Tuesday, 4 November 2008
The Outboard Boys at Shadow Lake
THE OUTBOARD BOYS AT SHADOW LAKE
Solving the Secret of the Strange Monster
BY ROGER GARIS
[This series has now been reprinted and is available at my bookstore. http://stores.lulu.com/store.php?fAcctID=1329324]
Author of "The Outboard Boys at Mystery Island?
"The Outboard Boys at Pirate Beach," Etc.
A. L. BURT COMPANY
NEW YORK CHICAGO
THE OUTBOARD-MOTOR BOAT SERIES
BY ROGER GARIS
Digitized by Doug Frizzle, November 2008
THE OUTBOARD BOYS AT MYSTERY ISLAND
Or, Solving the Secret of Hidden Cove
THE OUTBOARD BOYS AT SHADOW LAKE
Or, Solving the Secret of the Strange Monster
THE OUTBOARD BOYS AT PIRATE BEACH
Or, Solving the Secret of the Houseboat
COPYRIGHT, 1933, BY
A. L. BURT COMPANY
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
THE OUTBOARD BOYS AT SHADOW LAKE
CHAPTER I Loose in the Crowd
THE man with the red-checkered vest and two gallon hat who stood on the platform before the tent gesticulated wildly.
"See the marvelous beings that defy science!" he shouted. "Observe the two-headed calf?one of the strangest freaks of nature! Watch the rubber man tie a knot in himself! See Ben Aboudi, the fire eater, consume a feast of living, leaping flames! Come right in, folks?all for a dime, ten cents, the tenth part of a dollah!"
His spiel concluded, the barker stepped down from the platform, removed his sombrero, and wiped the sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief which, for sheer violence of coloring, shamed the checkered vest.
"Plenty hot," said he to a small man who leaned against the side of the platform. "I'll have to get me a gulp of frigid water."
The side show opened that morning in a vacant lot just outside Stirling, a thriving town on Lake Otter. It was billed as "Marlow and Denby's great exhibition of Unique, Wonderful and Fascinating Creations."
Business was poor this warm afternoon in early July. Outside the tent was a crowd of less than 300 persons. Of these scarcely more than twenty-five found themselves sufficiently thrilled by the barker's oratory to purchase tickets.
On the fringe of the crowd stood three young men, something about them setting them apart from the rest of the audience. They appeared more wide-awake, and on their faces was the unmistakable brand of intelligence and self-reliance that distinguishes this type from the ordinary curiosity seeker always found in the neighborhood of circuses, side shows, and like exhibitions.
The names of the three were Terry Blondel, Martin Hazzard, and Warren Finn, and they were residents of Stirling, having been chums and schoolmates for a number of years. Terry was tall, rather slender, but muscular, with light hair and deep blue eyes.
Warren, as a contrast, was shorter and huskier, with brown hair and brown eyes. To complete the variance in the trio Martin was dark, of medium height, and of such handsome features that in a contest gotten up by the girls of Stirling High School he won the title of "Romeo." That week there were six fights on the campus, resulting from certain indiscreet students awarding him the title publicly.
Warren Finn, gazing at the pictured representations of animals in another tent, remarked that he himself had a collection of strange beasts.
"Strange to you, maybe, not to us," said Martin. "The only thing strange was why your father let you have them around. Imagine having a lot of mice and chipmunks and a racoon, not to mention a skunk."
"The skunk I only had for a day," Warren protested. "He was sick."
"I'll say he was," Terry snickered. "And so was your cook, when?"
"Listen, shall we give this show the once over?" Martin interrupted. "It's only a dime. I've got two bits, if you fellows have a nickle between you we can take it in."
"Young man, I never go about without adequate sums of money on my person," said Terry grandly. "I have at present eleven cents."
"Then let's go," Warren suggested. "Only not for a few minutes. I want to hear what these circus people talk about when they're not talking to their beloved public. Let's sort of edge up to where the announcer is chewing the sock with that little man?over there by the platform. I think the little fellow is the manager, or something."
They pushed through the crowd gawking at the vivid posters before the tent, suggesting the marvels within, and soon were close enough to the two circus employees to catch their conversation. The short man was insisting:
"I tell you it's not a lot of hooey. Slim Morrissey sent me a letter in Chi and told me about it. Just because the people around this burg aren't raving over it is no sign that it doesn't exist. They're probably dead from the neck up anyhow ?do you expect a bunch of country yokels to be interested in?"
"Listen, Mac," said Checkered Vest wearily. "I've been in this racket for nineteen years, and I've heard these stories about three times a year, regular. Sometimes it's a wild man in the woods near Clover Foot, Wis. Or maybe a prehistoric pachyderm that inhabits the swamp back of the gas house in Epicure, Pa. Then when you start searching for them in earnest the wild man turns out to be old Silas Peterkin who's not quite right in the head and has a safety razor complex, and the fabulous pachyderm reveals itself as one of the Yankpaw herd of cows that was lost, fell in the swamp, and got covered with mud that dried and caked on her. No, Mac, don't let your eagerness to get a new exhibit run away with your reason.
There are no strange monsters outside of side shows.
"All right, Packem, have it your own way. But just to satisfy myself I'd like to talk to someone around here who knows the territory. Not one of these Gosh-look-at-that-tall-building geezers, but someone who doesn't have to push his bed next to the wall so he'll be sure to get out the right side in the morning. And I'm sure Slim wouldn't give me a wrong steer. He said there was a Mystery Lake in the vicinity of Stirling, where a huge monster is supposed to live. Mystery Lake it's called by some folks and by others Shadow Lake. That last is the older name, for the lake has so many trees around it, casting deep shadows into the water, that I guess it sort of looks spooky. And I guess that's why some took to calling it Mystery Lake, for it sure must be mysterious with those dark shadows all around it. Probably that's why this monster picked it out. No one knows just what the monster is, but the few trappers and hunters who have camps around Mystery Lake are all afraid of him. Golly, Packem, think what it would mean if we could get a thing like that for Bill Marlow! He'd fall on our necks and kiss us!"
The three boys, who were taking all this in with ears "strained to the breaking point," could scarcely control their excitement.
"Did you hear what he said?" Martin whispered tensely. "Mystery Lake! A strange monster! Just what we were talking about that day?"
"I know!" Terry exclaimed. "When we were sitting on Thompson's porch after we came home from Mystery Island! By jingo, maybe it's true! I'm going to speak to those men."
"Wait," Warren cautioned. "Maybe we can hear a little more."
They were standing just around the corner of the platform, and while they could not get a clear view of the speakers, they could hear the conversation perfectly.
"Now don't tell me," the one called Packem almost moaned, "that we're going to stay in this neck of the woods until you find out that the strange monster of Mystery Lake is an eel that Pete Hawkins saw after finishing a quart of something that made him think it was an ichthyosaur."
"Big words and soft music," Mac grunted. "No, we're not going to remain here any longer than we have to. But just the same?"
"Excuse me," Terry burst out, facing the two men. "We couldn't help hearing what you were saying. At least we could help it, but we didn't want to. Anyhow?I mean we live here, and we heard about the monster of Mystery Lake?or, rather, Shadow Lake."
"You did?" Mac exclaimed eagerly. "What did you hear?"
Terry was joined now by Warren and Martin, who were just as anxious as he to talk to the circus men. Packem glanced up and laughed.
"What is this, a convention?" he demanded.
"We happened to be standing around the corner of the platform," Warren explained. "And we heard you say something about Mystery Lake and a monster that lives there."
"According to gossip," Packem growled. "Say, what's your names?"
"I'm Warren Finn. This is Martin Hazzard and the other Terry Blondel. We've got a pretty good boat with an outboard in her, just the thing for cruising around the lakes that aren't deep enough for an inboard motor. And we know these parts pretty well. Maybe we could?"
"Whoa!" Mac interrupted, grinning. "You've got it all figured out, haven't you? Now tell me, gentlemen, what makes you think you could find the monster of Mystery Lake?provided there is one?"
"Well, last summer we found out what made another mystery tick," Terry said, speaking fast. 'We went camping on Misty Island?some people call it Mystery Island. It had iron ore on it, and boy?what thunderstorms! A fellow named Jake Lawson killed fish by setting off explosive in the water. We stopped that, too. And we recovered some bonds that were taken by a crazy man ?I mean he wasn't really crazy, he was just temporarily out of his head." And Terry went on to tell of their adventures as related in the first book of this series, entitled "The Outboard Boys On Mystery Island." When he finished, Mac looked at them admiringly.
"You sure had a time of it," he commented. "Well, now, boys, I'll tell you. Here's the situation. This side show is part of the Marlow and Denby circus, as you probably guessed. Marlow is one of the biggest circus men in the world. Denby, you know, is dead. This summer Marlow says to me, he says 'Mac,' he says?"
"You mean he wrote you a letter," Packem interrupted.
"Well, all right, a letter then. He asked me to take this side show on the road and try to pick up a bit of extra cash, at the same time trying to spot new freaks and exhibits for our big show in Madison Square Garden this winter. So I does just that. Then Slim Morrissey writes me about the monster of Mystery Lake. He was here on a health trip? he's one of our scouts. So we comes out here."
"On a fool's errand," Packem snorted.
"Oh, I don't know. Now let us introduce ourselves. This, on your right, is Claude Duval, commonly known as Packem In, which he does sometimes. I'm Terrence McDavitt, ordinarily known as Mac. I'm supposed to be the manager here, but Packem doesn't give me the proper respect due my position."
The three boys acknowledged the introductions. They liked the two men almost immediately. Packem, despite his rough manner of speech, was a friendly sort. Mac was the very soul of geniality.
"How long you going to stay in Stirling?" Warren inquired.
"About a week, I guess. Then we'll move on, and return here in a month or so, on our way back."
"Do you suppose," Terry said eagerly, "that if we explored Mystery Lake and found this monster?whatever it is?that you'd buy it?"
"Buy it? Sure we would! We'd jump at it! That is, if it's really a monster of some sort, and not just a mislaid cow," said Mac.
"Now be sensible," Packem protested. "What kind of a monster do you think would live in this place?"
"Can't tell," said Mac vehemently. "They say Mystery Lake is in a hollow, and that it has warm springs in it. In other words that it's like a tropical lake. If that's so, why couldn't some queer beast live there, maybe for hundreds of years? If there's a family of monsters that happen to breed there, and no one has ever captured one, think what it would mean?"
His words were cut short by wild yells and terrified screams coming from a small tent near the side show. It was here the small managerie was kept.
As the three boys and the circus men started for the tent, a woman ran through the entrance.
"The bear?the bear is loose, and he's mad!" she screeched. "He broke his chain! Help! Save me!"
CHAPTER II A Dangerous Trick
WITHOUT any definite plan of action, Warren, Terry and Martin, followed by the two circus men, sped toward the small tent which housed the menagerie. The woman who had screamed was waving her hands and scrambling away from the tent, falling over ropes and stakes, and continuing her cries that the bear was loose.
"It must be Big Ceasar," Mac panted. "But he's not vicious. He's tame. They must have made him mad at something."
"Never can tell about animals," grunted Packem. "Golly, listen to that racket!"
There could not have been more than seventy-five persons in the menagerie tent, admission to which was only five cents, but they were making enough noise for five hundred. There were shouts and yells and the canvas walls bulged as though a tornado was at work inside.
"It'll be bad if they pull down the tent," Terry exclaimed. "They'll have a real panic then?some of them are bound to be hurt!"
Several more women and a few men managed to find the exit and plunged out yelling and screeching. And now, as the three boys got closer, they could hear, above the mouthings of the terror-stricken people in the tent, the growls of the bear.
"Hurry up, boys," Mac panted. "Ceasar won't hurt you if you stand up to him?maybe we can prevent him injuring anyone if we get there in time!"
Mac and Packem, being older and not so lively as the three youths, were quite a distance in the rear. Suddenly Warren noticed a pile of tent stakes ahead.
"Grab one!" he shouted. "We might be able to keep the bear off with these!"
With the heavy stakes in their hands the boys continued their race for the tent. Now it was but a few rods away. More people were forcing their way out, shouting in fear of the animal in the tent behind them.
"We can't get in there," Warren gasped. "We'll have to crawl under the tent?it's the only way!"
The entrance was packed with struggling men and women and a few children. It was these last that drove the boys on to greater efforts. In their panic, the men and women did not consider the danger to the little ones who could not withstand the jostling and pushing of the heavier adults. There was great likelihood that the children might be trampled underfoot, even if they escaped the menace of the bear.
What made the situation even more alarming was the narrowness of the tent doorway. There was scarcely room enough for three persons to pass abreast. This, however, was in obedience to circus tradition, which teaches that crowds are desirable at all times, even if it means encompassing a small group of persons in a very small space.
"One of us better see what can be done with those crazy people," Martin cried. "Terry, suppose you see if you can quiet them a little?make them realize what they're doing?"
"O. K.," Terry agreed quickly. "I'll go around front. You two get inside the tent."
He changed his course and ran toward the entrance.
"What is this, a riot?" he shouted. "You people are worse than a Democratic convention! Take your time, take your time! You can't all get through that gate at once! Afraid of a tame bear ?why, you bunch of saps, you'd probably run from a bawling calf! Why don't you take care of the kids, instead of seeing how many you can knock down?"
His purposely harsh words reached those in front, and they looked at him in wonder. The strong language penetrated their panic-stricken minds, and they began to realize what they were doing.
One huge fellow who had been fighting fiercest to get through the gate, to the constant danger of knocking over the tent, stopped his struggles and yelled:
"He's right?cut it out, you people back there! Come here, buddy?" this to a little shaver who was pressed between the milling people?"there you are!" He swung the child up on his shoulder. Then he grabbed another and with one hand placed him, too, in a position of safety. Then he walked carefully out of the tent and set his charges safely on the ground.
Mac and Packem rushed up to Terry and strove with him to quiet the crowd. Finally they succeeded in establishing some sort of order.
In the meantime Martin and Warren had crawled under the tent and were within the enclosure. Here is what they saw:
The animal cages lined one side of the tent, and contained bobcats, cougars, fox, porcupines, seals, one elderly lion, a leopard, a black panther and a few other cats. These animals were doing their bit to add to the confusion by setting up a series of terrific yowls and growlings. The lion, in an excess of activity such as he had not exhibited in many a day, was lunging against the bars of his cage. The black panther was standing on his hind paws, his front ones high on the cage bars, emitting some choice epithets in the panther language.
And in the center of the tent, upright, his fore-paws waving in the air, was the cause of all this commotion?Big Ceasar, the black bear. Around his neck was a length of chain, the broken end dangling on his breast. He looked at the two intruders, then at the mass of people still striving to get out of the tent, and growled his contempt at such goings on.
"Why, he seems tame enough," Martin said, but took a tighter grip on the stake.
"You can't tell about animals," observed Warren, echoing Packem's sentiments. "Take it easy. He's all right where he is. If he makes a rush for those people, we'll try to head him off."
Ceasar stood there, simply waving his paws in the air, and Martin and Warren stood with him. It was a unique scene, not without its elements of humor. But in a swift second this aspect of the situation changed, and in its stead came danger.
The bear dropped on all four paws, and made a rush for the crowd milling about the entrance.
"Head him off!" Martin shouted, leaping directly in the path of the animal.
Terry was beside him. They waved their stakes and yelled "Back, Ceasar! Get back, Ceasar! Back! Back!"
But the bear kept coming. As he was almost upon them he swerved with speed and grace remarkable in so ungainly an animal, and then was beyond them and galloping toward the crowd.
Just on the edge of the mass of persons was a small girl. She must have been about ten or eleven, and showed no wild desire to force her way out as the others were doing. She edged forward foot by foot, as the crowd ahead of her advanced.
It was for her the bear ran. Martin gave a cry of horror. He sprang forward, but too late, for the bear with one paw pushed more than slapped at the girl and sent her sprawling.
She was uninjured, but the bear was standing over her. Yet the girl was not crying. Warren and Martin, in the split second that it took for this to become impressed on their minds, concluded that her vocal chords were paralyzed with fright.
They leaped toward the girl, but before they reached her Martin seized Warren's arm.
"Wait," he said tensely. "We may frighten him, and he may attack her."
"What are we going to do, stand here and let him kill her?" Warren demanded.
The problem was solved for them. The bear scooped one paw under the girl's back as she lay on the ground and made as though to turn her over, as he had undoubtedly turned fish up on the bank from streams in his native haunts.
"Hey!" Warren yelled. "Drop it, Ceasar!"
He and Martin sprang straight for the face of the bear, their stakes held before them. Ceasar looked up to see two determined humans not three feet from his nose. They held curious weapons.
With a little growl he dropped his burden and rose on his hind legs. The boys gave not an inch. Indeed, they even advanced a little.
Ceasar began to give ground. He flopped on all fours again and retreated with that pecular wagging motion of his head and shoulders, like a savage dance.
At this moment Mac and Packem burst into the tent. The crowd had gotten out. Terry was just behind the circus men.
"Jean!" McDavitt yelled. "Jean! Are you hurt?"
"No, daddy," said the girl lying on the ground. "Ceasar wanted to play with me and knocked me over."
"What!" Warren and Martin stopped in their tracks. Ceasar, with a final growl of pained surprise, trotted to a corner of the tent and sitting on his haunches began looking at his paws with the interest of a scientist examining a bit of radium.
Jean McDavitt got to her feet and went toward her father.
"A nasty man shot paper clips at Ceasar," she said, "and he broke his chain and started after the man. I wish he'd caught him?I'll bet he would have spanked him good. Then all the foolish people thought Ceasar was after them, and started to run. I went with them, but I wanted to tell them there was no danger. Then Ceasar came up behind me and pushed me over?you know, like he used to do when he was a cub. And then he put his paw under me to lift me on my feet again. I was waiting for him to do this, when these boys?" a mischievous smile came to her face. "These boys rescued me," she finished.
"Do you mean to say," Warren gasped, "that the bear was only playing?"
"Sure," Packem responded, grinning. "Here, Ceasar?come over here, you rascal." The bear came toward them leisurely. "Now ask the gentleman's pardon."
The bear ducked his head and bent a front paw in a clumsy courtesy. Warren and Martin couldn't help laughing.
"He seems sorry enough," Terry chuckled.
"And to think that dizzy bunch of people ran from him!"
"It might have been pretty bad if you hadn't stopped them from rioting," McDavitt said soberly.
"And how!" Packem agreed. "They were all set to make it a field day."
"I wish we could catch that man who shot the paper clips," Jean exclaimed. "He was standing by the side of the tent, and had an elastic. He hit Ceasar right on his soft nose. I don't blame him for breaking his chain."
There was a commotion just outside the tent, and one of the husky rope-pullers marched in. At arm's length he held a sheepish figure whose collar was in the grip of strong fingers.
"Here's the guy who shot them paper clips," said the circus man.
It was Al Barton, friend of Jake Lawson, whose get-rich-quick scheme of fishing with dynamite the boys had frustrated.
"Look!" whispered Martin. "It's Al!"
"I wonder if Jake is outside," murmured Terry.
"If he is," began Warren, "I'm going to?" but he was interrupted by something that happened a moment later.
CHAPTER III The Strange Monster
AT WAS an unwise thing to bring Barton before Big Ceasar until the bear had time to forget his injury. The animal had taken a good look at Barton when he felt the paper clip almost imbed itself in his nose, and now he started for the youth with an evil glint in his eye.
"Watch out!" Mac cautioned. "Bill, you better??
The bear, lumbering forward, changed his gallop into a swift run. Bill, the man who held Barton, gave a yell and sprang to one side. Barton wasn't quick enough. Ceasar struck him and bowled him over, then stood over him and with claws sheathed banged the youth on his head and shoulders, exactly as an irate father might cuff a refractory child.
Barton, his hands over his face, endeavored to roll out of the way of those punishing paws, but Ceasar gave him no opportunity. He smacked him first on one side and then on the other, while Barton yelled frantically:
"Call him off?call him off! He's murdering me! Ouch?hey, cut it out! Jiminy?call him off, will you?"
With a final whack Ceasar halted his cuffing. He looked down at Barton as if to say: "Now?I guess you won't try that stuff again!" Then he snorted, and ambled calmly back to his position in the corner, where he resumed his paw examining operations.
Barton lay there moaning, afraid to get up for fear the bear might return.
"You may arise, young man," Mac exclaimed. "Ceasar has finished."
The youth shuddered and sat up.
"Where is he?" he asked weakly.
Mac pointed to Ceasar.
"Will he?will he?" Barton spluttered.
"No, he won't," Packem assured him. "You can get up and consider yourself lucky. I thought Ceasar would take your head off!"
"And you would have watched him, I suppose," Barton said, bitterly.
"With the greatest of pleasure," Packem replied, evenly.
"It serves you right!" little Jean exclaimed. "I saw you shoot those clips at Ceasar?you and another boy. I wish Ceasar had gotten him, too!"
"What did the other look like?" Martin asked interestedly.
"He was sort of tall, with a thin face, and a mean look," Jean said promptly. "He was with this fellow."
"Lawson," Warren said in a low voice. Then, louder, he asked Barton:
"So your pal Jake got away, did he?"
Al Barton looked at him, but said nothing. Slowly he arose and brushed himself off with stiff movements, for he was sore from the cuffing he had received.
"Want a whisk broom, young man?" demanded Mac. "Or would you rather have Ceasar brush you off? He's very good at it. Ceasar!"
"My glory! Is he coming again?" Barton yelped. With one bound he almost reached the entrance to the tent, and in another second he couldn't be seen for dust.
"Ceasar would make an elegant bouncer," Mac laughed. "Well, we'll let that guy go. He's had enough, I guess. What's his name, anyone know?"
"Al Barton," Terry responded. "He and a fellow by name of Jake Lawson are the pests of Stirling. Sometimes they're a little more than pests, too. They need to be suppressed."
"Ceasar could be a charter member of the suppression society," Packem laughed.
?Was Lawson the other one who shot the paper clips?" Mac asked.
"Yes?I'm almost certain he was," Terry declared. "He's just the kind of a bird that would pull a stunt like that. Last summer he dared Teddy Thompson?he lives near the lake, and is only about seven years old?to stand up in a canoe and paddle. Teddy nearly drowned?would have, if it hadn't been for Warren, here."
"Must be very choice characters," Packem commented. "The kind you'd like to bring home to supper some evening."
"If I catch either one of 'em around here again I'll have the razorback boys make a meal of them," said Mac grimly. "O. K., Bill, you can go now. And thanks!"
"Right, boss," said Bill, and trudged out of the tent.
"By the way, this girl that you rescued," went on McDavitt, his face unsmiling, "is my daughter Jean. Jean, this is Warren Finn, Terry Blondel, and Martin Hazzard. Observe my remarkable memory," he said laughingly. "I need it in my business."
"How do you do," Jean said demurely. "And thank you very much."
"Stop kidding," Warren exclaimed, his face red. "We didn't know the bear was fooling."
They talked of the incident for a time, then McDavitt suggested that Terry, Warren and Martin come into his office, which was the wagon used for selling tickets. He had a small desk and a safe in one corner. This, with two chairs, constituted the "office."
The boys draped themselves about as best they might, and Mac asked them:
"You fellows have some sort of a motorboat?"
"Yeah," Terry replied eagerly. "It's called the Watermar. It's got a twin-cylinder outboard in her, and we can step right along. The boat's about eighteen feet long?and we're going to build sort of a canopy over her, so we can sleep aboard."
"Good idea," Mac approved. "I've heard of those outboard craft?they say they're quite the thing."
"Ours is great," Warren put in enthusiastically. "We've come through two pretty tough storms with her. One time on the island?"
"Maybe Mr. McDavitt isn't interested in that," Martin said gently. "He may want to get at some work."
"But I am interested," Mac said firmly. "And I'll tell you why. You know we were talking about a place called Mystery Lake when Big Ceasar started his rumpus. Well, you boys live around here?is there such a lake?"
"There's a lake connected to Lake Otter by a long, winding narrow stream," Warren said slowly, "that they call Mystery Lake. That isn't the real name, naturally. 1 think on the map it's called Shadow Lake."
"Shadow Lake," mused the circus man. "That's a funny name."
"It has hot springs in it," Martin declared. "And dad told me once it got its name from French settlers, who called it 'Chaud?? that's French for 'hot,' you know. And it became corrupted into 'Shadow Lake.'"
"It's a good explanation, anyhow," Mac agreed. "Chances are it's the right one. Well, then?here's the layout. One of our scouts, Slim Morrissey, wrote and told us about a queer beast that's supposed to live in or on the banks of this lake. He didn't say what sort of beast it was, simply that fishermen and trappers had caught quick glimpses of it, and that it was plenty big. Slim added that he had investigated the stories as well as he could, and they seemed authentic?that is, they agreed in important details. That's why we came to Stirling, which is a little off our route."
"But what kind of a monster is it?" Terry demanded. "Is it a seal, or a big otter, or a sea elephant, or?"
"We haven't the slightest idea," Mac confessed.
"But here's the way I look at it: if this Shadow Lake is in a hollow, and if it has warm springs, then even in winter it would maintain a pretty even temperature. That means it's like a tropical lake. Now animal life thrives in an environment of that sort. You take an ordinary turtle, a small one, and put him and his family in a lake like that and let them stay there for thousands and thousands of years. By golly, I'll bet you'd have turtles as big as houses. Food would be plentiful, and the climate would increase their size. So why couldn't some animal or group of animals live in Shadow Lake for a few hundred centuries getting bigger all the time? You say the lake isn't well known? that only a few trappers and fishermen use it."
"That's a fact," Martin said. "Most people steer clear of it."
"Well, boys," said the circus man, sticking his hands in his pockets and looking at them meditatively. "I want a few people who won't steer clear of it?who will go to Mystery Lake and clear up the mystery and see if there is a strange monster there. It means danger?don't fool yourselves about that. But if you want to take it on, the job is yours. What do you say?"
CHAPTER IV Lawson Again
THE words were scarcely out of his mouth when the result he expected occurred.
"Will we go?" Terry fairly shouted. "And howl"
"We're on our way already!" Warren exclaimed.
Martin, more restrained but just as forcible, said quietly:
"You couldn't keep us away with wild horses, Mr. McDavitt."
"Good! Then we might as well settle the details right now. No time like the present. Here's the dope: I give you fellows a check for $200, which ought to cover expenses. Will that be O. K.?"
"We don't need that much," Martin protested.
"Now, wait a second?remember I'm not paying for this. It comes out of Marlow's pocket, and he can afford to pay well for what he wants. In fact he won't permit his agents to work for him without giving them practically unlimited expense accounts. That's one of the main reasons he got to the top in this racket. The circus is no business where you can get along by squeezing pennies.
"All right, that's settled. I'll leave you an address where you can always get in touch with me, so if you need more money it will be on tap.
"Now as to your pay. Over and above expenses, you'll each get $25 a week. Is that satisfactory?"
"Holy smokes!" Terry muttered, "we didn't expect to get paid for this job, unless we came through with the goods."
"Why not? Aren't you acting as agents for Marlow and Denby's?"
"Ye-e-e-s, I suppose, in a way we are?"
"Then that's O. K. Now about the success or failure of the trip. If you don't find anything worth bringing back, you won't get any bonus? all you'll have will be your $25 a week, and what is left out of your expense money."
"Sure! That's fair," said Martin.
"All right. If, however, you do succeed in bringing back some beast that's worth exhibiting, we'll put a minimum price of $500 on it. More, if the animal is worth it."
"Gee, that's a lot of money in any language," Terry said fervently.
"It'll be worth it?you don't have to worry about that. You see most side show and circus attractions are billed as this or that from some far off land?the Fiji Isles, Borneo, Australia, Tin Can Island?places like that. They don't mean anything to the public, except as places they've seen on maps. But if we had an attraction caught right here in the United States, and not only in the United States but in a very civilized section?we'd wow 'em from here to Denver. That's what I'm figuring on. Think of the patter old Packem could get up?'Ladies and gentlemen?for years the good people of Stirling and the towns thereabouts went to their daily labors not knowing a fierce, dangerous and voracious monster, such as you see before you, dwelt on their very doorsteps, as it were. For years?nay, for centuries?as the country became settled and modernized this little lake, so properly called Shadow Lake, bore within its bosom the horrible beast upon which you are now resting your eyes.' Boy, what a spiel he could make of that!"
So cleverly did he imitate Packem's sonorous tones that the three chums found themselves imagining they were standing before a cage within which was a vague form of an animal?what animal they did not know, but certainly one very fierce and terrifying.
"Sure would be swell if we could capture him!" Terry said in a thrilled whisper.
McDavitt laughed and clapped him on the shoulder.
"Go to it," he said, "and the best of luck! Now if you will leave me your addresses I'll send a check for the $200 and two weeks' salary for all of you in advance."
They told him where they lived, and he arranged to send the money to Martin. Then he gave them an address in Portland which he said would always reach him.
He shook hands all around, and then, waving good-bye, went back into the office. The boys started homeward. They had bicycles concealed in some bushes near the edge of the circus grounds, and they got on these and pedalled along slowly.
Terry it was who expressed the thought which for the past several minutes had been germinating in the minds of all.
"Say, do you think this is on the level?" he demanded.
Martin looked at him.
"Hard to say," he replied deliberately. "When you think it over, it does seem sort of queer. This man who never saw us before giving us $200 to catch some unknown monster!"
"But he seemed like a pretty good egg," said Warren quickly.
"Oh, he's a nice guy?but the whole thing seems so?well, fishy. I can't quite make it out."
"But you forget what we did," Warren protested. "Terry saved his tent when the panic started, and you and I went after the bear?even if it was tame. Mac saw all that, you know."
"Yes, that's right," Martin admitted. "Well, we'll soon know?if he sends us the check, and if we can cash it. It ought to arrive tomorrow morning."
And it did. Early the next day, just after the mail arrived, Martin called Terry on the phone and said excitedly:
"It came, Terry?a check for $350! Dad went to the bank this morning, and he took it with him. So we'll soon know whether it's good or not."
They had not long to wait. Mr. Hazzard returned with a broad smile on his face.
"Well, son, you're a capitalist," he said. "You and Terry and Warren. Mr. Willey, the cashier, said McDavitt placed $2000 in the bank two days ago, so the check's perfectly good. I had it credited to my account, and I'll give you boys cash or checks as you need them. I thought that was the best way."
"Swell!" Martin exclaimed. "Then it was all on the level?and, dad?" he lowered his voice to a serious note?"you won't stop me from going, will you?" He had told his father about McDavitt's proposal.
"No, son, you can go," Mr. Hazzard said slowly. "You showed last summer that you could take care of yourself. I see no reason why you shouldn't explore Shadow, or Mystery Lake?but to be frank with you, I think you'll have your trouble for nothing."
They arranged a meeting the next night at Martin's house to discuss plans for the trip. Terry's and Warren's parents were going to play bridge at the Hazzard's, so if anything came up that needed parental sanction it could be obtained on the spot.
Terry arrived with his mother and father, as did Warren. They were greeted effusively by the Hazzards.
"What do you think of this idea to capture the mongoose of Mystery Lake, Ralph?" Mr. Hazzard asked Mr. Finn, winking.
"Why, I approve?provided they bring back a few lake trout," was the laughing answer. "Terry, are you a good fisherman?"
"We're not going to fish," Terry remarked. "We've got business to attend to."
Terry was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone in the hall. Martin got up to answer it, and left the door open. They could hear him say: "Hello! Oh hello, Louise! How are you? What? Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Blondel are here. So is Terry. What? . . . You don't say! Is that right! We'll start right away! G'bye!
"Fellows, we've got to get over to Teddy's house," he said as he entered the room. "Louise Thompson said she and Ruth were passing there a few minutes ago and they saw Jake Lawson and Al Barton walking around the path to the back. She thinks they're going to break in?or something!"
CHAPTER V A Show-down
FOLLOWING Martin's dramatic announcement, there was a moment of silence, then Terry exclaimed:
"Our house! For the love of Pete?what do you suppose that guy Jake is up to now? Let's beat it over there!"
"Aren't you going to tell your folks?" Warren asked.
"Yeah, I guess I'd better. How long ago did Louise say she saw Jake and Al, Martin?"
"Only a few minutes ago?we ought to be able to catch them, if we step on it!"
Ruth and Louise Thompson were friends of the boys. Ruth, the younger, rather favored Warren, while Louise looked upon Terry as her particular friend. Both girls liked and admired Martin a great deal, but he steered a bit shy of girls?to the disappointment of many of the fair sex in Stirling High, for Martin, it could not be denied, was remarkably good-looking.
The three boys burst into the room where the older folks were playing cut-in bridge.
"Sorry to interrupt," Terry said, but Louise Thompson called up and said a couple of fellows were hanging around our house."
"Around our house!" Mrs. Blondel exclaimed. "Oh, Lyton, call the police!"
"No, wait a second," Terry interrupted. "It's Jake Lawson and Al Barton. They don't want to steal anything. They just want to pull one of their wise tricks. Wawa and Martin and I want to go over and catch them." "Wawa" was Warren's nickname, a product of days when he couldn't pronounce "Warren."
"Don't you think we'd better have them arrested, son?" asked Mr. Blondel.
"If you let us take care of it we can guarantee satisfaction," said Martin grimly. "It's a chance?"
"I don't want any fighting," Mr. Blondel declared.
"There won't be any, if I know those two birds," said Warren. "If you get the police in, Mr.
Blondel, there'll be publicity and all that sort of thing."
"I think he's right, Lyton," spoke Mr. Finn. "Why not let the boys take care of it."
"All right," Mr. Blondel exclaimed. "Go ahead. Here's the key to the house, Terry. Telephone here when you?complete the job."
"Sure! Let's go, gang."
Without bothering about hats, the three ran out the door. They picked up a dog-trot, for it was not far to the Blondel home.
As they jogged along they said nothing, for they wanted to save their breath for running?and whatever else they might need it for. Six or seven minutes later they came in sight of the house. It was set back from the road, a long path leading to the front porch and then around to the back.
"Take it easy, now," Terry cautioned. "We'll come in from the rear?we want to surprise them if we can."
They moved closer, very quietly, and then saw what Jake and Al were attempting. They were fixing a tick-tack on the window pane. This little alleged joker consists of a string attached to a pin, which is pushed in the window sash. On the end of the string, so that it can strike the window pane, is tied a nail. Then another string leads from the nail to the operator's place of concealment. When he pulls the string the nail taps against the glass. If the mischief-maker is found out, all he has to do is to jerk the string, and the pin comes out, effectively removing all evidence. The device has interrupted more than one sound sleep.
"Just like a couple of kids," Terry said disgustedly. "That kind of a guy never grows up. I'll bet he plays with blocks in his spare time."
"Let's rush 'em," Warren whispered. "Imagine those dizzy birds?a tick-tack! Maybe they think you'll believe the house is haunted!"
"No, I've got a better idea than rushing 'em," Terry said. "They're so busy they won't hear us coming if we walk easy. We can get close to them before they know it. Now you follow me?I know this yard pretty well. Don't make any noise!"
Cautiously they crept forward. Al and Jake were fastening the pin in the wood. Just as this was completed, they heard Lawson say:
"When he hears this he'll think that monster is trying to get in the window! We'll wait until he gets to sleep, and?"
"Good-evening, children," Terry said calmly. "Are you enjoying your little game?"
Jake and Al spun around. Their backs were against the house, and before them, so close that escape was impossible, stood Warren, Martin and Terry, their arms slightly bent, their fists clenched ?a determined and imposing trio.
"What?how did you?" Lawson stuttered.
Barton could do nothing but make queer noises in his throat. Plainly the two jokers were frightened.
"We thought we'd just drop around and see how you were making out," Warren said mockingly. "Have you got the pin in straight, Lawson? And is the string long enough?"
"We?we?" Jake began, but got no further.
Terry stepped closer, as did Warren and Martin.
"Listen, Lawson," Terry said evenly. "We've had enough of this stuff. I thought you had learned your lesson, but I see you haven't. I heard you mention something about a monster. What was the purpose of that remark?"
By this time Lawson and his friend had recovered some of their bravado. Jake hunched his shoulders and said explosively:
"Yes, we know all about your plans to go to Mystery Lake?and take it from me, you'll wish you hadn't!"
"So that's the way of it," Martin said. "Got some more tricks up your sleeve, Lawson, like dynamiting fish?"
"Mind your own business," Jake growled.
He still held the ridiculous, juvenile apparatus with which he hoped to frighten Terry, and now he let the pin, string and nail fall to the ground. His eyes moved from one of his adversaries to the other.
"You can't keep me from trying for that monster at Mystery Lake," he said sullenly. "I've got as much right there as you have."
"Sure you have?if you stay out of our way," Warren declared grimly. "But if you try any tricks like the ones you pulled?or tried to pull? on Misty Island, we'll hunt you down?and we'll find you, too!"
"Yeah?" Barton said defiantly. "Think any one of you could take care of me?" He took a deep breath and swelled his muscles. Barton was husky, and taller than any of the others. It was rumored that he was training for a ring career when he was barred from boxing for some irregularity in a bout?a matter of "taking a dive," or losing the fight by faking a knockout.
Warren looked him over carefully. He could see Barton more clearly now, for his eyes were accustomed to the dim glow cast by a light in an upstairs room.
"I'd have a go at it," he said deliberately. "You've got about fifteen pounds on me, but I've got an idea, Barton, that you can't take it"
"Oh, no? Well, let me tell you?"
"Pipe down, Al," Jake interrupted. "What's the use of wasting time with these birds? Let's get out of here." He made as if to pass through the small group, but the boys closed in.
"Just a moment or so more,? Terry declared. "We want to make ourselves perfectly clear. First, the reason you're getting away with this is not because we're afraid of you, but because you're not worth getting skinned knuckles for."
Jake was about to answer this, but looked at Terry and concluded that it was the better part of valor to remain silent.
"In the second place," Terry went on, "we're not going to try to keep secret any plans we may have for going to Mystery Lake. If we decide to accept a certain offer made to us to investigate the lake, we'll make our preparations in the usual way?there won't be any attempt at concealment. You can follow us if you want to.
"But let me add this?if once you try any funny work, or if we run into difficulties that seem suspicious?you'll wish you never heard of Mystery Lake! And that's final! Now get out of here?and take your strong-arm guy with you!"
He stood aside, and Jake and Al Barton quickly took advantage of the opening. They made for a break in the hedge and in a moment were out of sight.
But not out of hearing, for Al Barton's voice came to them saying:
"I'm going to fix that bunch if I have to break a leg to do it!"
CHAPTER VI The Sinking Fisherman
ON THE dock of Jim Demerest's boathouse stood Warren, Martin and Terry, gazing at their boat, the Watermar. Near them were Louise and Ruth Thompson, the two attractive girls whom the boys had known for several years.
"Well, are you going to take us for a ride, Terry?" Louise asked. "I understood that was the purpose of our visit here."
"Sure, sure," Terry answered, a trifle vaguely. "Now let's see. If we put the canopy about in the middle, it'll mean we'll have to close off both ends. But if we put it forward, we can have a drop for the back, and the front can be closed permanently. No, that won't do either, for how can we see? I think?"
"For heaven's sake," Ruth laughed, "you must have money in the bank to talk to yourself like that. Come on, let's start."
The Watermar was an eighteen foot boat, originally a dory, but now fitted with a twin-cylinder Thornstream outboard motor. The boat was considered their common property, as the name of it indicated, "Watermar" being a combination of the syllables of their first names, WArren, TERry and MARtin.
"We might as well get under way," Martin declared. "We can talk while we ride. Got her filled up with gas, Syl?" This to a youth who at that moment strolled from the boathouse to the dock. He was Jim Demerest's helper, and aspired to be a wit. Unfortunately his funniest sayings were those meant to be serious.
"I filled her up," he said, "to the brim. And I put an extra gallon in a tin under the rear seat. That's two and a half gallons you owe me for."
"Right," Warren answered. "We won't forget."
"Say, you boys figgerin' on startin? on another trip somewheres?" Sylvanius Bogg, for that was his full name, demanded.
"Who told you?" Martin countered.
"Oh, I got my spies," Syl snickered. "They hide in back yards and places like that and tell me all that's going on."
"I suppose they conceal themselves in spearmint beds?" Terry asked innocently.
"Oh, sure, that's one of their favorite places," answered Syl confidently, not at all sure what the question indicated.
"Which makes them mint spies! All right, ladies and gentlemen, we shall be under way."
They left Syl gazing at them slightly goggle-eyed, and trying to figure out how a "mince pie" fitted in the conversation. Martin was at the motor, Terry and Warren sitting forward with the two girls.
"What we need in this boat," Warren remarked, when they were chugging out toward the center of the lake, is a remote control system. So we could run it from the bow. I saw one advertised somewhere in a magazine."
"Mr. Winston would be able to tell us," Terry said, referring to the merchant who had offered the outboard motor as a prize in an essay contest, which Martin won. "Maybe he has the remote control jigger. I understand he's sold quite a few of these motors, since he began to carry them in stock, to summer residents."
"We'll ask him when we get back," Martin called from the other end of the boat. "We want to figure on getting the canopy up, too."
He swung over the steering handle, and followed the shore of Lake Otter for a distance.
"Say, do you know just where that stream comes out, that leads to Shadow Lake?" Terry asked, facing Martin, giving the lake its more common name.
"No, not exactly, although it's in this direction. I think it must be quite a few miles along the shore?too far for us to find now, because we have to get back to lunch."
"What's it look like on the map?" Terry demanded.
"Just a little thread connecting the two bodies of water. I guess it runs through thick woods, and sort of between two mountain ridges. As a matter of fact, if I remember rightly, according to the map the stream is almost on the other side of the lake. Look, around in that direction," and his hand described a half circle.
Lake Otter was the biggest lake in the state, and it bordered some territory of which little was known. On one side of the lake were the Mawchunk Mountains, a ridge of not extremely high peaks, but adding to the picturesqueness of the region.
"Some day we'll have to explore those mountains," Warren said musingly. "I'll bet there are places where no one has lived for years."
"Hey, we've got one job on our hands now," Terry laughed. "And I wish you fellows would decide how you want the canopy put on the boat."
"What's the canopy for?" Louise inquired.
"We figure on sleeping aboard," Martin explained. "You see there have been so many stories about this lake?I mean people think?"
"You don't have to go on?I know exactly what you mean," Ruth said in a low voice. "You mean you think it would be too dangerous to sleep ashore."
"Well?not just that?"
"Then why the canopy?"
"To save us the trouble of pitching a camp," Warren answered promptly, and Martin breathed his relief, for he was not anxious to have the girls know how risky this projected trip was.
They were some distance from their starting point by now, and it was getting close to noon time. They had about decided to turn around when Terry, who was gazing ahead, uttered an exclamation.
"Isn't that a boat in some sort of trouble?" he asked the others. "It looks as if a man were standing up waving."
Martin looked where Terry was pointing, then nodded. "I think you're right," he agreed. "We'll see what he wants."
He pushed over the throttle until the motor was going at full speed, and in a short time they were close enough to the boat to call. It was a row boat, and appeared to have a hole in the side.
"Hey!" the man in it called. "Get me out of this, will you? My arm is about dead with bailin' ?an' my coat's comin' out of the hole?"
"What on earth does he mean?" Ruth said in surprise. "His coat is coming out of the hole!"
"Something stove a hole in his boat near the waterline, and he shoved his coat in for a plug to try to keep out some of the water," Terry explained. "Then I guess he had to bail, and he's pretty tired by now. O. K., mister, we'll get you," he called.
Martin headed straight for the boat, and reached it just as the water rose almost to the seat of the rowboat. The fisherman stepped from his nearly submerged craft into the Watermar and breathed a sigh of relief.
"Let me tell you, I'm glad to get out of that," he exclaimed. "Now, let her sink, for all of me? she'll float, partly, an' I'll get her later. Man, what a time I had gettin' this far from Shadow Lake!"
"Shadow Lake!" Warren said excitedly. "Is that where you got the hole stove in your boat?"
"That's where," the man replied. "I was fishing up there, an' what a story I've got to tell of how the boat got smashed?man! What a story!"
CHAPTER VII And His Story
THE fisherman sat there trying to wring the water out of his clothes while the others waited patiently for him to begin. Martin, in the meantime, headed the boat about in the direction from which they had come.
"Can you land me around here some place?" the man asked suddenly.
"You don't live in Stirling, then?" Terry inquired.
"Nope. My name's Darcy, and I come from over that section," and he pointed to the south. "I could never have made Shadow Lake from Stirling in a rowboat. If you'll land me near here, I'll get a lift home. There's a mail truck due along pretty soon, I think. Man, when I think of what almost happened to me?" He shook his head and went on wringing out his clothes as best he could.
"What happened?" Terry asked eagerly.
"Well?say, none of you got any tobacco on you, hey?"
"No, we don't smoke."
"Didn't think so. Well, I'll tell you. Early this mornin'?just about daybreak?I gets in my little tub an', thinks I, I'll try some new territory. I been livin' in these parts for fifteen years, an' I figgers it's about time to try a few new spots to fish." He gave his trouser legs a final squeeze. "That was where I made my first mistake."
He hesitated, and Terry was going to urge him on when Warren nudged him. It was better to let the man tell his story in his own way. After a moment or so he continued:
"I gets my fishin' tackle, puts some food and water in the boat, an' starts off. I headed for a little stream I know of over that-a-way. Quite a row, but I had plenty of time."
"The stream that leads to Mystery Lake?" Terry burst out.
"Huh? Mystery Lake?"
"I mean Shadow Lake," Terry corrected. "Though they're both the same."
"Yeah. That's the one. I seen it before, but never followed it up. This time I rows over to the stream an' edges my tub in an' begins to row along. Hadn't gotten more than half a mile up the stream when I begins to wish I was back at the old fishin' holes around here."
"Why was that?" Ruth asked curiously.
Well, miss, I can't exactly say?I had sort of a funny feelin' about the place. Nothin' I could describe?just that I wished I was home, that's all. But I had gone that far, an' I wasn't goin' to turn back because I felt funny."
"Did you see anything?special?" Warren demanded.
"No, can't say as I did?nothin' but low hang-in' tree branches and slimy green stuff along the edges of the stream. But it was so blame quiet in there!" He shivered, as though from cold. "Not even bird sounds, that I could hear."
"Weren't there any birds along the stream?" Louise inquired.
"Well, miss, there might have been, but they weren't chirppin', I'll tell you that. No, sir! It was as quiet as the tomb?all except for the little ripple the stream made, an' my oarlocks creakin'.
"Anyhow, I rows along, an' after maybe an hour or so?maybe more, I don't just recollect?the stream broadened, an' I saw the entrance to Shadow Lake. An' it began to get pretty hot."
"The sun, you mean."
"Not just the sun, either. I dipped my hand in the water an' it was warm. An' you know how cold this Lake Otter stays."
"They say there are hot springs?" Martin began, but thought better of it. The fisherman paid no attention to the remark.
"Yes, sir, the water was warm. An' the nearer the lake I got, the warmer the water was. I felt it two or three times. Thinks I, this ought to be pretty good for some kind of fish?It ought to make 'em grow plenty big. So I rows right out on Shadow Lake. What a place that is?what a place!"
"What's it like?" Terry asked.
"Well, it ain't so awful big?I should say maybe fifteen miles around. And it's almost circular, except where the stream comes in or where there are coves. An' the trees grow awful close to shore, an' they're the greenest trees, but willows, mostly. They hang in the water. An' man, wasn't it quiet!"
"No one live there at all?" Warren demanded.
"Not that I know of. I know I wouldn't live there. Why, there wasn't even a breeze! Just sort of hot an' humid, an' those trees sort of pressin' close to the water. Good place for a murder, thinks I, an? rows out toward the middle.
"Well, as long as I was there, I throws in my line an' waits. Nothin' doin'. An hour I waits, but not a nibble. So I rows closer to shore, though I didn't exactly relish gettin' under those trees that looked as if they were hidin' something awful."
"You didn't hear any sounds at all?" Louise asked.
"Nary a sound! It was like bein' alone on the moon?'course I never was alone on the moon, but I'll bet that's what it would be like. Anyhow, I rows in toward shore, and there's a half submerged log, or somethin', about ten feet out. I rows toward that, an' the side of my boat scrapes it, so I decides to stay there an' fish. So I throws my line over again.
"Then I guess I sort of dozed off. I don't know ?it was funny?usually I'm pretty wide awake, especially when fishin'. But it was so quiet there, an' so warm, an' there was a funny feelin' about the place?I can't describe it?but I must have dozed off. And all of a sudden?" He stopped, and shivered again.
"What?" Ruth said, leaning forward. They were all staring at the fisherman excitedly.
"I was in the water," he said simply.
?How did you get there?" Terry exploded.
"Somethin'?I don't know what it was, an' I don't want to know?smacked my boat so hard it stove a hole in it, an' sent me out head first. The boat didn't turn over, 'cause it was up against the log."
"Then what happened?" Martin asked.
"Naturally I came to with an awful start. Man, oh man! Was I scared! On the other side of the boat the water was threshin' around somethin' terrible. Like as though three or four men were wrestlin' and tearin' around there in the lake."
"How horrible!" Ruth gasped.
"It was, Miss, it was. I couldn't see what made the disturbance, but it went on for quite a while. I was afraid to get in the boat, for to do that I had to get near the thing that was in the water. And I was afraid to stay where I was, for fear it would come at me. So I tried to make the shore. It wasn't very deep?I could walk, if I wanted to. But somehow I didn't want to put my feet on the bottom."
"Don't blame you," Warren muttered.
"So I swam to shore an' pulled myself out. There I stood, under those funny trees, watchin' the water thresh around. Then, as quick at it began, it stopped. The water smoothed. My boat, half full of water, was still against the log. It took all my nerve, but I went in the water again an' swam to the boat, and somehow managed to get it ashore.
"Then I plugged up the hole with my coat an' decided to get out of that place as quick as I could. I had to stop rowing an' bail with my bait can every five minutes. I thought I'd never get out on this lake again. Man, what a trip that was! I've been all day at it."
"Did you see the?whatever it was that made the disturbance in the water?" Martin demanded.
"No, son, I didn't, an' I'm glad of it. I got an idea if I had seen it, I would have been plenty frightened. I didn't want to see it. All I know is that it was awful big an' awful horrible."
"But what?" Terry started.
"Don't know, son! Haven't any idea what it was. But believe me, it had no right being around here! If this was Africa, now, or Egypt?" He spread his hands wide as if giving up a hard problem.
"You mean the animal?or whatever it was?is the kind they have in those countries?" Terry questioned, his eyes alight at the thought of capturing such a beast.
"How can I tell? It wouldn't be so strange if? but one thing I'm sure of, and that's this?you won't catch me on Shadow Lake again, at least in a row boat!"
They were nearing the shore now. At this point there were a few houses, and a dock. Martin steered the Watermar toward the dock, cut his motor, and the fisherman disembarked.
"I want to thank you fellows," he said.
"You're welcome?so long!"
They watched him walk up the dock toward the road, his shoes aqueously squishing as he went. Then Martin started the motor and they headed homeward. For a few moments no one said a word. Finally Louise broke the silence.
"I don't suppose it's any use," said she, "in trying to convince you three that it would be better to leave Mystery Lake alone?"
Terry and Warren looked at her and smiled.
"What do you think?" Warren asked.
"Oh, I know what you're thinking?that it would be a great adventure to explore the lake! But now you see how dangerous it is?"
"Louise, you're only making them want to go more than ever," her sister declared. "Don't you know by this time that danger increases the attraction for them?"
"I suppose you're right," Louise sighed. "But I wish?"
"We'll be all right," Martin broke in. "Listen, you fellows?we can't delay too long on this thing. We want to start as soon as we can. It shouldn't take more than a week to get the boat in shape. What do you say we start a week from today? next Wednesday?"
"O. K.," Terry approved, and Warren agreed with him. "Next Wednesday is the big day. And we won't come back until we get that monster, either!"
"Unless," remarked Martin in a low voice.
"Unless what?" inquired Terry.
"Unless he gets us."
CHAPTER VIII Skunked
WARREN and Terry stopped suddenly and gazed at their chum. On his part Martin showed by no sign that he had said anything out of the usual. Then Warren ventured:
"Not getting cold feet, are you?"
"You know better than that, Wawa."
"Yes, I s'pose I do. But it sounded sort of funny, coming from you, didn't it, Terry?"
"A little, yes. Did you mean that, Mart?"
"That you think this unknown monster might get us or do to us the same thing that he did to this fisherman?"
"Well, it's possible, isn't it? I mean taking his story for granted?"
The other two boys could not but admit that Martin was right.
"This is the way I look at it," Martin resumed when, once more, they were on their way. "There's something queer up at Shadow Lake, or Mystery Lake, maybe. That's fairly well settled. This something seems to take the form of a monster?a beast. Now we've agreed to have a go at getting it."
"You sort of talk as though you were going to back out," suggested Terry.
"Not at all. I only want to have you fellows realize that this may be a dangerous business and we may get hurt. So let's go at this seriously."
"Oh, if that's all you are getting at, I'm with you," assented Warren.
"Sure!" agreed Terry. "We'll be careful all right."
"Well, that's what I was afraid of?that maybe you would sort of laugh this off and not be careful enough. After what we heard this Darcy say?"
"It does sound sort of risky," interrupted Terry. "But do you know what I think?"
"What?" asked his chums when he seemed disposed to let them properly approach the answer.
"Well, that thing which bumped his boat and stove a hole in it may have been a cow."
"A cow!" cried Warren.
"Do you mean a seacow, a manatee from Florida?" asked Terry.
"No, not that exactly, though it would be swell if we could capture a beast that, so it is said, formed the basis for sailors' mermaid stories."
"How's that?" asked Warren.
"You know the manatee, or seacow, a big but harmless beast, swims with head out of the water and in its front paws, or flippers, carries its young one. It is said that sailors, seeing this from a distance, got the idea that the manatee was a half woman, half fish toting her baby around that way."
"Pretty good," commented Terry. "But if you don't mean a seacow bumped Darcy's boat what do you mean?"
"An ordinary milk cow," Martin went on. "There are plenty around here. One might have floundered into the water, have paddled out to this fisherman's boat and sideswiped it with her horns. He was so scared he couldn't see straight, anyhow."
They were so busy in the days that followed their strange encounter with the fisherman that they had little time to discuss what the strange beast might be. They must get their boat in shape for the coming cruise of adventure.
The Watermar was taken out of the lake and put in dry dock at Jim Demerest's boathouse. Aided by Jim and Sylvanus Bogg, the three chums began to construct a canvas shelter under which they could sleep on bunks while cruising Mystery Lake. They even planned to install a miniature galley with a gasoline stove so they could cook on board during rain storms.
"And while we're at it," suggested Terry, "let's rig up the dingus so we can steer the boat and regulate the motor from the bow."
"I've got just the very thing for you," Mr. Winston told the boys. "Got a shipment in only the other day. A lot of the outboard motor fans have been asking for some arrangement so they could sit up in front and steer the boat and regulate the engine at the back. This does it."
"How's it work?" asked Warren.
"I'll show you. Got a sample all rigged up back in the motor department. Come and take a look."
The boys went and looked and came away convinced. They tried out the sample working model and declared it was just what they wanted.
By means of thin, wire cables, running over brass pulleys fastened at the stern, on each side of the boat, a control was led up to the bow. This was for opening or closing the throttle and regulating the spark. Small levers, working on ratchets, opened or closed the gas supply and also advanced or retarded the spark, though this control was less used than was the gas.
"This will be easy to install," said Warren, looking the apparatus over.
"The handle control, to steer the boat, won't be so easy," objected Terry.
"But it can be done," insisted Warren. "I think we ought to take both."
"You have to buy a small wheel to serve for a tiller," Mr. Winston told the boys. "You fasten the wheel on the bow of your boat and run wire cables back to the handle. Twisting the wheel winds up the cables on a sort of drum and when you turn the wheel you shift the handle to left or right, and?"
"Or port or starboard," interrupted Warren.
"Yes, if you want to be real nautical," agreed the store keeper with a laugh. "Anyhow, you can steer your boat from up in front as well as regulate the motor with these jiggers."
"We'll take 'em!" decided Terry and his chums agreed.
"And when we get the all-weather canopy on, boy, we'll be all set!" exclaimed Martin. They began work on refitting their boat that day.
The remote controls were installed after not a little work, and then they tackled the canopy.
"We want it pretty well forward," Terry declared. "Then, in bad weather, we can stay under it and travel protected."
"But how could we see out?" was Warren's objection.
"Well, we'll have to put a window in it," Terry responded.
'How can you put a window in canvas," Martin scoffed. "The most you could do would be to have a hole in the canvas covered by a flap, which could be lowered when we wanted to see out."
"That wouldn't be much good," Terry said. "If we traveled in heavy rain, we'd have to have the flap open all the time, and our bedding and everything else would get soaked."
Jim Demerest, who was listening to this conversation, stepped forward and held up his hand.
"If you'll allow a bit of advice," he said, "I could sew two celluloid windows in the canvas for you. They wouldn't interfere with taking the canvas down, for they wouldn't break. In that way you could see and at the same time stay dry?that is, if you really figure on traveling in storms."
"That's a knock-out idea," Martin enthused. "How long would that take, Jim?"
"Oh, a couple of hours. When you boys count on having the whole job finished?"
"Well," said Warren, "we've got the supports up already. The canvas should be all cut and stitched in one more day. Today is Saturday?I don't see why everything shouldn't be finished by Monday night. That'll give us all Tuesday to complete arrangements, and we can leave Wednesday, as we counted on."
"You're sure goin', hey?"
"Sure we are!" Martin looked at him in surprise. "Why not?"
?Well?perhaps I shouldn't say anything?"
"Shouldn't say anything about what?"
?What Syl told me the other day."
"Where is Syl?" Terry asked, looking around, "He's up to the village, getting some rope. He said he heard there's going to be another party going to explore Mystery Lake, and try to catch that thing that's supposed to live there."
The three boys looked at each other in consternation. They were astounded that Jim should know so much of their plans. As a matter of fact, while they hadn't actually tried to keep them a secret, at the same time they didn't want them broadcast.
"Who told you all this?" Warren parried.
"Syl. I don't know where he heard it. He said another gang of circus men heard of Shadow Lake, and offered a certain party in this town a certain sum of money if he beat you to it."
"I don't suppose we could guess who this certain party is?" Martin asked, grinning a bit.
"It wouldn't be hard," Jim said shortly. "Your first guess would be right."
"Jake Lawson," Terry muttered. "So he's going to mix in this after all. Well, let him come?the more the merrier. But he better not try to put any fast ones over on us!"
"He wants to buy a boat," Jim went on. "Came here and asked me if I had one for sale. Offered to pay me on the installment plan."
''What did you tell him?" Terry inquired.
"I told him we didn't do business with rascals. Then he got up on his hind legs and made a couple of cracks about you fellows?called you that sweet-scented bunch of outboard motorboat heroes."
"How vicious," Terry mocked. "Terrible!"
"Yeah, that's what I told him. I said he better be careful of his language around here," Jim laughed.
They went on with the work of building their shelter, and when the day was over all three were pretty tired. They got on their wheels and were pedaling homeward when Ruth Thompson, who was crossing the street, saw them and called:
"Terry?Martin?wait a minute! I want to ask you something!"
They stopped and resting on their handlebars greeted her as she approached. The day had been hot, but the girl, in some light gauzy material, appeared as cool as the proverbial cucumber. The three boys felt all the more keenly their unkempt appearances as they gazed upon this trim figure.
"How do you do it?" Warren asked, gazing at her admiringly.
"Do what?" Ruth returned.
"Look so cool on such a hot day."
"Oh, I just forget about the heat," the girl laughed. "You boys have been working, and naturally you're overheated. If I pedaled a bike on a day like this I'd die. But I want to ask you all something."
"At your service, madam," Terry responded, trying to bow but finding his handlebars in the way. "Anything you wish shall be yours."
"Then I wish you three to come to our house Tuesday night."
"A party?" Warren inquired.
"Not exactly. Just sort of a?well?farewell gesture. Also there's a girl coming to visit me whom I want Martin to meet," and she gazed openly at the darkhaired boy. "I know she'll fall for him like anything."
"Hooey," Martin the bashful muttered. "I may not be able to come Tuesday, Ruth. I'm afraid I'll have to?"
"Listen at him," Terry laughed. "Stop stalling, kid."
"She's an awfully nice girl," Ruth went on. ?She's heard about you and she's dying to meet you. She lives at Wiltshire," naming a town about ten miles from Stirling.
"Well?" Martin hesitated, his face red.
"He'll be there," Warren promised. "So will we all."
As a matter of fact all three, including Martin, looked forward to the party at the Thompson's. During the following days they worked hard on the Watermar, and Tuesday afternoon Jim Demerest said it was in perfect shape, and ready for the start on the morrow.
He had sewn the two celluloid windows in the canvas, and it was all in place, fastened with patent fasteners, the sort that release easily, to the framework on the bow of the boat. The craft now had the appearance of a prairie schooner without the undercarriage. But the canvas was heavy, and would withstand any rain storm.
The remote control apparatus after some last minute adjustments was now attached, so that the three boys could be together in the bow and run and steer the motor from there.
"I wish we could try her out now," Terry said, looking at the craft admiringly. "It's just as good as a cabin boat."
"We'll take the canvas off for the start," Martin suggested. "No use keeping that up in good weather."
"But suppose it rains?" Warren questioned, almost hopefully.
"Well, then we'll put the canvas up. Say, Terry, did you see about the provisions?"
"Yep. They'll all be delivered first thing in the morning."
They left these until the last, so that they would be fresh that much longer. All else was in readiness. Jim Demerest had constructed places for the small mattresses which were to be laid in the boat, and all the bedding and the rest of the supplies were ready to be loaded in the morning. The money McDavitt sent them came in handy.
The boys gave a last look at their boat and started home to prepare for the party. Shortly before eight Terry called for Martin, and a few minutes later Warren arrived. They decided to walk to the Thompson home.
As soon as Warren saw Martin, he let out a whoop.
"You got on a blue tie!" he shouted. "No, you don't want to meet the new girl?not much!"
"Hooey," Martin muttered. "It was the only clean one I had."
Of course he was not believed, and on the way over he had to take a large amount of kidding.
Ruth and Louise greeted them as they came up the steps. Just behind the sisters stood their guest. She was rather small, with large blue eyes and a swirl of golden hair.
She was introduced as Dorothy Trent. Ruth, covertly observing Martin, noticed that he cautiously edged over until he was standing near her. Ruth said nothing, however?she knew that a single remark might cause Martin to shy off like a frightened filly.
"Shall we go in now or stay out here for a while?" Louise asked.
"Let's stay on the porch a while," Terry suggested. "It's nice and cool here. We could play twenty questions. You know, one person goes out, and the others think of?"
He was interrupted by the appearance of a figure at the gate. Even in the half-darkness it looked vaguely familiar, and Warren exclaimed:
"Jake! Hey, Lawson, get to thunder away from here, or I'll?"
"Yeah?" Jake jeered. "Don't trouble yourself ?I got something for you! Here's the monster from Mystery Lake!"
He tossed a bag toward the porch and ran. The bag landed on the path and something within it squirmed desperately. Suddenly a small animal crawled forth.
One look, and there were screams and yells.
"A skunk?it's a skunk!" Louise screeched. "Look out?he's coming this way!"
CHAPTER IX Masterful Mike
THE animal, dazed from his imprisonment, wabbled up the path. Those on the porch, with one exception, scrambled over each other in their mad haste to get clear of the lugubrious danger that threatened them.
The exception was Warren.
He stood his ground and stared at the beast. In fact, while the others dove for the front door to find sanctuary in the house, Warren even took a few steps forward that he might obtain a better view.
Terry, from the protection of the porch window, called:
"Hey, you crazy loon?come in here! What's the idea? Can't you see that's a skunk? If I ever get my hands on Lawson?"
"Keep quiet!" Warren ordered sharply. "I'll handle this!"
"Oh, my glory," Martin moaned. "He thinks he's going to get it for a pet?he's goofy, that fellow?he collects all sorts of dizzy animals?he had a skunk once, and?"
Dorothy Trent, her blue eyes round with curiosity, gazed out between the heads of the two boys.
"What's he going to do?" she demanded.
"Heaven knows!" Terry sighed. "Wawa, you jackass?come in here!"
In the meantime the animal was getting his bearings. He stared about him, as if to indicate that he looked upon this place with something less than favor.
Then he proceeded up the path toward the porch, where Warren waited calmly.
The boy did not move. He stood quietly, simply watching the unwelcome guest.
"Tell him he's got the wrong house," Ruth giggled. The humorous aspect of the situation was becoming apparent, and now that they themselves were safe they all started to laugh.
As a matter of fact the approach of the skunk was amusing. He walked on the soles of his feet, as do all of his tribe, and his gait reminded them of a flatfooted person.
Then Warren made a strange noise in his throat. The skunk stopped and gazed at him in surprise. Warren repeated the noise.
The animal was now but a few yards from the porch. Warren, walking carefully, went down the steps and toward it.
"Now he'll get it," Martin exclaimed. "He must be going batty!"
But Warren didn't get it. The skunk cringed a little, but did not turn his posterior toward the boy, for be it known that the skunk carries his artillery in the rear.
A few feet away Warren halted. The animal remained peaceful. Warren shuffled forward slowly, and then those watching gasped in surprise?for the boy bent over and patted the skunk with his hand!
"For the love of Pete!" Terry mumbled. "What do you know about that! Warren, the skunk tamer!"
And still another shock was in store for them, for Warren picked up the animal and held it in his arms!
"Catch me, I'm fainting!" Martin groaned. "Look at that boy, will you!"
Warren faced the house.
"Anyone got a box or a crate?" he called.
"What for, Mr. Hagenbeck ?" Terry replied.
"To put Archibald in, of course! He's the same one I had before?at least he has exactly the same markings?I want to take him home with me!"
"Over my dead body!" Martin retorted. "You put Archie down, you loon! And if anything happens, you're ostracized!"
"Nothing will happen. Look, he likes me!" and Warren fondled the beast. "Good old Archie? where have you been all this time?"
"Is it really his?" Dorothy asked.
"I don't know?it's barely possible that it's the same one he had before. Their cook made him get rid of it. Hey, Wawa?take him away off somewhere, will you?"
"Oh, all right?you fellows don't appreciate animals. Come on, Archie, we'll take a walk. Good old Archie!"
He carried the skunk down the road a bit and released him near some trees. Then he returned to the house.
As he walked up the steps they awaited his coming with some trepidation. Had the skunk remained friendly, or did he revert to type?
"How is it, Wawa old boy?" Terry called.
"Everything O. K., Wawa old kid?" Martin asked.
"Why, sure!" Warren answered, a puzzled look on his face. "Why shouldn't it be?"
He entered the door, and those within the house breathed?then breathed again, this time a sigh of relief.
They clustered about him, demanding explanations.
"How did you have nerve enough to do it?" Louise demanded.
"Very simple," the boy remarked pompously. "I happen to know skunks, that's all."
"What do you mean, know skunks," Terry scoffed. "How can you know skunks?"
"They have their peculiarities the same as every animal," Warren said, and Martin remarked, in an aside, "I'll say they have?very peculiar."
"How do you think Jake managed to get this skunk in a bag?" asked Terry. "Can he charm them?"
"Maybe," Warren answered. "Or he may have taken an awful chance, if he thought this was a wild one."
"Jake's wild all right," murmured Martin. "But, seriously, Wawa, is it ever safe to go close to a skunk?"
"Sure it is if you know your animal. I was talking with an old circus man once?"
"He's off," Terry muttered. "That's what comes of knowing circus people. He thinks he's Packem In."
"Who is Packem In?or what is it?" Dorothy asked. "It sounds like the name of a hotel."
"It's a man we know," Warren said vaguely. He decided to omit his talk on nature study as applied to skunks.
"It's probably the man who got you to go to that awful lake," Ruth declared sagely.
"We haven't gone yet," said Terry.
"Well, you're going to start in the morning, aren't you?"
"We sure are," Warren said emphatically. "Rain or shine. And I sort of hope it rains, so we can try our cabin."
It was a jolly evening they spent at the Thompson's. Teddy, Louise and Ruth's young brother, was permitted to come down when the ice cream and cake were served, and he began to ask all sorts of questions about where the boys were going. No one knew how he found out about it, but small brothers seem to have a way of their own for obtaining information of this sort. They parried his questions as well as they could, but he went back to bed with his mind filled with thoughts of strange animals and mysterious lakes.
The boys started home about eleven o'clock, and on the way Terry asked Martin:
"You didn't care so much for that new girl, did you, Mart?"
"Why sure I did," Martin answered in surprise.
"Don't we know it," Warren chuckled. "Weren't you hanging around her all evening? And didn't you promise to go see her and tell her all about it when we get back?"
"Well, what if I did?" Martin was thankful for the darkness, for he was blushing furiously.
"Oh, nothing?nothing at all," said Terry airily. "Just thought we'd mention it. Old Mart, the woman hater!"
They had reached a corner on which was a street light, and approaching them they saw a short, stocky individual. He had his hands in his pockets and his gait was more of a swagger than a walk. They moved aside to let him pass, when suddenly he stopped and demanded:
"Say, you guys know a bird named Jake Lawson?"
His voice was rough and loud. Martin, to whom the question was addressed, answered slowly:
"Why, yes, we know Lawson."
"You friends of his?"
"We know him," Martin repeated.
"Yeah? Well, that's good. I want to see him. My name's Mike Peeble. I'm the advance agent for Soble's Circus?greatest show in the world. You heard of it, I guess?"
"I have," Terry said. "It runs in competition with the Marlow and Denby outfit, doesn't it?"
"Competition? Listen, buddy, we got that gang tied to the mast! They put on some kind of a show here, didn't they? Yeah. Well, we got things in our circus that they never even heard of. And we're going to have more. I heard of a big animal, some kind of a monster that lives in a lake in this state. This fellow Lawson wrote me about it. So I come to your beautiful little village to find Lawson an' tell him to get the monster for us. Where's he live, do you know?"
"He doesn't live any place in particular," Warren said in an off-hand manner. "But if you tell us where you're staying, we might see Lawson and tell him to look you up."
"That's a good idea. I'm at the Bluff House, right here in Stirling. An' I been in better hotels, let me tell you. Anyhow, as I said, my name's Mike Peeble. I hear there's another bunch around that's planning to go to this here lake an' get the animal for the Denby crowd. But it won't do 'em no good. We don't stop at half-way measures. If we want an exhibit, we get it, and no one stops us! See?
"Now you tell Lawson to come see me tomorrow. So long!"
He swaggered off into the darkness. The boys, somewhat surprised, remained motionless for a moment. Then Terry murmured:
"Masterful Mike! Brings 'em back alive!"
CHAPTER X A Sea Wheel
THEY stared at the retreating figure as it swaggered down the street, out of the illumination of the light and into the darkness. Even as they watched it disappear, there was a suggestion of strength, of ruthless power, about the man.
Terry, the first to recover from the surprise of the challenge, for that's what it amounted to, gave a low whistle.
"He sure said his little piece," the boy murmured. "No room left for doubt there."
"Do you think he knew who we were?" Warren asked.
"Sure he did," Terry replied promptly. "What do you suppose he took all that trouble in telling us that stuff for? Sure he knew who we were, and that was his way of telling us to lay off."
"Oh, I don't know," Martin objected. "He's the kind of a person who brags automatically. He might have been simply showing off. The way he talked I figured he was trying to impress us with his importance and get us to tell others what a great guy he was."
Even this argument did not convince Terry. He stuck to his conclusion, and prophesied that before long Mr. Peeble would cause them trouble.
Regardless of the incident of the night, the boys slept soundly and at eight o'clock they met at the boathouse. It was a misty morning, not rainy, but threatening.
Jim Demerest was on hand, as was Sylvanius Bogg, his helper. They were loading the supplies in the boat as the boys arrived.
"Morning, fellows!" Jim called. "Looks a mite like wet weather. You want to put up the tarpaulin?"
"What do you think?" Warren asked the other two.
"I think it'll hold off," Martin said. "Let's wait until we get started. It doesn't take long to put it up."
They helped Jim and Syl put the stuff in the boat, and in an hour all the supplies, including the food, were aboard. Then Jim made one final inspection of the motor and the remote control device, and pronounced everything ready.
The motor was already churning the water at the stern and Terry, with a look back to see that all was clear, grasped the new steering wheel.
The Watermar had not gone five feet, under the thrust of the powerful outboard motor, which Terry opened rather full with the new control lever, than, suddenly, the craft swung back and was headed straight for the stringpiece.
"Here! Where you going!" yelled Warren.
"Mind your helm!" shouted Martin. "You'll ram the dock!"
Terry spun the wheel but the more he turned it the more he headed in toward the dock and as a last resort he cut off the gas. As it was the boat bumped rather hard against the piling.
"Say!" exclaimed Warren as he moved forward, "I thought you knew how to steer a boat!"
"I do!" asserted Terry. "But the cables on this wheel are twisted. I turned the wheel to the right but we went to the left."
"Say, boys! Wait a minute! Whoo-oo!" called Jim Demerest, as he ran down to the dock from his boathouse nearer shore. "I forgot to tell you fellows that your wheel had a sea-rig on it. I noticed that only a while ago."
"What do you mean, sea-rig?" asked Terry.
"Look," went on the boatman coming close to the edge of the dock against which the boat was now bumping. "The wire cables that run from your wheel to the steering handle of the motor are rigged so they come up and are wound around the drum from underside."
"Yes, I see that," Terry admitted as his chums came and stood near. "What of it?"
"A lot," said Mr. Demerest. "This has what we call a sea-rig on. If you want the boat to go to the left, you turn the wheel to the right. That's because the cables come from underside."
"And do you mean that if we want to steer to the right we have to turn the wheel to the left?" asked Warren.
"Sure!" said the dockman.
"Sounds crazy," commented Martin.
"Crazy or not it's sea-fashion," said Mr. Demerest. "I can change it for you if you want me to, but it'll take a little time. I can rig it land-lubber fashion with the cables running over the top of the drum, so that if you want to go left you turn the wheel that way. But a real sailor always?"
"We're going to be real sailors!" interrupted Terry. "Leave it as it is."
"You'll like it when you get used to it," declared the boatman. "It's the standard rig."
"Maybe we'd better try it out a bit before we start out for good," suggested Martin and this was voted a wise precaution. In a short time Terry found that he could steer as easily by turning the wheel in the opposite direction to which he wanted to go as he could the old way. The two chums soon caught on to the idea and declared that they liked it.
"Now if the girls would only come down this way we could show them something," remarked Martin as they swung back toward the dock, not a little proud of having mastered a new technique.
"Did you expect them to see us off?" asked Warren.
"Not exactly," answered Martin, as Terry, having decided that all was in order, was about to open the throttle and proceed with the voyage.
"Well, whether you expected them or not, here they are!" Warren exclaimed, as the three girls ran on the dock. The boat was already under way, but Terry reduced the speed, and waved at the trio.
"Good luck!? Ruth and Louise called, and Dorothy added, "Good luck, Martin?bring him back alive!"
?O. K.?we will!" Martin responded. "Goodbye, Dorothy?see you soon!"
"Write me a letter, Ruth?address it to Mystery Lake!" Warren shouted, and the others laughed at him. The boat sped further and further out into the lake, and the three girls stayed on the dock, waving.
Then the dock and the boathouse were out of sight, for the mist had gotten thicken
Fifteen minutes later it began to drizzle. The mist thickened, then began to collect in heavy drops on the faces and hair of the boys, and finally a soft, gentle rain began to fall.
"Let's get the shelter up," Martin exclaimed. "You stick at the wheel, Terry, and Wawa and I will spread the canvas."
Moving carefully, so as not to disturb the running of the boat, Martin and Warren pulled the canvas over the framework. It fitted perfectly. There were fasteners all along the side of the boat, and the lower edge of the cover was affixed to these. Then the front with its celluloid window was put in place, and in a few minutes all was snug and shipshape. There was a celluloid window on each side as well as one in front.
"Boy, this is something like!" Warren cried. "Dry and comfortable as a bug in a rug!"
"Jim sure did a good job on this canvas," Martin remarked, looking about admiringly. "Plenty of headroom, too. Man, I could just stretch out on these seats and go to sleep."
"Not now you couldn't," Terry said quickly. "You get out that map and take a look at our course. We should be about opposite Ludlow's Point now. What's the next landmark?"
With the rain came better visibility, for it was easier to see through than the mist. They could follow the shore line more carefully now. Martin reached under some supplies and pulled out a large leather envelope, which contained the map.
"After Ludlow's Point comes Grafton," Martin said, tracing their course with his finger. "Then the shore line cuts away in?we don't want to follow it, for it will mean time wasted. We'll cut right across from Grafton to Loom's Castle?you know, that big hill of rock you can see from Stirling on a clear day."
"How far is Grafton from Ludlow's Point?" Terry inquired.
"Looks about eleven miles. Make it in an hour, more or less. Baby, it sure is great in here."
They all felt a thrill as they gazed through the forward window at the rain-spattered lake. It is a strange sensation to be in a small boat on a lake during a rain storm. The closeness of the quarters and the atmosphere of good cheer that seems to pervade the cabin, while without the rain splashes down, is like no other sensation. It gives a person the feeling of mastery over the elements.
" 'My Bonnie lies over the ocean,' " Warren began in as deep a voice as he could muster.
" 'My Bonnie lies over the sea,'" Terry joined in.
" 'My Bonnie lies over the ocean,' " Martin contributed, and then, as though they had rehearsed it, all three sang:
" 'Oh bring back my Bonnie to me-e-e-e-e!'"
"Ain't that somp'in!" Terry shouted. "Boy, I don't see why we aren't snapped up by some theatrical geezer. Come on, let's try it again. And stop with a snap on the second 'ocean.' O. K.?let's go!"
This time it was even better?at least to their over-sympathetic ears. They concluded with an extra long drawn out "me-e-e-e-e."
The silence that followed the recital was punctuated by the sound of a motor in the distance.
"Another boat," Terry said. "Wonder if they have a cabin, or are they just sitting there and taking it?"
Martin stuck his head out the rear.
"It's a small cabin boat," he reported. "Coming at a good clip, too. It'll pass us soon."
Martin joined him, and Terry, who was steering, watched through a side window. In a few minutes the boat came abreast of them.
"Shall we give 'em a blast on the klaxon?" Terry asked, for the Watermar had been equipped with a warning signal.
"Sure," Martin agreed. "Give 'em a couple."
Terry sounded the horn just as the other boat neared them. As he did so a figure, clothed in a slicker, stepped from the cabin. Martin let out an exclamation.
"By golly, it's Jake! Jake Lawson!"
"He must have sold that speed boat he and Barton got away with at Misty Island, and bought this cabin ship!" Martin cried.
Jake's craft rapidly came ahead of them, and Jake leaned out and they heard him yell:
"Howdy, you eggs?from me to you, a great big raz-z-z-berry!"
CHAPTER XI Warned Away
GONE was the spirit of careless good-nature which had existed under the canopy of the Watermar. In its place came anger and fierce determination?determination to beat Jake to the prize. It was apparent to the three boys that Jake's destination was Shadow Lake, and his purpose the capture of whatever monster dwelt there.
They did not answer his cry of disdain. It would have been useless, and furthermore they did not intend to give him and his friends, whoever they might be, the satisfaction of knowing that he had angered them.
"Let him go," Martin said grimly. "The race isn't always to the swift."
"He's got a sweet boat there," Warren muttered. "It's not an outboard, and?"
"And that's where we've got the jump on him," Terry exclaimed. "If Shadow Lake is what I think it is, there'll be lots of places where an inboard boat can't navigate. He may even get stuck in the stream, and not be able to make the lake."
"I kind of wish we had gone to see Darcy, that fisherman we pulled out of the sinking rowboat," said Martin. "He gave the impression that the stream was pretty narrow, and not very deep."
"If this rain keeps up for a couple of days?and it may," Warren advanced, "it might swell Mystery Lake and widen the stream."
Terry shrugged his shoulders.
"We can't any more than do our best," he declared. "If Jake wins?well, it'll be just too bad. But we won't give up without a fight, let me tell you!"
An hour later they saw through the rain the shore village of Grafton. It was now nearly noon, and Terry suggested they land there and have lunch.
"It only means that much time wasted," Martin declared. "We've got some sandwiches here. Why not eat them? And there's a thermos bottle of coffee. We can have a hot meal even without lighting our little stove. Let's keep going as long as we can. Say, I think it's raining harder than ever."
The others peered out, and agreed with him. In fact the heavy downpour now almost obliterated the shore line.
"Just as well we decided to keep going," Warren remarked. "Let's see now. We cut straight across, don't we? How much of a run have we got ahead of us?"
"A couple of hours, anyhow," Martin replied. "Terry, I'll take the wheel for a while. Suppose you and Wawa break out the provisions."
Martin laid a course almost straight out from Grafton. With them they had a watch with a compass set in the back, and Martin glanced at that.
"That's the point on the map we want to head for?" he asked.
Warren examined the chart.
"As near as I can figure out, it's a little place called Tenderhooks," he announced. "My gosh, is that really a name? Look, Terry?is that Tenderhooks?"
Terry, who had relinquished the steering to Martin, looked over Warren's shoulder.
"Tenderhooks, or Tendershooks, or something like that," he reported. "Can't be much of a place. Probably a few houses and a store or two. But it's about north-west from Grafton."
"O. K.," Martin said. "North-west it is, sir. Now how about that food?"
Terry and Warren opened the package of sandwiches which Terry's mother had put up for them, and they enjoyed a good meal, washed down with hot coffee. They all felt better after the repast.
For two hours they chugged along, keeping as well as they might on a compass course. The wind got stronger, and it was impossible to know how much they were being blown off the track.
When another hour passed, and still the shore line was not in sight, Warren said:
"Do you think, by any chance, that we're going in the wrong direction? We haven't seen any other boats, you know. This looks like a deserted part of the lake."
"Naturally it's deserted, in a storm like this," Martin declared. "You wouldn't expect to see many craft out. We've been about three hours coming from Grafton. That's not so long. I think if we keep on the way we're going we'll hit something sooner or later."
"Yeah, but what will we hit?" Terry wanted to know. "Remember that Jake has got a head start on us, and might be already going up the stream toward Mystery Lake. So we want to get there as soon as we can."
"Then what's your suggestion?" Martin demanded.
"Nothing, only if we decide that we did get off the course, the thing to do is to change it. Instead of going north-west, suppose we head directly north? We know the shore is that way. Then we can follow it around until we reach Tenderhooks."
"What do you think of that idea, Wawa?"
"Sounds O. K. It must be getting nearly four o'clock. Think we'll be able to make the mouth of the stream by dark?"
"How far is it from Tenderhooks?" Martin asked.
They consulted the map again, and decided that it appeared to be some sixteen or seventeen miles.
"I don't think we'd better try to make it tonight," Martin said. "If we got stuck in the stream in the dark it would be pretty tough."
"Well, shall we tie up at Tenderhooks then?" Warren asked.
"If we can find it. At times it's best to make haste slowly. I mean if we did try to get through tonight, and got stuck, we might lose a couple of days on repair work. But by morning this weather will clear?maybe. We can get an early start, be at the stream before noon, and start right up for Shadow Lake."
"Sounds like a good plan," Terry approved. "The thing to do now is to find Tenderhooks. Maybe we can ask someone there how it got that name."
It was after six o'clock when they finally espied, through the rain, the tiny town which went by the name of Tenderhooks. The only way they knew they had arrived at their destination was by seeing a man on a dock whom they asked:
"Do you know how we can find a place called Tenderhooks?"
And the answer came proudly:
"This here is Tenderhooks, feller?right before your very eyes!"
He was fishing, and looked at the three boys curiously, as though he wondered why anyone should ever come to this forsaken place. And in truth it was rather desolate, especially in the rain. Back from the shore a bit was the town proper? six or seven houses, two stores, and one garage. No one, other than the fisherman on the dock, was in sight.
"Can we tie up here for the night?" Martin asked him.
The man, a tall, rangy fellow in a black rubber coat, scratched his ribs.
"Don't see as how anyone is goin' to stop ya," he said. "You'll find it nice an? quiet here. No street cars nor nothin'." He chuckled, and scratched himself again.
"Seems like a philosophical cuss," Warren remarked in a low voice.
They fastened the Watermar to the dock, and their friend, dropping his line on the other side from the boat, went on fishing. He was hatless, and the rain streamed from his disordered hair.
"Shall we take a little walk around the town?" Terry asked. "We can put slickers on. Might as well stretch our legs."
"Town, did you say?" Martin laughed. "You are laboring under a misapprehension, my friend. This is a city. Sure, let's get out. Maybe we can find a place to get a hot meal, though I doubt it."
"Is it all right to leave this stuff here, mister?" Warren asked the fisherman.
"Won't nobody touch it. Safe right where it is."
"Say, by the way," Warren continued, "do you know where that stream is that leads to Shadow Lake?"
It was a simple enough question, but the effect on the man was remarkable. He almost dropped his rod in the water, and they saw his face pale under his tan.
"Shadow Lake! Shadow Lake!" he repeated, as though he were saying over meaningless words. "Shadow Lake?"
"That's it," Martin exclaimed, somewhat impatiently. "Know where it is?"
"You ain't goin' there?" the man inquired.
"Sure we are!" Terry replied.
"You're crazy if you do?let me tell you, fellers, don't go?that place is haunted! You listen to me?it's haunted!"
CHAPTER XII Waving Ghosts
THEY stared at the disciple of Izaak Walton in amazement. The change from a genial, complacent fisherman to a frightened man was so complete that at first they could not credit it.
"Haunted?" Warren cried. "What do you mean, haunted?"
"What I said?there's ghosts there! I seen 'em! An' heard 'em, too?makin' their funny wailin' noises?" He stopped, and took a deep breath.
Then he scratched his ribs, glanced down at the float bobbing in the water, and turned away from the boys.
"Say, mister," Terry started, "will you tell us more about?"
Just that single expression.
"I mean will you explain?"
Martin nudged Terry. "Ask him how he knows there are ghosts there," he whispered.
Terry repeated the question. The fisherman looked at him for a moment, then resumed his observation of the float.
"Never mind," said he briefly. "I know, an' that's enough."
"But what kind of ghosts?" Warren persisted. "Gee, mister, you might as well give us a break ?if we're going to Shadow Lake, we want to know what we're in for?"
The man gazed at the speaker.
"Sonny," he said, "take the advice of a man older than you an' stay away from Shadow Lake. There's somethin' there?that ain't good to fool with."
"But that's what we want to find out," Terry exclaimed eagerly. "If there's a mystery about the place, we want to discover what it is. You see?"
"So it's mystery you're after, is it?" the man asked slowly.
"Not exactly," Warren broke in. "We heard there was a strange animal?"
He grunted from the force of the dig Martin gave him. The man on the dock apparently did not hear the last remark.
"You boys had supper?" he demanded suddenly.
"Why, no," Martin said. "We thought maybe we could find some sort of a restaurant in Tenderhooks. We've got food with us, but it's raining, and it would be nicer to eat under a roof."
"You come with me," the man said. "I'm goin' home to supper now. Me an' my wife live alone. We got plenty to eat. Nothin' fancy, but good bacon, an' eggs, an' corn bread, an' coffee."
"That sounds great!" Warren almost shouted.
"Then let's be on our way. My house is right back there," and he pointed. "We got a fire goin'. You can get warm. Don't worry 'bout your things ?they'll be safe as in your own home. Ain't no one 'round here that'll steal 'em. We got enough to do, fishin' an' cookin' food an' such like. My, ain't she rainin', though!"
At the door of the small house the man paused, and then gave a peculiar knock?two quick blows, a pause, two more, another pause, and one final tap. He turned grinning to the boys. "Know why I did that?" he asked. They shook their heads.
"That means no fish," he explained. "When I'm lucky I give three fast knocks. When I don't do that, she knows she'll have to toss the bacon or the ham in the pan. We'll go in now."
He pushed open the door. Evidently the knocking was for the sole purpose of information, to tell his wife the result of his fishing expedition. Martin and the others thought how strange this was, when he could so easily open the door and announce that the fish had evaded his hook. But it was a little game he played, and likely he and his wife got a certain amount of amusement from it.
"A simple life," Martin thought. "I'll say it is."
The door they entered led directly into the kitchen, a fair sized room containing, besides the stove and other kitchen accessories, a table covered with a red cloth. A woman stood over the stove, cooking something in a pan.
"M' wife," the man said. "Tildy, we got guests."
The woman swung around and gazed at the boys calmly. She was still handsome, despite her fifty-nine years, and her figure was as straight as her husband's. Another tribute to the simple life, Martin thought.
"Howdy," she said genially. "Take your coats off. Larry, man, you take the boys in your room an' let 'em wash up. Supper in fifteen minutes, boys. You like your eggs blind, or lookin' at you?"
"What?" Warren asked in surprise.
"She means do you want 'em turned," Larry explained, grinning.
"Oh?yeah, I guess we do," Warren said a bit bashfully. He could not accustom himself to the casual way this couple took their arrival. It almost seemed as though they had expected them.
"Here's my room," Larry said, showing them into a small bedroom. "There's water, an' soap, an' towels. You can get more water in the kitchen?if you pump it yourselves. We got a kitchen pump on the sink. Don't anyone here in Tenderhooks have runnin' water from a tap. We get along all right, though."
They hurried with their toilets, and soon were ready for the meal, which they could smell being prepared. Their slickers they left in the bed room.
The kitchen table had been set for five, evidently by Larry, since his wife was still cooking the bacon.
"Now, if you'll just set," he exclaimed, "you'll be served in a minute. Tildy, how's she comin'?"
"She's comin' fine,? the woman said. "You take a scat. I'll do the servin?.?
Two lamps, one over the table and the other in a small bracket near the stove, gave ample illumination. Outside the darkness pressed against the single windowpane, and the rain beat against the clapboards. Within all was warm and cozy. The odors of corn bread and bacon were grateful to the three hungry boys, and they arranged themselves around the table.
In a few moments they received the meal. It was one of the best they had ever eaten. While it was being consumed Larry and Tildy, for that is all the names the boys knew them by, said little. They believed that the table was the place for eating, and not for conversation. When, however, all were finished, Larry pushed back his chair and said:
"Now suppose you three young men tell us some-thin' about yourselves?where you come from, your names, an' where you're goin'. That is, if you got no objections."
"Not at all," Martin said, laughing. "There isn't much to tell, but here goes," and he explained how they happened to be cruising about in an outboard motor boat, and how they happened to land at Tenderhooks. Then, aided by the others, he spoke of Shadow Lake, and what they hoped to find there. "And we thought you might help us out by telling us what you know of the place," he concluded.
Larry took a pipe from a shelf over the stove, filled and lit it before he answered slowly.
"Boys," he said, "I ain't normally frightened. But one day I went to this here Shadow Lake. It was late in the day, an' nearly dark when I started back. I didn't catch nothin'. But as I was rowin' across the lake towards the stream, I saw things that sure scared me!"
"What were they?" Terry demanded eagerly.
"White shapes, ghosts, flittin' about just ahead of my boat, wavin', wavin' me to go away and never come back?that's what they were!"
He paused dramatically. All was quiet, except for the rain playing its somber tattoo on the window glass and against the walls and roof of the house.
"Wavin?," Larry said again. "Tellin' me to go away from there, an' not come back!"
"You mean?people waving at you?" Terry asked, a bit of a quaver in his voice,
"Ghosts?walkin' on the water, ahead of my boat! Tall ghosts in white, flittin' on the water, weavin' about, an? wavin' to me!"
Silence. Warren stirred uneasily in his chair. Fisherman Larry puffed meditatively on his pipe, watching the faces of the boys. His wife was leaning forward, her elbows on the table.
Then, so suddenly that it made everyone start, came the noise of hammering?the sound of metal against metal. And it came from the dock, where their boat was tied.
CHAPTER XIII A Night Attack
IMMEDIATELY there flashed through the minds of the three boys the same idea: someone was damaging their boat.
Terry leaped to his feet and made a dash for the door, closely followed by the others.
"It's the Watermar!" Warren exclaimed. "And I'll bet any money?"
Tildy ran to the window, which faced the lake.
"Can't see nothin'?too dark," she said excitedly. "But it's down at the dock, all right. Larry, you better take Tim along!"
The boys thought that Tim was a dog, but Larry opened a closet door, and they saw their mistake. Tim was a long, double-barrelled shot-gun.
"Scare 'em off," he said grimly. "Look out, boys!"
He ran out the door and pointed the muzzle toward the sky. There was a terrific roar.
"Pulled both triggers," he said. "Pretty near ruined my shoulder. Notice the hammering's stopped, though!"
The boys were running toward the boat, oblivious of the pelting rain. As they neared the dock they heard the exhaust of a motor, and saw, dimly, a boat move away from the wharf out into the lake.
"Whoever it was, they've gone," Larry declared. "They heard Tim speak his piece and decided this was no place for them."
The boys were not talking. They were too anxious to get to the boat and see what damage was done.
"There's a flashlight just under the forward seat," Warren panted. "Golly, if they ruined that motor?"
With rain streaming down their faces and soaking into their clothes the boys raced out on the dock and stumbled into their boat. Martin, the first aboard, searched for and found the flashlight. He brought it aft and all waited breathlessly while he snapped it on and focussed it on the motor.
There were several big dents in the gasoline tank. It was impossible to tell whether the distributor and other vital parts had been damaged.
"Try to start it," Terry suggested.
Martin took a firm grip on the starting cord and after seeing that all was in readiness he gave a pull. There was no response from the motor. No one spoke as he placed the cord again in position. Still not a single "chug."
"Guess they did a job on it," Martin said in a low voice. "Well?"
Once more he pulled, and there was a shout of exultation, for the motor started and ran smoothly.
"She was just cold," Terry declared. "I'm sure glad you fired off Tim when you did!" he said to Larry.
"Yep, Tim sure earned his 'baccy tonight," the fisherman said complacently. "Now I tell you. I'll stay here, while you boys get back to the house an' get a little dry. Then you get on your slickers an' come down to the boat. I guess you figger on sleep-in' aboard tonight? Looks like you got a pretty fine canvas cabin here."
"Yeah, we'll sleep aboard," Terry said. "But we don't want you to stay here. One of us can do that."
"Nope, you scoot along now. Me an' Tim will stay on guard. I ain't got no more shells here, but if whoever done this comes back, he won't stay long when he sees Tim."
"We know pretty well who it was," Martin declared in a low voice. "Only one person who'd be mean enough to try to cripple our boat. He's tried almost everything else."
"Someone who's tryin' to prevent you from gettin' to Shadow Lake?" Larry asked wisely.
"Exactly. He's after the same prize we are. If we ever catch him?after this?"
"Must be a vicious customer," Larry commented. "Now you fellers get back to the house. Stand in front of the stove a while. Then come on back here. Tell you what?why don't you take some dry stuff with you, an' put it on up to the house? You don't want to sleep in wet clothes. Sure way to catch cold."
"That's a good idea," Warren approved. "Here, I'll root the stuff out, and you and Terry carry it," he said to Martin. "It'll stay dry until you reach the house."
Each of them had a dunnage bag, and Warren found what he wanted in them and passed the clothes to Martin and Terry. Then, leaving Larry in the boat, they ran back to the house.
"What happened?" Tildy asked, as they came in.
"Some nice man tried to hammer our motor out of shape," said Terry. "He didn't succeed. He used a wrench or a hammer on the gas tank, but aside from a few dents he didn't do any damage."
"I'm glad of that," said Tildy forcibly. "It was Tim that scared 'em off, I guess."
"Sure was," Martin agreed. "Say, can we go in Mr.?Larry's room and get out of these wet things? We sort of got rained on."
"Sure, boys, go right ahead. Had enough to eat?" "Plenty, thanks."
They got into dry clothes as quickly as they could, and after thanking the woman profusely they promised to call in the morning, before they left. Then, encased in slickers, they returned to the boat. The rain had not let up appreciably.
"All serene?" Warren called.
"Yep! Nary a sound. Say, how about bunks? You fellows want me to help you fix 'em up?"
"I guess we can manage all right," Martin declared. "It'll be a good test of how good we planned this thing."
Larry said good-night, and that he'd see them in the morning. Then they set about getting ready for the night.
Two of the bunks ranged along the boat parallel to each other, and the other was down further, between these two. The craft was fairly wide, and permitted this arrangement. The bunks consisted of thin mattresses fixed to supports, something like army stretchers. They were quite comfortable?-in fact, much more so than the boys anticipated.
When they were in place, the boys pulled off their shoes and outer clothing and composed themselves for sleep. The sound of the rain on the canvas covering was soothing, but sleep was not fast in coming. The events of the night had been too exciting. Unconsciously the boys lay with tense bodies, their ears strained for the slightest sound that might indicate the return of the marauder who attempted to put the motor of the Watermar out of commission.
They were of no two minds as to who this was. Jake Lawson, undoubtedly. He must have sacrificed a good lead for the sake of permanently putting an end to the boys' expedition. That he failed was a stroke of good luck; but they must take no more chances in leaving their craft unprotected.
It was long after midnight when the three adventurers finally succeeded in getting to sleep. When they awoke, about seven o'clock, the weather had cleared. A blue sky in which blazed a summer sun was over them. Little scudding clouds decorated the panorama.
Terry stuck his head out and gave a whoop.
''Boy, what a day!" he called. "Peaches and cream, baby, peaches and cream! Come on, get up, you lazy monkeys. Jocund day stands tiptoe on the mountain top."
"O-o-o-o, hum," Warren yawned. "What time is it?"
"Time for you to roll out. Hit the deck, sailor!"
They quickly made themselves presentable washing with the lake water, which was quite clean, then tramped up the road to the house on the bluff. In the daylight it looked more ramshackle than ever. But when they opened the kitchen door they were greeted by a delicious smell of food.
"Good morning," cried the woman known as Tildy. "Timed your arrival just about right, didn't I, boys? Set down, set down. Larry will be here in a minute. Just went out to get a little wood?be all wet after the storm, and we'll have to put some by the stove to dry. Right fine day, ain't it?"
"Certainly is," Terry agreed. "But you don't have to get breakfast for us?I'm afraid we're making you too much trouble!"
"Nonsense!" the woman said heartily. "No such thing as too much trouble. I like young folks?so does Larry. But listen, boys, you ain't really goin? on to that Shadow Lake, are you?" She peered at them anxiously.
"Why, sure we are," Martin said slowly. "We appreciate all you told us, but we're started now, and we can't turn back."
"You mean you won't turn back," she corrected. "Well, to tell the truth, I didn't think you would. But remember what Larry said. He ain't easily scared, an' he don't put too much stock in spirits, neither. But if he says he saw ghosts, he saw 'em."
Somehow the word "ghosts" was not so frightening in the bright morning sunlight. Last night it had a peculiar effect, combined with the gloomy aspect of wind and rain. But now?
"We'll take a chance," said Warren.
"All right, boys. I sure wish you all the luck in the world. Here's Larry. Breakfast is ready, Larry."
He greeted the boys warmly, and they all sat down to a well-cooked repast, to which Martin, Terry and Warren did full justice. They weren't at all sure when they would get another hot meal as good as this one, so they made the most of it.
At its conclusion, Larry told them just how to go to find the stream which led to Shadow Lake.
"It's called Shadow Inlet," he explained. "You'll have to follow the shore pretty close, 'cause it's easy to miss. An' you won't find any more houses between here an? there, neither. Tenderhooks is the last outpost," and he laughed.
"I guess we'll make out," Terry said. "Hope so, anyhow."
"So do I," Larry exclaimed heartily. "An? now I want you to take somethin' with you. That is, if you know how to use it. This here is Tim's little brother." He seemed rather serious.
Going to the closet he took something from a shelf, which he held out to the boys. It was a large calibre pearl-handled revolver.
"This is Little Mike," Larry said simply. "He may come in handy."
CHAPTER XIV Aground and Rivals
WHILE all three of the boys knew how to handle guns?it would be impossible not to have some knowledge of firearms after living so long in a wooded portion of the state?yet none of them had ever possessed a revolver of his own. Nor had they ever felt the need of having the kind of protection a revolver would give them.
Thus it was that when Larry presented the weapon they drew back slightly in surprise.
"You think we'll have use for that?" Terry asked.
Larry nodded. "It won't do any harm," he said, "to take Mike along. You fellers have not only got human enemies, but you got to be on guard against animals, too. You don't know very much about Shadow Lake."
"Did you see any animals there?" Warren demanded.
"I did. Big ones too."
"Deer, of course?an' otters, an' pretty big cats, an' one bear?an' there's snakes. You better take Mike along."
"It's mighty fine of you to offer it," Martin said slowly, taking the weapon in his hand and looking at it. "We'll bring it back safely. It's sure a beauty, isn't it?"
"Yep. Had Mike for quite a spell. He shoots straight?don't pull up much. You keep Mike as long as you want him. I got Tim to keep me company. An' here's a box of ammunition, too."
"We can't tell you how grateful we are for all you've done for us," Martin declared sincerely. "On our way back, we'll stop here and tell you how we made out. And then we'll return Mike."
"All right, boys," Larry laughed. "I'll be glad to see you again. Now I reckon you want to get started. How about Tildy puttin' you up a snack to take with you?"
"Gee. thanks very much, but we figure on eating lunch at the mouth of the stream?you know, Shadow Inlet," Warren replied. "We can cook some stuff there."
"Yeah, that's right, I reckon you can. Well, so long, boys?and the best of luck!"
"Be careful, boys?don't take too many chances!" Tildy called. "An' when you come back this-a-way, I'll have some more corn bread for you!"
"Swell!" Terry cried. "Thanks again, for all you've done for us?and we'll be seeing you!"
"Good luck, boys?so long!"
They waved and started down toward their boat Tildy and Larry stood in the doorway, watching them.
It was a welcome change from the rainy weather of yesterday, and before they started the boys took down the canopy, allowing the warm sunlight to pour in upon them. The revolver and ammunition they stowed away carefully under one of the seats, wrapped in a cloth they put some oil on, so the weapon would not become rusty.
Warren was elected engineer and helmsman. He started the motor and soon the Watermar was chugging along with Warren at the wheel. The motor ran smoothly, demonstrating the futility of Jake's attempt at damaging it. As far as the boys could learn, he got in only a few blows with the hammer or wrench, and in the darkness they all landed on the gasoline tank.
"What do you think of this ghost business?" Terry asked Martin, when they had been going for a few minutes.
"Not much," Martin asserted. "Of course we none of us believe in ghosts, so the question is, what was the thing that Larry saw?"
"White shapes, flitting ahead of my boat," Terry quoted. "On the water, I suppose he meant."
"Yes, and he said they were waving to him?to stay away, and never come back!" Warren added. "That sounds like a lot of hot air to me."
"Hot air, hey?" Martin said musingly. "Maybe you're right."
"Huh?" Terry grunted, staring at him. "You said that as though there was a hidden meaning in it somewhere."
"Oh, no, not at all," Martin declared airily. "Just agreeing with you, that's all."
Terry gazed at him suspiciously, but did not follow up the subject. They concluded that Larry might have seen some fog, and that his imagination distorted it into weird shapes.
After an hour's run they got out the map to check their position, and decided that by noon they ought to be near the mouth of the inlet that led to Shadow Lake.
"Then we eat," Warren said.
"You hungry already?" Terry demanded. "After that mess of corn bread and bacon you put away! I should think that would do you for a week."
"Be yourself!" countered Warren.
It was nearly one o'clock when they saw ahead of them a movement of the water which indicated that there was a stream in this vicinity emptying into the lake. Martin put his hand over the side.
"Say, it feels pretty warm," he declared excitedly. "Remember the hot springs we heard about?"
"You think the stream is around here, then?" Terry asked.
"I sure do. In fact?" Martin strained his eyes in the direction of the shore. "Swing right, Warren," he said. "I think I see the inlet."
They were quite far out from shore, and when they came nearer they saw that Martin had been right. The inlet?or, properly an outlet?was plainly to be seen.
"Not a very strong current," Warren stated.
"No trouble at all to handle the boat."
"No, it won't be very strong," Martin agreed. "And that reminds me?this isn't an inlet, it's an outlet. It carries the water from Shadow Lake into Lake Otter."
"Don't see much difference," Terry commented. "Inlet or outlet, it's all the same to me, as long as we can navigate it."
Closer and closer they came to the shore, when suddenly they felt the bottom of the boat scrape against something. The next moment Martin had leaped to the stern of the boat and depressed the steering handle, thereby raising the motor. At the same time he cut the ignition, stopping the engine. The boat, instead of going along by its momentum, stayed right where it was.
'What in thunder happened?" Terry exclaimed.
"We grounded on something,? Martin said briefly. ''Come here, Terry, and help me fasten the motor up. I don't want to stand here holding it."
The motor worked on a sort of hinge, so it could be swung up when the boat was in shallow water. There was also a device for holding it up.
"Can't we pole off, with the oars?" Terry wanted to know.
"We can try," Martin replied. "You take the other oar and we'll try it together."
They put forth all their strength, but the Watermar remained aground. It seemed to be stuck quite firmly.
"Golly," Martin panted. "This isn't any fun. We've got to get off here somehow. I'm getting hungry."
"Me too," Terry agreed. "Say, how about trying the motor again? Maybe we can get off with that."
Martin looked doubtful. "I'd hate to damage the screw," he said. "Come on, let's try pushing again."
But the boat was heavily loaded, and the second effort was no more successful than the first.
"Looks like we'll have to stay here until another boat comes along," Warren said ruefully. "We could get overboard, I mean two of us, and lighten the boat that way, leaving one here to try to either push off or get off with the motor."
"Say, that's not such a bad idea," Martin commented. "Wawa, you and I are the heaviest. Suppose we slip overboard, and Terry tries to pole off then."
"O. K. with me," Warren said, and the boys removed their outer clothes. They were in a deserted part of the lake, so they didn't bother to put bathing suits on, but simply went overboard in their shorts.
"Let's try pushing?it might do some good," Warren declared, and although the bottom offered a precarious foothold, they did the best they could, while Terry shoved with an oar.
At first it seemed that this, too, would be useless, but suddenly the boat moved, and the next moment it floated free.
"Boy, I'm glad we got out of that," Martin panted, climbing in again. "I was afraid we'd have to stay there a while."
"We wouldn't have had to wait long," Terry said suddenly. "Here comes another boat now."
He pointed and they all stared at the approaching craft. As it neared them, they saw the single occupant, and Martin stifled an explanation.
It was Peeble, agent for Soble's Circus?the rival outfit to the Denby and Marlow Circus, for which the boys were working.
CHAPTER XV Warren is Missing
PEEBLE was aboard the boat they had seen Jake in?the inboard craft. Martin and the others were a bit puzzled at the man's appearance. Had he been up the stream, left Jake there, and come down again?
Peeble steered for the Watermar, and when he came within shouting distance he throttled his motor.
"How's the swimming, boys?" he called, a note of derision in his question.
"Don't answer him," Martin said in a low voice. "Golly, he's got plenty of nerve?after trying to put our motor on the blink!"
Peeble's boat was drifting closer. Martin and Warren were drying themselves with some towels they had brought with them, and when Peeble was some twenty or thirty feet off, Martin said:
"You guys are pretty handy with hammers, aren't you?"
"What?" Peeble exclaimed. "What do you mean, handy with hammers?"
"You know well enough," Terry said shortly. "The only trouble was that you were hammering on the gas tank."
"Don't know what you're talking about," the man returned. "Say, I know you fellows?I met you one night in Stirling!"
"Right," Warren snapped out. "And you're pretty lucky you didn't meet us last night."
"Yeah! And don't forget one more thing. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Now get out of our way."
Martin grasped the starting cord and pulled it. The motor awoke. From the stern the boy steered the Watermar past Peeble's craft The man made no attempt to follow. He stood up in his boat, gazing at them. Then he shouted something they did not catch and his craft moved away in the opposite direction.
"Terry, take the wheel up there in the bow, will you please?" Martin asked calmly. "We'll have to go around this sandbar, or whatever it is. Take it slowly."
Terry complied. Warren watched the other boat until it was out of sight behind a point of land.
Then he turned to the others and asked:
"How do you figure that little incident?"
"I'll tell you how I figure it," Terry said. "Feeble and Jake, and probably Al Barton, got here last night. They tried to go up the stream. They couldn't, because it was too shallow, and their boat draws too much. So they're hanging around hoping to get hold of another boat."
"Sounds logical," Warren admitted. "He thinks he's a pretty tough guy, that Mike Peeble, doesn't he?"
"Yeah," Martin said. "He's big and stocky, all right?looks as though he might have been a second-rate fighter at one time. No doubt but that he could take us, singly. He must weigh close to two hundred pounds, and he's very broad. But we'll stick together on this. We're not afraid of Jake or Al Barton?we've got them buffaloed, anyhow. Anything they try to do will be done at night."
"Sure, we won't have to worry about them," Terry agreed. "This Peeble is the bird we've got to watch."
"Well, we can't exactly go to sleep on the Lawson proposition, either," Martin warned. "We've got our work cut out for us this time, all right. Peeble, and the monster, and the ghosts?"
He said the last with a laugh, and the others joined in. They had enough to take care of in the way of men and beasts, without considering ghosts.
"We should be clear of that sand ledge now," Warren suggested. "How about swinging in to shore?"
"Might as well try it," Terry said, and he steered the boat slowly to the right, keeping the motor at half speed. They all tensed themselves, waiting for the least sound of scraping, but none came. In a few moments they were past the danger, and close to the shore.
"There's a good place to beach," Martin declared. "It's quite a ways from the stream, but that's just as well. How about that, Terry? See where I mean?"
He indicated a clearing, and Terry steered for it. When he judged they were close enough the motor was stopped and they drifted gently upon the shore.
The section where they landed was typical of the terrain in these parts?thick woods back a few hundred feet from the shore line, and a rather rocky beach. They pulled up the boat and leaped out. In the distance they could see the cut which indicated the point where the stream from Shadow Lake came into Lake Otter.
"Boy, am I hungry!" Terry exclaimed. "Must be nearly two o'clock. We fooled away a lot of time on that bar."
"And talking to Peeble," Warren appended.
"Let's get the stove going," Martin suggested, referring to the gasoline stove which they brought with them. Suiting the action to his own words he went to the boat and brought out the contrivance which, though small, was quite efficient.
Then the food was made ready for cooking, and a pan put over the gasoline flame.
"Anyone object to steak?" Warren asked.
"Far from it, my boy?far from it!" Martin exclaimed. "And a bit of bacon wouldn't go badly."
"Who's the cook?" Terry wanted to know.
"Me," said Warren inelegantly. "I shall prepare the viands. You gentlemen set the table."
This was quickly done. In less than half an hour they were consuming a tasty meal, which made them forget, for the time, such things as monsters and circus men and the ghosts of Shadow Lake.
When they had finished and the tin plates and pans were washed in the lake, Warren arose and wandered back toward the woods.
"Whither away?" Martin asked lazily.
"Wither away yourself," Warren returned, deliberately misunderstanding. "I'm going to see what I can see."
"Don't stay away too long," Terry warned. "We want to get started pretty soon. We've still got quite a trip ahead of us."
"O. K., I won't," Warren promised. "Be back in less than an hour. Just going to take a little jaunt."
They watched him enter the woods, and for some time heard his footsteps as he trampled on leaves and twigs. Finally they died away, and Terry turned to Martin.
"Hope he doesn't get lost," he said.
"Not much chance of that. He could always follow the stream back to the lake. I'm worried that he'll pick up some beastie and want to keep it. We'd have a fine time with an animal to take care of."
"Aren't you right," Terry agreed, and stretched. "Boy, I could sleep right here!" They were resting near the water's edge. "I didn't get much sleep last night."
"Go ahead, doze off if you want to," Martin said. "I'll wake you if anything happens."
Both boys were a bit fatigued, and it was not strange that they both fell into slumber. Martin awoke with a start, and looked quickly at the Watermar. Everything all right there. Then he glanced at his watch.
"My glory," he said in a dazed voice. "Five o'clock! And Warren not back yet! Hey, Terry, come to, will you? Warren's been gone for nearly three hours!"
CHAPTER XVI Death in the Forest
WHEN Warren, with the revolver, Mike, in his pocket, reached the edge of the woods and disappeared from the sight of Terry and Martin he decided to strike directly back, to get an idea of the density of the forest. He soon discovered that the trees here grew so close together as to screen the lake entirely.
There was no path, of course, and Warren had to go around fallen logs, rather deep holes and large rocks. This, he concluded, certainly was wild country.
Far in the distance were the Mawchunk Mountains, but Warren could not see them for the thickness of the foliage. He was going in the general direction of Shadow Lake, but naturally had no thought of reaching there on foot. It was all of fifteen miles up the stream, and probably quite a bit more.
"We should be there tonight," he thought. "Perhaps Jake and Peeble managed to get their boat up some other way. If Shadow Lake is small, we may run into each other continually. But they'd better not try any more funny stuff! We didn't catch 'em the last time, but from now on we'll keep a strict watch."
With these thoughts in mind he continued his tramp, gazing interestedly at the great trees which grew on all sides of him. They were much larger than the trees around Stirling.
"Maybe the hot springs in Shadow Lake have something to do with the growth of vegetation," he mused. "That is, if there really are hot springs there."
He stopped for a moment to get his bearings, for he was in no mind to become lost. He glanced up at the sky, noted the position of the sun, and concluded that he could find his way back easily enough. Then, too, he left a trail fairly clear to one with trained eyes, and he could almost follow the markings he made automatically when tramping over sticks and through brush.
"I suppose that would be pretty risky, though," he thought. "One wrong turn and I?d be out of luck."
As he paused here he heard, as he thought, a rustling to the right, and swung quickly about, but saw nothing. It was dim in this thick forest, and he could make out little except the trees and rocks and brush.
"But I'd almost bet I heard something," he said to himself. "May have been a big bird taking off, or landing. Well, I'll go a little further and turn. I don't want to keep Martin and Terry waiting too long."
He went on through the woods, and was just about to change his course a bit to avoid an unusually huge rock when he saw something that made his heart leap into his throat.
Slinking along under the trees, seemingly oblivious to Warren's presence, was a great cat, one of the largest Warren ever had seen. No lynx or bobcat was this, but a mountain lion?the kind that hunters reported seeing now and then in the Mawchunk hills.
"Jiminy!" Warren's brain remarked. And that's all he could think of at the moment?just "Jiminy!"
For the beast was certainly enough to make the stoutest heart quail. It must have weighed fully 250 pounds, and it's tawney body seemed to flow along the ground. Warren was not to windward of the animal, which probably was the reason it had not scented him.
"It's tracking something," the boy thought. "Stalking! I'm going to take a chance, and follow!"
So great was his interest in animals of all kinds that the danger of his course did not occur to him with sufficient force to cause him to flee. He wanted to know what the lion was up to, and he meant to find out.
Walking cautiously, he followed as closely as he dared. The beast continued his slow walk, then, of a sudden, stopped,
"Guess I'd better stop, too," Warren thought grimly. "Sure is funny that lion doesn't know I'm here. Maybe he does, and just doesn't give a darn, like the mule that rammed his head against a tree."
It was truly remarkable how the big cat allowed Warren to follow his stalk. Of course the boy was not very near the beast, but he was near enough to see his yellow hide through the trees. Then, too, Warren had rubber-soled shoes on, and he made little noise as he walked, for he avoided all twigs that he thought would snap under his feet.
For fully five minutes the lion remained motionless, then continued his strange meandering. Warren let the distance increase between them a bit, and followed.
The lion was not going in a straight course but was taking advantage of every knoll and large tree he could find, for all the world like one human tracking another human. He was keeping himself well out of sight of his victim, whatever it was.
Then Warren heard the scraping of horns on bark, heard the unmistakable sound of a deer, and knew the lion's prey was not so far from its destiny.
"It won't be long now," the boy thought. "I sure would like to see what happens!"
A little to his left was a rise, and atop this a rock fully fifteen feet high. The boy determined to secure this vantage point, hoping his luck was with him and that he might see the final act in this drama of life and death.
Carefully he made the ascent, and when he was seated on top of the rock, scarcely breathing, he could hardly restrain a whoop of joy. The lion was almost below him, and was again motionless.
The limbs of the animal were bent, his belly close to the ground, his sides barely palpitating with his soft breathing. He was within striking distance of his prey, but, as yet, Warren could not see the victim.
The boy fastened his eyes on the lion with hot eagerness. He was privileged to behold one of the greatest sights of the forest?a mountain lion about to exercise his skill and strength in the kill. Warren hardly dared blink, for fear he would miss the climactic moment. He had no thought to interfere, for the lion, like every other animal, had the right to kill for food. Warren might have fired at him, but besides being terribly dangerous it would be useless.
Now, bit by bit, so slowly that he scarcely appeared to be moving, the lion crept forward. And at last Warren saw the object of his stalk.
Below the lion, in a small ravine, stood a deer. He was just visible to the boy, for nature's camouflage did much to protect him from prying eyes.
The lion, wisely, was in such a position that the wind was blowing toward him, so that his scent did not carry to the deer. Yet something disturbed the deer, for Warren could see him raise his head, poise like a statue, and, just as the lion leaped, swing about and present those wicked antlers to his enemy.
The lion already was in the air when the deer turned. The great cat could not change his direction, but somehow he managed to squirm so that the horns pierced not his chest and heart but ripped through the shoulder.
There was a fierce scream from the lion, that had in it something human. His 250 pounds fell almost at the feet of the deer.
There was no danger now that any movement of Warren's would disturb the antagonists, so he slid down the rock, careless of scratches, to have a better view.
He saw the lion roll over frantically to avoid the murderous hooves that the deer raised and slashed down again. One hoof did in fact catch him, and he screamed again.
Now he was up and facing the deer, who awaited the second charge with lowered head. But the lion was no longer the contemptuous hunter of a weaker animal. He had learned that the deer could and would fight. So instead of leaping again he dashed to the right?evidently hoping to throw the deer off guard.
The deer simply swung about with him, and once more the snarling cat found himself facing the antlers.
The wound in his shoulder was bleeding profusely, and must have pained terribly. Warren noticed that his movements were stiffening, indicating that several muscles were torn.
Suddenly, with a fearful roar, the lion leaped again, not toward the back of the deer, but toward the throat. The deer reared backward but not quite quickly enough. The lion's teeth met in the skin about the neck, met and ripped loose.
The deer was free again, but just above his chest was a ragged wound, and his head no longer raised proudly to the charge.
Without giving him time to recover, the lion sprang again. This time he fastened his claws in the shoulder of the deer and managed to pull himself around almost upon his victim's back.
In his weakened condition, the deer could not support the great weight. Slowly, inevitably, he sank to the ground.
Then it was all over. One cry from the deer, rather like the bleat of a frightened lamb, Warren thought.
The legs kicked convulsively, once, twice, and then, mercifully, death came. The deer had put up a game fight, but had lost to superior strength and cunning.
The lion, after gathering himself together and panting heavily for a few moments, settled down to enjoy the feast. Warren crept away, his heart going like a trip-hammer.
The sun was below the tops of the trees. So swiftly and dramatically had the last hour passed that the boy was unaware of the passage of time. Now he would have to start back to Martin and Terry, to tell him of the wonderful thing he had seen.
But which way was back?
CHAPTER XVII Lost Wanderings
LOST?" Warren thought, and then said aloud: "What a crazy idea! How can I be lost?"
Simply he wasn't sure of the direction of the lake. It should be toward the west?in the direction of the setting sun. But the shore line was irregular, and if he started on the wrong way night might catch him here in the forest. After seeing the mountain lion, he had no fancy to be left alone in these woods after dark, for he recalled hearing that mountain lions do most of their hunting after dark.
The one he had seen would not bother him?he had just eaten. But what if there were others, and he stumbled upon them accidentally, so that they became frightened and attacked him?
"What's the use of crossing a bridge before I come to it," he mused, albeit somewhat uneasily.
"I've got good old Mike with me?" he patted his pocket wherein reposed the revolver?"and I could surely frighten off an animal with that. But my gosh! I'm not really lost?I haven't even tried to find my way back yet!"
Heartened by this philosophical train of thought, he set off resolutely, making sure he would avoid the mountain lion and his kill. He started toward the setting sun.
For some minutes he walked, watching carefully for landmarks that would tell him he had traversed this path before, but found none he could really depend upon. Once he thought he remembered a white birch, but on second thought he decided that this was too flimsy a thing to base a decision on.
Finally he came to a small pond of water? stagnant, and a splendid place for mosquitoes.
"Can't drink that," he thought, and then realized that he was thirsty. He wished he had not seen the water.
It was a very small pond, scarcely one hundred yards across. Moss grew on the bank, and birds were in the trees about, whistling and chattering in anticipation of the coming night.
"There must be a spring around here some place," Warren said aloud. "I don't believe even animals drink this stuff, but maybe they do. I?m going to have a look, anyhow."
The more he thought of a cool, bubbling spring the more thirsty he became. He skirted the pond, but found no drinkable water.
"The springs must all be in the pond itself," he decided. "My golly, I'm wasting a lot of time?I better get going!"
Once more he started off, trying to forget the fact that he was thirsty. The sun was farther down toward the horizon, and the trees cast long shadows on the ground.
Warren did not know how long he walked, but he was suddenly very tired. The calves of his legs ached, and his feet were sore from tramping over uneven ground.
"I'm going to sit down here for a second," he decided suddenly, seeing a broad, flat rock. "Maybe I can figure things out better sitting down."
He knew that but about an hour more of daylight remained. When night descended his efforts at establishing a definite direction in which to walk would be useless. He realized that he probably would tramp in a circle, without getting any place.
Then he thought of the revolver.
"If I fire that, Martin and Terry might hear it," he said to himself. "Can't do any harm to try."
He took the weapon from his pocket, and pointing straight up he pulled the trigger. In the silence the sound was terrific. Birds stilled immediately, and the quiet that followed the report was louder than the noise itself.
Warren waited anxiously for an answering hail. None came, and he fired again.
As he stood there in the forest a feeling of panic came over him.
"Can't let myself go like that," he said aloud. "That's just silly. Nothing can happen. Even if I have to stay out all night, I'll find the fellows in the morning."
But he was so very thirsty!
Putting the gun back in his pocket he walked on. He had gone scarcely twenty feet when he came upon that which he had been seeking?a spring, in a little grove of trees.
"Thank goodness for that," he murmured and plunged his face in, drinking deep draughts. The water was perfect, cool and delicious, and when the boy straightened up courage flowed back to him in a warm wave.
"Now if I could find a hamburger sandwich," he laughed, "it would be all coppasetty! Wonder if they have any hamburger trees around here?"
He waited for several minutes beside the spring, and before continuing his walk he had another drink. There was nothing in which he could carry water, but evidently there were other springs in this part of the woods.
"Have to take a chance on that," he murmured. "I can't stay here all night. Is there a moon tonight? Yes, I think there is?"
Again he tramped onward. The sun was so low now that it cast a red glow through the forest. Half an hour's more light, at the most, Warren thought.
"If I'm caught in the woods in the dark," he said to himself, "I'll climb a tree and go to sleep. Isn't that what men do in the jungle? By gosh, this isn't so much unlike the jungle, either!"
In truth the foliage here grew thick and green, and long creepers hung from the trees. The air was warm and somewhat humid.
A sudden thought came to Warren, and he halted.
"I wonder," he said aloud, "if I've been going in the direction of Shadow Lake? Suppose I keep on going and end up at Shadow Lake? Then if there really is a monster of some kind there?"
The thought was not conducive to calm, placid feeling, so he tried to drive it from his mind. It wasn't pleasant to imagine oneself in the vicinity of a strange, huge water-beast at night, with only a revolver for protection.
Yet there was something in the air that suggested a lake fringed with heavy vegetation and dark, mysterious trees. A peculiar warmth, it might have been, with a faint odor of wet moss. Warren was now some distance from the small pond he had found earlier, so it could not have been that.
No longer could he take a bearing from the setting sun, except in a very general way, for the sky to the west was a great splash of color, without any focal point. If he headed in that direction, he might be traveling anywhere from north-west to south-west, which was a goodly part of a half circle.
He thought of firing his revolver again, but abandoned that idea. It would be well to save as much ammunition as possible. Besides the few shells left in the gun, he had about ten loose in his pocket. The time might come when he would need these.
"Well, I might as well make the best of it and look for a place to rest," he murmured. "I'm plenty tired already. I hate to think of sleeping on the ground, with all the bugs and things. . . ."
He would not admit, even to himself, that he was worried about the possibility of that mountain lion becoming hungry during the night and going in search of more food. The chances were that even a starving mountain lion would not attack a human, but one can never tell about animals. His curiosity might lead him to investigate the form of a sleeping youth, and if Warren awoke suddenly, and started in terror, the lion might become terror-stricken also and leap upon him.
"I sure wish I had some matches," the boy sighed. "That's one lesson I've learned?I'll never be without matches in the woods again!"
He thought, then, of the old adage of locking the door after the horse was stolen.
"A lesson isn't any good unless you've got a chance to put it into practice," he thought. "Maybe the man didn't have enough money to buy another horse!"
These thoughts, he knew, were rather silly, but they served to prevent him from becoming panic-stricken. He had found through experience that he could frequently talk himself into a cheerful frame of mind when he felt depressed over anything, and this was what he was attempting now.
"At any rate, there's a swell moon," he said to himself. "Look at her sailing along up there!"
The half-circle of light was like a beacon in the sky. Warren stopped and stared at it for a full minute.
"Sure is beautiful," he said in a hushed voice. "I don't wonder people like to live in the woods. If I had plenty to eat and drink, and company now and then, this would suit me to a T!"
He was walking slowly now, just wandering along, looking for a spot where he could rest. He thought a clearing would be best, for then he would have an opportunity to see on all sides of him if he were awakened suddenly.
Finally he found what he sought. Through the trees he spied an open space, and made for that.
As he reached it he started back in amazement. In the clearing, like a blot of ink on a white paper, was a ramshackle cabin.
CHAPTER XVIII A Vain Search
?WHAT had we better do?" Terry asked anxiously.
"Look for him," Martin returned grimly. "He said he'd be gone an hour, and it's at least three hours since he left. Maybe he fell and sprained his ankle, and needs help. There are lots of slippery rocks around here."
"You mean leave the boat here and strike back through the woods? What about Jake and Peeble?"
"We've got to take a chance. The most important thing is to find Warren. I'll tell you?we'll pull the boat around in that little cove, and conceal it as well as we can," and Martin pointed to an irregularity in the shore line. "We can partly cover it with brush?it'll be out of sight that way."
"Let's hurry up," Terry exclaimed impatiently. "I don't like this at all. It isn't like Warren to stay away longer than he said he would unless he couldn't get back. Do you think he's lost?"
"Well, when I thought about that at first, I didn't see how it could be possible. It seemed as though he could at least find the outlet, and follow that right down to the lake. But I guess the woods are pretty thick back there."
"Then you do think he might be lost?"
"He might be," Martin replied slowly. "Come on, let's get going. Help me shove the boat off."
They got the craft into the lake, and Martin started the motor. It was a short distance to the cove, and they made it in a few minutes. Then they busied themselves in piling brush and tree branches about the boat.
"We can take the motor out and hide that, too," Terry suggested. "Think that would be a good idea?"
"Sure it would. We'll put it back a ways, and cover it so Jake will never find it."
Ten minutes later they were ready to begin their search. The motor was easily detachable, simply by unscrewing two large wing nuts that held it in place. They carried it back in the woods and hid it effectively.
By this time it was nearly six o'clock, and Warren had been gone almost four hours.
"We better stick together in this search," Terry remarked. "We don't know this country very well, and we might get lost ourselves. Then we'd be in a fine mess."
"Right," Martin agreed. "One thing I'm glad of?Wawa took the revolver with him."
But this thought was not comforting to Terry, for it implied that Warren might have use for the revolver. He knew there were large animals in this section?bear, and big bobcats. Had he known of the mountain lion Terry would have been more than a little worried over the safety of Warren.
"We'll go straight back and walk for an hour," Martin said. "Don't you think that will be the best? Then, if we find no trace of him, we can branch off."
"Yeah, I guess that's the best plan," Terry agreed uncertainly. "You've got the watch with the compass in it?take your bearings now, so we'll know just where we're going."
Martin complied. When this was done they started off, Terry taking with him a box of matches and a small hatchet.
For some time they went almost directly east, over the same path that Warren had taken. But they were not sufficiently expert woodsmen to read the trail, ever so faint, that Warren had made as he passed along this way. At half past seven, by Martin's watch, they halted.
"Getting dusk," Terry remarked.
"Yep," Martin returned shortly. "What say we verge off here to the left?"
They talked little. Every now and then they would call as loudly as they could, but heard no answer. Once Terry thought he heard a shot, but he wasn't sure.
It was nearly dark when they came to a large rock, about fifteen feet high. It appeared to offer a good point from which to observe the surrounding country, for it was situated on a little knoll. Terry and Martin climbed upon it.
"See anything?" Terry inquired, gazing about.
"Nothing that looks like a clue. He may not have come this way at all. I suppose we better?good heavens!"
The exclamation was wrung from him by the sight, in a ravine just below the rock, of a mangled body of some animal.
"What is it?" Terry demanded, for he had been looking in the opposite direction.
"I don't know," Martin said tensely. His voice shook, and Terry seized, his arm.
"What?" Terry began again, and then he, too, saw.
It was a guttural sound of pure horror that tore from his throat. He put his hand over his eyes.
"Listen, you ninny," Martin said, speaking quickly. 'That's an animal. It's not?what you think. Terry!"
"Eh?" The boy looked at him, and his face was white with a terrible whiteness. "What?what's that you said?"
"It's an animal! Look, you can see the hooves! It's a deer!"
Terry leaned forward, his mouth hanging open, his hands trembling. Then, in that half-light, he saw that Martin was right. It was an animal.
"My glory!" he said weakly. "Listen, Mart? I got to sit down a second?"
"Sure, go ahead," Martin said kindly. "It gave me a shock at first, too. Take it easy for a minute."
He waited until Terry raised his head and gave him a sickly grin.
"Better now?" Martin asked.
"Yeah. Sorry to pull the baby act. But that? sort of got me."
"I know. It got me too. Now we'll have a look at that thing in the ravine."
He and Terry slid down the rock, just as Warren did, had they but known it. From several yards away they stared at the half-eaten carcass of the deer.
"A pretty big animal made that kill," Terry said in a hushed voice. "Must have been a bear."
"Not a bear," Martin contradicted. "Bear don't eat deer, I think. It was some member of the cat family that made this kill."
"But what bobcat would be big enough to do that?"
Martin shrugged his shoulders. "We can't tell," he said quietly. "This is a queer country. Anything's likely to happen. Well, we don't want to hang around here much longer. Come on, let's be on our way. We'll continue in this direction for a while."
They kept up their calls, but uselessly. The sun was rapidly disappearing and in a short time it would be dark.
Terry halted and looked at Martin.
"What's the next move?"
Martin shook his head. "We'd better get back to the boat," he said slowly. "Wawa may have gone to camp another way, you know. If he isn't there?" He left the sentence uncompleted.
With weary feet the two boys started on the return trip. Vividly in their minds was the thought of that killed and mangled deer. If there were animals large enough to do that, it was well that Warren had a gun with him. But a revolver?would that be effective against such a huge beast?
"Sure we're going in the right direction?" Terry asked, after they had been walking some time.
"Sure. We came quite a distance, you know."
Both were hopeful that when they reached the place where they left the Watermar Warren would be waiting for them. Terry almost could see him as he stood against the dim background of the water, and could fancy hearing his chum calling: "Hey, where you fellows been? I've been here over an hour! Let's eat?I'm hungry!"
As a matter of fact Martin was as worried over the situation as Terry, but he strove to conceal it. There was still a chance that they would find Warren that night. If not, he would surely turn up in the morning.
"Suppose we light a fire on the beach," Terry suggested. "He might see it, or at least see the reflection in the sky.?
"That's not a bad idea," Martin approved. "We'll do that. As soon as it gets good and dark."
They had not long to wait, for before they reached the lake's edge night was upon them. They saw the moon brighten into glowing whiteness, and the stars twinkled through the velvet black canopy overhead.
"Beautiful night," Terry sighed. "I wish Warren wasn't lost."
"He's all right. We may still find him, you know. . . ."
They were on the edge of the forest, and a few more steps would bring them to the shore line. They did not speak as they neared the water. Would he be there, waiting for them, laughing at their fears?
Then they saw the lake and the clear stretch of rocky beach, with no other humans but themselves in sight.
"Oh, well," Terry sighed.
"I didn't think he'd be here," Martin said, but even he sounded depressed. He had been hoping against hope.
"Maybe he walked along a ways," Terry suggested.
"Nope. He's not here. We'll go on to the boat."
Wearily they trudged over the moss and rocks, their shoulders drooping, their arms swinging listlessly at their sides. They were tired and hungry and worried.
"I'll cook a little bacon," Martin said.
"We have to eat, you know. Then we'll build a big fire. He may see that."
"And if he doesn't?"
"We'll look for him some more." They were near the place where they left the boat. It was safe enough?they saw at a glance nothing had been disturbed. Then they went to the spot where they left the motor. This, too, was safe.
Martin got some food out, and Terry lit the gasoline stove. For all their hunger they had little heart to eat.
"This," said Terry, straightening, "is the rottenest I've felt in some years."
CHAPTER XIX The Opening Door
THE scene before Warren was like a picture one might see in a modern gallery?a representation of a half-remembered dream. The moon gave a dim, ethereal light, and the cabin itself appeared unreal. Warren stood there and stared at it.
"Imagine living in a place like this," was his first thought, for on all sides grew deep, heavy woods. There could not have been another habitation within fifteen or twenty miles.
"I wonder if the man of the house is at home," he mused. "And if he is, how he'll like having me as a guest tonight?"
He went closer, and examined the cabin. It was of sturdy construction, and evidently had been there several years, for it was marred by weather. The walls were of logs and the roof of smaller logs between which was stuffed some sort of mud, to fill in the chinks.
"Well, I may as well investigate this business," Warren decided. "It means I'll have a roof over my head tonight, anyhow. Doesn't seem to be anyone around. Hey!"
He called rather loudly, and strode forward. At the door he halted, and looked around. No other person was in sight.
"Hey!" he shouted again, and waited, but there was no response. Then he pushed on the door, which was without latch or knob. It swung open slowly.
Warren could see absolutely nothing as he thrust his head in. It was pitch dark. He listened intently for the sound of breathing or of movement, but so far as he could tell the place was deserted.
"I'm going in," he resolved suddenly. "I don't think there's anyone within miles. If only I had a few matches!"
Cautiously he entered the door, scuffing his feet before him to be warned of any hole or breakage in the flooring, and feeling his way with his hands. He might just as well have closed his eyes and gone in, for no light entered through the single window near the roof.
Of a sudden his hands came in contact with something he judged to be a table. Carefully he felt about the top, and his fingers touched something that sent a thrill through him. It was a box of matches.
"Yay!" he almost yelled. "Boy, if these things only light!"
He opened the box and carefully extracted a match. He could feel the head on it, so it had not been used.
"Now!" he muttered, and scraped it against the side of the box.
The tiny piece of wood leaped into flame. Warren did not waste time in examining his surroundings too minutely, but searched for a candle or a lantern he could light. Over the table was a hanging lamp. Before Warren could ignite the wick his match went out, and he was forced to light another.
The cabin had but a single room, which combined the offices of a bedroom, sitting room, and kitchen. In one corner was a stove, the pipe of which ran out through the roof. There was a bed against the wall, with blankets on but no sheets. There was also a couch against another wall. A sink near the stove was fitted with a pump, such as one sees in some farmhouses, with a short handle. There were pans, pots and a few dishes on shelves. All in all, it was a homey place, and indicated that the tenant had been absent only a few hours.
"I wonder if there's anything to eat?" Warren thought, for the pangs of hunger were attacking him again. "I'm going to have a look around. Wonder where in thunder the man is who lives here? For it certainly isn't a vacant cabin?it's too well kept for that."
He saw a door by the stove, and opened it. A closet, stocked with a variety of canned goods, was before him. There was a bread box on one shelf. Warren opened this, and saw two uncut loaves of bread. He found a can of tomatoes, and in a drawer was a can-opener.
"Now, by golly, invited or not, I eat!" he said aloud. Taking the tomatoes and bread to the table, he opened the can. There was a knife in the drawer where he found the can-opener, as well as some spoons, so Warren was soon regaling himself on very excellent canned tomatoes and bread.
"Not bad at all," he declared. "Let's see?has the master of this palace got a glass or a cup?"
Hanging from a nail near the pump was a tin cup. Warren pumped himself some water, and it was clear, ice cold and delicious. Then he dipped into the tomatoes again, and did not rest until he had finished the whole can?and it was a large one. Practically half a loaf of bread went with the tomatoes.
"Woosh!" he exclaimed, when he had completed his repast, and leaned back in his chair.
"That was a very elegant supper. I wonder if it's possible?"
He went to the pantry again, and discovered another box. This, to his delight, contained a raisin cake. It was just what Warren needed to take the last little edge off his hunger, and he consumed a good part of it.
So intent had Warren been upon the occupation of the moment?that of satisfying his hunger? that he did not realize the strangeness of his situation. But now he arose from the rude chair in which he was resting and went to the door of the cabin.
"Golly, there doesn't seem to be anyone within a million miles of this shack," he thought ruefully. "'I wonder if something happened to the party that built this place?" The simile of an abandoned ship came to him. This empty cabin in the moonlight was like a vessel from which, for some unaccountable reason, the crew had fled.
He entered the cabin again and shut the door. Then he pushed the single chair against the door.
After turning the lamp wick up a bit, he lay down on the couch. The gun in his pocket made an uncomfortable bulge, so he removed it and placed it on the floor, within easy reach of his hand.
"Boy, I'm tired," he murmured, as he stretched out. "I'll bet I could sleep for a week."
He closed his eyes and waited for the drowsy sensation, which is the forerunner of slumber, to steal over him. But somehow it did not come. His limbs ached from weariness, but he could not sleep. He had been lying there for some minutes when a long, low cry jerked him upright, wide awake, his eyes staring at the door.
"My glory, what was that?" he exclaimed, and closed his fingers around the revolver.
Into his mind shot the memory of Larry's story, about the ghosts of Shadow Lake. Warren laughed tremulously.
"Ghosts?imagine believing in ghosts!" he said to himself. "Why, that noise was just?"
Again it came?that trembling, almost human cry, and now it seemed just outside the door.
"Wild cat," he declared. "But what a weird sound!"
He had heard cats cry before, but now there was a different note in the wail, or perhaps it was that Warren simply imagined a difference. He got to his feet and walked to the door. Half way there he stopped.
"This is nonsense," he said, and forced a laugh. "Why should I bother about a bobcat yelling? I'm going to get some sleep."
Once more he threw himself on the couch and closed his eyes. He tried to make his mind a blank, not to think of anything, and to pretend he was at home in his own bed, but it wouldn't work. He was more wide awake than ever.
"Well, I've just got to lie here, I suppose," he murmured. "Wonder what time it is?"
He turned on one side and with an arm dangling over the couch, his hand near the revolver, he lay quietly. Unconsciously his eyes were fixed upon the door.
And as he watched he saw the chair that was against the door move. It was being pushed across the floor, and the door was opening slowly, slowly.
CHAPTER XX Fighting Sleep
CONVULSIVELY Warren seized the gun and leaped to his feet. His burning glance was fixed on the moving door, as if to penetrate the wood and discover what was on the other side. He wanted to cry out "Who's there?" but his voice seemed locked in his throat.
Minutes appeared to pass while the door swung slowly open, although the whole operation could not actually have taken more than a few seconds. Finally the portal stood wide. The lamp light gleamed on two figures, shoulder to shoulder in the doorway, and behind them was a third.
They were Jake Lawson, Peeble, and Al Barton.
An exclamation rose to Warren's lips, and he took a step backward, raising the gun as he did so.
"Well, look who's here!" Jake jeered. "Little Mary Sunshine!"
"Why, it's Wawa Finn, ain't it?" Barton, behind the others, murmured stupidly.
Peeble said nothing. He stared at Warren, and at the gun in his hand, which was being held in readiness.
"Nice little place you got here, pal," Jake declared, and stepped in. "Rent it for the season?"
"Get out of here, Lawson," Warren said tensely. "You and the others with you. Take another step and you'll be sorry all your life. You won't die?we don't kill people. But I'll put a bullet through your right shoulder."
Warren's face, under his tan, was deathly pale. There was a hard glint in his eyes, and his mouth set in a firm line. The events of the day and night had served to arouse him to a nervous pitch of excitement when he might do things he otherwise would not think of had his nerves been under control.
"What?you'd shoot me?" Lawson cried, halting in his tracks.
"I sure would!" Warren exclaimed hotly. "I wouldn't hesitate a minute?and if I missed your shoulder, and hit?"
"Wait a second, boys," Peeble broke in suddenly. "What's all this fuss about?" His voice was suave. "As a matter of fact, I don't believe we have a right to break in on our friend here. He found the cabin first, and it's his by right of prior possession."
"Aw, baloney," Barton burst out. "He's only one. We're three. Where do you get that prior possession stuff?"
"Pipe down, Barton," Peeble said sharply, turning to his companion. "I'll handle this." He faced Warren again. "Now ain't there some way we can talk this thing over? We been tramping all day. We're pretty tired and hungry. You got any food here?"
"Get out," Warren repeated.
"Now wait a second," Peeble went on smoothly. "I know you got it in for us?you think we tried to wreck your boat. We didn't, and that's the truth. I'm frank enough to admit that we wouldn't have been sorry if your boat had been put out of commission so you couldn't get through to Shadow Lake. But we didn't do it."
"No?" Warren looked at the speaker closely. "Who did then?"
"How do we know? Some tramp, probably. Now listen. You and us are after the same thing. It's in Shadow Lake. Why shouldn't we team up and work together?"
"What?with you wanting the monster for your own circus, and McDavitt wanting it for the Marlow and Denby bunch?"
"Well, we could fix that up all right," Peeble drawled. "Look here, sonny?ain't you afraid that gun will go off? Don't keep it pointed this way all the time!"
"It won't go off unless I want it to," Warren returned grimly. "Not afraid of guns, are you? even shot guns, at night?"
He saw Peeble start at these words, and the belief that he and Lawson were responsible for the attempt to wreck the Watermar's motor arose in him more strongly than ever.
"What are we waitin' for?" Barton exclaimed suddenly. "Get in there, Jake, an' take that gun away from him!"
"Oh, yeah?" Warren retorted. "You step up, Barton, and try it! What's the idea of hanging back that way, hiding behind Peeble and Lawson?"
"I?" Barton began, when Peeble obviously nudged him.
"We don't want any trouble," the circus man said. "If you'll let us have something to eat, we'll go away. By the way, where are your pals?"
"They're?" Warren started, and he thought better of it. "They're around," he said shortly.
"If eleven miles back is around, they're around," Lawson chuckled. "Don't try to pull any of that stuff on us, Finn. We know how you got here. You were lost, weren't you? And you stumbled on this cabin by accident, didn't you?"
Warren could not control his face at this, and a look of surprise came over it. Lawson laughed.
"We heard Blondel and Hazzard yellin' and trampin' around a long ways back, wonderin' where you went to. We went right by 'em. Must have been four hours ago?maybe more. So don't try to put anything over on us. We know you're here alone, an' your friends ain't within miles of this place."
"I'm not alone," Warren declared, after a minute.
"Oh, you ain't, hey?" Barton sneered. "Who you got with you?"
"This!" Warren exclaimed, and raised his gun. "And it's a sweet little companion, believe me! Want to hear him speak?" He pointed the weapon at a tin pan on a shelf just above and to the right of where the three intruders were standing.
The pan, neatly drilled, bounced from the shelf and lay at Lawson's feet.
"Like the demonstration?" Warren demanded.
Its effect was more than he bargained for. Whether Peeble and the others thought he was firing at them he did not know, but they tumbled over each other in their frightened efforts to be the first through the door.
"Don't shoot?don't shoot!" Barton was yelling. "We're going?my gosh, he'll kill us all!"
The sight of the three of them piling pell-mell through the door was so ludicrous that Warren had to laugh. It was evident to him that they did not have any weapons with them?at least at that time. It might be that they had them in the boat, but did not take them along.
"And stay out!" Warren shouted. "The next person who comes through this door is going to be mighty sorry!"
He heard their retreating footsteps as they tramped over leaves and small branches. Peering carefully out of the partly closed door, he saw them making for the woods on the left of the clearing. Then they disappeared.
Warren sighed, closed the door, and sat down on the edge of the bunk. He knew Lawson and his friends would not return immediately, so he might take a breathing spell.
"They must have thought I wanted to kill them," he mused, and then grinned. "Anyhow, I threw a scare into them. I wonder if they'll come back? They must have seen the light through the window, and made for that." He looked at the small, glassless orifice and then noticed for the first time that on each side of it hung black folds of cloth, which could be pulled together to afford a curtain.
"I'll fix it so they won't have an easy target, if they do come back with guns," the boy decided, and covered the window as best he might. Then he sat down in the chair, facing the door.
His heart was beating wildly, and he was in no mood for sleep even if he had been in a position where sleep was safe. As it was, he could not afford to drop off. Peeble might return at any time, and try to rush him.
"It wouldn't be much to their advantage to take the cabin," he thought. "But if they captured me, and hid me so Terry and Martin would have to waste a lot of time searching for me?"
As the idea came to him he reached the decision that this was what Jake and the others wanted. They weren't really hungry, nor did they care about taking possession of the cabin. What they wanted was Warren. If they could seize him, they'd have a valuable hostage, one which would afford them an advantage over Terry and Martin. "I've got to hold out until morning, anyhow," Warren thought determinedly. "Then maybe Martin and Terry will find me. Or maybe the one who owns this place will come back. I wonder what could have happened to him?"
He sat with his arms resting on the table for several minutes, then arose and turned the wick of the lamp down until it was only a tiny glow. Carefully he crept to the door and peered out.
He saw nothing but the dim moonlight in the clearing, and the trees beyond.
"Can they have given up, and gone on?" he asked himself. "I'll bet they have a boat near here somewhere?they probably found a way to navigate the outlet with the cabin boat. That outlet can't be very far away. Maybe I've been going toward Shadow Lake all the time, and I'm near it now!"
He tried to think back and trace his wanderings, but could not. It was all so confused. How long had he been gone? Well, let's see?it must be after midnight now. He left just after eating. That would be twelve hours?almost?twelve hours, walking through woods, over rocks, trailing a mountain lion?mountain lion?trailing? a?
His head dropped forward, and his eyes closed. In another moment he would be asleep. Desperately he tried to concentrate upon something, anything, but thoughts seemed to float away, and he was sinking down, down?
A blood-curdling cry sounded just beyond the door. Warren leaped to his feet, every nerve tingling, the gun firm in his hand.
Again came that cry.
"Oh, glory," Warren moaned, "it's a bobcat! Well, you did me a favor that time! I wasn't far from slumberland! I've got to figure out some way to keep awake?I've simply got to! I can't afford to fall asleep! I'll just have to keep walking around, I guess?around this table?"
He began his vigil, tramping in a weary circle about the table. His feet were like lead, and his legs ached, but he must keep going. Once he sat down, only for a minute, and before he knew it his head was nodding, so he got to his feet again.
"Maybe I can just stand still, without walking," he thought. "Though I've heard of people going to sleep on their feet?"
He tried it, however, facing the door and leaning partly against the table. This was better. He was resting, in a measure, yet he could not actually go to sleep, for he would fall over.
"I guess I can stick it out," he muttered. "I'll?"
He caught a quick breath. The door was opening again. Not so slowly this time, but as though it were being pushed by a determined man.
CHAPTER XXI A Bullet in the Wall
THE flickering light of the lamp shone upon a rugged figure in the doorway. It was a bearded man with heavy black eyebrows, tremendous, sloping shoulders, and long arms. He was dressed roughly?shirt open at the neck and trousers of some thick material, like sail cloth.
Warren presented the gun toward him, for he could not tell whether the man were friend or enemy. As the man saw the weapon he grinned.
"Is it necessary," he said in gentle tones, "to forbid a man entrance to his own home by the use of firearms?"
His voice was so at variance with his appearance that Warren started back in surprise. He lowered the muzzle of the gun.
?Why?why?" he stuttered. "I beg your pardon ?"
The man waved his hand. "Please don't bother," he said politely. "I believe I understand. You were wandering through the woods, you came upon my cabin, and entered. Isn't that it?"
"That's it all right," Warren said in a puzzled tone. "I hope you don't mind ?"
"If I did, I wouldn't leave the door open," said the man simply.
He came into the room, and tossed his battered hat upon the table. Warren, half-ashamed, restored the gun to his pocket. Then the man saw the remains of Warren's supper, and nodded.
"I see you found the provisions," said he.
"Yes, I took the liberty of eating some bread and tomatoes?I was so very hungry?you see, I got lost."
"Got lost, did you?" the man raised his bushy eyebrows. Then he went to the lamp and turned up the wick, and Warren saw the splendid proportions of the cabin owner. He was built like a wedge, huge shoulders and narrow waist. "How did that happen?" he added.
"My friends and I got separated. We came from Stirling, in an outboard motor boat. We landed near the outlet, and I took a walk back in the woods. I saw a mountain lion, and followed him. Then?I got lost."
"A mountain lion!" The man seated himself on the side of the bunk, clasped his hands, and glanced quizzically at Warren. "It seems to me, my friend," he said softly, "that there is more to the story than that. What are you doing in this section? Very few people come here. Suppose you tell me all about it. But first let me introduce myself. My name is Theodore Beckwith."
"Mine is Warren Finn."
?Glad to know you, Mr. Finn," and Beckwith arose and offered his hand ceremoniously.
His clasp was so firm that Warren almost winced.
"And now," said the big man, "perhaps you'll tell me something of yourself."
"Certainly," Warren complied. "It may sound a little crazy to you?I mean why we came here ??
" 'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy?,? Beckwith quoted.
"Yeah, that's how we figured," Warren said. "Anyhow, here it is," and he told him in as few words as possible the story of their adventures since they went to the side show in Stirling and received the commission to search for the monster.
When he finished, Beckwith took a pipe from his pocket and lighted it. Before he spoke he took several puffs.
"And these others?Peeble, I think you said his name was?they're near here?"
"I guess so," Warren admitted. "They can't be very far away. I was trying to keep awake, so they wouldn't come in and surprise me. I thought they might try to tie me up, or something."
"So that's the kind they are!" He puffed on his pipe with less forced draft, then took it from his mouth and said:
"Perhaps you might like to hear why I live here. It's very simple. Four years ago I was a professor in a university in another state. The name doesn't matter. My health began to fail. Coupled with that I was getting fed up with civilization as I saw it. Perhaps I was wrong?but at any rate I determined to go back to the land. I searched about, until I found this place. It seemed just suited to my purpose. Then, with my own hands, I built this cabin. I learned to fish, and to hunt with the bow and arrow. Yes, it can be done? sometime I'll show you. About once in three months I go to Tenderhooks, a small place on Lake Otter. The name intrigued me. I purchase there some supplies?of which you sampled. That started four years ago. Since that time I've led a perfect existence. My health has improved ?I guess you can tell that, eh?"
"I'll say so," Wargen exclaimed admiringly. "You sure look husky enough."
"I am. Watch!" He went to the stove and took up a heavy poker. Without appearing to exert unusual strength he bent it almost double, and then straightened it. Not a muscle in his face moved as he performed the feat.
"There aren't many men who could do that," he said, as he tossed the poker back.
"And you've lived alone?here?for four years?" Warren asked in amazement.
"Yes. And I've never regretted it. Some day, perhaps, I'll return. I often thought I'd like ?" He stopped, and shook his head. "Never mind that. I'm interested in what you told me. Now first about this monster. What is it supposed to be?"
"We don't know! That's the funny part of it. But Mr. Beckwith, if you've lived here so long, surely you've been to Shadow Lake many times?"
"Did you see, or hear, of a monster of any kind there?"
The man tapped his pipe out on a thin plate. He gazed at Warren a moment before he spoke. "Yes, my friend, I've heard of it."
"And have you seen it?" Warren asked eagerly.
"Oh." The boy appeared crestfallen. "Then you don't really believe there is one there."
"Yes, I do believe there is one there."
"You do? What kind? Is it a big animal? Do you think we could capture it? How ?"
"Not so fast," and Beckwith laughed. "I'll tell you why I believe there is some sort of a huge water animal at Shadow Lake. In the first place the lake itself is ideal for the promotion of animal growth. The hot springs and the climate render it a perfect spot for the type of animal that thrives in tropical countries. In fact, about the lake is a strange sort of tropical vegetation. Seven years ago I traveled quite extensively in Upper Egypt, and in India. I saw vegetation rather similar to that which grows around Shadow Lake.
"At Karnak, near Luxor, Egypt, there is a lake called the Sacred Lake. It borders on the great temple of Amen Ra. The legend is?and I believe it is more than a legend?that in ancient times there lived in that lake a water beast to whom the Egyptians offered sacrifice. Some persons believe that the lake was dug out only for the purpose of permitting the priests of the temple to perform their ablutions, but I do not think this is so. I believe it was constructed to keep within it a sacred beast.
"Shadow Lake reminds me a great deal of this Sacred Lake. Of course Shadow Lake is much larger. But somehow it seems much the same to me." He paused and shortly resumed:
"Men who have visited this district have spoken of a 'monster' in Shadow Lake. I've searched, but I've never found it"
He filled his pipe again, and walked to the door.
"You may have better luck," he said over his shoulder.
"And how about the ghosts?" Warren inquired.
"Ghosts?" Beckwith turned, and stared at the boy. "Do you believe in ghosts?"
"No, I don't," Warren said frankly.
"You will when you visit Shadow Lake," said Beckwith briefly.
Warren could scarcely credit his ears. Was this man, this university professor, actually telling him there were ghosts at Shadow Lake?
"Do you mean to say," Warren asked slowly, "you think that ghosts are there?"
" 'There are more things in heaven and earth ?'" Beckwith quoted again, and a smile turned the corners of his lips.
"Did I say there were ghosts there?" the man asked.
"No, not exactly, but you said ?"
"That you'd believe in them when you visited Shadow Lake."
"Yes. Isn't that the same as saying you believe in them?"
"I refuse to answer," Beckwith said, grinning, "on the ground that it might intend to incriminate or degrade me."
"All right," Warren laughed. "But tell me? how far is Shadow Lake from here?"
"About thirteen miles. It lies inland from Lake Otter about twenty-five miles."
"Then I must have come in exactly the opposite direction to which I intended!" Warren exclaimed.
"You did, if you started from the shore of Lake Otter."
"And Martin and Terry?they're the two fellows I came with?they'll never think to come away back here without the boat!"
"How am I to find them, then?"
"Don't worry about that. I know this section like a book. You rest tonight, and in the morning you and I will locate your friends."
"And Jake Lawson and Peeble?they seem intent on getting that monster, if they have to tie us up to do it!"
Beckwith stretched his arms over his head and took a deep breath.
"I think," he said softly, "I can help you take care of Peeble. I don't like him, although I've never met him. I don't even like his name."
"You'll help us?" Warren inquired, his eyes fixed on the stout figure before him.
"I'll help you to stay out of Peeble's hands. But I won't help you to catch whatever animal is at Shadow Lake." His voice was determined.
"We'll do that," Warren said energetically.
"And the reason I won't help you to do that, nor will I tell you any more about the mysteries of Shadow Lake, is because I think you can work this out yourselves. Later you'll thank me for it. I believe in letting young people make their own way."
"O. K. with me," Warren said enthusiastically.
"Yes. Now, you look tired. You take the bunk. I've been walking through the woods for quite a while myself?I love the woods at night. I'll take a blanket and curl up on the couch."
"But I can't let you do that! You take the bed."
"Do as I say. You ?"
A bullet buried itself in the wall opposite the window. Beckwith, with one leap, reached the lamp and turned it out.
CHAPTER XXII Arrow Ghosts
WARREN could hear his labored breathing as Beckwith stood silently close to the cabin window, waiting for a second shot.
This time the bullet did not enter the window, but found a resting place in the outside logs of the shelter.
"Took away their target," Beckwith said grimly. "But I should have known better than to turn that lamp full up, with characters like that in the vicinity."
"They?they really tried to kill me!" Warren exclaimed.
"Maybe not. Maybe they just wanted to scare you. Do they know you have a gun?"
"Yes! I forced them out of the cabin with it. I put a hole in one of your pans, to show them I could shoot. It's on the floor near the door."
"Then it's tit for tat," Beckwith declared. "They put a bullet through my window to show you they could shoot. They must have seen a chink of light under the curtain."
"Yes?I tried to pull the curtain closed, but I guess I didn't make out so well."
"They seem to have stopped for a while, anyhow," Beckwith said, listening carefully. "Where did they get their rifle?"
"Is it a rifle they have?"
"Sure. That shot didn't come from a revolver."
"Well, they have a boat somewhere around?but I didn't think it could navigate the outlet."
"That stream has swollen with rain during the past few days. Any ordinary size craft could navigate it now."
"Then I suppose they have their boat tied up in the outlet near here."
Beckwith remained quiet for several moments. It was black as pitch within the cabin, and Warren could not tell where the man was standing. He had on soft shoes, so he could move without making a sound,
"Finn," he said suddenly. "I'm going out and get those fellows."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean I'm going to sneak out of this cabin, circle around back of them, and teach them a lesson."
"Have you got a gun?" Warren asked excitedly.
"No, but I've got something I find more useful. Take a look at this."
A beam of brightness, like a sliver, cut through the darkness of the cabin. Beckwith held a flashlight in one hand, and it was focussed upon an object he had in his other?a heavy bow, about five and a half feet high, the cord dangling loosely from the top.
Immediately Beckwith switched off the light.
"I've hunted for several years with this, and I'm not a bad shot," he said evenly. "I've killed squirrels with it. I think Peeble et al. have a surprise coming to them."
"What do you figure on doing?" Warren asked eagerly.
"After I leave the cabin?and there's a back entrance, which you probably haven't noticed?I'll find out where Peeble and his friends are located. Then I'll surround them," and he laughed at the old joke. "A few arrows in their direction?I won't aim right at them, for this bow has a pull of fifty-four pounds, and a steel-tipped arrow would go right through a man?a few close shots will start them thinking. They won't be able to tell where they're coming from, as they would if the shots came from a gun.
"You just sit tight where you are. In fact you might take a pot shot at the sky with that cannon of yours, so they'll know you're still in the cabin. They don't know about me, and they'll think it's ghosts, sure enough." His voice grew sardonic. "So long, my friend!"
Warren did not hear him go, nor did he see him, but he felt that sensation of being alone, the feeling that the cabin, except for himself, was empty. Beckwith must have gone out by the back door, but Warren did not hear the creaking of hinges nor the scraping of wood against wood.
"He's a regular Indian," the boy thought. "Funny, I was so tired a while back, now I'm as wide awake as though I'd had ten hours' sleep!"
It was the excitement, of course, that was buoying him up. Alone in a cabin, besieged by three men with a gun, was no joke. Warren had faith in Beckwith, but, he thought, what is a bow against a rifle? If they see him, and deliberately fire at him, they may wound him seriously, if not kill him!
He sat there in the dark silence, straining his ears for the slightest sound that would indicate the return of Beckwith or the attempt at a surprise attack, but heard nothing. And suddenly he was getting drowsy. He moved further back on the couch, and fixed a pillow behind his back. He felt his head falling forward, and brought it up with a jerk.
Once he glanced out of the window, but to no purpose. Then he resumed his seat on the couch. His head felt heavier and heavier. This time he did not try so hard to keep awake. He had an ally, now, and a good one. He could afford to take a little rest. Just a little nap?just a few minutes ?
"Hey, sailor, breakfast!"
Warren sat up and rubbed his eyes. Through the uncurtained window and the open door broad daylight was streaming into the room. At first he could not realize where he was, so heavy had his slumber been. Then he saw Beckwith bending over the stove from which came the appetizing odor of fried ham, and it all came back to him.
"How long have I been asleep?" he asked quickly, getting to his feet and stretching.
"Oh, I should say about eight hours."
"Eight hours! what time is it?"
"Good gosh," Warren muttered. "Ten o'clock! Say, Mr. Beckwith, what happened last night? Did you find them?"
"Sure I found them," Beckwith chuckled. "Here, pull up a chair, and while you eat I'll tell you all about it. I've had my breakfast."
"I'm sorry to have slept so late," said Warren contritely.
"Glad you did. You need it. Here, dig into this."
"This" was fried ham, potatoes, and bread. Warren needed no second invitation. And while he ate, Mr. Beckwith told his story.
"When I left the cabin," he began, "I had a pretty good idea where those three friends of yours were, because I remembered the direction of the shot. So I kept close to the ground and behind as much cover as I could until I got in the woods.
"Then I started to circle around. As I thought, they were right on the edge of the clearing, all of them hiding behind trees."
"They would," Warren muttered. "Yes. So I took a position a little above them, on sort of a knoll, and a little to the left of them. In that way I had them between me and the clearing, but not in line with the cabin."
"What was the idea of that?"
"Wait a second and I'll tell you. I strung my bow?that was easy. You just put one end under your instep, push down with one hand and bring the string up with the other. I had taken with me about twenty-five arrows, in a small quiver. This one," and he showed it to Warren. "Notice that these aren't hunting arrows, for instead of sharpened steel points with barbs on them they have fairly blunt points, capped with metal."
Warren examined one of the arrows. They looked wicked enough.
"These are target arrows. Well, as I said, I took a position about one hundred and fifty yards from them, where I could just hear what they said. Then I let the first arrow fly."
"Did you aim at one of them?"
"No, sir," Beckwith chuckled. "I aimed so the arrow would pass close to them, then shoot beyond across the clearing. They couldn't see the arrow in that dim light."
"Well, did you ever hear an arrow whizz by your ear?"
"No, I didn't."
"It makes a peculiar sound, especially at night. Like a whining noise. And the first arrow I shot caused one of the three?a stocky young fellow, not Feeble ?"
"Yes. It caused Barton almost to jump out of his skin. I could hear him say, 'what in thunder was that?'"
Beckwith laughed at the recollection.
"I waited until he had calmed down a little," he continued, "and let another one ride. This time I thought Barton was going to have a fit. 'Ghosts!' he yelped. The others tried to quiet him, but I could tell from the way their voices shook that they weren't any too brave about it themselves. So I let ride a third arrow."
The big man put his hands on his hips and fairly roared.
"They all thought it was ghosts by this time," he said, wiping his eyes, "but they didn't know which way to run! Of course they couldn't tell where those whizzing things were coming from ?the twang of a bow doesn't make much noise, you know. So they all started off in different directions, then changed their minds, and ran back again to where they were originally. Before they had time to collect themselves I shot again, and this time it was a circus!"
He rocked back on his heels with laughter. "They ran into one another," he gasped, "and started fighting. I guess they thought someone else had attacked them. Finally they broke loose and started to run through the woods. I saw Peeble? he was the oldest, as nearly as I could tell?and I aimed as close as I could to him. It was a bit too close, I guess, for he grabbed the seat of his trousers and let out a yell!"
Warren joined in the laugh. He could imagine Peeble loping through the woods, stumbling over rocks and brush, holding the place where the arrow struck him.
"He wasn't really hurt," Beckwith said. "No man could run like that and be hurt. Then I let one more shot go for luck, and heard the departure of the desperate men who shoot at cabin windows."
He chuckled again, and poured Warren a second cup of coffee.
"I haven't had so much fun since Jim Harrison's party," he said. "There was a time! It was six years ago ?"
There came a sudden interruption of voices.
Terry and Martin stood at the door of the cabin. They gazed at Warren with wide eyes, for he sat at the table eating as though nothing unusual had occurred since he left them.
"Come in, friends," Beckwith said politely. "Have you had breakfast?"
"No?I mean yes," Martin stammered. "Wawa ?how did you get here?we've been almost crazy ?"
"And we saw Jake this morning, and he's on his way up the outlet to Shadow Lake!" Terry exclaimed.
CHAPTER XXIII A Strange Cry
THE tale of Warren's adventures was told quickly, and, it must be admitted, a bit incoherently. Mr. Beckwith sat quietly, listening, gazing at the boys in turn. In his face was something akin to admiration. He liked these three young boatsmen.
Terry and Martin had not much to tell. They had slept little during the night, arising at each slightest sound in hopes that it was Warren returning. With the morning they decided to take the boat up the stream, slowly, calling frequently.
"Boy, we were plenty worried," Martin admitted. "And last night, when we saw the carcass of a deer ?"
"I saw it killed," Warren said. "What a battle, while it lasted!"
"I would have given much to have seen that," Beckwith declared. "In all the time I've been here, I've never seen a mountain lion.'
"Have you been here long?" Terry asked.
"Four years," Beckwith answered quietly.
"Four years!" Martin exclaimed.
"Just about." And then the man told the two boys how he came to build the cabin.
"Four years, all alone!" Terry said. "How did you stand it?"
"I liked it. But I'm beginning to think that now I've regained my health?it would be interesting to return to the civilization I left behind me."
He gazed off into space, and Martin thought, as he watched Beckwith's eyes, that civilization was not the only thing that the man had left behind. But he asked no questions. He did not wish to intrude upon this privacy.
"Where's the boat?" Warren asked, after a moment.
"Not far from here," Terry replied. "It was just luck that we decided to go ashore here, and have a look around. We saw Jake's boat ahead of us, and we waited until it was out of sight. But we'll have to hurry, because they've already got a good head-start!?
"There is another way to Shadow Lake," Beckwith said slowly. "A little above this, the stream branches off. The main stream goes in a roundabout way to the lake. The branch goes straight. The only difficulty is that the branch is narrow, and shallow."
"We can make it all right," Martin exclaimed.
"Our boat doesn't draw any more than a rowboat, when we raise the motor."
"Fine!" Bcckwith approved. "Then I'll show you just where that branch is. Are you ready to leave now?"
"All set," Warren declared. "But I want you to know, Mr. Beckwith, how much I appreciate all you've done for me. If it hadn't been for you ?"
"Nonsense!" the big man laughed. "You'd have made out all right. I've been watching you and your friends. I can tell the type of boys you are. It would take a good deal to get you down. Well, shall we be on our way?"
"You bet!" Martin cried. "Will you come part of the way with us, Mr. Beckwith?"
"Just to the branch outlet. As I told Finn, here, I'm going to let you forge for yourselves. And if you see any ghosts ?"
They could not tell whether he was joking them or not. He seemed serious enough.
"The kind that Jake saw last night?" Warren asked, laughing.
"No, not that kind," Beckwith said soberly. "But we'll let that go now. Come on. Show me where you have the boat."
The three boys and their friend walked through the woods about a mile and a half to the stream, where they had beached the Watermar. When Beckwith saw it he voiced his admiration at the cleverness of the chums in constructing the "cabin."
"Makes a right tidy sleeping place,? he declared.
The covering was down, for the weather was clear, and soon the four were chugging up the stream.
"Sure is good to be back aboard," Warren sighed.
"And believe me, it's good to have you back!" Terry burst out. "We had a pretty tough time of it last night, let me tell you!"
They showed Beckwith how the craft ran, and he played engineer and helmsman for a time, pleased as a child over a new toy. It was the first outboard motor he had ever seen. Of course they had them before he took up his home in the woods, but he had never run across one. Then, too, four or five years ago the outboard motors were not in the state of perfection that the one carried by the Watermar boasted.
"How do you raise the motor?" Beckwith wanted to know.
Martin showed him.
"That's great," the man said enthusiastically. "There are places in the branch outlet where that little feature will come in handy. Now, watch carefully, and I'll show you where it is. It's easy to miss, unless you keep a sharp lookout."
They went along for half an hour more, and suddenly Beckwith pointed ahead.
"Sec that big tree there?"
"Yep," Terry declared. "The willow tree?"
"Yes. That marks the branch. It's only about as wide as this boat?maybe a little wider. The entrance is deep enough, I think, for you to leave the motor down. But further along it gets shallow?there are uneven spots in the bottom, and rocks."
"We'll be careful," Martin said. "I wish you'd come with us, Mr. Beckwith."
"To Shadow Lake?" and he smiled. "No thanks. I've got to get back. Someone may be waiting to see me."
"You mean you have visitors?" Terry inquired.
"Well, I had a few last night, didn't I?"
"Yes, but I mean other people?"
"Well, you never can tell," Beckwith said humorously. "Like the man who lived alone and wore nothing but a bathing suit and a silk hat. One day a man stumbled accidentally upon his place. 'What's the idea of the bathing suit?' the visitor asked. 'Oh,' said the man, 'no one ever comes to see me.' 'Then why the silk hat?' the visitor persisted. 'Well,I said the man, 'somebody might drop in!"
They laughed heartily at the joke.
"I'm like that man," said Beckwith. "Somebody might drop in I"
Slowly they approached the branch of the main outlet.
"Swing her sharp!" Beckwith called.
Terry, who was steering, obeyed. The next moment they found themselves in a narrow stream, which, nevertheless, flowed strongly into the main stream.
"Here's where I get off," Beckwith declared. "Just run close to shore, and I'll make it without you stopping."
"We can't help but run close to shore," Warren laughed. "The banks are certainly narrow. Jake's boat could never make this. And you say, Mr. Beckwith, that this goes right into Shadow Lake?"
"Straight as the crow flies," the man returned. "You'll save six or seven miles this way."
"Then we might beat Jake there after all," Terry exclaimed. "I sure hope so!"
Beckwith was standing up, and suddenly he sprang. The boat scarcely lurched, so nimble was he. For all his great body, he was thoroughly graceful.
"So long, boys!" he called. "And the best of luck! I'll be here when you get back!"
"So long, Mr. Beckwith! And thanks, a thousand times!"
He waved, and then, turning, disappeared into the woods. He was out of sight in a moment.
"Golly, that man is just like an Indian," Terry cried in admiration. "I'll bet he knows these woods like a book."
"He does," Warren affirmed. "I'd like to see him shoot with the bow and arrow. He sure did me a favor."
"He did us all a favor," Martin corrected. "We met some fine people so far. Larry and Tildy, and now Mr. Beckwith."
"Imagine a university professor, living alone in the woods!" Terry exclaimed.
"He had to, for his health," Warren said.
"He looks as though he never had a sick day in his life," Terry stated. "I wish I were as husky as he is."
"I saw him bend a heavy poker with his hands," Warren declared, "and then straighten it again. And not a muscle in his face moved."
"My gosh," Martin gasped. "That's something to do. If Peeble ran into him, I'll bet he'd be sorry."
"But he wouldn't say much about Shadow Lake," Warren said. "And he pulled some stuff about ghosts?said I'd believe in 'em after I got to Shadow Lake. Wonder what he meant by that?"
"Just seeing if you scared easily," Martin said briefly.
"No, I don't think so. There was something else behind the remark. I'd like to know what it was."
"You'll know soon enough," Terry broke in. "Say, notice how the trees grow nearer together here?"
"Yeah, and they bend close to the water, too," Warren added. "Makes it sort of dark, doesn't it?"
"Dark, and uncanny," Terry shuddered.
As he spoke, there sounded a long, drawn-out cry, that was not the cry of a four-footed animal, and which rose and fell and trembled off into silence.
CHAPTER XXIV The Water Moccasin
WHAT in the name of Pete was that?" Warren gasped.
"Oh?just a?some animal ?" Terry stammered, and gazed about him fearfully. "I guess it was a blue-jay."
"Not in a million years was that a blue-jay," Martin declared. "Blue-jays don't have human voices."
"Why do you think it was a human cry?" Warren demanded.
"Well, didn't it sound like one?"
"Yeah, it did, but more like the scream of a crazy man. Maybe Beckwith was just trying to scare us. I ?"
Again came the cry, but this time half-uttered. It rose and ceased suddenly on an up note, as though it were choked off.
"Blue-jay," said Terry, and laughed uncertainly.
'"Yeah, blue-jay," Warren repeated. "Let it go at that. Watch it, Terry! There's a rock ?"
Terry swung the boat over just in time. There wasn't much room to manoeuver, for the banks pressed close together, and the current was strong. By this very virtue of swift flowing water a fairly deep channel had been dug out. Thus far there was no danger of the propeller striking, but Martin was sitting in the rear, ready to hoist it up at the first sign of shoal water.
Unconsciously the three were waiting, listening for a repetition of that weird cry. It seemed to have come from ahead of them, but so vacillating was it that the actual location was impossible to determine.
In silence they traveled a distance up the stream, gazing at the thick woods on either side of the water. Bushes grew close to the edge, and green, lush grass trailed in the water.
"What time is it?" Warren asked suddenly.
Martin consulted the watch?the timepiece which had stood them in good stead on their former trip to Mystery Island.
"Twelve-thirty," he announced.
"Well," Terry said, "what say we eat?"
The suggestion met with unanimous approval. They chose a spot that appeared a bit wider than the rest of the stream and while Terry steered close to the shore Warren, painter in hand, leaped to the bank.
Terry had stopped the motor, and Warren took several turns about a stump with the rope, to prevent the boat from drifting backward.
They took the food out of the locker and cleared a place among the tall grass to seat themselves.
Terry had opened the jar of peanut butter and the jelly, and the adventurers settled down to a light lunch. There were several canteens filled with water which had been placed in the boat for emergencies, and they drank this, for they didn't care to chance drinking the water of the stream.
"I'd like to catch a water moccasin," Warren said, when they had finished eating.
"For the love of Pete, what for?" Martin exclaimed. "What would you do with it?"
"Take it back," Warren said simply.
"Not with me in the boat, you wouldn't," Terry snorted.
"We could put him in a bag. In fact we could use the cover we have for the engine?the one Mr. Winston gave us."
"If you don't mind," Terry said, with a slight shudder, "we'll leave snakes alone this trip. Especially these water moccasins. We didn't bring any snake-bite remedies with us, you know."
"Wish we had," Warren said. "Boy, I'd like to catch a water moccasin!"
His enthusiasm distinctly was not shared by the others, but by one of those peculiar strokes of fate they saw a moccasin before they had been on their way ten minutes.
A log was lying near the bank, and Terry, steering, was trying to avoid it when Warren uttered a cry.
"Look! On the log!"
The others followed his gesture. There, on the gnarled tree-branch that floated in the water, which was held against the stream by creepers growing around it, was a huge moccasin. As the boat came nearer the snake opened his mouth widely, and the boys could see the white membrane coating within which gives the reptile the name "cotton-mouth." The forked tongue shot out and the fangs were visible.
"Holy mackerel," Terry gasped. "Let's get out of here!"
"He won't attack," Warren almost shouted. "Get nearer, Terry!"
"Not for a million bucks!" Terry responded.
But the stream was narrow here, and he could not avoid coming close to the log?almost scraping it, in fact.
"He'll climb into the boat!" Martin gasped.
"Let's have that pole, Wawa! Quick! Or the oar??
"He won't climb into the boat," Warren said as calmly as he could, for he himself was excited. The snake certainly looked vicious, and as yet made no move toward escape.
"Shall 1 cut the motor?" Terry asked.
"Not yet?just slow down!" Warren exclaimed. "Baby, if I only had a snake-pole-?bet I could slip the noose around that bozo as easy as pie!"
As he spoke the snake closed and opened his mouth once again. Evidently he had been disturbed in the midst of a nap. But now, with this last show of defiance, the reptile glided smoothly into the water without the slightest splash. So sudden was his disappearance that the boys sat breathlessly watching the log.
"He's gone," Terry said in a flat voice.
"And good riddance!" Martin declared.
"Wish we had had a snake-pole," Warren said again. "That would have been a swell catch."
"Listen," Terry began, turning about to stare at Warren. "If you don't mind, let's not talk about water moccasins any more. They might hear us."
He was joking, of course, but Martin could not help but feel a thrill go through him. Not twenty minutes ago they were talking of a cotton-mouth, and one of them appeared. The incident served to increase the eerie atmosphere of the place. This was, indeed, a strange section of the country.
"Mystery Lake," he mused aloud. "We should be nearly there now." He dipped his hand in the water, then, remembering the snake, pulled it back quickly.
"Warm water," he said briefly.
Farther and farther up the narrow stream they went. Except for the chugging of the motor, all was silent. There were no cries of birds, and the weird sound they had heard earlier was not repeated?for which they were thankful.
Then they came upon a place where the water was so shallow that it was necessary to shut off the engine and raise the propeller, which was done simply by depressing the handle. They used oars to pole themselves past the spot, and the boat grated over mud and submerged logs.
"Jake's boat would never make that," Warren remarked.
"I wish he had tried to get up this stream," Terry added. "He'd be stuck properly. Then we'd have Shadow Lake all to ourselves."
Once past the shoal, they moved faster. The outlet widened, and Terry put on full power. The air appeared to be getting warmer, and there was a humid closeness that seemed to press upon them.
"Can't be far now," Martin said.
Even as he spoke they saw ahead of them an opening in the trees and tall grasses that bordered the stream. The dim light, for the direct rays of the sun were cut off by the thick forest, grew stronger. It was like coming out of a cellar into the brightness of day.
Five minutes later the boat poked its nose into the calm, oily looking water that was Shadow Lake.
"We're here," Martin said simply.
The others did not speak. They were silenced by the scene before them.
CHAPTER XXV Misty White Shapes
DESOLATION! A great lake, dotted with coves, from which arose a thin haze. Glassy water; a mirror which seemed to image things not from without, but from within. Green, motionless weeds and grass on all sides, and trees which appeared to droop despondently. Over all a humid atmosphere, which the bright sun above was unable to dissipate.
That was Shadow Lake.
Terry, almost unconsciously, throttled the motor to a low chug, chug, chug. Any louder noise would violate this gloomy sanctuary. Scarcely a breath of air stirred.
"Golly, what a spot,? Martin breathed.
Warren was standing up in the boat, gazing about vaguely. It was hard for him to accustom himself to this strange place.
Then Terry laughed, a peculiar, forced laugh, and the others stared at him.
"What's that about?" Martin demanded.
"I was thinking," Terry replied, "that if there are such things as ghosts, here is where we'd find 'em."
Warren frowned. "Don't talk nonsense," he said.
"Right. I won't. But this gives me the jitters."
"Me, too," Warren admitted. "But what of it? We didn't come here expecting to find a summer resort"
"No, but ?" Terry began, then shrugged his shoulders. "Anyhow, we're here. And it looks as though we've beaten Jake."
Martin swept the lake with his glance. No living thing was to be seen. Yet there were many coves in which a fairly large boat could hide, and at the part of the lake farthest away from them was an arm or inlet which curved out of sight.
"See that?" he asked, pointing, "A perfect hiding place. And there are plenty of others around this lake."
"You mean Jake may have gotten here before us?" Warren asked.
"It's possible. Now listen. We can't waste a lot of time of wondering about Jake or anything else, for that matter. We've got to begin a systematic search of this picnic ground. I suggest we start at the right, and work our way around. From the size of the lake that'll take us a week, anyway? probably two weeks. We want to spend some time in the likeliest looking spots."
"Such as?" Terry demanded.
"Well, such as deep coves. An animal probably wouldn't make his home in the middle of the lake. He'd hole up in a place that was well protected, in winter especially."
"Doesn't look as though there ever was any winter here," Warren commented.
"You're right. I can't imagine those trees covered with snow, although I suppose they must be, sometimes. Look, Terry! See that cove there, on the right?about half a mile up?"
"Let's head for there. Go as close to the shore as you can. It looks fairly deep. Any objections to that plan?"
Terry and Warren shook their heads.
"O. K. by me," Terry agreed. "I'll put on a little more power. Now that I'm getting more used to this place ?"
As he spoke he advanced the throttle, and immediately their troubles began. The motor began to labor, and then stopped completely. Warren glanced over the side.
"We're not stirring up any mud," he said, puzzled. "What the mischief ?"
Martin was in the stern, and he reached down and pulled up a handful of long grass.
"Prop is fouled," he said shortly.
Terry by this time had cut the ignition. He joined Martin in the rear.
"What are we going to do about it?" he inquired ruefully.
"Why, clear it!" Warren exclaimed. "Bring it up, Mart. I'll get a knife. We can cut those grasses off."
Martin depressed the motor handle and the propeller came into view. It was literally choked with the water weeds.
While he held the screw in that position, Warren went to work with a heavy knife. In five minutes he had removed the grass.
"Jiminy," he said when he had completed his task, "it looks as though we'd have to row around the lake!"
Martin nodded his head slowly. "Sure does." he said in a low voice. "That's not so good. It will take us a long time to do that."
"Maybe the grass only grows near shore," Terry said hopefully. "Shall we try it farther out?"
"Might as well," Martin declared. "We'll pole for a ways, then try the motor again."
He and Warren each took an oar and attempted to push the Watermar out, but the oars found no purchase. They sank through the grass with scarcely any resistance.
"Row, row, row," Terry snickered. "All out, men, for the big crew race."
The oars were placed in the oarlocks, with which the boat was provided, and Martin and Warren settled down to their labors. Slowly the boat moved out toward the center of the lake. It was difficult going, for the grasses became entangled on the blades of the oars. But finally they got into deeper water, and the oars were laid in the boat.
"Now," said Terry. "Let's try it again."
Martin started the motor, and they all waited to see if it would clear the grass. It did, and Terry set up a shout of exultation.
He was answered from the shore. A long drawn out, wavering cry, like the one they heard coming up the stream, sounded.
The boys looked at each other.
"Blue jay," said Terry.
"Yeah, blue jay," Warren repeated.
Neither believed what he said.
"Baloney!" Martin exploded suddenly. "Whatever it is, it's not going to scare us off! Come out here, you!" he shouted.
Silence. Deep, dead silence.
"Oh, well," Martin muttered. He was just a bit ashamed of his outburst. "Come on, let's get over toward the cove. Stay away from the shore until we're opposite the cove, Terry, then we'll row in."
The boat cut through the water, leaving a trail of small waves that looked like ripples in a pond of oil. The three boys sat without talking. Nearer and nearer the cove they came, and when they were some two hundred yards off shore, the propeller fouled again. Terry cut the motor.
"Get the knife out," Martin said wearily. "We row from here in."
They cut the grasses from the screw, and kept the motor out of water entirely by catching the handle about a loop of wire, holding it down. Terry and Warren took their places at the oars.
"Right into the cove?" Warren asked.
"Why not?" Terry demanded.
"All right?I just thought I'd ask."
The oars made little sucking noises as they dipped in and out of the water. Gradually the boat approached the indentation in the shore line, and here it was so shallow that the grasses reached the surface.
"Which way?" Terry asked Martin, who was gazing ahead.
"A little to the right?that's it. Now?a couple of hefty strokes?good stuff!"
The prow of the boat grounded. They were within the cove.
Warren looked around, and then gave a start.
"What?what's that?" he asked shakily, pointing to the water a short distance from the boat. "It looks like some animal?breathing beneath the surface!"
As they looked a great bubble surged upward, and burst with a belch of mud.
"That's no animal," Terry said quickly. "It's a spring?I'll bet it's one of the hot springs!"
He dipped his hand in the lake. "Warm," he declared triumphantly. "Warm as soup!"
"Say, it's plenty hot in this boat," Martin exclaimed. "Seems to be hotter here in the cove than on the lake."
The place where the boat was beached was about a quarter of a mile wide, and about that distance in from the lake proper. The nose of the Watermar was poked into lush grass. Beyond this grew cattails and brush, and then the forest.
"Going ashore?" Warren inquired.
"Why not?if it's solid," Martin replied. "In fact this looks like a good place to spend the night. It must be nearly six o'clock." He looked at the watch. "After six," he announced. "Unless this clock is cock-eyed. I've tried to keep it wound. I think it's nearly correct"
"I vote for a hot meal," Terry exclaimed. "We can set the stove up in the boat, cook some bacon and warm some beans. How does that sound?"
"It sounds to me," Warren approved. "Rustle it up, boys. I'll get out the stove."
He set it up in the bow, away from the gasoline tank and spare cans. Plates were placed on the seats, and the idea of going ashore was abandoned. In half an hour the meal was ready. Coffee was prepared with lake water, which, when boiled, would be safe enough to drink.
"Now, by jingo!" Terry cried. "Nothing is going to interrupt my meal?ghosts, or monsters, or anything else!"
He ladled a forkful of beans in his mouth, and patted his stomach in the world-wide gesture of gastronomic delight.
"Gug," he mumbled. "Bessa ever tay-sed."
"What in Pete's name is that?Arabic?" Martin laughed.
"I mean it's the best I ever tasted," Terry explained, having swallowed. "Just hits the spot."
It was growing dusk now, although the setting sun cast red rays upon the lake, making it appear a pond of fire. Within the cove darkness would come earlier, for the trees cut off the light.
Instead of getting cooler, it appeared to grow warmer. Perhaps it was simply because the adventurers were drinking hot coffee, but in any event they felt the closeness of the atmosphere.
"Wish I could go for a swim," Warren sighed.
"I wouldn't advise it," Martin warned.
"Oh, don't worry?I won't. I just wish I could, that's all."
They finished the meal in silence. Terry raised his arms above his head to stretch, when his eyes caught something that made him gasp. The others swung about.
What they saw made them gasp. Just beyond the cove, at the edge of the lake, three misty, white shapes arose from the water. Tall, willowy shapes, that were human and yet inhuman.
They swayed from side to side, in a grotesque, horrible dance.
CHAPTER XXVI The Mystery Deepens
THE revolver, "Little Mike," still was in Warren's pocket. The motion which brought it out was purely involuntary.
Terry, for all his shocked surprise at the apparitions, put a hand on Warren's arm.
"Wait!" he breathed. "Don't shoot?that won't do any good!"
It was with some astonishment that Warren realized he held the gun. He replaced it in his pocket and stared at the weaving shapes.
"What is it?what is it?" he stuttered.
"They seem to be waving to us?motioning us toward them!" Terry said shakily. "They're not human?they can't be! On the water like that? but I can see something that looks like a face ?"
Martin was leaning forward, his figure tense.
"Wraiths?of some kind?" he muttered. "A trick ?"
The white, eerie forms were about seven feet high, and seemed to change their shapes as they moved, growing smaller and then increasing in stature. Suddenly two of them joined into one thick, swaying pillar of white, then separated.
"Did you see that?" Terry cried. "What in the name of ?"
Behind them was the red lake, glowing with the colors of the descending sun. It was like the backdrop in a theater, upon the stage of which a scene of horror was being played.
"They're going away," Martin said hoarsely. "They're disappearing?look, they're fading out!"
The three forms seemed to melt into the water. For a moment the surface of the lake was covered with a lacy mist. Then they were gone?into the element from which they arose.
Martin sank back upon a seat. His breath was coming fast. Terry and Warren gazed at each other in fright. To all of them came the words of Beckwith?"you'll believe in ghosts when you visit Shadow Lake." Ghosts! Impossible! But ?
"We really saw them, didn't we?" Terry quavered. "It wasn't just imagination?"
"We saw 'em all right," Warren said grimly. His courage was returning rapidly, as was the case with the others. "The point is, what were they?"
"How did they look to you?" Martin asked suddenly, turning to Warren.
"They looked like three very tall women, in some flimsy stuff," the boy said slowly. "And they were waving what looked like their arms, draped in long sleeves. I didn't see any face, like Terry said he saw. Oh, the whole thing is crazy!"
"Sure it's crazy!" Terry agreed vehemently. "Ghosts?hooey!"
"But what were they?" Warren insisted.
They looked again toward the spot where the apparitions had disappeared. The surface of the water was calm and clear.
"Some natural phenomenon," Martin muttered. "I can't quite figure it out, but this is such a strange place?things are liable to happen here that we can't account for immediately. But I'll bet there's some explanation for what we just saw-?there must be!"
"Yeah, there must be," Terry echoed. His words were like a small boy whistling as he goes past a graveyard?to keep his courage up.
"Shall we row out there?and have a look?" Martin asked quickly. "To see if there's anything ??
"Right where we saw the?things?" Warren inquired softly.
"Yep?right where we saw them!"
"All right!" Terry exclaimed. "We'll do just that?and if it's some trick of Jake's ?"
"It can't be a trick of Jake's," Martin said decidedly. "It would be impossible."
"Well, he's got a circus man with him?they know how to pull a fake spiritualistic seance, I'll bet," Terry advanced. "I've read of it being done. They're so clever at it that they can't be detected, unless by someone who knows the trick."
"That might be all right in a darkened room," Martin argued, "but not on a lake. I don't think that was a trick."
"That's what we'll have to find out! Come on, let's row over there?and if they come up again, we'll ask them if they want some coffee!"
"Or ham and eggs!" Warren continued. "Out with the oars?let's see if they've got nerve enough to put on their little act for the second time!"
In a fever of excitement the boys rowed out from the shore to the spot where the white forms arose. As they neared the place they were conscious of wildly beating hearts. They could pretend to each other that they were not frightened, but not to themselves.
"There it is?right there!" Martin cried. Terry, who was rowing, jerked around.
"Again?you see 'em again ?" he stuttered, and then saw that Martin simply meant the place where the apparition occurred. He nodded, and changed his course a bit.
Now they were over the exact spot, as nearly as they could determine. Yet there was nothing unusual to be seen. Simply the surface of the water, smooth and placid.
Terry dug an oar as deeply as he could. It did not touch bottom. But when he felt of the wet wood, it was quite warm?almost hot, in fact, and tiny wisps of steam arose.
"Here's one of the hot springs," he announced. "Those ghosts?I mean whatever it was we saw? must take hot baths."
Martin and Warren laughed loudly. Too loudly. More whistling past a cemetery.
"Well," Martin said after a few moments, "we can't stay out here all night. We've got to get ready for bed."
"Where will we sleep?" Warren wanted to know.
"In the boat, of course!"
"Yeah, but I mean, where will we anchor the boat?"
"Right in the cove!"
The others looked at him. Then Warren nodded.
"There's no reason why we shouldn't," he said determinedly. "We can anchor it a short distance from shore and be well protected from any animal that feels like investigating us."
They rowed back to their former place, and a few yards off shore threw out the anchor, shortening the rope so that the boat would not drift. Then they prepared for sleep. It was decided not to set a watch, for Martin said he was a light sleeper and would awaken at the slightest sound.
Surprising as it was, they all had a good night's rest. It took them some time to get asleep, for they were apprehensive over alarms, but nothing occurred. Nor did they hear that wavering, half-human cry, though they expected it at any time.
Just as when one says, "I know I'm not going to sleep tonight," and he does sleep, so the three adventurers slumbered peacefully through the star-lit night. The very fact of them taking for granted the possibility of a wakeful night, filled with all sorts of terrors, appeared to relieve their minds of anxiety, and before they knew it the morning sun was warming the air. They had put up the canvas cabin as an additional protection against things that crawled or flew, and Martin, who was the first one awake, put it down and called to the others.
"You birds would sleep through an explosion," he exclaimed. "Come on, hit the deck?I want breakfast!"
This last call aroused them quickly. The morning meal was prepared, and after the dishes were cleaned up they laid plans for their search.
By a unanimous vote it was decided to abandon this cove and head for the next, a few miles along the shore. Terry wanted to investigate the indentation on the opposite side, but the other two persuaded him this would keep.
All that day they searched carefully, rowing into coves that were too shallow for the motor, examining the banks for traces of a large animal. They found nothing. Nor, that evening, did the three forms make their appearance again. An uneventful night followed, and the search continued the next day.
Although they kept a sharp lookout for Jake and his friends they saw nothing of them. For five days the boys cruised about the lake, vainly. They were becoming a bit discouraged. It seemed that, after all, the monster of Shadow Lake was a myth. There wasn't any such thing. It was a waste of time for them to have come all this way just because a crazy circus man heard a story.
Then, in the late afternoon of the sixth day, it happened.
CHAPTER XXVII Hit by the Monster
THEY were lying at anchor near, but not within, a small cove a short distance from the main outlet of the lake. Of Jake or his companions they had seen or heard nothing. It was a lazy afternoon, the usual haze seeming a bit thicker, the sun a burnished ball hanging in the sky.
The three friends were resting after a late lunch. The morning had been strenuous. Several times they were forced to cut grass from the propeller, until they abandoned the use of the engine entirely and rowed. This, in the weed-infested coves, was hard work. To add to their troubles a swarm of some sort of stinging flies, or gnats, settled on the boat and gave the boys a drab hour before they winged on their way.
Thus it was that the temptation to loll about and do nothing for a while was irresistible.
The boat was near enough to the shore to take advantage of the shade of the trees, for while a haze obscured the bright rays of the sun it did not greatly decrease its burning power. The canvas cabin was folded up, and the three boys were lying indolently on the cots stretched across the seats of the boat.
The lake was unruffled by any breeze. It lay like a dead thing, entirely motionless. Not the tiniest ripple disturbed its placid surface.
Not a ripple? What was that, then, at the mouth of the cove?
The eyes of the three boys were closed. They did not sec the break in the glass-like surface, a crack in the smooth expanse that widened into many cracks, and then became an actual disturbance.
Something was swimming beneath the water.
Not a sound it made, nor did it rise above the surface far enough to see what it was. Like a submarine with the top of the periscope just cutting the waterline it moved slowly, and somehow majestically, out from the cove and toward the boat. In its wake were little waves that quickly flattened and joined the calm stillness of the lake. Onward came the thing, moving in a straight line, toward the Watermar.
Now it went even more slowly. Its course changed a bit, so that instead of approaching the boat from the bow it came for it amidships. Still the boys drowsed, unaware of the nearness of this sub-surface monster.
A few feet from the boat it hesitated, stopping completely, for the ripples died away and the lake was placid once more. Would it submerge entirely, and disappear, or would it show itself?
Suddenly the movement began again. This time there appeared to be a certain decisiveness to the motion. It was much faster, almost, in fact, furious. The ripples were larger, becoming small waves.
Only a few feet from the boat. Would it swerve just in time, or ?
The peculiar noise it made as it struck the boat cannot be described in words. It was as though a heavy log had been driven with terrific force against the bottom of the craft?not the end of the log, but the side of the log. It made a crunching sound, and the Watermar heeled over, throwing the boys from the cots. Terry and Martin, rudely awakened, made desperate grabs for the side, and succeeded in holding themselves in.
But Warren was not so fortunate. He rolled right over the gunwale and before he could so much as yell he was in the water.
For a moment his head was under, then it bobbed to the surface. Warren was an excellent swimmer. But even a Weismuller, tossed into the water half asleep, would splutter and splash as did Warren. He couldn't figure out what happened.
"Wha?wha?ugh ?" he gasped, and then his clutching fingers found the bow of the boat. He hung there, on his face a look of comical surprise and dismay.
Terry gazed at him with wide open eyes.
"Hey!" he yelled. "What you doing there? What hit us? My golly, I was almost asleep, and ?"
"Pull me up!" Warren exclaimed. "Get me out of here!"
Martin leaped toward him. He seized his arms, and with Terry helping Warren was yanked, sprawling, into the boat. He sat there, gasping for breath, looking at the other two, then staring out at the now undisturbed surface of the lake.
"Which one of you birds," he demanded, "threw me out?"
"Threw you out!" Martin echoed. "No one threw you out! I was almost thrown overboard myself! What in the name of Pete happened?"
"Me too!" Terry cried. "I just grabbed the side in time! Say, did Jake sneak up and ?"
"He couldn't have! He'd have to swim out to do it. And we'd see him, sure. Look, there's nothing around?not a sign of anything, either in the lake or on shore!"
He gazed intently at the lake. And then he grabbed Terry's arm excitedly.
"Look?look?out there! See it? In the water ?over there ?"
They followed his pointing finger. A few yards away they could see something ponderous moving just below the surface. Only for a moment did they see it. Then it disappeared, and the lake was smooth again.
'That's what did it!" Martin shouted. "That's the monster! It hit us! Come on, up with that anchor?I'll start the motor 1"
He tumbled to the stern and while Warren, soaking wet as he was, pulled in the anchor Martin jerked the starting cord.
The engine responded immediately. Terry took the wheel, and swung the boat about.
"There?steer for that spot!" Martin exclaimed. "Straight ahead?now a little to the left ?"
Terry opened the throttle wide. The boat cut through the water, toward the place where they had seen the disturbance. Now it was over the spot.
"Slow down a little!" Warren suggested. "Let's look around here!"
"I'll cruise in a circle," Terry said excitedly. "Boy, that was plenty big?whatever hit us! Lucky it didn't stove a hole in the boat!"
With eager eyes boys searched the water. They saw nothing. Not the slightest trace of what had hit the craft could they find.
"Do you think it was a shark?" Terry asked. "Shark my eye!" Warren scoffed. "Sharks are salt water fish. But it was awful big, whatever it was. Threw me right out?and am I glad it didn't decide to take a bite at me while I was in the water! That's what I was afraid of!"
"If it was an alligator ?"
"Then I'm doubly lucky," Warren said grimly. "Say, I'm going to take these clothes off."
"He must have come from that cove," Martin decided. "By Golly, I'll bet we found the place where he lives! Now we've got something to work on! Let's go nearer shore?I'd hate to be tipped over out here, if that thing is a 'gator."
Terry steered toward the cove, then thought it would be better to avoid it and go to one side. This he did. Warren changed into a pair of dry trousers and a shirt?for the boys wore scanty clothing during the warm days?and held the anchor poised. When the boat was about ten yards off shore he dropped the anchor and Terry cut the motor.
"Baby, what an adventure!" Martin burst out. "There is a monster, all right, and he doesn't fool!"
"And there's something else that's real," Warren said grimly. The others gazed at him questioningly. He pointed toward the main outlet, a few miles away. "Take a look," he added.
They did. A large craft was moving out into the lake.
"That, my friends, is Jake, et al.," Warren declared calmly.
CHAPTER XXVIII The Monster Caught
THOSE in the Watermar were in a splendid position to see the other craft without being seen. They were partly concealed by a jutting point of land on one side of the cove, and it was shadowy where the Watermar was anchored. Thus they were satisfied that Jake and his friends had small chance of observing them.
"Do you suppose he's coming in this direction?" Terry asked.
"Hope not," Warren declared. "We want this cove to ourselves. Baby, think of capturing the thing that hit our boat! Wouldn't that make some pet!"
They watched Jake's craft and saw that it was turning east, away from them. In half an hour it was out of sight.
"Now we've got the jump on him!" Martin exclaimed delightedly. "Gang, we've got a swell chance here, and we're going to take it! Let's go right into the cove. I've got an idea!"
"Do you think the monster ?" Terry began and Martin interrupted with:
"He's not at home. Didn't he just bump into us as he went by? Come on, I want to look at the shore around that cove!"
They pulled up the anchor and rowed slowly into the scooped-out portion of the shore line. It was dank and close there, and there were several hot springs bubbling to the surface, from which thin clouds of vapor arose. In one place the shore was covered with mud, which had been thrown up by a subterranean geyser.
"That's what I want to see," Martin said eagerly, pointing to the muddy beach. "There may be ?"
"Tracks!" Warren broke in. "Golly, you may be right! Let's have a look, anyhow!"
They sent the prow of the boat into the muck on the shore, and Warren, who was barefoot, stepped overboard. He waded up the bank a short distance and then let out a yell.
"Here they are?here they are! Tracks! Look at em ?"
The others made haste to toss off their shoes and leap ashore. They bent over the soft ground with exclamations of delight.
"Here's where he hangs out, all right," Warren cried. "See, whatever it is, it has claws, and a tail?by golly, it might be an alligator at that!
No, the tail isn't long enough, I don't think. But look how those claw marks are imbedded?he must be pretty heavy, all right!"
"What do you think it could be?" Terry asked excitedly.
Warren shrugged his shoulders. "Hard to say. Just possible it's an alligator. But now we know where we can set our trap. And we better begin building it right now, too!"
"Any ideas on the subject?" Martin demanded.
"Sure I have! We'll need a heavy cage, say about six feet wide, six or eight feet long, and four feet high."
"Whew!" Terry whistled. "That's a pretty big order."
"Yeah. It's got to be made plenty strong, too, for we don't know what sort of teeth this thing has. It may be able to bite through ordinary wood. Golly, I'm glad it didn't come after me, while I was in the water! Anyhow, there's the proposition. We make the cage with a door, in one end, that raises and drops. Then we put some meat in the cage, with a string attached to it. When the monster pulls the string it springs a catch and drops the door?and there you are."
"Where?" Terry asked.
"Well, where ever the cage is. I should think it ought to be built right at the edge of the water.
We'll pile brush around it to camouflage it a little. Then all we have to do is wait."
"Come on, let's get busy," Martin suggested. "We've got two hatchets, I think, and an ax. Since you seem to know most about this thing, Wawa, you be the boss. What do we do first?"
"Cut the logs," Warren said promptly. "They want to be at least three inches in diameter. Four would be better. Then, when they're cut to right lengths, we'll wire 'em together. I've got in the boat a coil of wire I brought just for this very thing. 0. K., gang, on your horses!"
It was then about three P. M. By six-thirty they had cut only eight pieces of wood. Logs of the proportions were harder to find than they anticipated.
"We better knock off for supper," Warren sighed. "At this rate it'll take us about four or five days to build the trap."
"How about trying another part of the lake, where there are more trees?" Terry suggested. "Anyhow, wouldn't it be better to park for the night some other place, so we won't frighten that animal? If he comes home and finds us here ?"
"Right you are," Warren approved. "We'll exit. We can leave the logs we cut here, and come back tomorrow or the next day with enough to finish the job."
They got into the boat and rowed and motored to a spot about a mile off. Here they anchored, and ate. They were all pretty tired.
"I'm going to hit the hay," Terry yawned. "And those ladies of the lake?those white weavers?will have to tickle me under the chin, if they want to wake me!"
But there were no scares that night, and all slept soundly. The next day was devoted to cutting timber. They found a place where the trees were just about right for their purpose, and when night came again they had almost enough wooden bars.
"One more day, and we start building the trap," Martin said enthusiastically. "Wonder what happened to Jake?"
The others wondered the same thing, but Jake didn't appear. The following day the boys worked harder than ever, and by noon Warren decided they had sufficient wood to build the trap. They went back to the cove, and after lunch started the actual construction.
This took the better part of three days. But finally the trap was finished, and put in place. All this time they saw nothing of Jake's boat
"Now!" Martin exclaimed. "We're all set. Come home, monster, all is forgiven!"
The trap, sturdy as they could make it, was on the water's edge. The door was raised, and held up by a stick, which, when pulled out of place, allowed the door to fall. They tied a piece of wire to the stick, and instead of meat for bait they used a large lake bass, which Terry caught with a hook and line. At last all was in readiness.
"I suppose we just sit down and wait?" Terry asked, as he stood gazing at their handiwork.
"That's what," Warren agreed. "We'll park about a quarter of a mile away. I have a hunch this thing visits the cove at night. In the morning we'll see how we made out."
That night was one of the most exciting they had ever spent. None of them slept very much. They were all anxious to see if their trap had caught the monster. At sun-rise they rowed to the cove, but even at a distance they could see that the cage was empty.
"Oh, well, we can't expect to capture him the first night," Warren said philosophically. "Wait ?aren't those new tracks?"
They examined the mud carefully. Sure enough, there were fresh tracks. The beast had visited the cove during the night.
"You can see where he crawled up to the trap door, then turned around," Martin said, bending over. "We better put in a fresh fish. Maybe he's particular."
They spent several hours fishing, and this time placed three fat bass inside the cage, firmly tied to the wire.
"These ought to tempt him," Terry commented. "Let's fix the brush closer around the entrance. He may have seen the trap."
They followed his suggestion, and at six o'clock again took up their position some distance away. For supper they had broiled fish, and Terry remarked that perhaps the monster liked his fish cooked too.
"I doubt it," Warren laughed. "He's certainly a semi-aquatic animal?nice word, that?and probably eats fish as a regular diet. We'll let it go as it is."
"Funny we haven't seen more of Jake," Terry said. "He must be hiding in some other cove. Wonder if he knows where we are?"
"Don't think so," Martin replied. "We're pretty well out of sight, you know. I guess Jake is still searching."
They were sitting in the boat, gazing out at the quiet lake. It was about seven-thirty, and dusk was settling. The day had been an unusually warm one, and the boys were taking their ease.
"Maybe by this time tomorrow," Warren said,
Martin held up his hand. Back of them, in the woods, a shivering cry arose. Low at first, then higher and higher, and ended in a sorrowful wail.
"Good night," Terry muttered. "There it is again!"
"It sounds like a crazy man! I'm going to ?"
Martin rose to his feet. Just then Terry grabbed his arm.
"Look! Look! By the cove!"
With that strange scream still ringing in their ears, the boys stared at the water.
"The three shapes! Waving just like they did before! Watch out, you guys!"
Warren had the gun in his hand. A report rang out. They could see the bullet strike the water just beyond the figures. He pulled the trigger a second time, and it seemed that the shot must have gone right through the forms.
And still they danced over the water, waving, swaying.
"Don't shoot again! That won't do any good! We'll go out there now, and ?"
But before Terry could put his plan into action, the figures melted away and were gone. The three boys sat there stupefied. There came another wail, further away.
"I'm getting pretty tired of this," Warren muttered. "The whole thing is ridiculous. Some one must be playing a trick on us."
"No," Martin said slowly. "It's no trick?unless it's a trick of nature. In this half-light we imagined those things were like women, waving to us. I'll bet they were just?well, I don't exactly know. But it's not going to bother me! I'm going to sleep?and tomorrow, early, we'll see what's in the cage, ghosts or no ghosts!"
It was easy to say sleep, but harder to win it. Not until long after midnight did slumber come to the adventurers. At the first sign of light they were awake, and started for the cove.
"I don't hear anything," Terry said, as they approached the trap. "No threshing about, or ?"
"No, you may not hear anything, but I can see something!" Warren shouted. "Gang, we've caught him!"
There was something in the cage. Something huge and dark and ponderous. They could see the bulk as they came nearer.
"What is it?what in thunder ?" Martin exclaimed.
They abandoned their rowing and with oars poled closer to the trap. The sun was just peeping over the eastern horizon. Birds were awakening. A gentle breeze stirred the tree branches.
"We got him?we got him!" Warren exulted. "Boy, we win!"
Closer and closer to the trap they came.
"Can you see what it is?" Terry asked eagerly.
"Not yet?something plenty big, though!" Martin cried. "Land a little way off?we'll wade over!"
They beached the boat, and in bare feet walked carefully over the muddy bottom to the trap. Not until they were but ten feet away did they behold what they had come all the way to Shadow Lake to capture?the monster of Mystery Lake.
Within the trap, facing them, jaws open in defiance, was the largest snapping turtle they had ever seen or dreamed of. Legs spread apart, tail out stiffly behind him, his tremendous beak ready for action, the beast was a picture to strike terror into the heart of any man. His jaws were big enough to sever a broom handle?or a hand?at one bite. His wicked eyes seemed to shoot fire.
"Golly," Warren spluttered. "My golly ?"
The head of the beast was fully thirty inches in circumference, and was bright yellow. The sunken eyes, staring out at its captors, held in them a passionate hatred.
Suddenly the head lunged, and the tremendous jaws fastened on a bar of the cage. They could hear the crunching of wood. It seemed that in a very few minutes the snapping turtle, the largest and fiercest of the fresh-water species in this country, would be at liberty.
CHAPTER XXIX An Arrow in Time
THIS was a time not for exclamation or wonder at the size and ferocity of their captive, but for quick action. Those fierce jaws were grinding away at the bar of the cage, the tremendous strength of the reptile exhibited in the wood-crushing demonstration.
Warren was the first to recover from his surprise, and he seized a heavy stick. Leaping forward he struck the great head a smart blow.
"Cut it out!" he yelled at the turtle. "Get back there!"
Hissing angrily, the animal drew his head back.
"We'll have to keep him from chewing his way out," Warren exclaimed. "Have we got anything to eat in the boat?maybe we can get him a little tame. He sure is mad now."
Unlike his smaller brethren, who have a tendency to retreat into their shells at the first sign of danger, this monster was willing to try the issue with all comers. His mouth opened spasmodically, the jaws threatening anyone who came near.
"And that," Terry said in a hushed voice, "is a turtle! Not a monster out of some book of horror, but a real, genuine turtle! Gee-iminy!"
"It's the largest one I've ever seen?or I guess anyone else around these parts!" Martin cried. "Why, he must weigh close to four hundred pounds?maybe more! Can it be possible that it's the same kind of ordinary snapping turtle that grows around here?I mean maybe he was brought here from some other part of the world, and ?"
"Nope," Warren declared. "That's a snapping turtle. I think they call it the Alligator Snapping Turtle." They later found out that this was correct, and that the scientific name for the giant was Macrochelys lacertina. "Ordinarily, of course, he doesn't grow so large?about 150 pounds is his limit, I think, under ordinary conditions. But look at the place this one lives in?plenty of food, warm water, good climate?why, no wonder he grew to this size! Boy, what a circus exhibit he'll make! Because he's not just an ordinary turtle? this one would be a man-eater, I'll bet, if he got the chance!"
"And you were in the water with him," Martin exclaimed, and he shuddered slightly. "I'd just as soon bathe with an alligator!"
"Me, too," Terry agreed. "What a size he is! I suppose?there he goes at the bars again! Smack him, Wawa!"
Warren obeyed, and the turtle shrank back. Terry ran to the boat, and picked up an uncooked fish they had planned to have for breakfast. This he threw to the monster.
But the turtle wouldn't touch it. Warren explained this by suggesting that his species probably liked to eat in solitude.
"I'm going to stay here a while and try to teach him not to gnaw those bars," Warren said. "You fellows get some rope and attach the cage to the boat. We'll have to tow it across the lake, you know. It'll float all right, and so will Mr. Turtle. Then we'll have to go down the main outlet? couldn't possibly use the small stream we came up. Boy oh boy, now we can go home! And with us, the bacon!"
The others were just as enthusiastic, for to win out after all their perils meant a great satisfaction. Now they had time to examine their captive more closely, and a tremendous beast he was. His shell was chipped and broken in places, as though from conflict with other denizens of Shadow Lake, or attacks on boats. His claws were strong and heavy, sufficient to take him over the ground at a good pace. The boys figured his age at somewhere around a hundred years. It did not seem as though this was too long for the great size of the monster. Certainly he was the dean of his tribe, and, with those terrible jaws that could sever flesh and bone of all enemies, he must have been king as well. Yet he was at last a captive, and the boys rejoiced at the success of their trip.
But they were not out of the woods yet?literally and figuratively. It took them an hour to get the cage into the water and attached to the boat by a tow rope and then they started across the lake toward the outlet.
"Going home, going home," Warren sang, and then Terry struck up "Show Me The Way to go Home." It was slow traveling with the large cage behind, but the sturdy motor was equal to the task. It kept chugging away, and late in the day they reached the mouth of the outlet.
"Let's eat," Martin suggested. "We'll keep right on going. Wawa, you steer for a while, and I'll break out the food."
Warren took the wheel, and was just about to swing into the outlet, which, at this point, curved, when around the bend came a boat. And standing in the bow, steering, was Jake!
He was evidently as much surprised to see the boys as they were to see him. But this did not prevent him from swinging his craft across the path of the Watermar, effectively blocking its progress. Then Jake yelled:
"Well, how are you, boys! I see you?hey, what you got on the boat? Hey, Peeble! Al! Come up here!"
The two called stuck their heads out of the cabin. Warren, perforce, had cut the motor to prevent ramming the other craft
"Have a look!" Jake continued. "They got it? they got the monster!"
"Get out of our way!" Terry ordered. "We've stood for enough from you?out of our way!"
"Now, wait a minute, wait a minute," Peeble said softly, walking to the fore of the boat. "Let's talk this thing over." He peered carefully at the cage tied at the stern of the Watermar. It was getting dusk, but he could see the outline of the turtle's shell. "By gosh," he gasped, "a turtle, and a monster, too! So that was it! What an exhibit? say, you fellows," he continued, raising his voice menacingly. "Suppose you just cut that crate loose."
"In your hat!" Warren yelled furiously. "Move that tub out of the way!"
"Now, now ?" and of a sudden a rifle appeared in Peeble's hands. Al Barton, who now stood beside him, also held a gun.
"I say," Peeble went on, "that you'd better cut that cage loose. Then you can go on. It's too bad," and he snickered, "that you fellows will have to tell McDavitt, of Marlow and Denby, that you got licked. I can just see Packem?he'll about go nuts! Now cut that loose?quick!"
"Not for you nor any of your family!" Terry yelled.
A bullet sang past the boy's head. Automatically he ducked.
"Just to show you," Peeble said gently, "that we mean business!"
"But you can't get away with this!" Martin exclaimed wildly. "As soon as we get back we'll tell everyone that you stole the turtle from us?you can't get away with it!"
"Oh, we can't, hey?" Jake sneered. "What's to stop us? Why isn't our word as good as yours? You couldn't prove a thing?and we'd have the turtle!"
"You bet," Al Barton growled. "Cut that loose, you guys, before I come over there and climb all over you!"
"Try it!" Warren shouted. "I'll take you on any time, you big ?"
Warren's hand flew to his head. Terry and Martin sprang to his side.
"Are you hit, Wawa?did he get you ?"
"Nicked my ear," Warren said. His face was pale. Then he turned to Peeble. "So you'd turn killer," he said slowly, "for a turtle! All right?but some day ?"
Peeble laughed rudely.
"I wouldn't kill you, buddy," he chuckled. "I used to be a sharp-shooter in a circus, before I took this job. Look, I'll show you. Stand still, now. I'll just match up your ears for you."
"No?don't do that!" Jake yelled, and grabbed his arm. "We can't do anything like that?I didn't figure on ?"
"Losing your nerve?" Peeble sneered. "All right. I won't. But just the same ?"
"Hey!" Barton yelled suddenly. "What's that? Look?on the water?out there!"
He pointed, and the others in his boat started back. It was the three white figures?waving, waving, and this time moving not away from, but toward the boats!
"For the love of ?" Jake began, and they could see his face pale. At that moment there sounded that strange, eerie cry?that "e-e-e-e-e-e!" Rising to an inhuman screech, and breaking off suddenly. And the white forms were coming closer!
"It isn't anything!" Peeble shouted. "It's just some fake?look, I'll fix that!"
He fired twice. The weaving apparitions continued their grotesque dance.
"Get your gun out, Warren," Terry whispered quickly. "Maybe we can scare 'em off! Here's our chance!"
But something else intervened. In the air was a slight hissing noise. And while Terry and the others watched, an arrow, coming from a clump of trees on the shore, pinned Peeble's shoulder against the side of the cabin!
With a cry he dropped his gun and seized his shoulder. Blood was streaming down his arm. Another arrow struck into the wood of the cabin, not a foot from his head.
"Stop?stop!" he screamed. "Don't shoot again ?don't shoot! Oh, my shoulder! Barton, drop that gun?can't you see we're beaten? Don't shoot, whoever you are ?"
"All right, boys," a drawling voice said, and from the trees stepped Beckwith, another arrow fitted to the bow he held in his hand. "Guess you're not the only sharp-shooter in the outfit, Peeble! Hello, gang!" This last he addressed to Warren and the others. "Looks like I got here just in time!"
"Mr. Beckwith!" Warren shouted.
"None other. And there?" he waved toward the tall white figures, still moving about on the water, in the deepening dusk. "There you have the ghosts of Shadow Lake!"
"What are they?" Terry gasped.
"Will-o-the-wisps," Beckwith laughed. "Mist, in other words! When it gets cool, in the evening, the warm water from the springs condenses. Somehow it seems to form those three shapes? why that is, I don't know. I'll tell you more about it later. But now ?" he walked closer to the shore. "Peeble, I've heard of you before," he said sternly. "I'm going to give you a chance?a last chance. And only because it would be too much trouble to take you in.
"First, toss those guns overboard." He raised the arrow menacingly. "Quick!"
"Toss 'em," Peeble gasped. He was still transfixed to the cabin, by the skin of his shoulder and his coat. Jake, taking one look at Peeble's white face, obeyed. The guns went into the water.
"Got any more?" Beckwith demanded.
"No?only those two!" Jake muttered.
"All right. Now pull that arrow out, one of you birds. Give it a strong yank. It'll hurt a bit ?"
Barton stepped toward Peeble and grasped the arrow. He gave it a strong pull, and it came loose. Peeble sank upon the deck.
"All right. That arrow was clean?it won't do you any permanent harm, Peeble. Here." He tossed a small bottle into their boat. "Put this on the wound. It's antiseptic. Then bandage it. I'm doing more for you than you'd do to the boy you hit," and he motioned toward Warren, from whose ear a thin trickle of blood was running. The bullet had just touched it
"And now ?" Beckwith raised his voice. "Getout!"
The last words were like the crack of a whip. Jake disappeared into the cabin and Barton took the wheel. The motor of the cabin craft, which had been idling, was put in gear. Slowly the larger boat moved and veered away from the Watermar.
"Straight across the lake," Beckwith ordered.
"Don't try to follow us. If you do ?" He tapped his bow suggestively. "On your way, now!"
Steering around the Watermar, Al started across the lake. Peeble was still lying on the deck, but now he raised himself on one elbow and stared at Beckwith. Then he shook his head and muttered something. What it was they never knew.
Then Terry, with an oar, moved the Watermar close to the shore and Beckwith leaped out. He watched the boat with Jake and the others in it disappear into the mist, and, although the three dancing figures had gone by now, Barton skirted the spot where they appeared.
Then there came that awful cry. Beckwith laughed.
"That," he said, "is a parting salute. It's a loon that lives near the lake. What did I tell you boys ?something about believing in ghosts when you visited Shadow Lake, wasn't it? Well?how about it?"
They listened to the mournful wail of the loon bird die out on a long, sorrowful note.
"I'm sure glad," Martin sighed, "we found out what that was!"
CHAPTER XXX In the Side Show
THE trip down the outlet was long and tedious, for the cage containing the giant turtle slowed the boat up to about one-fourth its normal speed. The monster creature by this time seemed to take his capture more philosophically. He no longer tried to bite through the bars, but once, when it was necessary to stop and pull the cage over a shallow place, the boys were met by a pair of gaping jaws which testified that the reptile's spirit was far from broken.
"Tell you what," Beckwith said when they were about half way to Lake Otter. They had slept in the boat the night before, and started early in the morning. "Why don't you leave your prize with me? You can tie the crate in the stream near my shack, and I'll see that no one touches it."
"That's a swell idea," Warren exclaimed. "Your place isn't so far from the outlet, is it?"
"You ought to know," Beckwith grinned.
"But I'd like to know more about those queer shapes on the water," Terry said.
"Very simple. As I told you, the steam from the hot springs arises and, when the atmosphere is cool enough, it forms those things that you saw. The breeze blows them around, and they seem to be moving. Actually, I think, they stay about in the same place, but as the steam arises and then grows less they seem to move, but it's simply that the column of vapor gets bigger and smaller. Certainly they are peculiar, though. And every time I've seen them there have been three shapes. I imagine that's just a coincidence."
"Did you come over here again to see the ghosts or to help us?if we should need it?" asked Warren with a little laugh.
"Well, something of both," Beckwith replied. "I wanted to confirm the theory I had formed about the wraiths and I had a sort of feeling I'd like to see you boys again. You were gone rather long and I was a bit worried."
"Glad you happened to come," murmured Terry. "Did you know what this monster would prove to be?"
"Not exactly. But from what you and others had said regarding the creature I guessed it to be an alligator. Though this isn't their habitat, the peculiar nature of Shadow Lake, with its warm springs that retain some heat all winter, might make it possible for even a tropical beast to live around here. Really I can't say I guessed it would be a giant snapper. I never would have thought one could grow so large."
"Nor we," said Warren.
"You knew what the ghosts were though, didn't you?" questioned Terry.
"Well, yes, I'll say I had solved that mystery, but I didn't want to spoil your own solution. Did they frighten you?" and he laughed.
"Golly, they were weird enough," Martin declared. "And that awful yell!"
"Sure," Beckwith laughed. "The loon. It sounds like a crazy man. There are several of those birds around Shadow Lake. So you see, boys, the mystery wasn't so strange after all, was it?"
"Strange enough for me," Terry exploded. "And say, Mr. Beckwith, I don't know whether we've thanked you enough or not, but if we haven't ?"
"Forget it," the man said, waving his hand. "I haven't had so much fun in four years! This thing came in handy, didn't it?" and he motioned toward the bow lying on one of the seats.
"I'll say it did," Martin agreed. "How did you learn to shoot that way?"
"Just practice. You know ?" and he gazed down the stream. "I have a hunch I'm going to try civilization again. You boys sort of got me out of a lethargy I was in."
"You're going back?" Warren asked.
"Yes, I really think I am."
And Mr. Beckwith did. Some weeks later, when they were home, the boys received a letter from him, addressed to Warren. He told of going back to college as an instructor, and having been welcomed like a long-lost son.
"It's good," he concluded. "Mighty good. But I'll never regret having spent those years in the woods. Nor will 1 ever forget you and your friends."
Following Beckwith's suggestion, they left the turtle with him, and when they told McDavitt and Packem of their success the two circus men let out whoops.
"How we'll bill that baby!" Packem exclaimed. "Ladies and gentlemen?you've all heard of turtles. What's a turtle? Just a little thing that crawls, you say. No! You're wrong! Inside this tent, ladies and gentlemen, we have a real man-eating turtle?bigger than any you've ever seen? fiercer than you can imagine?and caught, at risk of life and limb, right here in these old United States! Step in, ladies and gents, and see the monster of Shadow Lake! Step right in!"
They laughed at his "spiel," but later, when they received a substantial check from the circus, McDavitt wrote that the great turtle was the hit of the side show. He and Packem and two other men went up the stream in a large boat, and, at the mouth of the outlet, they loaded the monster in a truck. Then they shipped it direct to New York, where the circus was due to open soon.
Three months later Warren received another letter from Mac. It said, in part:
"Yesterday your friend Jake visited the circus. Peeble was with him. They took one look at the turtle, and were they sore! If ever you boys hear of any other monsters, let me know?quick!"
On their way home the boys from the lake stopped at the home of Larry and Tildy, and returned "Little Mike."
"How'd he work, boys?" Larry asked.
"Fine!" Terry responded. "A great little gun."
"Did it bite you?" Tildy inquired, pointing to Warren's ear, which bore a small bit of adhesive tape as a memento of Peeble's sharp-shooting ability.
They explained what had occurred, and Larry declared that if Peeble came within range of him, he'd give him Big Tim?the shotgun.
The first morning that the boys spent home was the signal for their friends to bombard them with questions, for the story of the capture of the monster had gone the rounds. Of course, Ruth and Louise were the first who heard the whole tale of their adventures.
"Goodness!" Ruth exclaimed, when they came to the part where the three strange shapes were seen. "Weren't you frightened to death?"
"We weren't doing any whistling," Terry grinned.
At the conclusion of the story, which was told on the Thompson porch, Louise said:
"Now, I guess you boys will take it easy for a while. Next summer you can plant a garden, and be farmers. I ?"
"Garden! Farmers!" Warren almost yelled. "Say, we got better plans than that. I heard today of some queer happenings going on at a beach away over on the north side of the lake. They say the people are all frightened. I'd like to take a crack at that! How about you fellows?"
"Sure!" Martin approved. "I heard something about that, too. There's a houseboat, and ?"
But these adventures must be told in the following book of this series, which is called "The Outboard Boys at Pirate Beach, or Solving the Secret of the Houseboat."
"There's one question," Martin said suddenly, "that I'd like to ask." They had noticed him fussing about, and now they turned toward him.
"What is it?" Ruth asked, "I thought you boys knew the answers to all questions!"
"Not this one. I wonder?if that girl who was visiting you?I think her name was Dorothy Trent ??
"You know her name was Dorothy Trent!" Terry shouted.
"Well, all right! I was wondering when she's coming to Stirling again?"
"Next week," Louise laughed. "And Martin ?"
"She likes blue ties!"
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.