Chums of the Camp Fire
by Lawrence J. Leslie
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[Transcriber's Note: Table of Contents was not present in original edition.]




"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-gantic 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.



"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-gantic 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!"



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?



"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.



"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?



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.



"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.


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.

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