Young Hunters of the Lake/Chapter 23

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It was so dark under the trees that for the moment Snap did not recognize his chum. Then he uttered an exclamation of commingled wonder and alarm.

"Let go of him!" he cried. "Let go, I say!" and he caught Ham Spink by the arm.

"Capture him, fellows!" shouted Carl Dudder, and at once several of the Spink crowd fell upon Snap.

But Snap was not to be made a prisoner thus easily, and hitting out with all his might he sent Jack Voss reeling to the ground. Then he hit Ike Akley in the nose.

"Ouch!" yelled Ike, and put up his hand, to withdraw it covered with blood. "He has broken my nose!" And he fell back in alarm.

A rough and tumble struggle ensued, in which blows were given and taken freely. Snap was struck in the breast and in the cheek, but not seriously hurt. In the melee Shep managed to squirm free from those who held him and he quickly ranged up by his chum's side.

"What did you say about our outfit?" he panted.

"We've got it," answered Snap. "Come, we had better be going."

"Don't let them get away!" yelled Ham Spink, and made a grab for Snap. But just then the doctor's son hit out desperately and the rich youth received a blow in the mouth that loosened two teeth and caused him to retreat in a hurry.

For the moment the enemy were disconcerted, and taking advantage of this, Snap and Shep started on a run through the dark forest, moving as swiftly as the condition of the ground would permit. The Spink crowd came after them, shouting to them to stop. Carl Dudder called out that he would shoot if they did not halt.

"Do you think he'll do it?" asked Shep uneasily.

"I guess it's a bluff—I don't think he has a gun or pistol," answered Snap, and he was right, for no shot followed.

When at last the two boys reached the spot where the raft had been moored they found everything in readiness for departure. Whopper and Giant had strung all the craft together in a line, making quite a flotilla.

"They are after us—we've got to dust out lively!" cried Shep, as he and his chum struck the water's edge.

"You can't get in the Snapper," explained Whopper. "The outfit is in such a jumble there is no room."

"You stay where you are," ordered Snap. "I'll get in their rowboat and Shep can get in the canoe. There will be no hurry, once we are away from the shore."

There was little time to say more, for a crashing in the brushwood told them that the enemy was close at hand. They had missed the trail but now found it again. They came out on the lake shore while yet those on the water were close by.

"Here they are!"

"They have the boat and the canoe!"

"Where did that raft come from?"

"Good-bye!" sang out Whopper. "Hope you enjoy yourselves. You can get another boat down to Fairview, if you want one."

"You come back here!" yelled Ham Spink, in great rage.

"If you don't come back with our boats I'll have you arrested," put in Carl Dudder.

"Do so, and we'll have your whole crowd arrested for stealing our outfit," came from Giant.

"And for trying to burn down our cabin," added Shep.

"I didn't burn down your cabin," said Ham, hastily.

"Well, somebody did."

"It wasn't me," said Carl, and he looked at Ike Akley as he spoke. That boy shifted uneasily but said nothing.

While the talking was going on Jack Voss had quietly slipped off a portion of his clothing. Now he made a leap into the lake and swam rapidly for the raft.

"Get back there—unless you want to get hurt!" cried Snap, who saw the movement. But Voss kept on swimming and soon gained the raft. Then he took hold of the rope that connected it with the canoe, untied the raft, and swam with the end of the rope back towards shore.

"That's the way to do it!" sang out Ham. "Bring the rope in and we'll pull them back!"

"Pull! pull!" shouted Snap, and he and his chums did their best to send the two rowboats and the canoe away from the shore. But the boy in the water had gained a good footing on the rocks and he held fast.

"Come in here and help me!" he panted, and Ham and Carl prepared to do so. All had a good hold of the rope when something unexpected happened.

Taking out his pocketknife Shep leaned over the rear of the canoe and severed the rope that had been dragging the raft. As the rope parted down went the boys holding on with a loud splash! All disappeared beneath the surface of the lake and each came up with his mouth full of water. In the meantime, relieved of the weight of the clumsy raft, the two rowboats and the canoe shot out into the lake a distance of a hundred feet or more. There our friends rested, wondering what the enemy would try to do next.

In the darkness the water seemed extra cold, and the lads who had received a ducking could not help but shiver as they crawled to the shore. They had gained possession of the raft, but they did not appear to be very happy over it.

"Are you coming back with our boat or not?" demanded Ham Spink, after an awkward pause, during which our friends remained silent.

"Why should we come back?" answered Snap. "You treated us very shabbily."

"Well, didn't you deserve it?" came from Carl Dudder. "You shot off our fireworks on the Fourth of July. We heard all about it."

"Didn't you try to steal our clothing when we were in swimming?" said Whopper.

"It was a mean piece of business to try to burn down our cabin and to run away with all we had," said Giant. "Perhaps you wanted to starve us into going home."

"It was only a bit of fun," pleaded Ham Spink. "We—er—we were going to return your outfit to-morrow."

"I don't believe it," said the doctor's son promptly.

"Ain't you going to give us back our boat and the canoe?" asked Ike Akley.

"That depends," answered Snap. He whispered something to his chums. "We'll let you know to-morrow. It's too late to do anything more to-night."

"Then you are going to take the boat and the canoe away?" asked Carl Dudder.

"For the present, yes. Meet us at this place to-morrow morning at ten o'clock and we'll talk business to you."

"All right—we'll do it," answered Ham, after whispering to his cronies. "But don't fail to come," he added.

"We'll be on hand," answered Snap, and then he and his chums moved further out into the lake with the boats and the canoe, and were soon lost to sight in the gloom of the night.

"Well, this is the worst yet," growled Ike Akley, when he and his cronies were left alone. "We thought we were going to have the best of it and now they have turned the tables on us."

"Have they?" came from Ham Spink. "That remains to be seen."

"How?" demanded several of the others.

"Do you think I am going to bed, or sit down and suck my thumbs? Not much! I am going to do something."

"What are you going to do?" asked Jack Voss.

"Go over to their camp, and after they have gone to bed take all the boats away—and take whatever else we can get hold of, too. Then I am going to find a new camp—some place where they can't locate us very easily."

"How are you going to get to their camp?" asked Carl, with interest.

"On the raft—same as they got over here."

"Hurrah, that's the plan!" cried another of the party. "They'll think we are over here, waiting for them to show up at ten o'clock to-morrow morning. Won't they be surprised when they get up and find the things minus!"

"They may set a guard;" suggested Ike Akley.

"If they do we'll have to make him a prisoner and gag him."

"When shall we start?" asked one of the boys.

"Let us dry ourselves by the campfire first," said Ham. "And we may as well get something to eat too, for there is no telling how long we'll be gone."

This suggestion was considered a good one, and the whole crowd went back to the camp. While some changed their wet clothes for dry, others prepared a meal and this all took time in eating. Then all hands went down to the raft and embarked for the other side of the lake.