Young Hunters of the Lake/Chapter 15

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"This is certainly a wilderness!"

It was Snap who uttered the words, as he stood in the bow of the rowboat, taking in the scene before him. They had left Firefly Lake five miles behind them and were on the winding stream leading to Lake Narsac. On one side of the water-course were rough rocks and on the other a tangled mass of underbrush, backed up by rocks and tall cedars.

"A fellow could never make his way through such a woods as that," said Whopper, nodding in the direction of the forest. "Why, you'd tear your clothing all to pieces!"

"I can tell you one thing," put in Shep. "I think there must be plenty of game up here—if only one can get to it."

They had taken turns at rowing and poling the craft along. For the most part the poling was better than rowing, for the stream was too full of rocks to admit the free use of oars. Twice they had bumped on the projections under water, once with such violence that Giant, who had been standing at the time, had almost gone overboard. Once they had to carry craft and outfit around a sharp bend. The boat had started to leak a little, but not enough to cause anxiety.

Noon found them encamped on a point of land where the stream appeared to divide into two parts, one running to the northeast and the other to the northwest. Which branch to take to get to Lake Narsac they did not know.

"This is a fine how-do-you do!" was Whopper's comment. "I wish we had questioned Jed Sanborn about it."

"From what I thought he said I imagined there was but one stream leading to the lake," said the doctor's son.

"Perhaps there is, Shep; but which is the one?"

"Don't ask me. One looks as good as the other."

"On the map Lake Narsac is to the northwest of Firefly Lake," came from Giant. "Consequently I should say that we ought to take the stream flowing in that direction."

"That sounds reasonable," answered Snap, and the others nodded.

Coming along the watercourse they had managed to shoot several quail, of the sort known by many as partridge, and also some other birds. Shep had likewise brought down two squirrels. They had scared up several rabbits, but these had gotten away in the underbrush.

"Let us take a good rest before we go further," said Shep, while he was eating. "There is no use of our killing ourselves with rowing when we are only out for fun."

The others agreed, and as a consequence they took a nap after the meal and did not get started again until three o'clock.

They soon found the stream they were on broad but shallow, and felt sure it would lead to the lake. They kept on steadily until six o'clock, and then came to a halt at a point where the watercourse narrowed and ran between a series of jagged rocks.

"We ought to be getting to the lake pretty soon," was Snap's comment. "Jed Sanborn told me we could make the trip from Firefly Lake in a day if we didn't fool along the way."

"Well, don't forget that we stopped for a nap," answered Whopper. "Perhaps we'll get there before it gets dark."

Having passed the rocks, they found the stream broadening out once more. The bottom was now muddy, and here and there grew large clumps of reeds and cattails.

"This seems to be more of a swamp than a lake," was the comment of the doctor's son. "From what Jed Sanborn said I thought it was a narrow stream all the way to the lake."

"So did I," added Giant. "I begin to feel that we have made a mistake."

"If we have, you're to blame," grumbled Whopper.

"Oh, you were willing enough to come this direction," answered Giant sharply. "If we are wrong, you needn't blame me."

"It's your fault!"

"Oh, don't quarrel about it," interposed Snap. "We were all willing to come this way. If we have made a mistake—" He did not finish.

"Don't croak until you are sure we are mistaken," said Shep.

A silence followed, and they moved on, the stream growing broader as they advanced. It was a lonely spot, and as it grew darker the loneliness seemed to increase. On all sides were the immense trees and dense brushwood, while the stream was dotted with little islands, covered with reeds and rushes and small, thorny bushes.

The sun had gone down, and as the darkness increased the boys looked at each other wonderlngly. This was not at all what they had expected.

"If this is Narsac Lake I don't want to stay here," remarked Shep. "Why, it can't hold a candle to Cameron or Firefly."

" No wonder nobody comes here," grumbled Whopper. "It's nothing but a swamp."

"This can't be Lake Narsac," answered Snap. "Don't you remember what we heard—that it is a very deep lake, set right in among the mountains. We have made a mistake."

"I see something ahead," said Giant, who was standing in the bow. "It looks to me like a signboard. Let us row up to it."

"A signboard is just what we want," said Snap, and took up the oars. Soon they reached the board, which was nailed to a post set on one of the reedy islands. The board read as follows:

Hooper's Pond
S. Hooper, Owner
No campingers alowed

"Hooper's Pond!" cried Snap. "We certainly have made a mistake!"

"'No campingers alowed,'" read the doctor's son. "His spelling and grammar are not very strong but he knows what he means."

"Well, we don't want to camp here," said Whopper in disgust. "Mr. S. Hooper can keep his pond to himself and welcome."

"I think we'll have to camp here for to-night," said Shep. "We can't go back to where we took lunch with darkness coming on. And I am hungry, too."

They were all hungry and tired, and after a brief talk decided to remain at the pond over night and in the morning retrace their way to where the stream had forked.

"Shall we camp on one of the islands, or on the shore?" questioned Shep.

"The main thing is to find some dry spot," answered Snap. "To me all the ground around here looks spongy and wet."

They tried several of the islands, but found them soft and uncertain, and so rowed over to the shore on the west. Here was a little hill, covered with dewberries, and having cleared a spot, they erected their tent and built a campfire.

"If Mr. S. Hooper is around he may chase us away," said Snap. "But we'll take the chance of his not being in this vicinity."

The swamp was full of flies and mosquitoes, and they were glad enough to keep near the fire, to get rid of the pests. After the cooking was done they built a smudge, of wet reeds, and this helped to keep the insects away. But it was not a cheerful spot and when the boys went to bed all felt depressed.

Snap was the first up in the morning, and while he was getting breakfast ready, Giant took his shotgun and went off in quest of game.

"There ought to be plenty of wild fowl around a swamp like this," said the small member of the club. "I am going to see what I can bring down before we leave."

"If you bring down much you'll have Mr. S. Hooper in your wool," answered Snap.

"I don't believe he is around. And, another thing, I didn't see any fences."

"Nor I. I guess you are safe in bringing down whatever you can hit. But don't stay out too long."

Giant walked to the other side of the little hill and then along a cove of the big swamp. Far ahead he saw some birds, resting close to the water's edge. He felt they might be quail or perhaps some wild turkeys.

The ground was anything but firm, and Giant soon had to leap from one dry patch to another. He was half tempted to turn back, but now he was almost within gun-shot of the game and he hated to give up the quest.

"I'll go back a bit from the water and come around on the other side," he reasoned. Then he took to another course, only to find, presently, that it was worse than the first. He was now between clumps of reeds, and almost before he knew it one of the clumps turned over on him, sending him into the water and mud up to his knees.

"Gracious! this won't do!" he muttered, and tried to turn back. He found the water and mud very treacherous, and in a few seconds he went down again, this time to his waist. His feet were in the mud so firmly that he could scarcely budge them. He let out a cry for help. Then the mud below the surface commenced to sink, and in a few minutes poor Giant was up to his armpits. What to do he did not know, and it looked as if he would surely be drowned.