Edward Stratemeyer.

The Gun Club Boys of Lakeport





CHAPTER IX
AT A DEER HUNT

In a moment there was a wild commotion throughout the lodge. All of the others sprang up, and reached for their weapons.

What is it, a bear? gasped Harry.

A snake! a snake! screamed Fred. Save me, before he stings me!

The lantern had been turned low. Now Joe turned it up, while Joel Runnell kicked the fire into a blaze. In the meantime, Fred pulled both the blanket and the reptile from him, and cast them upon the floor.

Let me get at him, said old Runnell, and he stepped into the sleeping room as the snake crawled from under the blanket and started across the floor for a hole in the corner.

Bang! it was a hasty shot, and in that confined space it made the ears of all the boys ring. For the time being, the smoke was so thick nobody could see, and more than one began to cough.

Did you you fetch him? faltered Fred. He felt so weak in the lower limbs that he had to rest on the edge of a bunk for support.

Think I did, was the laconic reply of the old hunter. He held the double-barreled gun ready for a second shot.

But this was unnecessary, for as the smoke cleared away it was seen that the snake had been literally cut to pieces by the dose of shot. The tail still whipped over the floor, and, catching it up, the old hunter threw it on the back of the fire, and a moment later the head and the bits of body followed.

Was it a rattler? questioned Harry.

No, it was only an ordinary everyday snake, answered Joel Runnell. I reckon the heat warmed him into life. But he scared you, didnt he, Fred?

Well-er it wasnt very pleasant, answered the stout youth. I dont want another such bunkmate.

I guess none of us do, came from Joe. Ugh! it makes one shiver to think of it.

Im going to search around for more, said Harry, and took up the lantern. The others helped him, but no more snakes were to be found.

As Joel Runnell had predicted, New Years day proved clear, and the bright sun, shining on the snow, was fairly dazzling.

Well go out after dinner, said the old hunter. The sun will soon make the top of the snow right for snow-shoeing, and so it proved.

The boys were anxious to try the snowshoes, or skis, as they are called in certain parts of the country. They had already tried them around the yard at home, with varying success. Joel Runnell was an expert in using them, and he gave them all the advice he deemed necessary.

Take your time, and make sure of what you are doing, he said. If you try to hurry at the start, youll surely take a tumble. Swiftness comes only with practice.

It had been decided that they should cross to the mainland on a hunt for deer. About two miles and a half away was a cove to which the deer came regularly at certain seasons of the year. This was known, however, to nobody but Joel Runnell, and he took good care to keep the fact to himself.

An early dinner was had, and they started off about midday, after closing up the lodge and putting a wooden pin through the hasp of the door.

A rough board was nailed over the open window, so that no wild animal might leap through to rummage their stores.

Now for a nice deer apiece! exclaimed Joe, as they made their way to the lake shore.

I must say you dont want much, said Harry. I guess well be lucky if we get one or two all told.

Nothing like hoping for the best, grinned old Runnell. It might be that wed get two each, you know.

I want a good picture of a deer as much as anything, went on Harry, who had his camera swung from his shoulder.

Humph! thats all well enough, but we cant live on photos, grumbled Fred. A nice juicy bit of venison will just suit me to death after such a tramp as this is going to be.

As soon as the thick undergrowth was left behind, they stopped and donned their snowshoes. Out on the lake the snow lay in an unbroken mass for miles. Over this they found snowshoe walking to be comparatively easy.

Snowshoes are all right on a level, old Runnell explained. It is going up-hill and coming down that tests ones skill.

Oh, I think this is lots of fun! cried Harry, and started to run. All went well for fifty yards, when he struck an extra high drift of snow and pitched into it headlong.

Oh, for a snap-shot! sang out Joe, merrily. Harry, lend me the camera until I press the button on you.

Not much! spluttered his brother. Wuow! But that was a cold plunge! he added, as he freed himself of the snow. Tell you what, there is more science in using these things than one imagines.

The edge of the cove was covered with pines and spruces, all hanging low with their weight of snow. Back of this fringe was a small opening, filled with young saplings.

The deer have been around here, thats certain, said Joel Runnell, as he pointed to the saplings. See how they have been peeling off the bark.

He told them to look to their firearms, and they did so, while Harry made certain that his camera was ready for use. Then they continued their journey, with eyes and ears on the alert for the first appearance of any game.

It was all of an hour before the old hunter called a halt. He pointed to a track in the snow just ahead of them.

Deer! he said, in a half whisper. Five of em. Go slow now, and make no noise.

At this announcement the heart of each of the youths began to flutter, and they clutched their guns tightly, while Harry brought his camera around to the front.

There was a slight rise of ground in front of them, at the top of which was a belt of brushwood. To the right was a hollow, and to the left something of a cliff.

The brushwood gained, Joel Runnell, who was in the lead, motioned for the boys to crouch low. They did as ordered, and came up to him as silently as so many ghosts.

The sight that met their gaze thrilled them to the core. The five deer were just beyond, feeding on the tender bark of the young trees in that vicinity. They were knee-deep in the snow. A magnificent old buck was leader of the herd.

Let me take a picture first! whispered Harry, and swung his camera into position. The sun was shining directly on the game, and the grouping could not have been better. Click! and the snap-shot was taken. Then, to make sure of a picture, he took a second shot from a slightly different position.

As the second click was heard, the old buck raised his head to look around and listen. The wind was blowing from the deer toward the hunters, so the buck scented nothing unusual.

Joe, take the one on the left; Harry, try for that on the right; Fred, shoot the one near the big rock. Ill take the buck, whispered Joel Runnell.

All agreed, and the firearms were brought into position. Fred was trembling as with buck fever, and Harry was equally excited.

When I count three, fire, said the old hunter. Ready? One, two, three!

Crack! crack! bang went the rifles and the shotguns, in a scattering fire. On the instant the old buck bounded into the air and fell lifeless, with a bullet through his left eye. The deer Joe had aimed at was mortally wounded, and fell where it had stood, kicking and plunging, and sending the snow and ice flying in all directions.

Harry and Fred had not been so fortunate, although each had nipped his mark, Fred landing some shot in the deers side, and Harry striking in the hind quarter. In the meantime, the fifth deer turned, and sped from sight with the swiftness of the wind.

Hurrah! weve got two at least! shouted Joe, and ran forward to finish his prize. This was an easy matter, and a second shot caused the deer to stop struggling at once.

Look out for those other chaps! yelled Joel Runnell, suddenly. They are going to attack us!

He was right. The two wounded deer were hurt enough to turn ugly, and now each came on with eyes that were full of fight. One sprang at Joe, and with a well-directed blow sent that youth sprawling headlong over the game he had brought low. The second charged on Fred, knocking the stout youth over likewise and then preparing to gore him with all the power of those cruel-looking prongs.

CHAPTER X
AMONG THE WOLVES

It was a moment of extreme peril, and each of the party realized it fully. A wounded deer is an ugly creature to deal with at the best, and these animals were both wounded and half starved, for the recent heavy falls of snow had cut them off from nearly all of their food supplies.

Jump, Joe! screamed Harry, in terror. Jump, or you will be killed!

Save me! screamed Fred. The deer is going to bore me through!

The words had scarcely been uttered, when Joel Runnells rifle rang out, and the deer that had attacked Fred fell over, paralyzed from a bullet through its backbone. Then Fred scrambled up, and ran for dear life down the slope leading to the lake.

Come on! he yelled. Come on! Ive had enough of deer hunting! Come on, before all of us are killed!

Harry could not bear to see Joe in such dire peril, and leaping up to the side of the deer he discharged the second barrel of his shotgun with all possible speed.

The aim was none of the best, but some of the shot penetrated the animals hind leg, and caused it to start back limping. At this, Joe tried to scramble up, but found himself too weak to do so. The deer then turned upon Harry, and that youth met the onslaught by hitting the game over the head with his gun-stock.

Thats the way to do it! shouted Joel Runnell, who was coming up as fast as he could, hunting knife in hand. Dont let him get away to buck you. Crowd him up! And Harry crowded the deer that was now inclined to flee. A moment later the old hunter was at hand, and, catching the game by one prong, plunged the keen knife into the upturned throat; and then the brief but fierce fight came to an end.

Say, but that was hot! gasped Joe, when he at last arose. I was afraid I was a goner, sure!

Where is Fred? asked old Runnell, looking around as he reloaded.

He ran away, answered Harry. He raised his voice: Fred, where are you? Come back, the fight is over.

Are those deer dead? came in a trembling voice from a distance.

Yes.

At this news the stout youth came limping back, one snowshoe on and the other under his arm. He looked rather sheepish.

Thought youd leg it, did you? said old Runnell, quizzically. Cant say I blame you much.

I I guess I was looking for that other deer, answered Fred, lamely. His companions could not help but smile, but they did not let the stout youth see it.

Well, we got one apiece, after all, said Joel Runnell, after a pause, during which they made sure that all of the game were dead. Boys, I can tell you that weve been lucky. It isnt likely that well make a better haul than this all the time we are out.

Excepting we get on the track of a moose, said Joe.

So far as I know, there are no longer any moose in this vicinity. I havent shot one for four years. As for meat, there is nothing better than the deer we have just brought down.

How to get the game to the lodge was the next problem, and after a conference it was decided to pile two of the deer on a drag, and take them over at once. The others were hung high in a tree, so as to protect them from other wild animals.

I reckon weve had sport enough for one day, said Joel Runnell. By the time we get these two deer to the lodge everybody will be fagged out.

For drags they cut long sweeps of pine. On these the deer were tightly bound with ropes, and while the old hunter and Fred pulled one, Joe and Harry pulled the other.

As they reached the edge of the lake Joe caught sight of some game in a nearby tree. They were partridge, and he and old Runnell brought down six. The others flew away with a rush that was exceedingly noisy.

Now we can have a potpie worth eating! exclaimed Joe. Ill make one just like Grandma Andersons.

To Harry, who was tired out, the walk over the lake appeared endless, but just as the sun was setting they came in sight of the lodge.

Home again! sang out Joe. Home again, and glad Hello!

He stopped short, and looked at the snow before him. There were prints that filled him with wonder.

What is it, Joe? asked Fred.

Unless I am mistaken these marks were made by the hoofs of a horse!

They were, said Joel Runnell, after an examination. Somebody has been around here on horseback.

Perhaps weve got a visitor, suggested Harry. Lets hurry up and see.

Increasing their speed they soon reached the lodge. The hoof prints were there, and they could plainly see where somebody had leaped from the horse and entered the building.

Hope it wasnt a thief, said Joe.

The door was fastened just as they had left it, and inside of the lodge nothing appeared to be disturbed. But on the table was a note, pinned down by a fork stuck in the crack of the boards. The note ran as follows:

You aint wanted here, and you had better clear out before Hiram Skeetles has the law on you.

Daniel Marcy.

Well, listen to that! ejaculated Joe. What right has Dan Marcy to leave such a message as this?

Evidently Hiram Skeetles got him to do it, said Joel Runnell. Remember, Skeetles claims to own the island.

But he doesnt own it, answered Joe, warmly. And I, for one, shant budge.

Nor I, added Harry.

So say we all! sang out Fred. Just let Marcy or old Skeetles show himself, and well give him a piece of our mind, eh, fellows?

Nobody ever tried to stop my hunting here before, said Joel Runnell. As I told you before, so far as I know, the island is under the care of Sheriff Clowes. As to who owns the island, that is for the courts to decide.

Then well quit on notice from the sheriff, and not before, said Joe.

Its a wonder Dan Marcy didnt steal something, put in Harry. I dont think hed be above doing such a thing.

Oh, dont paint him any blacker than he is, Harry, returned his brother; nevertheless, all looked around the lodge with interest, to make sure that nothing was missing.

I suppose Marcy has gone to old Skeetles to report, said Joel Runnell, later on, while they were broiling a choice cut of deer meat. And if thats so well hear from him again before long.

The hunt had given everybody a good appetite, and they sat over the well-cooked venison a long time, praising the meal and talking over the prospects for more sport. There was a good deal of enthusiasm, and, in the midst of this, Marcy and Hiram Skeetles were for the time being forgotten.

It being New Years night they did not go to bed as early as usual, but instead sat up eating nuts and listening to several good hunting stories old Runnell had to tell. They also talked of home, until Harry grew just a bit homesick and changed the subject.

With nothing to make them get up early, all hands slept the following morning until after eight oclock. The old hunter was the first to arise, and he had the breakfast well under way before the others rolled out.

Ive been a-thinking it over, said old Runnell. Perhaps one of us had better stay at the lodge while the others go for that other deer meat. Then, if Marcy comes, or Hiram Skeetles, there will be somebody here to talk to him.

Id just as lief stay, said Fred, who did not relish hauling the load of meat to Snow Lodge.

Supposing you and Runnell both stay, suggested Joe. I am sure Harry and I can get the deer over without much trouble.

The matter was discussed while they were eating breakfast, and Joes plan was adopted. A little later he and Harry set off, each with his gun, and Harry with his ever-present camera in addition. So far Harry had taken, besides the game, several pictures of the lodge and its surroundings, and had already laid away a strip of six films for development when he should get home.

I hope were able to bring down something on this trip, said Harry, as they trudged along over the lake.

We cant expect to bring in something every trip we make, Harry. If we did wed be the greatest Gun Club in the United States. Many a hunter goes out all day and doesnt so much as see a squirrel.

Oh, I know that. I really think that so far our luck has been remarkably good.

It wont keep up. Our shooting in this vicinity will scare the game away from the lodge. As the days go by well have to go farther and farther away for something worth bringing down.

The journey across the lake was made without incident, but scarcely had they struck the mainland when a distant howl greeted their ears.

What is that? came from Harry.

Its the howl of a wolf, answered his brother. I shouldnt wonder but what he has scented the deer meat.

If he has we may have some trouble in getting the deer home.

Oh, I guess we can easily take care of one wolf.

But there may be more, Joe. Wolves generally travel in packs, you know.

Yes, but I dont hear any others.

He may be calling his mates.

They moved forward up the rise, and presently came in sight of the game. Under the tree where the deer was strung up sat two wolves, gazing wistfully at the meat.

Two of them here, and one below! cried Joe. That makes three.

Wait! let me get a picture! whispered Harry, and brought his camera into use without delay. It certainly made a good scene, and he got as close as he could ere he pressed the button. Then he took up his shotgun and blazed away, and Joe did the same.

Neither of the wolves was much hurt, and both limped into the woods growling savagely. The growl was answered from a distance, and in a very few minutes four other wolves appeared, ranging themselves in a semicircle at what they considered a safe distance.

The impudent beggars! murmured Joe, and, bringing his shotgun up, he let drive at the nearest wolf. This time his aim was true, and the wolf leaped up, to fall dead. Instantly the other wolves fell upon their dead companion, rending the carcass limb from limb.

I must say I dont like this, declared Harry, in something of a nervous voice. It looks as if they meant business. As soon as that wolf is gone theyll turn on us again.

Here comes a whole pack of wolves! shouted Joe.

He was right, a distant yelping and howling proclaimed their approach. Soon they burst into view, at least twenty strong, and in a twinkling the two young hunters found themselves completely surrounded!

CHAPTER XI
CONFRONTED BY THE ENEMY

Fred had broken one of his snowshoes while running away from the deer, and Joel Runnells first work after Harry and Joe had left Snow Lodge was to repair this.

You want to be more careful in the future, said the old hunter, when the job was finished. So far you have tumbled into nothing worse than a snowbank. If you should slide over a cliff and land upon the rocks, you might get badly hurt.

I intend to be careful in the future, answered the youth. I am sorry I ran away now, he added, regretfully.

Well, lad, as to that, its often much safer to run than to stand your ground. I dodged an old buck once for half an hour, and then escaped only by the skin of my teeth. Something got the matter with my gun, and it wouldnt go off.

Did you kill him?

Yes, two days later. I made up my mind Id have him, and I traveled nigh on thirty miles to lay him low.

After the necessary work around the lodge was concluded time hung heavily on Freds hands, and he decided to try his luck once more at fishing.

Its better than doing nothing, he said.

Well, its all right, only dont fall into the hole, and get drowned, cautioned Joel Runnell. And then Fred disappeared with his outfit, whistling merrily.

Left to himself, Joel Runnell proceeded to split some more wood, and pile it up in a corner of the living-room. To his experienced eye he could see that another snowstorm was not far off, and how long it would last there was no telling.

Weve got meat enough, he reasoned to himself. And so long as we have wood, too, there will be no cause to worry.

The thermometer had gone down once more, and he had to work at a lively rate to keep warm. He wondered how Fred was making out with his fishing, and grinned to himself.

Wager he wont stay there long, he muttered. If he does, hell be frozen stiff.

The old hunter had just carried in his sixth armful of wood, when a shadow crossed the open doorway, and looking up he found himself confronted by Hiram Skeetles.

The real estate dealer was a tall, thin man, with a leathery face and broken snags of yellowish teeth. He chewed tobacco constantly, and the corners of his mouth were much discolored in consequence.

So ye haint taken my warnin, I see, snarled Skeetles.

Hello, Skeetles; what brings you? demanded Joel Runnell, as cheerily as he could.

Ye know well enough what brung me, Joel Runnell. Didnt I warn ye not to trespass on my property?

Ive told you that I dont know as it is your property. So far I think it belongs to the old Crawley estate, and its in the sheriffs care.

It aint so; its mine, every foot of it. Hiram Skeetles eyes blazed. I want for you to git out, an be quick about it.

And I aint a-going, answered Joel Runnell, doggedly.





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