THE RANGER BOYS AND THE BORDER SMUGGLERS
By CLAUDE A. LABELLE
"The Ranger Boys to the Rescue," "The Ranger Boys Find the Hermit," "The Ranger Boys Outwit the Timber Thieves," "The Ranger Boys and Their Reward."
A. L. BURT COMPANY Publishers New York
THE RANGER BOYS SERIES
A Series of Stories for Boys 12 to 16 Years of Age
By CLAUDE A. LABELLE
The Ranger Boys to the Rescue The Ranger Boys Find the Hermit The Ranger Boys and the Border Smugglers The Ranger Boys Outwit the Timber Thieves The Ranger Boys and Their Reward
Copyright, 1922 By A. L. BURT COMPANY
THE RANGER BOYS AND THE BORDER SMUGGLERS
Made in "U. S. A."
THE RANGER BOYS AND THE BORDER SMUGGLERS.
OFF FOR NEW FIELDS.
"Now I believe you boys understand just what is wanted of you, as I explained it yesterday afternoon, but just to make sure, I'll go over it briefly again while you are waiting for your train," said the Customs Chief to the three Ranger Boys.
Our three friends were sitting in the office of the chief at the capitol in Maine, preparatory to bidding him goodbye before starting out for the Canadian border to try and run down a band of fur smugglers.
As they sit there, let us describe them and introduce them to those of our readers who have not read "The Ranger Boys to the Rescue," and "The Ranger Boys Find the Hermit."
First is Garfield Boone, known to his chums as Garry. He is the accepted and chosen leader of the trio on all their expeditions. Garry's father, known to the backwoodsmen as "Moose" Boone, is a wealthy lumberman.
Next is Phil Durant, a dark-haired youth of French descent. He is able to talk French fluently, but keeps this knowledge under cover, as the boys once found it useful for him to do. He is the son of a father and mother who are situated in very moderate circumstances.
Last, but by no means least, is Dick Wallace, the ward of Garry's father. Dick is the son of a college professor, who was a chum of Mr. Boone. He fell from a horse and injured his head when Dick was a youngster, and then disappeared. Dick's mother had died when he was a baby, so Mr. Boone took him into his own home to bring up. Dick, by the way, is rather fat; "plump" he calls himself.
These three boys form an extraordinary unit of the Maine Ranger service, that body of men whose duty it is to protect the great forest lands of the state from the danger of fire.
These boys were made Rangers through the influence of Mr. Boone, and had been in the woods about a month, where they had some stirring adventures, meeting an old hermit who has helped them, and making enemies of a half-breed guide, Jean LeBlanc, and a rascally ex-deputy Ranger, Anderson by name, who was supplanted by Nate Webster, a warm-hearted old Maine guide and a firm friend of the boys.
Among their adventures was the rescue of little Patty Graham, child of a rich broker who was camping in the woods, from the half-breed LeBlanc. As a reward for their brave deed, Mr. Graham presented them with a specially made wireless telephone outfit, complete with home station and compact carrying 'phones.
Now that we know who our heroes are, let us hear what the Customs Chief has to tell them.
"As I told you boys yesterday, this is our problem. We know that somewhere along the border, there is a regular smugglers' lane, where valuable shipments of seal and other furs have been smuggled into the United States with consequently a great loss of duty to the customs house. Now it is impossible for our men to find anything out, and if I get men from Washington, they don't know anything about the woods, so there you are.
"Now I think you boys can go up there, and by acting as campers, or even in your role of Rangers, you may find out just the things my agents have been unable to unearth. Ordinarily I wouldn't think of sending boys on this job, but you three have proven yourselves to be unusually alert and reliable, also being boys, you may not be regarded as dangerous by the woods people in that section.
"You had better go back to Bangor and have a conference with this man Webster, and get what supplies you need, then strike off across the state till you come to the border town of Hobart. That, I have reason to believe, is the base of operations of the smugglers.
"That I think is all. Before you go out, you will each be given a little gold customs badge. Secrete this somewhere on your persons and never show it except as an absolute last resort. Also, you will be given one or two signals by means of which you may find out whether anyone is in the service or not. Now good luck go with you."
The Chief shook hands with the three, and they filed into the outer office where an assistant gave them their badges and some simple signals.
"If you should meet a man who gave his collar a tug at the throat as though it were too tight, you would think nothing of it, but if he gave it two little tugs, and then waited while you could count five and gave it three more little tugs, you would be told he was a customs man. Your reply would be two tugs, and in order to check up, he would give two more in answer. That is for meeting in a room, on a train, or in the street. If you should happen to be in a restaurant, the signal would be two taps of a cup on a saucer followed by three, or if it is a mug, the same number of taps against the table. Your answering signal would be the same. Don't ever do this just because you are inquisitive about a person. Have some sure grounds for believing that the man you are signalling is part of the service. Now goodbye and good fortune."
The boys left the capitol and made their way down the long hill to the main business part of the town.
As they struck onto the main business street, Garry noticed the familiar blue bell sign of the telephone company.
"Say, boys, I have an idea. Let's stop in here and put in long distance calls and say hello to our folks. How does the idea strike you?" said Garry, almost in one breath.
"Ripping," shouted Phil, while Dick didn't wait to make any remark, but dived in through the door, and in a trice was putting in his call. Phil followed suit, while Garry waited, as he would talk when Dick had finished.
This pleasant duty done, they went to a restaurant for dinner. Here they attracted no little attention, for their khaki clothes looked almost like uniforms. Added to this was the fact that they wore forest shoepacks, those high laced moccasins with an extra leather sole, and felt campaign hats.
Most of those who saw them, however, after an interested look, put them down as boys about to go on a camping trip, never dreaming that this same trio had been through more adventures in the previous month or so, than the average boy, or men, for that matter, has in half a dozen years.
Even the boys, hopeful as they were of adventures, did not dream of the stirring times that lay ahead of them in their quest of the border band of smugglers.
The boys thoroughly enjoyed the well-cooked, well-served meal, it being a welcome change to have someone else do their cooking for them.
"Eat up, fellows," advised Dick, who was ever ready to eat, "just two or three more restaurant meals, and then we'll be cooking our own again over a bed of red embers under the merry greenwood tree."
Luncheon over, the boys consulted a time-table and found they could get a train immediately or one quite late in the afternoon for Bangor.
"What say we take the late one, and go to a movie this afternoon?" queried Dick.
The matter was put up to Garry for a decision and as he was the leader his word always went, though he was never arbitrary and generally talked things over before making a real decision.
"I think we ought to take the early train. By doing that, we will get to Bangor at five o'clock, just the time we would be leaving here, should we take the later train. Then we can have dinner, see an early movie, and buy what few things we need and get a good sleep, for we have a two-day train journey. Doesn't that strike you fellows as the most logical thing to do?" he concluded.
Put to them in this light it seemed best, so it was unanimously agreed to start at once. They proceeded to the station where they had checked their rifles and knapsacks on leaving the hotel that morning.
"I must get several things when we get to Bangor," remarked Phil. "You know LeBlanc and Anderson stripped me of rifle, knife and axe that time they left me tied to the tree."
"Yes, you'll have to, also I am going to get a compass, as I lost mine the time I lost my way in the forest," said Garry.
"Well, all I've to get when we reach that city," announced Dick, "is something to eat!"
The others laughed and poked fun at Dick for his appetite, for his willingness to eat at any time of the day or night was a source of constant merriment to the other chums.
"Some day you will have to go a whole day without food, Dick," remarked Garry, "and I don't know what will happen to you. I imagine that you'll just wither up and die before help reaches you."
"Don't worry, I'll find some way to prevent going a day without a meal," said Dick emphatically.
The ride to Bangor was uneventful. As they passed through Waterville, they saw the great shaded campus of Colby College, deserted for the summer except for a few students who were pursuing extra courses.
"By golly, there's a pretty college there. I almost think I'd like to go there," remarked Dick.
"Well, according to things as they now stand, we have a couple of years to think that over," said Garry.
They reached the city of Bangor, on the wide Penobscot River about five o'clock. This city is famous for its paper mills and as a center for the gathering of lumberjacks for the woods work. Bangor is also famous for its great "Salmon Pool."
Garry remarked about this:
"Some first of April we must make plans to come up and try our luck at salmon."
"Why April first?" queried Phil.
"You see the law goes off at that time, and they are the best at that season. A little while later, during the spawning season, they are again protected. It is a wonderful sight, by the way, to see the twenty or twenty-five pound salmon jump up over falls and dams eight and ten feet in height. The Orono Indians, who used to inhabit this region, used to stand at the top of the falls and dexterously spear the fish as they jumped."
Supper was eaten at the Penobscot Exchange, and then the boys journeyed down Canal Street to an old store where they intended to get a new rifle and some other things. They found the old gunsmith was out and would not be back until about eleven o'clock, so decided to go to the movies, and return at that hour.
They enjoyed the motion picture show immensely, particularly because one of the scenes in the News Weekly showed forest fire fighters combatting the flames in the Michigan woods.
After the show they made their way back towards the old gunsmith's shop. The street was deserted save for a party of roisterers, who passed them, singing at the top of their voices. They were passing a badly lighted spot, when, from a ramshackle old three-story house, they heard a shriek followed by an appeal for mercy.
THE OLD HOUSE.
"Did you hear a scream, Garry?" asked Dick, as he stopped in his tracks.
"I am sure I did, Dick," answered the leader, "but I was wondering whether it meant anything. You know this isn't the quietest and most lamb-like part of the city, it is probably only some carousing lumberjacks."
"Let's wait a minute or two and see if we can hear anything more," suggested Phil.
They waited a short time, and were about to move on, when the scream was repeated, and the boys distinctly heard a call for help.
"All set, boys, let's see what this is all about," cried Dick, who though fat, and sometimes inclined to take things easily, was not a bit of a coward.
"Wait a minute, fellows, let's see what our plan is," said Garry, hurriedly. "Remember we have no weapons, so every move must be made carefully. There are three floors. Dick, take the top, Phil you search the second, I'll take the ground floor. Go through the halls, listen carefully, and at the first sign of anything, whistle three times and the others will join whoever gives the whistle. Now, let's go!"
"One more thing," said Garry; "when you climb the stairs, step on the end either near the wall or the balustrade, then the steps won't be so apt to creak."
They found the front door open and made their way inside. The interior of the house was in inky blackness.
"Careful, now," warned Garry. "Whistle at the first sign of trouble, no matter how slight it is."
Phil and Dick sprang up the stairs, noiselessly, yet speedily. There was not a sign of noise, all was as quiet as a cemetery at midnight.
Left alone, Garry went along the hall, stopping at each door and listening intently. He was unrewarded until he came to the end door.
Here he thought he heard a sound of scuffling and squealing. Cautiously he tried the door, holding a flashlight ready in his hand. As he opened the door and stepped into the darkness, he saw the gleam of two small eyes, then heard a frightened scampering across the floor.
Garry snapped on his flashlight and then gave a relieved laugh. The noise had been caused by nothing more than a pair of rats, who had been feasting on the remains of a supper on a rickety old table.
The broken bits of food, the unwashed dishes, and the empty cans showed that someone evidently lived in the house, and only recently and probably surrepticiously as the thick dust that lay everywhere seemed to indicate that the house had not been regularly occupied for some time.
Garry saw a door at one side of the kitchen, for that was the room into which he had penetrated, and carefully opened it. The door led into a long room, with a half a dozen tables, bare of cloth, and with chairs stacked on them.
From the appearance of this room, and judging by the big range in the kitchen from which he had just come, Garry decided that the house was used in the winter as a boarding house for lumberjacks.
He went back to the kitchen and opened the only other door. A cool draft told him this was the cellar, and he listened intently, then flashing his light, went down the steps. A few moments' investigation showed him that there was no living person down there. The air was musty, and the cellar seemed damp.
While Garry was examining the lower floor, Phil and Dick had gone up the stairs. Here, too, all was quiet. Wishing Phil a hasty good luck, Dick began the ascent of the flight that led to the third floor.
Left alone, Phil stood stockstill for a few minutes, getting his bearings. There was a long hall from which led off ten doors, five on either side.
Phil decided he could do nothing better than go from door to door, listening intently at each one, then enter the room and flash his light about, for each of the boys had provided himself with a heavy batteried flashlamp.
He wondered where the screams could have come from, as there wasn't a sound of anyone stirring on the floor. He could hear Dick's stealthy footfall above him occasionally.
He listened at each door intently, and peered at them for a sign of light creeping through a keyhole or chance crack, but his vigilance went unrewarded.
Finally at the very last door he saw a mere speck of light through the keyhole. He dropped to his knee and glued his eye to the keyhole. By the flaring light of a couple of candles stuck into bottles, he could make out the still form of a man on a cot.
The room was considerably torn up, as though a search for something had been made.
Then a man crossed his line of vision and shook up the form on the cot. The sleeping, or unconscious man, made no move, and the other disappeared for a moment and then returned, bearing a small pail containing water which he proceeded to splash vigorously on the face of the recumbent man.
Presently this had its desired effect for the form stirred, and in a voice hardly above a whisper the man began to speak.
Phil could not distinguish the words, but the other spoke loudly, and Phil heard him say:
"Now listen here. You come through with that map, or I'll leave you here to be carried out feet first!"
The old man feebly protested and Phil was about to whistle for help when he saw the assailant rip away the old man's shirt and disclose a cloth bag. It was the work of a second to tear this open and extract from it a paper.
Phil could hear the chuckle of satisfaction and then he gasped, for the old man rose from his cot and tried to grapple with the younger man, who gave him a brutal push, throwing him back onto the cot.
Phil hesitated no longer, and so excited was he that he failed to give the signal. Throwing open the door, he rushed into the room, and directing the flashlight directly into the eyes of the man, partially blinded him. At the same moment he made a grab for the paper, but succeeded only in getting a part of it, one piece remaining in the hands of the man.
The old man lay back on the cot gasping for breath, so could be of no harm, nor yet of any assistance. The younger man was undersized, hardly more than a match for Phil, who was an exceptionally strong lad, yet so great was the evident worth of the paper, that he started for Phil, slowly and warily.
Phil was unarmed, but a happy stratagem occurred to him. Hastily reaching into his pocket, he drew forth a shiny pair of wire cutters, and pointed them at the culprit, at the same time ordering him to throw up his hands.
The momentary gleam of the polished wire cutters was enough to convince the man that a pistol was being pointed at him, but instead of obeying the order to hoist his hands, he made a spring for an open window, jumped over the sill, and a bare second later, Phil heard a dull thud.
He dashed to the window and flashed his light about, to find that a very few feet below was an ell roof, and he just caught a glimpse of the fugitive letting himself over the edge, probably to drop into a yard below and so make his way to freedom.
Foiled in his attempt to capture the fellow, Phil turned his attention to the old man. He shoved the paper, the seeming cause of all the trouble, into his hands and told him he had nothing more to worry about.
To his surprise, however, the old man weakly pushed it back to him, saying in laborious gasps:
"Take it, boy, it's yours. I'm—going—out—a fortune in——"
His words trailed into nothingness and he dropped back, ceasing to breathe. Startled, and a little bit frightened, Phil ran and put a hand to his heart. There was no vibrating response.
Stuffing the paper into his jacket pocket, he ran to the door and gave two low but distinct whistles. Hardly had he given the signal when there was an unearthly crash and a muttered expression of disgust.
Phil made for the stairs, and was about to descend when he was joined by Dick, who whispered sibilantly:
"Dig out of here; this is no place for us," and seizing Phil by the arm, started down the stairway. At the bottom they found Garry extricating himself from a heap of splintered wood and debris.
"All out in a hurry," commanded Dick.
Garry and Phil both sensed that there was danger in the air, or, at the very least, a need for extra care, and followed the lead of Dick in making a quick exit from the house.
They hustled down the sidewalk, and noticing an open hallway, unlighted, Dick led the way in there.
"Not a whisper, now," he cautioned.
Hardly had they found shelter in the doorway when three men came tumbling out of the deserted lodging house they had just left, and ran past the hallway where the boys were crouching, finally to disappear around a corner farther up the street.
"Say, for the love of Pete, Dick, what's all this mystery about, and who found anything and where did the screams come from?" queried Garry, amazed at the strange turn events had taken.
Dick was about to make a reply, when Phil interrupted.
"All our stories can wait. First we must get the police. I've just left a dead man, and I have good reason to believe there was foul play."
"Then let's save our breath and hustle after an officer; we can compare notes later," said Garry.
They branched off Canal Street, up through a narrow thoroughfare, more alley than street, and soon found themselves on a well lighted business street. Here they moderated their pace, and after a brisk walk of three blocks, saw a policeman.
"You're the spokesman in this case, Phil, you know what this is all about, and we don't," directed Garry.
Approaching the officer, Phil stated the case. The policeman looked at them curiously, then appeared to be convinced of their honesty, and turning to a police box, notified the station, asking that the night lieutenant come at once. He told his superior where the place was, for knowing that section of the city, thoroughly, he immediately recognized it from Phil's description.
They made their way back, and going up the stairs, went at once to the room. Here the police officer looked about and then asked a few perfunctory questions of the boys.
"I guess you fellows better wait here till the lieutenant comes," he said finally.
"Does that mean we are under arrest?" queried Garry.
"No indeed, just a formality. You see that is what I have to do in all cases like this, but you can tell your story to the lieutenant."
They waited a few minutes and then the sound of tramping feet was heard on the stairs and the lieutenant of the police force entered the room followed by a man carrying a black bag, evidently a doctor and probably the coroner.
The police officer cast a scrutinizing look over the room and then waved the doctor to make his examination. This took only a few minutes.
"What do you find Doc?" asked the officer familiarly.
"This man was stabbed or cut some time ago, probably two or three weeks, but the cause of his death seems to be heart failure, induced no doubt by lack of care, improper nourishment, and a severe shock that finished him off with his organically weak heart."
"What do you mean, stabbed or cut, accidentally?" asked the officer gruffly.
"Not accidentally, but by a blow inflicted by someone," returned the doctor.
"What do you chaps know about this?" he asked, turning suddenly on the three boys. Garry opened his mouth to answer.
"Wait till I get through talking before you are spoken to. What are you chaps, runaways, and where did you get those clothes, steal 'em?"
A dark flush crept up under Garry's ears.
"Look here officer, you keep a civil tongue in your head, with all due respect to your rank and authority, and before we answer any questions, just what is our status now?" he said.
"If you mean, are you under arrest, you are!"
IN THE HANDS OF THE LAW.
Both Dick and Phil started to make a vociferous protest but were quickly silenced by Garry.
"All right, officer. But we answer no more of your questions and ask to be taken immediately to the station and the services of a lawyer procured for us," said Garry firmly.
"Huh, pretty smart youngsters, aren't you. Well, let me tell you one thing, laddy buck. You'll answer any questions I ask of you and answer them quick. Now who are you and how were you in this room at the time this man died—or was killed," said the officer in a threatening tone.
The three boys held their silence, taking their cue from their leader, Garry.
"Won't talk, eh, well we'll make you open your mouth in a hurry," and the officer advanced on the boys.
Just what steps he would have taken will never be known, for the physician, who was the city coroner, interposed.
"That will do, Murphy. You have just told these boys they were under arrest, and you have failed to give them warning that anything they may say can be used against them. You are barking up the wrong tree anyway. These are no runaways nor young desperadoes. My advice is that you let them go immediately, or else take them to the station and let the chief talk to them. He was still there when we left the house. And, boys, I'll see that you get a lawyer as soon as you get there unless the captain shows more sense than the lieutenant has."
The lieutenant glowered at the coroner. Evidently there was bad blood between them, but he realized that he had overstepped his authority, and was in the wrong, so he ordered everyone present to repair to the station.
The walk to the headquarters of the city police consumed only a few minutes, and soon the boys were standing in the office of the Chief.
"What's all this, Lieutenant Murphy?" he asked.
"There's been foul play of some sort down in that old shack that's used in the wintertime for a lumberjack boarding house. These three boys were there at the time the man died and don't seem to be able to give a satisfactory account of themselves. They have been put under arrest," answered the officer sulkily.
"Well, boys, what have you to say to this," asked the Chief as he swung around on his chair and surveyed the three.
By this time Garry was boiling mad.
"I first want to ask that we get a lawyer. I don't propose to have a continuation of the bullying that the lieutenant started down at the old shack continued, nor do I propose to let my companions be questioned without competent advice," he said respectfully but decidedly.
The Chief's face darkened.
"Have you been up to your old tricks again, Murphy?"
"I've just been doing my duty," said Murphy sullenly.
"I am afraid you exaggerate your duty at times, then, lieutenant. Now, boys, what have you to say? This is only an informal questioning and you are under no obligations to answer. I think, however, that there has been nothing more here than the stirring up of a mare's nest, and I think the best thing to do is to come out and say what you have to say. If there is nothing against you, then that is your best course."
Garry recognized that the Chief was a fair man, and decided to tell their story.
"We are Forest Rangers, sir, just going to a new post of duty. We were down on that street in search of a gunsmith's shop to procure a new rifle to replace one that one of my companions lost. We heard screams coming from the old house and ran to see if we could be of assistance. One of the boys found the old man who is now dead being attacked by a younger man. He was driven out, making his escape by a window and over the roof of the ell. Then we went and summoned the policeman from his beat, and now here we are."
"How does it happen you do all the talking?" asked the Chief.
"Why, the boys have seen fit to make me the leader and spokesman at all times. We have always done that."
"You seem to tell a straight enough story in some ways," said the Chief. "But I have seen a good many Forest Ranger service men go through this town, and I never saw boys doing that work before. As far as the death of the old man is concerned, I see nothing to hold you on, as I understand that he died and was not killed while you were there. I am inclined to think you are stretching things a bit, however, when you claim to be Rangers. You are sure you boys aren't making tracks for the Big Woods in search of supposed adventure, are you?"
"That is the second time tonight that we have been accused of that, and it is getting a bit tiresome. I think we can satisfy you very quickly, however. There are probably men in town who know my father, who is part owner of the pulp mills up the river. The best way, however, is to get the Chief Ranger, Mr. Ardmore, on the long distance 'phone. Till then I think we won't say anything more."
The Chief looked at them quizically for a moment. He was still inclined to be suspicious, but the mention of Garry's father made him think that perhaps he was on the wrong track. He pulled an extension 'phone to him, and called the long distance operator.
"This is the Chief of Police talking," he said. "I want you to get the Chief Forest Ranger, Mr. Ardmore, at Augusta. You can get his home telephone number from the night operator at the State House. This is an emergency, so rush it through," and he replaced the receiver on the hook.
"That will do for now, Murphy, and Coroner, I suppose you want to make out your report. You will find a desk not in use in the next room. In the meantime, you boys make yourselves comfortable for a few minutes, I don't expect that the call will be more than five minutes in going through," and the Chief began to busy himself with some papers around his desk.
The boys withdrew to a corner of the room, and found chairs.
The minutes seemed to drag horribly. None of the boys was exactly worried, except for the fact that they were losing precious time. They wanted to go back to Canal Street and buy the rifle and such other things as they might need. If they were held for some sort of a hearing in the morning, it would delay them considerably as their train left early, and there was no other until late in the afternoon, meaning they would lose almost a day on their journey.
After a few minutes of silence, Dick cautiously whispered to Garry, "How about showing him our customs papers and badges?"
"Only as a last resort," answered Garry in a low tone.
They looked up when they saw the Chief reaching for the telephone.
"How about that Augusta call?"
He listened a moment, then hung up the receiver and turned to the boys.
"Operator says she is still working on it, that they cannot find him now, but are trying places where he might be. Still of the opinion you want me to talk to him?"
"Positively," answered Garry.
The Chief resumed his newspaper, and the boys fidgeted a minute until Garry bethought himself of the pocket checkerboard they generally carried. He fished it out and suggested they play to while away the time. Dick elected to play first with Garry, and let Phil take on the winner.
Seeing them at their game, the Chief walked over and stood watching. Garry had just succeeded in getting a king after an unusually clever play, and the Chief, who was quite a player himself, was applauding softly when the 'phone bell rang.
"Guess there's our call now," he remarked, as he hurried back to his desk.
Sure enough it was the call, and in a moment the Chief was talking with Mr. Ardmore.
"Listen, Mr. Ardmore, this is the Chief of Police of Bangor. I have three boys here who were picked up after finding a dead man in a room here. There is nothing against them on that score, but they claim to be Forest Rangers, and I say they are too young, so to settle the matter I am calling you. They give their names as Boone, Wallace and Durant," and here the Chief described them. "They're all right, you say?" queried the Chief, in a slightly surprised tone. "All right, guess I was wrong then. All right, here's one right here." Then he turned to Garry and said:
"He wants to talk to you."
Garry exchanged greetings with the Chief Ranger and heard him say:
"Can't you three take a step without running smack into something exciting? I declare, you fellows see more and do more than men who have ranged the woods for these past ten years. Keep it up, and keep out of trouble. Write me all about this, not an official report, only a personal letter, to satisfy my own curiosity. Best of luck to the others. Goodbye. I had to leave the theatre to answer this call, and I am anxious to get back to my seat."
Garry hung up the receiver, and then turned and asked the Chief if he was satisfied.
"Indeed I am, and I wish you boys all the luck in the world in your new station," said the Chief. The three boys then took their leave. They returned immediately to Canal Street to see if they were still in time to buy a rifle for Phil from the old gunsmith.
They arrived at the shop just in time to find him locking the door. He recognized them immediately, and had no hesitancy in opening up his store again. Phil soon found a rifle to his liking, and Garry replaced the compass that he had dropped when he was lost in the woods; ammunition was also procured, and then Garry purchased a small automatic revolver, deciding that this would be a wise project in view of the kind of work that they might be called upon to do in running down the band of smugglers.
"Now," said Garry, "I wonder if there is anything more that we will need?"
"Yes," said Dick, "I think we should procure new, heavy pocket knives. I have broken the big blade of mine, and you remember that Phil's was taken away from him by LeBlanc and Anderson that time that they left him tied to the tree in the forest."
"That is a wise suggestion," remarked Garry, as he turned to the old man and asked to see something in combination knives.
"Here is something that I frequently sell, both to campers and woodsmen," said the old gunsmith. "You see it has one heavy blade, suitable for skinning a small animal, and in addition has a heavy canopener."
The knives met all requirements, so each boy procured one. The last thing bought was an ample supply of batteries for their flashlights.
"There," said Garry, "I think that completes everything we have to buy except a supply of food. We can get that in the morning, and I have some ideas of what we should buy. Of course, this time we won't have to supply ourselves with enough food for a month, as we will probably make the town of Hobart our base of supplies. However, my idea is to get a very small compact bundle of concentrated foods, such as bar chocolate and highly concentrated soup. This, with a small portion of tea and coffee, can be packed into a very small bundle, and yet were one lost in the woods, he would find that such a supply would last him more than a week."
Bidding the old gunsmith goodnight, they returned to the hotel, meeting Lieut. Murphy on the way. "Sure boys, I hope you will forget everything that has happened this evening. It was only last week that I picked up three boys who were going up into the woods to shoot Indians, and I didn't know but that you might be tarred with the same brush."
"Don't let that bother you at all, Lieutenant. I suppose you have to do your duty just as you see it, so we will forget about it, and say goodnight."
They reached the Penobscot Exchange, and getting their key from the clerk, went directly to their room. As Garry popped open the door, he uttered a shout of surprise, for there, making himself comfortable in an easy chair, sat Nate Webster.
THE TORN MAP.
"Well," said Nate, "it seems to me you fellows keep rather late hours. I have been waiting for you upwards of two hours. Where have you been keeping yourself? I calculate likely as not you fellows have been to a theatre."
"Half of your guess is correct," said Garry, with a laugh, "but since leaving the show, we have had a wild time. First place, we found a dead man, and second place, we got arrested."
"'Sho' now, you don't say so. What have you fellows been doing that got you in the grip of the law?"
"Why, as to that, Nate, I can hardly say myself," said Garry. "Things came so thick and fast, that I haven't yet found out what it was all about, so I think now would be as good a time as any for each one of us to tell his story, and just for the sake of having things in order, and because I have so little to tell, I will take the first turn. When we went into the old abandoned boarding house, for such as I discovered it to be, I searched the entire lower floor and the cellar, and finding nothing, was about to make my way up the stairs, when I leaned too heavy against the balustrade, and in another moment I found myself crashing to the floor below. Next thing I knew, Dick and Phil here came tumbling out after me, and in another few moments, we found ourselves arrested and taken to the police station; now that lets me out. Now Dick, your story is the next shortest, and I don't suppose that anything happened to you that was any more exciting than my search."
"Don't you fool yourself on that score," said Dick, "because I think I have some very startling news. There has been so much excitement in the last hour or two that I have given little or no thought to it. I went, as you know, to the top floor, and there hearing nothing or seeing no light, I simply crept from door to door, peeking through the keyhole, and then listening closely to see if I could hear anything stirring within. Search of several doors revealed nothing, until I came to one back of which I believed was several men, as I seemed to hear a low murmur of voices. The keyhole was plugged up, so I got down on my knees; I could see no light coming out from beneath the door. I was certain someone was in the room, so very cautiously I turned the handle, but the door refused to budge an inch. However, there was one way to find out. In getting out my knife, I drilled a small hole through the door, using the point of the knife. I had no sooner finished this, when a small gleam of light came through the door, showing that I had not been wrong in my conclusions. Without making any noise, I enlarged the hole, so that I could get a clearer view of the room. There were three men sitting about a table, playing cards. It was certain that the screams did not come from this room, and I was about to knock on the door, when suddenly I recognized the men. You remember the week before we went into the big woods, and the adventure we had when we caught the three tramps in our shack by the river? Well, right there, sitting at that table, were the identical three men for whom we received the reward!"
"You must be mistaken Dick," remarked Garry. "Those three were dangerous men, but I don't believe they could have escaped from the jail in Portland."
"Nevertheless," said Dick, "I am absolutely certain that those are the three. There are any number of ways in which they might have gotten away. There is even a chance that they have been tried by this time, and have been released."
"That seems hardly possible," interrupted Phil. "The authorities were sure they had the right men or they would never have given us the reward."
The entire matter was very puzzling to the boys, when Nate, who was always on the job, broke in with a suggestion. "Why don't you fellows telephone down to 'Moose Boone' and ask him if the tramps got away."
"I don't think he would know anything about it," said Garry, "for I was talking with him on the 'phone, when we were in Augusta, and he didn't make any mention of it."
Then Dick came to bat with a suggestion. "Why don't we telephone to Sam Preston, the newspaper man, surely he would know if anybody would." The call was immediately put in, and while they were waiting for an answer, they made use of the opportunity, and asked Nate how it was he happened to be there. "Why, I simply got a long distance call from the Chief Ranger, asking me to meet you boys here, to give you whatever suggestions I could as to the place you are going, and also to see if I could remember the names of two or three of my friends in that part of the country who might be of some help when you need it."
"Why, of course, Garry," remarked Dick, "you remember the Chief of Customs telling us he would arrange to have Nate meet us here? However, perhaps we had better defer getting any advice from Nate until Phil has told his story."
That moment the telephone rang, and on answering it, Garry found that the person on the other end of the wire was Sam Preston. After chatting a moment with Sam, he asked if there was any news of the three burglars whom they had caught early in the summer. There was silence for several moments in the room, while Sam talked, and then with a goodbye, Garry replaced the receiver on the hook, and turned around to face his companions.
"Well, Dick, you sure hit the matter about right. The three burglars were brought up for a hearing, and were allowed to go free on bail, pending their trial. They took advantage of the opportunity to disappear. Now the authorities of Portland are searching high and low for them."
"Yes," said Dick, "the reason I hurried out of the house there, bringing you fellows with me, was because I saw one of them starting toward the door, and believe me, I knew more than to stack up against three of them all alone. We have made enough enemies in the past few weeks without getting others on our trail.
"That is something we can discuss later. I suggest now that Phil tell us what happened on the second floor, as he seems to be the one that had the real adventure of the night." Phil told his story, and in the speaking of it, recollected the torn piece of paper that the old man with his dying words had given him. He pulled it from his pocket, and the three boys, as well as Nate, spread it out on the table and began to examine it. It seemed to be a rough, crudely drawn map with a dotted line, running from the spot marked by a figure 1, with a circle drawn around it. The dotted line, however, unfortunately ran direct to the part that had been torn off when Phil seized the paper from the old man's assailant. On the reverse of the paper, written in a laborious and cramped hand, was the following inscription: "The lost mine lies 100 paces from the spot marked 2. The land mark noted on the map as figure 1, is a ravine, exactly two miles east of the Shohela River, at the point where it makes a sharp turn above the town of Jennings. Start at the mouth of that ravine and travel directly north for about two miles and one-half, until you come to——"
Here the boys found that the missing part of the note corresponded to the portion which had been torn off during the struggle.
"Well," said Nate, "the pesky map doesn't mean to do you much good now, does it? I know of the place mentioned in that note, but I have never been there, so I can't tell you much about what the old something or other might be. Without wanting to throw any cold water upon your plans, I should say to forget about the whole business. I know the Maine woods pretty well, and I never heard tell of any mines which have been found in this part of the country, except, maybe, limestone mines, and surely nobody would have a secret map as to where a limestone mine would be, so I think you had better just tuck that piece of paper away and forget all about it."
The boys, however, with romantic ideas of finding a lost gold mine hidden away somewhere in the wilds of the Maine woods, refused to be discouraged by Nate's pessimistic remarks, and each one decided, that at the first opportunity, they would visit the scene told of in the map, and see if possible they could not discover the secret of the lost mine.
"Now boys," said Nate, "we might as well get over the main business of the evening, that being to tell you about what I know about Hobart. It has been a good many years since I was in that part of the woods, but I remember it as well as though I had been there only yesterday. Hobart is a small town, nowhere near the size of Millinocket. About ten years ago it was the center of industrial lumbering operations. As a matter of fact, Garry, I believe that your father was interested in the timber cutting of that place at that time. It is only four or five miles away from the Canadian border, and about fifty miles to the south the States of Maine and New Hampshire and the Dominion of Canada are joined together. It is right about that point, also, that is, where the three territories come together, that the National Forest Preserve begins; that you know, without my telling you, is the movement recently started by the Government for conservation of the timber lands of the State. Eventually, every bit of forest land in the State will be under the control of the government. That means that timber cruisers, appointed by the government, will go on everybody's land, marking the trees that may properly be cut. This will prevent ruthless timber owners from clean cutting great tracts of land, and there will be a perpetual source of new timber."
"As for the town of Hobart itself, I have been trying to think ever since I heard from Augusta of some people that I knew there, but can't seem to remember a single one. However, as soon as I get back home, I will inquire from Silas Peabody and some of the other guides if they remember any people in that section, and I can write you in care of the postmaster at Hobart. However, I will warn you of this, that as I remember it, it was a mighty tough town,—border towns nearly always are,—for you get a good deal of the rougher element of both countries. That doesn't mean, of course, that you won't find a few mighty nice people up there, although I don't suppose your work will allow you to make many friends. I am sorry that I can't tell you more about the country, but I don't doubt that you will be able to take care of yourselves as well there as you have in your first station. The only thing I do hope is that you have seen the end of LeBlanc and his friend."
The hour by this time had grown late, so the boys all hopped into bed. Nate retired to his own room, promising to arouse them at an early hour, so that they might get a good start for their new station.
PHIL GETS A CLUE.
True to his word, old Nate woke the boys up almost with the dawn. Hurrying into their clothes, they went into the dining-room, where a sleepy waitress took their orders for a substantial breakfast. They chatted merrily with Nate during the meal, and then bade him goodbye, as his train went an hour earlier than theirs. Nothing remained for them to do in Bangor except to buy the provisions that Garry had spoken of the previous night. They found what they sought at a large grocery store which, on account of the early hour, had barely opened its doors for business.
"There," said Garry, "that completes our work in Bangor. We might as well take a last look at the town, because it is probable that we won't come back here for some time."
They proceeded to the station and found that their train was being made up at that moment.
"I suggest that we take seats in the smoker," remarked Garry, "for although none of us smoke, we might make some acquaintance there as we did with Nate when we first went into the big woods."
This suggestion met with hearty approval from the boys, and being the first on the train, they were able to pick a double seat, and found plenty of room in which to stow away their knapsacks and rifles. The train slowly filled up with a motley assemblage. There were several men in the usual garb of the forests, as well as a number of farmers. Two or three well dressed men looked as though they might be traveling salesmen. Half a dozen card games were soon started, and the boys found plenty to watch and thus occupy their time. Directly in back of Phil sat two men clad in rough corduroys and high boots. Both of the men were talking confidentially in the French language. Phil, as our readers know, was as conversant with French as he was with English, and for a time paid no attention to the remarks of the pair in back of him. Garry and Dick, in the meantime, were chatting away like a couple of magpies.
Suddenly Phil pricked up his ears and after a moment signalled his two chums to keep silent.
Garry immediately had a hunch that Phil was hearing something that might prove to be of advantage to them later on, so in order that their silence might not be noticed, fished out the pocket checkerboard, and soon he and Dick were immersed in the intricacies of the game, leaving Phil free to devote his entire attention to the conversation that was taking place in back of him.
After nearly a half of an hour, Phil lifted his head, and catching the eye of Garry, made it known to him that he wanted him to follow him out. Getting up and stretching, Phil nonchalantly made his way into another car, followed shortly by both Garry and Dick. Finding seats in the far end of the car, where their conversation could not be overheard, Garry eagerly inquired what Phil had heard.
"I want both of you boys," remarked Phil, "to pay special attention to those two men who were sitting in back of me, and impress their appearance upon your memories, as I believe they are the first clue to our mission at Hobart. Unfortunately, they do not talk very much about their plans, but from what I gather, they are on their way there to purchase furs, and they made special remarks about the good bargains they could drive, hinting at the fact that the furs were smuggled in across the border. Of course, it is hardly probable that they belong to the smugglers' gang, although, if we keep close tabs on them, it seems to me that they will eventually lead us to the headquarters of the border smugglers."
"Don't you think you should have stayed there?" inquired Garry.
"No, it was safe enough to leave," answered Phil, "because they had begun to talk on entirely different topics, one remarking to the other that they had better stop further talk of the furs, for fear they might be overheard by someone. Fortunately for us, they have no idea that they have already been overheard."
"There is one thing we ought to consider," said Garry. "In the event that they get off the train before we do, it seems to me that one of us should get off at that same time and follow them. Whoever it is can leave his knapsack and rifle behind, and the remaining two will take care of them. In the event of such a thing, boys, I would recommend that Phil be the one to get off the train, as he is the only one of us whose knowledge of French is great enough to allow him to understand what a native Frenchman is saying."
This plan being decided upon, the boys made their way back to the smoker. The two men had left their seats, and for a moment the boys were worried, then remembered that no stop had been made during the time which they had left the smoking car. A hasty search soon revealed the fact that the men had joined in a card game at the far end of the car. Knowing that the men would not talk business while in the game, the boys did not bother to try and find some way of overhearing their conversation.
The boys, in guarded tones, so that they might not be overheard by anyone in an adjoining seat, talked over the importance of the clue, that they had so fortunately stumbled upon.
"It strikes me that this is our lucky morning," remarked Garry. "Here we might have been days and days before we ever found the slightest bit of evidence on which to base our search for the band of smugglers, but in less than an hour after the starting of our mission, we stumble upon this very important bit of help."
As Garry talked, he kept glancing out of the corner of his eye at a tall, rangy individual, who since the boys had entered the car, had kept constant watch on them.
"Don't look up now," he whispered to his companions, "but a few minutes later casually glance across the aisle two seats up from where we are sitting, and look at that tall chap who is sitting there reading a newspaper. Ever since we got on board the train he has been watching us over the top of the paper. I wonder if there isn't some way in which we could get into conversation with him, and see who he is."
The words were hardly out of Garry's mouth, and before his chums had had a chance to survey the stranger, the object of their conversation threw down his newspaper and getting up sauntered over to where the trio was sitting. The boys looked up and gazed inquiringly at the newcomer, who seemed not a whit abashed at their scrutiny.
"Going on a camping trip?" he inquired with a pleasant smile.
"Why yes, we are," said Garry quickly, before either of the others could make a reply. "Are you also?" for Garry had noticed that a cased rifle and blanket roll were stowed under the stranger's seat.
"Why yes and no," answered the stranger. "I am going partly on business and partly on pleasure. Mind if I sit in with you a few minutes"
"Why, no indeed," said Garry cordially, as he moved over and made room for the tall stranger. "I suppose we might as well make ourselves acquainted, so I will start in by introducing myself. My name is Garry Boone, and these are my two chums, Dick Wallace and Phil Durant."
"My name is Fernald, Arthur Fernald, having no particular home, nor any particular business. Where are you boys bound for?"
"Why," said Garry, after a moment's hesitation, "we're bound for the border, but just where we will make our headquarters we do not know as yet, probably just whatever the fancy seizes us."
"Expect to get any hunting?" inquired the stranger. "Some mighty fine specimens of moose and caribou are to be found in that locality."
This remark made Garry suspicious, and he immediately shot this question at the stranger. "Don't you know that the law is on moose and caribou, and that there won't be an open season for at least five more years?"
"Yes," said the stranger, laconically. "I just wanted to see whether you boys knew that."
Garry was inclined to be angry at the man's answer, but as Fernald made the remark with a smile, Garry felt that they could not take offence at him.
Dick broke into the conversation with a query as to whether the stranger knew anything about the town of Hobart. Too late, Garry gave him a warning kick, but the danger was done. Fernald looked intently at Dick, and then at the other two.
"Why, yes," he remarked, "I know considerable about the town. It is only two or three weeks since I have been there. Anything in particular that you want to know about it?"
"Not especially," answered Dick, who was on guard now that Garry had warned him. "We just happened to hear a friend of ours, a guide named Webster, saying that it was not very far above the National Forest Reserve."
"You aren't, by any chance, speaking of Nate Webster of Millinocket are you?" he inquired with a smile.
Here Garry broke in the conversation.
"Do you know Webster?"
"I should say I do," said Fernald. "I have known him for a good many years. It may surprise you to know and hear," he turned to Garry, "that I know your father, 'Moose' Boone."
This, for a moment, seemed to free the man of suspicion, although, as Garry told himself, the man had not said or done anything to warrant their being suspicious of him. Garry was simply following the wise rule not to tell any more about yourself than the other person does to you.
They chatted for some time about many things concerning the woods, and while the boys were careful not to mention anything that would give the man who called himself Fernald any inkling as to their mission, they could not help notice but that he was trying very hard to pump them as to their reason for going to the particular part of Maine for which they were bound. By this time, it was nearly noon and Fernald volunteered the information that there was a restaurant in the station of a little town where they would make their next stop, and at which the train would stop long enough to allow them to get their lunch. Just before the train drew into the station, Fernald remarked in a bantering tone, "I suppose you fellows know there is considerable smuggling going on all the time, across the International line."
Garry looked up quickly, and met the stranger's quizzical glance squarely. "Why, I suppose I have heard about as much of it as the average citizen of Maine has. Why do you ask that question? Do you know anything special about it?"
"No," answered the stranger, "I was just merely asking for the sake of asking a question. Well, so long boys, I may see you at luncheon, just now I want to finish an article I was reading in a newspaper about the low price that furs are bringing this summer."
With that as a parting shot, he returned to his seat, leaving the three boys wondering just who he might be.
"I am very suspicious about this man Fernald," Garry told his two companions. "He seems very anxious to know all about our business, and his two hints about smuggling and the low price of furs lead me to believe that he was trying to pump us. Do you fellows think the same, or am I unduly suspicious?"
Phil, who was naturally a solid-headed boy, thought for a moment, and then agreed that there was something mighty peculiar about the actions of their new acquaintance, while Dick claimed that he had been suspicious of him from the moment that he had first come over to their seat.
By this time the train drew into the station, and the boys hastened out of the train and into the restaurant, where they were soon eating a hearty meal. They were joined by Fernald, who took the vacant seat opposite Garry. Fernald ordered a cup of coffee to be brought to him immediately, and suddenly, to the amazement of the boys, he looked straight at Garry, and gave his cup two sharp raps against the edge of the saucer. He waited a moment, and followed this by three taps. Garry waited for an instant, and then deciding to find out whether or not the tapping was accidental, gave the same signal. The man called Fernald smiled, and gave two soft taps of the cup before he replaced it on the saucer. The man of whom they had been so suspicious during the last hour, was unmistakably a customs officer!
THE NEW STATION.
"Listen, boys, not a word. Wait till we get back on the train, where the rumbling of the wheels over the rails will help to cover our words. Even if we could talk without danger of being overheard, we would not have time, for this train stops barely long enough to allow one to eat."
The boys made haste to finish the meal. They had not recovered from their surprise at finding the stranger was a customs agent even by the time they were through eating and were back in their seats in the smoking car.
"I don't suppose you boys have even started to formulate a plan of campaign, have you?" asked Fernald.
"Not yet, sir," replied Garry. "That is, we haven't made up our minds how to proceed after we have arrived at our headquarters. However, we have stumbled, or rather Phil has, on what we consider to be a very important clue, if such it may be called."
Garry's eyes swept the car, and in a moment he had located the two fur dealers, who had spoken of the cheap furs to be bought near the border.
"Do you see the two men who are in the fourth seat from the front of the car, facing us and playing cards?" he asked.
Casually, and without attracting any notice, Fernald studied the faces of the two men. At last, their features having been stamped on his memory, he turned to Garry, saying:
"Well, I'll know them if I ever see them again, but what of them?"
Hastily Garry related the instance of their conversing together in French, and their remark about the furs.
"We have planned that if they get off, Phil here will follow them, so that we won't lose track of them altogether. We are in hopes that they will eventually lead us to the fountain head of what we are seeking," he concluded.
"That would have been the wise thing to do in case you were alone," Fernald told them.
"But my being here with you changes the complexion of the matter somewhat. I think if they get off, it would be best for me to follow them. That is best for two reasons. Seeing the three of you together, would give rise to suspicions were one of you to detach himself suddenly from the rest and try to take up the trail of these men in their own town, for that is what it would be should they get off. Then there is another matter to be taken into consideration. Once let the smuggler band be caught, and only half of the job is done; the rest lies in finding the receiving point of these furs so that they may be seized, or the receivers be made to pay duty that they have evaded. Of course whoever is buying these furs knows they are shipped across the border as contraband. I shouldn't be a bit surprised if these men could lead me direct to something that would show where immense quantities of fur have gone in the past six months."
"I wonder where they are going to get off," remarked Garry.
"That is an extremely simple matter to ascertain. Why not look at the conductor's checks that are sticking out of their hatbands?" queried Fernald with a smile.
"Solid ivory," said Garry disgustedly, as he rapped his forehead sharply with his knuckles.
"Nothing to be ashamed of at all, old fellow," said Fernald easily. "It isn't to be expected that you should know all the tricks of the trade that you have known about not much more than a day. I've been doing this sort of work for twenty years now, and naturally many little bits of knowledge such as that are second nature to me, as natural as breathing or sleeping. Wait a minute while I go up and investigate."
Fernald got up, and acting as though his main idea was just to stretch his legs, strolled up to the front of the car. Passing the men, he stopped quite naturally to watch them play. When one of the men under observance took a trick with an exceptionally good play, he commented audibly on it. The man turned and smiled, showing his seat check as he did.
The system on the railroad was to give different colors for different stations. Fernald noticed that the checks of both men were of an identical color, and had the same number of holes punched in them.
After carelessly watching a moment or two longer, he returned and without stopping to speak to the boys, went past them and into the next car.
Here he engaged a brakeman in conversation, and at last returned to the boys, who were on tenterhooks to learn of his findings.
"I have found out that they are going to get off at the third station from here. However, we do not come to that for nearly two hours, so we have time enough to make any plans we need. I will follow them, and as soon as possible will come on to Hobart. However, when I get there, do not let on you know me, as we can be of infinitely more help to each other if it is not known that we are working together or even know each other. Whenever the need arises, I will find some way to communicate with you."
For the next hour or so, the conversation switched from one topic to another. Fernald was an interesting talker, and told the boys one or two of his adventures in the custom work of the United States.
Suddenly Dick slapped his leg and exclaimed excitedly:
"By George, our old friend the Hermit has no idea where we have disappeared to. I wish that we had had a chance at least to say goodbye to him and explain that we have been sent to a new station."
"Why not write him a note?" suggested Garry. "You can enclose it in one to Nate, asking him to deliver it the next time he goes into the woods to make an inspection trip. Mr. Fernald here will mail it for you when he gets off the train."
"That's a bully idea, Garry. Didn't have brains enough to think of it myself," chattered Dick.
"Never mind, old timer. Two heads are better than one you know, as the barrel said," laughed Garry.
Diving into his pocket, Dick drew forth the substantial notebook he always carried, and was soon busy writing a note, doing it as well as the jogging motion of the train would allow.
Finally he finished the note to the Hermit, and hastily scribbling one to Nate, enclosed the two in an envelope, addressed to the Deputy Ranger in Millinocket.
"There," he said, as he sealed the flap of the envelope. "Seems funny to be writing a note to the Hermit, doesn't it. The shoe generally used to be on the other foot when we were on the Patrol. By the way, there's one thing that's been puzzling me for some little time. What led you to think we were in any way connected with the same branch of work that you are, Mr. Fernald?"
"Oh, I'm no mind reader, or Sherlock Holmes," said Fernald with a hearty laugh. "It simply happens that I saw you in the Chief's office at Augusta, when I was there getting some final instructions. The Chief was going to introduce me, but I told him I preferred getting acquainted in my own way. To tell you the truth, at that time I thought the Chief had gone crazy, sending boys, but after looking you over, and unsuccessfully trying to pump you, I decided you boys had the right stuff in you, so made myself acquainted. Then too, I had a quiet bit of fun with you. Own up, now. Didn't you make up your minds that I was a suspicious character, especially after I had tried to get out of you what your business was?"
The boys looked sheepishly at each other, and then began to laugh.
"We must admit it, Mr. Fernald. We had you all ticketed as a person to keep a sharp eye on, until you gave the signal," confessed Garry.
"That's right, boys, one cannot be too careful. When you are on a mission of this kind, a mighty safe rule to follow is never to trust a person until he has unmistakably proven himself to be absolutely trustworthy. If you follow that rule, you'll never go wrong. Once in a while, of course, you'll find yourself in a position where you must use your own judgment. In that case, make sure you are dealing with a good patriotic American citizen, and you'll hit the key pretty nearly every time. Guess that little lecture will conclude our conversation for a while. We will be at the station where our friends disembark in a few minutes now, and I want to beat them to the door, so they will have no idea I am interested in their movements."
He got up and shook hands with the trio, and then in a loud tone, for the benefit of anyone that might be listening:
"Goodbye Boys, have a good camping trip and don't get lost in the Big Timber."
The boys echoed their goodbyes, and their new friend made his way to his seat where he unearthed a shabby old black traveling bag that appeared to have seen long and constant usage, as well as his blanket roll and rifle.
In the meantime, the card players had returned to their seat near that of the boys to get their luggage. They were chattering volubly in French, and Phil strained his ears, hoping to catch some additional clue, but their conversation was mainly about the pleasures of the trip they were just concluding.
"What are we going to do for supper?" inquired Dick.
"There! He's off again, Phil!" declared Garry. "It's only been four hours since he ate, and now he's thinking about supper."
"Well, four hours is four hours, and two more will make six, and persons should eat once every six hours. That's just human nature," protested Dick. He knew his chums were just ragging him, as they always did about his appetite, but he could never resist the temptation to argue with them, and protest that there was nothing abnormal about his capacity for food.
"I'm going back and find the conductor and see what arrangements have been made for feeding the hungry. And I'll bet a cooky you two are just as interested in the matter as I am," and Dick flounced out of his seat and went in search of the conductor. He came back shortly and announced they would stop an hour at the next town, about an hour's ride distant, for supper.
"Also they put on a sleeper there, and me for that. It beats sleeping in a day coach all hollow."
Came at last the station, and they hustled out to the little frame hotel that stood on the other side of the tracks. This town was more or less of a freight junction. They had a surprisingly good dinner, topped off with a famous New England pudding composed of Indian meal, baked, with grated maple sugar and pure cream poured on top of it.
Finishing the meal, they crossed the tracks back to the train. A sudden breeze lifted Phil's hat, causing him to chase it along the side of a string of freight cars. He stooped to recover it, looking under the freight car, as he did so. What he saw on the other side sent him back to his chums hotfoot.
"Say, fellows, don't think I'm just 'seeing things,' but those three tramps are sitting down there by the tracks eating!"
THE TRAIL BEGINS.
"Make a break for the train, boys," ordered Garry hastily. "We don't care to have them get a glimpse of us. I'll wager that they are making for the Canadian border, since as we know they have jumped their bail and are probably making for the national boundary line. Bringing them back will be a more difficult task than it would should they stay in the State of Maine."
"All I hope," remarked Phil, "is that they don't linger on the way, but keep right on going. The chances are that our search for the smuggling band will provide us with a new crop of people who are not especially friendly toward us, and old enemies will not be welcomed at the new headquarters."
The boys hunted up the conductor, and provided themselves with berths for the long night ride. They turned in early, for the adventures of the previous night had robbed them of some of their wonted sleep. Morning found them making their way through vast tracts of forest lands. The train made its usual stop at an eating place and the passengers disembarked for their morning meal. The boys hurried through the breakfast, in order that they might avail themselves of the remaining few minutes to make a hasty search of the train and vicinity of the depot to see whether or not the tramps were anywhere in the neighborhood.
The search proved unavailing, and they returned to their place in the smoking car, as the sleeper had been taken off at that station. The remainder of the ride for that day passed uneventfully. About the only topic of conversation was where they should make their headquarters when they arrived in their new location. They discussed the feasability of hiring lodgings in the town of Hobart, and after a short discussion discarded this plan, since it would not be in keeping with their characters as campers.
"My idea," explained Garry, "is to branch out from Hobart some little distance in the woods, and there for a time being, build a double lean-to. The weather gives promise of being fair for some time to come, and if we find that circumstances warrant our staying in that vicinity, we can without a great deal of trouble build a pole cabin."
Late afternoon brought them to the town of Hobart, and cramped and weary from their thirty-six hour ride on the train, they gladly disembarked.
The little town of Hobart lay on the other side of the railroad tracks. It was like so many other small Maine towns, consisting of a huge general store, a smithy, which was also a garage, a great ramshackle building that was once a restaurant and a rooming house, evidently used by trappers who came there to dispose of their furs, and lumberjacks on their way to lumber operations in that vicinity. The boys proceeded directly to the general store, and here made inquiries as to the owner of the vast timber lands that entirely surrounded Hobart.
The shrewd old Yankee storekeeper told them that all the timber land in that section was controlled by one of the great paper and pulp companies of the State, and that campers never bothered to get permission to use the land.
Further inquiry brought out the information that the national boundary line was only about three miles from Hobart.
The boys decided to hike directly into the woods, build for themselves a fire, and sleep in the open, reserving the next morning to find a suitable camping place where they might erect their lean-to. They provided themselves with a week's supply of provisions, finding that they could come into town often enough to replenish their supplies as they ran out.
"Now," remarked Garry, after their provisions had been purchased, "we can do one of two things, either strike directly into the woods and cook our supper over a camp fire, or we can go over to the restaurant and have our meal there, which appeals most to me."
"I would suggest," said Phil, "that we eat tonight at the restaurant, not that I am too lazy to cook in the woods, but because it is probable that a good share of the people who live in this town, but who do not have real homes here, also eat there. In this way, we can become familiar at least with faces of those who inhabit the place, and who knows but what it may be the headquarters of the very crew that we are seeking."
"I think that's a prime suggestion," said Garry heartily, "so I move we leave our rifles and knapsacks here at the general store, and get our supper."
Before leaving they inquired from the storekeeper what would be the best route to take to bring them into the woods. They were told that to the eastward was a small farming community, and that the timber line did not begin in that direction for a matter of ten miles, but that to the southwest, a half-hour's walk, would bring them to the dense forests.
Making sure before they left their supplies at the store, that it would remain open until they had time to finish their meal, they repaired directly to the restaurant. Here they found a picturesque scene. A long counter ran the entire length of the room, presided over by an old French Canadian, clad in a red flannel shirt, rough corduroy trousers and high boots. To one side of the room were several tables, at which men were already seated, playing cards or checkers. A number of fine specimens of moose and deer heads hung from the walls.
The boys, perched upon high stools, were soon enjoying their meal. While they were eating, they kept their ears and eyes wide open, but their diligent attention brought them no reward. True, there were a number of rough looking characters about the room, who might have been members of or even heads of the particular band they had come to that country to find. The meal over, Phil wanted them to remain for a while, in the hope that some stray bit of conversation would give them something to work on, but Garry vetoed this idea, for the reason that there still remained only a half hour or so of daylight and he thought it would be wise for them to get to a point to make themselves a camp before darkness fell.
Retrieving their packs and rifles from the general store, they started for the woods, first filling their canteens, for it would probably be unlikely that they could find a spring immediately on their arrival. A half an hour's brisk walk brought them to the beginning of the timber line. The rapidly gathering dusk signalled the quick approach of nightfall, and they had barely penetrated the forest when Garry called a halt.
The first duty was to build a fire, and in a short time they had gathered enough brush to start their camp fire. A short search soon resulted in their finding an old fallen tree, and in a few minutes they had procured from this enough firewood to last them out the night. The last task before rolling in for the evening was to get a number of spruce boughs for making the usual mattress for anyone sleeping out in the open in the great forests of Maine.
Garry awoke with the dawn, and soon tumbled his companions out. Fresh wood was thrown on the few remaining embers, and in a short time coffee was boiling and bacon was being fried, while Dick superintended the making of a big batch of spider bread. It was the first meal that the boys had cooked over a camp fire in several days, and they heartily enjoyed every mouthful of it.
Breakfast over, the first task of the morning was to locate a suitable place in which to pitch their temporary camp. Striking out to the southwest, they spread out fanshaped, but not so far away that they could not hear the sound of each other's voices. Zigzagging back and forth, they searched for a spring. It was nearly a half of an hour before their search was rewarded with success, when Dick's call brought the three together.
Accidentally he had stumbled on an ideal camp site. It was one of those natural clearings that are so often found in the densest forests. Nearby was a clear spring, with cold water that trickled into an ever widening forest stream.
The boys immediately decided that a day's search might not have provided them with a better spot, and in a short time were bustling actively about building their new camp. This consisted merely of throwing together a brush lean-to.
The brush lean-to is the simplest sort of forest home. It is made by erecting two poles, six to seven feet in height, and about six to eight feet apart. In back of these, at a distance of some six feet, are placed two more poles about one-half the height of the first pair. Four poles are laid on the tops of these, secured by cutting a cleft in the tops, and laid so as to form the frame work for the roof of the lean-to. The next step in the building of such a habitation is to lay poles at an interval of a foot or a foot and a half along the roof part of the lean-to.
When erecting the uprights, care is taken to leave two or three bits of branch project at intervals along the length of the poles. On these long saplings are laid. The frame work of the lean-to is then complete, and the finishing step consists of cutting great quantities of brush.
These pieces of brush are hung on the saplings that have been spread across the frame work, the branches being crudely woven in and out of each other. The front of the lean-to is generally left open. Some woodsmen prefer to enclose all four sides, but the case of the brush shack being built by the boys, the front part was left open, since their idea was to build another lean-to directly opposite and about four feet away. In the open space between the two shacks could be built a camp fire.
The crude shacks thus constructed furnished them with ample protection during fair weather, and even during a moderate summer shower. Of course, in an extended rain, such shacks would be next to useless, as the steady downpour of rain would soon beat through the brush roof.
The shacks being completed, they chopped a quantity of firewood, using parts of fallen trees, wind wracked ruins that had dried and seasoned under the summer sun. This was stored away in one of the lean-tos. A balsam tree being found, quantities of the branches were cut to furnish beds for the three. The camp was now completed, and it being nearly noon, Dick departed into the woods to knock down a few squirrels for lunch. He was back in less than a half of an hour with three fat squirrels, and these skinned, impaled on a sharp stick, and wrapped with a slice or two of thickly cut bacon, were soon roasted over the red embers of the fire.
"Now, before we get down to business, who's for a trip to the border line? I want to see just how it feels to be in two countries at once," suggested Phil.
The boys agreeing, Garry drew out his pocket map and consulted it, bearing in mind the directions given them by the storekeeper. He decided they were less than five miles distant from the boundary, so striking out, they trudged steadily in what they believed was the proper direction. A walk of about an hour and a half brought them within what they considered was the proper location of the boundary line, then striking out toward the north-east, they spread out in search of one of the monuments or cairns that are erected at frequent intervals along border lines. Luckily, a few minutes' search brought them to one of the white stone posts which are common wherever two countries come together. On the top of the monument, chiseled in deep letters, were the words "Boundary Line." On the one side was cut "United States," while on the other was the word "Canada." Dick immediately straddled the post, exclaiming:
"Well, this is the first time that I have ever been in two countries at exactly the same moment." His enthusiasm was so infectious that Garry and Phil immediately followed suit and tried the novel experience.
Doubling back on the trail over which they had come, mid-afternoon found them back at their camp site. Here a surprise awaited them, for making free use of their coffee pot and one of their frying pans was a man, cooking a meal over their camp fire.
THE GUM HUNTER.
"That chap seems to be making himself right at home in our camp, doesn't he, Garry," remarked Phil.
"So he does, but that is the way of many of the old timers in the woods. They consider it all right to make use of anyone's camp so long as they take nothing and do no harm, and leave some sign that they have been there, provided the owners do not return before he leaves. He's a picturesque-looking old fellow, isn't he? Looks something like our old Hermit friend. Let's go and see who he is," concluded Garry.
They made their way to the lean-to, for they had stopped when they saw the new occupant of the camp.
"Howdy, stranger," hailed Garry.
"Howdy, boys," he returned. "This your camp here?"
"Yes, we just threw it up yesterday. Are you from round these parts?" asked Garry.
"Callate that's just what I am. Name's Dudley, George Washington Dudley, generally called 'Dud' for short by my friends."
Garry then proceeded to tell his name and those of his companions. The old man left off his cooking long enough to shake hands, and then resumed his turning of the bacon.
"Got hungry and didn't want to start a new fire somewhere, and so used your place here. Wasn't expecting to be gone so long today, and didn't bring anything with me. Just helped myself. Will make it all right next time I come this way. What you boys doing up here? 'Spose you're from the city, but you don't look as though you were exact strangers to the woods. Sensible looking clothes you've got on, too."
"We're figuring on camping here for a time, and looking the country over. What's your business?" asked Garry, with the true Yankee inquisitiveness.
"Oh, I do several things. Just now I'm a gum hunter."
"A what?" chimed in Phil.
"Gum hunter," responded the old man briefly, as though that settled the question.
"I am afraid we don't know just what a gum hunter is," confessed Garry, speaking for his chums as well as himself.
"No, I 'spose you don't. Can't expect city boys to know a great deal anyway. Well, a gum hunter is just what it sounds like. I go through the woods getting spruce gum for the drug stores. Make a good living that way part of a year. Get a lot of druggists all way from Portland to Boston who won't buy spruce gum from anyone but me. They know I send 'em only the best. Understand what a gum hunter is now?"
"Thank you, yes," said Garry. "But you said you did other things. Mind telling us what they are? We are not inquisitive, only this is something new to us."
"Sure I don't mind. Sometimes I pick yarbs. There's a powerful lot of them in the woods, like sassafras root and checkerberry and things like that. I sell these to the same druggists that buy my gum. Then sometimes I guide parties. In the wintertime I trap. And sometimes in the spring, I work on the log drive on the river. There's lots of things a man can do to make a living in these woods, if he only knows enough. And it beats working in a store or something all hollow. You're never sick, and mainly you are your own boss, without anyone to tell you when to work and what to work at," concluded the old gum hunter.
For the benefit of our readers who may not be acquainted with Yankee dialect, yarbs is the native's way of saying herbs.
The boys were much interested in the old man's various occupations. They had no idea that a man could do so many different and profitable things in the wilds of the great forests.
"What you boys aim to do while you are camping?" inquired the newcomer, as he ate his late lunch. "You won't find a powerful lot of shooting as there ain't much now that the law is off. Course you can get some good fishing if you follow that brook that is fed by the spring you get your water from for about three miles. There's a place there where a couple of old trees lay across the brook, blown down in some big storm, I expect, and there are some noble trout there. If I had had time today, I'd have gone down there and caught a couple for my meal, instead of taking your bacon."
"You were perfectly welcome to it, and anytime you are around here drop right in and help yourself. You'll always find a plenty," said Garry cordially.
"That's the right spirit to show in the woods, young feller," and the gum hunter slouched off to the spring to draw some water to wash the dishes after his meal. He came back with the water, and pouring a small quantity of it in the greasy frying pan, put it on the coals. The dish and his knife and fork, he scrubbed first with a handful of earth, and in a short time they were clean of the grease of the bacon. All that needed to be done was to rinse them out. By this time the water in the frying pan had come to a boil, and pouring it out, the pan was found to be nearly free of the grease. An application of earth, and a rinse, and that job was done.
Then filling an old pipe, he stretched out near the fire, and began to ply the boys with questions,—where they had come from, why they came so far from home to go camping, and countless other shrewd interrogations. For some reason he seemed to think it peculiar that they had come so far when there were plenty of forests nearer home where they could have established a camp.
Garry took it on himself to answer most of these questions, and in turn asked many of the old man.
Finally Garry looked straight at the old fellow, and asked quietly:
"Ever hear of any smuggling going on in these parts?"
"That's a funny question for a young fellow like you to be asking. You fellows haven't come up here to join some smugglers' band, that is, supposing there were any up here? Sure you boys haven't been reading woolly tales of smugglers on the border, or something, have ye?" he asked suspiciously.
Garry and the others laughed at the implication. Garry, although not so old in years, had several times proved himself to be a shrewd judge of character, and he had already made up his mind that the old gum hunter was a staunch and sturdy and patriotic citizen of the State. However, he decided to let a little time elapse before further questioning of the woodsman, or imparting any confidences to him.
"Where did your guide go after he fixed you up here?" asked the gum hunter, after a short silence.
"We didn't have any guide," answered Dick.
"You fellows mean to tell me that you picked this site and pitched camp yourselves?" demanded Dudley.
"Just exactly that," responded Garry.
"Well, it's mighty good job. Who taught you to make a double lean-to in that fashion?"
"Why, we've made rather a study of woodcraft, and this is not our first experience in the woods," answered Garry. Then thinking of a way in which he could let the old timer know that they were not merely adventurous, inquisitive boys, he decided to reveal to George Washington Dudley the fact that they were members of the Forest Ranger Service, but to keep a secret the fact that they were also on Customs duty.
On hearing this, the old man looked at them with considerably different aspect.
Garry explained to him, as it had been decided at Augusta to give them a good excuse for being in the woods, that they were covering that part of the country with a view to establishing a 'phone service for the Ranger System, that section being unprotected in that manner. As a matter of fact, the border line was but poorly guarded, as the meagre appropriation by the Legislature did not allow every foot of the country to be taken care of in the manner that it should.
This announcement by Garry increased the respect of the old man for them.
"Yes, sir, boys," he said, "that's one of the biggest things that's been done in this State for many a long year. I tell you, I've lived in these woods all my life, and that's more than sixty years, and I love these great trees. They all seem like so many friends to me. Of course I know that they must be sacrificed for the good of mankind, but it makes me sad when I think of the way the paper mill people have gone through mile after mile of timber land, cutting it clean of every tree. Course they should take only the big trees, that have grown old like men, and have almost outlived their good on earth. But to cut down young trees, it's just like killing young boys. To the paper mill people it only means just so much more pulp. Then the fires that are so often caused by careless campers and hunters. Yes, sir, it's sure a crime, and it's a fine thing for boys as young as you to know about these things and help fight the evils. But there's one thing that's been a puzzling me. What did you ask about smugglers for?"
"Why, it was partly curiosity, and partly because we heard that there was considerable smuggling in this part of the country, it being so near to the Canadian border line," said Garry cautiously. Then, carefully choosing his words, he went on:
"And if we did find evidence of any, we being in a branch of the State service, it would be our duty as good American citizens to run it down as far as possible and bring the smugglers to justice. Don't you think it would?" he concluded, looking sharply at old Dud.
"Yes sir," shot out the old gum hunter emphatically, and somewhat to the surprise of Garry, who had put the question merely to see what side the old timer would take. "I believe in upholding the laws of the land. I came from a family that has done that always. My Daddy fought in the Mexican War, and he was killed in Shiloh during the Civil War. I didn't tell 'em just the truth about my age in the Spanish War, and so I was in that myself; but they knew I was stretching the truth a little when I tried to get in the big scrap in 1917. Ain't never one of our family done anything but uphold the law the way she was written on the books.
"Now as for this smuggling that you speak of, it does happen and it happens right in this region. There's a regular nest of 'em right in Hobart. Now mind I ain't saying anything, but if a person was to keep watch of certain fellows that always of an evening went through the back door at the end of the restaurant, he might some time know just who those fellows were. One thing, though, there ain't much help to be got from any of the townspeople when it comes to that practice. Lots of border people can't see the justice in paying duty on stuff that comes from a country that's as near them as Canada is. They don't seem to look on it as a foreign country at all. Guess it's because they are too familiar with it. And that's that. So now, boys, I'll bid ye a goodbye and trot along. I don't just know what you boys are up to, but I'll lay that it's all right, and I've just got this to say: Anytime you get into a bad hole, or need some help in the worst kind of way, remember and get to George W. Dudley, or old Dud the gum hunter. Everyone hereabouts knows who I am and where I can be found in a short time."
So saying, the old man shouldered his long rifle and went his way.
"Boys," said Garry elatedly, "the trail begins here!"
THE NIGHT VISITOR.
Night drawing on, the boys prepared their supper. The night's meal consisted of a real stew, for since they were so near to a place to purchase provisions they were able to indulge themselves a little more than when they were at their first station, so far away from a base of supplies.
Canned beef was used, and then a few potatoes and carrots were peeled and cut into small cubes. A good meat stew is one of the easiest things to make in the woods, provided one has a variety or two of vegetables.
All that is necessary to do is to cut the meat into small squares about an inch thick, then peel and cut the vegetables to the same size. Put just enough cold water in the kettle to cover the meat and vegetables, and then let the whole simmer slowly over the coals. From time to time the cook should take a look at the stew and see that it does not dry. It will be necessary to add a small quantity of water from time to time, and in about an hour and a quarter the stew will be ready, and after a long hike in the woods it is a dish that is fit for a king.
While Dick superintended the cooking of the stew, Phil and Garry replenished the wood supply. The stew put on the fire, Dick searched until he found a piece of sapling about an inch and a half in diameter. This is peeled off the bark and so made a rolling pin. A glass jam jar was then emptied of its contents and laid to one side.
"Ah, I perceive that we are going to have hot biscuits for supper tonight," remarked Phil, smacking his lips.
"Regular little Sherlock, aren't you?" said Garry with a laugh. "When you see a chap make a rolling pin and a biscuit cutter, you immediately reach the conclusion that he's going to make biscuits."
That was what Dick was intending to do. With a hot stew, there is nothing more palatable than a stack of piping hot biscuits cooked in a spider over a bed of red embers. They require but little work, only one thing being necessary, and that is to rub the shortening through into the flour. Many amateur campers wonder why the biscuits are flat or doughy. It is because they either do not know that the shortening should be ground in, or else, which is too often true, are too lazy to do the work.
For the benefit of some of our readers who may want to go camping over a summer week-end, the proper making of a pan of biscuits will be described. To make a dozen biscuits, or enough for three hungry boys, take a pint and a half of flour, a teaspoon and a half of baking powder, half a heaping teaspoonful of salt, the equivalent of a heaping tablespoonful of shortening, which may be bought by the can, (lard or drippings will do equally as well) and about half a pint of cold water. Stir the baking powder into the flour, then the salt. Then rub the shortening thoroughly into the flour, till not a bit of it remains in lumps or on the bottom of the mixing pan. Then stir in the water until you have a thick dough. In the meantime have a hot bed of coals, then dust a little flour on the bottom of one of your frying pans.
Finally roll out your dough with the home-made sapling rolling pin, and use an old glass jar or a small round tin to cut your biscuits out with. Knead over the bits that are left from cutting the biscuits out until all the dough has been used. Put them in the frying pan, and if you have no cover, use a second inverted pan for one.
Put this on the hot coals about twenty minutes before your supper is to be ready, and a few moments later put on the coffee pot.
The result will be a supper that cannot be found in the finest of hotels, especially if your appetite is sauced by a good hike and the fragrant balsamy air of the great forest.
Squatting about the glowing coals of the campfire, which cast a red reflection on the tall, sombre pines in back of them, they voted Dick a capital cook, and the supper one of the best they had eaten since they left the station where they had done fire patrol duty.
The meal over and the dishes washed, they discussed the advisability of establishing a guard as they had done when danger threatened them in past times.
Garry was of the opinion that it would be unnecessary for a time, as no one knew of their mission and they had seen nothing that would tend to alarm them.
The others were glad of this decision, for all were tired with the work of establishing the camp and the hike they had taken to the boundary line.
Shortly after midnight Garry was roused from his slumber by a nightmare in which he dreamed that LeBlanc and he were desperately battling on the top of a great cliff.
The dream was so realistic that when he woke, he shuddered for a moment. Then feeling somewhat chilly, he found that the fire had died down, and rose to throw a few sticks of wood on the still red coals. He cast a glance about him and in the distance saw a gleaming pair of eyes!
Hastily drawing his flashlight from his pocket, and diving back into the lean-to for his rifle, he made sure it was loaded and then investigated the gleaming eyes. His flashlight was a good one, throwing a long white beam of light into the darkness.
What he saw was some sort of an animal that, unperturbed by the light, was advancing slowly. Snapping off the flashlight, and dropping it to his side, he threw his rifle to his shoulder. He took a careful aim at a point between the shining eyes, and fired. There was a snarl and a violent squirming for a moment, and then all was still.
Garry's shot had sent the wild echoes chashing through the still forest, and in a trice, Phil and Dick were awakened, and came rushing to his side, bringing their rifles with them.
"What is it, Garry?" shouted Phil. "Have we been attacked?"
"No, but there is no telling what he might have done. As far as I could make out, it's a big bobcat. I haven't gone near it yet, for I am not sure that it is dead, although it hasn't made a move since I fired," answered Garry.
"Well, let's go and take a look. Load your rifle again, and we can keep ours trained on the beast and make short work of him if he is still alive," said Phil.
Garry rescued his flashlight from the spot where he had dropped it when he made ready to shoot, and the three started cautiously for the still carcass. Arriving at the point, Dick seized a dead stick from the ground and, throwing accurately, hit the animal in the ribs. It made never a move, and so the chums judged it was safe to approach.
The animal was stone dead. Garry's shot had pierced the brain right in the forehead, and the animal had evidently died almost instantly.
They examined the animal. It was a sort of a pepper-and-salt color with a pencil or streak of black hair extending from the back of the ears. As far as they could judge, it would stand about two feet tall, when erect, and must have been almost a yard from the top of its nose to the end of its abbreviated tail. The legs and feet were heavily covered with fur, and bore wicked, razorlike claws.
A snarl was on the face of the night prowler even in death. Garry seized it by the scruff of the neck, and hefted it.
"By George, I bet that animal weighs every ounce of thirty pounds," he exclaimed.
"Then it's the heftiest bobcat I've ever heard about," said Phil.
"Well, let's get back to bed again," yawned Dick. "I was sleeping like a log when I thought the whole shack had been pulled in about my ears. Good thing I woke up though. I forgot to put beans to soak last night, and I am determined to have baked beans for tomorrow night's supper. Guess I'll put them to soak and turn in again. Bring your old bobcat along and hang it to a branch, and we'll skin it tomorrow and try and tan it."
"Skin nothing," declared Garry. "I'm going to have that critter stuffed and mounted. It's one of the finest specimens I've ever seen."
"You fellows can argue all night if you want to," stated Phil emphatically. "I'm going to crawl into my blanket again. Good night!"
The boys returned to the camp, and still rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Dick put his beans to soak, and in a few minutes quiet had again descended on the camp, only the occasional snap of a burning knot breaking the majestic silence of the great forest that surrounded the sleeping boys.