Read CHAPTER VII - THE SHACK OF THE MUSKRAT TRAPPER of The Outdoor Chums / The First Tour of the Rod‚ Gun and Camera Club, free online book, by Captain Quincy Allen, on ReadCentral.com.

“Wake up, everybody!”

Bang! bang! bang! went the big spoon on the frying pan Frank held.

As the others came crawling out of the tents they sniffed the air.

“Say, that bacon smells prime!” declared Will, smacking his lips.

“Hope you didn’t forget about that mess of hominy I spoke about last night, Toby.  Hominy’s my great stand-by for breakfast.  All right, I see it on the fire.  Give me just five minutes.  If it wasn’t for that gun-

“Talk about your Ambrosia, that Java sure has it knocked clean out,” broke in Jerry.  “Me for a quick-dressing act and then grub!”

Uncle Toby grinned, for he knew what appetites boys are apt to develop when in the woods, and, of course, he had made allowances.

They were soon gathered around the table and busy.

“What’s the programme for to-day?” asked Frank, when the edge of their appetites had been taken away.

“First thing of all I want some snapshots of the camp in the morning sun.  You can see that’s the best time to get a good view.  Now, just sit still, fellows, and let me do my little trick,” said Will.

They assumed grotesque positions, but the photographer refused to stand for that.

“What d’ye think I want, a collection of freaks broken loose from the lunatic asylum?  Here, you, Will, be dishing out some more bacon on to your plate; Frank, take up the coffee-pot and be helping Bluff.  Uncle Toby, just look pleasant.”

“Pretend you found my gun, and I was giving you half a dollar, Uncle Toby,” remarked Bluff, quickly.

“Always thinking of that cheap, clap-trap affair,” growled Jerry.  “Goodness knows if we’ll hear anything else from him all the time we’re in camp.  I declare I’ve half a notion-

“To do what?” asked Frank, looking at him suspiciously.

Jerry only smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

“Now, hold your positions, fellows.  Frank, lean a little forward, so your face stands out better; there, that’s right.  Toby, raise your head and point up as if you saw a bird in that tree.  That’s good, all right; it’s over.  Thank you!”

Will kept his position for a little while, and every few minutes seemed to find a chance to snap off another view.  He evidently believed in getting a variety of the main subject of their outing-the home camp.

“I move we try and find old Jesse Wilcox this morning,” suggested Frank.

“That suits me, if we don’t have to go too far,” agreed Jerry.

“How’s the shin, by the way, this morning?  Haven’t noticed you limp much?”

“Feels pretty fair.  Next time I chase out of camp I’m going to make sure to clear that old box, all right.  How about the rest-do you say go?” asked Jerry.

“Count me in,” called Will.

“Yes, you will want to get some views of the old trapper and his cabin, with the door covered with muskrat skins,” remarked Frank.

“Coming along, Bluff?” asked Jerry, watching the other covertly.

“I guess not to-day.  I’m going to hunt around again to see if I could have unconsciously grabbed up that gun as I bolted, and then dropped it in the brush.  Such a thing might happen, you know, fellows,” returned the other.

So he remained behind when the other three sallied forth, Frank and Jerry carrying their guns over their shoulders, while Will brought up the rear bearing his camera ready for use and on the lookout for subjects.

“If you see any game please give me a chance to snap a view before you shoot,” he pleaded; at which the others laughed.

“Perhaps, but we can’t promise.  If a partridge got up suddenly it would be a case of shoot first, and think afterwards,” said Frank.

“But if it should be a deer standing feeding?”

“Or a black bear on his hind legs begging?” jeered Jerry.

“All right.  I’m going to be ready for all that comes along.  Still life, if I have to, or anything else.”

Will’s last words were drowned in the report of Jerry’s gun.  He had swung it around like a flash, and without apparently glancing along the barrels, fired one charge at something that was flashing through the undergrowth.

There came a second shot, so close upon the heels of the first that the reports were almost blended in one.

Jerry turned and looked reproachfully at Frank.

“Talk about your sporting blood, you sure wiped my eye that time,” he said.

“The bird was a little too close for your shot to scatter; I had a better chance as it flew away farther.  You’d have dropped him with your second barrel, I reckon, old fellow,” cried Frank, hurrying forward to pick up the partridge.

“Yes, I’ve no doubt I would; but that’s the first time I ever had any one step in and beat me clean.  I’ll have to watch out for you after this, you sly ’possum.  But then you’ve shot lots of these birds up in Maine, I suppose?”

“Plenty of them; but up there they light in trees, and the natives don’t hesitate to drop them while they sit.”

“That’s little short of murder,” said Jerry.

After an hour’s walk they reached the camp of old Jesse.

“There it is, boys,” said Frank, pointing ahead.

“And he’s home, too; something I hardly expected at this time of day,” from Jerry.  “Because if he has a line of traps the morning is the time he tends them, I’m told.”

As they approached, the man in the camp turned and saw them.  He was a tall and angular fellow, well on in years, and with keen eyes that seemed always looking for signs around him.

“Say, boys, this here is right nice o’ you, comin’ to look me up.  Out on a leetle hunt to-day?” he asked, as he shook hands all around.

“We’ve come up to camp out for a couple of weeks, while repairs are made to the school building, damaged in the gale of wind,” answered Frank.

“Sho, ye don’t say?  Well, now, that’s fine!  I’ll be right glad to see sumpin’ o’ ye while around.  Whar’s the camp, Jerry?”

“At the spring under the twin hemlocks.  We wanted to run over and see how you were getting on.  Started to put out your traps yet, Jesse?” asked the other.

“Oh!  I got a few in line.  Season’s a bit early yet, ye see.  Bringing in some musquash,” and he swept his hand around at a dozen wooden frames upon which the skins were drying in the shade.

“Please let me get a picture of you at work, just as you were when we came up,” said the ambitious photographer, keen on the subject that interested him most.

The trapper grinned good-naturedly.

“Fire away, then.  So long as I don’t give away any o’ my secret ways o’ preparin’ the pelts, I don’t keer.  I’m some proud o’ that shack, too.  Sheds the rain, an’ kin be kept warm easy; what more do a feller want?” he observed.

The operation was speedily completed.

“Hope you feel better now you’ve got that out of your system,” said Jerry.

“I have five more exposures on this roll of film, boys.  Hope to get something worth while before we start back to camp,” retorted Will, caressing his new camera.

“Where do you get the muskrats, Jesse?” asked Frank, as he bent down to examine the way in which each skin was carefully stretched out on its little frame.

“Along the edge o’ the swamp half a mile off.  They’s jest rafts o’ ’em thar.  As a rule the pelts bring about fifteen cents each, but jest now thar’s quite a boom on, an’ I reckon I’ll git sixty apiece.”

“That’s fine.  What else do you catch here in season?” asked Jerry.

“Wall, a few mink, not many, once in a long while an otter, fur which I git twenty dollars.  Then I caught three bobcats last winter, seven foxes, eleven ’coon, half a dozen ‘possums, an’ two black b’ars, though one o’ them I shot arter we had a right lively argyment.”

“Whew! then there are bears around here?” asked Will, eagerly; “what wouldn’t I give to get a picture of one in its wild state?”

The old man laughed.

“Kinder risky business a shootin’ that thing at a b’ar, ’specially a she-b’ar as has young uns nigh.  Like as not she’d rush ye.  Now, I got a skin here with the head on it, an’ if it comes to the wüst we might rig that up, natural like, so ye cud git a picter o’ a wild an’ ferocious beast coming at ye on his hind legs.”

“Oh!  I hope I won’t have to descend to a fake like that.  But we’ve come to put in the day with you, Jesse.  Show us how you set your traps, won’t you?”

“Sartin I will.  Was jest startin’ out for a turn when ye showed up; so s’pose ye drop in line.  It won’t take more’n an hour or two, boys.”

They were delighted at the chance, Will lugging his camera along, though the old trapper cast a dubious eye on the affair, as if he did not wholly like the idea of visiting his traps with such a “contraption,” something unheard of in his experience.

“Now, don’t even whisper, fellers.  Here’s the swamp and my traps begins clost by.  I’ll show ye all about it by signs.  Dumb trappers is most successful, they sez,” remarked Jesse, holding up his hand.

The three boys followed close at his heels, each picking his way, and walking on his tiptoes, as though that would make any difference.

So they entered the edge of the swamp.

Suddenly the man came to a halt and stooping, pointed ahead.

“Looky yonder,” he whispered hoarsely, “that’s somebody stealing out o’ my traps!”