Read CHAPTER XII - THE TELL-TALE MATCH-SAFE of The Outdoor Chums / The First Tour of the Rod‚ Gun and Camera Club, free online book, by Captain Quincy Allen, on

“Wake up! wake up!”

Both Frank and Jerry shouted at the top of their strong voices.  The others came tumbling into view, and loud were their expressions of dismay at the terrible sight that met their eyes.

“Get busy here, every one!  Water wanted, and never mind your clothes!”

Even while he was speaking Frank jumped into action.  The night air struck home, and made him shiver, for he had just tumbled out from between the snug folds of his blanket; but this was a time when delay might mean the complete wiping out of the camp.

Will gave a whoop and immediately vanished again inside the tent.  He had not gone to rescue any of his clothes, nor did he even think of getting into them; but when he reappeared it was with his camera hugged tightly in his arms.

Meanwhile the others had set to work with a vim.  There was fortunately no wind, so that the fire had burned sluggishly.  Then again the late storm had wet the dead leaves then on the ground, and they had not as yet become thoroughly dry, so it took quite some time for them to get over smouldering, and burst into a vigorous flame.

“We’re getting it down, fellows; keep right along hitting it hard!” called Frank, cheerily.

Even old Toby had appeared from under the fly where he slept.  He had been dreadfully scared at first, doubtless under the impression that the mate to the dead bob-cat had invaded the camp, intent on revenge.  This feeling soon gave way to the desire to see the camp saved, and he labored faithfully with the rest.

Scattering the smouldering leaves, beating out the fire with any sort of thing they could snatch up in their excitement, they managed to get the flames under control after a little while.

It had been a most exciting experience, however.  Bluff was swinging his blanket vigorously, and thrashing the fire with it effectively; though he might later on have some difficulty in getting rid of the smudges that this process necessarily produced.

“Victory!” shouted Jerry, when the last vestige of the fire had gone under.

Bluff threw his blanket around his shoulders and strutted about with the air of a conqueror;

“They have to get up early in the morning if they expect to beat us,’’ he said, proudly.

“Talk about your hot times, that was a scorcher!” cried Jerry.

“But I’m beginning to shiver now all right; and I advise every one to crawl into his clothes in a hurry.  Then we can talk it over.  It’s a mighty suspicious thing, that’s what,” remarked Frank.

They were only too glad to take his advice, and shortly after the four gathered around the revived campfire to exchange opinions.

They were a pretty smutty-looking crowd; but Jerry declared that those marks were medals of honor.

“Now, if we had all been like Will here, and each rushed for his possessions, the camp would have been a-goner,” he remarked, with a reproachful look.

“That’s all right, fellows, and under any other conditions I would have been one of the first to assist; but I’m the official photographer of the expedition, and the guardian of those splendid films that must perpetuate our camping trip, for posterity,” he explained.

“Hear! hear!” cried Frank.

“Why didn’t you lay the outfit down at a safe distance then, and help fight the fire with us?” demanded Bluff.

“I guess I know enough to take warning from your sad experience.  They hooked your old gun; the next thing they’ll be after will be my camera.  No, sir, I hang on to that business through thick and thin.  They’ll have to chloroform me to get my films away, and that’s so.”

“Was it an accident?” asked Bluff, looking to Frank for an opinion.

“What do you think, Jerry?” demanded the leader.

“It couldn’t have been an accident, and I’m dead sure of it,” was the reply.

“Suppose you state your reasons then.”

“First, we banked the fire down as usual before crawling into bed.  Then there wasn’t a particle of wind to scatter the sparks.  And last, but not least, those heaps of dead leaves were carried here!  I happen to know that place was just about bare last evening!” replied the other, seriously.

Will uttered an exclamation of wonder and alarm.

“Do you really mean to say that some fellows would be mean enough to try and burn our camp?” he asked.

“I wouldn’t put it past that Andy Lasher.  Talk to me about your heathen! he’s just about equal to any of ’em.  But don’t you agree with me, Frank?”

“Certainly I do, because I happen to have a strong bit of evidence which I picked up out there close to the burning leaves.”

He held something up.

“A match-box!” exclaimed Will.

“Do any of you own that?”

“Pass it around.  I never saw it before,” declared Jerry, as he handled the little silver article in which several matches still remained.

“Well, I have, then,” remarked Bluff, suddenly, as he stared at the trophy; “and just as I thought, here are two initials on it.”

“What are they?” asked Jerry, showing excitement.


“That doesn’t cover any of Andy’s crowd, though,” said Jerry, seemingly disappointed.

“The real owner of this match-box is Herman Bancroft,” announced Bluff; “I’ve had it in my hands more than once.  You know I went with him for a time.”

“He wanted to join our Rod, Gun and Camera Club, but the black ball dished his chances.  Perhaps Herman was mad about that; perhaps he even followed us up here, and has tried to get even,” suggested Will.

“That’s hard to believe, for he isn’t the bad fellow some people say.  A little wild, but with a good heart.  I’d rather believe he lost it, and one of that crowd picked it up,” said Bluff, sturdily.

“That’s just like you, Bluff, standing up for a friend.  Well, I’m rather inclined to believe the same way.  Anyhow, it was a mighty mean dodge.  If that Andy Lasher keeps on he’ll get in a peck of trouble sooner or later.  Why, for such a thing as this he deserves a peppering of shot at a distance,” said Frank, indignantly.

“It was criminal, that’s what.  We might have been smothered in our beds,” remarked Bluff.

“Or my camera might have been utterly destroyed,” wailed Will.

Old Toby said nothing, but he cast many an anxious look around at the adjacent trees, as if he had an idea lingering under his woolly pate that in some way or other this new disaster might have a connection with the shooting of the wildcat.

Things assumed a normal aspect after a while, and only for the scent of burnt leaves no one would dream that the camp had come near destruction.

But all the inmates of Kamp Kill Kare slept, so to speak, “with one eye open” during the balance of that night.

There was no further alarm.

By the time breakfast had been disposed of they could look the matter calmly in the face, and it no longer appeared in such a terrible aspect as when they were scampering around in their pajamas fighting the flames and smoke.

The sun seemed unusually warm this morning, so Will declared that he meant to tramp over to the lake and try a little fishing, since they would have small opportunity to do any of this when the cold winds came again.

“I’m on too,” remarked Bluff, moodily; “a fellow without a gun is like a fifth wheel to a wagon, useless in camp.  Let’s make up some lunch, for it’s a long tramp, and we won’t come home until late.”

Jerry announced that he wanted to go over and have a further talk with Jesse Wilcox; after which he might take a tramp in a new region advised by the old trapper as opening a possible chance for big game-perhaps a deer.

Frank declared he would stick to the camp; with such vicious characters around, he secretly thought it hardly safe for all of them to go away, leaving old Toby as the sole guardian.  They had too much at stake, since their pleasure would be destroyed if the camp were raided successfully.

Reaching the lake Will spent much of his time taking views, while Bluff set to work trying to entice the finny denizens of the water to bite his lures.

As time went on he was fairly successful, and when they ate their lunch he had quite a fair string of fish as the reward of his diligence.

Will proved to be a poor fisherman after all, especially when he had his adored camera along, for he presently wandered off again.

“Don’t go too far,” warned Bluff, as he sat on the end of a log that jutted out over the water a yard or more.

Engrossed with his sport, Bluff hardly noticed how time passed.  Hearing a step back of him, he called out: 

“I got three more; what luck did you have, Will?”

He heard what sounded like a chuckling laugh back of him; and before he could turn some one gave him a strong push.  Bluff went over with a splash into the lake.