Read CHAPTER VIII - A NEW USE FOR A CAMERA of Pluck on the Long Trail Boy Scouts in the Rockies , free online book, by Edwin L. Sabin, on ReadCentral.com.

We were stiff when we woke in the morning, but we had to lie until the rest of them decided to get up, and then it was hot and late. That was a lazy camp as well as a dirty one. The early morning is the best part of the day, out in the woods, but lots of fellows don’t seem to think so.

I had slept with Bat, and he had snored ’most all night. Now as soon as I could raise my head from the old quilts I looked over to see the man. He wasn’t there. His horse wasn’t there and his fire wasn’t burning. The spot where he had camped was vacant. He had gone, with our message!

I wriggled loose from Bat and woke him, and he swore and tried to make me lie still, but I wouldn’t. Not much!

“Red!” I called, not caring whether I woke anybody else or not. “Red! General!” I used both names and I didn’t care for that, either.

He wriggled, too, to sit up.

“What?”

“The man’s gone. He isn’t there. He’s gone with the message!”

The general exclaimed, and worked to jerk loose from Bill; and Fitz’s head bobbed up. There wasn’t any more sleep for that camp, now.

“Oh, shut up!” growled Bill.

“You fellows turn us loose,” we ordered. “We’ve got to go. We’ve got to follow that man.”

But they wouldn’t, of course. They just laughed, and said: “No, you don’t want to go. You’ve given us your parole; see?” and they pulled us down into the quilts again, and yawned and would sleep some more, until they found it was no use, and first one and then another kicked off the covers and sat up, too.

The sun was high and all the birds and bees and squirrels were busy for the day. At least two hours had been wasted, already.

Half of the fellows didn’t wash at all, and all we Scouts were allowed to do was to wash our faces, with a lick and a promise, at the creek, under guard. We missed our morning cold wet rub. The camp hadn’t been policed, and seemed dirtier than ever. Tin cans were scattered about, and pieces of bacon and of other stuff, and there was nothing sanitary or regular. Our flags were dusty and wrinkled; and that hurt. The only thing homelike was Apache and Sally, our burros, grazing on weeds and grass near the camp. But they didn’t notice us particularly.

We didn’t have anything more to say. The fellows began to smoke cigarettes and pipes as soon as they were up, and made the fire and cooked some bacon and fried some potatoes, and we all ate, with the flies buzzing around. A dirty camp attracts flies, and the flies stepped in all sorts of stuff and then stepped in our food and on us, too. Whew! Ugh!

We would have liked to make a smoke signal, to let Major Henry and Jed Smith and Kit Carson know where we were, but there seemed no way. They would be starting out after us, according to instructions, and we didn’t want them to be captured. We knew that they would be coming, because they were Scouts and Scouts obey orders. They can be depended upon.

I guess it was ten o’clock before we were through the messy breakfast, and then most of the gang went off fishing and fooling around.

“Aren’t you going to untie our feet?” asked the general.

“Do you give us your promise not to skip?” answered Bill.

“We’ll give our parole till twelve o’clock.”

We knew what the general was planning. By twelve o’clock something might happen the other Scouts might be near, then, and we wanted to be free to help them.

“Will you give us your parole if we tie your feet, loose, instead of your hands?”

“Yes,” said the general; and Fitzpatrick and I nodded. Jiminy, we didn’t want our hands tied, on this hot day.

So they hobbled our feet, and tethered us to a tree. They tied the knots tight knot after knot; and then they went off laughing, but they left Walt and Bat to watch us! That wasn’t fair. It broke our parole for us, really, for they hadn’t accepted it under the conditions we had offered it.

“Don’t you fellows get to monkeying, now,” warned Bat, “or we’ll tie you tighter. If you skip we’ve got your burros and your flags.”

That was so.

“We know that,” replied the general, meekly; but I could see that he was boiling, inside.

It was awful stupid, just sitting, with those two fellows watching. Bat wore his big revolver, and Walt had his shotgun. They smoked their bad-smelling pipes, and played with an old deck of cards. Camping doesn’t seem to amount to much with some fellows, except as a place to be dirty in and to smoke and play cards. They might as well be in town.

“Shall we escape?” I signed to the general.

“No,” he signed back. “Wait till twelve o’clock.” He was going to keep our word, even if we did have a right to break it.

“Hand me my camera, will you, please?” asked Fitz, politely.

“What do you want of it?” demanded Walt.

“I want to use it. We haven’t anything else to do.”

“Sure,” said Walt; he tossed it over. “Take pictures of yourselves, and show folks how you smart Scouts were fooled.”

I didn’t see what Fitz could use his camera on, here. And he didn’t seem to be using it. He kept it beside him, was all. There weren’t any animals around this kind of a camp. But the general and I didn’t ask him any questions. He was wise, was old Fitzpatrick the Bad Hand, and probably he had some scheme up his sleeve.

We just sat. The two fellows played cards and smoked and talked rough and loud, and wasted their time this way. The sun was mighty hot, and they yawned and yawned. Tobacco smoking so much made them stupid. But we yawned, too. The general made the sleep sign to Fitz and me, and we nodded. The general and I stretched out and were quiet. I really was sleepy; we had had a hard night.

“You fellows going to sleep?” asked Walt.

We grunted at him.

“Then we’ll tie your hands and we’ll go to sleep,” he said. “Come on, Bat. Maybe it’s a put-up job.”

“No, sir; that wasn’t in the bargain,” objected the general.

“Aw, we got your parole till twelve o’clock, but we’re going to tie you anyway,” replied that Walt. “We didn’t say how long we’d leave your hands loose. We aren’t going to sit around and keep awake, watching you guys. When we wake up we untie you again.”

We couldn’t do anything; and they tied the general’s hands and my hands, but Fitzpatrick begged off.

“I want to use my camera,” he claimed. “And I’ve got only one hand anyway. I can’t untie knots with one hand.”

They didn’t know how clever Fitz was; so they just moved him and fastened him by the waist to a tree where he couldn’t reach us.

“We’ll be watching and listening,” they warned. “And if you try any foolishness you’ll get hurt.”

They stretched out, and pretended to snooze. I didn’t see, myself, how Fitz could untie those hard knots with his one hand, in time to do any good. They were hard knots, drawn tight, and the rope was a clothes-line; and he was set against a tree with the rope about his body and the knots behind him on the other side of the tree. I didn’t believe that Bat and Walt would sleep hard; but while I waited to see what would happen next, I dozed off, myself.

Something tapped me on the head, and I woke up in a jiffy. Fitz must have tossed a twig at me, because when I looked over at him he made the silence sign. He was busy; and what do you think? He had taken his camera apart, and unscrewed the lenses, and had focused on the rope about him. He had wriggled so that the sun shone on the lenses, and a little spire of smoke was rising from him. Bat and Walt were asleep; they never made a move, but they both snored. And Fitz was burning his rope in two, on his body.

It didn’t take very long, because the sun was so hot and the lenses were strong. The rope charred and fumed, and he snapped it; and then he began on his feet. Good old Fitz! If only he got loose before those two fellows woke. The general was watching him, too.

Walt grunted and rolled over and bleared around, and Fitz quit instantly, and sat still as if tied and fooling with his camera. Walt thought that everything was all right and rolled over; and after a moment Fitz continued. Pretty soon he was through. And now came the most ticklish time of all.

He waited and made a false move or two, to be certain that Walt and Bat weren’t shamming; and then he snapped the rope about his body and gradually unwound it and then he snapped the rope that bound together his feet. Now he began to crawl for the two fellows. Inch by inch he moved along, like an Indian; and he never made a sound. That was good scouting for anybody, and especially for a one-armed boy, I tell you! The general and I scarcely breathed. My heart thumped so that I was afraid it would shake the ground.

When he got near enough, Fitz reached cautiously, and pulled away the shotgun. Like lightning he opened the breech and shook loose the shell and kicked it out of the way and when he closed the breech with a jerk Bat woke up.

“You keep quiet,” snapped Fitz. His eyes were blazing. “If either of you makes a fuss, I’ll pull the trigger.” He had the gun aiming straight at them both. Walt woke, too, and was trying to discover what happened. “Be quiet, now!”

Those two fellows were frightened stiff. The gun looked ugly, with its round muzzle leveled at their stomachs, and Fitz behind, his cheeks red and his eyes angry and steady. But it was funny, too; he might have pulled trigger, but nothing would have happened, because the gun wasn’t loaded. Of course none of us Scouts would have shot anybody and had blood on our hands. Fitz had thrown away the shell on purpose so that there wouldn’t be any accident. It’s bad to point a gun, whether loaded or not, at any one. This was a have-to case. Bat and Walt didn’t know. They were white as sheets, and lay rigid.

“Don’t you shoot. Look out! That gun might go off,” they pleaded; we could hear their teeth chatter. “If you won’t point it at us we’ll do anything you say.”

“You bet you’ll do anything I say,” snapped Fitz, very savage. “You had us, and now we have you! Unbuckle that belt, you Bat. Don’t you touch the revolver, though. I’m mad and I mean business.”

Bat’s fingers trembled and he fussed at the belt and unbuckled it, and off came belt and revolver, and all.

“Toss ’em over.”

He tossed them. Fitz put his foot on them.

“Aw, what do you let that one-armed kid bluff you for?” began Walt; and Fitz caught him up as quick as a wink.

“What are you talking about?” he asked. “I’ll give you a job, too. You take your knife and help cut those two Scouts loose.”

“Ain’t got a knife,” grumbled Walt.

“Yes, you have. I’ve seen it. Will you, or do you want me to pull trigger?”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“Wouldn’t I? You watch this finger.”

“Look out, Walt!” begged Bat. “He will! I know he will! See his finger? He might do it by accident. Quit, Fitz. We’ll cut ’em.”

“Don’t get up. Just roll,” ordered Fitz.

They rolled. He kept the muzzle right on them. Walt cut me free (his hands were shaking as bad as Bat’s), and Bat cut the general free.

We stood up. But there wasn’t time for congratulations, or anything like that. No. We must skip.

“Quick!” bade Fitz. “Tie their feet. My rope will do; it was a long one.”

“How’d you get loose?” snarled Walt.

“None of your business,” retorted Fitz.

We pulled on the knots hard and they weren’t any granny knots, either, that would work loose. We tied their feet, and then with a bowline noose tied their elbows behind their backs which was quicker than tying their wrists.

Fitz dropped the shotgun and grabbed his camera.

“You gave your parole,” whined Bat.

“It’s after twelve,” answered the general.

And then Walt uttered a tremendous yell and there was an answering whoop near at hand. The rest of the gang were coming back.

“Run!” ordered the general. “Meet at the old camp.”

We ran, and scattered. We didn’t stop for the burros, or anything more, except that as I passed I grabbed up the bow and arrows and with one jerk I ripped our flags loose from the pole, where it was lying.

This delayed me for a second. Walt and Bat were yelling the alarm, and feet were hurrying and voices were answering. I caught a glimpse of the general and Fitz plunging into brush at one side, and I made for another point.

“There they go! Stop ’em!” were calling Walt and Bat.

Tony Matthews was coming so fast that he almost dived into me; but I dodged him and away I went, into the timber and the brush, with him pelting after. Now all the timber was full of cries and threats, and “Bang! Bang!” sounded a gun. But I didn’t stop to look around. I scudded, with Tony thumping behind me.

“You halt!” ordered Tony. “Head him off!” he called.

I dodged again, around a cedar, and ran in a new direction, up a slope, through grass and just a sprinkling of trees. Now was the time to prove what a Scout’s training was good for, in giving him lungs and legs and endurance. So I ran at a springy lope, up-hill, as a rabbit does. Two voices were panting at me; I saved my breath for something better than talk. The puffing grew fainter, and finally when I couldn’t hear it, or any other sound near, I did halt and look around.

The pursuit was still going on behind and below, near where the gang’s camp was. I could hear the shouts, and “Bang! Bang!” but shouts and shooting wouldn’t capture the general and Fitz, I knew. Tony and the other fellow who had been chasing me had quit and now I saw the general and Fitz. They must have had to double and dodge, because they had not got so far away: but here they came, out from the trees, into an open space, across from me, and they were running strong and swift for the slope beyond. If it was a case of speed and wind, none of that smoking, flabby crowd could catch them.

Fitz was ahead, the general was about ten feet behind, and much farther behind streamed the gang, Bill Delaney leading and the rest lumbering after. Tony and the other fellow had flopped down, and never stirred to help. They were done for.

It was quite exciting, to watch; and as the general and Fitz were drawing right away and escaping, I wanted to cheer. They turned sharp to make straight up-hill and then the general fell. He must have slipped. He picked himself up almost before he had touched the ground and plunged on, but down he toppled, like a wounded deer. Fitzpatrick, who was climbing fast off at one side, saw.

“Hurt?” I heard him call.

“No,” answered the general. “Go on.”

But Fitz didn’t keep on. He turned and came right to him, although the enemy was drawing close. The general staggered up, and sat down again.

I knew what was being said, now, although I couldn’t hear anything except the jeers of the gang as they increased speed. The general was hurt, and he was telling Fitz to go and save himself, and Fitz wouldn’t. He sat there, too, and waited. Then, just as the gang closed in, and Bill Delaney reached to grab Fitz, the general saw me and made me the sign to go on, and the sign of a horse and rider.

Yes, that was my part, now. I was the one who must follow the beaver man, who had taken our message. The message was the most important thing. We must get that through no matter what happened. And while Fitz and the general could help each other, inside, I could be trailing the message, and maybe finding Henry and Carson and Smith, outside.

So I started on. The enemy was leading the general, who could just hobble, and Fitz, back to the camp. Loyal old Fitzpatrick the Bad Hand, who had helped his comrade instead of saving himself!