With Trapper Jim in the North Woods
by Lawrence J. Leslie
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"It was a long trip, fellows, but we're here at last, thank goodness!"

"Yes, away up in the North Woods, at the hunting lodge of Trapper Jim!"

"Say, it's hard to believe, and that's a fact. What do you say about it, you old stutterer, Toby Jucklin?"

"B-b-bully!" exploded the boy, whose broad shoulders, encased in a blue flannel shirt, had been pounded when this question was put directly at him.

There were five of them, half-grown boys all, lounging about in the most comfortable fashion they could imagine in the log cabin which Old Jim Ruggles occupied every fall and winter.

"Trapper Jim" they called him, and these boys from Carson had long been yearning to accept the hearty invitation given to spend a week or two with the veteran woodsman. A year or so back Jim had dropped down to see his brother Alfred, who was a retired lawyer living in their home town. And it was at this time they first found themselves drawn toward Jim Ruggles.

When he heard of several little camping experiences which had befallen Toby Jucklin and his chums, the trapper had struck up a warm friendship with the boy who seemed to be the natural leader of the lot, Max Hastings.

Well, they had been writing back and forth this long time. Eagerly had the boys planned a visit to the North Woods, and bent all their energies toward accomplishing that result.

And now, at last, they found themselves under the shelter of the roof that topped Old Jim's cabin. Their dreams had come true, so that several weeks of delightful experiences in the great Northern forest lay before them.

Besides Toby Jucklin, who stuttered violently at times, and Max Hastings, who had had considerable previous experience in outdoor life, there were Steve Dowdy, whose quick temper and readiness to act without considering the consequences had long since gained him the name of "Touch-and-Go Steve"; Owen Hastings, a cousin to Max, and who, being a great reader, knew more or less about the theory of things; and last, but not least, a boy who went by the singular name of "Bandy-legs" Griffin.

At home and in school they called him Clarence; but his comrades, just as all boys will do, early in his life seized upon the fact of his lower limbs being unusually short to dub him "Bandy-legs."

Strange to say, the Griffin lad never seemed to show the least resentment in connection with this queer nickname. If the truth were told, he really preferred having it, spoken by boyish lips, than to receive that detested name of Clarence.

These five boys had come together with the idea of having a good time in the great outdoors during vacation days.

And Fortune had been very kind to them right in the start. Although Max always declared that it was some remark of his cousin that put him on the track, and Owen on his part vowed that the glory must rest with Max alone, still the fact remained that once the idea popped up it was eagerly seized upon by both boys.

They needed more or less cash with which to purchase tents, guns, and such other things as appeal to boys who yearn to camp out, fish, hunt, and enjoy the experiences of outdoor life.

As the Glorious Fourth had exhausted their savings banks, this bright idea was hailed with more or less glee by the other three members of the club.

It was not an original plan, but that mattered nothing. Success was what they sought, and to attain it the boys were quite willing to follow any old beaten path.

An account of valuable pearls being found in mussels that were picked up along certain streams located in Indiana, Arkansas, and other states, suggested the possibility of like treasures near at home.

Now, Carson, their native town, lay upon the Evergreen River; and this stream had two branches, called the Big Sunflower and the Elder. The boys knew that there were hundreds of mussels to be found up the former stream. They had seen the shells left by hungry muskrats, and even gathered a few to admire the rainbow-hued inside coating, which Owen told them was used in the manufacture of pearl buttons.

But up to that time no one apparently had dreamed that there might be a snug little fortune awaiting the party who just started in to gather the mussels along the Big Sunflower.

This Max and his chums had done. Their success had created quite an excitement around Carson.

When it was learned what was going on, farm hands deserted their daily tasks; boys quit loafing away the vacation days, and even some of those who toiled in the factories were missing from their looms.

Everybody hunted for pearls. The little Big Sunflower never saw such goings on. They combed its waters over every rod of the whole mile where the fresh-water clams seemed to exist.

When the furor was over, and there were hardly half a hundred wretched mussels left in the waters that had once upon a time fairly teemed with them, the results were very disappointing.

Two or three small pearls had been found, it is true, but the majority of the seekers had to be satisfied with steamed mussels, or fresh-water clam chowder, as a reward for their hard work.

The wide-awake boys who first conceived the idea had taken the cream of the pickings. And from a portion of the money secured through the sale of these beautiful pearls they had purchased everything needed to fill the heart of a camper with delight.

Here, as the afternoon sun headed down toward the western horizon, the boys, having arrived by way of a buckboard wagon at noon, were looking into the flames of Trapper Jim's big fire in the log cabin, and mentally shaking hands with each other in mutual congratulation over their good fortune.

There was a decided tang of frost in the air, which told that the summer season was gone and early fall arrived.

It might seem strange that these boys, who in October might be expected to be deep in the fall school term, should be away from home and up in the wilderness.

That was where Good Luck remembered them again, and the explanation is simple enough.

Even in the well-managed town of Carson, school directors sometimes neglected their work. And in this year, when the vacation period was three quarters over, the discovery was made that the big building was in such a bad condition that certain extensive repairs would have to be made.

In consequence, greatly to the delight of the older scholars, it was decided that school for them could not take up until the middle of November.

As soon as Max learned of this delightful fact he knew the time had come for their long-promised visit to Trapper Jim.

They had been tempted to go during the summer months, but as there was little to do in the woods at that period of the year save fishing, the boys had been holding off.

Now they could expect to use their guns; to see how Jim set his cunning traps that netted him such rich rewards each winter season, and to enjoy to the full that most glorious time of the whole year in the woods, the autumn season, when the leaves are colored by the early frosts and the first ice forms on the shores of the little trout streams.

As the afternoon passed they recovered from the effects of the long railroad journey overnight and the joggling buckboard experience. A thousand questions had been fired at Jim, who was a good-humored old fellow with a great love for boys in his heart.

"Take things kind of easy to-day, boys," he kept on saying, when they wanted to know why he didn't get busy and show them all the wonderful things he had in store for his lively young visitors. "I want you to rest up and be in good trim for to-morrow. Plenty of time to begin work then. Knock around and see what it looks like where Old Jim has had his hunting lodge this seven years back."

So they did busy themselves prying into things. And between that hour and dark there were very few spots around the immediate neighborhood that they had not examined.

Jim's stock of well-kept Victor steel traps were commented on, and stories listened to in connection with this one or that. No wonder the hunting instinct in the lads was pretty well aroused by the time they had heard some of these stirring accounts.

"If the whole bunch of traps could only talk, now," declared Owen, as he handled a big one meant for bear, "wouldn't they make the shivers run up and down our backbones, though?"

Trapper Jim only smiled.

He had a thousand things to tell the boys, but, of course, he did not want to exhaust the subject in the beginning. By degrees they should hear all about his many adventures. It would be his daily pleasures to thrill his boy visitors with these truthful stories as they gathered each night around the roaring fire and rested after the day's work.

The shades of night, their very first night in those wonderful North Woods of which they had dreamed so long, were fast gathering now.

Already the shadows had issued forth from their hiding places, and the woods began to assume a certain gloomy look.

Later on, the moon, being just past the full, would rise above the top of the distant hills toward the east. Then the woods might not seem so strangely mysterious.

"When you're ready to begin getting supper, Uncle Jim," said Max, "you must let us lend a hand. We don't know it all by a long sight, but we can cook some, and eat—wait till you see Steve begin, and Toby—Why, hello, here we've been chattering away like a flock of crows and never noticed that our chum Toby was missing all the while!"

"Missing!" echoed Steve, jumping up eagerly at the prospect of their first adventure coming along; and no doubt already picturing all of them stalking through the big timber, lanterns and torches in hand, searching for the absent chum.

"Who saw him last?" asked Max.

"Why, a little before dark," Owen answered, promptly, "I noticed him prowling around out among the trees. He called out that a cottontail rabbit had jumped up and was just daring him to chase after her."

"Looks like he accepted the dare, all right," said Bandy-legs.

"Where's a lantern? I choose a lantern. You other fellows can carry the torches, because I got burned the last time I tried that game."

Steve was already beginning to hunt around as he talked, when Trapper Jim, who had meanwhile gone and opened the door of the cabin, called to them to be still.

"I thought I heard him right then," he said, "and it sounded to me like he was calling for help. Get both those lanterns, boys, and light 'em. We've got to look into this thing right away."



Of course the greatest excitement followed this announcement on the part of the old trapper.

Steve darted this way and that, fairly wild to do something; and Bandy-legs, too, showed himself anxious to help. But, as usual, it was cool Max, assisted by Owen, who managed to light the two lanterns.

Steve pounced on the first one that was ready, true to his word.

"Come on, you slow pokes!" he exclaimed, making for the door; "why, our poor chum might be drowning for all we know, and us wasting time here."

"Oh, I reckon it ain't so bad as that," remarked Trapper Jim. "Hard to drown a tall boy in a three-foot deep crick. Besides, he's up the wind from here, while the water lies the other way. That's one reason none of us heard him before."

They were all hurrying along by now. Bandy-legs, being a little timid, and not altogether liking the looks of the dark woods, had picked up the gun belonging to Max.

"My goodness!" he called out after the others, being in the rear of the little procession, "there's no telling how long poor old Toby might 'a' been letting out his whoops, and with that door shut we didn't hear him."

"Well, we can right now, all right!" called back Steve, who was running neck and neck with the trapper, swinging his lighted lantern in such a reckless, haphazard fashion that he was in momentary danger of smashing the useful article against some tree.

They could all hear Toby calling very clearly now.

"Help! Oh, h-h-help!"

"One thing sure," Max remarked; "Toby hasn't tumbled down into a hollow tree stump! His yells sound too plain for that."

"Oh, shucks; forget it!" said Bandy-legs.

Some time before, while the boys were hunting for Bandy-legs, who had become lost in a large swamp not twenty miles away from Carson, they had finally found him, caged fast inside a large hollow stump. He had climbed to the top of this to take an observation, when the rotten wood, giving way, had allowed him to fall inside.

It had been a bitter experience for Bandy-legs, and his chums never mentioned it without him shivering, as memory again carried him back to the hours of suffering he had spent in his woody prison.

As they advanced the cries grew louder:

"H-h-help! Boys, oh, b-b-boys, come q-q-quick! I can't h-h-hold on much longer!"

"Say, he must be away up in a tree!" exclaimed Steve.

"No, his voice sounds closer to the ground than that," declared Max.

"Tell you what," panted Bandy-legs from behind, "he's just gone and fell over some old cliff, that's what. You know how clumsy Toby is."

That sounded rather queer, since it was the speaker himself who had always been getting into scrapes because of this trait.

"Cliff!" snorted Steve, "like to know how anybody could ever fall up a cliff. You mean a precipice, silly."

"Guess I do," admitted Bandy-legs, "but it's all the same. If you're on top it's a precipice, and if you're down below—"

"Listen to him holler, would you?" interrupted Steve. "Hold on, Toby, we're coming as fast as we c'n sprint! Keep up a little longer! It's all right! Your pards are on the job!"

Max thought he saw Trapper Jim laughing about this time. From this he imagined the other must have guessed the true state of affairs, and that poor Toby could not be in such desperate straits as they believed.

The darkness was intense there under the trees.

Several times did impulsive Steve stumble over obstacles which in his eagerness he had failed to notice.

Trapper Jim was doubtless sizing the various boys up by degrees, and long before now he had read most of their leading characteristics. But anyone would be able to know the headstrong nature of Steve Dowdy, after being in his company for an hour.

"Where are you, Toby, old fellow?" called Steve.

"H-h-here! L-l-lookout, or you'll f-f-fall over, too," came weakly from a point just ahead of them.

"Oh, didn't I tell you?" shouted Bandy-legs. "It is a precipice after all, and p'r'aps an awful high one! Hold on, Toby, don't you dare let loose when we're right at hand."

Max had felt a thrill again at the prospect of such a peril threatening Toby. But another look at Trapper Jim reassured him.

"Yes," said Jim, "be mighty careful how you step, boys. Get down on your hands and knees and creep up here to the edge of the awful chasm. Now, hold the lanterns down, so we can all of us see."

Cautiously did the alarmed Steve do as he was told. Four pairs of eager eyes took in the situation. Amazement staggered the boys for the space of ten seconds. Then they burst out into loud laughter.

And no wonder.

Toby was hanging there all right, red of face from his long-continued exertion, and looking appealingly up to his chums. He had caught hold of a friendly stout root as he found himself going over, and to this he clung, digging his toes from time to time into the face of the "precipice," and in this way managing to sustain himself, though almost completely exhausted by the alarm and strain combined.

"Ain't you g-g-goin' to h-h-help me?" he gasped, amazed no doubt to hear his heartless chums laughing at his misfortune.

"Let go, Toby!" cried Max.

"Yes, drop down and take a rest!" added Steve, who could enjoy a joke to the utmost when it was on Toby, with whom he often had words; though all the same they were quite fond of each other.

"W-w-want me to get s-s-smashed, d-d-don't you?" answered back the indignant boy, as he continued to clutch that root, as though he believed it to be the only thing between himself and destruction.

"Look down, you loon!" cried Steve. "Call that a big drop? Why, I declare the ground ain't more'n six inches down below your feet! Shucks; did I ever hear the like!"

Toby did twist his neck the best he could and look. Then with a glad cry he released his hold on the friendly root to fall in a heap.

"Let's get down to him," said Trapper Jim, "he must be pretty well used up, I reckon. Perhaps he's been hangin' thar half an hour'n more."

"But whatever made him do such a silly thing?" asked Steve, as they proceeded to go around the edge of the little "sink," led by the trapper, who knew every foot of ground.

"Well, I don't know that it was so queer after all," declared Jim; "you see, when he fell over here in the dark, how was Toby to know whether he was hanging over a precipice ten feet deep or a hundred? All he could do was to keep hold of that root and holler for help."

"And he did that to beat the band," declared Owen.

"I guess it was all real to him," the trapper went on to say; "and chances are, when he heard the trickling of this little brook that runs through the sink here, he thought it was a river away below him. Oh, I can feel for Toby all right. I once had an experience myself something like his. But here we are down. How're you feeling, son?"

"P-p-pretty r-r-rocky," declared Toby, who was sitting up when they reached him, and seemed to be trembling all over, as the result of the nervous strain to which he had been subjected.

"Don't blame you a bit," declared Max, who saw that the poor chap had in truth suffered considerably. "Lots of fellows would have thought the same as you did, Toby. I might myself, if I'd slipped down that way in the dark. Here, grab hold with me, Steve, and we'll help Toby home."

"Anyhow," admitted Toby, as they put their arms about him, "I'm g-g-glad you did c-c-come. R-r-reckon I'd f-f-fainted if I just had to let g-g-go."

"Rats! I don't believe it," scoffed the unbelieving Steve.

Once they reached the trapper's cabin, and came under the cheerful influence of that crackling fire, even Toby's spirits rose again. He had by this time recovered some of his usual grit, and could afford to laugh with the rest at his recent experience.

It was about as Trapper Jim suspected.

Toby had been tempted to follow the lame rabbit for some little distance into the woods. Finally, finding that he had gone pretty far, and with night closing in rapidly all around him, the boy had started to return.

Becoming a little confused, he had stumbled one way and another, and in the end fallen over the edge of the shallow sink.

Throwing out his hands even as he felt himself falling, he had caught hold of the projecting root. Here he had hung, trying again and again to climb up, but in vain; and quite sure that a terrible void lay beyond his dangling legs.

At first Toby had been too alarmed to even think of calling for help. But as time went by, and he realized the desperate nature of his predicament, he tried to shout.

This was never an easy task to the stuttering boy, and doubtless he made a sorry mess out of it.

But all's well that ends well. Toby had been gallantly rescued, and now the five chums were doing their level best to assist Trapper Jim prepare supper.

Would they ever forget the delights of that first meal under the roof of the forest cabin? Often had they partaken of a camp dinner, but never before had it seemed to have the same flavor as this one did, surrounded as they were with those bunches of suggestive steel traps, the furs that told of Jim's prowess in other days, and above all having the presence of the grizzled trapper himself, a veritable storehouse of wonderful information and thrilling experiences.

And after the meal was finished they made themselves as comfortable as each could arrange it, using all Jim's furs in the bargain.

"Now, let's lay out the programme for to-morrow," suggested Max.

"Me to try for the first deer," spoke up Steve, quickly. "Squirrel stew, like we had for supper to-night, is all very well, but it ain't in the same class with fresh venison. Yum, yum, my mouth fairly waters for it, boys!"

"Some like venison and some say gray nut-fed squirrels," remarked Trapper Jim. "As for me, give me squirrel every time."

"But we ought to try and get one deer anyway, hadn't we?" Steve pleaded.

"Sure we will," replied the owner of the cabin, heartily, "and I hope it falls to your gun, Steve, seeing you dote on venison so. But it might be to-morrow I'd like to set a few of my traps, and reckoned that some of you boys'd want to watch me do the job."

"That's right," cried Owen and Max together, their eyes fairly sparkling with delight at the anticipated treat.

So they talked on, and Trapper Jim told lots of mighty interesting things as he smoked his old black pipe and sent curling wreaths of blue smoke up the broad throat of the chimney.

"Wonder if the moon ain't up long before now?" remarked Steve, finally.

"Go and find out," suggested Bandy-legs.

Whereupon Steve arose, stretched his cramped legs, and, going over to the door, opened it. They saw him pass out, and as the trapper had started to relate another of his deeply interesting experiences the boys devoted their attention to him. But it was not three minutes later when Steve came rushing into the cabin, his eyes filled with excitement, and his voice raised to almost a shout as he cried out:

"Wolves; a whole pack of 'em comin' tearin' mad this way!"



"Wolves! Oh, my gracious! You don't say!" cried Bandy-legs, making a dive for the two sleeping bunks that Steve had built along one side of the inside wall of the cabin.

Of course there was an immediate scurrying around. All the other boys were on their feet instantly, even tired Toby with the rest.

Max instinctively threw a glance toward the corner where his faithful gun stood. He did not jump to secure it, however, because something caused him to first of all steal a quick look at Trapper Jim. When he discovered that worthy with a broad smile upon his face, Max decided that after all the danger could hardly be as severe as indications pointed.

Meanwhile Steve had managed to slam the door shut, and was holding it so with his whole weight while he tried to adjust the bar properly in its twin sockets.

Steve was trembling all over with excitement. A thing like this was apt to stir him up tremendously.

"Why don't some of you lend a hand here?" he kept calling out. "Plague take that clumsy old bar, won't it ever take hold? Get my gun for me, can't you, Bandy-legs? Listen to the varmints a-tryin' to break in, would you. Wow! Ain't they mad I fooled them, though? Say, I wonder now if they'd think to get on the roof and come down the chimbly. Hand me my gun, Bandy-legs! Get a move on you!"

By this time Jim was doubled up with laughter.

"Hold on you cannon-ball express boy," he remarked, as he stepped over and began to take away the bar which Steve had managed to get in place with so much trouble; "I guess we'll have to let these critters come in. They look on Uncle Jim's cabin as their home."

"What, wolves!" gasped Steve.

"Well, hardly, but my two dogs, Ajax and Don," replied the trapper. "You see, I didn't want them along when I borrowed that buckboard and team to fetch you all here. So I left 'em with a neighbor three miles off, and told him to set 'em loose to-night. So you thought they were wolves, did you, Steve? Well, I guess they look somethin' that way, and the moonlight was a little deceivin', too."

With that he threw open the door.

Immediately a couple of shaggy dogs bounded in and began barking furiously as they jumped up at their master, showing all the symptoms of great joy.

"Sho, one'd think they hadn't seen me for a whole month, instead of only a few hours," laughed Trapper Jim, as he fondled the dogs.

Then the five boys in turn were introduced, as gravely as though Ajax and Don might be human beings.

"They're quick to catch on," remarked Trapper Jim. "They know now you're all friends of mine, and you can depend on 'em to stand by you through thick and thin."

"What are they good for?" asked Bandy-legs.

"This smaller one is reckoned the best 'coon dog in the woods," replied the other, patting the head of Don. "If there's a striped-tail in the district and I set him to working, he'll get him up a tree sooner or later. And when the animal is knocked to the ground Don knows just how to get the right grip on his throat."

"But his ears are all slit, and his head looks like it had been scratched and gouged a whole lot," remarked Steve.

"Well, old 'coons, they've got pretty sharp claws sometimes, ain't they, Don?" continued the old trapper. "And in the excitement a dog can't always just defend himself, eh, old fellow! They will get a dig in once in a while, spite of us."

Don barked three times, just as if he understood every single word his master was saying.

"And how about Ajax?" Bandy-legs continued.

"He's a general all-around dog, and ain't afraid of anything that walks. Why, boys, I've known him to tackle and kill the biggest lynx ever seen in these parts, and that's something few dogs could do."

"What's a lynx?" asked Bandy-legs.

"A species of wildcat that sometimes strays down this way across the Canada border," replied the trapper. "Generally speaking, he's bigger'n the other and fierce as all get out. Fact is, I believe I'd sooner have a panther tackle me than a full-grown, ugly tempered lynx. Some people call it the 'woods devil,' and they hit it pretty near right, too."

"Hasn't a lynx got some sort of mark about him that makes him look different from the ordinary bobcat?" asked Owen.

"Why, yes," replied Trapper Jim, "there's some difference in the beasts; but I reckon the little tassels that kinder adorn the ears of the lynx mark him most of all."

"Looks like a full house, now," remarked Max, who had not hesitated to make up with both the dogs, being very fond of their kind.

"Oh, while I have company Ajax and Don'll have to sleep in the shed or lean-to outside," remarked the master of the dogs. "Of course, when I'm here all by myself they stay indoors with me. And I tell you, lads, they make a fellow feel less lonely in the long winter days and nights. Dogs are men's best friends—that is, the right kind of dogs. They become greatly attached to you, too."

Toby just then seemed to become greatly excited. Finding it difficult to express himself as he wanted, he pointed straight at Steve, and was heard to say:

"A-a-attached to you! S-s-sure they do; S-s-steve knows! Saw one attached to h-h-him once. Wouldn't h-h-hardly let go."

At that there were loud shouts, and even Steve himself could hardly keep from grinning at the recollection of the picture Toby's words recalled.

"'Spose you fellers never will get over that affair," he remarked, as he put his hand behind him, just as if after all these months he still felt a pain where the dog had bitten him. "Cost me a good pair of trousers, too, in the bargain. It was a bulldog," he added, turning toward Trapper Jim, "and he was so much attached to me that he followed me halfway 'over a seven-foot fence. Would have gone the whole thing only the cloth gave way and he lost his grip."

"Well, that showed a warm, generous nature," remarked Trapper Jim; "some dogs are marked that way."

"This one was," declared Steve. "But I got even with the critter."

"How was that?" asked the other, looking a little serious; for, himself a lover of dogs, he never liked to hear of one being abused.

"I got me one of those little liquid pistols, you know, and laid for my old enemy," Steve continued; "he saw me passing by and came bouncing out to try my other leg. But he changed his mind in a big hurry. And, say, you just ought to 'a' heard him yelp when he turned around and faced the other way."

"You didn't blind the poor beast, I hope?" remarked Jim.

"Oh, nothin' to speak of," said Steve, gayly. "He was all right the next day. Ammonia smarts like fun for awhile, but it goes off. But, listen, whenever I passed that house, if old Beauty was sitting on the steps like he used to do, as soon as he glimpsed me, would you believe it, he'd turn tail and run quick for the back yard and watch me around the comer of the house."

"You had him tamed, all right," said Max.

"We called it an even break, and let it go at that," said Steve.

When the boys began to yawn, and betrayed unmistakable evidences of being sleepy, their host showed them how he had arranged it so that they could all sleep comfortably.

There were only two wooden bunks, one above the other. Trapper Jim was to occupy the lower one, and turn about, the five boys were to have the other.

This necessitated four of them sleeping on the floor each night. But as there were plenty of soft furs handy, and the boys announced that they always enjoyed being able to stretch out on the ground, Jim knew he would have no trouble on this score.

So the first night passed.

Perhaps none of them slept as well as usual. This nearly always turns out to be the case with those who go into the wilderness for a spell. The change from home comforts and soft beds to the hardships that attend roughing it can be set down as the principal cause.

However, nothing serious occurred during the night calculated to disturb them. It is true Toby did fall out of the upper berth once, landing on a couple of the others with a thump, but then such a little matter was hardly worth mentioning between friends.

And they could understand how Toby must be dreaming of his recent trouble, as he hung over that terrible abyss by his hold on a single root.

Perhaps the root gave way in his dreams, and Toby made a frantic effort to save himself.

Morning came at last.

Breakfast was cooked and eaten with considerable eagerness, for immediately it was over the boys expected to accompany their host while he made his first tour of the season, intending to set a few traps in places that had been marked as favorable to the carrying out of his business.

They could hardly wait for Trapper Jim to get through his chores.

Presently Jim went over several lots of hanging traps and selected those he wished to use on the first day.

How he seemed to handle certain ones fondly, as though they carried with them memories of stirring events in the dim past.

They all looked pretty much alike to the boys, but Jim undoubtedly had certain little familiar marks by means of which he recognized each individual trap. He mentioned some of their peculiar histories as he picked out his "lucky" traps.

"This one held two mink at a pop twice now, something I never knew to happen before," he remarked.

"And this old rusty one was lost a whole season. When I happened to find it, there was a piece of bone and some fur between the jaws, showing that the poor little critter had gnawed off its own foot rather than die of starvation. Made me fell bad, that did. A good trapper seldom allows such a thing to happen."

"Do mink really set themselves free that way?" asked Owen.

"They will, if given half a chance," was Jim's reply. "That's one reason we always try to fix it so that mink, otter, muskrats, fisher, and all animals that are trapped along the edge of streams manage to drown themselves soon after they are caught. It saves the pelt from being injured, too, by their crazy efforts to break away."

"And what of that trap over there? You seem to be taking mighty good care of it," said Max, who was deeply interested in everything the trapper was doing.

"Well, I hadn't ought to complain about that trap," came the answer. "Year before last it caught me a silver fox, as the black fox is called. And perhaps you know that a prime black fox pelt is worth as high as several thousand dollars."

"Hear that, will you!" exclaimed Steve.

"H-h-how much d-d-did you g-g-get for it?" asked Toby.

"Well," Jim went on to say, "it wasn't a Number One, but they allowed I ought to get eight-fifty for it; which check was enclosed in the letter I'll show you some day. I keep it to prove the truth of my story."

"A bully good day's work, eh?" remarked Steve.

"Best that ever came my way," admitted the other.

"Gee, wonder now if we'd be lucky enough to set eyes on a silver fox worth a cool thousand or more?" ventured Bandy-legs.

"It is barely possible you may, boys," remarked the trapper; "because I saw a beauty two or three times during the summer. And I'm kind of hoping there may be some sort of magic about this same trap to coax him to put his foot in it."

"A single fox skin fetching thousands of dollars!" remarked Steve, as if hardly able to grasp it as the truth. "Whew, that beats finding pearls in the shells of mussels all hollow!"

"Yes," Owen broke in, "and even Ted Shafter and his crowd hunting wild ginseng roots and selling it to the wholesale drug house at big money doesn't cut so much of a figure after all, does it?"

"One thing I want to ask you, boys, right in the start," the trapper took occasion to say; "while you're up with me you must promise never to shoot at a fox, a mink, a marten, an otter, or in fact any small fur-bearing animal."

"We give you our word, all right, Uncle Jim," said Steve, readily.

"Of course," continued the old trapper, "my one reason for asking this is to keep you from ruining good pelts. It would be pretty tough now if after I caught that black fox I found that his skin had been so badly torn by birdshot that it wasn't worth handling."

"That's right, it would," admitted Owen.

"You can depend on us to hold back," Max added, sincerely.

"Well, this is about all the traps I care to put out to-day," and as he spoke Jim made them up in two bundles, one of which he gave to Toby and the other to Bandy-legs.

He saw that, ordinarily, these two were the least important members of the club. And in the kindness of his heart he wished to make them feel that he needed their especial help.

So Toby and the other chum slung the traps over their shoulders with ill-concealed pleasure in that they had been singled out for such attention by the old trapper.

"Then you don't mean to set Old Tom to-day," asked Owen, pointing to a big trap, whose weight and grim-looking jaws announced that it was intended for large game.

Old Jim smiled and shook his head, as he replied:

"Hardly any use, unless we run across bear tracks. Such a thing might happen, you know; because it did snow last night, and there's a good inch on the ground right now."

"But, hold on," said Owen, "I understood that bears always went to sleep in the fall and stayed in some cave or a hollow tree till spring came."

"They do," answered the trapper, "but generally hang around till the first real hard blizzard comes along. This little snow don't count, and every day a bear is able to be around hunting roots and such things, why, the less he has to live on his own fat, you know, But we're all ready now, so come along, boys."

The dogs were left at the cabin, which Jim did not even shut up. He knew Ajax and Don would stay close at home; for the sight of the strings of traps told the intelligent dogs they could not be allowed to accompany their master on this expedition.

An hour later, and Jim was showing the eager and curious boys who remained at a little distance, so that their scent might not cause the cautious mink to abandon his usual trail, just how he set a trap in order to catch the cunning little animal, and make him drown himself with the weight of the trap.

The snare was set at the mouth of a hole in the bank of a creek, and which, Jim informed them, was one of many visited by the male mink each night as they wandered up and down the stream.

He used some animal "scent" contained in a small bottle to help attract his prey. Then, after destroying all evidences of his having been there as much as he possibly could, Trapper Jim rejoined the boys.

"Now we'll head for the marsh where I put several traps day before yesterday and mean to add a few more to-day," he remarked. "As we go, I'll try to explain just why a man has to be so very careful whenever he matches his wits against those of a wily and timid little beast."

They hung upon every word Jim uttered, for these secrets of the woods were things all of them had long wanted to know. What could musty old school books teach them that could equal the knowledge they imbibed straight out of the fountain of experience.

It was while Jim was holding forth in his most effective manner, so as to thrill every one of his boy friends, that they saw him come to a sudden stop.

His eyes were fastened upon the white ground just in front of them, and as he pointed with his gun he electrified the boys by saying:

"Mebbe after all we might have use of Old Tom to-morrow, for there's the tracks of a big bear."



"Bully!" cried Steve, looking almost as happy as he did on that never-to-be-forgotten day when they found their first lovely pearl in a mussel taken from the Big Sunflower River.

"A b-b-bear!" exclaimed Toby. "L-l-let me s-s-see."

All of them were soon eagerly examining the marks so plainly described in the light snow. Bruin had evidently shuffled along here, heading for some favorite place in the neighboring marsh, where he knew food was still to be found.

"We'd better leave the old chap alone for a bit," announced Jim. "When I can make sure by his coming back to his den the same way that he's got a regular trail, we'll lay for him."

"I'd like to get in a shot with my gun," declared Steve.

"H-h-ho! Much g-g-good your N-n-number Seven shot'd d-d-do against his t-t-tough old hide!" jeered Toby.

"Get out! You don't think I'm such a ninny as that, I hope," answered Steve, indignantly. "Hey, take a look at that shell, and this one, too, will you? Know why that black cross is on them? Course you don't. Well, I'll tell you."

"H-h-hurry up then and t-t-tell me."

"They're buckshot shells," declared Steve. "Each one's got just twelve buckshot inside, all as big as pistol bullets. And at short range they're calculated to bring down a deer like fun. I'd be willing to take my chances against a black bear, given a good opening to hit him back of his foreleg. Now you know a heap more'n you did before, Toby Jucklin."

"S-s-sure," answered the other, nodding his head good-naturedly.

"But remember," said Jim at this juncture, "a good bearskin is worth all the way from five to twenty dollars to me. But after you've made a sieve out of it with twelve or twenty-four buckshot from that scatter gun, why, I hardly think I could give it away."

"So Steve, please restrain your bear-killing feeling just now," said Max. "Whether we get him in a trap or shoot him on the run the bear steaks will taste just as good; won't they, Uncle Jim?"

"I reckon you're right," replied the trapper, without any great animation; for doubtless he had found bear meat pretty tough eating, and given his choice would any day have much preferred the porterhouse steak which Steve had so often at home that he turned up his nose at it.

When they arrived at the marsh where the countless muskrats had their homes, a new species of interest was aroused.

Jim showed them how he had to employ entirely new tactics when dealing with the muskrats than in connection with the mink. The former were banded together in colonies, and the trapper had to be constantly on the alert lest in capturing one prize he frighten the whole family away.

"But I learned my business many years ago," the old trapper declared, with considerable pride, "when beaver lived in the North Woods. There never were more wary little animals than those same beaver, and the man who could circumvent 'em had a right to call himself smart."

After setting three traps he led the way to a place where he had left one baited on the occasion of his previous visit to the marsh.

"You see, here's where I set it on the bank," he remarked, "and the chain ran down there to a stake in deep water."

"But it ain't here now, Uncle Jim," said Steve.

"Because a curious and hungry musquash, anxious to reach the bait I stuck on a splinter of wood just above the trap, set it off."

"And then sprang back into the water, because that was his natural way of doing when alarmed, and soon drowned there. Was that the way it worked, Uncle Jim?" asked Max.

The old trapper looked fondly at him and answered:

"Exactly as you say, son. Men who trap these cunning small fur-bearing animals never get tired of studying their habits; and the one who enters most fully into the life and instincts of mink, 'coon, marten, otter, fisher, or even the humble muskrat, is the fellow who succeeds best in his business."

"B-b-but all the m-m-muskrats I ever saw could swim and s-s-stay under w-w-water's long as they p-p-pleased," Toby broke out with.

"That's a mistake," said Trapper Jim. "None of these animals can live under water all the time like a fish. They have to come up to breathe just so often. Beaver have houses made of mud and sticks. The entrances to these are always down below: but you find the tops of all beaver houses above the surface."

"But," said Steve, "I've seen muskrats dive just as Toby says, and waited with a club to have 'em come to the top of the water again; but lots of times I'd have to chuck it up as no good. How did that happen, Uncle Jim?"

"That is easily explained," answered the trapper. "Just as alligators do, so mink, otter, and muskrats have holes that run up into the bank of a stream, their nest being always above ordinary high water. When you missed seeing your rat it was because he happened to be near enough to dive down, enter his tunnel, and make his way up to his nest. You see, there are lots of queer things to be learned, if you only keep your eyes and ears open when in these woods."

"But show us if you really did get one in your trap," urged Bandy-legs, who knew much less about all these things than any one of the chums, yet felt considerable eagerness to learn.

So with a stick that had a fork at the end Jim felt around in the water at a point he supposed he would find something.

And, sure enough, he presently caught the chain and speedily pulled out the trap. It was not empty. A plump-looking muskrat was caught by both forelegs.

"You got him, all right, sure," commented Steve.

Trapper Jim was taking the victim out, and carefully resetting the trap in the same place it had been before; after which he renewed the bait.

"Like as not I'll have another to-morrow, and for days to come," he remarked; "unless they get suspicious on account of the scent we leave by touching things. I try to kill that all I can. But when animals are unusually timid, it's often necessary to come in a boat, and do it all without setting a foot on shore, because, you know, water leaves neither trail nor scent."

"Yes, the sharpest-nosed hound in the world is knocked out, I've read, when the game takes to the water."

It was Owen who made this remark, and the trapper nodded his head in approval as he added:

"I see you are a great reader, my boy. That's a mighty fine thing. There's only one that's better—proving the truth of things by actual experience. And while you're up here in the grand old North Woods with me I hope you'll pick up a lot of useful information that you never would find in any school books. Now we're ready to visit the second trap that was set a little farther along."

To the satisfaction of the trapper this furnished a victim equal in size to the first one.

"I didn't know muskrats counted for much, Uncle Jim," remarked Steve, who saw the sparkle in the old man's eyes as he handled the second prize.

"Oh well, the skins didn't pay for the trouble years ago," he said in reply, "but of late years good furs are getting so scarce that they are using heaps of muskrat pelts, generally dyed and sold under another name. It is a good serviceable fur, and if taken up North answers the purpose very well."

"Why do you say 'up North'?" asked Owen.

"Max there can tell you, I'm sure," laughed the trapper.

"Oh, well," remarked the one mentioned, "I do happen to know that the farther north you go the better the fur. And, of course, that means a higher price in the market, since all pelts are graded according to size and quality."

"That means, I suppose," said Owen, "that a muskrat skin taken away up in Northern Michigan or Canada is more valuable than the same sized pelt that was captured down, say, in Florida."

"Often worth twice or three times as much," remarked the trapper. "Stands to reason, too, since the little critters don't have much need of thick hides where the weather is generally warm."

"I can see through that all right," Steve admitted, "but ain't they queer lookin' little rascals, though! Some plump, too!"

"Fat as butter this season," observed Jim. "And I'm just longing to see how they taste. Last year they didn't just seem to suit my particular brand of appetite."

"What's that?" almost shouted Steve, "say, Uncle Jim, you're just trying to give me taffy now, sure you are."

"That's where you're mistaken Steve," said the trapper, smiling at the horrified expression on the boy's face.

"But—you don't mean to say you eat muskrats?" demanded Steve.

"Do I? Well, you wait and see how I'll tackle these this very evening. And if we're lucky enough to find a third one in my other set trap, why, you boys can have a look in, too."

"Me eat rats?" cried Steve, scornfully. "Mebbe I might if I had to do it or starve to death; but not when I've got other stuff to line my stomach with, I'm no Chinaman, Uncle Jim."

"Well, you'll change your tune before long," remarked the other, "and it's a mistake to class these clean little animals with common rats. The Indian name for him is musquash, and thousands of people appreciate the fact that his meat is as sweet as that of a squirrel."

"And I've been told," said Max, "much more tender."

"That's a fact," declared Jim, "I've got so I never try to fry a squirrel nowadays unless he's been parboiled first. They're the toughest little critters that run around on four legs."

When they arrived at the third trap it was found to contain another "victim of misplaced confidence," as Old Jim called it.

"Plenty to go around now, boys," remarked the trapper.

"You'll have to excuse me," said Steve, shuddering.

And yet before three days went by Steve had been induced to taste the musquash, as Trapper Jim prepared them, and found the dish so good that afterwards his tin pannikin was shoved forward for a second helping as often as any of the others.

On the way home, after all the traps they had brought had been set, Bandy-legs noticed a tree that stood up black and grim, as though a fire had destroyed it at some time.

"Yes," said Jim, when his attention was directed that way, "quite a few years ago we had a big fire up this way that did heaps of damage. And I've noticed that the conditions this fall are just about the same as that year. Why, we've hardly had any rain at all in the last two months."

"The woods must be pretty dry then, I should think," Max remarked.

"Dry as tinder," replied the other. "This little snow will all disappear, and unless we get a heavy fall soon, it wouldn't surprise me if some careless campers or deer hunters let their camp fire get into the brush when the wind is blowing great guns. Then there'll be the mischief to pay. But I hope it won't be any one of you boys."

Each and every one of them solemnly declared that he was firmly resolved to be unusually careful.

Finally they reached the cabin.

In the afternoon Old Jim skinned the three musquash, and showed the boys how he fastened the hides on stretching boards, which would cause them to retain their shape while they dried.

"We never put skins in the sun or near a fire to dry," he observed, seeing that most of the boys were anxious to learn all they could. "The best way is to stand 'em in the shade where the breeze can play on 'em. But, of course, you mustn't let the pelts get wet while they're drying."

Sure enough, Jim cut up the musquash, and gave evidences of satisfaction at finding them so plump.

As the afternoon began to wane Bandy-legs surprised his chums by actually volunteering to go out and gather wood for the fire.

This was really such an unusual occurrence that Max surveyed the other curiously as he passed out.

He wondered if Bandy-legs, generally quite lazy, had seen the error of his ways and meant to reform.

It appeared that Max was not the only one who thought this action odd, for Owen spoke of it.

"What d'ye suppose struck that boy?" he remarked.

"Never knew him to volunteer to do a thing before," declared Max.

"I should say not," Steve broke in. "Generally speaking, we have to use a stuffed club on Bandy-legs to get him to do anything but eat."

Toby chuckled.

"Gr-g-great s-s-stunt," he ejaculated, "g-g-got him anxious to t-t-try stewed m-m-m-m—" But that name was really too much for Toby, who had to be satisfied by pointing at the kettle in which Trapper Jim had placed the dismembered musquash.

At this the others laughed.

They were lounging around in the cabin at the time. A small blaze burned in the big fireplace at the bottom of the wide-throated chimney.

"What I want to know," remarked Owen, who had been examining one of the skins stretched on the thin board, "is why they fix these different ways. I've read that some skins are cured with the fur out and others with it in; some split and others dried whole."

"Glad you mentioned that," said Jim, looking pleased. "Skins are of all kinds. Some we dry cased, without cutting. I'm going to show you the whole business by degrees, if we're lucky enough—"

He stopped short in what he was saying, and seemed to cock his head on one side, as though listening.

"Say, I guess there must be some kind of bird or animal in your old chimney, Uncle Jim," remarked Steve.

"I thought I heard it, too," Owen declared.

All listened.

"There it goes again," said Steve; "and something dropped down right then. I was thinking of that story you told us where a bear came down through the big chimney of a cabin. Wow! Listen to that, would you?"

As Steve cried out in this way, the rattling in the chimney suddenly grew into an alarming noise. Then a large object fell with a crash into the fire.



"It's a bear!" whooped Steve, as he made a headlong dash for the corner where his double barrel stood.

Forgotten just then was the injunction of the old trapper that they should not shoot any thing that wore fur, as it would cheat him out of all his expected profits.

If a bear became so bold as to enter the cabin by way of the chimney he must surely be treated, with scant ceremony. Buckshot or birdshot, it mattered little which the gun contained, since at close quarters the load would carry like a large bullet.

But Steve had not even managed to lay a hand on his gun, when he was amazed to hear above the barking of the two dogs, loud shrieks of laughter from Max, Owen, and Toby.

Even the hoarser notes of the trapper seemed to join in. And when there chanced to be a little break in all this racket, Steve caught a wailing voice crying aloud:

"Put me out! Somebody throw a bucket of water over me, and put me out! I'm all a-fire! Why can't you help a feller?"

A figure was dancing around like mad, now slapping at his trousers leg, and then trying to reach the middle of his back, where his coat seemed to be smoldering.

It was Bandy-legs.

Steve instantly recognized his chum, and this fact, taken with the noise in the chimney, gave the thing away.

Bandy-legs had tried to play a prank on them, and, as usual, made a sorry mess of it.

While sitting there and looking at the wide-throated chimney, perhaps his mind went out to what Jim had told about the curious bear which, hunting around on the roof of a cabin to ascertain where that fine odor of hams came from, fell down the chimney.

He would climb upon the roof and lower a make-believe wildcat, fashioned out of an old moth-eaten skin Jim had thrown away.

That accounted for Bandy-legs' astonishing announcement that he would go out and gather some of the wood for the night.

It also explained to Max just why he had been stout string that lay upon the trapper's table. This would be needed in the carrying out of his trick.

But, like the incautious bear, Bandy-legs had also leaned too far over the top of the chimney. Perhaps he wanted, not to sniff the smoked hams below, as in the case of Bruin, but to hear the shouts of consternation when his make-believe bobcat landed in the fireplace, apparently jumping up and down as Bandy-legs jerked the string.

The consequence had been that he fell into the opening, and, landing on all fours, scattered the little fire in every direction.

But seeing that the boy's clothes were really on fire in several places, Max grabbed up the first thing he could think of that might be depended on to extinguish the smoldering cloth.

"Hold on, that's my supper!" shouted Trapper Jim, clutching the hand of Max before he could empty the kettle. "Here's the water-bucket; use that."

And Max did so, drenching poor dancing Bandy-legs from head to foot with the contents of the pail.

"That's the time Bandy-legs came near getting more than his share of the grub," declared Owen, who was busily engaged stamping out some of the smoldering brands that had been scattered around so promiscuously when the sprawling figure of the boy landed in their midst.

"Somebody carry that old skin outside," said Trapper Jim. "It's burning more or less, and we'll have the cabin so full of smell we won't be able to stay in it much longer."

Toby volunteered to do this, although he had to handle the thing carefully so as not to get burned.

"I'll go after another bucket of water," remarked Max; "and I'd advise our practical joker here to jump out of those wet duds and get into some dry ones in a hurry."

Bandy-legs, looking disgusted and rather silly, was beginning to shiver, as the door, which now stood open to ventilate the cabin, allowed the chilly air of approaching evening to enter.

"Guess I will," he remarked; "'cause I've got that wood to gather."

"You bet you have," declared Steve; "we don't let you off from that job. And when you've got your hand in, we'll expect you to take care of the fuel business right along, see?"

"See you in Guinea first," muttered Bandy-legs, bristling up.

They could never coax him to tell what he had really intended doing at the time his treacherous heels slipped on the roof, and he fell down the big opening through which the smoke escaped.

Still, no one needed explanations. The fact of his lowering the old abandoned pelt, bundled up so as to look as much like a live bobcat as possible, spoke for itself.

Somehow or other this trip seemed to be particularly hard on practical jokers. Owen gravely remarked that all who were ordinarily given to playing pranks would take notice.

"Needn't look at me that way when you say that," remarked Steve. "I used to be a great hand for jokes, but never again. I've reformed, I have."

"Y-y-yes, like f-f-fun you have," scoffed Toby, who knew Steve "like a book," and had no faith in his professed change of heart.

After a while things looked comfortable again.

The fire burned cheerily on the hearth and Jim's kettle, hanging from an iron bar that could be let down, steamed and bubbled, and began sending out appetizing odors that even Steve sniffed with less resentment than he had anticipated.

"What d'ye think of it now, Steve?" asked Uncle Jim.

"Huh, if you mean the smell, why, it ain't so very bad," replied the boy. "Fact is, makes me think of rabbit stew, some."

"Beats any rabbit you ever ate; just wait," prophesied the trapper, who knew that once Steve overcame his prejudice he would admit as much himself.

Bandy-legs had finished dressing, and as he lacked certain garments to complete his attire, the other boys temporarily helped him out. When his own were dry he would return the borrowed articles.

As though desirous of doing penance because of his wretched failure as a prank player, Bandy-legs did work, bringing wood to the outside of the cabin with unwonted zeal.

Indeed, the trapper finally had to stop him.

"Looks like you meant to swamp us with firewood, son," he remarked, surveying the pile that was heaped up against the side of the cabin.

"Huh, thought I'd get enough while I was about it," Bandy-legs replied.

"Well, you've done yourself proud, my boy, and I reckon I'd stop now. We've got all we can use till to-morrow night. And I don't like too big a stack against the cabin wall. A spark from the chimney might set her going, and I'd hate to be burned out."

The supper was a success.

Of course they had plenty of other things to eat besides Steve's pet dish. The boys made sure of this, not fancying the idea of having to depend upon the musquash alone.

All of them but Steve tasted it and declared it fine. He could not be coaxed to even sample it at the time; but Old Jim believed Steve would come around in time.

"It's just because these plump little critters are so common," he remarked, with a smile of satisfaction, as he emptied the balance of the stew into his own pannikin. "If they cost four dollars each, now, and only the millionaires could buy 'em, you'd think they beat anything going."

"Yes," said bookworm Owen, "that's the way it was with diamond-back terrapin. Time was in Virginia and North Carolina, yes, in Maryland, too, when a man hired out to a planter along the coast, he had it entered in the contract that he was not to be fed on terrapin. They were looked on at that time as common stuff. To-day the rich pay five dollars apiece for decent-sized little fellows. You're right, Uncle Jim, it makes a lot of difference."

Talking in this strain, and picking up useful as well as interesting information from time to time, as Trapper Jim explained things to the boys who were his guests, the evening passed pleasantly away.

Even Bandy-legs seemed to forget his recent troubles part of the time.

Max, seeing him rub various portions of his body tenderly, asked whether he had really been burned. And when the baffled joker was induced to show several red marks, Max insisted on applying a soothing lotion, which took out much of the pain.

It was an evening long to be remembered by the boys. Steve's turn to occupy the extra bunk had come around, and he felt in high feather in consequence, while the other boys had to select their places on the floor.

But everyone seemed in the best of humor, and the soft furs promised to make just as good beds as they could wish.

When Max stepped out just before retiring to see how the weather promised for the morrow, he found a clear sky, the moon just peeping into view, and a wholesome tang in the air.

And as Max stood listening to the far-away mournful call of an owl to its mate, and noted the flood of soft moonlight, it was no wonder he said to himself:

"I tell you it's good to be here!"



"Wish you fellows luck!" said Owen.

It was the next morning. Breakfast had been dispatched, and there was still a distinct odor of bacon and coffee in the air.

All of them were getting ready for the duties laid out for the day; and this remark of Owen's had been intended for Max and Steve.

Eager to indulge in a hunt, with the dim prospect of bringing home a fine deer, Steve had begged Trapper Jim to let him go. This was on the evening before, while they sat by the blazing fire in the cabin.

Now Old Jim had, of course, sized up impulsive Steve pretty well before now. He liked the boy very much, for he knew Steve was warm-hearted and a true comrade. But he hardly fancied having so impatient a lad go off by himself.

Accordingly, he had told Steve that if he could get Max to keep him company on a little hunt, he would post them with regard to where they were most likely to run across game.

And Max had only too gladly agreed.

He had a new magazine 30-30 repeating rifle. It was a small bore, but by using the soft-nosed bullets that mushroom out upon striking even the flesh of an animal, it would prove just as powerful as a heavier gun.

And Max was secretly just wild to try it on a deer, though he did not show his feelings the same way Steve would have done.

Both boys were ready to start out when the others left to make a round of the traps. They had received final instructions from Trapper Jim.

"Got your compass, Max?" asked his cousin.

"It's O.K.," replied the other, touching his pocket, suggestively.

"D-d-don't forget your g-g-grub," said Toby.

"Both of us got the snack of lunch stowed away," Steve made answer, as he pointed to the bulging side of his khaki hunting coat that had a game pocket running all the way around inside, "big enough almost to stow a deer in," Steve had laughingly declared.

"But I hardly think Max would ever need a compass," Bandy-legs observed. "You know he never yet was lost in the woods."

"Glad to hear that, son," remarked Trapper Jim.

"Sure thing," Bandy-legs went on to say, "Max, he can tell the points of the compass by the bark or the green moss on the trees, by the way the trees lean, and lots of other ways; can't you, Max!"

But the other only smiled, as though he thought there was no need of his wasting breath when, as Steve declared, he could have a loyal chum "blow his horn" for him.

"All ready here, Max," announced Steve, anxious to start.

So, with a few parting words the two hunters left the vicinity of the cabin in the forest. The others were just about ready to start out to learn what the various traps contained.

"Don't forget about that bear, Uncle Jim!" shouted Steve.

"I sure won't," answered the old man, waving his hand.

"If he's been back over that trail you'll lug out Old Tom and give him a chance to earn his keep, won't you!" pursued Steve.

"That's right, I will."

Satisfied with the answer, Steve followed after Max.

Now, although Steve had shot quail and ducks, rabbits and squirrels, he was not a big-game hunter. As yet he had to secure his first deer. And as the sporting instinct was coming on very markedly in the boy, he was anxious to be able to say he had shot a "lordly" buck.

It was always that, with Steve, whenever he boasted of the great things he intended doing on a projected hunt. No ordinary doe seemed ever to enter into his calculations at all.

"And a five-pronged buck, too," he declared. "I wouldn't waste my precious time with anything less."

Knowing that Max had had more or less experience in the line of hunting, Steve was secretly pleased to take lessons. There might be times when Steve was inclined to boast that he knew it all; but when out with Max he felt that this style of bluff would not go.

They headed in the direction the trapper had laid out for them. Since the old man had spent many years around this region it stood to reason that he ought to know a good deal concerning the places where game was most likely to be found.

"Think we'll get one, Max?" asked Steve, after they had been walking for nearly a full hour through the forest.

"It's a toss-up," replied the other; "hunting always is, because you never know whether the game is there or not. And even if you are lucky enough to start something, perhaps you'll fail to bring it down."

Steve laughed incredulously.

"Trust me to do that same," he avowed, "if only I can get my peepers on a five-pronged buck. Think of what I've got in the barrels of my gun, Max, twelve separate bullets in each shell, and propelled by nearly four drams of powder. Wow! I'd sure hate to be the luckless deer that stood up before all that ammunition."

"Especially when the keen eye and sure hand of Steve Dowdy is back of it all," chuckled Max.

"Oh, well, I don't want to boast, you know, Max, 'cause I might happen to make a foozle out of it. I was only speaking of the hard-hitting qualities of this little double-barreled Marlin of mine, that's all."

"Well, we must wait and see," said Max. "Perhaps you'll make good right in the start; and then, again, something might throw you down. The proof of the pudding's in the eating of it, they say."

"Oh, I do hope we get a deer, even if it doesn't fall to my gun," Steve continued to say. "It'd be too bad now if we spent a whole two weeks up here with Trapper Jim and never tasted any game besides measly squirrel, rabbit, or maybe partridge, if they're still to be had."

"You forget musquash," added Max.

"Bah! I wanted to forget it," declared the other.

"Suppose we knock off talking for a while, Steve," suggested Max. "We're coming to one of the places he said we might find deer. And they've got pretty sharp ears, let me tell you right now."

"But you said we were always hunting up against the wind, so our scent wouldn't be carried to the game," Steve observed.

"That's true enough, Steve, but even then good deer hunters seldom talk above whispers when they expect to run across game. This is one of the times when we can apply that old maxim we used to write in our copy books at school."

"Sure, I remember it well," chuckled Steve, "'speech may be silver, but silence is gold.' I'm dumb, Max."

And for a wonder, not another word did Steve utter for over half an hour. As he was usually such a talkative fellow, this keeping still must have been in the line of great punishment to Steve.

But, then, there are times when the sporting instinct sways all else. And Steve understood that still hunting deer meant a padlock on the lips.

After all, disappointment awaited them.

They put in a solid hour looking over all the territory first mentioned by Trapper Jim, but without starting a single deer.

"They've been around," Max finally observed, "and not long ago either, because you can see the tracks as fresh as anything; but it must have been yesterday, because they're not here now."

"Looky!" exclaimed Steve, "here's where a five-pronged buck must 'a' rubbed himself against this tree, because there's a big bunch of red hair sticking to the rough bark. Glory! Wouldn't I like to have been about over there by the log when he was doing it. Oh, such a shot!"

"You could hardly have missed him from there," laughed Max.

"What next?" asked the disappointed one.

"The sun's getting up pretty near the top of its range. That means it's near noon time," remarked Max.

"And time for grub, eh?" cried Steve. "Well, I won't be sorry, believe me, for several reasons. First place, I'm hungry as all get-out. Then, again, I'm tired of toting all this stuff around. Say when, Max."

"Oh, we'll keep on for half an hour more till we come to a stream where we can get a drink. Then in the afternoon we'll circle around some, so as to reach the other promising section Jim told us about. Come on, Steve."

Nothing rewarded their search; and chancing upon a gurgling creek about the end of the half hour, the two boys found a log to sit down upon.

After eating they rested for quite a spell.

Finally Steve could stand it no longer, but urged his companion to "get a move on him." So once again the two hunters walked on.

Steve was beginning to complain of being nearly done up, when Max asked him not to talk again only in a whisper, as they were now close upon the other feeding ground of the coveted deer.

And this caused Steve to brighten up immediately. In his eagerness to find game his pains were forgotten.

Max arranged that they separate and advance along parallel lines, so as to cover more territory.

He had been going on himself some little time when suddenly he heard Steve's gun roar. A second shot followed fast on the heels of the first, and Max, excited, ran in the direction of the sounds. A few minutes later he heard the lusty voice of Steve calling out:

"Take care, Max, he knows you're coming! Run for it! He's starting for you! Get a tree, Max, get a tree! He's a holy terror!"



Max saw what had happened in that one glance he took.

Steve had met his deer at last; and sure enough it was a sturdy buck that had five prongs to his antlers, showing his years.

Whatever upset Steve could only be guessed; but although he had certainly sent in two shots he had failed to bag the game.

Perhaps he wounded the deer with the first shot and the animal had fallen. Flushed with triumph, Steve had given a yell and started to hasten toward his quarry with the intention of bleeding it, as he understood should be done.

Then, when the buck scrambled to his feet, and charged straight at the young hunter, Steve had been so rattled that he missed entirely with his second shot.

After that it was run or take to a tree for Steve.

And sheltered behind an oak, around which he had been chased again and again by the angry buck, Steve had seen his chum appear in sight.

It was then he shouted his warning.

Max had no intention of picking out a tree for himself, as Steve suggested; at least not so early in the game. Time enough for that when he found he had made as bad a bungle of the affair as his chum seemed to have done.

Here was the fine chance to try his new rifle that he had been hoping would come along.

"Look out!"

Max hardly heard this last warning, cry from the boy who looked out behind the friendly oak. He had dropped on his right knee and raised his gun.

The buck was coming on pretty fast, considering the fact that he seemed to limp and be losing blood from the wound Steve had given him.

Max knew he had a difficult task to place his bullet where it was calculated to do the most good. There was little of the deer's breast exposed as with lowered head he charged toward this new enemy. But Max had all the necessary requisites that go to make up the good hunter—a quick eye, a sure hand, and excellent judgment in a pinch.

He took a quick aim, and meant to fire while the buck was still a little way off. This was to give him a chance to pump a new cartridge into the firing chamber of his gun in case the first shot failed to do the work.

After that—well, of course, there still remained the tree Steve recommended, and Steve ought to know a good thing when he saw it, since he had been saved from those really dangerous-looking antlers by a sheltering tree.

But, then, Max did not mean to register a miss.

He pressed the trigger at just the right time as the buck was rising in the air. And when he saw the deer crash to the ground, although he felt a thrill of satisfaction, cautious Max was not like Steve, rushing headlong forward to bleed his game.

On the contrary, his first act was to go through the rapid action that placed his rifle in serviceable condition again.

"Take care, Max," yelled Steve, seeing the buck struggling, "that's how he fooled me, the sharp dodger! He's the tricky one, all right, you bet! Watch him climb up again, now! Take that big tree right alongside you, Max!"

But instead of doing this Max advanced toward the spot where the buck had fallen. He was ready to send in another shot should it be needed. But there was no necessity.

The buck gave one last violent kick and then lay still.

"All over, Steve; you can come along," said Max, beckoning toward the other.

Steve stopped to pick up his gun, examined it with apparent solicitude, as if to make sure it had not been injured, and then carefully replaced the discharged shells with fresh ones.

"You never can tell what them there old five-pronged bucks will do," he said, as he came up to where Max stood, surveying their prize; "and it's best to be on the safe side; so that's why I waited to load my gun."

"And I reckon, Steve," said Max, with a smile, "that if you'd waited before to see if your buck got up again, you'd have downed him for keeps with that second barrel, and then you wouldn't have had to hunt up the safe side of a tree."

"Guess that's all to the good, Max," replied the other, humbly.

"Pretty fine-looking buck, ain't he, Steve?"

"Well, I should say yes," was the answer. "And just to think he's the very five-pronged old boy I've been talking about this long while."

"My, but he acted as though he was mad at you!" Max went on, anxious to hear some of the particulars of what had happened.

"That's straight goods, Max, and he had reason to be mad at me. I plunked him with that first shot and he went down. I thought I had him and started to run in, when, shucks, he got up again!"

"Then you fired again, but so rapidly that you missed; was that it, Steve?"

"Oh, I admit I was some rattled," replied the other.

"And then after you missed him, Steve?"

"Huh, after that things commenced to happen. They came so fast they kind of got me twisted," and Steve made a comical face with this statement that almost set the other off into a roar of laughter.

But he knew that if he gave way it might offend Steve and cause him to bottle up his explanation; so Max held in.

"And then?" he went on.

"Oh," said Steve, "I saw a tree and headed for it kerslam. But the old buck he seemed to be on the high-speed gear himself. First thing I knew he bumped me for fair, and then came back to stick me with his horns. But I didn't just care for knowing him any closer, and I rolled out of the way."

"You managed to get your tree after that, didn't you, Steve?"

"Seems like I did, Max, though honest to goodness, now, if you asked me how I did it I couldn't tell you. Reckon I must have just flown."

"Yes," laughed Max, "they always say fear has wings."

"Oh, now, looky here, you're mistaken, Max, sure you are. I wasn't afraid right then, only somewhat rattled."

"From the excitement of the thing," remarked Max. "Of course, and anybody would have been about the same. But lend a hand here and let's turn our deer over, Steve. I want to see where you hit him."

This they speedily accomplished; and then Steve, who had been pondering over something, broke loose again.

"Max," he said, with a little quiver to his voice, "I noticed just now that you said our deer. Do you mean to let me claim a share in this thing, then?"

"Why, of course," replied the other, as if in surprise; "we both shot him. See, here's where a buckshot from your gun struck him in the side. They must have scattered more than you thought they'd do at such a short distance."

"Yes," said Steve; "looks like it. But, Max, it was you who killed him."

"Oh, I ended him, that's right," said Max, who was nothing if not generous, "but only for you holding him here after wounding him, where would I have come in? Why, I'd never have had the first sight of the buck."

"Yes, that's so," said Steve, smiling grimly, "I held him all right, didn't I? But when he was chasing me around that old tree so lively, Max, somehow I didn't happen to look at it that way. Fact is, I thought the plagued buck was holding me."

"All the same," declared Max in a tone that settled it, "we got him, and both of us gave him a chance to bleed. You weakened him at first, you know."

"Oh, did I?" remarked Steve, feeling of his ribs, as if to make sure none of them were broken. "Well, you see, I can't help but wonder what would have happened to me if the old beast hadn't been weakened, just like you say."

That was too much for Max. And, besides, having coaxed the whole story from his chum now, he thought it would not matter very much if he did indulge in a good laugh.

To his surprise Steve joined in. Evidently the realization that he had actually helped kill a genuine five-pronged buck, fulfilling his wildest dream, caused Steve to be less "touchy" than usual.

"But we must manage to get him home some way, Max," he remarked after a while, when they had grown weary of admiring their prize.

"Think we could tote several hundred pounds four miles?" demanded Max. "If it was a little doe, now, I might be willing to tie the legs along a pole and try it; but I balk at this big chap."

"Then what shall we do?" asked Steve.

"I'm going to cut it up the best way I know how," his chum replied. "All we want to take along is one hind quarter. Plenty on that for two meals. And like as not we'll find the old chap pretty tough."

Accordingly the boys set to work. Steve knew next to nothing about such things, but was willing to do whatever his comrade asked of him. And while Max professed to be a clumsy butcher, he certainly did his work in a way to draw out words of praise from the delighted chum.

"There, that job is done," said Max, when the sun was nearly halfway down the western sky, "and I'm glad of it, too."

"We can take turns carrying the hind quarter," remarked Steve, hefting it; "after all, it doesn't seem so very heavy."

"I'm going to wrap it in the skin, which I removed the first thing," Max continued.

"But it's too bad to leave all the rest of our fine buck," sighed Steve.

"Oh, don't think I mean to let the foxes and other animals make way with the rest of the venison! I've got this rope here around my waist; you know it comes in handy sometimes."

Steve laughed.

"For pulling silly fellows out of quicksand and bog holes," he remarked. "Oh, yes, don't think I've forgotten what happened in that Great Dismal Swamp. But do you mean to yank the carcass up in a tree, Max? Is that the way you expect to use the rope?"

Max nodded in reply.

They soon accomplished this.

Max seemed to know just how to go about it, and presently the balance of the deer swung there in space, six feet or more from the ground, and as many below the strong limb over which the rope had been thrown.

"Think it'll be safe, do you?" asked Steve, puffing from the exertion of pulling such a weight upward.

"From every kind of animal but a bobcat. If one of that tribe happens along and is hungry, of course he could drop down on the upper part and munch away," was the reply Max made.

"Which happens to be the fore quarters of the buck, the part we don't care about so much," said Steve.

"Oh, I had that in mind when I fixed the rope, Steve."

"I might have guessed it, because you're always thinking ahead, Max. And shall we start for home now?"

"Shortly. Let's get rested a bit more. And I want to fix directions straight in my mind so we'll hit the cabin first shot," Max answered.

"Four miles, you said, didn't you?" Steve asked, with a big sigh; for now that the excitement was over he began to feel tired again.

"That's what Uncle Jim said," remarked Max.

After a while they started on their way and trudged along nearly two miles in silence, Steve insisting on sharing the load, which Max had made possible by fastening the venison to a pole, so that each could grasp it.

"Max," said Steve about this time.

"Yes, what is it?" replied the other, as they changed places.

"Catamounts and lynx and bobcats like fresh meat, of course; but you don't think now, do you, Max, they'd hurt those beautiful five-pronged horns?"

"Of course not," replied the other, walking on again.

"Because we ought to get those to mount and keep in one of our rooms at home, Max."

"Your room, Steve; you're a thousand times welcome to my share in them."

"Oh, thank you, Max, that's awful kind."

After a wearisome march they approached the cabin. It was late in the afternoon, but no friendly smoke arose from the chimney.

The returned hunters saw this fact with astonishment.

"What does it mean!" Steve remarked, as they came to a halt and set their burden down upon the ground.

"Hi, fellows!" called a voice.

Some one stepped out of the bushes across the little clearing and waved his hand. It was Owen, and he seemed to be beckoning in the most mysterious manner possible.

Max and Steve exchanged puzzled looks.

"What in the dickens is up now!" exclaimed the latter.

"Owen wants us to cross over to where he is," Max went on to say; "and I reckon the quickest way to find out is to join him."

"Ginger, I can see Toby there, too; yes, and now I get a glimpse of Trapper Jim and Bandy-legs! They're all sitting in a row on that log, Max, and lookin' solemn-like at the cabin. What in the wide world is up? She ain't a-fire that I can notice."

"Come along; let's find out," said Max, stooping to his end of the pole upon which the hind quarter of venison was slung.

"I'll just bust if I don't know soon, because I hate mysteries," muttered Steve, as he copied the example of his chum.

When the two victorious hunters came upon the rest, Jim and Toby and Bandy-legs got up off the log. They even smiled a little, but Max thought there was something rather forced about this half grin.

"What's happened?" he asked.

"Yes," added Steve impetuously, "what are you all pulling such long faces for, just like it was a funeral or something; tell us that?"

"It is something nigh as bad as a funeral," said Trapper Jim, a twinkle appearing in his eye.

"We're certainly bereft—of our home," added Owen, making a wry face.

"What!" gasped Steve, looking from the speaker across to the cabin.

"It's not exactly a funeral, but an eviction," remarked Owen again.

"He means," said Bandy-legs, "we're kicked out of our cabin—that to-night we'll have to sleep on the cold, hard ground, with only the sky for a blanket. And what's worse, it was my turn to try that jolly old bunk. Hang the luck, why couldn't he stay where he belonged and leave us alone!"

"Say, if it's an animal that's got in, and is holding the fort, why, let's go up and cross-fire him from the windows," suggested impetuous Steve.

"Not on your life!" exclaimed Trapper Jim, catching hold of Steve before he could break away. "That's just what we don't want to do—disturb him too violently or kill him while he chooses to hold the fort there."

"But why are you so careful about his health, Uncle Jim?" asked the bewildered Steve.

"Because our guest happens to be a striped skunk!" was the appalling answer he received.



"A polecat!" gasped Steve. "Thunder! What a nice mess we're in."

"That's just what," echoed Bandy-legs. "It's half an hour now since Uncle Jim sighted the striped beast through the window. He was a-settin' on the table then, and having a spread all by himself. Then, of course, after that he gets sleepy, and I just bet you right now he's curled up as nice as you please in the very bunk I expected to occupy to-night. Just my luck!"

"But we ought to get rid of him," said Max, hardly knowing whether to laugh or feel provoked, for he was very tired and hungry and did not enjoy the prospect of sleeping out-of-doors without even a solitary blanket, while that saucy little beast retained possession of the whole cabin.

"We've been waiting and watching and hoping this half hour and more," said Owen, with a rather forlorn smile; "but still he doesn't come out of the window where he must have gone in."

"H-h-he likes it in t-t-there. Most c-c-comfortable place he ever s-s-struck," Toby remarked.

"Where were the dogs when he went in?" Max asked.

"Off with us," replied Owen.

"We got back an hour before noon," Trapper Jim remarked. "After lunch we hung around for a while and I fixed all the pelts we brought in."

"Any mink?" asked Steve, eagerly.

"Yes, one good pelt," answered Jim. "Then, about the middle of the afternoon I said we might take a little range around on our own hook and set the bear trap in the bargain, for the old chap had been along the trail to the marsh again."

"Bully!" exclaimed Steve, who was hard to keep quiet.

"We tied the dogs some little distance away from where we meant to set our bear trap, because they'd want to follow the trail and spoil everything," Uncle Jim went on.

"And we helped him set her, too," remarked Bandy-legs, proudly.

"Yes, if we get a bear, it'll be partly yours, boys," the trapper went on to say. "After that part of the business had been carried out we started on our hunt. But to tell you the truth, boys, we never saw a thing worth shooting."

Max suspected that Toby and Bandy-legs made so much noise floundering through the dry leaves that they gave every squirrel and rabbit plenty of warning, so that they could make themselves scarce long before the expedition came along.

But if this was the truth Trapper Jim would not say so. What were a few rabbits or squirrels in comparison with the company of these jolly, interesting boys? The game he had with him all the time, but not so Owen, Toby, and Bandy-legs.

"Then we came home again," said Owen, taking up the story; "and it was by the greatest luck ever that Uncle Jim just happened to look in at the open window and discovered the skunk. Just think what might have happened if we'd burst in on the little beast and scared it!"

"And me with only one suit, which is bad enough as it is, having holes burned in it, without having to bury the same," Bandy-legs remarked.

"Oh," said Steve, "you wouldn't have felt it much, for p'r'aps we'd have buried you with your clothes. But, however, are we going to coax him out of there, boys?"

"I move Steve be appointed a committee of one to go and ask our friend the skunk to vacate the ranch," said Owen.

"A good idea," added Max. "Steve, he's got a most convincing way with animals. They take to him on sight."

"Yes, that five-pronged buck did, you're right, Max," admitted the candidate for fresh honors. "But I draw the line on skunks."

"They ain't got a line; Uncle Jim says it's a stripe," vociferated Bandy-legs.

"But the day's nearly done and we've got to do something about it," remarked Trapper Jim. "Can't one of you think up a way? He acts like he meant to stay in there as long as the feed holds out."

"Perhaps he's heard the dogs," suggested Owen. "We've got them tied up close by, and every little while one gives a yelp."

"They seem to just know there's something up," declared Bandy-legs.

"S-s-sure t-t-thing," added Toby, seriously.

"Max, haven't you got a plan?" asked the owner of the cabin, turning toward the other eagerly, as though he guessed that if they found help at all it would be in this quarter.

"I was just thinking of something," replied the boy, smiling.

"Yes, go on," Trapper Jim continued.

"We couldn't coax him out, and if we tried to frighten the little rascal it'd be all day with our staying in that cabin again while we boys are up here. But perhaps he might be made to feel so unpleasant in there that he'd be glad to move off."

"Good for you, Max; I can see you've got an idea," cried out Jim, approvingly.

"I don't think skunks like smoke any more than any other wild animals!" Max ventured.

"Smoke!" ejaculated Steve. "Hallelujah! Max has caught on to a bully good idea. Let's smoke the little beggar out. Everyone get busy now."

"Hold on," said Trapper Jim, catching Steve by the sleeve again; "go slow."

"Yes, go mighty slow," complained Bandy-legs. "You know well enough, Steve Dowdy, that I can't smoke at all. There's no use of my trying, because it makes me awful sick every time."

"Listen to that, would you!" laughed Steve. "The simple believes we're all going to get pipes and blow the smoke through some chinks in the cabin walls. Cheer up, old fellow, it ain't quite as bad as that."

"When we've got some stuff that will burn," continued Max, "I'll climb up on the roof, set fire to it, and drop it down the chimney. Then after it gets a good start I'll follow it with some weeds Uncle Jim will gather, and which he knows must send out a dense smoke after I've clapped a board over the top of the chimney flue."

"Bravo!" cried Owen, so loud that the chained dogs near by started barking.

"A very original scheme," said Trapper Jim, patting Max on the back. "And the sooner we start in to try how it works, the better."

"I've got only one objection," Steve spoke up.

"Well, let's hear it," demanded Owen, frowning.

"I think Max ought to let Bandy-legs run that part of the business," Steve went on to say, "he knows more about chimneys than all the rest of the push put together. He's examined 'em from top to bottom inside."

"Oh, rats!" mocked the one upon whose unwilling head all these high honors were being heaped.

"I object," spoke up Toby, bound to have his say. "B-b-bandy-legs never c-c-could resist the t-t-temp-tation to d-d-drop in himself. And think what'd h-h-happen if the s-s-skunk saw him comin' out of the f-f-fireplace a-whoopin'."

"Let's get the stuff to burn, lads," said Trapper Jim, who certainly enjoyed hearing the boys chaff each other in this way. "And everybody keep away from that side of the house where the window stands open."

They were not long in finding what they wanted.

"Make this up in a little bundle, boys, so I can drop it down quick after I've set a match to it," and Max gathered the dry stuff together as he spoke, waiting for one of the rest to tie it with a cord.

"And this other I'd drop down loose like," said Trapper Jim, as he held up the bunch of half-dead weeds he had collected. "These give out the blackest smoke you ever saw, and if you shut off the draft after they get going good and hard, nothing living could stay long in that cabin."

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