Bumpus said this rather boastfully, not that he had so much confidence in his own ability to do things as he felt satisfied that Thad and Allan would be equal to almost any emergency.
"Well, we might, under the same conditions," the former told him.
"Ain't the conditions the same," inquired Step Hen. "He was wrecked, and so are we, you might call it."
"Yes, but there's no tree on this rocky island big enough to make into a boat," Thad informed him.
"That's a fact, they do grow dwarf trees here," Step Hen admitted.
"And suppose there was, how could we ever chop one down with one little camp hatchet, and hollow out the log?" Thad asked.
"Might take a year," acknowledged the other.
"We'd freeze to death here in the winter time, because it gets awful cold, they say," Step Hen continued.
"Why, we could walk over the ice, and get ashore," Davy suggested.
"Guess the old lake don't freeze over solid any time; it's too big, ain't it, Thad?" Giraffe went on to say.
"That's something I don't know," came the scout master's answer; "and what's more to the point I don't care, because we'll never stay here that long."
"Glad to know it," said Bumpus. "P'raps now our friends'll be looking us up, and come to the rescue."
"You mean Smithy and Bob White, don't you?" asked Step Hen.
And so they continued to discuss matters from every view-point possible, as only wide-awake boys may.
Meanwhile the scout-master, thinking that while the rain held off he might as well step out and take a little look around, proceeded to do so.
Allan Hollister was sitting there, resting, and listening to the arguments of the other boys, when he saw the scout-master beckoning just outside the full glow of light cast by the fire.
"What's up, Thad?" he asked, as he joined the other.
"I think I've made the discovery that we're not alone on the island," came the answer.
WHAT THAD FOUND OUT
"That sounds good to me, Thad," remarked Allan.
"Hold on before you say that," the other went on to say, significantly.
"What about it?" demanded Allan.
"Because we don't know who they may be, if there are men out here," answered the cautious scout-master.
The other gave a low whistle that stood for surprise.
"I see now, what you mean," he observed; "but what makes you think there are others here, when they never lifted a hand to help us, and haven't as much as dropped in to sit at our fire?"
"Well, perhaps they don't want to see us," Thad told him.
"Oh! yes, we were talking about smugglers, and then we ran across that Mr. Stebbins who knew all about us, and he was one of a party looking up the slick men who fetch things over from Canada to escape the heavy duties. But Thad do you, really believe there could be a bunch of that stripe hiding out on Sturgeon Island?"
"I don't know anything yet, Allan, except that I've reason to know we're not alone out here, that's all."
"Well, what did you see, or hear?" asked the other.
"This is what happened," Thad went on to say, in a low tone, though the storm was still making such a racket that he had to put his mouth close to Allan's ear in order to allow him to catch what he said. "While the rest kept up their talking I came out here to see how things looked, and make up my mind whether we were going to have any wet with this gale or not."
"Yes, and it don't look like it now, Thad, because it's gone so far; reckon it must be what they call a dry storm; but go on and tell me the rest."
"Well, I was standing about here, in the dense shadow, you see, thinking, when all at once I discovered that there was something moving between me and the fire!"
"Whew!" murmured Allan, deeply impressed.
"Of course, at first I thought it might be only a fox, or something like that, curious enough to want to creep up, and learn what sort of intruders had landed on Sturgeon Island; I could see that the bushes were moving softly, and that soon the thing, whatever it was, would come in sight of where stood here."
"And it did?" Allan demanded.
"That's right," replied the other, softly; "and it turned out to be a man's head!"
At that the other scout again gave one of his low whistles, to show that he was listening, and duly impressed by the startling information conveyed.
"Of course," continued Thad, "I couldn't make out what he was like, very well, because his face was turned away from me; but as near as I can say he was a big man, a rough looking chap, and ugly in the bargain. More than that, he struck me like he might be a half-breed, or else an Italian, for his skin was very dark."
"Well, what did he do?" inquired the other.
"Just lay there watching the rest of you for several minutes, Allan. I could see him elevate his head at times, and then duck like a flash when he thought some one might be looking his way; which showed pretty plainly that he didn't want to be seen, and that he didn't mean to step forward and join the crowd."
"Then he went away, did he?" continued the other.
"Yes, backed off, and I lost track of him among the rocks and the bushes," Thad went on to say, impressively. "It struck me as a queer proceeding, and I didn't lose much time in getting you out here, so I could talk it over."
"Perhaps there's only one, all told, and he might be some fellow who's escaped from prison, and is in hiding away off here, where he thinks no one will ever take the trouble to look for him," Allan suggested.
The scout-master shook his head.
"I can't say just what he is, or whether there's a dozen here," he observed; "but I do know that all his actions were suspicious, for no honest fisherman would do what he did."
"We'll have to be on our guard, then, Thad?"
"That goes without saying, until we know more about who our neighbors are," the scout-master replied.
"It sort of complicates the situation some, too, don't it?" Allan asked.
"Yes, and perhaps we'd better not say anything to the rest until we learn something more about this thing," Thad told him.
"How are you going to do that, when this man seems disposed to give us the cold-shoulder?" inquired the other.
"I had about made up my mind to go off for a little stroll, and see what I could run across near by," the scout-master continued. "This island isn't so very large but I could find my way around; and while that storm is howling I'm not anxious to cross over to the other side. This is the sheltered part, and like as not these people, whoever they turn out to be, will have taken up their camp somewhere about here. But I wanted to warn you so you might make sure none of the other fellows wandered off."
"I'll see to it, though I don't think they're apt to do anything of that sort, as they're a tired bunch right now," Allan assured him.
"And while you're about it," continued the other, impressively, "you'd better keep your hand on that shotgun of ours all the while, until you see me beckon to you again."
"That sounds like you expected we'd be up against it good and hard before this game came to an end," remarked Allan.
"Oh! not necessarily," replied his chum. "It's only following out our motto, 'be prepared.' You know there are a whole lot of sayings along that line, such as 'fore-warned is fore-armed,' and as the old pilgrim fathers used to say: 'trust in the Lord; but, keep your powder dry!' We want to keep our ammunition ready. But while you go back to the rest of the boys I'll take a sneak."
"Don't think you'd better take that gun along with you, Thad?"
"Not at all," was the quick reply. "I'll depend on the darkness, and the noise of the storm, to keep from being seen or heard. But I'm bent on trying to find out whether there's any sort of shack or cabin built here on Sturgeon Island.
"Well, take good care of yourself," warned Allan, a little uneasily; for it was almost on his lips to ask why he might not be permitted to keep the scout-master company, for he did hate so much to see Thad pull out alone.
He insisted on gravely shaking hands before he would leave his partner, to return to the camp under the rocky shelf. They had been so much together of recent years that these two boys were exceedingly fond of each other, more so than brothers could ever have been; which was one reason why Allan disliked seeing the other moving away into the darkness, and taking voluntarily upon himself the dangers such a scout involved.
Obeying orders he himself made his way back to where the other sat. Giraffe was holding out, and explaining something that he had advanced; but evidently he must have noticed the absence of the others, for he soon asked:
"What's the good word, Allan; because I reckon you and our scout-master have been taking a squint at the weather? I was just telling the rest here that we won't get any wet with this blow, because all the signs point that way, and as I said before. I'm getting to be an authority on weather now-a-days.
"That was about what we thought," Allan told him.
"You mean that Thad is with me in my assertion, do you?" demanded Giraffe; and when the other had nodded in the affirmative the tall scout turned to Davy, Bumpus and Step Hen triumphantly, to add: "There, didn't I tell you I could hit these weather changes on the handle every time. When I warn you next time there's going to be a storm, better hurry to get in out of the wet."
"I think it's a great pity you waste your precious time bothering about what the weather is agoing to be, when we can't help it; and you might be racking that really stupendous brain of yours adoing other things worth while," Bumpus went on to remark.
"Huh! as what?" Giraffe wanted to know.
"Well, famines in the eating line, for one thing," spoke up the fat scout, instantly. "S'pose now you'd told us we was going to run up against hard times, in the way of a scarcity of grub two days back, couldn't we just as well have dropped in to some town along the shore, and stacked up with heaps and heaps of good things? Seems to me, Giraffe, you've gone and wasted your talent on the wrong thing. What good is it ever agoing to do you, to pretend to tell what sort of weather we'll get next week, when it's only a guess after all? Better make a change, and predict famines and such things, so we can take the alarm, and buy out some country grocery."
Giraffe had not one word to say in reply. He must have recognized the force of Bumpus' philosophy, and wished in his heart he had been gifted with the spirit of prophecy, so that he might have given warning in due time as to the need of replenishing their stock of provisions.
The conversation ran on, other subjects being taken up. Giraffe wanted to know what kept Thad away so long, and was told that the scout-master had concluded to take a little look around.
At that the other suggested that perhaps he too might stretch his legs; whereupon Allan informed him that he was under orders to keep them all close to the ledge under which they had found shelter; and that Thad had told him no one must be allowed to stray away a single yard.
After that the boys did not talk quite so volubly; possibly some suspicion may have entered their minds that perhaps things were not quite so peaceful as they appeared on the surface; and that Thad might know of some reason for expecting a new batch of troubles to descend upon them.
Allan kept sitting there, gun in hand. He was waiting to receive some sort of sign from Thad, to tell him his presence was desired once again out there beside the tree where they had previously conferred.
It seemed a very long time before he caught a movement there, and then saw the hand of the scout-master beckoning to him.
"Stay here, as Thad wants to talk with me," he told the rest, after which he strode forth to join the other.
"Well, did you find out anything?" he asked, the first thing.
"Only this," replied Thad, solemnly, "the island is occupied by a party of several rough men, who have a boat in a sheltered cove over there, and a cabin half hidden among the rocks and brushwood; but the mystery of it all is, what they may be doing here, and why they look on us as enemies!"
"It seems to be getting worse and worse, the further we go, don't it, Thad?" Allan asked, after he had had time to digest the startling information which his chum had imparted, as they stood there within the outer edge of the glow cast by Giraffe's camp-fire under the overhanging ledge of rock.
"Looks that way," replied the other, seriously enough, for he did not exactly like the situation.
"Seems like it wasn't bad enough for us to be wrecked, and marooned on this queer island, but we have to fall across the trail of some unknown parties who may be up to all sorts of unlawful dodges, for all we know. But Thad, tell me more of what you saw and heard."
"When I started out from here," the scoutmaster began, "I knew that I'd probably only have to look around at this end of the island, because no sensible man was going to take up his quarters where these storms always strike in. And then I figured it out that the chances were, these parties, if there were more than the one fellow I'd seen sneaking around, and spying on us, would want to be down close to the water, for a good many reasons. You can understand that, Allan?"
"Yes, and I think that notion would have come to me, just as it did you," replied the other promptly, showing that he was following the narrative closely.
"Well, that being the case," resumed the scoutmaster, "I stuck to the lower part of the land, climbing over and around such outcropping rocks as I came across. The moon wasn't helping me very much, though it's up there behind the clouds; and on that account you see the darkness is never so bad as when there's no moon at all.
"It wasn't so very long before I heard something knocking softly near by, and listening carefully I made up my mind that it must be a boat that was kept in a snug cove perhaps, and yet where it got more or less wash of the sea beyond.
"That was just what it turned out to be, Allan, a fair sized motorboat, stoutly built, and yet something of a hummer when it would come to speed. Her outlines told me this as soon as I could make her out down in the berth she occupied between the rocks where they had protected the sides of the little basin with logs to keep her from chafing too much.
"Now, speed indicates that the people owning that boat expect to show a clean pair of heels, as they say, at times. They want to be in condition to skip out in a hurry, and be able to outrun any ordinary craft that might try to overhaul them. Wouldn't you think that way, Allan?"
"You're speaking my mind to a dot, Thad."
"But I wasn't satisfied wholly, and made another move, to see whether they had any sort of a cabin around. Seemed to me that if they were using Sturgeon Island for some sort of shady business, they ought to have a shelter. Well, I found it before ten minutes had passed, and by just creeping along what I made out to be a regular trail leading from the boat up the shore a piece."
"Good for you, Thad; no woodsman could have done better!" exclaimed the other scout, who, having had practical experience extending through many trips into the wilderness with hunting parties, was pretty well posted on the numerous little "wrinkles" connected with woods lore.
"Oh! that was the most natural thing in the world for any one to do, and I don't deserve any credit, Allan. But there were times when I admit I did have to almost smell that trail, for it passed over little stretches of rock, you see. At such times I had to look around, guess about where it ought to be found where the earth began again, and in that way pick it up once more."
"And it really led you to a cabin, did it?" Allan asked, as the other paused.
"Yes, and there had been a fire burning in front of the shack, though I found only the ashes, as though it had been-hurriedly put out, perhaps when they first saw us heading toward the island, just before the storm came along."
"The ashes were still warm, then?" queried Allan, knowing that to be the logical way a forest ranger always learns about how long past a fire has burned out, or been extinguished.
"They were, and I could see that the brands had been torn apart, showing that some one was in a hurry to keep its light from betraying the fact of any person being camped on Sturgeon Island."
"Just what I'd think myself, Thad."
"After I saw that there was a cabin," continued the scout-master, "I wondered whether I had better take chances, and crawl up close enough to hear what they were saying, if so be there were men there. Before I had gone far in that scheme I realized that it was a little too risky, because I could hear a moving about, as though several men might be passing in and out. I also caught an occasional low muttering tone; but the noise of the waves dashing against the rocks, and the rattling of the branches of the trees that overhung the lone cabin, kept me from catching more than a single word now and then.
"After listening for quite a while I thought you would be getting anxious about my staying so long; and as I couldn't get any real satisfaction out of the game by hanging around any longer, why, I made up my mind to clear out. I'd learned several things, anyway, and by putting our heads together thought we might get at the meat in the cocoanut."
Of course that was a neat way of admitting that he wanted to talk matters over with his best chum, on the supposition that "two heads are better than one." Allan took it that way, for had he not on numberless occasions done just about the same thing?
"Of course you couldn't tell how many of these men there were, Thad?" he asked.
"I tried to make a stab at it by noticing the different sound of voices; and I'm dead sure there must have been three anyhow, p'raps more," the scout-master told him.
"And I think you've said once or twice that they seemed to be a rough lot?" the other went on to remark.
"That's my impression, Allan, from a number of things which I won't bother mentioning now. And there's something more. I told you that when I had a glimpse of the fellow who spied on our camp I thought he might be a foreigner, or a half-breed, didn't I?"
"Yes, I remember you did, Thad."
"Well," explained the other, "although I heard so poorly while I was hanging out near that hidden shack there were times when I thought one of the men was talking in some tongue besides plain United States. Fact is, he rattled off something in French."
"Oh! then it's plain who they are—half-breed Canadians from the North Shore. As this island properly belongs to Canada they would have a right to land here, and our coming needn't bother them any—if they are honest men."
"Thad, they wouldn't hide out like they do if they were the right sort. Make up your mind they're doing something that's against the law. Honest men don't carry on this way, and spy on a camp of Boy Scouts wrecked in a storm. Why, no matter how rough they might be, they'd drop in on us, and offer to share whatever they had. It's only fear of arrest that makes cowards of men this way."
"I forgot to tell you that among the few words I did manage to pick up by straining my ears to the limit, were just three that gave me an idea they took us for a detachment of militia, either Canadian or Yankee, out on the lake on some serious business that might interfere with their trade. Those three words were 'soldiers,' 'khaki,' and 'arrest.'"
Allan gave a soft whistle to indicate how his state of feeling corresponded with that of his chum.
"There isn't any doubt about it in my mind, Thad," he asserted, vehemently; "but that they're here for no good. That fast launch means they are in the habit of making swift trips back and forth, perhaps taking the night for it every time, so as to run less chance of being seen. And here hard luck has marooned us on Sturgeon Island with a bunch of desperate smugglers, who look on us as soldiers sent out by the Government to gather them in. If ever we were up against it hard, we sure are right now, Pard Thad."
"You seem to have set your mind on that one explanation of their presence here; and I'll admit that this island would be a great half-way place to hide the smuggled goods on, till the right night came to run them across to the American shore; but perhaps you're barking up the wrong tree there, Allan!"
"Oh! I'll admit that when I call them smugglers I'm only guessing, because, so far as I know we haven't any sort of evidence looking that way. It only seems the most natural explanation of why they're so much afraid of us, believing as they seem to that we're connected with the Government, one side or the other, just on account of these Boy Scout uniforms, which I reckon they don't happen to be familiar with. But Thad, you're holding something back; I can tell that by the way you act. You learned more than you've told me so far; own up to that."
The young scout-master chuckled. He liked to spring little surprises once in a while. It was just like tapping a peg until he had it set in the ground to suit his fancy; and then with one master-stroke driving it home. He had whetted Allan's curiosity now, and the time had come to satisfy it.
"Yes," Thad went on to say, "there was one little discovery I made that gave me certain information, and it was strong enough to convince me that our earlier suspicions about smugglers and all that sort of thing were away off the track."
"Yes, go on, please, Thad."
"It struck me while I was lying there not so very far away from that shanty hidden among the rocks and brushwood. Most of the time the wind was blowing on my left side, but every little while there would come a pucker or a flaw, causing it to change for just for a second or two. And it was when this happened the first time I got scent of what was in the wind, in a double sense. In other words, Allan, I discovered a distinct odor of fish in the air!"
"Oh! now I tumble to what you mean!" exclaimed the other.
"And every time that wind brought me a whiff of the fishy smell the stronger became my conviction that these men must be poachers, who knew they were breaking certain game laws by taking white fish or trout illegally, and reaping a harvest that honest fishermen were unable to reach. Stop and think if things don't point that way?"
And Allan did not have to hesitate in the least, for what his companion had just told him seemed to settle the matter beyond all dispute.
"Yes, Thad," he said, "now you've let the cat out of the bag there can't be any question about it. These half-breed Canadians are illegal fishermen, poachers they'd be called up in Maine; and they believe we've come to arrest the lot. It's a bad lookout for the Silver Fox Patrol; but we've seen worse, and always came out on top."
"HOLD THE FORT!"
As a rule it did not take these boys long to decide upon their course of action. And in the present instance they had so little choice that unusually prompt results might be expected.
"We'd better tell the other fellows, to begin with?" ventured Allan.
"Yes," remarked the scout-master, promptly, "it wouldn't be fair to keep things like this from the boys. They're just as much interested in how it turns out as we are. And, besides, we may get a bright idea from somebody."
"You never can tell," added Allan; and some of those same other scouts might not have felt complimented could they have heard him say these words, as they seemed to imply that miracles did sometimes happen, when you were least expecting them.
But having made up their minds on this score the pair walked over to the camp under that friendly ledge.
Upon their arrival every eye was immediately glued upon Thad. It seemed as though Giraffe, Bumpus, Davy and Step Hen must have guessed that the scout-master had made some sort of exciting discovery, and now meant to take them into his confidence.
Complete silence greeted the arrival of the two who had been conferring so mysteriously near by. Of course, once Thad broke the ice, and started to tell what he had discovered, this was apt to give way to a bombardment of questions; for Giraffe and Bumpus could think up the greatest lot of "wants" imaginable; so that it would keep Thad busy explaining, until their ammunition ran out, or he had to throw up his hands in surrender through sheer exhaustion.
He started in to explain what he had seen, and done, as soon as he dropped down beside his comrades of the Silver Fox Patrol. Immediately he had the attention of every one enlisted. Bumpus sat there, watching and listening with such intentness that you would hardly believe he breathed at all. Step Hen, too, was following every word spoken by the scout-master, as though trying to grasp the seriousness of the situation, and figure out a way to circumvent the danger that had arisen so unexpectedly in their path. And the other two could not be said to be far behind in the interest they betrayed.
As we have already heard Thad tell Allan about his first, seeing the man who was spying upon the camp; and later on how he came to find the hidden boat, as well as the concealed cabin, there is no necessity for us to follow the scout-master while he imparts this information to the quartette who, having been absent from that interview, had no previous knowledge of the facts.
By the time he spoke of crawling silently away, and coming back to join the balance of the patrol, he had his chums worked up to a feverish pitch of excitement.
"Well," Step Hen was the first to break in with, "anyhow, game-fish poachers ain't quite so bad as smugglers would have been, and that's one satisfaction, I take it."
"But they're bad enough," urged Davy; "because they must be breaking the laws by taking fish in some way that ain't allowed. And if trapped they stand a chance to face a heavy fine, or a long sentence in jail, perhaps both. And if, as Thad says, they've got the silly idea in their heads that we're connected with the Canadian militia, and came here meaning to destroy their nets, and likewise haul the men over the coals, why, they'll either skedaddle and leave us marooned on old Sturgeon for keeps, or else do something worse."
"What sort of worse, Davy?" demanded Bumpus. "There you go again, saying things in a sort of half-cooked way, and leaving the rest to a fellow's wild imagination. Do you mean you believe they'd really hurt us, when we ain't so much as lifted a finger to do the bunch any harm? Speak out and tell us, now, you old croaker."
"Thad, what do you think they might do?" Davy asked, under the impression that he would be wise to leave the explanation of the matter to one who was more capable of handling it than he could possibly be.
"If they were sensible men," remarked the other, deliberately, as though he had given that particular thought much attention, "I wouldn't be afraid, because then we could reason with them, and explain that we were only a party of the Boy Scouts of America, off on a little cruise, and shipwrecked in the storm; also, that if they helped us in any way we'd just forget that we'd ever seen them here."
"But explain and tell us what you mean by hinting that they mightn't be sensible men?" remarked Step Hen.
"Oh! well, that was my way of putting it," Thad went on to say; "I meant that as near as I could guess they seem to be Canadian half-breeds, for some of their talk was in a French patois I couldn't just understand. And I've always heard that those kind of men are mighty hard to handle, because, like Italians they get furiously excited, and let their imaginations run away with them, like some other fellows I happen to know."
"Did you say there, were only three of this bad crowd, Thad?" Giraffe asked.
"I wouldn't like to say for sure," came the reply, "but as near as I could make out that would cover the bill."
"Huh! and we count six, all told," continued the tall scout, indifferently, although Thad imagined he was not feeling so comfortable as he pretended to be.
"Yes, six boys," the scout-master reminded him.
"But husky boys in the bargain, and accustomed to taking care of themselves in tight places," Giraffe went on to remark, proudly. "Besides, ain't we got a gun that shoots twice? That ought to account for a couple of the rascals; and then what would one poor fish poacher be against a half dozen lively fellows, tell me that?"
Allan laughed at hearing the boast.
"How easy it is to figure out who's going to win the next championship in the National League of baseball clubs, while you're sitting around the stove in the winter time?" he told Giraffe. "But these paper victories seldom pan out the same way when the good old summer time comes along, and the boys get hustling. I suppose now, Giraffe, you'll be the one to knock over those two men, each with a single shot from your faithful double-barrel. Give him the gun, Step Hen, and let him start in right away."
Of course that rather startled the tall scout.
"Hold on there, don't be in such a big hurry!" he went on to say, holding up a hand to persuade Step Hen to keep the firearm a while longer. "Course now I didn't exactly mean it that way. I never wanted to shoot a man, that I know of. What I had in my mind, I reckon, was that one of us could keep a pair of these rascals covered with the shotgun, and hold 'em steady, while the other five managed the third of the bunch. See?"
"The trouble is," Thad told them, "none of us know French, and in that case we mightn't be able to talk with the poachers, even if they gave us half a chance. They seem to have a bad case of the rattles right now, and if it wasn't for the storm I really believe they'd get away from here in a hurry."
"Do we want 'em to go, or stay?" asked Bumpus, as though he could not settle in his own mind which one of these several openings would be best for their interests.
"For my part," spoke up Step Hen, "they couldn't clear out any too soon to make me feel happy. I know what the breed is like, and believe me, boys, I don't care to make their acquaintance, not me."
"That's all mighty fine, Step Hen," remarked Giraffe, loftily, "but when you talk that way you don't look far enough ahead."
"Just explain that, will you, and tell me why I don't?" demanded the other, with some show of indignation.
"Well, suppose now they did jump the island, and give us the merry ha! ha! what difference would it make to us whether they upset out there on that stormy lake or not; wouldn't we lose all chance of being ferried across to the mainland, and so making our escape from this measly island?"
Step Hen apparently caught the force of this reasoning, for he subsided, with a sort of discontented grunt.
Davy, however, took up the reasoning at this point.
"But suppose now they wouldn't want to get out in such a hurry? What if they had a lot of valuable fish nets around somewhere that they hated to let go? Don't you reckon in that case they might take a notion to try and bag the lot of us, so's to hold us prisoners till they could decide what to do with the ones they took to be Government spies?"
Bumpus groaned as he listened to all this terrible talk. His mind was already on fire with anticipations of what the immediate future might bring forth. Still, on occasion Bumpus could show considerable valor; and several times in the past he had astonished his chums by certain feats which he had engineered.
"It's up to me to think up some way to get us out of this terrible pickle," he was telling himself, over and over again; but even if any one of his five comrades heard what he was saying they paid little attention to it; but the fat scout meant all he said, as the future proved.
"One thing sure," Giraffe went on to remark, presently, "they know where our little camp is, because Thad saw that spy watching what we was adoing here. And if so be they should take a notion to pay us a visit before morning, why, they wouldn't have any trouble finding us out."
"Not less we made a move," argued Davy.
"And we're too nicely fixed here for that, ain't we?" Giraffe demanded, as he cast a swift look around to where the various blankets, having first been dried in the heat of the fire, were now inviting to repose, each fellow having apparently selected the particular spot where he meant to sleep, let the wind howl as hard as it wished, for that projecting rocky ledge would keep any rain from coming in upon them.
"That's right, Giraffe; you know a good thing when you see it!" declared Bumpus, who did not altogether fancy starting out to seek another camp, where they would have to lie down in the dark, and take chances of being caught in a rain, if later on such a change in the character of the storm came about.
"Then, if Thad says the word, we'll stick right here, and hold the fort!" the tall scout exclaimed. "In the words of that immortal Scot we read about, what was his name, Roderick Dhu, I think, who cried: 'Sooner will this rock fly from its firm base, than I.' Them's our sentiments, ain't they, fellows?"
"Hear! Hear!" came from Bumpus, as he snuggled down again contentedly, believing that this disagreeable part of the program at least had been indefinitely postponed, and that they stood a good chance for staying out their time under that friendly protecting ledge.
GRAFFE HAS A SCHEME
"If they'd only leave us alone, why, what's to hinder us mending our own ship, and sailing away out of this, sooner or later?" Bumpus wanted to know; after they had been talking the matter over for a long time.
"I suppose you'll do the mending part, Bumpus?" demanded Step Hen, wickedly.
"Well, I'd be only too willing, if I knew how," instantly flashed back the other, "but unfortunately my education was neglected when it came to patching up boats, and tinkering with machinery. I'm ashamed to confess to that, but it's the whole sad truth. But, thank goodness, we've got a scoutmaster who can do the job mighty near as well as any machinist going. I'll back Thad, yes, and Allan in the bargain, to make a decent job of it. And even Giraffe here might fix things up in a pinch. So long as we've got a chance to make the Chippeway Belle do duty again at the old stand we hadn't ought to complain, I think, boys."
"I'm sorry to tell you that there's only a slim chance of that ever coming about," Thad remarked, right then and there.
"Then you believe she was smashed worse'n any of us thought was the case; is that it, Thad?" asked Giraffe.
"No, it isn't that so much as another thing I've noticed lately, that's going to upset our calculations," replied the scout-master.
"Tell us what that might be, won't you?" pleaded Bumpus, with a doleful shake of his head; as though he might be beginning to believe in the truth of that old saying to the effect that "troubles never come singly."
"You may remember," Thad went on to say, "that when you asked my opinion be fore about the boat staying where we left it, I said there was a good chance we'd find her there in the morning if the wind didn't shift?"
"And now you mean that it's doing that very same thing, do you?" Giraffe asked.
"If you'd taken the trouble to notice all sorts of things, that you had always ought to as a true scout," the other told him, "you'd have found that out for yourself. The fact of the matter is that when we first reached this place under the ledge the wind seemed to find a way in here, and make the fire flare at times. Look at it now, and you'll see that it's as steady as anything; yet you can hear the rush of the wind through the treetops just the same. It's turned around as much as twenty degrees, I should say."
"And that's bad for the boat, ain't it?" Bumpus wanted to know.
"I'm afraid so," the scout-master replied; "because it will get the full force of both wind and heavy seas. Long before morning it will most likely be carried out into deep water, and disappear from sight. I think we've seen the last of the Chippeway Belle, boys."
"But, Thad," observed Giraffe, "how about that anchor rope? You know we carried it ashore, and fastened it to a rock. Would that break, now? It was a dandy rope, and nearly new."
"Well," said Thad, decisively, "once the seas begin to pound against the boat, with every wave the strain on that rope is bound to be just terrific. It might hold for a time; but mark my words, the constant chafing against the rock, where you fastened the end, will wear the strands until they snap; and then good-bye to our boat."
"Then we had better make up our minds to facing that fact, and not feel very much disappointed if in the morning we can't see a sign of the Belle," Allan went on to give, as his opinion; for he accepted, the theory advanced by the scout-master as though there could be no reasonable doubt about its being a positive fad.
"What if them fellows took a notion to step in on us to-night, and make us all prisoners of war?" queried Bumpus; for this possibility had been working overtime in his brain, and he was only waiting for a break in the conversation to advance it.
"Just what I was going to speak about," Giraffe up and said, somewhat excitedly. "You all sat down on me when I happened to remark about getting a pair of the birds with the gun. I move that we ask Thad to take charge of the firearm, and the rest can load up with whatsoever they can find," and leaning over, he deliberately appropriated the camp hatchet before Step Hen, whose eye had immediately started to look for the same, could fasten, upon it.
"Me too, I second the motion!" exclaimed Davy, in turn making a dive for the long and dangerous looking bread knife, which had proved so handy for many services while on the trip, and was being constantly lost and found again.
"But where do I come in?" asked Bumpus, as he saw the favorite weapons of offense and defense taken possession of so rapidly.
"A club will do for you, and Step Hen as well," remarked Giraffe, complacently; "for when a fellow has appropriated the best there is, he can afford to smile at his less fortunate comrades, and assume a superior air.
"Oh! well, I'd just as soon arm myself that way," the fat scout told them, as he set about finding something that would answer the purpose from amidst the firewood they had carried under the ledge to keep it from getting wet. "I'm a peaceful fellow, as you all know, and think there's nothing like a good hickory or oak club to convince other people that you've got rights you want them to respect. I've practiced swinging Indian clubs by the hour; and when it comes to giving a right hard smack, count me in. That's going to hurt, without injury to body or limb."
At another and less exciting time Giraffe would have surely insisted upon Bumpus explaining the difference, between these two sources of injury; but just then he had too much else to bother his head about to start an argument.
"Now, let's see any three men tackle this crowd, that's what!" he went on to remark, as he swept his eye proudly over the motley array of weapons; for even Allan had armed himself, having a stout stick, with which he doubtless felt able to render a good account of himself in a tussle.
"But let's remember," warned Thad, "that we don't want to let ourselves be drawn into a battle with these poachers, unless it's the last resort. They're ignorant men, and just now they must feel pretty desperate, thinking that we're going to break up a profitable game they've been playing for a long time, carrying their fish to some American market against the laws of Canada, and perhaps smuggling their cargo in, if there's any duty on fish, which I don't know about."
"If only you could get a bare chance to talk with one of the lot, Thad," Allan spoke up, "I'm pretty sure you'd be able to let them know the truth; and in that way we'd perhaps make friends of them. They might take our solemn promise that we never would give them away, and land us somewhere ashore, so we could make our way to either Duluth, or some other place to the north here."
"I'm hoping to get just such an opening, if we can hold the fort till morning; and they haven't skipped out by then," Thad told him; which proved that he had planned far ahead of anything that had as yet been proposed.
"And meanwhile try to be thinking up any French words you ever heard," suggested Bumpus, artfully. "Who knows what use the same'd be to you in a tight hole. How'd parley vous Francais sound, now? I've heard our dancing-master in Cranford use that more'n a few times, though I own up I don't know from Adam what she means. But it might make a fellow come to a standstill if he was agoing to run you through, and you suddenly shot it at him."
"Thank you, Bumpus, I'll remember that, though I think it means 'do you speak French?' And what if he took me up, and became excited because I couldn't understand anything he said, you see it wouldn't help much," the scout-master told him.
"But say, what are we meaning to do about standing guard; because I reckon now we've got to watch out, and not let them fellows gobble us up while we're sleeping like the babes in the wood?" Step Hen asked.
"Oh! that can be fixed easy enough, if we all have to stay awake through the whole night. Wouldn't that be the best plan, Thad?"
It was Bumpus who put this important question, but none of them were deceived in the least by this apparent warlike aspect on the part of the fat scout.
Bumpus could play a clever game when he became fully aroused; but if Thad guessed what his true reason might be for asking such a question, he did not choose to betray the fact, knowing that it would cause the fat scout more or less confusion.
"Yes, it might be as well for all of us to try and stay awake!" he declared. "As you seem to have settled it that the gun falls to my share, why, I'll make up my mind not to close an eye the whole livelong night; and if the rest choose to sit up with me and help watch, the more the merrier."
"I will, for one," said Giraffe, stoutly.
"You can count on me to make the try," added Davy.
"Ditto here," Allan went on to say.
"Oh! I'm willing enough," Bumpus observed hastily, seeing that several of his comrades were waiting for him to speak; "but I hope that every time anybody just sees me abobbing my head he'll stick a pin in me; only please don't jab it too deep, or you'll make me howl."
"As for me," Step Hen added, "I don't feel a whit sleepy right now; and my eyes are as starey as a cat's, or Jim's over yonder," pointing to where he had managed to fasten the captive owl, which he had persisted in carrying ashore, despite the fact that he had about all the burden any boy would care to carry when compelled to wade through water almost up to his neck.
"Well, listen here, then," remarked Giraffe, mysteriously, "I've been thinking up a scheme that looks good to me, and I want to know how the rest of you stand when it comes to trying it out."
"Go on and tell us what it is, Giraffe!" exclaimed Bumpus, eagerly.
"Yes, if you have thought up anything worth while, we'd be mighty glad to hear about the same," added Allan.
The tall scout looked cautiously about him, and lowering his voice went on:
"Why, I'll tell you, fellows, what I thought. Now, about that boat belonging to these here poachers, what's to hinder us from coolly appropriating the same, and starting out to look for the mainland ourselves? Then, you see, it'll be that bunch that's left behind to be marooners on old Sturgeon Island; and when we get to town why, we can let the authorities know all about what they're adoing out here, so they'll come and arrest the whole kit. Now, what d'ye say about that for an idea, hey?"
THE LONG NIGHT
"Good for you, Giraffe!" exclaimed Bumpus, ready to seize upon the idea without stopping to examine the same in order to find out whether or not it were possible to carry it out.
"It ain't half bad," admitted Step Hen.
"But how about starting to sea in this blow?" asked Allan, quietly, after he and Thad had exchanged winks.
"Oh! hang the luck, I clean forgot all about that!" admitted the tall scout, his smile of triumph disappearing immediately.
"Whew! I should say we couldn't!" Bumpus hastened to add, showing that it was possible for a boy to change his opinion almost as speedily as a shift of wind causes the weather vane to turn around, and point toward a new quarter.
"And," added Thad, "that will all have to be left to the morning, anyway. If we should find a half-way chance to do something along those lines, why, we'll gladly give Giraffe the credit for thinking up the scheme. But it's time we settled down for the night now; so let's fix our blankets and be as comfy as we can, even if we do expect to keep awake."
"And don't you think it'd be a good plan, Thad," suggested Step Hen, "to always keep that gun in evidence? If we could make them believe we all of us carried the same kind of weapons, we'd be more apt to see sun-up without any trouble happening; and that's what I think."
"Well, now, there's some meat in that idea of yours, Step Hen," the scout-master told him; "and it wouldn't be a bad scheme for those who have clubs, to carry them more or less this way under your arm, just as you would your gun if tramping, or on a hunt. In the firelight they may think that's what they are, and the effect will be worth something to us, as you say."
All of the boys started to settling down. Policy might have told them that if they made themselves too comfortable the chances of their remaining awake were rather slim.
Bumpus was a lad of good resolutions. No doubt he meant to stay awake just as firmly as Thad himself could have done. But sleeping was one of the fat boy's weak points, and it was not long before he found himself nodding.
Twice he was jabbed in the leg with the point of a pin, once by Giraffe, and the second time by Davy; for the other boys, took his request literally, and doubtless enjoyed having the chance to "do him a to favor."
Each time he was thus punctured the fat scout would start up hurriedly, and open his mouth to give a yell, perhaps under the impression that he had been bitten by a snake, which reptiles he despised, and feared very much.
Discovering where he was in time, however, he had managed to hold his tongue, and muttered to himself that they "needn't go it quite so strong," as he ruefully rubbed his limb where the pin had entered.
After each sudden awakening Bumpus would sit sternly up straight, as though he had taken a solemn vow not to be caught napping again; but as the minutes dragged along he would begin to sink lower and lower again, for sleep was once more getting a firm grip upon him.
When the fat boy reeled for a third time Thad, who was watching operations with more or less amusement, noticed that neither Step Hen nor Davy offered to make any use of their pins; the truth being that both of them had meanwhile gone fast asleep, and hence there were all three in the same boat.
It happened that Bumpus managed to arouse himself presently with a start; as if a sudden consciousness had come upon him. Perhaps he imagined he felt another jab with a pin, and the sensation electrified him.
First he looked on one side and then on the other. When he discovered that his persecutors were both sound asleep, a wide grin came over the good-natured red face of the stout youth. Thad could see him industriously hunting along the lapels of his khaki jacket, as if for a weapon in the shape of a pin; and having secured what he wanted Bumpus carefully reached out both hands, one toward Step Hen and the other in the direction of Davy Jones.
Then, with a low squeal of delight, he gave an outward motion with each hand. There instantly broke forth a chorus of yells that could be heard above the noise of the breakers on the rocks, and the wind rattling the branches of the low oak trees.
"Tit for tat," exclaimed. Bumpus; "what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. After this we'll call it off, fellows, remember. It was give and take, and now the slate's wiped clean."
Davy Jones and Step Hen, quite tired out from their exertions, slept peacefully, one on either side of Bumpus; while Giraffe dozed, and whenever he happened to arouse himself he would wave that hatchet vigorously, as if to call attention to the fact that he was "on deck," and doing full duty.
The long night dragged on.
Once Thad had some good news to communicate.
"Clouds seem to be getting lighter," he announced, pointing overhead.
"Yes," added the other, "and there's a sure enough break, I reckon, p'raps now we'll see something of that old moon before the peep of day comes."
At any rate the fact of the khaki-clad denizens of the camp under the ledge being constantly on guard must have impressed itself upon the minds of the poachers, for they made no hostile move while darkness held sway.
Of course though, both sentries were glad to see the first peep of dawn in the far east. The wind had died down, and there seemed to be some chance that the wild waves would subside by noon, at least sufficiently to allow them to go forth if by any good luck they were given the opportunity to leave the island upon which they had been marooned by so strange a freak of fate.
The others were soon aroused, and made out to have just allowed themselves a few winks of sleep toward morning, though they cast suspicious looks toward each other, Thad noticed. However, neither he nor Allen said a word about the hours that they had been by themselves on guard. The dreaded night had passed, and nothing out of the way had happened, so what was the use of rubbing it in, and making some of their good chums feel badly.
"I think it would be possible to see the place where we left our boat, if I went out on that point there," Thad remarked, while some of the rest were busying themselves in getting breakfast ready, as though meaning to make all the amends possible for their lack of sentry duty.
As though he wished to make sure concerning this matter the scout-master left them, and made his way to the lookout he had indicated. He came back later on, and his face did not seem to show any signs of good news.
"No boat in sight, I take it, Thad?" asked Giraffe, rightly interpreting his lack of enthusiasm.
"It's sure enough gone, and look as hard as I could there didn't seem to be the first sign of the poor Chippeway Belle. Dr. Hobbs' friend will have to buy him another cruising boat, that's sure," Thad told them.
"Well, he can do that, all right, out of the insurance money he collects from that old tub," declared Giraffe, indignantly. "Let me tell you he's been hoping we might sink the thing, somehow or other."
Breakfast was a bountiful meal, because Giraffe happened to be a fellow who disdained half-way measures, when it came to feeding time. The idea of going around half starved so long as there was the smallest amount of food in camp did not suit him at all.
So they ate until every one, even Giraffe, announced that he had had enough; but by that time the frying-pans were empty, and the coffee-pot ditto, so perhaps it may have been this condition of things that influenced some of them to confess to being filled.
The face of the tall boy had become clouded more or less, and it was evident to the scout leader that Giraffe was busily engaged in pondering over something that did not look just right to him.
"What's the matter, Giraffe?" he asked, as they lounged around, enjoying the fire, because the morning had opened quite cool after the blow of the previous night.
"I don't like this thing of an empty pantry, that's what!" observed the other, who could not forget that in less than five hours there was bound to be a demand from somewhere inside that he get busy, and supply another ration; and where was he to get the material to carry out this injunction when their supplies were practically exhausted.
"Well, we can't do anything about it, can we?" demanded Step Hen, trembling in the hopes that the tall scout might have thought of a plan.
"That's just like some fellows," remarked Giraffe, disdainfully; "ready to throw up the sponge at the first show of trouble. Now, I ain 't built that way; and say, I've thought up a plan by which we might get some grub."
"Yes, what might it be?" asked Thad, seeing that the other was waiting for a little encouragement before bursting out into a display of confidence; for he knew Giraffe's ways to a fraction.
"I tell you what we ought to do," the other suddenly explained; "march on that cabin in a bunch, looking mighty determined, and then demand that they supply us with what grub we need to tide us over. There you are; and how about it?"
WHERE WAS BUMPUS
"Huh? I don't all speak at once, please. Seems like my splendid idea ain't made a hit like I expected it would. What ails you all?" Giraffe demanded, after a dead silence had fallen upon the little party, instead of the quick response he had hoped for.
"We're waiting to hear from Thad," explained Step Hen, as though he might himself be "up in the air," or, as he would himself have said, "straddling the fence," not knowing whether to scoff at the other's scheme, or give it his unqualified approval.
"Well, I wanted to figure it over in my own mind first," remarked the scout-master, slowly. "It has some good points, Giraffe, but we'll have to get good and hungry before we start to holding up other people and demanding that they supply our wants, even if they are only fish poachers."
"Then you don't think we had ought to rush the cabin, as yet?" asked the other in a disappointed lone.
"Wait awhile; and see what turns up," Thad told him.
"But what could come along to give us a meal around noon?" Giraffe flashed up, always thinking of the main chance, which meant looking after the demands of that voracious appetite.
"Oh! lots of things," laughed Thad. "You know yourself it's the unexpected that keeps happening with us right along. Many a time in the past we didn't have any idea of what was going to stir us up, till it came along. Just now it strikes me all of us ought to stick together, and not go wandering around by ourselves."
"Bumpus ought to be here to get that advice, then," remarked Davy.
At that Thad turned upon the other scout.
"Why, I hadn't noticed that he was away," he said, hastily, and frowning at the same time; "when and where did he go, can you tell me that, Davy, since you seem to be the only one who knows about his being gone?"
"Why, you see, Thad," began the other, looking a trifle alarmed himself now, "he just remembered after we'd had our breakfast, you know, that he must have dropped his belt somewhere; and as he remembered having the same after he came out of the water, he said he expected he'd be able to pick it up between here and that place; so he strolled off. Why, I never thought but what some of the rest of you saw him go; and because nobody said a word I 'spected it was all right."
"How long ago was that, did you say, Davy?" Thad asked.
"Why, just after Giraffe here cleaned out the last piece of bacon in the pan, as he said it was silly to waste even little things; and, after all, he wasted it in a hurry, too, let me tell you," Davy proceeded to say.
"Why, I think that must have been nearly twenty-five minutes ago!" exclaimed Step Hen, in some excitement, as he cast an anxious look away across the rocks and brush that interfered somewhat with their view of the route Bumpus would be apt to take on his way toward their landing place.
Thad jumped to his feet.
"This must be looked into!" he said, decisively.
"You're going off to hunt for him, I take it?" observed Giraffe; "how about not getting separated, like you just told us? Ain't it going from bad to worse, Thad, if so be you rush out by yourself and leave us here?"
"Yes," added Davy, quickly, "if they're alooking around for chances to gobble us up, one by one, first it'd be Bumpus, then our scout-master, and then another of the bunch, till we all got caught. Thad, hadn't we ought to go along with you—"
"Just what I would have proposed, if you'd let, me speak," the other assured them readily enough; "so get, ready now, and we'll start off."
"But how about all our stuff here; shall we leave it behind?" questioned Davy.
"Oh! I hope not," remarked Step Hen; "I've got somewhat attached to that blanket of mine, you know."
"Yes, we've noticed that lots of times, when you hated to get up in the morning," chuckled Giraffe,
"But how about it, Thad; do we leave 'em here, and run the chance of getting the same took; or shall we take the stuff along with us?"
"I don't believe these men will bother with such small things as blankets and cooking things; if we had a supply of eatables it might be a different matter; but we happen to be shy along that line. Yes, bundle them up, and hide them 'as best you can. We may be in for a fight, for all we know, and in that case we'd want the freedom of our arms to work those clubs."
"Sounds like business, anyway!" muttered Giraffe, as he started in to do as the scout-master recommended; for obedience is one of the first principles laid down in the rules by which Boy Scout are guided when they subscribe to the regulations of the troop they have joined.
They were soon ready.
As the five lads went forth they presented quite a formidable appearance indeed, what with the gun, the camp hatchet, the long bread knife, and a pair of clubs thick enough to give a fellow a nasty headache if ever they were brought in contact with his cranium.
"First of all, it's only right we should give a hail; and if Bumpus is wandering around somewhere he may answer us; and then we can wait for him to come in. I see he's left his bugle with his blanket here; pick it up somebody and give the recall, if anybody knows how."
"Trust that to me!" exclaimed Davy; and snatching up the nickeled instrument he placed it to his lips, immediately sending forth the strident sounds that have done duty on many a battlefield.
No sooner had the last note pealed forth than every boy listened eagerly; but there was no reply.
"Sure he could have heard that, even if he was at the other end of the island," remarked Davy, ready to try again if the scout-master told him to do so.
"And Bumpus has got a good pair of lungs, so he'd be able to let us know he was on to the job, if he had the use of his mouth!" remarked Giraffe, darkly.
"But you don't hear even a peep, do you, fellows?" remarked Step Hen.
"Come on, and fetch that bugle with you, Davy," said Thad; "we might need it again later, you know. I wonder, now, what the poachers will think when they hear a bugle sound? If they don't know anything about the Scouts, they'll think more than ever that we belong to the Canadian militia."
Thad could understand just what course Bumpus was likely to take in passing along the rough surface of the ground between their landing place and the spot where they had found the friendly ledge.
That was the way he expected to go also, keeping constantly on the lookout for any sign calculated to tell him if the fat scout had fallen into difficulties.
It led them down near the edge of the water, too; and this gave Thad a sudden bad feeling. Could it be possible that Bumpus, who was always a clumsy fellow at best, owing to his great bulk, had tripped, and taken a nasty fall, so that his head had struck some cruel rock?
He would not say anything to the rest just now upon that score; but all the same it troubled him not a little as he wandered along, keeping on the alert for just such a trap, into which the missing scout may have fallen.
All at once Thad stopped, and the others saw a peculiar look cross his face. It seemed to tell them that their guide had conceived an idea.
"Guessed where he's gone, have you, Thad?" inquired Giraffe, quickly.
"Well, no, hardly that," was the reply; "but I ought to tell you that right now we're close to that clump of brush that hides the little rock hollow where they've got their boat hidden."
"Oh! mebbe Bumpus he went and took a look in there, just the same as you did, and discovered the boat, too!" remarked Step Hen.
"Well, what if he did, would that explain his absence one little bit?" demanded Davy. "You don't think, now, I hope, our chum is such an idiot that he'd start to take a little cruise out there on that rough water all by himself? Bumpus ain't quite so much in love with sailing as all that, let me tell you right now."
In another minute they were looking at the boat that lay concealed in among the rocks and brush. Thad even jumped down, and passed into its cabin; while the others listened, and waited with their hearts apparently ready to jump up into their throats, lest they caught sounds of a conflict.
But presently the scout-master again appeared, and joined them.
"Not there, then?" asked Giraffe, in a disappointed tone.
"No, but I saw the print of his shoe on the seat of the boat, which shows Bumpus did climb down here; but it was heading outward, so it seems he came up again. Now to look a little further, and find out if he went on toward the spot where we came to land."
They started off, leaving the vicinity of the fish poachers' hidden boat. For a couple of minutes, Thad seemed to be having little or no trouble in following the marks which Bumpus had left behind him; for the fat scout never so much as dreamed that there was such a thing as covering his trail; nor would he have known of any reason for doing anything like this had he been so far up in woodcraft.
"Hold up!" they heard Thad say, suddenly, as he bent over more than he had been doing up to now.
All of the others waited anxiously to hear what the scout-master believed he had discovered, for they could see him moving this way and that. Finally Thad looked up, to disclose a frown upon his usually calm brow.
"Well, would you, believe it," he went on to say, as free from anger as he possibly could bring himself to speak, "they've gone and done it, after all."
"What, Thad?" asked Giraffe, who had been actually holding his breath the while.
"Jumped on our chum right here, and made him a prisoner," came the staggering reply; "I reckon they must have done something rough to him, or we'd have heard him make some kind of an outcry; but they got Bumpus, all right, boys!"
LOYAL SCOUTS TO THE RESCUE
This assertion on the part of their leader was so tremendous that for almost a dozen seconds the boys could not utter a single word; but just stood there, and gazed at Thad, speechless.
But it is a very difficult thing to muzzle some lads for any length of time; and Giraffe presently burst out with:
"Jumped on poor Bumpus right here, did they, Thad? And p'raps pounded him into a condition where he just couldn't give the alarm, no matter how hard he tried? Oh! mebbe I don't wish I could have been there to touch up the scoundrels with this fine hatchet? What I'd a done to 'em would have been a caution, let me warn you! But how do you tell all this from the signs, Thad? We're only a bunch of next door to tenderfeet scouts when it comes to reading trail talk; but we know enough to understand when she's explained to us. Please open up, and tell us now."
"And then we must decide what we'll do, so as to rescue our chum," said Step Hen angrily; "because scouts always stand by each other, you know, through thick and thin; and Bumpus is the best fellow agoing, you bear me saying that?"
"Well, it's this way," said the scout-master, always ready to oblige his mates whenever he could do so; "you can see that some sort of a scuffle has taken place where we're standing right now. Other feet than those of Bumpus are marked; and then they all start away from here, heading in that direction. But although Bumpus walked to this spot there's never a sign of his footprints, which I know so well leading off from here."
"What's the answer to that?" asked Davy.
"Why," broke in Giraffe, quickly, "that's as plain as the nose on your face, Davy. Our chum was carried away! Either he couldn't walk because he'd been tapped on the head, and was senseless; or else they had got him tied up that quick."
"Is that so, Thad?" demanded Step Hem
"Giraffe has got the answer all right," came the reply. "I can see where these fellows must have been hiding, and let Bumpus pass them by. Then one dropped down on top of him, so that he couldn't so much as draw in his breath before they had him. This is what I was thinking about when I said we shouldn't be caught off our guard; and that we'd be foolish if we separated at all, for they could pick us off one by one, where they'd be afraid to tackle the whole bunch. It came quicker than I thought it would, though."
"Well, we ain't going to stand for this, I hope?" remarked Giraffe.
"We'd be a fine lot of scouts, wouldn't we," broke in Davy, indignantly, "if we were ready to desert our chum when he was in hard luck? Anybody that knows what the boys of the Silver Fox Patrol of Cranford Troop are would make certain that could never go down with them. Sure we ain't ameaning to keep on hiding our light under a bushel, and sneaking off, while Bumpus, good old Bumpus, is in the hands of the enemy, and p'raps with a splitting headache in the bargain."
"Headache!" echoed Step Hen; "just wait till we get our chance, and if they ain't the fashion among these here poachers, then I don't know beans, and I think I do. Wow! you hear me talking, fellows!" and he caused his club to fairly whistle through the air, as though getting into the swing, so that he would know just how to go about laying out one of the law-breakers when they finally rounded them up.
"Hope we ain't meaning to waste any more time around here than's necessary, Mr. Scout-master?" Giraffe observed, grimly, running his finger suggestively along the edge of the camp hatchet, which they kept in pretty good condition, so that it would really cut quite well.
"We're off right away," said the other.
"And Thad," observed Allan, speaking for the first time, because he was usually a boy of few words, and one who left it to some of the others to do pretty much all the talking, "the new trail, where we fail to find any mark of Bumpus' shoes leads this way, which I take it is toward that shack you said you'd seen last night when you took that little scout on the sly?"
"It sure does, Allan," came the reply.
"Well, then, we must expect that was where they carried our chum; and so we'll make for the cabin now," Allan continued.
"We'll see it soon enough," Thad told them, "because it's only a little ways from where they have their powerboat hidden. Move along as still as you can, boys; and no more talking now—except in whispers."
Every scout must have felt his heart beating like a trip-hammer as the forward progress was continued. The very atmosphere around them seemed to be charged with electricity; at least one would imagine so to see the way they looked suddenly from right to left with quick movements, as they went stooping along.
It was only a space of sixty seconds or so when Thad came to a stop. They knew from this that the cabin spoken of must already have been sighted; and this proved to be the case, as was made apparent when they came to examine the territory just ahead.
Among the rocks and undergrowth it could hardly be seen; indeed, if they had not known of its presence there, possibly none of them would have thought a cabin was so near by.
They stared hard at it, but failed to see the first sign of any living being in the neighborhood.
"Any signs of 'em, Thad?" whispered Giraffe, who was close at the heels of the scout-master; so close indeed, that Thad had more than once wondered whether the tall and nervous scout were still waving that up- to-date tomahawk, and if he the leader, might be so unlucky as to get in the way of the dangerous weapon.
"Nothing that I can see," Thad answered, softly.
"But you think they're in that place, don't you?" Giraffe continued to ask.
"Like as not they are," the scout-master replied.
All of them were staring hard at what they now saw. Having continued to advance a little farther they made out what seemed to be a lot of barrels; and some of them must have contained ice, to judge from the straw scattered about. Well, ice was needed in order to properly pack fish for the market; and if the poachers had ever had a supply on the island, secured during the winter time, it must have been exhausted before now, because the season was late.
Yes, and what was more to the point, as the breeze happened to waft an odor to their noses all of the scouts detected the strong and unmistakable smell of fish, which must always be associated with every fishing camp.
"Are we agoing to walk straight up to that door, and knock it in?" asked Giraffe, after they had stood there for a couple of anxious minutes, staring hard at the lone shack, as though trying to peer through the log walls, and see what lay within.
"That might be hardly the thing for scouts to do," Thad told him. "They are taught to be cautious as well as brave. If those men happen to be hiding inside there, wouldn't they have a fine chance to riddle us if we walked right up as big, as camels? No, we've got to show a little strategy in this thing, eh, Allan?"
"Just what we have, Mr. Scout-master."
"So let's begin by circling around, and coming up on the shack from the other side," Thad said this he started off, with the others skulking along behind, about like a comet is followed by its tail.
They kept a bright lookout all the while, not meaning to let the poachers get the better of them by creeping away from the shack while the boys in khaki were carrying out this evolution. Nothing however was seen. If the men were still in there they kept very quiet, everybody thought; and somehow this worried more than one of the scouts.
Giraffe could not see what all this creeping around was intended for, anyhow; he would have been in favor of separating, and rushing toward the cabin from as many points of the compass as there were scouts. That sort of plan at least had the benefit of speed; for they would either be at the door inside of ten seconds, or have been staggered with a volley from within.
But it would not be for much longer, because even now they had made such good progress that a few minutes more must put them through.
It seemed an age to Giraffe since they had started to creep to the other side of the shack; when he saw by the actions of their leader that Thad was now ready to order the real advance.
There did not appear to be any sign of a window on this side of the rude building, so that the chances were no one inside could watch their coming; which Giraffe well knew had been the principal reason why Thad had chosen to make this rear approach.
"Now listen, all of you," whispered the leader, in thrilling tones; "I'm going to call out to Bumpus, and perhaps we'll get a clue regarding what's happened to him."
Raising his voice, he called out the name of the fat scout twice in succession, being very particular to speak it distinctly, so that any one within would have to be absolutely deaf not to hear it.
There was no reply, that is, nothing in the way of an answering voice; but all of them caught a peculiar sound that kept up intermittently for almost a full minute.
"Now, what sort of a queer rumpus would you call that?" asked Step Hen.
"Made me think of somebody kicking his heels into the floor, or some such stunt as that," Giraffe declared; while Davy nodded his head, as though there was no need for him to say anything when another voiced his sentiments so exactly.
"Thad, are we going to stand this any longer?" Allan demanded,
"No, we must see what's inside that place; so come along, boys, and we'll break in the door!" with which words the scout-master ran quickly forward, the others almost outstripping him, so great was their eagerness to be "in the swim," no matter what happened.
The door seemed to be fastened in some way; though there was nothing in the way of a pistol shot or even a gruff voice warning them off.
Thad tried in vain to find the fastening.
"Pick up that log, and use it as a battering ram!" he ordered; and the other four scouts hastened to do so, while the patrol leader stood ready with his gun, not knowing how soon he might have need of it for defense.
As the log came crashing against the door it flew wide open, proving that it had never been really intended as a means for keeping enemies out. Dropping the log, and at once snatching up their weapons, the scouts rushed to the open doorway, to stare into the cabin. What they saw amazed, and yet delighted them. There was not an enemy in sight; but some object moved upon the hard puncheon floor; and looking closer they discovered that it was no other than Bumpus, bound hand and foot, gagged, and with his face as red as a boiled lobster, redder by far than his fiery hair.
NOT SO GREEN AS HE LOOKED
The only reason that Bumpus did not call out help! was because the rough gag, consisting of a cloth tied about the lower part of his face, prevented him from saying a single word.
It was a sight that staggered the other scouts, although at the same time they felt considerable satisfaction at finding their lost churn so speedily, and thus learning that he had not come to very serious harm.
There was an immediate rush made inside the shack, each seeming desirous of being the first to render Bumpus assistance. All but the scoutmaster entered in this promiscuous way, and Thad was too wise a bird to be caught with chaff. What if this should be some sort of a trap, into which the rest of the boys were rushing headlong? He did not stop to consider how they might be caught, but made up his mind that it was policy on his part to stand guard there at the door.
There were more than enough hands to free the prisoner, and he would not be missed in that way. So Thad, handling his ready gun suggestively, and keeping a keen lookout for signs of trouble, stood there, waiting for the rest to come but.
Amidst more or less confusion Bumpus was unbound, after that gag had been removed from his mouth. The first thing he did was to breathe heavily, as though during his confinement he had not been able to get his wind as freely as he liked. Then, when he could get on his feet with the help of Step Hen and Giraffe, he stamped on the cloth that had done duty as a preventative of speech.
"Oh! what haven't I suffered, having that measly old thing under my nose for ages, and this smell of fish everywhere around me!" he exclaimed, as though fairly bursting with indignation. "How long have I been shut up here, anyway, fellows? Seems like days and weeks must a passed since they took me. I kinder lost my senses I reckon, after that chap dropped on top of me, like the mountain was acoming down. Please tell me what day of the week this is?"
At this the others looked puzzled.
"Why, you sure must be locoed, Bumpus, to get so twisted as that!" declared Giraffe.
"I should say he was!" echoed Davy.
"Why, this is the same morning after the storm, don't you know, Bumpus, really and truly it is," Step Hen went on to assert, with a ring of pity in his voice. "And, say, did you think it was to-morrow, or the next day, and we'd just about forgotten we had a chum who was missing? Well, if this don't take the cake, I never heard the beat of it."
"Fetch him outside so I can ask a few questions!" called Thad just then.
"Yes, for goodness sake get me where I can have a whiff of clean air; I'm nearly dead with this fishy smell. I always did hate to handle fish after they got over their jumping stage, and this is awful!" Bumpus wailed.
"It certain is," muttered Giraffe, holding his fingers up to his nose.
So they all bustled out of the door, where they found the scout-master on duty; and all at once it struck the other fellows how smart Thad had been in holding back at the time the rush was made to free Bumpus.
"Oh! this is a thousand per cent better!" the late prisoner declared, with genuine thanksgiving in his tones, as he fairly reveled in the clear air that had been purified by the recent blow.
"I heard you asking what day this was, and from that we understand that you must have lost your senses for a while, and got mixed up?" Thad remarked.
"That's what happened, Thad," replied the other, promptly enough.
"Well, it's not only the same morning after the storm," continued the other, "but just about an hour after you went off to hunt for your belt. I see you found the same, and that they made good use of it to fasten your arms behind your back."
Bumpus looked astonished, as though what he heard was hard to believe; for he shook his head slowly, and observed:
"Tell me about that, will you? Well, sir, that was the longest hour that ever happened to me in all my life!"
"Hold on!" corrected Giraffe, "you're forgetting that time you tripped in the dark, and fell over a precipice a thousand feet deep, and hung there from the top, yelling for help. We came galloping to the spot, and rescued you, about as limp as a dish-rag; and you told us how you'd suffered such agonies that you lived ten years, and wanted to know if your hair had turned white. But when we held the light over the top of that awful precipice, and showed you that the ground was just about six inches below your toes as you dangled there, why, you made out that it was all a good joke, and that anyhow you'd given the rest of us a bad scare."
Bumpus grinned, as though the recollection rather amused him now.
"But this time it was different, Giraffe, because they wanted me to tell, and I just wouldn't. Then the big man who was leader, gave me a knock on the head, he was so mad at me, and I keeled over a second time. That's when I thought days had passed, when I heard you fellows talking outside, and after that an earthquake came knocking down the door. My! but I was glad to see the bunch come piling in, you can take it from me. Never will forget it, I give you my word, boys!"
"But see here, Bumpus," said Thad, "what do you mean when you say you refused to tell? Of course all of us know how stubborn you can be, when you take a notion; but what could these men want to get out of you that you'd refuse to let go? Not any information about us, I should think?"
"Well, hardly," replied the other. "You see, they had me tied up, and that horrible fishy rag fastened around my mouth so I couldn't talk; but the fellow that could speak United States bettern'n either of the others told me to nod my head if I promised to show 'em where I'd hid it; but every time I shook it this way," and he proceeded to give an emphatic demonstration of what a negative shake might be.
"But what had you hid away that they wanted so badly?" persisted Thad.
Bumpus grinned, and raised one of his eyebrows in a comical manner.
"Oh! that was a little trick of mine," he remarked, composedly. "P'raps the rest of you'll give me credit for being a mite smart when I tell you. But in order to make you understand, just wait till I go back to the time I left camp to look for this belt."
"That's the best way, I should think," agreed Giraffe, who knew from experience how hard it sometimes proved to drag the details of a story from Bumpus.
"Oh! I ain't meaning to string it out everlastingly!" declared the other. "I'm going to be right to the point, see if I don't. Well, after I picked up my belt I just happened to remember what Thad had told us about that concealed boat belonging to the queer chaps who were hiding on this island; and before I knew hardly what I was doing I found myself aboard the same, nosing around.
"All at once it struck me what a bad job for us it'd be if they took a notion to skip out after the wind and waves went down, and left us here by our lonely. So I made up a cute little plan calculated to block that game right in the start. What did I do? Just unfastened the crank they used to start the engine agoing and hid the same under my coat. I was meaning to fetch it to our camp, so we could make terms with the men, when I thought I saw somebody slip around a tree and, on the impulse of the moment, as they say in the books, I just let that handle drop into the hollow of a stump I happened to be passing."
"Good for you, Bumpus!" exclaimed Giraffe, patting the other on the shoulder.
"Well, it wasn't so very good for me in one way," the fat scout remarked, with one hand tenderly caressing a bump he seemed to have on his head; "because that same little trick got a fellow of my size in heaps of trouble right away. But you know how I hate to give a thing up, boys; and once I'd done this job I was bent on holding out to the bitter end.
"Well, to make a long story short, the next thing I knew I didn't know anything, because that big clodhopper came down from a tree right on top of me, and one of his shoes must a struck me on the head right here, for it hurts like the mischief.
"When I came to my senses I was fixed up like you saw, and inside this old fish house. Honest boys, first thing, before I got a good look around, I thought I had died, and was amouldering in my grave. The three men were hanging over me, ajabbering like so many monkeys or poll parrots. Then the big fellow with the black beard began to throw all sorts of questions at me, which I managed to understand.
"Seems like they had gone to the boat after leaving me here, p'raps meaning to take chances out on the lake, waves or no waves, because they thought if they stayed any longer they were agoing to be gobbled by the soldiers, sure pop. And then they missed that old crank. Course they knowed I'd been pottering around their boat, and they wanted to find out what I did with the handle, because it happens you can't start that engine like some I've seen, in an emergency, without the crank.
"We had it pretty warm back and forth for a session, him a firing questions at me, sometimes in French, and again in mixed English; and me a shaking my head right and left to tell him I wouldn't give up the information, not if he kept going for a coon's age. And sudden like, he got so fiery mad he just slapped me over the head, and I admit I lost all interest in things on this same earth till I came to, and heard voices outside that seemed familiar like. You know the rest, boys; now let's get away from this place in a hurry. I'll taste rank fish for a month of Sundays, sure I will. Ugh!"
"Wait, don't be in such a hurry, Bumpus," said Thad. "First of all I want to say that you've done a smart thing, even if it was reckless; because with that boat in our hands we can really leave Sturgeon Island any time we want, once the lake quiets down some. And on the way back to camp we'll just pick up that crank, after which all we have to do is to make sure these three frightened men don't jump in on us, and take us by surprise. But while we're here we ought to see what they've got that makes them want to avoid the officers who patrol the lakes looking for smugglers, game-fish poachers and the like."
"Give me the gun then, Thad," said Allan, promptly, as he saw the other glance toward him; "and I'll stay out here on guard while some of the rest investigate."
"Thanks, that pleases me," replied the scout-master, relinquishing the weapon that had proved to be worth its weight in silver to them, in that it cowed the trio of lawless men who had their headquarters on Sturgeon Island.
THE SKIES BEGIN TO BRIGHTEN
It was not very light inside the cabin, so that the first thing Thad did in his customary energetic way was to take a lantern from a hook, and put a match to the wick. After that they could see better.
"Don't seem, to be much of anything around here now that we can see half-way decent," remarked Giraffe.