Edward Stratemeyer.

The Gun Club Boys of Lakeport





Look out, boys! yelled the old hunter. Back for your lives!

He spoke none too soon, for the wolverene was now ready for a second leap. Bart sprang back, and the beast caught sight of Joe, who was trying to get a shot.

Bang! went Joes weapon, but the wolverene leaped as he fired, and all that was hit of the creature was the bushy tail, which was knocked completely to pieces at such close range.

Dazed and bewildered, the wolverene now backed to the nearest tree, and leaped out of sight among the low-hanging branches. The pain of its wounds made it snarl and growl viciously, and had it been able to reach one or another of the hunters it might have done great damage.

Look out, cried Bart. Guess hes trying to come up behind us.

Ive got my eye on him now, answered Joel Runnell. Both of you stay where you are, and reload.

Neither had thought of reloading, but now they did so with all possible speed. In the meanwhile Joel Runnell was moving down among the pines. They listened and heard the wolverene make a leap from one branch to another, then all became suddenly silent.

Oh, I hope Runnell dont get hurt, muttered Bart.

There followed a short spell of silence, and then the firearm of the old hunter rang out. The report was followed by a cat-like screech, loud and of short duration. Then from one limb to another tumbled the wolverene, striking the ground with a whirl and sending the snow flying in all directions. But the shot was a fatal one, and in a few minutes the savage beast gave a shudder, stiffened out, and lay still.

Is he he dead? asked Bart, almost in a whisper.

Dead as a door nail, boys, answered Joel Runnell. He was a fighter right enough, wasnt he?

I never want to go after another wolverene, declared Joe.

You are right; one is enough, returned Bart. For once his face was strangely white.

What shall we do with the animal? went on Joe.

May as well keep the hide, answered the old hunter. That will pay us back for our deer meat. You can make a mat of it when you get home.

I believe now some of the stories I have heard about wolverenes, declared Bart. Why, this creature is about as bad to meet as a bear.

Worse than some bears.

Do you boys know what the wolverene is sometimes called? asked the old hunter.

I dont know. What? asked Joe.

The skunk bear, on account of its peculiar colorings. Yes, after this, fight shy of wolverenes if you can help it.

CHAPTER XXV
TEDDY EVENS THE SCORE

You must have had a close call, said Harry, when the others returned to the camp and told their story. I am mighty glad that wolverene didnt get a chance at me.

Sure an if I see wan of them bastes Ill run for me life, came from Teddy. Its worse nor a a tiger they must be.

Worse than Injuns, Teddy, said Link, dryly.

Ah! Go run after your own shadow, growled Teddy, in deep disgust.

And then, as he turned away there was a merry twinkle in his eyes. Sure an Ill fix em to-night, he murmured to himself.

Link and Harry had employed their spare time in making for themselves two pillows of pine needles. This was easy, for they had brought along some bags for nuts and had merely to fill these and then sew up the open ends.

Watching his chance, Teddy got hold of the two pillows and also the box containing pepper. Into each pillow he poured some pepper and also sprinkled the outside liberally.

It had been decided that an early start should be made the next morning in a search for the three tramps, and Joel Runnell advised that all hands turn in early.

Im willing, said Fred, and was the first to lie down and go to sleep. Then the fire was fixed for the night and the others followed his example.

The silence in the shelter did not last long. Suddenly Link gave a terrific sneeze and Harry followed suit.

Boys, get out of the draught or youll take cold, came from Joel Runnell.

Im not in any ker-chew! draught, answered Harry.

I am ker-chew I think ker-chew spluttered Link, and ended with a series of sneezes that brought all in the shelter to a sitting position.

Hullo, whats the matter? sang out Bart.

I-ker-chew! I think Ive got the ker-chew! spluttered Harry.

I think so myself, went on Bart. Got em bad, too.

Ker-chew! exploded Link. Ker-chew! Oh, my! Ker-chew!

Well, I never, came from Fred. Is this a sneezing match?

Ill bet on the feller that wins, piped up Teddy. Now then, both start together.

Ker-chew! began Link.

Ker-chew! came from Harry, directly afterwards.

Didnt start together, went on Teddy, calmly. Try it over again and see

Ker-chew! came from both.

Teddy Dugan, did you ker-chew! began Harry.

No, I didnt ker-chew, answered the Irish lad, with a wink at the others. I dont chew at all. My father wont let me use tobacco, and so I

Ker-chew! broke in both of the sufferers.

This is certainly queer, said Joel Runnell, seriously. What set you to sneezing?

Perhaps they tickled their noses wid straws, suggested the irrepressible Teddy.

I I ker-chew! think there is pepper on my ker-chew! pillow, spluttered Link.

Harry caught up his pillow and smelt of it.

Sure as you ker-chew! ker-chew! are born, he cried. Now, who did this?

He and Link looked at first one and then another of the party. All but Teddy looked perplexed. The twinkle in the Irish lads eyes was brighter than ever.

Teddy Dugan, you did ker-chew this? stormed Link, and made a dive for him.

Its snazin Injuns ye are now, returned Teddy.

Oh, Ill fix you for this! roared Harry, and catching up his pillow he hurled it at the Irish boys head. Link did the same, and down went Teddy flat on his back.

Oh, stop! he yelled. I ker-chew! Oh! Oh!

He threw one of the pillows at Link. It struck Joe instead, and Joe sent it at Fred. Then the stout lad hurled it into the crowd. But it sailed too high, struck the fire, and the pillow burst open.

Hi! hi! called out Joel Runnell. Take that out of the fire!

Cant its bursted, answered Joe. He bent forward over the blaze. Oh, what a smell! Ker-chew!

The pepper was now burning, and the smell speedily became so strong that everybody had to sneeze and rush for the doorway. Into the open tumbled the boys, one on top of the other.

Watch out; the shelter may get on fire! said Fred.

Oh, dont say that, groaned Teddy, becoming frightened on the spot. Sure an I didnt mane to carry the joke so far.

Then you did do it after all? murmured Fred. Well, it was a good joke all right enough.

From the doorway Joel Runnell watched the progress of the fire. The pine needles soon died out, and the camp-fire became as before. But it was some time before they could stand the smell of the burnt pepper. The unburnt pillow was thrown out into the snow.

It was only to git square for the Indian trick, said Teddy. Wont you call it off now?

Yes, Teddy, said Harry, promptly, and shook hands, and then Link did the same.

All would have overslept on the following morning had not old Runnell called them up ere it was daylight. He had already started the breakfast, and soon some of the others were helping him.

Oh, must I get up so soon, sighed Harry. I could sleep three hours more.

No lazybones in this camp, young man, cried Joe. Remember, we are going to try to locate those tramps.

It was a perfect day, with the sun shining brightly over the long stretches of ice and snow. There was no wind, and on every side all was as silent as a tomb, saving for the occasional cry of a winter bird, or the distant barking of a fox.

This is genuine life in the open, said Joe. I tell you what, boys, we couldnt have a finer outing.

I must try for some more pictures, said Harry, and before he left the camp he loaded his camera with films, so that he would be prepared to shoot whatever struck his fancy.

From Teddy they had obtained all the information possible concerning the three tramps, and as soon as they were well on the road to the shore Joel Runnell allowed Teddy to go in the lead.

Mind ye, I dont say I can spot the rascals, said the Irish lad. But Ill do me best.

That is all anybody can do, Teddy, answered Joe. Even if we dont catch em it wont be such a terrible disappointment, although Id like to see the fellows brought to justice.

They ought to be brought to justice, put in old Runnell. Nobody in these parts will be safe with such rascals at large.

I wonder what has become of Dan Marcy and Hiram Skeetles, mused Harry. Its a wonder they are not watching us, isnt it?

Guess the cold snap was too much for them, answered Fred. I dont believe old Skeetles cares much for an outing anyway. Hed rather stay in town and make money.

Ive heard that he has been very mean to a great many persons, said Link. There was one old Irish washerwoman that owed him ten or fifteen dollars and he pestered the life out of her trying to get it.

Thats right, came from Teddy. It was the Widdy ORourke, an my folks and a lot of others made up a purse for her, so she could buy a railroad ticket to Caleville, where her married daughter lives. The daughter was too poor to pay for the ticket, but she wrote that if her mother would come on she would do the best she could to give her a home.

And did old Skeetles get the ten or fifteen dollars? asked Bart.

Sure he did. He wouldnt let her leave town till she had paid. Oh, hes a skinflint, he is, concluded Teddy.

CHAPTER XXVI
THE HOUSE IN THE WOODS

They reached the shore at a point where a long stretch of pines bent down heavily with their weight of snow. The scene was so beautiful that Harry stopped long enough to get two time exposure pictures, using very small stops, so that the outlines might be extra sharp.

There must be a whole lot about photography, observed old Runnell. Those men that are in the business take fine pictures without half trying, while on the other hand Ive been out with amateurs, as they called themselves, and theyd take picture after picture, but none of em seemed to amount to much. Some would be crooked, some wouldnt be sharp and clear enough, and some would be printed too light or too dark.

Well, I just guess there is a good deal about it, came from Bart. I have a cousin who is learning the business in Boston, and he writes that I cant imagine how many details there are. First one must have the right light and shade and the proper focus, and then, after the picture is taken, the plate has got to be developed just so, to bring out the negative to its best point, and then one must take great care in printing the paper. He tells me that sometimes a single drop of a certain kind of chemical will spoil everything.

Reckon, lad, its a good bit like hunting, after all, said old Runnell. Some folks think they can put a gun over their shoulder, run to the forest, and shoot down jest what they want to. Well, they cant at all you know that already. They have got to learn to shoot straight, and keep cool, and have lots of patience, and then they have got to learn about the habits of their game.

And some folks never become good hunters any more than they can become good photographers, said Joe. I guess one has got to have a strong fancy for it, in the first place.

Yes, and a strong fancy for anything that he really wants to succeed in, said Joel Runnell.

When they went into a temporary camp for dinner Harry took a picture of the group, and then Joe took another, with Harry in the middle, holding a coffee pot in his hand. Nearly every young hunter had something a gun, or a hatchet, or some kitchen utensil, and this photograph caused a great deal of laughter when it was shown around after they got home.

By moving slowly along the shore, and making a close examination of every sheet and drift of snow, Joel Runnell at last found the tracks of three persons who had come from the lake. The tracks were those made by three pairs of boots or shoes of good size.

Those must be the tramps tracks, declared Joe. Teddy was right; they came almost directly across from the opposite shore.

And now the question is, How far have they gone since they crossed the lake? put in Harry.

Thats the worst of it, said Fred. For all we know, they may be miles and miles away from here by this time.

Tramps are great for stealing rides on freight trains, ventured Bart. How far is the railroad from this point?

At least four miles, answered Joel Runnell, and a very rough road at that. The nearest station is six miles. They couldnt very well board a freight train that was moving.

I dont believe tramps like to ride much in such freezing weather, came from Link. More than likely they have found some sort of a hangout around here, and are living off of what they can pick up, by honest or dishonest means.

The matter was discussed for a short while, and it was concluded to follow up the footprints until nightfall if no longer.

We may run across them sooner nor you expect, said old Runnell.

The tracks led directly through the woods and then toward a rise of rocks which was swept almost clear of snow. Beyond the rocks was level ground, and here was a country road, connecting two small villages of that vicinity with Lakeport.

Were getting into civilization, said Joe. This feels almost as if we were going home.

I dont want to go home yet, said Harry.

Nor I, came in a chorus from the others.

The tracks led along the roadway for perhaps half a mile, and then turned still further from the lake.

Well, I declare! cried Joel Runnell. Wonder if those chaps went over to Ike Slossons house.

Where is that? asked Fred.

About half a mile from here.

Who is Ike Slosson? asked Link.

He is a very peculiar man, who lives by himself up in yonder woods. Some folks say he is very rich, while others have it that he is poor.

Do you say he lives all alone?

Yes, and has for years. He used to have a son live with him, but the boy died and that kind of made the old man queer in his head. But he isnt a bad sort by any means. Once, when I was caught in the woods in a blizzard he took me in and treated me well. But he dont care for company.

He would be just the sort of man those tramps would rob, put in Joe.

The tracks of the feet in the snow were plainly to be seen, and as they continued on their way Joel Runnell became more and more convinced that the three tramps had gone to Ike Slossons house.

When we come in sight of the house, I want you to halt, said the old hunter. For all we know it may not be safe to show ourselves.

On and on they went. In spots the way was very rough, and they had to help each other over the rocks. At one point they could see where the tramps had halted for a meal, and here in the snow lay an empty liquor flask.

That is evidence to me that the persons are the tramps we are after, said Joe. They were all drinking men.

They had now to force their way through some short undergrowth and then cross a small stream, which in the summer time flowed into the lake. The stream was now a solid mass of ice.

The house is just beyond yonder belt of trees, said Joel Runnell, at last. You had better stay here while I investigate.

Let us go a little closer and hide behind the nearest trees, suggested Joe, and after a few words this was done.

With his gun over his shoulder Joel Runnell continued to advance until he was crossing the small clearing directly in front of the house, which was an old affair, a story and a half high, and containing but four rooms. The place looked to be closed and deserted.

Hullo, Ike Slosson, sang out the old hunter, when within fifty feet of the doorway. Hullo, I say!

Scarcely had he called out when there was a commotion in the house. He heard a shuffling of feet and some excited talking.

Go away! cried a high-pitched voice. Go away, I say! I want no strangers around my house! Go away!

CHAPTER XXVII
A PLAN FOR A CAPTURE

The words used were those which Ike Slosson had often uttered when folks of that neighborhood came around his house and he did not wish to entertain them. As Joel Runnell had said, the old man was very peculiar and at times he refused utterly to see even those he knew to be his friends. For strangers he had no welcome whatever. He knew old Runnell, however, and had treated him better than he had many another man. The hunter had once given him some fine rabbits and a partridge, and this had won Ike Slossons heart.

Joel Runnell halted, but did not retreat. The shuffling of several pairs of feet had not escaped his sharp ears, and now those ears told him that it was not Ike Slosson who was speaking, but somebody who was trying, in a crude manner, to imitate the hermit.

I say, go away! came in the same voice. I want no strangers here.

Whose place is this? asked old Runnell, calmly.

It is my place, and I want you to go away, or Ill set the dog on you.

This reply made Joel Runnell smile to himself, for he knew very well that Ike Slosson despised dogs and would never have one near him.

Who are you?

Never mind who I am. I want you to go away.

Wont you sell me a supper?

No. I have hardly enough for myself.

Ill pay you well.

Cant help it. I have nothing to sell. Now go away, or Ill put out the dog.

Dont send out your dog; Ill go, cried Joel Runnell, in pretended alarm, and then turning, he made his way to the shelter of the trees.

How did you make out? whispered Joe.

Hush! dont speak, said the old hunter, warningly. Crawl back, or somebody may see you.

The boys moved to a safe place, and then clustered around the old hunter for information. Joel Runnell was chuckling quietly to himself.

Thought theyd play a joke on me, didnt they? he said. But Ill soon have the boot on the other leg.

What do you mean? asked Harry.

The old hunter then told of what had been said. It wasnt Ike Slosson who was speaking at all, he added. It was some other man, and his voice was thick with liquor. Ive a notion those fellows have done something to Slosson and taken possession of his house and all of his goods and money.

Can they have killed the old man? asked Link, in quick alarm.

Joel Runnell shrugged his shoulders. There is no telling.

Let us rush out, surround the house, and capture the rascals, came from Bart.

Hurrah! shouted Teddy, enthusiastically. Sure an well have a regular Donnybrook Fair, such as me father often tells about.

No! no! answered old Runnell. Some of you would be sure to get shot or hurt in some way.

But we came for the express purpose of catching those tramps, cried Joe. Im not afraid to tackle them.

We are seven to three, said Fred. Perhaps theyll surrender, when they see how many there are of us.

Not if they have done something to Ike Slosson, lad. Theyll fight hard to get away. I have another plan. Five of us can watch the house while the other two tramp to the nearest village and get some officers. Then we can pounce on em while they are asleep.

This was considered excellent advice, and it was speedily decided that Harry and Bart were to go to the village of Bralham, two miles away. The others were to surround the house and keep a close watch so that none of those inside could escape.

The sun had now set and it was quite dark by the time Harry and Bart struck the road leading to Bralham, a place consisting of half a dozen houses, a store and a grist mill. What help they could muster at such a place was still a question.

Perhaps nobody will care to take hold with us, observed Harry, as they trudged along. Some of these country constables are mighty afraid of their hides, when it comes to catching a criminal.

There was no moon, but countless stars shone in the dear sky, making the path fairly light. All was very quiet, until directly over their heads an owl let out a mournful hoot.

Oh! cried Bart, and leaped back several feet. What was that?

An owl, answered Harry, with a laugh.

How he scared me.

They could not see the owl, or Bart might have taken a shot at the creature. The scare made the lad nervous, and he trembled a little as they continued on their journey.

I dont know as I should care to walk this road alone at night, he said. I am glad we live in the town and not out in the country or in the woods.

I fancy it is what one gets used to, Bart. Ive heard it said a countryman cant sleep in the city for the noise, and some city folks cant sleep in the country because its too quiet.

Yes, Ive heard that, too. But I think Oh, my, what was that?

Both boys halted as some dark object passed across the road a couple of rods in front of them. What the object was they could not discern.

I guess it was a rabbit or else a fox, said Harry, as lightly as he could. Come on.

Could it have been a a bear?

No, it wasnt large enough for that. Come on, and now Harry urged Bart along. A little while after this they came within sight of the light in a farmhouse kitchen, and then both boys felt much relieved.





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