THE OUTDOOR CHUMS
The First Tour of the Rod, Gun and Camera Club
BY CAPTAIN QUINCY ALLEN
I PLANNING THE CAMPAIGN
II READY FOR THE START
III THE RACE FOR A CAMP-SITE
IV UNDER THE TWIN HEMLOCKS
V THE FIRST CAMP SUPPER
VI BLUFF MEETS WITH A LOSS
VII THE SHACK OF THE MUSKRAT TRAPPER
VIII WHERE IS BLUFF?
IX JERRY TAKES CHANCES
X UNCLE TOBY FLIES HIGH
XI A NIGHT ALARM
XII THE TELL-TALE MATCH-SAFE
XIII THE COMING OF THE STORM
XIV HOW JERRY WAS TREED
XV IN A BEAR'S HOLLOW
XVI HEAPING COALS OF FIRE ON HIS HEAD
XVII AFTER THE STORM
XVIII A STRANGE VISITOR IN CAMP
XIX SURPRISING TRAPPER JESSE
XX PROVING HIS CLAIM
XXI DOWN THE OLD SHAFT
XXII "LOOK PLEASANT, PLEASE!"
XXIII MORE SIGNS OF TROUBLE
XXIV WHAT BLUFF DID
XXV BREAKING CAMP
THE OUTDOOR CHUMS
PLANNING THE CAMPAIGN
"Great news, Jerry! The storm last night damaged the roof of the academy so that it has been condemned as unsafe. And the Head has decided that there can be no school held for two weeks."
"So Watkins was just telling me. He says most of the outside students are to be sent home again until repairs can be made. And I was just thinking that while I'm sorry for the Head, it opens up a jolly good prospect for some of us."
"How's that, Jerry? For myself, I was just feeling glad to be back at my desk again, after vacation, and now it's knock around again."
"All right, just stop and consider. There are four boys I know of, constituting the Rod, Gun and Camera Club, who have been busy planning an outing for next summer, back of the lumber camps at the head of the lake. Talk to me about opportunities, what's to hinder us going into the woods right now, and making use of our rods, guns, and that elegant new camera your mother gave you on your birthday last week?" demanded the boy called Jerry.
"What's all this about, you two conspirators?" demanded one of two other boys, swinging alongside just then, as though sure of a hearty welcome, and a voice at the council fire.
"Glad you came, Frank and Bluff, for I want your opinion. Jerry has just sprung an astonishing idea on me, and I'm so dazed I hardly know what to say. Are you ready for the question? All in favor of spending the two weeks' additional vacation out in camp back of the lumbermen's diggings say ay!"
The two newcomers looked at each other as if trying to grasp the immensity of the proposition; then they pulled off their hats, and giving a shout threw them into the air while both roared the affirmative word:
Jerry looked at Will, with a broad smile of delight on his face.
"Three against one—the motion is carried!" he declared, triumphantly.
"Oh! come, I wasn't opposed to it in the start, only you stunned me by such a sudden and glorious idea. We'll meet with some opposition at home, I expect; but where there's a will there's a way; and I move we make it unanimous!" Will Milton hastened to remark.
"Bravo! consider it carried; and just to think what a chance it will be for me to try out my new outfit!" exclaimed the fourth boy, he who had been called by the queer name of "Bluff" by one of his comrades; possibly because, being the only son of a prominent lawyer, Dick Masters may have been addicted to the habit of putting up a bold face even when his heart was weak.
Jerry looked at him rather superciliously at this remark, and threw up his hands in a manner to indicate discouragement.
"I'm genuinely sorry for the feathered and furry game of the woods when the Great Hunter breaks loose with that terrible pump-gun. Mighty little chance for anything to get away after that is leveled, and the Gatling opens fire," he remarked scornfully.
"Huh! it's all very well for you to talk that way, Jerry, because you happen to be a fine shot, and can bag your game the first clip; but what's a fellow going to do when he finds it difficult to hit a barn? I'd like to wager that with all your high-falutin' talk you do more execution among the poor game than comes to my share," answered Bluff, indignantly.
"Oh! well, have it your own way. I've tried my best to show you what a genuine sportsman should be like, always giving the game a fair chance. Didn't I induce you to quit fishing with that murderous gang-hook last summer; and when you did finally get a bass didn't you feel prouder than if you just 'yanked' him in, perhaps caught on the outside of his gills with some of that deadly jewelry?" demanded Jerry, whose one hobby was the "square deal" in all that he undertook.
"I acknowledge the corn about the gang-hook; but that has nothing to do with an up-to-date, repeating shotgun, and other things such as modern campers use. I've kept posted, and I know what's going on. Some people seem to be asleep, and are just contented to do as their forefathers did. I'm progressive, that's what."
"Well, boys," Frank Langdon here broke in with, "suppose you postpone that old chestnut of a dispute until we're snug in camp; and let's talk about how the thing can be done. The first thing is to get consent at home."
"I don't believe we need fear any trouble there. Frank, you call us up on the 'phone in about an hour, and if everything's lovely and the goose hangs high we'll meet at my house and make definite arrangements," said Will, whose mother was a well-to-do widow, and seldom refused her idolized son any reasonable request.
"We could go on our motor-cycles, and have a wagon bring the duffle along. If it started at a decent hour in the morning we'd be able to get in camp by the middle of the afternoon, and have things fixed fairly well for the first night," suggested Jerry, his eyes bright with anticipations of a delightful time ahead.
"You've got all the things needed, Frank; and now we'll see what your experience up in Maine amounted to. Say, ain't this just glorious? Think of it, two weeks' outing at this beautiful time of the year, and up there in the woods where we were just planning to go next summer. I wonder if old Jesse Wilcox has begun to set his traps yet; that's his stamping-ground, you know, during the winter, and he makes quite a haul of muskrats, 'coons, some mink and even an otter once in a long while," said Bluff, enthusiastically—he was always a leading spirit in new ventures, but lacked the pertinacity of Frank.
"Don't you worry, old fellow, I'll be Johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to delivering the goods. But all further talking had better be put off until we find out whether we can go or not. So I move we adjourn, to meet again an hour from now at Will's shack," remarked young Langdon, always logical.
They had stopped to talk the matter over alongside one of the stores in the town; and indeed Bluff was perched upon an empty box, that lay at the foot of a small pyramid of similar cases, piled up until such time as they could be sold or destroyed.
While the others were talking, Jerry had made a little discovery that aroused both his curiosity and his temper: he had seen a touseled head, surmounted by a cap he knew full well, push up a little above the rim of the most elevated empty box, as if some concealed listener might be endeavoring to hear better, and in his eagerness recklessly exposed himself in this way.
Jerry was always prompt about doing things, nor did he, as a rule, stop to figure what the immediate consequences might prove to be.
Indignation at the idea of their conference having been overheard possessed his soul, and, seeing a splendid chance to bring the plans of the listener to a sudden and disastrous end, he managed without warning to give one of the boxes a flirt with his hand that moved it out a foot or two.
As it happened to be the keystone of the arch, the consequence was the entire pile came tumbling down, much after the fashion of a crumbling church during an earthquake.
Bluff gave a wild shout, and sprang to a position of safety, to turn and stare in astonishment at the remarkable result of the catastrophe.
From under the ruins a figure came crawling slowly, rubbing sundry places about his legs and sides, where the sharp corners of the boxes had been in cruel contact with his flesh.
"Why, it's Andy Lasher!" exclaimed Jerry, pretending to be wonderfully surprised. "Where in the world did you come from—hiding in that drygoods box, eh? Up to some of your old tricks, Andy, I guess. Going to carry off the whole dry-goods emporium that time, perhaps?"
The boy managed to get upon his feet, though he continued to limp around and rub his legs vigorously, as he whistled to keep from groaning.
Andy Lasher was known as the town bully, and many a time had he taken delight in giving our four friends more or less trouble; Jerry and he had always been at loggerheads, and could look back to half a dozen occasions in the past where the contest for supremacy had brought them to the point of battle.
Each time Andy was supposed to have gotten the better of the conflict, though his friends thought he paid dearly for his victory; but Jerry seemed never to know when he was whipped, and was just as ready to try conclusions with the other as before.
"Some fine day I'll know how to outwit the big brute, and then I mean to cure him of his bullying ways," he was wont to say cheerfully, as he festooned his face with strips of adhesive plaster, and tried to grin through the pain.
"What d'ye mean upsetting me that way, Jerry Wallington? Think just because your dad's a big railroad man you can knock poor fellers around any old way? I guess I've got some rights. You might have killed me, tumbling that pile of boxes down, with me inside. You ought to be made to pay fur it, that's what," grumbled the fellow, scowling vindictively, and yet not daring to assume the offensive while the four chums were present; for he had never tried conclusions with Frank, and was suspicious of the new boy in Centerville—for the Langdons had lived there about a year, Frank's father having purchased the bank of which he was now president.
"How could I know anybody was hiding up there?" demanded Jerry, in pretended ignorance, though his eyes twinkled with humor as he watched the bully limping around and still rubbing his knee.
"Ain't I got a right to play hide-and-seek with my friends? Who told you to stop just underneath, and talk about campin' out up above the lumber docks? Think you're the whole team, do you? Well, perhaps you won't shout just so loud when you know me and some of my mates are going up in that region ourselves, to-morrow, to see old Bud Rabig, the trapper, and if we have any trouble with you sissies there's bound to be a high old mix-up, see?" and he glared first at one and then at each of the others in turn.
The boys looked at one another in dismay, for it seemed as though some would-be joker had tossed a bucket of ice-cold water over them; this vague threat of Andy Lasher's was not to be lightly dismissed as mere bluff, for whatever his reputation might be, the fellow had a way of keeping his word, especially when it concerned any sort of mischief.
Frank, however, laughed aloud.
"That sort of talk doesn't cut any figure with us, Lasher. If we go up to the head of the lake we'll try and mind our own business, and advise all others to do the same, if they know what's good for them. We're not out looking for trouble, but, if it comes along, you and your cronies will find that there are four fellows who know how to take care of themselves. Got that, Andy?" he said sternly.
The bully looked at him fixedly for a moment, and then drawing back his short upper lip after a way he had, and which made his face resemble that of a snarling wolf, with fangs exposed, he remarked:
"It makes me laugh to think of such a lot of tenderfeet in the woods. Be careful not to shoot yourselves, kids. Guns are mighty dangerous sometimes. And just make up your minds that we ain't agoing to be scared by big words. The fellows that train with me have been up against hard knocks too often to knuckle down before a lot of bluster and brag. Them two weeks'll be the liveliest you ever knew, take my word for it."
With his tongue in his cheek he scurried away, just in time to avoid the proprietor of the store, who now came bustling out to learn what all the racket might mean, and found our four boys busily replacing his pyramid of empty boxes.
READY FOR THE START
Centerville was a thriving town situated almost midway down the east shore of Camalot Lake, and very nearly opposite Newtonport on the opposite bank; in consequence, there was more or less rivalry between the two places, which condition extended from the shopkeepers and banks to the sports of the boys of the bustling miniature cities.
Since the four chums are to figure as the leading spirits in our stirring tales of the Outdoor Club, it seems only proper that we should take an early opportunity to introduce them more fully to the reader, together with some of their more prominent hobbies, hoping that the acquaintance thus begun may ripen into warm intimacy as we journey along in company.
Jerry Wellington's father was a railroad magnate, and in full sympathy with his boy's love for the open; indeed, it was from the elder Wellington that Jerry, no doubt, inherited his love for fair play, whether in games on the baseball or football arena, or in sports afield; his sympathies seemed to be always with the under dog in the fight, and he would scorn to shoot a rabbit or a quail unless in full flight; or to take a game-fish by any other means than the methods in vogue among true sportsmen.
On the other hand, Bluff Masters could never get it through his head what need there was for all this fuss and feathers about giving the game a chance; he had the old primal instinct of the red Indian, whose one desire was to secure his quarry, no matter whether by hook or by crook; since Bluff never pretended to be anything of a shot, or an expert angler, perhaps he was right in believing that, so far as he was concerned, the game had all the chance necessary at any and all times.
Frank Langdon, as mentioned before, was the son of the banker, and having lived up in Maine knew about all there was to know about the tricks of campers; since his chums as yet had had only limited chances to discover what the extent of his knowledge might be, they were very anxious to put Frank to the test, and learn a few of the said wrinkles, calculated to make them better sportsmen.
Frank had one sister, a pretty girl named Nellie, and Bluff Masters had shown a decided partiality for her ever since they were first brought together.
The last one of the quartette, Will Milton, was one of the rich widow's two children, and since he and Frank were deeply interested in photography, it was perhaps only natural that Frank should be attracted by Will's twin sister, Violet, whom he believed to be the sweetest girl of his acquaintance.
These four boys attended the private school of Alexander Gregory, D.P., and the sudden announcement that during a recent storm the buildings had suffered so severely as to necessitate the closing of the academy for a limited period, had fallen upon the community like a thunderbolt from a clear sky.
Those students coming from a distance were being sent away at the expense of the proprietor of the school; and others, who belonged either in Centerville or Newtonport, were allowed to go home, subject to a call some two weeks later.
While the boys worked at replacing the fallen boxes, they kept up a running fire of observations regarding this new calamity that threatened their peace; for when Andy Lasher and the ugly crowd with which he trained took a notion to make themselves disagreeable they could do it "to the queen's taste," as Jerry said.
"Shall we give the outing up?" asked Frank, after he had heard some of the dire prophecies advanced by his comrades, especially Bluff Masters.
"Never!" exclaimed Jerry.
"Ditto!" cried Will, looking more determined than ever.
"Oh! I'm just as anxious to go as any one, only it seemed right to look the old thing squarely in the face before we started to lay plans. If the rest say go, you can count on me all right. I'm the last to squeal if trouble comes, and you know that, fellows," declared Bluff, glancing around defiantly.
It was a habit with Bluff to be always expecting something serious to happen; and in case his suspicions were verified, as might occasionally occur, he would crow over the others, and strut around as though he thought himself a prophet gifted with second-sight, and able to forecast coming events with ease.
On the other hand, should the prediction fail to come about there was always a good excuse handy to account for the failure.
"Well," said Frank, as he winked at Jerry, "since we are all of one mind, I don't know why we should waste any more time about it. For one, I'm going straight to the bank and have a friendly chat with my dad. I just feel dead certain he'll be as tickled over the chance of an outing as I am. He never forgets that he was a boy, you see. So-long, fellows; see you later at Will's house."
There was a scattering then and there, Bluff heading in the direction of the building where his father had his offices, while the other two kept on in company, their homes being close together.
Will was the only one who really expected any show of opposition: for his widowed mother simply idolized him, seeing every day new traits of character as well as little facial resemblances that made him appear more and more like the husband and father who was gone; but then the boy knew just how to overcome these scruples, and his arguments were always backed up by his twin sister, so that in the end he usually attained his wish.
His one great hobby lay in the line of photography, and such had been his remarkable success with a cheap outfit that his mother had surprised and delighted the boy on a recent birthday by giving him an expensive camera.
Of course, he was fairly wild to get away into the woods and secure many stunning pictures of the great outdoor folks, the birds and animals inhabiting the wilds. Will cared little about shooting, and expected to do all his hunting with his camera.
When about an hour later Frank called each of his chums up on the 'phone, and eagerly demanded to know how things had turned out, he was delighted to hear them say one after the other that everything was lovely, and full permission to go had been duly granted.
After lunch they held a grand pow-wow at the home of Will, to which the two girls were admitted; for it had been deemed best that all the schools in both Centerville and Newtonport should be closed for a few days, in order to make a few needed repairs after the storm.
"Frank, consider yourself appointed commander-in-chief; and now please tell each of us what we must do," said Will, as they gathered around in the living room.
"I'll see about the wagon that is to take our stuff up. One of us can meet the driver on the road after we've picked out the spot for the camp. Every fellow be sure to have his outfit ready at seven in the morning. Bring two blankets apiece, and the things I've written down here—a towel, soap, and such little necessities," returned Frank.
"Who looks after the grub part of it?" demanded Bluff, who was never known to be separated from his appetite.
"That's my part, too," said Frank; "only, if any of you have any particular fancy in the line of stuff to eat now's the time to add it to the list I've made out."
"Let's take a squint at it, partner," remarked Bluff, anxiously.
He ran through the list.
"Don't think I'm going on short rations," laughed Frank, noting the expression akin to dismay appearing on the other's face; "but you see we'll have our motor-cycles along, and when we need a new lot of groceries it'll just be fun to mount and fly down here to pick up a bundle. Read out the variety, Bluff, and see if any one thinks we want anything else."
"H'm, here's matches, sugar, tea, coffee, condemned milk—I mean condensed milk—butter, four loaves of bread made at home by Frank's hired girl, who's a dandy cook," read Bluff, in a sing-song tone. "Then comes bacon, salt pork for cooking fish with, half a ham, potatoes, pepper and salt, self-raising flour, cornmeal, fine hominy, rice, beans, canned corn, tomatoes, Boston baked beans, a jar of jam, canned corned-beef and crackers.
"What else—don't all speak at once?" asked Frank, holding a pencil ready.
"I say a nice juicy beefsteak for the first night in camp; we won't be able to produce any game at short notice, I reckon, and that would be fine; just put that down for my sake, chief," observed Jerry.
"And, say, ain't we going to have any onions?" asked Bluff indignantly, at which Frank doubled up as if taken with a fit.
"That's one on me, boys. Why, I wouldn't ever think of going into camp without a supply of good onions along. If you ever came trudging home at evening, with game on your back, tired to beat the band, and when near camp sniffed fired onions cooking, you'd say they're the best thing ever toted into the wilderness. That's the time you showed your good sense, Bluff, old man. Onions? Why, to be sure, and plenty of 'em. Anything more?" he laughed.
The boys shook their heads; they had not had enough experience in camping out to warrant suggesting other additions to the apparently complete list made by the fellow who had been there, and knew all about the needs of those who go into the wilderness.
"All right. If you happen to think of anything just get it, that's all. Look at Jerry grinning there. I bet I know what he's thinking about—that all this is utter foolishness, and that we ought to start out with nothing more than we could carry on our machines, and then take pot-luck? How about that?" demanded Frank.
"Oh! well, have it your own way, fellows," declared Jerry, with a shrug of his shoulders; "you know my ideas about these things. I'm the kind of a sportsman who goes into the woods as light as possible—give me a frying pan, coffee pot, tin cup and a pie platter, some pepper and salt, some matches, a camp hatchet to cut browse for my bed, and my trusty rifle with which to supply the game, and I warrant you I can get along as well as the fellow who makes a pack-horse of himself, and totes all sorts of canned goods over the carries."
"That sounds all mighty well in theory, but there's mighty little practical sense about it. A blanket is the camper's best friend of a cool night; and even if he is lucky enough to shoot enough game to satisfy his wants, he'll get sick of one diet in a short time. I ought to know something about it, for I've tried it both ways," declared Frank.
"Yes," broke in Bluff at this juncture, "and you wait and see if Jerry don't eat his share of every blessed thing we pack in—he won't refuse one dish. He's quite satisfied to turn up his nose at others carrying loads, while he goes free; but, at the same time, he eats a quarter of the grub every time."
Both Frank and Will laughed heartily at this, in which they were joined by Nellie Langdon and Violet Milton.
"Pshaw!" scoffed Jerry, turning a bit red at the same time, "if others are silly enough to make pack-horses of themselves, and lug all such things into the primeval wilderness, why, of course, I'm willing to help dispose of them when the time comes; purely out of good-heartedness, you see, for it makes their loads lighter. Just drop that subject, boys, and put me down for a bottle of maple syrup; for when Frank gives us some of those famous flapjacks he's told about so often, we ought to have the proper thing to go with them."
So they talked the thing over from beginning to end, and it looked as if the team Frank expected to engage would have their work cut out for them, hauling all this camp stuff over the roads to the point beyond the head of the lake.
The boys were evidently eager to get to work, and hence the conference presently broke up, Jerry heading in one direction, and Frank and his sister, with Bluff finding some plausible excuse for hanging on, going in another.
Later on that day, while Frank was at the big grocery store, giving orders to have the various edibles put up so as to be ready on the following morning before seven o'clock, he was interested in seeing Andy Lasher, backed by several of his pals, actually making similar purchases, though just where they secured the necessary funds, having no rich fathers to appeal to, was somewhat of a mystery.
Andy sent many a dark look across at the tall boy he secretly feared, but apparently he knew that this was no time to bring matters to a head, and hence there was nothing said; but the look on his freckled face told of dark intentions.
THE RACE FOR A CAMP-SITE
"All aboard for Kamp Kill Kare!"
Frank Langdon jumped off his motor-cycle as he shouted these words, and there was a scurrying among the other three boys, who had gathered at the house of Will, which had been mentioned as a place of meeting.
Each motor-cycle had numerous small packages secured about it after the individual fancy of the owner. Will carried his precious camera over his shoulder, but the tripod, a folding affair of the latest patent, was tied to his wheel; Jerry and Frank had their guns securely cased, and so arranged that they would not interfere with either the working of the machine or any jumping on and off; while Bluff carried his new repeating shotgun hung from his back with a strap.
He saw Jerry eyeing the same with a sneer, and was up in arms immediately.
"Just you wait, and don't cry before you're hurt. This bang-up modern machine shooter is no more murderous for me than yours is in your hands. 'Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof!' and I'm ready to compare notes at the end of our little expedition, to see who has slaughtered the most game," and Bluff wagged his round head with its thatch of yellow hair, defiantly.
"Well, a man is known by the company he keeps, and any true sportsman—" began Jerry, ready to open the discussion on the spot.
"Rats!" exclaimed Will, as he got in readiness to mount his machine; "stow all that hot air until the first chilly night. Perhaps you'll need it before long. I say, Frank?"
"Has the wagon started along?" asked the other, eagerly.
"Yes, I saw it off before coming over here. Everything's aboard, and unless old Uncle Toby has an accident on the road, he guarantees to get up there shortly after noon," replied the leader, quietly.
"So, you got your hired man to do the driving; and I've half a suspicion the team comes from your place, too. That's mighty nice of your father, Frank. Suppose we could keep Toby with us one night to see us started?"
"Father said we could have him all we wanted. He can take the horses over to the nearest farm, where we expect to get our supply of fresh eggs, and then do a part of the cooking for us, as well as chop wood and some other stunts that, say what you will, kind of pall on a fellow after a little while."
"Better and better," remarked Jerry, who had been known on occasion to flunk when it came to drudgery, and wanted to be fishing or roaming pretty much all the day, and every day.
"Well, the reason I asked was this: I wouldn't wonder but what Andy Lasher and his pals might plan to intercept our supplies, and do something mean to break up our fun," continued Will, earnestly.
"Whew! I hadn't thought of that," remarked Jerry, looking alarmed.
"I had, and I made an arrangement with old Uncle Toby to take Erastus along in the wagon up to the point where we are to meet him at noon. You know Erastus is the porter and watchman at the bank, and known to be a fighter. When they see him sitting there beside Toby those fellows will have business somewhere else, you mark me. He can come home on the late afternoon train, one of us taking him over to the little station on a motor-cycle. How does that suit you all around?"
"Talk about your Napoleon for laying out plans; it couldn't be better arranged. The supplies will be safe, then. Now, is there anything else to remember?" demanded Jerry.
"Not from me," replied Bluff, stealing a side glance at the open window where Nellie and Violet were standing, watching the starting of the wonderful expedition that was expected to startle the timid woods folks up beyond the lumber camps at the head of the lake.
"Count me out," declared Will, raising one foot to be ready to mount.
"That settles it, then. Who goes first?" asked Frank.
"You do, to start with. Later on, after we pass the wagon, Jerry will act as guide, as he's been up there before, and knows a lot about the country," called Will.
"Then, here goes, fellows."
Suiting the action to the word Frank ran with his machine, then gave a vault into the saddle, started the engine, and with a loud popping the motor-cycle began to hustle along the road at a moderately swift pace.
Jerry came second, then Will, and last but not least Bluff, who was very apt to have many things happen to his motor-cycle before the ten miles had been reeled off, for that seemed to be just his fortune.
"Good luck!" called the girls from the window; while the little mother waved a 'kerchief from the doorway, and then hurried in to shed a few tears, for, truth to tell, these partings always affected her in this way.
Through the town they went, with dogs racing alongside and barking wildly, and quite a few persons waving them good wishes as they passed; for it was pretty well known what the Outdoor Club had in view, and the hunting toggery with which Bluff had adorned himself was a constant sign as to the glut there would presently be in the game market of Centerville.
Then past Frank's home, where his father waved his hat as he stood in the doorway, warned of the coming of the squad by the rampant popping of the motor-cycles; and after that the open country, where the northbound road ran alongside the calm waters of Lake Camalot, now glistening in the frosty air of an October morning.
Frank slowed up to allow of Jerry overtaking him, so that they might talk as they covered the miles.
"There's the wagon ahead," he said.
"I had noticed it, and just beyond I thought I saw several fellows up on the bank, perhaps Andy and his chums. It might be well for us to close in and be ready to defend the wagon if necessary. And look out for any sort of sharp-pointed nails on the road, apt to slash our tires," remarked Jerry, who had experienced so much of the trickery of the Lasher crowd that he believed there was nothing too mean or small for them to attempt.
"Not a bad idea, so slow up until the other boys arrive. They may hardly feel like doing anything, now that we happen along."
"I'd feel sure they wouldn't if we could only coax Bluff to exhibit that awful pump-gun of his. Talk about your scorchers, I think Andy would run a mile—I know I would if I thought the murderous thing was going to be turned on me," growled Jerry, who, as the reader must already have noticed, was a very persistent fellow, and hard to convince, especially when on his favorite subject of a fair deal for every living creature.
They moderated their speed, and passed the place where the hostile group stood, with two riders on either side of the supply wagon.
Then it was seen that Andy and his associates had impressed a hungry-looking, gaunt mule into their service, the said animal being fairly loaded down with an assortment of the most astonishing articles ever dreamed of in the mind of would-be campers.
Under the circumstances, with Erastus and Toby to help guard the camp outfit, Andy's crowd did not dare lift a hostile hand; but they took especial pains to hoot at the little company as it wheeled past, making more or less sarcastic remarks, and yet being careful not to go too far.
The truth was, they did not wholly like the looks of the big colored man who sat there with old Toby, and of whose abilities as a fighter they happened to know something about.
When the rival campers had been left far behind, the boys considered it safe to part company with the supply train, and dash off.
"We've got lots to do, locating on a good campsite, remember, fellows; those sort of things don't grow on every bush, I tell you; so, come along," and Frank, as he spoke, let out another kink, the popping grew more furious, and away he shot up the road in a little cloud of dust, with Jerry at his rear, ready to take the lead as soon as there was any necessity for choosing at the forks.
Ten miles is a mere "flea-bite," as Bluff Masters said, when a good, lively motor-cycle "takes the bit in its teeth," and it seemed as though they had hardly more than got well started before the junction was reached, where Jerry swung ahead, and the rest trailed after him.
The pace had to be more moderate after this, for the going was not so even; but, nevertheless, they made fair time, and finally swung around at the head of the lake, where the logging camp was situated.
It was early in the season, but there were some timber cutters at work in the woods near-by, and a greasy man-cook stood in the doorway of the long log cabin where the gang put up throughout the winter, while conducting their operations of leveling the forest, or, at least, robbing it of all the spruce for the pulp mill over at Bedington.
Jerry held up at the lumber camp, for he wished to ask a few questions of the cook, who was a man he happened to know in a small way, though never particularly fancying Jock Stovers.
The fellow stared at seeing a quartette of elegant motor-cycles come dashing up to the loggers' winter quarters.
"Hello! Jock. We're going into the woods to spend a week or two; wagon following after with all the stuff. Where do you suppose we could run across old Jesse Wilcox these days; and is he starting to do any trapping?" asked Jerry.
The lumber-camp cook grinned a little as he took in the new and striking hunting apparel which Bluff Masters sported so airily; doubtless he immediately concluded that the whole party must be a set of greenhorns, incapable of knowing enough to come in out of the wet when it rained.
"Oh! yes, he's to work, they tells me. Leastwise I heerd ole Bud Rabig complainin' thet he never did hev a show wen Jesse he was around, 'cause the annermiles they jest seem ter hanker arter Jesse's traps. Folks do say he hes a kinder scent he uses ter jest coax 'em like," replied the cook, not above hoping these sons of Centerville rich people might think it worth while to toss him a generous tip for any information he gave them.
"We are heading for that old camp by the twin hemlocks, where that spring bubbles up, winter and summer. One of us will be back here to convoy old Toby in with the chuck wagon, and get Erastus over the farmers' station, where he can catch a late train back. Just tell them to wait here, if they come before I arrive, and here's some tobacco money for your trouble, Jock."
The cook nimbly caught the flying coin, and grinned his thanks.
"Oh! I'll tell 'em all right, don't yer be 'fraid, Jerry. Say, they was a party o' three as started in ter camp jest whar ye say, about a hull hour ago. Boys from Centerville, too, but a tough-lookin' bunch. They tried to do me for a breakfast, but I come out with a gun, and they shooed. Reckon that Pet Peters was wun o' the gang."
Jerry looked at the others in some dismay.
"What'll we do, fellows; that's Andy's right bower. He must have started the three of them up here last night, meaning to have them squat by the spring first, and keep us off. And I did want to camp just there above all places! It's been on my mind all night," exclaimed Jerry, disconsolately.
"An hour, you said, Jock?" asked Frank, always quick to decide knotty points.
"I reckons about that; but them fellers was dog-tired, an' I don't think they's agoin' ter git up to thet spring in a hurry," replied the cook, still squeezing the half dollar, as if to "make it squeal," as Bluff remarked later.
"Perhaps we can get there before they do. Suppose we make a try, Jerry?"
For answer Jerry started his machine on a run, jumped aboard, and was quickly dashing away at rather a reckless pace, considering the rough "tote" road he had to follow.
The others were close at his heels, and altogether the rattling reports of the four exhausts quite excited the lumber-camp cook, who stood there in the doorway gaping, as long as the motor-cycles remained in sight.
UNDER THE TWIN HEMLOCKS
"Say, ain't this going-some, for a rough road?" called Bluff, who was pounding along close behind Jerry, Will bringing up the rear.
"Beats everything I ever did on wheels—wow! that was a scorcher of a jolt! I hope none of the wheels break down!" answered the other, over his shoulder; but he dared not take his eyes off the uneven "tote" road which they were following, for more than a second at a time, lest some unfriendly root hurl him into the ditch, a wreck.
"See anything of 'em, Frank?" wheezed Jerry a bit later, as he kept his machine close behind the leader; for somehow in this race for the campsite Frank just naturally forged to the front from mere force of habit.
"Thought I had a peep of something moving ahead—soon know," came the answer.
Some more jumping followed, and it required considerable agility on the part of the four riders to keep their saddles.
Then they made a turn, and discovered three boys in full flight ahead.
"There they are!" cried Jerry, in excitement.
"How far ahead is the spring?" called Frank.
"About half a mile, I reckon."
"Good! Then the game is ours, barring accidents!"
The three fellows ahead kept turning around every dozen seconds, as if worried at the rapid approach of the others.
"Keep your eyes peeled; they're hatching up some sort of mischief!" called Frank, who knew the signs.
He saw that the others began to wobble in their movements, which was plain evidence that they had tired themselves out by their night tramp, and were in no condition to compete with the motorcycles, even on this rough stretch of road.
The tall, athletic-looking leader of the trio suddenly jumped aside, and stooped over as if snatching something from the ground.
"'Ware, hawks!" shouted Bluff, who had noted this maneuver.
It could now be easily seen that Pet Peters had fastened upon quite a cumbersome branch of a fallen tree, and his purpose was manifest when he stepped out as if to drop it across the road, meaning to wreck the machines as they swept on.
Frank changed his course just a trifle, but was now heading straight for the unprincipled schemer, who would have taken the chances of seriously injuring some of the party in order to further his own plans.
The sight of that heavy motor-cycle heading straight at him rather demoralized Pet, who did not know but that Frank meant to chase him until he got him; so that he dropped the branch before he had quite covered the entire space across the narrow road, and made a wild leap for safety.
Consequently, Frank was able to veer aside and skim past the dangerous obstruction without coming a "cropper" in the ditch.
Jerry also swept by, and the others were coming so fast on the heels of the two leaders that the bewildered roughs could not pull their wits together in time to make any successful swoop.
Perhaps they were not particularly anxious to arouse the party after all; for the sight of the weapons they carried, and, above all, the martial appearance of the khaki-clad Bluff, must have impressed them more than a little.
"Hurrah! the camp is ours!" yelled the tail-ender, as he clung to the rear of the remarkable procession; for never before had these solemn woods witnessed anything like such a progressive picture of modern magic as these four lads booming along on metal steeds capable of making fifty miles an hour and more, in case of necessity, and over a smooth road.
A few minutes later of more moderate traveling brought them to a point where a view could be had of the camp-site.
"Over to the right—notice those twin hemlocks yonder—well, the wonderful spring bubbles up close beside those trees. Hold up, Frank!" called Jerry.
So the quartette dismounted, jumping from their wheels while still in motion, after the habit of those who use motor-cycles.
In another minute all of them were bending low over the spring, testing the delightfully clear waters of the same.
Loud were the exclamations of satisfaction that arose, for their ride had made them thirsty, and the water was as cold as ice.
"A cracking good spot for a camp," was the verdict of the experienced Frank, as he allowed his eyes to rove about, and take in the surroundings.
Jerry beamed with pleasure.
"Knew you couldn't help liking it, for it seemed to cover all the necessities of the case, as far as I know them," declared Jerry, whose knowledge was founded pretty much on theory based on extensive reading rather than a practical experience such as Frank had passed through.
"This little knoll will serve to shed water when it rains, as it's sure to do some time or other; it always does when you camp; and the water is just far enough away to keep the spring from being polluted by any refuse from the fire. Yes, and the trees around here have not been touched by lumbermen, so that the whole aspect is restful to the eye. I like it, Jerry; it's a regular jim-dandy place."
"Hunk, I say!" declared Bluff, after his usual explosive fashion; but if his manner was crude, he generally hit the nail on the head, and no one could mistake his feelings in the matter.
He immediately squatted down and began to take his gun out of its case, an operation Jerry eyed with alarm.
"Say, look here, what are you going to do with that machine, eh? Are you so wild to get at the slaughter that you can't wait a decent length of time, and give the poor birds and beasts a chance to know we're here for a long stay? For goodness' sake, show some sportsman spirit, Bluff," he exploded.
The other looked up with an injured expression.
"Why," said he, "I'm only thinking of those three desperate characters rushing our camp, and I wanted to let them see we are able to look out for ourselves, that's what."
"Oh! if that's the case, hold up that tool, and I bet they light out faster than they come—who wouldn't, I'd just like to know, when—"
"Hey, Jerry, can the wagon get in here?" asked Will, knowing what the dispute would lead to if allowed to go on any further.
"Why, yes, I think so, if Toby knows how to manage right; you see he can turn to the right, cross behind that thicket, and bring up here; certainly the wagon can haul up here—if it ever gets to this point safe," replied the other.
"You and I will look out for that, and when we ride back to convoy it here, depend on it, we'll have our guns ready to make a good showing," remarked Frank. "I don't think those three fellows will dare attack us, especially when they see Erastus. They know him all right, from sad experience. You see 'Rastus used to be something of a prizefighter in a small way among his kind, and nothing delights him half so much as a scrap once in a while; and the town rowdies have suffered at his hands."
"All right; say when, and I'll be ready to go."
"Plenty of time. I figure that the wagon won't get to the lumber camp until noon, so in the meantime we can be using that nice ax Will has strapped to his machine, and doing a number of things. Firewood is a mighty handy article to have around a camp, boys, and it's simply wonderful what a big lot of it is needed."
"A hint is as good as a command, Frank; just understand that we're ready to do anything you suggest, for we all want to learn the ropes as soon as we can. What are you going to do?" he asked, as Frank unsheathed a camp hatchet, and commenced to look around, as if in search of some particular kind of wood.
"Well, you see, I remember that I lost my tent pegs the last time I camped in Maine, and it's up to me to cut a new supply. No better time than now, while we're waiting for the wagon. Then I expect to lay out several poles on which to stretch the tents—one tall one for the center, and a couple of others outside for the fly that forms a shelter," remarked Frank, commencing operations on what seemed a suitable piece of hickory.
"What sort of tents are they?" asked Jerry, watching all that the other did, so as to catch the true spirit of the thing from practical observation, which somehow seemed vastly different from what he read in his books on sport.
"The kind which most canoeists like in these modern days. They're big enough to accommodate four in a pinch, although it's much better to have only two in each, and that's why I brought both along. Then, when the fly in front is raised it makes a splendid place for the table, being sheltered from sun and rain. Each tent has a waterproof floorcloth, to keep the dampness out. Wait and see, Jerry."
They worked like beavers for a time.
When one tired his muscles chopping firewood another was eager to take up the job, and it was wonderful how the pile of fuel increased.
Frank rubbed his hands with pleasure when, an hour or more later, he came over to take a look at it, having completed his own task, as the quantity of tent pegs announced.
"That's fine, fellows" he declared, laughing. "If you'd ever gone through what I did once, when lost in the Maine woods one bitter cold night, you'd never think you could have too big a pile of the stuff. Perhaps some time I'll tell you about that experience; for I'll never forget it, never. But, Jerry, suppose we get ready to run back to the lumber shack, and wait there for the wagon? I won't be easy until we see it here. A little snack first from the grub I've got here, and which Nellie put up for us, and then we'll meander over the back trail," he said.
"Grub!" exclaimed Bluff, starting up from the soft, mossy cushion he had fashioned, after doing his little stunt with the ax; "count me in, please, and especially if your sister put it up, Frank, for I reckon it must be the boss feed then."
At which the others smiled, for Bluff's weakness regarding Frank's pretty sister was something of a joke among them.
But when the package was undone there were broad grins, for dainty sandwiches flanked by a generous assortment of wings and drumsticks, connected at one time with a number of spring chickens, came into view, besides some pickles, and even a bunch of cookies, which Frank assured his chums had been actually made by the fair hands of Nellie herself.
They had hardly known just how hungry they were until the first bite was taken, and then little was said for some time, on account of the rapidity with which those four sets of sturdy jaws worked.
But, as might have been expected, Bluff was the first one to reach out his hand and secure one of the aforesaid cookies, which he munched with closed eyes, as if mentally picturing the sweet girl from whom the treat had come.
"All ready for the road, Jerry!" exclaimed Frank, jumping up.
"On deck, captain; I'm with you," came the reply, just as cheerily.
"You fellows keep a good watch, though I don't fancy you'll be bothered by the three advance scouts of the Lasher brigade," remarked Frank, as he pushed his machine into position, and prepared to run with it for a start.
"Huh!" grunted Jerry, casting a side glance toward Bluff, who was already shifting his repeating shotgun to a position where it could lie across his knees as he sat there on his mossy hassock; "I bet they won't, not as long as that thing is in sight. Talk about your scarecrows, I'd like to wager—"
"To be continued in our next; come along, Jerry," cried Frank, as he started on.
A minute later the merry popping of the two exhausts told that the convoy for the "chuck-wagon," as they called it, was on the way.
THE FIRST CAMP SUPPER
"They don't seem to be around," said Jerry, when he and his chum had covered at least half the distance to the lumber camp, without seeing a sign of the three fellows who had tried to dispute their advance in the morning.
"I hope they're not hovering around our camp, to make trouble for the boys," observed Frank, shaking his head.
The other laughed aloud in a scoffing way.
"All I can say is, I'm mighty sorry for Pet and his pals if they try that sort of business when that criminal of a Bluff is sitting there with his Gatling gun, ready for work. I'd sooner face a tiger, honest I would, than that instrument of destruction. I bet there won't be a chippy left around here when we get out."
"Oh! shucks, Jerry, remember that he isn't in your class. When he empties that six-shot gun and makes a miss every time, what does it matter? If the game had only poor Bluff and his repeater to fear they could well laugh. But when you look over the sights it's a different matter."
"That's nice of you, Frank. I'll try and be more lenient with the poor fellow, then. Anyhow, I know he shuts both eyes when he pulls the trigger, for I've watched him more than once. A man that's gun-shy never will make a success as a hunter. Isn't that so?"
"I've been told so; but, all the same, Bluff is a good-hearted chap, and I like him first rate. He furnishes fun for the whole squad; and, besides, nothing makes him mad—at least, if he ever brushes up it's over and done with like a flash. But isn't that the lumber camp ahead—I thought I had a glimpse of it through the trees—there it is again!" said Frank.
"You're right, but I don't see the wagon."
"I hardly thought it would be here before half an hour more. We needn't go any farther than the cabin, and can be taking in the sights while we wait."
"Precious little to see here; don't compare with some of the big camps up in your Maine, I guess. But they're making a gash in the timber all right, and in a few years it'll be all gone—that is, what is worth taking."
They came to a halt near the log cabin, from which the head of the cook was quickly thrust, he having heard the sound of their engines as they approached.
"Back again, boys?" he inquired genially, for the vision of that coin was still fresh in his memory.
"Bad penny always comes back, Jock," laughed Jerry.
"We've come to convoy the wagon in. You see all our supplies, tents, grub and blankets happen to be in that wagon, and we don't mean to let it be captured by any of the Lasher crowd," remarked Frank.
He saw the cook start at the mention of that name, as he muttered:
"Butch Lasher a-comin' up hyer—then them fellers must aben some o' his pals."
"Just what they were," and Frank went on to explain how it came there was a second vacation for the academy boys of Centerville, and also the unfortunate fact of Andy, known among his chums as "Butch" for some unexplained reason, having determined to take an outing in the same region at the identical time they had arranged to come.
"We expect to have trouble with them right along, but they'd better be careful how they try any of their smart tricks on us up here. We mean to let them alone, if they mind their business and pay no attention to us; but, on the other hand, we know how to defend ourselves, and we've got the means to do it," he went on.
The cook shook his touseled head.
"Thet critter is sure a terror, an' I orter know," was all he would say; but the boys could imagine that there was some sort of a story back of it.
Less than ten minutes later, while Jerry was prowling around looking at the bunks in which the lumberjacks slept when in camp, the sound of voices came to Frank, who was watching outside, and looking down the crooked road he caught sight of the wagon, with the two colored men on the seat.
A shout brought Jerry plunging out of the door, and he joined in noisily greeting the coming of the team.
It had been previously arranged that he was to take Erastus on his machine over to the station on the railroad, about two miles away, so that he might get the afternoon local, which would stop upon being flagged.
Meanwhile, Frank would escort the wagon to the camp, feeling quite able to take good care of the supply train, as Jerry called it, when he tired of saying "chuck-wagon."
Jerry got away first, with Erastus perched behind him, and grinning from ear to ear with the novelty of the experience.
"H'm, he won't think it so funny if they strike a root and take a header; but then Jerry's a cautious driver, and he knows something of the lay of the land; so I hope they'll get along without a spill. Now, Uncle Toby, do you think you can stand a mile or two of rough sledding; for the 'tote-road' is hardly meant for a wagon with springs?" Frank asked, as the other vanished from sight, going back along the way they had come from Centerville.
"'Deed an' I specks I kin, Marse Frank; dis chile is able to stan' a heap o' knockin' 'round on 'casion. S'long as I keeps my shins safe, I don't seem to keer 'bout much else. Say de word, sah, an' I'se ready to hit um up ag'in right peart," was the reply from the old, gray-headed Toby, who had worked for Frank's father many years—indeed, he was fond of saying he had been a slave in the Virginia branch of the Langdon family "befo' de wah."
The horses had not had a very hard pull up to this time, and were, therefore, in pretty fair condition to attempt the last quarter of the journey.
And they needed all their strength to drag that heavily-laden wagon over the half-broken road, where so many obstacles stuck up to jolt the poor driver until he almost lost his grip on the seat, though the boys had been able to avoid most of these because they could steer aside with the single line of wheels.
But the vehicle had been well made, and the horses were full of vim, while the venerable black man who gripped the reins was a "sticker," as he expressed it, after being once tossed out upon the back of the near horse by the sudden stoppage of the wagon.
After rather a trying experience they finally sighted a column of smoke, and, calling Toby's attention to this, Frank said:
"That's as far as we go this time, Toby."
Toby shut his eyes for a brief moment and doubtless gave thanks, for his poor old body must have been pretty well bruised by this time.
Will and Bluff had spied the wagon by now, and they shouted a noisy welcome.
"Now we're prepared for a siege, with the grub at hand," cried Bluff, dancing around with his gun held on high.
"Say, be careful with that contraption, will you? If ever it started going off not one of us would live to tell the ghastly tale," called Will, as if really and truly alarmed, which, of course, he was not.
Bluff gave him an indignant look, for it pained him to have his pet gun insulted after this rude fashion; but he was too much delighted over the coming of the supply wagon to cherish any animosity; and besides, as Frank said, he never could keep on being angry over a few minutes at a time.
Such fun they had getting that vehicle unloaded.
Then the tents had to go up, which was an operation that consumed considerable time, for Frank proved to be very exact in his way of arranging things, and would not accept any poor work.
When finally both tents had been erected, with a burgee bearing the club name floating from the very tops, the camp began to have a mighty cheery look that was invigorating.
Then another fly was put up just in the rear, under which some of the coarser provisions, such as water would not injure should the rain get in, were stored; here, too, Toby was to bunk while in camp.
"Everything looks like business, boys," said Jerry, as he came in later.
"What did you do with Erastus?" demanded Frank; "upset him in a ditch?"
"Do I look like I had been rooting? He got off on the train, and is home by now."
Home—the boys looked at each other, for it already seemed as though they had been away a long time, and yet their first night under canvas was still ahead.
They meant to keep the horses with them over night, and next day Jerry would go with Toby to the farmer's, about a mile off, leaving the outfit there until it was needed to take them back again.
As evening came on the boys began to lie around and watch the old darkey start operations for supper, which he did with evident delight; for Toby loved nothing better than to get away with "Marse Frank" and some of his friends, where he could wait upon them and enjoy a holiday in the woods.
The unusual exertions of the ride and subsequent wood-chopping had really tired all of the chums, though none of them would publicly admit it. When Bluff attempted to get up in a hurry for some purpose, he found himself so stiff he could hardly move, and it was only after much grunting and three distinct efforts that he finally managed to reach his feet.
Frank only smiled.
He had expected just this, and knew that in a few days the boys would have succeeded in getting the kinks out of their muscles.
Bluff had insisted that they have fried onions with that glorious steak, and, indeed, he even prepared a dozen of the same himself, for Bluff could be very persistent when he chose; Frank called a halt at this number.
"We may want a few another time, old fellow," he admonished.
"Oh! all right, then. I was just waiting till somebody called me off. I've shed more tears than Brutus ever dropped at the bier of Caesar. Wow! some kind person wipe my eyes, please; my hands are too rank to touch my tear-rag," he declared, and Will performed this friendly office, thinking that he deserved it after his heroism.
The coffee was soon bubbling on the fire, and the delightful odor of that fine sirloin steak, together with a second frying-pan full of onions, so permeated the surrounding atmosphere that had any of the Lasher crowd been hiding in the vicinity they must have suffered tortures in the thought that they were debarred from that glorious outdoor feast around the first campfire.
"Look there!" said Jerry, quietly, pointing as he spoke.
"It's a little chipmunk come to find out what all this row is about here," remarked Frank, tossing a piece of bread toward the cunning animal. "If you don't do anything to frighten them away we can have a lot of such friendly creatures hanging around the camp all the time."
"Then, for goodness' sake, chain up that annihilator of Bluff's before he gets it working overtime. Looks as if he had an eye on it just now, for game is game to the pot hunter, no matter how he gets it, or what it happens to be," growled Jerry, scowling in the direction of the other, who only grinned in reply.
"Supper am ready, gemmen. Kindly draw yer seats 'round de table," announced the tow-headed cook at this juncture; and in the eagerness to appease their keen hunger everything else was forgotten for the time being.
Two collapsible tables had been brought along, and these were placed under the raised fly of one of the tents, so that the warmth of the open fire could be enjoyed; but the whole supper had not been cooked after the old fashion, for Frank had a little outfit that burned kerosene, making its own blue flame, and which the other boys declared to be the finest thing of the kind they had ever seen.
A set of aluminum ware went with it, the kettles nesting in each other; there were cups, dishes, knives, forks and spoons for four persons; besides, Frank had added a lot of kitchen things from the house, so that they were amply supplied.
The supper was almost finished when something crashed through the branches of a tree and fell at Frank's feet.
"What's that?" exclaimed the boy.
Crash! came another object. It landed on a platter and bounded off into Bluff's lap.
"A rock! Somebody is throwing rocks at us!" cried Will, starting to scramble to his feet in wild excitement.
"It must be one of that Lasher crowd," ejaculated Jerry; "come on, boys, and let's get hold of the fellow!"
BLUFF MEETS WITH A LOSS
The wildest excitement ensued.
Jerry met with a mishap right in the beginning of the hunt, falling over the long box in which much of their camp material had been carried.
It happened to lie just back of the tent, empty save for a few fag-ends of canvas brought along in case of need, and with the cover in place.
"Talk about your obstacle races!" he shouted, as he scrambled up, and went limping after the others; "this has 'em beaten to a frazzle."
The hunt for the offender was without result. He had evidently made haste to scuttle off, after heaving the stones at the camp.
Frank and Will, after searching for some little time, started to return to the camp, and on the way overtook Bluff.
"Where's Jerry?" asked Frank, as they joined forces.
"Don't know," came the answer, as Bluff pushed on eagerly ahead; "last I saw of him he was taking a header over that long coffin-box back of the tents."
"I hope he didn't hurt himself badly, that's all. What's your hurry, Bluff?" continued Frank, noticing that the other seemed particularly anxious to get along.
"Why, I left my gun standing against a tree," replied Bluff.
"Well, we all did about the same thing. I forgot I had a gun, in fact, being so anxious to get my hands on that chump who bombarded our camp. I guess you'll find the gun safe. Uncle Toby stayed in camp," said Frank, nudging Will.
"He did not. I saw him scooting off like a scared dog. Like as not that coon is hiding somewhere under the bushes at this very minute," declared Bluff.
At which both the others laughed.
Presently the cheery blaze was seen through the trees.
Some one was there, for they could see him bending over as though busily engaged.
"It's Jerry, all right," said Bluff, over his shoulder.
"But what in the wide world is he doing? I believe he's been hurt, boys," declared Frank, with a touch of anxiety in his voice, for Jerry and he had been very thick of late.
"Binding a bandage around his shin, as sure as you live! Hello! What happened to you, old fellow? Did one of those rocks hit home, or was it the box you tried to capture that jumped up and kicked you?" asked Will.
Bluff was in the meantime rushing wildly about the camp as though looking for something.
"I tumbled over that plagued box, that's all; and after limping around for a spell thought I'd better come back and put some witch-hazel on the bruise," explained the other, turning down his trousers' leg, and scrambling to his feet to ascertain how well he could walk.
"It will be some stiff in the morning, I reckon. Talk about your bears, I thought one had me nailed when I fell over that thing 'ker chunk,'" he continued, as he rubbed his shin and screwed his face up as if to conceal his pain.
"I told you so—it's gone!" shouted Bluff, at this juncture.
"What's gone?" echoed Will.
"My gun! Something seemed to tell me it was a silly thing for me to run off in that way and leave it. And now they've stolen it!" wailed Bluff.
"What! Do you really mean to say you can't find it?" questioned Frank.
"Help me look, fellows. Oh! my heart will be broken if it's true. I was just dreaming of what great things I meant to do with that splendid repeating shotgun. Please search around the camp!" pleaded Bluff.
Of course they immediately started a thorough hunt for the strangely missing weapon, even the limping Jerry seeming as deeply interested in the search as any one of his comrades.
High and low they looked, turning over all the blankets in the tents, but not a sign of the wonderful "pump-gun" could they discover.
The other guns were just where they had been left, and so far as they could see not another thing had been stolen.
"I declare, this is mighty queer," remarked Frank, when they were ready to give over the quest.
"Strangest thing I ever heard of," declared Will.
"Talk about your airships, I think the blooming old thing must have taken wings and sailed away," grunted Jerry, still rubbing his wounded shin sympathetically.
"But why should they pick out Bluff's gun of the lot?" demanded Frank.
"That's easy enough to answer. They knew a good thing when they saw it, I bet that crowd noticed what a bully gun I carried, when we passed them on the road, and they've been hanging around ever since," avowed Bluff, positively.
"Then the rocks—" began Will
"Were fired at us only to tempt a rush. It was all a plot, fellows, to coax us away for a short time. And the worst of it is the game worked only too well. I'll never get over that loss, never! I feel sick!" went on Bluff.
He kept shaking his head as if working himself up into a desperate frame of mind. Evidently it would have gone hard with any one of Andy Lasher's crowd if the offended boy could have laid hands on him just then.
"I wonder if Uncle Toby could give us any information on this subject?" suggested Frank.
"Oh! call him in and see. Perhaps he even grabbed it up in his fright. Shout to him, Frank, please," exclaimed Bluff, eagerly.
"Hello! Uncle Toby! Show up here; the coast is clear, and all danger past!"
Placing his hands about his mouth, after the fashion of a megaphone, Frank shouted these words several times.
"There he comes!" cried Will, pointing to a moving object.
"Has he got anything in his hands?" gasped Bluff, anxiously.
"Not that I can see," replied the other.
Bluff groaned and wrung his hands disconsolately.
"It's gone, boys! I'll never set eyes on that beauty again. Might as well give up and go back to town," he said, gloomily, as if brokenhearted.
"Oh! shucks! Don't give up so easy, Bluff. Who knows but that we may find a chance to recover the gun again, sooner or later. Live in hopes."
"It's easy for you to say that, Frank, when your gun is all safe and sound. Why, what can I do now without anything to shoot game with?"
"Well, I wouldn't worry about that. This is Kamp Kill Kare, you know. Trust us to find plenty for you to do. There'll be fish and game to clean, and dishes to wash while Toby is busy at something else. Oh! you can be useful all right, I give you my word, Bluff," said Frank, gaily.
The aggrieved boy gave him one indignant look. He did not seem in a humor to trust himself to speech.
Meanwhile the aged darkey had entered the camp.
"Have you seen my repeating-gun, Toby?" demanded Bluff, striding up to him.
"'Deed an' I hasn't seen any gun since I jumped into de bush to find dem young raskils wot trowed dat stone at me. I war just a-wishin' I had a gun along. Wouldn't I jest a peppered dem scalawags as dey run past me?" replied the old fellow.
"Say, did you see them then?" demanded Frank.
"I shore did, Marse Frank."
"How many were there?" came the quick question.
"I war jest a-countin' ob dem jailbirds, an' had 'rived at 'leven w'en a 'streperous root she keeled me ober. W'en I gits up agin dey had gone. Den I heard Marse Frank a-callin' me to come back," went on Toby, glibly.
The boys looked at each other and smiled. They knew that without doubt he had been cowering close to the ground in mortal fear the whole time, for Uncle Toby had little reputation for bravery.
"Did you see any of them have a gun?" asked Bluff, faintly.
"I done t'ink de whole bunch hab guns; least-way dat was my 'pression at de time dat creeper done trip me up. It's lucky my haid is 'customed to hard knocks, or it split open for sure."
"That settles it; my new gun is gone. Oh! it makes me so mad just to think one of that crowd may be handling it," cried Bluff, shaking his fist.
"I just fancy I can hear the squirrels laughing, and the little chippies singing for joy," declared Jerry. "Now they'll have a chance to live. What's hard on you, Bluff, is just happiness to them."
"You always did envy me the possession of that gun, and I know it, in spite of your sneers. You just thought I'd beat you out in making a record. Wait! I'm going to get that cracker-jack gun back again, some fine day," remarked Bluff, grimly.
And Frank, seeing that look of determination on his face, knew he meant it.
THE SHACK OF THE MUSKRAT TRAPPER
"Wake up, everybody!"
Bang! bang! bang! went the big spoon on the frying pan Frank held.
As the others came crawling out of the tents they sniffed the air.
"Say, that bacon smells prime!" declared Will, smacking his lips.
"Hope you didn't forget about that mess of hominy I spoke about last night, Toby. Hominy's my great stand-by for breakfast. All right, I see it on the fire. Give me just five minutes. If it wasn't for that gun—"
"Talk about your Ambrosia, that Java sure has it knocked clean out," broke in Jerry. "Me for a quick-dressing act and then grub!"
Uncle Toby grinned, for he knew what appetites boys are apt to develop when in the woods, and, of course, he had made allowances.
They were soon gathered around the table and busy.
"What's the programme for to-day?" asked Frank, when the edge of their appetites had been taken away.
"First thing of all I want some snapshots of the camp in the morning sun. You can see that's the best time to get a good view. Now, just sit still, fellows, and let me do my little trick," said Will.
They assumed grotesque positions, but the photographer refused to stand for that.
"What d'ye think I want, a collection of freaks broken loose from the lunatic asylum? Here, you, Will, be dishing out some more bacon on to your plate; Frank, take up the coffee-pot and be helping Bluff. Uncle Toby, just look pleasant."
"Pretend you found my gun, and I was giving you half a dollar, Uncle Toby," remarked Bluff, quickly.
"Always thinking of that cheap, clap-trap affair," growled Jerry. "Goodness knows if we'll hear anything else from him all the time we're in camp. I declare I've half a notion—"
"To do what?" asked Frank, looking at him suspiciously.
Jerry only smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
"Now, hold your positions, fellows. Frank, lean a little forward, so your face stands out better; there, that's right. Toby, raise your head and point up as if you saw a bird in that tree. That's good, all right; it's over. Thank you!"
Will kept his position for a little while, and every few minutes seemed to find a chance to snap off another view. He evidently believed in getting a variety of the main subject of their outing—the home camp.
"I move we try and find old Jesse Wilcox this morning," suggested Frank.
"That suits me, if we don't have to go too far," agreed Jerry.
"How's the shin, by the way, this morning? Haven't noticed you limp much?"
"Feels pretty fair. Next time I chase out of camp I'm going to make sure to clear that old box, all right. How about the rest—do you say go?" asked Jerry.
"Count me in," called Will.
"Yes, you will want to get some views of the old trapper and his cabin, with the door covered with muskrat skins," remarked Frank.
"Coming along, Bluff?" asked Jerry, watching the other covertly.
"I guess not to-day. I'm going to hunt around again to see if I could have unconsciously grabbed up that gun as I bolted, and then dropped it in the brush. Such a thing might happen, you know, fellows," returned the other.
So he remained behind when the other three sallied forth, Frank and Jerry carrying their guns over their shoulders, while Will brought up the rear bearing his camera ready for use and on the lookout for subjects.
"If you see any game please give me a chance to snap a view before you shoot," he pleaded; at which the others laughed.
"Perhaps, but we can't promise. If a partridge got up suddenly it would be a case of shoot first, and think afterwards," said Frank.
"But if it should be a deer standing feeding?"
"Or a black bear on his hind legs begging?" jeered Jerry.
"All right. I'm going to be ready for all that comes along. Still life, if I have to, or anything else."
Will's last words were drowned in the report of Jerry's gun. He had swung it around like a flash, and without apparently glancing along the barrels, fired one charge at something that was flashing through the undergrowth.
There came a second shot, so close upon the heels of the first that the reports were almost blended in one.
Jerry turned and looked reproachfully at Frank.
"Talk about your sporting blood, you sure wiped my eye that time," he said.
"The bird was a little too close for your shot to scatter; I had a better chance as it flew away farther. You'd have dropped him with your second barrel, I reckon, old fellow," cried Frank, hurrying forward to pick up the partridge.
"Yes, I've no doubt I would; but that's the first time I ever had any one step in and beat me clean. I'll have to watch out for you after this, you sly 'possum. But then you've shot lots of these birds up in Maine, I suppose?"
"Plenty of them; but up there they light in trees, and the natives don't hesitate to drop them while they sit."
"That's little short of murder," said Jerry.
After an hour's walk they reached the camp of old Jesse.
"There it is, boys," said Frank, pointing ahead.
"And he's home, too; something I hardly expected at this time of day," from Jerry. "Because if he has a line of traps the morning is the time he tends them, I'm told."
As they approached, the man in the camp turned and saw them. He was a tall and angular fellow, well on in years, and with keen eyes that seemed always looking for signs around him.
"Say, boys, this here is right nice o' you, comin' to look me up. Out on a leetle hunt to-day?" he asked, as he shook hands all around.
"We've come up to camp out for a couple of weeks, while repairs are made to the school building, damaged in the gale of wind," answered Frank.
"Sho, ye don't say? Well, now, that's fine! I'll be right glad to see sumpin' o' ye while around. Whar's the camp, Jerry?"
"At the spring under the twin hemlocks. We wanted to run over and see how you were getting on. Started to put out your traps yet, Jesse?" asked the other.
"Oh! I got a few in line. Season's a bit early yet, ye see. Bringing in some musquash," and he swept his hand around at a dozen wooden frames upon which the skins were drying in the shade.
"Please let me get a picture of you at work, just as you were when we came up," said the ambitious photographer, keen on the subject that interested him most.
The trapper grinned good-naturedly.
"Fire away, then. So long as I don't give away any o' my secret ways o' preparin' the pelts, I don't keer. I'm some proud o' that shack, too. Sheds the rain, an' kin be kept warm easy; what more do a feller want?" he observed.
The operation was speedily completed.
"Hope you feel better now you've got that out of your system," said Jerry.
"I have five more exposures on this roll of film, boys. Hope to get something worth while before we start back to camp," retorted Will, caressing his new camera.
"Where do you get the muskrats, Jesse?" asked Frank, as he bent down to examine the way in which each skin was carefully stretched out on its little frame.
"Along the edge o' the swamp half a mile off. They's jest rafts o' 'em thar. As a rule the pelts bring about fifteen cents each, but jest now thar's quite a boom on, an' I reckon I'll git sixty apiece."
"That's fine. What else do you catch here in season?" asked Jerry.
"Wall, a few mink, not many, once in a long while an otter, fur which I git twenty dollars. Then I caught three bobcats last winter, seven foxes, eleven 'coon, half a dozen 'possums, an' two black b'ars, though one o' them I shot arter we had a right lively argyment."
"Whew! then there are bears around here?" asked Will, eagerly; "what wouldn't I give to get a picture of one in its wild state?"
The old man laughed.
"Kinder risky business a shootin' that thing at a b'ar, 'specially a she-b'ar as has young uns nigh. Like as not she'd rush ye. Now, I got a skin here with the head on it, an' if it comes to the wust we might rig that up, natural like, so ye cud git a picter o' a wild an' ferocious beast coming at ye on his hind legs."
"Oh! I hope I won't have to descend to a fake like that. But we've come to put in the day with you, Jesse. Show us how you set your traps, won't you?"
"Sartin I will. Was jest startin' out for a turn when ye showed up; so s'pose ye drop in line. It won't take more'n an hour or two, boys."
They were delighted at the chance, Will lugging his camera along, though the old trapper cast a dubious eye on the affair, as if he did not wholly like the idea of visiting his traps with such a "contraption," something unheard of in his experience.
"Now, don't even whisper, fellers. Here's the swamp and my traps begins clost by. I'll show ye all about it by signs. Dumb trappers is most successful, they sez," remarked Jesse, holding up his hand.
The three boys followed close at his heels, each picking his way, and walking on his tiptoes, as though that would make any difference.
So they entered the edge of the swamp.
Suddenly the man came to a halt and stooping, pointed ahead.
"Looky yonder," he whispered hoarsely, "that's somebody stealing out o' my traps!"
WHERE IS BLUFF?
"Where?" gasped Will, making as if anxious to get a snapshot of the thief in the very act.
"Keep quiet!" whispered Frank, giving him a push.
There was some one bending over the edge of the water, for they could catch a glimpse of his back.
"Stay here an' watch me scare the critter!" said old Jesse, with a frown.
He glided forward, very like an Indian brave creeping up on his enemy. Whoever the offender might be, he seemed to have no suspicion that danger hung over his head.
Suddenly the trapper jumped forward, and the boys saw him seize his prey.
"Wow! talk about your wildcats springing, that was a corker!"
Jerry led the way forward, though hard put to it to keep ahead of his eager companions, anxious to assist the trapper if he needed help.
"Take that, you pelt thief, and that! Let me ketch ye at my traps agin an' I'll jest waste a bullet on one o' yer legs. Kim up here an' steal my skins, will ye? Thar's another fur ye. Oh, howl all ye want to, I'm larnin' ye a lesson."
The hearty kicks with which he punctuated this speech brought forth a whoop of pain from the recipient on each occasion.
"Why, it's Pet Peters!" exclaimed Frank.
There was a snap.
"Thank you!" cried Will, with a satisfied grin; he had succeeded in taking a snapshot of the struggling couple while their faces were exposed.
"It'll do as evidence when I want ter send this critter to jail, which I'll sartin do if he ever comes a foolin' 'round my traps agin. I bet that snake Bud Rabig set him up ter it. Skeered to come hisself, an' sends a boy. Now, you git!"
This time the kick was so tremendous that it actually lifted Andy Lasher's crony clear off his feet, and started him in a mad flight along the edge of the swamp. As he ran wildly he kept bellowing in pain, and holding both hands back of him.
The temptation was more than Will could stand, and another "click" announced that he had secured a second retreating view of the poacher.
"At this rate I'll soon have my six rolls done," he announced, triumphantly.
"What harm did he do?" asked Frank.
The trapper made an investigation.
"Jest ketched him in time. Ye see he bed got the game outen the steel, an' was tryin' to sot the trap again so as I wouldn't know it. That proves he was sent up here by that sneakin' Bud Rabig; fur what would the boy know about fixin' a trap if he didn't git guided?"
Jerry picked up the drowned muskrat and examined it.
"Pretty soft fur it has. Lots of it used nowadays I understand," he observed.
"Yas, but mostly under other names. Fur is a-gittin' skeercer all the time, an' they hev to come to stuff they used to larf at. Now watch me sot her, boys."
They were all interested in the manner in which the trap was set, for much care and ingenuity is required in order to outwit the cautious instincts of the animal; though muskrats are not half so timid as some other animals whose fur is coveted by the trappers.
"Now fur the next trap. Hope I don't find a thief has be'n thar too," said Jesse.
Evidently Pet Peters had just started in to follow up the line of traps, as described to him by Bud Rabig the rival of old Jesse, for they saw no more evidences of a visit.
When an hour had passed they were carrying five victims of the steel traps.
Jerry did not much fancy the business.
He tried to be a thorough sportsman all the time, and anything that savored of the habits of a game butcher, or trapping and shooting for the market, grated on his nerves.
After this Jesse led them to where he had a bear trap located, and here they were compelled to exercise considerable caution, because Bruin is a suspicious beast, and easily frightened away.
But the trap was not sprung; and Jesse from a little distance explained to his young friends how it lay concealed under the fallen leaves at a place where he knew a bear frequented in passing to and fro.
"I'm goin' to look up his den in a few days, before he shuts in fur the winter, an' sot my trap, whar he's jest bound to tread in it goin' or comin'. Now, if so be ye feels that way, let's git back to camp an' hatch up some sorter dinner Ever eat musquash, boys?"
"What, eat muskrats?" exclaimed Jerry, in disgust.
"I never have, but would like to try the dish," remarked Frank. "Up in Maine the trappers told me they were fine in winter weather."
Will said not a word, but his lip curled, as though nothing could tempt him to even take a taste of such a queer dish.
It was high noon when they arrived at the shack of the old trapper, and all of the boys felt sharp pressed with hunger.
"I hope he's got something else besides muskrat—ugh!" said Jerry to Will.
"I saw part of a deer hanging up before we left here," replied the other.
Jerry licked his lips in anticipation.
"Venison, real venison, fresh in the woods! Tell me about that, will you? I'm in on that deal every time. I hope he cooks enough of it."
There was little danger of the trapper allowing any of his guests to go hungry.
"Boys, I want you all to help me git a fine dinner. Frank, I knows you are used to makin' up a good cookin' fire, you 'tend to that part Jerry, see that ere haunch o' venison hangin' from the limb o' that tree—jest git her down an' cut off some slices, all this here big fry-pan'll hold, an' put some pieces o' salt pork in along with it, 'cause ye see venison is mighty dry. Bill, p'raps ye kin look arter the coffee part o' the bizness."
Immediately everybody became busy.
Old Jesse went away with a couple of the muskrats, and when he came back later he had them skinned and ready for cooking; an operation the boys watched with considerable uneasiness.
Finally the meal was ready, and they sat down.
The venison tasted prime, and the coffee was pretty good; at least it was hot, and on a cool day that counts for a good deal.
Jerry and Will watched their comrade bravely take a portion of the musquash.
"How is it?" asked Jerry, for there had not been enough of the venison after all to appease their appetites.
"Bully. Just try for yourselves. I've eaten much worse dishes right at home," was the immediate reply of the stout-hearted Frank.
Old Jesse chuckled and gave him a look of appreciation.
Thereupon both of the others took a very dainty help, and with much hesitation tasted of the dish; but both came back for more, and in the end pronounced the new dish all right.
"Why, fellows," said Frank, laughing, "it was the same with terrapin years ago. People along the Eastern Shore used to consider the diamond-back as common as dirt."
"So I was reading the other day," admitted Jerry.
"Yes, sir, so common that when men hired out they stipulated in the bond that they were not to be fed on terrapin. Then the fashionable people took a fancy for the dish, the supply ran low, and now a decent-sized terrapin is worth five dollars. Perhaps muskrats may become popular the same way, who knows?" laughed Frank.