The Gun Club Boys of Lakeportñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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 can’t get my breath,” he gasped. “Joe, this is fearful.”
“I guess it’s something of a blizzard, Harry. Come on, we can’t stay here.”
“Hadn’t we better go back?”
“It’s just as bad to go back as it is to go ahead.”
“I can’t see a dozen yards in any direction.”
“It’s the same with me.”
“Then how do you know that you are going in the right direction?”
“Oh, the island is over there, isn’t it?”
“I should say a little to the left of that.”
“Well, it’s between those two points, and we can’t miss the shore, even if we don’t 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 can’t – ” Harry did not finish, but the sigh he gave meant a good deal.
“Oh, you don’t want to give up so easily, Harry,” cried his brother, bracing up. “We’ve simply got to get over, or else go back to where we came from. We can’t stay out on the lake all night. We’d 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 Harry’s 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 Harry’s limit, and again he sank down, this time as if ready to faint from exhaustion.
“It’s no – no use,” he sighed. “I can’t go an – another step!”
“Oh, Harry, you must! We can’t stop here!”
“I know that, but m – m – my legs feel as if they weighed a – a ton.”
“Here, give me your hand. We’ll let the other deer go, too. Perhaps old Runnell can bring it in in the morning.”
“It’s a shame to leave the game – ”
“I know, but we have got to think of ourselves first. I don’t think we’re so very far from the island. I’ll 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 musn’t give in this way. Brace up, old boy!”
“I’m so – so sleepy,” came back, drowsily. “I really can’t 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 he’ll 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.
“It’s no use,” he thought. “It’s all over.”
He caught sight of Harry’s 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.
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.
“It’s going to be a hummer,” muttered the old hunter to himself. And then, as he gazed out upon the storm-swept ice, he added: “It’s too bad those boys ain’t 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 Joe’s 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 can’t you let me sleep?” he murmured, softly.
“Get up, Joe. You are close to camp. Rouse yourself, my boy. You can’t stay here.”
“Oh, Runnell, is it you? I – I – ”
“Yes, yes, I know. Get up. I’ll 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! I’ve found ’em, and they’re 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.
“We’ll 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. “It’s a shame!”
“Don’t say a word,” put in Fred. “For two pins I’d 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. They’ll 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.
“I’ll go out and bring in that one deer,” he said. “The other one we’ll let go till later. We don’t 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 we’ve got our house inclosed in a yard,” came from Fred.
“We’ll 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 Harry’s 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. “It’s too bad they don’t 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! it’s over at last, thank goodness!” cried Harry, as he leaped outdoors. “My! but doesn’t it feel good to see the sun once more!”
“That’s all right,” returned Fred. “But if we aren’t 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.
“I’m 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. “Let’s 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 we’d come over and give you a call.”
“Don’t 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.
“That’s our business,” answered Joe, before anybody else could speak.
“Have you – er – have you any stores you – er – want to sell?”
“Don’t be a fool!” whispered Marcy. “They won’t let us have a thing. If we want anything we’ll 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. I’ll 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.
“Haven’t 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.
“Don’t say ‘stole,’ my boy. We – ”
“Don’t call me your boy, Mr. Skeetles. I wouldn’t be your boy for a million dollars.”
“Don’t 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 – won’t sell me anything?” said Hiram Skeetles, disappointedly.
“Wait, I’ve 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.
“I’ll show you,” answered Fred, and advanced a little closer to the lodge window.
“Well, what do you say?” demanded Hiram Skeetles.
“We’ll 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.”
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 don’t see it. I came here a-purpose to make ye leave.”
“Well, ‘circumstances alter cases,’ you know. You didn’t expect to be caught in a blizzard, did you?”
“No, if I had known it was going to snow like this I’d stayed home.”
“We will do the lodge no harm,” put in Joe.
“Fact is, we’ve 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 can’t do much in such a fall of snow.”
“Yes, but my pocketbook,” whispered Hiram Skeetles.
“More than likely, if it’s around, the snow has covered it completely.”
“I wouldn’t 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 ain’t going to charge me for it, are ye?”
“No, we’ll 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, I’ll 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 can’t come out by the door; we’ll have to climb through the window,” put in Dan Marcy.
“We don’t care how you come,” answered Joe. “But you must leave your guns behind,” he added, suddenly.
“Because we won’t 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 ain’t going to play no trick on us, are ye?” questioned the real estate dealer, suspiciously.
“No, we’ll 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.
“’Tain’t very much,” sniffed Hiram Skeetles.
“It’s the best we can do,” came from Joe. “Take it or leave it.”
“Oh, we’ll 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 we’ve 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 can’t understand it.”
“I’d really like to know if those missing papers have anything to do with it,” mused Harry. “If he lost them here I’d 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 I’m 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, I’m 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 don’t 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 don’t 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. “We’ll have to watch the fire.”
“By all means,” cried Fred. “We don’t want to burn up.”
All hands sat up until after nine o’clock, 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 didn’t know he had them here.”
“That was the bark of a fox,” came from Joel Runnell. “It’s a wonder to me we haven’t 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.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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