The light breeze which had lifted the mist at Upper Chain had dropped to a dead calm, and when Walter followed the guide from the train down to the landing on Upper Lake not a ripple broke its placid surface. As far as he could see it lay like a great magic mirror, the heavily-wooded shores reflected so clearly that the inverted forest appeared no less real than the original, so marvelously counterfeited. In every direction mountain succeeded mountain, for the most part clothed to their summits with the variegated green of the mighty woodland growth, the somber spruce of the higher slopes, black against the lighter green of yellow and white birch, maple and ash, which had reclaimed to the wilderness the vast tracts ruthlessly laid bare by reckless lumbering twenty years before. One of the nearer mountains was crowned with bare, exposed ledges to which clung a few unsightly blasted trunks, mute witnesses to the devastation wrought by fire.
By a peculiar optical effect produced by the angle of light in a dead calm at that time of the day, floating objects appeared magnified to many times their actual size, so that a launch some two miles distant, whose rapid put-put had drawn their attention when they first stepped from the train, appeared to be less than half that distance away.
Big Jim looked at it long and steadily, shading his eyes with a big hand.
" Thet's J Woodcraft Girl' all right," he said, " and I reckon they're comin' down fer us. Yer make yerself t' home, son, while I run back up yonder t' th' hotel and rastle up some grub. We'll be some hungry before we reach camp if I don't."
Walter seated himself on the end of the pier and drank in the beauty of the exquisite scene. Alongside a little mail boat was getting up steam, her crew busily stowing away express packages and supplies of all kinds for the various camps and hotels scattered along the lake. Half a dozen passengers were already aboard. Two Adirondack skiffs, each pulled by a brawny guide, a fisherman lolling at ease in the stern, were just setting out for the fishing grounds. All was hustle and activity, in strange contrast with the quiet lake and the majestic calm of the mountains.
In a few minutes Big Jim returned with some sandwiches, which they promptly disposed of while they waited for the approaching launch. It was now near enough for Walter to make out the blue pennant with the magic words " Woodcraft Camp " fluttering at the bow, and a moment later there came a joyous hail of " Oh, you Jim ! " from the figure in the bow, followed by a wild waving of a small megaphone.
" Oh, you Bob! " bellowed the big guide, swinging his hat.
The launch drew in rapidly and was deftly laid alongside. From it sprang two young fellows of seventeen or eighteen, in olive khaki trousers, flannel shirts and soft-brimmed hats, who straightway fell upon Walter's companion and pounded and thumped him and shook both hands at once, and were pounded and thumped in return.
When their somewhat noisy demonstration was over the one whom Jim had called Bob turned to Walter and held out his hand. " Guess your name is Upton, isn't it ? " he inquired with a pleasant smile. " My name is Seaforth, and this is Louis Woodhull, the best fellow in Woodcraft Camp. Dr. Merriam sent us down to look for you, but I see you were already in good company. The doctor was some worried for fear you might have missed connections at Upper Chain, but if he'd known that you were trailing in company with this old son of the backwoods his mind would have been easy. Jim, you great big stick of seasoned timber, it sure does a fellow good to look at you. Stow this young fellow and the duffle in the launch while I get the mail and do some errands, and we'll be off. The whole camp's a-looking for you, though they don't expect you till to-morrow. You're sure needed. Ed Mulligan is guiding over on Big Moose and won't be with us this year, but his younger brother, . Tom, is taking his place, and I guess he'll make good."
Bob's errands were soon done, the supplies, duffle and mail pouch stowed away in the launch, and her nose pointed down the lake. Bob took the wheel, while Louis ran the engine. Walter was up forward, "to be properly impressed," as Bob put it. And if that was really the object in giving him the best post of observation, its success left nothing to be desired.
With eager eyes he drank in the wonderful panorama constantly unfolding—as the launch sped swiftly over the lake. Here the lake was less than half a mile wide, then abruptly it opened up great bays which made it more than twice that width from shore to shore. How he longed to explore those bays and coves! Two big summer hotels on commanding bluffs were passed, showing but little life as yet, for the season had not fairly opened. On rocky points, or half hidden in sheltering coves, he caught glimpses of summer " camps," most of them built of logs, but in many cases little short of palatial, and the boy's lips curled with scorn at this travesty of wealth upon the simple life. Gradually the camps became fewer and farther apart until only an occasional lean-to or a tent now and then, clinging on the very edge of the forest, was evidence of man's invasion, and Walter felt that now in truth he was entering the wilds.
From the good-natured chaff and talk of his companions he gathered that Big Jim had been chief guide at Woodcraft Camp ever since this famous school in the woods had been started, and that the two young men had been among his earliest pupils. With eager ears he drank in their talk of fish and lures, of deer, rifles and hunting lore. Occasionally, as they skirted an island or ran around a sunken reef, one or another would recall a famous catch of bass or a big laker taken there.
Of the two young men, Seaforth was the more talkative. He was dark, with sparkling black eyes and a merry, likable face, which, for all its irrepressible good-humor, had in it a strength and purpose which denoted a solid foundation of character. He was broad-shouldered, deep-chested, finely-developed, a splendid type of young American manhood.