Edward Stratemeyer.

The Gun Club Boys of Lakeport





PREFACE

This story is a complete tale in itself, and it also forms the first volume of a series to be devoted to sport in the forest, on the water, and on the athletic field.

My object in writing this tale was two-fold: first, to present to the boys a story which would please them, and, second, to give my young readers an insight into Nature as presented in the depths of the forest during the winter.

The young hunters of Lakeport are no different from thousands of other youths of to-day. Although they do some brave deeds, they are no heroes in the accepted sense of that term, and at certain times they get scared just as others might under similar circumstances. They are light-hearted and full of fun, and not above playing some odd practical jokes upon each other. In the old and experienced hunter, who goes with them on this never-to-be-forgotten outing, they find a companion exactly to their liking, and one who teaches them not a few points about hunting that are worth knowing.

The scene of this tale is laid in one of our eastern states. A few years ago small game of all kinds was plentiful there, and deer, moose, and even bears, could also be laid low. But some of the larger animals are fast disappearing, and it is now only a question of time when they will be wiped out altogether. This seems a great pity; but the march of the lumberman and the progress of the farmer cannot be stayed.

Edward Stratemeyer.

CHAPTER I
WHAT HAPPENED IN A SNOWSTORM

How many miles have we still to go, Harry?

I think about four, answered Harry Westmore, as he looked around him on the country road he and his brother were traveling. I must say, I didnt think the walk would be such a long one, did you?

No, I thought wed be back home before this, came from Joe Westmore. I wish we could find some sort of a signboard. For all we know, we may be on the wrong road.

There used to be signboards on all of these roads, but I heard Joel Runnell tell that some tramps had torn them down and used them for firewood.

Yes, they did it for that, and I guess they took em down so that folks could miss their way, too. Those tramps are not above waylaying folks and making them give up all theyve got in their pockets.

I believe you there. But since Sheriff Clowes rounded up about a dozen of em last month they have kept themselves scarce. Phew! How the wind blows!

Yes, and how the snow is coming down! If we are not careful, well not get home at all. I hadnt any idea it was going to snow when we left home.

Im afraid if we dont get home by dark mother will worry about us.

Oh, she knows we are old enough to take care of ourselves. If it snows too hard we can seek shelter at the next farmhouse we come to and wait until it clears off.

The two Westmore boys, of whom Joe was the older by a year and a day, had left their home at Lakeport early that morning for a long tramp into the country after some late fall nuts which a friend had told them were plentiful at a locality known as Glasbys Hill.

They knew the Hill was a long way off, but had not expected such a journey to get to it. The bridge was down over one of the country streams and this had necessitated a walk of over a mile to another bridge, and here the road was not near as good as that on which they had been traveling. Then, after the nuts were found and two fair-sized bags gathered, it had begun to snow and blow, until now the wind was sailing by them at a great rate and the snow was coming down so fast that it threatened to obliterate the landscape around them.

The Westmore family were six in number, Mr. Horace Westmore and his wife, the boys just introduced, and two younger children named Laura and Bessie. Mr. Westmore was a flour and feed dealer, and had the principal establishment of that kind in Lakeport, at the lower end of Pine Lake. While the merchant was not rich, he was fairly well-to-do, and the family moved in the best society that the lake district afforded. On Mrs. Westmores side there had once been much wealth, but an unexpected turn of fortune had left her father almost penniless at his death. There was a rumor that the dead man had left to his daughter the rights to a valuable tract of land located at the head of the lake, but though Mr. Westmore tried his best he could not establish any such claim. The land was there, held by a miserly real estate dealer of Brookside named Hiram Skeetles; but Skeetles declared that the property was his own, free and clear, and that Mrs. Westmores father had never had any right to it whatsoever.

Whats mine is mine, and dont ye go for to forgit it! Hiram Skeetles had snarled, during his last interview with Horace Westmore on the subject. Ye aint got nary a slip o paper to show it ever belonged to Henry Anderson. I dont want ye to bother me no more. If ye do, Ill have the law on ye! And Mr. Westmore had come away feeling that the case was decidedly a hopeless one.

Its a shame mother and father cant bring old Skeetles to time, had been Joes comment, when he heard of the interview. I wouldnt trust that old skinflint to do the square thing.

Nor I, had come from Harry. But if Grandfather Anderson had any deeds or other papers what did he do with them?

Im sure I dont know. Mother said she saw some papers once years ago, when she was a young girl but she never saw them after that, had been Joes comment; and there the subject had been dropped.

With their bags of nuts over their shoulders the two boys continued to trudge along in the direction of home. The loads had not seemed heavy at starting, but now each bag was a dead weight that grew harder to carry at every step.

Let us rest for awhile, said Joe, at length. I must have a chance to get my wind.

Isnt there wind enough flying around loose, returned his brother, with a faint grin. Just open your mouth wide and youll gather in pure, unadulterated ozone by the barrelful.

Its the wind thats taking my wind, Harry. I feel as if Id been rowing a two-mile race, or just made a home run on the baseball field.

Or a touchdown on the gridiron, eh? Say, but that last game of football with the Fordhams was great, wasnt it?

The two boys had moved on a few steps further, and now, through the flying snow, caught sight of a dilapidated barn standing close to the roadway.

Hurrah! heres a shelter, made to order! cried Joe. Let us go in and take a quarter of an hours rest.

Yes, and eat a few of the nuts, added Harry. My! but aint I hungry. Im going to eat all there is on the table when I get home.

Then you wouldnt refuse a mince pie right now, would you?

At this question Harry gave a mock groan. Please dont mention it! Youll give me palpitation of the heart. If youve got a mince pie tucked away in your vest pocket, trot it out.

Wish I had. But stop talking and come into the barn. It isnt a first-class hotel, but its a hundred per cent. better than nothing, with a fraction added.

Like many a similar structure, the old barn had no door or window on the road side, so they had to go around to the back to get in. As they turned the corner of the building they caught sight of two men who stood in the tumble-down doorway. The men were rough-looking individuals and shabbily dressed, and when they saw them the lads came to a halt.

Hullo, who are you? demanded one of the men, who possessed a head of tangled red hair and an equally tangled red beard.

We were traveling on the road and came around here for a little shelter from the storm, answered Joe. He did not like the appearance of the two tramps for such they were and neither did Harry.

At the explanation the tramp muttered something which the two boys did not catch. At the same time a third tramp came forth from the barn, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

Maybe theyre from that farm back here, he said, with a jerk of his head over the shoulder. I believe there was a couple o boys up there.

No, were not from any farm, answered Harry. We come from Lakeport.

What have ye in them bags? put in the tramp who had not yet spoken.

Nuts. We have been out nutting.

Humph! Thought as how nuts was all gone by this time.

We heard of a spot that hadnt been visited, said Joe. He looked at his brother significantly. Guess we had better be moving on.

Oh, dont hurry yourselves, gents, came quickly from the tramp with the red and tangled beard. Come in an rest all yer please. Were keepin open house to-day, and he gave a low laugh.

Thank you, but we havent a great deal of time to spare, said Harry. Come, Joe, he went on, and started to move toward the roadway once more.

He had scarcely taken two steps when the tramp with the red beard caught him by the shoulder.

Dont go, he said pointedly. Come in an warm up. Weve got a bit o a fire in there.

A fire? queried Harry, not knowing what else to say. Arent you afraid youll burn the barn down?

Not much! Even if she went, the buildin aint worth much. Come on in.

The tramp had a firm grip on Harrys arm by this time and now the other two got between Joe and the roadway.

It must be confessed that the two lads were much dismayed. As already noted, they knew that folks in that neighborhood had been waylaid by tramps in the past, and they now felt that a similar experience was in store for them. How to get out of such a dilemma was a serious question.

We dont want to stop with you, said Joe, as sharply as he could, although his heart beat violently. Let me pass, please.

But we aint goin to let yer pass just yet, young feller, said one of the tramps. Come on in an be sociable.

We dont mean for to hurt ye! put in another. So dont git scart. If ye belong down to Lakeport well treat yer right.

We dont wish to stay, I tell you, went on Joe. Let me pass, do you hear?

And let me go, too, added Harry. He tried to twist himself loose but could not, for the tramp was strong and had a good clutch.

Peppery youngsters, drawled the tramp with the red hair. Got to teach em manners, I guess. Shove em into the barn, boys. There dont seem to be nobuddy else around, an it looks like we had run up against a real good thing!

Do you mean to say that you intend to rob us? cried Joe, as he struggled to free himself from the man who had him by the collar.

Rob yer? Who said anything bout robbin yer? Were honest men, we are! Come on inside, an behave yerself!

And with this Joe was shoved toward the barn door. He tried to struggle, but it was useless. Using brute force the tramps almost pitched him inside, and Harry followed in a similar manner. Then the tramp with the red beard set up the broken-down door before the opening and stood on guard with a club in his hand.

CHAPTER II
THE DUGANS TO THE RESCUE

It was a situation which no boy would care to confront, and as Joe and Harry looked from one brutal face to another, their hearts sank within them. They could see at a glance that the tramps were among the worst of their class and would hesitate at little or nothing to accomplish their ends.

To one side of the barn, where the flooring had rotted away, a fire was burning, the smoke drifting forth through a broken-out window and the numerous holes in the roof. Beside the fire lay the remains of two chickens, which the tramps had probably stolen from some farmers hen-roost. Three soda water bottles were also on the floor, but there was no telling what they had contained, since all were empty. But as the breath of each tramp smelt strongly of liquor, it is safe to say that the bottles had contained at least one of them something stronger than a temperance drink.

See here, you havent any right to treat us in this fashion, said Joe, as soon as he could recover from the attack which had been made upon him.

You aint got no right to call us thieves, was the answer, and the speaker leered in a knowing manner at his fellows.

Thats it, spoke up another of the tramps. Its a downright insult to honest men like us.

Thets wot it is, came from the third tramp. Boys, yer ought to polergize.

I want you to let us go, went on Joe.

Right away, put in Harry. If you dont

If we dont, what? demanded the tramp who stood guard with the club.

It may be the worse for you, thats all.

At this all three of the tramps set up a low laugh. Then the fellow at the doorway called one of the others to his side and whispered something in his ear.

Dats all right, Noxy; but I dont care to go until I see wot we strike, answered the man addressed.

Oh, youll get your fair share, Stump, was the answer, but Stump refused to leave even when urged a second time.

Say, just you tell us wot time it is, put in the other tramp, who went by the name of Muley. He had noticed that Joe carried a watch a silver affair, given to him by his father on his last birthday.

Its time you let us go, answered Joe. He understood perfectly well what the fellow was after.

He had scarcely spoken when Muley stepped forward and grabbed the watch chain. The watch came with it, and despite Joes clutch for his property it was quickly transferred to the tramps possession.

Give me that watch!

They are nothing but robbers! burst out Harry. Joe, let us get out right away!

Unable to pass the tramp at the doorway, Harry made for one of the barn windows, and feeling it would be useless to argue just then about the timepiece, Joe followed his brother.

Hi, stop em! roared Stump. Dont let em get away!

Instantly all three of the tramps went after the two lads. Muley was the quickest of the number and in a trice he had placed himself in front of the window.

Not so fast! he sang out. We want what you have in your pockets first!

Cut off from escape by the window, the two boys turned around. They now saw that the doorway was unguarded, and ran for the opening with all speed. Harry reached the door first and tumbled it aside, and both ran into the open.

Stop! yelled Noxy. Stop, or well fix ye! And then, his foot catching in a loose board of the flooring, he pitched headlong, and Stump and Muley came down on top of him.

Run, Harry, run, or theyll catch us sure! cried Joe.

Harry needed no urging, and in a minute the two lads were on the roadway once again and running harder than they had ever done in any footrace. For the moment they forgot how tired they had been, and fear possibly gave them additional strength.

Ar are the they coming? panted Harry, after quarter of a mile had been covered.

I dont dont know! puffed his brother. Do dont se see anything of em.

What mean rascals, Joe!

Yes, they ought to be in jail!

The boys continued to run, but as nobody appeared to be following they gradually slackened their pace and at length came to a halt.

Joe, Im almost ready to drop.

So am I, but we had better not stop here. Let us keep on until we reach some farmhouse. Im going to get back my watch and chain if I can.

And the nuts. Think of losing them after all the trouble we had in gathering them.

Yes, Harry, but the watch and chain are worth more than the nuts. If youll remember, they were my birthday present from father.

Oh, weve got to get back the watch and chain. Come on the sooner we find a farmhouse and get assistance the better. More than likely those tramps wont stay at the barn very long.

Scarcely able to drag one foot after the other, the two Westmore boys continued on their way. The snow had now stopped coming down, yet the keen fall wind was as sharp as ever. But presently the wind shifted and then they made better progress.

I see a farmhouse! cried Harry, a little later.

Not much of a place, returned his brother. Yet we may get help there, who knows?

When the cottage it was no more than that was reached, Joe knocked loudly on the door.

Who is there? came in a shrill voice from inside.

Two boys, answered Joe. We want help, for some tramps have robbed us.

I cant help you. The tramps robbed me, too stole two of my best chickens. Im an old man and I must watch my property. You go to Neighbor Dugans hell help you, maybe.

Where is Dugans place?

Down the road a spell. Keep right on an you cant miss it. And that was all the boys could get out of the occupant of the cottage.

He must be a crabbed old chap, was Harrys comment, as they resumed their weary tramp.

Well, an old man cant do much, especially if he is living all alone. I suppose hes afraid to leave his place for fear the tramps will visit it during his absence, and in this surmise Joe was correct.

Fortunately the farm belonging to Andy Dugan was not far distant. The farmer was a whole-souled Irishman and both boys had met him on more than one occasion at Mr. Westmores store.

Sure, an where did you bys spring from? said Dugan, on opening the door. Tis a likely walk ye are from town.

Weve been out for some nuts, over to Glasbys Hill, answered Harry.

Ah now, so yeve got there before me, eh? I didnt know twas known there was nuts there.

Mr. Dugan, we want your help, put in Joe, quickly.

Phat for, Joe to help carry home the nuts? Wheres the bags?

We met some tramps, and

Tramps? On this road agin? Andy Dugan was all attention and his face grew sober. Tell me about thim at onct!

The boys entered the farmhouse, where were collected the Dugan family, consisting of Mrs. Dugan, who weighed about two hundred and fifty pounds, and seven children, including three half-grown sons. All listened with close attention to what the Westmore boys had to relate.

Th schamps! cried Andy Dugan. Sure an they should be in the town jail! An was the watch an chain worth much?

Twelve or fifteen dollars. And a birthday present, too.

Ill go after thim, that I will. Pat, git me gun, and you go an take yer own gun, too an, Teddy, git the pistol, an see if its after bein loaded. Well tache thim scallywags a lisson, so we will!

Thats the talk, Mr. Dugan! said Joe, brightening. But youll have to hurry, or theyll be gone.

Ill hurry all I can, lad. But phat about you? Youre too tired to walk back, aint ye?

Lit thim roide the mare, Andy, came from Mrs. Dugan. Th mare wants exercise annyway.

So they shall, Caddy, answered the husband, and one of the smaller boys of the family was sent to bring the mare forth.

In less than ten minutes the party was ready to set out, Andy Dugan and his son Pat with guns, Teddy, who boasted of a face that was nothing but a mass of freckles, with the pistol, and Joe and Harry, on the mares back, with clubs.

The mare was rather a frisky creature, and both boys had all they could do to make her walk along as they wished.

Shes been in the sthable too long, explained Andy Dugan. She wants a run av a couple o miles to take the dancin out av her heels.

Well, she mustnt run now, said Harry, who had no desire to reach the old barn before the others could come up.

The wind was gradually going down, so journeying along the road was more agreeable than it had been. When they passed the little cottage they saw the old man peeping from behind a window shutter at them.

Hes a quare sthick, so he is, said Andy Dugan. But, as he is afther lavin us alone, we lave him alone.

The party advanced upon the barn boldly and when they were within a hundred yards of the structure, Joe and Harry urged the mare ahead. Up flew the rear hoofs of the steed and away she went pell-mell along the road.

Whoa! whoa! roared Joe. Whoa, I say!

But the mare did not intend to whoa, and reaching the barn, she flew by like a meteor, much to the combined chagrin of the riders. Joe was in front, holding the reins, and Harry in the rear, with his arms about his brothers waist. Both kept bouncing up and down like twin rubber balls.

Do stop her, Joe!

Whoa! repeated Joe. Whoa! Confound the mare, she wont listen to me!

She is running away with us!

Well, if she is, I cant help it.

Pull in on the reins.

Thats what I am doing just as hard as I can.

Hi! hi! came in Andy Dugans voice. Phy dont ye sthop? Aint this the barn ye was afther spakin about?

Yes! yelled back Joe. But your mare wont stop!

Hit her on th head wid yer fist! screamed Pat Dugan.

I dont believe that will stop her, said Harry.

Perhaps it will, if shes used to it, said his brother, and an instant later landed a blow straight between the mares ears.

Up went the creatures hind quarters in a twinkling and over her head shot the two boys, to land in the snow and brushwood beside the roadway. Then the mare shied to one side and pranced down the road, and soon a turn hid her from view.





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