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Title: Chums of the Camp Fire
Author: Leslie, Lawrence J.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Chums of the Camp Fire" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration: Max declared there was now no reason why they should not
capture the monkey]

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CHUMS OF THE CAMP FIRE

BY

LAWRENCE J. LESLIE

MADE IN U. S. A.

M. A. DONOHUE & COMPANY

CHICAGO :: NEW YORK

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COPYRIGHT, 1915, BY

THE NEW YORK BOOK COMPANY

CHUMS OF THE CAMPFIRE

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CONTENTS

I               THE FROG HUNTERS                         15
II              STEVE PLAYS HERO                         25
III             WHEN DREAMS CAME TRUE                    36
IV              A PROFITABLE BACK YARD                   47
V               ON THE WAY TO THE WOODS                  58
VI              THE TERRIBLE ROAR                        69
VII             THE QUEER ACTIONS OF STEVE               80
VIII            THE MYSTERIOUS HAM THROWER               91
IX              "MILLIONS FOR DEFENSE!"                 102
X               THE WILD ANIMAL TRAP                    113
XI              TOO TRICKY FOR TOBY                     124
XII             A STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE                 135
XIII            THE SECRET OUT                          146
XIV             A PLOT AGAINST THE MISSING LINK         157
XV              THE BATTLE OF WITS                      168
XVI             THE LAST CAMP FIRE--CONCLUSION          179

[Transcriber's Note: Table of Contents was not present in original
edition.]

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CHAPTER I

THE FROG HUNTERS


"How many greenback saddles does that last bullfrog Max shot make,
Toby!"

"T-t-thirteen, all t-t-told, Steve."

"Ginger! that's going some for so early in the spring season, isn't it?
I'd like to get about twenty before we quit, which would make just five
for each of us, Max, Bandy-legs, you and myself. And seems like we ought
to knock over seven more this Saturday afternoon."

"Say, if only we were up in that old Dismal Swamp where I got lost last
year, I bet you we could fill a bushel basket with big bullfrog
saddles," remarked the third boy, whose lower limbs were a little
inclined to grow in the shape of bows and who had on that account always
gone by the significant name of "Bandy-legs" Griffin among his comrades.

"Well, the less you have to say about that time the better," remarked
the fourth of the squad, a bright-faced young chap who was looked upon
as a born leader, no matter whether on the field of sport as known to
the boys of Carson, or in camp, and whose name was Max Hastings;
"because you gave us a pretty bad scare the time we had to rush up there
and hunt that swamp through to find you. Back up, Steve; easy now, I
tell you!"

"Do you see the fourteenth victim crouching in the shallow water, or
squatting up on the bank?" whispered the boy who just then held the
little Flobert rifle, with which the so-called "game" was being bagged.

"Yes, and he must be the grand-daddy of the whole shooting match, he's
so enormously big. Look at that log lying on the shore, just where the
ice pushed it last winter. Don't you see a bunch of grass at the further
end? Well, he's alongside that, and I reckon he hears us talking, for he
looks wise and ready to plop into the water. Steady now, Touch-and-go
Steve; make sure before you shoot."

Steve Dowdy, though warm-hearted, and a mighty good comrade, was
inclined to be rather excitable at times, and on this account he had
been dubbed "Touch-and-go Steve," a name that seemed peculiarly
appropriate.

"I see the old rascal, all right," he murmured, as he slowly began to
raise the little rifle to his shoulder, and take aim; "and let me tell
you he's my meat. I've got a dead bead on him right now. Listen,
fellows!"

The sharp, spiteful snap of the Flobert rifle followed. Then Bandy-legs
gave a victorious crow, just as though he might have been a barnyard
rooster returning to his own dung-heap after whipping the next-door
neighbor's game fowl.

"That settled his hash for him, all right, and a fine shot for you,
Steve. Now hand me the gun, for it's my turn next; and go and retrieve
your game."

"You'll have to pick your way around there carefully, Steve," Max went
on to caution, as he observed how the pond shore took several twists in
that particular place, making it difficult to reach the spot where the
monster greenback lay extended at full length, a prize worth risking
much for.

"Oh! that's all right, Max; leave it to me. I wouldn't lose that buster,
even if I had to strip, and swim over, with the water as cold as
anything, because this is only Easter time."

With these words the late marksman started to make his way along the
edge of the pond where their hunt was taking place, and which lay not
more than a mile from the town of Carson, in which all of them had their
homes.

While Steve is doing this, and Bandy-legs is making the rifle ready for
further use by inserting a fresh cartridge in place of the empty shell,
a few words of explanation with regard to these four boys may seem
appropriate.

They were boon companions, and together had been having some great times
during the past two years, many of these happenings having been
described at length in the preceding books of this series.

One of their earlier achievements is worthy of mention, because it
supplied the sinews of war, in the shape of money, through the
possession of which they were enabled to carry out many of their plans,
which might otherwise never have materialized through sheer lack of
means to pay expenses.

Knowing that there were plenty of fresh-water clams called mussels in
some of the waters adjacent to Carson, these boys, together with Owen
Hastings, a cousin of Max, now visiting an old aunt abroad, who wanted
to adopt him, had made a secret investigation.

Max had been reading about the wonderful find of pearls in mussels
picked up in the streams in Missouri, Indiana and other places, and he
conceived the idea that possibly those in the smaller tributaries of the
Evergreen River, flowing past the home town, might yield something worth
while.

Accordingly he and his four chums, without saying a word to anybody, had
gone into camp on the Big Sunflower River, and commenced their pearl
hunting operations.

The result made a tremendous flurry around that whole vicinity, for the
wideawake lads found quite a lot of valuable, pearls in the heaps of
mussels which they gathered along the little stream.

Of course once the news leaked out everybody hastened to glean a
fortune in the pearl line; but the boys laughed in their sleeves,
knowing full well that they had "skimmed the cream off the pan." True, a
few gems were found, but nothing to compare with their rake-off. And as
the supply of mussels soon became exhausted the flurry had long since
died a natural death.

But the boys had a nice little nest-egg in the bank as the result of
their thrift, and knowledge of things. This had been added to in various
ways, such as combing the woods far and near in search of wild ginseng,
and golden seal, the roots of which, when properly dried, brought them
many good dollars, after being shipped to a responsible house that dealt
in furs, and such things that the woods produce.

On the preceding fall the boys had enjoyed their Thanksgiving holidays
up in the North Woods in company with an old friend who spent all his
time there, trapping wild animals in season for their pelts, and getting
close to Nature's heart; for Trapper Jim, although well-to-do after a
fashion, despised the artificial life of the town.

Here they had experienced a succession of adventures that would forever
keep the memory of that trip fresh in their minds. Toby Jucklin had
brought home a 'coon he had captured; while Bandy-legs was the proud
owner of a fast growing black bear cub, which was making life miserable
for the cook at his house, because of its mischievous ways, and enormous
appetite.

Toby had apparently gone head-over-heels into the "pet" business. That
lively and prankish 'coon seemed to have started him along the line of
owning pets, and his comrades many times declared that he would soon
have a regular menagerie in the back yard of his place; for already
there were half a dozen home-made cages there, and Toby spent much of
his spare time feeding his pets.

Besides that same 'coon, which was often at large, yet never seemed
desirous of heading back to his old haunts where dinners were hard to
secure, Toby had some weird-looking lop-eared rabbits; a bunch of quail
from which he hoped to raise a family later on; a red fox that had a
limp on account of the broken leg set by Toby after he had found the
little animal apparently dying from hunger in the bitter wintry storm;
and last but not least a small edition of a wildcat that never would
make up with the hand that fed it, but continued to snarl and spit and
look ferocious week after week, until even patient Toby was beginning to
despair of ever calling it a "pet."

Some of the others had even begun to call Toby the "menagerie man,"
because of this inordinate love for pets. They said he dreamed every
night of going out to Africa or India, and collecting wild animals for
the various zoological gardens of the country.

Toby's parents allowed him to do about as he pleased. No doubt they
expected to see this present fad run its course, and that some new
notion would eventually displace it. They knew that boys must have a
hobby of some sort. With one it may be a mania for collecting things in
the line of autographs or postage stamps; while another may start to
stuff birds, secure all sorts of eggs, make fishing rods, take pictures
with a modern little kodak camera, or one of dozens of other things that
are apt to appeal to the modern lad.

Toby was afflicted with a bad case of stammering, that of course struck
him harder whenever he chanced to be laboring under excitement. There
were times, however, when Toby surprised his chums by talking as plainly
and steadily as any one of them could do. Though these lapses were but
temporary, and he would fall back into the old miserable rut again, at
least they gave hope that in time the boy might control himself, and
fling off the habit for good.

The four chums had been making ready to spend their Easter holidays in
the woods, so as to have a breath of the open after a severe winter.
Easter came unusually late that year, and the spring had already
advanced very far, so that leaves were beginning to appear on the forest
trees far ahead of the usual time.

Just to get their hands in the boys had started out on this Saturday to
see how the frog supply promised. All of them were exceedingly fond of
fried frogs' legs, which they declared beat any spring chicken ever
hatched. And since there were already thirteen plump white "saddles,"
as the two attached hind-legs are called, in the basket, it began to
look as though something like a feast would follow, at a number of
Carson houses.

While Steve was making his way around the little bayou in the pond,
intent on securing his prize, which promised to excel in size any of
those they had already "dressed," the other three started to talk over
their plans for the little vacation in the woods.

There never were four boys who got more benefit out of an outing than
these Carson lads. They planned for it far in advance, and enjoyed this'
part of the excursion almost as much as the thing itself. Max Hastings
knew so many things in connection with the woods; and they had also
picked up such a world of information when spending those halcyon days
up with old Trapper Jim, that it made it unusually pleasant when they
were in camp, trying out new ideas, and copying others which they had
watched the woodsman do.

"Have a care, Steve!" Max called out, as the one who was making his way
around the little bayou slipped, and splashed the water in his eagerness
to accomplish the errand that had taken him there; "you'll get a ducking
yet if you don't slow up some! Rome wasn't built in a day, remember!"

"Yes," added Toby, "and you b-b-bet the w-w-water's c-c-cold right now!
Don't I k-k-know when I p-p-put my hand in?"

"Oh! don't bother your heads about me," sang out Touch-and-go Steve,
carelessly; "I guess I c'n look out for myself all right. One more turn
and I'll be there. And I c'n see your eyes stickin' out of your heads
when you handle this gi-_gan_tic frog of mine! Wow! but he is a whopper,
though!"

He seemed so eager to lay hands on his prize, just as though the big
greenback might recover, and hop into the pond before his very eyes,
that possibly Steve was not quite as careful as his boastful words would
indicate.

"I don't know about taking any frog legs home this time," Bandy-legs was
saying, in a half regretful tone; "our girl says she won't cook the
same, and my folks seem like they was set against frog for eatin'. Now I
like 'em first-rate, but you see I've just got to keep on the good side
of our cook, 'cause she gives me lots of scraps for my pet cub. And if
that cute little bungler don't improve pretty soon, I just don't know
what I'm agoin' to do with him. He makes us so much trouble all the
time, playin' his innocent pranks, but scarin' the cook half out of her
seven senses."

Thereupon Toby became tremendously excited, and pawed at the sleeve of
Bandy-legs eagerly, while as soon as he could control his lips and his
vocal chords he started in to say:

"Oh! g-g-give him to me, won't you, Bandy-legs? I'd be the happiest
fellow you ever s-s-saw if I had a real live b-b-bear of my own.
S-s-say, just name your p-p-price, and if I've g-g-got anything you
want right b-b-bad it's yours. That c-c-cook of yours is set against
p-p-poor Nicodemus, who c-c-came in the night, and was g-given that
name. Think it over, Bandy-legs."

The other looked at the eager speaker, and grinned.

"Perhaps I may, Toby," he remarked, slowly; "anyhow, I'll promise to
keep you in mind, and if I do want to get shut of Nicodemus you'll have
first chance. It's goin' to be money in my pocket if I do let him go,
because he costs me like anything. Oh! listen to Steve, would you; he's
sure enough gone and fallen in, after all your warnin' him to go slow!"

It seemed to be just as Bandy-legs said, if one could judge from the
tremendous amount of splashing that came to their ears, Steve being shut
out from their view temporarily by a thick clump of alders that grew on
the brink of a little trickling stream emptying into the pond just
there.

"Let's hurry around and see if he needs any help!" suggested Max.

"He'll be shivering in the cold, even after he crawls out," said
Bandy-legs; "and we'll have to see that he gets dried off. We're
following at your heels, Max!"

"S-s-sure we are!" added Toby, who just then happened to be carrying the
basket in which reposed the hind-quarters of all their previous
greenback victims.



CHAPTER II

STEVE PLAYS HERO


"We're coming to the rescue, Steve! Keep a stiff upper-lip, old chum!
Hold up, and we'll help you climb out, Steve!"

Bandy-legs was shouting cheerfully in this strain as he hurried after
Max, with slower Toby bringing up the rear. The splashing had entirely
ceased by this time, which would indicate that there must have been a
change in conditions.

"Say, you ain't drowned, are you, Steve?" Bandy-legs continued, as
though gripped by a sudden dreadful fear.

Max turned and called back over his shoulder.

"I can hear water dripping like everything, and I guess he's gone and
crawled out on the bank all right!"

"Sure I have," said Steve just then from behind the bushes; "and I've
got that frog, too. He's worth taking a ducking for, let me tell you.
There never was such a buster of a greenback croaker. If you could hear
him sing out 'more r-rum! more r-rum!' you'd think it was a bass drum
arollin'. Here I am, fellows, dripping wet in the bargain. I must have
slipped, I reckon."

When Max came upon the speaker, and surveyed his soaked figure, he
burst into a shout of laughter.

"Well, I should think you did slip!" he exclaimed; "you're always
slipping, seems like, Steve, and it's because you're in such an awful
hurry to do things that you get into a muss. You certainly are a sight
now, with all that mud on you. If pretty Bessie French could only see
you I can fancy her nose would go up in the air, because that mud isn't
as sweet as violets or roses, Steve."

"Well, what's done can't be undone, they say!" declared the other, with
a reckless laugh, which was Steve all over; "better luck next time, I
say. Here, Toby, what d'ye think of that for a saddle? Do the needful to
him, won't you please, for I've got to scrape some of this nasty black
muck off my trousers legs?"

"Here, this won't do, Steve," observed Max, severely; "you're beginning
to shiver right now, and it'll get worse before long. You're soaked to
the skin, chances are. It might be all well enough in the good old
summer-time to let your duds dry on you, but not in this raw April
weather. We've got to postpone the balance of our frog hunt, and make a
fire."

"What for?" asked Steve, petulantly, because he did not much fancy
allowing the others to make him out to be a weakling.

"To dry your clothes, if you must know it; and we won't take no for an
answer either, eh, boys?" and Max winked toward the other two, who
immediately chimed in vociferously to echo his sentiments.

"Oh! well, have it your way," grumbled Steve, though there was a gleam
in his eyes that showed how he secretly appreciated this solicitude over
his-health displayed by his chums. "P'raps I will feel some better if I
get dried out. I had a cough last winter that worried my folks, and
mebbe I shouldn't take chances."

"Come along this way and we'll soon have a jolly blaze started," said
Max, who was accustomed to acting as leader, though never at any time
becoming officious to an extent that might be displeasing.

There was plenty of good wood handy, and certainly those lads knew every
little trick connected with building fires; so that in a very short time
the cheery flames were jumping merrily upward, and a genial warmth was
disseminated that felt unusually pleasant to the boy who had commenced
shivering in his wet clothes.

"Now peel off right away, and we'll see about drying your duds!" Max
told him.

"Y-y-you might p-p-put on my sweater while we're d-d-doing the same,"
added Toby, who was as generous a boy as could be found in a day's
journey afield.

"That's kind of you, Toby, and if you think you won't need it right
away, guess I ought to accept. You see I ain't used to prancing around
in April without my clothes on. Hang it on that branch, Max; it'll be
close enough to steam without getting' scorched. How long will it take
to dry my shirt out, d'ye think?"

"Oh! perhaps only a matter of fifteen minutes or so," replied the other,
as he proceeded to arrange all the other belongings of the unlucky chum
on adjacent bushes until, as Bandy-legs declared, it looked like an
"Irish wash-day."

Having donned Toby's gray sweater Steve did not feel so badly. He kept
turning around by the fire, first warming one side and then the other,
and all the while dancing up and down so as to keep his blood in good
circulation; for Max had told him to do this, and surely Max knew what
was best.

Toby kept the fire going by feeding fresh fuel from time to time. A fire
was one of the things Toby certainly loved. Whenever he took the time to
ponder over past events that had marked the companionship of these four
lads, the various campfires they had shared in common stood out as oases
in a desert. Toby was apt to figure past happenings as connected with
the time "we had that dandy blaze under the twisted hemlock"; or "that
night I built the champion cooking fire any campers ever had along."

By degrees Steve's apparel dried sufficiently for him to get into it
again. He did not look very spruce and clean though, after his recent
immersion, for the mud had dried. Steve had the appearance of a tramp,
as Bandy-legs assured him, knowing that the other was as a rule addicted
to taking especial pains with his clothes, pressing them out every week
so that the creases would show at the proper angles, and all that
nonsense.

"Well, when we get home it's apt to be dusk, anyway," said reckless
Steve; "and we won't be meeting up with anybody on the road. If we do
I'll dodge in the bushes till they get past. But notice that I got what
I went after, boys!"

That was generally the main thing with Steve, to get what he went after,
no matter how strenuous a time he experienced in accomplishing his aim.
With him the end always justified the means. And looking back over the
experiences of the last two years his chums could remember many times
when this ambition carried the impetuous one into a heap of trouble,
from which he was rescued only after considerable difficulty.

After Steve had fully dressed the four comrades started out once more,
bent on following the shore of the big pond the balance of the way
around, so as to pot such other incautious frogs as might have been
tempted by the brightness of the day to mount the bank, and bask in the
sunshine.

"This fine weather isn't going to stay with us, I'm afraid, boys," Max
remarked, as they went on, Bandy-legs in advance, for it was his next
turn with the target rifle.

"What makes you say that, Max?" demanded Steve, a little testily.

"Well, in the first place there's a queer feeling in the air that seems
to tell of a storm coming along," replied the other; "then if you look
away over to the southwest you'll see a low bank of clouds. There's some
wind in that bunch of clouds if I know anything about weather signs. And
besides the paper said we'd have a blow some time soon."

"Hope she gets over with before next week, when we want to hike up into
the woods for our first camp this season; that's all I can say,"
Bandy-legs observed over his shoulder, for he could hear what his chums
were talking about, being only a short distance ahead of them, though
closer to the shore of the pond.

"C-c-cracky!" burst out Toby, his face taking on an agonized look, as
though a sudden thought had struck him, and brought pain.

"What ails you now, Toby?" demanded Steve.

"Why, I was thinking of the c-c-circus that's expectin' to d-d-drop into
Carson around about m-m-midnight, that's what!"

"Say, that's a fact," Steve added; "they are showing this afternoon and
to-night over at Bloomingdale, and a train will fetch the lot to Carson
right after the last performance. If it storms they'll have a warm
session getting the cages of animals and the performing elephants off
the cars."

"I thought s-s-some of s-s-staying up and g-g-goin' down to see the
animals come to t-t-town," admitted Toby; and of course none of the
others saw anything wonderful about that, knowing his great love for
animals as they did; though Bandy-legs did see fit to try and josh him
a little when he saw the chance.

"You certainly missed the biggest thing of your life when you didn't
hire out to old Noah," he told Toby. "Just think what a treat it'd been
to him, fellers, to stand there and check off all the animals big and
little as they walked aboard the ark in pairs, the elephant and the
kangaroo, and the little monkey too. But a measly storm oughtn't to keep
you at home, Toby."

"But they won't get in till near two in the morning, I'm told,"
protested Toby; "and I guess my folks'd put the kibosh on my staying out
that late on a stormy night."

"Hurrah! did you hear him say all that without a single stagger?" cried
the boy with the bow-legs; "wisht my troubles'd be as easy to drop as
his stuttering is. But mine stick with me all the time."

"There's a good place ahead of you, Bandy-legs," advised Max; "now show
us what you can do. Steve is high notch so far with his gi-_gan_tic
mastodon frog. Beat him out at his little game, Bandy-legs, if you can."

The boy with the target rifle quickly added another victim to those
whose prized hinder quarters lay in a heap in the trout basket Toby had
slung over his shoulder.

"That makes fifteen, and only five more to get to cover the twenty,"
Steve announced; "but if they were all whoppers like mine, say, the
basket wouldn't be big enough to hold them, I reckon."

The hunt went on, and by the time the sun had passed pretty well down
the western sky, heading for the black bank of clouds that lay
menacingly there, the frog hunters had completed the circuit of the big
pond. They had exceeded their expectations also, for several beyond the
score had been bagged.

"A good afternoon's work, I take it," remarked Steve, who was feeling
very well satisfied, because he had secured the biggest frog ever seen
in that part of the country, the patriarch of the lot apparently; nor
did the fact that his face was still streaked with dried mud, and his
clothes looked like those of a common hobo, seem to detract from his
bubbling joy.

They started for home along the road that led to Carson. This was
something of a favorite highway, and they were apt to meet various
vehicles while tramping over the mile and a half that separated them
from home.

Just as he had said he would do, whenever they chanced to meet a
carriage Steve proved quick to dodge into the scrub, and after the
danger had passed overtake his companions by hurrying. Steve was always
good at hurrying; it was his favorite way of doing things, and nothing
pleased him better than a chance to sprint, in order to come up with his
mates.

They had perhaps covered half of the journey, and the church spires of
Carson could be easily seen in the near distance when all at once they
noticed a horse and buggy coming at a lively clip along the road.

"Looks like a runaway!" snapped Steve.

"It sure does," admitted Bandy-legs, "and what d'ye think of that, if
the girl in the same ain't Bessie French I'll eat my hat!"

"W-what!" almost roared the now excited Steve, stopping in his intention
to beat a hasty retreat, the neighboring bushes offering a splendid
asylum.

"It's Bessie, all right," said Max; "but about her being run away with,
I'm not so sure, because she knows how to handle horses first rate; and
that old Bill of the Frenchs' never was known to cut up before."

But Steve apparently did not hear a single word that Max said. He was
quivering with eagerness, and a wild desire to distinguish himself as a
hero, in the eyes of the pretty girl whom he had been taking to barn
dances and such for two whole seasons, and with whom he had lately had a
little falling out.

He brushed his long football hair away from his eyes, and looked again.
Yes, old Bill must have taken the bit between his teeth, if he had any
left, and was renewing his youthful days; for they used to tell great
stories about his having once upon a time been a clever race
horse--about thirty-odd years ago, some people put it.

Steve started to run along the road. He had undoubtedly mapped out the
whole affair in his mind, like a good general, and cared not what risks
he assumed if only he might pull that galloping horse in, so as to save
the fair girl.

Max was shouting something to him from away back in the rear, but it was
surely no time to stop and listen now, when a human life, and a precious
one to Steve, might lie in the balance.

He may have wondered why a girl as sensible as Bessie French should
persist in standing erect in the vehicle, and also what business she had
to be holding that whip. Steve did not take the trouble to ask himself
these bothersome questions. He knew that real heroes _act_ while other
people are figuring things out. He must run alongside that rushing
horse, until he could jump up, seize the reins close to the bit and then
throw his whole weight so as to bring the animal to a stop.

Well, Steve really managed to do this in a way that should have won for
him considerable credit. He got more or less knocking around before he
could curb the fiery steed; but what should he care so long as his
object was accomplished. When he had brought old Bill to a complete
standstill, he meant to assist the almost fainting girl to the ground,
and then perhaps she would tell him how brave he was, and what a fool
she had been to quarrel with him.

He heard her calling out excitedly to him, but supposed Bessie might
naturally be anxious about his safety, dear girl.

Steve finally managed to bring old Bill to a stand; and it was wonderful
how quickly all the spirit went out of the ancient horse once he felt
the hand of a _master_ at the rein.

As the heroic rescuer turned around he was staggered to see the pretty
face of Bessie French clouded with a frown, and to hear her bitterly
tell him how silly he had been to stop her in that way.

"Why, don't you see I was only trying to prove to Mazie Dunkirk that our
old Bill still had some fire left in him!" she cried, with tears of
mortification in her voice. "She said he couldn't run all the way to the
cross-roads and back again in seven minutes, and I just knew he could.
But now you've stopped us, and I've lost a candy pull. If some people
only knew enough to attend to their own affairs it would be better for
them. Please let go of that bridle; I want to go on!"



CHAPTER III

WHEN DREAMS CAME TRUE


Steve seemed turned into a pillar of stone. He stood there, and just
stared as hard as he could at the girl in the buggy. His hand though
released its clutch upon the reins, and the girl, plying the whip on old
Bill, swept past, giving him one last scornful look as she went; for
indeed the usually elegant Steve must have impressed her as having taken
to the life of a tramp, he was so soiled and streaked.

Max and Toby and Bandy-legs had listened, and also stared. They grinned
of course when they realized how their brave companion's efforts were
wasted on the desert air; but did not say a single word as they walked
on, and overtook the dazed Steve, still standing there as though hardly
able as yet to figure it out.

He managed to grin a little himself, even while rubbing his elbow, where
it may have been knocked by the shaft of the vehicle at the time he made
that gallant upward jump.

"Huh! seemed like it wasn't a runaway after all!" he told them; "but how
was anybody to know about that, when it had all the earmarks of one? I
never waited to ask, but saw my duty and did it. Lots of thanks I got,
didn't I? It'll likely be some time before Steve Dowdy bothers himself
to stop horses again at the risk of his own life. Why, she looked like
she could _eat_ me when she drove off. A fellow's a fool to think a girl
could appreciate a job like that. Huh!"

"Never mind, Steve," said Max, throwing an arm over the shoulder of his
friend; "we know that if it had been a sure-enough runaway you'd have
covered yourself with glory, and saved her life in the bargain. Who'd
ever expect girls to be wagering candy pulls about an old nag making
time? And anybody to see old Bill tearing along would say he was running
away. It's all right, Steve; forget it now. You made a great stop,
there's no getting around that."

"I should say he did!" added Bandy-legs; "and when Bessie comes to think
of how you risked your precious life, just because you _thought_ she was
in danger, why, I don't see how she can help but feel sorry for being so
sharp with her tongue. But then all girls think of is candy-pulls,
dancin' and such things as dress. Nope, it don't pay for a feller to
play the hero any more. You wouldn't ketch me adoin' it, for a fact."

Toby started to say something that may have had to do with his opinion
concerning the impossibility of any one built like Bandy-legs being
agile enough to run alongside a racing horse; but he made such a mess of
it, or else on second thought felt it would be mean to say it, for he
stopped short, gulped several times, and relapsed into silence.

Sometimes that affliction of Toby's saved him from getting into trouble
and controversies, which proved that it was after all not an unmixed
evil.

After that they went on toward home, chattering like a lot of magpies
about the glorious times they expected having in the following week,
should the weather permit of their going off to the woods, on their
first outing of the season.

Before separating they divided the spoils of the frog hunt. After due
consideration Bandy-legs concluded that it would be best for him not to
bother his folks with any of the proceeds of the expedition to the big
pond.

"I'll drop over to your house to-morrow, Toby," he said, as he handed
the other his share of the trophies in the shape of five saddles, "and
p'raps you'd be kind enough to save me a couple of these, no matter if
they are cold. I don't dare upset our cook. She's the boss of the
kitchen in our house, and if you rub her the right way you c'n get
whatever you want; but she does everlastingly hate the looks of frogs'
legs, and vowed the last time I fetched some home she'd leave before she
cooked 'em again. Besides, mebbe next week we'll run across our fill of
the same when we're campin' out, and then I can have all I want."

Toby readily agreed to this, for he was a most accommodating fellow. He
even made Bandy-legs promise to eat dinner with him when the wonderful
dish of frogs' legs would be served.

"I'll have the s-s-same, even if I have to c-c-cook 'em m-m-myself!"
Toby promised, in parting.

"If you look over there," remarked Max, casually, "you'll notice that
bank of dark clouds has climbed up a little now. Seems like it might be
going to whoop things up some before morning comes along."

"Well, it's Sunday, and all we could do would be to hang around the
house, or walk down to see how the old circus was coming on," Steve
observed, with the calm philosophy of a boy.

"It's going to clear the air for next week, and give us the greatest
time ever," Max went on to say, in his optimistic way, for he was ever
ready to see the bright side of things, and no trouble could come along
but what Max quickly discovered that the gloomy cloud had a silver
lining.

In this spirit the boys separated, each one heading for his particular
home, for it was close on supper time; and Steve wanted to change his
clothes before he allowed his folks to see him.

Toby too knew that he would have certain chores to look after connected
with the feeding of his pets. He was too tender-hearted a boy to let
them go hungry when it could be helped; and besides, his mother always
insisted that if he must keep such a little menagerie in the back yard
he should always have the place tidied up, and under no circumstances
allow his captives to suffer from lack of attention on his part.

The 'coon was glad to see him, and even allowed Toby to pat his sleek
back, although the boy could remember many occasions in the past when he
had been nipped by those sharp teeth, or else felt the angry animal's
claws.

His red fox was also very tame, and would eat out of his hand, though
Toby did not dare let him loose, even with a chain like that holding the
'coon, for fear of losing him.

Even the wildcat seemed to be pretty friendly on this occasion, and
growled in a lower key than usual when Toby was pushing the meat scraps
through the openings between the bars of its cage.

Toby was mentally exulting in the possibility that his collection might
soon be added to by the coming of that partly grown black bear cub,
which Bandy-legs had half promised to let him have.

He even figured out just where he would keep Nicodemus fastened, and
what kind of a cage he would have to construct for him; because he had
never fully liked the one now being used as a place of shelter for the
cub, Bandy-legs not being much of a carpenter, to tell the truth.

It was with his mind filled with future triumphs in this line of
collecting wild animals that Toby sat him down to supper that evening.
He was unusually quiet, because he was thinking, and planning, and
seeing visions of great things to come to pass in the distant future.

When his father asked him how the frog hunt had come out he did manage
to arouse himself sufficiently to narrate some of the particulars,
especially Steve's getting such a monster hermit frog, his falling into
the pond, their making a fire to dry his clothes, and finally how he
stopped the runaway horse under a misunderstanding and never got even so
much as a word of thanks from the pretty inmate of the buggy.

Now at home, when he knew his folks were taking note of his manner of
speech, it was singular how free from stuttering Toby's language could
be. He just gripped himself, and was careful to speak slowly and
distinctly, pronouncing every word as though he were a foreigner trying
to pick up English.

And after all that is the only true way for a stammering boy to cure
himself; if Toby had been as careful when among his chums as he was at
home, he would have undoubtedly thrown the habit away long ago. But then
there were plenty of causes for excitement in a warm baseball game, or
when indulging in a swimming match, which he did not encounter at home;
and this excitement was the main cause for his failure to speak
distinctly.

He sat reading until it was bedtime, for he happened to have an
interesting book, taken from the public library, and all about the
different animals seen by a traveler in the heart of the African forest.
It was highly embellished with colored pictures, supposed to be
produced from photographs which this daring explorer had taken while
concealed near some waterhole, where the animals of the forest were in
the habit of coming to drink nights, and a flashlight camera helped
catch them true to nature.

All of this is told with an object in view. It would serve to explain
why Toby must have dreamed that he too was a bold traveler in this
foreign wilderness, and reveling in the wonderful sights to be met with
there.

Once during the night he was awakened by the rush of the wind, as the
storm that Max had told them would come along during the night, swooped
down upon Carson to blow a few trees over, and hit the tall steeple of
the Methodist church again, possibly wrecking it for the fourth time in
as many years.

As Toby crawled sleepily out of bed, to close the shutters belonging to
the two windows in his room that looked out on the back yard where his
pets were snugly housed, he wondered whether the circus had arrived
safely, and if the storm would keep them from erecting the big
round-top. Fortunately they had all of Sunday to prepare for the next
performance; and that would count for considerable, if repairs were
necessary.

Just then, during a temporary lull in the gale, he distinctly heard the
clock in the town hall tower strike three. This told him that the time
fixed for the coming of the circus train had long since passed, and
that they would undoubtedly be caught unprepared by the storm.

"But then they're used to roughing it," Toby thought, without stammering
either, "because circus canvas hands have to rub up against hard things
wherever they go. Haven't I had one boy tell me he never knew when he
was going to get his next meal, and how for a month he didn't have
regular sleep, and then it was on a hard board floor mebbe. Which makes
me feel thankful for such a nice soft bed, though I c'n stand it
sleepin' on the bare ground, when I have to in camp."

Yawning as he told himself this, Toby stood there by the open window for
a minute trying to ascertain whether he could hear a lion roar or an
elephant trumpet, for that would have made his ambitious blood leap
through his veins. But the noise of the storm prevented him from hearing
anything else, as the rain was beating down on a tin roof near by, while
the wind howled through the trees as though pursued by a legion of
demons.

So presently, when Toby found himself beginning to shiver, he crawled
back again between the sheets, and snuggled down, glad that he had such
a comfortable nook in which to lie while things were so unpleasant
without.

Once Toby managed to get to sleep and he minded nothing else that
occurred. Had that furious gale whipped the roof off the house he might
have aroused sufficiently to ask if the danger were very great, and
upon being reassured would have again dropped off on his voyage to
slumberland.

It was daylight when Toby sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes.

"Gee!" he was saying to himself, "that was a corker of a dream, all
right. Why, seemed like I could see everything the animals were adoing
at that same waterhole where that man took his flashlight pictures; and
it was so much like the real thing I could even hear 'em carryin' on
when the flash scared the bunch."

Just then he started, and sat upright, staring hard toward the nearer
window, through which it seemed a queer sound had come.

Toby could not ever remember having heard such a sound in all his life;
it was different from everything he had ever come across, and seemed
fraught with the most alarming potentialities.

Could one of his pets be choking to death, and was that cry meant for a
signal to summon him to the rescue? The thought flashed into his excited
mind, causing Toby to spring from his bed like a flash, and rush over to
where the closed shutters prevented a view of the back yard.

If Toby did have an impediment in his speech there was certainly nothing
of that kind connected with his movements. He was known to be one of the
smartest players on the high school nine; though tongue-tied, he could
equal the swiftest player on the football eleven, and had more than
once claimed a share in carrying victory to the colors of Carson High.

He reached the window, and with trembling fingers fumbled at the catch,
intending to throw the shutters wide open. As he was doing so he became
aware of the fact that a confused jumble of mysterious sounds seemed to
come floating up to him.

Toby gave his head a shake, as he again took himself to task.

"It's the old dream ahangin' on to me," he thought. "Chances are now
that's only a door aswingin' in the breeze, and groanin' to beat the
band; yet I'm so filled chuck full of things, because of that book, and
my dream, that I'm silly enough to think I'm ahearin' wild animals
asnortin' and agruntin'. Bah! get your eyes wide open, Toby Jucklin, and
let up with this nonsense."

He flung open the shutters as he came to this part of hauling himself
over the coals. Then he crouched there as though transfixed, hardly even
drawing in a single breath. All Toby could do was to remain as though
changed into a statue, and take it out in staring; though he did want to
rub his eyes the worst kind, and see if the magical vision would vanish.

Indeed, there was enough reason for him to stare as though his eyes
would pop out of his head. What he gazed upon might make the most
sensible person believe he had been taken with a very bad case of
nightmare, and was seeing things that could exist only in dreams.

There, right in the same back yard where he had his own private little
menagerie Toby was looking down upon the most remarkable collection of
wild animals any boy could imagine would drop down from the clouds of a
stormy night--two big elephants, and a cunning baby one in the bargain;
three dromedaries, with their double humps all in place; an ostrich; a
striped zebra, and last but far from least, a cowering tawny form with a
shaggy mane in which Toby could recognize the king of the African
forest, a male lion!

Who could blame Toby for believing that he was still dreaming as he
stared out of the window of his own little second story room, and saw
this wonderful array of wild beasts camped in the back yard, where up to
then the fiercest captive had been his snarling wildcat, and undersized
at that?



CHAPTER IV

A PROFITABLE BACK YARD


"Oh, my s-s-stars!"

That was the extent of Toby's utterance for the moment, as he remained
crouched under the window, and watched that wonderful thing that had
come to pass in a single night, just as though he might be living in the
times of the "Arabian Nights," when magic was in vogue.

"W-w-where am I at?" he presently breathed. "W-w-what does it all
m-m-mean? Has the w-w-world really turned upside d-d-down? Am I in
Africa, or is this s-s-still p-p-plain old Carson, and I'm j-j-just
seein' things?"

Just then the swinging trunk of the largest elephant was curled over the
rim of the trough where running water passed day and night, coming
through a long pipe from a distant spring; there was a strange sucking
sound, then the trunk was turned upward, and a spray of water went
sizzling over the great broad back of the animal.

Toby stirred himself. He could see that the camels were chewing their
cud, and the ostrich pluming its ruffled feathers, while the baby
elephant nosed around as though in search of breakfast. Then even the
skulking tawny figure that was partly hidden under the cage containing
his wildcat moved; and he could make out the hitherto defiant inmate
trying to cower against the back of the refuge as though frightened by
the nearness of the king of the African jungle, the lion.

"By jinks! mebbe the circus was busted in the storm, and all the wild
animals got loose!"

Why, Toby was so startled by this sudden thought, that he even neglected
his customary stutter. Bandy-legs would have been quick to draw
attention to this remarkable fact, had he been present to notice it, as
he invariably did.

The more Toby allowed this idea to sink into his brain the stronger grew
his conviction that he had really hit upon the truth. What tickled Toby
most of all was the fact that the escaped animals should select _his_
back yard above all other places of refuge in the good old town of
Carson.

Perhaps it had happened that the gate blew open in the storm, having
been insecurely fastened; and that somehow the first animal may have
been attracted by the very odor of which his mother was beginning to
complain, and which is always present where wild animals are kept, such
as his wildcat, 'coon and fox.

Toby, however, always insisted that it must have been some instinct that
caused elephants, dromedaries, ostrich, zebra and even the toothless old
performing lion, Nero, to camp in his back yard in preference to any
other harbor of refuge.

"Sure they knew a friend when they wanted to get in out of the wet,
didn't they?" he would argue, with many a twist and turn to his speech;
"animals are wise to the fact that a _few_ people care for them, and I'm
one of that select bunch. And you can believe that I'll always take it
as one of the greatest compliments ever paid to me that they picked out
the Jucklin yard to camp in!"

But Toby was not saying anything like this just at present. He knew that
some energetic action must be taken in order to notify the owners of the
wrecked circus where they could find a big part of their stray stock.

He tore downstairs in a great hurry, though very careful at the same
time to close the shutters of his window again; for it gave him a cold
chill to imagine that great yellow-maned lion scrambling up the
grape-arbor near by, and finding entrance to his sleeping apartment.
Toby liked wild animals all right, but he was not hankering after having
them quite as close as that.

It was a quiet Sunday morning. Later on the church bells would begin to
jangle and ring, but at that early hour not a sound seemed to make
itself heard.

Straight to the telephone rushed Toby, and as soon as he could get
Central he begged to be connected with the office of the Chief of
Police.

Now Toby hardly expected that the brave defenders of Carson would march
up to the Jucklin domicile, and arrest those elephants, dromedaries,
zebra, ostrich and last but not least the terrible king of the dark
African jungle, as Nero was described on the posters that decorated all
the bill boards in town. But when citizens were in any sort of trouble
it was only right they should put it up to the police. What were those
men paid for, but to shoulder all the burdens that might arise, and find
a solution to mysteries? Why, they would not earn their salt unless
people found something for them to do once in a while; because Carson
most of the time was as sleepy and peaceable as any town could be.

"Hello! hello!" said a voice over the wire.

"That you, C-c-chief?"

"It certainly is; what can I do for you this morning?" came the voice.

"This is T-t-toby J-j-jucklin s-s-speaking to you!"

"I see it is," replied the official, who knew Toby very well, and
doubtless his stuttering also. "Well, what's happened this Sunday, Toby?
Storm knock a chimney down at your place? It would only make six I've
heard from, not to speak of the church spire being out of plumb again."

"D-d-did the circus g-g-get to town last night, C-c-chief!"

"Did it? Well, I should say yes. There's the dickens to pay, and I guess
most of the churches'll have thin audiences this morning, when the news
leaks out, Toby."

"Y-y-you mean the animals escaped, d-d-don't you, Chief?"

"They surely did," came the reply over the wire. "Wind blew the
round-top down, upset some of the cages, and made such a big panic that
all the live stock that could get a move on took French leave. Right now
the whole outfit is scouring the roads for ten miles around, but I
haven't heard that they've run across anything yet. The whole country
will be just plumb crazy when it gets known."

"W-w-what was it g-g-got away, Chief; w-w-would you mind tellin' me?"

"Certainly not, Toby; you know I'd do a heap to oblige you," the head of
Carson's police force went on to say, for Mr. Jucklin had considerable
influence in politics, and the Chief knew which side of his bread was
buttered, as well as any one could. "Let's see, I heard it over the
wire, and Mr. Jenks was all broke up over the catastrophe, so he mixed
things up some; but I remember he said all the camels and the elephants
had lit out, ditto their trained ostrich that draws a cart around the
ring like a hoss; and there was some monkeys that broke loose too, yes,
and now I think of it he did mention a striped animal which he called
the zebra; and I think he said a lot of lions and tigers, and also a few
others I can't recall for the moment!"

"Well, part of the lot are camped right now in our back yard!" said
Toby, filled with such a sense of importance that he neglected to
stumble over a single word of this sentence.

Evidently the man in blue uniform at the other end of the wire was
staggered by this unexpected communication.

"What's that, Toby?" he exclaimed; "you wouldn't try to deceive me, I
hope? Sure you haven't been dreaming, and seeing things? I know you're
fond of wild animals, and have got a little collection yourself; but
explain some more. I wouldn't want to get hold of Mr. Jenks, the circus
man, and then have him disappointed."

"Oh! no danger of that," sang out Toby, jubilantly; "let's s-s-see,
there's one l-lion, three elephants, three double-humped c-c-camels, an
ostrich, and the zebra there right now, 'cause I s-s-saw the whole lot.
D-d-don't know how m-m-many more might be around on the other s-s-side
of the house. Seems like they j-j-just took to the Jucklin ranch.
K-k-knew a good thing when they saw it. Will you notify this M-m-mister
Jenks, or shall I?"

"Why, he's right across the square now, getting some breakfast, and I
can run over to tell him, Toby, thank you."

"H-h-hold on, Chief!"

"What else is there, Toby?"

"D-d-do you know if he's been offerin' any s-s-sort of reward for the
recovery of his l-l-lost animals?" asked the boy, eagerly.

"Why, I did hear him say he'd be only too glad to make it worth
anybody's time who brought him information that would lead to the
recovery of his property. And I'll see what I can do for you, Toby. It
ought to be worth fifty dollars to you, that's right. But don't detain
me any longer, because he might get away. He's got a car at the door of
the hotel waiting for him. See you later, Toby, and thank you for
calling me up."

Toby puzzled a little over this last remark. He finally grinned, and
concluded that possibly there might be something in it for the genial
Chief also, which was why he declared himself as indebted to the boy who
brought the information.

Toby's next move was to hurry down to the kitchen to warn the cook not
to poke her head out of doors on penalty of receiving a shock. He was
just a few seconds too late to prevent this, however, for just as he
reached the kitchen, and discovered the back door open, a figure came
tearing through like mad. It was the black cook, Sallie Marie, and the
whites of her eyes were showing as she slammed that door shut and then
fell back in a big chair, almost fainting.

"Don't yuh go out dar, chile!" she whimpered, as she thought she saw
Toby making for the door; and so he was, but only to turn the key in the
lock, as though fearful that some cunning and aggressive animal might
manage to open it; "de Noah's ark am drapped down on top of dis wicked
town durin' de night, an' der's de animiles awalkin' 'round our garden
two by two, de elephants an' de camels an' de lions. Oh! what-ebber am
we agwine to do, chile? Does yuh think I's on'y makin' b'lieve, or dat I
done got de fever? Jest look fo' yo'self out o' de window, an' see all
dem awful t'ings out dere. I done spect yuh got all de menagerie yuh
wants dis time, an' dat's a fack!"

Toby hastened to explain what had happened, and that the animals she saw
belonged to the menagerie connected with the circus that was passing
Sunday in Carson, meaning to give a parade Monday morning, to be
followed by two performances later in the day and evening.

Then he hastened upstairs again to tell the rest of the folks; and for
some time every one in the Jucklin house had his or her face glued to a
window pane, watching the remarkable sight to be seen in their plain
back yard, which for the time being seemed to have been transported to
the heart of Africa.

Then the first detachment of the circus people hove in sight, and there
were witnessed some of the strangest things that ever came to pass on
the quiet of a Sunday morning in old Carson, since the days of the war,
half a century before.

Men led elephants away; others came with the two-humped dromedaries, and
after them the striped zebra trotted, showing something like temper
because his spell of liberty had been so short.

Then came the ostrich, with its master leading it by a rope, and warning
the curious spectators to keep away from its feet because it could kick
forward like a football punter, and with disastrous results.

Last of all a cage was brought to hold the lion that was at large; and
while the men, armed with sticks and pistols, the latter being
discharged frequently so as to inspire old Nero with alarm, drove the
beast toward the open door of the wagon, the spectators peeped from
behind corners and other places of refuge, ready to run madly if there
seemed any chance of his turning toward them.

In the end all the animals that had gathered so strangely in the Jucklin
yard were taken away. Toby had thought to call up his chums on the
'phone early in the affair, so that not only Max, but Steve and
Bandy-legs were on the spot, to gape, and see all that went on, enjoying
it immensely too.

That was a Sunday never to be forgotten in the annals of Carson. The
news went around, and many timid people remained shut up in their houses
the livelong day, not daring to venture out for fear lest they be
pounced upon by a striped tiger, a yellow-maned lion, a man-eating
panther, or some inferior beast like a common wolf, hyena or jackal.

The boys of the town were wild with excitement, and all day long a crowd
gathered about the round-top, which had been repaired and hoisted. These
circus men are able to meet sudden emergencies. They know what it is to
grapple with difficulties that come unannounced; and it is all in a
day's work with them.

Some mended torn canvas; others looked after the animals, while fresh
lots continued to scour the adjacent country, searching for such animals
as had not been accounted for in the collection found in the Jucklin
back yard.

It was the biggest advertisement the show could possibly have had, and
the enterprising owner saw his opportunity to get out fresh bills,
telling about the havoc of the storm, and announcing that these beasts
of prey that had been at liberty were now all safely secured
again--which Toby and his chums knew was a barefaced lie, for the men
were still hunting along all the roads and the woods within ten miles of
town--and "could be seen in the wonderful menagerie that formed a part
of the grand aggregation," and so the announcement ran on, after the
customary flamboyant manner of circus posters in general.

Toby had a little streak of business about him, and some time during the
day he managed to interview Mr. Jenks, informing him that he was the boy
who had been the means of sending information in first about the missing
animals, and that it was his amateur menagerie in the back yard that had
baited them.

So what did Mr. Jenks do but place fifty dollars in his hand, and thank
him in the bargain. Toby was quite satisfied, but he could not help
wondering what the Chief got out of it; though he never knew.

Of course he was also told that he could attend both performances, and
fetch a dozen friends along with him in the bargain, a privilege Toby
was pretty certain he would avail himself of, for he was a real boy, and
as we know, loved animals far beyond the average of his class.

There was a tremendous outpouring of people on the following day and
evening; for never had a show been better advertised than that of Mr.
Jenks. Some people even hinted that the escape of the wild beasts had
really been a shrewd dodge whereby a novel feature could be introduced
into advertising practices; but others scoffed the idea, and pointed to
the fact that even through Monday squads of the trainers and canvasmen
continued to patrol the highways and byways around Carson as though all
of the wild beasts could not have been recovered in that raid on the
Jucklins' back yard.



CHAPTER V

ON THE WAY TO THE WOODS


"Pull up here at the spring, boys, and let's all get a drink."

"Whoa! there, Ebenezer, you're going to get a little rest before we
tackle the last three miles to the camping ground we've picked out."

Max had been the first speaker, and Steve did the talking to the horse
that was drawing the wagon on which the four chums were seated. They had
come quite a distance from Carson since early morning, fully fifteen
miles along the road; and the animal between the shafts was beginning to
puff, as though well tired out. But often some of the boys had only too
gladly jumped down, and climbed hills, so as to make things easier for
the beast of burden, for which possibly Ebenezer may have been thankful,
and again he may not.

The Easter holidays had set in. Only of recent date had the Carson
school trustees settled upon the new policy of shutting the doors for a
full week at this time of year, so as to give teachers and scholars a
breathing spell before the hard work of spring examinations; and it may
be sure that the boys and girls appreciated the favor very much indeed.

With a whole week before them then, the four boys had started away early
on that morning, bent upon making a new camp, and enjoying themselves to
their full bent. Others might find pleasure in starting to play ball,
and kindred sports that the coming of a few warm days always sees take
on new life; but as for Max and his comrades, give them the open woods,
and a tent, for their sport.

The excitement over the circus animals had about died out in Carson.
After the passing of the show people began to think of other things,
though there were some of the more timid who continued to see terrible
wild beasts in every animal noticed on the roads or in the fields, such
was the reign of terror the occurrence had instituted in certain
families.

Toby was as proud as anything over his part in the affair. He believed
that it had put him in the spotlight for the time being, because every
one was talking about how queer it was all those animals should pick out
the Jucklin back yard to congregate in; and that of course always
brought up the subject of his love for collecting.

Besides, hadn't he made his chums turn green with envy when he showed
them that lovely bunch of five ten-dollar bills, which the grateful
circus proprietor had placed in his hand as a reward for sending in the
earliest news concerning the location of his missing property?

Yes, Toby was as happy as the clam is said to be at high tide. He
fairly bubbled over with an excess of spirits, and even when Bandy-legs
commenced to tease him he refused to display any temper.

In that wagon they carried most of the stuff that had been so useful on
other similar expeditions to the woods in search of enjoyment.

There was the old tent which Max had tanned after a formula of his own,
so that it had not only lost its dirty white look, but was now
guaranteed wholly waterproof. Then they had various guns, from the
reliable rifle Max owned to the newer little twelve bore Marlin
double-barreled shotgun which Steve proudly claimed could outshoot any
similar weapon ever made.

Besides they carried a full cooking assortment of kettles, fryingpans
and coffeepots. As to the provisions, well, given four hearty boys with
good appetites, an abundance of money in the treasury of the club, and
with a whole week ahead of them in the woods, and you can easily imagine
what an enormous stock of food they would be likely to lay in.

Unless something happened to deplete their stock of groceries there did
not appear to be much chance of such a thing as real hunger being known
in that camp. If they wanted fresh eggs, milk and butter, Max knew of a
farmer within two miles who would be only too glad to supply them with
all they could use, terms strictly cash with the order always.

It was now about three in the afternoon. They had a scant three miles
more to cover before arriving at their journey's end; and hence were not
in any great hurry to push along. So a little rest at the cool spring
would not come in amiss, and give poor old Ebenezer a chance to get in
condition for the last round.

As the boys lounged there and took things easy, they chatted about
numerous matters; and it was only natural that in due time the talk
should turn once more to the recent great scare Carson folks had passed
through.

"Seems to me," Max remarked, with a laugh, "that in some families for
years to come whenever they want to refer to anything that happened in
the past, it's going to be something like this: 'the year the circus
broke loose,' or else perhaps along this order: 'just a month after
those horrid wild animals terrorized the town!'"

"Yes, and they're seeing 'em yet every little while," Steve went on to
declare.

"S-s-sure thing," assented Toby, chuckling as he patted his pocket where
possibly one of those brand new ten-dollar bills snugly reposed, for
Toby believed in going prepared for anything that might happen, and
money is always a good thing to have around; "didn't the C-c-chief tell
me only y-y-yesterday that old Miss Moffat she c-c-called him up and
demanded that he c-c-come and arrest a hyena that was runnin' all around
her p-p-pasture lot; and when he hurried out there, taking one of his
men along, so's to s-s-shoot the t-t-terror, s-s-say, what d'ye think it
was but the next d-d-door neighbor's d-d-dog?"

Bandy-legs heaved a long sigh at this juncture, which of course called
attention to him.

"Hey! what ails you there?" demanded Steve.

"He does look like he mightn't be as happy as you'd think, when we're
bound on such a glorious trip up to the woods," Max remarked.

"Well, I ain't," grumbled the one who was under fire just then.

"Not feelin' sick, are you?" Toby wanted to know, for he could not
understand how anybody could fail to be bubbling over with joy when off
on such a vacation as they had ahead of them; and with fifty dollars in
hand things do look pretty rosy to a boy, it must be confessed.

"Aw! no, I could eat a house!" Bandy-legs shot back at him; "it's all
about Nicodemus again."

"Hello! What's the c-c-cute little rascal b-b-been doing now?"

"Why, you see, ever since that menagerie had to go and break loose, our
Nora, she seems more set against my bear cub than ever. I saw she was
goin' to make trouble first chance she got, and so I've been mighty
careful to keep the cub from slippin' loose from his collar, like he
used to. But that's what he went and done last night, and however the
critter ever got into the house beats me."

"What's that you say; the bear cub didn't try to run away to the woods,
but climbed in through some open window, and got in your house; is that
it, Toby?" cried Steve, holding up his hands in pretended horror, but
grinning at the same time.

"Huh! if you'd heard the yells that our Nora gave about nine o'clock
last night, when she went up to her room, you'd athought it worth while
mentioning," Bandy-legs continued, sorrowfully, yet with a twinkle of
amusement in his eye.

"Wow! that sounds kind of interesting; suppose you tell us more about
it, Bandy-legs," Steve implored, eager to hear particulars.

"Why, seems like," began the other, only too willingly, "her candle blew
out just when she got up to the door of her room, which was wide open;
so what does Nora do but feel her way in. She had some clean clothes in
one arm that she wanted to lay on her bed while she lighted her candle
again. But when she touched a hairy object that moved and whined-like,
she nearly jumped out of her skin, because she felt just dead sure it
must be one of the tigers that she always believed the circus men had
never got back."

The three other boys roared at the picture conjured up by this vivid
description, and it was a full minute before the narrator could go on
with his story.

"Nora she climbed down both flights of stairs like she had wings," he
went on to tell in his humorous fashion; "seems like she must have slid
from the top to the bottom of the upper flight. My dad ain't afraid of
anything, so me and him both armed ourselves, and we snuck up to find
out what had scared the hired girl. And there was poor Nicodemus,
asettin' all curled up on the bed, and blinkin' his little rat eyes at
the light we shoved into the room ahead of our guns."

Again there was a general laugh, as if the subject appealed to their
love for the ridiculous; and they did not consider the alarm of poor
Nora one little bit.

"Of course I laughed, and my dad did the same; but he told me then and
there he had to choose between that bear cub and a good cook; and well,
you know how it's always bound to turn out when a cook's in the scales.
Poor Nicodemus got it in the neck. He has to go."

Toby made a queer sound and again his hand might have been seen to press
against his pocket, as though he fancied he had the wherewithal right
there to purchase the long coveted pet of Bandy-legs.

"But what did you do with him?" asked Max.

"Oh! nothing yet," came the reply. "Dad he said he'd look after him
while I was gone on this trip, but he insisted that I part with my pet
as soon as I came home again. So Toby, some time we'll talk it over, and
you make me a good offer. He ought to be worth something decent, even to
circus people. Bet you that Mr. Jenks'd have paid me ten dollars for
him, spot cash."

Toby did not make any reply, but he gulped as though he could already
see the coveted bear cub in a nice new cage, constituting one of the
attractions in his new collection, to be kept out on the farm his folks
owned some miles away from Carson, and where the offensive odors that
always go with a menagerie might not disturb any sensitive nose.

"Ever since then," continued Bandy-legs, thoughtfully, believing the
seed had doubtless fallen upon fallow ground, and would bear fruit in
season, "our cook has been actin' queer-like. She keeps alookin' under
tables all the while like she expected to see tigers and lions
acrouchin' there, ready to take a bite out of her. And she's even got to
callin' my little Nicodemus bad names. She says he's sure a chip of the
Ould Nick. That's what she told me this morning, when I was getting a
big pie she made for me yesterday, and which is safe in a box in the
wagon here."

"It seems to apply all right," commented Max, "and come to think of it,
Bandy-legs, I guess he is all of that. I never heard of a pet as full of
pranks as that cub is; and chances are Toby here will have his hands
full looking after him, once he changes owners."

"T-t-try me, that's all!" Toby remarked, with the air of one who had
made it a practical business in life to know all about wild animals, and
how best to take care of them; having heard the owner mention the sum of
ten dollars he felt as though the bargain had already been consummated,
and all that remained was for the goods to be delivered.

They loitered there by the spring for some time, and the horse seemed to
revive enough to pull through the last stage of the journey. After that
Ebenezer would have a long rest of nearly a week; and much of the return
trip would prove easier, being down-hill work.

"All aboard again!" called Max, when he thought they might as well be
starting ahead, and do some of the resting at the place they had picked
out for a camp site. So they continued along the road.

Presently they turned off the main pike, to follow a side road that
seemed to lead up into a wild stretch of country. Here an occasional
farm might be run across but as a rule there were woods, and then some
more woods, until one could tramp for miles and miles through stretches
of country where it seemed almost like the primeval wilderness.

Of course most of these trees, though of fair size, were second-growth
timber. The avaricious lumberman had long ago been through all this
section, and only in patches was it possible to find any of the original
great trees that were possibly growing a century or two back, when the
whites were wresting this land from the possession of the Indians.

"This begins to look like business," Steve remarked, when they had been
following this twisting road for more than a mile; "and I can see why
Max chose to bring us up here to do our camping. We'll hardly run
across a living soul, unless we go over to that farm to get eggs and
milk. And say, let me tell you there's considerable of small game
frisking around this neck of the woods."

"I've seen heaps of gray squirrels running up the trunks of trees, and
hiding on the far side, as they always do," Max observed.

"And three times a cottontail bounced away, once right under my feet,"
Bandy-legs added, as his quota of evidence in support of Steve's
declaration with regard to their finding all the game they would need,
if so be they felt that it would be right to do any shooting so late in
the season.

"That was a red fox we saw slinking off a little while back," Steve
continued; "and where you find that smart animal depend on it the
hunting's good; for he'd clear out if it wasn't."

"Oh! d-d-did you see that?" gasped Toby, suddenly as he thrust out a
hand, and pointed straight ahead.

Every one of them must have set eyes on the same object that had caught
his attention, for they turned and looked inquiringly at each other.
Steve even leaned back and hastily secured his gun, into which with
trembling hands he commenced to push a couple of shells that were loaded
with buckshot, a dozen to each.

"What could it have been?" Bandy-legs asked. "I just managed to ketch a
glimpse of it as it disappeared in the brush, and if you gave me a
dollar I couldn't say whether it was a brindle dog or a hyena or what!"

"That's just the way we all feel," Max told him.

It could be plainly seen, however, that the boys were more or less
excited over the prospect of some of the wild beasts from the menagerie
still being at large. Indeed, who could blame them, when there was a
prospect of running across a hungry tiger, a ravenous wolf, or perhaps a
man-eating lion at any time in their saunterings through the aisles of
the forest?



CHAPTER VI

THE TERRIBLE ROAR


It was all of half-past four when the boys arrived at the place selected
for a camp. Immediately all of them became very busy, for considerable
work had to be done before night set in, so that they could feel fairly
comfortable.

One staked out the horse so that he could crop the grass, and be
contented, after being watered at the spring that ran close by. This fed
a pond that Max told them could be reached in ten minutes or less, and
which he believed might afford them some early fishing, if they felt
inclined, as what boys would not?

The tent was quickly raised in a selected spot, where the ground sloped
just enough to shed water in case of a downpour of rain; which is one of
the first things to consider when making a camp.

From the way in which each fellow bustled around it was plain to be seen
that they had had considerable experience in these things, and knew just
how to set to work in order to get the camp in shipshape condition.

Toby built a splendid stone fireplace where the cooking might be done
with a "minimum of discomfort and a maximum of pleasure," as he
remarked, though stumbling badly over the words he used to express his
meaning.

They had a grating taken from one of the ovens at home; it was open like
a broiler, and about two feet square. When placed on the stone
foundation that was to serve as a fireplace, it could not be equaled as
a steady foundation for coffeepot, kettles, or fryingpan. The boys had
once used metal rods, but found these apt to slip unexpectedly, and
several mishaps had led Max to suggest this better way of arranging
their stove.

This camping-out business is like everything else that boys run after.
After a spell they are apt to tire of it, and eagerly welcome home
cooking with all the frills; but there remains the longing for the open,
and the smell of the burning wood, so that after a certain time has
elapsed they are just as eager as ever to go out again, and put up with
all manner of inconveniences in order to be free from restraint for
awhile.

From Max down to Toby all of them were bubbling over with happiness as
they started to get their first meal ready. Even Bandy-legs seemed to
have forgotten his woes in connection with Nicodemus, for he laughed and
joked with the rest. Perhaps some of that forlorn look had been artfully
assumed so as to cause Toby to believe he was breaking his heart over
the necessity of having to part company with his pet cub. It might be
possible that Bandy-legs was not so averse to getting rid of the
prank-loving bear as he pretended to be.

The night settled in around them finally, while they were still in the
throes of cooking that first supper in the woods. As this was just
before Easter Sunday, and that event always comes immediately after a
full moon, they could expect to be favored with more or less heavenly
illumination during their stay in camp.

When later on they finally sat around to enjoy the supper that had been
cooked it seemed as though their cup of happiness must be complete.
Everything tasted wonderfully fine to the boys, because they had their
appetites along with them. But the surroundings no doubt had a good deal
to do with it, for there was something of a tang in the air, it being
only April; and from the woods arose a dank odor of rotting logs and
leaf mold that was very pleasant to these lads.

Then the wood they were burning was for the most part hickory, ash or
oak, hard stuff every inch of it; and the fumes that were wafted into
their faces with each change of wind, while making their eyes blink and
smart, were mighty gratifying to their sense of smell.

Those who really love the woods never pass through city streets, and get
a whiff of hard-wood smoke, but what they draw in a big breath, and
immediately picture the camp fire burning, with good chums seated around
enjoying a tempting meal; and the boardinghouse spread looks less
appetizing than ever after that glimpse into Paradise.

"I hope all of you have brought some lines and hooks along," said Max,
after the first edge had been taken from their hunger, and they felt
disposed to talk more or less; "because, while the bass season won't
open until the end of next month we might pick up some big pickerel in
that pond I spoke of. I've heard tall yarns about their size there, and
the savage way they take hold."

"Fresh fish wouldn't go bad," Steve went on to say, reflectively, as he
took a second helping of fried potatoes from one of the fryingpans, and
then fished out another nicely browned sausage from the other.

"But seems to me it's pretty early to expect 'em to take hold,"
Bandy-legs ventured to say, as he filled his tin cup from the coffee
pot, and then added some condensed milk of the kind known as evaporated
cream, because it has not been sweetened in order to keep it.

"W-w-what, for p-p-pickerel?" exclaimed Toby. "Why, they're ready to
b-b-bite any old t-t-time, ain't they, Max?"

"I never knew the time when they wouldn't grab at bait," the other
replied. "You know they're built on the order of a pirate, and that's
what a pickerel or a pike is, a regular buccaneer. Why, I've been out on
the ice on a big lake in winter where dozens of little cabins and tents
had been built, each sheltering a pickerel fisherman, who had as many as
a dozen lines rigged through holes cut in the thick ice."

"I've heard something about that kind of fishing, but never had a chance
to see how it was done," Steve went on to say.

"Tell us some more about it, won't you, Max?" Bandy-legs pleaded as well
as a fellow could who was swallowing his supper in gulps.

"If ever you eat p-p-pickerel like you're chokin' things d-d-down right
now," Toby hastened to say, "you'll have a n-n-nice lot of pitchfork
b-b-bones stuck in your throat, b-b-believe me, Bandy-legs."

"Oh! guess I've eaten pickerel lots of times," retorted the other,
indignantly; "I always go slow when I'm on a fish diet, and don't you
forget it. But, Max, tell us about what you saw that time. We don't get
such fishing around here."

"Glad of it," muttered Steve. "There must be mighty little sport fishing
through the ice when it's bitter cold; and I reckon all they do it for
is the market."

"You're wrong there," Max advised him, promptly; "for while some men
fish on the ice as a business, and make fair wages, many others do the
same because they like it. They even keep a little stove or a fire of
some sort going in those cabins and tents; and let me tell you it's
some exciting watching the tip-ups signal here and there, when the fish
are hungry, and biting fast and furious."

"Tip-ups, you call them; that has to do with the lines, don't it?" Steve
asked.

"Yes, every line is rigged so that when a fish is caught the fisherman
is notified in some way or other," Max went on to explain. "Some use
little bells that tinkle with a bite; others have red strips of cloth
that are pulled up to the top of a short stick; but the common way is to
make a crotch cut from a branch of a tree answer. It tilts up when the
line is tugged, and so you know that you ought to hurry there and get
your prize. That's how they came to be called tip-ups."

"Well, as the ice has long ago gone out of the ponds around Carson I
reckon we won't get any chance to try that queer sort of pickerel
fishing," Steve observed; "but I brought my minnow seine along, so we
ought to scoop up plenty of live bait, and they take with pickerel every
time. You can trust Uncle Steve for bringing in an occasional mess of
fresh fish."

"H-h-how about h-h-hunting!"

"Is the law on everything, Max?" questioned Bandy-legs.

"Pretty near everything," came the reply; "we'll look up the game laws
in the morning, and see how we stand. I like to hunt as well as the next
one, but all the same I don't believe in shooting game out of season,
and I'd only do it if I was starving, and had to save my life that
way."

"But whether we go hunting or not," ventured Steve, "we're all glad we
thought to fetch our guns along."

They exchanged quick glances at that.

"Which is to say," remarked Mas, smiling, "that you haven't settled it
in your mind yet, Steve, that what we saw disappearing was some barred
dog belonging to a farmer, and not a striped hyena."

"Well, you never can tell," Steve stubbornly contended, with a wise
shake of his head; "we know there must have been some beasts got away
that they never did find again. Just what they were nobody seems able to
agree. I've heard all sorts of guesses made; and a hyena might be one of
the same, as well as anything."

"They come from India, don't they?" asked Bandy-legs, smoothly.

"Found in both Asia and Africa," Max explained. "I'm not sure of any
being met with in Europe, though there are plenty of wolves. They feed
on carrion mostly, and are cowardly by nature; but all the same, they're
nasty looking brutes, and always snarling the worst you ever heard. It
makes your flesh creep just to hear them growl, worse than the ugly
tempered wildcat Toby owns."

"Well, me to carry my Marlin wherever I go up here," announced Steve;
"and if it happens that I run foul of a striped beast, that I don't like
the looks of, you'll see me knocking the spots out of him first, and
then finding afterwards what his breed is. If he turns out to be a plain
dog, then he's paid the penalty for looking like one of these hyenas,
that's all."

"D-d-don't you hear 'em?" asked Toby just then.

Steve and Bandy-legs made as though ready to reach out for their guns,
placed conveniently near; but hesitated when they saw that Toby was
grinning, and showed no signs of being worried.

"F-f-frogs, and heaps of the same over there in that p-p-pond you was
telling us about, Max. Yum! Yum! reckon now I'm in f-f-for some g-g-good
feasts."

All of them could now catch a distant croaking that announced the fact
as stated by the observant Toby; and they knew that with that pond so
close by they would be apt to take all the bullfrogs they wanted during
their stay.

"But we didn't fetch that little target gun along," remarked Bandy-legs,
regretfully.

"Don't need it," Steve told him; "do we, Max?"

"Not that I can see," answered the one appealed to; "I've got a piece of
red flannel with me, and some hooks. All you have to do is to cut a long
pole, tie a stout line about two feet long to the end, with one of the
hooks attached; and then fix a small clipping of the red stuff to the
hook. When you see a big greenback on the edge of the water sneak up
behind him, lower the flannel gently until it dangles in front of him,
and you'll see some of the funniest happenings you ever set eyes on;
that is they'll be funny to you, but death to the frog."

"I've caught 'em that way many a time," Steve told them. "Sometimes the
old frog will crouch down like a cat sneaking up on a sparrow, and then
make a fling up at the bright thing, which I reckon he thinks must be a
juicy sort of a bug. As soon as he feels the barb of the hook he tries
to climb up the line and jump all around like a trapeze performer. But
only a cruel fellow would stand and watch him suffer. I always try to
knock him on the head instanter, and get his boots in my creel."

"That's the only way," Max added, approvingly. "Even a sportsman can be
merciful to his game by putting it out of pain as quick as possible."

"I always do when I've shot anything I want for food," Bandy-legs vowed.

"And me, I always c-c-carry a little c-c-club along when I g-g-go
fishing," Toby declared, proudly.

"Hear him, fellows?" exclaimed Bandy-legs, pretending not to understand;
"he must think he's a policeman, and meaning to knock every sleeping
tramp on the soles of his feet to wake him up."

"It's to k-k-knock the fish on the h-h-head after you've c-c-caught the
same!" Toby hastened to inform him, grandly, as became a humane
sportsman.

"Any more coffee in that pot, Max?" Steve asked, passing his cup along,
for he certainly had a weakness for the "ambrosia" as he often called
it, though never allowed more than one helping at home, and then only at
breakfast.

The meal went on to its close, and while in the start it had seemed as
though the eyes of the cooks had been much greater than their capacity
for stowing food away, judging from the minute amount that was wasted it
would seem that they knew better; or else that the average boy's stomach
does stretch away down into his lower extremities, as some people claim.

"That was a hunky-dory supper, all right," Steve admitted, as he lay
lazily back on his blanket, and commenced to pick his teeth after the
manner of one who has dined well, and is perfectly at peace with the
whole world.

"Best I've had since the last time we ate grub together," Bandy-legs
added, as his quota of praise, although he had been one of the cooks.

"And that was up in the Great North Woods, when we spent that joyful
time with Trapper Jim, wasn't it!" Max suggested.

"I'd sure like mighty well to repeat that trip some of these fine days,"
Steve told them, "but I reckon we never will, because there are so many
other temptations all around us. And seems like we might squeeze all the
fun we can manage out of this little vacation. Here we are, away off
from everywhere, and if we want we can just think we're camping in the
heart of Africa, with wild beasts all around us and savage Hottentots or
Zulu warriors waiting to take us by surprise."

Steve liked to indulge in these little flights of fancy once in a while.
His imagination sometimes ran away with him; but he seemed to get
considerable of enjoyment out of the idea.

Hardly had he ceased speaking on the present occasion than each one of
the four boys sat upright, and seemed to be straining his hearing to the
utmost, as though some sound had come to them then and there that caused
surprise, even consternation.

"S-s-say, w-w-whatever was that n-n-noise like thunder?" asked Toby,
blankly.

Steve looked puzzled.

"That's what's got my goat, Toby," he remarked in a perplexed tone of
voice; it might be one thing or another, but it sure wasn't thunder.
"As for me, now, I'm racking my poor brains to guess whether it could
only have been a farmer's bull bellowing away off there; or we sat here
and actually, listened to a savage African lion at large!"

His words appalled every one, and it was well that supper had been
eaten, else their appetites might have suffered a decided slump.



CHAPTER VII

THE QUEER ACTIONS OF STEVE


"Listen, and see if it comes again!" said Bandy-legs, with bated breath.

The four campers sat there for several tense minutes, each one almost
holding his breath in the effort to train his ears so as not to miss the
slightest sound that might come.

"Whoo--whoo--whoo!"

After all their great expectations, to hear this solemn cry from the
depths of the woods made several of the chums chuckle.

"Good evening, Mister Owl!" Bandy-legs called out, with mock respect.
"Hope all the little Owls are feeling quite well to-night. Glad to have
us for company, are you? Well, we're just tickled to death to be with
you, believe me."

"But s-s-say, that wasn't what we heard the other t-t-time!" objected
Toby, in some dismay, as though he feared he might have been dreadfully
deceived by mistaking the booming hoot of a horned owl for the roar of a
lion.

"Oh! no, of course not, Toby," Max hastened to assure him; "but it seems
as though there isn't going to be any _encore_ to that other noise."

"Then h-h-how are we agoin' to decide w-w-what it was?"

"We might take a vote, and see how we stand on it," laughed Max.

"Bull or lion, eh?" suggested Steve.

"There's a few clouds floating around loose," remarked Bandy-legs, as
though in an uncertain state himself; "and p'raps after all that was a
grumble of faraway thunder."

"S-s-s'pose somebody could be doin' blastin' up around here?"

This was a new idea that appealed to Toby. He sometimes startled his
comrades by having an original thought.

"That isn't such an impossible thing after all, Toby," admitted Max,
after considering it for a brief time; "although so far as I'm concerned
I don't think it was either thunder, or a blast."

"That brings us back to the original question--bull or lion?" Steve
pursued.

"We may never know which, if it isn't repeated," Bandy-legs observed,
sagely; for not wanting to be outdone by Toby he had racked his brain in
vain to find another possible explanation, and had to give it up.

"Well, whoever goes for eggs and milk to-morrow," began Max, "ought to
make a little investigation on his own account. Perhaps he might manage
to pick up a few points that will help us decide this mystery."

"You m-m-mean ask the f-f-farmer whether he k-k-keeps a bull, or a
roarin' old l-l-lion in his b-b-barn?"

"Ask about the bull, anyway," Max told him. "And if we learn that he's
the owner of such an animal, find out if the beast gives a bellow once
in a while."

"All right, that's settled then," Steve announced. "If I happen to be
one of the pair chosen to take that little excursion I'll put it up
straight to the old hayseed, and learn the truth. But say, hadn't we
better be changing the subject some, fellows. It isn't always a good
thing to get talking _too_ seriously about things like this just before
you drop off to bed."

"W-w-why?" asked Toby, suspiciously, for he had noticed that Steve
grinned somewhat when saying this, and gave him a quick look.

"Oh! well," the other continued, "you never can tell what sort of an
impression things make on one's mind, and are carried with you into
dreamland. I've done some queer stunts myself away back when I had the
bad habit of seeing things in my sleep. And I know a fellow who thought
he was in the heart of Africa watching the savage beasts come down to a
waterhole to drink, and then getting up in the morning to discover the
whole shooting-match had taken up quarters in his back yard. You never
know what's going to happen."

"That's right, you don't," added Bandy-legs, and shaking his forefinger
at Toby dramatically he continued: "Now see here, Toby, just you quit
dreaming about lions and elephants and rhinoceroses and such things.
Dreams come true sometimes. Think we want to wake up in the mornin' to
find a lion sitting on that stump over there; a striped jungle tiger
perched in this tree waiting for his breakfast; and an old rogue
elephant spoutin' water from our creek all over the camp? Just start
thinking of apple pies, custards and that sort of thing, and sleep
sound."

Toby only grinned back at him, and made no reply.

"How about keeping watch to-night?" remarked Steve, some time later.

"Oh! I don't believe that's absolutely necessary," Max informed him.

"Some of us are light sleepers anyway," suggested Bandy-legs.

"That's me, as a rule!" Steve instantly declared; "and a cat couldn't
walk across the floor of my room without me waking up and asking who was
there. Then again it seems as if when I hit the hay I never know a thing
till daylight comes. They may tell me we had a heavy storm in the middle
of the night, but it didn't faze me one little bit. I don't know why
that should be, unless it depends on what I've been eating for supper."

"Well," Max told him, "let's hope then that this is going to be one of
the nights when you're on guard, and that if anything tried to carry
Toby off you'll hear him let out a yell."

"And then, Steve, remember we've got some prime provisions with us, that
might tempt a hungry 'coon or a fox. If so be you hear stealthy
footfalls like padded feet, get your gun ready to shoot."

"I will, Bandy-legs, never you fear," Steve informed him. "Something
tells me this is going to be one of my wakeful nights; so the rest of
you can sleep right along as comfy as bugs in a rug. I'll do the
watching for the crowd."

Max made no further comment, but had Steve noticed the raising of his
eyebrows, and the smile that flitted across his face, he might have
suspected that the other entertained serious doubts concerning the
wisdom of depending wholly on his continuing to be on the alert during
that coming period when the rest of them would give themselves up to
sound slumber.

In other words Max had privately determined that it was up to him to
keep his finger on the pulse of passing events. He too was a light
sleeper, once he had impressed the fact upon his mind that there was
need of keeping on the alert; and few movements could take place in camp
without Max being wise to them.

All due preparations had been completed looking to a period of calm. The
horse was staked in a fresh spot, where he could eat to his heart's
content; and such of their provisions that they thought might tempt
prowling animals they had hung on the limbs of adjacent trees, in such
positions as seemed to insure their safety.

"Of course," said Steve, the last thing before crawling into the tent,
"if there should happen to be a lion hanging around he'd gobble poor old
Ebenezer the first thing. So if you hear a trampling and a neighing in
the night, look out; also wake me up so I c'n have a finger in the pie.
That's all from me."

He settled himself comfortably in his blanket, and seemed bent on going
to sleep immediately, so that the others copied his excellent example.
These boys had been through the mill so often that long ago they learned
the folly of playing pranks, or "cutting up" after it was finally
decided to seek their beds.

Several times did Max open his eyes and lift his head as some slight
sound came to his sensitive ears.

Once it was a mysterious tapping on the canvas which made him smile, for
he guessed readily enough that it must be some curious 'coon trying to
find out what this bulky object might be that had invaded his preserves
without so much as asking permission.

The second time was more puzzling, for he could not just say what had
aroused him. On listening intently, however, he discovered that Ebenezer
must have gotten to his feet again after a little rest, and started to
cropping the grass once more; and that it was his rope catching in some
little shoot on the ground and being suddenly released that made the
rustling sounds.

There came a third time for Max to awaken.

It was not any outside sound that aroused him now, but a movement
_inside_ the tent.

The moon must be shining brightly, for it was far from dark or gloomy
under the canvas, and he could plainly see what was transpiring.

Something ailed Steve, for he was beginning to get to his feet, without
making a sound. Max lay there, and watched him curiously. Was Steve
uneasy, and did he mean to step out so as to take a look around,
impelled by thoughts of that lion being at large?

This was the first idea that flashed through the mind of the watcher;
but he speedily found reason to change it. Steve did not pick up his
little Marlin shotgun, as it might be expected he would do if he meant
to take a turn around, and see whether anything was stirring.

Then perhaps he had found himself thirsty, and was going for a drink to
the nearby spring. Still, if this were so Max wondered at him for not
thinking to take some weapon along, for there was no telling but what he
might need it.

Now Steve was crawling silently out of the tent; and curious to know
what it could mean, Max hastened to copy his example. When he wished, he
could do some excellent stalking, and although Steve might have a good
pair of ears he certainly showed no evidence of hearing any one come
after him.

When Max found himself outside he saw the other moving softly away. He
was in his bare feet, not having taken the time to slip on his shoes, as
Max had done. This in itself looked queer. Steve ought to know that
walking was not the most pleasant thing imaginable when going
barefooted, even for such a short distance as lay between the spring and
the tent.

The night air was also pretty chilly for a fellow clad only in pajamas,
and coming fresh from a warm blanket. Yet Steve did not seem to mind
that little thing, for he was moving steadily along, like an Indian
brave going to the grand powwow.

Max had been thoughtful enough to take his blanket along with him; not
only that but he had also picked up his rifle which was lying
conveniently near; for Max had a streak of caution in his composition,
and did not like to be taken unawares.

Well, there was Steve moving in the direction where they went to get
their water. The tent had not been pitched exactly on the border of the
little brooklet that ran from the bubbling spring, because there was
really no necessity of this; and besides, the ground just there was not
so well adapted to such a purpose.

"If he's after a drink well and good," Max was saying to himself as he
started after the other boy; "and since the thing had been mentioned I
believe I'm some thirsty myself, so that I could stand a gulp or two.
That's mighty nice water, and we don't get anything as good in Carson.
But Steve does act queer, for a fact. I wonder now if he can be up to
his old tricks again."

Now, in times past Steve had been addicted to the bad habit of doing
considerable walking in his sleep. He was himself fully convinced that
he had outgrown the trouble; but Max believed it was liable to crop up
again under certain conditions favorable to its growth, especially if
his mind should happen to be worried.

In this case it could hardly be that, because he had not taken his gun
along, as he might have done, if possessed by the idea that lions were
prowling near, and that it was his duty, as the guardian self-appointed
of the camp, to go out and scare them away.

Max noticed that the moon did not stay out all the time. It was pretty
well up in the heavens by this time, and he figured from that it must be
somewhere in the neighborhood of one o'clock; for long ago Max had
learned the useful woodsman way of telling time very closely by
observing the passage of the stars, and the moon, across the blue canopy
overhead.

There were batches of clouds that from time to time drifted across the
bright silvery face of the moon; and when this occurred a period of half
darkness was apt to ensue.

But Max had no difficulty in keeping Steve in full view. This was
rendered easy by the fact that the chum's pajamas were of a light color,
and could be readily seen against the darker background of the forest.

Just as Max had suspected, he was making a bee-line for the spring.
Awake or asleep, Steve was undoubtedly thirsty, and meant to indulge in
a drink. Max had never heard of any one doing this when walking in their
sleep; but he could remember Steve carrying out some very odd stunts
while in this dormant condition, and he guessed it was possible.

He drew a little closer, though not meaning to do anything to arouse the
other, who after getting his drink would possibly meekly return to the
tent. In the morning Max would accuse him of sleepwalking, and if Steve
indignantly denied it, Max could ask him to look at his feet, and demand
if he was in the habit of going to bed with the soil of the woods on his
soles.

All this flashed through the mind of the boy who followed close on the
heels of the leader. He even decided to stand where Steve must surely
notice him on his return, and in this way it would be easily settled
whether the other were awake or walking in his sleep.

It is so easy to make plans, and yet the best of these may be smashed by
some little unexpected happening.

So it was in this case.

Steve had almost reached the spring when all at once a shrill scolding
screech rang out, cutting the stillness as with a sharp knife.

Max heard a heavy sound as of something striking the ground. He also
caught the flutter of some hairy form that seemed to vanish amidst the
branches of the big tree under which Steve chanced to be at the time.

It all happened so quickly, and without the least warning, that although
Max was considered a very speedy boy, acting like a flash in a warmly
contested game of baseball, he did not think to raise the gun he was
gripping in one hand, holding his blanket about him with the other,
until the _thing_, whatever it might be, was gone from his sight.

Steve had come to a rigid standstill the very second that screech made
the echoes ring through the aisles of the forest; he seemed startled,
amazed and apparently frozen stiff in his tracks.



CHAPTER VIII

THE MYSTERIOUS HAM THROWER


"Where am I? Oh! what was that fell alongside me? Who's throwing stones?
Hello! Max, Toby, Bandy-legs, where are you all at?"

Steve had found his tongue apparently, and was shouting all this at the
top of his voice. Max thought it high time he showed himself, so as to
quiet the excitable chum.

"All right, Steve; I'm here at your elbow, you see," he remarked,
stepping out into plainer view. "You've only been up to your old tricks
again, and walking in your sleep. I think you must have had a bad case
of thirst, for you started straight for the spring, and you see you
nearly got there."

"You don't say?" ejaculated Steve, looking down in some dismay at his
bare feet, and his now shivering figure, clad only in thin pajamas. "But
what happened, Max? Sure that was a terrible screech that woke me up;
and I tell you I heard some heavy thing bump on the ground close by me!"

"So did I, Steve," added the other; "let's look and see."

Five seconds later and Max gave utterance to a bubbling cry.

"Great Caesar!" exclaimed Steve, staring at the object the other bent
over and picked up; "this is the funniest thing that ever happened to
me, Max. Why, if it ain't raining _hams_ up here in the woods! Some
farmer's smoke-house must have blown up, and we get the benefit."

"Wait a little, Steve," said Max, solemnly; "take another look, will
you? Perhaps you'll notice that this is only half a ham."

"Why, so it is, Max."

"Look closer, and tell me if you've ever seen it before," Max continued,
holding the smoked meat up so that Steve could see better.

"Ginger!"

"Oh! then you recognize it, do you, Steve?"

"Why, yes, I seem to, Max," admitted the other, staring first at the
section of ham and then upwards toward the tree from which it had
apparently descended, aimed so as to strike him; "but what's _our_ ham
doing away off here, tell me that, will you? We didn't fasten it to this
tree, but the one close to our tent; so we'd know if anything came
nosing, around."

"All right, Steve; it looks as if something did come nosing around,
without any one of us being the wiser. And that creature, whatever it
may have been, was carrying the ham away when it thought you must be
following below; so what does it do but let out a screech of fury, and
whang, the ham straight down at you."

"Gee! ain't I glad though he didn't happen to be the pitcher of his
nine, because he might have made a better shot; and if that seven pound
piece of smoked pork had taken me on the coco I'd have seen more stars
than there are up above us now."

"Yes, Steve, it's sometimes better to be born lucky than rich," Max told
him; "but there the other boys are calling to us, and wanting to know
what it's all about. As you're beginning to shiver you'd better turn
around and trot back to where you left your blanket, don't you think?"

Steve had a terribly stubborn streak in his composition. He proved it
right then and there.

"I'm shivering, all right," he remarked, with chattering teeth, "but I
reckon it's more because of the excitement than that I'm cold. Anyway,
if I had the good sense to make my way out here in my sleep just because
I was thirsty, why, seems like it'd be too bad to get disappointed; so
I'm going to have a drink, no matter what happens."

With which he deliberately passed on a dozen paces, reached the spring,
and taking the tin cup they kept there proceeded to slake his thirst.
Max could not help admiring his grit, even though believing that Steve
would be wiser if he forgot his thirst and hurried to the shelter of his
blanket.

"Course you mean to carry the ham back with you, Max?" he inquired, as
he once more joined the other.

"I should say so," Max told him; "and after this we'll have to be more
careful about our smoked meat, unless we want to feed every animal up
here. They're smart enough to get on to that racket of hanging it from a
limb. We'll keep it inside the tent, and they can only get it by
creeping over us as we sleep, which would be a risky thing to do, I'm
thinking."

"Any idea what sort of a thing that animal in the tree was?" asked
Steve, as he cast an uneasy look aloft, doubtless wondering whether the
fierce beast held a grudge against him for having caused it to
relinquish its dinner; so that after that he would be a marked boy.

"I couldn't say," Max replied, slowly. "I only had a glimpse of
something moving up there, and then it was gone. The moon happened to be
behind a cloud at the time, and that helped to fool me. All I can say is
that it was a big animal, and not a 'coon or 'possum."

"Whew! some people keep on saying they never did get that tiger back
after the storm set the animals free from the cages," Steve said,
uneasily.

"Hello! there, what's all this row about?" Bandy-legs called out just
then, for the returning pair had drawn near the khaki colored tent,
where they discovered their chums standing with guns in their hands, and
blankets swathed around their lightly clad figures, looking for all the
world like a couple of mummies, or as Max afterwards told them, like
Mexican peons with their ponchos.

"Yes, that's what we want to k-k-know!" added Toby.

"Oh! Steve here got thirsty while he was sleeping, and stepped out to go
to the spring for a drink," Max informed them. "I happened to see him,
and took a notion I'd follow and see that he didn't come to any harm.
Then some animal up in a tree, thinking Steve was going to get after
him, threw this down to him, and let out a screech that beat anything
I've heard this long while."

"Why, that's a half a ham!" ejaculated the astonished Bandy-legs.

"_Our_ h-h-ham, in the b-b-bargain!" shrilled Toby.

"Just what it is," Max continued; "you see, the rascal had actually
stolen it, and was making off when he saw Steve below, and got angry. It
came mighty near hitting our chum on the head, which would have floored
him good and hard. So he was lucky to escape as he did."

"And we're lucky to get our ham back!" Bandy-legs argued, as though
after all that were the main point--which from a boy's standpoint it
certainly was.

Meanwhile Steve had dodged under the canvas, and presently reappeared,
also swathed in his blanket. He was still too much excited to think of
sleeping, and consequently meant to stand it out with the rest. Perhaps
curiosity had also something to do with the matter, for he would wish to
know what Bandy-legs and Toby thought about the species of animal that
had carried their smoked meat off.

Their tongues did certainly wag at a great rate for a spell. All sorts
of suggestions were made, some of them fairly good, and others bordering
on the ridiculous. Toby was for believing that it must have been a
tiger, or at the very least one of those terrible spotted leopards they
remembered seeing walking up and down in its cage, as though always
hoping to get out to its missing mate.

"And they s-s-say leopards have got the w-w-worst k-k-kind of tempers,"
he insisted, when some of the others threw doubt on this idea.

"Well, whatever it is," Max concluded, "it acted like it was mad at
Steve here for walking in his sleep."

"Don't blame the critter much, either," muttered Bandy-legs; "because
any feller that would be guilty of doing such monkey-shines ought to
have a whole ham flung at his head every time."

"Hold on there," said Steve, sharply; "that's always the way with you
fellows. Why, you ought to be voting me a bunch of thanks right now,
instead of hauling me over the coals like you're doing."

"Oh! is that so, Steve?" cried Bandy-legs, with considerable of satire
in his voice.

"Sure it is," the other went on to say, unblushingly. "Supposin' now I'd
just continued to hit the hay, and snored on like you two seemed to have
done, what's the answer?"

Bandy-legs and Toby exchanged puzzled looks.

"W-w-whatever do you m-m-mean, Steve?" asked the latter.

"How about that fine ham? When, you looked around everywhere for it
to-morrow morning and couldn't find the same high or low, you'd wish
Steve Dowdy might have had a little walking fit on, and saved your bacon
for you, eh?"

Max laughed at hearing that.

"I guess Steve's got it on you, boys, this time," he remarked. "It seems
that in some cases walking in your sleep may turn out to be the right
thing. We do owe him something, because it saved our ham this time. But
all the same he's got to stop the habit before it gets him into a peck
of trouble."

"I s-s-say we p-p-put a rope on him nights," Toby ventured, with
emphasis. "Then if he tries to s-s-slope he'll find himself p-p-pulled
up with a round turn."

"Hey, you just try it, that's all!" Steve told him. "What d'ye take me
for, a horse, to be staked out nights, or hobbled and all that? I give
you fair warning right now that whenever we're in danger of losing some
of our belongings, if I take a notion to step out and walk in my sleep
in order to save the same, I'm going to do it. Get that, don't you,
Bandy-legs?"

In spite of all their exchange of views it seemed that after all they
were no nearer a reasonable solution of the puzzle than in the start.

"We'll look around in the morning and see if it left any tracks," Max
suggested, after it seemed as though they had reached the finish of the
matter so far as deciding on the species of animal went.

"That's the best thing said yet," ventured Steve; "and as usual it was
left for Max to hit in with it. So, let's see if we can go to sleep
again."

They crawled inside the tent and adjusted their blankets again. Max
noticed that Bandy-legs changed his position somewhat. As he now lay no
one could crawl out of the tent by way of the regular exit without
brushing across his recumbent figure more or less. The other did not say
anything as to why he did this, but Max could give a pretty good guess.

Steve was too sleepy to pay any attention to what was going on, or he
might have taken Bandy-legs to task for trying to play sentry over him,
knowing that he must be in the other's mind when he laid this trap.

"We want you to notice, Steve," Bandy-legs told him the last thing,
"that Max fetched a bucket of fresh water in from the spring just now;
and so if you happen to get thirsty again before morning, just help
yourself. It'll save you a lot of trouble."

"Well, seeing that we've got all our grub inside here now, and there's
nothing more to be hooked, I guess I'll keep quiet. But you want to be
careful how you steal my thunder when the credit's passing around."

Saying which, Steve hid his head under the folds of his blanket, and
they knew he had spoken his last word.

The others relapsed into silence, and before long all of them had gone
soundly asleep. Nor was there any further alarm during the balance of
that first night in camp.

When Mas crawled out again dawn had come, and in fact the sun was
peeping up in the east. First Max looked to see that Ebenezer was all
right; for he had felt a little uneasy concerning the horse. He found
that the animal was already beginning to gather in what grass lay around
him, and apparently had not a care in the wide world.

Then the next thing he did was to pass over to the tree in which they
had secured the ham and bacon, although later on removing everything to
a more secure place of storage inside the tent.

Max carefully examined the ground underneath this tree. He was a pretty
fair woodsman, and believed he could easily discover any imprint of
padded feet such as would indicate the presence of a tiger. But in spite
of going over every yard of the soil as much as three times, Max was
finally obliged to admit that there did not seem to be any clue. He
could not find any track such as would tell of an animal having been
there on the previous night.

This set him to thinking along another line. Apparently then the beast
must have entered the tree from another one close by. It was reasonable,
and he saw it could have been easily done by even a gray squirrel, for
the branches interlocked in several places.

This seemed the more convincing when Max remembered that the ham had
been flung bodily out of another tree, showing that the thief was making
off without touching the ground at the time.

"Well, seems like it's going to keep right on being a mystery," Max told
himself as he gave the quest up; "just as that roaring sound last night
may never be solved. Perhaps there are a number of strange wild beasts
at large up here; and that our little outing is going to be an exciting
one after all."

"Yes," added Steve, who had come out of the tent in time to hear Max say
the last of this, "and don't it beat all how things do come around our
way, to give us a grand time? When you look back for the time we've been
chumming together you can see heaps of happenings that other fellows
would give most anything to have cross their trail. But we've got nearly
a whole week up here to ourselves, Max; and I say it will be mighty
funny if we can't guess the answer to a silly little question like this:
Who killed Cock Robin? Or take it the other way, Who tried to knock my
brains out with half a ham! And listen here, another night I'm meaning
to sit up and see if I can't get a crack at the miserable old thief with
my Marlin gun. He'll be sorry the rest of his natural life if he comes
nosing around here again."

Steve meant every word he spoke, and Max could see that he had been
considerably worked up by what had happened.

Of course they would have numerous other things to engage their
attention during this, their first day in camp; but nevertheless from
time to time their thoughts must go out toward the little mystery by
which they were confronted; and this was apt to start fresh talk about
solving the same.



CHAPTER IX

"MILLIONS FOR DEFENSE!"


That was indeed a busy day for all of the boys in camp.

They had numerous things that they wished to do, and turned from one to
another in rotation. It might have been noticed too, that they were a
little nervous for all they made light of the possibility of meeting
some strange beast whenever they went away from the camp ground.

This was shown particularly when Steve and Toby took a notion during the
middle of the morning that they would try the fishing over at the pond.
If the pickerel declined to bite they might at least pick up some
good-sized frogs; so they went prepared for both things; but they also
took their guns along, which was a little strange, because they would
hardly need them in trying to land either fish or frogs.

Steve had his minnow seine, with which they could doubtless secure
plenty of live bait. Then from selected positions along the bank they
meant to cast their lines out, hoping to land a few finny prizes that
would vary the bill of fare for supper.

All of this was carried out to the letter; the minnows were easily
secured, and kept alive in a little shallow pond made by banking up mud
on the border of the larger sheet of water. Then they baited their
hooks, and cast out, with the fisherman's habitual hope actuating their
actions.

The pickerel proved to be both hungry and accommodating, for they soon
began to take hold savagely. Several fine fish were landed after a
fierce struggle that afforded the anglers more or less pleasure; and
they felt encouraged to keep up the sport, assured of plenty for a meal.

When the fish were taken from the hooks they were strung on a stout
cord, and kept in the water, so that they would remain fresh longer.
Toby would not keep far away from this place long at a time.

"What ails you anyway?" Steve several times called out; "why don't you
try a new place like I do?"

Finally the stuttering boy condescended to inform him.

"S-s-seems like this place is as g-g-good as any," he said; "and then
p'raps you think I've g-g-gone and forgot all about how that b-b-bear
got away with our fish the time we were up at Trapper Jim's p-p-place?"

"Oh! then you're half expecting to have a big bear step out of that
brush yonder, and start to carrying away our catch, eh?" Steve demanded.
"Well, perhaps it might happen, who knows? After a fellow's gone and had
half a ham thrown at his head by some animal up in a tree he's ready to
believe near anything. If one does come, Toby, be sure you give a yelp
so I could get started on the run. Bear steak wouldn't go halfway bad;
and it'd be all the same if he was tame or wild, I'm thinking."

Although after that both boys continued to keep one suspicious eye on
the neighboring woods, and made sure that their guns were always ready,
nothing happened. It might be they were somewhat disappointed, because
both had a streak of love for adventure in their composition, and would
possibly have welcomed the excitement that must follow the appearance of
a real live bear.

The string of pickerel and perch they carried back to camp aroused the
others to enthusiastically admit that Steve and Toby certainly took the
premium for catching the wary denizens of the pond. They found
themselves delegated to repeat the performance on succeeding days, as
long as their appetite for fresh fish remained good.

That afternoon Toby set to work making what he confidentially told Steve
was to be a trap. If the unknown animal came prowling around again on
the ensuing night, perhaps it would be sorry for trespassing without an
invitation.

Just what sort of an arrangement this was going to be he would not
declare, but promised to explain it all to them later on.

"Who'll go with me over to the farmer's, to get some fresh eggs and
milk?" asked Max, a short time after they had eaten lunch.

"Now don't all look at me that way," Bandy-legs remarked, "because I'm
ready to be the victim as soon as I get my second wind, which'll be in
about half an hour longer."

"That's always the way with him," Steve complained; "he eats so much
that for a whole hour or so he's just logy, and not fit for anything.
Now Toby and me think we did our share when we caught that nice lot of
fish this morning."

"Didn't you hear me say I was meaning to go with Max!" demanded the
other, bridling up. "Well, there's no need for hurrying so. It's a long
walk there and back. I'm just wondering whether we ought to take a gun
along."

"What for, to shoot the bull if you meet him?" asked scornful Steve.

"Oh! you never can tell," replied the other; "and I noticed that you was
mighty careful to lug yours along when you went after fish. Thought a
big pickerel'd jump out of the water and chase you, p'raps. Careful how
you let fish take a bite out of your leg, ain't you? Well, we might run
across some savage animal that'd be a heap worse than a pickerel's sharp
teeth."

"I'll carry a gun if you think best," Max remarked; "but as we'll have
eggs and milk to tote back with us it might be in the way."

"Just as you say, Max," Bandy-legs continued, nodding to himself in a
wise way, as though he had determined on a certain course for himself,
which he did not consider it necessary to explain to all the rest.

When the two left camp Steve was climbing a tree with the avowed
intention of closely examining the limb from which the smoked meat had
been hung.

"A cat, big or little, has got _claws_," he remarked, as if to explain
his actions; "and I guess it might leave some scratches on the bark that
would help explain things. Anyhow no harm done trying to see how far my
theory will go. Good luck, fellows, and don't you get lost now."

"No danger of that when Max is along," replied Bandy-legs, confidently,
as he and his chum strode away.

They knew the location of the farm, because several times that morning
there had been borne to their ears the distant barking of a watchdog;
and Max had taken special pains to locate the direction from which the
sound came. All they would have to do was to keep heading straight into
the west until they struck the cleared ground, when the rest would be
easy enough.

"The boys have promised to keep the fire going while we're gone," Max
told his comrade, as they walked along in company, following what seemed
to be a fair trail that led in the right direction, "and to feed it with
green wood pretty much all the time."

"Green wood!" echoed Bandy-legs, looking puzzled.

"So as to make more of a black smoke, which will be of considerable help
to us in finding our way back to camp," Max informed him.

"Ok, yes, I see," Bandy-legs went on, shooting a look full of admiration
toward his companion; "it certainly does take you to think up the best
things ever. Now, that wouldn't have occurred to me in a thousand
years."

"This walking isn't so bad after all, is it?" asked Max, quick to change
the subject when he saw signs of the other breaking out in praise of his
woodcraft.

"That's right," his chum admitted; "only I hope we don't meet up with
anything that's going to make us sorry we didn't fetch a gun along."

"Not much chance of that," Max argued.

"But then you know there _is_ something loose in this neck of the woods
that's got us guessing. What it can be beats my time. A tiger'd most
likely pounced on poor old Ebenezer, and paid mighty little attention to
our smoked meat; he'd want the fresh stuff right off the reel."

Bandy-legs making a misstep just about then, and almost rolling down a
little declivity, found that he had better pay more attention to his
gait and talk less; so for some time they walked along in silence.

"There, did you hear that?" Max asked him, presently.

"It certainly was a rooster crowing," the other admitted.

"And right ahead of us, too," Max continued; "which goes to show that
we've been hitting the right trail."

"No thanks to me though, Max, because if I'd followed my bent we'd have
changed our course more than six times. I thought I knew something about
keeping a straight track, but I'm away off."

Some boys seem to take to these things just as naturally as a duck does
to water. There are others who do not appear to have the elements in
them for making woodsmen, no matter how much they try. Bandy-legs was
apparently of this latter class. Now and then he might flash up, and do
something creditable, but it was only to fall back into his old careless
ways again, and depend on others to do the hard thinking for him.

Five minutes later, and he gave a little shout.

"There's the farmhouse ahead of us, Max, with all the outbuildings in
the bargain. Hope we can get the eggs and milk all right, because we've
come a long way for the same. And there isn't anything I like better
when camping out than plenty of hen fruit, together with the lacteal
fluid from the cows. Whew! here's trouble with a big T all right! Look
at the size of that Towser makin' for us, would you? Let him take a
bite, and there wouldn't be much calf left."

"Ok! I don't know, you're pretty good-sized, Bandy-legs," said Max with
a chuckle; but all the same he looked about him, and hastened to pick
up a stout stick that chanced to be lying near by.

"Where's the mate to that, Max; see anything for me around? We've got to
teach him we believe in the old motto, 'Millions for defense; not one
cent for tribute.' What about those guns of ours; wouldn't they come in
handy right now to keep him off! Get out, you scamp; what are you making
straight for me about? I haven't lost any dog that I know of. Why don't
you sick Max there; he's got something for you. Hi! keep away, I tell
you!"

The large and savage dog seemed bent on taking a firm grip of
Bandy-legs. Perhaps he may have rather fancied his build, and believed
it would be easier to pounce on a boy with bow-legs than another who
stood five foot-ten in height. Then again the fact that Max was swinging
that stout stick vigorously may have had more or less to do with the
beast selecting the shorter chum as his intended victim.

Bandy-legs skipped about in a lively fashion, trying to keep himself
away from "entangling alliances" with those shiny white teeth. He also
succeeded in giving the animal several hard kicks; but instead of
discouraging the beast this rough reception seemed to make him the more
determined to accomplish his purpose.

Max could hardly follow their movements, they swung around so rapidly.
He meant to rush in at the very first opening, so as to rescue his
chum, for he saw that Bandy-legs was in a pretty bad way, with that
savage brute leaping again and again at him.

He might get his legs twisted as he sometimes did, and take a fall, when
the dog would pounce on him like a shot, and perhaps mangle him badly.
For this reason Max was bent on joining issue with the dog, and letting
him feel the hardness of the club he had picked up.

There was no chance for him to do this, good though his intentions may
have been.

Suddenly in the midst of the savage growling and chasing about he heard
Bandy-legs cry out exultantly:

"You will have it, then? Now, there's five more left if you're greedy!"

Hardly had he spoken than the big dog began to howl most mournfully. Max
could hardly believe his eyes when he saw him writhing and twisting as
if in agony, at the same time trying to rub his head with his forepaws.

"What did you do to him?" Max cried; but he might just as well have
saved his breath, for he saw what Bandy-legs was holding up, and he knew
that the other had been wise enough to fetch along with him a little
squirtgun called an "ammonia pistol," which those on bicycles who are
troubled by dogs chasing them, often carry in order to teach the brutes
a much needed lesson.

It may seem cruel to send a charge of pungent ammonia or hartshorn into
the eyes of a dog, but used with discretion such punishment is far
better than that the rider suffer a fall and possibly a broken neck, or
be mauled by a savage brute which he has not harmed in the least.

"Good-bye, Towser, old fellow!" cried Bandy-legs, mockingly, as the dog
started full-tilt for the farmhouse, yelping dolefully as he ran. "Next
time get wise to the fact that things ain't always as green as they
look. Took me for an easy mark, didn't you, but if I am a little crooked
about the pins, that doesn't mean I'm not on to a few games. Come again
when you can't stay so long. Tra-la-la!"

Bandy-legs was evidently in a good humor, and felt like shaking hands
with himself. To get out of a bad scrape, and without the least bit of
assistance from anybody was a feather in his cap; and he believed that
he had good reason to feel tickled over it.

"You got rid of the dog all right, old fellow," Max told him; "but look
what's bearing down on us now, full sail!"

"My stars! it's the dog's mistress, all right; and say, don't she look
like she means business from the word go, though? Hadn't we better run
for it, Max? Sure I have enough stuff left for five more shots; but gee!
whiz! you wouldn't want me to treat a lady to that sort of thing, would
you? She's getting closer all the while, Max."

"Yes, I can see she is," returned the other, calmly.

"Say, you may be all right, because you didn't have anything to do with
the shooting up of her pet; but what about me? I'm going to clear out,
Max."

"No, don't do it, Bandy-legs," urged the other; "stay where you are, and
leave it to me. I think I can fix it up, all right."

And really, such confidence did Bandy-legs seem to have in the powers of
his companion that, although he shivered as he saw the approach of the
farmer's wife, still he manfully stood his ground.



CHAPTER X

THE WILD ANIMAL TRAP


The woman who rapidly bore down on the two boys had fire in her eye. She
evidently believed she had cause for feeling angry, since it was her dog
that had gone howling toward the house.

Somehow she seemed to guess which one of the two lads had been the cause
of the wretched animal's misery. Bandy-legs had perhaps been seen in
close connection with the raging beast just before the change in the
latter's tune came, and the vicious snappy bark became a frightened
yelp.

"What do you mean, you young scamp, hurting my watchdog on his own
ground? Don't you know I could have the law on you for that? And what's
that you've got in your hand there? Looks like a pistol to me. Why, the
impudence of you coming in here and actually _shooting_ my poor Carlo!"

The farmer's wife said all this as she continued to advance toward
Bandy-legs. She was large, and looked as though she might almost take a
chap of his size across her knee, if she felt like it.

Bandy-legs wanted to turn and melt away, but he hated to show the white
feather the worst kind. As this was an antagonist against whom he was
debarred from using force he therefore looked appealingly toward Max,
who had promised to get him out of the scrape.

At the same time he held up the little contrivance he had in his hand.

"Yes'm, this is a pistol, but not the kind you mean," he said, trying to
keep his voice from shaking, and to be as respectful as possible. "It
holds just a little mite of ammonia, and is used by bicycle riders to
keep savage dogs from tearing them to pieces. I had to try it on Carlo
because he was just bound to take a bite out of my leg; and you know I
can't spare any."

She looked down at Bandy-legs' rather crooked lower extremities, and the
faintest flicker of a smile crossed her angry face.

Just then Max put in an entering wedge.

"How d'ye do, Mrs. Ketcham? I didn't expect we were coming to your house
when we started out from our camp to try and get some fresh eggs and
milk. Of course I did know you lived up in this region somewhere. But my
chum wasn't to blame at all, Mrs. Ketcham, I give you my word for it.
And Carlo will get over the pain in a short time. I hope you won't hold
it against us."

Apparently the farmer's wife had not taken a good look at Max up to
then. Her entire attention had been focussed on the guilty party, whom
she meant to intimidate with her righteous anger.

It was astonishing what a sudden change came over her rather vinegary
face as she recognized Max. The fact of the matter was, that she had
been supplying his folks with fresh butter and eggs for several years,
and accounted them among her best customers, going in twice a week to
deliver her goods.

When poor shivering Bandy-legs saw that change in the expression of her
thin face he experienced the most delightful sensation. It was similar
to what a fellow might pass through when he had been hauled up from over
a precipice after hanging to a bush the roots of which were slowly but
surely giving way.

"Why, is it you, Max!" the woman exclaimed, her face breaking out with a
smile that made her look quite like a different person; "I'm real glad
to see you up at the farm. And if this other boy is a friend of yours,
why, of course I'll have to forgive him for hurting my poor old Carlo.
Perhaps he had to do it, as he says; and my husband does say the dog is
getting a little ugly in his old age. We'll forget it then. What's your
friend's name, Max? Seems to me I ought to know him."

"He's Doctor Griffin's boy, Clarence," Max hastened to reply; "and as
good a fellow as any one would want to know; but he always does object
to letting dogs take a piece out of his legs, and that's why he carries
that ammonia gun with him most of the time."

"Oh! I thought I had seen him before, but I wasn't sure," she observed,
nodding her head; "but then I should have remembered so remark--that
is, such a good-looking boy. And I'm going to begin delivering eggs at
his house on my very next trip to Carson, too. That's queer, isn't it?
Clarence, shake hands with me, and excuse me for seeming to be angry. We
have tramps come here so often, and they always shy stones at Carlo, so
that when I heard him howling I thought some of that tribe had hurt him.
I can let you have all the eggs you want, just laid, and the richest
Jersey milk you ever saw. Come up to the house, both of you."

It was all smooth sailing now, and Bandy-legs was glad he had stood up
for his rights. He would never have held his own respect had he allowed
that beast to get a nip at him while able to fight against it, no matter
whose dog he might be.

Once at the farmhouse and they were treated like honored guests. Mrs.
Ketcham, as though desirous of making amends for her first outburst,
insisted on their accepting a bumper glass of fresh buttermilk each; and
this was accompanied by several real home-made doughnuts such as the
boys had seldom tasted before.

She loaned them a covered pail so that they could carry the milk from
her prize Jersey herd of cows back to camp; while several dozen snowy
white eggs from Leghorn fowls were placed in a basket, and so guarded
that they could not be broken by any ordinary little jolt.

It was just as well that these precautions were taken, Max thought; for
he knew some of the failings of his chum, and one of them was in the
line of making frequent stumbles, when there was the least reason for
tripping over roots or stones that might lie in the path.

When Max and Bandy-legs finally started back to camp their pockets
fairly bulged with winter apples that had been kept over in the cool
cellar belonging to the farm, where fruit and vegetables were held in
stock through the cold months of the winter.

"Turned out a lucky day after all, didn't it?" remarked Max, laughingly,
as they both walked along, each with one hand free to take care of the
apple they were munching at the time.

"You're right it did," his chum replied, with fervor, and then he sighed
as he continued; "but there was a time when I thought I'd tumbled out of
the fryingpan into the fire. It seemed tough enough battling with Carlo;
but the way she looked at me, like she could eat me up, was a whole lot
worse. But then that was all put on, I guess; and anyhow I'm ready to
vote Mrs. Ketcham a trump. She makes the bulliest doughnuts ever, and
her buttermilk is--well, it beats the Dutch!"

When they finally reached camp it was without any further adventure.
They had seen no sign of any wild animal on the way, a fact Bandy-legs
was glad to be able to report when Steve and Toby wanted to know about
their trip.

The camp was now in good trim. Lots of little things could be done from
time to time, that might add to their comfort. Nails had been driven
into trees upon which they hung their cooking utensils; so that each
article could be found whenever wanted. Steve had improved on the
fireplace, too, having noticed that it had not been built so as to get
the most favorable draught, for the prevailing winds would be apt to
come from the southwest during their stay, and the front should face
that way to secure the best results.

Then Toby had made a nice drain around the upper side of the tent. This
was intended to shed the water in case a heavy rain set in, as it was
apt to do, this being April weather. There is nothing more uncomfortable
when camping than to find that the tent leaks, or that on account of the
lay of the land water keeps coming in to make everything soggy, when a
little precaution would have prevented such a happening.

Toby had finished his trap, and proudly exhibited the same to the chums
who had just returned.

"You s-s-see," he remarked, as he led them forward to where a young
sapling seemed to be trying to form a bow in the air, held down by some
invisible influence, "it's a very old idea, and I don't c-c-claim to be
the inventor. This sapling is h-h-hickory, and she's got a d-d-dickens
of a s-s-spring too. It was all S-s-steve and me could do to bend her
d-d-down so the n-n-notch I cut in the end could be caught on the
p-p-peg I drove in the g-g-ground. You can see how she works, with that
l-l-loop of stout rope trailin' along here."

"I reckon you mean to have some attractive bait on the ground, so as to
draw the prowler here," suggested Max. "Yes, I've read of traps like
this before, though I never used one. They catch crocodiles with them in
some places, besides all other kinds of things."

"The idea is this, I take it," Bandy-legs proceeded to say; "when the
animal is nosing around after the bait he gets a leg caught in this
loop, which pulls tighter and tighter the harder he jerks, till in the
end it draws the notched end of the bent sapling free, and of course the
same shoots up straight. That takes the animal up with it, if he happens
to be small; and holds his hind quarters elevated if he's bigger. That
the way, Toby?"

"T-t-thank you for explaining it for me, Bandy-legs," the other quickly
remarked.

"I think you deserve a lot of credit for doing such a good job, Toby,"
Max told the trapper, for he had taken note of the fact that everything
connected with the wild animal trap seemed exceeding well done.

"And that hickory sapling does look like it was the toughest bow ever,"
Bandy-legs affirmed. "Why, I wouldn't be surprised if it could jerk a
feller of even my heft up in the air, and hold him upside-down, so he'd
look like he was walkin' on his hands."

"W-w-want to t-t-try it?" demanded the constructor, eagerly.

"You'll have to excuse me this time," Bandy-legs answered,
apologetically; "you see I've been having all the exercise that's good
for me already to-day, what with the four mile walk, and that little
circus with Carlo. But I'm willing to take your word for it, Toby, that
it'll do the business O.K. And I only hope now some sneaker gets his
hind Trilby caught in that loop. It'd give me a whole lot of
satisfaction to see a wolf or a striped hyena handing up by his rear
kicker, and whooping like all get-out for help."

The sun no longer shone in the friendly way that had marked the earlier
hours of this, their first day in camp. Clouds had gathered and covered
the sky, so that the air seemed even chilly.

"Feels like we might get some rain before a great while," Max gave as
his opinion, and there was no dissenting voice, much though the rest
would have liked to argue the other way, for they had hoped to have a
spell of fine weather accompany their trip to the woods.

"I had that in mind," remarked Steve, "when I started to lay in a stock
of good dry firewood. You see, here's a splendid place to keep it in,
under the upturned roots of this fallen tree. If the rain does come
it'll hardly heat in there, and things are apt to keep fairly dry. How
about that, Max?"

"A good idea, Steve, and I say we had better get busy and gather all the
stuff lying around. When you strike a rainy day in camp it's wonderful
what a lot of wood you can use up."

"And it feels hunky to have plenty, I'm telling you," Bandy-legs
admitted. "Now, while I'm thinking up what we ought to have for supper
the rest of you might just as well get busy dragging all the loose wood
to cover. It'll be good exercise, and give you a sharp appetite for the
spread I'll set before you later on."

Perhaps the others may have considered that Bandy-legs was pretty
"nervy" talking in this way, for he was known to be the poorest cook of
the lot; but then he had been mysteriously hinting of late that he had
been taking a course of lessons in cookery from the accomplished Nora
who presided in the Griffin kitchen; and in consequence Max and Steve
and Toby were quite curious to learn whether he could manage to get a
decent meal together.

Things moved along smoothly, though several times Bandy-legs forgot just
what the combination was, and had to call for help in order not to spoil
the omelette he was making. In the end it proved to be a pretty decent
supper he spread before them; and they agreed that his reputation as a
_chef_ had been considerably improved since the last time they were in
the woods together up at Trapper Jim's place.

"I told you I could do it," Bandy-legs exultantly declared when they
complimented him on his success; "there isn't much I couldn't do if
only I really and truly set out to try."

"I w-w-wish then you'd just make up your m-m-mind to try how strong that
hickory s-s-sapling is," urged Toby, entreatingly. "It'd give me a
h-h-heap of satisfaction to j-j-just satisfy my mind. You'd be about as
h-h-hefty as a wolf or a tiger, you s-s-see; and if it dragged _you_ up
all r-r-right, it ought to w-w-work with them. P-p-please accommodate
me, Bandy-legs."

But apparently his coaxing was of no avail.

"I'd like to do it all right, Toby, but while I'm not tired now like I
was before, it's too soon after supper to be yanked around, and turned
upside-down that way," Bandy-legs explained, seeming to be very
reluctant.

"L-later on, mebbe, then?"

"Why, er, I'm afraid it might wake me up too much just before going to
my blanket, you see, Toby. It's a bad thing to get too active when you
ought to be hitting the hay, and feel dopey. I've heard my dad say so
lots of times. Keeps you wakeful all through the first part of the
night. But that trap's all right, I'm tellin' you, Toby. If only some
animal big enough to jerk the bow free comes along and sets his hind
foot in your loop, you're going to hear something drop."

"I know what I'm meaning to do," said Steve, firmly; "and that's to keep
my gun handy, so if we get waked up by a lot of screeching, like the
world was coming to an end, I'll be ready to crawl out and wind up the
career of the escaped menagerie beast, whatever it turns out to be."

"D-d-don't you be too q-q-quick on the trigger, Steve," pleaded Toby.
"G-g-give us all a chance first to see what it's l-l-like. Mebbe we
might want to keep it alive."

"What for?" demanded Steve, aggressively.

"A p-p-pet," replied Toby; "lots of p-p-people have pets, and think what
it'd mean to me if I g-g-got a h-h-hyena in a c-c-cage."

"Yes, to be sure," scoffed the unconvinced Steve, "and also think what
it would mean to all the neighbors too. According to my mind the only
good hyena is a dead hyena. And if so be you ketch that sort in your
bully trap I'm meaning to knock spots out of the same with a charge of
buckshot. That goes, too, Toby, remember!"



CHAPTER XI

TOO TRICKY FOR TOBY


Later on Toby busied himself baiting his trap. Bandy-legs was invited to
assist in the operation, but he declined. Perhaps he partly suspected
the other had some sinister motive back of his invitation, and that when
he least expected it that trailing loop would get twisted around one of
his ankles, and his next step might precipitate an upheaval. Of course
Toby could always declare that it must have been an accident; but his
curiosity would have been satisfied at any rate. And Bandy-legs was
firmly opposed to allowing himself to be experimented on. He had heard
his father speak so many times of the horror of vivisection that somehow
Bandy-legs seemed to have imbibed the idea that all experiments must be
unpleasant.

At least it had not rained any at the time the boys sought their
blankets; and some of the more sanguine began to hope it would prove to
be a false alarm after all.

They had fixed things as well as they could, looking to a bad turn in
the weather. If it did come they would have a sort of rustic shelter
under which they could manage to keep their fire going, and in that way
get some warmth in the tent.

"Come along in, Toby, and quit your fussing out there!" Steve called, as
he settled himself under his warm blanket, having chosen a position
where he could duck out easily in case there came an alarm in the night.

"P'raps Toby's meaning to try his trap himself before he lays down,"
suggested Bandy-legs, a little viciously; "he'll sure never be happy
till he knows whether it works or not. We'll take you down, Toby, if you
get hung up by the hind leg."

"H-h-hind leg!" retorted Toby indignantly, "what d-d-do you take me for,
anyhow? Mebbe you think I'm a c-c-cow or a j-j-jackass, but I ain't, all
the s-s-same; I leave it to others to p-p-play such g-g-games."

As he came in shortly afterward it was apparent that Bandy-legs had
counted without his host when he figured that Toby meant to test the
working of his trap at his own expense. Toby was too smart for that, it
seemed; and besides he doubtless had confidence in his arrangements.

"Here goes for a bully sleep," said Bandy-legs, as he coiled up under
his cover, with his knees close to his chin, a favorite attitude with
him; "and I hope nothing wakes me till morning."

"If you sleep as sound as you generally do," Max told him, "it would
take a hurricane to bother you. If one came whooping along, and carried
our tent up into the tree, the chances are you'd open one eye and want
to know who was making all that draught. You're a good sleeper,
Bandy-legs, and your mother knows it, too."

"I believe in doing everything well," replied the other, sturdily. "When
I eat I eat; and when the time comes to snooze take it from me I'm on
the sleeping job from the word go. That's all you'll hear from me
to-night, boys."

"Good!" said Steve, wickedly, "the rest of us can do a little thinking,
then. Let it go at that, Bandy-legs; no reply needed. I'm expecting to
go to sleep myself, for while I did say I meant to sit up and watch for
that ham thief, since Toby's been so smart as to set a trap, what's the
use?"

Presently all of them must have fallen asleep, to judge from the silence
that hovered over the interior of the khaki-colored tent.

Some time passed by.

Then several heads suddenly projected from under as many blankets.

"What was that?" Max asked.

"My t-t-trap s-s-sprung!" gasped Toby.

"But what ails the beast that he don't let out a few howls?" demanded
Steve, who was clawing desperately under his blanket, trying to find
where he had placed his handy gun at the time he lay down.

"That's the funny part of it," Max declared; "if you've got your gun by
now, Steve, let's crawl out and see what's doing."

The three of them hastened to do so, not knowing what they might see
once they reached the open. Bandy-legs had as yet not stirred, and it
really looked as if he meant to keep his word when he declared that
nothing short of an earthquake or a cyclone would disturb him, once he
got asleep.

As soon as the others huddled outside, and tried to focus their blinking
eyes on their surroundings they discovered several things.

In the first place it had apparently not rained as yet, for the ground
seemed to be perfectly dry. Then again, the fire had burned low, for it
was giving only an apology of a light, and this flickered, and died down
at intervals.

Max knew what should be the first duty, and stepping toward the fire he
threw a handful of small trash on the coals. Immediately a flame sprang
up, and the camp was fairly well illuminated.

Of course the boys all stared in the quarter where Toby had set that
wonderful trap of his. If the hickory sapling had not been set free it
would still be seen bent in the shape of a huge bow; but their first
glance showed them that this was not the case.

"It's s-s-sprung!" said Toby, huskily.

Steve was holding his precious Marlin double-barrel gun so that he could
raise it instantly and take aim.

"Yes," Max went on to say, with a touch of excitement in his voice as
well as his manner, "and I can see something swinging back and forward
there!"

"Oh! whatever can it be?" Toby ventured, tremulously; and then as he
imagined that he detected a slight movement on the part of Steve he
flung out a hand and tried to shove the other's gun aside, adding:
"Don't you d-d-do it, Steve! Why, it can't be a hyena, or anything
d-d-dangerous to us, because d-d-don't you see it's held right up in the
air. Let's rush in and keep the poor thing from being c-c-choked to
d-d-death!"

The three of them advanced in a straight line, Max and Steve being
armed, and apparently ready to do fell execution, should there be any
necessity for action. But nothing happened. The swinging object
continued to move back and forth, but none of them could detect any
spasmodic kicking connected with it that would suggest the dying
struggles of a wild beast that was being slowly but surely choked.

Then Max gave a laugh.

"Why, it isn't a beast at all, but the heavy pole Bandy-legs threw over
here the time you accused him of wanting to spring your trap, Toby!" he
announced; and as all of them gathered close to the now upright hickory
sapling, it was seen that what Max declared was really so.

"Then Bandy-legs m-m-must have d-d-done this trick!" burst from Toby,
who was apparently, filled with indignation.

"Don't you believe it," Steve assured him; "because we all heard it go
off, and right then Bandy-legs was sound asleep alongside me. He's there
yet, bundled up in his blanket."

"You think so, but you d-d-don't know for s-s-sure," spluttered Toby,
distressed at the failure of his much vaunted trap to show results.
"C-c-chances are if you went and looked you'd f-f-find he had a
d-d-dummy there under his b-b-blanket all the time."

"Well, now," observed Max, frowning, "that never occurred to me before,
and while I can hardly believe our chum would play such a prank on us,
still you never can tell. So Toby, we appoint you a committee of one to
go back into the tent and see if Bandy-legs is there or not."

"I will!" Toby responded, firmly, as though he meant to have the truth
made manifest without any delay; and accordingly he hastened away from
Max and Steve, who started in to learn the way in which the heavy pole
had been seized by the loop.

Immediately Toby came running back, and his face looked more blank than
ever.

"Well, did you find him there?" asked Max.

"Yep, and as d-d-dead to the w-w-world as anything," replied the
stutterer, as he looked blankly at his two chums, and then toward the
swinging pole, as though, the puzzle had become more exasperating than
ever.

Steve gave a low whistle, which was his way of expressing amazement.

"Say, that must be a wonderful old stick, all right!" he declared,
jerking his thumb toward the object that was held in the tightened loop
of rope.

"B-b-but you d-d-don't really think it j-j-jumped up all by itself, and
g-g-got c-c-caught, do you?" Toby demanded, quite aghast.

"Well, hardly," said Max, though a little frown told that he too
considered the enigma a nut hard to crack. "Something that had life
about it made that stick do that trick; there's no doubt about that."

"Was it an animal or--a man?" Steve immediately asked, as he looked
nervously around, and half raised his gun, as though he expected to see
some ugly hobo advancing menacingly from the shelter of the forest.

Max was bending down, and evidently trying to examine the soil.

"I don't seem to see any tracks of a man here," he said; "and perhaps
you've noticed that about all the bait Toby put out is gone!"

"C-c-cracky! that's so!" cried Toby, although up to then he had not
thought to pay any attention to this important fact.

"Then some sort of animal must have been here," Max steadily affirmed.
"It ate up the bait, and then must have either accidentally or on
purpose poked that heavy stick into the loop, and sprang Toby's trap."

"Sure it must have been an accident, Max," objected Steve; "because it
would have to be a mighty smart animal, and a tricky one at that, to
play such a sly game as using this stick to set the bent sapling free."

"I know it looks that way," Max went on to say; "but don't forget that
the animal that threw the ham at your head from the tree _was_ a tricky
one. Some of those beasts belonging to the show are trained to do lots
of queer things."

"Oh! if we're up against an _educated_ animal," Steve admitted as though
convinced against his will, "that might make a difference, because I've
seen such do things I never would have believed any beast could be
taught to perform. But he was keen enough to move all around here and
never once get caught in the loop. Yes, chances are he knew what that
was there for all the time; and having finished his supper, just to show
us what he thought of such silly tricks he picks up this stick, gives it
a hitch through the loop, jerks at the same, and there you are, with
three half scared fellows crawling out of the tent expectin' to find a
tiger held up by the hind quarters. This is what they call coming down
from the sublime to the ridiculous, I think."

"It's all Bandy-legs' fault anyway!" muttered the disappointed Toby, as
he commenced taking the pole out of the loop, as though he meant to
reset his trap, hoping for better luck the next time.

"How do you make that out, I'd like to know!" asked Steve.

"Mebbe if he'd only been half way d-d-decent, and l-l-let me try it out
on him, this wouldn't have h-h-happened," Toby advanced, at which the
other boys felt constrained to chuckle.

"Hard luck, old chap," said Steve; "we'll help you fix things up again,
and p'raps you'll strike it different the next time."

That sort of talk helped Toby forget his keen disappointment, so that he
actually brightened up somewhat.

"All right, Steve; that's k-k-kind of you. I was g-g-going to ask if
you'd care to test the thing for me; but we kind of k-k-know what she
can do now. The way it gripped this stick shows how it would h-h-hang on
like grim d-d-death."

"I'm going to ask you as a special favor, boys, not to tramp around here
any more than you can help," said Max.

"Which I take it means you hope to learn something from finding tracks,
when you can see in the daylight; is that the answer, Max?" Steve asked.

"Yes, and when you set the trap keep on this side. I should think that
whatever it was picked up the bait might have gone off that other way,"
Max-continued, thoughtfully.

"Unless it came down the tree here, and went back the same way," Steve
proposed. "We know already that the thief is a climber, don't we, Max?"

"You remember, Steve, that ham sailed out of a tree, and whizzed past
your head," replied the one whose opinion had been asked. "Yes, and I
had a glimpse of some moving object up among the branches, even if it
did slip away before I could see whether it had the stripes of a tiger,
the spots of an ocelot, or the gray coat of our American panther."

"Gee! but this thing is getting some exciting, for a fact!" Steve
admitted; "and we'll all feel a heap sight easier in our minds when we
do know just what sort of critter it is hanging around our camp, and
trying to make a living off our stock of good grub."

"But Bandy-legs isn't caring whether school keeps or not," suggested
Max, as they plainly heard a loud snore from the direction of the tent,
where the other chum was evidently sleeping soundly.

"He'll hardly believe us when we tell him in the morning what happened,"
Steve went on to say. "And now that we've gone and set the old spring
trap again, there's not a single thing to show for it, unless we're
lucky enough to get our game the second time around."

"S-s-shucks!" muttered Toby just then.

"What's the matter?" asked Max.

"D-d-don't believe the thing'll come again; it's r-r-raining right now."

"Only a few drops, Toby, and they never make a storm, you know," Steve
informed him. "We don't want to see any rain, and for one I won't
believe it's going to visit us till I see it pouring cats and dogs.
When it comes to the weather I never believe anything until it happens,
and then, like as not it turns out a fizzle."

"Well, there's no use of our staying out here to get wet," remarked Max;
"so I move the meeting be adjourned. All in favor call out aye!"

Both the others were of the same mind, for they hastened to add their
voices to that of Max. And accordingly all of them crawled back under
the waterproof tent, content to let things move along as they pleased,
and quite sure that no matter how the rain did come down they would find
their covering faithful to its trust.

Bandy-legs still slept on, and he looked so young and innocent lying
there doubled up in a knot that none of the others found the heart to
disturb him, but sought their respective nooks, and tried to compose
themselves once more for a good sleep.



CHAPTER XII

A STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE


"What's the prospect for the day, fellows?" Steve asked in a loud voice,
as he sat up, after throwing aside his blanket.

It was morning, though the sun had not yet shown up. Three other heads
appeared in view instantly, for the sleepers had been satisfied to
cuddle in their warm coverings, on account of the chill of the night,
which must have gradually crept into the tent around the early hours.

"Looks to me as though it hadn't rained much after all," Bandy-legs
announced.

"T-t-things a little w-w-wet out there," remarked Toby, who had hastened
to thrust his head part way through the opening near which he lay; "but
it's all r-r-right, fellows, because I c'n see b-b-blue s-s-sky
overhead."

They were soon dressed, and ready to begin the business of the day. The
camp fire was not hard to start, thanks to their wisdom in procuring
plenty of dry fuel when they had the chance; and breakfast began to send
out appetizing odors that excited their appetites--though that was
hardly necessary, since normal boys are always in condition to do their
share of eating.

As usual they talked of various things while they sat around, each in
his favorite attitude, disposing of the meal.

Bandy-legs seemed to have something on his mind, which he took this
opportunity for venting, for when a little lull occurred in the
conversation he turned to Max, and went on to say:

"After all we forgot something yesterday, Max."

"That so, Bandy-legs? Well, I hope it wasn't such a big thing that it'll
upset any of our plans."

"T-t-tell us what?" Toby ventured, as well as he could, considering how
full his mouth was of food.

"Oh! you're not in this, Toby," the other assured the stutterer; "and
I'm not much s'prised at me forgetting, but it's queer Max should,
because he nearly always remembers."

"Then it must have been something connected with the little excursion
the two of us took yesterday?" Max guessed.

"Just what it was," said Bandy-legs. "We didn't think to ask Mrs.
Ketcham about whether they kept a bull or not; and you know we said we
would, because that might explain the awful growling noise we heard and
which sounded like an escaped lion roaring."

Max laughed softly.

"I admit that we didn't bother asking her about it, Bandy-legs," he
remarked; "but that was because there was no need."

"But why?" insisted the other, greedily.

"Oh! I happened to see the bull myself," replied Max, quietly.

"Pretty good evidence, that, I'd say," chuckled the amused Steve; "and
so far as I c'n tell, your lamps are in good condition, Max. Seeing is
believing, they say."

"And you didn't even bother to tell me, either; was that just fair!" the
aggrieved Bandy-legs wanted to know.

"Well," Max told him, "it happened when you were helping Mrs. Ketcham do
something with the eggs, and I guess I must have forgotten all about it
afterwards, because we had a lot of other things to talk about. But
happening to look out of the window in the direction of the barn I just
glimpsed the heavy-set head of a big Jersey bull sticking out of a hole
that must have been made in his stall so as to give him air. He was
sniffing, as if he knew there were strangers around; but when I looked
again he had drawn his head in, and so I forgot all about him."

Toby heaved a disappointed sigh.

"That knocks all my c-c-chances of g-g-gettin' an old he lion this
trip!" they heard him mutter.

"Well, did you ever?" ejaculated Steve, staring hard at the other; "just
think of the nerve of him, would you, expecting to bag a terrible
man-eating lion in a trap like that! Honest now, I really believe Toby
here'd be happy if he could only go home in a few days with a whole
menagerie trailing behind him--elephant, rhinoceros, camel, lion,
tiger, and a ring-tailed monkey bringing up the rear."

"Oh! is that so?" Toby asked him, with a pretended sneer on his face;
"and while you're about it, Steve, would you be so k-k-kind as to tell
me what sort of a m-m-monkey that is? I never saw one in all my
l-l-life."

"I guess you've got me there, Toby," laughed Steve; "because I never
have, either, but I should say it was an ordinary monkey that could tie
his tail up in knots whenever he wanted to keep it out of mischief, just
like you turn up your trousers on a wet day."

They kept things humming until the meal was done; for every fellow had a
desire to make his opinion known.

"Now what's the programme for to-day?" asked Max, as they untwisted
themselves from their Turk-like sitting positions, and stretched to
their full height.

"I'll tell you what I'm m-m-meaning to do," said Toby, "after we get
d-d-done the breakfast d-d-dishes. F-f-frogs!"

"Oh! I see, you're worried about all that chorus work they kept up last
night, and mebbe you think there were some who sang off-key, which
bothers your musical ear, so you want to pick 'em out, and even things
up," and Steve grinned as he said this, because he did not have as high
an opinion of Toby's accomplishments in the line of music as he might.

"I'm not pretending to have any such c-c-classical n-n-notion," the
accused one indignantly declared; "it's a c-c-case of dinner with me. I
l-l-like frogs' legs, and they l-l-like me first-rate; so when things
agree that way, what's the sense of k-k-keepin' 'em separate?"

"No use at all, Toby," admitted Steve, as though he had seen a great
light, "and if you feel like growing a pair of frogs' legs in place of
the ones you've got now, why, I wouldn't throw a thing in the way. Only
I warn you it would be dangerous practicing singing frog songs by
daylight."

Toby did not answer this thrust, only sniffed, and turned away.

Each of the others had a number of things scheduled for attention on
this morning. The camp was in pretty good trim by now, but there always
seems to be something that can be done in order to make it more
cheerful; and Max was one of those fellows who like to potter around,
making improvements.

Steve wanted to wander over in the direction of the farmhouse, and tried
to find some good excuse for going; but the milk supply promised to hold
out for the day, and they certainly would not need more eggs until the
next morning.

The fact of the matter was he had heard the accounts of how Max and
Bandy-legs had been so splendidly treated by Mrs. Ketcham with more or
less envy; because it happened that Steve was passionately fond of
doughnuts of the old-fashioned New England cruller kind; and he hoped
the farmer's wife might still have a nest of the same in her big stone
crock.

He even suggested that possibly Bandy-legs might like to go with him, so
as to take a picture of the big watchdog that had given him such a
lively time, in order to keep the adventure green in his memory. But
having other things laid out for that morning to keep him busy, the
other chum respectfully but firmly declined to be coaxed into making a
four mile tramp, when there was really no need of it.

So poor disappointed Steve had to give up for that day his hope of
obtaining any of those choice doughnuts.

"And chances are," he was heard to mutter to himself as he started to
get busy with something or other, "they'll be clean eaten up by another
day; but that's always my luck when doughnuts are around. It's too mean
for anything."

However Steve was too good-natured a fellow to remain gloomy very long
at a stretch, and in ten minutes they heard him trolling a comical ditty
as he worked away, showing that his "doughnut fever" had calmed down
sensibly.

Meanwhile Toby after awhile made ready to wander over in the direction
of the pond where that frog chorus inspired him with high hopes of
reaping a bountiful harvest.

He had arranged a long stout pole, with a short line and a hook at the
small end. This latter he ornamented with a piece of bright red flannel
some two inches square and supplied by Max, which he was wise enough to
tie securely to the shank of the hook, well up from the barb, but so it
concealed the point.

He also carried the trouting basket slung over his shoulder by the
canvas strap, and made sure that his hunting knife had a good edge to
it, for he meant to fix the frogs as he took them, thus saving himself
more or less of a burden in carrying the useless portions along with
him.

"Steve, would you m-m-mind doing me a g-g-great favor?" Toby asked, as
he stood there all ready to make a start.

"Sure I wouldn't mind, Toby; what is it?" the other asked quickly.

"I'd like to c-c-carry your g-g-gun along with me," said Toby.

"Not to shoot frogs with, I hope?" remarked Bandy-legs, in high scorn.

"K-k-keep out of this, p-p-please, Bandy-legs," the other told him.
"Steve knows I wouldn't be g-g-guilty of doing that. But you see, a
feller can't tell what he might run up against these d-d-days, when
there's some k-k-kind of mysterious animal p-p-prowlin' around. D-d-did
you s-s-say yes, Steve?"

"You're as welcome to the little Marlin as flowers in spring, Toby,"
Steve told him; "and here, put several more shells in your pocket.
Remember I've got a couple with buckshot loaded in the barrels right
now. If so be you _have_ to use the gun, be sure you know what you're
banging away at, because they'd have you up for murder if you hit a poor
man with that charge."

"Oh! I'll be careful, sure I will, Steve; and t-t-thank you ever so
m-m-much for lending it to me," with which the overjoyed Toby shouldered
the weapon, and started forth.

"Sure you know where the pond lies, do you?" asked Max; "and don't
forget that the camp is due southeast of the same. When you start home
take your bearings, and if you're in doubt even once, give us a whoop.
Sometimes its possible to get lost in the woods, and that means a heap
of trouble, don't it, Bandy-legs?"

"Well, if you change that to a swamp I can say yes, all right, because I
have been there, and know," was the answer the query brought out.

But Toby had no such fear. He had spent considerable time in the open,
so that he had learned many useful lessons, though he sometimes did
allow himself to grow more or less careless. The pond was not so very
far away but what he could make those by the campfire hear if he wished
to shout; and surely a fellow must be a fool who could get lost under
such conditions.

He made a bee-line through the woods, as nearly as the nature of the
undergrowth would allow such a thing. Before long he had arrived in
sight of the pond, which he was pleased to see covered many acres, and
had the appearance of a splendid haunt for great big greenbacked frogs.

He could hear them grunting in various places, and this made Toby's
heart beat high with hope, for he was especially fond of the sport;
though not cruel enough to have indulged in it just for the sake of
killing the high jumpers; but the thought of the feasts to come spurred
him on to do his best.

It is not always the easiest thing in the world to circumvent a shrewd
old grandfather frog who has long grown suspicious of everything that
walks on two feet. To crawl up close enough to him to softly push your
pole far out, so that the red lure dangles in front of his nose and
within a few inches, often requires considerable labor, and necessitates
more or less skill as well.

Toby soon became intensely interested in his work. He would stand the
gun up against a certain tree while he ranged the immediate shore, and
possibly made several captures. It was not long before he was sorry he
had bothered fetching the firearm at all, because there seemed no reason
for doing so, and it made him many unnecessary steps.

His success was phenomenal, and for an hour he kept moving around the
edge of the pond, the banks of which were heavily wooded for the most
part.

By that time he had almost two dozen "saddles" in his trout creel, and
it was beginning to bother him by feeling heavy; as well as slipping
forward while he crept along on hands and knees, in order to get close
to some monster who seemed suspicious, and had to be approached
carefully.

Finally Toby fell into the habit of leaving the basket along with his
gun. When he made a capture he would immediately kill the frog, and toss
him over to where these things lay, if within throwing distance. Then,
when ready to move further on it was his habit to dress those victims he
had gathered meanwhile, after which he allowed himself to be tempted to
proceed "just a little further." That is always the way when
frog-hunting; one may decide that he has really obtained enough for the
time being; but then the conditions may never be as good again; and some
of the spoils can easily be kept over until another day by immersing
them in cold water.

So Toby toiled on, creeping, sliding, crawling, and doing about
everything an active, ambitious hunter might, in pitting his powers
against a wary species of quarry that had only to make one big jump in
order to baffle all his plans.

Finally he knew that the creel would not hold many more of those big
"saddles," and accordingly Toby promised himself that he would surely
stop when he had taken just five, in addition to those already bagged.

Three times he tossed a victim over to the bank, where he could see the
gun and the basket. A fourth fell into his hands after a long steal
through some reeds, and having put an end to the victim's struggles,
Toby turned to throw him to the bank, after which he would look for the
very last frog he meant to take.

He did not throw that defunct jumper, however, although his hand was
drawn back to make the cast. Instead Toby stood there staring, a wrinkle
stealing between his eyes just above his nose, as it always did when the
boy was puzzled.

"Now, what's that m-m-mean?" he grumbled to himself, as he started
post-haste toward the bank. "Mebbe Steve's come out to s-s-see how I'm
doing, and he's j-j-just snuck my b-b-basket away for f-f-fun. There's
the g-g-gun aleanin' 'gainst that tree all right, but where's my
b-b-bully lot of f-f-frogs, I want to know?"

And indeed it was just as Toby said; for the shotgun could be plainly
seen where he had laid it, against the base of a tree-trunk; but the
trout creel filled almost to the lid with the delicious white meat
"saddles" of his many victims had mysteriously vanished!



CHAPTER XIII

THE SECRET OUT


When he presently managed to reach the spot he was aiming for Toby was
pretty much all out of breath. He had been forced to exert himself
considerably in order to get that last victim; and then came this sudden
call upon his energies.

He stared all around him, but could not see any sign of mischievous
Steve. The trees were for the most part too small to very well conceal
any one behind their trunks, it being every bit second-growth timber.

"Steve, l-l-let up on that f-f-foolin', and b-b-bring me back my
b-b-basket of b-b-bully f-f-frogs' legs, won't you, please?"

Toby called this out fairly loud, having by now managed to partly
recover his lost breath. He waited, and hoped to see the laughing face
of his chum thrust itself into view; but nothing happened.

Then Toby began to grow alarmed. He reached down, and snatched the gun
from its resting-place alongside the tree-trunk; after which he pulled
back both hammers with trembling thumb, while he scanned his
surroundings. His eyes were distended, and there was an anxious glow in
them; just as though the boy half expected that a savage striped jungle
tiger would suddenly make a leap from out the branches of a pine tree
near by, and seek to pounce upon him.

But although he scanned each neighboring harbor of refuge earnestly he
saw not a sign of a yellow form lying on a limb, and watching him
hungrily.

Toby all at once became eager to call his chums to the spot. There
seemed to be a strange mystery attached to this sudden disappearance of
his prized trophies, which he could not begin to understand. One minute
the creel had been here in full view, and when he looked again, lo and
behold, it was gone!

He at least had the good sense to stop long enough before starting to
make sure that he was going to run in the right direction; and then he
used his legs to the best advantage.

All the time he was trying to sprint as though engaged in a road race
with some of the best runners in Carson High athletic circles, Toby kept
looking to the right and to the left, and then behind him; for he more
than half anticipated that this retreat on his part might spur the
unknown enemy on to attacking him.

However, he drew near the camp without anything happening. Now he could
hear the voice of Steve again trolling some ditty, while Bandy-legs
called out to ask Max a question.

This would seem to prove that the whole three of them were there. It
also added to the mystery; because all along Toby had kept saying to
himself he half expected to learn that Steve was absent, and that
neither of the others knew where he had wandered; for this would make it
appear as though after all Steve might be the cause of the strange
vanishing of the trout creel.

But now that prop was knocked out from under Toby's feet. Hence his face
looked pale and somewhat peaked as he hurried over to where the
khaki-colored tent stood, with the smouldering fire close by.

"Hello! here's our frog-hunter come back, and I hope he's met with good
luck in the bargain!" Max called out, and then as he noticed first that
Toby looked somewhat frightened, and second that he was not carrying the
trout creel over his shoulder as might be expected, he went on to
exclaim: "Why, what's happened to you, Toby? Where's your basket?"

Now Toby, as the reader knows, was likely to get his tongue dreadfully
twisted in all sorts of strange knots if he tried to speak in a hurry,
when very much excited. That was just what happened now; and Steve had
to thump him on the back with considerable energy before he made the
accustomed sign that he had succeeded in getting control over his vocal
chords again.

"B-b-basket's gone!" was the shot he fired at them as soon as he could
speak.

"What d'ye mean, Toby!" asked Steve, frowning; "gone and lost my trout
creel in some mud bed, and can't find it again? I ought to be glad you
didn't let the Marlin follow suit."

"'Tain't that!" declared the other, with an in-taking of his breath;
"it's been h-h-hooked, that's what!"

Max saw that he would have to take a hand in the matter so as to get at
the facts without any more delay; for Steve's methods were apt to simply
excite Toby more and more, and that meant a further thickness of speech.

"Tell us what happened, Toby," he said, with the little touch of
authority in his voice that his position as the leader of the party
permitted, and which was always respected by the other chums.

"That's j-just what I want to do, Max," Toby went on to say, after
swallowing once or twice in a peculiar way he had when trying hard to
get a grip on himself. "You s-s-see, I got to leavin' the b-b-basket on
the b-b-bank along with the gun. I had her near c-c-crammed full of the
f-f-finest saddles you ever saw, too. Then just when I g-g-got to next
to the last jumper I m-m-meant to take, s-s-say, when I looked before
throwin' that f-f-frog ashore the b-b-basket wasn't there!"

"Sure you didn't misplace it, Toby?" asked Max, who could not forget
that the other had a little failing in the way of meaning to do certain
things, and then going right off to attempt something just the opposite.

"N-n-not any, Max," persisted Toby, truculently; "she was there
p-p-plain as the nose on Steve's face here, when I threw that third
f-f-frog ashore; but when I looked again, nixey, she was g-g-gone!"

"We'll have to go over there with you, and investigate this thing," Max
announced with a frown. "If there's anybody hiding up in these woods and
trying to play mean tricks on us we want to know it right away. We're
too far off for any of the town boys to be trying to bother us; and I
don't think any country fellow would take the chances of being caught
and pounded. It must be some sort of animal!"

"That's what I thought it was, Max!" Toby declared, not deeming it worth
while to explain how at first he had imagined one of them might be
playing a joke on him.

"Ought we to leave the camp unprotected!" Bandy-legs asked.

"I'll fasten the tent flap, so nothing can get in, and it'll be all
right," Max told him; which intelligence pleased the other very much
indeed, for he imagined that they might hit upon him to stay behind, and
Bandy-legs had as much desire to be in the hunt as the next one.

Accordingly the four boys started on a run toward the distant pond. Toby
led the van, because he had already been over the ground twice, and
ought to know where he was going better than any one else. Still, it was
Max who on several occasions managed to get Toby to veer a little to
the right. He was keeping his eyes on the tracks made by Toby in
approaching the camp; and knew just when the latter deviated from his
former course, as one will naturally lean to the right unless guarding
against this tendency.

Even after they arrived at the water they were compelled to continue on
for quite a distance, because the frog hunter had covered considerable
ground while keeping up his sport.

"There's your fishing pole leaning up against that tree, I think, Toby,"
remarked Max, finally.

"Yes, that's so," replied the other. "I c-c-chucked it there before I
lit out, so's to have a m-m-mark to see when I came b-b-back again."

"And is that the place where you saw your basket last?" asked Steve.

"It sure is!" Toby declared, half holding up his right hand as though he
fancied himself in the witness chair, and bound to give facts exactly as
they were. "And l-l-looky here, will you, s-s-see where the gun stood up
against the tree trunk? Well, the b-b-basket lay over by that clump of
g-g-grass."

Max immediately stepped over and bent down.

"He's right about that, fellows," he announced; "because here you can
plainly see where the basket lay on the ground, for it left an
impression."

"It ought to," burst out Toby, convincingly; "because it was h-h-heavy
enough to m-m-make a m-m-mark anywhere."

All of them could see what Max referred to. The basket had undoubtedly
lain there on the bank. Max looked all around him, then up toward the
tree overhead. In this case the lower branches were at least ten feet
from the ground; and he mentally calculated that no animal, however long
its reach, could have possibly stretched down and secured that basket.

That would mean there should be some chance for discovering telltale
imprints near by. Max was unusually clever with regard to such things;
and always thought of them first when there was a mystery of this kind
afoot.

"Keep where you are, everybody, please, for just a minute or two," he
went on to say; "that is, don't move around more than you can help; and
use your eyes to help locate the tracks left by this _thing_, whatever
it may be."

"Oh! a good idea, Max!" burst from Toby; "now, why didn't I think of
that before I put for the c-c-camp?"

Nobody gave him an answer, but doubtless Steve deep down in his heart
was saying, "Because you were badly rattled, I guess, my boy; and wanted
to meet up with some of the rest of the crowd too much, that's what."

After all it was Max who discovered what he sought. They heard him give
utterance to a low exclamation, as though of surprise; then he was seen
to bend down and closely examine something.

The others crowded close to their leader, and three pairs of hungry
eyes were fastened upon the ground. Toby gave a cry of mingled
astonishment and disgust.

"W-w-why, would you believe it," he gasped, "after all it was a silly
little b-b-baby, and barefooted at that, g-g-got away with the
b-b-basket! Oh! rats!"

Both Steve and Bandy-legs were staring at the plain imprint of a foot,
and such a queer foot too, long and slender.

"Max, what's the answer?" begged Steve; "it don't seem possible that
that track was ever made by any baby like Toby says."

"It wasn't," the other told him, with a smile; "that was a full-grown
monkey, and I should think he would stand about as high as Bandy-legs
here!"

"A m-m-monkey!" echoed Toby, scratching his head; "and that was what
stole our f-f-fine h-h-ham the f-f-first night we camped here, was it,
and threw the s-same at Steve's head? Oh! my s-s-stars, a real live
monkey. I w-w-wonder now if it's got a r-r-ringed tail like Steve said."

"But looky here, Max," interposed Bandy-legs, "monkeys don't eat fish
and frogs, do they? I understood they lived on nuts and roots and
fruit."

"So they do, as near as I can say," acknowledged Max; "although there
may be a species that does eat animal food, though I doubt it. This
fellow has lived pretty much all his life in the circus, and is as
tricky as they make them. He watched Toby here working, and wondered
what he had so good in that basket; so when the chance came he just
dropped down and made away with it."

Toby began to scan the neighboring trees as though he half expected to
see a grinning hairy face projected through the branches and leering at
him.

"But after he looks in and sees what's there, he might drop the basket,
mightn't he, Max?" Steve inquired.

"I think there's a fair chance that way, Steve; and so let's look
around. Each choose a certain territory to cover; but don't wander _too_
far away; and remember our old signal for assembling in a hurry. Whoever
finds the creel give the Indian whoop twice. Once for trouble, and help
wanted. Now scatter!"

They had done this sort of thing many times in days gone by, and were
pretty well trained for service. Following the idea Max suggested, they
headed in four different points of the compass, though the pond being
behind cut out half the circle, and shortened their labors considerably.

Barely three minutes had gone by than a whoop rang out, coming from the
quarter where Steve had gone. The others raised their heads eagerly and
listened, for if no second call followed it would mean that the one who
signalled needed assistance in a hurry. But almost immediately there
came a second cry, proving that the missing basket had been found.

A minute later and they were clustered there, examining the trout creel.
It had been opened, for part of its contents had vanished; but when Toby
began to discover fine frogs' "saddles" scattered on the ground, he
started to collect them in great haste.

"Seemed like the monk must have been disgusted when he opened the
basket, after climbing a tree here, and found that he didn't fancy the
smell of what it held," Steve gave as his opinion.

"And I guess Toby is likely to get about all his frog supplies back
again," Max went on to say, in a satisfied way; "so that none of us have
any kick coming."

"That old sneak fools himself more than a few times, don't he?"
Bandy-legs remarked, as if beginning to see the comical side of the
affair. "First there was the half ham which he couldn't take a fancy to
after he stole it, and now here he's gone and cribbed a lot of frogs'
legs that he throws away. It must be just a habit with him to steal. He
can't help it when the temptation rises. I'd call him a kleptomaniac,
wouldn't you, Max?"

"Yes," Toby hastened to remark, out of his turn, "that's what he must
be, but you'll have to excuse m-m-me from s-s-sayin' the same, because
it'd sure take m-m-me a year of Sundays puckerin' up my l-l-lips to
try."

"Now, if you had a chance to capture a monkey, Toby, it wouldn't be near
so silly as hoping to bag a great big lion, or a strong tiger that could
bat us all over with one stroke of his paw," Steve advised the boy who
yearned to be the proud possessor of a menagerie of his own.

"Well, p'raps I may b-b-before we leave here," Toby calmly went on to
say, "that is, if the rest of you g-g-give-me a h-h-helping hand."

"You can count on that, Toby," Max assured him, for everybody felt
vastly better, now that the worst seemed known; "but since we've found
what was lost, and made an important discovery, let's hike hack to our
camp, where we can talk it all over, and settle on our plan of
campaign."

"Yes," Bandy-legs remarked, "and while that slippery customer is hanging
around here nothing's going to be safe from him. I wouldn't be a bit
surprised if the old sneak had paid a visit to our tent while we've been
investigating up here; and poking his nose into every package we've got
there, hoping to find some peanuts, or something else he likes
particularly well," and this prospect sent the boys on the full run over
the short-cut between the pond where the frogs held their nightly
chorus, and the camp.



CHAPTER XIV

A PLOT AGAINST THE MISSING LINK


"Everything's lovely, and the goose hangs high!" sang out Steve, when
they had once more arrived in camp, to find things just as they had been
left, with no sign of tampering on the part of the inquisitive and
perhaps hungry monkey.

"It's all right, because no damage was done, since Toby got back his
stolen high jumpers," Bandy-legs announced.

"Yes, and he's agoin' to have p-p-part of the s-s-same for lunch,
understand?" declared the late frog fisherman; "and say, Max, you never
did see such c-c-crazy antics in all your life as when they f-f-found
that red rag had a jag in it. Great g-g-governor! how they'd try to
c-c-crawl up the string backwards, or any old way. Near died alaughin'
at the s-s-same; then I reckoned it was kind of c-c-cruel to keep 'em
sufferin' so, and I'd knock 'em on the head. 'Bout time I g-g-got busy
with the fryingpans, ain't it?"

No one told him to "hold his horses," for they were only too well
pleased nowadays when Toby offered to take upon himself the getting of a
meal, since he had proved his ability to do fair camp cooking. Time was
when they would have utterly refused to let him try his hand, because
they knew how he would spoil everything he attempted to serve up; but
times had changed apparently, and Nora's lessons were bearing fruit.

It was just as well that Toby cooked an unusual amount of stuff for
luncheon, because it happened that the camp was destined to have
visitors before they had gotten very far along with the meal.

Perhaps the smoke made by their fire attracted attention, for the first
thing the boys knew they heard the sound of voices somewhere near, and
belonging to men at that.

They looked up at each other, and Bandy-legs was the first to express an
opinion.

"Say, I wouldn't be s'prised now, if it's Farmer Ketcham and one of his
hired men acomin' over to see us about something."

"Whew!" exclaimed Steve, "I hope his old bull hasn't broke loose now,
and is on the rampage. Seems to me as if we had about enough to bother
with, as things stand, without having a bull tearing in on us any old
time; and Toby here wearing that red bandana around his neck all the
time, trying to make believe he's a cowboy from out on the plains."

"There they come!" said Max, pointing as he spoke.

A few seconds later, and Toby uttered a loud cry.

"Why, I d-d-declare if 'tain't M-m-mister Jenks!" he announced.

"Jenks!" echoed Steve; "seems like I ought to know that name; heard it
somewhere or other. Who is he, Toby, and where'd you meet him?"

"Why, d-d-don't you remember, boys, he owns the c-c-circus!"

"Oh! sure, that's a fact!" Steve exclaimed, "and you had some mighty
pleasant dealings with him, too, didn't you, Toby? Fifty plunks was it
he paid you because you sent in the first news about his missing
animals? Mebbe he's changed his mind, and wants that hard cash back
again--followed you all the way up here to coax you to pan out. Mebby he
thinks he needs it in his business."

But Toby shrugged his shoulders, and smiled in a way that proved he felt
pretty sure the journey would have been taken for nothing, should such
prove to be the case.

"I can give a guess what brings Mr. Jenks up here," interrupted Max;
"and it's got some connection with our torment, that trained monkey. But
they're waving their hands to us right now, and coming this way; so
we'll soon know all about it."

The two men soon reached the camp. Mr. Jenks it was, just as Toby had
said, and the party with him seemed to be a farmer, who might possibly
live within a few miles of the place.

"Glad to see you again, my boy!" exclaimed the proprietor of the circus,
as he held out his big hand to Toby; "and I must say this looks like a
good omen to me, meeting you away up here, after you had so much to do
with finding the rest of my stock. I'm shy just one fine educated
monkey, the famous Link who's said to be the Missing Link, which he is
right now, at least. Thought I could get on without him, but it seems
that the show has lost its salt without his tricks. Everybody calling
for Link, and attendance falling off when we can't produce him. So when
I had a letter from this party here, Mr. Caleb Kline, who owns a farm
not far away, telling me he had been visited by a big monkey that
chattered, and stole like all get-out, I just made up my mind I'd come
back and make a big effort to locate him. It'll be two hundred dollars
in any one's pocket to capture Link."

"Won't you both sit down, and have a bite of lunch?" asked Max, feeling
that it was really up to them to act as hosts on such an occasion.

Mr. Jenks looked at his companion.

"Might as well, Kline, seeing that your place is a good ways off; and we
don't want to go back till dark, because that boy said he saw the monkey
up in this region day before yesterday. Scared him nearly to death, the
boy thinking he meant to eat him up; but Link only wanted to make
friends, for he's a social chap sometimes."

Steve laughed at that.

"As full of mischief as an egg is of meat, sir!" he declared.

"What's that, have you seen him, then?" demanded Mr. Jenks, eagerly.

"Oh! he's hanging out somewhere near by, and we've had a couple of
experiences with the sly rascal," Steve continued. "First time he stole
half a ham, and when we were looking around in the night he flung it at
my head, and nearly knocked my brains out, only I was saved by not
having it hit me."

"Well, that's interesting--not the fact of your having brains, my son,
but what you tell me about Link's scandalous conduct. He's a slick one,
I assure you," the circus man went on to say, his face beaming with
satisfaction at thus striking a warm clue so early in the hunt.

"Yes," broke out Toby, anxious to get in the spotlight as well as
Steve; "and right this very morning, after I'd f-f-fished for f-f-frogs
over at the p-p-pond a half mile away, and left my h-b-basket full of
saddles under a tree, would you believe m-m-me, that old m-m-monk
slipped up and run away with the s-s-same? C-c-course we found it again,
'cause m-m-monkeys don't f-f-fancy f-f-fish; and we saw tracks as
p-p-plain as anything that looked like a b-b-baby'd been there, which
was his m-m-marks, you know."

"I wouldn't be a bit surprised, now!" declared Mr. Jenks, "but what you
boys will be after me to claim that two hundred yet. Link seems to have
taken a fancy to you in some way, and is hanging around your camp. Now,
my time is nearly up, and unless I gather him in this afternoon I'm
afraid I'll have to leave here. I'm meaning to let you write down where
the show'll be every day for two weeks; and you can reach me there if
you do happen to take the monkey in."

He looked meaningly at Toby when saying this. Somehow Mr. Jenks seemed
to have an idea that the boy who loved to collect wild animals must be
the leader of the little group of campers. This arose partly through his
having had former dealings with Toby Jucklin, whom he had at least found
to be fairly shrewd at making a bargain.

It quite tickled Toby to have this honor thrust upon him for once in his
life; and as Max could see no harm in the mistake he allowed it to go
on. After all it mattered very little, since they were all chums; and
what was one's business was the concern of all. And Toby seemed to be
enjoying the sensation so much that his face was fairly flushed.

"We'll t-t-try to d-d-do our best, sir," Toby went on to say, feeling
that it was up to him to act as spokesman, when his relations with Mr.
Jenks made him so pronounced a factor in the deal.

"He's so tricky, though," observed Steve, "that you mustn't count on our
being able to bring him to terms. Monkeys can bite and scratch
terrible, if they once get mad, can't they, Mr. Jenks?"

The two men were sitting down alongside, and each enjoying the contents
of a pannikin placed before them, containing a fair supply of all that
the boys had had for their meal, as well as a brimming cup of coffee
with all the "fixings."

"Yes, and I wouldn't advise you to trust too much to Link, for while
he's full of fun, at the same time there's rank treachery in his
make-up; so that he may turn like a flash on the hand that pets him, and
use his little sharp teeth. But there's one safe way to capture him, and
which we meant to employ in case we could learn where he was holding
out."

"Would you mind explaining it to us, Mr. Jenks?" asked Max.

"Certainly not, son, and I mean to leave some of the material with you
to use, if you get the chance. Like as not Link will keep on hanging out
near your camp; and if I could remain up here longer I'd just stay here,
and take my chances. You see the little bag Kline carries? Well, that
contains nuts, and dried bread. I've got a bottle of strong liquor
along, and we expected to follow the tactics of nearly all wild animal
catchers who go out after monkeys."

"I think I know what you mean, sir," said Max; "but perhaps you'll
explain a little further?"

"They know the confiding nature of the climbers," continued the circus
proprietor, promptly, "and when they reach a place in the woods where
they know they are apt to strike a colony of monkeys, they take a number
of gourd calabashes and place a certain amount of nuts and bread, soaked
in the whiskey, in each, then hide near by to watch results.

"Pretty soon the troop of monkeys come along, and scenting something
good to eat, proceed to fill up on the dosed stuff. It seems pretty hard
to take advantage of a weakness that they appear to have in common with
the other branch of the two-legged family, don't it? But every time they
get so stupid that they stagger all around, and seem to lose all fear of
mankind. Then one of the watchers will step out, take hold of a monkey's
hand, and lead a whole string of them away, each trying to support the
others. And so they walk into cages, and upon recovering from their
spree find themselves shut up for life."

"If men only had to pay as dear for their first offense, there'd be a
heap less of drinking done, you hear me," remarked the farmer, who had
evidently heard the description before, and yet still marveled at its
ingenuity, as well as thought it pretty hard on the poor monkeys.

"You can leave the stuff with us, Mr. Jenks," said Max, and now the
other realized he was dealing with the real leader of the camping party;
"but I won't promise to use it unless we really have to. Somehow I
don't exactly like the idea, though I suppose it's all right for those
animal catchers to do anything at all in order to make their trip pay,
because with them it's a business. But that isn't true with us boys.
Perhaps we may find another way to get Link; it'll give us something to
think about, and if we succeed it ought to be a feather in our caps."

"And two hundred dollars in your pockets, don't forget that, son," the
circus man said, impressively. "Seems like the more I get to thinking
about that monkey the less I want to lose him. It took a long time to
teach him what tricks he knows, and he's always been a big drawing card
to my show. I certainly hope we manage to corral him in some way. And so
far as I'm concerned I'd as soon get him soaked as not, so long as I lay
hands on him. It wouldn't be the first time either that he knew what
strong drink is, because I'm sorry to say the man I hired to look after
Link especially, used to be very fond of his bottle, and he must have
taught the monkey to like the vile stuff. He's the silliest thing, when
on a jag, you ever saw, and does act too comical for anything."

"I can see from that it would be an easy thing to tempt poor old Link
with some of the stuff, sir," Max went on to say; "and if we fail in
every other way we'll just have to come down to what you suggest;
because the animal would die in the winter if left at large in this cold
country. Either emigration or captivity is the only thing to save him."

"Sensible talk, son," the circus man told Max. "And to tell the truth
I'm so sure you boys will be successful that I'm tempted to turn right
back, and get an early train for Greenburg, so as to be with my show
to-night. Things go wrong when the old man is away. It's a one-man
concern at best. Nobody knows what to do in an emergency but me. Yes,
Kline, after we're done eating take me back to your house, and then to
the station again for the first train. I'll gladly pay you what I
promised, and then wait to hear from these bright lads."

Of course this sort of talk gave the four chums more than a few pleasant
thrills because everybody likes to know that they are appreciated at
their true worth.

"That would m-m-mean another f-f-fifty for me, wouldn't it?" Toby was
heard to say, reflectively, as though the prospect might seem quite
pleasing, and he wondered whether he might not be able to save up, and
after a little while augment the number of animals in his collection,
after he had removed it from the back yard of the family residence out
to the Jucklin farm.

While the two guests were finishing their meal there was more or less
further talk, all bearing upon the different ways in which men who make
it their business in life to trap wild animals, go about it out in the
jungles and dark forests of the countries where such may still be found
in profitable numbers to pay them to go to such enormous expense.

The boys listened, and learned considerable that was deeply interesting
about the habits of these bold adventurers. Since the moving picture
enterprise came into its own there have been many faithful pictures
shown of how these beasts of prey live in their native lands; and the
boys had even had the privilege of seeing some very fine flashlight
pictures that showed all manner of untamed animals at large, so that
this talk with an old traveler like Mr. Jenks was unusually interesting.

Finally the two men announced themselves ready to go back to the Kline
farmhouse.

"Remember, now, boys," said Mr. Jenks, as he went around shaking every
fellow heartily by the hand, "you're going to wire as soon as you get
back to town, and tell me what luck you've had. I'll be ready to jump on
the next train and come back to Carson, bringing that two hundred with
me; because I know you're going to turn the trick on the Missing Link.
Be good to yourselves, now, and here's wishing you the best of luck,"
and with that he passed from their sight.



CHAPTER XV

THE BATTLE OF WITS


After that Toby seemed to have but one object in life, which was to
hatch up a clever scheme whereby the educated monkey could be trapped.
He wandered around in the near vicinity of the camp, with his eyes
constantly searching the branches of the trees in the vague hope that he
might discover the runaway snugly squatted in some crotch and fast
asleep.

"I believe Toby's got an idea he's able to jabber monkey talk," said
Steve, after the day was fairly well spent, and they could hardly coax
Toby to come in to his midday meal, much less do his share of cooking;
"and that he expects, if only he, might find where that slick old Link
holds out, he could pan-handle him, and get him to come into camp with
us."

"Now you're hewing pretty close to the line," commented Bandy-legs, "and
I'll let you know why. Toby's got a handful of the nut stuff in his
pocket. I saw him get it out of the bag the circus man left with us. And
I just bet you he's thinking of tempting Link with it."

Steve jumped up and stepped into the tent; he came out again with a
broad grin on his face.

"I was mistaken, glad to say!" he remarked.

"About what?" Max asked him.

"Well, when Bandy-legs here said Toby was running around with a pocket
full of the nut meat, it struck me that perhaps he'd scooped that bottle
of hard stuff too, which Mr. Jenks said we might use to soak, first the
dry bread and then Link. But the country is safe, for he never touched
it."

"None of us have seen or heard anything of the monkey since he stole
Toby's basket of frog legs this morning," ventured Max; "and it may be
he's left us--cleared out in disgust because what he steals here doesn't
seem to touch the right spot with him."

"Don't mention that to Toby, or you'll give him the blind staggers,"
said Steve; "because he's set his mind on capturing the monk; and when
Toby gets a thing in that head of his he's a mighty unhappy fellow if he
can't carry it through."

"What d'ye think," Bandy-legs went on to say, "I heard him grumbling to
himself, and seems like he was wondering whether he couldn't keep the
old monkey and let the two hundred go glimmering. Actually thinks more
about an old rascal of a Simian than a handful of plunks. But we're
three to one, and we'll see to it that no such fool deal as that goes
through."

"No danger of it," chirped Steve, briskly; "that circus man thinks more
than two hundred of Link; and five times that wouldn't tempt him to let
the monkey slip through his fingers. Think of him coming away back here
in hopes of bagging the slippery old scamp! No, if we do get hold of
that Missing Link he's going to keep on amusing the circus public, and
not just Toby Jucklin."

When the afternoon came to an end they managed to get the restless Toby
to come in near the campfire; but it was impossible for him to talk, or
even think of any other subject than capturing the stray monkey.

Max had considered the subject, and arrived at a sensible conclusion.
They had really come out just to break the ice for the new season, and
without any definite object in view save to enjoy the open air, and
renew some of their pleasures of camp life.

It would be as well for them to spend some of their time in inventing
ingenious traps calculated to ensnare the trick monkey. This would be
pitting their smartness against that of a suspicious and clever animal;
and if they won out why it would be reckoned not only a glorious triumph
but at the same time put a nice little sum of good money in their
pockets.

He announced this policy as they were finishing their supper, and the
others had to smile to see the look of ecstatic joy that spread all over
Toby's face.

"Oh! that's just fine of you boys to stand by me like that!" he burst
out with, and not tripping even once, strange to say. "I'll never forget
it, give you my word I won't. And some time I'll find a chance to pay
you back, see if I don't."

"Hear! hear!" cried Steve.

"Bravo!" exclaimed Max.

"Good stuff, Toby," remarked Bandy-legs, "and he never fell all over
himself once, you notice, fellers."

"Of course," Max continued, "we don't know whether we'll have another
chance to see Link. He may have kicked the dust of these parts off his
feet, and started out to find easier picking among the farmers' houses,
where he could sneak in and loot the kitchens while the missus was out
gathering eggs, or hanging up the wash. But if we can coax him to stay
around our camp we'll keep on hoping to get him in the end."

"But, Max," ventured Steve, "if all our smart traps go begging, and he
gives us the merry ha! ha! every time, wouldn't you try that
monkey-catcher trick the circus man told us about?"

"I've been thinking it over," said Max, "and while I'd much prefer to
take Link by some fairer scheme, if he is too sharp for us, why I reckon
we'll have to turn to that way. If he isn't captured he could live by
stealing through the summer, but when the cold weather came the poor
beast would freeze to death, because he's a native of a hot climate, you
know."

"G-g-good for you, Max!" exclaimed Toby, beaming with joy; "oh! I know
now we'll g-g-get Link in the end. And to coax him to hang out around
here r-r-right along I've g-g-gone and b-b-baited the place."

"How?" questioned Bandy-legs.

"I h-h-hunted up some likely p-p-places where I just thought he'd be apt
to come and I p-p-put a few kernels of nuts in the crotch, each one
closer to the camp. You k-k-know that's the way they ketch wild
t-t-turkeys, make a t-t-trap of lathes, and have a road leading into the
same, comin' up in the m-m-middle, covered over just inside. Then they
strew corn all along and up onto the t-t-trap. Mister T-t-turk he starts
pickin' up the g-g-grains, and is so busy that he f-f-follows on till he
comes up inside the slats. Then he g-g-gets so excited that he just runs
around and around, tryin' to p-p-poke his old head through the bars, and
never once rememberin' that he came up in the m-m-middle!"

"Well, now, that wasn't a halfway bad idea of yours, Toby, to bait a
line with the nut meat, so's to coax Link to come closer," Steve
ventured to say, after listening patiently to Toby's staggering
explanation; "but tell us how you expect to trap the monk after you've
got him close in? I take it that's goin' to be the job that'll make us
think we're up against a stone wall."

"I saw Toby practicing with a piece of old rope this afternoon,
throwing a lariat, and I bet you now he's meaning to try and drop a loop
over the head of that Link," Bandy-legs asserted.

Max shook his head as though the idea did not find much favor with him.

"A regular cow-puncher might manage to do it," he remarked, "but no
bungler like any one of us would be. That trick monkey is too quick and
smart to let a noose fall over his head while he's awake. You'd see him
duck every time, and slip off, chattering like a parrot. You'll have to
try something better than a lariat, Toby, if you hope to trap a
wideawake monkey."

"Oh! well, I've been, h-h-hammering my h-h-head all the while," Toby
explained, "and I've fixed up a lot of g-g-good schemes that I'd like to
try out. Once we g-g-get him to understand that there are n-n-nuts
around here, and he ain't goin' to desert us in a h-h-hurry; so I'll
have a c-c-chance to sample 'em all."

"How about to-night; think it'll pay to rig that rope snare again, and
bait it with some of the nuts?" asked Steve, who was rapidly becoming
quite interested in the game, which appealed to his sporting instincts
more and more the deeper he allowed himself to be drawn into it.

"I expected to," admitted Toby.

"We might set a number of the rope snares," suggested Bandy-legs, "so
that if he missed connections with one he'd get stuck in another. They
could all be connected with that stout hickory stick; or mebbe we might
find others just as full of spring."

Max agreed that at least it would do no harm.

"All the same," he went on to tell Toby, "if I was you I wouldn't expect
too much from that spring trap, no matter how many snares you set. If
that smart monkey really put that stick in the noose, and set it off for
fun, or in spite, chances are you'll never trap him that way. He knows
too much about tricks and all that. But we'll give the thing another
try-out to-night, and if it doesn't work we'd better change off to
something else."

Accordingly all of them became very busy for some time. It was found
that they could fasten two other cords to the same bent sapling, making
a regular network of nooses, among which they scattered some of the nut
meat which the circus man had brought along with him, knowing the
weakness of the missing animal for the same.

"Whew! if he eats up all that and doesn't get caught, I'll believe he's
sure a close relation of the Old Nick," Steve gave as his opinion, after
this labor had been completed, and they surveyed the trap with
complacency.

Toby was very enthusiastic. He declared that he felt it in his bones
they would be awakened by a screaming and scolding, to find poor old
Link dangling in mid-air, gripped by the hind leg in one of those
entangling nooses. He even went so far as to arrange the stout collar,
with its padlock and chain, which Mr. Jenks had left with them before
going back, so as to have it handy in case of sudden need.

None of them slept very soundly, even Toby, who as a rule could be
depended on to get his full share of rest. Not that there was any wild
alarm, for the night crept on and everything remained peaceful enough;
but all of the boys felt more or less excitement; and upon being
awakened by some dream would lie there listening, and occasionally
peeping out from the upturned flap of the tent.

The fire smouldered, and went out, for no one ventured to replenish the
exhausted fuel; and during the last section of the night there was not
even a spark remaining; only the cold moon above to dispel the darkness.

Then came morning, and as Bandy-legs aroused them all with his kicking
to get free from his blanket, which seemed to be twisted around his
neck, while his feet were chilled, they thought it best to start another
day.

Toby of course was out as soon as he could get some clothes on. He had
expressed himself as keenly disappointed because there had been no sign
of the trap being sprung; but shortly after he went out to investigate,
the others heard him coming back on the jump.

"Sounds like he's found signs to tell that Link _did_ pay us a call,"
suggested Steve, rightly guessing why Toby should manifest so much
excitement.

He proved to be a true prophet, for Toby, as soon as he reached them,
burst out with his lament.

"What d'ye think, he's been and d-d-done it, fellers? Say, there isn't a
c-c-crumb of all that nut meat left; but he stepped over every n-n-noose
as neat as you p-p-please. My stars! but he's a c-c-corker. G-g-guess
they make him walk on the tops of a h-h-hundred bottles in the
c-c-circus. He c'n do it easy, g-g-give you my word for it. He's a
w-w-wonder, that's what he is. Whew! means I've g-g-got to do some more
high thinkin' if I expect to g-g-grab that Link. But I will, if I have
to p-p-play hookey from school, and s-s-stay up here right along!"

Upon investigation it was found that the clever simian had indeed
managed to pass in and out amidst that network of waiting loops without
displacing even one of the same. Every crumb of the nut meat had
vanished, too, showing how careful the sly rascal had been, and cleaned
up as he went.

Bandy-legs suggested that perhaps woods rats might have done the trick,
or even chipmunks or red squirrels; whereupon a close examination
disclosed the plain imprints of the monkey's feet in numerous places,
which proved the identity of the culprit beyond any dispute.

Max was highly amused at the outcome, for he always liked to find
himself pitted against a worthy antagonist. He seldom felt like exerting
himself when the game was not worth the candle. He liked to cast a fly
for bass, and having deceived them with a feathery lure, play them with
a slender rod and fine line, giving them the sportsman's chance to get
free if only they knew how to jump out of the water and throw themselves
across the taut line.

It began to look as though the boys had found a foeman worthy of their
steel in this sly trick monkey; and they would possibly have all the fun
they could want during the balance of their little Easter outing, in
trying to outwit him.

From time to time during that day they talked matters over. Toby was not
left alone in the endeavor to invent some scheme whereby Link might be
caught. Steve hatched up one that they determined to try that same
night. It was to dig a pit, cover it skillfully with a delicate mattress
that, when sprinkled with earth would seem to be perfectly sound; but
which was calculated to give way, once a weight of thirty pounds or more
had embarked on the covering.

With high hopes, then, they carefully baited this trap just before
retiring to the interior of the tent. Toby, always sanguine, was
confident that it was going to work. He had told long stories as they
sat around the camp fire, about how hunters of big game, sent out by
those who dealt in wild animals, always used this trap in the shape of
a pit in order to secure various species that could not be caught in
their lion and tiger nets.

They had slept so poorly of late that once they did manage to forget
things the entire four boys slumbered heavily for several hours. Any
ordinary noise would not have awakened Toby when at home; indeed, his
folks had threatened to get a patent bed that, connected with clock-work
machinery, would throw him out on the floor at a certain hour arranged
for. But he had something on his mind now, and hence when there suddenly
arose a tremendous squealing and crashing, Toby was up on his feet as
quickly as any of his three chums.

"Whoop! hurrah! we've g-g-got him at last, fellers! Quick, let's hurry
and k-k-keep the beggar from c-c-climbing out again! Oh! joy! D-d-didn't
he make an awful r-r-row, though? Listen to him, would you? P-p-please
hurry, Bandy-legs; you're as s-s-slow as molasses in winter!"

Not stopping to even pull on their shoes they all hastened to reach the
outer air, and rush toward the spot where the pit had been dug.



CHAPTER XVI

THE LAST CAMP FIRE--CONCLUSION


"Ain't he a squealer, though?" cried Steve, as they came close to the
place, and saw that the thin mattress had indeed been broken down.

The sounds welled up from the hole they had dug, and there was some sort
of movement down there.

"Oh! let's h-h-hurry and g-g-get him fastened to this chain!" Toby was
crying. "He might j-j-jump out any minute unless we're c-c-careful. Max,
have you thought about the l-l-lantern like you said you would?"

"It's here, all right," replied the other; "now, surround the pit, while
I light up, so we can see how to get the old sinner out."

Accordingly they formed what Steve called "a hollow square" around the
hole in the ground, out of which was coming that series of discordant
squeals; but in Toby's ears no music could ever sound sweeter, for did
they not mean a clever victory over the shrewdest of wild animals, an
educated monkey?

Max had matches along, for a box had been fastened to the lantern, so
that no unnecessary delay might be encountered should they want to do
things in haste, and light was needed.

When he had applied one of these to the wick, and turned down the globe,
Max swung the lantern around, and then held it over the edge of the pit
very cautiously, for fear lest he further excite the occupant.

Then they all stared down, expecting to see a shrinking monkey looking
helplessly up at them, cowed by his capture. The squealing had suddenly
ceased as the lantern light began to fall into the hole; they could
already distinguish a form in the pit; and just then a plain,
unmistakable _grunt_ smote their ears.

"Oh! my s-s-stars!" gasped Toby, plainly astounded and disgusted.

Steve gave a shout, and then laughed with all his might.

"Why, what's this?" exclaimed Bandy-legs, looking again, "only a plain
old _hog_ instead of a chattering monk? Say, this is a good one on us,
fellers. Has it been this rooter and grunter that's been bothering us
right along? Somebody kick me, won't you, please?"

Thereupon Steve accommodated him without the slightest hesitation.

"Oh! this is only one of those accidents that will happen sometimes,"
Max went on to explain. "We know it wasn't a pig that did all the other
mischief, for we saw the tracks as plain as day. To-night it just came
about that this porker, escaped from some farmer's pen, wandered into
camp, and found those nice nuts and other stuff that we piled up on the
cover of the pit. So he started to have a midnight lunch all by himself,
but the ice was too thin, and down he went."

Even Toby had to laugh by that time, having partly recovered from his
grievous disappointment.

"Ain't this the greatest little puzzle we ever tackled?" Bandy-legs was
heard to say; "and now that we've got something in our trap, why don't
you use that chain and padlock, Toby? Here's a prize pet for you. Think
of fastenin' the same up in your back yard, and tellin' folks you had a
wild boar in captivity. Regular sideshow freak business you might go
into."

The imprisoned hog had started in to squeal once more. Perhaps it
imagined the critical time in its life had arrived, when hams and loins
were in demand, and that it must maintain the reputation of its species
for making a row.

"But great Cæsar's ghost! what ought we do about it?" exclaimed Steve,
clapping both hands over his ears; "we can't stand for this all night
long."

"We must manage to get him out of that, some way or other," Max
declared, positively.

"Toby, you're so fond of everything that walks on four legs, s'pose you
climb down into the pit and lift Mr. Hog out?" suggested Bandy-legs.

"What, me, and with only my p-p-pajamas on?" cried Toby; "I'd like to
s-s-see myself adoin' that. Seems to me the b-b-best way would be to
dig a trench, and then shoo the old p-p-porker out."

"That's what we'll do," Max announced. "It would seem that the monkey is
too smart to step into a trap built like this, so we wouldn't have any
further need of the pit. Let's get some clothes on first, so we won't
take cold, and then everybody dig."

It was a duty they could not shirk, and before long they had managed to
knock away part of the wall of the pit, so that an ordinary hog might
manage to scramble up the incline from the depths.

Then they all gathered on the other side, and "shooed," and waved their
arms as well as the lantern. The prisoner of the pit, alarmed no doubt
for his safety, and seeing an opening for escape, started to climb, with
such success that presently he reached level ground, gave a satisfied
grunt, and then trotted off into the neighboring woods.

The four boys were laughing among themselves as they once more went back
to the warmth of their blankets.

"Another dream shattered," said Steve, "and count me out after this when
it comes to hatching up dark schemes against that poor ape. Some of the
rest of you can try your hands if you want; but ten to one we'll have to
get down to hard gravel in the end, and use that wild-animal-catcher
stunt with the doped stuff. To tell you the truth I'm sort of hoping we
will, because I'd like to see how it works."

"M-m-me too, Steve!" exclaimed Toby; "and I only h-h-hope Max say's the
word after we've tried a few more games, and find they don't w-w-work
any."

"I'll fix the limit for another night," said Max, "and then if we haven't
been successful in trapping the monkey I'll agree to try Mr. Jenks'
plan."

With that all of the others declared they would rest content, though it
seemed as though Bandy-legs, as well as Steve and Toby, was willing to
proceed to extremes as soon as possible, only Max objecting to the plan
as hardly fair to the monkey.

Another day passed, and they amused themselves in various ways, taking
pictures, fishing for pickerel in the big pond with fair success, and
making arrangements for trying out another idea that night, in hopes of
capturing the smart monkey.

This consisted of a trap fashioned somewhat on the order of the turkey
cage mentioned by Toby. It was built of stout canes, carried all the way
from the pond, and with the corner joints spliced with cord. Then a
descending roadway was carefully dug out, and brought up inside the
cage. A trigger was arranged, to be sprung should the monkey, in
following the roadway, enter the cage, and which would release a little
door that, falling into place, would shut the opening, and at the same
time ring a bell Toby had fixed close to where his head would be as he
slept.

Altogether it was quite an ingenious contraption; but all the same
there was no bell ringing during _that_ night: And yet when Toby went
out next morning to examine his disappointing contrivance he reported
that the monkey had actually been there, and eaten up all the nut meat,
even going inside the trap, and never setting the trigger off.

Sure enough they did find his tracks in the roadway as far as the trap,
but no further, which told them the animal was too smart to be caught by
such a flimsy device.

Toby insisted on it that he had gone inside, because the bait had all
vanished; but Max, having lifted the cage aside, showed that there was
not a sign of the monkey's footprints there. On the other hand he told
them the inside bait had plainly been devoured by little mice, for he
showed them innumerable tracks made by their dainty feet.

So Toby declared that he was done.

"He's too cute for m-m-me, fellers, I admit," he said; "though if it
wasn't for that fetching bait left by Mr. Jenks I'd k-k-keep on tryin'
till I didn't know my own name. But now, Max, l-l-let 's g-g-get busy in
earnest."

As he had promised them, Max would not draw back. The balance of the nut
meat and some of the dried bread he put in a pannikin, and poured a
portion of the contents of the bottle over the mess, until the liquid
was soaked up.

This was done at a certain spot where they believed the monkey was most
apt to show himself. Then the boys went away, one of them remaining on
sentry duty at some little distance off, so as to give the signal should
Link make his appearance.

The whole morning passed without the monkey showing up. Lunch had been
served, and the one on duty relieved, so that he could take his turn at
the rude table they had constructed near the tent.

Bandy-legs was the sentinel now, and would remain on post until about
the middle of the afternoon, unless something happened to break the
dreadful monotony.

It did.

About two o'clock Bandy-legs came running in, all out of breath, with
the exciting news that the monkey had appeared, just as they hoped, and
was even then busily engaged in disposing of the doped food as greedily
as anything.

So they all trooped out to witness the strange sight. Toby carried along
the chain and collar and padlock left in his charge by the showman; for
he kept hoping that the time had now come when he might find a good use
for the same.

True enough, they discovered the big monkey busily at work. His liking
for strong drink was apt to prove his undoing, even as it has that of
countless millions of the human race. Watching him eating like a
starving thing, the boys exchanged many humorous remarks.

By the time Link had appeased his appetite he could hardly stand up
straight, and Max declared there was now no longer any reason why they
should not surround and capture him.

It was almost too easy after all. The stupid beast made no attempt to
flee, for he staggered whenever he tried to move. He also seemed to
understand his condition, for at their approach he held out one hand
toward them pitifully, as though seeking their assistance to guide his
faltering footsteps.

And so the exulting Toby quickly fixed that collar around his neck,
snapped the little-padlock shut, and gripping the chain led the way to
camp, followed by the others, with Steve holding one of the poor
monkey's hands, and Max the other.

That was the story of Link's downfall and capture. The evening following
he sat there, secured to a tree, and holding his head between his hands
as though it ached terribly, and blinked at the boys whenever they
approached; but with not even a whimper of complaint, just a little moan
at times.

In the morning the monkey seemed to be all right again, and full of
comical antics. And after that Toby spent about all his time hovering
around the place where Link was chained, talking to him, coaxing him to
show off by tempting pieces of food, and enjoying himself more than
words could tell.

Their vacation was drawing to a close, and while they had not met with
any really thrilling adventures, still the four chums were a unit in
declaring that they had never had a better time.

A deep mystery had been solved, and they had caught the monkey which was
to net them such a dazzling reward. Max had become reconciled to the
means employed, as it was all for the beast's own good; and Link
himself, apparently had forgotten that there was such a thing as
freedom.

When the time came for them to break camp, they took down the
khaki-colored tent with the customary sad rites, chanting in unison the
chorus of "Tenting on the Old Camp Ground."

They were a merry lot as they started the old horse homeward, and with
the captive monkey in their midst to keep them company. They had to
maintain a watch on Link, for he was apt to pinch them, snatch anything
he could see, from a watch to a lead pencil, and was as full of his
pranks "as an egg is of meat," as Steve said.

When they arrived home Max hastened to wire Mr. Jenks of their success,
and on the very next train the delighted circus man appeared in Carson,
to claim the valuable runaway, and gladly turned over the two hundred
dollars to the chums.

What that represented to Max and his three mates in paying the expenses
of the next great outing they planned will be told in the next story of
this series, to be called "Afloat on the Flood."

Until we meet again in the pages of that volume we will have to bid the
boys of Carson good-bye for a short time, shake hands with the reader,
and turn down the light.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

[Transcriber's Note: For short books such as "Chums of the Campfire,"
it was common for the publisher to add additional material.
"Mortimer Halleck's Adventure" was chosen to accompany the main
text in this edition.]



V.

MORTIMER HALLECK'S ADVENTURE.


Among the many adventurous incidents of our frontier life in northwest
Iowa, fifteen years ago, I recall one that befell a boy neighbor,
Mortimer Halleck, in which his recklessness came very near causing his
death.

There were five of us boys, who formed a little company of tried friends
and pledged comrades. We hunted, trapped, boated, went skating and
swimming together, and, when the first frame school-house was built, we
occupied the two back seats, on the boys' side.

In our hunts after deer, wolves, badgers, and feathered game, we found
an exhilaration such as I never again expect to experience in the tamer
pursuits of life. We even felt an exultant joy in the fierce buffeting
of the winter blizzards which annually descended upon us from the
plateaus of Dakota.

During the regular season of bird migration, the resounding _golunk_,
_golunk_, of the wild goose, the shrill _klil-la-la_ of the swift and
wary brant, the affectionate _qu-a-a-rr-k_, _quack_ of the Mallard drake
and his mate, with the strange, inimitable cry of the whooping crane,
combined to form a sylvan orchestra, the music of which thrilled us with
more pleasurable sensations than were ever awakened by the household
organ or the town brass band of later years.

In the early spring, during the alternate slush, mud and freeze of the
first thaws, there always occurred a short vacation from school and
work, in which we gathered a harvest of fun, fur and feathers.

At this season, the low, flat valleys of the Little Sioux and the
Ocheyedan rivers were covered six or eight feet deep by the annual
overflow; and torrents of yellow snow-water, the melting of tremendous
drifts, rushed down creeks and ravines.

As soon as these impetuous currents had gathered force enough to upheave
the thick layers of ice in the river-beds and break over the banks out
came beaver, musk-rat and mink, driven from house and hole to take
refuge upon the masses of ice and drift stuff which lodged in the
thickets of tall willows that grew along the beds of these streams. Here
they were obliged to stay until the water subsided, and here they often
fell a prey to the rifle or shotgun of the hunter.

We owned three boats in common; and as the men of the settlement were
not particularly busy during the freshet season, we could easily
persuade or hire them to load our skiffs on their wagons, and haul us
eight or ten miles up the Sioux or Ocheyedan, for half a day's run down
home, in which scarcely the stroke of an oar was necessary, after
getting out into the main channel. Floating leisurely down, we were able
to hunt musk-rat, geese and ducks, which were plentiful on the water or
on the banks.

Beaver were scarce, but we occasionally got one. A mink or two, a couple
of dozen muskrats, and a goodly bag of feathered game were often the
result of a half-day's run with a single boat.

Mortimer Halleck, who at this time lived in the fork of the rivers, and
at a considerable distance from the rest of as, owned a staunch skiff,
which he had himself made, and in it went often alone upon the rivers.
It was upon one of these solitary trips that he met with the adventure
mentioned.

On a raw afternoon in March, his father had taken Mortimer and his boat
on his double horse wagon six miles up stream. At this point there was a
great bend in the river, and, by crossing the neck, the water distance
to the fork was lengthened to fifteen miles. Mortimer was thus set
afloat with his boat, with a long afternoon's run on the river before
him.

For several hours the young hunter allowed his boat to drift down with
the current, then swollen to an unusual height. His eyes, roving on
either hand, were now and then rewarded with the sight of a small brown
bunch of fur, resting on a bit of lodged drift. Then followed a quick
puff of smoke, and the echoing report from the shotgun. The troubles of
the furry little chap were at an end. The kinks would straighten out of
its small humped back, and, as a deft turn of the oars brought the boat
alongside, the hunter's hand would reach over the edge, grasp the long,
slim tail, and fling the body of the sleek little _musquash_ into the
boat.

Twice during the afternoon a flock of geese had ventured low down over
the drifting boatman, and each time one of the flock had fallen a
victim. The others had hurried away in noisy confusion. He had hardly
expected to find beaver, yet as the night drew on without a sight of
one, he felt a little disappointed. True, he had secured a profitable
lot of game: two geese, a mink, and more than a dozen muskrats.

But he wanted to show a beaver with the rest of his bag, and he had
about given up his hopes of it when, just as the sun was setting and
while he was passing down the mid channel between two long lines of
clustering willow thickets, he espied the very object of his desires
directly ahead and within easy range.

The animal was rolled up in a rusty brown ball, lying in a snug nest
amid the bushy sprouts from an elm stub which projected three or four
feet above the water. The tree had been broken off, and leaned out from
the summer banks of the river. It had grown, as elm stumps often do, a
dense fringe of short, tangled brush about the end of the trunk. Among
these sprouts the beaver had fashioned a nest, and was lying curled up,
asleep, when Mortimer, drifting silently down within short range, raised
his gun and shot at it.

But the beaver is a "hard-lived" animal, and, even when shot at such
close quarters, will quite frequently flop off its perch into the water,
and, clutching with teeth and claws into roots or grass at the bottom,
remain there. In that case, the hunter's ammunition is simply wasted.

This had happened more than once in Mortimer's experience, and, fearing
that it might happen again, for he saw the beaver floundering heavily in
its nest, he brought the boat about in great haste, circled around the
stump, and jammed the bow into the sprouts. He then dropped the oars,
and sprang forward to secure the game.

His haste was unfortunate; for, though he grasped at the small limbs
quickly enough to have held the boat in place if it had not been in
motion, his impetus was so great that the unsteady skiff recoiled
backward with a force that pitched him over the prow, upon the very top
of the stub. He lurched off to one side, and his feet and legs splashed
into the water; but he escaped a complete ducking by clenching the top
of the trunk with his left arm, while with his right hand he grasped
_one foot of the beaver_! And then he glanced around for his boat.

[Illustration: Mortimer looked after it in utter dismay.--Page 58.]

It was gone, and had left him in a most perilous situation. The light
skiff, impelled by the force of his fall out of it, had floated back
into the current, and was already more than a dozen yards out, moving
down stream.

Mortimer looked after it in utter dismay.

It was now too late to make a swim for it; he could never live in that
strong, icy current long enough to reach it.

With a few cautious hitches he succeeded in gaining a ticklish seat upon
the broken top of the stump, where he maintained himself by resting his
feet upon two of the stoutest sprouts. Seated thus, he could feel an
unsteady quivering of the trunk, a trembling, wrenching motion, that
told, but too plainly, of the powerful force of the flood, and of the
uncertain tenure which he possessed on even this comfortless refuge.

The lad was now thoroughly alarmed, and surveyed his surroundings with a
growing fear that gained not a ray of hope from the prospect. The
situation was truly a grave one.

On all sides was the hurrying flow of the grim, dark waters, which
rushed swirling and eddying onward. The current swashed dismally among
the slender, swaying willows, on either side; and beyond these, he knew
that there was at least three hundred yards of swimming depth before
either shore could be reached.

If any one should happen to pass, he could not, from the land, see
Mortimer, on account of the willows. The nearest house was three or four
miles distant; and a voice could be heard but a little distance, above
the swash of the flood and the rush of the cold wind.

Mortimer's parents did not expect him to return until late in the
evening, and they would probably make no effort to learn of his
whereabouts until after midnight. The night, too, was already growing
very cold, with a raw, gusty wind that soughed drearily among the
willows; his bare hands and wet feet were fast becoming chilled and
numb.

All the desolation, helplessness and misery of the situation were forced
upon him by that keen and merciless power of reflection which so often
attacks the mind in moments of extreme peril or of sudden disaster.

He saw but too plainly that it was useless to look for rescue before
morning, and, clinging there to his bleak and uncertain perch, he felt
that he would assuredly chill to death in a few hours.

Looking out into the gloom of the coming dusk, with the long, black,
freezing night staring him in the face, tears gathered in the poor
fellow's eyes, and a lump of choking misery rose up in his throat. Yet
he was a brave fellow, who had never been known to yield an inch before
any danger which must be met, when the balance of probabilities was
adjusted with any degree of fairness. In this case, the probabilities
were all on one side, and that side was against him.

"There just aint any chance for me at all," he groaned, at length. "I'm
in a much worse predicament than the beaver and muskrats; for if they do
get killed, it's so sudden they don't know it, but I've got to die by
inches. I've just got to sit here and freeze a little at a time, till I
fall off and finish life by drowning."

A wretched enough prospect! Yet that was the fate which seemed certainly
awaiting him. Wet as he was, and already shivering, with no chance for
exercise, there seemed little chance of surviving the cold, dismal
night.

Sitting in hopeless suffering, he peered about him again and again in
the gathering darkness, in the vain hope of discovering something that
could give him an atom of comfort. Then, whipping his numbed hands about
his shoulders until they tingled, he attemped to remove his soaked and
stiffening boots; but, owing to his shaky and uncertain seat, he was
baffled in this effort also.

Then, with feet and legs growing every moment more numb, he sat,
clinging with one hand to the stump, whipping the other, shouting at
intervals, and waiting for--he dared not think what.

An hour passed; then another; dumb, dreary despair had settled upon his
mind. Insensibly he fell into a half-frozen stupor. He was beginning to
think, in a numb way, that it did not make any particular difference to
him what happened now.

An hour or more dragged by thus sluggishly, then a sudden shock,
accompanied by a grinding noise, threw him partly off the stump.
Instinctively he clutched the sprouts with his chilled fingers, but slid
down, expecting to sink in the cold waters.

But he struck something solid and white. It was a large ice-cake, which
had come floating down the river and touched the elm stump. The jar of
his fall roused the boy; he staggered to his feet, feeling _strange_ in
his head, and with queer and painful sensations about the arms and
shoulders.

He tried to step, but at first it seemed as if his feet must be frozen;
yet, after stamping about for a few minutes, they began to lose their
feeling of lumpishness and to prickle.

He then sat down upon the ice, and, after a struggle, worked off his
boots, squeezed the water from his socks, and chafed and pounded his
feet until they felt alive. This done, he got up and looked around; and
hope revived within him.

The ice-cake was a large and solid one, twenty feet across at least;
and, owing to the falling of the river, it was floating down the centre
of the channel. He was, at least, floating toward home; and there was
room to stamp about and keep from freezing.

Mortimer's spirits rose with the renewed circulation of the blood. He
shouted, beat his arms about his chest, he even danced, the better to
warm himself up again.

It seemed to him now that he was being guided by fate. He then became
confused in mind--dazed, as it were. In odd vagary, as his ice-raft
floated on down the river, he peopled the darkness about him with
imaginary foes, and "squared off" at them pugnaciously. His blood
warming with this exercise, he began delivering in grandiloquent tones
the address which he had declaimed at school, when a voice from the
darkness near at hand brought him back to his situation.

"Mortimer!"

"Halloo!" he answered.

"Mortimer, is it _you_?"

"Is that you, father?" cried the young castaway, "have you got a boat?"

"Yes," replied Mr. Halleck; "but we have been alarmed. What has kept--"

"Paddle your skiff this way, father. Here, this way; I'm on a cake of
ice."

"On a cake of ice!" cried Mr. Halleck. "I knew you were in some trouble.
What has happened? I borrowed Neighbor Wescott's boat, and was going to
cross over to see if you were at Morley's with Pete, when I heard your
voice."

Mortimer was astonished to find he had already drifted so far.

"How much longer could you have stood it!" Mr. Halleck asked, in tones
that trembled a little.

"Not another half-hour," Mortimer declared, and probably he was right.

Next day he succeeded in finding his boat, safely lodged among some
willows; but the beaver was missing, having probably been jarred off the
nest on the stub by the ice-cake striking against it.

The river had lowered considerably, and Mortimer, while searching for
his boat, saw numerous ice-rafts moving down the channel; yet he could
not repress a conviction that something more than mere good fortune had
directed the ice-cake to touch at his bleak and comfortless perch in the
nick of time to save his life.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

THE "HOW-TO-DO-IT" BOOKS

By J. S. ZERBE


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