“I wa—–was—–never so scar—–scared in my, life!” he panted. “It was only an old tree, and I was going to take a rest on it when I heard the wildcat. He was a big fellow, and his eyes seemed to bore me through and through. Maybe I didn’t strike out for shore in a hurry!
“I don’t blame you,” answered the doctor’s son. “Did he jump in the water after you?”
“I don’t know.”
“And it wasn’t the boat?”
“No, I didn’t see a thing of the boat.”
Snap lost no time in dressing, and in the meantime Shep kept his eyes open for the possible appearance of the wildcat. But the savage creature did not show itself, nor did the fallen tree come again into view.
The report of the gun had reached Giant and Whopper, and they came up on the run, fearing something serious had occurred.
“We walked along the shore for almost quarter of a mile,” said Whopper, “but we didn’t see a blessed thing that looked like the boat. I am afraid it’s gone for good.”
“If it is we’ll have to go home, and that will be the end of this outing,” answered Shep.
“Oh, we’re going to find that boat!” declared Giant. “But I don’t think we’ll be able to do much until daybreak.”
They followed the shore for a short distance further, and then went back to the temporary camp. It was now half-past three in the morning.
“It will be growing light in another hour,” said Whopper. “I move we get breakfast and be ready to start off as soon as we can see.”
His suggestion was carried out. Snap’s swim had made him cold, and he was glad enough to drink two cups of steaming hot coffee. The boys had brought some doughnuts along, and these, with the coffee and some fried fish, gave them a very appetizing breakfast. They took their time eating, waiting impatiently for the first signs of light in the eastern sky.
At last it was light enough to see almost across the lake, and then they looked in all directions for some sign of the missing rowboat. The craft was not in sight, and once again the party divided, this time Whopper and Snap going to the south and Shep and Giant to the north. Each took his gun along, and it was Snap who told them to make sure the firearms were loaded.
“You never want to go out with an empty gun,” he said.
“Humph!” muttered Giant. “Did you ever do such a thing?” But Snap pretended not to hear and did not answer.
Whopper and Snap covered almost half a mile before they came to a turn in the lake shore. Here there was quite a good sized cove, and much to their surprise they saw two large tents standing among the trees. Nearby was the remains of a campfire, with sticks, an iron chain, and a big iron pot over it.
“I didn’t notice this camp when we came up,” said Whopper.
“All the folks here must be asleep,” said Snap. But as he spoke a man came from one of the tents and stared at them. It was Andrew Felps, the rich lumber merchant who owned much of the land around the lake and who had treated them so meanly the summer and the winter previous.