Edward Stratemeyer.

The Gun Club Boys of Lakeport





The farther they got out on the lake the more the snow swirled around them. The snow was now as hard as salt, and beat into their faces and down their necks in spite of all they could do to protect themselves. Thus less than half a mile was covered, when Harry called a halt.

I I cant get my breath, he gasped. Joe, this is fearful.

I guess its something of a blizzard, Harry. Come on, we cant stay here.

Hadnt we better go back?

Its just as bad to go back as it is to go ahead.

I cant see a dozen yards in any direction.

Its the same with me.

Then how do you know that you are going in the right direction?

Oh, the island is over there, isnt it?

I should say a little to the left of that.

Well, its between those two points, and we cant miss the shore, even if we dont strike the lodge. As soon as we get close enough we can fire a gun as a signal to Fred and old Runnell.

Once more they pushed on, in the very teeth of the blizzard, for such the storm had now become. The wind roared and shrieked around them, often tumbling them and the drags over in the snowdrifts. Soon even Joe was all but winded, and he willingly enough crouched beside Harry and the drags for a brief rest.

This is certainly fierce, he gasped out. I never dreamed it would get so bad.

I only hope we can hold out until we reach some part of the island. If we cant Harry did not finish, but the sigh he gave meant a good deal.

Oh, you dont want to give up so easily, Harry, cried his brother, bracing up. Weve simply got to get over, or else go back to where we came from. We cant stay out on the lake all night. Wed be frozen stiff.

Once more they arose and caught hold of the drags. But now the loads were much too heavy for them.

Let us take one and leave the other, suggested Joe.

Feeling that that was the best they could do, they dropped Harrys deer, and both caught hold of the drag Joe had been pulling. With their burdens thus lightened, they pushed on several hundred yards farther. But that was Harrys limit, and again he sank down, this time as if ready to faint from exhaustion.

Its no no use, he sighed. I cant go an another step!

Oh, Harry, you must! We cant stop here!

I know that, but m m my legs feel as if they weighed a a ton.

Here, give me your hand. Well let the other deer go, too. Perhaps old Runnell can bring it in in the morning.

Its a shame to leave the game

I know, but we have got to think of ourselves first. I dont think were so very far from the island. Ill shoot my gun off as a signal.

Joe did so, and listened for fully a minute for an answering shot. But no sound but the roaring and shrieking of the wind reached their ears. He slung his gun over his shoulder and literally yanked his brother up.

Courage, Harry, courage! he whispered.

You musnt give in this way. Brace up, old boy!

Im so so sleepy, came back, drowsily. I really cant go on.

Yet urged by Joe, Harry took a score of steps or more. But now his teeth were chattering from the cold, and he could not stand, try his best. He sank a dead weight on the ice.

Filled with a new fear, Joe caught his brother up in his arms.

If I leave him here hell surely die! he muttered, hoarsely. I must get him to the island somehow! I must!

Throwing the semi-unconscious form over his shoulder, he staggered on until he came to a deep ridge of snow. Here he stumbled and fell. He tried to get up, but his shaking limbs refused to hold him.

Its no use, he thought. Its all over.

He caught sight of Harrys gun, and reaching for it, pulled the trigger. He listened, and fancied he heard an answering shot. But he was not sure. It might have been only the wind.

If only the others knew! he murmured, and then sank down beside Harry, all but unconscious from the cold and exhaustion.

CHAPTER XIV
THE ENEMY ASKS A FAVOR

As soon as he reached the lake shore, Joel Runnell realized that the snowstorm was fast turning into a blizzard that was likely to last for several days.

Its going to be a hummer, muttered the old hunter to himself. And then, as he gazed out upon the storm-swept ice, he added: Its too bad those boys aint back.

Pulling down his cap and buttoning his coat up around his ears, he stepped out on the ice and began the journey to the main shore. The wind roared and tore all around him, and his progress was necessarily slow. More than once he had to stop to catch his breath.

It was during one of those resting spells that he heard a gun shot not many rods away. Feeling it must be a signal, he fired in return, and then started in the direction with all the speed he could command.

The first he knew of the proximity of the young hunters was when he stumbled over Joes body, half covered with the drifting snow.

Joe! he exclaimed. And Harry! This is too bad!

He bent over Joe, and tried his best to arouse the young hunter. This was difficult, but at last Joe opened his eyes and stared vacantly around him.

Wha what do you want? Why cant you let me sleep? he murmured, softly.

Get up, Joe. You are close to camp. Rouse yourself, my boy. You cant stay here.

Oh, Runnell, is it you? I I

Yes, yes, I know. Get up. Ill take Harry.

The old hunter assisted Joe to his feet. Then he lifted Harry bodily, and with the younger lad over his shoulder, and the other by the arm, he started back whence he had come.

How they all reached shore was little short of a miracle, for the snow and wind whizzed and shrieked around them more madly than ever. Once Joel Runnell thought he would have to give up. But he set his teeth hard and pushed on, until at last he saw a flash of fire, and knew he was close to the shelter. He set up a feeble shout:

Hello, Fred! Start up that fire, quick! And make a pot of hot coffee! Ive found em, and theyre half frozen to death!

At this cry Fred appeared. He was scared, but realizing that rapid action was necessary, he piled the wood on the camp fire and set a pot of water to boiling. Then he helped the others into the shelter and arranged the blankets afresh, that all of them might be made as warm and comfortable as possible.

Joe recovered before long, but they had to work over Harry a good half hour before old Runnell pronounced him out of danger. One of his ears had been nipped by the cold, and so had his left foot.

It was a close call, said Harry, when he could talk. I sank down just as if I was in a dream. I felt horrible just before that, but that feeling passed completely away.

Such a sleep is what hunters call the sleep of death, answered Joel Runnell, with a shudder. I had it once, when I was a young man. I was half frozen, and it took me weeks to get over it.

The hot coffee served to warm all of them up, and as soon as he felt able, Runnell went out to cut more wood, assisted by Fred. The latter wanted to go out on the lake and bring in the abandoned deer, but the old hunter would not listen to it.

Well wait until the storm is over, he said. No use of risking your life now.

The wood was piled on both sides of the shelter, and this helped to protect them from the wind. Runnell also placed a big flat rock over the fire, and when his was very hot, transferred it to the center of the shelter, and put another rock to heat.

That will make a footwarmer, he said. And when it is cold, we can exchange it for the one that is now getting warm, and this was done, much to the satisfaction of everybody.

All that night the snow fell as hard as ever, and toward morning the wind increased to such a degree that they were afraid the pines would come down over their heads. Nobody could sleep, and they crouched near the shelter entrance, ready to leap out at the first intimation of danger. At a distance they heard a large tree come down with the report of a cannon. The snow sifted in despite all they could do to keep it out, and they had to work constantly to keep from being snowed under and smothered.

And to think that old Skeetles and Dan Marcy are having it as comfortable as you please at the lodge, said Joe, in deep disgust. Its a shame!

Dont say a word, put in Fred. For two pins Id go over there and clear them out at the point of a gun.

In one way they are worse off than we are, came from Harry. They have nothing but deer meat, while we have all kinds of stores. Theyll get mighty sick of venison if they have to stay at the lodge many days.

I hope they do get sick.

With the coming of daylight the wind went down a little. But it still snowed as hard as ever, and old Runnell advised that the young hunters remain in or near the shelter.

Ill go out and bring in that one deer, he said. The other one well let go till later. We dont really need it, anyway.

He waited until nearly noon before starting, and in the meantime the boys banked up the snow all around the shelter and the fire, making a wall six feet and more in height.

Now weve got our house inclosed in a yard, came from Fred.

Well get a good deal more of the heat than we did before, said Harry, and he was right. With the wall forcing the heat into the shelter, the place was at last really comfortable.

Joel Runnell was out the best part of two hours, and the boys waited anxiously for his return. At last he hove into sight, covered with snow, and dragging one of the deer behind him. He had also brought in Harrys gun, which had been lost the day before.

No use of talking, the storm is fearful out on the lake, said Runnell. And down on the shore there is a ridge of snow all of twelve feet high. This will block everything for a while in Lakeport and elsewhere.

I suppose our folks will worry about us, put in Harry. Its too bad they dont know we are safe.

The remainder of the day passed slowly. Harry had brought along a small measure of corn for popping, and they amused themselves by popping this over the fire, salting and eating it. Joel Runnell also told them a hunting story, which all enjoyed.

The next day the snow continued, and on the day following the wind again arose, sending the drifts higher than ever. Thus a Sunday was passed in the shelter. It was not until Tuesday noon that the storm passed away as if by magic, and the sun came out brightly.

Hurrah! its over at last, thank goodness! cried Harry, as he leaped outdoors. My! but doesnt it feel good to see the sun once more!

Thats all right, returned Fred. But if we arent snowed in we are next door to it.

The sun will make the snow just right for snowshoe walking, said Joe. And we ought to be able to track down some sort of game without half trying.

They found the pines above the shelter fairly groaning with their weight of snow. But back of these the ground was swept almost bare.

Im going to see how the lodge looks, said Joe, and started off.

Equally curious, the others followed him.

They found Snow Lodge true to its name. It was snowed in completely, only a small portion of the roof, an upper corner of one window, and the rough chimney being visible.

Skeetles and Marcy are prisoners of the storm, said Harry, with a grin. Lets give em a salute.

He made a snowball and threw it at the corner of the window, which was open to admit the air. His aim was true, and the snow went through the opening, followed by balls thrown by Joe and Fred.

An instant later Hiram Skeetles face appeared, full of alarm, which quickly changed to rage.

Hi, you, stop that! he roared. Stop it, I say!

How are you feeling to-day? questioned Joe, coolly. We thought wed come over and give you a call.

Dont throw any more snowballs. One hit me right in the chin.

And one hit me on the top of the head, put in Marcy, who stood behind the real estate dealer.

What do you mean by staying around this island after I ordered you away? went on Hiram Skeetles, after a pause.

Did you expect us to do any traveling in this storm? asked Joel Runnell, in return.

How far do you think you could travel, Mr. Skeetles? asked Fred. The snow in some places is ten and twelve feet deep.

Say, is it really as deep as that? came from Dan Marcy, in deep concern.

Yes, every bit of it.

Then we are booked to stay here for several days longer, said the bully to the real estate dealer. And I must say I am dog-tired of nothing but deer meat to eat.

Marcy said this because all of the stores taken from the other party were gone, even to the coffee and salt pork. As Harry had surmised, they now had nothing but the deer meat, and the best of this was gone.

Where are you stopping? questioned Hiram Skeetles, after another pause.

Thats our business, answered Joe, before anybody else could speak.

Have you er have you any stores you er want to sell?

Dont be a fool! whispered Marcy. They wont let us have a thing. If we want anything well have to take it by force.

Thanks, but we are not in business here, came from Fred.

You er might let us have a few things. Ill pay you a fair price for them, went on the real estate dealer. It galled him to ask the favor, but he wanted the goods very much.

Havent you got anything? asked Runnell.

We have er some deer meat, but that is all.

And that is meat you stole from us, put in Harry.

Dont say stole, my boy. We

Dont call me your boy, Mr. Skeetles. I wouldnt be your boy for a million dollars.

Dont grow abusive, Westmore. I took the deer because I found it on my property. If I had wished to be mean I could have kept all of your stores and traps also.

Not without a hot fight, came from Joe.

Then you er wont sell me anything? said Hiram Skeetles, disappointedly.

Wait, Ive got a scheme, whispered Fred to his two chums.

What is it? both questioned, in return.

He told them, and both grinned and then laughed outright.

Just the thing! cried Harry. That will make him either eat humble pie or starve.

What are you going to do? questioned Joel Runnell.

Ill show you, answered Fred, and advanced a little closer to the lodge window.

Well, what do you say? demanded Hiram Skeetles.

Well let you have some stores on one condition, Mr. Skeetles.

And what is that?

That you will start for home as soon as it is safe to do so, and will leave us in undisputed possession of this lodge until our hunting tour comes to an end.

CHAPTER XV
A MIDNIGHT VISITOR

Hiram Skeetles surprise was great when Fred made his declaration, and for several seconds he felt unable to reply.

You er want me to let you use this lodge after all? he said, slowly.

That is what I said, Mr. Skeetles. And let me add that it will be a good bargain for you to make with us.

I dont see it. I came here a-purpose to make ye leave.

Well, circumstances alter cases, you know. You didnt expect to be caught in a blizzard, did you?

No, if I had known it was going to snow like this Id stayed home.

We will do the lodge no harm, put in Joe.

Fact is, weve already mended the roof and the window, as you can see.

Yes, I know, but

But what? came from Harry.

Never mind now. Hiram Skeetles had been on the point of mentioning his missing pocketbook and the papers, but he checked himself. How long do you intend to stay?

Not over two or three weeks at the most.

Hum! The real estate dealer paused and scratched his head in perplexity. What do you say, Dan? he questioned of Marcy.

I reckon we had best make a bargain with em, answered the bully, who thought much of good eating. Even if they stay here they cant do much in such a fall of snow.

Yes, but my pocketbook, whispered Hiram Skeetles.

More than likely, if its around, the snow has covered it completely.

I wouldnt have em find that for a a good deal.

All right, do as you please. But I want something to eat besides deer meat. You promised to take good care of me if I came on the trip with you.

Do you want to make terms? shouted Joe.

I reckon as how I might jest as well, came slowly from Skeetles. What will ye let me have? he asked, cautiously.

Whatever we can spare that you need.

Ye aint going to charge me for it, are ye?

No, well give it to you free and clear, on the condition we have already named.

When do you want to come to the lodge?

As soon as you leave it.

And that must be inside of a day or two, added Fred.

All right, Ill agree, said Hiram Skeetles, with something like an inward groan. When do we git them stores?

You can come down to our place now and get them.

We cant come out by the door; well have to climb through the window, put in Dan Marcy.

We dont care how you come, answered Joe. But you must leave your guns behind, he added, suddenly.

What for?

Because we wont trust you with them, put in Fred, bluntly.

This did not please Hiram Skeetles nor the bully, but the young hunters were firm, and were backed up by Joel Runnell, and in the end the pair in the lodge came forth unarmed.

Ye aint going to play no trick on us, are ye? questioned the real estate dealer, suspiciously.

No, well treat you fair and square, said Joe.

They led the way to the shelter under the pines, and allowed those from Snow Lodge to come in over the snow wall to the side of the camp fire. Then all hands looked over the stores still remaining, and Runnell announced the articles which he thought might be spared.

Taint very much, sniffed Hiram Skeetles.

Its the best we can do, came from Joe. Take it or leave it.

Oh, well take it, put in Dan Marcy, quickly, and gathered up some of the articles as he spoke.

Hold on! cried Harry. Before you touch a thing you must promise us faithfully to leave the lodge by this time to-morrow.

We will leave unless another heavy storm comes up, answered Hiram Skeetles.

If you are not out, in case it stays clear, we shall consider that we have the right to put you out, said Joe. These goods pay for our lease of Snow Lodge for three weeks, starting from to-morrow noon.

All right, growled the real estate dealer; and then he and Dan Marcy were allowed to depart with the stores which had been allotted to them.

I guess weve made a pretty good bargain with them, said Joe, when they were alone. Now we can move into the lodge and fix it up to suit ourselves.

It was like pulling teeth to get old Skeetles to consent, came from Fred. It gives him a regular fit to have us on the island. I must say I cant understand it.

Id really like to know if those missing papers have anything to do with it, mused Harry. If he lost them here Id give a good deal to find them.

Did you ever hear where that boat struck? asked Joe of Joel Runnell.

It seems to me it struck just south of Needle Rock, was the answer. But Im not certain. I might find out, though.

Where is Needle Rock?

On the other shore of the island, about half a mile from here.

Well, Im going there some day and have a look around.

The rest of the day passed quietly. Some time later Runnell went off on his snowshoes to look for the fourth deer the one Harry had abandoned. When he came back he said he had found only the head and a few bones.

The wolves carried off the rest, he said. And they ate up those dead wolves on the main shore, too.

Well, I dont want to meet any more of those critters, said Harry, grimly.

Nor do I, added his brother. The only good wolf is a dead one.

And I dont know that he is good for much, laughed Fred.

Strange to say, with the going down of the sun the wind came up again, a steady breeze, gradually increasing to little short of a gale.

We are going to have another wild night, said old Runnell. Well have to watch the fire.

By all means, cried Fred. We dont want to burn up.

All hands sat up until after nine oclock, listening to the wind as it whistled through the trees and hurled the snow against the shelter. Outside the stars shone brightly, but there was no moon.

Hark! I hear a bark! said Fred, presently. Can there be a dog around?

Marcy owns a dog or two, answered Joe. But I didnt know he had them here.

That was the bark of a fox, came from Joel Runnell. Its a wonder to me we havent heard them before.

Perhaps the wolves have made them keep quiet, suggested Harry.

More than likely, or else they have been snowed up.

The young hunters were sleepy, and it did not take any of them very long to sink into slumber after retiring. Then Runnell fixed the fire for the night, and laid down close to the opening of the shelter.

A half hour went by and the fire began to die down. The wind kept on increasing, and some of the stars went under a cloud, making the night quite dark.

From the direction of Snow Lodge a form crept into view. It was Dan Marcy, with his coat buttoned up to his ears, and his slouch hat pulled far down over his brow.

With cautious steps Marcy reached the wall of snow and peered over into the inclosure. By the faint firelight he saw the feet and lower limbs of Joel Runnell, and, listening intently, heard the old hunter snoring.





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