15. Wild Turkeys.
 

Without delay the Rover boys dropped behind the bushes, and John Barrow did the same. All kept as quiet as possible, for they knew that on the first alarm the wild turkeys would be off.

The game was not over six feet from the ground, sitting in three rows on as many branches of a hemlock that overhung the stream. There were over a dozen in the flock, each as plump as wild turkeys ever get.

"How shall we fire?" asked Dick. "There is no call for all of us to shoot at the same bird."

"I'll take one on the left," answered John Barrow. "You take one on the right. Tom can take a middle one sitting high, and Sam a middle one sitting low. All ready?"

"Yes," came the answer, from one after another.

"Then fire when I say three. One, two--three!"

Bang! bang! went the firearms, and as the reports echoed through the forest, two of the wild turkeys were seen to drop dead under the branches upon which they had been sitting. One, that was badly wounded, fluttered down and began to thrash around in the brush. The rest of the flock flew away with a rush and were lost to sight between the trees.

"Three! That isn't so bad!" cried Dick, as they all started on a run forward. Soon they had the turkey on the ground surrounded, and John Barrow caught up the game and wrung its neck.

"I guess I missed my mark," came rather sheepishly from Tom.

"You!" exclaimed Sam, in surprise. "I was just going to say I had missed."

"Nobody missed," put in the guide.

"Nobody?" came from the three Rovers.

"Somebody must have missed," added Tom. "We fired four shots and only got three birds."

"One of those that flew off was wounded. He dropped a lot of feathers and went up in a shaky fashion. Of course, he got away, but just the same, he was hit."

"Well, I thought I missed clean and clear," said Tom doubtfully.

"And I thought I missed," laughed Sam. "I guess we'll have to divide that third bird between us, Tom."

"We've got all the wild-turkey meat we'll want on this trip," came from John Barrow. "Before this is gone, you'll want a change, I'll warrant you."

While the guide was caring for the birds the boys went back for the sleds. Soon they were again on the way, and they did not stop until the vicinity of the falls was left far behind and they had again reached a point where skating would be good for several miles.

"Reckon we can stop here and have dinner," observed the guide. "Feelin' kind o' hungry, aint you?"

"Just guess I am hungry," declared Tom "But I didn't want to say anything till the rest did."

Some of the cooking utensils were unpacked, and while the boys got wood for the fire, John Barrow brought out some coffee and other things. It was decided that they should not take time to cook a turkey until they went into camp for the night.

Soon a fire was blazing merrily. They built it under the outer end of a long tree limb, and from the limb suspended a pot full of water by a long iron chain they had brought along. As the ground was covered with snow, there was little danger of spreading a conflagration. Soon the water was boiling and the guide made a steaming pot of coffee, which was passed around in tin cups, with sugar and a little condensed milk. They had brought along bread, cheese, chipped beef, and boiled eggs, and also a mince pie which Mrs. Barrow had baked the day before, and these made what Tom declared was a famous dinner.

"No sauce like hunger sauce," laughed John Barrow, as he saw the lads stow the food away. "Once I was trampin' the mountains all day without a mouthful when I chanced to look in a corner o' my game bag and found a slice o' bread, at least two weeks old. I ate that bread up, hard as it was, and nuthin' ever tasted sweeter."

"You're right," returned Dick. "The folks in the city who don't know what to get to tickle their appetite ought to go hungry a few times. Then I'm sure they'd appreciate what they got."

The midday meal finished, they lost no time in repacking the sled load and starting up the river once more. The stream was now wider than before, and presently spread out into a small lake.

"This is known as Tillard's Pond," said John Barrow. "Feller named Gus Tillard built his cabin over yonder, about ten years ago. He went out bar-huntin' one day, and Mr. Bar came along and chewed him up."

"Gracious! Then there must be pretty ugly customers in this vicinity," exclaimed Sam, with a shiver.

"Not so many as there used to be. After Tillard's death the boys over to the Run organized a b'ar hunt, and we brought in six o' the critters Reckon thet scart the others--leas'wise no b'ars showed up fer a long while after."

Out on Tillard's Pond a stiff breeze was blowing, and consequently their progress was not as rapid as it had been, nor were any of them as warm as formerly.

"We're going to have a cold first night, I can tell you that," said Dick, and his prediction proved true. By the time the sun sank to rest behind the mountain in the west it was "snapping cold," as Tom expressed it. The wind increased until to go forward was almost impossible.

"I know a pretty good place to rest in," said the guide. "It isn't over quarter of a mile from here. If we can make that we'll be all right till mornin'."

John Barrow led the way, pulling one of the sleds, and the boys followed. Poor Sam was getting winded and skated only with the greatest of difficulty.

It was dark when they reached the location the guide had in mind--a rocky wall on one side of the river. At one point there was a split in the rocks. This was overgrown at the top with cedars and brushwood, forming something of a cave, ten or twelve feet wide and twice as deep, the bottom of which was of rock and fairly smooth.

"I camped here two winters ago," said John Barrow, as he called a halt. "I laced up the cedars above and they formed a fust-rate roof."

"I guess they are pretty well laced still," observed Dick. "They seem to hold the snow very well. But we won't dare to make a fire in there"

"We'll build a fire in front, in this hollow, Dick. That will throw a good deal of hot air into the place, and if we wrap ourselves in our blankets we'll be warm enough."

Everyone in the party was anxious to get out of the nipping wind, and they lost no time in entering the "cave," as Sam called it. The entrance was low, and by placing the two sleds in an upright position on either side they left an opening not over a yard wide. Directly in front of this the boys started a roaring fire, cutting down several dwarf cedars for that purpose.

"I don't much like the looks o' the sky to-night," observed John Barrow, after preparing one of the turkeys for cooking.

"Do you think there is a storm coming?" asked Tom.

"Looks to me like snow, an plenty of it."

"I hope it doesn't come until we reach Bear Pond," said Dick, "I don't want Dan Baxter and his crowd to get ahead of us."

"They won't have no better time o' it than we'll have," was the guide's grim comment. "Aint no fun trampin' over the mountains with the snow comin' down heavily; I can tell you that."

The wind continued to increase, and after the supper was cooked and brought into the shelter, the guide took it upon himself to bank the fire with great care, that it might not blow into the forest and start a big conflagration.

"We've had some terrible fires here," he said. "One threatened my barn two years ago, and we had to stay out two days an' a night a-fightin' it. It would be a bad thing a night like this."

To keep out the cold, Dick crawled to the top of the opening and bound in the cedar limbs closer than ever. He also got some brush-wood and some vines, and on these placed a thick layer of snow.

"That's fine!" cried Sam, from below. "It's almost as tight as the roof of a cabin."

Tightening the roof made a big difference inside, and when they had hung up a blanket behind the upright sleds, and placed some cedar brush on the floor, it was very cozy. They had brought along some candles, and one of these was lit and placed in a lantern which was in one of the packs. It was not a bright light, but it was better than sitting in the dark, and it seemed to make the shelter warmer than ever.