Read CHAPTER XXIII - MORE SIGNS OF TROUBLE of The Outdoor Chums / The First Tour of the Rod‚ Gun and Camera Club, free online book, by Captain Quincy Allen, on ReadCentral.com.

Pet Peters looked thoroughly frightened when he saw that he had been caught in the very act of opening another’s property.

The truth of the matter was, he had been warned of late by the town authorities that on the very next occasion when caught taking things that did not belong to him, they would send him to the reform school.

“Don’t you dare cut that string,” said Frank, sternly; “or I won’t answer for the consequences, Pet Peters.”

The boy, with a scowl, threw the package down alongside the camera.

“There’s yer old shebang.  I ain’t done it a speck o’ harm.  Was just kiddin’, anyway.  Knowed Will was around, an’ jest wanted to make him squeal,” he declared.

Of course it was a barefaced falsehood, as every one understood; but it seemed to be the natural thing for a fellow like Pet to say; he always squirmed out of a scrape that way, while Andy had at least shown a certain amount of boldness when caught.

“Will, step up and claim your property.  If it has suffered any damage I’m going to make him pay for it, if I have to take him all the way back to Centerville,” continued Frank.

Eagerly did the one addressed walk forward and pick up both camera and package of films.  He was within three feet of those five boys, yet never a hand was outstretched to hinder him.  They knew better.  Those grim guns that bore upon them, and the angry faces of Jerry, Frank, yes, and Andy, impressed them deeply.

“Examine them, Will.  Do you think either has been injured?” asked Frank.

“’Course they ain’t.  How could they be when I kerried ’em carefully.  Them scratches was on ther camera afore I touched it, I’ll swar to that!” exclaimed Pet, really alarmed by this time.

At which Andy grinned as if highly amused.

“I guess everything’s safe, Frank.  They stopped just in time.  Another minute and the damage could not have been repaired,” sang out the delighted Will, ready to almost dance with joy.

“Which is a lucky thing for them, then.  Now, I don’t know why we should hang out here much longer.  We’ve got our own, and the air of this camp isn’t quite as nice as I’d like.  Shall we go, fellows?” asked Frank.

“Might as well,” answered Jerry; “but before we do I think these chaps ought to be told that the sheriff promised to drop in and see us to-morrow; and that if there’s any more of this humbug and annoyance tried, I’m going to ask him to take the whole bunch back to Centerville.”

“And I promise to prefer a charge of malicious mischief against them, and an attempt to destroy property.  Incendiarism is a crime, especially when life is placed in peril; and one of us might have been burned while we slept,” added Frank, severely.

There were exclamations of alarm from the cowering boys.  They had been intimidated by the guns of Jerry and his chum, but this new source of danger chilled their ardor wonderfully.

“I reckon we ain’t goin’ to try any more tricks, fellers.  Thought we’d have a leetle fun out of this campin’ business; but seein’ as how ye take it so hard, we’d better draw off,” muttered Pet, completely humbled.

“Yes, ‘fun for the boys, but death to the frogs,’ as the old story says.  That sort of thing is too one-sided to suit me.  Just play your jokes on each other, if you must amuse yourselves.  We have our own way of extracting fun out of an outing.  Well, come along, boys.  And, Andy, thank you for helping get Jerry out of that hole.”

He thrust out his hand to the other as he spoke, but Andy did not take it.

“Ain’t got anything to do with the rest of ye; but Jerry he saved my life.  I told him I was goin’ to quit naggin’ his crowd, an’ so I am; but that don’t mean I’m a turnin’ a saint right away.  Pet here is itchin’ for a lickin’, an’ I got a good notion to ’commodate him.”

Andy glared in the direction of his lieutenant, and it was plain to be seen that the spirit of warfare had not as yet been diminished in his bosom.

“Oh! well, have it out among yourselves, boys.  As long as you leave us alone we won’t bother you in the least, I give you my word,” said Frank.

“Come on, you fellows,” cried Will.  “I’m anxious to get away from here.  That Pet gave me the cold creeps when he came so near ruining my films.  Ugh! me for the comforts of our own camp.”

No one wanted to linger.  Even Jerry was glad to turn his back on the old cabin and stalk away, with his gun over his arm.

“Say,” called Will, over his shoulder, a few minutes later, as they were pushing through the woods and following the back trail.

“Well, what is it?” asked Jerry.

“We forgot something, boys,’’ continued the other.

“What’s that?” demanded Frank, coming to a stand.

“Why, when we were about it we ought to have demanded that they return Bluff’s dandy, repeating shotgun,” said Will.

Thereupon Frank broke out into a laugh and turned upon Jerry.

“Hear that, will you?” he remarked, as if tickled.

“Oh, rats! there’s that blessed old gun bobbing up again.  Will I ever hear the last of that machine?” exclaimed Jerry, shrugging his shoulders.

“Not till the ghost is laid, I suppose, Jerry,” remarked Frank.

Jerry walked along at his side, still grumbling as if he had a difficult matter to solve and could hardly make up his mind.

Thus they came to the spot where the late catastrophe had taken place.  The hole gaped at them in the trail.

“Say, this is a dangerous thing to leave uncovered.  Some one else might fall in, perhaps one of that lumberman’s kids if they happened to be playing hereabouts,” remarked Frank, as they paused to look down once more into the dark depths.

“I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to slip over that edge.  My! but it was a queer sensation I had when falling.  Let’s cover the hole up again,” remarked Jerry.

“If we can find the planks it would be a good idea,” echoed Will.

They started a search immediately.  When Andy and his followers had removed this cover, to substitute the frail one of slender sticks, quilted with dead leaves and a scattering of soil to deceive the eye, they could not have taken the boards far away.

“I’m dead sure they ain’t in the hole,” observed Jerry, as they hunted.

“Lucky for you they were not, as you might have broken a leg in striking hard planks instead of soft soil,” remarked Frank.

“Here they are, boys!” sang out Will just then.

It took but a short time for them to carry the heavy planks back to the place, and cover up the hole the crazy gold-hunter had dug so many; years ago.

“Hope those sillies won’t think to steal them off again.  They might trap one of that lumberman’s kids, and then the penitentiary for theirs, for sure,” said Jerry, as he made sure the cover was secure on all sides.

“I rather think they’ve had a lesson this time, and won’t be in any hurry to repeat the dose,” laughed Frank; “come along boys.”

Somehow Jerry seemed to lag behind the others.

“What’s the matter with him?” asked Will, turning his thumb backward over his shoulder.

“Perhaps conscience is at work.  Jerry has queer freaks, you know.  Wait and see what develops,” answered Frank, mysteriously, and, although his companion tried to get him to say more he absolutely declined.

It was a short time after this that they heard the boom of a gun.

“Hunters abroad, somewhere around.  There goes a second, yes and a third.  Game must be plenty where they are,” remarked Will.

Frank did not reply, but the other saw that he was smiling as if his thoughts might be pleasant just then.

“I just bet he’s thinking of my sister Violet,” was what passed through the mind of the boy; but for once he was wrong.

They finally arrived at a point not a quarter of a mile from camp.  Frank turned to see if Jerry was coming along, for he had not heard a sound from him.

“How about that venison you insisted on carrying?  I hope you didn’t leave it in that miserable pit, now, for I was calculating on having a feast for supper?” he asked, seeing that Jerry still plodded along close by.

“I’ve got it on my back all right, so don’t worry, boys.  And honest, now, come to think of it, I really believe the bundle saved me from a worse shock than I got.  I landed on it, if you please.  Don’t know how it beat me down, but it served as a fine old buffer.  I look on that blessed deer as my best friend.”

“Listen!” exclaimed Will just then.

All of them could hear what seemed to be shouts ahead.  They certainly came from the direction of the home camp.

“Now what do you suppose has happened there this time?  Can’t we ever take a little saunter through the woods without the camp being made the theater for all sorts of strange dramas-wildcats, lunatics, and now what?” exclaimed Jerry.

“I think it would be just as well for us to sprint along and find out.  That Toby seems fated to get into the queerest scrapes ever heard of.  Here goes!” with which Frank began to run.

The others kept close at his heels, and as the outcries increased they even put on additional speed, bursting out of the timber to see as strange a spectacle as ever greeted the eyes of woodsmen returning to their camp.