronted Carl Dudder. As my old readers know, Carl Dudder was a close crony to Ham Spink and had done his full share in making our young friends uncomfortable during the summer outing.
"Dudder, aren't you ashamed of yourself?" said Snap.
"What are you talking about?" demanded Carl Dudder, although he trembled a little as he spoke.
"You threw those snowballs at Mammy Shrader."
"You did—I saw you."
"That's correct—I saw him too," put in Giant, who had followed Snap. In the meantime Whopper had followed Shep, and both were doing what they could for the old woman.
"See here, Snap Dodge, I don't want you to talk to me," blustered Carl Dudder. "I know my own business."
"You ought to be knocked down for throwing at Mammy Shrader."
"You can't knock me down!" growled Carl, doubling up his fists.
"A fight! a fight!" cried several boys, always ready for an affair of that sort.
There was an awkward pause. Snap did not wish to fight, and yet he wanted Dudder to understand that he was not afraid.
"I think I owe you something from last summer," said Dudder, coming closer and sticking his chin in Snap's face. "I haven't forgotten that."
"Yes, but you seem to have forgotten that we about kept you from starving to death," answered Snap calmly.
"And that's no joke," came softly from Giant.
"You keep your oar out, little one," grunted Dudder, turning to glare at Will.
"You and your crowd acted very meanly last summer and you know it, Dudder," said Giant, not in the least abashed. "Your treatment of Mammy Shrader is on a par with your other actions."
"Shut up!" roared the other boy, and made a quick pass at Giant's head. But the small boy dodged and the fist struck Snap on the shoulder.
The next instant Snap hauled off, struck out, and Carl Dudder measured his length in the snow.
THE RESULTS OF SNOWBALLING
Carl Rudder had not expected this telling blow and he was so dazed it was several seconds before he turned over in the snow and arose to his feet.
"Good for you, Snap!" cried Will. "That's the way to serve him."
"Wha—what do you mean by hitting me like that?" demanded Dudder, glaring at Charley, but still keeping a safe distance.
"What do you mean by hitting me?" demanded Snap.
"I'll punch your head good for you!
"Try it—if you dare," answered Snap, defiantly, and he took an aggressive step forward, at which Dudder retreated.
"I'll fight you another time—when you haven't so many friends around," said Carl Dudder lamely, and then turning on his heel he started away, followed by one of his cronies.
"If old Mammy Shrader is hurt, you'll be to blame," called Snap after him.
"He's a coward," was Giant's comment. "I wish I had got a whack at him. He is much larger than I am, but I am not afraid of him."
While this scene was transpiring Shep and Whopper had helped old Mammy Shrader to a seat on the porch of a house not far from where she had gone down. The old woman complained of a pain in her side and it was next to impossible for her to take another step.
"I'll have to go home," she panted. "But how am I to get there?"
"Here comes Mr. Sell in his grocery wagon," cried Whopper. "Perhaps he'll give you a ride."
"Maybe he will—I buy my things from him," answered the old woman.
The grocer was stopped and the situation explained, and he readily volunteered to take Mammy Shrader to her home, located at no great distance. He and the boys helped her into the wagon.
"The boy who struck her ought to be horsewhipped," said the grocer. "Fun is one thing, but hitting an old woman is quite another."
"Just what I say," answered Shep.
"Well, I knocked him down anyway," said Snap, coming up, and Giant told the details of the brief encounter.
Snap volunteered to go with the grocer, and between them they soon had Mammy Shrader at her home and lying on a couch. Shep hurried home and told his father the particulars of what had occurred.
"I will drive over and see her," said the doctor, and as his horse was hitched up he went immediately.
"She is suffering from a sprain and from the jar," said the physician, after an examination. "She must take it easy for a week or so." Then a neighbor, who had dropped in, said she would look after the patient during that time.
"Carl Dudder ought to be made to pay for this," said Doctor Reed.
"The Dudders won't pay anything—Mr. Dudder is as miserly as they make him, even if he is well off," said Whopper.
"Perhaps he can be forced to pay," replied Snap.
When Carl Dudder heard that a doctor had been called in to attend Mammy Shrader he was much frightened. He went to consult Ham Spink about it. The two were hand-in-glove in everything.
"Are they sure you threw the snowball?" asked Ham Spink, pointedly.
"They say they saw me."
"Who says so?"
"Oh, Snap Dodge and that crowd."
"Always that crowd!" muttered Ham Spink.
"They say they know you knocked Andrew Felps down," went on Dudder, finding some consolation in the fact that Ham was in difficulties too.
"They didn't see a thing!" roared the dudish youth.
"Well, that is what they say."
"Humph! Carl, they are bound to get us into trouble."
"Of course. They haven't got over last summer's trouble yet. I suppose they will make it as hot for us as they can."
"Well, let us stick together and maybe we can face them down," was Ham Spink's comment, and then he lit a cigarette and offered one to his crony, and both fell to smoking.
That very evening both youths had to "face the music," and in a manner which did not please them in the least.
Coming home just before supper Mr. Spink, found a note awaiting him. It was from Andrew Felps and ran, in part, as follows:
"I have a complaint to make against your son Hamilton. To-day while I was on my way through the streets of our town I was assailed in the fashion of a ruffian by your son, who threw snowballs at me, knocking me down and ruining my silk hat and a rare volume of history I was carrying. I demand that your son apologize to me for his actions or I shall make a complaint to the authorities."
"Hamilton, what does this mean?" demanded Mr. Spink, after perusing the communication several times.
"I don't know," answered the undutiful offspring brazenly.
"Did you snowball Mr. Felps?"
"No. I didn't snowball anybody."
"He says you did."
"He must be mistaken."
"It is mighty queer," muttered Mr. Spink. "I will look into this to-morrow."
"The old Harry take Felps anyway," muttered Ham to himself. "How did he learn I threw that snowball? That Dodge crowd must have told him."
It was Mammy Shrader's neighbor, Samuel O'Brien, who called upon Mr. Dudder.
"Sure, Mr. Dodder, yer son ought to be locked up, so he ought," said the Irishman. "It's him as is wantin' to kill old Mammy Shrader."
"Why, what do you mean, sir?" demanded Mr. Dudder, in amazement.
"Sure an' wasn't it Carl as knocked the old lady down to-day and laid her on a sick bed, wid a doctor, an' me wife to nurse her till she gits betther? Sure it's a bastly shame, so it is, an' Carl will go to the lock-up onless ye pay all the bills."
"I do not understand you."
"Thin I'll be after explainin'," answered Samuel O'Brien, and gave his story in full, to which Mr. Dudder listened in a nervous fashion. Then Carl was called into the room.
"What do you mean by making trouble in this fashion?" demanded Mr. Dudder wrathfully.
"I didn't make trouble," said Carl, sullenly.
"Sure an' he did that," said the Irishman.
"Mr. O'Brien says you knocked Mrs. Shrader down."
"He was seen—several b'ys saw him," put in Samuel O'Brien.
"I—er—it was an accident," stammered Carl, quailing before the stern gaze of his parent. "The—er—the snowball slipped. It didn't hit Mammy Shrader hard, and she fell down of her own account, not because of the snowball."
"She says th' snowball knocked her down," said Samuel O'Brien. "If ye was my b'y I'd be afther givin' ye a good walloppin', so I would!" he added pointedly.
"I will go and see Mrs. Shrader," said Mr. Dudder. "Carl, you remain at home until I get back."
"Can't I go over and see Ham?"
"I promised him that I would be over."
"Well, you can't go. You study your lessons, unless you prefer to go with me to Mrs. Shrader's."
"I don't want to go to her house," said Carl.
Mr. Dudder lost no time in paying Mammy Shrader a visit, and then he called on Doctor Reed. When he came home again he was very angry.
"Carl, I have a good mind to punish you severely," he said. "I did not think you would treat a woman as Mrs. Shrader has been treated. I shall have to pay her doctor's bill and also something more—at least fifteen or twenty dollars." Mr. Dudder sighed at the thought of parting with so much cash. "I shall take the amount out of your spending money, and out of the money I was going to give you for Christmas"
"Can't I have the five dollars you promised me for Christmas?" gasped Carl.
"Not a cent of it."
"Oh, you're a mean thing!" burst out Carl, and ran from the room before his father could stop him.
On the following afternoon Snap was walking down to the river front, on an errand for his father, when he caught sight of Ham Spink and Carl Dudder, under a lumber shed. The pair were conversing in an earnest fashion, but ceased their conversation as Snap came closer.
Snap knew that Ham and Carl were in far from a friendly humor. Through one boy he had learned how Carl had been treated by his father, and through another how Andrew Felps had discovered that Ham had been his aggressor. There had been a lively interview when Mr. Felps and Mr. Spink had met, and in the end the latter had said he would stand for all damage done. Then he had gone home and laid down the law good and hard to Ham.
"To punish you I will cut off your spending money," said Mr. Spink, and thus Ham and Carl found themselves in the same trouble so far as cash was concerned. It galled them exceedingly, and, as was their habit, they laid the blame entirely on others.
As Snap passed the shed both Ham and Carl scowled at him. Then, after he had gone a dozen steps, Ham called out:
"Come back here. I want to talk to you."
"Did you address me?" demanded Snap, wheeling around.
"I did. Come here, I want to talk to you."
Snap did not budge.
"If you want to talk to me you can come where I am," he said.
"Oh, you needn't get so mighty high and loftly!" sneered Ham Spink.
"I am not your servant."
"Nice stories you and your crowd have been telling about me and Carl," went on Ham, coming closer.
"Trying to get us into trouble," put in Carl. "It's a jolly shame and you ought to be thrashed for it."
"See here, Dudder, and you too, Spink," answered Charley firmly, "I want no quarrel with you. Ever since our outing last summer you have been like bears with sore heads. If your camping out was a failure it wasn't our fault. When you hadn't any game we let you have some of ours, and we did a great deal more for you than you deserved. Now—"
"Oh, don't preach!" cried Ham.
"What do you want of me?"
"I want to give you fair warning that neither I nor Carl will stand for the way you are acting. Either you keep your distance, or it will be the worse for you."
"I am not afraid of you."
"Well, you had better be."
"What do you mean by that?" demanded Snap. He fancied there might be some hidden meaning to Ham Spink's words.
"Oh, you'll find out one of these days," came from Carl, significantly.
"If you try any of your underhanded tricks you'll get the worst of it—just as you did up to the camp," answered Snap, and went on his way.
"Oh, I wish I could mash him!" muttered Ham Spink, between his set teeth.
"Yes, and mash the whole crowd of 'em," added Dodder. "I hate the very sight of 'em!"
"Do you know that they are talking about camping out again?"
"What, this winter?"
"That I don't know."
"I'd like to spoil the trip for them."
"So would I. Maybe we can do it too, if we watch our chances."
The two talked the matter over for some time and when they separated it was with the fixed determination to play some underhanded trick and do "the Dodge crowd," as they called our friends much harm.
All of the boys who attended the local school had been waiting impatiently to learn when the present session would come to an end. Now it was announced that school would close the following Friday afternoon and remain shut up for three weeks and a half.
"Hurrah! that will give us just time enough for a dandy outing!" cried Whopper.
"You'll have to kill a bear a day to make up the number you said you'd bring down," answered, Giant.
"Pooh! I never kill bears singly," sniffed Whopper. "I always kill them in pairs or by the half dozen."
"We've got to make sure that we can go first," said Shep. "Remember the school averages."
They did remember, and all were very anxious concerning the examinations to come off before the term closed. They studied hard, and came out with an average of eight-eight to ninety-four per cent.
"Good!" said Snap. "Our folks can't find fault with such records." And nobody did find fault. On the contrary, the boys received not a little praise, and permission to go on the winter outing was readily granted.
"Let us start next Monday," said Giant, who was impatient to get away.
"I doubt if we can get ready so quickly," answered Shep. "There is a good deal to do, you know."
"Then make it Tuesday," pleaded Giant.
"The ice on the river is perfect, so it will be the easiest thing in the world to skate to the lake and drag our sleds after us."
It had already been decided that they should go into camp at Firefly Lake, where they had left their summer shelter only a few months before. Firefly Lake was a beautiful sheet of water, or ice, located a mile from Lake Cameron, and about eleven miles from Fairview. To get to this spot they had to go to Lake Cameron first and then along a narrow watercourse which united the two sheets of water.
The news quickly spread through the town that the Gun Club was going away on another outing, and many envied our friends their coming pleasures. Ham Spink and Carl Rudder looked sour over the prospects.
"Where are they going?" asked Carl.
"To Firefly Lake, to their old camp."
After this announcement both boys looked at each other suggestively.
"It will be moonlight to-night, and we can easily skate twenty or twenty-five miles," suggested Ham.
"So we can, Ham. Let us do it, and—fix things."
"We will," said Ham firmly.
As soon as it was settled that our friends were to go away before Christmas, and remain away over the holidays, they received from their parents several gifts in advance. All obtained snowshoes—picked out for them by their old hunter friend, Jed Sanborn—and they also procured an extra gun, an extra sled, and some warm camp blankets. They still possessed their old camp outfit and so it was an easy matter to gather the things together and get everything ready for the start. The outfit was packed upon two good-sized sleds and well fastened.
"I suppose we ought to have skated up to the camp and inspected things," observed Snap. "But I have been too busy to do so."
"Oh, I reckon everything is as we left it," answered Whopper.
"The camp was all right two weeks ago," said Jed Sanborn, who chanced to be present. "Of course you'll have to fix up some kind of a chimney in the cabin, for you can't keep your fire outdoors in this weather."
"It's as much fun to fix up the cabin as it is to camp out," said Shep, and the others agreed with him.
On Monday afternoon the boys got their things together and stored them in an old boathouse on the river front. They had looked to their skates and each pair had been sharpened and put in first class condition.
"We may use our skates as much as the snowshoes," said Whopper.
With everything stored in the old boathouse the door was carefully locked by Shep, who put the key in his pocket. The old boathouse had two windows, but each of these was nailed shut.
"I don't believe anybody will get in there," observed the doctor's son.
"Oh, I don't think there are any thieves around," answered Whopper.
The evening was devoted to final preparations, and it was after ten o'clock before any of the boys thought of retiring. Snap was over to Shep's house, and the doctor's son saw his friend to the front door.
"Now remember, seven o'clock sharp," said Shep. "We want to get away as early as possible, so we'll have plenty of time to fix up the cabin when we get there."
"Oh, I'll be up early enough," said Snap, with a smile. "Fact of it is, I am so worked up I don't expect to do much sleeping."
After a few words more the boys separated, and Snap started to walk home. He had almost reached his gate when something prompted him to halt. He looked down the roadway in the direction of the old boathouse.
"I have half a mind to go down and see if everything is O. K.," he murmured to himself.
Then he thought it would be foolish, and started to enter the house. But he was undecided, and at last hurried down the roadway in the direction of the river.
He was still some distance from the old boathouse when he discovered two persons running across an open field which lined the roadway. He could not make out anything excepting that they were either men or big boys.
"That's queer," he reasoned, and then started forward again.
Snap was still two hundred feet from the old boathouse when a most extraordinary thing happened. There was a rumble as of thunder, followed by a fierce flash of fire, and then the end of the boathouse arose in the air and came down with a crash, completely wrecking what was left of the building!
OFF FOR THE CAMP
The sudden and unexpected shock nearly threw Snap from his feet, and it was several seconds before he could collect his senses.
Then, in a dim and uncertain way, he realized two things—that there had been a terrific explosion and that the old boathouse containing their precious camping outfit was in ruins.
"What in the world can it mean?" he asked himself, as he stared in a bewildered fashion at the ruin in front of him. "It sounded as if some dynamite went off."
The noise and shock of the explosion was heard all over Fairview, and soon people came flocking to the scene from all directions.
"What blew up?"
"Hullo, the Cramer boathouse is down!"
Such were some of the cries which arose on all sides. Then the crowd came closer, staring at the fallen building, as Snap had done.
In the meanwhile Snap ran forward until he was less than a rod away from the wrecked building. He saw a small fire start up among some splintered boards and, quick to act, picked up some chunks of snow and attempted to put it out.
"That's a good idea," said John Sell, the grocer, who had arrived, and he, too, began to throw the snow, and so did others.
"Our camping-out things are in that place," said Snap.
"Is that so. What blew up, some of your powder?"
"I—I don't think so," faltered Snap. He had up to that moment not thought of the cartridges they had stored on one of the sleds.
"Must have been pretty powerful," said another man. "That noise was like a regular blast over to the stone quarries."
In the crowd was Shep, who had just been on be point of going to bed, and soon Whopper and Giant arrived. In the meanwhile large quantities of snow were hurled on the ruins and soon the fire was completely under control.
"Snap, do you think our cartridges went off? questioned Whopper.
"No, I don't. How could they go off, unless they were fired, from a gun or otherwise?"
"A rat might have gnawed them," suggested Giant.
"Those cartridges wouldn't cause such a wreckage as this," said Snap firmly. His senses were now coming back to him. "Well, I never!" he exclaimed suddenly.
"What's up now?"
"I just thought of something."
"What is it?"
"When I left Shep's house I walked in this direction, because I was worried for fear somebody might steal our traps. As I walked along I saw two persons running across Hecker's cornfield. I couldn't make out who they were, but I fancy they came from this direction."
"Then they must have caused the explosion," said Whopper quickly. "But why should they do it?"
"Maybe it was an accident," said Giant.
"I'd like to know how much our outfit is damaged," said Shep, anxiously. "I don't care about the old boathouse. It wasn't worth much anyway."
From a nearby store several lanterns were brought, and men and boys proceeded to make an inspection of the ruins. Some boards and timbers were hauled aside, and soon the boys discovered the sleds with the outfit practically as they had left them. One load was a bit damaged at the end, but that was all.
"I'm thankful it is no worse," was Snap's comment.
"If the fire hadn't been put out when it was everything would have burnt up," said Shep seriously.
While the boys were taking care of their sleds and the other things the men folks looked around for traces of what had caused the explosion. Among the men was Jerry Corwin, one of the blasters at the stone quarry.
"Dynamite did this," said he. "Dynamite and nothing else."
"It certainly sounded like dynamite," said another man.
"How would dynamite get here?" asked Mr. Dodge, who had arrived on the scene.
At this question Jerry Corwin shrugged his massive shoulders.
"Once in a while some dynamite is missing from our store at the quarry," he answered. "The laborers steal it, for they can sell it to farmers for blasting out stumps, and to others. During the past six months we have lost at least a dozen sticks."
"As the boathouse was not worth much, why was it blown up?" asked Doctor Reed, who had been summoned by somebody who thought a man had been hurt.
"That's the question," said Mr. Dodge. "Evidently it contained nothing of value outside of the outfit belonging to our sons."
"Hum!" murmured the physician, and said no more.
It was a bitter cold night, so after the fire was put out and the ruins examined, the majority of the crowd went home. The members of the Gun Club put their outfits in a neighboring barn, where a friend promised they should be safe, and then, after a short talk, went to their respective abodes. It was a good hour before any of the lads got to sleep.
Whopper was just dreaming of another terrific explosion when he awoke with a start, to hear a loud pounding on the side of the house, directly under his bedroom window. Opening the sash cautiously he caught sight of Giant below, hitting the clapboards with a snow shovel which happened to be handy.
"Oh, what a racket!" murmured Whopper. "I must pay him for that!" And scooping up some snow from the window sill he gave a low whistle. Then as Giant looked up, he let the snow drop.
"Wuow!" spluttered the little lad, as the loose snow filled his mouth and nose. "Say, do you want to smother me?"
"Then stop that infernal racket," answered Whopper. "Do you want the neighborhood to think that there are more explosions taking place?"
"Time to be moving," said Giant, and passed on, to arouse Shep.
"Now, my son, be very careful and keep out of danger," said Mr. Dodge to Charley, when the latter was ready to leave. "I shall send old Jed Sanborn up to see you once or twice, and if you need anything from here you let him know and he can bring it to you." And then, after a warm handshake from his father and a kiss from his mother, Snap almost ran from the house, fearful that he would be late.
At the barn where the things had been stored he found Giant and Shep, but nothing was to be seen of Whopper.
"I woke him up," said Giant. "Something has gone wrong, or he would be here by this time."
They waited five minutes longer, and Snap was on the point of going to Whopper's home when they saw the missing club member approaching on a run.
"What in the world kept you so long?" cried Shep.
"Oh, I had a little set-to with Barney Hedge," answered Whopper. "He said some things I didn't like and I rolled him over in the snow and put some down his back to help him cool off."
"Barney Hedge," repeated Snap. He knew the fellow mentioned to be a crony of Ham Spink and Carl Dudder. "What was it about?"
"Oh, about our outing last summer. It seems Hedge and the others are starting a report that we didn't shoot the game we brought in, but that Jed Sanborn brought down the most of it for us."
"How mean!" cried Giant.
"He said we couldn't shoot but that we were all blowers—and if left to ourselves in this cold weather we would starve to death and freeze in the bargain. I couldn't stand for that, so I pitched into him."
"Good for you!" shouted Giant. "I hope you gave him something to remember."
"I wonder if we will have trouble with that crowd during the present outing," mused Snap after a pause.
"I don't think they are going camping," answered Whopper. "They haven't got enough real sporting blood in them."
After that the topic of conversation quickly changed, as they looked over their things for the last time, to make certain that everything was there.
The boys carried a good supply of clothing, including extra underwear and extra pairs of boots. Each had a pair of warm blankets and also a rubber sheet, to be used in case of sudden rain.
The stores were made up of a variety of things, including flour, bacon, beans, some canned goods, and coffee, chocolate, sugar, salt, pepper and condensed milk. They had their old "nest" of pans and kettles, tin cups and plates, and likewise enough knives, forks and spoons to go around. In a waterproof case were several boxes of matches, and they also had along an acetylene bicycle lamp, which they thought they might use in bringing down game at night, and an axe and a hatchet.
All of the young sportsmen were armed with shotguns and they also took along Mr. Dodge's rifle, as they had done before, and the trusty pistol belonging to Doctor Reed. Their snowshoes were placed on the tops of the loads, and they put on their well-sharpened skates as soon as the river front was reached.
"Good-bye to Fairview!" cried Shep, when all was in readiness for the start.
"Good-bye, boys, and the best of luck for you!" shouted Doctor Reed, who had driven down in his sleigh, to see them off.
"Don't let the bears eat you up!" called out a riverman who stood on the dock.
"No danger of that," answered Snap.
And then with a shout and the waving of caps, the members of the Fairview Gun Club set off on their winter outing, never dreaming of the many surprises and perils which awaited them.
CHICKENS AND MINCE PIE
It was a perfect winter day, with a dull golden glow in the sky and only a faint breeze from the north blowing. On the ground the snow lay to the depth of ten inches or a foot, but the wind of the week past had almost cleared the ice on the river. Here and there were long ridges of snow across the glare, but that was all.
The young hunters had tied long ropes to the sleds, and while Whopper and Shep pulled one turnout, Snap and Giant dragged the other. The sleds had polished runners, and slid over the river surface so easily that pulling was more sport than work.
The course was down the river towards Lake Cameron, and in a very few minutes the town neighborhood was left behind. On either side of the frozen stream were trees and bushes, with here and there a cleared patch or an orchard. Some boys accompanied them a short distance, but then these dropped back, and our four young friends were left to themselves.
"Do you remember how we stopped at Pop Lundy's orchard when we went to the camp in the rowboat?" observed Shep.
"Yes, and how he caught us and then got us to go after the negro who stole the watch," put in Whopper.
"I shouldn't mind having some of his apples now," said Giant. "We ought to have taken apples along."
"There is the orchard now," cried Snap. "But there are no apples to be had this time of year."
"As if we would dare to take them," said Whopper, with a wink of his eye.
As they neared the spot where the orchard ran down to the river shore they heard the sound of an axe and saw Simon Lundy chopping down an old apple tree for firewood. The man was a very close-fisted farmer and was rarely known to do a charitable act.
"How are you, Mr. Lundy!" called out Snap, as he brought one of the sleds to a halt.
"How do ye do," grunted the farmer, and then gave a closer look. "Oh, so it's you fellers ag'in, hey? Goin' campin' once more?
"How are your apples getting along?" asked Shep, also halting.
"Didn't have sech a big crop as I expected."
"Thought you might spare us a few," suggested Whopper. "Of course we'll pay for them, if you wish."
"Well, there hain't much profit in givin' apples away," said Simon Lundy, pursing up his thin lips. "Got some putty good golden russets left. How many do ye want?"
"Give us all you can spare for a quarter," said Shep, who had been chosen treasurer of the club for the outing.
Simon Lundy led the way to his barn, and there the boys picked out some russets and some greenings. While this was going on Mrs. Lundy came from the house to see the visitors.
"Why, if it ain't them same boys as helped to catch that nigger!" she cried. "Want some apples, hey? Give 'em all they want, Simon. They deserve 'em."
"I was a—er—a—sellin' them the apples," answered the husband, lamely, and growing a bit red in the face.
"What! Simon Lundy, ain't ye ashamed! You shan't take a cent from 'em, not a cent! Why, the idee!"
"All right, all right, if you say so," said the farmer hastily.
"I do say so." Mrs. Lundy turned to the young hunters. "Where be you a-goin?"
"We are going camping," answered Snap. "At the same place we were last summer."
"Ain't you afraid o' being frizz to death?"
"Oh, I think we can stand it."
"What have ye took along to eat?"
Snap told her and she shrugged her shoulders.
"Ye ought to have brung more, boys. Now, I've jest been a-makin' some mince pies. Wouldn't ye like one o' them?"
"Yes, indeed!" shouted Whopper, who had a weakness for that dainty. "I can eat mince pie in the middle of my sleep."
"Then you shall have the biggest pie o' the lot," said Mrs. Lundy. "And, Simon," she added, to her husband, "you jest kill a couple o' fat chickens fer 'em. Maybe they won't find no game the first day they be in camp, an' they ought to have some kind o' meat."
"It's drefful expensive!" groaned Simon Lundy.
"Shucks! These boys did us a real service, an' want 'em to know we appreciate it," answered Mrs. Lundy briskly.
She told her husband what chickens to catch and kill, and helped pull the feathers. Then she brought forth the still steaming mince pie, leaving it in the stone dish in which it had been baked.
"You can leave the dish when you come back—if you think o' it," she said, "and if ye don't, 'twon't matter much."
A little later saw the four boy hunters on their way again, the precious mince pie resting on the top of one of the sled loads and the apples and chickens on the other. Mrs. Lundy waved them a cheery adieu and Simon smiled somewhat grimly.
"It nearly broke old Pop Lundy's heart to give the things away," was Giant's comment.
"It wasn't any more than fair, after what we did for him," answered Shep. "Say, boys, camping out with chicken and mince pie won't be bad, will it?"
"Yum! yum!" was the only answer the others gave.
By noon they found themselves on Lake Cameron. On one shore were the grim evidences of that terrible forest fire which had nearly cost the saw mill robber and the Felps' crowd their lives. A few spots on the lake were clear, but at other points the snow lay from a few inches to a foot and a half deep.
They skated to the opposite shore and stopped near the shelter of some pines and hemlocks. All were willing to rest, and a small campfire was built, over which they made a pot of coffee. They had brought with them some sandwiches and some cake, and these made up the brief noonday meal.
"Here goes for a first shot!" cried Snap, leaping to his feet with a part of a sandwich still in his mouth. He had discovered several rabbits near some bushes up the lake shore. Catching up his shotgun he took careful aim and blazed away.
"Two of them!" exclaimed Shep. "Good for you, Snap!"
Snap ran forward and picked up the game. They were plump and heavy and he held them up with pride.
"We shan't starve just yet," remarked Giant. "We are sure to get rabbits, and partridge and wild turkeys, and there must be plenty of fish under this ice."
All of the party were anxious to reach the former camp, to see what it looked like, so the noonday rest did not last long. Skirting one shore of Lake Cameron, they came to the narrow waterway that connected it with Firefly Lake. Here the water, which usually flowed swiftly between the rocks, was frozen up in a lumpy fashion that made skating impossible.
"We'll have to walk the rest of the distance," announced Whopper. "We couldn't skate on this in a million years."
"I wish we could try the snowshoes," said Giant. He knew very little about using the articles.
"Can't do it," answered Snap. "But just you wait, we'll have more snow before long and then the snowshoes will come in mighty handy."
They took off their skates, put them on the sleds, and started up the rocky and frozen watercourse. The walking was treacherous and soon Whopper went down, with Shep on top of him. The bag of apples came over both.
"Hi! get off of me!" roared Whopper. "Do you want to crush me into a pancake? Who threw that bag of apples?"
"You want to be careful of the loads," admonished Snap. "Don't throw off the mince pie as you did the apples."
"Look!" yelled Giant, who had been gazing to the north of the watercourse. "Am I mistaken, or is that a deer?"
"A deer! A deer!" cried Shep, and on the instant all of the boys forgot about the tumble and each caught up his shotgun. It was indeed a deer, standing among some young trees about two hundred yards distance.
"Oh, if we can only bring it down!" said Whopper, in a whisper.
"We must bring it down," answered Shep, in an equally low voice.
"Get out of sight," warned Snap. "If he sees us he'll be of in a jiffy."
They dropped behind some convenient bushes and then moved forward with great caution, each with his shotgun ready to blaze away instantly.
The forward movement lasted for fully five minutes and then all raised up cautiously and looked for the deer.
The game had disappeared!
"Where is he?" whispered Giant, gazing around in bewilderment.
"Bless me if I know," answered Snap.
The young hunters gazed in all directions and then came out into the open.
"He is surely gone," said Shep.
"There he goes!" sang out Giant, and pointed up the lake to a clearing an eighth of a mile away.
"And streaking it like greased lightning," added Whopper. "He'll reach the Canadian line before he stops."
"Too bad!" growled Shep, in disgust. "I fancied we'd get him sure."
"This puts me in mind of what Jed Sanborn says," said Snap, with a sickly grin. "'Be sure of only what is in your game bag.'"
The young hunters looked around for more deer but none were in that vicinity and so they returned to where they had left the sleds.
"If it hadn't been that we want to get to camp we might have followed up that deer," was Giant's comment.
"Not much use of that," answered Snap. "By the way he was running he must have been pretty well woke up, and when that happens you know a deer will run for miles without stopping."
All were glad when they came in sight of Fire-fly Lake. About one half of the surface was a smooth glare of ice, the other half being covered with ridges of snow.
To reach their old camp they had to go up the shore and around a bend where the bushes and trees were thick. Once more they donned their skates and went forward rapidly.
"Let us have a race!" cried Whopper, and he and Giant set off with one sled, while Snap and Shep set off with the other.
"An extra piece of mince pie to the winning team!" cried the doctor's son merrily as he put on an extra spurt.
Soon the turn of the shore was gained, with the sleds side by side. Then all of the young hunters gazed ahead.
"Well, I never!"
"If this isn't too bad for anything!"
Such were the exclamations uttered. And there was good cause for their consternation and dismay. Instead of the tidy cabin they had expected to see, nothing but a heap of blackened logs confronted them.
The log cabin had been burnt to the ground.
A DISMAYING DISCOVERY
The hearts of the four young hunters went "down in their boots" as they surveyed the desolate scene before them.
They had spent much hard labor over the cabin which had been their home during a large part of the summer outing, and they had fully expected to find it in the same condition as when they had locked it up and come away.
"Boys, what can this mean?" said Snap at last. Who has played us this shabby trick?"
"Can the cabin have burnt down right after we left it?" asked Giant.
"Why, no, it has been burnt down since the last snowstorm," answered Shep, "otherwise the snow would cover the ruins."
"This fire isn't over three or four days old," came from Whopper.
"Do you think it could start up of itself?" asked the small member of the Gun Club.
"No, I don't."
"Then somebody must have set it on fire."
"That remains to be found out," said Snap. "Oh, I wish I had the fellow here now," and he banged a fist into the palm of his hand, to show what he would do in such a case.
The boys walked around the ruin several times and lifted up a few of the half-burnt logs. It was easy to see that the cabin was a total wreck. Snap heaved a mountainous sigh and so did the others.
"We'll have to clear all this stuff away and build a brand new cabin," said Shep. "All these old logs are good for is firewood."
"That is true, Shep," answered Snap. "What I am thinking of is, what are we to do to-night? We can't stay out in the open air. It is growing colder every minute."
"Well, I am not going home," came quickly from Giant. "I'd rather freeze!"
"Who said anything about going home?" demanded Whopper. "Why, I wouldn't go home in a thousand years, cabin or no cabin. We can rig up some sort of shelter of pine boughs and then build another cabin."
"I know a dandy spot for another cabin," said Snap. "Don't you remember I mentioned it to you, Shep, last summer? The spot where the young trees stood so close together in a circle?"
"Just the place," answered the doctor's son.
Standing around was cold work and the young hunters lost no time in cutting some dry brushwood and building a fire, on which they placed several of the half-burnt logs. It was now the middle of the afternoon and they knew they must work vigorously if they wanted any sort of a suitable shelter against the cold before nightfall.
The spot Snap had mentioned was less than two hundred feet up the lake front. Here, behind some bushes which would keep off considerable wind, was an almost perfect circle of trees, the diameter inside being about fifteen feet. The trees were mostly young and not very tall and the lower branches were not over ten feet from the ground on an average.
"We can cut off the tops of the trees and then bind in some of the branches for a roof," said Snap. "Over those branches we can bind others, with strips of bark between. We can cut the trees higher on one side of the circle than on the other, so the snow and rain can run off. Then we can bind in brushwood and bark for the sides, between the trees, leaving one spot open for a rough sort of chimney, which we'll have to build up of flat rocks. It won't make as nice a cabin as the other was, but it is the best we can do in this wintry weather, and I think, with a good fire going, we can make it fairly comfortable inside."
There were a great many things to take into consideration, but in the main Snap's idea was voted a good one, and the sleds were brought to the spot and the axe and hatchet gotten.
"Giant, you bring up that camp-fire," said Snap. We'll want it here later. Bring all those half-burnt logs, too, so that we'll have plenty of firewood."
"Aye, aye, Captain!" answered the little lad, in true nautical style and touching his cap.
While Giant re-built the camp-fire the others set to work on the new cabin. First Snap and Shep, went up in the trees and marked off the top of the new shelter. Then down came one tree top after another and then the limbs that could not be used above. In the meantime Whopper took a hunting knife and cut some strips of bark.
"Now let us begin to bind in the branches," said Snap, and he and Shep set to work, with Whopper helping them. Giant passed up some branches which had fallen to the ground, and also some long, pliable withes to be used as rope. Fortunately some of the branches left on the trees were long and supple and could be twisted around one another with ease.
"We are going to have a regular mat of a roof," observed Whopper. "Why can't we pile a lot of dead leaves on top, to make it air tight?"
"Because they might possibly shake down and catch fire," answered Snap. "We can bind in some more brushwood and some more bark. Then the next snow will do the rest."
At last the roof was finished and the workers dropped to the ground. It was now night and all were tremendously hungry.
"We'll have to let the sides of the shelter go until morning," said Snap. "We can pile up some tree branches on the windy side and put the rubber blankets over them. Then, during the night, we can build a fire right in the middle of the hut. But we'll have to take turns at guarding, to prevent the place from catching fire and to prevent those sleeping from smothering, if the wind should change."
While Snap and Shep continued to work on the shelter, Whopper and Giant started to cook the evening meal, which consisted of a broiled chicken, a loaf of bread they had brought along, and a slice of cake, washed down with hot chocolate. They spent an hour over the meal, and in the meantime discussed their future plans and the burnt cabin.
"Do you know I have an idea that the same person who burnt down our cabin wrecked the old boathouse," said Snap.
"I was figuring it that way, too," answered Whopper. "The question is, Who would be so mean!"
"Perhaps it was Carl Dudder," answered Giant.
"Or Ham Spink," came from Shep.
"It was certainly done by an enemy," said Snap. "But I shouldn't dare to accuse anybody unless I was certain."
"You are right there," answered the doctor's son. "Burning a building is a serious piece of business."
"Yes, and blowing up a place with dynamite is serious, too," added Whopper. "Why, it's a wonder the whole town didn't sail skyward!"
The floor of the shelter had been cleaned up and on one side were placed several piles of fresh pine boughs, which in camping out make the best kind of a couch. Then the fire was brought in and placed where the smoke could drift out between the trees. The blaze soon warmed the place up, and the ruddy glare made the boys feel quite at home.
To keep out still more of the cold the two sleds were stood up between some of the trees and the canvas coverings and rubber blankets were stretched around as far as they would go. By that time all of the boys were worn out with their labors and their journey and glad enough to retire.
"Each member of this club will have to remain on guard two hours," said Snap. "We'll draw lots for turns."
This was done, and it fell to Whopper to take the first turn, from nine o'clock to eleven. Giant was to follow him, and then Snap and Sheep.
"Just my luck!" grumbled Whopper. "And when I am so sleepy I can scarcely keep my eyes open."
"Well, don't you go to sleep until your two hours is up," said Snap sharply. "Keep an eye on the fire, and don't wake Giant up until his turn comes."
"I am going to fix up a pot of beans to cook," answered Whopper. "That will help to keep me awake."
Leaving Whopper fussing with the bean pot, the others turned into their blankets and threw themselves on their pine bough couches. Inside of five minutes Shep was asleep and Snap and the small member of the Gun Club quickly followed.
Whopper filled the pot half full of bean, soaked them a little in ice water, and then hung them over the fire to bake, putting some bacon with them, to give the proper flavor. Then he brought in some extra sticks and sat down. He was indeed sleepy and it was all he could do to keep his eyes open.
"Guess I had better walk around," he told himself, and not to disturb the sleepers, passed through one of the openings between the trees to the outside of the shelter.
It was a moonlight night, and he could see across the lake with ease. All was quiet saving for the distant hoot of an owl and the occasional bark of a fox. The wind had gone down and not a tree branch was stirring.
"What a glorious night for skating," mused the boy. "There must be a good many out at Fairview, now that the ice is so solid."
He walked around the shelter four times and then came to a halt once more in front of the lake.
As he did this, he saw some object move across the ice of the lake. One object was followed by another, and then a third and a fourth.
"Animals of some kind," he thought. "But what?"
He watched the objects for several minutes.
They kept coming closer slowly, stopping every now and then, as if to deliberate. Then of a sudden, a lonely, mournful howl rent the air.
"Wolves!" he muttered. "They have discovered our camp and are coming towards it. I wonder what I had better do?"
THE FIRST NIGHT IN CAMP
Whopper was not much frightened. He had met wolves before and he did not think that the pack on the ice would dare to attack him and his friends. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, he watched the beasts closely, and when they came still nearer he rushed into the shelter and grabbed up his shotgun.
"What's the row?" asked Shep sleepily, disturbed by the unusual bustle.
"Four wolves are on the ice in front of the shelter," explained Whopper. "Reckon I'll give them a shot."
"I'll go along," and the doctor's son sprang up and reached for his own firearm.
When Whopper got outside again, followed by Shep, he saw the wolves had approached still closer. There were now seven of them, and they stood in a semi-circle, sniffing the air suspiciously. The man-smell was strong, and this they did not like, for to them it betokened only danger. Yet mingled with the man-smell was the smell of chicken and rabbit meat, and this pleased them, for they were hungry.
"Let us both fire together," suggested Shep. "Each of us ought to bring down at least one. You can fire to the right and I'll fire to the left of the line."
They took careful aim, and at the word from Whopper each pulled the trigger of his shotgun.
The two guns spoke up in rapid succession, and as the smoke cleared away it was seen that two of the wolves lay on the ice, twisting and turning in their death agonies. The others were scuttling away, one limping painfully.
"Hullo, what's up?" came from Snap, as he rushed from the shelter, followed by Giant. "What are you firing at?"
"We just brought down a couple of wolves," answered Whopper, with considerable satisfaction in his tone.
"Wolves!" ejaculated Giant. "I didn't think they'd find us as early as this."
Taking a brand from the fire, Whopper led the party out on the ice to where the two wolves lay. One was already dead and the other quickly breathed its last. They were large and gaunt looking creatures, with cruel teeth, and Shep shivered as he looked them over.
"I am glad they didn't get into the shelter," he observed. "If they had, we should have had the fight of our lives."
"I doubt if they would have attacked us," answered Snap. "They were after those rabbits and that chicken. They must have followed the sled trail from Lake Cameron."
As the young hunters did not want the wolves, they were left where they had fallen. The other beasts did not show themselves again.
The remainder of the night passed without anything unusual happening. Once the wind veered around a little, threatening to suffocate them with smoke from the camp-fire, but by the time they prepared to vacate the shelter the wind veered back to where it had first come from and gave them no more trouble.
"I saw a beautiful owl," said Giant, when they were preparing breakfast. "I'd like to get him and have him stuffed."
"To eat, I presume," said Whopper, innocently.
"Eat? What do you take me for!" cried the smaller member of the Gun Club, and picking up a chunk of snow he shied it at Whopper, taking the latter in the ear.
Whopper could not stand that and threw some snow in return. Then ensued a regular snowball fight all around, which came to a sudden termination when Shep hit the coffee pot and spilled half of the hot beverage in the snow.
"Hi! that's going too far!" cried Snap. "Don't waste good coffee like that!"
"I move we fine Shep one cent for a bad throw," murmured Giant.
"He can make another pot of coffee, that's what he can do," grumbled Whopper.
"All right, I will, but no more snowballing for the present," answered Shep, and set to work without delay.
For breakfast they had some chicken, some bread and butter and hot coffee. The bread was pretty dry, but nobody minded it, for hunger and a clear, cold atmosphere are wonderful appetite builders.
"The first thing to do to-day is to finish building our shelter," said Snap.
"Oh, gosh! can't we go hunting?" demanded Whopper, who was itching to get out after big game.
"He wants to bring in a few of those bears he has been talking about," said Giant, with a wink of his eye.
"No hunting until the shelter is good enough to use in all kinds of weather," answered Snap.
The bracing air kept the boys moving lively, and directly after breakfast they set to work in earnest. A large quantity of tree branches were cut down, and with these they made the sides and top of the hut or cabin as tight as possible. Around the bottom of the shelter they heaped up all the snow that was close at hand.
The building of the chimney bothered them a great deal. Fortunately they found some stones which were fairly flat, and these they managed to pile up into something of a square, with an opening in the center and another at the bottom, next to the shelter. On the outside they heaped up some dirt and above this plastered the cracks with mud. When tried, the chimney drew very well, and there seemed to be little danger of it setting fire to the shelter proper.
"We ought to have a name for this camp," observed Snap. "Every really first-class camp has a name."
"This is such a very high-toned camp let us call it Hotel Millionaire," suggested Giant.
"The Lakehouse," came from Whopper.
"I've got something better than that," said Shep. "Half of these trees are birch trees, and we used birch bark on the roof. What's the matter with calling the place Birch Tree Inn?"
"That's all right!" cried Snap. "Hurrah for Birch Tree Inn!"
"Good enough," assented Whopper. "Let's run up a napkin for a flag, for here is where we feed."
"Not much!" came from Giant. "What's the matter with this?" And from an inner pocket he produced a small silken flag. "I brought this along for our camp."
"Hurrah for the stars and stripes!" came from Snap. "We'll raise the flag by all means."
This was an easy matter, for directly in front of the camp, on the lake front, grew a tall and slender sapling. From this they cut the extreme top and the branches, and then ran up a thin rope, to which they attached the flag. Floating in the breeze it looked very pretty, and taking off their caps, the members of the Gun Club saluted the national emblem. Then Whopper and Shep began to whistle the Star Spangled Banner and the others joined in.
The making ready of the camp had taken longer than they had expected, and it was nightfall before they had everything as they wished it. In addition to making the shelter weather tight and warm, they had cut a good sized pile of wood for the fire. All were tired out, and Shep admitted that his back felt pretty stiff and lame.
"I don't think we'd want to work so hard around home," said Giant frankly, and the others admitted that this was so.
They were too tired to do more than prepare an ordinary supper, but this included the beans previously put in soak and then baked and these went very well. Then they brought in some wood, and closed up the doorway of the Inn.
"No need to remain on guard," said Snap. "The fire and the sides of this shelter will keep away all wild animals."
During the afternoon it had begun to snow again, and this made it all the more cozy in the shelter. After supper the boys piled wood on the fire and lounged around, telling stories and talking over the prospects of getting game. All were enthusiastic, and determined not to return home until they had brought down "something worth while," as Snap expressed it.
When the lads came out in the morning, they found that the snowstorm had cleared away completely. The air was clear and cold, with scarcely any wind.
Whopper could hardly wait to get his breakfast, so anxious was he to go after game. Giant suggested that they go on their snowshoes, but Snap demurred.
"Not the right kind of snow yet," he said. "Let us skirt the lake this morning and see what we can pick up near camp."
Before they left the Inn they saw to it that every spark of the fire was extinguished, for the dreadful conflagration of the summer season had taught them a useful lesson. They also placed their matches in a tin can, so that they might remain dry and also to keep them from being lit by some prowling wild beast.
"I once heard of a place being burnt down by a fox," said Giant. "The animal knocked the match box from a shelf on which some rabbits were hanging."
"Well, I've often heard of rats setting fire to buildings by igniting matches," answered Snap.
"Millions of times," came from Whopper. "Rats sometimes do that for a regular business. They make a deal with people who want to get a fat insurance; you know, and then—Oh!" And the remarkable story came to a sudden end as Shep shied a snowball at the youth who loved to exaggerate.
They were soon on the way, Snap, Shep and Giant with their shotguns and Whopper with the rifle. They headed directly along the shore of Firefly Lake, intending to make the complete circuit of that sheet of ice.
They had proceeded only a short distance when Snap held up his hand.
"Rabbits," he whispered. "We are in luck!"
"Humph! I wanted to see a bear," grunted Whopper.
"Now, dolt you spoil this for us," remonstrated Snap.
"Let us fire together," whispered Giant. "I see at least a dozen."
The bunch of rabbits were close to the lake front, nibbling the bark from some young shoots growing in that vicinity. Without delay Snap, Shep and Giant brought their shotguns around in position to fire.
"I'll give the signal," said Shep. "Shep, you fire to the left. I can fire to the right, and Giant can blaze away at the middle of the bunch."
"There they go!" screamed Whopper just then, and he spoke the truth, the rabbits had discovered the hunters and were making mighty bounds to gain the thickets beyond lake shore.
All the boys with shotguns blazed away, and four of the rabbits dropped in their tracks. Another went limping along painfully and Snap caught it with case. But there was no time for a second shot.
"Well, that's not so bad, for a start," observed Giant, as they took up their game.
"If I hadn't yelled you'd have lost the bunch," said Whopper. "Why, I was most tempted to bring one down with the rifle."
INTO A HOLE AND OUT
Inside of an hour the young hunters had passed to the extreme end of the lake and were coning down on the other side.
"Here is where the Ham Spink crowd stole our boat," said Snap, indicating the spot.
"Phew! and what a time we did have on the lake afterwards," was Whopper's comment. "Say, I can't understand yet why some of us weren't drowned."
"Don't make so much noise," said Shep. "We'll never get any game if you keep on talking."
After that they went on a distance of a hundred yards in perfect silence. Then Giant came to a halt, and pointed up two trees in front of him. On the branches were half a dozen fat, gray squirrels.
Again those carrying shotguns discharged their fowling pieces, and down came three of the largest of the squirrels. Then Snap let Whopper have his gun and down came another squirrel just as he was about to enter his hole.
"Squirrels and more!" shouted Giant, rushing forward.
"More?" queried Shep. "We shot only the squirrels."
"True, but you've forgotten what the squirrels hide away."
"Nuts!" exclaimed Whopper. "Just what we want, to eat in front of the camp-fire at night."
It was an easy matter to locate the storehouses of the squirrels, and from each they took a quantity of nuts. They did not take all, for they did not wish the squirrels that were still alive to starve.
"I guess we have got all the game we'll find around here," observed Shep, as they went on once more. "The banging away will make the rest of the game keep under cover."
"Well, let us go around the lake anyway," answered Snap. "There is no fun in crossing over on the ice without skates."
Down at the lower end the lake made several turns, winding in and out among the rocks, and here the boys left the ice and walked under the trees and between the bushes.
"This isn't so pleasant," said Whopper, as he stumbled on a rock and rolled over on his side.
"Look out, that your gun doesn't go off!" cried Snap, warningly. "Keep the muzzle pointed at the ground.'
"That's what I always do," answered Whopper.
They had almost reached the end of the lake, at the point where it emptied through the rocky gorge into Lake Cameron, when Giant came to a sudden halt and uttered a low whistle.
"What is it?" questioned Snap and Whopper in a breath.
"Saw something through yonder trees—something big," was the answer of the small member of the Gun Club.
"You did?" said Snap. "What did it look like?"
"Looked like a cow—but of course it couldn't be that.'
"Maybe it's was a moose!" cried Shep. "Let's go after him."
The thought that a moose might be so close at hand thrilled all the boys, and without a moment's hesitation they started off in the direction in which the strange animal had been seen.
"If it is a moose let me take a rifle shot at him," whispered Whopper. "A bullet is what he'll want to lay him low."
"I'm willing you should have the first shot," said Snap.
The others also agreed that Whopper should be the first to fire—if the game was really as large as expected—and the boy who loved to exaggerate went to the front.
They had to climb a small hill, which came to an abrupt end beside another gully. Here the bushes had been bent low by the wind and were covered with drifted snow.
"Be careful—walking isn't very good here," cautioned Whopper. "The ground seems to be spongy."
All ranged up to the edge of the gully and prepared to leap across. As they did this, some of the bushes and the snow gave way, and down they went in a heap, a distance of ten or a dozen feet. As they fell Giant's shotgun went off with a bang that scared them greatly.
"Oh, dear!" gasped Snap, when he could free himself from the snow. "What a tumble? Is anybody hurt?"
He gazed around, to find Whopper head first in a snow drift. He pulled his chum out, and in the meantime Shep and Giant scrambled up.
"Did—did my shot hit anybody?" questioned the smaller member of the club, anxiously.
"I'm safe," announced Snap.
"So am I," came from Whopper. "But say, I thought I was going to plow through the snow clear to China!"
"The discharge went pretty close to my ear," announced Shep. And then, as he began to realize the escape he had had, he grew slightly pale.
"I tried to keep the gun barrel pointed to a safe place," said Giant. "But the fall came so quickly I had hardly time to think. I am thankful nobody was struck. Had I hit anybody I should never have forgiven myself!" And he shuddered.
"Be careful of the rest of the guns," said Whopper. "We don't want to be blown out of this hole—we prefer to climb out—at least I do."
They looked to their firearms, and then gazed around the locality in perplexity. The gully was long and narrow and both sides were covered with ice and snow. The ground above, also covered with ice and snow, was well out of their reach.
"Getting out is going to be no easy task," announced Snap. "Maybe we'll have to, walk to the end of the gulch."
"Wait, perhaps I can climb out—if one of you will give me a boost," said the doctor's son.
The others were willing to have Shep make the trial, and Snap and Whopper put down their guns and aided him by putting his feet in their hands. Shep caught hold of some bushes and began to haul himself up with all his strength.
"Hurrah! he is going to make it!" cried Giant, when snap! went the bushes, and down rolled the doctor's son and plunged once more into the snow.
"Whow!" he spluttered, as he arose and worked the snow from his collar and his coat sleeves. "No more of that for me! Snap, don't you want to try it?"
"No, I prefer to walk to where the gully is not so deep."
They struck out, to find the bottom of the gulch filled with bowlders, bushes and snow. More than once one or another went down into a hollow and had to be hauled out.
"Phew! but it's cold down here!" murmured Whopper. "My feet feel like two cakes of ice."
"One of the delights of hunting in the winter time," observed Snap. "Want to go home, Whopper?"
"Not for a million dollars and a mince pie thrown in," was the prompt answer.
"Say, a piece of mince pie wouldn't go bad just now." said Shep, smacking his lips.
"Don't mention it, please."
It took a quarter of an hour's hard journeying to reach a point where the gully was only four or five feet deep, and here they left the hollow with ease. They were now further away from the lake than ever and in a locality that looked new to them.
"I don't remember this spot, although I thought we were all over this ground last summer," observed Snap.
"A place looks different in winter from what it does in summer," said Shep.
"Then that must be it."
"I reckon that moose must be 'steen miles from here by this time," said Whopper. "He must have heard Giant's gun go off."
As they could see nothing of the strange game, they agreed that Whopper must be right in his surmise and so determined to look around for other game. They circled the end of Firefly Lake, and then walked a short distance in the direction of Lake Cameron.
"Wait!" called out Whopper, presently, "Snap, let me have your shotgun." And he reached for the weapon.
"What do you see?"
"A wild turkey, and a big one, too."
Snap was willing that Whopper should have a try at the turkey, since he seemed so disappointed at losing track of the big game, and so passed over his shotgun. The wild turkey was roosting near the top of a silver maple tree. Taking careful aim, Whopper blazed away.
To the astonishment of all, the wild turkey gave a flutter, sank back on the tree limb and then became quiet.
"What in the world does that mean?" gasped Whopper, hardly believing that he saw aright.
"Maybe you didn't hit him," suggested Giant.
"Didn't hit him—at such a short distance?" said Whopper, in disgust. "Of course I hit him."
"Then why didn't he tumble down or fly away?" came from Shep.
"He'd fly quick enough—if he could," said Snap. "There is something wrong with him. Maybe he is caught fast in the crotch of the limb."
Guns in hand the four boy hunters ran forward until they stood directly under the silver maple. Here they could see the head and the tail of the wild turkey, but that was all. The game did not offer to move, even when Whopper set up a shout.
"He's dead and caught fast, I am sure of it," said Whopper. "If it were otherwise he would surely flutter down or fly away."
"You'll have to do some climbing to get your game," said the doctor's son.
"Well, I can do that, too—if you'll give me a boost," answered Whopper, passing over the shotgun and laying aside his rifle.
The others assisted him to reach the lower limbs of the silver maple, and up he went from one branch to another until he stood directly beneath the wild turkey. He put forth his hand with caution.
"Be careful," cried Shep. "If the turkey is still alive he may show fight and try to peck out your eyes."
Shielding himself as best he could, Whopper presently caught the turkey by one foot. He pulled gently at first and then gave a strong yank. Down came the game from the crotch of the tree, and Whopper almost lost his balance. To save himself he let the game drop to the ground and clutched at the tree branches nearest to him.
"Dead as a door nail!" he announced, as soon as he felt safe. "And I knew it from the start. He didn't fall because he got caught, that's all."
"Now you are up in the tree you had better take a look around and see if any more game is it sight," called up Snap.
While the others stamped around to keep warm, Whopper mounted to the topmost branches of the silver maple. From this position he could overlook a wide expanse of country. He gazed first to, the northward and then over to the west.
"Hullo!" he yelled suddenly. "I see something worth going after."
"What?" questioned the others in concert.
OUT AFTER DEER
"You see two deer?" queried Snap.
"How far from here?" questioned the doctor's son.
"A good quarter of a mile."
"Oh, that's not so far!" exclaimed Giant. "Come on after them, fellows."
"Wait till I get down," said Whopper, coming as quickly as he could. "Don't go ahead yet."
"How are we going ahead, since you are the only one that knows where the game is?" answered the doctor's son.
As soon as Whopper was on the ground, they set off, taking the wild turkey with them. The shot had entered the heart of the turkey, killing it instantly, and its single flutter had only served to wedge it fast in the tree crotch.
"Boys, it is growing colder," announced Snap, as they proceeded.
"As if we didn't know it," answered Giant, slapping his hands together.
"And I think it is going to snow some more," went on Snap.
"Pooh! who cares!" cried Whopper. "I am going to get one of those deer if I die for it."
"So say I!" put in Shep. "Remember, we ought to get quite some game on hand, in case we get snowed in at the camp."
The sky had become overcast, and this was what made it seem colder. The wind, too, was springing up, and they were glad to keep to the sheltered portions of the ground so far as the journey after the deer permitted.
Inside of fifteen minutes they covered more than a quarter of a mile. Yet no deer were to be seen.
"Whopper, didn't you make some mistake?" asked Snap, coming to a halt.
"I am sure I saw the deer."
"Whopper must have been deceived in the distance," said Giant. "Things look closer on the water, or when the ground is covered with snow."
"Perhaps that's it," answered Whopper. "Anyway, the deer were somewhere out here, I'm sure."
Again they went on, but soon came to a series of rocks, where walking was difficult. Giant slipped on one of the rocks and barked his left shin.
"Oh dear!" he cried, in pain. "I don't like this much. It is a regular Rocky Road to Dublin!"
"I don't feel like going much further," said Snap. "I think we ought to go, back. See, it is starting in to snow," he added, as the flakes began to fall.
The four boy hunters held a consultation, which almost ended in a quarrel. Whopper was determined to go ahead after the deer and so was Shep, while Snap and Giant insisted upon returning to the camp.
"I'll tell you what's let do," said Whopper. Two of us can go on and two go back. That's fair."
"And the two to go back can take the game to camp," added Shep. "There is no use of our carrying it with us. And, besides, if we get a deer, that will be a big load for us."
"Aren't you afraid of a big snow coming on?" questioned Snap.
"Oh, this snow won't amount to anything," declared the doctor's son.
"Perhaps it will."
Snap and Giant took possession of all the game, and turned over to Shep and Whopper the lunch that had been brought along.
"We can get what we want when we reach camp," said Snap. "And you may need this before you get back."
"If I were you I wouldn't stay out too late," cautioned Giant. "If you do, you may lose your way in the dark."
"We'll be safe enough," answered Whopper confidantly.
It was no light load for Snap and Giant to carry, for the turkey, rabbits and squirrels were all big. They saw Shep and Whopper depart and rested fully five minutes before taking to the back trail.
"I wish they had come with us," said the leader of the Gun Club. "I doubt if they get a deer—the wind is blowing directly toward the game."
"Well, they wanted to go so let them," answered Giant.
The barked shin hurt considerably and he was anxious to get back to camp, that he might wash it and bathe it with witch hazel.
"Let us go up the lake and across on the ice," suggested Snap. "It will be shorter, and we'll avoid that nasty gully and the rough rocks."
They took to the course mentioned, and inside of half an hour reached the lake front once more. It was now snowing steadily and the wind was gradually rising.
"I said it was going to snow hard," grumbled Snap. "They should have come with us. It won't be fit to be out in another hour."
"Well, they wanted their own way, so let them have it," answered his companion.
They wished they had their skates to skate across a cove which separated them from the camp. The bare spots on the ice were as slippery as wet glass and they had to walk "as if on eggs," as Snap expressed it. Once his right foot went from under him, and he measured his length on his back, while his gun slid a dozen feet away.
"Come here and I'll pick you up," sang out Giant merrily, as soon as he saw his chum was not hurt.
"That was a peachy fall," grumbled Snap, as he turned over and got up. "Glad the gun didn't go off."
"Do you know what I am going to do—if it doesn't snow too hard?" said Giant, as they walked on again. "Try my luck at fishing through a hole in the ice. Fish will taste good for breakfast."
They were directly in the middle of the lake when a distant gunshot reached their ears, followed by another. They halted and listened.
"Whopper and Shep must have found something to shoot at," remarked the smaller member of the Gun Club.
"Or else there are other hunters in this vicinity. I shouldn't be surprised if Jed Sanborn is out."
"Yes, and a dozen others, for the matter of that."
By the time they had crossed the lake the wind was blowing furiously, sending the snow whirling over the smooth ice in long white streaks. More than half out of breath, the two young hunters were glad enough to reach the shelter of the trees and bushes.
"It's going to be a corker," was Snap's comment. "Just listen to the wind whistling through the trees!"
"I don't think I'll try fishing just yet," said Giant. "I might get frozen fast to the ice."
"Fishing will have to wait, Giant. Come on into the Inn."
They were glad enough to enter the shelter and rest for a few minutes. Then, when they had regained their breath, both set about building a fire. Luckily they had saved some dry bark and brushwood, so starting the blaze was comparatively easy. They heaped on several medium-sized sticks and then a good back and a front log, and soon the fire was roaring merrily. The home-made chimney was wide open at the top, so a good deal of heat was lost, yet enough remained below to warm the shelter nicely.
"I tell you, a fire makes all the difference in the world!" declared Snap, as he pulled off his outer coat and cap and sat down close to the chimney. "No matter how forlorn or lonely a fellow feels, a fire is bound to brighten him up and make him feel on better terms with himself."
"Right you are, Snap. I pity the fellow who gets left in the woods without a match, or the wherewith to start a camp-fire," answered Giant, who was using the witch hazel on his ankle.
As soon as they were warm, the two boys set to work to cook themselves a substantial meal. They prepared sufficient for all hands, thinking that Shep and Whopper would be back in an hour or two at the most.
"They won't stay out very long—with this snowstorm on," remarked Snap. "They know what such a storm means as well as we do."
Before leaving camp that morning Giant had made some bread dough and set it for raising. This was now in good shape and he kneaded it over and made some loaves and some muffins. The muffins they used for their meal, along with more beans and some stewed squirrel, and a pot of hot chocolate. They ate leisurely, at the same time keeping their ears on the alert for the coming of their companions. Three times during the meal Snap went to the doorway, to gaze out.
"They are foolish not to come back before it gets night," he said. "If they don't look out they'll be snow-bound."
"Oh, Snap, do you think so?" cried the smaller member of the club, in alarm.
"It might happen, Giant. Just look how it is snowing! Why, I can't see a hundred feet from the Inn!"
Giant came to the opening and peered forth. Snap was right, the snow was coming down thickly, and the fierce wind sent it swirling in all directions. The landscape on all sides was completely blotted out.
"Oh, if only they had come back with us!" murmured Giant.
Both of the boys sighed and returned to the fireside, finishing their meal in silence. They were much worried, more than they cared to admit to each other.
The meal over, Giant warmed some water and washed the few tin dishes and other things which had been dirtied. Snap put another log on the fire, and then got out the acetylene bicycle lamp that had been brought along.
"What are you going to do with that?" questioned Giant.
"Light it and hang it out for a searchlight," answered Snap. "It may aid them in finding the Inn."
The gas lamp was soon fizzing and then Snap applied a match. As it flashed up, he regulated the light and then the affair was taken outside and hung where its rays might flash forth through the storm and across the cove of the lake.
"They can see that quite a distance, even through the flying snow," said the leader of the Gun Club. "And they'll want all the light they can get, to find their way back."
He and Giant sat down again in front of the roaring fire. They watched the sparks fly upward and the ruddy glare showed a concerned look on the face of each. They did not care to read or play any game, and talked in low tones, each with his ears strained to catch any sound from without.
Slowly one hour after another went by, until the darkness of night lay over the camp. The snow came down as thickly as ever and the wind shrieked dismally through the leafless trees. Time and again the two boys had gone to the doorway to look out, and Snap had even run down to the very edge of the lake.
"It's no use," he said finally. "They are snowbound and can't get here. If only they are safe!"
"Yes, if only they are safe!" echoed Giant.
Left to themselves, Shep and Whopper started off briskly after the deer that had been seen from the top of the tree.
"We must get at least one of 'em by all means," said Shep. "It won't do to go back to the camp skunked."
"We shan't be skunked," answered Whopper, confidantly. "If there are a dozen, we'll bag the lot of them!"
The trail was by no means as easy as they had anticipated, and they had to pick their way around the rocks and through the brushwood with care. Once Whopper slid down one of the rocks and landed on his back with a thump that took the wind out of him completely.
"Cats and carrots!" he gasped. "Say, but that was a hard one, right enough!"
"Trying to split the rock?" asked Shep, helping him up.
"No, I was only testing it, to see how soft it was," growled Whopper.
Soon the two boys found themselves going up a small hill. The climb was rather discouraging, until Whopper let out a soft cry, and then motioned for silence.
"See 'em?" queried his chum, in a whisper.
"No, but there are the tracks, as plain as day!"
Whopper was right, the deer tracks were there, although partly covered by the falling snow. At the sight of them the spirits of the boy hunters arose wonderfully. They forgot how tired they were, and pushed forward at a faster gait than ever before.
"Won't we surprise them when we come back with such game!" said Shep.
"I think so, Shep. They didn't really think we'd get anything," answered Whopper.
On and on went the boys, the trail of the deer becoming plainer at every step. They did not notice how much ground they were covering nor in what direction they were moving. They had "deer fever" and had it hard.
Presently they came to the top of the rise of ground. Beyond was a patch of scrub timber, where, years before, a forest fire had wiped out the best of the trees. Looking ahead they saw four deer walking slowly along near some brushwood.
"There they are!" cried Shep, and brought his gun around for use.
At that moment the deer turned partly around and looked squarely at the boys. They were evidently taken completely by surprise and their heads went up high as they discovered the enemy. Then, without further hesitation they leaped forward, toward the dense timber ahead.
Bang! went Shep's shotgun, and crack! came the sharp report of Whopper's rifle. Before the echoes had died away the last of the deer leaped high in the air, made a part turn and then came down heavily. Then it got up, ran several paces and fell again and began to kick.