THE OUTDOOR CHUMS
AT CABIN POINT
The Golden Cup Mystery
CAPTAIN QUINCY ALLEN
AUTHOR OF "THE OUTDOOR CHUMS," "THE OUTDOOR CHUMS IN THE BIG WOODS," ETC.
The GOLDSMITH Publishing Co. CLEVELAND OHIO
COPYRIGHT, 1916, BY GROSSET & DUNLAP
* * * * *
I ON THE WAY TO CAMP
II A COOL CUSTOMER
III TAKING POSSESSION
IV AS BUSY AS BEAVERS
V A CALL FOR HELP
VI THE HOME OF THE OSPREY
VII THE CHAINED DOOR
VIII WHEN THE FLASHLIGHT TRAP WORKED
IX THE FORAGING PARTY
XI IN THE BIG TIMBER
XII CAUGHT IN THE STORM
XIII TAKING A BEE-LINE FOR CAMP
XIV THE RETURN OF THE VOYAGERS
XV DAYS OF REAL SPORT
XVI SHOWING BLUFF AND JERRY
XVII THE WARNING
XVIII THE ACCUSATION
XIX REPAYING HIS DEBT
XX GROPING IN THE DARK
XXI AN UNEXPECTED APPEAL
XXII FIRST AID TO THE INJURED
XXIII A LIGHT IN THE WINDOW
XXIV THE MYSTERY SOLVED
* * * * *
THE OUTDOOR CHUMS AT CABIN POINT
ON THE WAY TO CAMP
"We're going into the woods light this time, it seems, boys."
"Remember, Bluff, we sent along most of our stuff, such as blankets and grub, as also the cooking outfit, in charge of old Anthony, the stage driver."
"That's a fact, Will, and he was to leave it at the abandoned mine shaft, from which point we expect to make pack horses of ourselves."
"True for you, Jerry! And unless Frank here has made a mistake in his reckoning we're due to reach that hole in the ground before another hour."
"How about that, Frank?"
"We'll fetch up there in less time than that I reckon, fellows. To tell you the truth, it can't be more than a mile away from here."
"Bully for that! And after we get over the peak of this rocky ridge we ought to be on the down-grade most of the way."
When Jerry Wallington gave expression to his gratitude after this fashion, two of his companions waved their hats as though he voiced their sentiments. One of these boys was Will Milton, and while he did not seem to be quite as vigorous as his chums, still his active life during the last two years had done much to build up his strength. As for Bluff Masters, any one could see from his looks that he had a constitution of iron, while his face told of determination bordering on obstinacy. The fourth member of the little party tramping along this road leading over the ridge was Frank Langdon. He was a boy of many parts, able to take the lead in most matters, and looked up to by his comrades.
All of them lived in the town of Centerville, where, on account of their love for the open and for camp life, they had become known as the "Outdoor Chums." Fortune had indeed been kind to these four boys, and allowed them to enjoy opportunities for real sport that come the way of few lads.
They had first called themselves the "Rod, Gun and Camera Club," because their activities in the woods partook of the nature of these several branches of sport. Will was an ardent photographer, and his work had received high praise. Indeed, it was only recently that he had captured a cash prize offered by a prominent newspaper for the best collection of flashlight pictures of wild animals in their native haunts.
This had been accomplished only after the most persistent and laborious efforts. It was carried out during a delightful trip, taken by the boys to the Maine country, where they met with some exceedingly interesting adventures, all of which were set down in the seventh volume of this series, under the title of "The Outdoor Chums in the Big Woods; Or, The Rival Hunters of Lumber Run."
Those readers who have followed the fortunes of Frank and his three wide-awake comrades in previous stories have of course come to look on them as old friends, and need no further introduction. As there may be some, however, who are now making their acquaintance for the first time it may be well to mention a few things connected with their past, as well as to explain why they were now bound for a new camping ground in a region they had never before visited.
Naturally, they knew every foot of country for many miles around Centerville. They had roamed over Oak Ridge and the Sunset Mountains, camped on Wildcat Island, situated in Camelot Lake, and scoured the region roundabout.
More than this, wonderful opportunities had come to these boys to visit distant parts of the States. On one occasion they had taken a trip South, going to the Gulf of Mexico. Another time it had been a visit to the Rocky Mountains where they hunted big game. Then, on a houseboat belonging to an eccentric uncle of Will's, they voyaged down the great Mississippi River to New Orleans, meeting with numerous adventures on the way.
When they returned home after their first year at college, of course the regular question came up immediately: "Where shall we go for the next outing? because we must get into the woods somehow, and live close to Nature for a spell, to fish, and take pictures, and just forget all our troubles."
Many ideas were suggested, but it remained for Bluff Masters to bring up the most catching plan. By some means he had heard of a place a good many miles away from their home town where the big lake lay for many miles between the hills.
Here he had been told by one who knew that they would be apt to find the seclusion they sought, since few people lived in that section of country. Small game was plentiful enough to give Will all the fun he wanted in laying his traps, in order that raccoons and opossums and foxes might be coaxed to snap off their own pictures.
Fishing ought to be good in the waters of the inland sea, and all of them professed to be ardent disciples of the hook and line. In fact, Bluff laid out such an alluring programme that he actually carried the others by storm.
Accordingly, preparations were made to go to the distant lake. Frank, as was his habit, did everything in his power to pick up information concerning the lay of the land. He even made up a sort of map, based on what he was able to learn, although frankly admitting that it might prove faulty in many places. It was going to be one of his personal tasks to rectify these mistakes, and bring back an accurate chart of the whole district.
Besides being an ardent photographer, Will had taken up the study of medicine, as he anticipated some day being a physician. The boys were in the habit of calling him "Doctor Will" at times; and whenever there arose an occasion that called for his aid he was only too willing to apply his knowledge of the healing art.
Bluff Masters had perhaps been well named by his boy friends for he was not only a frank sort of boy, but there were many times when just out of a desire to tease he would try to "bluff" those with whom he chanced to be arguing.
At the same time Bluff was a hearty boy, with plenty of good nature, and was a favorite with his companions. He and Jerry were both apt to be a little boisterous, and to express their dislikes rather forcibly, but the others knew their little failings and paid small attention to them as a rule.
As they mentioned in their chatter while they tramped along the rough up-hill road, they had found a chance to send most of their camp outfit ahead of them by the stage. It was to be left at the shaft of the old abandoned mine, which they had heard so much about, though of course had never seen.
After reaching that point they expected to leave the road and plunge directly into the woods, taking a short-cut for the big lake. Here they had planned to search for an old cabin situated on a point that stretched out into the beautiful bay, and which Frank believed might serve them in lieu of a tent; indeed, trusting to the information they had received, they had not bothered to carry any canvas along with them on the trip.
"What if that old cabin proves to be a myth after all, Frank?" Bluff was asking as they toiled along, with a wall of rock on one hand and a dizzy precipice close on the other side.
"Perhaps we'll be sorry about leaving out that fine waterproof tent of ours," suggested Will, who did not like to "rough it" quite so much as did the others.
"Shucks!" ejaculated Jerry, with fine scorn, "what's the matter with our building a shelter of logs, bark and driftwood on the shore of the lake, if the worst strikes us? It wouldn't be the first time we'd done such a thing either, eh, Frank?"
"I reckon we could do it without straining a point," the other observed quietly. "But don't borrow trouble, Bluff. Time enough to cross your bridges when you get to them. That old cabin stood there last summer, I was told, and likely to hold out for a good many more seasons unless some one should deliberately burn it down."
"Who would be apt to do such a silly thing as that, tell me?" demanded Bluff.
"I don't think any one would," Frank hastened to reply; "but I've been told there's a peculiar old hermit living on an estate not a great way distant from Cabin Point. He is said to be a rich man, but seems to want to keep away from his fellows, and has built a house up here on his property."
"You mean Aaron Dennison, of course, Frank," said Will. "I was interested in what we were told about him. He seems to be a regular bear, and refuses to make friends with anybody drifting up here."
"The loggers over at Edmundson Cove tell queer yarns of the things he has done," Frank continued, with a faint smile; "and to own up to the truth, I'm rather hoping we run across old Aaron. He must be quite a character from all we've heard, and somehow I've grown curious about him."
"And if I get half a chance," observed Will, whose mind usually ran in the one channel, which of course covered his hobby, "I mean to snap off a picture of him. I've got a lot of freaks in my collection, but nary a hermit nor a crank."
"All I hope for," said Jerry, "is that he doesn't try to make it unpleasant for us up here. For one, I expect to give him a wide berth. These hermits are not much to my fancy. You never know what to expect from the lot. But, Frank, after all, we're not the only fellows traveling along this mountain road. Look up ahead and you'll see a chap hurrying this way."
"He's not much older than any of us, it seems," remarked Bluff, as all of them immediately focussed their gaze on the figure that had turned a bend in the rough road, and was hurriedly advancing in a somewhat careless fashion.
"He's carrying a bag just like my new one," remarked Will, patting the article in question affectionately, as though it contained something which he valued very much.
"I shouldn't be surprised if he were heading for that railroad station we struck a mile back," suggested Frank. "It was only a flag station, but trains stop there on signal most likely."
"But where on earth could that natty young fellow come from, do you think?" Will asked. "I hope there isn't a camp of city boys up here anywhere, because if that turned out to be the case there'd be small chance for me to get the pictures of game I'm hoping to strike."
"He sees us now," remarked Jerry, "but is coming along faster than ever. Perhaps he's running away from something, for he looked back just then over his shoulder."
"Yes, and came near taking a nasty fall in the bargain," commented Will, who had started with sudden fear; "it strikes me he's a pretty careless sort of fellow. On a dangerous road like this it pays to watch your step, as a fall might mean a broken leg, or even worse. Oh! look there, boys, he's stumbled again, and gone over the edge of the precipice!"
All of them stared in awe, for what Will called out was only too true. The advancing figure was no longer in sight, for upon making that false step he had fallen to his knees, made a violent effort to keep from slipping over the edge, and then disappeared.
A COOL CUSTOMER
"Come on everybody!" shouted Jerry, starting to run up the grade in his customary impetuous way.
The other three were close at his heels. All were inspired by an eager desire to find out whether the stranger had actually fallen all the way down the face of that steep declivity, or had managed to catch hold of some friendly projection.
If the chums had felt tired before that thrilling moment they quite forgot the circumstance in their wild anxiety to learn what had happened to the strange boy. Fortunately the spot where they had last seen the other vanish was not far away, and they soon came to the place.
Jerry was already flat on his stomach and peering over the edge when the other boys arrived. Even before they could see for themselves his shout announced that he had made an important discovery.
"He's hanging to a point of rock down there, as sure as anything, Frank! Oh! how are we going to get to him before his arms give way? See how he's throwing his feet up, trying to ease the strain, but there's nothing doing. Shall I go down there after him, Frank?"
"Don't you think of it, Jerry!" cried the alarmed Will; "let Frank make up a plan. You'd only tumble yourself, don't you know?"
Frank Langdon had an exceedingly active mind. He seemed to be able to grasp a situation instantly, and to decide quickly the best thing to do in an emergency.
Even while running to the spot he had used his eyes to advantage.
"Wait for me!" was what he snapped as he flung himself around.
Bluff, twisting his head backwards, saw that Frank was making for a tree that had been blown down at some previous time. It chanced to be close at hand, and in a dozen seconds the running boy had gained the spot.
Then Bluff gave a cry of mingled delight and admiration.
"It certainly takes Frank to hatch up a clever scheme on the spur of the moment! He's dragging that old wild grave-vine out from the wreck of the tree!" was what Bluff exclaimed in an ecstasy of satisfaction. "Oh! why didn't he tell me to go along with him? What if he can't manage it alone?"
Bluff was in the act of clambering to his feet when Jerry halted him.
"It's all right, Bluff, for he's got it loose now, and is whooping it up this way like everything. If only that fellow can hold on a little longer we'll pull him up O. K. Hey, down there, take a fresh grip and stick fast! We've got a vine rope coming on the jump! Steady now, old chap; we're standing by you!"
"Hurry!" they heard the other gasp. Undoubtedly after all his exertions he must have been short of breath, though the face he turned up toward them did not appear to be stamped with any great degree of fright.
Just then Frank arrived on the spot, and instantly started to lower the section of wild grape-vine he had secured from the fallen tree. It was at least a dozen or fifteen feet in length, and any one acquainted with the amazing strength of such a parasite did not need to be assured that it would easily bear the weight of several persons the weight of one who was in such peril on the rock below.
"Can you change your hold to the vine?" called Frank, when presently he could see that the lower end of his substitute rope dangled close alongside the other.
It required more or less agility and reserve strength to carry such a proceeding through successfully. The stranger, however, appeared to possess these necessary qualifications, Frank was pleased to see.
Will felt as though his heart was up in his throat as he watched the other hang on to the spur of rock with one hand, and seize the dangling object with the other. Frank had lowered the larger end of the vine. He had also sent it below the jutting rock, so that the one they meant to rescue could clasp his legs about it, and thus secure a much better grip.
When they saw he had really accomplished the difficult feat of transferring his weight to the vine the boys, whose heads projected beyond the ledge above, uttered encouraging shouts.
"Well done, old top!" called out Bluff, carried away by his enthusiasm, and acting as though he had known the other a long time. "Now just give us a little time and we'll run you up here in great shape. Here you come, then! Heave-oh, boys!"
It required their united strength to raise the boy who dangled at the end of the grape-vine. This was on account of the fact that their make-believe rope refused to bend very well, thus making its hauling up a clumsy business.
Still every foot helped, and all the while some of them kept calling out encouragingly to the boy below. In the end his head appeared in view, upon which he was seized by the arms by Frank and Bluff, and dragged over the edge.
Somewhat to the surprise of the boys, he immediately started to brushing himself off, as though the dust on his clothes bothered him more than any slight bruises he may have received in his ugly fall. Frank made up his mind when he saw this that the other was certainly nonchalant, or, as Frank himself expressed it, "a cool customer."
"I hope you're not hurt by your tumble?" Frank asked, at which the other shook his head, and continued dusting his coat as he replied:
"Don't think I got even a scratch, which is about my ordinary luck. But only for your coming I'd have dropped the rest of the way down to the bottom of the hole, and that might have changed things some. Thank you very much for helping. And that scheme of the wild grave-vine was a corker, too. I'd never have thought of such a thing, I'm positive."
"Oh! trust Frank for hitting the right nail on the head every time," boasted Will, who never lost a chance to magnify the deeds of the one he admired above any among all his friends.
The other now took occasion to look them over curiously, as though he had begun to wonder who they were, and what brought four boys up into this region. Frank guessed this much, for he immediately introduced himself and his chums.
"We're from Centerville, a town that's a good way off from here. My name's Frank Langdon, this is Will Milton, the one next to him is Bluff Masters, and the other fellow, Jerry Wallington. We have always been mighty fond of camping, and just now mean to put in a few weeks on the shore of the big lake at a place called Cabin Point. Our stuff has gone ahead of us on the stage that came along here yesterday."
Somehow Frank thought the other started a little and looked keenly at him when this announcement was made. He could not understand, though, why it should interest any one to know that they intended to camp at any particular spot on the lake shore, since there were many miles to choose from.
"Oh! my name is Gilbert Dennison. I've been at college, and mean to spend my vacation playing golf. You see they do say I'm runner-up among the amateurs on the green links. Sent my clubs and luggage off yesterday, and was on the way to the train to-day when the horse smashed a wheel of the rig. I had to put out afoot, for, you see, I wouldn't miss making that train for a good deal, because of the match."
He took out his watch and held it in a hand that hardly trembled in the least, which Frank thought rather remarkable, seeing what a strain had been upon him lately. Altogether, Frank considered him the coolest person he had ever met. If he could control his nerves in this fashion when playing in a match it was no wonder he was looked upon as a coming wonder on the golf links, where such a gift counts heavily.
"You must excuse me for rushing off in such a beastly hurry, fellows!" Gilbert exclaimed, as he looked around for his bag, which, fortunately, had not fallen over the precipice at the time he stumbled; "some other time perhaps I'll run in on you at your camp, and be able to thank you in a more decent way for giving me a lift. I think I can make that train in half an hour."
Bluff and Jerry had not a word to say. They stood and stared at the other, astonished beyond measure. Really in all their experiences far and wide they had never met with such a self-possessed young person as this.
He picked up his bag, waved them a flippant good-bye, and then actually started to run down the slope. Bluff scratched his head and grinned, while Jerry exclaimed in disgust.
"Gee whiz! if that wasn't the queerest thing ever! You'd think he'd just stubbed his toe, and we happened along in time to help him rub the same. He sure is a cool customer, believe me, fellows!"
"Such base ingratitude I never ran across," ventured Will, indignantly. "Why, only for Frank's fetching that grape-vine along, and our pulling him up so neatly, he'd have had to let go his hold before now. And say, it was all of thirty feet down to the bottom of the hole from the rock he held on to; an ugly fall, I'd call it."
"Oh! well," observed Frank, more amused than otherwise by the singular circumstance, "when a fellow pursues any fad as he does golf he seems to chase it just as we've all done one of those jack-o'-lanterns in the marsh. When the fever is on him he can't think of anything else. That match on the links is, in his mind, the greatest event under the sun. We've all been there, boys, remember."
"But where did he come from, do you think?" asked Will.
"There's a village, I recollect, over the hills that way," Frank explained; "and it's just barely possible his folks live there. Being off the railroad, you see they have to make a little journey of some miles every time they want to go to the city. We may run on to the broken-down buggy further on."
"He's still running right along," remarked Jerry.
"And hasn't bothered to look back once," added Will, as though he could not understand why the other should so easily forget about the service they had done him.
"Well, looking back caused him his other stumble, and it's taught him a lesson, I reckon," laughed Frank, always ready to offer excuses for others' failings, but never for his own.
"We might as well be going on our way then, boys," suggested Bluff, as he gave his knapsack a fling that caused it to land squarely on his back.
The others picked up their scanty possessions for, as has been said before, the main part of their belongings had been sent on in advance by the stage.
"For one," observed Will with a little sigh, "I own up I'll be glad when we get to the lake. Seems to me this bag keeps on growing heavier all the time; and yet when I started out this morning I thought it as light as a feather."
"It's always that way," he was told by Frank, consolingly; "even your feet often begin to drag as though weighted down with lead, when once you find yourself growing tired. But, Will, say the word and I'll tote your bag for you."
"Not much you will, Frank! though it's certainly kind of you to offer to do it. I'd be a nice Outdoor Chum, wouldn't I now, if I let some other fellow shoulder my burdens? If I were sick or lame it might be a different thing; but that doesn't happen to fit the case now. I'll get along all right, so don't worry."
Accordingly they pushed on up the road, and presently arrived at the crest of the ridge. The trees prevented an extended view, however, much to the disappointment of Will, who wanted to make use of his camera.
They saw no signs of the wrecked vehicle mentioned by the young college chap who had given them his name as Gilbert Dennison, and hence concluded it must be further along the road.
A short time afterwards Frank announced that they were near the abandoned mine, which his informants had told him lay close to the border of the road they had followed over the rocky ridge.
Frank had learned that many years back there had been a company organized to mine the iron that was known to exist in certain sections of the hills in that region.
Considerable work had been done, and some ore even shipped away, when, for some reason or other, the scheme had been given up after a shaft had been sunk for fifty feet or more, and workings started.
The entrance to the abandoned mine had been visited by curious people coming to that locality. It was even marked on the old map which Frank had used in making the outlines of his own little chart.
"Here it is, boys!" cried Jerry, who had pushed to the front; "Frank was correct when he said he could see where the wheels of the stage had run in off the road just back there. I hope our stuff is all right."
"So do I!" echoed Will, anxiously, "because I've got most of my new rolls of films, as well as my flashlight apparatus, in my big pack. I'm only carrying a lot of precious developed films in this bag, with other things I need. You see I'm meaning to put in quite a bunch of time while up here experimenting and that's why I carried them along."
They had their fears quickly relieved, for their property lay just inside the old shaft leading into the abandoned iron mine.
"It all seems to be here, and in decent shape," remarked Frank. "That stage driver kept his word when he said he'd take good care of our stuff. And now to divide it up so every one has a share."
"No funny business, Frank," Bluff reminded him; "every one of us expects to get an equal tote load."
"That's what I say, too," echoed Will, who suspected he might be treated too generously by his chums, and given less than his proper proportion to carry, for Will was over-sensitive concerning his lack of physical strength.
In the end they managed to distribute the blankets, food, and other things in a fashion that was fairly equitable, and then resumed their journey. At this point they expected to leave the road, and follow a trail that if stuck to would take them to the shore of the big lake around Cabin Point, their intended destination.
"Our course should be almost due northwest from here on," the guide informed his three companions as they set forth. "I'm telling you that for a purpose, you understand."
"You mean in case we lose the pesky trail that seems so faint, we can keep going in the right direction all the same; is that it, Frank?" asked Jerry.
"You've struck the right nail on the head, Jerry, for that was what I meant. But by keeping our eyes on the trail we ought to have little trouble following this old path."
"It strikes me the trail hasn't been worked much for some time," Bluff observed.
"That's true enough," said the pilot of the expedition, "but once a trail has been well worn you can find it years and years afterward if you look the right way. It's easy to notice heaps of signs that tell the story, where the earth was worn away by passing feet. When you're in doubt just push back the grass and there it lies as plain as day."
Frank always prided himself more or less on his ability to follow tracks where others might give up the task in despair. Nothing pleased him half so much as to run across a puzzle along these lines that required his best work in order to find the answer.
After they had gone on for some time a rest was called.
"That's a good idea, Frank," Jerry declared when he heard the order given to drop their burdens and lie around for ten minutes or so. "Not that I'm feeling played out you understand; but I've always been told it was poor policy to whip a willing nag."
"It's certainly a pretty rough path, all right!" Will admitted.
"But we must be about half-way across by now," added Bluff.
"How about that, Frank? Let's take a look at your map again," said Jerry.
Upon examination it was found to be about as Bluff had thought; the shore of the big water could not be more than half a mile further on. Cheered by this information, even Will expressed himself as willing to start again.
"When you've got anything unpleasant to do," he told them, "I believe in getting it over with as soon as you can, and off your mind."
"Huh! that pleases me a heap to hear you say so, Will," chuckled Bluff; "because you know there's that dicker I wanted to make with you for that new hunting knife I took such a fancy to. I offered you my old one and something to boot in the bargain. Now I understood from the way you acted the deal wasn't pleasant to you; so please get it over with as soon as possible."
"I'll see you in Guinea, Bluff, before I trade that splendid blade," retorted the other, "but I told you where I got it, and any time you feel like it you can send for one just like mine. Let it go at that then."
There came another hard pull. Sometimes the way was so rough that all of them panted more or less. Will showed real grit by keeping up with the others, though he had to shut his teeth hard together, and take himself mentally to task when he felt his legs tremble under him with weakness.
All at once Jerry, always the first to discover things, gave vent to a yell.
"Hey there, fellows! I see water ahead through the trees! Yep, it's the big lake as sure as anything! We've got there at last!"
"Good!" muttered Will in an undertone, as though he did not wish the others to hear him; to tell the truth, he felt as though he could not stagger on much further over that rough trail, and carry the heavy pack in the bargain, as well as the new bag containing his precious films.
The sight of the splendid sheet of water seemed to inspire them all with new energy, for they perceptibly quickened their pace until impatient Jerry was almost running in his eagerness to get to his destination.
After a while they found themselves standing on the shore of the inland sea, where the waters were lapping the shore with a murmuring sound that was sweet music in the ears of Frank Langdon.
"Well, one thing's settled anyhow," remarked Will, presently, as he heaved a sigh of relief; "we didn't get lost, did we, fellows?"
"Shucks! that was the last thing to bother me," declared Bluff with a fine appearance of scorn. "For one, I've passed the novice stage in woodcraft, and reckon myself able to get along with the next chap."
"All the same," he was told by Frank, "I've known the time when you did manage to lose your bearings and run up against a whole bunch of trouble in consequence."
"But that's past history," remonstrated the other; "and times have changed since then, Frank. I should hope I've learned my lesson by now."
"Now where do you think this Cabin Point lies, that we're going to hunt up, with the idea of making our home there during our stay?" Jerry demanded.
"Just look to the left and I think you'll see a wooded cape that reaches out into the lake like a tongue or a finger," the pilot explained, pointing as he spoke.
"Frank, you're all to the good there, that must be our goal," Bluff hastened to assert; for indeed since there was no other similar projection of the shore in sight, it seemed reasonable to believe Cabin Point was before their eyes.
"We'll soon settle that matter," observed Frank, once more making a start.
They did not have far to go, for the half-concealed and wholly overgrown trail reached the lake close to the wooded cape. Perhaps long before, when loggers had a camp in that region while felling the virgin growth of forest, the point of land was a favorite camp with them. That would account for the trail, and why it had grown up in recent years.
Once on the ground, they began to look earnestly for signs of the abandoned cabin which it was hoped would afford them shelter during their outing. For some little time this search bore no fruit, and Will was beginning to feel quite disconsolate.
"Looks to me as if it was going to be our job to start a brush shanty that will give us shelter for a couple of nights till we can put up a more substantial affair," he told Bluff, who happened to be close to him, looking to the right and to the left in a vain attempt to be the first one to make a pleasant discovery.
Will had hardly spoken when they heard a call from Jerry.
"I might have known it was no good trying to beat his sharp eyes out," grumbled Bluff, as though really disappointed because he had failed to locate the cabin.
"What difference does it make who turns the trick?" ventured Will, looking happy again; "so long as it's done. The end and not the means is what counts. Hello! Jerry, have you struck pay dirt?"
"Here it is!" came the triumphant answer, and the others hurried forward, to discover the log structure partly concealed from view by branches of trees, vines, moss, and every sort of green growth.
"No wonder we couldn't see it easily," expostulated Bluff; "everybody doesn't happen to have microscopic eyes like Jerry here. I warrant you now I passed within thirty feet of this spot several times, and never tumbled to what was so close by."
"One of the first things we'll do, fellows," suggested Frank, "will be to get busy and cut down a lot of this stuff that keeps us from having a fine outlook over the bay and the big lake beyond."
"How about the cabin itself?" asked Will. "Seems to me the chimney is sort of dilapidated on top."
"That can be soon remedied, and I'll take care of it," Frank assured him. "Then this door is hanging on one rusty hinge; we'll find a way to stand it up again. Let's step inside and look around a bit; I'm more anxious about the roof than almost anything else, for that's apt to leak like a sieve until we fix it."
"Go a little slow," Will warned them, "for I've known of wild cats or other wild beasts taking up their quarters in an abandoned cabin." This remark caused Bluff and Jerry to laugh, for they could themselves look back to a ludicrous experience of the kind.
It turned out that the cabin had no ferocious occupant and upon investigation they found that the roof was not very bad after all.
"In one corner only it looks as if the rain had come in," said Frank finally; "or water when the snow melted, which tries a roof more than anything else. Why, given half a day and we shall have a weather-proof top all over. Take note of that big yawning fireplace, will you? I can see what jolly times we'll have sitting around there on cool nights; and up here we're apt to have many such."
"We can make bunks against this wall where you can see the remains of two right now," Bluff intimated.
"Until then we'll spread our blankets on the floor and rough it, which suits me all right," Jerry announced.
Will had lowered his burdens to the floor. He seemed anxious to get settled after some fashion. First of all he opened the new bag. The other boys were still looking curiously around, finding a number of interesting features connected with the lone cabin on the point, when they heard Will give a cry of utter astonishment. Turning quickly they saw him staring down into the bag he had opened, with a look of consternation on his face.
AS BUSY AS BEAVERS
"What under the sun ails Will?" demanded Bluff.
"It's his bag, don't you understand?" added Jerry. "Something's happened to upset him terribly. He looks as if he'd seen a ghost. Ten chances to one now he forgot to put the films in."
"What is it, Will?" called out Frank, who, being busy just then, had only turned his head when the cry bubbled from the other's lips.
"Oh! Frank, they're gone!" gasped Will.
"What's that? Do you mean your films?" demanded the other.
"Yes, oh yes, gone, worse luck! I don't understand it at all. Seems as though I must be dreaming, Frank!" and Will began to rub his eyes vigorously, as though by that means he hoped to get his proper sight back; after which he stared again at the open bag on the floor.
"You're dead sure you put them in the bag, are you, Will?" questioned the skeptical Jerry.
"Of course I am!" he was indignantly told. "But I can't understand where these silly things came from. They don't belong to me, that's sure."
"Hello! here's a mystery all right," said Bluff, scrambling to his feet and hurrying over to the other; in which action he was immediately imitated by the other two.
"Well, I declare that's queer!" burst out Jerry; "a lot of golf balls, a white sweater, and a pair of rubber-soled shoes! Why, Will, what has happened?"
"I'm sure I don't know," said the bewildered one, shaking his head sadly. "Here I pack my films and a few other little things in this new bag, and start out. Then when I open it, see what I get! Who's been playing a trick on me, I'd like to know?"
"Wait a minute," interrupted Frank, just when the injured one was beginning to frown and look suspiciously at Bluff and Jerry; "nobody here has had a hand in the thing, Will; but I think I know what happened."
"Then for goodness' sake, Frank, hurry up and tell us!" cried Bluff; "for Will here is beginning to have awful thoughts, and looks at me as if he could eat me."
"Yes, please explain the mystery, Frank, if you can," pleaded Will.
"To my mind it's as simple as anything could well be," began the other, soberly.
"You remember our meeting on the road with the young chap calling himself Gilbert something or other? Well, I happened to notice that the bag he carried was as near like your new one as two peas could be. When he hurried away to catch his train in his excitement he must have unconsciously picked up the wrong bag!"
"Then this one belongs to him, does it?" asked Jerry.
"Don't you remember," remarked Frank, "his saying something about his being runner-up in the amateur class of golfers, and that he was going to a tournament right then, which accounted for his haste?"
Will uttered a deep groan. He was evidently very much dejected over the unfortunate accident that had befallen him so early in their outing.
"What tough luck I've struck!" he said, as he stared down at the golf balls, as useless to him as so many stones. "I do hope that chap won't be so mad when he finds out what he's done as to destroy my precious films. What if he went and put a match to them? You know they'd flame up something fierce, and it'd be good-bye to all my hard work up in Maine."
"Oh! the chances are small that he'd be so venomous as all that," returned Frank, "especially when he must know it was all his own fault."
"But what do you think he'll do about it?" questioned Bluff.
"If I were Gilbert," suggested Jerry, drily, "my first job would be to hire some caddy with a heavy foot to kick me good and hard. Then I'd set out to get a new sweater and another supply of golf balls. Later on I'd make it a point to head back this way and hunt you up, to apologize humbly and to hand over your bag intact."
"Well said, Jerry," was Frank's hearty commendation.
Will picked up a little hope at that. Perhaps after all matters might not be quite so bad as they looked at first glance. Even if he did lose a week of time, there were plenty of other things he could be doing, since he had his camera and flashlight apparatus intact.
"Thanks, Jerry. I guess you are right," he told the other. "Every cloud has a silver lining, they say, if only you look for it. I'll try to hope for the best after this. My precious films may come back to me again undamaged. I hope so, anyway; but you know there's no telling what a fellow may do when in a sudden rage."
"Think again, Will," said Frank. "We all agreed that this Gilbert fellow was as cool a customer as we'd ever met. Now the chances are he'll grasp the situation at a glance, laugh at his blunder, put your bag safely away, and hustle to remedy the mistake so as not to be left out of the tournament. Believe that, Will, for your own peace of mind."
So the forlorn chum finally fastened the bag and hung it on a peg.
"I hope to see it give way to my own bag by the time a week or so has passed," he forced himself to say.
As the afternoon was getting well along the boys busied themselves with what appeared to be the most urgent duties. Such things as roof mending and the like could wait for another time, since there did not seem to be any possibility of a storm coming up, on that night at least.
"But we must surely pay attention to that roof the first thing to-morrow," Frank told them, as they began to make preparations for the cooking fire.
"Yes, that's right," Jerry added; "because we mustn't be like the Irishman in the old story who never did mend the hole in his roof, although always going to do so; and when they asked why he kept putting it off explained by saying: 'Whin it rains I can't mind it, and whin it's dry and fair, be jabers! phy should I bother?'"
Of course things were in something of a turmoil that evening, though the boys were beginning to plan just how they meant to store their possessions away so as to have their customary system about the cabin camp.
When the odors of supper began to fill the interior of the cabin the boys discovered that their camp appetites were already beginning to manifest themselves. They certainly appreciated that first meal in the open. It brought back to memory many other camps they had enjoyed together.
And later on while sitting around in front of the blazing fire it was only natural that the talk should be of those earlier events, which have been set down in such an interesting way between the covers of previous volumes of this series.
Having no cots or bunks as yet, they spread their blankets on the hard floor, and after this crude fashion settled down for the first night. None of them expected to obtain a good rest, because the first night out is always a wakeful one on account of strange surroundings. But in due time all this would wear away and in the end it might even prove to be a difficult task to arouse some of the heavy sleepers at sunrise.
After breakfast the next morning all of them set to work. Even Will was not allowed to begin with his beloved photography until some semblance of order had been brought about.
They had brought a few tools along with them, Frank resting under the belief that a hand-saw, a hammer, and some nails would not come in amiss when they meant to start housekeeping in an old cabin that might need considerable repairing to make it habitable.
It was this habit of looking ahead possessed by Frank Langdon that so often made things much easier for himself and his chums than they might otherwise have been.
So while Frank busied himself at the roof, he had one of the others mending the door, and the remainder of the party searching for wood that could be utilized in making their rude bunks along the wall.
It was found that they could take down some boards that were really not needed, and saw them into the necessary strips required. So during the entire morning there was more or less hammering and sawing going on that must have greatly astonished the timid little woods folk dwelling in that vicinity, so long given over to solitude and quiet.
At noon-time things began to look a little shipshape. To begin with, the roof had been repaired, and Frank believed it would turn water in any storm short of a cloud-burst. Then the door also was swinging on two hinges, one of stout leather, also carried in Frank's pack for an emergency.
The four bunks were coming along nicely, and the amateur carpenters who worked on them promised a complete job before nightfall.
"And now," said Frank, as they munched a cold lunch at noon, having decided not to go to the bother of doing any cooking at that time, "I want Will to come with me to make a little search for that old boat we were told could be found hidden under a shelving rock near the shore. It hasn't been used for some years, and is apt to be in poor shape, but I've got some oakum and a calking tool. With those, I hope to put it in condition, so with frequent baling we can use it on the lake."
They made a systematic search all along the shore, but it was not until nearly an hour had passed that they discovered the spot where, under a shelf of rock, the old craft lay.
After making an examination, Frank declared he could mend the rowboat so that it would afford them more or less pleasure. Its planks had survived many a winter, thanks to the protection afforded by the shelf of rock.
Since the gaps in the open seams were so large that it would leak like a sieve, he realized his work would have to be done at the spot where the boat was found. This meant only a tramp of a quarter of a mile at most, going and coming.
"I'll get busy the first thing in the morning," Frank told Will. "Altogether, the job oughtn't to take me more than a day. Then we can all get together and drag the boat down to the water, and one of us can paddle around to Cabin Point, where there's a splendid cove to tie up in."
"The oars are good enough for our use, though splintered some," suggested the other.
"That will save us a hard job," Frank admitted, "because I don't think I ever shaped an oar in my life, and it's no little task, believe me!"
In their wanderings the boys had discovered a stream that emptied into the lake. Frank promised himself the pleasure of following it up some day, and finding what the country looked like in that direction.
"I've got a notion," he told Will, "that this stream runs through the property of that old hermit, Aaron Dennison; at least that's what one man told me. Perhaps he'll take it badly when he learns that a parcel of boys have squatted down for a month's stay so close to his place."
"I hope we do run across the queer old man some of these fine days," ventured Will; "and that I'm carrying my camera along with me, because I'd like to snap off the picture of a real hermit. I've got some odd people in my collection, but nothing so queer as that. I surely would like to get him."
On arriving at the cabin they found the other pair had been exceedingly industrious during their absence. The sleeping quarters were beginning to look shipshape, and promised more or less comfort when completed.
"Now if you fellows would only turn in and give us a helping hand," suggested Jerry, "we could get through in a couple of hours."
"Just what I was going to propose on my own account," Frank told him. "Many hands make light work, you know. So tell us what you want done, and we'll get busy."
All of them being handy with tools, they made a good job of the bunks. Indeed, considering what poor material they had to work with, the result did them great credit.
"Now who's going to be the first to pick his bunk?" laughed Will, when it was decided there could be nothing more done to make the sleeping quarters comfortable.
"No, you don't!" exclaimed Frank, when unconsciously all faces were turned toward him. "Every fellow is going to have a square show. Here, I'll hold four splinters of wood in my hand, all of different lengths. Each one draw, and the longest has first choice."
"That's a fair bargain," agreed Bluff, "though for my part one bunk is pretty much like another."
It turned out that Will was given first choice, and he took a lower berth, for they had been arranged in sections of two, on account of limited room. Frank, having second pick, took the one above, and the others then divided the remaining two between them.
After they had arranged their warm blankets, the place began to take on quite a cheery appearance.
"We'll get at that cranky table next, and steady it," said Frank; "then we need another bench, because as it is we have to use blocks of wood for seats. In fact, I can already see a dozen things to be done, with more to follow."
Jerry in passing across the cabin tripped, and uttered a grunt as though he had stubbed his toe.
"That makes three times that loose plank has caught me," he muttered, "and the old motto says 'three times and out.' So I'll just yank that plank up and settle it down afresh. A few of those big spikes you brought along ought to do the trick, Frank."
Accordingly the determined boy set about carrying this little plan into execution. Prying up one end of the plank, he managed to get a grip of it, and then raised it completely. It came up much more easily than Jerry had anticipated.
"Why, hello!" the others heard him say, "here's an old rat's nest made years ago, I should think; and look what's lying beside it, will you?"
A CALL FOR HELP
Jerry was holding something up when he said this, which he had just picked out of the cavity under the loose plank.
"Why, it looks as though it had once been a baby's shoe, I should say," suggested Frank.
"Just what it is, but as old as the hills," remarked Jerry. "I wonder now, did it slip down here, or was it carried by the old mother rat when this nest was made?"
He fumbled among the scraps of paper and such stuff that had gone to form the nest of the rodent. One piece seemed to be a part of an envelope. The writing was fairly visible, though age had yellowed the paper.
"What do you think of this, fellows?" Jerry demanded, as though interested. "I can make out part of a name here, and whose do you reckon it is?"
"Oh, tell, and don't keep a fellow guessing!" urged Bluff impatiently.
"The word Aaron is as plain as anything," pursued Jerry, "and then there's part of the next one Denni—so you see it really looks as if away back, twenty years ago or perhaps even much longer, the rich old hermit used to actually live here in this log cabin. In those days he was land poor, mebbe; and say, the shoe—why, he must have had a wife, and a baby, too!"
All of them looked at the poor little memento of the dim past which had been discovered under such singular conditions. Then Jerry commenced smoothing the earth level under the plank so that it would set more evenly. In the midst of this he uttered another exclamation.
"All sorts of queer things are coming my way, I tell you!" he called out. "See what I've dug up now!"
"Looks like a half dollar," remarked Bluff decidedly interested. "And see here, if you've struck a miser's hoard, remember we're all chums, Jerry; it's share alike, I hope."
A vigorous hunt failed to disclose any mate of the coin, and in the end they were compelled to believe it must be only a lone specimen.
"Perhaps old Aaron was a money grabber in those days," Bluff ventured, "and laid the foundation for his fortune while living here in this cabin. And this hole under the loose plank—wouldn't it be just the jolliest hiding-place for a miser to stow his valuables in?"
"Either that," added Frank thoughtfully, "or else the half dollar managed to slip down through a crack. Have you examined it to see the date, Jerry? Because if it happens to be one that was coined within the last half-dozen years we'd know it couldn't have been left here long ago."
"I can make it out easily enough, Frank; and it's away back in eighteen-eighty. So that allows plenty of leeway, you see."
The little incident gave them considerable food for exchanging opinions. They even tried to picture what the cabin on the Point may have looked like many years ago, when a woman's hands took care of the home, and the prattle of a child sounded among those great trees overhead.
Still, none of the boys dreamed that the cavity under the floor would play a part in the future happenings that were destined to come their way, though such proved to be the case.
The second night things began to shape themselves much more comfortably. All of the boys declared they had enjoyed a sound sleep when dawn once more found them stirring, and ready to take up the new duties of the day.
One thing after another was finished, and it gave them considerable satisfaction to find how much of an improvement this sort of work made in the cabin and surroundings.
Frank himself cut away much of the thick growth of bushes and branches that interfered with their view of the big water. When he had completed his task it was possible to look from the open door and see for miles out over the lake. They believed they would never tire of watching the play of the waves that at times could be heard so plainly breaking on the shore near by.
There was seldom a time during daylight when some fish-hawk could not be seen sailing serenely over the water, looking for a fish for his young fledglings. On several occasions the boys also discovered a bald-headed eagle wheeling far up in the blue space overhead.
"We must keep on the watch to learn how the bold robber taxes the hard-working and honest fish-hawks for his meal," Frank remarked. "It's too much bother for the eagle to plunge down and hook a fish for himself, so he waits until an osprey gets one, then follows him up into the air and makes him drop his prize."
Will, of course, was deeply interested. Everything that pertained to animal nature appealed irresistibly to him these days, since he had taken to securing pictures of wild birds and animals in their native haunts.
"I've read about such things, but never had the good luck to see it done," he hastened to remark. "I hope I can make use of my camera if it happens to come along at the right time. Already I think I know where a pair of those big ospreys have their nest, and that ought to make a dandy picture, with one of the parent birds feeding the youngsters."
"I'd go a little slow about it if I were you," Frank cautioned him. "They make their homes up in pretty tall trees, you know. And besides, some of them are savage fighters when they think their nests are going to be disturbed or robbed."
The others forgot about the fish-hawks after that, but not Will. When he had anything on his mind he was very persistent. This was particularly true of such matters as were connected with his hobby along the line of photography.
Several days passed, and the other boys were enjoying themselves greatly. For that matter, so was Will, though his activities ran along a single groove. Let those who cared to fish sit out there on the lake all they wished; or troll along, using minnows for bait, which had been taken in a little net made of mosquito bar stuff; Will preferred to roam the adjacent woods seeking signs of minks, raccoons, opossums and foxes, and planning just how he would arrange his traps so that at night time the animals would set off his flashlight, and have their pictures taken unawares in so doing.
All the little chores had been completed around the cabin, which looked quite like another place now. It was kept as neat as wax, for Frank had even manufactured an odd but effective broom out of twigs, such as he had seen used by immigrants from abroad.
Frank was contemplating the taking of a little tramp up the stream on the following day. He had not forgotten what one of his informants had told him concerning the hermit's place, and was more than curious to meet Aaron Dennison.
Will had not ceased to remember his loss. He brooded over it at times, and even broke out into occasional lamentations. His greatest fear seemed to be that Gilbert might destroy the films in his sudden disgust on discovering what a wretched blunder he had committed in his haste.
Will had wandered forth after lunch on this day. From the fact that he carried his camera along with him, the rest of the boys judged he meant to secure some view that had appealed to him as especially fine.
It was some hours later that Frank noticed that he had not returned. Will was a fair woodsman by now, and there did not seem to be much chance of his allowing himself to become lost. Still Frank found himself wondering just where the boy had gone, and why Will had not taken any of them into his confidence.
When it was but an hour from sunset he mentioned the matter to the rest.
"Does anybody happen to know where Will set out for?" was his question.
No one did, for both Bluff and Jerry shook their heads in the negative, while the last named remarked:
"He was busy working at something or other this morning. I didn't get on to it, and meant to ask him, but forgot all about it. I saw him fasten a piece of rope around him and enclose a tree out there. It made me laugh at the time, and only that Bluff called me just then I would have joshed him about trying to play Indian, and tying himself face on to a tree."
Frank chuckled at hearing that.
"You've given me a clue already, Jerry," he observed. "I remember that Will seemed set on getting a picture of that osprey nest he had discovered. You know the old trick some South Sea islanders practice when climbing cocoanut trees is to have a loop around the trunk and their own body, then barefooted hoist themselves bit by bit, always raising the loop as they go."
"Whew! and so Will thought he could do the same thing, did he, and get up to the first limb high above his head. But say, Frank, what if something has happened to him?"
Jerry looked uneasy when he said this, and Bluff, too, picked up his hat as though ready to set out in search of Will.
"We must look into this, that's a fact, boys!" declared Frank; whereupon they hurried out of doors.
"Listen!" cried Frank almost immediately. "Seems to me I heard a call some distance away and along the shore. Yes, there it is again, and I reckon that's our chum giving tongue. He must be in difficulty and he needs help, so come on," at which the three of them started to run at full speed eastward.
THE HOME OF THE OSPREY
"Coming, Will!" shouted Bluff as he ran back of Frank.
"This way, along the shore!" they plainly heard a voice call from some distance away.
Of course anxious thoughts chased through the minds of the three boys as they hurried along. Will was evidently in trouble. Bluff, remembering the ospreys, pictured him lying at the foot of a tall tree with perhaps one of his legs broken. That would be an awkward condition of affairs to be sure, with their camp so far removed from real civilization.
Jerry, too, was imagining something of the sort, and wondering if they would have to make a litter in order to carry poor Will back to the cabin. He even went further and considered the question as to how they could take him to a doctor; or else force the old hermit of the Dennison estate to let them carry their injured comrade there.
Not so Frank. He had already made the discovery that the voice came from up in the air, and hence had quite settled in his mind what had happened.
"He got up all right, you see, fellows," was the way Frank explained it to the others, "but it wasn't so easy to creep down again. Perhaps he dropped the rope he had used, and couldn't clasp the trunk of the tree because it was so large."
"We'll soon know," ventured Jerry, "because I can see one of the fish-hawks flying over that tall tree, and I guess the nest must be in that."
"Here he is over here, you see," observed Frank. "He figured out that with the sun heading into the west he ought to get on that side of the nest in order to make a fine picture. So he climbed up and settled himself, waiting until the mother bird came with a fish for the fledglings, which may have taken hours."
"I see him!" cried Bluff. "There, he's waving to us now! And I'm glad to know our chum hasn't gone and broken a leg; for besides the pain to him it would upset all our fine plans for a good time up here."
Will was sitting astride the lowermost limb of an enormous tree standing about forty or fifty feet to the west of the one in which the nest of the ospreys could be plainly seen, close to the top.
Will grinned sheepishly as his chums came underneath. He was some thirty feet from the ground as his legs dangled over the lowermost limb. And Frank, remembering his theory, on looking at the base of the tree discovered that the rope loop did lie there. Will had inadvertently allowed it to slip from his grasp after reaching the lower branch and clambering up on to it.
He had removed his shoes and socks in order to make good use of his toes in climbing, just as do the blacks of the cocoanut islands. But later on, after getting his long delayed pictures of the old osprey feeding its fledglings, when the ardent photographer attempted to descend the big tree he found it an impossible task.
The trunk was far too thick for him to clasp with arms and legs. Will was not an athlete, though able to climb an ordinary tree if pushed. He always claimed that he could go up any kind if a bull were after him; but evidently here was a tree he could not descend, at least.
Just how long he had sat there on that lower limb trying to conjure up some possible plan that would take him in safety to the ground, they never knew. Will felt a little ashamed to be found in such a plight, and kept putting off his call for assistance as long as he dared.
When, however, he found that night was only an hour or so off, and realized that unless he pocketed his pride, he stood a chance of spending many gloomy hours aloft with only the osprey family for neighbors, he started to shout.
"If only I had that loop up here I could get down easily enough, I think, Frank," he called out as the three boys lined up below him.
"Perhaps you could, and again there's some doubt whether you'd be able to get inside the loop," Frank told him. "The easiest way to do is for one of us to run back to the cabin and fetch our rope. With a few trials I can toss the end into your hands or over the limb, then you can lower yourself."
Both Jerry and Bluff agreed that this was a good plan. The former even offered to act as messenger and get the article needed for the rescue work. He was gone only a short time, during which Frank asked a few questions, and learned that Will believed he had secured a number of "cracking good" pictures of the osprey group that would make a fine addition to his collection.
Frank made several casts upward before he was able to send the end of the rope over the limb, and within reach of the straddling boy. It proved to be just long enough, doubled, to reach within five feet of the ground.
"First I want to make sure of my camera," Will told them, and as they knew he would positively refuse to budge an inch unless his treasured black box were taken care of, Jerry told him to lower away.
After that had been done Will prepared to trust himself on the doubled rope.
"Have a care," said Frank, "and make sure of each grip as you go. There, you're all right now, I guess, so come along down."
"Take it slow if you don't want to burn your hands, Will!" Bluff cautioned him.
Without accident, Will managed to reach the ground. His first act was to snatch up his camera and look it over, sighing with satisfaction when he found it had received no injury.
"Get on your shoes and come along back home," Frank advised him, and the exciting little incident was closed.
Later on Will told them how patiently he had sat there, perched in the top of the tall tree next to the one containing the fish-hawks' nest, and waiting for a good chance to take the picture he wanted.
"The wind blew at first, and the treetop rocked so that it almost made me sea-sick," he went on to say, with a sigh; "but after an hour or so this let up. Then came one of the ospreys with a big fish in its claws, and I began to get busy. I snapped off every bit of the film as I saw fine group pictures come up; and I do hope they all turn out well."
As he had a daylight developing tank with him he wasted little time in ascertaining this fact. His exuberant shouts announced later on that his success was all the heart of any ambitious amateur photographer could wish for. And indeed, when the exposed films were passed around after they had sufficiently dried it was seen that Will had done himself justice, for they were perfectly clear.
Frank himself could easily understand just how this fad was able to grip any one who took it up. He believed that it was much more interesting and profitable than hunting with a gun. In the one case all the result consisted of game that was soon eaten and forgotten; but those instructive pictures of timid animals and wild birds would give pleasure for an unlimited time.
"There's one thing I think we ought to get busy about, fellows," Frank remarked that evening as they sat around the rough table enjoying the supper Jerry had prepared; "and that is see what can be done about laying in a fresh stock of butter and eggs."
"Our supply of both is about down to the limit, for a fact," admitted Bluff, who was unusually fond of eggs, "fried, boiled, scrambled, and, in fact, any old way," as he himself always declared.
"Have you any plan by which we can get a new lot, and perhaps some fresh milk in the bargain?" Will sought to learn.
"So far as we know, there's only one house within several miles of this place," explained Frank, "and that belongs to the man they call a hermit because he keeps to himself, and never goes to town—Aaron Dennison."
"A likely chance we'd have of getting any supplies from him, I should say!" grumbled Jerry; but Bluff was quick to make a proposal.
"If you are thinking of going up that creek, and paying a visit to Aaron, I hope you will choose me to go along. Remember, I spoke first!" he called out.
Will looked disappointed. He had hoped that if ever they decided to call on the crabbed owner of the Dennison estate he might be along with his camera. And seeing this disappointed expression cross his face, Frank easily understood what it signified.
"Another time you can come, Will," he explained. "Just now we don't even know whether there really is a house inside of five miles. It's only hearsay with us, you remember. If we should manage to get friendly with Aaron, why, we'll be apt to wander up there many times, and you may come across your chance before a great while."
With that, Will had to rest content. In fact, he had another little plan of his own in mind, which he meant to work out on the following day. Frank suspected as much, though he really hoped it would not be of the same risky nature as getting the snapshots of the ospreys.
In the morning the two who had planned to follow up the stream and learn if it passed through the estate of Aaron Dennison waved their hands to Jerry and Will, after which they started along the shore.
After they reached the creek at the point where it emptied into the bay, they turned their backs on the big water, and plunged into the thick growth.
"How about this thing, Frank; do you really and truly mean this expedition to be a foraging one, with fresh eggs and butter in view; or is it that you just hope to get in touch with old Aaron Dennison, and see what a genuine hermit looks like?"
Bluff put this direct question after they had been making their way along the tortuous bank of the winding creek for nearly half an hour. Such difficulties as crossed their path had been easily overcome, for both boys were pretty good woodsmen, and accustomed to getting around in the wilderness.
"Take my word for it," he was assured by his chum, "I'm out for the grub above all things; though of course I admit to having a little curiosity about this mysterious Mr. Dennison. I've heard a lot of queer things about his doings. He has a pretty fine place away up here, but keeps it surrounded by a high fence, and they even say it has a strand or two of terrible barbed wire on top of the fence, to discourage any one from climbing over."
"Gee whiz! I hope he doesn't own a pack of wolf dogs that would make a jump for stray boys that chanced to get in the grounds."
"I asked particularly about that," said Frank, who somehow seemed to think of nearly everything, "and no one could remember ever seeing any around. So just as like as not the old man doesn't fancy dogs."
"Yes, there are people who shiver every time they meet a collie or a mastiff," admitted Bluff, "though for my part I've always liked all breeds. I believe a dog is man's best friend, as faithful as life itself."
"Well, here we are," remarked Frank, with a ring of satisfaction in his voice.
"It's a high fence, sure enough," said Bluff, "with barbed wire strung across where the creek comes out under it, so even a fox would find it hard to get through. How shall we manage it, Frank?"
"First of all, we'll move along the fence. There may happen to be a board loose where we can slip through. That would be better than trying the gate, to be turned down flat-footed."
They had not gone fifty feet before Bluff discovered the loose board they sought. It required only a small amount of agility to pass through the opening, after which they walked along through the woods on the other side of the high fence.
Presently they came in sight of a long, low house, which was half hidden amidst dense foliage, and looked, as Bluff called it, "spooky."
Straight up to the door of this building the two boys strode, and Frank without hesitation rapped loudly with his knuckles.
THE CHAINED DOOR
It seemed to the two boys that Frank's knock sounded weirdly through the house, though it did not bring any immediate result. Accordingly, he again brought his knuckles against the door panel, this time with even greater force than before.
"That fetched them, Frank," muttered Bluff. "I can hear somebody shuffling along the hall and heading this way."
Presently they heard a bolt withdrawn, a rather ponderous affair it seemed; and somehow this struck Frank as rather queer. Why should any one living so far away from town, and off the beaten track of travel, take such pains to secure his door?
"Gee whiz! I shouldn't think they'd ever be bothered with hoboes or sneak thieves away up in this part of the country," whispered Bluff, who always had a mind of his own and was hard to repress.
The door was slowly and cautiously opened. Frank saw that it was still held by a stout chain, so that no one outside could enter against the will of the inmates. It made him think of one of the old feudal castles he had lately been reading about in Sir Walter Scott's romances, where they had draw-bridges, moats, and a port-cullis to protect them against assault.
A face was seen in the narrow opening. It was an old face, wrinkled, so that at first Frank imagined it might belong to Aaron himself. Then he discovered his mistake, for the white hair belonged to a woman, evidently the housekeeper of the hermit.
She looked more or less frightened at first, and no wonder, because such a resounding knock as Frank had given might have seemed backed by authority. When she discovered just two friendly looking boys standing there astonishment crept over the features of the woman.
"Who are you, and what do you want?" she asked a little sharply, as though annoyed because they had given her such a sudden start.
"My name is Frank Langdon, and this is my chum, Bluff Masters. We are camping for our holidays down in the old cabin on the Point. We ran out of butter and eggs, and came up here hoping we might be able to buy some."
Frank made it as simple as he could. He did not even mention the fact that they had ever heard there was such a singular person as Aaron Dennison in all the wide world. It was his intention to appear as though he looked upon this place as an ordinary farmhouse, where hospitality might be supposed to abide, and a friendly call on the part of decent boys would not be taken amiss.
The woman looked a little more keenly at Frank, but at the same time she shook her head in the negative. Bluff grunted to himself. He took that as a bad sign, and immediately concluded that they would have to go back to camp with as empty hands as they had come.
"Nothing doing," was what Bluff was saying to himself just then, while the old housekeeper hesitated; "she's got her orders. Old Aaron doesn't fancy boys, I guess. We'll be mighty lucky if he doesn't see fit to order us out of that cabin we've gone to all the trouble to fix bang-up."
Then the housekeeper spoke.
"I'm sorry, but you mustn't expect to get anything here. This place belongs to Mr. Aaron Dennison. No doubt you have heard of him. He has lived here almost alone for many years now, and will brook no intrusion. That is why the fence has been built around the estate, with the wire on top, and locked gates. How did you get inside?"
"We came to a loose board and passed through, not meaning any harm," replied Frank, who imagined the old housekeeper was inclined to be human, but having her strict orders from her employer dared not act in a friendly manner toward them.
"I shall have to report your being here to Mr. Dennison, and I am afraid that he will be very much annoyed. He would never brook intruders, and has a violent temper when aroused. I hope you will go away at once, and come no more."
"Then you can't let us have any supplies, I suppose?" asked Bluff, bent on squeezing the orange dry, and not throwing the skin away as long as there remained a single chance for extracting a drop of juice.
"I would not dare to do it, though if I had my own way—but no matter, you must not stay here a minute longer. Even now he may have heard the knock, and come to investigate. It is most unusual; we have not had a visitor for years. I wish I could oblige you, but it is impossible. Good-bye!"
With that she closed the door in the faces of the astonished, as well as amused, campers, and Bluff burst into a series of low chuckles.
"Wow! but doesn't that beat the Dutch?" he exclaimed, as though overpowered by the humorous aspect of the adventure. "Listen to her pushing that monster bolt into its socket. Gee whiz! I never knew before I looked so dangerous. I'll have to cultivate a new sort of grin, because the one I practice now didn't have any effect on the old lady."
"Let's move along, Bluff. There's no use in our staying here any longer after having the door slammed in our faces," said the amazed Frank.
Together they started slowly away from the house, glancing back curiously over their shoulders several times, for they wished to remember what the mysterious building looked like.
"Will must manage to get up here some time," Bluff was saying, "because I'd just like to have him get a picture of the place as we see it now. Then if ever we happen to hear anybody speak of old Dennison and his hide-out we can flash that view before them."
They had almost reached the place where the loose board had afforded them ingress to the enclosed grounds belonging to the estate when a strange sound came stealing to their ears. Both boys instantly stopped and listened to learn if it was repeated, but such did not come to pass.
"What in the dickens do you suppose that was, Frank?" demanded Bluff, turning his face, marked by a commingling of wonder and awe, on his comrade.
"Tell me what you think first," the other replied.
"I'll be switched if I know, Frank! It just went through me like a knife, it was so queer. If this were the middle of the night now I might mention ghosts, because if there were such things I'd imagine them making just about that sort of a sound."
Frank laughed at that.
"Well, since this is broad daylight," he observed, "and ghosts are said never to walk except around twelve at night, we'll have to look somewhere else for our explanation. Now I've known a chained dog to make a noise like that, a sort of half bay, half growl that would give you a start until you found out the cause."
"But we've understood they keep no dog up here," urged Bluff. "And if they did have one wouldn't he have scented us, and started barking long ago?"
"What you say sounds reasonable enough, Bluff," Frank admitted. "It couldn't have been a donkey braying either, because we know how they drag it out. Besides unless I'm mistaken the sound came straight from the direction of the house itself."
"Sure it did," said Bluff, as they started to pass through the gap that could be made by swinging the loose board aside. "I wonder if old Aaron learned of our being there, and gave that yawp to show his anger. I'm almost sorry now we didn't meet the gentleman face to face."
"Perhaps it's just as well, from what the housekeeper said," replied Frank, although secretly he was even more disappointed than his chum.
"Then of course you wouldn't dream of going back to look around in hopes of finding out what that queer noise, almost like a shriek, meant?" pursued Bluff, in a wheedling tone.
"I guess not this time," decided the other; "it's really none of our business, you know, and our errand at the Dennison place has ended in smoke. We'll have to settle on trying at that village we can see miles away along the lake shore. Perhaps to-morrow you and Jerry can take the boat and row over there."
"Oh! Barkis is willing, all right, because we just can't keep house without our fresh eggs and butter, you know."
So it was settled. Bluff, always desiring action, was satisfied with this half plan made for the future. In his active mind he began immediately to picture all sorts of exciting things happening on the contemplated cruise along the lake shore to the distant village in search of the needed supplies.
Frank happened to come upon what looked like an old path leading toward the lake, and decided to follow it instead of keeping down the stream with its zigzag course. Sure enough it took them directly to Cabin Point, although in many places the bushes had sadly overgrown the trail, and walking was not easy.
"Still, you must notice," Frank remarked, "that some one has come along this way every once in a while, because there are footprints, and the twigs have been bent down."
"Mebbe one of the men employed on the Dennison place comes down for a swim, or to look after some night line he's set here for trout," suggested Bluff.
On their arrival at the camp, the two boys had to give an account of their little adventure in detail, for the benefit of those who had stayed behind. Will in particular asked many eager questions.
"If you ever go up there again, Frank," he told the other seriously, "I do hope I shall be along."
"And I think I can promise you that, Will," replied the other smilingly, as if even then entertaining some thought of a second trip to the place, though evidently he did not care to go deeper into the subject.
Bluff soon started to talk of the trip he and Jerry were to make to the distant village on the next day. Whenever he had a thing on his mind Bluff was apt to chatter about it unendingly.
"We've just got to have those supplies, you understand, Jerry," he told the other, "and since there was nothing doing up at the Dennison ranch, why, our next job is to see if we can make that settlement we glimpse off yonder."
"How far away do you reckon it is?" asked the interested Jerry.
"If you look in my pack, boys," Frank spoke up just then, "you'll find a pair of small but powerful glasses. They may help you figure it out, and may give some idea how the shore lies between Cabin Point and the village."
Bluff went hurriedly for the glasses, and when he returned he and Jerry amused themselves for a long time.
They decided that the village lay all of eight miles off in a straight line, and concluded it would be a pretty long row in case they chanced to meet contrary wind. In that case the waves would bother them not a little.
Bluff presently proposed that they try to equip the old boat with some sort of sail. Then should they be favored with a wind setting in the right quarter this would save them much hard labor.
Jerry seized the idea eagerly, and before long they were hard at work trying to rig up a makeshift mast and sail out of such material as they could find. It was hardly likely to pass muster so far as looks went, but both boys believed they could make it useful, given half a chance.
That night around the table the talk was largely of the events of the day, and what the morrow was apt to bring forth. Jerry and Bluff entertained high hopes that they were bound to be successful in their foraging expedition; and already counted on an abundance of supplies.
WHEN THE FLASHLIGHT TRAP WORKED
"Frank, I'm going to ask you to give me a little help in setting my flashlight trap before we go to bed to-night," remarked Will, when they were sitting in front of the fire.
The evening air was nearly always cool, even after a warm day, and it seemed so "jolly," as Jerry called it, to have a small fire crackling on the hearth while they sat around engaged in various tasks and in chatting.
"Then you must have settled on a place from tracks you have found?" inquired Frank.
"Why, yes, and pretty close to the cabin in the bargain," answered the other, whose one hobby had become this method of securing strange pictures of small wild animals caught while in the act of taking the bait in their native haunts.
"What species are you after this time?" asked Frank.
"Somehow I never get an absolutely perfect snapshot of a 'coon. It seems as if every one has some kind of a blemish; and I told myself that while we were up here at Cabin Point that fault must be remedied if I tried a dozen times. And judging from the tracks of this fellow I think he must be a dandy. I only hope his barred tail shows plainly in his picture."
"That's so," spoke up Bluff, "because his shrewd face and his striped tail make up the main part of any raccoon."
"Why, if the job has to be done, Will, I'd just as soon go with you now. I'll carry my little hand torch, which ought to give us all the light needed, since you say it's close at hand."
Accordingly Will jumped up eagerly to get the necessary things, including the stout cord which was to be used to start the trigger of the trap into action, and set the flashlight going.
"I'm ready Frank, if you are," he soon announced; and together they went forth on their errand, Will just as excited as any hunter could be when creeping up on some coveted game.
Frank immediately noticed one thing, which was that his companion led him along in the direction he and Bluff had taken when coming from the Dennison place. Indeed when the other finally decided that they had arrived at the spot where he had discovered the marks made by the big raccoon in passing to and from the water's edge, Frank saw evidences of the identical path he and Bluff had followed all the way down. He did not give the fact another thought just then; there was no reason for doing so, since in his mind it was merely a little coincidence.
Having had considerable experience in arranging these clever little traps by which roving night prowlers were made to be their own photographers, Will knew just how to go about it. He fixed his camera in an immovable position, and focussed it in such a fashion that it would catch any object chancing to be within a certain radius at the second the cartridge was fired by means of the cord, pulled by the animal at the bait.
"That seems to be as fine as silk," announced Will, after bending down several times in order to change the camera a trifle, "and if only Mr. 'Coon comes tripping along here to-night he will get his sitting. If you happen to find yourself waked up by a dazzling flash, Frank, please poke me out, because I'd like to come and get my camera. It might rain later in the night, you see, and ruin it for me."
Frank, knowing how much store his comrade set by that little black box, readily gave the desired promise. He entered into all these delightful schemes engineered by Will with his whole heart. Will had always been different from Bluff and Jerry. Even on their big hunt out in the Rocky Mountains he had never cared as much for getting prize game as the others, his disposition being more gentle.
Later on the boys concluded it was time to go to bed, since the day had been a busy one for all. Besides, the two who were to row the boat sixteen miles, more or less, on the following day expected to have their hands full.
Some time later all of them were suddenly awakened. It was Bluff who gave the loud exclamation that aroused the others. He afterwards explained that he chanced to be lying awake at the time when a sudden blinding glare dazzled him, which at first he thought to be lightning, though puzzled because no thunder accompanied the flash.
"What is it?" shrilled Jerry, bumping his head as he tried to sit up in such great haste; for the three had opened their eyes in time to catch a part of the fierce glare.
Will was already tumbling out of his bunk, and could be heard chuckling to himself as he started to put on some clothes in the darkness.
"Frank, he did it, all right, you see!" was what Will exclaimed in tones that fairly trembled with eagerness.
"Oh! Great Jehoshaphat! all this row about a measly old 'coon sitting for his picture!" grumbled Jerry, falling back again, and apparently meaning to seek once more relief in slumber, if the bump on his forehead did not hurt too much.
"Better take my hand torch along with you, Will," advised Frank, not thinking it worth while to accompany the other.
"Thank you, I guess I will, Frank, because it's pretty dark out there. I'll be back in a jiffy."
"Whoop it up if the cats tackle you, Will," called out Bluff, but even if the other heard this vague intimation of peril he was too filled with enthusiasm to pay any heed to it, for he kept straight on.
A short time afterwards Frank heard him returning. Then the light came into the cabin, and Will set down his camera.
"The trap was sprung then, was it?" asked Frank sleepily, upon noting this action on the other's part.
"Just what it was! and I certainly hope I got a cracking good picture that time. Old Br'er 'Coon didn't run away with the bait, though, I noticed. It was still there, as good as ever."
"Must have been too badly scared to think of eating," remarked Frank, and as the torch was extinguished just then, and Will tumbled into his bunk, no more was said.