Young Hunters of the Lake/Chapter 12
THE CAMP ON LAKE CAMERON
Snap did not stand upon the order of his going, but went at once. Without a thing with which to defend himself, he had no desire to come into contact with such a savage creature as a wildcat, and, consequently, he dropped back into the water in a hurry and started back for the shore. He almost fancied he heard the wildcat splash in after him, and a chill crept down his backbone which was not caused by the night air.
"Hello! hello!" he yelled to Shep.
"Got the boat?" came back the cry.
"Not much! Get your shotgun ready and fire a shot into the air."
"What's the matter?"
"A wildcat is out here—on a floating log. I'm afraid he's after me."
"A wildcat! Want me to scare him away?"
The doctor's son now understood, and raising his shotgun with one arm he pulled the trigger. The report sounded out loudly in the night air and the echoes went ringing over the surrounding hills.
In the meantime Snap continued to swim for the shore with all possible speed. Fortunately he came in where there was a sandbar, so that he could wade to solid ground. When Shep reached him he was panting for breath.
"I wa—was—never so scar—scared in my life!" he panted. "It was only an old tree, and I was going to take a rest on it when I heard the wildcat. He was a big fellow, and his eyes seemed to bore me through and through. Maybe I didn't strike out for shore in a hurry!"
"I don't blame you," answered the doctor's son. "Did he jump in the water after you?"
"I don't know."
"And it wasn't the boat?"
"No, I didn't see a thing of the boat."
Snap lost no time in dressing, and in the meantime Shep kept his eyes open for the possible appearance of the wildcat. But the savage creature did not show itself, nor did the fallen tree come again into view.
The report of the gun had reached Giant and Whopper, and they came up on the run, fearing something serious had occurred.
"We walked along the shore for almost quarter of a mile," said Whopper, "but we didn't see a blessed thing that looked like the boat. I am afraid it's gone for good."
"If it is we'll have to go home, and that will be the end of this outing," answered Shep.
"Oh, we're going to find that boat!" declared Giant. "But I don't think we'll be able to do much until daybreak."
They followed the shore for a short distance further, and then went back to the temporary camp. It was now half-past three in the morning.
"It will be growing light in another hour," said Whopper. "I move we get breakfast and be ready to start off as soon as we can see."
His suggestion was carried out. Snap's swim had made him cold, and he was glad enough to drink two cups of steaming hot coffee. The boys had brought some doughnuts along, and these, with the coffee and some fried fish, gave them a very appetizing breakfast. They took their time eating, waiting impatiently for the first signs of light in the eastern sky.
At last it was light enough to see almost across the lake, and then they looked in all directions for some sign of the missing rowboat. The craft was not in sight, and once again the party divided, this time Whopper and Snap going to the south and Shep and Giant to the north. Each took his gun along, and it was Snap who told them to make sure the firearms were loaded.
"You never want to go out with an empty gun," he said.
"Humph!" muttered Giant. "Did you ever do such a thing?" But Snap pretended not to hear and did not answer.
Whopper and Snap covered almost half a mile before they came to a turn in the lake shore. Here there was quite a good sized cove, and much to their surprise they saw two large tents standing among the trees. Nearby was the remains of a campfire, with sticks, an iron chain, and a big iron pot over it.
"I didn't notice this camp when we came up," said Whopper.
"All the folks here must be asleep," said Snap. But as he spoke a man came from one of the tents and stared at them. It was Andrew Felps, the rich lumber merchant who owned much of the land around the lake and who had treated them so meanly the summer and the winter previous.
"Hi, you!" roared Felps. "What are you doing around here?"
"Looking for our boat," answered Snap.
"Humph! This is a pretty time to visit our camp, I must say!"
"We didn't know you had a camp here," said Whopper.
"I'd like to know what you are doing here—after my ordering you away last summer and last winter," went on the lumber merchant, sourly.
"Didn't I say I was looking for our boat?" said Snap.
"Well, If you've got a boat you must be camping up here."
"We stayed ashore over night, that's all. We are bound for Lake Narsac," said Whopper. "Did you see a boat drifting past?" he continued.
"No, I didn't," snapped Andrew Felps. "Look here," he continued. "If this is a trick, let me warn you. You can't camp around here, and that settles it."
"We don't want to camp around here, Mr. Felps," answered Snap. " All we want is our boat, which got away from us last night. If you saw anything of the craft—"
"I want you to get out of here!" roared the lumber merchant. "I won't have you hanging around!"
At this moment two men came from one of the tents. They were Giles Faswig and Vance Lemon, the lumber merchant's two friends, and the men who had once tried to get the boys to let them have some ammunition. They had treated the young hunters so meanly that the latter had voted not to let them have any powder or cartridges and this had broken up the outing of the Felps party.
"Hello, those young rascals are out here again!" muttered Vance Lemon, who was naturally as sour as his name implied.
"Say, I've fixed them," whispered Giles Faswig, with a wink at Lemon. "I'll tell you about it later. I took a walk late last night, and I discovered they were camping not far from this spot."
"We are not young rascals!" cried Snap, indignantly. "We are just as good as you are, and maybe better."
"Bah! don't talk to me!" growled Vance Lemon.
"You thought you were smart last winter, when you refused to sell us a little ammunition," broke in Giles Faswig. "I haven't forgotten that dirty trick."
"You know well enough why we didn't let you have the ammunition," answered Snap. "You didn't deserve it."
"Humph! Just wait, and you'll find out—" The man did not finish.
"Now I want you two boys to go away—and stay away!" cried Andrew Felps. "If you are bound for Lake Narsac better be on your way."
"We can't go until we have found our missing boat," said Whopper. "It must be somewhere on this lake."
"Make them go away," said Giles Faswig, and then he whispered something in the rich lumber dealer's ear. Whatever he had to tell made Andrew Felps grin.
Snap and Whopper saw the whispering and the grin, and instantly they suspected some trick. They well remembered what a rage Faswig had been in when they had refused to let him have any ammunition.
"Look here, if you know anything about our boat I want to know it," said Whopper, without stopping to think twice.
"Your boat?" repeated Vance Lemon, and then he looked at Giles Faswig, who winked.
"Yes, our boat," repeated Whopper. "We tied it to a tree last night and now it is gone."
"I didn't touch your boat," growled Andrew Felps.
"Nor did I," put in Vance Lemon.
"You had better be gone about your business," came from Giles Faswig. "We didn't come up here to be bothered by a lot of kids."
"We want our boat—and we are bound to get it," said Snap, firmly.
"Well, go find it," cried Andrew Felps.
"We want to know if anybody in this camp knows anything about the boat."
Just then a boy of eight or nine years of age came out of one of the tents, rubbing his eyes sleepily.
"Uncle Giles," he said, walking up to Faswig, "where are we going to-day, and what are you going to do with that boat you brought in when I woke up last night?"