YOUNG HUNTERS OF THE LAKE or Out with Rod and Gun
By Captain Ralph Bonehill
CHAPTERS I. Four Lively Boys II. Swimming, and What Followed III. A Trick That Failed IV. The Story of a Ghost V. A Fourth of July Celebration VI. Preparing for the Grand Outing VII. At the Boathouse VIII. How Two Prowlers Were Treated IX. The First Day of the Outing X. The Story of a Strange Disappearance XI. A Search for a Rowboat XII. The Camp on Lake Cameron XIII. In the Camp of the Enemy XIV. Delayed by a Storm XV. Lost in the Swamp XVI. The Rescue of Giant XVII. On Lake Narsac at Last XVIII. The Old Hermit's Tale XIX. A Dangerous Deer Hunt XX. The Mysterious Voice XXI. In Which the Enemy Appears Again XXII. A Lively Time in the Dark XXIII. The Loss of the Raft XXIV. Out on a Sand Bar XXV. Jed Sanborn Brings News XXVI. A Hunt After Wildcats XXVII. Into a Bears' Den XVIII. The Caves in the Mountain XXIX. Visited by the Ghost XXX. The Secret of the Mysterious Voice XXXI. The Last of the Ghost—-Conclusion
My Dear Lads:
This story is complete in itself but forms volume three of a line known under the general title of "Boy Hunters Series," and taking in adventures in the field, the forest, and on the river and lake, both in winter and summer.
The boys of these stories are bright, wide-awake lads of to-day, with a taste for rod and shotgun, and a life in the open air. They know a good deal about fishing and how to shoot, and camp life is no new thing to them. In the first volume, entitled, "Four Boy Hunters," they organize a little club of four members and go forth for a summer vacation. They have such good times that, when Winter comes on, they resolve to go camping again, and do so, as related in the second volume, called "Guns and Snowshoes." In that story they fall victims to a blizzard, and spend a most remarkable Christmas; but, of course, all ends happily.
In the present story, summer is once more at hand, and again the boy hunters venture forth, this time bound for a large lake a good many miles from their home town. They have a jolly cruise on the water, fall in with a very peculiar old hermit, and are molested not a little by some rivals. They likewise follow up two bears, and are treated to a ghost scare calculated to make anybody's hair stand on end. What the ghost proved to be I leave the pages which follow to reveal.
As I have said before, good hunting, especially in our eastern states, is fast becoming a thing of the past. In some sections only small game can be had and even then the eager hunter has to travel many miles sometimes for a shot.
Trusting that all boys who love the woods and waters, a rod, a gun and a restful camp will enjoy reading this volume, I remain,
Your sincere friend, Captain Ralph Bonehill.
FOUR LIVELY BOYS
"Boys, I'm going swimming. Who is going along?"
"Count me in, Snap," answered Shep Reed.
"Swimming?" came from a third youth of the crowd of four. "Why, you couldn't keep me away if you tried. I've been waiting for a swim for about eleven years——-"
"And a day," broke in a small, stout youth. "Don't forget the day, Whopper, if you want to be really truthful.
"All right, put in the day," cheerfully assented the lad called Whopper, because of his propensity to exaggerate when speaking. "Of course you'll go, too, Giant?" he added, questioningly.
"Will I?" answered the small youth. "Will a duck swim and a cow eat clover? To be sure I'll go. But I'll have to run home first and tell mother."
"I'll have to go home, too," said the lad called Snap. "But I can be back here in a quarter of an hour."
"Where shall we go?" asked Shep Reed.
"I was thinking of going up to Lane's Cove," answered Snap Dodge.
"Lane's Cove!" cried the smallest youth of the crowd.
"Yes. Isn't that a nice place?"
"Sure it is, but don't you know that Ham Spink's father has bought all the land around there?"
"What of that, Giant?"
"Maybe he won't let us go swimming on his property—-because of the trouble we had with Ham."
"Oh, I don't believe he'll see us," came from the boy called Whopper. "Why, I've been swimming at the cove a thousand times, and nobody ever tried to stop me."
"If he orders us away we can go," said Shep Reed. "I know he is just mean enough to do it."
"Is Ham home yet?" asked one of the boys.
"No, but I heard he was going to come home as soon as that boarding school shut up for the summer."
"Wonder if he'll try to make more trouble?"
"If he does he'd better watch out, or he'll get into hot water," said Shep Reed; and then the boys separated, to get their swimming outfits and tell their folks what they proposed to do.
The boys lived in the town of Fairview, a country place, located on the Rocky River, about ten miles above a fine sheet of water called Lake Cameron. The town boasted of a score of stores, several churches, a hotel, and a neat railroad station at which, during the summer months, as high as ten trains stopped daily. On the outskirts of the town were a saw mill, a barrel factory, and several other industries.
To those who have read the two former books in this series, entitled, "Four Boy Hunters" and "Guns and Snowshoes," the lads getting ready for a swim will need no special introduction. The lad called Snap was Charley Dodge, the son of one of the most influential men of that neighborhood, who was a school trustee and also part owner of the saw mill and a large summer hotel. Charley was a brave and wide-awake youth and was often looked up to as a leader by the others. Where his nickname of Snap had originated it would be hard to say, although he was as full of snap and ginger as a shad is full of bones.
Sheppard Reed, always called Shep for short, was the son of a well-known physician, a boy who loved outdoor life, and one who was as strong as he was handsome. He and Snap had been chums for many years, and as a consequence were occasionally known as the twins, although they were no relation to each other.
Frank Dawson had moved to Fairview about three years before this tale opens. He was a merry lad, with laughing eyes, and his method of exaggerating had speedily gained for him the nickname of Whopper. But Frank was withal a truthful lad his "whoppers" being of the sort meant to deceive nobody. Even his mother could not make him give up his extravagant speech. Once when she spoke about it he gravely replied:
"I know it is wrong, mother, but I simply can't stop it. Why, I've made up my mind over a million times to—-" And then he broke down, and his mother had to laugh in spite of herself.
The smallest lad of the four was Will Caslette, always called Billy or Giant. He was the son of a widow lady, who owned a small but neat cottage on one of the side streets of the town. Mrs. Caslette thought the world of her offspring and Giant was fully worthy of the affection she bestowed upon him. Although small in size he was manly in his deportment, and at school he was as bright as any one in his class.
About a year before, the four boys had organized an outing or gun club and obtained permission to go camping for a few weeks in the vicinity of Lake Cameron. They reached the lake after several adventures and settled down in a comfortable camp, from which, however, they were driven by a saw mill owner named Andrew Felps, who ran a rival concern to that in which Snap's father owned an interest. The young hunters then moved to Firefly Lake, a mile away, and there hunted and fished to their hearts' content. They were frequently joined by old Jed Sanborn, a trapper who lived in the mountains between the lakes. They had some trouble with Ham Spink, a dudish young man of the town, who established a rival camp not far off, and they came close to perishing during a disastrous forest fire.
The summer outing made the boys hungry for more, and as soon as the winter holidays were at hand they made arrangements to go into the woods again, this time taking their outfits on sleds. They had with them their snowshoes, and found the latter articles very useful when out after game. They fixed up a comfortable camp, and rescued a half-frozen tramp. But the tramp did not appreciate what had been done for him and ran away with some of their things, which brought on a lively pursuit. Then the boys had more trouble with Ham Spink and his crony, Carl Dudder. In the end it was discovered that Ham and Carl had gotten the tramp to annoy the young hunters, and as a result Mr. Spink and Mr. Dudder had to foot some heavy bills for their sons. Ham and Carl were sent off to a strict boarding school, where their parents hoped they would turn over a new leaf. Snap and his chums came back home loaded down with game.
"The best outing ever!" declared more than one of the boys.
"We'll have to go again!"
And then and there they began to plan what to do during the next vacation.
"I've got an idea," said Snap, one day, during the spring. "Why not get a good boat—-one that will stand some hard knocks—-and go through Lake Cameron and Firefly Lake to Lake Narsac? Jed Sanborn was telling me that was a fine place for hunting and fishing, and the lake is as clear as crystal."
"It's an awfully wild place, so I was told," said Shep.
"About a million snakes up there, so I once heard," put in Whopper. "Snakes are so thick you have to kick 'em out of your way to walk around."
"Excuse me, I don't want any snakes," answered Giant, with a shiver.
"Somebody once told me the lake was haunted," said Snap. "But of course that wouldn't scare us—-we are not afraid of ghosts, are we?"
"No!" came from all of the others promptly.
"The ghost that tries to scare me will get his ear pinched," added Giant, and said this so drolly that all had to laugh.
"One thing is sure," said Shep, after a pause, "with fish, game, snakes and ghosts we'd certainly find enough to interest us, eh?"
"Is the lake very deep?" asked Giant.
"Jed Sanborn told me that you can't touch bottom in some places," answered Snap. "The lake lies right between three tall mountains. He said we might have to carry our boat around some of the rocks in the stream leading to it."
"Well, we can do that to—-providing the boat isn't too heavy."
This talk led to many others, and in the end it was decided that the four boys should start on the trip the week following the Fourth of July. Then commenced active preparations. Guns were cleaned, camping outfits overhauled, and the lads looked around for just the right boat in which to make the trip. Through Mr. Dodge a fine, strong craft was obtained; and then the lads waited impatiently for the day to come when they should begin the outing on the lake. They anticipated some adventures, but did not dream of the curious happenings in store for them.
SWIMMING, AND WHAT FOLLOWED
Lane's Cove was situated almost a mile from Fairview, but the four boys did not think anything of walking that distance. All were good pedestrians, for their numerous outings had hardened their muscles and given them good lung power. Even little Giant trudged along as swiftly as the rest and even suggested a race when they came in sight of the spot selected by Snap for the afternoon's fun.
"No, don't run—-you'll get overheated," said Whopper. "When I run I sweat like a house afire."
"Sweating like a house afire is good!" murmured Giant, with a grin. "Now if you had only said sweat like a stone, or a piece of iron, all of us would have known what you meant. As it is—-" And then he stopped and ducked, to escape the piece of dried mud Whopper playfully shied at him.
The cove reached, the boys speedily found a spot that suited them. It was at a point where some overhanging bushes and trees sheltered a strip of sandy shore. At one point a rock ran out into the river, making an excellent place from which to dive.
The lads hustled into the bushes and in a very few minutes Snap appeared in his bathing outfit and was followed by Shep.
"Beat you in!" cried the doctor's son, but hardly had he spoken when Snap made a leap and landed into the river with a loud splash. Shep came after him, and both disappeared under the surface, to come up a second later, thrashing around wildly.
"Whew! it isn't so warm as I thought!" ejaculated Shep. "No Turkish bath about this!" And he gave a slight shiver.
"You'll soon get used to it," replied Snap. "It's always the first plunge that takes the breath out of a fellow."
Giant came in next, diving from the rock. Whopper followed more slowly, putting in first one foot and then the other.
"Moses in the bulrushes!" he gasped. "Say, this water is about half ice, isn't it?" And he drew back again.
"Whopper, you know better than to go in that way," remonstrated Snap. "Wet your face and then go in head first—-it's the only right way. If you go in by inches you'll gasp fit to turn your liver over."
Very gingerly Whopper wet his face. As the water ran down his backbone he let out another yell.
"Don't know as I'll go in," he observed. "I thought it would be much warmer."
"Oh, yes, come in," urged Snap.
In the meantime Shep had come to shore and crawled out, behind some bushes. Softly he crept up behind Whopper. Then came a sudden shove, and over went Frank with a loud yell and a splash that sent the spray in all directions. Before he came up Shep was out of sight behind a tree.
"Say, wh—-who—-" spluttered Whopper, as he came up and gazed around half angrily. Then he caught sight of a shoulder back of the tree. "Come out of that, and let me give you something to remember me by!" And he struck out for shore.
But Shep had no intention of being caught, and as Whopper came out he sprang in. Then Frank came after him, and a race ensued, in which Snap and Giant joined. The rapid swimming warmed all the boys, and then they declared the water "just O.K.," as Snap expressed it. Whopper watched his chance to get even with Shep, and when the other was not looking, dove down and caught the doctor's son by the foot. Shep was just shouting to Giant and had his mouth wide open, and as a consequence swallowed a lot of water. When he and Whopper came up they indulged in a splashing contest lasting several minutes.
"What's the matter with swimming across the river?" suggested Snap, presently.
"It's a pretty good distance," answered Giant. "And you must remember the current is rather swift."
"I'll go, Snap," said Shep, who was always ready to follow his "twin."
"I don't think I'll try it to-day," put in Whopper. "I'll stay on this side with Giant. If you find anything good to eat over there bring it along," he added.
"Might find some berries," said Snap.
At this point the river, from the outer edge of the cove, was about a hundred yards wide. The boys had frequently swum across, so Snap's proposal to go over was nothing unusual. Side by side the boys started out and took their time. They did not attempt to stem the current but allowed it to carry them down the river for several hundred feet. They landed where there was an old orchard, backed up by a large strawberry patch.
"No apples ripe around here," said Snap, as he and his chum walked up the river bank, to a point opposite where they had left Giant and Whopper.
"Let us go over to the strawberry patch," suggested Shep. "We may find some strawberries worth eating."
As nobody was in sight, the proposition was readily accepted, and the boys picked their way carefully along, for they had no desire to hurt their bare feet. Reaching the patch, they began a hunt and soon discovered a corner where the berries were thick and sweet.
"Say, this is prime!" observed the doctor's son, smacking his lips. "This would suit Giant and Whopper to a T!"
"Wonder if we can carry any over to them, Shep?"
"I don't see why not. A little water won't hurt them. In fact they ought to be washed, they are that full of sand."
"Who owns this patch?"
"Old Tom Ashenbury."
"Well, we had better keep out of his sight, or he'll be after us with his gun. Don't you remember how he chased us once, when we were walking through his peach orchard?"
"Indeed I do. But we are doing little harm here. In a few days all these berries will be rotten. I guess he has given up picking them."
In moving around the boys had found a couple of old berry baskets, and these they now proceeded to fill. The task was about half completed when Snap suddenly straightened up.
"What was that?" he asked.
"What?" demanded his chum.
"I thought I heard a cry from across the river."
Both listened, but nothing came to their ears.
"You must have been mistaken," said the doctor's son, and resumed his work of picking strawberries.
"No use of picking more," said Snap, a few minutes later. "We'll be lucky to get over with these. Perhaps we'll drop half of them, trying to swim."
"Hi, look there!" shouted his companion, and pointed across the field in the direction of the river.
A flock of sheep had suddenly appeared, some fifteen or twenty in number. At the head was a large ram, who gazed in wonder at the two boys in their bathing outfits.
"Say, that ram means business!" ejaculated Snap, an instant later. "We had better clear out of here."
"Come on, I'm willing," responded the doctor's son, and started for the stream, carrying the basket of strawberries in one hand.
"Let us go up the stream," went on Snap. "No use of getting too close to him. I don't like his looks."
Both boys had good cause to feel alarmed, for the ram was coming toward them on a trot. Once or twice he stopped and pawed the ground, but then he came on, and they could see he meant to attack them.
"He's coming for us!"
"Can we reach the river!"
"We must reach it!"
Then the two boys broke into a run, giving no further heed to the fact that the ground was uneven and that their feet were bare. They had heard stories of vicious rams many times, and knew that only the year before a girl had been almost mauled to death by such an animal.
They had still fifty yards to cover when Snap went into a hole and pitched headlong. Shep was directly behind him, and over he went on top of his chum, crushing one of the baskets of strawberries between them. The other basket was scattered in all directions over the ground.
"There go our berries," grumbled Snap. "Too bad!"
"Get up!" roared Shep, scrambling to his feet. "Here comes the ram, and he's as wild as they make 'em!"
He caught his chum by the arm, and both tried to go on. But Snap's ankle had received a bad wrench and he was forced to limp.
The boys had to pass a low shed, used occasionally for the storage of fruit and baskets. As they reached this the ram came up and lowered his head.
"Jump for the shed!" yelled Shep, and caught hold of the roof of the structure. He scrambled to the top and gave his chum a hand. Then on came the ram and hit the side of the frail building a resounding whack with his head. Snap escaped by less than a foot; and then both boys stood upright on the top of the shed wondering what they had best do next.
A TRICK THAT FAILED
"We are in a pickle, Snap."
"It certainly looks like it, Shep."
"How long do you suppose that ram is going to keep us here?"
"I don't know—-maybe you'd better ask him."
"I wouldn't feel quite so bad if I had on my, regular clothing and my shoes. But with this thin outfit—-"
"Here he comes again!" was the cry, and crash! the head of the ram struck the shed once more, causing it to tremble greatly.
"I really think he's trying to knock the old thing down!" was the comment of the doctor's son.
The boys tried to look across the river, but could not because of a heavy clump of bushes growing between the shed and the water's edge. They heard a distant cry and wondered what it meant.
"I believe that is Giant and Whopper calling," said Snap.
"More than likely they are tired of waiting for us. Maybe they are dressing."
A few of the sheep had come up and were gazing curiously at the boys and the ram. Then the ram commenced to walk around the shed, viewing it speculatively from all sides.
"Looks like a warrior, doesn't he?" said Shep. "Wish I had a brickbat to throw at him."
"Here's a short board!" cried Snap, and tore off a piece that was partly loose. "I wish I could reach him with this."
"Wait, I'll coax him over," answered the doctor's son, and put down a leg over the edge of the roof. At once the ram charged, and as he did this Snap threw the board at him, hitting him in the side. This so surprised the animal that he turned and ran away a distance of several rods.
"Now is our chance! Come!" yelled Snap, and leaped from the roof of the shed on the river side. His chum followed, and once again the pair put for the stream with all speed. They kept out of sight of the ram as much as possible and he did not see them until they were almost at the water's edge. Before he could come up they dove into the stream and swam out several yards.
"Say, that's what I call a narrow shave!" cried Shep, when he and his chum realized that the danger was over. "I want nothing more to do with that ram."
"It's a pity we lost the strawberries," returned Snap. "However, it can't be helped."
The two boys were soon well out in the river and they looked anxiously over to the cove. Nothing was to be seen of Giant and Whopper.
"They must be behind the bushes dressing," said Snap. "Hello!" he yelled. "Hello! Where are you?"
No answer was returned, and the doctor's son joined in the cry. Then both boys pulled a more hasty stroke and soon got to a point where they could wade ashore.
"It can't be possible they went home," said Snap, as he gazed around in perplexity.
"We'll soon see," was the answer, and the doctor's son ran to the bushes where the clothing had been left. "Well, I never!" he cried.
"Why, all the clothing is gone!
"Yes, their clothing and ours too!
"Do you think they've played a trick on us?"
"No, they wouldn't be so mean."
"But where are they, and where is our clothing?"
"I don't know."
In deep perplexity the two chums looked around that vicinity. No trace of Giant or Whopper was to be found and the only article of wearing apparel they could discover was a blue-and-white sock.
"That's Giant's sock," said Snap. "And that proves something is wrong. He wouldn't go away and leave his own sock behind."
"True enough, Snap, but what do you think happened?"
"I don't know, unless they caught somebody in the act of running off with our duds and ran after them."
"Let us call again."
This they did, using the full power of their lungs. Soon an answering cry came back, and Whopper appeared on the river bank above them, followed by Giant. Each carried a bundle of clothing under his arm and some shoes in his hand.
"Well, what does this mean?" demanded the doctor's son, as the others drew closer.
"You're fine fellows to stay away so long," grumbled Giant.
"We called to you about a million times that we wanted help," put in Whopper.
"Well, we've had our troubles of our own," answered Snap. "A big, angry ram came after us and held us prisoners for awhile. But what happened here? Did somebody run away with our outfits."
"Yes, and we had a great time getting them again," answered Whopper.
"We had to run after the chaps barefooted," came from Giant. "Just look at my feet," and he showed how they had been cut and scratched.
"Who were they?" demanded the doctor's son.
"We don't know exactly, but we've got our suspicions," answered the small boy.
"There were two of them," said Whopper. "Both good-sized fellows. We didn't hear them until they had all the clothes in their arms and were running away. As soon as they heard us coming both threw their coats up over their heads, so we wouldn't recognize them. They would have gotten away sure only Giant yelled that he would fire a pistol at them if they didn't stop and then they, got scared and dropped the clothing in a ditch."
"And who do you think they were?" asked Snap.
"Ham Spink and Carl Dudder."
"Why, they aren't home from boarding school yet!" cried Shep.
"I don't care, that's what I think," said Giant, sturdily. "I know just how those fellows look and walk. Of course I didn't see their faces, but I am pretty sure they were Ham and Carl."
"They may have gotten home during the last day or two," said Snap, slowly, "and it would be just like them to lay around waiting to play some mean trick on us. If they had gotten off with our clothing we'd have been in a fine pickle truly!"
"That's right—-worse than with the ram," answered the doctor's son, and then he and Snap told of what had occurred on the other side of the river.
"Too bad you lost those strawberries," sighed Whopper. "I like strawberries so much I could eat about——-"
"A million platesful," finished Snap, with a grin.
"No, I was going to say a spoonful or two," said Whopper, and then Snap groaned.
The boys found two socks, a collar and a necktie missing, and a long search around failed to bring the articles to light. One of the undershirts had been knotted up tightly, and Shep had to "chaw on the beef," as boys call it, to get the knots untied.
"I'd like to know if it really was Ham and Carl," he growled. "If it was I'll fix them for this new trick of theirs."
"How were they dressed?" asked Snap.
"Each wore a brown suit, kind of yellow brown," answered Whopper. "I'd know 'em out of a million.
"We'll lay for them, Whopper."
Having donned their clothing, the four boys started back for town. To get to the road they had to cross a wide pasture, and when they were in the middle of this they saw a man approaching. The man carried a heavy cane, which he shook at them.
"Hello, it's Mr. Spink!" cried Snap.
"Come to warn us away, I suppose," grumbled the doctor's son. "Shall I tell him about what was done to our clothing?"
"No," answered Whopper. "We are not certain it was Ham and Carl."
Mr. Spink was a tall, overbearing man, who dressed almost as loudly as did his son. He strode up to the four lads with a dark look on his face, and this look grew even more resentful when he recognized them.
"Ha! so you are going to come here in spite of my warnings, eh?" he said, harshly.
"You haven't warned us or anything, Mr. Spink," answered Snap, calmly.
"Can't you read? Doesn't the sign say, 'All trespassing forbidden'? That is plain English, isn't it?"
"I haven't seen any sign," said Shep
"Because you didn't want to see it, young man!"
"We have only been down to the cove swimming," put in Giant.
"This land is mine now, and I want you boys to keep off of it," exclaimed Mr. Spink, hotly. "If I catch you on it again I'll have you arrested."
"We'll get off as soon as we can," answered Snap. And then he added suddenly: "Is Ham home?"
"You mean my son Hamilton, I presume? Yes, he is home. What do you want of him?"
"Nothing, just now. But we may want something later," answered Snap, and started again for the road, his chums following.
THE STORY OF A GHOST
"I say, what do you want of my son Hamilton?" repeated Mr. Spink, coming after the boys with a look of curiosity on his face.
"We want to see him," replied Snap, after a look at his chums.
"We think he played us a mean trick," put in Whopper, as Snap paused.
"Oh, I thought that affair was a thing of the past," said Mr. Spink, loftily. "My son was not to blame so much as that tramp. The tramp told a string of falsehoods—-"
"We don't mean that, Mr. Spink," spoke up Giant. "We mean a trick Ham and his friend, Carl Dudder, played on us this afternoon."
"Humph! You ahem!—-you must be mistaken."
"If we are we won't say anything," said Whopper. "But if he did play the trick—-"
"We'll get square with him for it," finished Shep.
"What are you talking about anyway?" demanded the rich man. "I don't see why you can't leave my son alone."
"We will—-if he'll leave us alone," said Snap.
"What do you accuse him of?"
"While we were swimming two fellows came up, took our clothes, and tried to run away with them," came from Giant. "We are pretty sure the fellows were Ham and Carl. When we went after them they dropped the clothes in a hurry. Two socks, a collar, and a necktie are missing."
"Yes, and my undershirt was full of knots," grumbled the doctor's son. "Just wait till I catch the fellows who did that—-I'll show 'em!"
"Humph! is that all?" growled Mr. Spink. "I imagine you are only making up this tale to get my son into difficulties,—-just because you know I will not permit you to come here to swim. Now clear out, and be quick about it,—-and don't ever come here again." And having thus delivered himself he shook his heavy cane at them, turned on his heel, and walked, away.
"He's a gentleman, I must say," declared Snap, when Mr. Spink was out of hearing. "A person can easily see where Ham gets his arrogant ways."
"Yes, and he'll stick up for Ham first, last and all the time," added Whopper.
As the boys walked home they discussed the situation from several points of view. Reaching the street leading to the railroad depot they came in sight of a familiar figure ahead of them. It was the old hunter, Jed Sanborn, and he carried a gun in one hand and a fishing rod in the other, while a basket was slung over his shoulder by a broad strap.
"Hello, Jed!" sang out Snap, and ran forward to stop the man.
"Why, boys, how are ye!" said the old hunter, turning around and halting. "Ready to go on your summer trip?" And he smiled broadly.
"Not yet," answered Shep. "But we are going out after the Fourth of July."
"So I heard. Well, I hope ye have as good a time as ye had last summer an' last winter."
"We want to know something about Lake Narsac," came from Whopper. "I've heard there were about a million snakes up there and all big fellows, too. Is that true?"
"O' course it is," answered Jed Sanborn, with a grin. "Snakes is twenty to fifty feet long, and so thick ye have to wade through 'em up to your knees. Ha ha!" and he commenced to laugh. "I got ahead of ye thet time, didn't I, Whopper?"
"But tell us the truth," insisted Giant. "We're thinking of camping up there, and, of course, we won't want to go if there is any real danger."
"Well, to tell the plain, everyday truth, boys, I don't allow as how there is any more reptiles up to Lake Narsac nor there be around Lake Firefly an' in the mountains whar I hang out. Narsac may have a few more rattlers, an' them's the wust kind—-you know thet as well as I do. The wust thing I know about Lake Narsac is the ghost up thar."
"Is there really and truly a ghost?" queried the doctor's son. "Of course, I don't believe in them," he added, hastily.
"If ye don't believe in 'em why do ye ask about 'em?" demanded the old hunter, rather indignantly.
"Oh, well—-" and Shep could not finish.
"Did you ever see the ghost?" asked Snap.
"I sure did, my boy."
"When?" cried Whopper.
"What did it look like?" demanded Giant.
"I see the ghost less nor a month ago—-when I was up to Lake Narsac after fish. It was a foggy morning, an' I was fishing from a little island near the upper end o' the lake. All to once I heard a strange sound, like somebody was moanin'. I sat up an' listened, an' I looked around——-"
"And what did you see?" asked Giant, excitedly.
"Didn't see nuthing just then. Soon the moanin' died out, an' I thought I must have made a mistake, an' I went on fishin' ag'in. Then come that strange moanin' once more, an' it made me shiver, for I was in a mighty lonely spot. All to once, something cried out, 'He's dead! He's dead!' I looked around, but I couldn't see a soul. 'Who is thar?' I called. Then I heard a strange whistle, an a rustlin' in the bushes. A minute later I saw a figure in bright yellow standin' out before me on the lake. It seemed to move right over the water in the fog, an' in less than a minute it was gone."
"What was it?" asked Snap, and his voice trembled a little.
"I dunno, Snap. It looked like a real old man, with claw-like hands. I called out to him, but he didn't answer, and when he seemed to be lost like in a smoke, I was scared an' I don't deny it. Just then I felt a big tug on my line an' I pulled in an' found I had hooked a water snake. Thet settled me, an' I came down to Firefly Lake an' to hum quick as I could git thar!"
"What do you think it was?" asked Whopper.
"I can't for the life o' me tell."
"Are you sure you heard that voice, or was that imagination?" asked Snap.
"It wasn't no imagination whatsoever," answered the old hunter, positively. "I heard thet voice jest as plain as I can hear yourn, an' it come right out o' the sky, too!"
"That is certainly queer," mused Snap. "You say the ghost was yellow?"
"I thought most ghosts were white," put in the doctor's son.
"Was it a man?" asked Frank.
"If it was, how did he walk on the water?" demanded Jed Sanborn. "Oh, it was a sure ghost, no two ways on it!" And the old hunter shook his head positively.
"Are there any houses near the lake?" questioned Giant.
"Not a house within two or three miles. It is the wildest place you ever visited," answered Jed Sanborn. "Hunters don't go there much on account of the rough rocks in the stream flowing into Narsac. If you take a boat you may have to tote it a good bit—-an' it ain't much use to go up there less you've got a boat, because you can't travel much along the shore—-too many thorn bushes."
After that the old hunter told them all he knew about Lake Narsac. He said the lake and its surroundings were owned by the estate of a New England millionaire who had died four years before. In settling the estate the heirs had gone to law, and the rightful possession of the sheet of water with the mountains around it was still in dispute.
"One thing is sartin," said the old hunter. "If ye go up thar, ye won't have no Andrew Felps chasin' ye away—-as was the case up to Lake Cameron."
"No, but we may have the ghost chasing us," answered Giant.
"Say, maybe we had better go somewhere else," suggested Whopper, hesitatingly.
"Whopper, are you afraid of ghosts?" demanded Snap.
"N—-no, but I—-er—-I'd like to go somewhere where we wouldn't be bothered by anything."
"I am going to Lake Narsac, ghosts or no ghosts!" cried the doctor's son.
"So am I," added Snap, promptly. "If Whopper wants to stay behind—-"
"Who said anything about staying behind?" demanded Whopper. "If you go so will I, even if there are a million ghosts up there."
"I don't believe in ghosts," came from little Giant. "It's some humbug, that's what it is."
"Maybe, maybe," answered Jed Sanborn. "But if you hear that voice and see that yellow thing—-well, I reckon your hair will stick up on end, jest as mine did!"
A FOURTH OF JULY CELEBRATION
On the following Monday Snap and Shep were walking down the main street of Fairview when they heard a cry and saw Giant beckoning to them from the post-office steps.
"What's up?" asked Snap, as he came up to the small youth.
"Ham Spink and Carl Dudder just went in to mail some letters," said Giant.
"What of that?"
"Whopper went in after them. Whopper and I are now sure it was Ham and Carl who tried to steal our clothing the day we went swimming."
"How do you know that?" asked the doctor's son.
"By the way they are dressed. They have the same yellow-brown suits on they wore that day."
Giant had scarcely spoken when Whopper came out. His face showed that he was angry.
"I told you they did it," he said to Giant. Then, seeing the others, he explained:
"I accused them of it and they admitted taking the clothes—- they said it was nothing but a little joke and they laughed at me. Then when I said they could pay for the missing things they told me to clear out or they'd have me locked up for trespassing on Mr. Spink's land!"
"That's like Ham," answered Snap.
"I wish we could pay them off good," went on Whopper.
Just then Ham Spink and Carl Dudder came out of the post-office. Snap and the others were standing behind some boxes of goods and the dude and his chum did not at once see them.
"We'll have a celebration with those fireworks when they come," Ham was saying. "We'll show Fairview a great sight."
"That's right," returned Carl Dudder. "We'll put them in my father's barn until we want to use them."
Then both boys caught sight of Snap and the others and broke off their talk. They, wanted to brush past without speaking, but Snap and Shep blocked the way.
"We want to talk to you," said Snap.
"We have nothing to say," cried Ham, haughtily. "Get out of my way!" And he tried to brush past again.
"Ham Spink, I want to say just one thing," answered Snap. "I think you are as mean as you ever were, and I, for one, am going to pay you back for what you did the day we went swimming."
"Oh, give us a rest" muttered the dudish youth, and went on, and Carl Dudder followed, sticking his tongue in his cheek as he passed.
"Say, shall we pitch into them?" whispered Whopper. "We can knock them into the middle of next month!"
"No—-wait—-I've just thought of something," interposed Snap. "Let them go and come with me."
He led the way to a safe distance and then turned to Whopper.
"Did you hear them speak of some fireworks?"
"Did they say anything about the fireworks in the post office?
"Why, yes. But what has that got to do with———"
"What did they say, Whopper?"
"Why, it seems Ham and Carl and some other fellows—-the same crowd that has been against us for so long—-have chipped in and ordered some fireworks from the city. They are going to set the fireworks off in front of the Dudder house on Fourth of July night. The Spink family and some others are to be there. Ham and Carl are boasting what a fine celebration it is to be."
"Then I know what I'm going to do," said Snap.
"What?" came from all of the others.
"They took our clothing—-why can't we take the fireworks?"
"Whoop! Just the cheese!" ejaculated Whopper. "We can set them off in the public square."
"Where the whole community can see them," added Giant.
"And we can return the remains after they are shot off," came from the doctor's son.
The matter was talked over for a half hour. All of the boys knew it was not just right to appropriate the fireworks but they were "dead sore" on Ham and Carl and knew no other way to "get square."
The boys had made only a few preparations for the Fourth, for nearly all of their spending money had been used up in buying things for the proposed outing. They had some firecrackers, and some blank cartridges for their pistols, and that was all.
Independence Day dawned bright and clear and throughout the town of Fairview there was the usual amount of noise. During the morning Snap heard from another lad how Ham and Carl were boasting of their fireworks.
"Finest fireworks the town ever saw," Ham had said. All the boys were invited to "hang on the Dudder fence" and see them set off that evening at nine o'clock.
"Now is the time for us to do something," said Snap to his chums, a little later.
The evening before they had visited the Dudder barn but had failed to locate the fireworks.
"That's right," said Giant. "The fireworks are there now—-I saw Carl and Ham bringing them from the express office."
With caution the four boys walked down a side street, which connected, by an alleyway, with the Dudder barn. Nobody was in sight, and they slipped into the barn with ease. In a corner, on the floor, they saw a long, flat box, marked "Fireworks! With care!"
"We mustn't take them all!" said Shep. "We must leave a top row—-just to fool 'em."
The others understood and went to work with care. In a very few minutes they had most of the fireworks pinwheels, rockets, Roman candles, flower pots and others—-in their possession. Then they stuffed hay in the bottom of the box and on the top placed two pinwheels and three small Roman candles.
"I'm afraid they'll suspect us if we set these off," said Snap, when he and his chums were at a safe distance.
"What if they do?" demanded the doctor's son. "If they say anything we can yell 'stolen clothes' at them."
The boys were afraid Ham and Carl would attempt to sort out the fireworks before the time to set them off, but this fear proved groundless, for Ham and Carl were busy showing off two silver-plated pistols they had purchased. They were firing at a target set up near Ham's house, but they failed to hit the bull's-eye more than once in a dozen shots.
"No wonder they can't bring down any game," observed Giant, when he heard of this. "I could do almost as good as that with my eyes shut."
In a quiet way word was passed around to the juvenile element of Fairview that there would be "something doing" at the public square directly it was dark. Secretly a notice was posted up that the "Swimmer Company would give a free exhibition of Carlham fireworks." Several wanted to know who the Swimmer Company were and what Carlham fireworks were like, but no answer could be had to these queries.
At exactly half-past seven that evening there was the flare of a rocket in the public square, followed by the discharge of several Roman candles. Folks came running from all directions, to learn who might be giving the exhibition.
They saw a truly marvelous sight. Four men or boys were there, dressed in fantastic suits and wearing old gloves and big, pointed-top hats. Each had a mask over his face, so that it was utterly impossible to tell who he was.
Boom! bang! sizz! went the fireworks, being set off by all four of the persons at once. Rockets flew high in the sky, leaving a golden train behind them, and Roman candles let out balls of various colors, while on the ground, flower pots spouted forth in great beauty, and pin-wheels whizzed from several trees and hitching-posts.
"This is great!" cried several.
"A bang-up exhibition," added another. "Never saw a finer display, did you?" put in an old man. "And all free too!" he continued, greatly pleased.
Carl and Ham could not resist the temptation to see what was going on and came running to the square, leaving their box in the barn. They were full of envy, but went through the crowd boasting that their own display would be much better.
At last everything was set off but three large rockets. These were left in charge of one of the masked figures while the other three figures suddenly disappeared in the darkness following a pinwheel flare. The three figures took with them what could be found of the burnt-out Roman candles and other things.
With one grand sizz the three rockets went up into the air simultaneously. The crowd gazed in admiration at the sight. Then as the sky grew dark, they looked out on the square for the last of the masked figures.
It had disappeared.
PREPARING FOR THE GRAND OUTING
Less than quarter of an hour after the celebration at the public square Snap and his three chums met at Whopper's back gate. They were minus their tall hats and gloves, but still wore a portion of their grotesque outfits.
"Hurry up," said Whopper, and led the way to a carriage house. Here, with great rapidity, the four youths stripped off the odd suits and donned their regular garments. Then they hid the other things in an out-of-the-way corner.
"Did you place the burnt-out fireworks in the box?" asked Shep, who had been left at the square to set off the three rockets.
"We did," answered Snap.
"Hurry up, we want to see the rest of the fun," cried Giant, and set off on a dog-trot in the direction of the Dudder mansion.
When the four boys reached that vicinity they found quite a crowd collected. More people were coming from the public square. The piazza of the Dudder homestead was illuminated with Chinese lanterns, and there sat Mr. and Mrs. Spink, the Dudder family, and a dozen specially invited guests.
"Carl, isn't it about time you began to set off those fireworks?" asked Mr. Dudder, as his son came up the steps.
"Ham and I are going to get them out right away," answered Carl.
"Who set off the fireworks at the square?" questioned Mrs. Spink.
"I don't know."
"Were they nice?" asked Mrs. Dudder.
"Not near as nice as those we are going to show," returned Ham.
"Hurry up wid dem fireworks!" shouted an urchin hanging on the fence.
"You get off that fence, or you won't see anything," cried Carl.
"Bring on the fireworks!" shouted several.
"We are going to have a regular programme," announced Carl, standing on a garden bench. "First there will be a bouquet of four rockets. Then will follow two large Roman candles, six vari-colored pinwheels, two large and four small flower pots, one living picture of George Washington, two aerial bombs, four golden clusters, one living serpent, two mines, and a whole lot of other things too numerous to mention."
"Go on with the show," shouted a man outside. "We don't want to listen to no speech."
"Come, let us get the box," said Ham, and then he and Carl hurried down to the barn, where they found the flat box. Much to their surprise it was bound around and around with some old telegraph wire. Snap and his chums had wanted to nail the box up but had been afraid of the noise.
"Somebody's been playing a joke on us!" growled Ham.
"Never mind, we'll soon have the wire off," answered his crony. "Let us take the box outside."
They lifted the box and carried it out into the yard. There a number of visitors gathered around to watch proceedings, two holding up lanterns to illuminate the scene.
It took several minutes to take the wire from the box. Then the cover was wrenched off.
"Here we are!" cried Carl, and took up the top layer of fireworks. "Let us stack them against that bench, Ham."
"Look!" screamed Ham, and pulled up a handful of straw, in which the fireworks had been packed. "What does this mean?"
As he spoke he held up two half-burnt pasteboard tubes—-the remains of two Roman candles. The burnt-out remains of several pinwheels followed.
Carl dove into the box and withdrew his hands covered with soot and holding several burnt-out flower pots and the frame upon which had once been fastened the "living picture" of our first President.
"What does this mean?"
"Somebody has been at this box!"
"The fireworks have all been shot off!"
"Hurry up with that display!" came from the fence. "Don't keep us waiting all night!"
"Thought you was going to show us something better than that show at the square!" piped in a small boy.
"We have been swindled!" groaned Ham.
"Somebody has tricked us," gasped Carl. "Oh, this is dreadful!"
"What's the matter, boys?" asked Mr. Dudden, coming up, followed by Mr. Spink.
"The box is full of—-of rubbish, father!"
"Somebody set off the things and put them back burnt up," added Ham.
After that there was considerable excitement. The box was overturned and out tumbled the remains of the square celebration. With the articles came a small basket, wrapped in a brown paper and sealed up. Ham tore the covering from the basket and out dropped—-two lemons! On one was a bit of paper labeled Ham and on the other a paper marked Carl.
"Oh, just let me catch the fellow who played this trick!" roared Ham, dancing around in his rage. "Won't I just fix him! Won't I though!"
"Ain't you going to set off them fireworks?" called a boy from the fence.
"Don't believe they've got any to set off," said another.
"It's a shame to keep us waiting here," put in a third.
"You shut up, all of you!" cried Carl, who was as angry as Ham. "We'll set off the fireworks when we choose. Oh, if this isn't the limit!" he murmured.
With no fireworks worth mentioning, the proposed celebration could not come off, and everybody was bitterly disappointed. The crowd outside the fence began to jeer, and some small boys threw lumps of soft mud at Ham and Carl. Then Mr. Dudder got angry and ordered everybody off, and took his guests into the mansion. Ham and Carl were so chagrined they knew not what to do.
"We must find out who did this," said Ham.
"Maybe it was Snap Dodge and his crowd," suggested Carl. "It would be just like them."
"If they are guilty—-I'll fix them!" went on Ham, bitterly. "They had no business to touch our fireworks. Just think what they cost us!
"And it made us the laughingstock of the whole town," added Carl, sourly.
"I've got an idea—-that celebration at the square—-maybe they held it with our fireworks!"
"What! Say, it must be so! Oh, what fools we were! Of course it was them. I see it all now—-'Carlham fireworks' indeed! That's Carl and Ham, as plain as day."
"Yes, and the 'Swimmer Company' is plain enough, too. They did this to get even for taking their clothes away that day."
"We can't say they stole the fireworks. If we do they may say we stole their clothes."
"We won't say anything—-but let us get square, the first chance we get," and so it was decided. It was several days before Ham and Carl heard the last of the "grand celebration" they had reported they would give.
With the fun of Independence Day at an end, Snap and his chums turned their attention once more to the matter of the summer outing. They realized that a trip to Lake Narsac would be quite different from one only as far as Lake Cameron or Firefly Lake. The two latter resorts were close to civilization, while Narsac Lake was a wild spot, seldom visited by the regular run of sportsmen. To get to the lake would be quite a task in itself, and whatever would be needed for the trip must be procured at home or at one of the other lakes. And while they must take all needed articles along they must make their boat load as light as possible.
Doctor Reed made them a present of something which was much to their liking. This was a "nest" of aluminum cooking utensils, including a pepper and salt box, and a match safe. This kit weighed very little and was exceedingly handy.
As Mr. Dodge had procured for them a suitable boat, and the doctor the cooking things, Mr. Dawson said he would present them with a new tent, of light, but strong and waterproof material. He also got for them a rubber cloth, to be spread over their things when it rained.
"My mother is going to supply us with the eatables," said Giant. "She told me to get the list and she would have them all ready the day we are to start." And then the list was made out, including bacon, beans, flour, salt and pepper, sugar, and many other necessities. The boys also got a liberal supply of powder and shot for their guns, some cartridges for the rifle, and some fishing hooks and lines. Everything was stored away in the boathouse on the river, which was locked up tightly, so that nobody might carry off their belongings.
AT THE BOATHOUSE
"I wonder if Ham and Carl will attempt to get at our outfit," said Shep, the evening before the start was to be made.
"Well, we mustn't forget that they blew up the old boathouse before," answered Snap. "Of course, they may be afraid to try on the same thing—-they'd know they'd be in danger of arrest."
"Let us go down and take a look at the things," put in Whopper. "I wouldn't want to have anything happen to the outfit for a million dollars."
The three boys walked in the direction of the building where the things were stored. Giant was not with them—-he having been detained at home, to do some work for his mother.
Apparently the outfit was as it had been left, and the three boys breathed a sigh of relief. Having overhauled the things carefully, they prepared to lock up once more when Snap noticed a small boy named Joe Bright, hanging around.
"Well, Joe, what's doing?" he questioned.
"Nuthin'," answered Joe. "Say, are you fellows going on a trip to Lake Narsac?"
"Ain't you afraid of the hobgoblins up there?"
"My uncle was up there once and the hobgoblins took his things away from him."
"What did they take?" asked Whopper.
"Took his coat, which he had hung on a tree while he was fishing, and took his basket of fish, too. Say, he was scared when he saw that thing, I can tell you. He wouldn't go there again!"
"Did he see the ghost?" asked Shep.
"No, he didn't see anything, but he heard it moan and groan, and heard it say something about being cold and hungry."
"We are not afraid," said Snap, as bravely as he could. "We are going to keep our eyes peeled for that ghost, and if it shows itself there will be some shooting done. By the way, Joe, how long have you been around here?"
"Two or three hours. I didn't have nuthin' to do, and I like the water."
"Have you seen anybody around this building?"
"Yes, two fellows were here, but they went away when they saw me."
"Who were they?" asked the doctor's son.
"One of 'em was Ham Spink, and the other was that chap who is always with him."
"I guess that's his name—-the chap who was going to give the fireworks celebration."
"Humph!" muttered Snap. "What did they do?
"Walked around the building several times and peeped in the windows. One of 'em tried the back door, but just then the other fellow saw me and he gave a little whistle. Then both of 'em walked away pretty quick."
"The rascals!" cried Whopper. "I'll bet a sour apple against a gooseberry they wanted to spoil our outfit!"
"Sure they did," answered Snap.
"I'll tell you what I think," said Shep, after the boys had talked the matter over for several minutes. "I think somebody ought to stay here to-night and watch this outfit. For all we know, they may come back."
"There is an old cot in the boathouse—-a fellow might sleep on that," suggested Whopper.
"Then that is what I am going to do,—-if my folks will let me," answered the doctor's son.
"You'll be lonely," said Snap. "Maybe I'd better stay with you. If Ham and Carl did come back you couldn't manage them alone."
"I could if I had a shotgun."
"Oh, you wouldn't want to shoot anybody, Snap!"
"No, but I could scare 'em off."
"I've got an idea," cried Whopper. "Why not fix it so as to give them a warm reception—-if they do come," and then he explained what he meant.
In the end it was decided that Snap and Shep should remain at the boathouse, and Whopper ran off to tell their folks and to get a few things. As the boys were used to outings the youths' parents thought little of their staying away that night, and only sent word back that they should keep out of mischief.
"We'll keep out if we are left alone," said the doctor's son, grimly.
Whopper had brought with him an old tin pail containing some hot water and half a pound of flour. This was stirred up into a thick flour paste, and to give it the "proper flavor," as Snap suggested, they broke into the mixture two ancient eggs which one of the party had picked up.
Joe Bright had been sent away, with instructions to say nothing about what was going on at the boathouse, and soon Whopper followed him. Then Snap and Shep went into the building and locked the door behind them.
The structure was a one-story affair, with a small loft overhead, for the storage of extra oars and odds and ends of boat lumber. Up into the loft went the two boys and opened the tiny window at either end—-thus letting in some needed fresh air. Then they took the rank-smelling flour paste and poured half of the stuff into an old paint can that was handy.
"Let us take turns at resting," suggested Snap, and so it was arranged.
It was a calm, clear night and before long the town was wrapped in slumber, and only the occasional bark of a dog or yowl of a cat broke the stillness. Out on the river nothing was stirring.
It was after midnight, and Snap had almost reached the conclusion that the alarm had been a false one, when, looking from one of the little windows, he saw two figures approaching the boathouse. The two boys or men had their coat collars turned up and their soft hats pulled well down over their foreheads.
Making no noise Snap aroused Shep, who was sound asleep on the cot.
"What is it?" demanded the doctor's son.
"They are coming. Hush, or they may hear you."
Silently the two boys crawled to the small window facing the town. The two figures outside were now close by and Snap and Shep felt sure they, were Ham and Carl.
"Anybody around?" came the question, in a whisper.
"I don't see anybody."
"We don't want to get caught at this."
"Oh, don't get chicken-hearted, Carl."
"Humph! Please remember what happened last winter, Ham."
"Hush! Don't speak my name, please."
"Well, then don't speak mine."
"Yes, you did."
"I did not, I say. Come on."
"How are you going to get in? You said you knew of a way. I am certain the doors and windows are all tight."
"Just you follow me and I'll show you a nice little trick."
"But where do you want me to follow you to?" insisted Carl Dudder.
"Under the boathouse."
"Yes. Here is a place where we can crawl under very easily."
"Yes, but what are you going to do after you are under the building?"
"Is there a trap door?"
"No, but I know where a couple of boards are loose in the flooring, and we can shove them up easily."
"Oh! All right, go ahead, and I'll follow."
A moment later Ham Spink let himself down in a little hole beside the boathouse. Here his feet were close to the water, but he supported himself on a cross rail nailed from one section of the spiling to another. Carl Dudder followed him, and both moved cautiously forward to the front end of the building. Once Ham slipped and a slight splash followed.
"What's that?" cried Carl, in alarm, for he was decidedly nervous.
"My foot slipped, that's all," was the answer.
"Is it deep under here?
"Not over four or five feet."
"Where are those loose boards?"
"Right here. Now take hold of that end and we'll soon have them up and be inside the building," answered Ham.
HOW TWO PROWLERS WERE TREATED
While Ham and Carl were moving around under the boathouse, Shep and Snap were not idle. The doctor's son, on awakening, had wanted to throw the flour paste out of the window at the midnight prowlers, but Snap thought of another plan.
"Come on below, and wait until they shove up the flooring," he whispered.
The doctor's son understood, and with caution, so as not to make any noise, the two chums came down out of the tiny loft, bringing with them the pail and the tin can of awful-smelling flour paste.
It was absolutely dark below, but they could plainly hear Ham and Carl working on the loose boards of the floor near the river end of the boathouse. Thither they made their way, Snap with the pail and Shep with the can, both ready for action.
Slowly one board was lifted and pushed aside and a second followed. Then two heads appeared in the gloom.
"Robbers!" cried Snap.
"Burglars!" yelled the doctor's son.
"Don't let them get away alive!"
Then with a vigorous throw Snap landed his pail of stuff full upon the head of Ham Spink. Splosh! it struck the dudish youth squarely in the face and ear. Another splosh followed, and Carl Dudder was likewise decorated.
"Hi! wow!" spluttered Ham. "I—-Oh, what a smell!
"Oh, my eye!" groaned Carl. "Phew! what's this?"
"What's this they threw on us?"
"Oh, did you ever smell such stuff?"
"Robbers! thieves!" yelled Snap and Shep. "Shoot them! Give them a dose of buckshot!"
"They are going to shoot us!" screamed Carl Dudder, and dodged down. Then he lost his footing on the wet and slippery rails, clutched at Ham to save himself, and both went down with a loud splash into the dirty water under the boathouse.
"There they go!" cried Shep.
"Let us scare them some more," whispered Snap. "Pretend you don't recognize them."
Quickly a lantern was lit and held over the opening in the floor. Down below two dark forms, covered with mud and flour paste, could be seen clutching at the slippery braces of the spiling. Snap and Shep could scarcely keep from roaring.
"There they are! Get the gun!" yelled the doctor's son.
"Two dangerous burglars!" cried Snap. "Wonder where they came from?"
"W—-we ar—-are not burglars!" spluttered Carl. "We are—-"
"Do—-don't sh—-shoot!" wailed Ham Spink. "We di—-didn't mean—-"
Bang! went the shotgun Snap had picked up. He fired at the corner of the building, into a mass of rubbish. A piercing yell of terror came up from below, and down dropped Ham and Carl into the water once more. They were too afraid to come up under the boathouse again and so struck out for the river bank some distance away.
"They are going away!" called out Shep. "They are two desperate burglars! Give them another shot!"
"Perhaps they have been robbing some stores," called out Snap. Then he discharged the shotgun once more, and down ducked Ham and Carl again, yelling wildly in their fright. They swam with energy and soon reached the shelter of another boathouse. Here they crawled from the water and took to their legs with all the speed at their command. Both were frightened nearly out of their wits, and for the time being paid no attention to the foul-smelling paste and mud that covered them.
"They—-they thought we were thi—-thieves!" panted Carl, after he and his crony had covered several blocks.
"Yes, and we came near being shot dead!" added Ham.
"I didn't know they were going to stay there to-night."
"Neither did I."
"Those shots will wake up the whole town."
"Yes, and we must get out of sight. Phew! what a smell!"
"They dumped something down on us."
"Must have been rotten eggs. What are we going to do?"
"I don't know—-go home, I guess."
"I can't go home looking this way."
"You'll have to go."
"Well, it's lucky they didn't recognize us."
"That's true. But this suit is about ruined."
"So is mine. And we didn't hurt their outfit at all."
"Never mind, we'll get square with them another time."
After that Carl and Ham separated and each lost no time in sneaking home and washing up and trying to clean his garments. They did not dare to tell their parents of what had occurred and so had to suffer in silence.
The shots from the gun aroused some folks living near the river front, and several men came down to the boathouse to learn what was the matter.
"Two fellows tried to get in here, but we scared them away," said Snap.
"Who were they?" asked one man.
"Two fellows dressed in dark suits and with slouch hats."
"Did you hit them?"
"No, we only fired to scare them off."
"Where did they go?"
"Ran back of Dickson's boathouse," answered the doctor's son.
A brief search was made, but the prowlers, of course, were not located. Then the men went home, and Snap and Shep settled down to make themselves comfortable for the rest of the night.
"Ham and Carl won't forget that reception in a hurry," remarked the doctor's son, and indulged in a laugh, in which his chum joined.
The rest of the night passed without anything unusual happening. Early in the morning Whopper and Giant appeared and were told of what had occurred.
"Served 'em right," cried Giant. "Oh, I wish I had seen them," he added, with a broad grin.
"I don't think they'll try any such game again in a thousand years," said Whopper.
"Make it a million, Whopper," added the doctor's son.
Whopper and Giant had had breakfast and said good-bye to their folks and now Snap and Shep went off to get something to eat. By nine o'clock they returned and said they were ready for the start. The others already had the boat out and the outfit properly stored on board.
"All ready?" called out Snap, who was looked upon as the leader of the club.
"All ready," came from the others.
"Sure we haven't left anything behind—-salt, mustard, vinegar, or canned soft-soap?"
"Maybe Whopper's left his shaving outfit behind," suggested Giant.
"Humph!" muttered the youth mentioned. "Be sure and take Giant's hobby horse with you." And then there was a general laugh, in the midst of which Snap shoved off from the boathouse dock.
It was arranged that Shep and Whopper should row for the first few miles and then be relieved by Snap and Giant. A number of boys had come down to the dock to see them off. There was a general shouting.
"Hope you have a good time!"
"Be sure and bring back plenty of game!"
"Say, if you see that ghost up to Lake Narsac give him my regards!"
"I wouldn't go up to that locality for a farm! You'll be sure to get into trouble. Every spot up there is alive with snakes."
"I'll bet they won't go any further than Lake Cameron or Firefly Lake," said one boy, who was a chum to Ham and Carl.
"It's Lake Narsac or bust!" cried Snap.
"Huh! I'll believe it when I see it," returned the boy on shore.
"Don't worry, you'll never get there, Jack Voss," said a man standing by. "You are too much of a coward."
"Won't I?" answered Jack Voss. "A lot of us are going up to Lake Narsac in a few days, or next week."
"Never mind. We are going and that's enough," answered Jack Voss. "I ain't afraid of that ghost—-or of snakes either," he added.
"There they go!" shouted Joe Bright, enthusiastically. "Hurrah for the young hunters of the lake!"
"Hurrah!" shouted several and waved their hands and handkerchiefs.
Those in the rowboat waved in return. Then Shep and Whopper bent to the oars; and the summer outing was begun. Little did the young hunters realize how many strange adventures were in store for them.
THE FIRST DAY OF THE OUTING
As my old readers know, the distance to Lake Cameron in an air line was about ten miles, but the river was a winding one and this added three miles to the journey. Beyond the town the banks of the stream were lined with farms, orchards and patches of dense woods, a beautiful outlook and one which the boys thoroughly enjoyed as they rowed along. They passed Simon Lundy's farm—-where they had once had such a curious happening when after apples, as related in "Four Boy Hunters," and then continued along under the overhanging branches of some willows, where it was shady and cool.
"Do you think Jack Voss spoke the truth when he said he was going to Lake Narsac?" queried Shep, after he had turned his oars over to Snap.
"It may be true—-although Jack knows how to blow," answered Snap.
"If he goes out it will most likely be with Ham and Carl and that crowd," put in Whopper. "They always travel together."
"I'd like to know how Ham and Carl feel this morning, cried Giant.
"Most likely pasty," answered the doctor's son, and this made the others laugh.
"If that crowd should take it into their heads to go to Lake Narsac I hope they don't camp near us," went on Snap, after a pause.
"They'll try to bother us all they can, you can rest assured, of that," said Whopper. "They seem to live for nothing else."
"Well, we can give them as good as they send, can't we?" asked Giant. "I'm not afraid of 'em."
"Of course we're not afraid of them," returned Whopper hastily.
To reach Lake Cameron the young hunters had to take to a side stream lined on either side with blackberry and elderberry bushes. They resolved to push on to the lake before stopping for lunch. Then they would row to the head of the lake, camp there over night, and the next day strike out for Firefly Lake. Here they would put in another day, and then embark for Lake Narsac.
They found Lake Cameron and its shores just as beautiful as during the previous summer. To be sure, the portion that had been burnt down during the great forest fire looked black and desolate but only a small portion of this territory was to be seen from the boat. They passed along the shore opposite and put in at a little cove that looked particularly inviting.
"I'm as hungry as a bear!" cried Whopper. "I can eat about a hundred sandwiches, ten pieces of pie, and any other old thing that happens to be handy."
"Jed Sanborn was telling me he had seen some wild ducks up here last week," said the doctor's son. "If they are around we must keep our eyes peeled for them. They are pretty scarce."
All of the boys wanted coffee, and so some wood was gathered and a campfire started, over which they made the beverage. Snap and Whopper prepared the midday meal and while they did this Giant and the doctor's son got their rods, cast in their lines, and tried their luck at fishing.
"First prize!" called out Shep, in a few minutes, and drew in a small perch.
"If we can get enough, we might have fish for lunch," suggested Whopper.
"Better keep them for supper," answered Snap. "We'll be good and hungry by night."
"As if I wasn't hungry enough now," growled Whopper.
Shep caught three perch hand running while Giant did not get a nibble. The small member of the club was somewhat disappointed, but suddenly there came a tug that almost pulled him into the lake.
"Got something!" he sang out. "Must be a whale!"
"Maybe it's a maskalonge!" sang out Whopper. "Want any help?"
"No," was the reply, and then Giant began to play his catch with the skill of a natural born fisherman. Soon came a deft swing of the fishing rod and out on the grassy bank landed a lake pickerel of good size.
"A pickerel!" cried Snap. "And a beauty."
"That's better than my three perch," was Shep's comment. "Giant, you're the fisherman of this club and no mistake."
The two boys continued to fish, both before lunch and after, and when they finally wound up their lines they had nine perch, two chub and two pickerel—-certainly a very respectable haul.
"That means fish for both supper and breakfast," was Snap's comment. "They'll taste fine, too, coming right out of the water."
Having put away the things used in getting lunch, the four boy hunters embarked once more, and the journey along the shore of Lake Cameron was resumed. As they had not a great distance to go, to reach the other end of the sheet of water, they took their time, watching the trees and bushes for a possible sight of game.
"There are your wild ducks," cried Whopper, after half a mile had been covered.
He pointed inland, to where there was a clearing among the trees, probably some marshy spot. Several wild ducks were settling down, and in a few seconds they were out of sight.
"Want to go ashore?" asked Giant, who was rowing.
"I don't think so," answered Snap. "Perhaps we'll see some of them on the lake."
"I see three now!" called Whopper softly, and pointed almost dead ahead.
"Turn the boat into the bushes," ordered the leader of the club, and Giant did as commanded. Snap was already reaching for a shotgun, and Whopper and Shep did likewise.
The wild ducks had settled on the bosom of the lake and were paddling in the direction of the rowboat. They came on slowly, however, and the young hunters could scarcely wait until they got within gunshot. Giant still had the oars and now he dropped one rather loudly on the bow. At once one of the ducks took alarm and arose in the air.
"They are flying away!" yelled Shep, and raised his shotgun. Bang! spoke the weapon, and reports from the two other firearms followed. One of the ducks came down heavily, while a second fluttered around badly wounded. The third flew off, apparently untouched.
"We must get that second one!" cried Snap, and fired once more. But the wounded duck had reached the cover of some bushes and was not hit again. The rowboat was hastily turned in the direction and Snap and Whopper leaped ashore. Then the duck tried to fly but a shot from Whopper's firearm laid it low. Soon the boys had both ducks on board and were examining the game.
"They are pretty plump," was Snap's comment, and he uttered the words with satisfaction.
"Not so bad for the first day's record," said Giant. "Fish and ducks."
"Now if we could only get some squirrels, a few rabbits, a deer, and three or four bears—-" began Whopper.
"Do you want to bring down everything within ten miles the first day?" demanded the doctor's son.
"I believe if Whopper was hunting lions he'd want to bring down a dozen the first clip," was Snap's comment. "Let me tell you there will be many days when we won't bring down a thing."
"Oh, I know that," answered Whopper. "I was only fooling. Say, it will be fine to have roast duck for dinner to-morrow, eh?" And he smacked his lips.
"Duck, stuffed with sage and onions!" murmured Giant, patting himself in the region of the stomach.
"No stuffings in this," cried the doctor's son. "I just want pure duck—-a nice brown leg,—-yum."
"Say, you make me duck-hungry already!" cried Whopper. "Let's go on, unless we are going to stay here for the rest of the day."
Once again the oars were taken up, and with scarcely a sound they moved along the shore of the lake. The sun was now well over to the hills in the west, and the trees along the shore cast long shadows over the rippling surface.
"No use of talking, such a spot as this is a regular Paradise," was Snap's comment. "I can tell you, there isn't anything like a life in the open!"
"Especially when it rains," suggested Giant.
"Or when you're caught in a blizzard," added Shep. "Do you remember that blizzard last Christmas?"
"Will we ever forget it," answered Giant. "Just the same, what Snap says is true—-give me such an outing as this every time. Some fellows are always hankering after the city—-but I never did."
An hour later the young hunters reached the end of the lake, where a small, rocky watercourse joined that body of water to Firefly Lake. Here they went into camp, pitching their tent in a convenient spot among the trees. Over a bright campfire they cooked some of the fish to a turn, and took their time eating the meal. Then they sat around and chatted, and Giant told his chums something which interested them not a little.
THE STORY OF A STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE
The boys were talking about money matters in general and inheritances in particular when Giant mentioned the fact that his mother had some money coming to her, but could not get possession of it.
"You know my mother came from France," said the small member of the club. "She arrived in this country when she was about sixteen years of age, coming with an uncle, who was her guardian. My uncle's name was Pierre Dunrot, and he was by profession a teacher of ancient history."
"No wonder you always get your history lessons so easily," was Whopper's comment. "It must run in the blood."
"You keep quiet, Whopper, and let Giant tell us about this money," interposed Snap.
"After my mother was in this country about six years, she met my father and married him. My uncle approved of the match, although he told my mother he wished she had married a Frenchman instead of an American. They all went to live at a place called Watchville on the seacoast. My uncle was then writing a great work on ancient history to be issued in ten big volumes."
"Phew! I hope he didn't want any fellows to study it," murmured the doctor's son.
"Mother has told me that my uncle was all right in his mind while I was a little boy and when my father was alive. But after my father died Uncle Pierre grew kind of queer in his head. My mother thought it was too much study and she advised him to take a rest. But he said he must get his big history written and he kept on writing and burning the midnight oil as college fellows call it, and it made him queerer and queerer every day.
"One day he went to the post-office for his mail. That was when I was about nine years old. When he got back he began to dance around and he caught me by the hands and rushed around the house like a crazy man. 'A hundred thousand francs! A hundred thousand francs!' he kept calling out, over and over again. Then my mother asked him what he meant. He said a distant relative had died and left him and her a hundred thousand francs."
"How much is that?" asked Whopper, who knew little about French money.
"A franc is worth about nineteen cents," said Snap.
"Yes, and a hundred thousand francs is about nineteen thousand dollars," went on Giant. "My mother tried to get the particulars from Uncle Pierre, but he was so excited she could not, excepting that half the money was coming to himself and half to her. He said he would see about it the next day.
"That night there came a violent thunderstorm and our house was struck by lightning. The only damage done was to one corner in which was located Uncle Pierre's writing desk. The desk was ripped apart by the lightning bolt and some of his precious manuscripts were burnt.
"When my uncle discovered that part of his great historical work had been destroyed he acted as if he was insane. He was almost on the point of committing suicide, but my mother stopped him. She told him to remember about his good fortune in having all that money left to him, but he only shook his head and said he would rather have his manuscripts back. At last she got him to bed, but in the morning he had disappeared."
"Disappeared?" came from the others.
"Yes. He had put on the oldest suit of clothes he had and gone away. Of course my mother sent out an alarm, and men hunted all over for him. But he was not to be found."
"But you found him later," ventured Snap.
"No, he was never found. When folks learned how queerly he had acted all came to the conclusion that he had gone to the river and drowned himself, and after awhile my mother thought so too."
"And what of the fortune?" questioned Shep.
"My mother tried to find the letter Uncle Pierre had received, but that was gone too. Then she wrote to France. She learned that some money was really coming to her and my uncle, but could not get any particulars. She even employed a lawyer, but after a year the lawyer gave up, too. There was a mystery about the whole affair and the solution, it seems, rested with my Uncle Pierre."
"And you never got the money?" asked Whopper.
"Not a dollar of it."
"It's queer you never spoke about this before," said Snap.
"Well, mother doesn't like to speak of it, because she doesn't want folks to know we had a crazy man in our family. But Uncle Pierre wasn't really crazy—-he was only queer—-and that lightning bolt burning up his beloved manuscripts unset him completely."
"I hope you'll get that money some day, Giant," said Snap. "I wouldn't give up trying for it so easily."
"When I am a man and can afford it, I am going to France and try to hunt it up," answered the small youth.
"Does your mother ever say anything about it?" questioned Shep.
"Not much. She hates to think of my uncle. She was very much attached to him, and to have him disappear like that makes her shudder and feel very bad."
"Were you living over on the coast when he disappeared?"
"Oh, no, we were living at a place called Bartonville, about twenty miles to the north of here. My father used to be cashier of the Bartonville Lumber Company."
"I once heard of a man disappearing and coming home fifteen years later," said Shep. "But he simply ran away because he had some trouble with his wife."
"I heard of a case like that," put in Whopper, with a grin on his face. "That man wanted his wife to make him some gooseberry pie and she wouldn't do it. When he came back he asked her, 'Maria, will you make the gooseberry pie now?' and she answered, 'no.' 'All right,' said he, 'I'll go away again,' and he did."
"That's a whopper all right enough!" cried Snap. "It's about time you turned up. You have been very quiet lately."
"I never tell anything but the strict truth," said Whopper, meekly.
When it came time to retire, Snap asked the others if they should post a guard.
"Oh, I think we are safe enough without one," answered the doctor's son, who was fagged out. "Let's chance it."
"Most of our outfit is on the boat," said Whopper. "I don't believe anybody will carry it off."
"Let us fix the fire so it will burn the most of the night," said Giant. "That will scare off any wild animals that may be prowling around."
Wood was to be had in plenty, and they cut several sticks which were not very dry and would, consequently, burn slowly. They sat up until about nine o'clock and then turned in, resolved to be up at daybreak and on their way once more, directly after breakfast.
It was cozy enough in the tent, which was just large enough to accommodate the four boys. As they were to remain there but one night they had not fixed up any couches further than to throw down some dry brushwood and a few cedar boughs. Giant and Whopper rested at the rear of the tent and Snap and Shep in front, close to the half-open flap.
Snap had been asleep about two hours when he awoke with a start. He listened and heard the bark of a fox not very far from the camp.
"Wish I could bring him down, just for the fun of the thing," he murmured to himself, and then, reaching for his shotgun, he arose and tiptoed his way out of the tent.
The fire had burned low and Snap was wise enough to slink into the shadows, so that the fox might not see him. Just back of the temporary camp was a big rock and toward this he crawled, keeping his firearm before him and ready for use.
Several minutes passed, and then he heard the bark of the fox once more, this time much closer. He strained his eyes to catch sight of the creature, but the darkness under the trees was too great.
After that fully five minutes passed and Snap had about made up his mind that the fox had gotten scared and turned tail, when he heard a cracking of brushwood directly in front of him.
With eyes on the alert he watched in the direction from whence the sound had proceeded, and at last caught the gleam of two small eyes as they looked suspiciously at the campfire.
"Now is my chance," thought the young hunter, and raising his shotgun he took hasty aim and pulled the trigger.
Only a sharp click followed, and all in a flash Snap remembered that in the evening he had cleaned the firearm, but had not loaded it. The fox heard the click, caught sight of Snap, and whirling around made a leap for the woods and was out of sight in a twinkling.
A SEARCH FOR A ROWBOAT
"Well, of all the chumps in this world, I'm the worst!"
Thus it was that Snap upbraided himself for having forgotten to load the firearm. He knew it would be useless to dash back to the tent for ammunition—-the fox was gone and would take good care to keep its distance.
Much chagrined over his mistake, the youth turned back and walked toward the fire. Then he set his gun against a tree and built up the blaze a bit, for the night was chilly. He was just about to leave the fire and crawl back in the tent when a voice reached him:
"Who is out there?" It was Shep who asked the question.
"It is I, Snap," was the reply.
"What's wrong?" And now the doctor's son poked his head from the shelter.
"I heard a fox and thought I'd shoot him——but he ran away," said Snap. He was in no humor to tell about the empty shotgun, for he did not wish his chum to have the laugh on him.
"Oh, is that all. Say, do you know it's cold?"
"Yes, and that is why I am stirring up the fire," answered Snap.
"Do you know, I had an awful dream," continued the doctor's son. "It has left me wideawake."
"Better go to sleep, Shep, or you'll be fagged out in the morning."
"I dreamed somebody ran away with our boat and all our supplies," went on Shep. "We didn't have a thing left, and we were in our nightclothes!"
"You must have been thinking of Ham Spink and Carl Dudder, and what they did last year."
"Maybe. Of course the boat and outfit are safe," went on the doctor's son.
"I suppose so—-I haven't looked."
"Just take a look before you turn in, will you?"
Shep's head disappeared, and Snap finished fixing the fire. Then he turned to the lake, where the boat with the most of the outfit had been left, tied to an overhanging tree.
The craft with its contents was gone!
Snap could scarcely believe the evidence of his senses. He pinched himself, to make certain that he was awake. It was true—-the craft was nowhere in sight.
At first he thought to arouse the others but then concluded to look for the boat first. Perhaps it had only broken away and was drifting close by. If so he would bring it back and fasten it securely without giving the alarm.
But a five-minutes' hunt convinced Snap that the rowboat with its valuable contents was nowhere in that vicinity, and then he ran back to the tent much disturbed.
"Get up, you fellows!" he called. "Get up! The boat is gone!"
At first nobody paid attention, for even Shep was asleep once more. But then Giant roused up, quickly followed by his chums.
"What's the matter?"
"The boat and our outfit is gone!"
"Why—-er—-I dreamed it!" stammered the doctor's son. "Am I awake or asleep?"
"You're awake," answered Snap, and then he continued hurriedly: "Shep, do you think you heard somebody take the boat while you were in a doze and so imagined you dreamed it?"
"I—-er—-I don't know. No, I don't think I did—-my dream was so unnatural. Come to think of it, the boat had wings and flew away. Now, that couldn't happen."
"Not unless some wizard turned the craft into an airship," answered Whopper.
All were soon at the water's edge and looking in all directions for the missing rowboat. What had been left of the outfit had been stored in the stern and tied down with a rubber cloth, to keep off the heavy dew. They stirred up the campfire still more, and each provided himself with a firebrand as a torch.
"This is the worst luck yet," observed the doctor's son, with something like a groan. "Supposing we can't get our boat and outfit back—-"
"Oh, we've got to get 'em back!" burst out Whopper. "We'll do it if we have to scrape the lake with a fine-tooth comb."
"I wish it was morning—-we can't see much in the dark, even with the torches," said Shep.
Giant was examining the shore, for the possible discovery of strange footprints. But he could discover none that looked different from their own.
"If I was an Indian I might distinguish them, but to me they all look alike," he said.
What to do next the young hunters did not know. Had they had a second boat they might have rowed up and down the lake, but even this move was denied to them.
"Let us go up and down the shore on foot," suggested Snap. "It is all out of the question to go back to bed—-I couldn't sleep a wink."
It was decided that Shep and Snap should go north while Whopper and Giant went south. All procured new torches, and each took along a gun.
"If you discover anything give the old whistle," said the leader of the club.
The way Snap and Shep had chosen was anything but easy. To the northward the shore of Lake Cameron was rocky and uneven, with many gullies and little streams flowing over the rocks. More than once they thought they heard somebody or some animal moving but the sound proved to be nothing but the falling water. Once Shep stepped into a hollow and was scared by the sudden appearance of several big bullfrogs.
"Wish they were rabbits or squirrels, I might shoot them," he said.
"Well, you can shoot the frogs if you wish," answered Snap. "The hind legs are as sweet as squirrel meat."
"I know that—-but I'm not out for frogs just now. I want to find that boat."
The two young hunters covered a quarter of a mile when they came out on a small point of land overlooking the broad lake. As they, did this Snag uttered a cry:
"What is that out yonder, Shep?"
"Why, I declare, it looks like the boat!"
"Just what I was thinking. How can we get to her?"
"I don't know—-unless we swim over."
"Is anybody on board?"
"I can't make out—-in fact, I am not at all sure it is the boat," was the slow answer.
The object they had discovered was quite a distance out on the lake and the light from their torches reached it but faintly. The thing was drifting down the lake slowly, and as they watched it almost passed from view.
"Here, this won't do," cried Snap. "If it is the boat we must catch her and bring her in."
"It's kind of cold swimming—-this time of night," answered the doctor's son, who did not relish such a bath.
"Here, you hold my things and I'll swim out," declared Snap, "I don't think the water is any colder now than in the day time."
He was soon ready for the plunge, and noting the direction in which the object had last been seen, he waded into the water. The first touch felt icy, but after he had ducked down and taken a few strokes it did not seem so bad. He struck out lustily, and Shep held up both torches, that he might have some light by which to guide himself.
Snap was a good swimmer, but the object out on the lake was further away than he had calculated, and it took him fully five minutes to get in the vicinity of it. The sky had clouded over a bit, hiding the stars, so he could see little or nothing on the water. On the shore he could see the two torches that the doctor's son was waving and that was all.
At last Snap saw the dark object directly ahead of him. By this time he was somewhat exhausted by his swim and he was glad to think that he would soon be able to rest. Then he made a discovery which did not please him at all.
The object was nothing more than a part of a fallen tree, the trunk resting half in and half out of the water and several branches sticking out in as many directions. At a distance it looked a little like the rowboat but the resemblance faded completely as he got closer.
"Too bad! I thought it was the boat sure!" he murmured. "Well, I'll have to rest on the log a bit, before I strike out for shore."
He swam up to one of the branches and caught hold of it. He was on the point of reaching for the tree trunk when an unusual sound came to his ears.
Then Snap made a discovery that almost took his breath from him. On the tree trunk rested a big wildcat, it's eyes gleaming fiercely at the youth in the water!
THE CAMP ON LAKE CAMERON
Snap did not stand upon the order of his going, but went at once. Without a thing with which to defend himself, he had no desire to come into contact with such a savage creature as a wildcat, and, consequently, he dropped back into the water in a hurry and started back for the shore. He almost fancied he heard the wildcat splash in after him, and a chill crept down his backbone which was not caused by the night air.
"Hello! hello!" he yelled to Shep.
"Got the boat?" came back the cry.
"Not much! Get your shotgun ready and fire a shot into the air."
"What's the matter?"
"A wildcat is out here—-on a floating log. I'm afraid he's after me."
"A wildcat! Want me to scare him away?"
The doctor's son now understood, and raising his shotgun with one arm he pulled the trigger.
The report sounded out loudly in the night air and the echoes went ringing over the surrounding hills.
In the meantime Snap continued to swim for the shore with all possible speed. Fortunately he came in where there was a sandbar, so that he could wade to solid ground. When Shep reached him he was panting for breath.
"I wa—-was—-never so scar—-scared in my, life!" he panted. "It was only an old tree, and I was going to take a rest on it when I heard the wildcat. He was a big fellow, and his eyes seemed to bore me through and through. Maybe I didn't strike out for shore in a hurry!
"I don't blame you," answered the doctor's son. "Did he jump in the water after you?"
"I don't know."
"And it wasn't the boat?"
"No, I didn't see a thing of the boat."
Snap lost no time in dressing, and in the meantime Shep kept his eyes open for the possible appearance of the wildcat. But the savage creature did not show itself, nor did the fallen tree come again into view.
The report of the gun had reached Giant and Whopper, and they came up on the run, fearing something serious had occurred.
"We walked along the shore for almost quarter of a mile," said Whopper, "but we didn't see a blessed thing that looked like the boat. I am afraid it's gone for good."
"If it is we'll have to go home, and that will be the end of this outing," answered Shep.
"Oh, we're going to find that boat!" declared Giant. "But I don't think we'll be able to do much until daybreak."
They followed the shore for a short distance further, and then went back to the temporary camp. It was now half-past three in the morning.
"It will be growing light in another hour," said Whopper. "I move we get breakfast and be ready to start off as soon as we can see."
His suggestion was carried out. Snap's swim had made him cold, and he was glad enough to drink two cups of steaming hot coffee. The boys had brought some doughnuts along, and these, with the coffee and some fried fish, gave them a very appetizing breakfast. They took their time eating, waiting impatiently for the first signs of light in the eastern sky.
At last it was light enough to see almost across the lake, and then they looked in all directions for some sign of the missing rowboat. The craft was not in sight, and once again the party divided, this time Whopper and Snap going to the south and Shep and Giant to the north. Each took his gun along, and it was Snap who told them to make sure the firearms were loaded.
"You never want to go out with an empty gun," he said.
"Humph!" muttered Giant. "Did you ever do such a thing?" But Snap pretended not to hear and did not answer.
Whopper and Snap covered almost half a mile before they came to a turn in the lake shore. Here there was quite a good sized cove, and much to their surprise they saw two large tents standing among the trees. Nearby was the remains of a campfire, with sticks, an iron chain, and a big iron pot over it.
"I didn't notice this camp when we came up," said Whopper.
"All the folks here must be asleep," said Snap. But as he spoke a man came from one of the tents and stared at them. It was Andrew Felps, the rich lumber merchant who owned much of the land around the lake and who had treated them so meanly the summer and the winter previous.
"Hi, you!" roared Felps. "What are you doing around here?"
"Looking for our boat," answered Snap.
"Humph! This is a pretty time to visit our camp, I must say!"
"We didn't know you had a camp here," said Whopper.
"I'd like to know what you are doing here—-after my ordering you away last summer and last winter," went on the lumber merchant, sourly.
"Didn't I say I was looking for our boat?" said Snap.
"Well, if you've got a boat you must be camping up here."
"We stayed ashore over night, that's all. We are bound for Lake Narsac," said Whopper. "Did you see a boat drifting past?" he continued.
"No, I didn't," snapped Andrew Felps. "Look here," he continued. "If this is a trick, let me warn you. You can't camp around here, and that settles it."
"We don't want to camp around here, Mr. Felps," answered Snap. "All we want is our boat, which got away from us last night. If you saw anything of the craft—-"
"I want you to get out of here!" roared the lumber merchant. "I won't have you hanging around!"
At this moment two men came from one of the tents. They were Giles Faswig and Vance Lemon, the lumber merchant's two friends, and the men who had once tried to get the boys to let them have some ammunition. They had treated the young hunters so meanly that the latter had voted not to let them have any powder or cartridges and this had broken up the outing of the Felps party.
"Hello, those young rascals are out here again!" muttered Vance Lemon, who was naturally as sour as his name implied.
"Say, I've fixed them," whispered Giles Faswig, with a wink at Lemon. "I'll tell you about it later. I took a walk late last night, and I discovered they were camping not far from this spot."
"We are not young rascals!" cried Snap, indignantly. "We are just as good as you are, and maybe better."
"Bah! don't talk to me!" growled Vance Lemon.
"You thought you were smart last winter, when you refused to sell us a little ammunition," broke in Giles Faswig. "I haven't forgotten that dirty trick."