"You'll be scared when you see it," declared Ruth. "I look a perfect fright. The man snapped the picture before I was half ready."
But later on, when Jack received the gift, he declared that the picture was a very good one indeed, although it did not look half as pretty as Ruth did herself. The two had quite a little fun over the picture, and then Jack placed it in his pocket.
"Now you've got it, what are you going to do with it?" questioned Ruth curiously.
"I'm going to carry it right here," he declared, for he had it in an inside pocket over his heart.
"Oh, you big goose!" cried Ruth, but then she blushed and looked pleased nevertheless.
It was announced that part of the lake in Central Park had been scraped clear of the snow, and the following day the young folks went skating and had a most glorious time. Then in the evening all attended a theatrical performance at one of the leading theaters.
"Oh, my! but I am having a splendid time," said Ruth to Martha.
"It's too bad the boys are going away," was the answer. "But I don't blame them for wanting to go on a hunt. If I were a boy I'd like to go on a hunt myself."
On the following morning came a letter from Dick Rover, stating that matters were still somewhat quiet in the sector in France where they were located, but that word was being passed around that they were to make an advance in the near future.
"Hurrah! I guess they'll show those Huns what Americans can do," cried Jack.
"Oh, I dread to think of their going into battle!" said his mother.
"Ma, while we are away don't forget to send us any news that may come in," said Jack quickly. "You can telegraph to Timminsport, and we will leave word there at the telegraph office so that any important message will be delivered to us."
"I'll certainly do that, Jack." And later on Mrs. Tom Rover and Mrs. Sam Rover promised to do the same thing.
"There is no telling what may happen to our dads if they get into a regular first-class battle," remarked Fred, that night when the four boys were holding a little conference among themselves.
"Well, we've got to take what comes," returned Randy briefly. "However, I'll be as much worried as ma until this war is at an end or until our dads come home."
The boys had looked over their traps with care and examined their rifles and shotguns, and had even gone down into the cellar of one of their residences to try out the weapons to make certain that they were in working order.
With a shotgun in his hand Andy wanted to have some fun with one of the servant girls, but Randy quickly stopped him.
"Nothing doing, Andy," he said. "You'll only make ma nervous, and she is nervous enough already, thinking about dad. You save your tomfoolery until we are on the way or up at the camp."
At length came the time for the boys to take their departure. Jack hated to think of running away from Ruth, and Fred was equally sorry to leave May Powell behind, yet the thought of what was ahead brightened all of the lads considerably.
"We ought to have the time of our lives," declared Fred. "That is, if hunting is half as good as Gif Garrison said it was."
"And if I can get that silver fox," added Jack.
"Nothing but a moose for me," declared Randy. "Either a moose or a six-legged jack rabbit."
"Wouldn't you like to shoot a bear that weighed about a thousand pounds?" questioned Jack.
"And lug the carcass to camp yourself?" came from Fred.
"Speaking about carrying a thousand-pound bear puts me in mind of something," cried Randy quickly. "A fellow was telling me of a man here in the city who carried twelve hundred pounds."
"Twelve hundred pounds!" exclaimed his twin. "It can't be done."
"Why, that's more than a half a ton!" said Jack incredulously.
"Never mind, the fellow carried the twelve hundred pounds," went on Randy. "A whole lot of people saw him do it."
"Where was this?" questioned Fred.
"It was down at one of the Broadway banks," answered Randy innocently. "The fellow was an English army officer. He had twelve hundred pounds in English money that he was exchanging for good old U. S. A. coin."
"Fooled!" cried Fred, and this was followed by a general laugh.
THE RAILROAD ACCIDENT
The four Rover boys journeyed from New York City to Baxton and there changed from one station to another nearby and took the next train for Portview.
Arriving in Portview they took a taxicab to the leading hotel, and were there met by Gif and Spouter, who had come in a few hours earlier and had already signed for their accommodations.
"Mighty glad to see you got here," declared Gif. "I read about the awful storm you had down around New York, and I thought you might be delayed."
"Well, I see they have had some of the snow up here," answered Jack. "Although it isn't as heavy as it was down our way."
"Don't worry about snow, Jack. You'll get all you want of it after we reach Cedar Lodge."
The Rover boys were tired out from their all-day trip, and as Gif and Spouter had likewise had their fill of traveling for the time being, all were glad enough to retire for a good night's rest, even Andy being too worn out to play any of his jokes. But the following morning found the youths as bright and fresh as ever and eager to continue their journey.
"We can get a train for Timminsport at ten-thirty," announced Gif. "That will give us plenty of time for breakfast and to do a little shopping if we need anything. Portview has as good stores as many big towns. When you get to Timminsport, you will find it nothing but a one-horse country town."
They had a substantial breakfast, and then wandered down the main street as far as a small park, and then came back on the other side of the thoroughfare. They made a number of small purchases, including some cakes of choice chocolate and a bag of almonds, of which Spouter and Randy were particularly fond.
"When we get to Timminsport don't forget to add a good big bag of sugar to our stores," said Randy. "Then, if we are snowed in sometime, we can spend a few hours making some home-made candy."
"Yes, and we can try our hands at some cookies," added Fred. "I've watched our cook make them quite a few times, and I think I could make some myself if I tried real hard."
"Anyway, you might be able to turn out some sinkers," said Andy, with a grin. "And if we couldn't eat 'em we could take 'em back to Colby Hall and present 'em to some of the teachers for paperweights." And at this there was a laugh.
With the bundles the boys returned to the hotel, paid their bill, and with their suitcases in hand, returned once more to the depot. Here in the smoky trainshed the cars were already waiting, and they climbed aboard; and a few minutes later were on their way to Timminsport.
The coast in this vicinity is very irregular, so that the train did not run close to the shore. They skirted a bay, and then branched off at a small place called Leeways for the town for which they were bound. At Leeways they met several heavy lumber trains, and also met a gang of men bound for one of the lumber camps.
"We are certainly getting away from the big towns now," remarked Fred.
"I just saw a few hunters with their guns!" cried Randy. "That looks interesting to me!"
There was no diner on the train, but around noon it stopped at a way-station where there was a lunch counter, and here the young travelers had ten minutes in which to satisfy their appetites.
"Maybe we'd better take a few sandwiches along," remarked Jack. "We may not have another chance to eat until we get to the Lodge."
"Oh, there is a little restaurant at Timminsport," declared Gif. "It's not a very nice place, but we'll be able to get as much as we want there."
Soon the train was on its way again, having backed up at Leeways to drop a passenger car and take on one of mixed freight. The character of the passengers had largely changed, and most of them were now country folks, lumberjacks, and city people bound for a season of hunting. The steam heat had died out in the car which the boys occupied, and it was growing colder and colder.
"The train doesn't go any farther than Timminsport," explained Gif, "and I suppose the engineer is saving on steam."
"Say, Gif, I didn't think you were going to give us such a cold reception!" cried Randy.
"Never mind the cold reception!" exclaimed Spouter, who was gazing out of the window at the scenery. "Just look at this truly wonderful picture! See those hillsides with massive pines, and those clusters of bushes, all bent down with their weight of snow. And see how the sunshine sparkles, making each snowdrop look like a diamond. It's a wonderful sight, and it fills one's soul with a feeling of awe and admiration for—"
"Hurrah! Spouter has come into his own again," cried Andy. "That's right, Spout, warm up good, and maybe you'll help warm this car."
"If those snowdrops were really diamonds, Spouter, what do you thing they'd be worth a dozen?" came from Randy.
"Aw, that's just like you fellows!" grumbled the would-be orator, in disgust. "You haven't any poetry in your souls."
"Haven't any poetry in my soul?" cried Andy. "You bet I have—tons and tons of it! Just listen to this," and he chanted gayly:
"I love to see a snowdrop Ahanging on a tree, Aglistening in the sunshine As happy as can be."
"Great red-headed snakes!" burst out Jack. "Andy has turned poet!"
"Don't you think you ought to take something for it, Andy? Cough mixture, or measles eradicator, or something like that?" questioned Fred.
"I think what he needs is a good dose of codliver oil, served hot," came from Gif.
"No codliver oil for me!" cried the fun-loving Rover. "You deal that out to Spouter. It will help oil his tongue and make his flow of oratory better."
"Speaking of cough mixtures, I think I'll get a bottle of some sort when we get to Timminsport if they have a drugstore," said Jack. "Some of us may catch cold and need it."
With such talk going on, the journey continued. They were now running for a small station named Enwood, where they were to pick up two extra cars from a small side road coming down from the north. In this section there was a good deal of snow, and the train, consequently, had to run rather slowly.
"I think I could get out and walk almost as fast as this train is moving," remarked Spouter presently.
"It isn't as bad as that, Spouter," returned Jack, looking out of the window. "We are making at least fifteen miles an hour, and you couldn't hoof it as quick as that."
"It certainly seems awfully slow," remarked Fred. He was beginning to grow sleepy, and now he rested his head on the back of the seat and closed his eyes.
"Perhaps we won't be able to get through to Timminsport," came from Randy. "That would be a fine state of affairs, eh?"
"I don't see any houses along the line. We'd have one sweet job finding a place to go to if the train became snowbound," said Andy.
"They generally manage to keep this road open, no matter how bad the storms are," declared Gif. "You see, the hunters are coming and going all the time, as well as the lumbermen and the folks that live in and around Timminsport and Enwood. They don't like to be cut off from the rest of the world, even for a day or two."
"I hope we don't have to wait for that other train when we get to Enwood," said Spouter. "That may be awfully late, you know."
"I asked the conductor awhile ago, and he said they hoped it would be on time. It comes down hill most of the way, and that is in its favor. If they had to pull uphill much, they might get stuck."
Presently they passed a small lumber camp, and one of the other passengers told the boys they were now within half a mile of Enwood.
"And that is only twelve miles from Timminsport," said Gif. "We ought to be there in about half an hour or so."
They had struck a portion of the track which was comparatively free of snow, and the engineer of the train was now trying to make up some of the lost time. The boys were congratulating themselves on this when they suddenly heard a shriek of the locomotive whistle, followed instantly by the sudden application of the steam brakes. The train shuddered and shook, and two seconds later there came a crash from the front, and then the train came to a sudden stop.
The Rover boys and their chums had leaped to their feet at the first shock. The second threw Spouter headlong, and Randy went down almost on top of him. Fred was awakened from his brief nap by having his forehead bumped upon the seat ahead of him.
"What's the matter?"
"What did we strike?"
"Are we going to upset?"
"Let me get out of here! I don't want to be smashed up!"
Such were some of the cries which rent the air while the train was still in motion and after it came to a standstill. Every passenger had been shaken up, and not a few were knocked down. Fortunately, however, no one in that particular car seemed to be much hurt, although several were bruised and every one was more or less nervous.
"Are you hurt, Fred?" questioned Jack quickly, as he saw his young cousin feeling of his forehead.
"Well, I got a pretty good bump," answered the youngest Rover, "and I guess I'm going to have a lump there as a consequence."
"We'll get out and see what's doing, and then you can put some snow on it."
Some of the passengers were already leaving the car, and the Rover boys and their chums quickly followed. The trouble was all ahead, and they had some difficulty in wading through the snow alongside the track to get to the front of the train.
Here it was plain to be seen what had happened. The train from the north had come in and tried to take the siding, as was the custom. But the switch had become blocked with snow, and the train had been thrown out on the main track, which at this point, crossed the track on which the train from Portview was coming. The big locomotive of the latter train had ploughed through the middle of the train from the north, hitting the latter between two of the cars and sending those cars in either direction to the sides of the track.
"Gee! this is some wreck!" exclaimed Gif.
"I should say it was!" declared Jack. "It looks to me as if somebody might be killed."
From the two wrecked cars came cries of pain and yells for help. One of the cars still stood up, but at a dangerous angle, while the other had turned completely over and rested on its top in the snow.
All was excitement, and for the time being everyone seemed to be so dazed that but little was done. Passengers were leaping from both of the wrecked cars, some coming through the doorways and some through the broken-out windows. Jack and Randy ran to one of the cars, and were able to assist a woman with a little girl to alight and reach a place of safety. In the meanwhile, the other lads assisted two elderly men. One had his foot hurt, and they carried him into the railroad station, where they laid him on one of the benches.
"Look! Look!" cried Fred suddenly, forgetting all about his hurt forehead. "Look! That car over yonder is on fire!"
The car he mentioned was that which had turned over and was resting on its top in the snow. From the interior thick black smoke was coming, and this was presently followed by a tongue of flame. The car was a combination baggage and smoker, and it was afterwards learned that one of the passengers had been carrying a can of kerosene which had broken open in the smash-up, and had evidently become ignited by some thrown-down cigar or cigarette.
"Those people will be in danger of burning up!" gasped Randy.
"They will be unless they get out in a hurry," answered Spouter.
From the interior of the car came more cries, and presently all outside heard a man yelling in a tone of agony:
"Help! Help! Somebody save me! My leg is caught fast, and I can't get out! Save me!"
"There's a man left in there!"
"He says his leg is caught fast!"
"Help! Help!" came more faintly from the interior of the burning car. "Help, or I'll be burnt to death!"
Only a few passengers seemed to hear these cries, for most of the men who had come from the other train were gathered near the car which was still standing. The Rover boys and their chums listened in horror to the call for assistance. Jack was the first to leap forward.
"We'll have to save that fellow if we can," he cried determinedly.
"I think he is close to one of these windows," said Randy, pointing to several broken-out windows through which some other passengers in the car had climbed.
"Wait! I've got an idea!" exclaimed Fred. "See that stick of wood? Why can't we place that against one of the windows and climb up on it?"
He had pointed to a plank one end of which, in some manner, had become torn up from the roadbed. All of the boys rushed for this plank and turned and twisted it until they had the fastened end under the snow loose. Then they rushed over to the burning car and placed the plank on a slant from the snow to the broken-out window which, because the overturned car was not on a level, was two or three feet above their heads.
Jack was the first to get on the plank, and speedily crawled up to the window. Fortunately a draft was taking most of the smoke to the other side of the car, so that he could see into the interior quite plainly.
A scene of great confusion met the eyes of the young captain. A number of broken seats had fallen down on the ceiling of the car and in the midst of this wreckage lay a short, stocky man with several cuts and bruises on his face from which the blood was flowing. The man had his arms and one leg free, but several seats and some handbaggage were wedged in across his left leg and his stomach in such a manner that he seemed unable to extricate himself. The fire was creeping up to within a few inches of his caught foot, and this had caused him to raise his wild cry for assistance.
"Help! Help!" he repeated, as soon as he caught sight of Jack's face framed in the broken-out window. "Get me out of here before the fire reaches me!"
"We'll do it!" answered Jack. "Come on, Randy. I think the two of us can do the trick," he added to his cousin, who had come up behind him on the plank.
"Want any more help?" questioned the others simultaneously.
"If we do we'll let you know quick enough."
Jack dropped down into the car, and Randy followed. They landed among a mass of broken glass and other wreckage, but to this paid no attention.
"Here, Randy, take hold of this seat and pull it back," ordered Jack; and between them they set to work with vigor.
But it was no mean task to get all of the wreckage off of the trapped passenger. There were half a dozen heavy suitcases among the broken seats, and these the boys hurled through the broken windows, where they were picked up by those outside and carried to a safe place. In the meanwhile the flames were creeping closer, and now a sudden change in the air caused a heavy volume of smoke to drift toward them.
"Gee! this is getting fierce," spluttered Randy, and began to cough, while the tears started from his eyes.
"Don't leave me! Please don't leave me!" pleaded the passenger under the wreckage. "I don't want to be burnt up!" and then he said something in a foreign tongue which the others did not understand.
The last bit of wreckage was the hardest of all to get away from where it rested across the man's stomach. This was wedged in between the ceiling and the side of the car, and the boys had to use all their strength before they could dislodge it. But at last it came loose, and then the man was able to sit up.
"Here, we'll help you," cried Jack, as the passenger seemed to be too weak to regain his feet. He and Randy caught the fellow under his arms and, standing him upright, dragged him to the window upon which the end of the plank rested. They shoved him out, and he went rolling and sliding down the plank into the snow. Randy followed him quickly, and then came Jack.
The rescue had occurred none too soon, for the wind was now coming up, and soon the overturned car was a mass of smoke and flames from end to end. The boys left the plank where it was, and assisted the rescued passenger to the little railroad station, where all the others who had been injured had already been taken.
The short, stocky man was very much excited and he thanked the lads over and over again for what they had done.
"I wish I was a rich man," he said sadly, and now they noticed that he spoke with a decided accent. "If I was rich I would pay all of you well for what you have done. It was very noble—very noble indeed! I shall never forget it."
"We don't want any reward," answered Jack.
"You young gentlemen do not look as if you needed any reward," said the man, with a little smile, as he noted how well dressed the youths were. "I am a poor man, so I can offer you nothing but my thanks, but those I give you with all my heart. And now may I ask your names?"
They told him, and all shook hands. He said his name was Herman Crouse, and that he was a farmer working a small place some miles away. He was plainly dressed and evidently far from wealthy.
While the boys were assisting Herman Crouse to the little railroad station, others had gone into the burning car and picked up such baggage and other things as could be gotten out. Then the car, which was nothing but an old rattletrap affair, was allowed to burn up.
Of course the accident had caused a great deal of excitement, and telegrams were at once dispatched to Leeways and Timminsport for assistance.
"I think I'll send word home that we are all right," said Jack. "The folks may hear about this accident and worry over it," and as soon as he had an opportunity he sent a message, and Gif and Spouter did the same.
As the trains from the north ran no farther on that branch than Enwood, all of the passengers on board had been bound for either that place or Timminsport. Consequently many of those who were injured remained in the town, while the others were made as comfortable as possible on the other train and taken to Timminsport. Fortunately, no one had been killed or fatally hurt. Herman Crouse remained at Enwood. He thanked the boys again most heartily when they left him.
"Maybe some day I shall be able to pay you back for your goodness to me," said he. "If it comes that way, I shall certainly do it," and then he shook hands once more.
"I guess he's a German all right enough," remarked Jack, when the boys were once again in the train and it was moving forward, the track having been cleared. "He spoke with a very strong German accent."
"Yes, and his name is undoubtedly German," said Randy. "But he was a pretty decent sort, anyway."
"Oh, a good many of the German-Americans, so-called, are all right," said Gif. "Why, there are thousands of them in the army and in the navy, as well as in the air service. And they are fighting just as hard and loyally for Uncle Sam as anybody."
"Sure!" declared Andy. "Look at Hans Mueller, who used to be a great chum of our dads at Putnam Hall. He's as loyal as they make 'em, and he's in the army too, and will undoubtedly give a good account of himself."
"Oh, I don't doubt but what a lot of the Germans are loyal to this country," came from Spouter. "Just the same, it's a good thing to keep your eyes on them."
"Right you are!" cried Andy. "Don't forget those German spies we ran into at the offices in Wall Street—the same chaps who were in with Mr. Brown and Mr. Martell."
"I tell you one thing," remarked Gif, changing the subject. "This accident is going to get us into Timminsport very late, and I don't know whether Jed Wallop will be there to meet us or not." They had sent word ahead for the old fellow who lived near the Cedar Lodge property to come with his boxsled for them and their traps.
"Probably he was hanging around the railroad station waiting for the train to come in, and, if so, he must have heard about the accident, and he would be very anxious about you, Gif," remarked Jack.
"Well, we'll see when we get there. But if Jed isn't there, I don't know what we can do for the night. I don't believe Timminsport has any hotel fit to stop at, and it wouldn't be a very nice hike of five or six miles to Cedar Lodge in the dark and through the snow."
With so many hurt passengers on board, the engineer was careful, and so did not run very fast, and as a consequence it was well after dark by the time they rolled into Timminsport. Quite a crowd was collected at the depot, anxious to get the particulars of the accident, and also to meet those who needed assistance. The two doctors living in that vicinity had been summoned and were on hand to give all the aid possible.
"There is Jed Wallop now!" cried Gif presently, and pointed to a tall, angular individual wrapped up in a shaggy overcoat and wearing an equally shaggy cap with the eartabs tied down under his chin.
"Hello, Jed!" he cried cheerfully, and shoved his way forward to greet the man.
Jed Wallop proved to be so excited that he hardly paid attention to Gif's greetings nor to his introduction to the other youths from Colby Hall.
"I'm lookin' fer a cousin o' mine—Tim Doolittle," he exclaimed. "I heard as how he was in the accident. Did you see him?"
"I don't know the man, Jed," answered Gif. "The hurt ones are all in the forward car."
Jed Wallop pushed his way through the crowd and soon found the man he was seeking. The poor fellow had one arm in a sling and had several cuts on his face, and declared himself very much "shook up" and rather weak.
"Well, by gosh! I'm mighty glad you wasn't killed, Tim," declared Wallop. "Now, what you goin' to do with yourself? You can't go up to Burke's Camp in that condition."
"No, I can't," answered Tim Doolittle. "I've got to rest up fer a spell and git this sprained arm o' mine fit fer work agin. I was thinkin' I might ride over to Uncle Joe's place if I could git anyone to take me."
"I can take you there myself. I can git a sleigh from Hank Miller and do it—that is, if these young fellers would be willin' to drive over to Cedar Lodge alone," added Jed Wallop, looking anxiously at Gif and his companions.
"I suppose I could do that," answered Gif slowly. "I don't know the way very well, but I think I could make it."
"Oh, it's a putty straight road, Gif," said Wallop. "You can't miss your way if you keep your eyes open. Whenever you strike the crossroads keep to the right every time, and then you won't git left," and he chuckled a little over his joke.
"How are the team and the boxsled?"
"All right. You know them horses—Mary and John, a very reliable team. They won't run away, and they'll make good time."
"All right then, Jed. Just show me where the sled is, and then you can go off and take care of your cousin," said Gif. "We'll have to stay in town for a while and see if we can't pick up some grub and at least enough supplies to last us for a few days."
So the matter was arranged, and a few minutes later Jed Wallop went off to see what he could do about caring for his injured cousin.
"It's all right for him to look after his cousin," remarked Gif. "But that leaves us to go on alone. I hope we find everything at Cedar Lodge all right."
"Oh, it will be a lark to go on all alone!" cried Fred. "We don't want that fellow along. We can get along alone very well."
"I know what I want to do first of all," declared Andy. "I want to get a bite to eat. That sandwich I had didn't satisfy me at all."
"All right, we'll go to that restaurant I spoke about," said Gif. "Then we'll get our provisions and be on the way to the Lodge."
ON THE WAY TO CEDAR LODGE
The restaurant Gif had in mind was a small affair located on a side street directly behind the railroad station. Leaving their handbaggage at the station in a pile with numerous other bags, and their guns with the station-master, they made their way to this resort. Ordinarily at this time of night the restaurant was doing very little business, but on account of the accident many people had dropped in, so the tables presented a lively appearance.
"We'll have some difficulty in finding seats, I guess," remarked Jack, looking around.
"There are a couple of small tables over in the alcove," came from Spouter. "We might shove them together, and I guess they'll hold us all."
This was done, and after a wait of several minutes a girl came to take their orders.
"What have you got ready?" questioned Gif. "There is no use of our waiting to have anything cooked to order," he continued to his chums.
The girl named over a variety of things, including hot pork and beans, roast beef with potatoes and turnips, and also several kinds of sandwiches and pies, and also tea and coffee.
"Those things will do first rate, I guess," cried Fred. "Me for a dish of pork and beans and a good hot cup of coffee!"
It did not take the cadets long to give their orders, and the girl bustled off to serve them. While the lads were waiting for the things to be brought, Andy happened to glance across the restaurant at the other patrons and suddenly gave a low whistle of surprise.
"Look who's here, will you!" he exclaimed.
All looked in the direction pointed out, and there, at a side table, saw Bill Glutts, Gabe Werner and Henry Stowell.
"My gracious! what do you know about that?" ejaculated Randy. "Glutts, Werner and Codfish!"
"What can those fellows be doing in Timminsport?" demanded Spouter.
"Say! I think I know the answer to that question," returned Jack quickly. He looked at his cousin Fred. "Don't you remember what Bill and Gabe said in the moving picture theater about going up to some camp to hunt? I wager that camp is located somewhere in this vicinity."
"That must be it!" answered Fred.
"However did they get poor Codfish to come along with them?" queried Andy. "They'll plague the life out of that little sneak."
"They'll make a regular servant of him, that's what they'll do!" answered his twin.
"If they came up here to hunt, I hope they are not going to settle down anywhere near Cedar Lodge," remarked Gif. "I'd hate to have those fellows saddled on me while I was trying to have some fun."
"I wonder if they saw us?" questioned Fred.
"Let's not take any notice of them," advised Jack. "I'd rather go my way and let them go theirs."
To this the others readily agreed. They were soon served with the things they had ordered and lost no time in making away with the food. Then they hurried out of the resort, leaving Glutts, Werner and Codfish still at the table which they occupied. The two bullies had lighted cigarettes.
"Now let's skip over to one of the general stores and see what we can get in the way of provisions," said Gif. "We'll have to hurry up, or the storekeeper may close up on us."
"I've got the list here, Gif," declared Jack. "Show us where the store is, and then you bring around the team with the boxsled. By that time maybe we'll have most of our things bought."
The store proved to be a low, rambling affair filled with a hundred and one varieties of goods, some looking quite fresh and others with the appearance of having been in stock for some years.
The storekeeper was pleased to serve them, especially when he realized that their purchases would be for cash. Jack and the others knew exactly what they wanted, and picked out everything with care.
"I guess you young fellows have been up in the woods before," remarked the storekeeper, with a shrewd look.
"We have been, although not around here," answered Jack.
"Thought you had by the way you're ordering. Some of them fellows that come up here have no more idee about what is wanted in a camp than nothing at all. They take along the most ridiculous things, and sometimes leave out coffee and sugar and salt and bacon and things like that which a feller has jest got to have."
Gif had brought around the boxsled, and into this the storekeeper's assistant piled the various boxes and bags which contained the provisions they had purchased. The things made quite a load, so that the six cadets had about all they could do to get in themselves.
"We sure would have been crowded had Jed Wallop been along," remarked Fred, who was squeezed in on top of some boxes with Randy on one side of him and Spouter on the other. Gif was up in front driving, with Jack and Andy beside him.
"Let her go!" cried Andy gayly. "Hurrah for Cedar Lodge!"
"Hold on!" exclaimed Jack suddenly. "Are you fellows going up there without your suitcases and guns?"
At this there came a groan from nearly all of the others.
"Gee! I forgot all about those suitcases and firearms."
"Where in the world are we going to place them?"
"If we put the suitcases in, we'll surely have to walk!"
"Oh, we'll stow 'em in somehow," declared Gif. "You fellows don't know how to load a boxsled."
"I know what we can do!" cried Jack. "Let us get a few loose packing-case boards and stand them up around the back of the sled. We can place the boxes against them, and then pile the suitcases on top, and the tops of the boards will hold them in. The guns can go in anywhere."
"That's the stuff!" said Spouter and he and Gif and Andy hurried back to the store to get the boards and arrange them as suggested.
In the meantime, Jack, Fred and Randy hurried in the direction of the railroad station to get the six suitcases and the guns which had been left there. They found the crowd had thinned out somewhat, although quite a few people were still present.
It did not take the three lads long to find the six suitcases, and, armed with two each and with all the guns, they trudged back to where they had left the boxsled. Then the suitcases were piled up and tied fast to the upright boards and to the boxsled itself, so that they might not be jounced off. The guns were placed in the bottom alongside the boxes.
"Now then, pile in, and we'll be getting to the Lodge," cried Gif. "I can tell you fellows I am mighty anxious to see the old place, to see if it looks like it did when I was here last."
The youths were just stowing themselves away on the sled when there came a cry from out of the darkness, and three fellows came hurrying through the snow from the direction of the railroad station.
"Hi, there! Stop!" called out the foremost of the trio. "Stop, I tell you!"
"Why, it's Gabe Werner!" exclaimed Randy. "What can he want of us?"
In a moment more the big bully was beside the sled, and Glutts and Codfish followed him.
"Thought you were mighty smart, eh?" cried Gabe Werner angrily. "Another minute, and I suppose you would have been gone!"
"What do you want, Werner?" demanded Jack.
"What are you fellows doing in this neighborhood?" questioned Fred.
"What we are doing here is our business," answered Werner sourly. "What I want of you is my suitcase."
"Your suitcase?" queried several of the others.
"Yes, my suitcase! Oh, you needn't play the innocent! I know you've got my suitcase somewhere on this boxsled. But you're not going to get away with it. Hand it over, or I'll call a policeman."
Gabe Werner was very much in earnest, and his face was red with anger and resentment. He reached up and caught hold of the lines which Gif held in his hands.
"Drop those lines, Werner!" cried Gif quickly. "Drop them, I say!"
"I want my suitcase! You had no business to touch it!"
"I don't know anything about your suitcase," declared Gif. He turned to the others. "We haven't anything but our own bags, have we?"
"I don't think we have," declared Jack.
"I know better!" grumbled Werner.
"I'll bet they've got it and are hiding it away," declared Bill Glutts. "They took a whole lot of bags away just as we were coming up. The baggage master saw 'em."
"I'm glad they didn't get my bag!" cried Codfish, who was lugging a good-sized Gladstone.
"If we took your bag it must have been by mistake," said Randy. "I looked at the markings pretty carefully though."
"So did I," said Fred.
"Well, we'll make sure," remarked Jack, and brought out a flashlight which he had taken from his own suitcase for possible use on the road. He flashed the light in the direction of the six suitcases, and he and his chums looked over all of the markings with care.
"How is your bag marked?" questioned Gif.
"G. A. W.," answered Werner.
"Well, you can see for yourself that there is no such marking on any of these bags," declared Jack. "There is my own. These two belong to Andy and Randy. This is Fred's, and here is Gif's and that one is Spouter's."
"Maybe they've got it hidden under the blankets, or something like that," suggested Glutts.
"There are no other suitcases in this boxsled," declared Gif flatly.
"We'll take a look and make sure."
"You'll do nothing of the sort, Gabe Werner!" and now, with flashing eyes, Gif raised his whip as if to bring it down over the bully's head.
"Hold on, Gif! Don't do anything like that," advised Jack. "Let them look around the sled if they want to. Then they will know we're telling the truth. If we go off without giving them a chance to look, they may complain to the authorities here and make a lot of trouble for us."
"All right, then, go ahead and look," answered Gif, leaping from the boxsled. "But don't you harm any of our things, or you'll hear from me."
Jack flashed the light into the sled, and Werner and Glutts made an examination of the contents. Of course, they found no other baggage, and so drew back in disgust.
"I don't understand it," said Werner lamely. "I left that bag there in the station master's care while I and the others went to get something to eat. Now my bag is gone."
"Well, that is none of our affair," answered Jack. "Come on, fellows, it's getting late. Let's be on the way."
"I'll get that bag back, or I'll make the station master pay for it," grumbled Gabe Werner, and then he and his cronies turned on their heels and walked back in the direction of the railroad station.
"Gee! somebody must have walked off with his bag while he was eating," remarked Fred. "Rather tough luck if he had anything of real value in it."
"Serves him right—for being so cross and cranky," was Andy's comment. But the bag had not been stolen. It had been simply misplaced, as was afterwards proven.
Once more the boys adjusted themselves on the boxsled, and then Gif took up the reins and spoke to the team. Off they started at a walk, but soon broke into a slow trot as the sled began to go down a long slope leading in the direction of Cedar Lodge.
The way was little more than a woods road, winding in and out among the trees. They had to mount several small hills, and on these the horses settled down to a very slow walk.
"I guess Jed Wallop was right about Mary and John not running away," came from Randy. "I don't think anything short of an earthquake could start 'em into a gallop."
"They are lumber-camp horses, used to drawing pretty heavy loads," explained Gif. "They may not be very much on speed, but on the other hand you can depend on their pulling us out of any tight hole where fancy horses might get stuck."
AT THE FROZEN-UP SPRING
On and on went the boxsled carrying the Rovers and their chums, deeper and deeper into the woods. Occasionally the road was so narrow that they brushed the snow-laden bushes on one side or the other.
"Hi there, Gif, look out!" cried Randy presently. A bush had been turned aside by those ahead, and now it slipped back, covering Randy's face with loose snow.
"I'm sorry, Randy," returned Gif. "But we've got to take this road as it comes. You'll have to watch out, just as the others are doing."
There was a smoky lantern dangling from the front of the boxsled, but this gave little light. The moon was down beyond the trees, and only the diamond-like stars glittered overhead.
"How much further have we got to go?" questioned Jack presently, after they had passed a crossroads and kept to the right, as Jed Wallop had directed.
"I think we have covered about half the distance, Jack," was the reply of the young driver. "Still, I'm not sure. You know a boxsled isn't like an auto—it doesn't carry a speedometer."
"Gee! an auto would have been there and back two or three times since we started," was Fred's comment.
"Not in this snow," came from Spouter. "I think you'd get stuck in some of these deep places."
"They do use a few cars up here in the winter, but not many," said Gif. "It's too uncertain."
To make the time pass more quickly, Jack started one of the old school songs, and the others joined him. Then they ended with the well-known Colby Hall cry:
"Who are we? Can't you see? Colby Hall! Dum! Dum! Dum, dum, dum! Here we come with fife and drum! Colby! Colby! Colby Hall!"
"I wonder what the neighbors will think if they hear us," remarked Randy.
"I don't think there are any neighbors very close," answered Gif. "There was a house some distance back, but I don't know of any others between here and Cedar Lodge. The other places are beyond the point where we turn off to go down to the bungalow."
They had now to make several sharp turns, and at these spots the road was unusually rough. One runner of the boxsled went up on some rocks, and for a moment it looked as if the turnout would upset.
"Look out there, Gif!"
"You'll have us in the snow with the sled on top of us!"
"Git along there, Mary and John!" cried the young driver. "Git along!" and he cracked his whip, and soon the team had pulled the boxsled from the rocks, and then going became better.
"We ought to be coming to a signboard soon," declared Gif a few minutes later. "I remember there used to be one on the road, pointing to a number of camps north of this place."
In a few minutes they came to the spot he had mentioned, but to his disappointment there was no signboard to be seen.
"Someone must have taken it down, or else it fell of itself," he remarked.
"Are you quite sure you're on the right road?" questioned Andy.
"It would be fierce to have to turn back this time of night," added his twin.
"Oh, I'm pretty sure this is the right road," answered their chum. Nevertheless, his face showed a doubtful look. Not to find the signboard which had been a landmark in that vicinity for many years puzzled him.
A little later they came to where the road branched out in three directions, the road on the right being narrow and running directly into a thick patch of woods.
"Whoa!" cried Gif to the team, and then he looked around more puzzled than ever, and shook his head.
"What's wrong now?" asked Jack.
"I guess I'm stumped," was the slow reply. "I can't remember this spot at all."
"Oh, Gif, don't tell us we're on the wrong road after all!" exclaimed Andy.
"Jed Wallop told us to keep to the right," announced Spouter. "We've been doing that, and we might as well do it now."
"But that road doesn't look as if it leads to anywhere," declared Fred.
"It's a mighty narrow road, too," returned Gif. "We might get down in among the trees and be unable to turn around, and then what would we do?"
"Better stay here, Gif, while I walk ahead and investigate," said Jack.
"Better take a gun along, in case you stir up something you don't want to meet," warned Fred.
"Not a bad idea," and, reaching down into the boxsled, Jack brought out one of the weapons that had been placed there.
"If you see a moose shoot him on the spot!" cried Randy.
"What spot?" queried his twin gayly. "A spot on the end of his tail or the tip of his ear wouldn't be of much account."
"I don't see how you can joke, Andy, when we're lost away out here in the woods and it's past midnight," came ruefully from Fred. "I'd give as much as a dollar to be at the Lodge and lying down in front of a roaring fire. I'm getting pretty cold."
They were all cold, for since nightfall the thermometer had been going down steadily. More than this, the wind was rising, and this in the open places was anything but pleasant to the cadets.
"I'll go with you, Jack," announced Spouter, and he, too, armed himself with his gun, a double-barreled affair of which he was quite proud.
Holding his flashlight so that they might see where they were walking, Jack led the way, and Spouter came close behind. They walked a distance of several hundred feet, and here found that the road came to an end among some rocks which were now covered with ice.
"It's a road to a spring, that's all," said Jack. "The water is frozen now, but I suppose in the summer time the lumbermen and the other folks around here occasionally travel in for a drink. We may as well go back."
"Well, it's a mighty good thing we didn't drive in here. We might have had a job turning around on that rough ice," answered Spouter.
The frozen-up spring was a beautiful sight, the water standing out in columns and waves as if made of milky glass. Behind the columns there was still a trickle of water.
To get a better view of the sight, Jack swept the rays of the flashlight first to one side and then to the other. As he did this he caught a glimpse of a pair of gleaming eyes from the brushwood and snow behind the spring. The eyes looked full of curiosity and fright.
"Look, look, Spouter!" he cried, and then dropped the flashlight into his overcoat pocket.
"What is it?"
"I just saw the eyes of some wild animal back there. See! There they are now!"
As Jack spoke he raised his gun and blazed away. This shot was followed by one from Spouter.
The reports were followed almost immediately by a snarl and a whining cry, and they heard some animal thrashing around wildly in the bushes behind the spring, sending the loose snow flying in all directions.
"We hit it, whatever it is," announced Jack.
"What do you suppose it can be?" questioned Spouter quickly. "It wasn't a deer, was it?"
"I don't think so, Spouter. It was too low down for that. Maybe it was a fox, although it didn't sound like it."
"Perhaps there are brook mink around this spring."
"Are you going back there to find out?" went on Spouter, for the sounds in the brushwood had now ceased.
"Sure, I'm going back there! You don't suppose I'm going to let any game get away from us!"
"Be careful, Jack. That animal may be playing possum, you know, and may spring out at you."
"Don't worry; I'll be on my guard," answered Jack.
He had slipped another charge into his gun, and Spouter quickly did likewise. Then, with their weapons ready for use and with the flashlight held so that it cast its rays ahead, they cautiously moved around to one side of the frozen spring and made their way in the direction of the bushes and rocks in the rear.
"Hello there! what are you shooting at?" The cry came from where the pair had left the boxsled. It was Gif who was calling.
"We don't know yet," answered Jack.
"We saw a pair of eyes, and we shot at them," added Spouter.
"Gee! what do you know about that?" exclaimed Fred. "Hunting before we even reach the Lodge!"
"Let's go ahead and see what they struck," came from Randy.
"That's the talk!" added his twin.
Gif was willing, and in a moment more the four lads had scrambled down from the boxsled and were making their way along the road leading to the spring. By this time Jack and Spouter had advanced through the brushwood and over the rocks close to the spot where they had last seen the gleaming eyes. As they went on Jack imagined once or twice he saw something moving through the snow, but of this he was not certain.
"Here is where we hit it, whatever it was," declared Spouter, when they reached the point directly behind the spring. "See how the snow is dug up?"
"Yes, and here are some drops of blood," said Jack, as he turned the flashlight on the snow. "But whatever it was, it got away," he added disappointedly.
"What have you got?" sang out Gif, for he and the others had come up on the opposite side of the spring.
"We haven't got anything," answered Spouter dolefully. "We hit something, but it got away from us."
"It wasn't a moose, was it?" queried Randy with great interest.
"No, I think it was a three-horned elephant," replied Jack, who was not then in the best of humor. He hated to have the first thing he shot at get away from him.
"Well, this seems to be the end of this road," remarked Gif, looking around.
"Yes, it only led down to this frozen-up spring," answered Spouter.
"I move we go on," said Fred. "I'm cold, and I'm sleepy too."
"I think we're all that way," answered Gif. "Come on, you fellows. No use of remaining around here. If that animal got away it probably moved off quite a distance."
"That would depend on how badly it was wounded," answered Jack. "Just wait a minute, and I'll see if I can't find its trail."
Aided by the flashlight, he looked around carefully, and presently made out some tracks in the snow leading in the direction of a nearby thicket. He moved to this, coming presently to several low-hanging trees.
"See anything?" questioned Fred impatiently.
"Not yet. But the trail is here as plain as can be."
"Maybe those are only rabbit tracks," remarked Randy.
"Or tracks of the animals that came down to the spring for a drink," put in Gif.
Jack did not answer. He was flashing the light around carefully, inspecting all the trees and bushes in that vicinity. Suddenly the light was flashed upward, and as the rays ran along one of the branches of the tree directly in front of the youth there came a sudden snarl of rage and protest.
"It's a wildcat!" ejaculated Spouter, whose eyes had also been following the rays of light. "A wildcat!"
"Yes, and it's the animal we wounded," answered Jack. "See how it is holding up one of its front paws."
"Be careful!" sang out Gif, in alarm. "A wounded wildcat is no beast to play with."
Scarcely had he uttered the words when the wildcat gave another snarl of rage. Then the tail of the beast began to quiver, and suddenly, with a cry, it leaped down from the tree, striking the ground directly in front of the surprised boys.
THE MEETING ON THE ROAD
That the wildcat was in a savage mood and prepared to fight to a finish, there could be no doubt. Evidently the wounded paw had made the beast more savage than usual, and hardly had it struck the ground than it tried to make a leap forward at Jack.
"Look out, Jack!"
"He means to claw you to death!"
Bang! went Spouter's gun, but he did not dare to take too close an aim for fear of hitting Jack, and as a consequence the charge of shot merely damaged the wildcat's tail.
It must not be thought that the oldest Rover was slow in moving. Had this been true, the wildcat would undoubtedly have fastened its claws and its teeth into the youth and done serious damage. As the animal came forward, the young captain leaped to one side and the wildcat landed in the snow, facing the others who had come up.
"Shoot him! Shoot him!" came from Fred excitedly.
"Plug him quick!" added Andy.
None of those who had followed Jack and Spouter were armed, so the fight rested entirely upon the shoulders of that pair. Circling around so as to avoid the others, Jack pulled the trigger and fired. The wildcat began flipping and flopping on the snow, badly wounded. Then Spouter discharged his firearm once more, and after this the creature lay quiet where it dropped.
"Is—is he dead?" questioned Fred, who was the first to speak. The youngest Rover was very much excited, and with good cause.
"Wait! Don't go forward!" ordered Jack, as he stepped back a few paces. "He may be playing possum. Anyway, we had better load our guns first," he added to Spouter.
This advice to load immediately after discharging a weapon was one which had been well drilled into the cadets, and so now the pair lost no time in putting new charges into their weapons. Then they approached with caution, and Jack turned the wildcat over with the barrel of the gun, keeping his hand meanwhile on the trigger ready for action.
But the beast was quite dead, the charges from the two guns having gone completely through its body.
"What are you going to do with the carcass?" questioned Randy, after all had made an inspection.
"Might as well leave it here," declared Fred. "It isn't good for anything. Even the skin is all torn from the shot."
"No, we might as well take it along. We can hang it on the back of the boxsled," said Gif. "Perhaps we can use the meat to trap some other wild animals."
A strap which one of the boys happened to carry was fastened around the neck of the wildcat, and then they carried it from the spring to where they had left the boxsled. The excitement for the time being had caused all of the cadets to forget how late it was and how cold and windy it was growing. But now, when they were once more ready to drive off, several of them began to shiver.
"It's going to be mighty cold before morning," announced Randy.
"Yes, and I wish we were at that bungalow in front of a good log fire," added Andy.
"Now that we've discovered that wasn't the road, which way do you propose to go, Gif?" questioned Jack.
"We won't count that as a road, and we'll take the other one on the right," was the reply. "I don't know of anything else to do," Gif added, somewhat helplessly.
None of the others could give advice, for the reason that this territory was entirely new to them. Even Spouter, who had visited the woods a number of times, had never been in that vicinity.
Onward they went once more, up a gentle hill and then down the slope on the other side. At the foot of the hill the road became rougher and rougher, and presently the horses had all they could do to make any progress.
"Gif, this can't be the right road," declared Jack at last. "If it was as rough as this, Jed Wallop would have told us about it. He said we wouldn't have any trouble at all in reaching Cedar Lodge."
"Yes, and besides, we must have come at least five or six miles," added Spouter.
"I'll bet we've come all of eight miles," broke in Fred.
"That's just what I think," declared Randy. "I'll bet an elephant against a mouse we're on the wrong road."
"Well, I won't dispute that, Randy," answered the young driver of the boxsled. "But you'll all bear witness to it that I followed directions and kept to the right."
The road now ran along the side of a hill. Here the heavy fall of snow had slid down over the rocks and the going was anything but safe. The faithful old horses had all they could do to keep their footing.
"We'll upset the first thing you know!" exclaimed Fred, and he had scarcely spoken when the runner on the up side of the road struck a series of rocks, and the next minute all of the boys, including Gif, went tumbling from the boxsled, and some of their provisions followed.
"Whoa there! Whoa there, Mary and John!" called Gif to the team. But this command was not needed, for the tired old horses were only too glad to stop, and had come to a halt the moment the youths tumbled off.
All had landed in the snow, which at this point was rather deep; so none of them was seriously hurt, although somebody stepped on one of Randy's hands and Spouter got a scratch on his ear from some nearby bushes.
"Well, here's a mess!" exclaimed Fred, as he picked himself up. "Now we are in a pickle."
"Oh, it might have been worse," declared Jack, as cheerfully as he could, because he could easily see that Gif was in a state of mind bordering on desperation. "Nobody is seriously hurt, I hope?"
All scrambled up, and then looked at the roadway immediately ahead. Here was a somewhat level spot, and to this the sled was driven, and the lads picked up the stuff which had fallen off in the snow and replaced it, this time tying it down with some ropes and straps which were handy.
"I don't believe I'll drive any further on this road," said Gif. "It doesn't seem to lead to anywhere, and I'm quite certain now that it isn't the way to Cedar Lodge."
"What will you do?" asked Andy. "Go back to that other road?"
Everybody was stumped, and for several seconds nobody made any reply.
"Might as well go back," said Spouter.
Fred and Randy walked on ahead, trying to determine where the road led to. But all they could see was the blackness of the forest, and the roadway seemed to grow rougher and more perilous at every step.
It was no easy task to turn the team and the boxsled around without spilling everything again. But it was accomplished at last, and then slowly and painfully they climbed along the hill until they reached the point where there had been another split in the road. Here they came to a halt.
"Listen!" cried Randy suddenly.
All did as requested, and from a distance heard the low musical jingle of sleigh bells.
"There's a sleigh!" exclaimed Gif. "And unless I'm mistaken, it's coming this way!"
They listened again, and were overjoyed to note that the sounds were gradually coming nearer. Then they stepped out behind the boxsled, and presently discerned a large two-seated sleigh, drawn by a powerful pair of horses, approaching.
The steeds were making good time, despite the roughness of the road and the depth of the snow.
"Hi there! Hi there!" called out Gif, and then Jack sent the rays of his flashlight toward the on-coming turnout.
There were exclamations of astonishment from those in the sleigh, and for a moment it looked to the boys as if the occupants were bent upon passing them without paying any attention to their call. But then Gif, Spouter, and Fred took a position directly in front of the on-coming horses, and the driver brought them snortingly to a sudden stop.
"What do you fellows want?" demanded a heavy guttural voice from the sleigh.
The words were uttered in a German accent, and by the look of his face the speaker, who sat on the front seat beside the driver, was evidently of Teutonic origin. He glared suspiciously at those in the roadway, and Jack and Gif afterward declared that they saw the gleam of a pistol in the man's hand as it was thrust in the flap of his overcoat.
"We've lost our way," said Gif, coming a few steps closer. "We thought maybe you folks could direct us."
"Huh! I don't know about that," said the man in his thick German accent. "Where do you want to go?"
"We want to go to Cedar Lodge. It's located somewhere up here, about five or six miles from Timminsport."
"Cedar Lodge!" said one of the men who were seated on the rear seat of the sleigh. "Do you mean the hunting lodge that is owned by the Garrisons?"
"Then you are on the wrong road to get to that place," said the man. "You'll have to go back the way we came for about half a mile, and then take the road to the left. It is in from this road, I think, about a quarter of a mile."
"Is it the first road we shall come to from here?" questioned Gif, bound to fix matters so that he could not make another mistake.
"Thank you. That is all we want to know."
"What are you young fellows going to do at that place?" queried the German who was on the front seat.
"We came up here for a season of hunting," answered Jack.
"The place belongs to my father and my uncle," explained Gif. "My name is Gifford Garrison."
"I see. Well, have a good time," said the man on the front seat of the sleigh. But he did not seem to be particularly pleased.
"Have you a hunting lodge around here?" questioned Fred curiously.
"No. We are just taking a little trip to visit some friends up here," answered the man on the back seat who previously had not spoken. "We shall stay only a day or two," he added. Then the man on the front seat spoke to the driver, and away they went once more, and were soon out of sight, taking the road the cadets had just been thinking of pursuing.
"Well, I'm mighty glad we met those men," declared Gif. "Now I know where I am. Thank goodness! we are not so very far out of the way after all."
"Don't crow, Gif, until you are out of the woods—or at least until we are in sight of the Lodge," cried Andy.
"I didn't like the looks of those fellows," declared Jack.
"They were a bunch of Germans, and not very nice Germans at that," said Fred.
"Isn't it queer that we are running into so many Germans?" remarked Spouter. "First that Herman Crouse on the train, and now these chaps."
"Oh, hurry up, fellows! Don't stand here and gas!" ejaculated Randy. "Let's see if we can't find that lost Lodge. I want to get warmed up, and I want to go to bed."
Then the boxsled was turned around once more and the journey to Cedar Lodge was resumed.
THE FIRST HUNT
The six cadets from Colby Hall found the side road the Germans had mentioned with ease; and after that it was not long before they came to a spot which looked familiar to Gif.
"Thank fortune! we're on the right road at last," cried the young driver of the boxsled. "See those peculiar trees over there?" He pointed to three all growing together. "I know those very well. We ought to come in sight of the Lodge now in a few minutes."
"Well, you can't get there any too quick for me," declared Fred, as he gave a deep yawn.
The way was over a small bridge which spanned the river Gif had mentioned to the Rover boys, and then they passed through a patch of woods and to a clearing about half an acre in extent. In the center of this clearing was located the Lodge.
It was a substantial and artistic log structure, a single story in height, with a broad veranda running the length of the front. Right at either end of the lodge was a huge cedar tree, and more cedars were at the edge of the clearing. Behind the bungalow was a small barn and also a fair-sized woodshed and close by was a small building which Gif explained to them was used in the summer time for a kitchen.
Gif was the first out of the boxsled, and he lost no time in unlocking the front door for the party. Jack brought his flashlight into play, and they lit two lamps after filling them with oil which had been brought along.
"Now we'll get the stuff in from the sled, and then I'll have to put the team away," said Gif.
"Let me do that, Gif," said Jack. "Just show me where they are to go, then you and the others can light the fire."
"Yes, and we'll fix something to eat, too!" declared Randy.
"I'll go out to the stable with Jack," came from Spouter, who was no shirker when it came to doing his share of the work.
It was not a hard task to transfer the baggage and provisions, as well as the guns and team was driven around to the stable, where ammunition, to the Lodge, and, this done, the sled was run in under a shed. Then Jack and Spouter proceeded to make Mary and John at home for the night.
In the meantime all of the others had gone to the woodshed and returned to the Lodge with sticks of various sizes for the fire. The building of this was left to Gif, as it was felt that he was, in a certain sense, the host. Yet all were ready to help, and soon they had a big blaze roaring up the wide chimney and gradually filling the bungalow with its warmth.
The arrangement of the Lodge was very simple. The living room occupied the center, with a sort of winter kitchen and entryway behind it. To each side of the living room were located two bedrooms, one in the front and the other in the rear. Above the living room was a loft which could be reached by a rustic pair of stairs, a loft which could be used only for a storeroom, since it was less than five feet high in the center, sloping to the eaves, front and back. The big chimney was in the rear of the living room, and behind it, in the kitchen, was a stove for cooking.
"Say, this is just all right," declared Fred, after he had warmed up a bit and taken a look around. "We ought to be as snug as bugs in a rug here."
"We'll have to arrange about sleeping quarters," remarked Gif. "Two of the rooms have a double bed each, and the other rooms have two single beds each." The doors to the various rooms had been left open so that the heat from the fire might draw through the entire Lodge.
It was great sport for the boys to divest themselves of their heavy overcoats and caps and then get to work preparing the Lodge for occupancy. All of the bedclothes had to be shaken out and warmed, and they also had to get out some linen which had been packed away. Gif, assisted by Andy and Randy, did this, and meanwhile Jack, Spouter, and Fred brought out the dishes and other things and set the table and also began to boil water for some hot chocolate, which they had decided to have, along with some smoked beef and cheese sandwiches and some doughnuts that had been brought along.
Soon the boys were seated around the big square table the living room contained enjoying themselves to their hearts' content. The steaming chocolate and the things to eat put them in the best possible humor, and their troubles with Bill Glutts and Gabe Werner, and also with the wildcat and on the road, were, for the time being, forgotten. Outside the wind was rising, making a mournful sound as it swept through the cedars and the other trees in that vicinity. But inside the fire crackled merrily and the heat of the fitful flames as they roared up the chimney filled the lads with satisfaction.
"We sure had a tough time getting here," declared Randy, "but it was worth it."
"Isn't this just peachy!" cried his twin, as, with a final doughnut in hand, he sank deep in a rocking chair at one side of the fireplace. "This suits me right down to the tips of my toes."
"I should think it would suit anybody," declared Spouter. "Why, this whole surroundings has the most artistic setting I ever beheld. Just think of this rustic bungalow nestling away in the midst of this gigantic forest, and think of this deep-throated fireplace with the flames soaring upward, casting their flickering shadows hither and thither over the bright faces—"
"Of six well fed and sleepy young fellows who ought to be in bed this minute," broke in Jack. "I move we adjourn for the night and let Spouter finish his oration in the morning."
"That's it! Always cutting me short when I have some beautiful sentiments to express," grumbled the would-be orator. "Never mind, I'll get square with you some day."
"Never mind, Spout. Don't take it too hard," broke in Andy. "Remember that even slipping down on a banana peel is a good deal of a skin game."
"To bed it is," announced Gif. "Unless, of course, Andy and Fred want to remain up to wash the dishes."
"Nothing doing," yawned Fred. "I could go to sleep sitting in this chair. I'll wash the dishes to-morrow morning before breakfast."
It was decided that the twins should occupy one of the rooms with a double bed. Gif and Spouter took the other double bed, and Fred and Jack went into one of the rooms containing two single beds.
"We'll keep the fourth room for possible visitors," announced Gif. "You know, Glutts and Werner may call on us," he added quizzically.
"Of course they'll call—when they are invited!" declared Jack. "Not but what it's your house, Gif," he added quickly.
"They'll never come here on my invitation," was the ready response.
Their previous experience in camping out stood the six cadets in good stead, and they knew exactly how to leave their fire so that it would keep burning until morning without doing any damage. Then, one after another, they speedily shoved off to bed and soon all of them were slumbering peacefully after a long and arduous day's traveling.
In the morning Jack was the first to arise and he was speedily followed by Gif and Spouter.
"Might as well let the others sleep for a while," said the oldest Rover boy. "They were pretty well tired out, Fred and Andy especially."
"Sure, let 'em sleep as long as they want to. Our time is our own, and there is no use in hurrying. Just the same, I bet Fred wakes up pretty quick when he smells boiling coffee and pancakes."
Some pancake flour had been brought along, and soon the appetizing odor of the cakes, along with the odor of steaming coffee, filled the Lodge. Then came a call from one of the bedrooms, and, sure enough, it was Fred speaking.
"Hi there! don't you eat all those good things up before I get there," he called out. "Say! this air certainly gives a fellow an appetite."
By the time breakfast was ready all of the boys were dressed. Jack and Spouter had gone outside for more wood, and they reported that it had begun to snow hard.
"All right, let it snow," said Randy. "Now that we are here, what do we care?"
"Well, we don't want to get snowed in," remarked Spouter.
"Oh, I don't think the storm will be as bad as that," returned Gif. "Just the same, I'm glad we didn't get caught last night in a downfall. We might have had worse luck than ever in getting here."
By the time breakfast was finished it was snowing heavily. There was a fairly strong wind blowing, and this sent the fine particles flying in all directions. When they went out to feed the horses they found the snow already an inch or more in depth.
"I think this is going to add quite a little to what is already on the ground," said Jack. "If it keeps on for any length of time it will make hunting rather difficult."
"Why can't we go out and do some hunting before the storm gets too bad?" questioned Fred. Now that he had reached the Lodge he was exceedingly anxious to try his skill with a gun.
"When I was here before there was quite a rabbit run on the other side of the cedars behind this bungalow," declared Gif. "It isn't a long way off. We could easily go that distance even through the snow."
"There wouldn't be any chance of our losing our way?" queried Spouter.
"Oh, no. It's not far enough off for that."
"Then let's go before the storm gets any worse," cried Andy.
"Yes, but how about the dishes to be washed?" asked Gif.
"Oh, Gif, can't we do them just as soon as we get back?" questioned Fred.
"Last night's dishes are still standing in the kitchen," declared Jack, looking somewhat sternly at his cousins.
"We'll get at them the minute we get back from our hunt for rabbits!" exclaimed Fred. "Won't we, Andy?"
"That's a contract," declared the fun-loving Rover.
"All right then, see that you keep your word," answered Jack. "Remember, Gif, no more grub for anybody until the dishes are washed."
"It's too bad we didn't bring some wooden dishes with us," remarked Randy. "Then, after we had used them, we could put 'em in the fire."
"Lazybones!" called out Spouter. "You are as bad as the tramp who said he didn't care to eat prunes because it was such a job to spit out the pits;" and at this there was a general smile.
A little later the boys were ready for their first hunt. They had discarded their overcoats for a number of hunting jackets of which the bungalow boasted, and had also donned leggings and caps. Each looked to see that his weapon was in first-class order and that he had a sufficient supply of ammunition.
"We'll take only the shotguns along," said Gif. "You won't find any big game in this immediate vicinity."
Fixing the fire so that it would keep until they returned, they locked up and then started away. The snow was still coming down steadily, and they were glad when they reached the shelter of the woods.
"You don't suppose Jed Wallop will come here during our absence?" questioned Jack.
"If he does he'll know what to do," answered Gif. "He knows where the key to the bungalow is, and I left a note for him in the stable, stating that if he wanted to take the team away he could do so. He usually keeps the horses up at his place, which is about half a mile from here."
Forward they trudged along a narrow trail leading through the woods. Gif was at the front, with Spouter and Jack close behind and the others following. Feeling that the rabbits might be on the alert, they relapsed into silence, making practically no noise as they advanced.
They had covered a distance of several hundred feet when Jack, happening to glance overhead, saw something that interested him very much. A flock of wild ducks was circling about, and he pointed them out to Gif.
"I have often seen 'em around here," whispered Gif. "But you'd have to go a long distance to get 'em unless you could shoot 'em on the wing. They never settle down in the vicinity of the bungalow."
"Some day I'm going to take a crack at them," said Jack. "That is, if they fly low enough."
Presently Gif slowed his pace and motioned for the others to do likewise. They had come out to where there was a small clearing. Here all gazed around sharply, trying to find some trace of the rabbit run Gif had mentioned.
"I see one!" exclaimed Spouter presently. "See him? Over yonder," and he pointed with his hand.
"Yes! And there is another!" answered Jack.
"I see four or five of them," put in Gif.
"Oh, say! there is our chance," ejaculated Fred excitedly. "Let's get busy at once," and he made as if to raise his shotgun.
"Don't fire yet," cautioned Jack. "We're not close enough."
"Come on! I'll show you a place where we'll have a good chance to get at those rabbits," said Gif. "Come, follow me."
A CRY FOR HELP
Making as little noise as possible, the other lads followed Gif back into the woods and then along a snow-laden trail skirting the clearing.
Less than two minutes' walk brought the young hunters to a spot where were located a series of rough rocks, and here Gif motioned for his companions to halt.
"I think you will find the rabbits in the hollow just on the other side of these rocks," he whispered. "Now get you guns ready before you show yourselves."
Slowly and cautiously they mounted the rocks and then lay down in the snow on top. They peered into the hollow below, and presently made out the forms of at least a dozen rabbits running to and fro, evidently trying to find something among the trees and bushes opposite that would be fit to eat.
"We might as well fire all at the same time," said Jack. "Because after the first shot those bunnies will do their best to get to cover."
It was quickly decided that some of the hunters should shoot at the rabbits directly ahead, while others were to shoot at those to the right or to the left.
It must be admitted that Fred and Andy were trembling with excitement, and Randy was also agitated. The others were quite calm, or else they did not allow their real feelings to show. It was decided that Jack should give the order to fire.
"All right," said the oldest Rover boy. "Now take aim, and when I say three, shoot."
There were several seconds of silence during which all of the young hunters got in readiness to shoot. Then, while they were still aiming their weapons, one of the rabbits suddenly stopped running around and sat upright, directly facing them, with his long ears pointed skyward.
"Quick!" exclaimed Jack excitedly. "They see us! One—two—three! Fire!"
The six shotguns spoke almost as one piece, and as the reports echoed across the clearing and through the woods, several of the rabbits were seen to leap into the air and then fall back lifeless. Several others were seriously wounded, and these were speedily put out of their misery by a second shot from Gif and Spouter.
"Hurrah! Seven rabbits!" exclaimed Fred, running forward. "That's what I call a pretty good start."
"Come on, let us go after the others! Leave these where they are," cried Jack, and plunged into the wood where he had seen several of the rabbits seeking refuge. He managed to bring down one of them, and Randy brought down another. The others got away.
"Nine rabbits is by no means a bad haul," was Gif's comment, after the boys had brought the dead game together.
"Enough for a splendid potpie, and then some," came from Spouter.
"Do you suppose we can get any more?" exclaimed Andy. He was quite certain he had brought down one of the bunnies.
"We can try, Andy," answered Gif. "It isn't late yet, and the snow isn't so deep but what it might be deeper."
Having divided the rabbits between them, so that each lad might carry some of the game, they moved forward, across the little clearing, and then through the woods for the best part of a quarter of a mile. During that time they saw several squirrels, but were unable to get a shot at the frisky animals.
"A squirrel is as quick as they make 'em," declared Gif. "You've got to act like lightning to catch 'em."
By this time it was snowing so heavily that all concluded it would be a wise move to return to Cedar Lodge. The wind was rising, shaking the tops of the trees violently and causing a strange moaning sound through the thickets which was anything but pleasant.
"I'd hate to be caught out here all alone and in the darkness," remarked Randy to Fred, as they trudged along.
"Would give a fellow the creeps, wouldn't it?" was the reply.
As they continued on their way they kept their eyes wide open for the possible appearance of more game. But no animals showed themselves, nor did they see any birds circling through the snow, which seemed every moment to be coming down thicker than ever.
"If this snow continues and the wind keeps on rising, we'll have a regular blizzard before morning," announced Gif.
"Don't say a word about the wind," panted Andy, who had dropped a few paces behind, "My nose and my ears are almost frozen."
"Well, thank goodness, Andy, we're not very far from the Lodge. You'll soon be able to warm up."
They were still deep in the woods when from a distance they heard a peculiar whistle twice repeated.
"That's Jed Wallop's whistle," announced Gif. "He must have just come in."
He whistled in return, and presently they came out at a point where the cedars fringed the clearing in the midst of which was located the bungalow. They saw Jed Wallop standing outside the little stable and waved their hands to him, and he waved in return.
"Thought you might have gone out huntin'," announced Wallop, when they came up. "Had some luck, too, I see."
"Nine rabbits," said Fred, a bit proudly.
"Good enough! I guess that means some good, old-fashioned rabbit stew to-night," and Jed Wallop grinned.
He had not seen Gif's note, and so the lads explained the situation, to which the man listened with much concern.
"Well, by gum! what do you know about that?" he ejaculated. "I certain did mix it when I give you them directions. I might o' told you about turnin' to the left when it come to the road past this lodge. You see, I got all twisted up in my mind as soon as I heard about my cousin, Tim Doolittle, bein' hurt."
"That's just the way I figured it, Jed," answered Gif. "However, as we got here at last it doesn't matter."
"Goin' to have a pretty good fall o' snow, boys;" and Jed Wallop looked anxiously at the sky.
"Do you think we shall be snowed in?" questioned Randy.
"Might be—if the storm keeps up long enough. But you got plenty o' provisions, ain't you?"
"Oh, we've got enough to last us for a week or ten days," answered Gif.
"Then I guess you'll be all right. But say! maybe you fellers would like me to stay here with you?" continued Jed Wallop. "Not but wot you're big enough to take care of yourselves."
"We'll get along all right, Jed. Don't worry," answered Gif.
"Then I'll be a-takin' the team and gettin' over to my own place," announced the man. "And I won't lose no time, nuther. I don't want to git stuck on the road with Mary and John. They are a purty good team, but they are apt to loose heart if the wind gits to blowin' too strong agin 'em."
"How is your cousin getting along?" questioned Jack kindly.
"Oh, he's a-doin' tolerable. I took him over to our Uncle Joe's, you know, and the women folks over there will give him the best o' care."
The boys assisted Jed Wallop to hook up the team to the boxsled, and in a few minutes more the man was off with a crack of his whip, which sent the team away at a fairly respectable pace.
"Now, have a good time!" he called back to the boys. "And don't shoot all the game in the State."
"When will you be back?" sang out Spouter.
"In a few days. If you want me before that time give the signal;" for it had been arranged that when the boys wanted Jed Wallop to come over from where he lived they were to shoot a gun two times twice in succession.
"He won't have any sweet job of it getting to his place," announced Fred.
"Fortunately, it isn't a great distance off," answered Gif. "If he had several miles to go, I doubt if he would be able to make it."
Shutting up the stable and loading their arms with firewood from the shed, the six cadets made their way into the Lodge. When they opened the door the wind rushed in, causing the sparks and the ashes from the smouldering fire to fly in all directions.
"Shut that door!" Gif cried quickly. "My, how that wind is rising!"
"Maybe it'll blow the bungalow over," remarked Randy.
"Oh, I don't believe it will get as bad as all that, Randy," said Jack. "This looks as if it was a pretty substantial building."
"You're right," came from Gif. "Those logs are good and heavy, and they were put together by some of the best workmen around here. This house won't go down unless the woods go down with it. But I am mighty glad we are under shelter where we can take it comfortable."
"Do you know what I think?" said Fred. "I think we ought to bring in more of that firewood. There is no telling if we'll be able to get any of it by morning if this snow keeps coming down."
"A good idea, Fred," said Jack. "Let us go out at once and pile all the wood we can in the entryway beside the kitchen."
Leaving Gif to stir up the fire so that the Lodge might get warm once more, the others hurried out to the woodshed. They made four trips from that place to the entryway beside the kitchen, each time bringing in all the logs they could carry.
"There! that wood ought to last us for two or three days," declared Jack, when the task was done.
"Now I know what I'm going to do," said Fred, as they re-entered the main building.
"What's that?" queried Spouter.
"I'm going to get at those dishes."
"So are we!" declared Andy and Randy in a breath.
Water was heated, and it did not take long to dispose of the dirty dishes. While the three boys were doing this, the others cleaned up the living room of the bungalow, and also straightened out their beds. From time to time all gazed out of the small-paned windows, to see that the snow was coming down as thickly as ever.
"We're in for it, and no mistake," said Gif finally. "I don't think we'll be able to do much hunting for a day or two."
"Well, that will give us a good chance to rest," declared Jack. "I don't know but what I would just as lief take a nap after lunch. That tramp in the wind after the rabbits made me sleepy."
All were rather tired, and as a consequence the lunch was an informal affair, the boys warming up and opening a large can of pork and beans and making themselves a large pot of steaming chocolate.
"We'll have dinner to-night," said Gif, and to this the others agreed.
Then they cleared the dishes away and took it easy, some resting in front of the fire and others on the beds in the rooms.
"If it gets much colder we'll have to pull some of those beds out into the living room and close the doors to the bedrooms," announced Gif. "I remember we did that one time when I was up here."
By five o'clock the boys felt rested, and then began preparations for a regular dinner. Several of the rabbits were cleaned and cooked, and they also boiled some potatoes and onions. Then Gif and Jack prepared a pan of biscuits and a pot of tea.
"Some day I'm going to take a few hours off and make some pies and cakes," announced Randy. He had always had a great liking for desserts.
"Yes, and don't forget we're going to make some candy, too," added his twin.
In the evening the boys read some magazines they had brought along, and Jack and Spouter played checkers. Before retiring, they looked out of the windows, to find that it was snowing and blowing just as furiously as ever.
"It's going to be a wild night, believe me," announced Spouter. "I don't believe there will be many people traveling around in this vicinity."
They retired as they had done the night before, and soon, despite the whistling of the wind, all of the lads were sound asleep.
Suddenly Jack awakened with a start. How long he had been asleep he did not know. He sat up quickly, for he realized that some sound from without had awakened him.
"Help! Help!" came from outside the bungalow. "Help! Let us in! We're freezing to death!"
"Wake up, Fred! There is somebody at the door trying to get in!" called out Jack, as the cry from outside was repeated.
"What's that? What's the matter?" came sleepily from the other Rover boy.
From outside came a feeble kicking and pounding on the main door to the Lodge. Two boys were calling piteously for assistance.
"Get up, everybody!" sang out Jack, as he jumped up and stuck his feet into a pair of slippers which were handy.
His call and the noise from outside aroused Gif and Spouter, as well as Fred, and soon the four cadets were hurrying into the living room. They wore nothing but their pajamas, and slippers, but now each slipped hastily into his overcoat.
"Who is it?" demanded Gif, for he had no desire to have the Lodge overrun by a crowd of noisy and possibly half-drunken lumberjacks.
"It's us—Bill Glutts and Gabe Werner," was the faint reply. "Please leave us in before we are frozen to death."
"Werner and Glutts!" ejaculated Fred. And now the continued noise brought Andy and Randy on the scene.
"What can they be doing out here this time of night?" demanded Fred.
"Say, let us in, won't you?" came pleadingly in Gabe Werner's voice. "You don't want to let us freeze to death, do you?"
"What brought you here this time of night?" demanded Jack.
"We're on our way to Tony Duval's place," answered Gabe Werner. "But the storm is so fierce we couldn't get any further. Our horse is completely winded."
"You are sure you are alone?" demanded Gif.
"Yes, yes! Please let us in. My nose and ears are frozen."
"And I don't know whether I've got any feet left or not," broke in Bill Glutts piteously.
The main door to the bungalow had not only been locked, but also barred. Now the door was unfastened, and Gif, with the others beside him, allowed the portal to swing open a few inches.
A terrible scene met their eyes. The snow was piled up against the door to the depth of two feet or more, and the wind was swirling the white particles in all directions, so that the snow came into the living room in a perfect cloud. In this mass of white stood Bill Glutts and Gabe Werner, their heavy clothing covered with a ghost-like mantle. Behind them was a one-seated sleigh drawn by a horse that looked ready to drop from exhaustion.
"Come in," said Gif briefly.
No such invitation was needed, for as soon as the door was opened wide enough Bill Glutts staggered into the living room, followed by his crony. A swirl of snow followed them, and continued until Gif and Jack managed to close the door once more.
"Gee! I'm all in," gasped Glutts, as he sank down on a chair close to the smouldering fire.
"I thought we'd drop before we got you fellows up," added Werner. "You sure are some sleepers," he grumbled, as he too sank down on a seat.
Ordinarily the Rovers and their chums would have treated these two bullies with scant courtesy. But now Glutts and Werner appeared to be suffering so much from the cold that they had not the heart to find fault with their enemies.
"I'll stir up that fire a little," said Gif, and did so while Andy and Randy went out into the entryway, to bring in some additional sticks of wood.
"We can't leave that horse out there," remarked Jack. "He'll be frozen to death."
"Well, I'm not going out to take care of him," declared Gabe Werner quickly. "I wouldn't go out in that storm again for a thousand dollars."
"Neither would I," growled Glutts. "The nag can look after himself."
"That's a shameful way to treat any animal, Glutts," declared Gif. "But as you fellows seem to be so exhausted, we'll look after him," he continued.
"If you go out, Gif, I'll go with you," said Jack quickly. "But we had better slip some of our clothing right over our pajamas. I'll bet it's as cold as Greenland's icy mountains around that stable."
While the newcomers continued to make themselves comfortable before the fire, and Spouter and Fred prepared a pot of hot tea for them to drink, Gif and Jack hurried into their clothing and then went outside.