Read CHAPTER VIII - WHERE IS BLUFF? of The Outdoor Chums / The First Tour of the Rod‚ Gun and Camera Club, free online book, by Captain Quincy Allen, on ReadCentral.com.

“Where?” gasped Will, making as if anxious to get a snapshot of the thief in the very act.

“Keep quiet!” whispered Frank, giving him a push.

There was some one bending over the edge of the water, for they could catch a glimpse of his back.

“Stay here an’ watch me scare the critter!” said old Jesse, with a frown.

He glided forward, very like an Indian brave creeping up on his enemy.  Whoever the offender might be, he seemed to have no suspicion that danger hung over his head.

Suddenly the trapper jumped forward, and the boys saw him seize his prey.

“Wow! talk about your wildcats springing, that was a corker!”

Jerry led the way forward, though hard put to it to keep ahead of his eager companions, anxious to assist the trapper if he needed help.

“Take that, you pelt thief, and that!  Let me ketch ye at my traps agin an’ I’ll jest waste a bullet on one o’ yer legs.  Kim up here an’ steal my skins, will ye?  Thar’s another fur ye.  Oh, howl all ye want to, I’m larnin’ ye a lesson.”

The hearty kicks with which he punctuated this speech brought forth a whoop of pain from the recipient on each occasion.

“Why, it’s Pet Peters!” exclaimed Frank.

There was a snap.

“Thank you!” cried Will, with a satisfied grin; he had succeeded in taking a snapshot of the struggling couple while their faces were exposed.

“It’ll do as evidence when I want ter send this critter to jail, which I’ll sartin do if he ever comes a foolin’ ’round my traps agin.  I bet that snake Bud Rabig set him up ter it.  Skeered to come hisself, an’ sends a boy.  Now, you git!”

This time the kick was so tremendous that it actually lifted Andy Lasher’s crony clear off his feet, and started him in a mad flight along the edge of the swamp.  As he ran wildly he kept bellowing in pain, and holding both hands back of him.

The temptation was more than Will could stand, and another “click” announced that he had secured a second retreating view of the poacher.

“At this rate I’ll soon have my six rolls done,” he announced, triumphantly.

“What harm did he do?” asked Frank.

The trapper made an investigation.

“Jest ketched him in time.  Ye see he bed got the game outen the steel, an’ was tryin’ to sot the trap again so as I wouldn’t know it.  That proves he was sent up here by that sneakin’ Bud Rabig; fur what would the boy know about fixin’ a trap if he didn’t git guided?”

Jerry picked up the drowned muskrat and examined it.

“Pretty soft fur it has.  Lots of it used nowadays I understand,” he observed.

“Yas, but mostly under other names.  Fur is a-gittin’ skeercer all the time, an’ they hev to come to stuff they used to larf at.  Now watch me sot her, boys.”

They were all interested in the manner in which the trap was set, for much care and ingenuity is required in order to outwit the cautious instincts of the animal; though muskrats are not half so timid as some other animals whose fur is coveted by the trappers.

“Now fur the next trap.  Hope I don’t find a thief has be’n thar too,” said Jesse.

Evidently Pet Peters had just started in to follow up the line of traps, as described to him by Bud Rabig the rival of old Jesse, for they saw no more evidences of a visit.

When an hour had passed they were carrying five victims of the steel traps.

Jerry did not much fancy the business.

He tried to be a thorough sportsman all the time, and anything that savored of the habits of a game butcher, or trapping and shooting for the market, grated on his nerves.

After this Jesse led them to where he had a bear trap located, and here they were compelled to exercise considerable caution, because Bruin is a suspicious beast, and easily frightened away.

But the trap was not sprung; and Jesse from a little distance explained to his young friends how it lay concealed under the fallen leaves at a place where he knew a bear frequented in passing to and fro.

“I’m goin’ to look up his den in a few days, before he shuts in fur the winter, an’ sot my trap, whar he’s jest bound to tread in it goin’ or comin’.  Now, if so be ye feels that way, let’s git back to camp an’ hatch up some sorter dinner Ever eat musquash, boys?”

“What, eat muskrats?” exclaimed Jerry, in disgust.

“I never have, but would like to try the dish,” remarked Frank.  “Up in Maine the trappers told me they were fine in winter weather.”

Will said not a word, but his lip curled, as though nothing could tempt him to even take a taste of such a queer dish.

It was high noon when they arrived at the shack of the old trapper, and all of the boys felt sharp pressed with hunger.

“I hope he’s got something else besides muskrat-ugh!” said Jerry to Will.

“I saw part of a deer hanging up before we left here,” replied the other.

Jerry licked his lips in anticipation.

“Venison, real venison, fresh in the woods!  Tell me about that, will you?  I’m in on that deal every time.  I hope he cooks enough of it.”

There was little danger of the trapper allowing any of his guests to go hungry.

“Boys, I want you all to help me git a fine dinner.  Frank, I knows you are used to makin’ up a good cookin’ fire, you ’tend to that part Jerry, see that ere haunch o’ venison hangin’ from the limb o’ that tree-jest git her down an’ cut off some slices, all this here big fry-pan’ll hold, an’ put some pieces o’ salt pork in along with it, ’cause ye see venison is mighty dry.  Bill, p’raps ye kin look arter the coffee part o’ the bizness.”

Immediately everybody became busy.

Old Jesse went away with a couple of the muskrats, and when he came back later he had them skinned and ready for cooking; an operation the boys watched with considerable uneasiness.

Finally the meal was ready, and they sat down.

The venison tasted prime, and the coffee was pretty good; at least it was hot, and on a cool day that counts for a good deal.

Jerry and Will watched their comrade bravely take a portion of the musquash.

“How is it?” asked Jerry, for there had not been enough of the venison after all to appease their appetites.

“Bully.  Just try for yourselves.  I’ve eaten much worse dishes right at home,” was the immediate reply of the stout-hearted Frank.

Old Jesse chuckled and gave him a look of appreciation.

Thereupon both of the others took a very dainty help, and with much hesitation tasted of the dish; but both came back for more, and in the end pronounced the new dish all right.

“Why, fellows,” said Frank, laughing, “it was the same with terrapin years ago.  People along the Eastern Shore used to consider the diamond-back as common as dirt.”

“So I was reading the other day,” admitted Jerry.

“Yes, sir, so common that when men hired out they stipulated in the bond that they were not to be fed on terrapin.  Then the fashionable people took a fancy for the dish, the supply ran low, and now a decent-sized terrapin is worth five dollars.  Perhaps muskrats may become popular the same way, who knows?” laughed Frank.

At which the trapper roared, seemingly thinking it a great joke.

He showed them how he took the skins off, and stretched them on his frames.

“Not too tight, boys; and then keep ’em in the open air in the shade, away from the fire, till they gits right dry.  Some we take off whole, an’ others is slit up, jest accordin’ to the kind.”

All this sort of thing was eagerly listened to, especially by Frank and Jerry, always interested in everything that pertained to hunting and wild animals.

Will had his mind bent upon one subject, and could not bear to think of anything else; in camp and out, he kept his eyes on the alert for subjects suitable for striking pictures with which to embellish his account of the outing trip.

So the afternoon began to wane almost before they were aware of it.

“Time we were making tracks for home, fellows,” announced Frank.

“What will Bluff and Toby think has become of us, I wonder,"’ said Will.

“Him?  Why, he’s forgotten we’re in existence.  He can never get that jay gun out of his mind.  Talk about your phonograph, he’s sure the worst repeater I ever heard, and that’s no fairy story,” grunted Jerry.

“Well, come along boys.  Jesse, you must run over and have dinner with us some afternoon.  We dine at night, you see.  Will you come?” asked Frank, shaking hands.

“I sartin will, and soon at that.  Glad ye thought ’bout the olé lone trapper, boys.  Come agin, soon, an’ any time.  An’, Bill, when ye git them picters printed remember I’m in one, an’ that pelt thief, too.”

“I’ll see you get copies of both.  Good-by!” called out Will.

They trudged back with less ambition to make time than when on the morning tramp, for all of them were feeling a little stiff.  As they came in sight of the home camp, Jerry broke out with: 

“Say, she looks some nice, with the two tents standing there, and old Toby working around.”

“Do you see Bluff?” asked Frank, a trifle uneasily.

“Why, no, but what makes you say that?”

“I’ve got a suspicion about him, that’s all Hello, Toby, everything all right?”

“Sho, Marse Frank, eberything am lubly an’ de goose hangs high.”

“How about Bluff-where is he?”

“Don’t no nuffin’ ‘bout dat boy; he went off in de mornin’ an’ ain’t kim back.”

“Just what I feared, fellows,” said Frank.  “That silly chap has gone hunting up the camp of the Lasher crowd, and like as not got himself in trouble.”