THE BOY SCOUTS ON STURGEON ISLAND
Or Marooned Among the Game-Fish Poachers
By Herbert Carter
OUT FOR A ROYAL GOOD TIME
"Will you do me a favor, Bumpus?"
"Sure I will, Giraffe; what is it you want now?"
"Then tell me who that is talking to our scoutmaster, Dr. Philander Hobbs; because, you know, I've just come in after a scout ahead, and first thing saw was a stranger among the patrol boys."
"Oh! You mean that thin chap who came along in his buggy a bit ago, chasing after us all the way from that town where we had a bite of lunch? Why, I understand he's the son of the telegraph operator there. You know we made arrangements with him to try and get a message to us, if one came along."
"Whew! then I hope he ain't fetched a message that'll spoil all our fun, just when we've got to the last leg of the journey, with the boat only a few miles further on! That'd be the limit Bumpus. You don't know anything about it, I reckon?"
"Well, our scout-master looks kinder down in the mouth, and I'm afraid it must be some sort of a recall to duty for him," remarked a third lad, also wearing the khaki garments of a Boy Scout, as he joined the pair who were talking.
"I'm afraid you're right, Davy," said the tall, angular fellow who seemed to own the queer name of Giraffe, though his long neck plainly proved why it had been given to him by his mates. "But don't it beat the Dutch how many times Doe Hobbs has had to give up a jolly trip, and hurry back home, just when the fun was going to begin, because the old doctor he works with needed him the worst kind?"
"But say," spoke up the fat boy who answered to the designation of Bumpus, "mebbe the Cranford Troop, and the Silver Fox Patrol in particular, ain't lucky to have such a wide-awake, efficient assistant scout-master as our Thad Brewster, who knows more in a day about out-of- door things than Dr. Hobbs would in a year."
"Yes, that's right," replied Giraffe; "but we're going to know what's in the wind now, because here's the scout-master heading this way, with several of the other boys tagging at his heels, and sure as you live they're grinning too. Looks to me like Stephen and Allan thought it a good joke, though they look solemn enough when Doc turns their way. He's just got to leave us, you mark my words, fellows."
It turned out that very way. An urgent message had come that necessitated the immediate return of the scout-master. The old doctor with whom he practiced had been unlucky enough to fall, and break a leg; so it was absolutely essential that his assistant come back to look after the sick people of Cranford, hundreds of miles away.
While the scout-master is getting his personal belongings together, and the six boys gathered around are trying to look terribly disappointed, it might be well to introduce the little party to such of our readers who have not had the pleasure of making their acquaintance in previous volumes of this series.
The Cranford Troop of Boy Scouts now consisted of two full patrols, and a third was in process of forming. The original patrol was known as the Silver Fox, and the six scouts who were with Doctor Hobbs, away up here on the border of Lake Superior, bent on a cruise on the great fresh water sea, all belonged to that division of the troop, so that they are old friends to those who have perused any of the earlier books.
Thad Brewster, whom Bumpus had spoken of so highly, was a bright, energetic lad, who had always delighted in investigating things connected with outdoor life. He had belonged to a troop before organizing the one at Cranford, and was well qualified for being made the assistant scoutmaster, having received his credentials from the New York Headquarters long ago.
Allan Hollister, who would assume the responsibility should Thad be absent, was a boy who had spent quite a time in the Adirondacks before joining the scouts, and his knowledge was along practical lines.
Then there was another fellow, rather a melancholy chap, who had a queer way of showing the whites of his eyes, and looking scared, at the least opportunity, only to make his chums laugh; for he would immediately afterwards grin—in school as a little fellow he had insisted that his name of Stephen should be pronounced as though it consisted of two syllables; and from that day to this he had come to be known as Step Hen Bingham.
The other three boys were the ones who engaged in the little talk with which this story opens. Bumpus really had another name, though few people ever thought to call him by it; yet in the register at school he was marked down as Cornelius Jasper Hawtree; while the fellow who had that strange "rubber-neck" that he was so fond of stretching to its limit, was Conrad Stedman.
Davy Jones, too, wag a remarkable character, as may be made evident before the last word is said in this story. He seemed to be as nimble as they make boys; and was forever doing what he called "stunts," daring any of his comrades to hang by their toes from the limb of a tree twenty feet from the ground; walking a tight-rope which he stretched across deep gully, and all sorts of other dangerous enterprises of that nature. Often he was called "Monkey," and no nick-name ever given by boy playmates fitted better than his.
Once Davy had been a victim to fits, and on this account gained great consideration from his teachers at school, as well as from his comrades. But latterly there had arisen a suspicion that these "fits" that doubled him up so suddenly always seemed to come just when there was some hard work to be done; and once the suspicion that Davy was shamming broke in upon the rest, they shamed him into declaring himself radically cured. It was either that, or take a ducking every time he felt one of those spells coming on; so Davy always declared the camp air had effected a miracle in his case, and that he owed a great deal to his having joined the scouts.
"Too bad, boys," said Dr. Hobbs, who was a mighty fine young man, and well liked by all the scouts in Cranford Troop, although they saw so little of him because his pressing duties called him away so often; "but I've got to go home on the first train. Doctor Green has a broken leg, and there's nobody to make the rounds among our sick people in Cranford. I never was more disappointed in my life, because we've fixed things for a glorious cruise up here on Old Superior."
The boys assured him that they deeply sympathized with him, because they knew it would break their hearts to be deprived of their outing, now that they had come so far.
"Fortunately," continued Dr. Hobbs, with a twinkle in his kindly eyes, "that isn't at all necessary; because all arrangements have been made, the boat is waiting only a few miles away, and you have an efficient assistant scout-master in this fine chap here, Thad Brewster, who will take charge while I'm away, as he has done on numerous other sad occasions."
"Hurrah!" burst from Bumpus; "that's the kind of stuff we like to hear. Not that we won't miss you, Doctor, because you know boys from the ground up, and we all feel like you're an older brother to us; but we've been out with Thad so much, we're kinder used to his ways."
"Well," continued the scout-master, with a long sigh, "I've got to hurry off if I expect to catch that afternoon train, and there's no other until morning; so good-bye, boys. Take good care of yourselves, and write to me as often as you can. I'll try and picture the jolly happenings of this Lake Superior cruise as I read your accounts of it."
He squeezed the hand of every one of the six lively lads; and there was a huskiness in his voice as he bade them a last good-bye that told better than words how sorry he was to leave the merry bunch, just when they were almost, as Bumpus put it, "in sight of the Promised Water."
So the vehicle passed from sight, and the last they saw of Doctor Hobbs was a hand waving his campaign hat to them just before a bend in the country road was reached.
All of them now turned to Thad to see what his plan of campaign would be.
"If it's just this way, fellows," he remarked, with one of his smiles that had made him the most popular boy in all Cranford, barring none; "we've got about three miles to hit it up before we reach the lake shore. Then we'll make camp and spend another night, which I hope will be our last ashore for some little time. Because, unless there's a hitch to the program, we ought to come on the landing where our boat is going to be in waiting, by ten o'clock to-morrow."
"Hurrah!" cried Bumpus, who was already weary of "hiking" because his build made him less active than some of the other scouts, notably Davy and Giraffe.
"Let's get a move on, then," suggested Step Hen. "I can see that poor old Giraffe here is nearly perishing for a little bite of supper."
A rippling laugh ran around at this, for every one knew the failing of the long-legged scout, whose stowage capacity when it came time to eat had never as yet within the memory of any comrade been fully tested; for they always declared that his legs must be hollow, for otherwise it was a mystery where all the food he devoured went to, since he never seemed to get any stouter after a meal than he was before.
The march was accordingly resumed, with Tad and Allan leading the van. The boys were going light, because they did not intend to do much camping on this trip, as it was expected that the boat would accommodate all of them with sleeping quarters.
Each one had a blanket strapped to his back, and with this were a few necessities in the line cooking utensils and food. Most of their luggage had been sent on by another route, as had also their supplies. Doctor Hobbs had wished them to go to the landing where their boat was to meet them, by following this roundabout course, having had some reason of his own for visiting the country. His folks in Cranford owned considerable land in this vicinity, and it was said that there were out- croppings of valuable copper to be found upon it; which accounted for the young man's desire to make inquiries while up in this region.
Joking and laughing, and even singing snatches of school songs, the boys of the Silver Fox Patrol tramped along the road that was to bring them to the shore of the lake by and by.
It was about half-past four when they obtained their first glimpse of the apparently boundless body of water, said to be the largest fresh water sea in the whole world. Shortly afterwards they reached the shore and were looking almost in awe out upon the vast expanse of water, upon the bosom of which they anticipated making their home for some weeks during vacation time.
"Here's the finest camp site you ever struck in your born days, fellers!" called out Giraffe, as he waved his arm around at the trees that grew close to the edge of the inland sea; and every one of the other five scouts agreed with him.
They had made many camps in the last two years, for they had wandered far from the home town, down in Tennessee, up in Maine, and away out to the Rockies on one memorable occasion; but no better place to spend a night had ever greeted their eyes.
It was soon a bustling scene, with a fire being started, and arrangements made to build a sort of lean-to shelter that would even shed rain in a pinch should a storm come upon them during the night they expected to spend here.
Davy, as usual, was climbing trees, and spying into every hole he could find. When Monkey Jones had a chance to exercise his peculiar gifts like this present opportunity afforded him it was utterly out of the question to hold him in. And so he swung daringly from one limb to another, just for all the world like a squirrel, chattering at times in a way that Giraffe always declared left no doubt in his mind concerning Davy's having descended from the original tree-climbing tribe that sported tails.
There was one very large tree close by, that is, large considering that in this section there were few that could boast a girth of more than a foot; but this one was really what Bumpus called a "whopper;" and Davy sported among the higher branches with all the delight of a child with a new toy; giving the others more than one thrill as he swooped this way and that with reckless abandon.
But suddenly he sent out a shout that caused every fellow to take notice; and Bumpus actually turned pale with apprehension, as he vainly looked around for some sort of weapon with which to defend himself; because he always believed he must be a shining mark for any hungry wild beast, on account of his plumpness.
"Oh!" shouted the boy in the tree, "a panther, fellers, a really true panther!"
THAD GOES AFTER THE YELLOW EYES
"He says a panther is up there!" echoed Giraffe, stretching that long neck of his at a fearful rate, in the endeavor to locate the animal in question.
All of them became immediately intensely interested in the further doings of Davy Jones. The boy chanced to be in a position where he could not apparently pass down the trunk of the tree, for fear lest he come in contact with the sharp claws of the dreaded beast which he claimed was hiding up there somewhere; but then that was a small matter to one so active as the Jones boy.
He immediately started to fearlessly slide down the outside of the tree, making use of the branches as he came along, to stay his program when it threatened to become too rapid.
The sight of Davy spinning down from that height with such perfect abandon, was one none of those fellows would ever forget.
When he finally landed on the ground they gathered around him with some misgivings, for Davy was addicted to practical jokes, and some of his chums suspected that even now he was, as Step Hen suggested, "putting up a job on his unsuspecting comrades."
One look at his really white face told them that at least Davy's fright had been genuine. He may not have seen a truly savage panther up there in the tree, but he firmly believed he did.
"Where was it, Davy?" demanded Giraffe, who had hastened to snatch up the camp hatchet in lieu of any better weapon with which to defend himself.
"Did it try to grab you?" asked Bumpus, with a tremor in his voice that he tried in vain to conceal by a great show of assumed bluster.
"And was there only one up there?" queried Step Hen, anxiously, fingering the double-barreled Marlin shotgun, which was the only firearm they had with them, as this expedition had not been organized with any idea of hunting; and the season for game was not on as yet, either, even in this northern country; though Giraffe, who owned the gun, had fetched it in the hope that they might be forgiven if they knocked over a few wild ducks, should their rations run low.
"I didn't wait to ask," stammered Davy, "fact is, boys, I didn't really see the terrible beast at all, only his big yellow eyes!"
"Oh! is that so, Davy?" exclaimed Thad, turning to give Allan a wink, as much as to let him understand that the truth would soon be coming now.
"But see here," Step Hen wanted to know; "however was you agoin' to see his eyes and not glimpse the panther himself; that's a thing you've got to explain, Davy Jones."
The other bent a look of commiseration on the speaker.
"What's the answer to that?" he went on to say, recovering his voice more and more with each passing second, now that his personal safety seemed assured; "I'll tell you, Step Hen. You see, there's a big yawning gap in the tree up there, as black inside as your hat after night. And when I just happened to look that way what did I see but a pair of round yellow eyes astaring straight at me! Guess I've seen a panther, and I ought to know how his eyes look in the dark—just like you've seen the old cat alooking at you to home, when you went into a dark room. Wow! say, did you notice me acoming down that tree outside like greased lightning? I own up I expected I'd be pounced on any second, and that made me in something like a hurry, fellows!"
One or two of the scouts snickered at this. The sound appeared to annoy Davy, who was plainly very much in earnest.
"Huh! easy to laugh, you fellows," he remark, with deep satire in his voice. "Mebbe, now, you, don't believe what I'm telling you! Mebbe one of you'd like to just climb up there, and see for yourself what it is? I dare you, Bumpus!"
"You'll have to excuse me, Davy; it's too big a job for a boy built like me, you understand, though sure I'd like to accommodate first rate," replied the scout with the red hair and mild blue eyes, shrinking back, and shrugging his shoulders.
"Then how about you, Step Hen," pursued Davy, determined to put it to each of the scoffers in turn until he had shown them up in good style; "I notice that you're looking like you didn't reckon there couldn't abeen such a thing as a genuine panther around this region in the last twenty years and more. Suppose you tumble up there, and take a look- in!"
But the party indicated smiled sweetly, and laid his hand on the region of his stomach, as he went on to say:
"Why, really and truly, Davy, I think I'm going to have one of those nasty cramps just like you used to have so often. There's agripe coming on right now, and you see how unpleasant it would be to find myself doubled-up while I was thirty feet from the ground. I'm afraid I'll have to pass this time."
"Then, there's Giraffe who'll he sure to volunteer," continued the other, bound to take all the scoffers in by turns. "He's of an investigating turn of mind, and if he wants to, I reckon he might take that gun along, so he could have some show, if the thing jumped right out in his face!"
"Well, now," the long-legged scout answered, with a whimsical grin, "I'd like to accommodate you the worst kind, Davy, but you know how it is with me. I ain't worth a cooky before I've had my feed. Feel sorter weak about the knees, to tell you the honest truth; and I never was as keen about climbing to the top of tall trees as you were, Davy. Count me out, please, that's a good fellow."
At that Davy laughed outright.
"I see you've got cold feet in the, bargain, Giraffe," he asserted. "Well, then, if anybody's going to climb up there and poke that ugly old beast out of his den it'll have to be either our scout-master, or Allen; for I tell you right now you don't catch me monkeying with a buzz-saw after I've had my fingers zipped."
"I'll go," said Thad, quietly.
"Here, take this, Thad," urged Step Hen, trying to force the shotgun into the hands of the other, as he stepped toward the base of the big tree.
Thad and Allan again exchanged looks.
"Don't think I'll need it, do you, Allan?" the former asked.
"Hardly," came the reply; "and even if you did carry it up, the chances are you couldn't find a way to hold on, and shoot at the same time. Here, let me take that thing, Step Hen; you're that nervous. If anything did happen to fluster you, I honestly believe you'd up and bang away, and perhaps fill our chum with bird-shot in the bargain."
Step Hen disavowed any such weakness, but nevertheless he was apparently glad to hand over the weapon; because he realized that Allan knew much better how to use firearms than he did, and if there was any occasion for shooting, the responsibility would be off his shoulders; for Step Hen never liked to find himself placed where he was in the limelight and had to make good, or be disgraced.
Thad did not appear to be at all worried, as he took a last good look aloft, as though wishing to assure himself that there was no panther in sight among the thick branches above, before he trusted himself up there.
His good common sense told him that the chances were as ten to one that Davy had not seen what he claimed at all; but his fears had worked overtime, and simply magnified some trifling thing.
Of course had Thad really believed there was any chance of meeting such a savage beast as a panther he would never have ventured w make that climb; or if he did he must have surely taken the gun along with him.
The others gathered around near the foot of the tree, and tried to follow the daring climber with their eyes, meanwhile exchanging more or less humorous remarks in connection with his mission.
All of them, saving possibly Allan, seemed to be a little nervous concerning the outcome; because Davy kept on asserting his positive belief that it was a real true panther that lay in the aperture above, and not a make-believe.
"I only hope Thad can dodge right smart if the old thing does come whooping out at him!" was the way Davy put it; at which the eyes of Bumpus grew rounder and rounder, and he began to quietly edge away from under the tree, an inch at a time; for he hoped none of his chums would notice his timidity, because Bumpus was proud of having done certain things in the line of bagging big game, on the occasion of their trip to the Far West.
"There," remarked Step Hen, "he's getting up pretty far now, and I reckon must be close by the place where you saw your old panther, Davy."
"Yes," added Giraffe, "and you notice that Thad's marking time, so to speak, for he's hanging out there, and trying to see what's above him."
"A scout should always use a certain amount of caution," interposed Allan; "there are times when a fellow might take chances, if it's a case of necessity, and quick action is necessary in order to save life; but right now Thad's only carrying out the rule he's always laid down for the rest of us.
"Be prepared, you know, is the slogan of every scout, and that's what he's doing. He wants to be sure of his ground before he jumps."
"Hub!" grunted Davy, "if I'd stopped to count ten before I slid down, I wonder now what would have happened to me. Some fellers act from impulse every time, and you can't change the spots of the leopard, they say. What's dyed in the wool can't be washed out, as took as Bumpus here with his carroty hair."
"You leave my hair alone, Davy Jones, and pay attention to your own business," complained the stout scout, aggressively. "You just know you're a going to get it when Thad makes his report, and you're trying to draw attention somewhere else. Make me think of what I read about the pearl divers when they see an old hungry man-eating shark waiting above 'em; they stir up the sand with the sharp-pointed stick they carry; and when the water gets foggy they swim away without the fish being able to see 'em. And you're atrying right now to befog the real case, which is, did you really see anything, or get scared at your own shadow."
"Hear! Hear!" crowed Giraffe, who always liked to see Bumpus aroused, and when this occurred he often made out to back him up with approval, just as some boys would sick one dog on another, or tempt rival roosters to come to a "scrap."
"You fellow's let up, and watch what Thad's agoin' to do," Step Hen advised them at that juncture; and so for the time being Davy and Bumpus forgot their complaint and riveted their eyes on the boy who was up in the tree.
"I can't hardly see him any more, the branches are so thick," complained Bumpus ducking his head this way and that.
"That's because he's gone on again," argued Giraffe; "seems like he didn't find any signs of a real panther when he took that survey."
"Hold your horses!" was all Davy allowed himself to say, though no doubt he himself had commenced to have serious doubts by now.
Half a minute later and there broke out a series of strange sounds from up above their heads.
"Listen to that, now, would you?" cried Davy, bristling with importance again. "Don't that sound like Thad might a hit up against something big? Hear him talking, will you? Didn't you catch what he said right then—no, you don't grab me, you rascal; I'm afraid I'll have to knock you on the head yet! Say, don't that sound like Thad had found my panther, and was keeping him off with that club he took up with him. Oh! what's that?"
Something came crashing down as Davy uttered this last exclamation. The boys were horrified at, first, because they imagined it might bit Thad and the panther, that, meeting in midair, had lost their grip, and were falling to the ground, fully forty feet below.
"Why, it's only his club" cried Giraffe, quickly.
"Then he must have let it get knocked out of his hand!" ejaculated Bumpus. "Oh! poor Thad. He'll be in a bad fix without a single thing to fight that animal with!"
"That's where you're mistaken, because I can see him now, and he's acoming down the tree right smart!" Step Hen announced; which intelligence allowed Bumpus to breathe freely again, for his face was getting fiery red with the suspense that had gripped him.
"That's so!" echoed Giraffe, "and I'm looking to see if there's any signs of a big cat trailing after him, but so far nothing ain't come in sight."
The five scouts on the ground hastened to close in around the foot of the big tree, so as to welcome their patrol leader when he dropped from the lower limb.
"Seems to me Thad acts kind of clumsy, for him," announced Step Hen; "now, if it'd been Bumpus here I could understand it, because, well I won't say what I was agoing to, because it might make hard feelings between us; and with all his shortcomings Bumpus is a good sort of a chap."
"Huh! dassent, that's what!" grunted the party indicated, making a threatening gesture in the direction of his fellow-scout.
The arrival of the scout-master caused them to forget all other things. Thad, as soon as he found his feet fixed on solid ground once more, strode straight up until he faced Davy Jones, and suddenly called out:
"There's your panther, Davy!"
There was a craning of necks, a gasping of breaths, and then a series of yells broke forth that made the nearby woods fairly ring with the echoes.
THE CAMP ON THE LAKE SHORE
"Why, it's only a big owl!" shouted Giraffe.
"Hey, Davy, shake hands with your yellow-eyed panther!" roared Step Hen.
Bumpus snatched up his bugle, for he held that office in the Cranford Troop, and let out a piercing series of blasts that would have undoubtedly frightened any wild animal, had there been such within a mile of the camp on the lake shore.
It was a large owl that Thad grasped in such fashion that the bird could not reach him with its curved beak, though it made several vicious lunges, as though anxious to fight the whole patrol at once.
He had kept it hidden under his coat when descending the tree, and now gripped it firmly by its two splendidly colored wings.
"Well, it did have yellow eyes, all right," complained the dejected Davy; "and as it stuck there in that black hole, how was I to know it was only a harmless old owl, a hooter at that?"
"If you think he's harmless just try and lay a finger on him," said Thad. "Why, he'd snap you like lightning; once let that beak strike, and you'd lose a piece of skin as big as a half dollar. He's a savage bird, let me warn you."
"Oh! say, can't we, keep him for a pet?" ejaculated Bumpus, who could hardly take his eyes off the bird, for its plumage was certainly beautiful, being a combination of creamy yellows and nut browns, while two bunches stuck up like horns from the region of his ears.
"I've got a nice little chain we might put around one of his legs, and what fun we'd have with the thing while we were afloat on the raging lake," Step Hen went on to say.
"Allan, get on that thick pair of gloves we brought, and see if you could fasten the chain to his leg. It would be worth while to have some sort of pet along with us; because Bumpus has kicked over the traces long ago, and won't let us make a baby out of him any more," Thad went on to remark.
When he had protected his hands in this way, Allan had little difficulty in adjusting the slender but strong steel chain which Step Hen had brought with him, intending to use in case he managed to capture a raccoon, or some other small beast, for he was especially found of pets.
When they had fastened the other end of the chain to something, the owl sat on the limb of a tree, and gazed at them with blinking eyes. There was still enough of daylight, with all that glow in the western heavens to interfere with his sight more or less, and he simply ruffled up his feathers in high dudgeon, and kept trying to pick at the chain that held his leg.
"Now, that's what I call a pretty good start," argued Step Hen, as he stood in front of the chained owl, and admired his plumage; "perhaps later on I might happen to land a 'coon or a mink, who knows. I've always believed that I'd like to have a pet mink, though somebody told me they couldn't be tamed."
"Yes," went on Giraffe scornfully, "if you had your way the whole boat'd be a floating menagerie, you've got such a liking for pets. The mink would soon be joined by a 'possum; then would come a pair of muskrats; after which we'd expect to find a fox under our feet every time we stepped; a wolverine growling like fun at us when we made the least move; a squirrel climbing all over us; a heron perched on the garboard streak, whatever that might be; and mebbe a baby bear rolling on the deck. All them things are possible, once Step Hen gets started on his collecting stunt."
"Well, forget it now, won't you, Giraffe, because there goes Bumpus putting supper on the fire; and unless you look sharp he'll just cut down your ration till you'll only get as much as any two of us," advised Step Hen.
In spite of all these little encounters of wit, and the sharp things that were sometimes said, boy fashion, these six churns were as fond of each other as any lads could possibly be. There was hardly anything they would not have done for one another, given the opportunity; and this had been proved many times in the past.
While they were fond of joking the tall scout on his appetite, truth to tell every one of the others could display a pretty good stowage capacity when it came to disposing of the meals. And so they were all anxious to help Bumpus when he started getting the camp supper ready.
Besides these six lads there were of course two others who went to, make up the full complement; of the Silver Fox Patrol; and who have figured in previous stories of this series.
These boys were named Robert Quail White, who was Southern born, and went by the name of "Bob White," among his friends; and Edmund Maurice Travers Smith, conveniently shortened to plain "Smithy."
These two had taken a different route to the lake, and expected to meet their six churns at a given rendezvous. They were intending also to make use of another boat, since the one engaged for the party would only accommodate seven at a pinch, and counting the scout-master they would have numbered nine individuals in all.
The other two had found that they wanted to see the wonderful Soo Canal, and the rapids that the St. Mary river boasts at that point, where the pent-up waters of Superior rush through the St. Mary's river to help swell the other Great Lakes, and eventually pass through the St. Lawrence river to the sea.
It is no joke cooking for half a dozen hungry scouts, and the one whose duty compelled him to be the chef for a day had to count on filling the capacity of coffee-pot and frying-pans, of which latter there were two.
Evening had settled down upon them by the time they were ready to enjoy the supper of Boston baked beans, fried onions with the steak that had been procured at the last town they had passed through; crackers, some bread that one of them toasted to a beautiful brown color alongside the fire, and almost scorched his face in the bargain; and the whole flanked by the coffee which was "like ambrosia," their absent chum Smithy would have said, until they dashed some of the contents of the evaporated cream into each tin cup, along with lumps of sugar.
"This is what I call living," sighed Giraffe, as he craned his neck visibly in the endeavor to see, whether there was a third "helping" left in the pan for "manners," which was another name for Conrad Stedman.
"Hadn't we better save this piece of steak for Tim?" suggested Step Hen, wickedly, for that was the name he had given to the captive owl.
"No, you don't," objected Giraffe, vociferously, just as the other had known he would do; "that's the very last beef steak we're apt to see for half a moon; and I say it would be a shame to waste it on a heathen bird. Besides, you couldn't coax Jim to take a bite till he's nearly starved; ain't that so, Thad?"
They always appealed to either the assistant scout-master or Allan, whenever any question like this came up, connected with bird or animal lore; and no matter how puzzling the matter might seem to the one who asked, it was promptly answered in nearly every instance.
"Yes, he isn't likely to take hold for a day or two," replied Thad. "By that time the old fellow will sort of get used to seeing us about; and he won't refuse to eat when you put something out for him; only all of you be careful that he doesn't prefer a piece out of your hand. Don't trust him ever!"
"You can make up your mind I won't give him a chance to grab me," asserted Bumpus, never dreaming that by accident he would be the very first to feel the force of that curved beak.
"Listen!" exclaimed Step Hen; "as sure as anything there's another! Why, this must be what you might call Owl-land."
From far away in the timber came the plain sound of hooting. All of the scouts knew what it was easily enough, though there had been a time when they were real tenderfeet, and could hardly distinguish between the call of an owl and the braying of a donkey; but camping-out experience had done away with all such ignorance as that.
"There, don't that make you feel foolish, Step Hen?" demanded Bumpus.
"Me? Whatever put that silly notion into your head, Bumpus?"
"Why," the other went on to say reproachfully, "it was you that really wanted to keep the poor old bird; and just listen to its mate mourning for it, would you? I'd think you'd feel so sorry you'd want to unfasten that chain right away, and give the owl its freedom."
"Not for Joseph, though I'll let you go and undo his chain if you feel inclined that way," Step Hen observed, knowing full well that Bumpus did not want to see the feathered captive set free quite that bad. "Besides, how d'ye know that's a mate to my bird whooping it up back there?"
"Well, if you want to find out, just you sleep with one eye open," Bumpus told him; "and take it from me you'll see that other owl come winnowing around here, wanting to know why our new pet don't come when she calls."
"Huh! mebbe I will,"' was all Step Hen would say about it; but evidently the idea had appealed to him; and there was a chance that he would indulge in very little rest that night, for trying to "keep one eye open while he slept."
After supper was all over, and the boys lay around on their blankets, they fell to talking of other days when they had been in company, and met with a great many, surprising adventures.
Then Bumpus, who really had a very fine tenor voice, which he could strain so as to sing soprano like a bird, was coaxed to favor them with a number of selections, the others coming in heavy in each chorus.
Sometimes it was a popular ballad of the day that Bumpus gave them; but more often a school chorus, or it might be some tender Scotch song like "Comin' Through the Rye," "Annie Laurie," or "Twickenham Ferry;" for boys can appreciate such sentiments more than most folks believe; and especially when in an open air camp, with the breeze sighing through the trees around them, or the waves murmuring as they wash the sandy shore of a lake, and the moonlight throwing a magical spell upon all their surroundings; for there is the seed of romance in the heart of nearly every healthy lad.
So the evening wore on until some of them began to yawn frequently, showing that they were ready to turn in. As one of them had said, this might be the last time they would camp ashore during trip, because on the morrow they anticipated, unless something unforeseen came up to prevent it, going aboard their boat, and starting on the cruise upon the big waters of Superior.
They had no tent on this occasion, but really that was not going to prove any hardship to these bold lads, accustomed to spending many a night in the woods, with only a blanket for a cover against the dew and frost.
It was arranged to keep the fire going. This would serve in a double capacity, for not only would they be kept warm through the cold part of the night, but if there did happen to be any wild beasts around in that section of the Lake Superior country, which both Allan and Thad rather doubted, why, the glow of the blaze was apt to make them keep their distance.
The last thing Giraffe remembered, as his heavy eyes persisted in closing, was seeing Step Hen bob up his head to stare over toward the low branch upon which the captive owl was fastened; as though he might have arranged a program with himself and meant to do this thing at stated intervals all through the night.
Giraffe chuckled at the idea of sacrificing good sleep in the interest of knowledge; he was willing to simply ask some one who knew, and be satisfied to accept their answer as conclusive.
An hour later and the camp seemed to be all quiet, for every one was apparently sound asleep. Even Thad and Allan had known of no reason why a watch should be maintained, for they felt sure there could hardly be a human being within miles of the camp; and even if this were not so, the chances were strongly in favor of its proving to be an honest farmer, or some miner on his way to the workings further west.
The only sounds that could have been heard from time to time were an occasional peevish fretful croak from the captive owl, as it continued to peck savagely at the chain around its leg; or it might be a snore from Bumpus, or some other fellow who had a fashion of lying squarely on his back.
Perhaps pretty soon, when one of the scouts had been kept awake by this noise until patience ceased to be a virtue, he would get quietly up, and pour a tin-cup of lake water over the one who persisted in sleeping with his mouth wide open; for that sort of radical remedy had proven effective on other occasions, and brought relief.
It must have been almost midnight when a sudden change came about that took even the seasoned campers by surprise, for they had not been anticipating any such startling event.
The stillness was broken by a piercing scream that caused every head to bob up, and the blankets to be hurriedly thrown aside.
"My owl's mate has come in on us, mebbe!" exclaimed Step Hen; for that idea was so firmly lodged in his brain that it had to occur to him as soon as he heard all that row.
But some of the others were wiser, for they knew that shout had surely come from human lips.
Giraffe was the first to call out and draw their attention to certain facts.
"Looky there at old Bumpus dancing a jig, will you! Whatever ails the feller, d'ye think! Acts like he'd clean gone out of his head, and got loony!" he cried, as with the other boys he came tumbling out from under the rude shelter made of branches.
LAUNCHED ON THE INLAND SEA
Sure enough Bumpus was in plain sight, for the fire still burned, and there was also a bright moon high up in the heavens. The fat scout seemed to be trying to execute all the steps in a Southern hoedown, or an Irish jig; for he was prancing around this way and that, holding on to his hand, which the other boys now discovered was streaked with blood!
"Oh! what's happened to you, Bumpus?" cried Step Hen, as he ran out toward the spot where the other continued to waltz around in his bright red and white striped pajamas, that made him look like an "animated sawed-off barber's pole," as one of his chums had once told him.
"It bit me, oh! I'll bleed to death, I reckon now!" wailed the other; "say, Thad, get out some of that purple stuff you use for scratches from wild animals. Mebbe blood, poisoning'll develop; and I'd just hate the worst kind to die up here, away off from my own home."
"What bit you; can't you tell us, Bumpus?" asked Thad, though already he may have had suspicions that way.
"Jim did, the bally old owl!" came the dismal answer; "please, oh! please tell me whether his beak is poisonous, won't you, Thad?"
"Well, what d'ye think of that?" ejaculated Step Hen, "however did you happen to meddle with my owl, tell me? Sure, I did give you permission to unchain him, if you had the nerve; but I never did believe you'd go and take me up at that."
"I didn't neither," Bumpus declared, still dancing around.
"Here, let me see that wound!" called out Thad, as he and Allan cornered the sufferer; "all it may need is washing, and then binding up with some healing salve. But it makes a nasty cut, don't it, Allan?"
"I should say yes," replied the other; "but it's some lucky it wasn't his face the bird struck at. Why, Bumpus might have lost an eye."
At that possibility the fat scout set up another roar.
"Just you believe the old thing meant to snap my eye out when he bit at me; and I must have happened to put out my hand—so he struck that!" he declared; while Allan hastened to open a package and take out some salve and tape such as scouts should always carry along with them when in camp, because there is no telling when it may be needed badly, just as in the present instance.
"But see here, what possessed you to walk around in this way, and go over to try and pet that savage bird?" asked Thad.
"Give you my solemn affidavit that I don't know a single thing about it!" the other went on to say, as solemn as the owl that sat on the branch near by."
"Do you mean you don't remember getting up, and coming out here?" continued the scout-master, who always probed things to the very dregs, or until he had extracted all the information possible.
"Not a thing," reaffirmed Bumpus, and his face showed that he was speaking only the truth. "I can remember laying down for a snooze, and then everything seems to be blank after that, till all of a sudden I felt that awful pain, and it made me let out a whoop, I'm telling you."
"I should think it did," muttered Giraffe; "ten Injuns rolled into one couldn't beat that howl. I sure thought the panther had got you that time!"
"Well, likely I thought just that same thing, Giraffe, when I warbled that way, because I remember now I was dreaming about gray-coated panthers. Then I thought about rattlesnakes too, because you know I can't stand for the crawlers. Next thing I opened my eyes with a jump, and saw that old owl, with every feather on his back standing up like the quills of a porcupine, and trying to jab me a second time."
Thad and Allan, who had now returned in time to hear this last exchanged looks.
"A clear case of sleep walking, seems like!" ventured the former.
"Oh! my goodness gracious! I thought I was over them tricks years ago!" exclaimed Bumpus, shivering. "If they're agoing to take me again I see my finish; because some night I'll walk off a precipice, and that'll be the end of me."
"We'll like as not have to tie you by the leg every night, just like Jim is now; and that'll stop you prancing around loose, trying to set my pets free in your sleep," Step Hen went on to say, reassuringly; but somehow Bumpus did not seem to take to the idea the least bit.
"You let me alone, that's all, Step Hen Bingham," he told the other, "and I'll fix my own business. That's what comes of you keeping the silly old owl. Serve you about right if his mate dropped in and bit the end of your big toe off to pay you up for fastening that chain on the poor thing's leg."
"Say, I like that, now; when you were the very first one to ask if we couldn't keep that same owl!" Step Hen told him.
"Wow! that hurts some, let me tell you, fellows!" groaned the fat scout, when Allan was putting some salve, calculated to help heal the wound, on the torn place, and then with the assistance of the scout-master started binding the hand up with windings of soft linen that came in a tape roll two inches wide.
"But let me tell you it's some chilly out here, with only pajamas on," objected Giraffe; "and for one I'm going to skip back under my blanket, where I can snuggle down. Somebody remember to throw a little wood on the fire, please. Let Davy do it."
Of course that really meant either the scoutmaster or Allan; and Giraffe often had a failing for shirking some duty like this. It was so easy to expect some other to do disagreeable things; though as a rule the boys were accustomed to saying, "let Davy do it," until it had become so tiresome that the Jones boy had rebelled, and refused to be the errand boy any longer for the entire patrol.
In half ah hour silence again brooded over the camp. Bumpus must have done something to make sure he did not start walking in his sleep again, for nothing occurred to disturb their slumbers until dawn came along and, with birds singing, as well as gray squirrels barking lustily at the intruders, awakened them all.
Breakfast was hurried, because all of them were' anxious to be on the move. They knew that by following the shore of the big water several miles they would come to the point where there was a village, with something of a landing place in a sheltered nook; and here they expected to find their boat awaiting them.
It was about an hour after sun-up that the cheery notes of Bumpus' silver-toned bugle gave the signal for the start; and the six khaki-clad lads could be seen moving at a fairly fast pace along the shore of the lake. Step Hen had managed to bundle the captive owl in a spare sweater, so he could carry him all right without danger.
The little waves came purling up close to their feet, and seemed to welcome the strangers to their domain; but Thad knew full well that under different conditions these same waves would unite to threaten them with destruction.
Step Hen having found a way to muzzle the owl, so that he could carry the prisoner, without fear of dire attacks from that sharp beak seemed more determined than ever to try and keep Jim; and he frowned every time he saw Bumpus observing the, bird thoughtfully, because he imagined the fat scout might be hatching up a scheme for choking the thick-necked prisoner, in revenge for what he had suffered from its savage thrust.
Finally a loud shout was heard from Giraffe, who, being so much taller than the balance of the scouts, and possessed of a neck he could stretch to an alarming degree, was in a position to see much further than the rest.
"The village is in sight!" he announced, whereat there was a cheer, the owl commenced to struggle afresh, and Step Hen had his hands full trying to quiet his feathered prisoner.
With their goal now close at hand the boys were able to step out at a more lively pace, even Bumpus showing surprising gains.
About ten o'clock they arrived at the settlement where they had seen some sort of dock, at which a couple of ore barges of the whaleback type were being loaded.
Already the eager eyes of the boys had discovered a boat that answered the description of the one they expected to find awaiting them.
Making straight for the place they found that they had guessed rightly. That good sized powerboat was the Chippeway Belle, the vessel which was to be their home for the next two weeks or more, as they pleased.
An investigation revealed the fact that their stores were all aboard, as well as their extra supplies that went under the general designation of "duffel."
"Nothing else for us to do but go aboard, and make a bully start, is there, Thad?" asked the impatient Giraffe, eager to find out how the craft could go; for up to now the Silver Fox Patrol had generally spent their outings on dry land; and this idea of a cruise had come somewhat in the shape of what Thad called an "innovation."
"Nothing at all, Giraffe," replied the other, himself looking pleased at the prospect of being about to start on such a splendid pleasure trip.
"How about paying for the use of the boat; has all that been attended to?" asked careful Bumpus, who was not so very much of a water-dog himself, and rather viewed the prospect of getting out of sight of land on board so small a craft with anything but exultant delight; indeed, to tell the honest truth, the fat scout was already secretly sorry he had come.
"Oh! yes," replied Thad, quickly; "Dr. Hobbs attended to all that for us; fact is, this boat is owned by a friend of his, which was how we got it as cheap as we did. And more than that, the gentleman attended to packing all our supplies at the Soo, and sent the boat here on a steamer, so we could start from this place. It was Dr. Philander's idea, you know, this coming through the copper region along the south shore of the Eke. And now, if you're all of the same mind, let's get started."
"Hurrah; hoist the Pennant of the Silver Fox Patrol that your Sister Polly made us, Giraffe, and every fellow dip his hat to the colors of the gay Chippeway Belle!" and in answer to this request on the part of Davy Jones they did salute the raising of the neat little burgee that had a silver fox fashioned in silken hand-work upon it.
Thad examined the engine carefully. He knew considerable about such things, and yet he fancied, he might have more or less trouble with the motive power of this Lake Superior boat; for it was of rather an ancient pattern, and had evidently seen its best days.
Between them Thad and Allan confessed this much, but they did not think it good policy to say anything to the others, though anxious Bumpus watched their conference uneasily, and could be seen to carefully pick out a spot on the rail where he perched, and seemed inclined to stay—it was handy to a quick getaway in case the worst happened, and the engine blew up, as he whispered to himself.
After he had, as he believed, mastered the rudiments of the working of the motor Thad told them to cast off, and they would make a start. Several men stood around to watch them get away, among them the party in whose charge the boat had been left, and who had only delivered it up after Thad had produced an order for the same, and paid certain expenses for storage and watching.
"Were moving at last!" called Step Hen excitedly, as the machinery started to go with a rush, after Thad had cranked the engine.
Allan stood by the wheel, and as the prow of the boat gurgled through the clear waters of the great lake, every scout was thrilled with the vast possibilities that faced them, now that their cruise had begun.
"This means that we'll eat our first meal aboard at noon to-day," remarked Giraffe who seemed determined that no regular feeding time might be neglected, if he could help it.
"You ought to be a happy fellow, Giraffe," remarked Davy Jones, "after taking a look over the piles of grub we've got aboard. Why, do you know there's a whole big ham, two slabs of bacon, and all sorts of good things. No danger of any of us going hungry on this excursion; unless the old tub should happen to sink, and leave us marooned on some rocky island."
"Oh! see here, stop joking about that sort of thing, Davy," remonstrated Bumpus, shivering as though he felt a cold draught; "I know right well that if such a horrible thing ever did happen to us, the rest of you'd make up your minds to begin on me the first thing."
"Well, that's the penalty you have to pay, Bum, pus, for being so tempting," chuckled Step Hen; "now, who'd ever think of picking Giraffe out for a dainty meal; why he's as skinny as an old crow."
"There are times when it pays right well to be thin," remarked the scout held up to derision, "and that'd be one of 'em, I reckon."
They were by now far away from the ore dock, and the barges that were loading; indeed it was only with an effort they could see either, for a haze had crept over the surface of the lake. The Chippeway Belle had been going along at quite a fair pace, thought making more noise than was agreeable to either Thad or Allan, when all at once, without the least warning there was heard a loud report. Instantly the sound of the engine ceased.
"She's broke down, and we're wrecked already!" yelled Giraffe, excitedly.
"Oh! mercy! and she may explode at any second now!" cried poor Bumpus; after which, in sheer desperation he jumped deliberately overboard, clinging to the side of the swaying craft, and in momentary expectation of hearing a fearful crash, as the gasoline tank went up.
"Tell us what to do, Thad, and count on us to follow you!" called out Giraffe, rising manfully to the occasion; though to tell the honest truth he looked pretty "white around the gills," as Step Hen remarked later on, when they all found time to compare experiences.
"Just stick to your seats, and don't bother!" was the quick reply Thad sent back.
"Then there ain't any danger?" demanded Davy, drawing the only decent breath he had dared indulge in since that first alarm.
"Not a bit!" called Allan, cheerily.
"And we ain't goin' to have to swim for it then?" Step Hen went on.
"Not unless you feel like taking a bath," replied Thad asked.
"But what happened to our engine?" asked Davy.
"And will we have to pole, or row, the rest of the trip?" proceeded Giraffe. "I see our finish if that comes around so early in the cruise. Wow! me to hike through the woods afoot, when it hits a fellow as hard as this."
"Me too!" sighed Step Hen.
"Oh! don't get excited, boys," remarked Thad, with a broad smile; "no danger of anything like that happening to us just yet. I was half expecting something along these lines to happen; and now that it has, we'll fix that part for keeps. It won't come around again, I promise you that."
"Which isn't saying something else won't," grumbled Giraffe. "The blame old tub is just about ready to go to pieces on us, the first chance she gets; and that's what I think."
"Not so bad as that, Giraffe," remonstrated Thad. "This engine has been a great one in its day."
"Yes, but that day was about away, back in the time of Stephenson," continued the tall scout, who, once he began to complain, could only be shut off with the greatest difficulty.
Everybody seemed to laugh at that, it was so ridiculous; but as Thad was already busily engaged in examining the engine their spirits seemed to rise a little.
"Hey! ain't anybody agoin' to help me in?" piped up a small voice just then, accompanied by a splashing sound.
The boys exchanged looks, and then followed nods, as though like a flash they saw the chance to play something of a Joke on the comrade who was thus appealing for aid.
"Hello! where's the other fellow?" exclaimed Allan, as though he had counted noses, and found one missing.
"That's so, where can he be?" echoed Thad.
"Who's missing?" Thad, went on to say.
"Bob White was only here we'd have him call the toll and find out. There used to be six kids the bunch."
"It must be Bumpus!" declared Giraffe, solemnly.
"You're right!" said a spluttering voice from some unseen place.
"The poor old silly thing, he just jumped right over into the water without saying Jack Robinson!" Step Hen observed, in such a sad voice you would have thought he was having the tears streaming down his cheeks, when in truth there was a wide grin settled there.
"Oh! then he must surely be drowned," Davy went on to add, in a voice that seemed to be choking with emotion—of some sort.
"I thought I saw the lake rising, and that accounts for it," ventured Step Hen. "When a fellow as big as our poor chum goes down, he displaces just an equal part of water. However will we tell his folks the sad news?"
"Ain't you nearly done all that stuff?" demanded an impatient voice, and there was a rocking motion to the boat; after which a very red face surmounted by a shock of fiery hair, now well plastered down, hove in sight. "Hey! somebody get a move on, and give me a hand. I'm soaked through and through, and I tell you my clothes weigh nigh on three tons."
The five boys pretended to be hardly able to believe their eyes. They threw up their hands, and stared hard at the apparition.
"Why, sure, I believe it's our long lost chum, Bumpus!" gasped Giraffe.
"Mebbe it's his ghost come back to haunt us the rest o' out lives. Mebbe we better knock him on the head; they say that's the only sure way to settle spooks," and as Step Hen said this terrible thing, he started to pick up the long-handled boat book.
"No, you don't, Step Hen!" shrilled Bumpus, who was really frightened as long as he remained in the water, for he believed it must be a mile deep so far out from land. "You just put that pole down, and get hold of my arm here. I tell you I'm tired of being in soak so long, and I want to come aboard so's to get some dry duds on. Make 'em behave, Thad, can't you? I'm getting weak holding on here all this while; and pretty soon I'll have to let go. Then there will be a ghost, sure, to haunt this crowd. Ain't you coming to assist a fellow scout in distress?"
Realizing that the joke had gone far enough the, scout-master himself sprang forward to give poor Bumpus the assistance he craved.
There was no lack of help after that, Step Hen even made use of the boat hook to take hold of some part of the wet scout's clothes; and with a mighty "heave-o!" they dragged him, puffing, and shedding gallons of water, on to the deck of the stalled power-boat. Here he lay for a minute or two "to drain," as Giraffe remarked, but soon feeling chilled, Bumpus began to hunt for his clothes-bag in order to get something dry to put on.
As he did not have a complete outfit for a change, the other fellows helped out; but while his soaked khaki suit was drying, hanging here and there so the sun could do the business, the fat scout presented a laughable appearance, since of course none of the things that had been so generously loaned him began to fit his stout figure.
However, since Bumpus was by nature a jolly chap, he quickly saw the humor of the thing. This was after he had become warmed up fairly well, when he could sit and watch those who were tinkering with the broken engine, and tell what his feelings were as he sprang so hurriedly over into the big lake.
It made him shiver, though, to look around at that sea of water, and realize what an exceedingly reckless boy he had been.
"Next time anything happens, me to stick to the old boat, even if I go up a mile high in the air!" he declared, raising his right hand solemnly, as though taking a vow.
"Have your wings ready, Bumpus, and you'll be all right, because you can fly," said Giraffe; and that provoked another laugh; because Bumpus, once upon a time, being very ambitious to learn how to swim, had purchased a pair of those "White Wings," which are simply bags made of waterproof cloth that can be inflated, and used after the manner of life preservers; so that he had had heaps of fun poked at him on account of his "wings."
So a full hour passed.
Some of the boys were growing impatient, and to relieve the monotony, Thad managed to call the attention of Giraffe to the fact that it lacked only ten minutes of high noon.
That was enough.
"I thought I was feeling pretty weak!" ex-claimed the tall scout, rubbing his stomach sympathetically, "and no wonder, with breakfast so far back I've even clean forgot what I had. Come along, boys, let's get busy with lunch."
"The rest of you can attend to that," said Thad, satisfied that his plan had worked; "and by the time you are ready to call us, we'll have this job all done, so we can start her going."
That was cheering news, and the rest immediately set to work with a will. There was a little stove aboard that used gasoline for fuel, and with this it seemed as though they ought to be able to do all the cooking they wanted when away from land. Of course should they have the opportunity, they meant to go ashore many times, and have one of the old-fashioned camp-fires, around which they had sat so many times in the past, when on their outings.
Before long the smell of cooking that filled the air told that the laborers were making a success of the warm lunch business. Bumpus in particular seemed fairly wild for things to get done.
"I tell you, I just can't seem to get any warmth inside me," he complained when Step Hen took him to task for showing such unusual impatience. "That water was as cold as Greenland, and went right through me. I want my coffee, and I know when I want it."
"Guess your being so badly scared had a heap to do with it," remarked Giraffe.
"Perhaps so, Giraffe," replied the fat scout, meekly; "I admit that I was frightened out of a year's growth, because I once dreamed I was burned in just such an accident as a boat taking fire. But how about you, Giraffe? The first time my head came up above the coming of the deck I saw your face, and say, talk to me about a gravestone being white, that wasn't anything alongside your phiz."
"You don't say!" jeered the tall scout, though he looked conscious of the fact that his face was now as red as a beet.
"And chances are that you didn't jump the same way I did because you were scared so bad you just couldn't move a finger," Bumpus went on, seeing his advantage.
"Thad!" called out Giraffe, scorning to pay attention to the thrust.
"All right!" answered the other.
"Lunch ready!" Giraffe went on to say.
"And so is our job done," saying this Thad I gave the crank a quick turn, upon which there was a quick response; for the merry popping of the engine greeted the anxious ears of the young cruisers.
"Hurrah!" shouted Bumpus, who was feeling fine, now that he had given Giraffe a return jab, after having it rubbed in so hard by the tall scout.
The Chippeway Belle was already moving rapidly through the water, rising and falling on the waves that came out of the southwest; and as the six lads gathered around to do justice to the spread that was to serve as their first meal afloat, they once more saw things in a cheery light, for all seemed going well with them.
THE RIVAL FISHERMEN
As the afternoon crept on, and the boat continued to keep up a merry pace, the boys began to feel their confidence return. As Thad assured them he did not expect to have any further trouble with the engine, they no longer kept an anxious eye on the working part of the craft, while at the least unusual sound every fellow's heart seemed ready to jump into his throat with wild alarm.
It was not the purpose of the cruisers to try and cross the vast body of water upon which their little craft was launched, and which is so immense that for two whole days they might be out of sight of land. Thad knew the danger that lay in such a thing, and had promised the folks at home in Cranford that he would be very careful. Indeed, only for the presence of Dr. Hobbs, some of the parents of the scouts might have felt like revoking their promise to allow their boys to be of the party.
Accordingly their course was now laid in such a quarter that they could keep the land in sight upon their port quarter most of the time.
Of course, while the scouts had not been at sea, and really knew very little of navigation, they were ambitious to learn. And as Bumpus had before hand written down all sorts of phrases used long ago on board the ships that sailed the seas in such white-winged flocks before the advent of steam gave them such a backset, he read these all out to his mates; and after that, whenever they could think of the nautical name for anything they insisted on using it, because, as Giraffe declared, it gave such a realistic effect to things.
"But let me tell you there's a rumpus in the navy these days," said Step Hen, as Giraffe asked him to "step aft, and hand me that pair of binoculars, so I can take an observation."
"What about?" asked Thad.
"Why, they want to abolish some of these old terms that are just a part of sea-faring life. For instance they say that when the man at the wheel is told to 'port your helm,' it takes just the fraction of a second for it to pass through his mind that that means 'turn your helm to the left.' And so they say in our navy after this the officer will callout: 'Turn your helm to the left, Jack!' Whew! that must rile every old jack tar, though. It's like taking the seasoning out of the mince meat."
"Don't you believe it'll ever pass," asserted Bumpus, indignantly; "and just after I've made up my mind to learn every one of this list so I can rattle it off like I can already box the compass. No siree, every true sailorman will rise up in arms against it. You can count on my vote in favor of sticking to the old way. Nothing like the old things, say!"
"'Cepting engines," interposed Step Hen, maliciously.
"Oh! well, I draw the line there, that's true," Bumpus admitted, with a shrug of his fat shoulders, as his eyes unconsciously dropped, so that he looked down into the depths of the lake, "a full mile deep," as he always said to himself.
"Oh! I saw a fish then!" he suddenly shouted, showing new excitement.
"Get your hook and line, Bumpus, and mebbe we'll have fried speckled trout or white fish for supper!" remarked Giraffe, with what he meant to be satire in his speech.
"Huh! I ain't that green about fishing, and you know it," remarked the other, as he gave the tall scout a look of scorn. "Anyhow, I can beat you a mile fishing any day in the week, Giraffe, and I don't care who hears me say it"
"Is that a challenge, Bumpus?" demanded Thad, seeing a chance for some fun to enliven their cruise.
"If he chooses to take me up, you can call it that," responded the fat boy, with a belligerent look at his rival.
"Oh! I'm ready to meet you half way, Bumpus; anything to oblige," Giraffe went on to say, sturdily. "I'd just like a good chance to show you up for a fish fakir. We've heard a heap about how you used to haul 'em in; now's your chance to prove that you're the big gun of this trip."
"All right, just as you say, and we'll leave it to Thad to lay down the terms of the contest, the loser to treat the crowd to a dinner when we get back home," Bumpus went on to say, with the took of one who would die sooner than give up.
"No need of that last," Allan asserted, with a shake of his head. "We expect to have a spread anyhow when we arrive back in Cranford, because there's plenty of money in the treasury of the Silver Fox Patrol; but the loser must do the drudgery that always goes with a dinner, and be the waiter for the other seven fellows. Do you both agree to that?"
"I do!" said Bumpus, holding up his right hand, just as thought he might be before Squire Jasper, and about to give his evidence in court.
"Ditto here; I agree, Thad," Giraffe hastened to say, not wishing to have it appear that he lagged behind his competitor a particle.
"Now, about the terms; what sort of fish are we to grab?" Bumpus wanted to know.
"You don't grab any, Bumpus," Giraffe warned him; "every one must be fairly caught with hook and line, and no seines or nets or guns used. Ain't that right, judge?"
Thad immediately declared he understood that, it was to be a genuine sportsmanlike proceeding, and that no underhand tactics would be tolerated.
"First the number will count," he went on to explain; "after that variety will stand for a second point. Then the heaviest fish will be a third claim, and we might as well make it interesting, so let's call the smallest fish caught a fourth point."
"That's four in all; can't you think up another, so's to have it five; and then three points will be a majority, and wins out?" suggested Davy Jones.
"A good idea, Davy," Thad assured him; "suppose, then, we also say the longest fish when measured by inches; that would make five points, all right."
"Yes," interrupted Giraffe, "but ain't that already covered when you say the biggest fish?"
"Not necessarily," Thad told him, "though in some cases the two would go together, I suppose. But sometimes you'll catch a bass that measures two inches longer than the one the other fellow got, but when you use the scales his weighs more by six ounces. How does that come—well, we've got an illustration right here in you and Bumpus; you call yourself the larger by nearly a foot, but when it comes—"
Giraffe threw up his hands in token of surrender.
"That's right, Thad," declared Bumpus, "the longest ain't always high notch. They do say the best goods come in the smallest packages. But write the conditions down, Thad, while they're fresh in our minds, and read 'em out. When I come in under the wire first, as I surely will, it'd grieve me to hear any squealing from our tall friend here, and have any dispute about not understanding the rules of the game."
Giraffe sniffed scornfully, but did not say anything. However, for a long time after that both boys busied themselves sorting out the greatest lot of fishing tackle their chums had seen for an age; showing that they were in deadly earnest about trying to win the wager.
Bumpus even managed to attach a phantom minnow to the end of a line, which he slyly dropped overboard when he thought no one was looking, in hopes of being fortunate enough to get first blood in the competition. And the others knew that if this thing kept up they were bound to have plenty of fun in watching the desperate efforts of the rival fishermen.
Thad was looking up at the sky occasionally.
"Seem to be some clouds gathering?" remarked Allan, noticing this action on the part of the pilot of the expedition.
"Yes, but then they may not mean anything; though I've been told that storms do come up very suddenly around here. May be something about this big body of fresh water that brings that about, for the sun must draw heaps up from Old Superior every hot day."
"I reckon, now, you're aiming to get to that cove you marked on the chart, so's to have a snug harbor for the night," Allan went on to say.
"Just what I am," the other admitted; "this lake is a bit too big for us to think of anchoring out, and taking chances. A storm is bad enough in daytime when you can see around you; but it must be terrible in the pitch darkness."
"Excuse me, if you please," spoke up Step Hen, who had been listening to all the others said. "I hope there are aplenty of them same snug harbors; for a boat the size of ours to drop in and stay overnight."
"That's just the trouble about cruising on Superior," said Thad, "and especially along the American shore, because there are few rivers that empty into the lake. Up along the Canadian side it's different, because there are some fine trout streams that extend from White Fish Bay along toward old Fort William."
"I'd like to see that last place," spoke up Davy, "because I've heard about it ever since I was knee high to a grasshopper. You see, my great grandfather used to live in Montreal in the days when the Northwest Fur Company was in competition with the Hudson Bay Company, and my ancestor was employed each Spring to set out from Montreal with some, big batteaus manned by French Canadian voyageurs, who would row and sail all the way through most of the Great Lakes to Fort William, where the agent had collected heaps of valuable pelts from the trappers and the Injuns after the season was done. These he'd fetch all the way back to Montreal again, the flat bottom boats being loaded down with the bales. And let me tell you that was taking risks some; but they raised men in them days, I reckon, men that never allowed themselves to think of such a thing as danger, because they were always facing some sort of perils."
"I guess you're, about right, Davy," admitted Thad; "and I often sit and wonder how it'd seem if a fellow lived away back in those days before the times of automobiles, motorboats, telephones, talking machines and electricity."
"Huh!" grunted Bumpus, "according to my mind, what dangers they faced ain't to be mentioned in the same breath as them we have hovering over us all the while. For instance, what if Thad here just crooked his hand, wouldn't we be apt to run smack into that other boat that's goin' to pass us right now.
"And say, fellows," remarked Giraffe, in a low, mysterious tone, that somehow managed to thrill the others, as no doubt he intended it should; "just take a peek at the men in that boat, will you? Somehow I don't know just why, but they make me think of pirates, if ever they have such critters up here on Old Superior. And take it from me, boys, right now one of the bunch is looking us over through a marine glass. Like as not they're making up their minds who and what we can be, and if it's going to pay 'em to board this same craft, to clean it out. Don't anybody make out like we're watching 'em; but try and remember where you put our gun, Thad; because who knows but what we might need the same right bad before long?"
ON HEAVING WATERS
"Gee! Pirates! Whew!"
That was only Bumpus talking to himself; as he lay there on the deck, and stared across the swelling water toward the black powerboat that was heading the other way, so as to cross their course.
There were apparently several men in the strange boat; and as Giraffe had just remarked, they seemed to be more or less interested in the Chippeway Belle and her young crew, for every one of them was looking that way, and one man really had a pair of marine glasses up to his eyes.
Thad dived into the interior of what was called the "hunting cabin," and quickly reappeared bearing the glasses they had been wise enough to fetch along, as well as a compass whereby to steer.
"That's the ticket, Thad!" said Step Hen; "let 'em see they ain't the only pebbles on the beach. We've got a marine glass, too. Now, tell us what you think, are they really lake buccaneers; and will we have to put up a desperate fight to keep from being robbed, and sunk, and perhaps made slaves?"
Bumpus gasped for breath, at hearing such doleful things; but as, Step Hen gave a quick glance toward the fat chum, possibly what he said was only meant to cause the other's flesh to quiver with dread.
"Oh! they don't seem to be altering their course in the least," spoke up Allan; "and as for them watching us, who wouldn't stare on seeing a crowd of boys afloat up here on Superior waters?"
"I was thinking that our uniforms as scouts might make them sit up and take notice," said Giraffe. "P'raps they think we're U. S. soldiers, because the dough-boys all wear this same khaki now instead of the old army blue. And in case they're real bold smugglers or pirates, that would give them cause for a scare. Do they look like they're ready to run away, Thad?"
"Well, not any more than would be the case if they were honest cruisers," replied the other, as he handed the glasses to Allan, who in turn would pass them around. "Seems to me one of them wears some kind of a blue cap, as though he might be an officer of some sort."
"Oh! don't count on that," spoke up Bumpus, "anybody can buy one like that. Ain't I got one right here in my duffel bag; but I hadn't found a chance to spring it on the rest of the bunch. They, may be a tough lot, even if one does wear an officer's cap."
"Well, they're going right along about their own business, and don't seem to be changing their course a little bit," Allan said as he passed the glasses to Giraffe.
"I'm glad to hear that," Bumpus admitted, breathing freely again. "Because, as you all know, I'm very much opposed to violence at any time; though," he continued, "I'd fight if I was hard pushed, and fight real fierce, too."
"We all know that, Bumpus, so there's no need of you apologizing," Thad assured him, with a smile and a nod, for he was very fond of the stout chum.
"But when you said smugglers, what did you mean, Giraffe?" questioned Step Hen.
"Oh! Don't you know that they have heaps of trouble with such law- breakers all along the Canadian border?" demanded the tall boy. "You see, there's a heavy duty on a lot of things that can come into Canada free, or with only a small sum to pay; and whenever men can make money taking chances, they're just bound to try it. Why, I understand that millions of dollars are lost to the Government every year just in the goods smuggled across the border all the way from Maine to the Pacific ocean."
"Whew! and yonder craft might be one of the tricky boats engaged in that business; is that what you mean, Giraffe?" asked Bumpus, again staring hard after the strange black powerboat which was larger than the Chippeway Belle, and apparently much better able to meet the heavy seas that must sweep across the lake when the wind reached a certain strength.
"Oh! I don't say that, remember," quickly replied the other; "because it's only a guess on my part, and I haven't anything to show for proof. I was just giving you the benefit of a bright thought that came into my brain, that's all. There may be something in it, and again, p'raps them fellows are just a pleasure party; or some sportsmen heading, for a favorite fishing place."
"Then if we followed 'em, we'd stand a show to find where the fish lie," suggested Bumpus; showing that at least he had not forgotten about his recent wager, even in the midst of all this excitement.
"Better mind your own business, I think," remarked Allan.
"Yes," added Giraffe, "if so be they turned out to be a bad lot, they'd think we kept poking our noses in just to arrest them; and in that case chances are we'd get our fingers burned."
"But what do you think they might be, Thad?" persisted Step Hen, noticing that the pilot of the expedition had as yet not given any opinion on the matter.
"Oh! any one of the explanations you fellows have put up might cover the bill," Thad, went on to say. "The idea came into my mind that perhaps now those men might be game-fish wardens."
"W-what!" gasped Bumpus; "d'ye mean to tell me they have such things on a big lake like this? Why, I thought they were only needed ashore, where ponds and rivers require looking after."
"That's where you make a big mistake," Thad informed him. "Right up among the Great Lakes there are millions of dollars taken out in fish every year; and if the Government didn't watch sharp plenty of unscrupulous fishermen would use all kinds of illegal devices for getting big hauls. They are limited to certain kinds of nets or seines; and so the precious sturgeon, and the delicious white fish that are in these lakes will be kept from being exterminated."
"Thank you for telling us that, Thad; it's all news to me," said Step Hen. "But what about the trout; I've heard there are awful big speckled trout in Superior?"
"So there are, as high as eight pounds; and the Government hatchery at the Soo has hundreds that large in their ponds, for breeding purposes, I've read," Thad continued, for the topic was a favorite one with him, and he was a very accommodating boy at that; "that in Michigan, for instance, the law doesn't allow trout to be offered for sale or shipped; so while they catch some whoppers in the acts they use for white fish, they have to put most of them back."
"And then you think that p'raps those men are wardens, looking for poachers that are breaking the law some way or other?" Giraffe asked.
"I only said that might be who they are," Thad insisted. "You notice they have a high-powered boat that could make circles all around, ours, if they wanted to let her engine out. And it's painted black, perhaps so they can sneak up on a dark night without being seen. But as they're two miles away from us by now, suppose we cut out talking any more about them."
From the way Thad turned his eyes upward, and looked at the gathering clouds it was evident that he felt he had better pay attention to other matters which threatened to cause them more or less annoyance before long.
The wind was certainly freshening very fast. And of necessity the waves began to take on a size that made poor Bumpus stare, and look serious, as he contemplated the possibility of a wreck.
"Sure you are heading right to make that cove?" Giraffe asked the skipper who had the wheel in his charge.
The engine was plodding away steadily, though some of the boys were worried at the quick whirr that followed the passing of each big wave, when, perhaps the propeller would be partly exposed, and the resistance so much less that it spun around, much faster than usual.
"Yes, no doubt about it at all, and if everything goes along right we stand to make our harbor before dark comes along," the other answered.
"Oh! I wish we were there already," groaned Bumpus; and when Thad looked at the fat scout he noticed how white he was.
But then that was nothing singular, for it was certainly getting pretty rough out there on that great expanse of water, and some of the scouts were sure to display signs of seasickness sooner or later, he knew. Perhaps poor Bumpus was fated to be the first victim.
"Well," remarked Giraffe, trying hard to appear indifferent, though he could not wholly hide his concern every time a wave larger than ordinary would slap against the side of the boat, and sweep along toward the stern, causing a quiver to run all through the little craft that seemed just like a chip on that inland sea; "I reckon now, it would be pretty tough if we missed connections somehow, and had to keep marking time all night long out on this old bathtub."
"Oh! Murder! I hope we don't!" muttered Bumpus, shivering.
"Stop that kind of talk, Giraffe," ordered Thad, who would rather look on the bright side of things; "don't you see you're only bothering Bumpus?"
"There's no need of feeling that we're going to have trouble; because the engine is working as fine as silk right now, and I feel sure I can see where that same jolly little cove lies, away ahead there."
"You mean where that small point juts out, don't you, Thad?" asked Allan, who hovered constantly near his best churn, ready to take a hand at a second's notice, should there ever arise an occasion calling for assistance.
"Yes, that shows on the Government chart I've marked, and the cove lies just in the shelter of it. I think a little river makes into the lake there, and if so we might pick up some fish before starting out again."
He spoke this loud enough for Bumpus to hear; but apparently that sad individual had lost all interest in the wager he had so recently made with Giraffe, for he did not take any notice of what Thad said, only continued to look far away, and press his hand up and down in the pit of his stomach; and when a boy begins to realize that he has such an organ at all, he must be in a pretty bad way.
Still the wind kept on increasing until it was blowing a small gale. Even the confident Thad felt a little nervous as he wondered what would happen should their engine suddenly give a groan and cease to labor. The situation must be anything but pleasant, left at the mercy of the coming storm, out there a couple of miles from the southern shore, and further than that away from the lovely little cove where they had hoped to pass the night in peace and safety.
The next half hour was apt to settle that matter, one way or the other; and of course Thad found no reason to despair, as yet, for the motor kept buzzing away cheerily, and the boat pushed through the rising and falling, billows quite sturdily, as the pilot kept her pointed toward that headland far beyond.
NO END OF TROUBLES
"What's that queer sound?" asked Step Hen, looking up suddenly.
"Oh, never mind, it's only me," came from the side of the boat, where Bumpus was lying flat on his stomach, and leaning over.
The boys looked at each other; perhaps Thad and Allan smiled somewhat, but for a wonder none of the others had any kind of joke to spring just then; for truth to tell Giraffe, Davy and even Step Hen himself were feeling as though if this sort of swaying motion had to keep up much longer they could not resist the temptation to copy after the boy who was so terribly seasick.
"Thought I felt a drop of rain just then," remarked Giraffe, more to have something to talk about, and so forget his other troubles, than that he really believed it.
"No, it must only have been the spray," said Thad. "You notice that sometimes after a big wave slaps up against our larboard quarter, the wind carries drops of water flying past. It's a lively little blow all right, though I suppose the people up here, who are used to much worse things, wouldn't think this anything."
"P'raps they might if they were out so far from land, in such a little pumpkinseed of a boat," complained Step Hen.
"And with an old rattletrap of a motor that's threatening to wheeze its last any minute, at that," added Giraffe, fiercely.
"Let up on that kind of talk, Giraffe," said Davy; "we've sure all got troubles of our own as it is, without that silly calling of names. For my part I think the engine is doing its prettiest, and I take off my hat to it. Don't, you go to calling it hard names, or it might get even by kicking over the traces, and quitting on us. Then we would be in a fine pickle. But I think it's better to keep lying down, all you can, when it blows like this. Make room there, Bumpus, can't you?"
Then there were two of them; and talk about your rivalry, it did seem as though both of those fellows would tear themselves to pieces, as the boat continued to swing up and down with that perpetual sickening, nauseating movement.
Presently Step Hen found a place too, and tried to outdo his comrades; seeing which Giraffe apparently thought he might as well make it unanimous then there were four, leaving only the skipper and his first assistant on deck to manage the boat.
"Anyhow, the cargo will be lighter after all this," Giraffe spoke up, after a while, showing that even seasickness could not quite extinguish his love of joking.
By now they had covered considerable distance, so that the little headland loomed not a great away beyond.
Thad, too, had changed their course somewhat, so that they were now much closer shore than before; and unless some accident happened he believed that before another twenty minutes passed they would be able to get the shelter of that projecting tongue of land, after which their present troubles would fade away.
It was time, too, for already the first dim signs of coming darkness could be seen around them; no doubt the fact that clouds covered the face of the sky had more or less to do with this early closing in of the night, as is always the case.
Bumpus was sitting up, though looking very white indeed. Every now and then he would shake his round head in a doleful way, and heave a tremendous sigh, as though he might be wondering if his whole past would be appearing before him, since, as he complainingly told the sympathizing Thad, "everything seemed to be coming up nowadays."
"Only a little while ago I was worrying my poor old head off for fear the boat would sink with me," he went on to say, with a dismal smile; "and now it's just the other way, and I'm feelin' bad because she won't sink."
"Oh! don't let yourself down like that, Bumpus," said Allan; "we're going in behind that headland right away, and you'll be surprised to see how quick you get over feeling bad. There, the water isn't near so rough as it was, right now; and soon it'll seem like a mill pond."
"Do you think so; wish I could believe it?" called out Step Hen, without turning his head, for he was very busy; "but seems to me the old boat is jumping as bad as any cayuse I ever saw, when we were out in the Wild West. Oh!"
All the same Allan was right, for they were passing in behind the projecting tongue of land, and already the worst was over, for the seas were not near so heavy, though of course the change was hardly noticeable to those who were feeling so badly.
And so it came about that presently Thad had to lessen their speed, for he did not want to run aground, or have any other accident occur that would cripple the boat, and shorten their cruise.
"We're all right, now, fellows," sang out Giraffe, being the first to recover, simply because he had more grit and determination than any of the other three who had been knocked out by the motion of the craft in the big seas.
"Yes, and our next job is to prowl around here some, before dark gets us, so as to find the best anchorage," Thad remarked, as the boat crept slowly along back of the point.
"Why, I should think any place here would answer," said Giraffe; "because that wind from the southwest ain't going to get a whack at us any longer."
"But who'll guarantee that the wind doesn't shift into the north during the night, and have a full sweep at us here?" asked Thad. "No, we ought to find out if there really is a little stream flowing into the lake here; and if so the mouth of that same will afford us the safest place to anchor, or tie up."
"I agree with you there, Thad," said Bumpus, weakly; but then the fact that he took any sort of interest in what was going on announced plainly enough that he must be recovering.
And the others had by this time reached their limit, for they contributed no more to the fishes of Superior, but began to sit up, and take notice of things. The recovery from seasickness is usually as rapid as the coming of the trouble; given a firm foundation to stand upon, and the sufferer soon forgets his agony, so that he can even remember that food tastes good.
Pushing their way carefully in the scouts presently discovered that there was a stream of some kind emptying into the lake at this place; and that around several bends there was a splendid anchorage for a small boat such as theirs, though a larger craft might find some difficulty about getting in, on account of shallow water.
And when they dropped their anchor over at last, all of them were pleased to feel that they had left that riotous sea behind them.
"This is something like," declared Giraffe, now fully recovered, and of course sharp set to get supper started; indeed all of them felt as though they could do ample justice to a good meal.
So the gasoline stove was put into service again, and everyone helped get the things ready that their menu for that night called for. Giraffe started a pot of rice cooking, for he was very fond of that dish, and could "make a meal off it," he often declared; though his chums noticed that even when he had plenty of the same beside him, he dipped into every other dish just as usual.
Besides this one of the boys opened a large tin of corned beef that was emptied into a kettle, together with a can of corn, and another of lima beans, the whole making what is known as a "canoeist's stew," and is not only tasty to the hungry voyager, but exceedingly filling as well.
These, with crackers, cheese, some cakes done up in air-proof packages, and tea constituted the supper that was finally placed before them.
It really seemed to some of those hungry boys as though that was the finest feast they had ever sat down to. Of course that often came to their minds, because what they were just then eating tasted so very good. But with such enormous appetites as a sauce, there could never be any chance for a complaint coming. And the chief cook received so many compliments that it was no wonder his cheeks and ears burned like the fire he had been standing over so long.
By the time the meal was through it was very dark all around them. They could still hear the wind blowing out beyond the point; and the wash of the big waves told that the sea was probably higher than before; so that every fellow expressed himself as glad that they had managed to get into such a splendid harbor, where they need not bother their minds what sort of weather held outside,
The night was warm, and it seemed comfortable enough for them to lie around on the deck, exchanging comments. Later on they would arrange just how they were to pile into that small cabin, and manage to sleep; for six boys can take up considerable room; and there would have been even seven to fill the space had not the scout-master, Dr. Hobbs, been recalled home at the last moment.
Of course Bumpus had entirely recovered from his indisposition. He only hoped he would now be proof against a second attack.
In fact, he had even begun to remember the terms of the wager, and was trying to get a line out on the sly, baited with a piece of meat he had fastened to the hook, in hopes of some gullible fish taking hold, so that he could wildly haul his captive in, and have the laugh on his competitor.
When morning came he was determined to go ashore, and see if he could not find some angle worms; for without bait it was folly to think of catching fish on hooks; and all sorts of other contraptions were barred from the contest.
Giraffe, however, was not asleep, and he saw what his rival was up to; but although Bumpus was not aware of the fact, the tall scout had had his line over the side for half an hour now, also baited, and with the hope of a bite.
From now on the race promised to become pretty warm between them, once they got fully started in the game.
They had talked over about every subject that could be imagined, including the matter of the mysterious powerboat that had passed them that afternoon, apparently heading in another direction; though Thad knew that long afterwards those in the black craft had altered their course, and were really following them.
It was getting along near time when they ought to be thinking about retiring so as to get some rest, when another subject came up suddenly.
Giraffe, who had been stretching that long neck of his for some little time, observed that he was trying to make out what a certain queer light might stand for.
"It's away up the shore yonder, fellows, and seems to be a lantern, as near as I can make out," he went on to say; "every now and then it bobs up, and down; and if you asked me I'd say it was, meant for some sort of signal!"
"A signal!" echoed Bumpus, in almost an awed tone; "that sounds like there might be smugglers, or something, like that around here; and perhaps they take us for revenue officers trying to nip them at their work. Whew! spells more trouble for us, I'm afraid. First the storm; then that awful spell of gone feeling; and now it's smugglers. Whew! I say!"
Bumpus was not the only fellow who felt his heart beating much faster than its wont just then, though none of the others betrayed the fact; for Giraffe and Step Hen were too crafty to show that they were worried.
They seemed to be in a trap, for the heavy seas would not allow them to think of leaving their anchorage until morning came along, at least; and to remain might be exposing themselves to some unknown peril.
But then these lads had done through so many things, especially since they joined the Cranford Troop of Boy Scouts, and learned what it meant to think for themselves, that none of them really displayed the white feather, no matter if Bumpus, who loved peace so much that he sometimes fought to secure it, did manifest some uneasiness.
They had along with them a double-barreled shotgun that had always given a good account, of itself in times past; and would again if called to show its sterling qualities. And with this in the hands of Thad Brewster, who was a perfectly fearless chap, according to his churns, who did not know that his boy heart could hammer in his breast like a runaway steam engine, why, they surely ought to be able to stave off any ordinary attack.
Giraffe felt better when he had picked up the camp hatchet, and waved it several times in the air, making vicious stabs at an imaginary enemy.
"Get ready for boarders, fellows!" remarked Step Hen, who had reached in and secured the long bread-knife, which would make a most formidable weapon, if only he had the nerve to wield the same.