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Chapter 26

FROM ONE TROUBLE TO ANOTHER


Half an hour of tramping brought the two Rover boys and their friends into the heart of the big woods Frank Newberry had mentioned. They had entered it by way of the road they had used on Hallowe'en, and were now almost directly behind Elias Lacy's farm. In fact, although they were not aware of this, a large section of the woods belonged to the old farmer.

On their way into the timber they had heard various shots at a distance, showing that other hunters were abroad. Then came a report so close at hand, it made Fred jump.

"You want to be very careful so that you don't mistake some other hunter for game," cautioned Frank Newberry.

"Exactly!" grumbled Fred. "And I want the other hunters to be careful that they don't shoot me for a deer or a bear."

The cadets continued to advance into the woods, and then crossed an open space. Here they were fortunate enough to stir up quite a few rabbits, and Jack, after an hour's hunt, had the pleasure of bringing down two, while one was laid low by Fred.

So far the cadets had kept together, but presently the party managed to catch sight of game in two directions, and soon Frank Newberry and the seniors with him were hurrying off to the southward while the Rover boys went after game that had gone northward.

"Come right back to this spot!" cried Frank Newberry to the Rovers.

"All right," answered Jack.

Their sporting blood, aroused by the game already brought down, urged Jack and Fred forward, and almost before they knew it they had covered a long distance. They presently came to another clearing, bordering a good-sized pond. Here they stirred up half a dozen rabbits and also some squirrels, and each succeeded in bringing down more than half the game sighted.

"Say, this is the finest sport ever!" declared Fred, as he looked at his game with deep satisfaction. "Won't the others envy us when we get back to the Hall with these!"

"It's sport enough for us," returned Jack. "I don't know what the rabbits and squirrels think about it though," he added dryly.

From a distance the boys had seen more game and they began to circle the pond. Then they heard a strange whirring in some bushes a distance further on.

"Maybe we'll come across some wild turkeys or something like that," said Fred.

"I don't believe there are any wild turkeys around here," answered Jack.

"Oh! wouldn't it be fine if we sighted a deer or a bear?" sighed Fred.

"You don't want much for your money, do you?" laughed his cousin. "I rather think if a bear came after you you'd take to your heels."

"Maybe I would--if he was a big one."

On and on went the two boys, and presently were rewarded by the sight of several small woodcock. Both fired almost at the same instant, and two of the birds came fluttering down, to thrash around in the bushes until put out of misery by the young hunters.

"Two of 'em! Think of that!" chuckled Fred. "Oh! this is simply glorious!"

So far the two boys had not met any of the strange hunters, but now they came across two men well loaded down with rabbits. They did not know it, but one of the men was a farm hand employed by Elias Lacy.

"You'd better keep away from the Lacy place," said the man, with a sarcastic look at the Rovers. He had been on hand when the lads had had the chestnuts taken away by the old farmer, and had also heard about the joke on Hallowe'en.

"Don't you worry. We've no use for Mr. Lacy," returned Fred, crossly.

"He's the meanest man we ever met," added Jack. At this the farm hand only grinned, and then he and his companion disappeared once more into the woods.

So far the day had been typical of the Autumn season, somewhat gray, with only an occasional showing of the sun. Now, however, it became rapidly darker, and presently a few flakes of snow sifted down through the air.

"Hello! What do you know about this!" cried Jack, looking up. "I guess we're going to have a snowstorm."

"Oh, I hope it doesn't snow very heavily--at least not until we get back to school," returned Fred, quickly.

"A little snow won't hurt us, Fred."

"But if it got too thick, Jack, we might lose our way."

"I don't believe it will come down as heavily as all that--not at this season of the year."

With the sky growing darker, and the flakes of snow coming down thicker than ever, the two boys sought to retrace their steps in the direction of the pond. But in their eagerness to sight something at which to shoot, they had not noted their path very carefully, and as a consequence they now found themselves somewhat bewildered.

"If the sun was only out we'd know in what direction to steer," remarked Jack. "But when the sky is this way, a fellow is apt to get completely turned around."

"It's too bad we didn't bring a pocket compass."

"That's true. However, we haven't got one, so we'll have to make the best of it. Come on!"

They had paused for a moment to rest and to survey their surroundings. Now they continued their tramping, and at length came out on the edge of a sheet of water which they at first took to be the pond they had previously visited.

"There they go! Quick, Jack!" sang out Fred, and blazed away with his shotgun. His cousin followed suit, and soon they found they had bagged two additional rabbits--one the largest yet brought low.

"This isn't the pond at all!" cried Jack, in some disappointment, after the excitement of shooting the rabbits had subsided. "I never saw this spot before."

"Nor I! What do you make of it, Jack?"

"Don't ask me! It looks as if we were lost."

"Hark! I heard a shot!" cried Fred, a minute later, while the pair were looking around trying to make up their minds in what direction to proceed next. "Maybe those are our fellows shooting."

The shot had come from their right, and was presently followed by another. Thinking their friends might be close at hand, the Rovers started off as well as they could through the brushwood and between the trees. But then they came to some rough ground covered with rocks, and here further progress was all but impossible. In the meanwhile, no further reports had reached their ears.

"We are sure up against it," remarked Jack, after he and his cousin had looked at each other rather helplessly. It was darker than ever, and the snow still continued to sift down through the trees.

"Maybe we'll have to stay out here all night," said Fred, after consulting his watch. "It's half past five now."

"We ought to be on the way back to the Hall if we expect any supper," replied his cousin.

Being unable to advance further in that direction, the Rover boys sought to retrace their steps, and after considerable trouble managed to return to the sheet of water they had left a while before. But by this time the darkness of night had fallen.

"It's no use!" cried Fred, helplessly. "We're lost, that's all there is to it!"

"It was bad enough while it was daylight, Fred. I really don't know what we are going to do now it's dark," answered Jack, seriously.

On the return to the little pond Fred had stumbled over some tree roots, and this had lamed him a little.

"I can't walk very much further," he said, with a sigh. And then he added quickly: "Jack, have you any matches?"

"Oh, yes! I put a box in my pocket before we started."

"Good! Then if we have to stay here we can build a fire and maybe cook something."

The boys tried the water of the pond, and finding it fairly good drank their fill. Then they sat down to discuss the situation. Both were hungry, and in the end they gathered some dry sticks, started a fire, and cooked one of the rabbits and also a squirrel, which they ate with much satisfaction.

"We'll freeze to death if we stay here all night," was Fred's dismal comment.

"Oh, no--not if we keep the fire going."

"Then let's do that by all means. It will not only keep us warm, but it may be the means of directing somebody to this place."

It was a long night for both of the boys. They took turns at resting and at replenishing the fire, and it is doubtful if either of them got much real sleep. Once, in the early morning, came an alarm, and Fred imagined a bear was in the bushes. But the animal, or whatever it was, soon went away, and that was the end of the disturbance.

"Thank goodness! it has stopped snowing!" remarked Jack, when the cousins were preparing a breakfast of another squirrel.

The snow had not amounted to much, being less than an inch in depth. The storm had cleared away entirely, and at the proper time the sun came up over the hills beyond Clearwater Lake.

Long before that time the two young hunters were once more on their way. They had tramped along for fully half an hour when suddenly Jack let up a shout of joy.

"Hurrah! we've struck a road at last! Now we'll find out where we are!"

The road was little more than a trail through the woods, evidently made by the wagon or sled of some woodcutter. It ran down a slight hill, and the two boys lost no time in following it.

"I hope it brings us into Haven Point," remarked Fred, as they strode along. "I'm getting tired of walking and of carrying the shotgun. I'd rather have a ride."

"Let us be thankful to get out of the woods, Fred. We might have gotten so mixed up that we'd have had to spend another night there."

The two lads continued to follow the woods road, and presently came into sight of several farm buildings, including a corncrib and a long, low cowshed.

"Oh, for the love of doughnuts!" cried Jack an instant later. "Fred, do you know where we are?"

"No, I don't. Where?"

"Right in the back of old Lacy's place! There is his house;" and the oldest Rover boy pointed with his hand.

"You're right, Jack! Gee! we almost ran into the old man again, didn't we?" gasped Fred. "We had better get out of here as quick as we can!"

"Now you're saying something!" returned his cousin. "Come on, before he catches sight of us!"

The two boys had just started to leave the road on which they had been traveling when a shout reached their ears. The next moment another shout rent the frosty morning air, and then two men came running towards the lads, one carrying a gun and the other a pitchfork.

"Stop there! you young rascals! Stop!" roared out the voice of Elias Lacy. "Stop, I tell you! Caleb, cover 'em with your gun!"

"I'm doin' it, Mr. Lacy," replied the other man, and leveled his gun at the boys. He was the same man the Rovers had met in the woods the afternoon before.

With the weapon of the farm hand pointed at them the two Rover boys came to a halt. In a minute more the others came up, Elias Lacy puffing because of his exertions.

"Now I've caught you!" he snarled. "I didn't think it was goin' to be so easy."

"You're certainly in luck, Mr. Lacy," grinned Caleb Boggs. "I didn't think they'd stay roun' here after doin' it."

"They came back jest to have the laugh on me!" snarled the old farmer. "I know 'em! I s'pose they did it 'cause I took them chestnuts away from 'em, an' on account o' the way I treated 'em Hallowe'en night. But I'll fix 'em now! I'll have the law on 'em! I'll send 'em to state's prison for ten years! Jest you see if I don't!" and thus the old man spluttered on, saying many things the boys could not understand.

"See here, Mr. Lacy! What are you so mad about?" queried Jack, finally. "Can't you stand a little fun?"

"Stand a little fun!" yelled the excited old man, fairly beside himself with rage. "It ain't no fun to kill two o' my cows!" He shook his bony fist at the boys. "I'll have the law on you, so I will! I'll send you both to state's prison for ten years!"


Edward Stratemeyer