Read CHAPTER XIX - FRIENDS OF THE DEER of The Boy Scouts of Lenox / The Hike Over Big Bear Mountain, free online book, by Frank V. Webster, on ReadCentral.com.

“Yes, its a buck,” announced Tom, as a shout from the camp told that one of the other scouts had also discovered the swimming animal.

“Whew! there come the dogs along the shore!” cried Felix, pointing as he spoke to where a number of swiftly-moving objects could be seen.

“They’ve taken to the water after the deer!” exclaimed Josh.

“It’ll be a shame if they manage to catch up with the poor thing in the pond!” Felix declared; “we ought to break that game up somehow.  Isn’t there a way?”

“If we had a canoe instead of a log we might get between, and keep the dogs back,” he was told by the patrol leader; “but I’m afraid we’ll never be able to make it at this rate.”

Felix had started paddling furiously even while the other was speaking.  The novel craft began to move through the water much faster than at any previous time.  It was really surprising how much speed it could show, when driven by that stout, if homely, paddle, held in the hands of a muscular and excited scout.

Tom gave directions as though he were the pilot, and while the swimming buck certainly saw them approaching he must have considered that these human enemies were not to be feared one-half as much as those merciless hounds following after him, for he swerved very little.

“We’re going to cut in between the deer and the dogs after all, boys!” cried the delighted Josh, who was bending his body with every movement of the paddler, as though he hoped to be able in that fashion to assist the drive.

“It’s a pity we didn’t think to bring another paddle along!” was Tom’s comment, “for that would have added considerably to our progress.”

As it was, however, they managed to intervene between the hounds and the frightened buck.  Josh waved both arms, and shouted threateningly at the eager dogs.  They possibly did not know what to make of it, for as a rule their masters probably tempted them to chase a deer even with the law against hounding in force.

“Keep back there, you greedy curs!” yelled Josh; and as Tom and Felix joined in the shouting, the last mentioned also waving his flashing paddle, the swimming dogs came to a pause.

Whenever they made a start as though intending to sweep past the log on which the three scouts were perched, Felix, waiting for some such move, paddled vigorously to head them off.  This series of obstructive tactics, coupled with the demonstration made by the other boys, served to keep the hounds in check for a certain length of time.

“There, he’s made the shore across on the other side of the pond!” announced Tom.

Looking that way the boys saw the harried buck hasten out of the shallow water.  He turned once on the very edge to give a single glance back toward the baffled dogs, still swimming aimlessly about, and yapping in defeat, then leaped lightly into the undergrowth and vanished from sight.

“Good-bye!” shouted Josh, waving his hand after the rescued deer, “and good luck!”

The dogs by this time had managed to flank the obstruction.

“No use chasing after them any more, Felix,” said Tom; “I think the deer has a good lead on them now, and will easily make his escape.”

They watched the pack swim to the shore, and noted that they came out at some little distance from the spot where the buck had left the water.

“That’s going to delay them still more,” announced Tom; “they’ve lost the scent, and will have to chase up and down hunting for it.”

Sure enough the hounds ran first one way with their noses to the ground, then doubled back.  It was several minutes before a triumphant yelp announced that they had finally struck the lost trail.

“There they go with a rush!” said Josh, as the pack was seen to start off, following the course taken by the deer.

Their eager yelps became less distinct as they skirted around the foot of Big Bear Mountain.

“Well, that was a queer happening, wasn’t it?” said Tom, as they prepared to resume their fishing, which had been so singularly interrupted.

“It’ll make an interesting event for your note book, Tom,” declared Felix.

“A deer is seldom seen around this region,” Josh ventured to say; “which makes our luck all the more remarkable.  I wouldn’t have missed that sight for a good deal!”

“I saw Stanley Ackerman using his camera, so let’s hope he got a bunch of snapshots that’ll show the whole circus,” Felix announced.

“How about allowing dogs to roam the woods up here, Tom; isn’t it against the law in this State nowadays?” Josh asked.

“It certainly is,” he was informed.  “For a good many years chasing deer with hounds, and using a jack-light at nights to get them, has been strictly forbidden.  Time was when packs of hounds used to be met with in plenty.  Men would start out and hunt deer that way.  Then the papers took it up, and showed the cruelty of the so-called sport, and it was abolished.”

“According to the law anybody is allowed to shoot dogs caught in the act of running deer, especially in the summer time; isn’t that right, Tom?”

“Yes, that’s what we would have had a perfect right to do if we’d had a gun along.  But I don’t believe that pack belonged to any one man.  They are dogs that have gone wild, and having gathered together in the woods, live by hunting.”

“I’ve heard that dogs do go back to the old wolf strain sometimes,” Josh admitted; “and now that you mention it, Tom, there was a wild look about every one of the beasts.  I even thought they had half a notion to attack us at one time; but the way Felix kept that paddle flashing through the air cowed them, I guess.”

The fishing was resumed, though all this racket seemed to have caused the bass to cease taking hold for some time.  By skirting the more distant shores, close to where the water grass and reeds grew, they finally struck a good ground, and were amply rewarded for the efforts put forth.

“I think the bass must have their beds on this shoal here,” said Tom, when they paddled back over the place at which success had come to them.  “It’s early in the season as yet, and a lot of them are still around here.  They haven’t gone out into deep water with their newly-hatched young ones.”

“Is that what they do?” asked Felix, who was not as much of a fisherman as either of his chums.

“Well, not immediately after the eggs hatch,” Tom told him.  “The mother bass is going to keep her swarm of little ones in shallow water, and guard them until they get to a certain size.  Then she darts in among them, scatters the whole lot, after which she is done with them.  They have reached an age when they must take their chances.”

When finally about noon the three came ashore, rather stiff from having straddled that log for such a length of time, they had a pretty fine string of fish, two of them in fact.

The talk as they ate their mid-day meal was along the subject of deer hunting, and Tom as well as Josh had to tell all about it, as far as they knew.

Stanley declared he had made good use of his camera, and hoped the results would come up to expectations.  All of them united in saying that it had been an adventure worth while; and apparently their sympathies were wholly with the gallant buck, for they expressed a fervent hope that he would succeed in outrunning his canine enemies.

Somehow in the course of the conversation mention was made of Tony Pollock and his crowd.

“I heard Tony tell a story of having seen a deer pulled down somewhere in the forest last fall by a pack of ugly dogs,” related George Cooper.  “At the time I believed he was only yarning, though he vowed black and blue it was so.  He said the dogs looked and acted so ugly that he thought it best to clear out before they turned on him.”

“Like as not this same pack,” remarked Tom.  “They say that once a dog has taken to that savage sort of life nothing can ever coax him to go back to living with mankind again.  It’s in the blood, that call of the wild.”

“Well,” chuckled Josh, “we know of another kind of call of the wild that’s going to be heard in the land pretty soon, when Farmer Sile Perkins faces Tony.  He will demand double pay for the chickens Tony and his crowd stole, on penalty of his being arrested if he doesn’t whack up.  Oh I can just see Tony begin to crawl then; and I wonder how he’ll get the money.”

Carl was saying little or nothing, and Tom knew why.  Here they had been on the hike several days, and as yet there had arisen not a single chance for him to get in touch with Dock Phillips.

Tom understood that another spell of dark foreboding was beginning to enfold his chum.  At the first opportunity he could find, Tom joined Carl.  The latter had thrown himself down on the bank some distance away from the camp, where he could be in the shade, and yet look out on the sunlit water, which just then had a most attractive aspect.

“You’re worrying again because nothing has happened as we hoped would be the case, eh, Carl?” was what the patrol leader said as he dropped down close to the moody scout.

Carl sighed heavily.

“Perhaps it’s foolish of me, Tom,” he said, with a curious little break in his voice, which he tried hard to master; “but once in so often it seems as if something gripped me, and made me shiver.  It’s when I get to thinking what little real progress I am making that this chilly spell comes along.”

“Yes, I can understand that,” the other told him.  “I did hope we might run on Dock while we were up here, and either force or coax him to tell what he did with the stolen paper.  He’s away from the influence of Mr. Culpepper, you know, and if we had to come down to offering him a price to get the paper he might accept.”

“Oh! much as I hate to have to compromise such a thing,” said Carl, desperately; “I believe I’d do it.  Anything to get that paper, for the more I think of it the stronger I believe it means everything to my mother.”

“Well, we haven’t quite got to the end of our tether yet,” the patrol leader assured him.  “I can’t explain it, but somehow there’s a feeling inside of me that tells me to keep on hoping.  In some sort of fashion luck is going to turn your way.  Just keep up your grit, and hang on.  Take a lesson from the persistence of those dogs in following the deer.”

“Yes, I suppose I ought to.  I’ve read how wolves will keep chasing after a deer day and night, steady as dock-work, until in the end they tire it out and get their dinner.”

Just then they heard a shout, or what was closer to a shriek.  It came from beyond the camp, and was immediately followed by cries of alarm from the other scouts.

“What’s happened?” asked Tom, as with Carl he hurried to the spot to see a group approaching bearing some burden in their midst.

“Walt Douglass fell out of a tree,” replied Billy Button, looking very pale; “and Mr. Witherspoon says he’s afraid it means a fractured leg, if nothing worse!”