Read CHAPTER V - THE SUDDEN AWAKENING of Phil Bradley's Mountain Boys The Birch Bark Lodge , free online book, by Silas K. Boone, on ReadCentral.com.

“Thought you meant to go to bed, Lub?” said Ethan, some little time afterwards, as they were all sitting around again.

“Oh! somehow I seem to have gotten over my sleepy spell,” admitted the other, frankly; “perhaps it was the excitement over seeing that prowler outside that did it. I’m as wide awake as a hawk right now.”

“Well, it’s just the other way with me,” X-Ray remarked, yawning almost as furiously as Lub had been doing before; “I’m getting dopey, and mean to turn in pretty soon. If nothing else happens to bother, nobody’s going to hear a word from me after I hit the hay.”

Lub looked at him painfully, but he did not think it best to ask further questions lest he stir up a hornets’ nest. There was something on Lub’s mind. Phil understood this from various signs. He began to get an inkling as to what its nature might prove to be, when several times he saw the other lean forward and look long and earnestly up the chimney.

“What d’ye expect to see up there, Lub?” asked Ethan, who had also it seemed been watching the other. “This isn’t the time for old Santa Claus to come down with his pack of toys. His reindeer need snow for their sledge, you know.”

“Will you let the fire go out when we turn in, Phil?” asked Lub, ignoring all such little annoyances as this.

“Why, I suppose so,” he was told. “If it was cold weather it might be a different thing; but to-night is pretty warm, and we’ll get little air in here, with the door closed. Yes, the last wood has been thrown on the fire; and to tell the truth there’s only a handful more in the house, which we’ll save to start things with in the morning.”

“What did you ask that for, Lub?”

X-Ray made this inquiry. He realized that the other must have something on his mind, or he would not have spoken as he did. And X-Ray was curious to know what its character might turn out to be.

“Oh, nothing much; only it strikes me that’s a whopping big chimney, that’s all,” replied the other, a little confused.

“I see what you mean,” said Phil; “you’re thinking that even if we do close the door as we intend, if a thief wanted to get in here he could creep down such a wide-throated chimney? Well, I shouldn’t be at all surprised if he could, providing he took the notion.”

“I hate to think of being sound asleep, and not know a single thing about it,” pursued Lub, “You know how I caught that darky stealing our chickens last winter? I set a trap for him, and gave him such a scare that he just crouched in a corner of the coop with all the hens cackling like mad, till father went out and got him by the scruff of the neck.”

“Mebbe you’d like to set one of your fine traps here then, Lub,” suggested Ethan.

“I think I could do it, if the rest of you didn’t object,” Lub pursued.

“Please yourself,” said Phil.

“I’m off to bed right now,” added X-Ray Tyson, “so you c’n have the whole blooming field to yourself. Be sure you don’t get nabbed in your own contraption, Lub. Now, you may smile at my saying that, but it wouldn’t be the first time a bitter got bitten.”

Both Phil and Ethan began to stretch, and exhibited other positive signs of being ready to turn in. It would appear that none of the rest of them gave much thought to the possibility of their having unwelcome visitors during the night. Lub envied them their calm indifference; but he felt that he would not be doing his whole duty unless he carried out that idea of the trap.

He saw Phil saunter over to the door, which, with something of an effort he managed to get to close tight enough so that the bar could be dropped into place. That avenue seemed quite safe; and as the windows had each one a couple of stout bars fastened across them, it looked as though there could be no ingress unless the intruder were a mere child, or else made use of that wide-throated slab-and-hard-mud chimney.

The other boys were more or less amused to see what the ingenious Lub was doing, in order to further his plot. First of all he arranged the stools and other bulky objects that he could gather about the room in such fashion that they formed a species of rude barricade on either side of the hearth, where the red embers still held forth.

“Looks like a regular wild animal trap, all right!” Ethan sang out, as though more or less surprised that Lub should know as much as he did about such things. “That forces the intruder to step out in the middle; and I guess now that’s where you’re going to fix things to give him a warm reception, eh, Lub?”

“You wait and see,” was all the other would say.

They quickly understood what he had in mind. Everything they had along in the shape of cooking utensils, that would be apt to make a jangling noise if thrown down, was utilized. The big frying pan crowned the pyramid, and Lub was very particular just how he placed this, so that the least jar was apt to dislodge the aluminum skillet, which would be certain to arouse even the soundest sleeper when it rattled on the floor.

“Don’t kick over our grub that we’ve got piled up close by you there, Lub,” warned X-Ray, after chuckling to see how the other was making such elaborate arrangements; for he did not have the remotest idea they would amount to anything in the end.

“That ought to finish your trap, Lub, I should think,” said Phil, who was almost ready to climb into his bunk, having removed most of his clothing, and arranged his sleeping quarters in a jiffy; he too had a small pillow-slip filled with some of the hay, upon which he expected to rest his head comfortably.

“Why, yes, I don’t seem to think of anything else we’ve got that would help to make a big noise,” the other replied, soberly; “what with four cups, as many platters, the coffeepot, and the frying pan ought to make plenty of racket. But say, you should have seen the heap of tin-pans I piled up the time I caught that chicken thief.”

“If you had much more than this lot,” Ethan announced, “I don’t wonder the poor critter was scared nearly stiff, and could only crouch there till your dad came and arrested him.”

“And on my part,” said X-Ray Tyson, with another wide yawn, “I only hope there doesn’t anything happen to start that pyramid tumbling, that’s all. If I was dreaming of something lovely it’d sure be a shame to get waked up by such a row, and to find that it was all brought about by a pannikin slipping out of place.”

“No danger of that happening,” Lub told him; “I’ve tested it all, and you can depend on things holding.”

By slow degrees all of them managed to get settled down. Even slow moving Lub was finally snug in his bunk, though he had to shuffle around for some time while settling himself into the most comfortable position. Ethan threatened all sorts of dire things unless he stopped moving about, because it happened that the sleeping place chosen by the fat camper was just above his.

“I c’n hear it creakin’ like anything,” announced Ethan; “and if you keep up that squirming business much longer, Lub, I tell you she’ll come down on me. Think I’m hankering about being smashed flatter’n a pancake, do you? I don’t see why you had to go and pick out one of the upper berths, just because you imagined it was a mite bigger’n any other. ’Tain’t fair, I tell you. Go easy now, and quit that moving about. If you’ve got the itch say so, and we’ll rub you down with something. Stop it, right now!”

Perhaps being scolded in this fashion had some effect upon Lub. At any rate he concluded that what couldn’t be cured would have to be endured. So he did his level best to forget all about possible night visitors of all types, and tried to lose himself in sleep.

Phil had put out the lantern the last thing. He kept it close by his hand, with matches where he could produce a light in a hurry, in case one was required.

The fire had burned low. Now and then a little flame would spring up and make a faint buzzing sound. Once or twice when this occurred Phil saw Lub raise his head and look earnestly toward the chimney; but he must have finally decided that it was an innocent noise, for with its second repetition he failed to move.

“He’s off,” Phil told himself, with a slight sigh of satisfaction, for from the way Lub was acting he had begun to fear they were in for a bad night of it.

Lying there Phil rested his head on his arm and looked out into the cabin. When the dying flame occasionally leaped up and burned fitfully for a dozen seconds or so he liked to watch it, and also glance around him as well as he was able.

Phil fairly loved everything that had to do with outdoor life. The dank odor of the woods filled him with a sense of delight that he could never find words to describe. He believed it must have come down to him from some long line of ancestors, this love for Nature, and a desire to commune with her.

Fortune had been kind to him in giving him the means to enjoy such outings; and it added much to his satisfaction to have these fine fellows along with him. They were very dear to Phil. Not one of them would he have willingly missed if such a disaster could be avoided.

Then as he lay there waiting until the drowsiness overtook him again, he allowed his fugitive thoughts to once more wrestle with the mystery connected with the late occupants of that birch bark cabin. Who could they be, and whither had they flown at the approach of himself and three chums?

It was hardly any accident, for all the signs pointed to a flight that bordered on panic. Whoever they were they must have some good and sufficient reason for fearing the advent of strangers. That could only mean they dreaded the strong arm of the law; that there was some reason why they wished to keep from contact with all whom they did not know.

Well, Phil concluded, there was no use of bothering about them. They had taken a hurried departure, and that was the end of it. He had reason to believe that a child had been there, and possibly a woman as well. While they had not found such tell-tale evidence as a hair-pin, still the little silver thimble which he himself had discovered on a shelf just before retiring, and which he had not mentioned to the others, because he hated to get Lub wide-awake again, seemed to be pretty strong evidence that way.

When he found himself yawning again Phil decided it was time he closed his eyes, and allowed his senses to steal away. The fire had ceased flaring up, and was dying out rapidly, though the ashes would likely retain some of their heat until well on toward dawn.

The last Phil remembered was listening to the weird call of that persistent whip-poor-will, perched in some neighboring tree, and sending forth its shrill discordant cries.

Twice after that he awoke, and found all well. He could hear the steady breathing of his comrades near by; and Lub, lying flat on his back perhaps, was making a grating noise not unlike a snore.

The second time Phil struck a match, one of the silent kind, and took a look at his watch, curious to know how the night was wearing away. He found it was two o’clock, and that the guess he had made was not far amiss.

It took him some little time to get asleep again after that, but in the end he managed to accomplish it. Daylight would be coming by four o’clock and as the novelty of the outing was still upon them, it was to be expected that the boys would want to be up with the birds that is, all but Lub, who loved sleeping better than plunging into the lake for an early morning swim.

It was fated, however, that they were not to be allowed to slumber calmly on until the approach of the sun hurried the round moon out of sight below the western horizon.

A most unearthly racket sounding awoke every one. If an earthquake had occurred it could hardly have created a greater noise. And the big frying pan proved that the supreme confidence which Lub had placed in its ability to jangle had not been in the least overdone; for it certainly played a fandango as it pitched over on the hard floor of the cabin, and danced some sort of jig, with other things adding their little mite to swell the chorus.

Four fellows came tumbling out of their bunks as one.

“Phil, oh! Phil, strike a light!” cried one.

“Where’s my gun?” growled X-Ray Tyson, thinking that in this way he must give fresh alarm to the bold intruder, whoever he might prove to be.

“Phil, the thief has come down the chimney, just as I feared!” called Lub, who in the darkness hardly knew which way to look.

As he managed to get his bearings to some degree he was sure he could detect a man on his hands and knees crawling over the floor. At the same time he heard a whining sound, as well as what seemed to be scratching; and it struck terror to the heart of poor Lub. He fancied that others were without, waiting for the first thief to open the door, in order that they too might rush in, and help make prisoners of the four Mountain Boys.

Just then Lub to his great relief saw a tiny flame spring up close by. This he knew must be a match in the hand of Phil Bradley, who was meaning to light his lantern.

To Lub it seemed an age before the flame was communicated to the wick, and yet it could only have been a comparatively few seconds, no longer than Phil would have taken under ordinary conditions. His hand did not tremble appreciably; and while in an undoubted hurry he went about his self appointed task with a deliberation that promised a successful result.

Then came the snap as the globe was pressed into place. The room was no longer in darkness. It was possible to see; and with his heart feeling as though it were trying to climb up in his throat Lub fixed his eyes on the spot where he had discovered that moving, creeping object.

What he saw thrilled him through and through, so that for the life of him Lub could not move, or even utter a sound above a whisper. Nor were the other boys much better off, to tell the truth, for they all stood there as though rooted firmly to the spot.