THE OUTDOOR CHUMS AFTER BIG GAME
Perilous Adventures in the Wilderness
CAPTAIN QUINCY ALLEN
AUTHOR OF "THE OUTDOOR CHUMS," "THE OUTDOOR CHUMS ON THE LAKE," ETC.
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
THE OUTDOOR CHUMS SERIES
BY CAPTAIN QUINCY ALLEN
THE OUTDOOR CHUMS Or The First Tour of the Rod, Gun and Camera Club
THE OUTDOOR CHUMS ON THE LAKE Or Lively Adventures on Wildcat Island
THE OUTDOOR CHUMS IN THE FOREST Or Laying the Ghost of Oak Ridge
THE OUTDOOR CHUMS ON THE GULF Or Rescuing the Lost Balloonists
THE OUTDOOR CHUMS AFTER BIG GAME Or Perilous Adventures in the Wilderness
12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Price, per volume, 50 cents postpaid.
GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
COPYRIGHT, 1911, BY GROSSET & DUNLAP The Outdoor Chums After Big Game
CHAPTER PAGE I GLORIOUS NEWS 1 II THE MOTORCYCLE THIEVES 14 III HOMEWARD BOUND BY MOONLIGHT 22 IV STARTING HANK RIGHT 31 V WESTWARD BOUND 40 VI AT THE VALLEY RANCH 49 VII THE GRIZZLY AT BAY 60 VIII BLUFF MISSES SOMETHING 67 IX FRANK HAS HIS TURN 76 X THE YOUNG HUNTER AND THE ELK 87 XI THE ELK AND THE YOUNG HUNTER 96 XII HARD LUCK 105 XIII AN INVADER IN CAMP 116 XIV THE COWBOY GUIDE 125 XV IN THE RAPIDS 134 XVI THE NEW CAMP 143 XVII AT THE CAMPFIRE OF THE CREES 153 XVIII AN INVITATION TO COME OUT 162 XIX A STRANGE DISCLOSURE 173 XX "WE MUST CUT AND RUN FOR IT!" 182 XXI NEVER GIVE UP 191 XXII THE WAR OF THE ELEMENTS 198 XXIII THE STAMPEDE 206 XXIV A MYSTERY SOLVED 215 XXV HOME AGAIN—CONCLUSION 225
THE OUTDOOR CHUMS AFTER BIG GAME
"Hello, there, Red Rover! Come alongside!"
"What's the row, fellows? This dandy breeze is too good to be wasted loafing."
"Frank's coming in the Jupiter, and coming like a streak!"
"Yes, and more than that, Bluff, he waves his hat as though he had great news!"
Will Milton and Jerry Wallington sat in the double canoe, that with flapping sails pointed its stem into the wind; while their chum, Richard Masters, known among all his schoolmates as Bluff, manipulated the dainty fifteen-foot cedar craft in which he had been speeding over the surface of Camalot Lake.
Another midget boat, constructed on the same lines as that in which Bluff was seated, came flying down before the wind, and presently brought up alongside the other craft.
It contained a single young fellow, upon whose frank and open face rested a broad smile that seemed to prophesy pleasing news.
"What makes you look so happy, Frank? Evidently you've heard that your examination papers were up to the standard, and it's college next year for yours," remarked Bluff with eagerness, and, it must be confessed, a tinge of envy in his quivering voice.
"Right for you! But that is only the beginning of my news!" cried Frank Langdon as he reached out and caught Jerry by the arm.
"Am I in it?" demanded that worthy, seeming to catch his breath.
"Well, I should say you were, and with even better honors than poor me. Now, the rest of you fellows, don't look that way. It's all right, I tell you," went on the bearer of news, trying to control his own voice, but succeeding only a little better than Jerry.
"Say! do you mean it? Did Bluff and I get through, after all?" exclaimed Will.
Frank nodded his head enthusiastically.
"Careful, now, you wild Indians! Just remember that you're in canoes that can be upset easily, and unless you want a ducking out in the middle of the lake, restrain your enthusiasm a bit, please. It isn't the easiest thing in the world, climbing over the stern of a canoe with all your clothes on," he warned them.
"But is it really true?" pleaded Will. "Have I crawled through decently? Well, I'm glad; not only because it will keep four chums together a while longer, in college, but my mother has set her heart on this thing. Yes, I'm mighty well pleased."
Will's mother was a rich widow, and as he had only a twin sister, Violet, for whom Frank entertained a pronounced liking, the two were more than ordinarily dear to Mrs. Milton.
"Well, fellows, let's give one mighty cheer because of our good fortune," said Jerry, his face beaming with delight; for the chums were very fond of each other, and had a single one been left behind on the following year, when the college term opened, there would have been many a keen regret.
"Hip, hip, hurrah! Hurrah! hurrah! Tiger!"
No doubt, many persons ashore, who heard that lusty shout come ringing over the clear water of the beautiful little lake on which the town of Centerville was located, wondered what the burst of enthusiasm meant.
But then they knew these four boys were built along the right lines, and that while they loved the whole outdoors, with its attendant exciting times, never had they been known to indulge in mean pranks.
After the cheer had died away there was a shaking of hands all around.
"Fellows, it begins to look as though our great trip to the Gulf of Mexico last winter might not be our last grand outing, after all. You know what our parents promised us if we went through all right?"
"Hear! hear! Frank has the floor!" cried Jerry.
"We were to have our choice of an extended tour through Yellowstone Park to California, and return by way of the Canadian Rockies; or a grand hunt in the wilderness, wherever we chose to take it. That was the idea, wasn't it?" went on the happy occupant of the Jupiter.
"Talk to me about your personally conducted tours all you please, nothing appeals to me like a real old hunt in the Great West," said Jerry ecstatically. "Haven't I just longed for a chance to look at a big elk in his native wilds, for years? And the thought of a grizzly bear sends a thrill of pleasure through me."
"And as for me, haven't I lain awake nights without number thinking about what bliss it would be to actually snap off a few pictures of those same animals right where they live? How tame to go to a menagerie and get a photo of a poor old bear behind the bars, when a fellow has a chance to take him in the open!"
Of course it was Will who made this remark. He was the official photographer of the Rod, Gun and Camera Club, as our four boy friends called themselves, and his ambition to secure striking scenes, with wild game in the center of the stage, had already led him into quite a few scrapes, just as it would again when the opportunity presented itself.
"But what I have told you isn't quite all," remarked Frank presently, when the chatter of voices allowed him a chance to get in a few words edgewise.
"What else have you got up your sleeve?" demanded Bluff.
"Yes, confess everything, and perhaps we'll forgive you," came from Will.
"Well, I've had a letter." And Frank held something up.
"From that old side partner of Jesse Wilcox, the trapper whose camp we used to visit during our fall hunt?" cried Jerry.
Frank nodded his head.
"And what does he say? Hurry up, and tell. Can't you see that Bluff, here, will be overboard? He's leaning so far over the side that the water is ready to pour in over the gunwale. Will Martin Mabie take us out?" asked Jerry.
"He says he will be glad to do so, for old friendship's sake. I'm to wire when to expect us, and leave the rest to him," Frank explained.
"I hope he has told you what we are to fetch along. We've done some hunting, fellows, in our time, but that sort of thing, with big game in prospect, calls for heavier gear. None of your repeating shotguns need apply this trip, Bluff, you understand?"
Jerry could never become wholly reconciled to the modern gun Bluff owned. He professed to be such a clean sportsman that he always believed in giving the game a chance, and declared it to be next door to murder to have six shots in hand when hunting birds. With big game, it was all right, because then a fellow's life might often be in danger.
"Oh, Martin Mabie has written quite a long letter. He seems to be an educated man, and not at all the brand we figured out from hearing Jesse talk about him. Boys, we can now lay our plans, and make a start inside of a week," declared Frank.
"Isn't it just great? Did ever a set of grads get such a chance for fun as this?"
"I don't believe they ever did, or ever will, Bluff. And our folks have been mighty good to give us this glorious opportunity to enjoy an outing such as we've hankered after for a year, remember that, fellows," remarked Frank seriously.
"You can just wager that I make it a point to let the pater know my sentiments. He's the best dad going, and I mean to make him proud of me some day. But tell us more about it, Frank. Where is Martin Mabie to meet us, and what does he tell us to fetch along?"
"I'm not going to say another word, Jerry, until we get to the clubhouse, when every one of you can have a chance to read his letter," remarked Frank as he prepared to cast off and throw his sails to the breeze again.
"A week, did you say? Oh! what a long time to wait!" groaned Bluff.
"Still, there are lots of things to be done. I think it may be necessary for one of us to run down to the city to lay in some things in the way of ammunition, and a few articles of clothing for mountain wear."
"Then we'll appoint you as a committee of one to see to such traps, Frank," called Jerry as the other shot away with the wind, his canoe gliding over the little wavelets like a phantom craft.
Frank smiled. It was certainly nice to know that his chums felt such sincere confidence in him at all times. There was nothing he would not do to give them pleasure.
So the three cedar boats were soon heading for the clubhouse, and while they are thus employed it might be well for us to understand just who these chums were, and what they had been doing in the past to make them such firm friends.
Frank was from Maine, but his father, a banker, had come to Centerville a few years back; and among all the boys attending the Academy Frank had soon picked out as his especial friends these three, Will Milton, Jerry Wallingford and Bluff Masters.
After the Rod, Gun and Camera Club had been formed they had taken their first outing, using their motorcycles to reach the woods beyond the head of the lake. What befell them on this occasion has been told in the first volume of this series, called "The Outdoor Chums; or, The First Tour of the Rod, Gun and Camera Club."
Later on, a storm having done considerable damage at the school, they were given an unexpected fall vacation, and the chums decided to spend it on Wildcat Island, situated at the foot of the lake. There were several strange things connected with this island, such as a mysterious wild man who had been seen there; and besides, it was shunned because of the fierce bobcats that had possession. How our boys camped on this island, and what wonderful adventures they met with there, can be learned by reading the second volume, entitled "The Outdoor Chums on the Lake; or, Lively Adventures on Wildcat Island."
When the Easter holidays came around they had laid out another charming campaign. This was nothing more nor less than an expedition to Oak Ridge, that lay some ten miles back from the lake, amid the Sunset Mountains. Report had it that there was a real ghost to be seen there, and the boys were bent on discovering the truth of this weird story. It can be easily understood that they must have had a glorious time on that trip, viewed from the standpoint of an eager, adventure-loving boy. But the story is set down in full in the third volume, and you can read it for yourselves in "The Outdoor Chums in the Forest; or, Laying the Ghost of Oak Ridge."
No further long jaunts came the way of the quartet during the school term, up to the Christmas holidays, when they received permission to undertake a trip to the Sunny South. Just how this came about, and what wonders they saw and experienced on a Florida river, as well as upon the great Mexican Gulf, have been told in the fourth book of the series, called "The Outdoor Chums on the Gulf; or, Rescuing the Lost Balloonists."
And now it seemed as though, less than six months later, they were ready to embark on what promised to be the most exciting trip of all, a visit to the wilderness of the great Northwest, in search of big game.
Reaching the clubhouse, they quickly stowed their boats away. From this time on there would probably be scant time for aquatic sports. The tremendous undertaking they had in view would, very likely, occupy all their spare moments.
"Now let's have that letter, Frank. We want to con it so that every word will be photographed on our brains from this time on. Didn't old Jesse say that Martin Mabie was a big stockman now, and had really quit being a guide and hunter? Then it's mighty kind of him to undertake to convoy a raft of tenderfeet into the wilderness. Money didn't enter into it, that's sure," said Bluff.
"He mentions having had a long letter from Jesse," remarked Frank.
"That settles it, then. Our good old friend has been telling him everything we ever did, and got him interested. We must make it a point to run up and see Jesse before we go, and thank him."
"You're right about that, Jerry," said Frank warmly. "I was thinking the same, myself. But here's the letter. Read it for yourselves."
Various were the comments after this had been done.
"Talk to me about your good fellows! That Martin Mabie stands in a class of his own," observed Jerry. "Think of him offering to take us into the mountains for weeks, and see that we have the time of our lives! And he warns us not to mention the word money to him unless we want to break up the game. I sure am anxious to shake hands with that same friend of old Jesse."
"I move we start up there right now and see Jesse. The day is fine, and when can we spare the time better?" suggested Will, who secretly wanted just another chance to try a snapshot of the queer cabin which the trapper occupied.
"Second the motion!" cried Bluff eagerly.
"I'm some cramped, myself, from sitting so long in that canoe. Perhaps a run on our motorcycles might give me relief. So I say go," came from Jerry.
Frank himself believed it would be a good idea. He knew that once they started making preparations for their Western trip nothing was apt to tear them away.
"All right, boys. It's going to be a full moon to-night. Suppose we stop over and have a parting supper with Jesse? He'd be dreadfully tickled at the notion. Tell your folks at home, and meet me at the Forks in not more than half an hour."
Frank hustled the others out of the boathouse, locked the door, and then the four chums hastened to their various homes.
Ere the half hour was up they came together at the forks of the road, just out of Centerville. Frank was first on hand, as usual, but even laggard Will showed up on time, camera and all.
In single file, and with a little space separating them, they started off, the motors soon popping merrily as the boys entered into the spirit of the occasion.
The air was fresh as they sped along the dusty road. The leader was ever ready to signal a slow-down in case they met a farmer with a load of hay, going to market, or any other vehicle. This was rendered necessary because the cloud of dust might blind the eyes of those who came after, and a collision be the result.
In this fashion they arrived at the lumber camp, which was deserted at this time of year. From there on the pace had to be slowed down, for the road was only used by logging teams, and hardly suitable for motorcycles.
They were plugging along, each keeping his eyes open for obstacles apt to present themselves, such as roots cropping up above the surface, when the leader gave a sudden toot upon the little horn attached to his machine that warned the others a stop was imperative.
THE MOTORCYCLE THIEVES
"What's gone wrong, Frank?" demanded Bluff, dropping off his seat.
"In luck again, for I'd have banged up against that big root if Frank hadn't given the signal just then," chuckled Will, holding up his machine.
"A puncture, Frank?" demanded Jerry, who had been in the rear.
"Not at all. I thought I heard some one shouting. Perhaps I was mistaken, for with a lot of motors popping away it's hard to be sure. Still, we can stop for a minute and listen," remarked Frank seriously.
"Shouting—for help?" repeated Will, looking around nervously.
"That's queer," cried Bluff, "that we seldom go out anywhere but what somebody calls on us for assistance. Think of it! There was the town bully, Andy Lasher, who was caught under that falling tree in the storm, and rescued by Jerry."
"That's a fact; and then there was Jed, the bound boy, you remember, fellows," went on Will eagerly.
"Not to mention the saving of the aeronaut from the burning hotel by Frank, here; and last, but not least, our giving that little Joe the glad hand down South," observed Jerry, joining in with enthusiasm.
"Yes, but there are a few rescues you seem to forget, Jerry. How about that time when the wild dogs had you chasing around the tree?" asked Bluff, grinning.
"Oh, that isn't in the same class. You forget that I got out of that scrape by my own exertions," replied the other.
"But there was another time when we hauled you out of a hollow tree in which you found yourself caged. You didn't crawl out of there alone and unaided, if I remember right," persisted Will.
"Some things are better buried in oblivion. You and your camera want to remind a fellow constantly of events that ought to be forgotten. But Frank, that must have been an owl you heard. I haven't caught any call for help yet."
"Perhaps we'd better go on, then. Look out how you mount here, for it's a hard proposition, Jerry, with these roots and stones."
Frank had just started to move forward with his own motorcycle, when all of them heard a sound issuing from the woods alongside the "tote" road.
They looked at each other.
"Somebody's in trouble there. Who can it be?" said Frank as he leaned his machine up against a tree, as though eager to hasten to the assistance of the one who had cried out.
"No hunters around at this time of year," remarked Will as he followed suit.
"And the loggers have been gone some months," went on Bluff.
"Tell me about that, now! It wasn't a child's voice, or I might think a kid had got lost up here. Perhaps some man has cut himself badly with his ax," suggested Jerry.
"Or dropped down into some old abandoned mine shaft," spoke up Frank, with a wink toward Will; for one of the chums had gone through with just such an experience during one of their outings, and had to be rescued.
"Shall we all go?" demanded Bluff, given to caution.
"Why not? Nothing can happen to our machines here. For one, I decline to stay out of the rescuing party. Besides, perhaps I may get a chance to snap off a lovely picture of the Good Samaritans at work."
Will had hastily unfastened his camera, and held it in his hands as he spoke.
"All right, then. Come on, boys!"
With these words, Frank led the way into the woods.
"Sure the sound came from this direction?" asked Bluff.
"That was my impression. What do you say, Jerry?" and Frank turned to the chum on whose knowledge of woodcraft he felt he could rely.
"Straight in there. You're heading all right, Frank," he replied.
"How far did it seem to be?" went on the leader.
"That is hard to say. The man may have been weakened from loss of blood. If he was shouting, then it may have been several hundred yards, perhaps a quarter of a mile off; but I think we'll come across him closer than that."
"I agree with you, Jerry," said Frank, stopping short.
"What did you hear?" demanded the other, for Frank had bent his head, and seemed to be listening over his shoulder.
"I don't know. Perhaps it was a bush springing back into place after our passage. But suppose we shout occasionally? It may encourage the poor fellow, and besides, guide us to where he lies," returned Frank, once more pushing on.
Accordingly they lifted up their voices and gave a series of calls.
"Why doesn't he answer us?" asked Will, astonished when only the echoes came back from the surrounding forest.
Frank stopped in his tracks.
"Can he have fainted from loss of blood?" said Bluff, still having in mind a picture of a woodsman who had severed an artery by a misblow of his ax.
"There's Frank listening again, and he seems to be paying more attention to our rear than ahead," remarked Will, puzzled.
"I bet you he thinks somebody is playing us for a lot of fools; that there isn't any one hurt, or in need of help at all. What's that?"
The distinct and well-known "popping" of a motor was heard.
"It's a trick, fellows! Somebody is meddling with our machines! Back to the road!" shouted Jerry, turning and plunging through the under-brush recklessly.
A wild scramble followed. The four chums were so excited, and filled with a determination to stop the unknown miscreants from making way with their machines, that they gave little heed to their steps. The consequence was that more than once a collision with a tree ensued, and various bumps afterward gave mute evidence as to the reckless manner of their chase.
"There's two of 'em!" shrieked Will from the rear, as he caught the sound of a second series of erratic poppings.
Evidently those who were meddling with the motorcycles did not have a thorough knowledge of how to work the same, for the sounds would suddenly cease and then start up again.
"Oh! don't I wish they'd just take headers over some nice fat root!" gasped the perspiring Will, still hugging his precious camera to his heart as he followed in Frank's wake.
The latter had made for the road in as direct a line as possible. Progress was bound to be slow through the dense undergrowth, and the sooner they struck the open the quicker they could hope to gain on the thieves.
In this fashion they came upon the road at last. Of course, their eyes immediately turned down its sinuous way to the quarter whence the excitable popping sounds still continued to come.
The sight that met their eyes amazed them. All of the chums had naturally expected that they would discover some mischievous school companions, who, seeing them coming, had hatched up this little game with the intention of playing a practical joke.
Nothing of the kind. On the contrary, they saw two of the motorcycles bobbing along in the most erratic manner possible, moving from one side of the rough road to the other, and mounted on the same were a couple of roughly dressed men, either tramps, or journeymen on the road looking for a job.
"Tell me about that, will you!" gasped Jerry.
"Why, the blooming idiots mean to steal our machines!" cried Bluff.
"Oh! what luck that I thought to take my camera with me!" came from Will.
Frank only made one remark, but it was characteristic of the boy:
"After them, fellows!"
Then began a mad chase. Had the road been half-way decent, the boys would have had no chance of overtaking the thieves; but those exposed roots, while not bothersome to the lumbermen, proved extremely so to the men who were trying to make off with the motorcycles.
They dared not put on great speed. More than this, much of their time was taken up with dodging the stones and other things that threatened to bring sudden disaster upon them.
Hence it was that the boys, having considerable sprinting ability, began to rapidly overhaul the fleeing rascals. The two men dared not cast a single glance behind, and consequently the only means they had of knowing how close their pursuers might be would lie in any shouts given by Frank and his chums.
As he ran, the leading boy cast an occasional look alongside the path. He was in search of a good stout cudgel. Knowing that the chances were the affair would presently come to a face-to-face issue between the two parties, he wished to be prepared as well as possible.
"Bully stunt!" exclaimed Jerry as he followed suit.
They were now drawing close upon the fugitives, who were having a nerve-racking time dodging those numerous roots.
Knowing that the angry owners of the wheels must be close upon them, the men endeavored to increase their speed, with disastrous results.
"Wow!" shouted Jerry, as he saw one of the riders suddenly shoot out of his saddle and take a header, to be followed by his companion a second later.
HOMEWARD BOUND, BY MOONLIGHT
"Jump 'em!" shouted Frank as he threw himself upon the first fellow, floundering in the road.
"I'm on!" echoed Jerry, suiting the action to the words by propelling himself straight at the second motorcycle thief.
This fellow happened to have come through his fall without getting hurt. The consequence was, he felt disposed to put up a much better fight than his confused companion, upon whose prostrate form Frank had straddled.
He rolled over once or twice with remarkable agility, causing Jerry to miss his guess when he thought to drop on him. Then, scrambling to his knees, the man, who turned out to be a rough-looking chap, indeed, pulled something out of his pocket, which he aimed at the two boys about to pounce upon him.
"Keep back, you!" he roared, his mouth being half filled with dirt after he had plowed up the earth of the roadway with his face.
"He's got a pistol!" shrieked Will, who was fingering his camera nervously from a point somewhat in the rear; and they immediately heard the little suggestive click that announced the pressure of a finger on the trigger.
Bluff was the quick-witted one on this occasion. He had his stick upraised at the time, ready to strike. Instead, he sent it from him suddenly with all his power, and as the cudgel was no light one, when it struck the extended arm of the kneeling thief the shock was so great that the shining object he had been gripping was hurled about five feet away.
Jerry instantly took occasion to possess himself of the same. The man was nursing his wounded arm and muttering to himself, his face screwed up with pain.
"Talk to me about your quick work! What could beat that, fellows?" cried Jerry as he stood over the grunting and disgusted rascal who had attempted to hold them off.
"What had we better do with 'em?" asked Bluff, frowning at the several scratches upon his machine caused by the accident.
"Any damage done?" asked Frank.
"Well, this man here has a sore arm, I guess; and the one you're sitting on looks as if his face might be a map, from the scratches," replied Jerry.
"Oh! I mean the machines," laughed Frank.
"Nothing serious here. How about yours, Will?" answered Bluff.
"Mine seems to be all right. They weren't going fast enough to cause a real wreck. A little paint will fix it up," was the answer Will made.
"Do you know either of these fellows?" went on Frank.
The boys took a better look at the men.
"Why, the one with the scratched face is Hank Brady, I'm sure. He used to live in Centerville. The other is a stranger to me," remarked Bluff.
"Well, I've seen him before. He was working in the office of the town paper as a tramp compositor a week ago. I suppose he got uneasy, and wanted to be on the move again, and seeing a fine chance for hooking a couple of motorcycles, they yielded to temptation. If we took them back they'd be locked up for this little job," observed Frank sternly.
"I hope you won't do anything of the kind, kids," said the fellow whose arm had been stung by Bluff's stick. "We only wanted to have a lark with you. Sure you don't think we'd be fools enough to run away with such valuable things as them motorcycles, when the telephone would get us at the next town? It was done for fun, but I reckon we paid the piper, all right," and he scowled at Bluff as he spoke, nursing his arm as though it were still painful.
Frank laughed. He was not of a vindictive nature. Besides, it did seem as though the two fellows had been punished enough already.
"No matter, it was a mean trick, and you deserve all you got. Get up, Hank. You took a lovely cropper that time. Where did you learn how to run a motorcycle?" he asked, helping the prisoner to his feet.
"I was a chauffeur a little time back. Sure we never thought to run off with the gas-wheels. Saw you comin' along, and Flimsy said it would be a good joke to make you fellers think somebody was sick in the woods. Then, when we seen you all go by, I said to him, 'Let's run a couple of them machines down the road a bit, just to tease the boys.' Flimsy he rode one once in his travels, and so we jumped on. The rest is history, and I got the map that goes along with it, on me face."
"What say, boys? Shall we let it pass?" asked Frank, winking at his chums.
Jerry, for reply, started to fire the revolver he held, until the entire six shots had been discharged.
"Here! Take your gun, mister, and next time don't be so quick to pull it on a stranger. Think what would happen to you if you'd fired and hit one of us? Some time you may even be glad that Bluff, here, was so quick with his stick."
He handed the empty weapon over to the tramp printer, who let his head fall, as though really ashamed of his action.
The boys started back to where the other machines had been left, while the two men slunk into the shelter of the woods, to patch up their hurts as best they might.
"Say! that was a queer ending to a rescue, wasn't it?" asked Bluff.
"I only hope my picture comes out all right. It ought to show Frank sitting on top of Hank, while Bluff and Jerry surround the other tramp, who is on his knees, aiming his old gun. Then my machine is lying there. Fellows, what need of words to explain what happened?" chuckled the gratified Will.
Whenever he succeeded in securing a coveted picture the ardent photographer was the happiest boy in the county. His pleasure caused him to fairly bubble over with good nature.
"Tell me about that, will you!" said Jerry, pretending to scorn such an exhibition of joy over so trivial a matter. "Why, you'd think the chap had knocked over some big game, to hear him chatter."
"And so he had," declared Frank quickly, "according to his light. All of us are not made alike, Jerry. One man's food is poison to another. You and I are fond of fishing and shooting, but Will is more of an artist. He delights in stalking the timid deer in the close season, and shooting him with his camera. Lots of people believe his way of securing pleasure beats ours all hollow."
"Anyhow, it doesn't thin out the game," asserted Will stoutly.
Jerry stopped short to turn a look of pity on his comrade.
"Think how hungry we'd all go out in camp if we depended on your blessed old box for supper," he suggested witheringly.
"All very true," remarked Frank as they reached the other motorcycles, and prepared to continue their interrupted journey to the camp of the trapper; "which is proof of what I say, that many men, many minds. There's room for all kinds in a party."
"Yes; and nobody likes to look over my prints more than Jerry," grumbled Will, feeling quite offended.
"Don't pay any attention to him. He doesn't mean anything by it. You know how he likes to joke every one. Now, we're off again, boys."
Once more they made their way along the rough road. The sight of those two unfortunates sprawling upon the ground was a lesson, warning the riders against trying for speed under such conditions, so they made haste slowly.
Upon arriving at the cabin home of the trapper they surprised him very much; and when Jesse Wilcox learned the object of their visit he was more pleased than ever.
They spent some hours with him, and even assisted in getting the evening meal. From their long experience now the boys had become quite proficient in this line, and were able to show old Jesse quite a few tricks that delighted him.
With the campfire blazing merrily, they ate supper alongside his rough cabin home. Of course, they fairly deluged him with questions about the habits of the big game of the West, which he answered to the best of his ability.
"Wait till we get out with Martin Mabie, fellows. He's on the ground, and can set us straight. Jesse has been trapping these little animals around here so long now he's a back number," joked Jerry, at which the trapper laughed, for he was very fond of these four lads, and nothing they said annoyed him.
As they had planned, the run home was made by moonlight. This necessitated that they walk with their machines until the good road was gained, below the lumber camp.
"I wonder whether those two tramps hit the high places, and got out of this neighborhood for keeps?" Bluff was saying, after they had mounted and were bowling along merrily toward town.
"The chances are that way. That tramp printer must be a bad sort of chap, it seems to me, and if Hank keeps along in his society I can see his finish," answered Jerry over his shoulder.
They had not made more than a mile when once more Frank gave a quick toot of his horn that brought the little procession up in a hurry.
"What ails us now?" demanded Bluff.
"Frank's bending over something in the road, as sure as you live!" called Will.
"Tell me about that, will you! Seems as if our lively times haven't stopped yet. It never rains but it pours, fellows. Hi! Frank, what's the matter? Say! Would you believe it? There's a man lying in the road!"
Jerry made haste to push his heavy motorcycle forward so as to reach the side of his kneeling chum.
"It's Hank Brady, boys, and he seems to be in a bad way. Something has happened to him since we saw him last," said Frank, looking up.
"Goodness gracious! Is he dead?" gasped Will, his eyes dilating in horror.
"I don't know yet, but I'm going to find out," replied Frank, bending over so that he could press his ear upon the breast of the man in the road.
"And that tramp printer, where's he at?" asked Jerry suggestively. "Tell me that, will you?"
STARTING HANK RIGHT
"He's alive, all right!" was the announcement of Frank presently.
"I hear water close by. Hold on, and I'll get some," said Will hurrying away.
Even Jerry was desirous of helping as best he could. He took hold with Frank, and the insensible Hank was carried alongside the road, to where some grass grew, and offered a softer resting place.
Had it been a friend who was thus in need of succor, they could hardly have shown more energy in attending to his wants.
"He's coming to," said Bluff after Frank had sprinkled the scratched face with some of the cold water.
There was a deep sigh, then Frank saw that the fellow's eyes had opened, and were surveying him with a troubled stare.
"Feeling better, Hank?" he asked quietly.
"Oh, I'm all right, I reckon. What brought you fellows here? Where am I, anyhow? Did I just drop off that motorcycle? No. I remember, now. Flimsy took the last cent I had while I lay in the road. The meanest skunk I ever met up with. If ever he crosses my path again I'll get even with the cur," he growled, sitting up and holding a hand to his head.
"What happened to you, Hank? Why were you lying in the road? Did you have a fight with that tramp printer?" asked Frank, suspecting the truth.
"Yes. I told him I was sick of keeping with him. He's a bad one, and some fine day he'll land in the stone jug. He scared me the way he talked. I started to tramp back home, and he kept nagging me all the way here. In the end he made me so mad I just tackled him. That was what he wanted. Why, he put me to sleep the easiest way you ever saw. I just remember him fumbling in my pockets before he hoofed it."
"Well, it was a lucky thing for you, Hank, after all. If you'd kept with that rascal you'd soon have been just like him. Did you say you meant to go back home now?"
"That's what I meant to do, but he's fixed it so I can't," muttered the other, grinding his teeth in fury.
"How's that?" pursued Frank, believing there must be a story back of his words.
"He took the ten dollars I stole from my dad. I won't never dare face him and say I lost it. I thought I could put it back in the bureau drawer, and he'd never know. I'll have to foller that Flimsy, and make him give it back."
"You can't do that for he'd only laugh at you, and perhaps beat you again."
"The thief ought to be arrested," grumbled Bluff indignantly.
"That would blow the whole thing, you see, and dad he'd know I grabbed it. I'm gettin' all I ought to have, I reckon. P'raps I might earn that ten some way, and hand it over. If I could only get another job as chauffeur it'd be all right," Hank Brady was mumbling to himself dejectedly.
"Perhaps you can," said Frank quickly. "I remember, now, that our man had to go away suddenly the day before yesterday. Look here, Hank! Do you really mean to do the right thing now? Have you had your lesson pounded into you?"
"I sure have. Never again for me, I give you my word. I guess my folks has been worried some on my account, but they don't need to any more. I've reformed, I have. I'm goin' to walk a straight line after this."
The fellow spoke as though he meant it, and Frank believed he could detect the ring of sincerity in his voice.
"All right. Shake hands on that, Hank. Don't you forget it, that you'll find plenty of fellows willing to give you a lift, just as quickly as some others want to give you a drag down. It all depends on where the other chap is standing himself. You come and see me to-morrow, some time. I'm Frank Langdon, and my father is the president of the First National Bank."
"This is mighty white of you, fellers," muttered the other, apparently ashamed.
"You can never pay it back to us, Hank, but some time pass it along; hold out a helping hand to some other poor chap in trouble. I guess if you know how to run a car decently you will get the job, if I speak to my dad. Now, another thing—that ten dollars you wanted to put back, was it in one bill?"
"Two fives," replied Hank, catching his breath.
"Then perhaps we can fix it up. I've got one here. Jerry, can you help me out?" asked Frank, who believed in doing the whole thing, once he started.
"Just happen to have it, by good luck," replied the other cheerfully.
"Say! that's too much, fellers—an' after I played that mean trick, too!"
"Don't worry about that. I'm not giving you this, Hank, only loaning it to you. You can pay it back out of your first month's salary. Here you are, and don't think for a minute that you're getting the best of all this. We're enjoying it, in our own way, more than you ever can. See you to-morrow, then. Good-night, Hank!"
They left the fellow standing there, quite dumb. He had tried to answer them as they rode off, but not a sound could he utter.
"Talk to me about the queer things that crop up with us, will you!" laughed Jerry as he kept close at Frank's heels. "Did you ever really hear the equal of that, now?"
"Oh, it's an old story. The only decent thing about it is the fact that of his own free will Hank was breaking away from his evil associations and heading back home, when he met with this last trouble. I say, Bluff!"
"Hello, Frank! What is it?" came from the rear, where the party addressed was following in the wake of his chums.
"How about Hank? Do you know if he ever played chauffeur half-way decent? I'd hate to risk the pater's neck with a greenhorn."
"Come to think of it, he used to run old Cragin's car for quite some time. Had an accident, and was discharged; but some people said Hank wasn't to blame; that it came about because the old man was too stingy to buy the right kind of tires, and always picked up job lots."
"Glad to hear it. He won't have that fault to find with the governor. Well, here we separate, fellows. To-morrow morning, at the boathouse, about eight, to lay our plans and arrange for the trip to the city."
With a cheery good-night the chums separated, and each headed for his home.
In the morning they once more came together, and for some hours there was an earnest talk, during which many ideas were put forward, and order gradually took the place of chaos.
A knock at the door took Frank thither, for he suspected who the visitor might prove to be, as he had left word at home to send Hank Brady there, if he called. Hank was now decently dressed, and his face did not look so very bad, though it bore a number of scratches.
"All right, Hank. I'm going with you to the bank. My father knows all about it, for I thought it best to start square, so that you need not fear about his finding out anything about your past," he said, shaking hands with the other.
"And he don't give me the shake on that account?" asked Hank eagerly.
"Of course he doesn't. He even said that what we did was right, and that he could look back to a day in his boyhood when a kind word started him along the straight and narrow path. My dad's the right sort, Hank. Serve him decently, and you'll never want a better friend. But at the same time he hates deceit, and will not put up with a sneak. You've got the chance of your life to make good."
"And I'm going to make good, all right, or bust tryin'. I'll never get over the white way you fellers acted with me, never, if I live a hundred years!" said Hank in a broken voice.
Frank took him over to the bank, where Mr. Langdon was favorably impressed with his looks, and engaged him, after he had learned what he knew about the running of a car. Hank had worked in a garage for a year, and this knowledge was invaluable to him in his business as a chauffeur.
That afternoon Frank and Bluff started for the city, with a list of things they believed should be purchased before they went forth upon their journey. Bluff had in mind a wonderful hunting-knife, with an ivory handle, a picture of which he had seen in the catalogue of a sporting goods house, and he was secretly determined to possess such a magnificent tool.
"The time might come when a fellow would have only his trusty blade between himself and death, and then you just bet he wants a good one. Think of a big grizzly trying to hug you! Where would your little knife be, then? You'd soon wish you had that Cuban machete that hangs on the wall of your father's den, Frank," he said, when the other expostulated with him about purchasing such a murderous-looking weapon.
And Bluff did buy it, too. All the way home he kept tabs on that package, and often, when Frank was not looking, he would go through certain gestures with it gripped in his hand, as though practicing against that day when the aforesaid grizzly and he would have their little heated argument for supremacy.
Jerry, too, either felt shocked at the enormous size of the wonderful hunting-knife, or else pretended to be. He shrugged his shoulders in that scornful way he had, and turned his back on the prize Bluff had drawn.
"What else could you expect of a man who goes after quail with a Gatling gun? Why, the poor innocent grizzly will faint dead away at sight of that cavalry sword. It gives me a cold chill just to look at it," he observed.
Bluff only laughed.
"Rank envy eating up your soul, that's all, my boy. Wait till you see me in action with that razor-edged tool. I'll have you all turning green with envy yet," he said, fondling the ivory-handled weapon ere he thrust it back into its sheath.
The days dragged along. Will counted them, and each night heaved a sigh of relief that they were a notch nearer the time of departure. Finally the last night arrived, and their coming tour was to be marked by a little gathering at the home of Frank, which was intended to be in the way of a send-off.
There were just eight people gathered together that evening to have a good time. Besides Nellie Langdon, of course, Will's twin sister, Violet, graced the occasion with her presence; then there came Mame Crosby, the vivacious girl with the auburn locks, who was so fond of teasing Jerry; and last, but not least, pretty Susie Prescott, a dainty, prim little blonde, whom Will considered a bundle of sweetness.
What a splendid time this congenial little company had! For many a day the memory of it would follow the four chums while far away.
All of the "material of war," as Mame called it, had been brought to Frank's house, so that it might be packed in one big trunk. Thus the boys would be bothered with only a suitcase and a gun apiece in the long journey across the continent.
The girls insisted upon being shown the wonderful aggregation of clothing and weapons. It was to them very much like a shopping expedition, and many were the exclamations of awe and curiosity as they looked upon the exhibition.
Bluff, of course, was very proud of that wonderful hunting-knife of his. He even smiled to see the perceptible shudder with which Nellie surveyed him as he cut imaginary circles in the air with the keen-edged weapon.
"Oh! I hope you won't have to use it very often, Bluff! It makes me shiver just to think of you meeting one of those fierce grizzly bears, such as I have seen in the menagerie," she said confidentially to him.
"But you wouldn't have me leave this jewel at home, would you, Nellie?" he asked in dismay.
"Oh, no! Not for the world!—since you say that perhaps your very life may depend on having it; but please, Bluff, be very careful. You might cut yourself by accident, you know, and then—well, your mother and father would grieve so much if anything happened to you."
"Well, would you care?" asked Bluff boldly.
Nellie gave him an arch look and ran down-stairs, as she said that she was needed just then to superintend the placing of the refreshments on the table. Bluff laid the wonderful hunting-knife, sheath and all, back on the stand where his things were gathered, and smiled as if pleased. He had occasion, later on, to recall each little incident of that evening, when worrying his mind over a most mysterious thing that puzzled him.
The little company separated about eleven, for the boys expected to leave home long ere noon on the following day, and had a strenuous journey before them.
After an early breakfast they gathered at Frank's, where the last packing was done in hot haste, as the time was short. So it happened that none of them had more than a confused idea of what was done during that last hour, save that, some way or other, their things were crammed into the big trunk.
"We should have taken two, hang it!" grunted Bluff as he tugged at the metal catches, while a couple of his mates sat on top to induce the lid to come down.
"There! It's all right now!" cried Will, as the click of the catch announced the desired union.
So the trunk was snatched up by the waiting men and carried off, to be taken to the station. Frank and his chums quickly followed. Quite a gathering of relatives and friends were on hand to see them off.
Frank was taking a last look into the automobile, to make sure nothing had been forgotten, when Hank Brady, who seemed to be making good with his job, plucked at his sleeve.
"Hello! Came near forgetting to say good-by to you, Hank! Hope you get on fine and dandy while I'm gone," said the boy, holding out his hand.
"Thank you, Mr. Frank; but I only wanted to say a few words to you about a brother of mine who is out there somewhere, we believe. Now, I know the Northwest is a big place, and you might as well think of lookin' for a needle in a haystack as for a certain feller there; but accidents do happen, and by some sorter luck you might just happen to run across Teddy," said Hank quickly, and with a wistful look on his face that held Frank's attention.
"And if I do, what then?" he asked softly.
"Tell him his mother's still a-grievin' after him. You see, he is her baby, though a big feller for his age, which is seventeen about. He left us in a huff two years back. We heard in an indirect way several times, but never straight. She worries when she thinks nobody is a-lookin'. If Teddy would only write to her I think she'd be kinder reconciled," went on Hank, heaving a deep sigh.
"All right. If by any good luck I happen to run across your brother, you can depend on it I'll do my best to make him write. But how am I to know him among the thousands of people I meet?" remarked Frank as he was about to turn away.
"Well, he has—"
Just then some one pounced on Frank, and dragged him off, so that he never really knew how he was to recognize this wandering brother of Hank Brady in case he should meet him.
The train was almost due, and general good-bys were quickly said. Such a chattering as ensued, which kept up until the four chums climbed into the car that was to take them to the nearest city, where they would board the through train for the Northwest.
After the last glimpse of their loved ones had been lost by a sudden bend in the road, they settled down to making themselves comfortable. It was expected that they would make connection in St. Paul with the western through train bound for Seattle. Then would begin the grandest ride on the whole American continent, over boundless plains, and finally up into the majestic mountains.
Day and night they would be carried swiftly onward across the many miles of entrancing scenery. Wonderful sights would fall to their portion.
St. Paul was reached in due season, and once more they started forth, this time headed west, with the hunting-land beckoning them on.
"Tell me about this, will you!" remarked Jerry, after they had crossed the broad prairies and were climbing the tremendous heights that lie like a barrier between the center of the continent and the Pacific Slope. "How much more of it do we have before us, Frank? I'm getting so filled with wonder and awe that my tongue is getting into a rut with saying 'Ah!' so much."
"Less than a day will see us through now. Once we get over this range there lies a long valley, and in that is where Martin Mabie has his ranch."
"Then we'll do our hunting along the sides of the mountains?" suggested Will, who had used up nearly half his supply of films already, taking views of the wonderful things they saw on the trip.
"That's my impression, from what he wrote," replied Frank.
"And he also said game was fairly plentiful, if I remember aright," remarked Jerry.
"Well, he did say that they had been so busy of late on the ranch that no one had had time for hunting, and consequently the game had not been bothered very much; which, I suppose, amounts to the same thing."
"H'm! I hope he won't be so rushed with work that he can't take the time to go with us. Half of the fun would be lost if Mr. Mabie couldn't be along; for Jesse says he is the most entertaining man alive," grunted Bluff.
"Oh, you forget that he said by the time we got there the work would slacken up, and he promised himself a vacation, just to renew his old pleasure of camping out in the wilderness, away from all mankind," laughed Frank.
"That relieves my mind some," declared Bluff, brightening up.
"You're getting tired of all this travel, that's what ails you," said Jerry.
"No; it isn't that," remarked Frank. "Bluff has confessed to me that for the life of him he can't remember putting that beautiful hunting-knife in the trunk along with his other traps; and if he left that behind, half his pleasure would be lost. Now you know what's the matter."
"Not that I wish it to be so, but if such should prove to be the case, there'll be one delighted grizzly bear out in these same mountains—the chap Bluff calculated on carving with that big sticker," remarked Jerry jocosely.
But Bluff would not even smile. Truth to tell, he was counting the hours until he could open that trunk and relieve his distressed mind.
"Did you ever see a wilder bit of country?" said Frank, peering out into the gathering dusk, and trying to imagine those wooded hillsides populated with elk and buffaloes, and all the big game of the past, when a white man was never known west of the Great Lakes.
"Well, to tell the truth, I was thinking of that account I read in the paper we bought, about the work of a sheriff's posse in this region, chasing the bad men who held up a railroad train not a hundred miles away from here. It wouldn't be a pleasant experience for us to meet with, eh, fellows?" asked Will, who was known to have a timid streak in his make-up.
"Talk to me about your croakers!" jeered Jerry. "Will, here, is enough to freeze the marrow in one's bones. There isn't one chance in a thousand that such an adventure will come our way, and he knows it."
"Goodness! What a jar! The engineer must have thrown the air brakes on then in a big hurry! We're coming to a sudden stop, too! Oh! I wonder if anything can have happened? Are we going to have an accident, fellows?" cried Will.
With much creaking of the wheels the heavy train came to a stop, and at the same moment the four chums, listening with considerable apprehension, caught the sound of many loud and excited voices just outside the car.
AT THE VALLEY RANCH
"Listen!" exclaimed Frank, holding up his hand.
"Talk to me about your Tower of Babel! It wasn't in the same class as that row. Twenty men trying to talk all at once!" growled Jerry, starting up.
"Oh! Where are you going?" asked Will.
"Outside, to find out what the trouble is," replied the other.
"But you may get hurt if those bad men start to shooting up the train," expostulated the official photographer anxiously.
Jerry gave a hoarse laugh.
"Tell me about that, will you! He actually believes we are going to be put through a course of 'stand and deliver' by the merry gentlemen of the road. Why, bless you, my boy, didn't you hear one man say something about a trestle burning just ahead? It spells delay for us, but that's the worst of the whole affair."
"Then I'm going out, too," declared Will, with sudden zeal, as he snatched up his camera and threw the strap over his shoulder.
He scented a chance for a striking picture, and to obtain that Will would have risked even a possible encounter with train robbers.
Frank and Bluff would not be left behind, and quickly the entire quartet had reached the platform. They found that the stop was at a little country station. A signal had suddenly flashed before the eyes of the engineer, telling him he must not think of running past, which accounted for the quick work of the compressed-air brakes.
No need to tell what was wrong. Up the track a quarter of a mile could be seen a fire, and one glance was enough to tell the chums that, just as Jerry had said, a trestle of some sort seemed to be burning.
Loud shouts attested to the fact that every available man was hurrying to the scene, in the hope of saving the trestle before it was so far gone that nothing could be done.
"Come on, fellows! Our train must stay where it is until this thing is done burning, one way or the other. Perhaps we can help put the fire out with buckets."
That was the first thought Frank had, to be of some assistance.
The four of them ran with the rest of the passengers. Such a spectacle could not be witnessed every day, and every one was desirous of getting closer to the scene of action.
"How did it catch?" asked Frank of a railroad man who was hustling about, handing buckets to a line of men extending down to the water of the creek far below.
"Don't know. Perhaps from sparks left by the six-seventeen freight. Lend a hand here, lads; we need all the help we can get," replied the other.
"Sure! That's what we came for. Get along, boys, and pass these buckets!" cried Jerry, suiting the action to the words.
Once the string of buckets got to going, and the contents began to be cast upon the creeping flames, there sprang up a hope that the trestle might be saved.
Seeing this, the workers redoubled their efforts, and faster rose the full buckets, the empties going down at the same rate. It is really astonishing what a large amount of water can be carried by such an endless chain.
"Hurrah! We're besting it, lads! Keep it up!" shouted the agent, who was the man Frank had first addressed.
Will had not joined the relay. There seemed to be plenty of recruits without him, and, truth to tell, he was bent on getting a picture of the scene. Doubtless many present were startled by a sudden brilliant illumination as he set off his flashlight cartridge; but those who were in ignorance as to what it meant were soon set wise by others.
Once they began to get the upper hand of the fire it became easy. Fortunately, there was not a breath of wind at the time. Had it been otherwise, no efforts on their part could have saved the trestle.
"I should think they would have them all of steel!" gasped Bluff, as he labored away, passing endless buckets up and down.
"Most of them are, I understand, but in this case, you see, it is a long stretch, and perhaps it wasn't thought necessary," replied Frank.
"We're going to save it, all right; but I wonder if our train dare pass over? It seems to me the fire must have weakened the structure more or less," remarked Jerry.
"Oh, well, they'll find some means of strengthening it in that case. I'm only worrying about the delay. Mr. Mabie will have to wait so long."
"But, Frank, they must wire the news, and he will know the reason for our hold-up," said Will quickly, and the others all agreed that this must be so.
Less than an hour later the last spark had been extinguished. Then men climbed all over the trestle to ascertain just how much it had been weakened by the fire.
There was a difference of opinion among them, some declaring that it was as good as ever, and the others shaking their heads solemnly, as they prophesied all manner of dire things if the through train, with its heavy sleepers, attempted to go over.
While some gangs of men were hastily bracing up a weak spot with what material lay close at hand, kept for an emergency of this sort, a freight train that happened to be on a siding at the station, was pushed out on the trestle to discover how the situation stood.
The chums watched operations with their hearts in their mouths, figuratively speaking; but no catastrophe followed, and it began to appear that, after all, the express might pass over in safety.
Another trial was given, this time with the heavy freight engine attached to some of the largest flats, laden with steel beams. The trestle bore the strain handsomely.
"That settles it, fellows. Back to our car for us. We're going across!" sang out Jerry as he turned and made off down the track.
"How long were we here?" asked Bluff, sighing, and they knew he was thinking again of the weary hours that must elapse ere he could open that big trunk in order to ascertain whether his fears in connection with that beloved hunting-knife had any foundation or not.
"Three hours, about. Give them another half hour to get moving, and there you are. Hark! The engineer has started to whistle. That is to tell the passengers a start is intended; and here they come, rushing pell-mell, fearful of getting left." And Frank laughed at the energy displayed by some of those who had been aboard.
It was a critical time when the train slowly pushed out upon the long trestle. Everybody doubtless held their breath, and doubtless many a heart throbbed with suspense.
"It's all right, boys! We're safely over!" exclaimed Jerry, as, looking out of the open window, he could see that they had passed the critical stage.
"Oh! I'm so glad! I don't know when I've felt such a flutter about my heart. But, anyway, I secured a cracking good snapshot of that burning bridge. Every time we look at it we can remember our hold-up," observed Will, sighing with relief.
It was now about ten o'clock at night, and on account of the delay, travel was more or less congested along the line.
Frank, upon making inquiries, learned that they would not arrive at their destination until about daybreak, and so he and his chums went to their berths to secure what sleep was possible.
Frank had them up in good time, and long before dawn they were fully dressed, awaiting the arrival of the train at the valley station with impatience.
"Another hour now, and then I shall know," Bluff was saying to himself.
"Thank goodness!" exclaimed Jerry, who happened to overhear him. "And for the peace of the party, I do hope the first thing you see when you open your bag will be that awful sword."
"We're stopping, fellows!" cried Will, trembling with eagerness.
Five minutes later they jumped down from the train.
"Hello, boys! Glad to see you! Better late than never!" said a hearty voice, and then they found themselves shaking hands with a big man, whose gray-bearded face seemed to be a picture of good nature.
Of course, this was Mr. Mabie, the ranchman. He saw to it that their big trunk was dropped off the baggage car, to be seized by a couple of cowboys and hustled on to the back of a long buckboard wagon, drawn by a couple of skittish horses.
Then they were off, not five minutes after the train had pulled out.
"Here, Reddy," said Mr. Mabie to the young driver, "let me make you acquainted with some good fellows about your own age," and he introduced them one after another.
Frank saw that the cowboy was well named, for he had quite a fiery thatch; but his freckled face seemed one of the sort that invited confidence, and Frank believed he would like the other right well. Of course, Reddy was attired as all well-ordered cowboys should be. Will was secretly wild for a chance to introduce him in some picture.
"It will give such a pleasing variety to our book of views, for we haven't got a single cowboy in between the covers," he said in an aside to Frank.
They followed up the valley for over an hour. The ranch was miles removed from the railway, and surrounded by the wildest scenery the boys could remember having looked upon, and that was saying a good deal, after such a journey.
Martin Mabie was a widower, without any family. Still, he had a number of women folks on the place, a sister keeping house for him, with a Chinese cook to attend to the kitchen part of the establishment.
"Ain't this immense?" remarked Bluff, as he waited impatiently for the men to carry the big trunk indoors, so that he could satisfy his soul about the one object that had been worrying him ever since leaving Centerville.
Somehow or other they seemed slow about doing this. The horses had to be attended to first of all. Then there seemed to be some sort of excitement in the neighborhood of the corral, for the boys noticed a mounted cowboy come dashing up and jump from his steed, which was blowing hard, as if from a rapid dash.
He wondered if this sort of thing was of daily occurrence on the big ranch, which took in the whole valley for miles, and extended even up along the sides of the mountains on either hand.
"What ails the fellow, I wonder?" observed Jerry, who, it seems, had also noticed the rush of the newcomer.
"From the way he bolted into the office where Mr. Mabie went, I imagine he must have brought important news of some sort," remarked Frank.
"Perhaps our very introduction to the Big M Ranch is going to be in a whirl of excitement, fellows. I've noticed that somehow we seem to stir up things wherever we go; not that we mean to have things happen, but they just pick out such a time to play hob," said Jerry, shaking his head as if thoroughly convinced.
"Here comes Mr. Mabie, hurrying this way!" declared Bluff, beginning to forget his other anxiety for the time being in this new mystery.
"And there goes the cowboy back to the horse corral. He's shouting something, too, and as sure as you live every man is jumping to get a horse handy between his legs. Look at them slapping saddles on! Why, they'll be off like the wind! Boys, something is up! I know it!"
Frank and his chums saw several cowboys dash away as though possessed, shouting, and waving their hats in a reckless manner, as if about to charge an enemy who had designs on the cattle of the ranch.
"Whatever can it mean?" said Will again.
"For the life of me I can't imagine," returned Frank, sorely puzzled.
"But we'll soon know, fellows, for here comes Mr. Mabie, and he's swinging his hat as though just as excited as the balance of the crowd. Whatever it is, he means to tell us!" cried Jerry, his eyes glowing with the nerve-racking anxiety.
THE GRIZZLY AT BAY
"Boys, do you want to see some fun?" called the ranchman as he came up.
"Always ready for that sort of thing, sir. What's going on?" asked Frank.
"An old friend of ours, whom we call 'Mountain Charlie,' has broken bounds at last, and is even now trying to drag one of my best yearlings off to the mountain canyon where he has his den," replied the other.
"Mountain Charlie?" repeated Frank, mystified.
"And has a den in the mountains, too! What sort of a beast is that? Or can it be a wild man?" asked Bluff.
The ranchman laughed heartily.
"I forgot you were tenderfeet, boys. We call a grizzly by that name out here. This fellow we have known for some time. Hunting him has never proven a profitable business, and, as a rule, he has never before come so far out in the open; but hunger tempted the old chap, and the man who galloped in told me he was even then dragging the yearling he had killed in the direction of the hills."
"Oh! if we could only get there in time to see them shoot him!" exclaimed Will, hitching his camera a little closer to his body.
"That's just what you're going to see. I sent word that he was not to be hurt until we arrived. Horses are being hitched up for us all. I suppose you can ride, boys?" inquired the owner of the ranch.
"To a certain extent, though I suppose your cowboys will think us pretty punky at it," answered Jerry.
"But we mean to learn everything we can while here," piped up Bluff earnestly.
"Good for you! These horses are only old plugs, however, so there's no fear of them running away with you; and here they come."
Several cowboys came toward them, each leading a number of horses. Frank thought that for "old plugs," the four intended for himself and chums possessed considerable of the fire that had animated them in other years.
"Up you go, boys. Take your pick. Then we're off."
Each seized upon the nearest animal, and, making use of the stirrup, threw himself into the saddle. As Jerry had said, all of them had frequently ridden at home, and indeed considered that they knew as much about a saddle as the average boy of the East; but that amounted to very little out here, where every one almost lived upon the back of a broncho.
"Wow! But this is going some!" said Jerry as the whole group dashed madly up the valley.
"I only hope I don't lose my camera in the rush," came from Will, who was having troubles of his own in the rear.
"Look ahead, fellows! You can see what's going on, now!" called Frank, who kept alongside the ranchman in the lead.
"Why, there's the bear, as sure as you live!" Bluff gasped.
"But what's he trying to do? First he rushes one way, and then turns around to make a bolt at the other side. He must be getting rattled."
"Don't you see, Jerry, they've got him lassoed? He wants to tackle any one of those three cowboys, but he just can't, with as many ropes pulling him in three directions."
"Talk to me about that, will you, Frank!" cried Jerry. "I never expected to see a grizzly bear held up in a rope like a steer. Look at the game little ponies on their haunches, and holding like fun. They seem somewhat scared, too, pard. Between you and me, I don't blame 'em a bit. I'd hate to think that big beast was aiming to get a grip on me."
It was just as Jerry said. The cowboys had headed the grizzly off so that he was unable to gain the safety of the wild mountain gorges. Doubtless he had been loth to leave his prey at the approach of the riders, and this had contributed to his final undoing.
One after another three of them had dropped their ropes over the head of the grizzly as he reared himself on his hind legs. The lariats stretched like piano wires under the strain, and as the cowboys had taken up positions in a sort of triangle they could keep the bear from making any sort of rush.
"Watch and see the fun," said Mr. Mabie, who had made sure to fetch his rifle along when coming from the ranch house; but he did not seem in any hurry to utilize the same.
Will, of course, immediately made good use of his camera.
Meanwhile, wilder grew the exertions of the trapped grizzly. He was snarling with rage. The foam gathered about his mouth, and Frank shuddered as he saw the cruel teeth, not to speak of the long, deadly and poisonous claws.
"Hey, Bluff! If you only had that gentle little knife of yours handy, now would be a fine chance to rush in and have a tussle with that meek grizzly! You know you told us all just how you meant to slay the jabbercock with one straight blow."
Bluff did not make any verbal reply to this unkind thrust on the part of Jerry, but Frank, looking at him, saw that his face was deadly pale, and that he was staring at the terrible monster with whom the reckless cowboys were playing as a cat does with a mouse. He knew Bluff was feeling a chill at the thought of such a tragedy happening as his having an encounter with a beast like that.
"What if the ropes should break?" asked Frank as the captive made a more ferocious rush than usual, and the pony on the other side was dragged several feet.
"Then there would be somewhat of a mix-up, and a case of every man for himself. They'd expect me to show that I hadn't altogether forgotten my craft in connection with handling a rifle. Once I used to be a crack shot, but lack of experience plays hob with a man's nerves," replied Mr. Mabie, as he sat upon his steed and played with the repeating rifle he held.
"I see you are enjoying the situation, boys. Would one of you like to wind him up?" and the ranchman turned to Frank.
"I don't believe I would, sir," laughed that worthy.
"How about you, Jerry?"
"I've often dreamed of shooting such game, but excuse me, Mr. Mabie, it would be too much like the butcher business to please me," observed the other.
At this the stockman laughed.
"Oh, I can understand that principle of honor in a true sportsman, my lad, and I must say it does you credit; but when you come to know grizzlies better, and appreciate their terrible strength, you'll agree with the rest of us that a man has to forget such things when he gets a chance to puncture the hide of so fierce a monster as this old rogue. He could kill a horse with a single blow, or tear one into shreds with those claws. If I can get my mount to go a little closer, I'll try to wind him up with a single ball, but it's difficult to shoot from the back of a nervous pony."
He began to speak to his steed, which was striking the turf with its hoofs, and champing at the bit, as if terrified at such close proximity to, an animal so greatly to be dreaded.
Then suddenly there was a wild shout from the cowboys, and Frank, looking, saw one of them whirling his horse in wild flight, and dashing toward the group. He seemed to guess instinctively what had happened—the rope of the opposite rider must have broken under the tremendous strain. This really left the grizzly free, and, filled with mad rage, he was galloping straight toward them!
BLUFF MISSES SOMETHING
"Look out there!" shouted one of the cowboys.
"Run, boys!" exclaimed Frank as he started to turn his pony around so as to get beyond reach of the rapidly advancing bear.
He had just succeeded in doing this, and even started to gallop away, when he saw a sight that almost froze the blood in his veins.
Jerry had, of course, intended doing a similar vamoosing stunt. It happened, however, that his horse was more frightened than those of the others. When he jerked at the bridle the beast whirled with such a vicious fling that the boy, totally unprepared for such a move, and unable to get the grip with his knees that a cowboy always secures, went toppling over his head.
Frank, looking over his shoulder as he was borne rapidly away by his own alarmed steed, saw Jerry scramble to his knees. At any rate, he thought with relief, the other had escaped a broken neck in his ugly tumble.
Still, with that enraged grizzly bearing swiftly down upon him, in spite of the one rope that still held taut, the position of poor Jerry was not the most pleasant in the world.
Frank's first and only inspiration was to turn his horse around and rush back to the assistance of his chum. It never occurred to him that being without his own rifle, he would only be adding to the trouble by offering Bruin a double sacrifice.
His pony, however, offered serious objections to facing that roaring hurricane of a beast. Despite Frank's most strenuous efforts, he could only twist the animal's head around, but not a step would the frightened beast approach. Dancing there, he snorted his distrust and alarm.
But Frank plucked up new hope. He at the same time saw something else that gave another aspect to the case. Jerry was not to be left alone to his fate.
"Hurrah for Mr. Mabie!"
In his excitement Frank let out this shout. It was caused by seeing the ranchman leap from the back of his own horse and rapidly run back toward the spot where Jerry crouched, apparently too winded to get to his feet and try flight.
Now Mr. Mabie had reached the boy, and the barrier of his heavy repeating rifle would be between Jerry and the grizzly. Frank expected to see the stockman drop on one knee and take aim at the bear, now very close to the two dismounted ones. Nothing of the kind occurred. On the contrary, he saw Mr. Mabie thrust the rifle into the hands of the boy, who seemed to seize it eagerly.
Jerry had declined to shoot the grizzly when the beast was held by a cordon of riatas. The conditions were now considerably altered, for the huge animal was rapidly bearing down upon him, with the fire of destruction in his small, blazing eyes. It was a case of bringing his advance to a speedy stop, or suffering the consequences.
Frank's heart thrilled with pride as he saw his chum throw the rifle up to his shoulder and glance along the glistening barrel. Mr. Mabie had shown wonderful confidence in the boy's nerve to thus place the solution of the problem in Jerry's hands.
Holding his breath, as he still tugged at the mouth of his refractory mount, Frank saw the smoke shoot out from the muzzle of the gun as the report sounded.
"Whoop! He's down!" shrieked a cowboy curveting near by.
"Take care! He's coming again, Jerry!" shouted Frank.
The bear had rolled over at the shot, but being one of the toughest animals in the world, he had immediately gained his feet again, and was once more advancing.
But Jerry knew what to do, even though he had never met quarry of this caliber before. He pumped another cartridge into the chamber, deliberately took aim, with apparently little show of excitement, and fired again.
Once more the grizzly stumbled and fell. When he tried to get up again he did not seem equal to the effort.
Mr. Mabie was shaking the hand of the young Nimrod with great enthusiasm. Perhaps he had purposely tried the nerve of Jerry, to find out what manner of boys these were, of whom old Jesse Wilcox spoke so well.
Now that the monster was dead, the ponies consented to draw somewhat closer; but the boys had to dismount, and hand over their steeds to a cowman when they wished to reach the spot where the victim of the hunt lay.
Will, with his camera, was, of course, in evidence.
"I wouldn't have missed that for a cookie!" he declared. "And if that frightened horse had only allowed me to take a crack at the time the old hermit toppled over, I'd be ever so much happier."
Frank, remembering how the other had been forced to clasp his arms around the neck of his frantic steed at the time, smiled at the impossibility of such a thing coming about.
"Give us a grip of your paw, old fellow!" cried Bluff, rushing up, brimming over with enthusiasm and admiration. "I'll sure never forget that sight! And he did the Rod, Gun and Camera Club proud when he used your weapon, didn't he, Mr. Mabie?"
"I knew he would," was the quiet remark of the stockman; and Frank understood that the other had been forming a favorable opinion of the chums from the minute he saw them come off the train.
"Would you like that skin to remember the event by, Jerry?" Mr. Mabie asked, a little later, while they were watching the cowboys remove the hide.
"It would give my mother a cold chill to see it, if she ever heard the story; but then we have a clubroom over our boathouse, and I guess it would look nice there. So, since you are so kind as to offer it, I'll say yes, Mr. Mabie."
"Well, I should remark that we'd never forgive you if you let that chance slip. It looks as though our big-game trip might pan out something worth while, after all," observed Bluff.
"You do everything on a big scale out here in the Northwest, sir. The fields of wheat are tremendous, the distances immense, the mountains higher than any in the East, by long odds; and the game the biggest in the whole country," remarked Frank.
"And in this bracing air we hope to raise the finest crop of boys in the world. But let's return to the house, lads. It's time we had a bite, for I'm sure your appetites must be sharpened by this little adventure."
The ranchman cast many a secret admiring glance toward Jerry as they rode home. He fell back with Frank on purpose to speak his mind, while the other three galloped on ahead, laughing and shouting, as boys off on a vacation always do.
"I like that chap, Jerry," he remarked earnestly. "He's a lad after my own heart. What he said about not wanting to shoot defenceless game gave me a wrench, for we cherish notions along that same line up here in the wilderness. Of course, the grizzly, as I said, does not come under that law, for he's too terrible a customer to be given much rope."
"Sometimes he takes his own rope," laughed Frank, secretly delighted to hear this honest praise of his chum.
"Which is quite true for you, Frank. That cowboy will not soon get over the humiliation of having his lariat give way. He feels very sore about it now," remarked the stockman, casting a side look toward where a couple of his herders were wrangling over something as they brought up the rear.
"I'm so glad you gave Jerry that chance. He's the most enthusiastic sportsman I ever met, and so honorable in his dealings with the wearers of fin, fur and feather. No danger of the woods ever being depopulated while he's around," Frank said, with his customary generous view of anything that concerned his chums.
"It was what you may call an inspiration. My first idea, of course, was to cover the boy and face the bear. I did not doubt my own ability to down him, but somehow I was tempted to take chances with the lad. I'm glad now I did it. He stood the racket like a veteran. I'd be a happy man if I'd only been left a boy like your chum for my own."
The ranchman spurred on ahead at this, and Frank made no effort to overtake him, for he felt sure he had seen tears glistening in the other's eyes, and could appreciate his feelings, for the stockman's only child, a boy, at that, lay with the mother in the ranch cemetery.
Breakfast was ready for them, and what a glorious meal the boys made! Just as Mr. Mabie had said, they proved as hungry as wolves. That clear mountain air seemed to tone them up after their long railway journey, and Frank laughingly declared their host had better send away for a new stock of provisions if he expected to keep them satisfied.
Bluff was the first to leave the table. Frank had seen him eating hurriedly toward the close of the meal. He knew without being told what ailed his comrade.
"He'll never be happy until he gets it, fellows!" sang out Jerry, who, of course, had also noticed the hurried departure of the anxious one.
They could hear Bluff tossing things around hurriedly in the other room, where they expected to bunk, and to which the big trunk had been finally carried.
Ten minutes later, Frank, remembering that a great silence had fallen over the neighboring apartment, stole softly to the door and looked in. He saw a picture of abject dejection there—Bluff sitting on the floor, in the midst of piles of garments, clothes bags, and all manner of things, frowning and shaking his head, as if he had lost his last friend.
"What's the matter?" demanded Frank, drawing nearer.
"Matter enough," answered the disconsolate one, sighing heavily. "Why, after all my trouble and everything, I've gone and left that knife at home, and now my whole trip is going to be spoiled for me. I just seemed to feel that something was bound to happen to upset my calculations. I might as well go back, that's what," said Bluff, gritting his teeth in his spasm of disgust.
FRANK HAS HIS TURN
"Oh, humbug! There are other knives," remarked Frank cheerily.
"Not like that one," said Bluff dismally.
"No doubt Mr. Mabie will lend you a good one while you're here."
"Yes, he's awfully kind, but it wouldn't be that knife," groaned the bereaved Bluff.
"When do you remember seeing it last?" demanded Frank, as a suspicion darted into his brain that was connected with Jerry.
On one of their former camping trips Jerry had professed to entertain a decided antipathy toward a repeating shotgun of modern make that Bluff had bought. He declared that it was a shame for one who called himself a sportsman to handle so destructive a weapon. When a chance came, he hid the gun in a box that held some of their superfluous things. Later, upon trying to find it, in order to give it back, he learned that it was missing, and Bluff had to go without his gun until the hunt was nearly over, when it was discovered in the woods, where the thief had dropped it.
Frank wondered if Jerry was concerned in the mysterious vanishing of the wonderful hunting-knife. He had laughed at its tremendous proportions and ornate handle. Still, it did not seem reasonable to believe that Jerry would be guilty of a second trick along those same lines.
"I was trying to remember. You know we were showing our things to the girls?"
"Yes, I believe we were," smiled Frank; for he could still see Bluff flourishing his precious knife, sheath and all, for the entertainment of Nellie.
"Well, I can't remember for the life of me seeing it again after that. You know we packed in a big hurry in the morning. I may have laid it aside, intending that it would go in on top, and then overlooked it. Such a fool play, too, when that was the prize of the whole collection!" groaned Bluff.
"And you've looked over the whole outfit here, have you?" Frank continued, surveying the piled-up mess of stuff.
"Yes; three separate times. Oh, there's no getting around it, I've made a goose of myself, and you know how I wanted to use that trusty blade so much. Of course, I won't think of moping in my tent. I'll borrow a knife, and perhaps it will do me good service; but nothing can ever take the place of that beautiful piece of steel."
"Well, let's get these things in something like order before the boys come in. Sort out what belongs to you, and chuck the balance of your extra clothes in your own bag, for I see that you've had most of them out"
"Yes. I even wondered if I could have stuck that knife in among my other shirts and underclothes, but it isn't there. I'll have to stand it, but you fellows will never know what a loss this is to me. Coming all this distance, too, just to get a chance to use it on an elk, or something worth while."
Frank thought that if Bluff had his way his mates would at least never have a chance to forget about his great loss, for he was apt to remind them of it every little while.
Will now came bustling in, anxious to ascertain if his little developing outfit came through safely, together with his packages of hypo and other necessities.
It was decided to put in that day around the ranch seeing how Mr. Mabie ran his business. Then on the following morning a party of them intended to set out for a camp in the mountains, where game would likely be found.
"We'll occupy three camps I have in view. From the first we can go to the second by taking several bullboats that will be waiting for us, and shooting the rapids in the river. That would be an experience you boys might enjoy," remarked the stockman as they rode around the valley to get a comprehensive grasp upon the way in which this enterprising settler carried on a big cattle ranch.
Reddy seemed to have been picked out by the owner to keep with them. Frank was glad of this, for somehow he had come to entertain a fancy for the smiling young cowboy.
"Rapids, did you say?" exclaimed Jerry, his face lighting up with rapture. "Why, that would tickle us from the ground up. I've always wanted to run through some little Niagara. Frank, here, has done it up in Maine, so he tells us. I hope what you have will beat his experience all hollow."
"Well, they are some rapids, I understand," replied the other, smiling.
"And if I could only be on the shore, to see you shoot down, it would afford me the greatest pleasure in the world. Not that I don't want to go through, too, but my first duty is toward securing all these wonderful events in an imperishable way by taking a picture. Some scoffers may doubt a story, but pictures never lie."
"That shows your innocence, Will," remarked Jerry. "Why, I've seen fellows standing beside the fish they caught, which I knew myself to be only ten inches long, and yet the cunning photographer had arranged it so that it looked all of two feet."
"I'm surprised that you, with all your experience, shouldn't know that," said Frank, pretending to frown.
"You mistook my meaning, that's all. What I intended to say was that my pictures would never lie," affirmed Will sturdily.
"Hear! hear! Somebody rub him on the back, please! But joking aside, Will, I'm ready to back you up on that score. The only fault I find with you is your ambition to take a fellow in every pickle he happens to drop into," and Jerry made a wry face as he remembered a number of scenes in which he had figured, that were wont to excite his chums to uproarious laughter at such times as they looked at the faithful reproductions in their album at the clubhouse.
In this pleasant way the day passed, and evening found them eager to complete their preparations for the morrow. Mr. Mabie answered every question fired at him by the anxious young sportsmen, especially Bluff, who wanted to know everything connected with the game they expected to hunt.
"He's trying to forget his great disappointment," said Frank as he and Jerry watched the other plying Mr. Mabie with these queries; for Bluff was the son of a lawyer, and would never take things for granted.
"What's that?" asked Jerry, for no one had been told about the loss that had come to Bluff.
"Can't find that knife of his anywhere, it seems, and believes he must have left it behind. He was looking mighty blue when I found him in the room, with all our stuff tumbled, pell-mell, out of the trunk."
Frank eyed his chum as he spoke. Jerry turned a little red.
"Not guilty, Frank! I give you my word I never touched the measly old knife. I'm sorry for him, too, for he seemed so bent on doing great stunts with it. I'll take a look myself," he said hastily, and yet meeting his chum's gaze in such a straightforward fashion that Frank never doubted his word for an instant.