Read CHAPTER I - THE FROG HUNTERS of Chums of the Camp Fire , free online book, by Lawrence J. Leslie, on ReadCentral.com.

“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.