Young Hunters of the Lake/Chapter 17

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It was true, they had struck a regular nest of snakes, and in less than a minute the camp seemed to be fairly overrun with the reptiles, which were from a foot to three feet in length.

Now, if there was one thing which the young hunters hated worse than anything else, it was a snake, and consequently there was a lively rush to get out of the way of the reptiles. The snakes were dark brown in color, with lighter stripes, and what variety the young hunters did not know. They might be poisonous, and the youths did not care to run any chances.

The snakes seemed to be fearless, and the fact that several were speedily killed did not daunt them. Whopper cut one in two with his hatchet and Snap crushed another with his heel. Then, as they came close to the tent, Shep hit a third with a saucepan and Giant kicked a fourth into the water. But by this time at least thirty snakes were in sight, and not knowing what else to do, the young hunters ran for the rowboat and tumbled into that. One snake went with Whopper, twined around his foot, but that youth kicked it loose and sent it squirming into the water.

"Did you ever see the like!" gasped Giant. "Why, the woods must be full of snakes!"

"We must be close to Lake Narsac," answered Snap. "Don't you remember what they said about snakes being plentiful?"

"If they are as plentiful as all this I want to go right back," declared Whopper firmly. And then he looked up his trouser legs, to make certain no reptiles had gone above his ankles. The other boys were also busy, scanning the rowboat, to clear it of possible visitors.

The craft was tied to the shore but had drifted several feet from the bank. They had rushed away so quickly that all of their firearms were in or near the tent, which was but partly raised, one end flapping idly in the faint breeze that was blowing. The campfire had been started with a few dry twigs and cedar boughs and cast only a faint gleam around in the gathering darkness.

"I didn't know snakes could be so active in the dark," observed the doctor's son.

"We stepped right into their nest," answered Snap. "First Whopper went into it and then I followed. That is what made the snakes so mad and made them come right after us."

"Some of them have gone into the tent," cried Giant. "I just saw three of them wriggle under the canvas."

"And to think all the guns are ashore!" murmured Whopper. "What are we to do?"

"Walk ashore and get them," suggested Snap, with a wink.

"Not for a million dollars! You do it."

"Thank you, but I—er—I'm lame."

"I guess we are all too lame to go ashore among those snakes," said Giant, with a short laugh. "But we have got to do something," he added, seriously.

"I move we remain on the boat until morning," said Shep. "Even if we clear out some of the snakes now, we may not be able to get at all of them. And who wants to go to sleep with snakes around? Not I!"

"I couldn't sleep if I tried," said Whopper. "I'd be seeing all kinds of snakes in my dreams!" And he shuddered.

Fortunately they had cooked some extra fish that noon and this food had not been taken from the boat. They dined on the fish and some crackers, and that was all. By this time it was night and the tiny campfire was a mere glow of hot ashes.

"We might try the other side of the stream," suggested Snap.

"There may be snakes there too," said Giant. "You can do as you please, I am going to stay on the boat until daylight."

"But what are you going to do when you get to the lake? We must camp somewhere?"

"We'll hunt up a snakeless place in the broad daylight. The snakes can't be everywhere."

There seemed to be no help for it, and having anchored the rowboat in the middle of the stream, the young hunters proceeded to make themselves as comfortable as possible on board. They had the rubber cloth, and this they propped up on half-raised oars, making a sort of awning. They had to rest on the hard seats, with boxes and bundles between, and it was anything but comfortable. They were so close together Giant said it reminded him of sardines in a tin box. A sound sleep was out of the question, and they slumbered only by fits and starts.

"Now to clear out those snakes," said Snap, when it was daylight. "I wonder what we had best do first?"

"I have an idea," said Shep. "Let us go to yonder shore and cut some cedar boughs. We can set them on fire and each take one. Snakes hate fire, and they'll be sure to crawl away if we advance with the burning boughs close to the ground."

The suggestion was deemed an excellent one, and they lost no time in carrying it out. They got the driest cedar branches possible and set them into a blaze with little trouble. Then they went ashore with caution, advancing in a semi-circle on the places they thought the snakes must be.

To their amazement not a reptile was in sight!

"Did you ever see the like?" ejaculated Whopper. "Is this true, or am I dreaming?"

"I know what has happened," said Snap. "The snakes have simply gone back to their nest."

"Well, leave them there by all means!" interposed the doctor's son. "I wouldn't disturb their nap for the world."

With caution they moved around the camp, and lifted up the ends of the tent, and raised their cooking utensils.

"Who wants to stay here for breakfast?" asked Snap, dryly. "Don't all speak at once."

"Thanks, but I've engaged a place about a mile from here," answered Whopper. "You can stay if you wish—I'll move on."

It did not take them long to get their things aboard the Snapper, and keeping their eyes open, they moved along the stream. They had scarcely covered half a mile when Snap, who was at the bow, gave a shout.

"The lake! The lake!"

"Where?" came from the others.

"Right around the bend, on the left. Pull on, fellows, and we'll soon be there."

Whopper and Shep bent to the oars and the turn mentioned was soon passed. Then all saw before them a clear, deep body of water, the farther end lost in the distance. On both sides were tall mountains, covered with pines and other trees which came down to the water's edge. The surface of the big lake was as smooth as glass, and just in front of them they could see the bottom, twenty or thirty feet below.

"What a beautiful lake!" murmured Shep.

"But how wild, and how lonely!" added Giant, after a look around.

"It looks lonely because we are not used to it," answered Snap. "I felt the same way the first time I went up to Lake Cameron and to Firefly Lake."

"That's it," put in Whopper. "After we have tramped along the shore, and rowed around the lake a few times, it will lose a gaod deal of its strangeness."

As they advanced they noted that the lake grew deeper and they could no more see the bottom. But the water was as clear as crystal and quite cold, showing that the water came, at least in part, from springs.

"I see a little stretch of sand," said Giant, presently, and pointed it out. "We might go ashore there for breakfast—if there are no snakes."

They turned the Snapper in the direction mentioned, and soon beached the craft. A hasty hunt around revealed no snakes and the young hunters felt easier. They made a campfire and cooked a substantial breakfast, for the meager supper the evening previous had left them tremendously hungry.

"I feel sleepy enough to take a good snooze," said Shep, stretching himself. "What's the matter with staying here for to-day, and then hunting a regular camping spot to-morrow? I guess you fellows are as tired as I am."

They were tired and the proposal to rest met with instant approval. It was decided to roast the wild turkey for dinner and to spend several hours in fishing,—all after a sleep of several hours.

"There ought to be some fine pickerel in this lake," said Snap, and he fixed his rod and line for that specimen of the finny tribe and Giant did the same. Shep and Whopper went in for whatever they could catch. The fishing was highly successful and the boys soon had all the fish they would want for several days.

"Might as well give it up," said Snap, when a call from Whopper interrupted him.

"Somebody is coming down the lake," was the announcement. "A very old man in a canoe."