"Not on your life!" snapped Giraffe; "we've got enough mouths to feed as it is, without taking, on any more. Boarders nothing. You've got another think coming, Step Hen, don't you see?"
"But after all, fellows," Thad told his followers, "this may be a false alarm. That light has gone now. It may only have been some farmer or miner letting his wife know he was on the way home. How do we know any different? And what interest would any rascals have in trying to come aboard this boat?"
"That sounds all very fine, Thad," remarked Davy; "but I hope we ain't thinkin' of all going to sleep at once to-night!"
"We ought to have a sentry on duty all the time," suggested Giraffe.
"I appoint you for that onerous duty, then, Giraffe; consider that settled," the scout-master said, like a flash; whereupon the tall chap began to hedge, and explain more fully his views.
"Oh! course I didn't mean that one scout should sit up all night," he went on to remark; "but by taking turns we'd feel that the boat wasn't agoing to be carried off while we slept. Sure I'm willing to stand my turn, which might be any two hours you set; and then I'll wake up the next man. You know we've done that same many a time when we were up in Maine, down along the Blue Ridge, and out among the Rockies hunting big game."
"Of course I understood what you meant, Giraffe," the scout-master went on to remark; "and as you say, some of us will spell you, a new man going on duty every two hours. But I hope now nobody really believes that we're going to be attacked, by lake pirates, or smugglers, or anything like that. Those who lie down to sleep, just forget everything. We're safe here in a splendid harbor and nothing will happen to bother us."
"But if it should, Thad, you'll wake us all up, I hope," urged Bumpus.
"I promise you that, Bumpus," returned Thad; "because I know just how you feel about it. No fellow likes to be kicked while he's asleep; with his eyes open he's in a way to take care of himself. Oh! Yes, we'll see that every one is waked up if there's going to be a row; because we'll have need of your fighting face then, Bumpus, remember."
It was hard to get the fat boy fully aroused, such was his customary good nature; but when he did get beyond the limit, he used to assume what he considered a terrible look, that was supposed to strike fear to the heart of his adversary.
Somehow no one admitted to feeling at all sleepy now. Even Bumpus, who as a rule could be depended on to fall asleep right after he had had his supper, was apparently as wide-awake as a hawk; and joined in all the conversation as they sat around on the deck and waited for, they hardly knew what, to happen.
"Anyhow, we didn't tie up to the shore, as Bumpus wanted when he said he'd feel so much better if he could walk on firm ground again," remarked Step Hen.
"And I'm glad now that twenty feet or more of water lies between us and shore," the party mentioned hastened to add.
"How deep do you think it is in here, Thad?" questioned Davy.
"All of twenty feet in the place our anchor went down," replied the skipper, promptly, "it's a regular hole, such as the trout like to lie in during the hot dog days of late summer."
"Glad to hear you say that," observed Bumpus; but he did not explain whether his pleasure lay in the fact that any would-be boarders might find it difficult to cross over from the rocks to the boat; or that there were likely to be fish in the pool, affording a chance for a nibble at the tempting bait he had dropped overboard, attached to the concealed hook at the end of his line.
"If anybody came along here just on purpose to take a good look at us, whereabouts d'ye think they'd be likely to show up, first of all, Thad?" Step Hen wanted to know.
"I was thinking about that a minute ago, Step Hen," replied the scout- master; "and sort of made up my mind they'd be apt to climb that pile of rocks yonder. You see, it overlooks this pool, and a man might lie there near the top and watch us all he wanted, provided the moon came out, and gave him the light he'd need."
Everybody thereupon cast an eye aloft.
"I'm afraid that moon business is just what's going to happen right soon," observed Giraffe.
"Yes, there isn't going to be a storm after all," remarked the skipper; "clouds are breaking night now, and it was a false alarm, you see."
"Well, hardly, with me," ventured Bumpus; whereupon everybody tittered, because they knew what the fat scout meant; and there were three others, who, if they were as candid as Bumpus, might have added:
Half an hour passed by, and they were really getting tired, for it was now in the neighborhood of half-past ten o'clock, as Thad told them the last time he consulted his little dollar watch that gave him so much satisfaction in all his outings.
Still, none of them wanted to be the fellow to first crawl under his blanket, it being only a matter of pride that kept Bumpus at least on deck, blinking like an owl in the daytime, as he tried to keep his eyes open.
Jim, by the way, had been fastened to a cleat, and was perched on the edge of the cabin roof, no one as yet daring to touch him; though he had eaten some meat they placed within his reach, which proved that the owl did not mean to starve himself to death, yet awhile at least.
All at once Bumpus felt a galvanic shock.
"Oh!" he shouted in excitement, "it's come at last!"
All the others started up in great alarm.
"What ails the fellow?" cried Step Hen.
"Got a fit, I reckon!" echoed Giraffe.
"Fit nothing!" mocked the fat scout, who was bending over, and seemed to be clawing wildly at the air, so that it was no wonder in the darkness they thought he must be having a return engagement with that sea sickness; "I've got a fish, and that's more'n you can claim, Giraffe, with all your smartness!"
"Bah! never count your chicken's till they're hatched!" scoffed the other, as he saw the fat scout suddenly pause, as though there had come a sickening slackening of the line. "Imagination is a great thing, mebbe; but next time be sure of your game before you whoop it up so."
"But he's there yet, I tell you!" ejaculated Bumpus, again becoming active. "Hi! somebody lend me a hand here, so I won't lose him. We need this trout in our business, because we got to have breakfast in the morning."
"Hold on!" said Giraffe, with emphasis; "don't forget that the terms of our wager state distinctly that no one must offer the slightest assistance in landing a fish. If you're after that fish solely for breakfast, why, any of us'll be glad to lend you a hand; but then it don't count. How about that, Thad?"
"You're correct, Giraffe," replied the other; "but I hope Bumpus lands his prize, all right, because fresh fish would taste fine to-morrow morn."
It was a little struggle in the mind of Giraffe as to whether the sportsman spirit, or the love of good feeding would prevail; but at last he also cried out: "I hope he gets it, too, sure I do! Good for you, Giraffe!" exclaimed Thad, perhaps purposely mistaking this for a spirit of fairness that would do the tall scout credit as a true sportsman.
Meanwhile all of them watched Bumpus tugging at his line. The fish was full of fight, and evidently objected to furnishing a breakfast for a party of Boy Scouts off on a vacation cruise; but by sheer strength, and not a little good luck in the bargain rather than fisherman's skill, Bumpus finally man aged to haul his struggling prize aboard.
"It's a trout, as sure as pop!" exclaimed Step Hen, as they all bent over the wiggling and flapping captive, and Giraffe struck a match, the better to see its nature.
"Whee! let me tell you he pulled to beat the band too!" the proud angler vowed, as he rubbed his arms; and then bent lower to admire the spotted sides of the big trout, that probably looked prettier to Bumpus than anything he had ever before seen.
"He's a jim dandy, and that's a fact, Bumpus!" said Giraffe, swallowing his bitter chagrin because fortune had cheated him out of being the first in the contest to bring in such a prize; at the same time he was no doubt thinking what a tasty morsel that splendid fish would afford the lot for breakfast and wondering if there were not several of them who had confessed that they did not care for fish which would allow a larger portion to those who did.
However, all thoughts of this nature were doomed to be forgotten, because just then Davy had to go and throw a bombshell into the camp by remarking in a low and trembling voice:
"Thad, oh Thad! I saw a fellow poke his head up above that pile of rocks just then, give you my word of honor I did!"
"Be prepared!" said the skipper, quickly; and every scout reached out for the weapon he had decided to rely upon in case of dire necessity.
THE QUEER WAYS OF BUMPUS
"There ain't a thing moving up there, Davy; and I reckon, now, you're only just afooling us," complained Step Hen, after they had stared as hard as anything at the crown of the rocks, which was sharply outlined against the dark heavens.
As the others had met with like poor success in trying to locate the object the scout in question claimed to have seen, they naturally turned on Davy, to demand further explanations.
It could easily be seen, however, from his excited condition, that the boy actually believed what he said.
When Giraffe and Bumpus, and even Allan, urged him to repeat his assertion, he not only did so, but added still more to what he had said before.
"Guess I ought to know what a man's head looks like, hadn't I?" Davy went on to remark, indignantly; "cause I've seen a few in my day. It was there as plain as—as, well, the nose on my face, and you'll say that's right smart in evidence, I know you will, Giraffe. Looky up yonder—see the little peak that seems to stick up above all the rest of the old rock pile? Well, it was alongside that it showed up; and right while I was asaying it, the thing disappeared like smoke. But you believe me, I saw something, and it was a man's head too, no matter if there was a bear or a panther at the other end of the same."
Strange to say no one chuckled at these queer remarks of Davy. They saw that he was in deadly earnest; and the, possibility of a strange man spying on them seemed too serious a matter to arouse a laugh.
"Well," said Step Hen, presently, when they had strained their eyes to the utmost without any result whatever, "seems like he saw you at the same time, and lit out in a big hurry."
Giraffe began to recover from the first shock caused by the alarm; and when he was feeling himself the tall scout could nearly always think of something quaint to say.
"That reminds me of the old baby book rhyme we all used to say; p'raps you'll remember, fellows. It's been a long time since I repeated it, but I think it runs about like this: 'I Saw Esau kissing Kate; and the fact is, we all three saw. I saw Esau, he saw me; and Kate saw I saw Esau.' How's that?"
No one answered, and for a pretty good reason; for hardly had Giraffe uttered his question when, without the slightest warning, a dazzling ray of white light suddenly fell upon the group of scouts crouching there on the after-deck of the little hunting cabin cruiser, causing every one to gasp, and fall to quivering almost as much as though a flash of lightning had darted toward them.
"Oh!" cried some one; and while the tones of the voice could hardly be distinguished on account of the vibration caused by the speaker's alarm, no one had the least doubt but that it was Bumpus who thus betrayed his agitated feelings.
Thad and Allan, and perhaps several of the other scouts, knew instantly that the strong glow was caused by one of those handy little electric torches, for they happened to have just such an alliance along with them, and had made great use of it on numberless occasions.
This told them that after all Davy had spoken truly when he declared so vehemently that he had seen a man's head up there on the rocks.
Nobody moved, only crouched there, staring at that dazzling light, and mentally figuring what was going to happen next.
Doubtless all sorts of alarming theories flitted through their minds, for after their recent talk about smugglers and those sorts of law- breakers the boys were in a good state to imagine things.
They were given very little time, however, to collect their wits; for a gruff voice (strange how voices are always gruff under similar condition but this one was very hoarse without any question) called out:
"Ahoy there, aboard the launch!"
Had it depended on Bumpus, and perhaps Step Hen also, the reply must have been a long time coming, for they hardly dared trust their voices; but then Thad was able to hold his own, and he immediately called back:
"Hello! yourself; what d'ye want?"
"Bring that boat ashore, and be quick about it!" the deep grumble proceeded to tell them; and somehow poor Bumpus was forcibly reminded of the growl of a lion he had once heard in a menagerie, as well as several other things along the same "away down in the cellar" line.
"I suppose we might as well do it, fellows?" Thad remarked to his chums, in somewhat of a low tone; as though he meant to be influenced more or less by what decision the other scouts reached.
"Oh! can't we skip out before they get their hands on us, Thad?" Bumpus wanted to know. "We're full twenty feet and more away from the shore, and it'd take a champion sprinter and jumper to cover that distance."
"Yes, but how about running out into that storm again, eh, Bumpus? Feel like going through another experience like that?" demanded Giraffe.
"Not any for me, thank you. Thad, I say, do what he tells us. He can't eat us, I reckon; and we ain't got any reason to be afraid because of anything we've done."
"Same here, Thad," remarked Davy, quickly: he had been feeling very much like backing up Bumpus in his request, but what Giraffe said caused him to "take water" instantly, and Davy was as quick to make a revolution in his mind as his body could revolve in several handsprings over the ground, when he was feeling good.
"Allan, how about you?" asked Thad, feeling that much depended on what the one addressed thought.
"No help for it, Thad; we've got to throw up our hands that far, anyway; because, like as not they've got us covered right now with their guns, and while they can see us fairly well, everything all dark to us up there."
"Oh! my stars!" Bumpus was heard to whisper to himself, in a horrified tone, as he learned about those terrible firearms that must be held with their muzzles projecting in the direction of the floating home of the scouts; but all the same Bumpus, "though good and scared," as he afterwards candidly confessed, did not attempt to lie down, and shield his round body behind any of his comrades; if they could take the consequences surely he ought to be ready to face the music; and so be only knelt there and quivered and looked, momentarily to see a flash, and hear a deafening report that would stagger them all.
"Well are you going to do what I told you?" the heavy bass voice demanded, more or less, impatiently.
"Don't be so foolish as to think, you can slip away," a second unseen man told them, "because we've got you covered, and if you start up that engine we'll give you a volley that'll make you wish you hadn't. Come ashore with that boat, you hear? We know you, Cranston! The game is up!"
Thad breathed easier, somehow. What had been said seemed to tell him it might after all only be a case of mistaken identity; and that if they obeyed the rough summons they would in all probability not be apt to suffer on account of yielding.
"Get a push pole, somebody, and help me shove ashore!" Thad remarked; and then raising his voice so that the unseen enemies might hear, he continued: "you needn't bother wasting any of your ammunition on us, mister, because, we're willing to do what you, ask, and come to land. So hold up, and give us a chance, for we've got to raise our anchor first; and the water's some deep here to use the poles in."
He heard a low laugh near by, but there was no further comment from those who had the situation well in hand. Every scout understood, however, that a number of heavily armed men must be scrutinizing their actions from the roll; for that strong white glow was kept closely focused on the boat all the time they proceeded to drag in the anchor, and start working the push poles, with which the little hunting cabin launch was well provided.
The water in the harbor they had found was of considerable depth, but fortunately the poles were long as well as stout, and presently the boat began to move slowly in response to the energetic efforts which Thad and Giraffe put forth.
Bumpus had assisted to pull in the anchor, and was now squatted like a big frog near the bow. He knew full well that his position was very much exposed, and that in case the unseen enemy chose to actually open fire upon the boat, he would likely be the first to suffer; but in spite of this Bumpus refused to budge. He had gotten over his first qualms of fear, and feeling ashamed of allowing himself to give way to such a sensation, and he a scout in the bargain, the boy was now going to the other extreme, and growing actually reckless.
It made him think of the time some of his mates had declared they had seen a real boni-fide ghost in the town graveyard, and dared Bumpus to lead the way in there, late at night, when they were passing. He had felt his teeth rattle together, just as they had been doing now; but summoning all his courage to the fore he had grimly said: "who's afraid?" and trembling like a leaf shaken in the wind, he had stalked into the cemetery, much to the admiration of his chums, who had expected the fat boy to back down abjectly.
The boat approached the shore slowly.
Thad could not exactly see the forms of those who were waiting for them to come in, but since the focus of light changed from spot to spot he concluded that they were also drawing closer to the shore line, so as to be ready to receive those whom they already counted on as their prisoners.
And, Thad waited, in momentary expectation of hearing some sort of explosion, when the parties realized their mistake. In fact, he was so sure of this that he would not make the slightest effort to draw that shotgun closer to him, though that might have seemed good policy.
Finally the nose of the cruiser came smack up against the rocks with quite a little bump; and Giraffe, having failed to fend off in time, was almost toppled over, but he managed to clutch hold of Bumpus to steady himself, and that was like seizing upon the Rock of Gibraltar, because it would take a derrick to move the stout scout, once he settled down.
So, when for the second time the boat came in contact with the shore, Giraffe was able to give a little leap, painter in hand, and reach land.
Just as he did so, that deep bus voice sprang up again; and this time, as Thad had expected, it told of considerable chagrin and disappointment.
"Well, what's this? Only a bunch of kids, after all, instead of Cranston and his gang of smugglers. The joke's on us, men; it is to laugh!"
THE FAME OF THE SILVER FOX PATROL
"I thought so!" Thad now remarked, showing what confidence he had felt in the decision that their best policy had been to obey orders, and come to the shore.
Several moving figures were now seen, and coming down the rocks toward them. In another minute's time these had resolved themselves into three men. They did not seem to be roughly dressed at all, but might be taken for gentlemen out to have a good time fishing or cruising.
And the boys noticed, as soon as they could see anything at all, when Thad lighted their camp lantern, that the largest of the trio wore a blue cap such as they had seen on the head of the man who watched their boat through his field-glasses late that afternoon.
Undoubtedly the black boat had turned back as evening set in, and it must have been some one connected with the party, whom they had seen waving that light from the shore.
"Good evening!" said Allan, pleasantly, as the three men ranged up close by and evidently looked them over; "we've surrendered, you remember. Now, what are you going to do with six Boy Scouts off for a vacation trip on the lake?"
At that the big man turned to his companions, and laughed. No doubt they felt considerably disappointed, because they had somehow had high hopes of making an important capture; but after the first keen chagrin had passed they could enjoy a joke at their own expense.
"You'll have to excuse our bothering you, boys," said he of the bass voice; "but you see we made a mistake. We're revenue officers, looking for a notorious smuggler named Cranston, who operates around this section. We had positive information that he meant to cross over from Canada in a boat that answered the description of yours to a fraction; and as it's the habit of these smugglers to adopt all sorts of disguises, from honest, hard-working fishermen, to anything else that suits their fancy, we guessed they'd taken to wearing khaki to make us believe they were a party of the militia out for a cruise."
"And so we turned back, and planned this nice little surprise, when we saw that you had come in here," remarked a second man, still chuckling.
"Who are you, anyway, boys?" asked the third, who seemed to have more curiosity than his comrades, though his next words explained the reason for this; "because I've got two sturdy scouts, in my house, and they've become so much brighter lads since they joined the patrol that I want to tell you I'm interested in the movement wherever I run across it. And when I tell them about this blunder of ours I'd like to mention names, you know."
"Why, we belong to the Silver Fox Patrol of Cranford Troop of Boys Scouts," remarked Allan, promptly; "this is our assistant scout-master, Thad Brewster, who happens to be the pilot of the trip because Dr. Philander Hobbs, our real leader, had to hurry back home on business; but we didn't worry a bit when that happened, because, you see, Thad is capable of turning the trick; he knows more in a minute about everything in the woods than Dr. Hobbs could learn in ten years."
"Well, well, tell me about that, will you?" exclaimed the man, with some little excitement; "and which of you might be Allan Hollister—I reckon you're that party right now, youngster; and this stout scout here, surely he must be the Bumpus who got into so many bad holes, and yet always managed to crawl out again? Yes, I'm right about that; and let's see, which one might be Giraffe—no need to ask that, when I look around me. Then there was, another they called Step Hen, didn't they, not to mention Davy Jones, Bob White and Smithy? Oh, I know you all, and I want to shake hands with each and every one of you. Say, won't my kids go crazy when they hear that I've actually met up with that lively bunch of scouts."
"W-w-what's all this mean, mister?" asked Bumpus, actually trembling, not with fear any longer, but actual delight to hear himself mentioned in this familiar way by a stranger.
"Well, I'll have to confess that I've taken such a deep interest in what my boys are doing," continued the revenue officer, "that I even read every book they brought into the house; and that's how I came to know about the doings of the Silver Fox Patrol, and who the eight lads were constituting that branch of the scouts. Give me your hand, Mr. Scout- master; I'm proud to know you, sure I am; and I hope you'll send a written word back home to the two ten-year old twins, who know all about what you fellows have been doing in the Blue Ridge, up in Maine, and even as far away as the Rocky Mountains."
The boys were almost stunned by this remarkable information; but they hastened to accept the hand offered them, and received a hearty squeeze in return.
"My name is Stebbens, and the boys are Daniel and Luther," continued the officer who seemed not quite mind the disappointment of failing to effect an important capture, when the little adventure had give him a story to carry back home to those twins he thought so much of.
"Well all this is mighty interesting, John," said the man with the gruff voice, and who seemed to be the leader of the revenue men; "but we mustn't lose any more time here. The sea is nasty, but our boat can stand it, and we know where tricky Cranston is apt to turn up before morning, not ten miles away; so perhaps we'd better be saying good-night to these lads, and starting out again."
He, as well as the third man, insisted on also shaking hands all around before departing, and with such good will that Bumpus was rubbing his fingers for quite some time afterwards, to get the numb feeling out of the same.
But then no one found any fault; in fact they were thrilled by the knowledge that their exploits had been read by other scouts, who cherished a sort of friendly feeling for the members of the Silver Fox Patrol, just from learning about their adventures in a book or so.
They did not feel at all sleepy after the three revenue men had said good-bye, and vanished in the dark night.
"What's the use pushing out there again, and dropping the mud-hook overboard, when we can tie up so nicely right here?" remarked Step Hen.
"Sure," echoed Giraffe, "and then, in the morning I'll show you I haven't forgotten how to make the finest fire you ever heard tell about. Oh I some pumpkins about that same game, ain't I, Bumpus? You ought to know, because you saw me make one when we was nigh about froze to death up there in Maine, and didn't have a single match along with us."
"Well, anyhow, wait till morning," said Thad, knowing that once the tall scout got started on his favorite hobby, there was no way of stopping him until he had the fever satisfied.
Giraffe had once made up his mind that he could make a fire in the primitive fashion by using a little bow, and a revolving stick. Once this trick is learned and it can usually be accomplished in a minute or two; but most boys find themselves unable to master the feat, and give up in despair after long trying.
The tall scout had persisted even when he met with all manner of discouragements. Sometimes, just when he seemed on the point of success, Bumpus would stumble over him, and end the attempt; then an alarm would be sounded when he had gotten his tinder to smoking; and again he lose out. But in the end he had mastered the secret, and ever afterwards it was one of his proudest accomplishments; so that Giraffe always carried that little bow, and some dry tinder along, whenever he left camp, even though it would have been muck easier to put some matches in his pocket.
Of course, as they sat there for a while longer, after the boat had been securely tied up to the shore, the talk was mostly about smugglers.
Each of the boys told all they had ever heard about, such slippery customers; and it added to the interest of the occasion to know that they had just been mistaken for a notorious character, for whom the Government revenue men were on the watch.
"All the same," remarked Bumpus, complacently, "I ain't sorry it happened, because you see, only for their mistake we never'd aheard about them twins, Daniel and Luther Stebbens. I'm glad you wrote out that message for 'em, Thad; and after we get back in Cranford I'm meaning to send 'em my picture. Their daddy said they'd like it the worst kind; and come to think of it, I've got a few showing me astanding with my gun acovering them two bad men as had captured me out in the Big Timber, Davy having snapped the picture off on the spot. Mebbe they'll like that!"
He fell to musing over the lively scenes that had accompanied the adventure covered by this episode; and paid no further attention to the rest of the boys, as they continued to exhaust the subject of the smuggler fraternity.
Finally, all of them admitted that they felt sleepy; and since they no longer had reason to experience anything boarding on alarm, it was decided on the whole not to bother keeping watch.
Already the hour must be near midnight, and they needed sleep, so as to be ready to take up duties of another day when morning broke.
Accordingly, each of them was apportioned a place where he could wedge in and in some way manage to obtain the rest of which he was in such need. Bumpus, being so round, and requiring much more space than any one of the six, was given a chance to roll over in the wider territory close to the doors of the hunting cabin, which were not to be closed, as the boys felt they would need air.
He could sit up, and look around, at any time he happened to be awake; but as Bumpus was usually a sound sleeper, none of them expected that he would avail himself of this privilege until they scrambled over his bundled-up figure at daylight.
In that cove at the mouth of the little creek it was as quiet and peaceful as any heart could wish. Let the wind and the waves hold high carnival outside, nothing gave promise of disturbing the slumber of the tired cruisers.
An hour, two of them and more, crept by, and everything remained as calm as when the scouts folded their blankets about them like Indian warriors, and squeezed in where they had been apportioned.
The clouds had broken, and the moon was shining brightly in the sky overhead when Bumpus, being awakened by some sort of dream, suddenly sat upright, digging his knuckles into his eyes, as if hardly able to believe that he was not safe and sound in his own bed at home.
A nasty snarl struck his ear, and gave him a shock, so that he instantly found himself wide-awake, and looking around to see what had caused the sound.
What he saw must have aroused the fat scout not a little, for immediately his voice was heard in the land, arousing the balance of the sleepers, and doubtless thrilling them through and through.
"Stop thief! Here, let that alone, I tell you! Wake up everybody, and do something, can't you? He's getting away with my lovely trout, I tell you. Hey! Giraffe, ain't you agoing to save your breakfast?"
A CALL TO BREAKFAST
Every one came tumbling out in a great hurry. The moon was so situated that the forepart of the boat was somewhat in the shadow; and on this account they could not see plainly, save that there was some sort of an animal crouching there. As Bumpus had so loudly wailed that it was trying to carry off his prize trout, which had been left hanging in the air until needed at breakfast time, the rest of the boys understood the situation pretty well. Immediately they started to shout, and wave their arms, as well as hurl every sort of thing they could lay hands on.
Naturally enough this proved too much for even the bravest wild beast; and giving a savage snarl the thing suddenly bounded ashore, and was lost to view. They had just a last glimpse of a shadowy figure skulking off along the sandy beach near by.
"Oh! tell me, did he get away with it?" cried Bumpus; and to hear the pain which he threw into these words one would have though a priceless treasure was involved; and so it was, the biggest speckled trout he had ever caught in all his life.
Giraffe scrambled forward, waving his arms in order to discourage any beast that might think to attack him, and "shooing" at a vigorous rate.
"Brace up, Bumpus!" he called out.
"Is it safe?" demanded the fat scout, joyously.
"Yes, he didn't dare carry it off when we got to shouting so lively; and here's your trout, but I reckon we had better take care to make it secure next time. These cats can climb some, and that's right."
"Was it really a wildcat?" asked Step Hen, curiously; just as though the beast had seemed so large to his excited fancy that he would have felt safe in calling it a panther.
"Looked mighty much that way," admitted Allan, who ought to know the breed, as considerable of his younger life had been spent up in the Adirondacks, and in Maine, where he must have seen many a specimen of the feline tribe.
"I thought at first it was a tiger," Bumpus admitted, faintly; at which there was a little laugh all around, for they could easily understand how a fellow's fears might magnify things, when suddenly aroused, and with only that deceptive moonlight to see by.
"Whatever it was, and we'll try and make sure in the morning," remarked Thad, "it's gone now."
"But it may come back, after smelting of my fine trout," Bumpus observed, seriously; "and rather than run any chance, I think I'll have to sit up, and play sentry the balance of the night."
"Joke!" chuckled Giraffe, chuckling again.
"Huh! mebbe, now, you think I couldn't do that same?" remonstrated Bumpus. "I know I'm a good sound sleeper, which fact I can't deny; but then there's such a thing as rising to an occasion, you see."
"Yes," scoffed the tall scout, "if we depended on you staying awake, chances are we'd have no trout for breakfast to-morrow morning."
"No need of anything like that," remarked the scout-master; "because we can fix it so that no wildcat could get that fish, let him try as hard as he wants. Just you leave it with me, Bumpus, and I'll guarantee that we have fish for breakfast, and without anybody having to stay up either, or lose another minute's sleep."
He tied a cord to the dangling trout, once more placed where it had been before, and then announced that he meant to fasten the other end to his arm. If anything pulled at the fish it would telegraph the fact down to him; and as Thad took the double-barreled shotgun to bed with him, and occupied the place Rumpus had vacated, they understood what the answer was going to be should he be aroused.
But evidently the beast thought discretion the better part of valor, for he did not come aboard again that night. Possibly the shouts, and the whooping of the boys had given him all the excitement he could stand. He liked fish very much; as do all of the cat species, but if he must have a feast of trout it looked as though he would have to procure the same in some other way than stealing it from those on board the Chippeway Belle.
Strange to say Bumpus was the first to crawl out; and his labored progress over his comrades evoked a continual series of grunts and complaints.
"Hurrah! it's still there, and we ain't going to be cheated out of our treat after all!" he was heard to cry, as he gained the open air.
"Well, here's the first case on record of that fellow ever getting awake ahead of the rest of the bunch," said Step Hen.
"Yes, and he mighty near flattened me into a pancake when he crawled on top of me to get to the doors," grunted Giraffe.
"Say, where's my other shoe? Anybody seen my leather around? I bet you now some fellow just grabbed it up, and tossed the same to that pesky old cat last night; and if so, how'm I ever to limp around with only one shoe for my both feet; because some of the things went into the water, for I heard the splash?"
"If anybody threw it, you did yourself, Step Hen," asserted Giraffe, not liking this thing of being accused of things promiscuously; "because I saw something that looked mighty much like a shoe, in your hand when you crawled out."
"Then why didn't, you tell me about it, Giraffe?" complained the other, with a doleful groan. "I think you're about as mean as you can be, to let a poor fellow in his excitement do such a thing."
"Why, however was I to know?" said the tall scout, chuckling as though it struck him as a joke that Step Hen, in his sudden anxiety to scare the prowler away, should have thrown his own shoe at the cat. "Besides, I had troubles of my own, just about that time, let me tell you. But mebbe you can find your old shoe again; because the water ain't so very deep up ahead there."
"No need to bother," sang out Bumpus, who was taking his trout down tenderly, and examining it to see how much damage the claws of the intruder had done, if any, "because there the shoe is right now, on shore, and all right."
That gave Step Hen reason to say he knew he could never have been silly enough to cast his shoe in such a way as to hurl it overboard; but all the same he was pleased to be able to recover it in a dry condition, after all.
"Who'll clean it while I get a fire started ashore?" asked Giraffe, presently, when they had finished their dressing.
"No hurry," remarked Thad; "for while the sun's getting ready to come up, and the storm petered out after all, I guess the lake's a bit too rough for us to go out for some time yet. Such a big body of water can kick up some sea when it gets in the humor; and some of the party don't seem to hanker after that rising and falling motion."
Bumpus himself decided to do the last honors to his "noble capture," and taking the fish ashore, with a hunting knife that had a keen edge, he looked for a good place to sit down, on a rock bordering the little beach. Here he kept industriously at work for quite some time.
Meanwhile the fire was a big success, for Giraffe certainly was a marvel when it came to knowing all there was about making them. He had found just the finest hole to serve as the bed of his cooking fire, where a body of red embers would after a little while invite them to place their frying-pan and coffee-pot on the iron grating they carried for the purpose, and which was really the gridiron-like contrivance belonging to a cast-off stove's oven.
"I say, Thad!" Bumpus was heard calling, after he had had plenty of time to finish his job with the trout.
"What do you want now, Bumpus?" replied the scout-master, cheerily.
"Come down here, won't you, and settle something for me."
So Thad hastened to accommodate him; and several of the other fellows followed at his heels, being consumed by curiosity, perhaps; or it might be they suspected something of the truth, and wished to hear Thad's decision in the matter.
"Now what?" asked the scout-master, as he reached the spot.
"I wish you'd tell me what sort of a critter that was last night," Bumpus remarked, as he pointed down near his feet; "because he ran along here when he skedaddled off; and you can see the prints as plain as anything."
"I should say it was a wildcat; but let's ask Allan, to make sure," replied the patrol leader, and upon reaching the spot, Allan instantly declared the same thing.
At that Bumpus appeared to be satisfied; and as the trout was now ready for the pan they adjourned to where the fire was waiting, with a hungry looking cook in readiness to get things going.
Just as they anticipated, that trout was elegant—no other word Bumpus could conjure up would begin to do justice to the feast they had that morning. And the proud captor of the prize cast many a look in the direction of his rival, which of course the envious Giraffe construed to mean; "see what I can do when I set my mind on a job; and get busy yourself."
But then Giraffe had just had a pretty generous second portion of the salmon-colored fish steak, and was in no humor to get huffy.
He did start in right after breakfast to get several lines out, and attended to the same assiduously all morning. Between the busy workers they managed to pull in five fish, of which Bumpus took two. So that thus far the score was even, as regards numbers, though the fat scout was still "high notch" when the question of size was concerned.
"I see that before we get back home we'll all have swelled heads," Thad remarked, with a broad, smile; and upon the others demanding to know what he meant, he went on to say: "why, don't you know, scientists unite in declaring that fish is the greatest brain food going; so if these fellows keep on loading us down with trout and white fish and every other kind that lives in this big lake, why, our hats will soon be too small for our enlarged craniums."
"Oh! we can afford to take the chances of that!" laughed Allan.
As the wind had gone down, and the waves with it to a considerable extent, it was decided that they might make a start after an early lunch. Thad consulted his Government Survey charts, and marked a place that he believed would make them a good harbor, and which they ought to reach with any reasonable luck.
This being settled they got underway about half-past eleven; and when the little cruiser left the shelter of the cove, and once more breasted the rising and falling waves, Bumpus shook his head dismally, and loudly hoped he would not once more have to spend all his time feeding the fishes. But his fears proved groundless, for they had apparently become used to the motion of the waves, and not one of them became seasick again that day.
UP AGAINST IT AGAIN
"Everything is lovely, and the goose hangs high! This makes the fifth day since we started out; and things seem to be going along right smoothly at the old stand, don't they, fellows?"
Giraffe asked this question. He was lying on his back on top of the hunting-cabin of the little cruiser, taking what he termed a "sun bath;" but which some of his chums always called "being too lazy too move."
"And so far none of us have felt the least bit seasick again," remarked Step Hen, with what sounded like a fervent note of thanksgiving in his voice, as though of all the mean things he could imagine, that of feeling a sinking sensation at the pit of the stomach excelled.
"And I'm still leading Giraffe by three fish," declared Bumpus; "besides having caught the biggest fish and the longest one in the bargain. Better wake up, and get a move on you, Giraffe, or be counting on doing all the drudgery when we have that blow-out supper on our return home."
"I ain't worrying any, Bumpus," lazily returned the other; "fact is, it tickles me just to see you hustle around in your great fishing stunt. Sure you're getting peaked, and as thin as anything, after such unusual exertions. I wouldn't be surprised if some show offered you a job as the Living Skeleton, if this thing keeps up much longer, because you're fading away right along."
Bumpus looked himself all over, and if there was a shade of anxiety on his rosy face it did not stay there long.
"I only wished what you said was half-way true, Giraffe," he sighed; "but seems like nothing is ever agoing to take off two pounds from my weight. I can't honestly see where there's a mite of a change; and I know you can't neither. Stop your kidding, and get your lines out again. I had a sure-enough nibble right then, and if you don't look out, I'll be pulling in a dandy fish."
"Wake me up when you do, and I'll start in. You get 'em worked-up like, and then I'll show you how to do the trick. Up to now I've just been playing possum, you know, but look out whenever I do get going."
"Bah! who's afraid?" scoffed the fat scout, finding a use for his favorite expression, to show his contempt for the threat of Giraffe.
"But we've gone over a heap of ground during the five days we've been afloat on this inland sea, haven't we, boys?" remarked Step Hen.
"I'd like to, know why you call it ground, when, we've been moving over water all the time?" observed Davy, who was not as happy as most of his chums, because this way of living offered him no chance to climb trees, and hang from limbs, as was his favorite habit; and therefore time hung heavy on his hands, so that he grew restless.
"Oh! well, it doesn't make any difference that I can see," replied Step Hen; "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, they say. But we have covered a heap of distance, you'll admit, Davy."
"Yes, and had lots of fun in the bargain," Allan put in.
"Thanks to the weather man for keeping things nice for us, and not allowing any storm along," suggested Bumpus.
"Well, you may have reason to change your tune soon, old fellow," warned Giraffe with an ominous shake of his head.
"Now, what makes you go and say that, Giraffe? Do you know anything, or are you just trying to bother me on general principles?" demanded the stout boy, aggressively.
"Well, perhaps you didn't know it," remarked the other, carelessly, "but latterly I've taken a notion to study to become a weather prophet. On the sly I've been getting all the information about goose bones, and all sorts of signs, wherever I could strike the same. Then I've studied up how the fellows down at Washington make their guesses, and I'm getting there right smart. Why, every morning now, for the last three days I've told myself it was agoing to be fair, and she was, sure pop. Understand that, Bumpus?"
"I thought something was bothering you, and keeping you from getting as many fish as I did; but what about this morning, Giraffe, did it look any different to you; and is the good weather acoming to an end?" asked Bumpus.
"The signs all pointed to a change this morning," replied the other. "Now, don't expect me to go into particulars, because there ain't any need of more'n one weather sharp in our crowd. And say, just cast your eye over there to the southwest; don't you see that low bank of clouds along the horizon? Well, when they get to moving up on us, we're bound to have, high winds, and p'raps a regular howler of a storm."
Bumpus' face assumed a serious look as he turned quickly to the scout- master.
"What do you say, Thad?" he queried, for it was never possible to know whether Giraffe were working off one of his little practical jokes or not, he had such a way of looking very solemn, even while chuckling inwardly.
"I don't count much on his knowledge of telling in the morning what sort of a day it's going to be," replied the other, with a shake of the head; "but what he says about those clouds is as near facts as Giraffe ever gets."
"Then there is a storm bound to swoop down on us?" demanded Bumpus, as he cast a nervous glance around at the watery expanse; for they were far out on the lake.
"I'm afraid we'll have a rough night of it," Thad confessed; "but if we're only safe in a harbor by evening, we won't need to bother our heads any about that."
"Then we won't have any trouble about making that safe harbor, will we?" continued Bumpus, who could be very positive and persistent whenever he wanted to know anything, so that it was a difficult thing to shunt him aside.
"If the engine holds out we ought to be there by five, I expect," Thad answered.
Bumpus transferred his attention to the working motor; and his look of anxiety increased.
"Seems to me you've been pottering more'n a little with that thing today, Thad," he went on to say.
"Yes, and right now it don't work decent," observed Step Hen. "It misses an explosion every third one, and acts like it might go out of business any minute on us, that's right, fellows."
Some of the rest began to look sober at this. Giraffe, who had thought to have a joke at the expense of his plump rival, no longer lay there, sprawled upon the roof of the hunting cabin of the launch; but sat up to observe the singular actions of the engine for himself. Nor did he, appear to get much consolation from what he discovered.
"I declare now if it ain't a fact, boys," he said, seriously. "She acts mighty like she wanted to throw up the sponge, and let us hustle to get ashore the best way we could. Of all the contrary things commend me to a balky engine on a cruiser. And Dr. Hobbs was thinkin' his friend was doing us the greatest favor going to loan him this old trap, that like's not he keeps heavily insured, in the hopes that some fine day she'll go down, when he can buy a newer and better, model with the money he collects."
"Oh! I wouldn't say that, if I were you, Giraffe,"' remarked Thad. "From the way the gentleman wrote to Dr. Hobbs I'm sure he thought he was doing us a favor; and you know it's bad manners to look a gift horse in the mouth. If he was charging us a round sum for the use of the boat we, might say something; but outside of the gasoline we consume we don't have to put out a cent."
"But do you really expect the rickety old engine'll go back on us before we get to that harbor you're heading for?" demanded Bumpus.
"How can I tell?" Thad replied. "I'm doing everything I know of to coax it to be good. If anybody has a scheme for helping along, the rest of us would be glad to listen to the same, and take it up too, if there was a ghost of a show that we could profit by doing that."
Apparently nobody did have any idea of bettering conditions as they now prevailed; for not a word came in reply, to Thad's request for several minutes. During this time the boys sat there and watched the queer actions of the engine that Thad was bending over, now doing this and again that in order to see whether he could not obtain more profitable results from the laboring motor.
"I s'pose now," Bumpus finally did muster up courage enough to say, "if it came to the worst, and you saw we couldn't make that harbor, why, you might head her on to the beach, so that we could get ashore, no matter what, happened to the old ship?"
"Yes, how about that, Thad?" questioned Step Hen, as though somehow a thought along the same lines might have been passing through his mind just then.
Thad shook his head in the negative.
"That would be a risky proceeding, at any time," he observed, "when you consider that the shore along here is composed of sharp-pointed rocks, and that if there was any sea on at all we'd probably be wrecked long before we could land. That must mean we'd all be thrown into the surf, and perhaps lose our lives trying to swim ashore among the rocks. No we'll have to try some other plan than that, or else stick to the boat, and hope the storm won't be so very bad after all."
"Well, one thing sure," said Davy Jones, who had not taken any part in this conversation thus far, "the clouds are coming along right speedy. Since I first took note they've crept up till they look twice as big now."
This news was not pleasant for them to hear, though every one realized that the speaker was not "drawing the long bow" when he made the assertion. Yes, they could almost note the rising of the dark mass. If it kept on as it was doing, inside of half an hour the heavens would be obscured above, and perhaps the forerunner of the gale be upon them.
Bumpus quickly started to pulling in the various fish lines he had been trailing along after the boat, in hopes of meeting up with a hungry fish that might be taken aboard, and not only afford a meal for the crowd, but give him a good chance to crow over his rival fisherman once more, "rub it in," as he called it.
Thad got out his charts, and the whole lot bent over, while he pointed out where they were just then, and the distant harbor he had hoped to reach.
"If it comes to the worst," ventured Allan, "there's that lone island ahead of us, Sturgeon Island it's called on the chart, and we might get in the lee of that."
"Sturgeon Island, did you say, Allan?" remarked Step Hen. "Sounds like it might be a good fishing place. If we happened to land there, perhaps Bumpus and Giraffe might manage to do some big stunts, pulling in sturgeon. Can anybody tell me what sort of a fish that is, anyway? I never saw one, or a fellow that caught one, either."
"Oh! they grow to big size, and are caught in the Great Lakes in this country. They take sturgeon eggs I believe to make this high-priced stuff they use in the tony clubs and call caviar, or something like that," observed Bumpus, who really did know considerable about fish and fishing, though of course he did not claim to be a fly fisherman, capable of casting seventy feet or more,
But the subject did not interest any of them just then. The way that bank of ominous clouds kept advancing higher and higher soon kept their attention riveted in that quarter.
"About how far away from our harbor are we, Thad?" asked Step Hen.
"Something like fifteen miles, I should say," came the reply.
Giraffe looked at the balky engine, and shook his head.
"Then we'd better make up our minds right here and now that we'll never get to that place this day," he said, positively; and there was no one bold enough to accept of the plain challenge his tones conveyed.
"That means our only hope lies in Sturgeon Island, don't it?" Bumpus asked.
"Looks that way," Thad told him.
"But that don't seem so far on the map; you, just put your finger on the same, Thad; and if she's close enough to do that, hadn't we ought to see that island, ahead somewhere?"
"Suppose you take the glasses and look," suggested the pilot, who was busy with the engine that had stopped short again, and needed coaxing to take up its burden once more, "It's rather hazy, you'll notice, so that you couldn't be sure of anything more than three miles away, I reckon; but tell us what lies de ahead, will you, Bumpus?"
A minute later, and the fat scout cried out in considerable excitement:
"I can see land ahead, sure I can, fellows!"
"That must be the island, then," rejoined Thad, busily engaged.
"Our only hope, so we had ought to call it our island," Davy went on to say, as he deliberately took the glasses from Bumpus, and glued the smaller end of the same to his own eyes.
Then in turn everybody but Thad had to have a chance to look; and in the end it was the consensus of opinion that Bumpus had spoken only the truth when he said there were positive evidences of some sort of land ahead.
"Oh! if you could only get that old junk-shop engine to working for half an hour, Thad, we'd have plenty of time to circle around to the leeward side of that island, and then we could get ashore, no matter what happened to the Belle," Bumpus faltered, as he watched the skipper still working as rapidly as he could.
All at once the machinery started up again, when Thad gave the crank a whirl.
"Bully for you, Thad!" cried Davy, slapping the other heartily on the back; and then turning to look at the black clouds following after them, as though he would give fair warning that they meant to make a stiff fight for the opportunity of finding safety.
"Go slow!" warned the other; "don't be too sure, because she's limping already, and I'd hate to risk my reputation in saying that we could depend on that thing five minutes at a stretch," and from the way Thad said this it was evident that he had by now almost lost all faith in the motor.
"Looks like it might be a race between the storm, and our getting behind Sturgeon Island," said Giraffe, as he turned alternately from stem to stern of the boat, evidently trying to figure out what sort of chance they might have for winning out in the end.
But they knew that it all depended on the engine; if it worked as well as it was doing right now they could surely pass over the few miles that separated them from the island; and once in its lee it would not be so difficult to gain the shore. Neither the wild wind, nor the gathering waves could disturb them, so long as the storm continued to come out of the south-west, for they were now cruising along the northern shore of the great lake, where the Dominion of Canada held sway, and not Uncle Sam.
So they watched it anxiously, and every time it missed an explosion Bumpus would utter a grunt or a groan; only to catch new inspiration and hope when he found that it was a false alarm, and that they were still going right along.
Thad was doing everything he knew how to encourage the engine to keep up the good work; but he had already made up his mind to be surprised at nothing. There was a possibility that it might keep working fairly well as long as they wanted, in order to find safety in the shelter of the island; and then again it was apt to let down at any minute.
Thad, however, was not the one to show the white feather. He knew that there were several of his chums who might not be constituted just the same as he and Allan, and Giraffe—Bumpus and Davy and Step Hen; and his seeming cheerfulness was partly assumed in order to buoy their drooping spirits up; as scout-master Thad felt that he had many duties to perform, and one of these was to instill a feeling of confidence in the breasts of his comrades.
"I can see a white streak on the water away back there!" announced Giraffe, presently.
"That's where you've got the advantage of the rest of us, with your long neck, and that way of stretching the same," complained Step Hen; and determined to meet the other on his own grounds he clambered to the top of the cabin, where he could use the glasses he had taken from the hand of Giraffe.
"It's the first blow of the squall, as sure as anything," he immediately reported; which news made Bumpus turn pale; for he had not forgotten what he experienced on that other occasion.
"Coming racing after us, like hot cakes!" added Giraffe. "Hadn't we better get them life preservers out, and fastened on under our arms, Thad? Then, if so be the old tub did take a notion to turn turtle, we'd have some show for our money."
"Make him stop talking that way, Thad, won't you?" urged Bumpus; "he just does it to make me have a bad feeling down here," and he rubbed his projecting stomach mournfully as he spoke.
"No, I'm sorry to tell you he isn't saying anything too strong, Bumpus," the skipper of the Chippeway Belle assured him; and after that poor Bumpus had nothing more to say; only he clutched the cork and canvas life preserver which was handed out to him, and with trembling hands proceeded to adjust the same under his arms; though it was a very snug fit, even if Giraffe had given him the largest in the lot under the seats.
"If anything happens, remember," said Thad, in all seriousness, as he watched the rapid way in which that ominous white line on the water was racing after them; "all of you try your best to land on the island. We're getting closer all the while to the same, and there seems to be some shore for us to crawl up, because, with the rocks I can see little patches of gravelly beach. Keep your eyes fixed on that, and do everything you can to get there in case of a wreck."
"Wreck!" muttered Bumpus, as though talking to himself, as he often did when in trouble. "Didn't I dream I was on a ship that went to pieces in storm; and first thing I knew I had to swim for it, and me knowing so little about doing that. Oh! I hope nothing happens, and that we ran swing around back of that bully old island soon!"
"So say we all of us, Bumpus," Giraffe echoed; and he did not mean to draw the attention of the others to the shaky condition of the fat scout, because, if the truth were told, every one of the six boys would be found to be quivering with the dreadful suspense, while waiting for that forerunner of the squall to strike them.
The engine still continued to keep them moving, although to the excited imagination of some of the boys they seemed to be almost standing still.
"What do you think of it now, Thad?" asked Step Hen, with the manner of one who hoped for good tidings, yet feared the worst.
"I don't just like the looks of that first rush of wind," replied the pilot; "of course if we pull through that we may be able to hold out, and gradually force a way around the island. I'm trying to head as near as I dare, because if once we're forced past, there's nothing left for us, you understand?"
Yes, they could grasp that point well enough, and Step Hen even besought the one at the wheel to work in a little closer.
"Better take the chances of being thrown on the island than to be carried past by a fluke of the wind!" he declared, and Thad believed so much the same way that he did change their course slightly.
The boys had brought out what most they wanted to save in case of a wreck. One carried his clothes bag, with the blanket fastened to the same; another had the double-barreled shotgun; while Giraffe made sure to see that his fishing tackle was safely tucked in with his belongings, which he had made up into as small a compass as possible.
As for Bumpus, he had gathered everything he owned, and looked as though he might be a walking peddler trying to dispose of his wares to the country people. On the other hand there was Step Hen who did not appear to care an atom about his clothes and his blanket; but he had managed to wrap something around the owl, and was all the while gripping the bird tightly; though Bumpus said he was silly to risk his own life, when all he had to do was to cut the cord he had put around the cloth, unfasten the chain that gripped the bird's leg, and give him a toss into the air, when Jim would look out for himself.
"Wish I could fly away as easy as he can," Bumpus wound up with; but in spite of all these suggestions the obstinate Step Hen still persisted in holding on to his prisoner, as though he meant to accept every chance rather than let him go.
"Hold fast, everybody, for here she comes!" called Allan, presently.
The puttering of the escape connection with the engine could no longer be heard, because of the roar made by the rushing wind, and the splash of the curling water, as the squall leaped forward and rapidly overtook them.
"Oh; my stars!" Bumpus was heard to call out, as he clung to something with all his might and main; for the little cruiser seemed to be lifted high in the air, and carried forward on the top of a giant billow, only to sink down in the trough of the sea with a heavy motion; but still keeping head on.
But in that moment of time Thad Brewster knew that the fate of the boat was effectually sealed; because the engine had given its last throb and they were now a helpless, drifting object in the midst of those angry waters!
Imagine the horror of the six scouts when they realized that they were now completely at the mercy of the storm, since the last barrier seemed to have given way when the treacherous engine broke down.
Even brave-hearted Thad Brewster felt that their case was desperate: and he knew in his secret heart that if they managed to escape a serious situation it must be through a narrow gap.
At the same time Thad always made it a point to put on a good face when up against trouble. This was of course partly done because of his comrades, since, as the scout-master he felt more responsibility than fell to the share of the rest.
Bumpus had been hanging on like a good fellow. He greatly feared lest some sudden violent lurch of the boat toss him headlong into that yeasty sea; which he was gazing upon with terror.
At the same time Bumpus had been closely observing the actions of the eccentric motor, and was one of the first to discover that it had petered out, giving up the ghost completely, as Giraffe would have said.
"Oh! what can we do now, Thad?" shouted the stout scout, as usual turning to the quick-witted one in an emergency; but for once even Thad was at his wit's ends to know what to attempt, the situation was that desperate.
"Everybody hold on!" was all Thad called back.
There was hardly any need of this injunction, for each fellow had managed to brace himself, so that unless the boat actually "turned turtle," or at least was thrown on her beam ends, they could not be dislodged.
Thad was straining his eyesight as best he could, endeavoring to see ahead. The furious wind of course made this a difficult task, because it not only sent the waves high, but as these broke into foam along their crests, this was actually cut off as with an invisible knife, and blown away in the shape of flying spud; so that the very air was surcharged with a fine mist, rendering it hard to distinguish anything fifty feet off.
Of course it was the island that the young leader was striving to see all this while. He knew as well as anything that the one slim hope remaining to them must rest upon their chance of finding some sort of shelter behind this oasis in the watery waste.
At one time it had been Thad's hope that if the worst came they might find themselves thrown on the windward side of Sturgeon Island. Now he knew that this had been rendered an utter impossibility; because the storm had swept down upon them so rapidly after their course was changed that there had been no time for the cruiser to reach a position that would bring about any such result.
And then besides, the surf must be dashing high over that exposed end of the rocky island, so that even though they struck, it might be on an outer reef. In such a case who could say whether any of the boys would manage to overcome the terrible difficulties lying in wait, and be thrown up on a sandy beach, rather than dashed ruthlessly against the cruel rocks?
So Thad crouched there near the bow, holding on desperately, and hoping for he hardly knew what, save that he seemed to have an inspiration there presently would come a slender chance for them to survive the blow.
"There's the island!" yelled Giraffe, pointing to the right.
Thad had seen it before the other thus called attention to the fact of their being so near safety, yet unable to quite reach it.
"But we're going along past it!" shrieked Bumpus. "Thad, ain't there any way we could work in? Oh! think quick, please, or, it'll be too late!"
They were moving quite fast, with wind and wave joining forces to sweep the little helpless craft along. Just as Bumpus had said, unless something could be done immediately it must surely be too late; for once they left the island behind, the whole immense inland sea would be before them; and their hopes of surviving the storm must sink too close upon the zero mark.
Thad was thinking as fast as he could; indeed, his very brain seemed to be on fire, such was the mental energy he was expending. But really there was nothing in the wide world that could be done then.
True, they had push-poles, but doubtless the depth of water would have rendered these utterly useless, even had they started to handle them. Nothing was to be hoped for in the direction of the engine, since that had collapsed in the most cowardly fashion at the first swoop of the blow.
Thad had made one little discovery that gave a slender promise of succor; and it is strange upon what a small foundation hopes can be built at such a time as this. He saw that the wind had shifted just a little; but this was enough to carry the drifting launch a trifle toward the side of the island.
Now, it did not stand to reason that they would strike, no matter how long that shore turned out to be; because there was enough current to sheer them off; but when the lower end of the island was reached, Thad really believed there might be a sudden inward sweep of the water that had been so long held at bay by the rocky shore.
There always is more or less of this eddy at the end of an island in a river; and upon a large lake in our country it may be found as a rule toward the eastern terminus, since the prevailing storms come from the west, southwest and northwest.
The only question with the anxious lad was whether this eddy would have sufficient "pull" to drag them in behind the island. Upon that one small possibility rested all their hopes.
Thad knew that possibly he and his chums might render some assistance at this critical moment, if so be they were ready.
"Allan—Giraffe, come here!" he called out.
The two scouts heard him above all the racket of the elements, which, what with the howling of the wind, the breaking of the waves against the boat, and the roar of the surf on the exposed end of the island, amounted to a tremendous volume of sound.
"Ay! ay!" Giraffe was heard to cry in return, as he proceeded to make his way forward, clinging to every object that offered a stable hold, because the wind seemed trying its level best to tear him away.
Bumpus also heard the call, but as his name had not been mentioned he dared not take it upon himself to move so much as one of his tightly braced feet. He seemed to feel that if he did so it would be at the risk of his life; and the thought of being cast adrift on that raging sea filled him with actual terror.
Could those boys have had a vivid picture of that scene just then, they would never have been able to look at it again without shivering; because their faces must certainly have expressed the sensations that filled their hearts to overflowing.
But Davy, as the official photographer of the patrol, was too much concerned just then in holding on, to dream of making any use of his vest pocket kodak; nor would it have been possible to have obtained any sort of view under such stormy conditions as surrounded them.
"What is it, Thad?"
Giraffe asked this question as he and the other scout managed to come close to where the patrol leader clung.
"We've got a little chance when we get to the end of the island, don't you see?" Thad bawled, making use of one hand to serve in lieu of a speaking trumpet. "We're getting closer all the time, and will just skim past the last rock. And then is our chance, when we strike the eddy there always is beyond an island. Do you understand?"
Both scouts nodded their heads violently, and Giraffe called out:
"What d'ye want us to do, Thad?"
"We must get the setting poles out, and be ready to try and push with all our might and main when the time comes. Everything depends on that!" Thad replied, also, at the top of his strong, young voice.
"But it may be too deep!" objected Giraffe; though at the same time fumbling with the rope that fastened one of the push-poles in question to the deck alongside the cabin roof.
"We've got to take the chances of that," Thad went on; "and besides, you know it always shallows where the sand is washed around the point of an island. Hurry, fellows, because we must be nearly there!"
He lent a hand himself, for he saw that Giraffe was meeting with more or less difficulty in releasing the pole toward which he had turned his attention; though had the conditions been different, the boy might not have had the slightest trouble about getting it free. The boat was pitching so furiously, that he could only use one hand, because it was necessary for him to grasp some hold, lest he be tossed overboard, as a bucking bronco hurls an unsuspecting rider from the saddle by a quick upward movement.
Hardly had they secured possession of the two long and stout poles than the end of the island hove in sight. They were very close to it now; indeed, it almost seemed as though an agile fellow might have made a flying leap, and with half-way decent luck manage to alight on the sentinel rock that guarded this point.
But no one tried that desperate game; in fact, it was doubtful whether it even occurred to Davy or Step Hen before they had been carried past, and the widening gulf rendered such a movement impossible of accomplishment.
But the three lads toward the bow of the drifting boat were desperately engaged in trying to swerve the cruiser more and more behind the island, ere they got so far that they would lose the benefits of the half-way calm condition existing in the lee of the shore.
Fortunately the water did prove to be fairly shallow at this point, just as the scout-master had predicted; for vast quantities of sand had been deposited there from time to time through such storms as the present one, and also the melting of the ice that drifted there during each breaking-up season for ages past.
The poles easily reached bottom and secured a firm hold there, so that the boys were enabled to throw their full strength upon the other ends. And the Chippeway Bell was thus shoved around, so that the anchor, which was watched by Step Hen and Davy Jones, could be easily thrown ahead, thus preventing their drifting further away from the friendly shore. And this having been accomplished the three scouts were almost ready to drop down with fatigue, for they had worked strenuously.
"Hurrrah!" shouted Bumpus, who had been so worked up during this struggle between his comrades and the greed of the elements, that he had hardly taken time to breathe.
Davy, and Step Hen too, seemed ready to throw up their hats, and cheer with exultation because of their wonderful deliverance from continued perils.
All of them were pretty well soaked, though it had not rained at all; so that their bedraggled condition must have come from the water that was in the air, and an occasional wave that slapped over the boat when it broke.
Although they had apparently secured a firm grip on an anchorage, and it would seem as though their present troubles were over, Thad did not sink down like his two fellow laborers, to pant, and rest up.
He proceeded to scramble aft, for he had made an alarming discovery, and wished to start an investigation at once.
The boat sat much lower in the water than he had ever known it to do; and this circumstance seemed alarming. One look into the cabin told him the reason, nor was Thad very much surprised to find that it was already knee deep in water.
"How did this come in here, fellows?" he asked Davy and Step Hen, who from their positions might be expected to know; "did you notice many waves pour over the stern of the boat?"
"N-no, hardly any water at all came in, Thad," replied Step Hen, astonished when he came to look into the partly submerged cabin for himself.
"She kept riding like a duck, and was ahead of the waves most all the time," was the testimony Davy added; which might be set down as the first words of praise given to the little craft thus far during the cruise.
"Why, goodness gracious, Thad, we must be sinking!" bellowed the amazed Bumpus, also craning his fat neck the best way he could, in order to peer into the cabin.
"Just what she is doing," replied the scoutmaster, composedly; because they were now in comparatively shallow water, out of the reach of the storm; and it did not matter so much what happened after this.
"Sprung a leak, mebbe?" suggested Giraffe, joining the group.
"Wouldn't be surprised if that was what happened," Allan added, as, he too took a survey of the flooded interior.
"Then, like as not she'll go down right under us, after a bit, Thad!" exclaimed Bumpus, in new excitement, as he contemplated the distance still separating them from the point of the island, and mentally figured whether he could float to safety with that life preserver on, and one of his chums towing him.
"She will, and that's a dead sure thing," Giraffe told him.
"We ought to get her in closer before that happens, hadn't, we, fellows?" Step Hen wanted to know.
"We've got to try that same, and right away!" declared Thad, as he stooped to once more; pick up a push-pole.
"Here, you Step, Hen and Davy, take hold in our place, because you're fresh, and ought to do better work," Giraffe remarked, as he thrust his pole into the hands of the former.
Now, under ordinary conditions Step Hen might have wanted to know by what authority the lengthy, scout presumed to order him around, when they were of the same rank in the patrol; but he realized the force of what Giraffe had said, and hence accepted the pole without a murmur, starting to work immediately; while, Davy did the same with the one Thad allowed him to take.
"When you get the boat part way up toward where the anchor holds," observed the scout-master, "we'll drag the mudhook in, and stand ready to throw it out again. By pulling on the cable after the anchor gets a firm hold on bottom, it's possible to claw the boat along foot by foot. I've done that same many a time; and it'll help out more than a little."
They speedily found that Thad spoke truly, and under the influence of poles as well as the anchor drag the Chippeway Belle began to approach the shore, much to the delight of Bumpus. When the fat scout, closely observing the setting poles as they were dipped repeatedly into the water, discovered that they struck bottom in a depth of not more than four feet, he was ready to shout with joy. That meant it could not be over his head; and if the worst came, he might wade to land.
Despite the fact that their vessel was a wreck, and about to sink, the boys had no desire to complain just then. Their escape from threatening danger had been too recent for them to feel ungrateful. Later on the grumblers would no doubt start to work in their customary way, and find cause for venting their disgust because things did not come out as they might have wished; but even Giraffe was bubbling over with satisfaction when he realized that they had actually managed to cheat the storm after all.
It had been a close shave, however, and only for that bright thought on the part of Thad, they might at that very moment have been drifting far away, with their boat slowly but purely sinking, despite all the baling they could accomplish.
But then, what was the good of scout-masters if they were not able to do the thinking for the crowd, the reckless Giraffe would possibly have said, if the question had been put up to him.
Everybody was working like the busy bees; even Bumpus tried to assist in hauling at the cable, having moved forward when the boat no longer pranced and bobbed on the agitated sea like a skittish horse.
Of course, as the water was coming in so fast, the cruiser was bound to presently strike bottom; but it was the design of Thad to work her in just as far as possible, for as they had a block and tackle aboard he hoped they would be able to make some sort of rude "ways," where she might be hauled out later on, patched up, and their interrupted cruise continued.
"Stuck fast, Thad; she's on bottom, and no use straining to try and get her another inch toward the shore!" announced Allan, presently; and all of them realized that he spoke the absolute truth when he said this.
"Well," remarked Bumpus, complacently, "we are on the wreck of our noble ship, and close enough to shore to salvage all our possessions; which I consider the greatest of good luck. Who'll carry me on his shoulders, now?"
Strange to say, nobody offered to undertake this task, where Bumpus pretended to feel very much hurt, though in reality quite merry.
"I was afraid you'd all speak at once, and have a quarrel over the honor; but looks now like I might have to do the grand wading act myself, holding up my clothes-bag and blanket, to keep from getting the same more soaked than they are now. If we could only make a raft like old Robinson Crusoe did, it would be fine. Can we get this cabin roof off, and would it float, do you think, Thad?"
"We'll wade!" replied the scout-master, grimly, and that settled it.
"The sooner the better," remarked Giraffe, "because night's going to drop down on us right early to-day, and we ought to have a warm fire started somehow, so's to dry us off," for Giraffe had the utmost faith in a fire being able to do about nearly everything necessary to the good cheer of mankind, because he fairly worshipped a jolly blaze.
Indeed, as most of them had commenced to shiver already, owing to their wet condition, and the stress of excitement under which they had been recently laboring, the thought of sitting before a comfortable fire did seem to buoy up their spirits amazingly.
"Get ready to slip over, and go ashore!" ordered Thad, "I'll take the anchor cable with me, and see that it's made fast to a rock or a tree. We may find a chance to mend the boat, and anyway it's just as well that we try and keep her here; though if the wind whips around no cable would hold her, I reckon."
Giraffe was the first to drop over. The water hardly came above his waist; but then his height was responsible for this, and cautious Bumpus did not deceive himself on that account. Still he found that he could easily wade, and in a short time all of them had reached the friendly rocks.
Here Thad made the rope secure.
"I'm going back for a few more things, and you might come along with me, Allan," the scout-master remarked.
"I reckon you think there's a pretty good possibility that the wind will veer around, sooner or later, and that the old tub won't be in sight when morning comes?" Allan remarked, as he pushed out alongside his chum.
"Chances tend that way," was the replied Thad, "and anyhow, it's better that we get all the supplies we have ashore. Then if 'we have to play Crusoe for a while we'll have something to go on with."
"Our stock happens to be pretty low," remarked Allan; "and Giraffe was only this morning complaining that he didn't get enough to eat, and that we'd better stop off somewhere to buy more bacon and bread and such things. Too bad we didn't think of that when near Duluth, which place you wanted to avoid because of certain reasons."
They made the trip without accident. Then it was considered that about all had been taken from the stranded and half sunken cruiser that was worth salving.
Already was Giraffe hunting for some good place where they might find shelter, and start a fire; for while it had not rained as yet, strange to say, a flood was likely to come down at any moment, so long as the heavens remained as dark as they were still.
Bumpus was looking all around him. He did not wander away from the rest, because it seemed as though that mysterious island on which they had been cast might be inhabited by wild beasts of prey, for all they knew, ready to spring upon a nice, juicy morsel like him, and make a meal. That was one of the disadvantages in being plump, Bumpus always insisted, because envious eyes were won't to fall upon him first of all.
About that time Giraffe hove in sight again, and from his happy manner it was evident that he had important news to communicate.
"Just shoulder your packs, fellows, and come with me," he hastened to tell them. "I've run across the boss place for us to keep under shelter; and there's aplenty of nice dry wood handy, so we can lay in a supply before it rains. After all it strikes me that with our troubles we ought to be thankful things ain't worse'n they are. With a fire a fellow can do nigh anything to make you feel good. Come on!"
ROBINSON CRUSOE, JR.
"There you are," said Giraffe, presently.
"Why, that shelf of rock looks just like it was meant to keep the rain off," declared Step Hen, delighted at the prospect.
"Hold on," Bumpus advised.
"What ails you now?" Giraffe wanted to know.
"Why, you see," the stout boy went on to say, "she looks kinder dark and gloomy under that same rock."
"But it won't after I get a fire started; you see the night's beginning to settle down already," Giraffe told him.
"How d'ye know there ain't somethin' ahiding in there?" demanded Bumpus.
At that the lengthy scout laughed scornfully. "Oh! that's the way the wind blows, does it? Well, you watch me eat your old wolf up. I'm hungry enough right now to eat anything, I reckon."
Few of them could remember when Giraffe was anything but starving, for he always had that appetite of his along, and working overtime.
He immediately crawled under the ledge, for the shelf of rock was not high enough to admit of his standing erect.
"Seems to be all right," admitted Bumpus.
"Of course it is, though I kind o' think a wolf, if he showed good taste, would let me alone, and wait for you, Bumpus," Giraffe called back.
They hastened to deposit their burdens under the shelving rock.
"Now, Thad, don't you think it'd be a good idea to have everybody hustle, and collect what fuel we could?" the fire-maker asked.
"As it's apt to rain any, time now," answered the scout-master, "and we'll be glad to have a fire all night, it seems as though we'd show our good sense by gathering wood while we have the chance."
"That's the ticket! You hear Thad speaking, fellows, so get busy."
Giraffe showed them how by immediately starting in to collect such wood as lay conveniently at hand.
"Pile it up here, where it'll keep dry, and we can get what we need from time to time," he told them.
Many hands make light work, and as the entire half dozen boys busied themselves like a pack of beavers, before long they had accumulated such a pile of good dry fuel as pleased Giraffe exceedingly.
"That's what I call a hunky-dory lot of wood," he finally declared, when Thad had announced the they must surely have enough to see them through the night, "but better bring in a little more, boys, because you don't know how fast the fire eats it up."
As for himself, Giraffe was now ready to get his cheery blaze started.
He actually wasted a match in doing this, muttering at the time that there was no use bothering with his fire-sticks, which would come in handy later, perhaps, when the stock of matches ran low.
Well, every boy admitted that things certainly did take on a rosier hue, once that fire began to crackle and send up sparks.
"That feels good, Giraffe," said Bumpus, holding his hands out toward the blaze.
"Sure it does," the fire maker went on to say, "and we'll all feel better still after we get some grub inside. Thad, what are we going to have for supper?"
Nobody started making fun of Giraffe now. They were all pretty sharp pushed, and could sympathize with the hungry one.
"Oh! look over our stock, and see what we've got," replied the scout- master. "Only go slow, and don't cook too much, because nobody can tell how long we might have to stay here on this island, and we may have to come down to half rations yet."
His words struck a chill to some of their hearts.
Giraffe, however, refused to allow himself to be concerned.
"Oh! don't worry, boys," he remarked, "we ain't going to starve, even if we have to be marooned here two weeks before a vessel can be signaled. Why, what use are the fishing lines to us if we can't take lots of finny prizes? Then, if there's ducks around, or anything else to shoot, ain't we got a gun? And last of all, I reckon we'd find lots of mussels or fresh water clams in the sand at the end of the island where we landed."
Somehow, his hopeful spirit did a great deal to help buoy up the spirits of the other scouts.
Even Bumpus volunteered to assist in getting supper ready; indeed, there was no lack of cooks on this occasion, for every one seemed willing to lend a hand.
After all, youth is so hopeful, and filled with animal spirits, that it takes more than ordinary backsets to dishearten a parcel of healthy boys.
By the time the supper was done they were talking like magpies, and it would be difficult to imagine that these six happy-go-lucky fellows were now actual Crusoes of the, great lake, their boat a wreck, and deliverance a very uncertain prospect of the future.
"That's the very last of the bacon, ain't it, Giraffe?" asked Step Hen, during the progress of the meal.
"Sorry to say it is," came the reply.
"And don't it taste finer than ever, though?" Bumpus wanted to know.
"That's always the way," laughed Thad.
"Yes," added Allan, "you never miss the water till the well runs dry. But how about our ham, is that gone, too!"
"Well, I should say, yes," declared Giraffe, an injured look on his face, as if he felt accusing eyes fixed upon him, "s'pose you think one poor lone ham with six hungry fellows to chaw away at it, could last forever, but it won't. If you want to know what we've got left I'll tell you—two cans of Boston baked beans, one of tomatoes, some potatoes, a package of rice, plenty of tea, sugar and coffee, three tins of milk, some chocolate, and three packages of crackers."
"Is that all?" gasped Bumpus.
"So you see right away to-morrow we've got to get busy trying to lay in some sort of supplies," Giraffe went on to say. "How about that, Thad?"
"You never said truer words," was the scoutmaster's comment.
"Yum, yum, I don't know when I've enjoyed a supper like I have this one," Step Hen acknowledged.
"I hope it ain't the last time I'll hear you say that," remarked Giraffe.
"Hope so myself," returned the other, "because it'd be too bad if I had to quit eating at my tender age."
"Thad, do you think this island could be inhabited?"
It was Davy who asked this question, but Bumpus must have been thinking along the same lines, for he nodded his head violently and smiled, as though he awaited Thad's answer with interest.
"Of course I couldn't say," the scout-master observed. "It's only a small rocky island, you know, and people wouldn't live here the year' through."
"But they might come here, ain't that so?" Step Hen insisted.
"Why, yes, to fish, or shoot wild fowl in the season," Thad went on to say.
"Well, I sure do hope there may be some white fish netters here right now," Step Hen said.
"Or if their ain't, let's wish they'll be comin' along soon," Bumpus added with a fervency that was certainly genuine.
"I wonder," Davy broke in with, "what we could do if our boat was carried away, or we found we couldn't mend the same?"
"Huh! What did old Robinson do but build him a boat? Here are six boys, wide-awake as they make 'em—and I'd like to know why we couldn't do as much as one man!"