Read CHAPTER XI - A NIGHT ALARM of The Outdoor Chums / The First Tour of the Rod‚ Gun and Camera Club, free online book, by Captain Quincy Allen, on

“Oh! please don’t shoot just yet; I’m nearly ready,” exclaimed Will, who had been fumbling with trembling fingers at his camera while they were creeping closer.

“What do you want to do-shoot the cat with your machine?” whispered Frank, the most accommodating fellow in the world.

“Yes, that’s it.  Don’t you see, it would be the prize of the whole bunch?  Can’t you let me give a flash, and shoot afterwards?” begged the ardent photographer.

Frank could not refuse.

“It would be a dandy all right, with old Toby hanging there; but look sharp, for the cat hears us whispering, and is ready to get out.”

Hardly had he spoken before there came a brilliant flash.

“Got him!” shrieked the excited Will.

Then came a heavy report close to his ears, as Frank fired.

The flash had dazzled all but Frank, who managed to keep his eyes away from it.  He was thus enabled to catch sight of the startled wildcat bounding for the shelter of the trees, having deserted its meal in sudden fright.

As soon as he had fired, Frank threw his gun around so as to cover the spot he expected the animal to occupy if by any chance it escaped the full effect of his first charge.

But it jumped the other way, and might have vanished from view only that Jerry fired from his hip, there being no time to aim from the shoulder.

“He’s down!” shouted Bluff, as the fierce visitor in the camp rolled over and over, clawing aimlessly as it expired.

Ready to shoot again if necessary, the two hunters cautiously advanced.  There was no need of further attention, for the wildcat stiffened out under their eyes.

“Ginger! but ain’t he a beaut?” exclaimed Bluff, bending over.

“I wonder if there happens to be a mate around?” said Jerry, as he bent an anxious look toward the timber close at hand.

“They generally hunt in couples,” admitted Frank; “but in this case I hardly think it can be so, for the other would have come to the feast.”

Uncle Toby came down from his perch rather dubiously, as if he feared that the danger might not be all over.

“What happened to you, Uncle Toby?” asked Frank, giving the others a wink not to joke the old fellow too seriously, for he was still trembling.

“Yuh see ’twar dis way, Marse Frank:  dat cat he jest wanted de ham more’n Unc Toby did, an’ I naturally lets him hab it.  He jumps down from de tree, an’ I feels a notion to elevate ‘bout dat time.  Don’ know how I gits up dar, but ’spect I done fly,” explained the cook, as well as his chattering teeth would permit.

“He means he aviated upward,” grinned Jerry.

Will was patting his camera lovingly.

“Oh!  I do hope it turns out fine,” he said; “for that would be a jolly hit.  I’d rather snap off pictures like that than shoot a grizzly or a bull moose.  Me for the gentle life.  I’m no butcher.”

“Talk to me about that, will you?  You’re a sport all right, Will, only it happens that your tastes run in a different direction from mine.  Don’t knock my love of fair play, and I won’t laugh at your wanting to snap off every living thing you see, to make up a freak collection.”

“All right, then, Jerry; consider it a bargain.  I suppose you’ll have a muff made out of this nice fur for somebody?” continued Will, stroking the cat.

“Haven’t given it a thought.  Besides, half of the honor belongs to Frank.”

“What’s that?  I made a mess of it, and the beast would have escaped if you hadn’t shot him on the jump?” exclaimed Frank.

“And if you hadn’t wounded him how could I have ever had a chance to shoot?  You can’t get out of it, old man; we’ll share the honors,” returned Jerry.

Frank said no more, but such generosity only drew him closer to his chum.

Fortunately the supper had not advanced far enough to be ruined.  They were able to save most of the ham, which was a comfort.  Frank declared that he wondered at the beast taking to smoked pork; he could not remember any similar circumstance in all his hunting, and concluded that possibly the wildcat must have been unusually hungry.

It had really been quite a strenuous day, and the boys were glad to sit around the big fire and partake of the good supper which Uncle Toby prepared.

Bluff had to relate his story again and again, but it differed little from what he had already told.

“I made a silly fool of myself, I know now, and it was mighty fine in you fellows coming to pull me out of the hole I dropped into.  If that Andy has got my beautiful gun in his camp, he’s smart enough to keep it under cover.  I never had even a peep at it.  But just wait.  I’m going to get that gun back if it takes all winter,” declared Bluff.

“He’ll do it too, just mark me,” observed Frank, nodding to Jerry.

Apparently the other was tired of hearing about that same gun, for he only smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

In the morning Jerry tried his hand at skinning the game.  He had taken particular pains to notice just how old Jesse Wilcox did this sort of thing, and, being a clever imitator, he managed to succeed after a fashion.

Frank meanwhile had made a frame suitable to the size of the skin, and upon this the hairy pelt was stretched, care being taken to keep it in the shade, and not near the heat of the fire, while drying.

Later on in the day Jerry and Frank took a stroll through the woods, and managed to bring back three partridge and several gray squirrels.  Frank would not let Toby cook the latter as the other wished.

“They are always tough for frying unless parboiled first.  After skinning and cutting up I always put the pieces in a pot, and boil until tender; then take them out, dry off, and put them in a hot pan in which several pieces of salt pork have been first tried out.  I think you’ll say they’re all right when you get your teeth in them, fellows,” he remarked.

And they did.

Will managed to take a few views during the middle of the day, prowling in the neighborhood of the camp.  There was a pretty stream not far away, and it ran over rocks and between attractive banks, so that half a dozen charming pictures presented themselves to the eyes of the artist.

The Fall had not advanced so far as to show signs of ice on the water, though there were times when the air was very crisp and frosty.

Bluff had remained in camp pretty much all day.  He seemed uneasy, and passed in and out of the tents frequently as though wondering what could have happened to bring about such a mysterious disappearance of his beloved gun.

Sitting by the fire for a time, he would conceive some idea, and jumping to his feet hurry into the woods to search a particular spot where he remembered having passed over on that never-to-be-forgotten night.

Still, when the others returned in the afternoon there was the same look of distress upon his face.

“Talk to me about a pagan and his idols,” said Jerry, aside to Frank; “Bluff has the whole show beaten.  I never saw such a persistent fellow, never.”

“He’ll never be happy till he gets it, Jerry,” remarked the other.

“Then he deserves to have a bad time,” declared Jerry, tossing the bunch of game down before Will and Uncle Toby, who happened to be doing something in common at the campfire.

That night they had a royal feast indeed.  It tasted all the better because the squirrels and partridge had fallen to their own guns, and not been basely purchased in the market.  And doubtless their surroundings had considerable to do with the enjoyment of the dinner.

Will took advantage of the darkness to get a new roll of films in his camera.

“How many have you cracked off,” asked Jerry, noting his occupation.

“Three rolls, so far; about half I brought.  I expect to be careful from now on, and try to get choice subjects.  But I know I’ll never find another to equal that wildcat scene.  Oh!  I hope it is a success!” replied the enthusiastic photographer.

“So say we all,” remarked Frank; “for it will chase the blues away many a time, just to see the look on Uncle Toby’s face, as he clung to that friendly limb.”

“Gorry, but I was mighty glad tuh git my claws on dat limb, Marse Frank.  Wen I seed dem big yaller eyes a-starin’ at me, an’ heerd dat yowlin’ noise, my knees dey jest wobbled together.  Nevah could tell how I got up dar; reckons as how you say am jest de truf, an’ I flew!” exclaimed the cook, able to laugh now at his adventure.

They turned in early, for their rest had been broken on the preceding night, and both the hunters were leg weary.

The last sound Frank remembered hearing was the mournful hooting of the owls.  The birds seemed to have a favorite roosting-place not far away, and from time to time the tremulous sound of their calling drifted through space.

Just how long he slept Frank did not exactly know.  He awoke with a sneeze, and sat up, rubbing his eyes.

“What’s the matter?” exclaimed Jerry, also starting out of a sound sleep.

“I don’t know-why, the tent’s full of smoke!  The camp must be on fire!  Wake up, everybody!”

As the two lads came crawling out of the canvas they were startled to discover a heavy pall of smoke rising all around them.