“What do you think of this storm, Joe?”
“I think it is going to be a heavy one, Ned. I wish we were back home,”replied Joe Bodley, as he looked at the heavy clouds which overhung LakeTandy.
“Do you think we'll catch much rain before we get back?” And Ned, whowas the son of a rich man and well dressed, looked at the new suit ofclothes that he wore.
“I'm afraid we shall, Ned. Those black clouds back of Mount Sam meansomething.” “If this new suit gets soaked it will be ruined,” grumbledNed, and gave a sigh.
“I am sorry for the suit, Ned; but I didn't think it was going to rainwhen we started.”
“Oh, I am not blaming you, Joe. It looked clear enough this morning.Can't we get to some sort of shelter before the rain reaches us?”
“We can try.”
“Which is the nearest shelter?”
Joe Bodley mused for a moment.
“The nearest that I know of is over at yonder point, Ned. It's an oldhunting lodge that used to belong to the Cameron family. It has beendeserted for several years.”
“Then let us row for that place, and be quick about it,” said NedTalmadge. “I am not going to get wet if I can help it.”
As he spoke he took up a pair of oars lying in the big rowboat he andJoe Bodley occupied. Joe was already rowing and the rich boy joined in,and the craft was headed for the spot Joe had pointed out.
The lake was one located in the central part of the State ofPennsylvania. It was perhaps a mile wide and more than that long, andsurrounded by mountains and long ranges of hills. At the lower end ofthe lake was a small settlement of scant importance and at theupper end, where there was a stream of no mean size, was the town ofRiverside. At Riverside were situated several summer hotels and boardinghouses, and also the elegant mansion in which Ned Talmadge resided, withhis parents and his four sisters.
Joe Bodley was as poor as Ned Talmadge was rich, yet the two lads werequite friendly. Joe knew a good deal about hunting and fishing, and alsoknew all about handling boats. They frequently went out together, andNed insisted upon paying the poorer boy for all extra services.
Joe's home was located on the side of the mountain which was just nowwrapped in such dark and ominous looking clouds. He lived with HiramBodley, an old man who was a hermit. The home consisted of a cabin oftwo rooms, scantily furnished. Hiram Bodley had been a hunter and guide,but of late years rheumatism had kept him from doing work and Joe waslargely the support of the pair,--taking out pleasure parties for paywhenever he could, and fishing and hunting in the between times, andusing or selling what was gained thereby.
There was a good deal of a mystery surrounding Joe's parentage. It wasclaimed that he was a nephew of Hiram Bodley, and that, after the deathof his mother and sisters, his father had drifted out to California andthen to Australia. What the real truth concerning him was we shall learnlater.
Joe was a boy of twelve, but constant life in the open air had made himtall and strong and he looked to be several years older.
He had dark eyes and hair, and was much tanned by the sun. The rowboathad been out a good distance on the lake and a minute before the shorewas gained the large drops of rain began to fall.
“We are going to get wet after all!” cried Ned, chagrined.
“Pull for all you are worth and we'll soon be under the trees,” answeredJoe.
They bent to the oars, and a dozen more strokes sent the rowboat undera clump of pines growing close to the edge of the lake. Just as the boatstruck the bank and Ned leaped out there came a great downpour whichmade the surface of Lake Tandy fairly sizzle.
“Run to the lodge, Ned; I'll look after the boat!” shouted Joe.
“But you'll get wet.”
“Never mind; run, I tell you!”
Thus admonished, Ned ran for the old hunting lodge, which was situatedabout two hundred feet away. Joe remained behind long enough to securethe rowboat and the oars and then he followed his friend.
Just as one porch of the old lodge was reached there came a flashof lightning, followed by a clap of thunder that made Ned jump. Thenfollowed more thunder and lightning, and the rain came down steadily.
“Ugh! I must say I don't like this at all,” remarked Ned, as he crouchedin a corner of the shelter. “I hope the lightning doesn't strike thisplace.”
“We can be thankful that we were not caught out in the middle of thelake, Ned.”
“I agree on that, Joe,--but it doesn't help matters much. Oh, dear me!”And Ned shrank down, as another blinding flash of lightning lit up thescene.
It was not a comfortable situation and Joe did not like it any more thandid his friend. But the hermit's boy was accustomed to being out in theelements, and therefore was not so impressed by what was taking place.
“The rain will fill the boat,” said Ned, presently.
“Never mind, we can easily bail her out or turn her over.”
“When do you think this storm will stop?”
“In an hour or two, most likely. Such storms never last very long. Whattime is it, Ned?”
“Half-past two,” answered Ned, after consulting the handsome watch hecarried.
“Then, if it clears in two hours, we'll have plenty of time to get homebefore dark.”
“I don't care to stay here two hours,” grumbled Ned. “It's not a veryinviting place.”
“It's better than being out under the trees,” answered Joe, cheerfully.The hermit's boy was always ready to look on the brighter side ofthings.
“Oh, of course.”
“And we have a fine string of fish, don't forget that, Ned. We werelucky to get so many before the storm came up.”
“Do you want the fish, or are you going to let me take them?”
“I'd like to have one fish. You may take the others.”
“Not unless you let me pay for them, Joe.”
“Oh, you needn't mind about paying me.”
“But I insist,” came from Ned. “I won't touch them otherwise.”
“All right, you can pay me for what I caught.”
“No, I want to pay for all of them. Your time is worth something, and Iknow you have to support your--the old hermit now.”
“All right, Ned, have your own way. Yes, I admit, I need all the money Iget.”
“Is the old hermit very sick?”
“Not so sick, but his rheumatism keeps him from going out hunting orfishing, so all that work falls to me.”
“It's a good deal on your shoulders, Joe.”
“I make the best of it, for there is nothing else to do.”
“By the way, Joe, you once spoke to me about--well, about yourself,”went on Ned, after some hesitation. “Did you ever learn anything more?You need not tell me if you don't care to.”
At these words Joe's face clouded for an instant.
“No, I haven't learned a thing more, Ned.”
“Then you don't really know if you are the hermit's nephew or not?”
“Oh, I think I am, but I don't know whatever became of my father.”
“Does the hermit think he is alive?”
“He doesn't know, and he hasn't any means of finding out.”
“Well, if I were you, I'd find out, some way or other.”
“I'm going to find out--some day,” replied Joe. “But, to tell the truth,I don't know how to go at it. Uncle Hiram doesn't like to talk about it.He thinks my father did wrong to go away. I imagine they had a quarrelover it.”
“Has he ever heard from your father since?”
“Not a word.”
“Did he write?”
“He didn't know where to write to.”
“Humph! It is certainly a mystery, Joe.”
“You are right, Ned; and as I said before, I am going to solve it sometime, even if it takes years of work to do it,” replied the hermit'sboy.