Young Hunters of the Lake/Chapter 11
A SEARCH FOR A ROWBOAT
"Well, of all the chumps in this world, I'm the worst!"
Thus it was that Snap upbraided himself for having forgotten to load the firearm. He knew it would be useless to dash back to the tent for ammunition—the fox was gone and would take good care to keep its distance.
Much chagrined over his mistake, the youth turned back and walked toward the fire. Then he set his gun against a tree and built up the blaze a bit, for the night was chilly. He was just about to leave the fire and crawl back in the tent when a voice reached him:
"Who is out there?" It was Shep who asked the question.
"It is I, Snap," was the reply.
"What's wrong?" And now the doctor's son poked his head from the shelter.
"I heard a fox and thought I'd shoot him—but he ran away," said Snap. He was in no humor to tell about the empty shotgun, for he did not wish his chum to have the laugh on him.
"Oh, is that all. Say, do you know it's cold?"
"Yes, and that is why I am stirring up the fire," answered Snap.
"Do you know, I had an awful dream," continued the doctor's son. "It has left me wide-awake."
"Better go to sleep, Shep, or you'll be fagged out in the morning."
"I dreamed somebody ran away with our boat and all our supplies," went on Shep. "We didn't have a thing left, and we were in our night-clothes!"
"You must have been thinking of Ham Spink and Carl Dudder, and what they did last year."
"Maybe. Of course the boat and outfit are safe," went on the doctor's son.
"I suppose so—I haven't looked."
"Just take a look before you turn in, will you?"
Shep's head disappeared, and Snap finished fixing the fire. Then he turned to the lake, where the boat with the most of the outfit had been left, tied to an overhanging tree.
The craft with its contents was gone!
Snap could scarcely believe the evidence of his senses. He pinched himself, to make certain that he was awake. It was true—the craft was nowhere in sight.
At first he thought to arouse the others but then concluded to look for the boat first. Perhaps it had only broken away and was drifting close by. If so he would bring it back and fasten it securely without giving the alarm.
But a five-minutes' hunt convinced Snap that the rowboat with its valuable contents was nowhere in that vicinity, and then he ran back to the tent much disturbed.
"Get up, you fellows!" he called. "Get up! The boat is gone!"
At first nobody paid attention, for even Shep was asleep once more. But then Giant roused up, quickly followed by his chums.
"What's the matter?"
"The boat and our outfit is gone!"
"Why—er—I dreamed it!" stammered the doctor's son. "Am I awake or asleep?"
"You're awake," answered Snap, and then he continued hurriedly: "Shep, do you think you heard somebody take the boat while you were in a doze and so imagined you dreamed it?"
"I—er—I don't know. No, I don't think I did—my dream was so unnatural. Come to think of it, the boat had wings and flew away. Now, that couldn't happen."
"Not unless some wizard turned the craft into an airship," answered Whopper.
All were soon at the water's edge and looking in all directions for the missing rowboat. What had been left of the outfit had been stored in the stern and tied down with a rubber cloth, to keep off the heavy dew. They stirred up the campfire still more, and each provided himself with a firebrand as a torch.
"This is the worst luck yet," observed the doctor's son, with something like a groan. "Supposing we can't get our boat and outfit back—"
"Oh, we've got to get 'em back!" burst out Whopper. "We'll do it if we have to scrape the lake with a fine-tooth comb."
"I wish it was morning—we can't see much in the dark, even with the torches," said Shep.
Giant was examining the shore, for the possible discovery of strange footprints. But he could discover none that looked different from their own.
"If I was an Indian I might distinguish them, but to me they all look alike," he said.
What to do next the young hunters did not know. Had they had a second boat they might have rowed up and down the lake, but even this move was denied to them.
"Let us go up and down the shore on foot," suggested Snap. "It is all out of the question to go back to bed—I couldn't sleep a wink."
It was decided that Shep and Snap should go north while Whopper and Giant went south. All procured new torches, and each took along a gun.
"If you discover anything give the old whistle," said the leader of the club.
The way Snap and Shep had chosen was anything but easy. To the northward the shore of Lake Cameron was rocky and uneven, with many gullies and little streams flowing over the rocks. More than once they thought they heard somebody or some animal moving but the sound proved to be nothing but the falling water. Once Shep stepped into a hollow and was scared by the sudden appearance of several big bullfrogs.
"Wish they were rabbits or squirrels, I might shoot them," he said.
"Well, you can shoot the frogs if you wish," answered Snap. "The hind legs are as sweet as squirrel meat."
"I know that—but I'm not out for frogs just now. I want to find that boat."
The two young hunters covered a quarter of a mile when they came out on a small point of land overlooking the broad lake. As they did this Snap uttered a cry:
"What is that out yonder, Shep?"
"Why, I declare, it looks like the boat!"
"Just what I was thinking. How can we get to her?"
"I don't know—unless we swim over."
"Is anybody on board?"
"I can't make out—in fact, I am not at all sure it is the boat," was the slow answer.
The object they had discovered was quite a distance out on the lake and the light from their torches reached it but faintly. The thing was drifting down the lake slowly, and as they watched it almost passed from view.
"Here, this won't do," cried Snap. "If it is the boat we must catch her and bring her in."
"It's kind of cold swimming—this time of night," answered the doctor's son, who did not relish such a bath.
"Here, you hold my things and I'll swim out," declared Snap, "I don't think the water is any colder now than in the day time."
He was soon ready for the plunge, and noting the direction in which the object had last been seen, he waded into the water. The first touch felt icy, but after he had ducked down and taken a few strokes it did not seem so bad. He struck out lustily, and Shep held up both torches, that he might have some light by which to guide himself.
Snap was a good swimmer, but the object out on the lake was further away than he had calculated, and it took him fully five minutes to get in the vicinity of it. The sky had clouded over a bit, hiding the stars, so he could see little or nothing on the water. On the shore he could see the two torches that the doctor's son was waving and that was all.
At last Snap saw the dark object directly ahead of him. By this time he was somewhat exhausted by his swim and he was glad to think that he would soon be able to rest. Then he made a discovery which did not please him at all.
The object was nothing more than a part of a fallen tree, the trunk resting half in and half out of the water and several branches sticking out in as many directions. At a distance it looked a little like the rowboat but the resemblance faded completely as he got closer.
"Too bad! I thought it was the boat sure!" he murmured. "Well, I'll have to rest on the log a bit, before I strike out for shore."
He swam up to one of the branches and caught hold of it. He was on the point of reaching for the tree trunk when an unusual sound came to his ears.
Then Snap made a discovery that almost took his breath from him. On the tree trunk rested a big wildcat, it's eyes gleaming fiercely at the youth in the water!