Read CHAPTER XVII - AFTER THE STORM of The Outdoor Chums / The First Tour of the Rod‚ Gun and Camera Club, free online book, by Captain Quincy Allen, on

“Whoop!  All hands on deck to pump ship!”

“My camera!  Oh! where did I put it?”

“Grab up the bedding and hustle in under the other tent, boys!”

This last from steady, clear-headed Frank, who seemed to know just what should be done in an emergency.

It started Bluff and Uncle Toby working strenuously to keep blankets from getting very wet.  But Will could not think of lending a hand until he had first of all lugged his beloved camera under shelter.

It was indeed fortunate that both tents had not gone by the board at the same time, or the camp must have been plunged into the deepest distress.  Led by Frank, they managed to hustle their belongings under the second cover, where the driving rain could not reach them.

By the time all had been done the boys were dripping, and it took them some twenty minutes to get warm again, snuggled in their blankets.

“Oh! what a night!” wailed Will a dozen times.

“Please let up on that, or give us a change in tune.  It’s bad enough to have to stand the storm without listening to a phonograph,” grunted Bluff.

The hours crept along.  Now and then they dozed, but sound slumber did not come to a single one of the group.  Uncle Toby was quite content to cower as close to Frank as possible, satisfied that the other was able to protect him.  He seemed to exhibit the blind confidence of a dog in an emergency calling for energy; to him Frank was a type of manliness hard to match.

“Will the morning ever come?” groaned Will, as he shifted his cramped position for the tenth time at least.

“Well, I think we’ve got a lot to be thankful for,” declared Frank, stoutly; “in the first place, no great damage is done, for I saw that our tent was caught in the branches of a tree close by, and we can rescue it in the morning.  Then nothing was spoiled that I know of.  And the storm is really over, though morning is some two hours off,” striking a match and looking at his nickel watch.

“Can’t we have a fire?” asked Will, who was shivering under his blanket.

“Just thinking so myself.  It’s getting sharp, now that the wind has shifted into the northwest.  Suppose we make a try,” answered Frank, readily.

It was just in anticipation of such an emergency that he had hidden some of the dry wood away where the rain could not reach it.  Frank’s previous experience in woodcraft had taught him many valuable things.

Securing some of this, he quickly had a little blaze.  The others fed this in a cautious manner, so as not to smother it by too much fuel.  As a result the fire was in a short time burning freely, and diffusing a genial warmth around that proved very acceptable to the chilled campers.

Even Will thawed out under its influence and ceased to grumble.

“It’s all right, too, fellows; not a drop got in tinder these waterproofs,” he declared, as he eagerly examined his precious possession.

So the morning found them.

The first thing they did was to rescue the runaway canvas.  It was found to be intact, the pins only having given under the strain.  So shortly afterwards the second tent again arose, and things began to look shipshape around the camp.

“Seems like an Irish wash-day,” remarked Will, as he surveyed the various blankets and other things spread out on bushes to dry in the sunshine and air.

“Only for Jerry’s strange absence, I’d feel bully,” remarked Frank.

“Don’t you think we’d better start out and look for him?” asked Will.

“Yes, after we’ve had some breakfast.  I never like to attempt anything on an empty stomach.  And, besides, you see, we may have to go all the way over to Jesse’s shack before we learn about him,” observed Frank.

“Do you really think he’s stayed there?” questioned Bluff, anxiously; for even though he and Jerry seemed to be constantly bickering, deep down in their hearts they had a genuine affection for each other, as had been proven more than once.

“I hope so,” was all the other would say.

“And I’ve got a dreadful fear,” remarked Will, sighing, “that the poor fellow’s been caught under a falling tree.  So many went down last night.  I’ll hear that terrible crashing every time I wake up for a long time to come.  It haunts me, just because I imagined Jerry out in it all.”

Toby here banged the big spoon on the empty frying pan.  That was a welcome sound to a set of ravenous boys, and they quickly assembled around the rude table upon which the black chef was placing heaps of flapjacks, flanked by steaming cups of fragrant coffee.

Uncle Toby did not seem to relish being left alone in the camp again; but there was nothing else to be done.  Frank gave him some advice as to what he should do if any wild beast invaded the place; and also how he could threaten any of Andy’s crowd should they show up with hostile intent.

Then the three boys started off, meaning to head in a direct line for the distant camp of the old trapper.

“What if we don’t find him there?” asked the skeptical Will.

“Wait till we get to the river before trying to cross.  I reckon we’ll be apt to find some traces of him there.  And even if he was caught out in the woods in that storm, that’s no sign he was hurt or killed.  Jerry knows enough to get in out of the wet; and depend on it he found shelter somehow, somewhere.”

So Frank buoyed their spirits up in his accustomed cheery way.  One could easily see that he belonged to the optimist family, and never looked on the gloomy side of things.

They had not gone half a mile away from the camp before they discovered some one moving through the bushes ahead.

“There he is!” exclaimed Bluff, eagerly, as he raised his hand to his mouth, as if about to give a “cooie.”

“Hold on!  I don’t believe it is.  There, you see, it’s a man, and a hunter, too, I expect, for he’s carrying a gun,” interrupted Frank.

“Perhaps he may have seen Jerry.  Shall we ask him?” demanded Will.

“If we keep on straight we’re going to meet him, and, of course, we’ll ask.  I only hope he has, though I doubt it.  Do either of you know him?”

Frank asked this because he was comparatively a newcomer in Centerville, while the other boys had been raised there.

“Seems to me I’ve seen him before,” exclaimed Bluff.  “Why, yes, it’s Mr. Smithson.  He lives in Centerville-that is, his family does, because he isn’t home much.  You see he’s one of the wardens over at the State insane asylum at Merrick.”

“What?” cried Frank, startled; “then perhaps he may not be hunting wild animals after all.  Suppose one of the mad inmates of that institution escaped, and is up here roaming through the woods?”

“Jewhittaker!” exclaimed Will, turning a trifle pale, and hugging his camera closer to his breast, as though his first fear concerned its safety.

“If that’s so, I hope Jerry didn’t run across him, that’s all,” remarked Bluff.

“Come on, hurry.  You’ve given me a little shock now, and we must learn the truth immediately.  Call out to him, Bluff-there, he sees us, and is coming this way.”

As Frank said, the keeper was hurrying toward them now, an anxious look on his face.  He nodded to Bluff as he came up.

“Camping up here, are you, boys?  That’s fine.  Used to like to do it myself when I was younger.  Say, you didn’t happen to see anything of a wild-looking chap anywhere around, did you?” he asked, glancing at each in turn.

“Sorry to say we haven’t, Mr. Smithson.  Has one of your charges got away?”

“That’s just what has happened, and I’ve been chasing him all over the country.  Got track of him yesterday just before the beastly old storm hit me.  He’s somewhere around this section right now.  Where’s your camp, boys?  He’ll be pretty sharp set with hunger by now, and can scent grub a long ways off?” continued the keeper.

The three lads looked at each other.

“What shall we do, fellows?  Doesn’t seem just right to be chasing off this way in a bunch, and leaving that poor old innocent alone in camp.  What if this crazy man drops in on Toby while we’re gone?  Had we better turn back, and later on, if Jerry doesn’t show up, organize another expedition, dividing our forces?”

Frank always put things so clearly that he seldom met with any opposition.

“That strikes me as sensible,” observed Will, quickly.

“Turn back it is, then.  Will you go with us, Mr. Smithson?  We can give you a good cup of hot coffee, and some breakfast, if you’re hungry?” said Bluff.

“I accept your offer, boys, and glad to meet you.  Now, lead the way, please, because somehow, I seem to feel it in my bones that Bismarck will gravitate toward some place where there is an odor of cookery in the air.  He always was a good feeder.”

“Bismarck?” ejaculated Frank.

“Why, you see, that’s what he thinks, and he carries out the part to a dot.  Wait till you run up against him, if luck turns that way,” replied the other.

“He may have been injured in the storm?” suggested Will.

“Not he.  Such a cunning fellow would know how to escape a wet back.”

“Is he considered dangerous?” Bluff inquired, a little anxiously.

“Well, not particularly, although he can look mighty fierce, and would terrify a timid person, possibly.”

“And I guess Uncle Toby fills that bill, all right,” said Bluff; “but there’s our camp through the trees, Mr. Smithson; and, as sure as you live, there’s a stranger standing poking at the fire where our cook is bending down.”

“Bismarck is making himself at home, all right,” laughed the warden.