Read CHAPTER XXII - “LOOK PLEASANT, PLEASE!” of The Outdoor Chums / The First Tour of the Rod‚ Gun and Camera Club, free online book, by Captain Quincy Allen, on ReadCentral.com.

“What’s that?” exclaimed Andy Lasher, jumping up from the side of Frank, where he had dropped to lend Jerry a helping hand.

“My camera’s stolen!  I placed it carefully behind that tree so nobody could step on it, and now the whole thing’s disappeared!” said Will, almost choking with deep emotion.

“I bet that’s the work of Pet Peters and the other fellows!” exclaimed Andy, his freckled face showing dark signs of anger.

“Hey, don’t forget about me!” bellowed a voice from the depths; “the blooming old pole turned round then, and I slipped back five feet.  Hold her steady, you fellows, and give me a chance to climb out!”

“That’s a fact.  Come along, Jerry,” said Frank.

So the imprisoned one crawled out, only too glad to once more plant his feet on solid ground.

“Talk to me about your trapeze acts, and your parachute drops, I guess I know all the sensations.  And let me tell you I don’t hanker after any more of the same kind.  Now, what’s all this row about your black box, Will?” cried Jerry, as he felt of his various joints to make sure he was all sound.

“It’s been hooked while we were getting you out.  That Pet Peters has made way with it.  Oh! if he ever tears open the package that contains my beloved films, I’m just ruined.  All my work for nothing; and they can never be replaced again.”

“We’ll get ’em, don’t you fear,” exploded Andy.  “I’ll run back to camp right away, and make him give ’em up.”

“If you only would, I’d be ever so much obliged, Andy.  Three dozen, yes, four now, of the finest scenes a fellow ever could take.  Why, some of them are immense!”

“I suppose you are referring now to that one where that yellow dog was chasing me around the tree; but I wouldn’t die of grief if posterity never got a squint at that picture,” said Jerry, shaking his head.

“Please start now,” urged Will; “for they will be opening the package just for spite.  One little bit of daylight and the whole thing will be ruined.  And from what I know of Pet Peters, I believe he’d do it.”

“I just reckon he would, now.  All right, I’m off,” said Andy.

“Wait, and we’ll go with you,” declared Frank, quietly.

“I can do it just as well alone; still, perhaps it is good to have you fellers along.  But we must run,” Andy observed.

“We can do it.  Come on, boys!” cried Frank

They started off through the timber, even Jerry keeping up a rattling pace, although somewhat out of breath.

“Better not talk,” admonished Andy, when Will manifested a disposition to continue his doleful wails about his terrible loss.

“That’s good advice, Will.  If you hope to recover your property, better keep a padlock on your lips just now.  Besides, you need all your wind,” remarked Frank.

They ran on.

The trail was crooked, but kept drawing nearer the lake all the while.

“Just a few minutes more,” panted Andy at length.

And when less than that time had passed they could catch glimpses of the cabin in which he and his crowd had taken up their quarters, after being forestalled by the outdoor chums in the race for the hemlock camp.

Andy said nothing, but the manner in which he put his fingers on his lips as he turned his head, was indicative of silence.

He led them forward in such a way that the cabin stood between them and the spot where several boys seemed to have clustered, interested in something.

When they looked around the corner of the hut they counted five in the bunch.  It was Pet Peters, a tall, raw-boned lad, who was swinging the camera to and fro in triumph, while he held up the waterproof package in which Will kept the rolls of films that had been exposed, awaiting the time when he could develop the same.

“Say, but won’t them sissies be hoppin’ mad w’en they sees it gone?” he was saying, with a grin; “an’ we can keep it as long as we wanter.”

“What’s he got in the black bag, Pet?” demanded one of the others.

“Don’t know, but we’ll soon find out,” grunted the leader of the group, looking around for a place to lay the camera down while he applied himself to the task of opening the tied-up package.

“I bet it’s films he’s used; I know, because I got a bull’s-eye camera to home,” exclaimed another chap, pressing forward eagerly.

“Who was it tumbled into the old mine shaft?” asked Pet, as he dug at the knot with which the cord was fastened.

“Don’t know for sure, but I kinder think it must a-been Jerry Wallington.  I seen that Frank and Will along with Andy,” replied a third, quickly.

“Glad of it.  Andy says as how he’s under obligations to Jerry, but fur me I don’t take any stock in that sorter thing.  He jest couldn’t let a feller lie there and die under that tree.  It sarves Andy right because he wanted to cover up the old shaft again afore any purty boy fell down in it and skinned his nose.  Say, how d’ye ’spose they ever found that ladder agin after we hid it?”

“’Course Andy got it for ’em.  He oughter left the kid in the hole all night.  Hope he’s bunged up good and hard by the tumble,” came from another.

“Looky here, Pet, ye know what ye’re doin’, I ’spect?” asked the one who had but a minute before owned to having a camera at home.

“Tryin’ to open this pesky little package, all right,” answered the other.

“But if it has them films inside ye’ll ruin the hull bunch if ye lets daylight in on ’em.  Undo the rolls that is wrapped each in black paper, and the picters is gone just as quick as that,” and he snapped his fingers.

“What do I care?  Sarves them right for takin’ our camp away.  For two cents I’d throw the hull business into the lake, and let her swim,” growled Pet, who did not seem to be making much progress in his feat of untying the binding cord.

Frank could feel Will quiver with emotion as he pressed against him.  The very thought of his beloved camera and those invaluable films floating on the water filled the boy with unutterable anguish.  He even groaned, though the fact that the conspirators were so busily engaged, and talking in the bargain, prevented them from hearing the suspicious sound.

“Andy was a-helpin’ ’em,” declared one of the group, as though that fact might constitute a crime in his eyes.

“’Course; what more could ye expect arter the way he got us to go out with him to cover up that hole again?  Andy’s got religion, I reckon; leastways he ain’t the same kind o’ a feller he was,” declared Pet.

“But he turned on you mighty quick, I noticed, an’ sed as how he’d wipe up the ground with your remains if you jest didn’t go along and help undo our work.  He kin fight yet, even if he is changed,” said the fellow who hung discreetly on the outskirts of the group, and who was evidently a devoted follower of the said Andy.

“Jest mind yer own business, Tom Somers, an’ speak when yer spoken to.  Guess I know that yer intendin’ to stick to Andy through thick an’ thin.  But they ain’t everybody feelin’ that way, understand?  If Andy he’s a-goin’ to turn on us and be chummy with that crowd, we ain’t expectin’ to stand it, see?” declared Pet, still struggling with the obstreperous knot.

“Them’s my sentiments,” observed another.

“Me, too, fellers?” declared a second.

“Yes, it’s easy for ye to talk that ways when he ain’t around; but let him give any one o’ ye a single look an’ it’s eat dirt for the lot.  Ain’t I seen it done many a time?  An’ some day Andy’s goin’ to give Pet the time o’ his life,” the single faithful henchman kept saying.

“Oh, let up, Tom!  Ain’t any one o’ ye got a knife?  I can’t never get this here knot untied.  Hand it here, Billy.  Now watch the fun, fellers,” and as he spoke Pet opened a blade of the borrowed knife, and proceeded to lay it across the cord.

To judge by the way he sawed, that blade was too dull to cut butter.

“What d’ye call this thing, anyhow, Billy?  One side’s about as sharp as t’other, an’ a feller couldn’t commit suicide, if he tried to, with this frog-sticker.”

“Try mine,” said the fellow who owned a camera.

“Say, that’s the cheese; it’s got a edge all right.  Now wouldn’t little Willie Milton weep tears if he seen me a-doin’ this to his property,” and he bent down to sever the cord at one vicious blow.

Frank thought it high time to interfere.

These unscrupulous boys would not hesitate to destroy all the results of Will’s hard labor, and, in fact, take the keenest delight in wringing his heart by so doing.

There was only one way apparently to stop the desecration and save those precious films from destruction.  Although opposed to violence on general principles, still Frank knew very well that there are times when it becomes necessary for every one to stand up boldly for his rights.

He gave a nudge to Jerry which that worthy understood as a signal to be ready.  Accordingly, Jerry raised his shotgun until he had covered the group in front of the cabin, and then waited for the word.

“Step out and hold them,” whispered Frank, in his ear; and the four boys made a sudden appearance from behind the shack.

“Now, look pleasant, please, you fellows!” exclaimed Frank, as he made sure that he had his gun held on a line to cover the leader of the rebels in Andy Lasher’s camp.