Read CHAPTER II - STEVE PLAYS HERO of Chums of the Camp Fire , free online book, by Lawrence J. Leslie, on ReadCentral.com.

“We’re coming to the rescue, Steve! Keep a stiff upper-lip, old chum! Hold up, and we’ll help you climb out, Steve!”

Bandy-legs was shouting cheerfully in this strain as he hurried after Max, with slower Toby bringing up the rear. The splashing had entirely ceased by this time, which would indicate that there must have been a change in conditions.

“Say, you ain’t drowned, are you, Steve?” Bandy-legs continued, as though gripped by a sudden dreadful fear.

Max turned and called back over his shoulder.

“I can hear water dripping like everything, and I guess he’s gone and crawled out on the bank all right!”

“Sure I have,” said Steve just then from behind the bushes; “and I’ve got that frog, too. He’s worth taking a ducking for, let me tell you. There never was such a buster of a greenback croaker. If you could hear him sing out ‘more r-rum! more r-rum!’ you’d think it was a bass drum arollin’. Here I am, fellows, dripping wet in the bargain. I must have slipped, I reckon.”

When Max came upon the speaker, and surveyed his soaked figure, he burst into a shout of laughter.

“Well, I should think you did slip!” he exclaimed; “you’re always slipping, seems like, Steve, and it’s because you’re in such an awful hurry to do things that you get into a muss. You certainly are a sight now, with all that mud on you. If pretty Bessie French could only see you I can fancy her nose would go up in the air, because that mud isn’t as sweet as violets or roses, Steve.”

“Well, what’s done can’t be undone, they say!” declared the other, with a reckless laugh, which was Steve all over; “better luck next time, I say. Here, Toby, what d’ye think of that for a saddle? Do the needful to him, won’t you please, for I’ve got to scrape some of this nasty black muck off my trousers legs?”

“Here, this won’t do, Steve,” observed Max, severely; “you’re beginning to shiver right now, and it’ll get worse before long. You’re soaked to the skin, chances are. It might be all well enough in the good old summer-time to let your duds dry on you, but not in this raw April weather. We’ve got to postpone the balance of our frog hunt, and make a fire.”

“What for?” asked Steve, petulantly, because he did not much fancy allowing the others to make him out to be a weakling.

“To dry your clothes, if you must know it; and we won’t take no for an answer either, eh, boys?” and Max winked toward the other two, who immediately chimed in vociferously to echo his sentiments.

“Oh! well, have it your way,” grumbled Steve, though there was a gleam in his eyes that showed how he secretly appreciated this solicitude over his-health displayed by his chums. “P’raps I will feel some better if I get dried out. I had a cough last winter that worried my folks, and mebbe I shouldn’t take chances.”

“Come along this way and we’ll soon have a jolly blaze started,” said Max, who was accustomed to acting as leader, though never at any time becoming officious to an extent that might be displeasing.

There was plenty of good wood handy, and certainly those lads knew every little trick connected with building fires; so that in a very short time the cheery flames were jumping merrily upward, and a genial warmth was disseminated that felt unusually pleasant to the boy who had commenced shivering in his wet clothes.

“Now peel off right away, and we’ll see about drying your duds!” Max told him.

“Y-y-you might p-p-put on my sweater while we’re d-d-doing the same,” added Toby, who was as generous a boy as could be found in a day’s journey afield.

“That’s kind of you, Toby, and if you think you won’t need it right away, guess I ought to accept. You see I ain’t used to prancing around in April without my clothes on. Hang it on that branch, Max; it’ll be close enough to steam without getting’ scorched. How long will it take to dry my shirt out, d’ye think?”

“Oh! perhaps only a matter of fifteen minutes or so,” replied the other, as he proceeded to arrange all the other belongings of the unlucky chum on adjacent bushes until, as Bandy-legs declared, it looked like an “Irish wash-day.”

Having donned Toby’s gray sweater Steve did not feel so badly. He kept turning around by the fire, first warming one side and then the other, and all the while dancing up and down so as to keep his blood in good circulation; for Max had told him to do this, and surely Max knew what was best.

Toby kept the fire going by feeding fresh fuel from time to time. A fire was one of the things Toby certainly loved. Whenever he took the time to ponder over past events that had marked the companionship of these four lads, the various campfires they had shared in common stood out as oases in a desert. Toby was apt to figure past happenings as connected with the time “we had that dandy blaze under the twisted hemlock”; or “that night I built the champion cooking fire any campers ever had along.”

By degrees Steve’s apparel dried sufficiently for him to get into it again. He did not look very spruce and clean though, after his recent immersion, for the mud had dried. Steve had the appearance of a tramp, as Bandy-legs assured him, knowing that the other was as a rule addicted to taking especial pains with his clothes, pressing them out every week so that the creases would show at the proper angles, and all that nonsense.

“Well, when we get home it’s apt to be dusk, anyway,” said reckless Steve; “and we won’t be meeting up with anybody on the road. If we do I’ll dodge in the bushes till they get past. But notice that I got what I went after, boys!”

That was generally the main thing with Steve, to get what he went after, no matter how strenuous a time he experienced in accomplishing his aim. With him the end always justified the means. And looking back over the experiences of the last two years his chums could remember many times when this ambition carried the impetuous one into a heap of trouble, from which he was rescued only after considerable difficulty.

After Steve had fully dressed the four comrades started out once more, bent on following the shore of the big pond the balance of the way around, so as to pot such other incautious frogs as might have been tempted by the brightness of the day to mount the bank, and bask in the sunshine.

“This fine weather isn’t going to stay with us, I’m afraid, boys,” Max remarked, as they went on, Bandy-legs in advance, for it was his next turn with the target rifle.

“What makes you say that, Max?” demanded Steve, a little testily.

“Well, in the first place there’s a queer feeling in the air that seems to tell of a storm coming along,” replied the other; “then if you look away over to the southwest you’ll see a low bank of clouds. There’s some wind in that bunch of clouds if I know anything about weather signs. And besides the paper said we’d have a blow some time soon.”

“Hope she gets over with before next week, when we want to hike up into the woods for our first camp this season; that’s all I can say,” Bandy-legs observed over his shoulder, for he could hear what his chums were talking about, being only a short distance ahead of them, though closer to the shore of the pond.

“C-c-cracky!” burst out Toby, his face taking on an agonized look, as though a sudden thought had struck him, and brought pain.

“What ails you now, Toby?” demanded Steve.

“Why, I was thinking of the c-c-circus that’s expectin’ to d-d-drop into Carson around about m-m-midnight, that’s what!”

“Say, that’s a fact,” Steve added; “they are showing this afternoon and to-night over at Bloomingdale, and a train will fetch the lot to Carson right after the last performance. If it storms they’ll have a warm session getting the cages of animals and the performing elephants off the cars.”

“I thought s-s-some of s-s-staying up and g-g-goin’ down to see the animals come to t-t-town,” admitted Toby; and of course none of the others saw anything wonderful about that, knowing his great love for animals as they did; though Bandy-legs did see fit to try and josh him a little when he saw the chance.

“You certainly missed the biggest thing of your life when you didn’t hire out to old Noah,” he told Toby. “Just think what a treat it’d been to him, fellers, to stand there and check off all the animals big and little as they walked aboard the ark in pairs, the elephant and the kangaroo, and the little monkey too. But a measly storm oughtn’t to keep you at home, Toby.”

“But they won’t get in till near two in the morning, I’m told,” protested Toby; “and I guess my folks’d put the kibosh on my staying out that late on a stormy night.”

“Hurrah! did you hear him say all that without a single stagger?” cried the boy with the bow-legs; “wisht my troubles’d be as easy to drop as his stuttering is. But mine stick with me all the time.”

“There’s a good place ahead of you, Bandy-legs,” advised Max; “now show us what you can do. Steve is high notch so far with his gi-gantic mastodon frog. Beat him out at his little game, Bandy-legs, if you can.”

The boy with the target rifle quickly added another victim to those whose prized hinder quarters lay in a heap in the trout basket Toby had slung over his shoulder.

“That makes fifteen, and only five more to get to cover the twenty,” Steve announced; “but if they were all whoppers like mine, say, the basket wouldn’t be big enough to hold them, I reckon.”

The hunt went on, and by the time the sun had passed pretty well down the western sky, heading for the black bank of clouds that lay menacingly there, the frog hunters had completed the circuit of the big pond. They had exceeded their expectations also, for several beyond the score had been bagged.

“A good afternoon’s work, I take it,” remarked Steve, who was feeling very well satisfied, because he had secured the biggest frog ever seen in that part of the country, the patriarch of the lot apparently; nor did the fact that his face was still streaked with dried mud, and his clothes looked like those of a common hobo, seem to detract from his bubbling joy.

They started for home along the road that led to Carson. This was something of a favorite highway, and they were apt to meet various vehicles while tramping over the mile and a half that separated them from home.

Just as he had said he would do, whenever they chanced to meet a carriage Steve proved quick to dodge into the scrub, and after the danger had passed overtake his companions by hurrying. Steve was always good at hurrying; it was his favorite way of doing things, and nothing pleased him better than a chance to sprint, in order to come up with his mates.

They had perhaps covered half of the journey, and the church spires of Carson could be easily seen in the near distance when all at once they noticed a horse and buggy coming at a lively clip along the road.

“Looks like a runaway!” snapped Steve.

“It sure does,” admitted Bandy-legs, “and what d’ye think of that, if the girl in the same ain’t Bessie French I’ll eat my hat!”

“W-what!” almost roared the now excited Steve, stopping in his intention to beat a hasty retreat, the neighboring bushes offering a splendid asylum.

“It’s Bessie, all right,” said Max; “but about her being run away with, I’m not so sure, because she knows how to handle horses first rate; and that old Bill of the Frenchs’ never was known to cut up before.”

But Steve apparently did not hear a single word that Max said. He was quivering with eagerness, and a wild desire to distinguish himself as a hero, in the eyes of the pretty girl whom he had been taking to barn dances and such for two whole seasons, and with whom he had lately had a little falling out.

He brushed his long football hair away from his eyes, and looked again. Yes, old Bill must have taken the bit between his teeth, if he had any left, and was renewing his youthful days; for they used to tell great stories about his having once upon a time been a clever race horse about thirty-odd years ago, some people put it.

Steve started to run along the road. He had undoubtedly mapped out the whole affair in his mind, like a good general, and cared not what risks he assumed if only he might pull that galloping horse in, so as to save the fair girl.

Max was shouting something to him from away back in the rear, but it was surely no time to stop and listen now, when a human life, and a precious one to Steve, might lie in the balance.

He may have wondered why a girl as sensible as Bessie French should persist in standing erect in the vehicle, and also what business she had to be holding that whip. Steve did not take the trouble to ask himself these bothersome questions. He knew that real heroes act while other people are figuring things out. He must run alongside that rushing horse, until he could jump up, seize the reins close to the bit and then throw his whole weight so as to bring the animal to a stop.

Well, Steve really managed to do this in a way that should have won for him considerable credit. He got more or less knocking around before he could curb the fiery steed; but what should he care so long as his object was accomplished. When he had brought old Bill to a complete standstill, he meant to assist the almost fainting girl to the ground, and then perhaps she would tell him how brave he was, and what a fool she had been to quarrel with him.

He heard her calling out excitedly to him, but supposed Bessie might naturally be anxious about his safety, dear girl.

Steve finally managed to bring old Bill to a stand; and it was wonderful how quickly all the spirit went out of the ancient horse once he felt the hand of a master at the rein.

As the heroic rescuer turned around he was staggered to see the pretty face of Bessie French clouded with a frown, and to hear her bitterly tell him how silly he had been to stop her in that way.

“Why, don’t you see I was only trying to prove to Mazie Dunkirk that our old Bill still had some fire left in him!” she cried, with tears of mortification in her voice. “She said he couldn’t run all the way to the cross-roads and back again in seven minutes, and I just knew he could. But now you’ve stopped us, and I’ve lost a candy pull. If some people only knew enough to attend to their own affairs it would be better for them. Please let go of that bridle; I want to go on!”