Young Hunters of the Lake/Chapter 24

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The stars had gone under a cloud and out on the lake it was so dark that Snap and his chums could not see twenty feet in any direction.

"We are going to have our own troubles finding our camp," he said, after about a quarter of the distance across Lake Narsac had been covered.

"It's as black as a stack of cats," murmured Whopper. "Has anybody got a lantern?"

Nobody had, and even matches were at a premium. The boys rowed and paddled on a short distance further and then came to a halt in a bunch.

"I must confess I am more or less turned around already," said the doctor's son. "Is our shore over there?" and he pointed with his hand.

"I think so," answered Giant.

"I think it is yonder," answered Snap, and pointed at right angles to the direction Shep had mentioned.

"And I think it is about between the two," finished Whopper.

"Let us take the course Whopper thinks is right," said Snap. "We can't be so very far wrong anyway."

Anxious to get back to camp and get some rest, they pulled with vigor. They kept this up for fully ten minutes and then the forward boat slid up on a bar of sand, followed quickly by the second boat and the canoe.

"Here, this won't do!" cried Shep.

"Are we near shore?" questioned Whopper. "I can't see any land."

Neither could the others, and all were more or less worried. They had struck the sand bar with such force that they had been carried well up on it. When they tried to shove the boats off they found the task too much for them. The canoe, however, came away with little difficulty.

"Shep, you paddle around and see if you can locate the shore," suggested Snap, and the doctor's son sent the canoe first in one direction and then another. He was not afraid to go out of sight, since he could easily hear their voices in the stillness of the night.

"I don't see any shore," he announced, after a search of a quarter of an hour. "We must be stuck somewhere in the middle of the lake."

"That can't be—the middle is far too deep for any sand bars," answered Whopper.

"Well, you can hunt around if you want to," said the doctor's son, rather shortly. The paddling had made him very tired.

Snap and Whopper now got into the canoe, and they went twice as far as Shep had been. At last they struck a point of land in a direction they had imagined was far out in the lake. They followed this up and soon came to the shore, but where they did not know.

"I think we are either above or below our camp," said Snap.

"Or else on the same side of the lake that we started from," said Whopper. "It would be just our luck to get completely twisted In this teetotal darkness. It's worse than a pocket in a coal mine!"

They paddled back to the others and told them of what they had discovered. Then a portion of the outfit was transferred to the empty rowboat, and another effort was made to float both craft. At last the rowboats slid off the sand bar, and then they pulled to the point of land without further mishap.

No one could tell where they were, but Snap, Giant and Whopper imagined the spot must be half a mile or more below their camp. They had landed in a wild place, and walking along the shore was out of the question.

"We might as well stay where we are until morning," said Snap. "If we try to move in this darkness we may only fall into more trouble."

But the others preferred to get back to camp if possible, and Whopper volunteered to paddle up the shore, while Shep rowed in the other direction. If either found the camp he was to whistle or fire a shot as a signal.

"Listen," said Giant, after he and Snap had been left alone over a quarter of an hour. "I hear voices!"

Both strained their ears, and from the lake they heard a confused murmur. Then came the splashing of oars or paddles, and an exclamation of disgust.

"It is the Spink crowd!" cried Snap. "They are on the lake. They must have followed us on the raft!"

"Yes, and they are stuck on the sand bar, just as we were," said Giant, and grinned to himself in the dark. "I hope they have to stay there!"

The talking out on the lake continued, but presently it died away in the distance. Evidently the party had freed the raft from the sand bar and was paddling in another direction.

When Whopper came back he said he had located the camp only a short distance away. The others then whistled for Shep, who soon came in, and Snap and Giant told what they had heard.

"We'll get to camp and prepare to give those fellows a hot reception," said the leader of the club. And then the two rowboats and the canoe moved off without further delay.

The camp gained, all of the boats were hauled up into the bushes out of sight and the outfit was taken back to the cabin. This had just been accomplished when Giant, who was on guard, announced that the raft was coming ashore not a great distance away.

"Might as well warn them off," said Snap. "Everybody take his gun, and we'll take torches, too."

This plan was speedily carried out, and just as Ham Spink started to leap to the shore he found himself confronted by the four boy hunters, each with a torch in one hand and his gun held out in the other.

"Stop, Ham Spink!" cried Snap. "Don't you dare to step a foot further!"

"Discovered!" muttered Carl Dudder, in disgust. "I told you to be careful."

"I want to talk to you," murmured Ham, not knowing what else to say."

"To-morrow morning, at ten o'clock, at your camp," answered Snap promptly. "That was the bargain."

"But see here—"

"We won't waste words, Ham. It's ten o'clock to-morrow and nothing else."

"We want our boat and our canoe, and we want them now," cried Ike Akley.

"It is not for you to dictate, Ike Akley," said Shep. "We want you to leave and be quick about it. We don't intend to stay up all night fooling with you."

"Let us have our boat and the canoe and we'll promise not to molest you again," said Ham, quite humbly.

"To-morrow, at ten o'clock," said Snap, as firmly as ever. "And let me tell you another thing. If you don't leave us alone now perhaps you'll not get the boat and the canoe at all."

The Spink crowd wanted to argue, but our friends would not listen. One of the boys wanted to fight, but the sight of the guns made him hold back. At last those on the raft put off from the shore and disappeared in the darkness.

"They are as mad as wet hens," said Giant. "Do you think they'll come back?"

"Possibly," answered Snap. "We'll have to keep a strict watch."

It was decided that only two boys should sleep at a time, while the other pair remained on guard, one at either side of the camp. This plan was carried out, but nothing came to disturb the young hunters, and all managed to get a fairly good rest after their arduous doing of the early part of the night.

At half-past nine in the morning they started for the other side of Lake Narsac in their rowboat, taking the two other craft with them. They looked for Ham Spink and his cronies but the camping spot was deserted.

"What can this mean?" questioned Whopper. "Is it another trick?"

"Maybe they are at our camp this minute!" cried Giant. "We ought to have left somebody on guard."

But he had hardly spoken when they saw a handkerchief waving from down the lake shore. They pulled In that direction and soon reached a small, cleared spot. Here the raft was beached and here lay the whole Spink outfit in confusion.

"What brought you fellows here? " asked Shep, curiously, for he could see that all those on shore were greatly excited.

"Did you see it?" demanded one of the boys.

"We are going home," declared Ike Akley, and his manner showed that he was frightened almost out of his wits.

"Let us have the boat and the canoe and we won't bother you any more," said Carl Dudder. "You can have the whole lake to yourselves."

"Did we see what?" asked Giant, of the youth who had first spoken.

"The ghost," was the unexpected reply. "It came into our camp last night and we don't want to see it again. We are all going back to Lake Cameron."