Edward Stratemeyer.

The Gun Club Boys of Lakeport





All asleep, he murmured to himself. Good enough. Now well see if we cant have the stores we want, and a little more besides.

As silently as a cat he climbed over the snow wall and approached the fire. Beside the large shelter was a small one, and here rested the various traps and stores of our friends.

Dan Marcy had brought with him a large but thin blanket, and this he now spread on the ground, and began to place in it such articles as he wanted, and which the young hunters and old Runnell had denied him. There was a tin of coffee and another of sugar, and a fine, thick slice of bacon that made his mouth water.

Ill have that bacon out of the way before they get up, he told himself. And a cup of strong coffee will be just the thing for washing it down with.

He had these articles and several others in the blanket, and was on the point of making a bundle of them, when there came a sudden and unexpected interruption. From the top of the wall of snow came a short, sharp bark, that caused him to jump.

A dog! he thought. I didnt know they had one. And then, as the bark was repeated, he leaped back in alarm.

It was only a fox, but Marcy did not know this, and felt sure he was on the point of being discovered.

Shut up! he whispered. Shut up, do you hear? And then, as the fox barked again, he ran for the other side of the wall of snow and began to climb to the top.

The barking of the fox aroused both Runnell and Harry, and each leaped up, reaching for his gun as he did so.

What is it? asked the young hunter.

A fox and hes pretty close, was the answer. Reckon as how I had best give him a shot to scare him off.

Running outside, Runnell looked around, but in the semi-darkness could see but little. Aiming high, he fired his gun. As he did this he heard a yell some distance away.

Dont shoot me! Dont shoot!

Whos there? he demanded, but this question was not answered.

The discharging of the gun aroused the others of the party, and all came rushing out to the fireside.

What did you fire at? asked Joe.

Well, I thought I fired after a fox, came dryly from old Runnell. But I kind of reckon he was a two-legged one.

Do you mean some person was around here?

Exactly.

But I heard a fox bark, came from Harry.

So did I, lad, and after I fired I heard somebody yell, Dont shoot me! Pears to me it was Dan Marcys voice, too.

What could have brought him over this time of night? asked Fred.

Here is what brought him over! ejaculated Harry, who had stirred up the camp fire. And he pointed to the blanket and the things lying in it.

Joe gave a low whistle.

Going to rob us, eh? Its lucky we scared him off.

Well, that is what I call downright mean, said Fred. And after we let them have those other things, too! We ought to go over and have it out with them right now.

Dont do anything hasty, interposed Joel Runnell.

I reckon Marcy feels mean enough at being caught in the act.

Oh, he hasnt any feelings, growled Harry. Hes a wolf in mans clothing.

The matter was talked over for some time, and it was decided to let the affair rest until morning.

And then we can all give Marcy and Skeetles a piece of our mind, said Joe.

Do you think theyll come back? asked Fred.

Not a bit of it, answered old Runnell.

And satisfied of this, all turned in again to get what sleep they could ere the sun came up.

CHAPTER XVI
BACK TO THE LODGE

But the excitement of that night was not yet at an end.

As mentioned before, the wind had increased steadily, until it was blowing as fiercely as it had during the blizzard. It tore through the tall pines and other trees, swaying them viciously, and causing them to creak and groan as if in pain. It hurled the snow in long drifts and sent every living creature for miles around into cover.

But the young hunters and old Runnell were too tired to listen to the wind, and it was not until an extra heavy blast caused one of the trees directly back of the shelter to split apart, that Runnell and Fred awoke.

What a wind! cried the stout youth. Never heard it blow so in my whole life!

Thought I heard a tree snap, returned the old hunter. Listen!

The others were now awake, and all listened as directed. Then came another gust, and all felt the back end of the shelter move as the roots of the biggest of the pines were loosened.

Creation! I think the tree is coming down! ejaculated Joe. Perhaps we had better

Run, boys, run! shouted Runnell, leaping up. Run for your lives!

They needed no second warning, but leaped from the shelter with all the alacrity of which they were capable. They did not stop at the camp fire, but, led by Harry, leaped the wall of snow and scattered to the right and the left.

They were not an instant too soon, for the next gust of wind brought down, not one tree, but two, smashing the shelter flat, and scattering the burning sticks of the fire. The end of one limb hit Fred, and hurled him on his breast, and old Runnell had his left ear badly clipped.

Oh, my! Sa save me! spluttered Fred. Take the tree off of me, somebody!

Joe and Harry ran forward, and assisted him to arise. Then they yelled to old Runnell, who was in the midst of the pine branches.

Im all right, was the answering cry. Got my ear pretty badly scratched, but that dont count in such a smash-up as this. And then the old hunter joined the others.

The two fallen trees had loosened a third, so they did not dare to go into the branches to rescue their traps and stores. The branches lying over the camp fire soon caught, and then the trees began to blaze up like huge torches.

Our traps began Joe, when, with a crash, the third tree came down. This hit the fire a heavy blow, and for the moment it was partly extinguished.

Now its safe enough to go in! came from old Runnell. Put out the blaze with snow, boys, or everything will be burned up.

They came closer, and began to pile in all the snow they could, taking huge chunks from what was left of the wall for that purpose. By working steadily for five minutes, they got the fire under control, and then went in and kicked out what little remained.

Well, this is the worst yet! groaned Fred, after the excitement was over. Here we are, homeless, in the middle of the night, and with the thermometer about ten degrees below nothing at all.

We can be thankful that we are to have the lodge to-morrow, came from Harry. It would be no fun building another shelter in such a wind as this.

And we can be thankful, too, that the fire didnt get the best of us. Our stores, traps, guns and everything might have been burned up, and then we would have been worse off than old Skeetles and Dan Marcy.

Its almost morning, said old Runnell. Ill try to get out a few blankets, and then we can make ourselves as comfortable as possible among the tree branches.

This was agreed to, and with an ax that Joe picked up, they cut out a small shelter, throwing some of the pine brush down as a flooring, and placing the rest over their heads. This made a place not as comfortable as that which had been wrecked, but something which, as Harry declared, was a heap sight better than nothing at all.

With the coming up of the sun the wind died down, and by eight oclock all of the party felt quite comfortable once more. A fire was built in a safe place, and while Harry prepared the morning meal the others chopped their way through the tree branches to where their traps and stores lay, half buried in the snow. Only a small portion of their things had suffered injury, which gratified them exceedingly. Even Harrys camera remained intact.

We might as well move over to the lodge at once, said Fred, while they were eating. There is no sense in staying out in the cold, and, besides, we want to tell Marcy what we think of him before he goes away.

I think one of us had best stay here and watch the things, said Joe.

Lots were cast, and it fell to Harry to remain at the spot. A little later the others put on their snowshoes and journeyed to the vicinity of Snow Lodge, a tiresome walk, for the snow now lay in all sorts of drifts.

We wont be able to do much hunting for a few days, remarked Joel Runnell. Well have to wait till the sun puts something of a crust on the snow. Then snowshoe walking will be much easier.

When they came in sight of the lodge they were surprised to find the door and the one window wide open. There were tracks around the doorway, showing that Hiram Skeetles and Dan Marcy had left not a great while before.

They are gone! burst out Harry.

They were afraid we would kick up a row over the attempt to steal our stores, said Joe.

It was mean of them to let the snow come in through the door and the window, was old Runnells comment. But neither of them know the meaning of fairness.

Going inside the lodge they saw that all was in confusion and very dirty. Skeetles and Marcy had had an early breakfast, and had left the bones and other scraps lying where they dropped. The fire had been put out with snow and the smoke hung thick under the roof.

It will take us the best part of a day to straighten out things again, said Joe. But never mind, I am glad they are gone. I hope they dont come back.

Theyll have a rough journey to Lakeport or to Brookfield, said Joel Runnell.

Do you suppose theyll walk the whole distance?

It isnt likely. They probably came as far as Paleys farm on horseback.

By noon time they had shifted their traps and stores once more, and cut some additional firewood. The sleeping-room of the lodge was also cleaned out, and fresh boughs placed in the bunks, and directly after dinner they cleaned up the living-room, until it looked almost as tidy as a room at home.

My daughter Cora ought to see this, said old Runnell. It would please her. She thinks a hunters camp is the dirtiest place on earth.

I wish she was here, said Joe. Then she could keep house for us, and wed feel quite at home.

She cant come, lad. When I am away she stays with her Aunt Mary Case, who needs help. But if she was here, she could do some fine cooking for us, I can tell you that.

After the general cleaning up, the whole party were content to rest. It was pleasant to sit in front of the genial fire, especially after the sun had sunk behind the trees on the western shore of the island.

They had taken account of the stores on hand, and found they would have to economize with certain things to make them last even ten days.

But we wont starve, said old Runnell. We have plenty of deer meat, and we can get a good supply of small game and fish.

I feel safer in the lodge, said Fred, on retiring. It would be a hard matter for the wolves or foxes to get at us here.

How about snakes? laughed Harry.

Ugh! dont mention them! I can feel that thing crawling on me yet! And the stout youth gave a shiver.

Now, that they had gotten rid of their enemies, the lads felt particularly light-hearted, and the mention of the snake set Harry to thinking. Unknown to Fred, he called Joe to one side, and both procured a bit of rope from one of the sleds, and to this tied two long threads, one at each end.

Fred occupied a bunk between that of Joe and that of Harry, and the two threads were run across the stout youths resting place in such a fashion that the bit of heavy rope could be moved back and forth at will.

Soon Fred was sleeping, and then the two others threw the bit of rope on his breast and began to move it back and forth. No sooner had it touched Freds face than he roused up with a start.

Oh! he cried, and tried to sit up, when the rope glided over his breast and his shoulder. A snake! A snake! Oh, Im a dead boy! And he leaped up, yelling like a wild Indian. Then the rope got twisted between his legs, and he danced around more madly than ever.

Whats the matter with you? asked Harry, sitting up. At a signal Joe had let go of his thread and his brother had jerked the rope out of sight.

A snake! It crawled right over my face!

Where is it? questioned old Runnell, and grabbed up his gun.

The lantern was lit, and also a torch, and they looked around; but, of course, no reptile could be found.

I guess you were dreaming, said Joe, innocently. You were talking about that other snake, you know.

I I dont think so, answered Fred, sheepishly.

There is no snake here, said Joel Runnell, after a long examination. Joe must be right; you dreamed it, Fred.

Well, if I did, that dream was mightly life-like, said Fred.

He took the lantern and examined his bunk closely. But nothing was wrong, and after a while he followed the others and laid down again.

Harry and Joe waited a reasonable length of time, and then Harry crawled forth to adjust the rope and threads once more. Again the rope slid over Freds face, and once more he set up a howl.

Its a snake! I felt it again! he yelled. Hes right here in the bunk!

Step on him! cried old Runnell, and got his gun a second time.

Harry tried to jerk the rope away, but before he could do so Fred came down on it with his bare foot. Then the threads broke, and the rope remained on the floor in front of the bunk, while Fred leaped away, as if he had stepped on a hot plate.

Lantern in one hand and gun in the other, Joel Runnell ran to kill the snake. But when he saw the object on the floor he gave a loud laugh.

Call that a snake, he roared. Its only a bit of rope.

A a rope? repeated Fred. He bent forward. Well, I never! Then he caught sight of the broken threads, and like a flash realized the joke that had been played on him. Oh, you you rascals! he cried, and catching up the rope, he went first for Harry, and then Joe, and belabored them soundly. Both were laughing, and this made Fred really angry.

All right, laugh all you please! he burst out, suddenly. It was a mean thing to do. To-morrow Im going to leave you and go home.

And then, without a word more, he retired for the night.

CHAPTER XVII
A SEARCH AND A BEAR

Do you think hell really go? whispered Harry to Joe.

I guess not, Harry. But he is mad, no doubt of that.

I didnt want to make him mad, Joe. And he hit me a pretty hard one over the shoulders, too.

Fred hates to be fooled. Perhaps we had better talk to him about it.

No; that will make him madder than ever.

The two boys retired, but it was a long while before either of them could get to sleep. They hated to be on the outs with their chum, and could not bear to think of Fred leaving them.

The stout youth was angry, and showed it even at breakfast, when he scarcely replied to the questions put to him. The bit of rope still lay on the floor, and picking it up, he gave it a vicious toss out of the window.

There, Fred, let that end it, said Joe, kindly. It wasnt just the right thing to do, and Harry and I are ready to acknowledge it.

Oh, yes, after its all over, grumbled the stout youth. If I had played that joke on you, what then?

Wed have to put up with it, answered Harry. Come, call it off.

I will after I have squared the account, replied Fred. But after that he seemed to feel better.

The weather had moderated considerably, and where the sun struck the snow the latter sank rapidly.

There will be a good crust by to-morrow, said Joel Runnell, and so it proved. All put on snowshoes and found walking excellent.

What are we going to do to-day? questioned Harry.

Ive been thinking that I would like to try for that bear, answered the old hunter. That is, if I can get on his track.

Ill tell you what Id like to do, put in Joe. Id like to pay a visit to Needle Rock and take a look around for that missing pocketbook.

You wont find much with the snow as deep as it is now, came from Fred.

We might tramp around that way just for fun, said old Runnell. We may bring down some game on the way.

Will you leave the lodge alone? asked Joe. Is it safe to do so? Skeetles and Marcy may come back.

Ive got an idea, boys. Let us fasten the door up from the inside, and then come out through the window. After that we can nail that strip over the window, and then the place will be as tight as a drum.

This was agreed to, and a little later found them on their way around the shore of Pine Island. The weather was all that could be hoped for, and the boys felt so happy that they were inclined to whistle, until Joel Runnell stopped them.

You cant go on a hunt whistling, unless you want the game to know youre coming, he said, quizzically.

Oh, I forgot that, said Joe, and stopped at once, and the others did the same.

Harry had his camera with him, and took several time exposures, using a very small stop or opening, so that the negatives would be sharp and clear. Then he took a snap shot of Joel Runnell shooting at a flock of birds a picture which, later on, proved to be all that could be desired. He also took pictures of Fred and Joe aiming at an imaginary rabbit, said rabbit being a fur cap propped up on a bit of brushwood.

Ill have a famous collection by the time I get home, he said. And Ill print two sets of pictures, so that Fred can have one set. And this promise caused Fred to forget the last of the ill feeling he had had over the snake joke.

On and on they went, occasionally slipping down an incline with their snowshoes and landing in a heap at the bottom. Then Fred, who was a little to the left of the others, suddenly set up a shout.

Hi, Joe and Harry, come here, quick! I want to show you something!

Both ran forward to see what their chum had discovered, and a moment later went headlong into a hollow several yards in diameter and equally deep. There had been some brushwood over part of the opening, but this gave way with them, and let them down so rapidly that they could not save themselves. Then Fred pushed on a snowbank and that followed, all but burying them.

Great Scott! spluttered Joe. What a tumble! And he scraped the snow from his face.

What did you call us here for? asked Harry. Dont you think we ever saw a hole before?

I wanted you to see if there were any snakes down there, answered Fred, with a grin.

Of all things! gasped Joe. Just you wait till I get out.

Well put him down into the hole, said Harry, as he scooped some snow from his ear.

Not much you wont! answered Fred, and ran off to rejoin old Runnell.

Joe and Harry had all they could do to get out of the hole, and even then the snow got down their sleeves and collars in a fashion that was far from comfortable. They ran after Fred, intending to at least wash his face, but the stout youth took good care to keep out of their reach.

Come, boys, you must keep quiet, or else we wont bring down a thing, remonstrated old Runnell, and after that they followed his advice and moved on as noiselessly as possible.

A little ahead of them was a tiny brook which, in the summer time, flowed from the hill into the lake. Here some of the rocks along the bank were swept bare of snow.

Without previous warning Joel Runnell held up his hand for the others to halt. On some of the rocks, several small weasel-like creatures were sunning themselves. He brought his gun up and the others did the same.

Fire! said old Runnell, and the four firearms rang out almost simultaneously, and two of the game fell dead where they sat.

Hurrah! thats a haul! cried Harry, enthusiastically.

What are they? questioned Fred. They look something like mink.

They are what we call mountain brook mink, Fred, answered the old hunter. The best kind to bring down, too, so far as the fur is concerned. Those furs are quite valuable, as you must know.

I know mink is valuable, answered the stout youth. My mother has a collar made of it.

Having secured the game, they moved on once more. Joe was now slightly in advance and brought down a rabbit he saw scooting over the snow.

After this nothing was sighted for a long while. Then Fred, who was growing hungry, proposed that they stop for dinner.

The others were willing, and a halt was made in the shelter of some hemlock trees and elderberry bushes. Not far away was a hickory tree, and the wind-swept ground was full of nuts which even the squirrels had failed to carry off.

The stop lasted for fully an hour, and then, thoroughly rested, they pushed on. Only a few birds were sighted, however, and these were so far away that to bring any of them down proved impossible.

There is Needle Rock, said Joel Runnell, at last, and pointed out to where a rock arose about fifty feet from the lake shore. It was a tall, sharp-pointed affair, and the wind had swept it entirely free from snow.

And where was that boat wrecked, do you think? questioned Joe, with interest.

Just about over yonder, Joe. Of course, I cant tell the exact location, but it wasnt over fifty yards from that point.

The young hunters all moved down to the lake front and tramped up and down, over the rocks and among the snow-laden bushes. Here and there they shoved some of the snow aside, but brought nothing of interest to light.





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