Edward Stratemeyer.

The Gun Club Boys of Lakeport





I guess its a wild-goose chase, looking for that pocketbook or those papers, said Harry at length.

Its a good deal like looking for a pin in a haystack, returned Fred.

Well stand more chance of finding something after the snow clears away, put in Joe, with a sigh. That is, if it is really here.

And if it is here the melting snow may carry it out into the lake, said his brother.

They took another look around, Joel Runnell prying up some old brushwood and dead tree limbs, and by that time the descending sun warned them that if they wished to return to Snow Lodge before nightfall they had better start without delay.

Yes, lets get back, said Harry, who was tired out. And then we can have a bit of roast rabbit for a change.

And Im going to make some biscuits for supper, put in Joe. We havent had fresh biscuits since we were at the lodge before.

Somewhat downhearted over their failure to locate the missing pocketbook or papers, they turned toward home. All had known it was rather a forlorn hope at the best, yet each had secretly hoped that something would be brought to light.

But I suppose Hiram Skeetles looked high and low for it before he gave the hunt up, was Joes comment. And his eyes are as sharp as those of a hawk.

The tramp to the lodge seemed a long one to the tired young hunters, and Harry felt inclined to rest half a dozen times. When they at last came in sight of the snow-clad building, it was quite dark.

Now to jump through the window and open the door! exclaimed Joe, and, throwing down his gun, he rushed forward. Then he uttered an ejaculation of astonishment: The window is wide open. Did we leave it that way?

Certainly not, answered Joel Runnell.

Somebody has been here, after all, put in Harry.

Must have been old Skeetles and Marcy. What will we do if they have cleaned us out?

Ill soon find out, continued Joe, and leaped through the window into the living-room of the cabin.

The fire had died down until there was little or nothing left of it. Stumbling across the floor, he kicked it into a blaze and threw on a few extra sticks of wood. After this he reached for the lantern and lit it.

Well, what have you found? asked Harry, looking in at the window.

Nothing, so far, answered his brother. Everything seems to be all right, although the bench is overturned and yes somebody has carried off that piece of venison I hung up near the window!

That looks as if some wild animal was around, Joe.

Creation! I didnt think of that. Do you see anything outside I mean footprints?

No, its too dark now to see anything. Better open the door.

Joe started to do so. But as he crossed the floor a sound from the sleeping apartment caused him to halt.

Whos there? he cried.

The only answer was a soft pat-pat of feet, and a moment later a big, black bear came into view.

The beast stared at Joe in astonishment, and then arose on its hind legs and came for him, uttering a low, savage growl as it advanced.

The youth did not know what to do. He was unarmed, and Harry had left the window, so he could not obtain immediate assistance. He leaped close to the fire and as he did so the bear leaped after him.

CHAPTER XVIII
A FIRE, AND WHAT FOLLOWED

Get back there!

Joe uttered the words mechanically, and as he did so he crouched close to the fire, and snatching a burning brand from the side, held it up in front of him.

As is well known, all wild beasts dread the fire, and at once the bear paused. Then it arose again on its hind legs and uttered a roar that almost shook the lodge.

Hello! what does that mean? cried Fred and Harry, in a breath.

It means theres a wild animal in the lodge, answered Joel Runnell, and leaped toward the window, gun in hand.

In the meantime the bear continued to stand in front of Joe, as if meditating an attack in spite of the fire. Once it raised a fore paw as if to strike the brand from the young hunters hand, but Joe did not permit this, and now the boy caught up a second stick, which was blazing at one end, and threatened the bear.

Again there was a roar of commingled rage and fear, and the bear leaped back, wrecking the table as it did so.

It must be confessed that Joe was badly alarmed. He felt that he was in close quarters, and unless somebody came to his help very quickly, the bear would, in some manner, get the better of him.

Glancing toward the window, he saw a dark object there. It was the head of Joel Runnell, and next followed the glistening barrel of the old hunters rifle.

Hold up the light, Joe, called old Runnell, and at the sound of his voice the bear wheeled around and stared toward the window with interest.

Crack! It was the rifle that rang out. But just as Joel Runnell pulled upon the trigger the bear turned to one side, so that the ball merely grazed its neck and side. Then came another roar, and, leaping over the wrecked table, the beast dove through the doorway leading to the sleeping apartment of the lodge and disappeared.

Where did he go to? cried old Runnell, as he lost no time in reloading.

Into the sleeping-room. I dont think he is hurt very much.

The doorway was not far from the chimney, and with the firebrands still in his hands, Joe made his way to the door. Then the fastening was removed and he plunged outside.

Good! cried Harry. Are you hurt?

Not a scratch. But it was a close shave, and Joe heaved a sigh of relief.

What is the bear doing? asked Fred.

I dont know.

Fasten the door from the outside, said Joel Runnell. We dont want to lose that animal.

A stout stick of wood was handy, and this was propped up against the door, so that it could not be budged unless torn from its hinges.

While the young hunters were doing this Joel Runnell watched the window, with his rifle ready for use, should the bear make its appearance.

You dont expect to go in there after the bear, do you? questioned Fred. I wouldnt do that for a million dollars.

I shant go in there yet, answered the old hunter. I know a trick worth two of that.

What will you do? asked Harry.

Let us try smoking him out. While I continue to watch the window, you get a damp tree branch and set it on fire. Then chop a small hole in the side of the lodge close to the ground, and let the smoke drift inside.

Thats a good plan, said Joe.

The damp branch was procured without difficulty, and soon it was burning slightly and smoking thickly. While Fred and Joe held the branch, Harry cut a small hole as directed. In answer to the sound of the ax came a growl from the bear, proving that the beast was on the alert within.

Now, Joe, come alongside of me with your shotgun! called out old Runnell. Well make sure of him if he does come out.

Both stood almost facing the window and about twenty feet from it. Then Fred and Harry let down the branch in the snow, so that the thick smoke could drift directly into the hole that had been cut.

In less than half a minute they could hear the bear moving around the inside of the lodge. They heard the beast give a snort, followed by a sneeze.

Hes catching it, whispered Joe, with his gun raised. I dont think hell stand it much longer.

An instant after there came a savage growl, and then straight through the window shot the black bear, landing at the very feet of those standing to receive it. Crack! went the rifle, and bang! came from the shotgun, and the beast tumbled over and began to claw at the air and the snow, sending the chunks of the latter flying in all directions.

Hurrah, weve got him! ejaculated Joe, and discharged the second barrel of his gun close to the bears head. This finished the beast, and it soon stretched out and lay still.

What a big fellow, was Harrys comment, as he came forward to inspect the game. Joe, you can be glad he didnt get his paws around you. He might have hugged you to death.

I am thankful, was the answer. But, say, wont we have fine bear steaks now! Well have all the meat we want, and some to take home in the bargain.

Not to say anything about the skin, put in Fred.

Oh, that is to go to Runnell, said Joe, quickly. Im sure he deserves it, and the others said the same.

All were so interested in looking the big prize over that the burning tree branch was, for the time being, forgotten. All had also forgotten the fire in the lodge and the burning sticks Joe had dropped on the floor. The wreck of the table was near the sticks, and in a few minutes Snow Lodge was blazing inside and out.

Hello, the place is on fire! shouted Harry, who was the first to notice the condition of affairs.

So it is! added old Runnell. He ran to the door and threw it open. Quick, boys, or the lodge will be burnt to the ground!

With the door and the window open, the fire obtained a good draught, and of a sudden a blaze shot up, inside and out, that quickly mounted to the roof.

This is worse than I supposed, said old Runnell, and ran in to stamp the blaze out. But the smoke was blinding and he soon had to retreat. Then Joe went in, but when some sparks touched him on the cheek he fell back also.

The lodge is doomed! groaned Fred. And everything inside will be burnt up!

My camera films! cried Harry. They are on the shelf! I dont want to lose them, and before anybody could stop him he had leaped into the burning structure.

Harry! Harry! come out of there! yelled Joe. But the younger brother paid no attention to the warning. On the shelf were all the pictures he had taken since coming on the outing, and he thought more of these than he did of the traps and stores.

The flames were now curling all over the roof of the lodge, and with no water at hand it was easy to see that the structure could not be saved. Joel Runnell ran in, and in the smoke felt around for Harry and found him clinging to the shelf, with the rolls of films clutched tightly in one hand.

Come out, he said, in a choking voice. Come, and he led the half-suffocated boy, into the open air. The water was running from Harrys eyes, and it was fully a minute before he could get his breath to talk.

Finding they could do nothing to stop the fire, they set to work to save what stores they could. This was not an easy task, and they recovered little more than a couple of blankets, a tin can of coffee, a bag of salt and a large box of matches. One of the blankets was burnt along the edge.

Once having gained headway, the flames roared and crackled merrily, lighting up the clearing and the forest for a goodly distance around. As the fire increased, they dragged their sleds, the bear and other game, and the saved stores to a safe distance.

Do you think it will set fire to the trees? questioned Fred.

No, there isnt wind enough for that, answered Joel Runnell.

I guess I am responsible for that fire, came from Joe. I remember now that I dropped those burning sticks on the floor when I opened the door.

And we left the branch at the hole, said Harry. Hiram Skeetles will make us pay for the damage done, I suppose.

The lodge wasnt worth much, put in Fred. Not over twenty or thirty dollars at the most. The back end was almost ready to fall down.

Well, if the courts decide that this island and the lodge belong to Skeetles well pay for the building, said Joe. But you can be sure I wont pay him any fancy price.

In less than half an hour from the start of the conflagration the roof of the lodge fell with a crash, sending the sparks flying in all directions. Then one side after another followed, and soon all that remained of the building was a heap of smoldering timbers and the red-hot stones of the rude chimney.

Thats the end of Snow Lodge, said Joe. We didnt have very much good of the place, after all.

The question is, where are we to go next? put in Fred. The other shelter was wrecked by the wind. We seem to be unfortunate, no matter where we stay.

Let us have something to eat first, said Harry. Im as hungry as a a bear.

Then you can dine on bear, answered Fred, and this caused a laugh in spite of their downheartedness over the loss of the lodge.

Supper was cooked over the smoldering ruins and on the hot rocks, and each ate heartily. They talked matters over and decided to remain in that vicinity until morning.

Then we can rake the ruins and see if we can find anything of value, said old Runnell.

The night was far from being as cold as other nights had been, and they easily made themselves comfortable among the trees close by the lodge, propping up the sleds and covering them with branches and bushes and chunks of snow. Nothing came to disturb them, and all slept soundly until sunrise.

Immediately after breakfast the ruins were raked over as the old hunter had advised, and they found several articles of more or less value. But everything else had been burned up clean and clear.

And now for new quarters, said Joe. I have an idea. Why not camp out near Needle Rock? We can find a good spot among the rocks, and that will give us a chance to look for that pocketbook during our off hours.

Im willing, answered Fred.

So were the others, and soon preparations were made for their departure. Inside of an hour they were off.

Good-by to Snow Lodge! cried Harry. Perhaps well never see this spot again.

We can build a new shelter, said Joe. It neednt be so big, but Im sure we can make it just as comfortable.

And then they moved on, never dreaming of the surprises that were in store for them.

CHAPTER XIX
A GATHERING OF YOUNG HUNTERS

Having the two sleds with them, they did not tramp through the woods, but took to the lake, where the wind had swept the ice comparatively free from snow.

Despite what had happened, all were in a light-hearted humor, and Joe began to whistle merrily, and soon Harry and Fred joined in.

Well, we cant complain of lack of adventures, remarked Harry, as they trudged along, Joel Runnell in advance, looking for some signs of possible game.

I should say not, returned Fred. Were getting our full share and more.

Wonder if any of those other fellows are going to join us? put in Joe. Bart Mason said he would be sure to come, and Link Darrow said the same.

Oh, lots of fellows think they can get away, but at the last minute their parents say no, and thats the end of it.

They were moving around a small arm of the island when they saw Joel Runnell come to a halt.

Guess he has sighted game, said Harry. Wait; we dont want to spoil a shot.

Ill go up and see whats doing, said Joe, and hurried forward, with his gun ready for use, should there be more game ahead than the old hunter could handle.

Gun Club ahoy! suddenly rang through the clear air. Hullo, you fellows? Where are you bound?

And then, around the bend, appeared the forms of three youths, dragging a long, low sled behind them. The trio were dressed for hunting and each carried a shotgun or a rifle. The sled was piled high with traps and provisions.

Whoop! here are some of the other fellows now! burst out Fred, and rushed forward. Hurrah! he yelled.

Hurrah! came back instantly.

Link Darrow, Bart Mason and yes, its Teddy Dugan, came from Harry. What can Teddy be doing with those other chaps? he went on, for he had not expected to see the Irish boy anywhere in that vicinity.

How are you making it? asked Link Darrow, as he came closer. He was a youth of Joes size and age.

First rate, answered Joe. When did you leave Lakeport?

Yesterday. We expected to locate you a couple of hours ago, but Teddy Dugan stopped us.

Sure an I have news for you, put in Teddy Dugan. Ive been up the lake, a-visitin me Uncle Michael, and who do you think I saw?

Those tramps, cried Joe, quickly. Oh, Teddy, did you really see them?

I saw three tramps, and by the look of em I think yes, Im sure they are the same that took your watch and chain. I knew you were over to this island, so I told me uncle Id come over and tell you.

And you ran into Link and Bart?

I did but not until I had lost me way, and I reckon they had lost theirs too. Aint that so, Bart?

Well, Ill admit we were a little off the trail, answered Bart Mason, who was very large for his years and correspondingly lazy. But we werent lost like the babes in the woods.

I dont see how a big fellow like you could get lost, put in Fred, slyly. His head hardly came up to Barts shoulder.

Tell me about those tramps, said Joe, impatiently. Where are they now?

The last I saw of them they were walkin on the lake.

The lake! came from Joe, Harry, and Fred simultaneously.

Yes. Thats why I came over to tell you.

Do you think they came over to this island? asked Harry.

Either that or they crossed to the other shore.

Tell me exactly how they looked, went on Joe. We dont want to make any mistake.

Teddy Dugan had had a good look at all three of the tramps and he described their features and dress in detail.

The very same rascals, beyond a doubt, said Harry. I wish you had had them locked up, Teddy.

Sure and I couldnt do it when I was all alone, Harry. I watched them walk to the lake and out on the ice heading this way, and then I ran back to my uncles house and told him. But the snow was too deep to go to town, an so me uncle did nothing.

After this Teddy Dugan told the particulars of the meeting between himself and the three good-for-nothings.

I heard through me uncle that a house had been robbed near where he lives, added Teddy. More than likely they were the thieves.

I shouldnt wonder, said Fred. A rascal who will take a watch and chain will take more.

Link Darrow and Bart Mason had been bound for the lodge, thinking that the camp of the club was located there. Both readily consented to turn and move toward Needle Rock.

You must have had a fearful time with old Skeetles, said Link, as the whole party moved off. Our family know him well, and my father doesnt want anything to do with him.

What a pity Dan Marcy cant act like other fellows do, was Barts comment. He might be a real nice fellow if he wasnt so overbearing.

Its in the breed, came from Joel Runnell. His father and his grandfather were that way before him. Why, I can remember his grandfather well. He was a boss on the railroad, and he hounded the Italian workmen so much that one night several of them almost stoned him to death.

In that case, Dan is scarcely to blame for his disposition, said Harry.

I think he is. He ought to work to overcome it, replied Fred. But he just makes himself as ugly as he can. Why, even the little boys and girls get out of his way when they see him coming.

The three boys who had been on the island since the beginning of the outing were anxious to hear all the news from home and this was told to them by Bart and Link, who had also brought along several letters.

I dont know what we can do about those tramps, said Joe, after thinking the matter over for some time.

Let us get settled down in our new place first, returned Joel Runnell. After that we can go on a still hunt for them.

At this all of the boys looked at Teddy Dugan, who blushed through his many freckles.

Teddy, what had you in mind to do? questioned Joe.

I dunno, was the slow answer. I aint got nothing to do for the next few days. Father said I could go and visit me uncle, or go huntin, just as I pleased. I know what Id like to do.

Whats that?

Oh, I reckon I hadnt better say. Youve got your club all made up, an an

Would you like to stay with us? asked Harry, quickly. There was something in Teddys manner which was very attractive to him.

Yes, I would, was the blunt response. But, but

Lets take Teddy along, said Joe.

All right, came from the others.

But I aint a member of the club?

That dont matter, Teddy. Youre a member of the ball team, and thats enough.

Especially after that home run you made in the game with the Silver Stars, added Link, who was a great ball player himself.

Then you really want me along? And the Irish lads face lit up in a broad grin.

Yes, but you have got to do your full share of camp work, said Joe.

Ill do more than my share. Teddy did a few steps of a double shuffle on the ice. Say, this just suits me to death! Come on! And he began to pull on one of the sled ropes with great vigor.

The breeze on the lake was so keen that nobody cared to stay out in it longer than necessary. Where the snow was loose the wind often caught it up and whirled it into their faces.

Only a little further to go, said old Runnell at last, and in a few minutes they turned in and came to a halt not far from where there was a cliff twenty to twenty-five feet in height. Against the rocks rested two immense pine trees which the gales of the previous winter had partly uprooted.

Here is where we can fix up a real good shelter, said old Runnell. We can trim off the under limbs of the trees and use them for the sides. Then we can roll up some big snow balls and put em right on top of the pine branches, leaving a hole for a doorway. Back in the cliff is a split in the rocks, so it will do for a chimney.





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