The Mountain Boys Series
PHIL BRADLEY'S MOUNTAIN BOYS
Or The Birch Bark Lodge
By SILAS K. BOONE
The New York Book Company New York
Copyright, 1915, by The New York Book Company
I Bound for Lake Surprise 11 II Lub and the Mother Bobcat 21 III A Mystery, to Start with 33 IV The Figure in the Moonlight 46 V The Sudden Awakening 59 VI Getting Rid of an Intruder 72 VII On the Border of the Lake 84 VIII The Mountain Boys in Camp 97 IX The 'Coon Photographer 112 X Finding a Sunbeam 121 XI An Encounter in the Pine Woods 134 XII When Two Played the Game 143 XIII How "Daddy" Came Back 156 XIV The Puzzle of It All 169 XV After the Storm 181 XVI Peace After Strife—Conclusion 194
PHIL BRADLEY'S MOUNTAIN BOYS
BOUND FOR LAKE SURPRISE
"Phil, please tell me we're nearly there!"
"I'd like to, Lub, for your sake; but the fact of the matter is we've got about another hour of climbing before us, as near as I can reckon."
"Oh! dear, that means sixty long minutes of this everlasting scrambling over logs, and crashing through tangled underbrush. Why, I reckon I'll have the map of Ireland in red streaks on my face before I'm done with it."
At that the other three boys laughed. They were not at all unfeeling, and could appreciate the misery of their fat companion; but then Lub had such a comical way of expressing himself, and made so many ludicrous faces, that they could never take him seriously.
They were making their way through one of the loneliest parts of the great Adirondack regions. There might not be a living soul within miles of them, unless possibly some guide were wandering in search of new fields.
The regular fishermen and tourists never came this way for many reasons; and the only thing that had brought these four well-grown boys in the region of Surprise Lake was the fact that one of them, Phil Bradley, owned a large mountain estate of wild land that abutted on the western shore of the lake.
All of the lads carried regular packs on their backs, secured with bands that passed across their foreheads, thus giving them additional advantages. In their hands they seemed to be gripping fishing rods in their cases, as well as some other things in the way of tackle boxes and bait pails.
Apparently Phil and his chums were bent on having the time of their lives upon this outing. Laden in this fashion, it was no easy task they had taken upon themselves to "tote" such burdens from the little jumping-off station up the side of the mountain, and then across the wooded plateau. There was no other way of getting to Lake Surprise, as yet, no wagon road at all; which accounted for its being visited only by an occasional fisherman or hunter.
Each year such places become fewer and fewer in the Adirondacks; and in time to come doubtless a modern hotel would be erected where just then only primitive solitude reigned.
Of course Lub (who at home in school rejoiced in the more aristocratic name of Osmond Fenwick) being heavily built, suffered more than any of his comrades in this long and arduous tramp. He puffed, and groaned, but stuck everlastingly at it, for Lub was not the one to give in easily, no matter how he complained.
Besides these two there was Raymond Tyson, a tall, thin chap, who was so quick to see through nearly everything on the instant that his friends had long ago dubbed him "X-Ray," and as such he was generally known.
The last of the quartette was Ethan Allan. He claimed to be a lineal descendant of the famous Revolutionary hero who captured Ticonderoga from the British by an early morning surprise. Ethan was very fond of boasting of his illustrious ancestor, and on that account found himself frequently "joshed" by his chums.
It happened that Ethan's folks were not as well off in this world's goods as those of his chums; and he was exceedingly sensitive about this fact. Charity was his bugbear; and he would never listen to any of the others standing for his share of the expense, when they undertook an expedition like the present.
Ethan was a smart chap. He knew considerable about the woods, and all sorts of things that could be found there. And he had hit upon an ingenious method for laying up a nice little store of money whereby he could keep his savings bank well filled with ready cash, and thus proudly meet his share of expenses.
In the winter he used to spend all his spare time out at a farm owned by an uncle, where he had traps, and managed to catch quite a few little fur-bearing denizens of the woods. Then in the summer and fall he knew just where the choicest mushrooms could be picked day after day in the early morning. He also had several deposits of wild ginseng and golden seal marked down, and many pounds of the dried roots did he ship to a distant city to be sold.
His success was enough to turn any boy's head, since he seemed to receive a price far above the top-notch quotations for such things. The head of the firm even took occasion to write, congratulating him on having sent a fox skin (really a dark red), which he claimed was as fine a black fox as he had ever seen, and worth a large sum of money. On another occasion it was to say that the dried ginseng Ethan had shipped was simply "magnificent," and that they took pleasure in remitting a price that they hoped would inspire him to renewed efforts.
Alas! how poor Ethan's pride would have taken a sad tumble had he ever so much as guessed that this very accommodating fur and root dealer was in reality an uncle of Phil Bradley, and that the whole thing was only a nice little plot on the part of the other three boys to assist Ethan without his knowing it.
That proved how much they thought of their chum; but should he ever discover the humiliating truth there was likely to be some trouble, on account of that pride of Ethan's.
It happened that Phil was an orphan, and had been left a very large property, the income from which he could never begin to spend in any sensible fashion. That accounted for his desire to assist Ethan; and while he felt that it was too bad to play such a trick, there seemed to be no other way in which the end they sought might be attained.
Raymond's folks, too, were wealthy, and he had really been sent up into the clear atmosphere of the Adirondacks to improve his health. Although the doctors did not really say he was threatened with signs of lung trouble, they advised that the boy, who had grown so fast at the expense of his strength, should live out of doors all he could for a year or two. He would then be able to catch up in school duties with little trouble.
The other three had by degrees come to look upon Phil as their leader; and indeed, he had all the qualities that go to make a successful pilot. They delighted to call themselves the "Mountain Boys." Really it had been Ethan Allan who originated that name, and no doubt at the time he had in mind those daring heroes of Revolutionary days who made themselves such a terror to the British under the title of "Green Mountain Boys."
Among other properties of which the Bradley estate consisted there was a tract of several thousand acres of wild land bordering on this mysterious Lake Surprise. Phil had heard a number of things about it that excited his curiosity. He had so far never set eyes on the place; when one of the other chums happened to suggest that it might make a splendid little outing, if they started to look in on the lonely estate.
One thing led to another, with the result that here they were heading toward the lake, and following a dim trail which had been described by an old guide who could not accompany them on account of other pressing engagements.
The boys were pretty good woodsmen, all but Lub, and they had not doubted their ability to find the lake.
"I think we're in luck about one thing," X-Ray was saying, as he toiled along sturdily, and wishing that he had as much stamina as Phil or Ethan; for somehow his legs seemed a bit shaky after so long and difficult a tramp, with all that burden piled on his back.
"As what?" asked Ethan, giving Phil a nudge, and thus calling attention to the fact that by degrees the puffing Lub had actually gone ahead, fastening his eyes on the winding trail, and evidently feeling that he was becoming quite a woodsman.
"Why, about that cabin the old guide Jerry Kane told us was on the shore of the lake. It'll save us building one, you know, if it's in any kind of a decent condition," the tall boy went on to say.
"Yes, that's a fact," Phil himself remarked; "I've been thinking so right along. I only hope we won't find some fishermen camped in it. Kane said that once in a long while some guide took a party over to Surprise; but that the tramp was so hard few gentlemen cared to try for it. There are lakes all around that offer just about as good fishing."
"I should think there'd be some pretty fine hunting around up here," remarked Ethan. "I've noticed quite a few signs of deer, and that was certainly the track of a big moose we saw. I'd like to run across one of that stripe. Never saw a wild moose in all my life."
"I wouldn't be surprised if some of us do meet one while we roam the woods around the little lake," Phil told him. "If I'm that lucky I want to take a picture of the beast, to add to my collection."
"And I reckon, now," suggested X-Ray, "that nearly every night you'll be setting traps, not to catch wild animals, but to make them take their own pictures. That's the main reason why you've come up here, isn't it, Phil?"
"Well, you know it's a sort of hobby of mine, and I've got all the apparatus for taking flashlight pictures along with me. I started in to the business just to kill time; but let me tell you it grows on a fellow like everything. I'm something of a hunter myself, but this shooting with a camera beats anything else all hollow. Besides, you get your game, and yet don't injure it, which is the best of all."
Ethan laughed, and shook his head.
"But your pelts don't bring you in the hard cash, Phil, like mine do," he went on to say, with a touch of genuine pride in his voice. "S'pose now I'd just snapped off that black fox's picture instead of getting his paw in my steel Newhouse trap—it might have been all very well, but I'd be several hundred dollars shy right now."
X-Ray Tyson chuckled; but the other frowned and shook his head. It would never do to get Ethan's suspicions aroused. He was terribly persistent, and once on the scent would never give up until he had unearthed their clever little plot. Then good-by to peace among the Mountain Boys, for Ethan would never be apt to forgive them the deception.
"That's the main thing, after all, Ethan," Phil added. "One man's food is another man's poison. You enjoy your way of doing things, and I understand how that is, for I'm something of a hunter of small game myself; but I find more real delight in surprising a keen-nosed fox, or a night-roaming raccoon, and getting his photo than in blowing them over with a charge of shot."
"Think there could be any bear up around here, Phil?" asked Lub, over his shoulder.
"I wouldn't be surprised, and if we run across tracks I'll add to my collection."
"Mebbe we ought to have fetched a gun along," suggested X-Ray, who was not much of a hunter himself, though fond of any kind of game when it was cooked at a camp-fire.
"Well, that would have brought us into trouble with the game wardens," Phil replied.
At this point they were interrupted by a cry from Lub, who was on his hands and knees in the midst of the scrub, where he had evidently caught his foot in a vine, and gone sprawling down on account of his clumsiness.
High above the exclamation from the lips of their fat companion they could hear a fierce growling sound, and about ten feet beyond Lub they saw the crouching body of a very large and angry bobcat, with blazing yellow eyes, and every hair on its back standing up on edge, as it got ready to spring.
LUB, AND THE MOTHER BOBCAT
"Keep still, everybody!" said Phil, grasping the perilous situation instantly.
"Gee whiz! look at its eyes staring, will you?" gasped X-Ray, appalled by the ferocious aspect of the crouching beast, which was squatted on a log just a few paces beyond poor kneeling and terrorized Lub.
"Phil, oh! Phil, tell me what I ought to do!" they heard the fat chum saying in rather a faint voice; all the while doubtless keeping his strained eyes glued on that dreadful apparition.
"It's a mother wildcat, and she's got kits somewhere near by," Phil was saying steadily. "That's what makes her so fierce in the daytime. Lub, can you hear me plainly?"
He did not elevate his voice in the least, not wishing to do anything out of the ordinary so as to excite the angry beast further, and cause it to jump.
"Yes, sure I can; go on and tell me, Phil," whined the other, appealingly, and remaining on his hands and knees as though absolutely incapable of moving.
"Don't be alarmed," Phil went on to say. "I've got my revolver in my hand, and if it comes to the worst I'll shoot. The other boys will yell like everything, too, and that might make her sheer off. But first try and back up, just as you are. Careful now, and do it as easy as you can, Lub."
They saw the fat boy begin to cautiously extend one foot backwards. When there came a warning snarl he instantly stiffened out as though he had been turned into stone.
"Try it some more," Phil told him, "go carefully, but never mind the growls. When she sees you're retreating she'll be satisfied, let's hope."
So Lub did as he was told, for his nature was rather docile. It could be seen that he was holding himself in readiness to flatten out on his stomach in case of hostile demonstrations on the part of the wildcat. No doubt he expected that he could in this way manage to protect his face from her claws; while the pack on his back would serve him in good stead there.
Phil, however, had rightly gauged the intention of the mother beast. She was only standing up for her whelps, and so long as they were not placed in peril she did not mean to attack that crowd of two-legged enemies.
The further Lub got away from the danger zone the more rapidly he began to move his plump legs. Presently he felt Ethan lay hold of his foot, at which he gave a gasping cry, under the impression that it must be the mate of the enraged bobcat which had attacked him from the rear.
"It's all right, Lub," Ethan hastened to say, reassuringly, for he had not intended to frighten the other; "you're among friends now; and see there how the old cat slinks away, still growling and looking daggers at us with those yellow eyes of hers. Wow! she would have given us a warm time of it, I'm telling you!"
"Did you get her photo, Phil?" demanded X-Ray; "because I heard the click, after you'd swung your little camera around."
"Yes, when I saw that she didn't mean to tackle us," replied the other, "I remembered that I ought to have something to show for Lub's adventure. Guess you'll be glad to have a print of your friend, Lub; it'll be a nice thing to look at on a hot summer day; because you'll always have a chill chase up and down your spinal column, when you think what would have happened if you'd come to close quarters with that cat."
"And talk about the map of Ireland on your face," added Ethan; "more'n likely you'd call it one of Europe, with every river plainly marked."
Lub was mopping his face with his red bandanna. All the color had fled, leaving him as white as a ghost; but under the manipulation of his handkerchief that was being speedily rectified.
"I think I'll drop back a bit, and let some of the rest of you fellows take the lead from now on," Lub told them, contritely, "I ought to have known better than to try and show off when I'm such a greeny about following a trail."
"You were doing all right," Phil told him, "and making a good job of it up to that time. Who'd ever expect that we'd run across a bobcat in the middle of the afternoon; and one that had kits at that? I'd have had just as bad a shock as you got, Lub, if it was me in the lead. No need of feeling ashamed; the sight of that thing was enough to give any hunter a bad scare, especially if he had no gun along."
This sort of consolation served to make poor Lub better satisfied; though doubtless he would continue to feel unusually nervous for some little time. If a chipmunk stirred in the trash under a dead tree Lub was apt to draw a long breath, and involuntarily shrink back behind one of his companions.
"Guess we'd better make a detour around that bunch of scrub, eh, Phil?" remarked Ethan, sagely.
"Well, it would be a wise thing to do," chuckled the other; "because just now we haven't lost any bobcat that we know about. The trail seems to be heading pretty straight right here; and chances are we'll have little trouble running across the same some little ways on."
Both he and Ethan took a good survey of their surroundings, but evidently the wildcat was still hiding amidst that scrub, for they saw nothing of her again while making the half circuit.
"Now keep your eyes peeled for the trail again, Ethan," advised Phil, when they were well around on the other side of the danger spot.
Lub managed to push along until he could find himself in the midst of the bunch. He cast numerous side glances in the direction of that disputed ground, as though half anticipating seeing a whole army of ferocious bobcats come leaping forth, all with blazing yellow eyes and stubby tails.
Nothing of the kind happened, however, and presently Ethan was heard calling:
"Here's your old trail, Phil, as plain as print. And d'ye know, there's only one thing I'm sorry about, which is that you didn't think to snap off a picture with our chum on his hands and knees backing off, and the cat on the log."
"Well, I'm glad myself there wasn't any chance to keep that accidental tumble of mine as a perpetual joke," said Lub, indignantly.
"Nothing to be ashamed about at all, Lub," remarked X-Ray; "and I reckon now if it had been Ethan himself who stumbled when he caught his foot in a vine, and then found himself face to face with a mad cat he'd have been near paralyzed too."
This seemed to mollify Lub somewhat, though he hardly liked that reference to his having been paralyzed very much.
They pushed on resolutely and the minutes passed. Phil on hearing Lub puffing and seeing that X-Ray lagged a little, cheered both of them up by declaring that the time was now short.
"It wouldn't surprise me a whit," he said, cheerily, "to get a glimpse of the lake any time now, through the trees. Unless all my calculations are faulty we must be on my land right now."
"That sounds good to me, Phil," asserted X-Ray, joyously, as he took a fresh spurt, and no longer limped as though he had a stone bruise on his heel.
Even Lub grinned until his red face looked like a newly risen sun.
"We'll all be mighty glad to get there, believe me!" he declared; "and think of the jolly time we'll have preparing our first supper in the woods. This big aluminum frying pan of Phil's has kept digging me in the ribs right along, until I'm afraid there's a black and blue spot there; but I mean to take my revenge good and plenty when we fill it full of onions and potatoes and such fine things. Take another squint ahead, Phil, and see if you can't give us real good news."
"Well, just as sure as anything I see what looks like water!" called out Phil, with an eager tremor in his voice.
"Whereabouts, Phil? Oh! I hope now, you're not joshing us?" Lub demanded.
"Stop just where you are, everybody," the pilot of the expedition told them, "and watch where I'm pointing. If you follow my finger you can see if I've made a mistake or not. How about it, X-Ray? You've got the best eyes of the crowd, I guess."
"It's water, all right, Phil," replied the other, glad that he could be accounted as best in something.
"And that means Lake Surprise, doesn't it?" questioned Ethan Allan.
"Yes, because it's the only body of water for miles around here," Phil continued. "That's one reason they let it alone so much. Other lakes lie in bunches, and a canoe can be taken over a carry from one to another in the chain; but Surprise is an awful lonely sheet of water."
"And that's how it must have got its name," added Ethan. "All the while nobody dreamed there was any such lake up here; and then all at once a wandering guide must have run headlong on the same, to his surprise."
"Wish we were there on the bank right now," grunted Lub.
"Another mile, perhaps half of that, ought to take us to the water," he was assured by Phil; "and you see we are coming in from the west, which is all right, too, because my land lies on the western shore; and that cabin must be somewhere just ahead of us."
"Hurrah!" shouted Ethan, unable to keep from giving expression to his delight any longer.
The others felt pretty much the same way, and joined in a series of joyous whoops.
"Now, everybody put his best foot forward, and we'll soon be there," urged Phil; "the worst is behind us, you know."
"That's a heap better than having it yet to come!" declared X-Ray, feeling that with the goal in sight he should be able to hold out.
They plodded along for some eight minutes or more, frequently catching glimpses of the lake beyond, and knowing that they were rapidly approaching its border. All at once X-Ray gave a cry.
"Tell me, what is that I can see over there, Phil; looks for all the world like a shack made of silver birches! See how the sun shines on its side, will you? Is that your cabin, do you think, Phil?"
"Just what it must be, X-Ray," the other told him; "they've nailed birch bark all over the sides of the log hut, you see, just to make it look rustic."
"Then we'll have to call it Birch Bark Lodge!" burst out Lub, who had a little vein of the romantic in his disposition.
"That sounds good to me!" declared Ethan.
"It goes, then, does it?" asked the delighted Lub, beginning to believe he must be waking up, to have any suggestion of his so quickly and favorably seized upon.
"Sure thing," said X-Ray Tyson. "Hurrah for Birch Bark Lodge, the home in the wilderness of the Mountain Boys."
"Don't be too quick to settle that sort of thing," advised the more cautious Phil. "For all we know there may be somebody ahead of us in the shack; and you know we couldn't well chase 'em out."
"But see here, Phil, if the cabin stands on your ground of course it's your property by right of law, no matter whoever built the shack in the start. He was only a squatter at the best," and Lub looked wise when he laid down this principle in common law which is often so exceedingly difficult to practice in the backwoods, where right of possession is nine points of the law.
"Yes," Phil told him, "but there's always a rule in the woods that governs cases like this, no matter who owns the land. First come, first served. If we find that shack occupied by some sportsmen and their guides, why, we'll have to chase along and put up one for ourselves somewhere else."
"Huh! I don't like to hear you say that," remarked Lub, who would possibly have liked to enter into a discussion along the line of right of property, only none of the others cared to bother with such a question, particularly after what Phil had said.
They pushed on and approached the cabin. One and all were looking eagerly to discover any signs of occupancy, and greatly to their satisfaction no dog came barking toward them, nor was there even a smudge of smoke oozing out of the mud-and-slab chimney that had been built up alongside the back of the shack.
"I guess it's all hunk," admitted Ethan, with a sigh of relief, as they drew near the partly open door. "See that gray squirrel running along the roof, would you? He wouldn't be doing that same if folks were around."
"Oh! that depends on what kind of folks," remarked Phil. "For my part I never yet would shoot little animals around camp. I like to see them frisking about too much to want to eat them up. But as you say, it looks as if we had the cabin to ourselves, after all, for which I'm glad."
"Tell me about that, will you?" muttered Lub, also showing positive signs of satisfaction.
All of them pushed into the cabin.
"Why, this is just the thing!" cried Ethan Allan; "see the bunks along one side of the wall, boys,—two, three, four of them, if you please."
"Just one apiece for us, and I choose this because it looks more roomy, and better fitted for a fellow of my heft than any of the rest!" Lub was heard to say.
They immediately began to unfasten the straps that held their packs in place.
"Hey! what're you doing, starting a fire already, Phil?" called out Ethan, noticing that the other was bending over the hearth.
For answer Phil beckoned to the others to approach closer.
"There's something queer happened," he told them, with a frown on his face; "just bend down here, Ethan, and put your hand in these ashes, will you?"
"Why!" exclaimed Ethan, immediately, "they're warm right now, would you believe it?"
A MYSTERY, TO START WITH
While Ethan, Phil and X-Ray Tyson seemed to grasp the true significance of this astonishing discovery, Lub as yet had not managed to get it through his head. He was a little dense about some things, although a clever enough scholar when at school.
"The ashes warm, you say, Ethan?" he burst out with. "Now, that's a funny thing. What would make them hold heat that way, when there's not a sign of anybody around?"
"There has been somebody here, and only a short time ago, don't you see?" explained Phil.
"And like as not they heard us cheering when we glimpsed the lake, and cleared out in a big hurry," Ethan went on to say.
"Cleared out?" echoed Lub'. "Well, why should they run from us, tell me? We don't look dangerous, as far as I can see. We wouldn't bother hurting anybody; and didn't Phil say a while back that if we found some fishermen in his shack we'd just shy off, and build one for ourselves?"
"Yes, but these people didn't hear Phil say that; we were half a mile and more away from here at the time," explained X-Ray.
"And they couldn't begin to tell just who was coming," added Phil.
"It might be!" exclaimed Ethan, "that they took us for game wardens. Mebbe now they've been shooting deer out of season, and got cold feet when they knew some people were coming in to the lake."
Phil nodded his head in the affirmative, when he saw that Ethan was looking to find out just how that suggestion struck him.
"I rather think you've struck the right nail on the head there, Ethan," he told the other. "It seems the most reasonable explanation for their clearing out in such a big hurry."
"They tried to put the fire out too, didn't they, Phil?"
It was X-Ray Tyson who asked this. Those keen eyes of his had made another discovery, and he was even then pointing the same out to his chums.
"Yes, I had noticed that some one had certainly thrown water on the fire," said Phil. "You can see where it washed the ashes off this charred piece of wood; and besides, it made little furrows in the ashes."
"That's an old trick in the woods," remarked Ethan, with a superior air; "fact is, no true woodsman would think of breaking camp without first making sure every spark of his fire was put out. Lots of forest fires have come from carelessness in guides leaving red cinders behind them."
"Yes," Phil added, "because often the wind rises, and whirls those same cinders to leeward, where they fall in a bunch of dry leaves, and begin to get their work in. But when people live in cabins they seldom bother wetting the ashes, unless they've got a mighty good reason for wanting to hide the facts."
"And these people did," added Ethan, conclusively.
"Let's look around some," suggested X-Ray.
Two of the others thought this a good idea, for they immediately started a search of the interior of the cabin, their idea being to find some clue that might tell just who the late mysterious inmates were, and why they had fled so hurriedly.
Lub may have been just as curious as his mates; but he was very tired after the long and arduous walk, so that apparently he believed three could cover the field just as thoroughly as four. At any rate he showed no sign of meaning to quit his seat upon the rude stool he had found; but leaning forward, watched operations, at the same time rubbing his shins sympathetically.
"What's this on the peg up here?" exclaimed X-Ray, the very first thing.
"Looks like some sort of a hat to me," remarked Ethan.
"Just what it is; but say, take notice of the size, will you? It's a child's hat, as sure as you live! Why, there must have been a child along with the lot!"
"That's queer!" Lub observed, not wanting to be wholly ignored.
"Game poachers they may have been," muttered Ethan, "but if there was a little chap along, there must have been a family of 'em. See if you could pick up such a thing now as a hair-pin, or any other woman business."
They went to scrutinizing the cracks of the floor more closely than ever. That suggestion on the part of Ethan was worth trying out. Of course the presence of any little article like a hair-pin would show that a woman had been there.
"I don't hear anybody sing out!" remarked X-Ray Tyson, presently; "and on that account it looks like we hadn't discovered anything worth mentioning. What gets me is, however could they have cleaned the old shack out so quick, and never left anything worth mentioning behind 'em?"
"From the time we sighted the cabin, back to when we first whooped, couldn't have been more'n eight minutes, I should think," Lub gravely announced.
"Lots could be done in that time," asserted Phil; "but all the same I am bothered to know why they'd be in such a rattling big hurry. It might be they knew about us being on the way longer than eight minutes."
"Who would have called 'em up on the phone, and mentioned the fact?" asked X-Ray, meaning to be humorous.
"Well, one of the lot may have seen us miles back, and put for the cabin by some short-cut we don't know anything about," Phil told him.
"That could be, of course," admitted Ethan, after considering the matter seriously.
"Mebbe we'll never know the truth, which would be too bad," Lub continued; for a mystery was a source of constant anxiety to him; he was so frank and straightforward himself that double dealing seemed foreign to his nature.
"Well, as we didn't come all the way up here just to worry our heads over guessing hard problems, I guess we won't lose any sleep," Ethan went on to say, in his easy-going way.
"I'm wondering what made all these burns on the floor," Phil told them; "and on this table, too. In these days people don't mold bullets like they used to years ago, when the pioneers were settling the wilderness; and yet that's what it looks like to me."
"The place isn't as clean as it might be," Ethan now remarked, "and the first thing we'll have to do in the morning will be to tidy up. I'll make a broom out of twigs, like I've seen poor emigrants do. It answers the purpose pretty well, too."
He was prying around in one of the bunks while saying this, as though he had suspicions; which Lub, who was anxiously watching him, hoped in his heart might turn out to be groundless.
Phil had turned to other things, and was proceeding to undo his pack. This caught Lub's eye, and caused the worried expression on his face to give way to one of pleasure. He knew that such a move meant it was getting time for them to think of supper; and Lub was always ready to do his part toward providing a meal; oh, yes, and in disposing of the same, too.
"Wow! you quit too soon!" suddenly yelped X-Ray, who had continued prowling on hands and knees after Phil and Ethan had stopped searching the floor.
"Found something, have you?" asked the former, without looking up from his job of opening the contents of his pack.
"Is it worth a hair-pin, X-Ray?" chirped Ethan, who had been gathering a handful of timber in a corner where a lot of wood lay in a pile, ready for burning.
"You could buy a thousand with it, I reckon!" was the astonishing declaration of the finder, which remark caused every one to immediately take notice.
The boy with the sharp eyes was holding something up between thumb and forefinger. It shone in the last rays of the setting sun, as they came into the cabin through a small window in the western side.
"Why, what's this mean?" ejaculated Ethan; "looks like you've gone and struck a silver mine, X-Ray! That's a half dollar, ain't it? D'ye mean to say you found it on this same floor?"
"Just what I did, and deep down in a crack, where it must have slid, so nobody noticed it!" exclaimed the other, exultantly. "Now, needn't all get busy looking, because I reckon it's the only coin there is. That's my reward for keeping everlastingly at it. You fellows are ready to give up too easy. Say, did you ever see a brighter half dollar than that? Looks like she just came from the mint, hey?"
"Perhaps it did!" said Phil, solemnly.
When he said that the others all focussed their eyes on Phil's face. They knew he would not have spoken in such a strain unless he had some good reason for saying what he did.
"Explain what you mean, please, Phil; that's a good fellow," urged Lub.
X-Ray was not so dense, for he instantly exclaimed.
"Why, don't you see, Phil reckons that this half-dollar may have been coined right here in this birch bark cabin!"
"Whew! counterfeit, is it?" gasped Ethan, whose breath had almost been taken away with the momentous discovery. "Then I guess I ain't going to bother getting down on my knees, and doing any hunting for bogus money."
The finder apparently did not much fancy having his prize counted so meanly. He immediately proceeded to bite the coin, and then started to ringing it on the hard surface of the oak table that had all the scorched spots on it, mentioned by Phil.
"It tastes good; and listen to the sweet ring, would you, fellows?" X-Ray hastened to say. "If it's a punk fifty-center, then it's the greatest imitation ever was. I'd just like to have a cartload of the same; I think I'd call myself rich."
"If there's any suspicion fixed on the coin," Lub observed, ponderously, just as he had heard his father, the judge, deliver an opinion in court, "I'd rather be excused from carrying it around on my person. The law, you know, does not look upon ignorance as innocence. Better toss that thing as far away as you can in the morning, X-Ray. I'd hate to think of you doing time for having it in your possession."
"Hanged if I do," muttered the other. "I'm all worked up now over it, and mean to get the opinion of Mr. Budge, the cashier of our bank. He can smell a counterfeit as soon as he sets eyes on one. He'll fix all that up, believe me."
"But, Phil," Ethan remarked, just then, "what was that you were saying about all the scorched places on the table? If these people were not molding bullets they may have been using melted metal for another purpose, and one not quite so lawful, eh?"
"It looks a little that way, I must say," Phil admitted.
"Give us something to do prying around while we're up here," suggested X-Ray; "seeing if we can run across their cache where they've gone and hid away their molds, and other stuff."
"Oh! now you're only guessing," Lub told him. "It may be they were game poachers after all, no matter if the coin is a bad one. I'm sorry this had to crop up the first thing, when we aimed to have such a jolly time of it here."
"We'll have that, all right, whether or no," said Phil; "and first of all let's get busy with our duffle. If we're going to live in this shack it's our duty to make it look like home to us. Ethan, suppose you attend to the fire, and the rest of us will take care of the cooking."
"That's the ticket!" Lub ventured; "if I can do anything to help just let me sit here, and peel potatoes, or make the coffee. I'm pretty tired, you know; and besides it seems to me I get in everybody's way when I move around."
"Because you occupy so much room, Lub," X-Ray told him, cheerfully; "but it's all right, and we'll find some use for your hands. How about water; shall I take our collapsible pail and fetch some from the lake?"
Upon being told that some one must go, the spry lad darted out of the door, and reappeared a few minutes later with a brimming pail.
"I want to tell you all that it's going to be a dandy night," he chortled as he set the pail carefully down so that Lub, who was holding the aluminum coffee pot in his hands, could easily reach it; "moon's just coming up over across the lake, and about as full as could be."
"Well, some of the rest of us are hoping to be in the same condition before a great while," Ethan ventured, as he stepped over to the door, and looked out, to immediately add: "I should say it is a glorious sight, with that yellow streak shining across the water, and the little wavelets dancing like silver. Phil, this is the greatest place ever. If you hunted a whole year you couldn't beat it. And we ought to have the time of our lives while we're up at Birch Bark Lodge."
All of them were filled with delight. Being only boys, and with no particular cares weighing heavily on their minds, they refused to see any cloud on the horizon. Everything was as clear and lovely as the sky into which that full moon was climbing so sturdily.
Soon the delightful odors of supper began to pervade the atmosphere. That made it seem more than ever like a real camp. Lub was doing his share of the work like a hero. They had found a place where he could sit at one side of the fire, and here he attended to the coffee, as well as looked after the big saucepan of potatoes and onions that had been placed on the red coals. Lub's round face was about as fiery as the blaze that crackled and danced at the back of the hearth; and he often had to mop his streaming brow; but he stuck heroically at his task to the bitter end.
Then came his reward when they sat around, and every fellow had a heaping pannikin between his knees, or on the small table, flanked by a cup, also of light aluminum, filled with coffee.
Seeing that they were all helped Phil knocked on the table, and held up his cup.
"Before we take our first bite, fellows," he went on to say, solemnly; "I think we ought to drink to the success of our camping trip up here in the Adirondacks proper. Coffee is the only proper liquid to drink that toast in, so up with your cups, every one. Here's to the Mountain Boys, and may they enjoy every minute of their stay at Birch Bark Cabin!"
"Drink it down!" cried X-Ray Tyson, noisily.
With that they took the first swallow of the nectar that Lub had brewed. Never had its like been tasted at home, amidst prosaic surroundings; there was something in the atmosphere of the mountains that made ordinary things assume a different aspect; their hard tramp had aroused their appetites amazingly, and just then those four boys were ready to admit that this was the life worth while.
For the next half-hour they sat there on such stools as they could find, and proceeded to "lick the platter clean;" inasmuch as there was not a particle left when they had finished supper. But even Lub confessed that he had had quite enough.
THE FIGURE IN THE MOONLIGHT
"You couldn't beat this much, I'd say, if you want to know my opinion," Ethan was remarking, after they had finished the meal and were taking things easy.
"Of course we all feel pretty much the same way," admitted X-Ray Tyson; "but I'd be a whole lot better satisfied if I knew about that bright new half-dollar. Is it a good one, or a bunker?"
"Chances are we'll hear no end to that squall all the time we're up here," Ethan went on to say, with a pretended look of disgust on his thin Yankee face. "Whenever you do get a thing on your mind, X-Ray, you sure beat all creation to keep yawping about it. Forget that you ever picked up the fifty, and let's be thinking only of the royal good times we're meaning to have."
"What can that sound be?" suddenly remarked Lub, who had been listening more or less apprehensively for some little time now; "seems like some one might be sawing a hole through the wall. Course, though, I don't believe that for a minute; but all the same it's a queer noise. There, don't you hear it?"
There did come a distinct little "rat-tat-tat," several times repeated. No one who was not deaf could have helped hearing such a distinct sound; but Lub could not see that any of his mates seemed bothered.
"May be that old gray squirrel gnawing somewhere," suggested X-Ray; "they've got long teeth like a rat, and can chew a hole through any sort of board."
"Now, I'd rather believe it was the wind," said Ethan, who had a pretty good knowledge of woodcraft in all its branches, and was therefore well fitted to give an opinion.
"Why, how could the night wind make that sort of scratching sound?" asked Lub, doubtless wondering whether the other were simply guying him because of his being a greenhorn.
"Oh! the broken end of a branch might be rubbing against the roof of the cabin," Ethan told him. "I've known that to happen lots of times. There she hits up the tune again, you notice, Lub."
"Yes," added Phil, nodding his head approvingly, "and if you listen, every time that scratching sound comes you can hear the wind soughing through the tree-tops. That ought to prove it."
Still Lub seemed hard to convince, seeing which Ethan jumped up.
"Just stir your stumps, Lub, and come outside with me," he said, positively. "I want to prove what I said, and you've got to be shown."
Lub saw there was no getting around it, and much as he disliked making a move when he was settled so comfortably, he managed to scramble to his feet.
Once out in the bright moonlight and practical Ethan was quick to discover the source of the peculiar and often recurring noise.
"You see, Lub," he went on to say, "there's your saw at work right now. Just as I told you it's a branch that's been worn off to a stub by this scraping. Every time there's a fresh gust of wind it waves back and forth, and scraping against the roof makes that funny sound. Now, I hope your mind's easy, Lub, and that you'll sleep decent to-night."
"I hope I will," replied Lub, earnestly, at the same time remembering about the bunks, and what one of the others had said with regard to house-cleaning in the morning; "but say, it is a fine night, ain't it, Ethan. Listen to the frogs singing their chorus in some little hay of the lake."
"Yes," remarked Ethan, quickly, "I was listening to their serenade. Some busters in that lot, too, because you can hear 'em calling more-rum, more-rum' in the deepest bass. That always stands for the big bullfrogs. I ought to know, because I'm an experienced frog-raiser. Cleared sixty-seven dollars from my little pond this very summer; but I've never seen frogs'-legs quoted quite so high as that Mr. Brandon the restaurant man down in New York pays me. I guess he favors me a mite just because he happens to know some friends of Phil's."
Lub knew all about it, but he never let even a chuckle escape from his lips.
"Well, in that letter you had from him which you showed me," he observed, "he said he'd never had such fine frogs'-legs before, and wanted to make sure to keep getting all you had to sell. A dollar a pound is a cracking high sum, sure it is, but then good things always bring fancy prices."
That frog pond of Ethan's went with his many other ways for making spending money. It required almost no time at all to run it. When he found an opportunity he caught frogs wherever he could find them, and put them into his preserve. Then, on feeling that he had the right kind of goods for a gilt-edge market he would make a shipment of a box of "saddles" neatly arranged, so that they were attractive to the eye of the proprietor of the fashionable restaurant in far-off New York.
Phil had recommended Ethan to try that place, and had even given him permission to use his name as a recommendation. Ethan never knew that the same mail had carried a letter from Phil to Mr. Brandon, who was an old friend of his, making arrangements to stand for the difference between the market price of frogs'-legs and the fancy sum he was to send Ethan every time he shipped him a box.
While Lub was standing there, and apparently enjoying the sight of the moonlight dancing on the water of the lake near by, he was at the same time casting occasional apprehensive glances around him.
The woods looked mysterious enough and gloomy too, for the moon had not risen far in the heavens, and the shadows were long and abundant.
Several times he fancied he saw something moving there on the border of the dense growth. Finally he appealed to Ethan, because he had considerable respect for the opinions of his chum, who had studied woods lore so long.
"You don't think now, that any of that crowd we scared away from the cabin would come sneaking back to spy on us, or try to steal any of our things?" he asked, trying to appear as though such an idea was furthest from his own thoughts.
"Well, I hadn't bothered with such a thing as that, Lub, but now that you mention the same I can't see why they should. We haven't got anything along worth stealing; and if they are afraid of the officers of the law, as counterfeiters, or game poachers, why, they'd want to get as far away as they could. So I wouldn't let that keep me from sleeping a wink."
"Oh! I don't mean to," Lub hastened to exclaim, stoutly; but all the same as he followed Ethan back through the cabin doorway the very last thing he did was to take a parting survey of the forest fringe, and shrug his fat shoulders.
"Seems like it was getting right noisy out there, Ethan," remarked X-Ray, when Lub had carefully pushed the door shut, and both of those who had just entered found places again in the half circle before the red embers of the fire.
The interior was only dimly lighted, because they only had a single lantern to do duty. But then it served them amply, because no one meant to try and read; and whenever a fresh lot of wood was thrown on the coals it flashed up brilliantly.
That firelight was a part of the charm of the whole thing. They could have lamps, gas, or even electric light at home any time they wanted; but only under such conditions as these was it possible to enjoy the mystic firelight.
"Why, yes," Ethan replied, "I guess the woods folks are waking up. You can hear crickets a fiddling away for dear life, and other sorts of insects besides. Then there's a pair of screech owls calling to each other; a whip-poor-will whooping things up; and most of all the frogs have started in to get busy with their chorus. And say, I'm going to promise you a feast to-morrow night."
"Frogs'-legs, you mean, I take it, Ethan." Phil quickly exclaimed, looking pleased at the prospect.
"Yes, because there's some corkers out there; and leave it to me to get 'em. I'm an authority on frogs'-legs, you know. And when they fetch a dollar a pound every time, you c'n see that they ought to be reckoned a treat."
"A dollar a pound, did you say?" demanded X-Ray, as if he fancied he had not heard aright; whereat he had his shins kicked by Lub, who happened to sit next to him, as a warning that he was treading on perilous ground.
"Why, yes, that's the price I always get!" declared Ethan, loftily. "You see, it pays to do things up in style. My shipments look so attractive to Mr. Brandon that he says it is a pleasure to just open my box. Of course all of you fellows like frogs'-legs?"
Phil and X-Ray Tyson immediately declared they believed they could never get enough of the dainty.
"To tell you the honest truth," said Lub, contritely, "I never tasted any that I know of. My folks don't seem to care for queer things."
"Queer things!" almost shouted Ethan; "well, I like that now! Why, don't you know that frogs'-legs are as delicate as squab. You'd think you had a spring chicken, only when you come to think, it has just a little taste of fish about it."
"Oh! my, I don't know as I'd fancy that very much," complained Lub.
"Huh! I know you better than to believe that, Lub," he was told by the other; "and I'll just have to make sure to lay in a plenty, because I c'n see you passing in your platter seven times, to say: 'Please see if there isn't just one more helping for me, won't you, Ethan; they're the finest things I ever set my teeth in, and that's no lie!'"
"Well, wait and see, that's all," Lub concluded. "I'm willing to be convinced. I mightn't care for a thing like that at home, with a white tablecloth, silver, and cut glass all around me; but then it's a different case when you're up in the woods, with your camp appetite along, and going just half crazy because supper is so slow cooking, with all those odors stealing to your nose. Try it on me, Ethan; I'd be willing to taste even dog just once, if I was hungry, and met up with a bunch of Indians."
"I'm not afraid of the verdict," announced the boy who raised frogs, and thought he had a right to know considerable about them, since he topped the market with the gilt-edge prices he received.
So they talked, and joked, as the evening wore along. Several times they caught Lub in the act of yawning, and he was of course immediately poked in the ribs as they besought him to please not swallow the cabin while about it.
"But I tell you I am sleepy; and no matter what the rest of you say I'm going to get my bunk made up. I want to be in apple-pie shape for to-morrow, for I expect it's going to be a red-letter day with us."
Each of them had carried a warm blanket in their pack, which was one reason for the bulk of these burdens. They had not been quite as heavy as they looked; doubtless the greatest load consisted of canned goods, and food of various kinds, which they would not have to pack out of the woods again.
Lub was somewhat fastidious about how he wanted his bed made up. Three separate times did he pull it to pieces again, to start in afresh.
"Hey, stop bothering so much with that!" X-Ray Tyson called out, having been observing what the other was doing. "You certainly are the greatest old woman I ever ran across, Lub."
"And you'll never make a woodsman, as long as you're so finicky, either," Ethan warned him. "'The happy-go-lucky kind is best in the end. They give their blanket a fling, and just crawl under. And they sleep the soundest too."
"Oh! well, I'll learn some day, perhaps," said Lub, not at all disconcerted by all this raillery, for it fell from him as water does from a duck's back. "But I've got it fixed to suit me at last. This bunch of dead grass rolled in the pillow slip I fetched will make me a dandy pillow. I'm glad you gave me a hint to bring one along, Phil."
"Old woodsmen use then? boots for a pillow," chuckled Ethan, which remark caused the particular Lub to shudder, and shake his head, as though he began to despair of ever reaching that point where he could claim to be a seasoned veteran.
While the others were again indulging in some sort of discussion, Lub, thinking he was unobserved, sauntered over to one of the little windows which the builder of the birch cabin had arranged so that he might have light, and yet shut out the cold air of winter.
"Oh, come here, won't you, Phil; there's somebody walking along by the trees, and standing still to watch the cabin every once in a while!"
When Lub said this in a voice that trembled with excitement the other three boys of course hastened to scramble to their feet and reach his side.
"Whereabouts, Lub?" demanded X-Ray Tyson, eagerly, as he pressed his nose against the glass, and occupied so much space in doing so that he prevented the others from having a chance to see fairly; so that Phil and Ethan deliberately drew him to one side.
"There, over yonder where the moon shines between the little second-growth trees!" the discoverer went on to say, huskily, and pointing a trembling stubby finger as he spoke. "There, didn't you see then, boys?"
"There certainly is something, and it moved!" admitted Ethan.
"Oh! it's a man, I'm telling you!" hissed Lub; "didn't I see him plain as the nose on your face, X-Ray, and that's going some. He was moving along where the shadows die out. Now he's past that place. It's a man, believe me; and he's meaning to sneak in here to-night, to rob us. There, see him moving again, will you?"
"Yes, I do believe it is a man, bending over at that," agreed Phil.
"He's moving off, seems like," observed X-Ray, who had not altogether fancied Lub's allusion to his nose, because it was rather large.
"Mebbe he's seen us peeking out and thinks it's time he sheered off?" suggested Ethan.
"Had we better collar him, Phil?" asked X-Ray, who was inclined to be very quick in his actions, and often without due thought making some move he was likely to regret later.
"No, that would be silly," decided Phil. "The only weapons we've got consist of one revolver, a couple of camp hatchets, and some hunting knives. How do we know what he might do, or how many of them there may be? Let him look at the cabin, and then go away. I don't think we'll be bothered by anybody."
"And I'm not going to lie awake thinking about it," said Ethan. "If he comes in here, and finds anything worth while, we could surround him and make him go shares, you know."
"There, he's moving off at last," said Lub; "but I don't like all this mystery. Who is he, and what does he want? We'd be happier if we moved on, and built a cabin somewhere else."
"What!" exclaimed the belligerent X-Ray, "clear out when Phil owns the whole shebang, and has invited us up? Well, I guess not!"
THE SUDDEN AWAKENING
"Thought you meant to go to bed, Lub?" said Ethan, some little time afterwards, as they were all sitting around again.
"Oh! somehow I seem to have gotten over my sleepy spell," admitted the other, frankly; "perhaps it was the excitement over seeing that prowler outside that did it. I'm as wide awake as a hawk right now."
"Well, it's just the other way with me," X-Ray remarked, yawning almost as furiously as Lub had been doing before; "I'm getting dopey, and mean to turn in pretty soon. If nothing else happens to bother, nobody's going to hear a word from me after I hit the hay."
Lub looked at him painfully, but he did not think it best to ask further questions lest he stir up a hornets' nest. There was something on Lub's mind. Phil understood this from various signs. He began to get an inkling as to what its nature might prove to be, when several times he saw the other lean forward and look long and earnestly up the chimney.
"What d'ye expect to see up there, Lub?" asked Ethan, who had also it seemed been watching the other. "This isn't the time for old Santa Claus to come down with his pack of toys. His reindeer need snow for their sledge, you know."
"Will you let the fire go out when we turn in, Phil?" asked Lub, ignoring all such little annoyances as this.
"Why, I suppose so," he was told. "If it was cold weather it might be a different thing; but to-night is pretty warm, and we'll get little air in here, with the door closed. Yes, the last wood has been thrown on the fire; and to tell the truth there's only a handful more in the house, which we'll save to start things with in the morning."
"What did you ask that for, Lub?"
X-Ray made this inquiry. He realized that the other must have something on his mind, or he would not have spoken as he did. And X-Ray was curious to know what its character might turn out to be.
"Oh, nothing much; only it strikes me that's a whopping big chimney, that's all," replied the other, a little confused.
"I see what you mean," said Phil; "you're thinking that even if we do close the door as we intend, if a thief wanted to get in here he could creep down such a wide-throated chimney? Well, I shouldn't be at all surprised if he could, providing he took the notion."
"I hate to think of being sound asleep, and not know a single thing about it," pursued Lub, "You know how I caught that darky stealing our chickens last winter? I set a trap for him, and gave him such a scare that he just crouched in a corner of the coop with all the hens cackling like mad, till father went out and got him by the scruff of the neck."
"Mebbe you'd like to set one of your fine traps here then, Lub," suggested Ethan.
"I think I could do it, if the rest of you didn't object," Lub pursued.
"Please yourself," said Phil.
"I'm off to bed right now," added X-Ray Tyson, "so you c'n have the whole blooming field to yourself. Be sure you don't get nabbed in your own contraption, Lub. Now, you may smile at my saying that, but it wouldn't be the first time a bitter got bitten."
Both Phil and Ethan began to stretch, and exhibited other positive signs of being ready to turn in. It would appear that none of the rest of them gave much thought to the possibility of their having unwelcome visitors during the night. Lub envied them their calm indifference; but he felt that he would not be doing his whole duty unless he carried out that idea of the trap.
He saw Phil saunter over to the door, which, with something of an effort he managed to get to close tight enough so that the bar could be dropped into place. That avenue seemed quite safe; and as the windows had each one a couple of stout bars fastened across them, it looked as though there could be no ingress unless the intruder were a mere child, or else made use of that wide-throated slab-and-hard-mud chimney.
The other boys were more or less amused to see what the ingenious Lub was doing, in order to further his plot. First of all he arranged the stools and other bulky objects that he could gather about the room in such fashion that they formed a species of rude barricade on either side of the hearth, where the red embers still held forth.
"Looks like a regular wild animal trap, all right!" Ethan sang out, as though more or less surprised that Lub should know as much as he did about such things. "That forces the intruder to step out in the middle; and I guess now that's where you're going to fix things to give him a warm reception, eh, Lub?"
"You wait and see," was all the other would say.
They quickly understood what he had in mind. Everything they had along in the shape of cooking utensils, that would be apt to make a jangling noise if thrown down, was utilized. The big frying pan crowned the pyramid, and Lub was very particular just how he placed this, so that the least jar was apt to dislodge the aluminum skillet, which would be certain to arouse even the soundest sleeper when it rattled on the floor.
"Don't kick over our grub that we've got piled up close by you there, Lub," warned X-Ray, after chuckling to see how the other was making such elaborate arrangements; for he did not have the remotest idea they would amount to anything in the end.
"That ought to finish your trap, Lub, I should think," said Phil, who was almost ready to climb into his bunk, having removed most of his clothing, and arranged his sleeping quarters in a jiffy; he too had a small pillow-slip filled with some of the hay, upon which he expected to rest his head comfortably.
"Why, yes, I don't seem to think of anything else we've got that would help to make a big noise," the other replied, soberly; "what with four cups, as many platters, the coffeepot, and the frying pan ought to make plenty of racket. But say, you should have seen the heap of tin-pans I piled up the time I caught that chicken thief."
"If you had much more than this lot," Ethan announced, "I don't wonder the poor critter was scared nearly stiff, and could only crouch there till your dad came and arrested him."
"And on my part," said X-Ray Tyson, with another wide yawn, "I only hope there doesn't anything happen to start that pyramid tumbling, that's all. If I was dreaming of something lovely it'd sure be a shame to get waked up by such a row, and to find that it was all brought about by a pannikin slipping out of place."
"No danger of that happening," Lub told him; "I've tested it all, and you can depend on things holding."
By slow degrees all of them managed to get settled down. Even slow moving Lub was finally snug in his bunk, though he had to shuffle around for some time while settling himself into the most comfortable position. Ethan threatened all sorts of dire things unless he stopped moving about, because it happened that the sleeping place chosen by the fat camper was just above his.
"I c'n hear it creakin' like anything," announced Ethan; "and if you keep up that squirming business much longer, Lub, I tell you she'll come down on me. Think I'm hankering about being smashed flatter'n a pancake, do you? I don't see why you had to go and pick out one of the upper berths, just because you imagined it was a mite bigger'n any other. 'Tain't fair, I tell you. Go easy now, and quit that moving about. If you've got the itch say so, and we'll rub you down with something. Stop it, right now!"
Perhaps being scolded in this fashion had some effect upon Lub. At any rate he concluded that what couldn't be cured would have to be endured. So he did his level best to forget all about possible night visitors of all types, and tried to lose himself in sleep.
Phil had put out the lantern the last thing. He kept it close by his hand, with matches where he could produce a light in a hurry, in case one was required.
The fire had burned low. Now and then a little flame would spring up and make a faint buzzing sound. Once or twice when this occurred Phil saw Lub raise his head and look earnestly toward the chimney; but he must have finally decided that it was an innocent noise, for with its second repetition he failed to move.
"He's off," Phil told himself, with a slight sigh of satisfaction, for from the way Lub was acting he had begun to fear they were in for a bad night of it.
Lying there Phil rested his head on his arm and looked out into the cabin. When the dying flame occasionally leaped up and burned fitfully for a dozen seconds or so he liked to watch it, and also glance around him as well as he was able.
Phil fairly loved everything that had to do with outdoor life. The dank odor of the woods filled him with a sense of delight that he could never find words to describe. He believed it must have come down to him from some long line of ancestors, this love for Nature, and a desire to commune with her.
Fortune had been kind to him in giving him the means to enjoy such outings; and it added much to his satisfaction to have these fine fellows along with him. They were very dear to Phil. Not one of them would he have willingly missed if such a disaster could be avoided.
Then as he lay there waiting until the drowsiness overtook him again, he allowed his fugitive thoughts to once more wrestle with the mystery connected with the late occupants of that birch bark cabin. Who could they be, and whither had they flown at the approach of himself and three chums?
It was hardly any accident, for all the signs pointed to a flight that bordered on panic. Whoever they were they must have some good and sufficient reason for fearing the advent of strangers. That could only mean they dreaded the strong arm of the law; that there was some reason why they wished to keep from contact with all whom they did not know.
Well, Phil concluded, there was no use of bothering about them. They had taken a hurried departure, and that was the end of it. He had reason to believe that a child had been there, and possibly a woman as well. While they had not found such tell-tale evidence as a hair-pin, still the little silver thimble which he himself had discovered on a shelf just before retiring, and which he had not mentioned to the others, because he hated to get Lub wide-awake again, seemed to be pretty strong evidence that way.
When he found himself yawning again Phil decided it was time he closed his eyes, and allowed his senses to steal away. The fire had ceased flaring up, and was dying out rapidly, though the ashes would likely retain some of their heat until well on toward dawn.
The last Phil remembered was listening to the weird call of that persistent whip-poor-will, perched in some neighboring tree, and sending forth its shrill discordant cries.
Twice after that he awoke, and found all well. He could hear the steady breathing of his comrades near by; and Lub, lying flat on his back perhaps, was making a grating noise not unlike a snore.
The second time Phil struck a match, one of the silent kind, and took a look at his watch, curious to know how the night was wearing away. He found it was two o'clock, and that the guess he had made was not far amiss.
It took him some little time to get asleep again after that, but in the end he managed to accomplish it. Daylight would be coming by four o'clock and as the novelty of the outing was still upon them, it was to be expected that the boys would want to be up with the birds—that is, all but Lub, who loved sleeping better than plunging into the lake for an early morning swim.
It was fated, however, that they were not to be allowed to slumber calmly on until the approach of the sun hurried the round moon out of sight below the western horizon.
A most unearthly racket sounding awoke every one. If an earthquake had occurred it could hardly have created a greater noise. And the big frying pan proved that the supreme confidence which Lub had placed in its ability to jangle had not been in the least overdone; for it certainly played a fandango as it pitched over on the hard floor of the cabin, and danced some sort of jig, with other things adding their little mite to swell the chorus.
Four fellows came tumbling out of their bunks as one.
"Phil, oh! Phil, strike a light!" cried one.
"Where's my gun?" growled X-Ray Tyson, thinking that in this way he must give fresh alarm to the bold intruder, whoever he might prove to be.
"Phil, the thief has come down the chimney, just as I feared!" called Lub, who in the darkness hardly knew which way to look.
As he managed to get his bearings to some degree he was sure he could detect a man on his hands and knees crawling over the floor. At the same time he heard a whining sound, as well as what seemed to be scratching; and it struck terror to the heart of poor Lub. He fancied that others were without, waiting for the first thief to open the door, in order that they too might rush in, and help make prisoners of the four Mountain Boys.
Just then Lub to his great relief saw a tiny flame spring up close by. This he knew must be a match in the hand of Phil Bradley, who was meaning to light his lantern.
To Lub it seemed an age before the flame was communicated to the wick, and yet it could only have been a comparatively few seconds, no longer than Phil would have taken under ordinary conditions. His hand did not tremble appreciably; and while in an undoubted hurry he went about his self appointed task with a deliberation that promised a successful result.
Then came the snap as the globe was pressed into place. The room was no longer in darkness. It was possible to see; and with his heart feeling as though it were trying to climb up in his throat Lub fixed his eyes on the spot where he had discovered that moving, creeping object.
What he saw thrilled him through and through, so that for the life of him Lub could not move, or even utter a sound above a whisper. Nor were the other boys much better off, to tell the truth, for they all stood there as though rooted firmly to the spot.
GETTING RID OF AN INTRUDER
"Whoo! it's a bear!" yelped Lub, who looked as though his eyes were trying to pop out of his head.
"Tell me, am I seeing things? Is this a wild dream, or am I gazing on a real, live, woolly bear?" cried X-Ray Tyson.
Just then, as though suspecting that the clustered boys had evil designs on him, the small black bear actually growled, and showed its white teeth.
"Here, keep back, you!" exclaimed Ethan; "we haven't lost any bear that we know about. Where'd you come from anyhow, and what d'ye want here?"
"Ethan—don't you see, he came down the chimney!" gasped Lub.
"Just what he must have done," added Phil, who was gripping the only firearm they owned, and wondering what effect a peppering of its tiny missiles would have on the tough hide of a black bear.
"I bet you he was nosing around up there, and smelled our grub," suggested X-Ray, a sudden gleam of light dawning upon him.
"And leaning too far over while he sniffed, he just fell in; that's what you mean, don't you?" demanded Lub.
"Looks that way," assented the other; "but what under the sun are we going to do about it, I'd like to know? He don't mean to crawl up again like he came down. See how he acts; I bet you he got scorched, because there's still some red coals in the fireplace, you notice."
The four boys were huddled in a bunch. It seemed like a case of "in union there is strength" with them just then. And the bear stood where he had been at the time of first discovery. He had his snout thrust out, and was "sniffing" at a great rate. Perhaps it was the human odor that interested him, though Lub got an idea in his head it may have been the food that was so close by.
"Phil, do you think he'll attack us?" Lub asked.
"I hardly think so," replied the other, steadily, after closely examining the appearance of the intruder; "that is, if we keep from making him more furious than he is now."
"Guess he's some surprised to find himself shut in with four husky boys?" suggested Ethan.
"And say, he looks kind of small to me," observed X-Ray.
"I was just going to tell you that," Phil went on to say; "I believe it's only a two-thirds grown cub after all."
"But even at that he's a dangerous customer, with those sharp claws, and his ugly white teeth," protested Lub.
"That's right," added Ethan. "If we tackled him, chances are we'd be sorry for it, unless we had something to knock him on the head with. That makes me think of my bully little camp hatchet. Watch me sneak it right now!"
He started to move softly toward the spot where he had discovered the article in question. The bear began to growl more fiercely than ever.
"Careful, Ethan," cautioned Phil; "take it slow, and duck back just as soon as you've hitched on to the hatchet. Stop and wait till he cools down. Now, only one more step; then you can lean over and reach it."
All of them fairly held their breath, for it was a toss-up as to whether the suspicious bear would conclude to attack Ethan or not. The growls and sniffing continued, but the boy managed to get his fingers fastened upon the handle of his tool.
"Now, back up!" Phil told him.
Step by step Ethan pushed away from the dangerous locality. The bear did not attempt to follow, but resumed his former way of pushing out his snout, and sniffing. Something evidently smelled mighty good to him, Lub thought.
"This is all very well," ventured X-Ray Tyson, who had also managed to arm himself with a billet of wood, "but somebody tell me what the end's going to be. Do we have to camp outside in the cold, cold world; or will we invite Mr. Bear to skip? That's what I want to know. Phil, how about it?"
By now Phil had realized that unless they did something to provoke the bear to extremes they did not need to fear an encounter with his sharp claws. A bright idea had struck him, which he hastened to bring to the notice of his chums.
"If ever we go to tell this story, lots of fellows will give us the merry laugh, you understand, boys," he remarked; "and if you're all willing, I'd like to settle it so we'd have the best of proof that a bear did come down our chimney in the night time."
"Phil, do you mean that you want to snap off a flashlight picture of the beast backed up against our fireplace?" demanded X-Ray Tyson, as quick as anything.
"That's what I meant," he was immediately told. "See, here's the whole apparatus ready for business. All I'd want you to do would be to turn down the lantern when I gave the word."
"I'll look after that part of it," agreed X-Ray, instantly.
"And I'll hold my hatchet, ready to whack him square between the eyes if he tries any football rush on us," Ethan remarked, grimly.
"What can I do to help?" demanded Lub, weakly, yet evidently not relishing the idea of being utterly ignored in all these valorous preparations.
"If you want to have a place in the lime light, Lub," ventured X-Ray, sarcastically, "s'pose then you just step up and engage the bear in a catch-as-catch-can wrestling match. It'll be a splendid chance to prove to every fellow at home how you had more nerve than any of the rest of us!"
Of course Lub knew this was all spoken in satire.
"You'll have to excuse me this time, X-Ray; I wouldn't want to run a chance of spoiling Phil's picture for anything. Guess I'll crawl up in my bunk again, so as not to take up so much space. I'm afraid that if Ethan gets to swinging that wood chopper around recklessly he might gouge me."
Meanwhile Phil had arranged his little apparatus as he wanted, aiming directly at the bear. He knew that it was focussed just right for a short distance, because all that had been fixed previously, it being his intention to have small animals snap off their own pictures at about the same focussing point, by pulling at a baited trigger that was attached to the flashlight cartridge by a cord.
"All ready, X-Ray?" he asked, presently.
"Yep—let her go, Phil!"
As he spoke the holder of the lantern turned down the flame. Immediately the interior of the cabin became almost pitch dark. The bear could be heard sniffing as before, and evidently regaining some of his courage, which must have received a rude jolt following that plunge down the chimney.
Suddenly there was a blinding flash. It was all over in a second, but the boys could hear the bear scrambling on the hearth. Perhaps the coals burned his feet again, and forced him to abandon any idea of trying to escape by the same means he had employed in reaching the interior of the shack.
"Light up again!" ordered Phil; "it's all over!"
So X-Ray again turned up the wick of the lantern. The bear was standing there, growling, and looking more belligerent than before. Evidently he did not altogether like this sort of treatment. That dazzling flash had blinded him. It may have made him think of the lightning that went with a storm; and there was now no friendly hollow tree into which he could creep; only those strange, two-legged creatures whom instinct told him were enemies of his race.
"Looks almost ready to tackle us, don't he, Phil?" chirped Lub, from the security of the second-story bunk.
Ethan was swinging that shining hatchet wickedly back and forth.
"He'd better not, if he knows what's good for him," he was saying, with determination written upon his set jaws and flashing eyes; "I'd just like to get one good belt at him square between those wicked little eyes of his. We'd have bear steak for breakfast, let me tell you."
"But remember that the law is on bears yet, and if we killed him we might run up against a game warden and be arrested!" Lub warned him; for Lub was always well posted on all matter that pertained to the law, as became the son and heir of a well-known judge.
"We don't want to fight except there's no other way," said Phil; who wished to restrain both Ethan and X-Ray; for he knew they were apt to be impulsive, and it would not take much to precipitate a battle royal with the four-legged visitor.
"But what's the answer, then?" demanded the latter chum, indignantly; "do we sit down and watch him gobble all our fine grub without lifting a hand to stop him? Say, I'd be ashamed to tell the story afterwards; and him only a half-grown bear in the bargain."
"He don't seem to like that smoke you made, Phil?" remarked Lub, who had an unusually fine place for observation, being elevated above the heads of his crouching chums. "Couldn't you keep that going, and just force him to climb up the chimney again?"
"My flashlight cartridges are too valuable to be wasted like that, Lub," he was informed by the other boy.
"Then isn't there some way he could be made to retreat?" asked X-Ray. "What if the whole four of us started to advance, shooing with our hands, and whooping things up, wouldn't he just understand that he had to climb, whether he got his toes scorched again or not?"
Phil shook his head.
"I've got another idea, and it's so simple I only wonder nobody thought of it before," he told them. "The rest of you stay here where you are."
"I object, if you're meaning to tackle the varmint alone and single-handed, Phil!" X-Ray burst out with.
"I'm not quite so simple as all that," Phil flashed back at him; "you can see I'm heading the other way."
"Oh! I know what he means," burst out Lub just then; "it's the door! Phil's going to take down that bar we pushed in place, and open up. Hurrah! that sounds good to me! Phil knows how to do the trick. You trust him every time, and you'll never get left."
Of course it was all simple enough now, and if Lub could see through it the other pair could also. To be sure, Phil meant to swing wide the door, and thus invite the departure of their unwelcome guest.
They saw him reach the front of the cabin. The bear was apparently suspicious of any sort of movement, and continued to growl threateningly. So long as he did not actually start to make an attack Ethan believed he could afford to remain idle, and hold his ground.
Phil appeared to be having some little trouble about getting the bar loose. The door did not shut closely, and it had taken the combined strength of two of them to fasten it securely.
"Give it a hunch, and then slip the bar up, quick, Phil!" called out Lub; for as he had helped close it he knew best how the thing could be done.
Phil made a third attempt, and this time succeeded, for they saw him open the door, and then back away, still gripping the stout bar in his hands, as though he considered it worth having in an emergency.
"There you are, Mister; now please get a move on you!" called Lub.
The animal must have already sniffed the outer air, to judge from his actions. He may have also suspected some sort of cunning trap, for he did not immediately start on a rush toward the gap in the wall.
"He guesses you're laying for him, Phil," Ethan remarked; "p'raps you'd better back up and join our squad here. There's another upper berth, if so be you think you'd like to join our brave chum Lub."
"Huh! think you're smart, don't you?" muttered the one referred to; but evidently the slur cut to the quick, for what did Lub do but bundle out of his bunk and actually take his place in line with the others, as though to show them that at least it was not fear that had caused him to climb up out of the way.
"I guess he's going to make the run for it!" exclaimed X-Ray Tyson. "Everybody start to waving their arms when he comes, and keep him going. Whoop! hurry up your stumps, old bear; this is a white man's cabin, and you're not wanted!"
All at once the beast concluded it would be wise for him to accept of the one lone chance for escape. That open door, and the sweet smell of the outside air appealed irresistibly to his nature.
"There he comes, boys!" snapped Ethan; and with that they all began to make extravagant gestures, at the same time using threatening language that must have appalled the poor bear, could he have understood its meaning.
Snapping and growling he scuttled past the line of excited boys, headed for the open door. He presented such a ferocious aspect that none of them cared to do the slightest thing to bar his forward progress; indeed, just the contrary seemed to be the case. Something must have influenced Lub, for that worthy actually stepped forward out of line; and as the beast shuffled hastily past he let drive with his right foot, just for all the world as though he were trying for a drop kick on the gridiron, with three thousand breathless spectators watching to see if he would make the goal.
Then the bear, thus urged on by every possible means, went hastily through the open door, and was seen no more. The cabin was once again in their undisputed possession.
"Three cheers!" shouted X-Ray Tyson, who after the manner of boys in general, was so completely filled with enthusiasm that he could only think of one way in which to get rid of the surplus "steam," which was by shouting.
The others joined in the noise, and if any one happened to be within a mile of that birch bark cabin just then, before the break of day, he must have been greatly mystified to understand what all the racket could be about.
ON THE BORDER OF THE LAKE
"Did you all see me kick him out?" proudly demanded Lub, who evidently believed that by this action he had established his reputation for bravery beyond all dispute.
"Sure, we did," declared Ethan, "and he must have been some surprised bear when he felt your heft slam up against him. You'd better look out if ever you meet up with that chap again, Lub; they say bears have got wonderful memories, and he'll never forgive such an insult."
The door was fastened again, and the boys climbed into their blankets, for the night air coming in had given them something of a chill.
"No need of trying to go to sleep again," announced Phil; "because daylight'll be along in seven winks. Fact is, I thought it looked that way in the east when I shut the door, though the moon shining like it does fools you some. But it's after four, and dawn comes early these summer days."
Leaving the lantern burning, they lay there and talked matters over. All of them had been so worked up, what with that sudden awakening, and the row that followed, that they would have found it difficult to have resumed their interrupted sleep even though several more hours must elapse before morning.
Lub felt that he had been fully vindicated.
"You fellows thought it smart to laugh at me when I hinted we might have a thief come down the chimney, but see what happened!" he went on to say, desiring to rub it in a little.
"Well, of course none of us ever thought a yearling bear would drop on the roof from a limb of a tree, and smelling our grub down the chimney lean so far over that he'd pitch headlong in," ventured Ethan, who had apparently figured it all out, and knew just about how the thing happened.
"If a bear can do it, any sort of animal, or even a bad man might follow suit," suggested X-Ray Tyson, wickedly.
Lub took up the dare instantly.
"Just what I was thinking," he hastened to say; "and you mark me that when morning comes I'm going to climb up on the roof and look around. Leave it to me to fix something across the vent of that old chimney, so even a 'coon couldn't squeeze through."
"Like as not you'll smother us with the smoke!" grumbled Ethan.
"Not much I will," he was promptly assured; "I know enough for that. If I had a piece of heavy wire-mesh like's on the windows of our stable at home, it'd be the ticket; but as it is I'll have to use something else. I mean to sleep nights without thinking that all sorts of ferocious wild beasts are aiming to drop in on us without invitations."