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Title: Two Ways of Becoming a Hunter

Author: Harry Castlemon

Illustrator: George G. White

Release date: January 13, 2021 [eBook #64280]

Language: English

Credits: David Edwards, Martin Pettit and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive)


Transcriber's Note:

Obvious typographic errors have been corrected.



The College President and the young Taxidermist.

title page

[Pg i]









[Pg ii]

Copyright, 1892,

[Pg iii]


I.   Playing Truant, 1
II.   The Bushwhackers, 16
III.   Oscar and his Troubles, 34
IV.   The Young Taxidermist, 50
V.   Oscar Receives a Letter, 66
VI.   The Amateur Detective, 79
VII.   Off for the River, 94
VIII.   A Fortunate Duck-Hunt, 109
IX.   The Camp on the Island, 129
X.   An Astounding Offer, 140
XI.   Mr. Smith Makes Amends, 156
XII.   An Evening with the Principal, 172
XIII.   The Black Fox, 187
XIV.   Who Destroyed the Snares? 202
XV.   Bugle Seeks Revenge, 218
XVI.   Good and Bad News, 234
XVII.   Paying the Fiddler, 247
XVIII.   Leon Makes Up his Mind, 261
XIX.   Plans and Arrangements, 271
[Pg iv]XX.   Leon Draws his Money, 282
XXI.   The Runaways, 290
XXII.   The Prairie Hotel, 300
XXIII.   A Friendly Hunter, 312
XXIV.   On the Trail, 325
XXV.   Frank Starts for Home, 335
XXVI.   Eben Shows his Colors, 346
XXVII.   Alone and Friendless, 357
XXVIII.   A Familiar Face, 371
XXIX.   A Voice from the Snow-drift, 384

[Pg 1]




"I declare, Frank, it is time we were off. It is almost nine o'clock. I wish to goodness there were no such things as school-houses and school-books in the world."

"I am not going to school to-day."

"You're not?"

"No, sir. I'm going to take French leave."

"Do you mean that you are going to run away?"

"I suppose that is what you country fellows call it."

"Well, now, you had better take a friend's advice, and think twice before you do that.[Pg 2] You'll get yourself into trouble, sure. The rule of our school is that you must bring a written excuse every time you are absent."

"That was the rule of our school in Boston, too; but it didn't keep the fellows from staying away whenever they felt like it."

"Where did you get your excuses?"

"We wrote them ourselves, and signed our father's name to them; that's the way we got them."

"You can't fool our teacher that way. He knows our hand-writing too well. He knows yours, too, by this time."

"I can disguise it so that he'll not recognize it, I bet you! Don't let's go, Leon. I am heartily sick of school, and everything connected with it."

"So am I."

"Then suppose we spend the day in the woods."

The conversation above recorded took place, one gloomy autumn morning, between Leon Parker and his city cousin, Frank Fuller.

They were about sixteen years of age, and were bright, honest-looking boys; but one of[Pg 3] them, at least, was just the opposite of what he appeared to be.

Leon Parker lived in the little town of Eaton, in one of our Northern States. His father was a practising lawyer, and the boy was given every opportunity to prepare himself for usefulness in after-life. But Leon was too indolent to study, and the consequence was that he always stood at the foot of his class, and saw boys younger than himself carry off the honors he might have won if he had been willing to work for them.

Leon was not such a boy as you would have chosen for a companion. He was cross and overbearing, and his father was often obliged to take him to task for some of his misdeeds.

This always made him very angry. Other boys seemed to get on without having the least trouble with their parents or anybody else, and Leon finally came to the conclusion that his father was a tyrant, and that he would be much happier if he could go so far away from him that he would never see him again. And yet there were a good many boys in Eaton[Pg 4] who would have been glad to change places with him.

While his father insisted that he should behave himself, he was, at the same time, very indulgent, and he had supplied Leon with a good many things which the majority of the boys in Eaton regarded as necessary to their happiness. He owned a beautiful little skiff, a jointed bass rod, and a light fowling-piece. He had ample opportunity to use them, too.

The country about the village was hilly, almost mountainous; the woods and thickets were dense, and grouse, quails, and gray and black squirrels could be bagged any day without the slightest trouble. Foxes were more abundant than the neighboring farmers wished they were, deer were shot within sight of the court house every winter, and now and then a bear or wildcat was seen among the hills.

In summer, the river which flowed in front of the village offered black and rock bass, pike and perch. In the fall it was visited by thousands of wild ducks, which stopped there to rest during their migrations, and some of[Pg 5] them were so well satisfied with the feeding-grounds they found there that they remained all winter.

The most of the boys in Eaton thought it was a nice place to live, but Leon, as we have said, was very discontented; and matters were made worse by the arrival of his cousin, Frank Fuller, who was sent to Eaton because he could not be managed at home.

It was understood among the boys to whom he had been introduced that he had come there for the purpose of attending the high school of which the village boasted, and, indeed, his father's instructions were that he was not to miss a single day. He had been there just two weeks, and now he was talking of playing truant.

Mr. Parker already regretted that he had consented to receive his nephew into his house. He began to fear that his influence over Leon would be anything but beneficial.

He had already detected him in numberless falsehoods, and had discovered that, in spite of his apparent frankness, he was as sneaking and sly as a boy could possibly be. And[Pg 6] Frank, too, was sorry that he had ever come to Eaton. He was disgusted with the quiet life he led at his uncle's house, and heartily wished himself back in Boston.

"Let's go up on the hill and look at these snares you told me about the other day," continued Frank. "We may find a partridge or two in them."

"That's so," exclaimed Leon. "I never should have thought of them again. But it will be awful slow walking about the woods all day without our guns."

"Oh, we'll take them with us!"

"But how can we carry them downstairs, and out of the house, without being seen by somebody?"

"We'll do it—you may depend upon that," answered Frank, as he disappeared in a closet opening off the room in which he and his cousin slept.

When he came out again, he carried a light, silver-mounted rifle in one hand and a game-bag and powder-horn in the other.

"We must have something to eat, too. It gives one a fearful appetite to climb over these[Pg 7] hills. You go and get the lunch just as if we were going to school, and then come out to the barn, and you will find me there with the guns."

To this Leon silently assented, and went into the closet after his hunting accoutrements, which he handed over to Frank.

While the latter was slinging the game-bag and the powder- and shot-flasks over his shoulders, Leon opened the door and ran downstairs.

In the hall he met his mother.

"I was just coming to call you," said she. "You boys will be late at school if you do not make haste. Your lunch is all ready."

"We're just going to start," said Leon. "But not for school. We have had quite enough of that," he added to himself, as he hurried through the hall and turned into the kitchen.

Cramming the lunch into his pocket, he slipped out of the back door and ran toward the barn.

When Leon reached the barn, he found Frank waiting for him. He had watched his[Pg 8] opportunity, and, as soon as his aunt went out of the hall, he descended the stairs, opened the front door, and made his way around the house to the place of meeting.

"Give me my game-bag, and I will put the lunch into it. We are all right so far," he said, with a look of relief.

"Oh, there's nothing to be alarmed about," answered Frank, as he unslung the game-bag from his shoulder and handed it to his cousin. "If you had been in such scrapes as often as I have, you would think nothing of it."

"Perhaps not; but I almost wish I had gone to school," said Leon honestly. "What will become of us when father finds out that we have played hookey? That's what bothers me."

"It needn't bother you, for he's not going to find it out," was Frank's encouraging reply. "We'll enjoy ourselves in the woods for a day or two, and then we'll go back to our Latin and geometry again. I'll write the excuse. Don't spoil a good day's sport by worrying over that."

Having put the lunch in his game-bag Leon[Pg 9] slung it over his shoulder, picked up his gun, and opening a back door struck out across a wide field that lay between the barn and the nearest piece of woods, closely followed by his cousin.

They walked rapidly, looking back now and then to make sure that they were keeping the barn between themselves and the house, and it was not until they had climbed the fence and plunged into the woods that Leon felt safe from discovery. Then he drew a long breath of satisfaction and slackened his pace.

"If I stood as much in fear of my father as you do of yours, I wouldn't stay with him," said Frank, who seemed to be perfectly at his ease. "I'd run away from him."

It was right on the point of Leon's tongue to tell his cousin that he had long ago resolved to do that very thing; but he didn't say it, for he was not sure that it would be quite safe to trust Frank with his secret.

"I have often thought I should like to go out West and live as those hunters and trappers do," continued Frank. "Wouldn't it[Pg 10] be jolly to have a snug cabin somewhere in the mountains, and nothing to do but attend to your traps every day and hunt the big game that is so abundant out there?"

This very thought had often suggested itself to Leon's lively imagination, and he had made up his mind that some day he would live in just that way.

"I shall see that country before long," Frank went on. "Father is going to California on business next year, and he has promised that if I will behave myself while I am here in Eaton, he will take me with him. If I like the looks of things as well as I think I shall, you'll never see me among civilized people again."

"Will you stay out there and become a hunter?" asked Leon.

"Yes, sir!"

"But what would you say to your father?"

"I shouldn't say anything to him. When I found a place that suited me, I would slip away from him, and let him come home without me."

"But you have lived in the city all your[Pg 11] life, and what do you know about the Western country?"

"I could learn all about it, couldn't I? I am a pretty good shot with a rifle, and I should try to work myself in somewhere as post-hunter. Others have done it, and I don't see why I couldn't."

"What is a post-hunter?" asked Leon.

"Why, he is a man whose business it is to keep the garrison supplied with fresh meat. If the soldiers go out on an expedition to explore the country or hunt Indians, he goes with them and shoots all the game they want to eat. He is regularly employed and paid by the government. If I couldn't get a position like that, I'd hunt buffaloes for their hides. Why, only the other day I read in the paper that one old hunter out there had killed twelve hundred buffaloes in a single season. He sold their skins for a dollar apiece, too."

"Twelve hundred dollars a year!" exclaimed Leon.

"Oh, some of them make more than that. And then just think of the fun they have!"

Leon had often thought of that very thing;[Pg 12] and he had thought of it in school, when his mind ought to have been fully occupied with his books.

Nothing suited him better than to ramble all day over the hills, with his double-barrel in his hands, making double shots at the game-birds with which the woods abounded. He generally spent every Saturday during the hunting season in this way, and he had finally come to believe that he would rather do that than anything else.

The only drawback to his enjoyment was that when the day drew to a close the hunt came to an end, and he was obliged to go home. That was a place where he never saw any pleasure, especially in the evening. His father was always deeply engrossed with his paper, his mother was busy with her needle, and, until Frank came, Leon had no one to whom he could safely confide his secret hopes and longings.

When he became a hunter, with a nice little cabin of his own, in some secluded valley where game of all kinds was abundant, things would be very different, he often told himself.

[Pg 13]

After he had spent the day in attending to his traps and fighting with the grizzlies, he would return to his snug harbor, well loaded with the spoils of the chase; and while his venison steaks and corn bread were turning to a crisp brown under the influence of a cheerful fire, he would recline at his ease upon a pile of soft buffalo robes, and think over the events of the day, while he listened to the howling of the wolves and the sifting of the snow upon the roof of his cabin.

Leon always grew excited when this agreeable picture arose before his mental vision, and he longed for the day when the dream would become a reality.

Frank, as may be supposed, had a good deal to say about the joys of a hunter's life, and while he talked and Leon listened, they pushed their way rapidly through the woods, and finally, after crossing several deep ravines and climbing two or three fences, they found themselves on Mr. Parker's hill-farm, where Leon had set his snares.

The latter led the way toward the thicket in which the snares had been placed, and when[Pg 14] he reached it he stopped suddenly, dropped the butt of his gun to the ground, and uttered an exclamation indicative of great rage and astonishment.

"What's the matter?" asked Frank.

"Why, just look at that, and tell me if you ever heard of a more contemptible trick!" exclaimed Leon.

Frank looked, but could discover nothing to excite his cousin's anger. All he saw was a low fence, built of twigs, which stretched away on each side of him as far as his eyes could reach. At intervals of a dozen feet or more were little openings about six inches wide, and it was in these openings that the snares had been set.

The last time Leon was there the snares were all in perfect order, and ready to catch any luckless grouse or hare which might attempt to pass through the openings before spoken of.

But now there was not a single snare to be seen. The strings of which they were made had all been removed.

"It's the meanest piece of business I ever heard of!" continued Leon, backing toward a[Pg 15] fallen log and seating himself upon it. "That meddlesome Oscar Preston has been up here and destroyed all my work. I wish I could get within reach of him for about two minutes. I'd teach him to mind his own business!"

Leon struck his open palm with his clenched hand, and looked very savage indeed.

[Pg 16]


"Who is Oscar Preston?" asked Frank, as he seated himself on the log beside his cousin.

"Oh, he's the village pot-hunter!" Leon answered, throwing as much contempt into his tones as he could.

"Pot-hunter?" repeated Frank.

"Yes. He's a market-shooter. He doesn't hunt game for the fun of it, as you and I, and all other decent fellows do, but he does it to make money out of it. He is too lazy to earn a living in any respectable way; and, besides, as he comes of a dishonest family, no one in town will employ him. You see, he and his brother used to work in Smith & Anderson's grocery store. Oscar was one of the clerks, and his brother was book-keeper and cashier. Just before you came here, his brother [Pg 17]disappeared all of a sudden, and has never been heard of since. After he was gone his books were examined, and it was found that he was a defaulter to the amount of three thousand dollars. Smith & Anderson didn't like that very well, and believing that if there was one thief in the Preston family there might be another, they thought it was best to give Oscar his walking-papers."

"Does he make any money by shooting for the market?" asked Frank.

"I should say he did. There is a mortgage of five hundred dollars on his mother's place (his father is dead, you know), and Oscar has paid off a hundred dollars of it since he left the store. He's got a leaky old scow, a double-barrel blunderbuss that you and I wouldn't pick up in the street, and a half starved hound. The scow he uses for hunting ducks on the river, and with the hound he runs foxes and rabbits. When summer comes, I suppose he will fish all the time. He can catch black bass where nobody else would ever think of looking for them, and he can sell every one of them for ten cents a pound."

[Pg 18]

"But what right had he to destroy your snares?"

"He had no right to do it, for he is not game-constable."

"What sort of a constable is that!" asked Frank.

"Why, you know there is a law in this State which says that game shall not be shot except at certain seasons of the year, and a game-constable is a man whose business it is to see that the law is obeyed. It is against the law to trap partridges and quails, and if we had a game-constable in town I shouldn't have set these snares, for I should have rendered myself liable to prosecution; but the office is vacant now, for there was no one elected to fill it last year."

"I think Oscar was taking a good deal upon himself," said Frank.

"So do I; and the reason he did it was because every partridge or rabbit that I catch leaves just one less for him to shoot for market. But these are my father's grounds, and I shall give him to understand, the first time I meet him, that I want him to keep[Pg 19] away from here. You and I can shoot all the birds there are in these woods."

"I wouldn't take the trouble to say a word to him," replied Frank. "I'd pay him back in his own coin. If he wouldn't let me snare birds, I wouldn't let him hunt foxes. Do you ever see that hound of his running about the woods?"

"Oh, yes, I often see him!"

"Well, the next time you put eyes on him just bushwhack him and send a charge of shot into him."

"I can do that, can't I?" exclaimed Leon, growing excited at once. "But what if Oscar should find it out?" he added, after he had taken a second thought.

"Very likely he will find it out. He will know that somebody has shot his hound when he finds him dead, won't he?"

"But I mean—suppose he should find out that I did it?"

"I don't see how he can do it. The hound, if he is following a trail, will probably be some distance in advance of his master, and all you've got to do is to knock him over and[Pg 20] dig out. It isn't at all probable that Oscar will ever find out who did the shooting; but if he does, you can tell him that you did it to square accounts with him for destroying your snares."

"I'd like to do it, but it would be sure to raise a storm in the village," said Leon, shaking his head in a very significant manner. "All the folks used to like that boy, and he's got a good many friends yet."

"Then show me the hound, and I'll shoot him!" said Frank impatiently. "I thought you had more pluck. I am not afraid of that fellow, or his friends either. Now, let's set these snares again, and go on and see if we can find some birds. But in the first place, explain one thing to me: What did you build that fence for?"

"To stop any rabbit or partridge who might come this way," answered Leon.

"I shouldn't think it would stop them. They could easily jump over it, for it isn't much more than a foot high."

"But they won't do it," said Leon. "Whenever they come to an obstruction of[Pg 21] this kind they never attempt to cross it—that is, they are not alarmed, but run along by the side of it to find some way to get through or around it. When they reach one of these openings they try to squeeze through it, and that is the time they get caught. Now I'll show you how the snares are set."

Leon placed his gun against the log on which he was sitting, and producing a piece of fine, strong twine from one of the pockets of his game-bag, he made a running noose in one end of it. The other he fastened securely to a small hickory sapling which grew near one of the openings in the fence. This done, he bent the sapling over and placed the noose in the opening, and confined it there with a short notched stick which he cut from a neighboring bush. Then, in order to show his cousin how the snare operated, he pushed the notched stick out of its place by giving it a gentle tap with his finger, whereupon the sapling straightened itself up with a jerk, and the running noose was fastened firmly about his wrist.

"Oh, I see!" exclaimed Frank. "When a[Pg 22] bird or rabbit tries to pass through one of these little gates, he knocks out the stick, and is pulled up by the neck before he knows what is the matter with him."

"That is just the way the thing works," replied Leon; "and the noose is drawn together so quickly, when the sapling flies back to its place, that nothing can get out of the way of it. Nine times in ten, when you find one of your snares sprung, you will find game in it."

"Give me some of that string and I'll help you set them," said Frank, leaning his rifle against the log beside his cousin's double-barrel. "I know how it is done now."

The boys had a good hour's work before them. The fence was nearly a hundred yards long; there were a good many openings in it, and the person who destroyed the snares, whoever he was, had made sure work of it. He had not only carried off all the strings and thrown away the notched sticks, but in some places he had broken down the saplings to which the strings were tied.

Leon had a good many hard things to say[Pg 23] about Oscar while he was engaged in repairing damages, and when he found how completely all his care and patient labor had been undone by the despised market-shooter, he grew angrier than ever.

"All the foxes he catches with that hound this winter he can carry in one of his vest pockets!" declared Leon, as he trimmed the branches off a sapling with his knife. "The very first time I get within range of him, I'll fill him so full of holes that he will answer for a window! I don't care if Oscar sees me when I do it, either."

At length the repairs were all completed, and the snares were set in readiness to snatch up anything in the way of small game that might chance to come within their reach.

The work had given Frank an appetite, and he proposed that they should go further back in the woods, shoot a couple of squirrels, if they could not find any birds, roast them over a fire, and eat them with their lunch.

His cousin readily falling in with the idea, they shouldered their guns, and before setting[Pg 24] out, turned to take a survey of their work and make sure that nothing had been left undone.

At that moment the bugle-like notes of a hound rang through the woods.

"There he is now!" exclaimed Leon, in great excitement. "Isn't it lucky? Keep perfectly quiet until we find out which way he is going."

"Are you sure that is the dog you want to see?" asked Frank.

"Of course I am! There's not another hound about the village. If he comes in sight of us, you will see that he is a large, tan-colored animal, with ears like an elephant's. Everybody says he is just splendid. He has brought his owner many a dollar to go toward paying off that mortgage, but I'll bet he'll not bring him many more if I get a fair chance at him!"

Again the deep-toned bay rang out on the frosty air, awakening a thousand echoes among the hills: and this time it sounded nearer than before. The hound had evidently struck a warm trail, and Leon told his cousin,[Pg 25] in a suppressed whisper, that the trail led directly toward them.

A few seconds, and even the inexperienced Frank became satisfied of this fact. The hound now gave tongue almost continuously; the melodious notes grew louder every moment, and presently a rustling in the bushes told the boys that he was close at hand, and coming nearer with every bound.

Leon cocked one barrel of his gun, planted his feet firmly upon the ground, and just then a hound, which answered to the description he had given to his cousin, except in one particular, emerged from the thicket. He ran along with his nose close to the ground, wagging his tail vigorously, and so intent was he upon his work that he did not immediately discover the boys.

When he did become aware of their presence, however, he merely lifted his head long enough to give one look at them, and then took up his trail again. He was not at all afraid of them. Bugle—that was the name of the hound—knew everybody in the village; and everybody knew him, and liked him, too.

[Pg 26]

"That is the last trail you will ever follow, my four-footed friend!" Leon exclaimed, as he raised his gun to his shoulder and waited for the animal to come out from behind a fallen log, which just at that moment concealed him from view.

"Mind what you are doing," Frank whispered, laying his hand upon his cousin's arm, "That isn't the dog you want."

"Yes, it is," was Leon's reply.

"Why, you said Oscar's hound was half starved, and this one is as plump as a quail," protested Frank.

"I guess I know what I am about!" answered Leon impatiently.

He shook off his cousin's hand, drew his gun closer to his face, and just then the hound came in sight around the end of the log.

Leon took a quick aim at his head and pulled the trigger. There was a commotion among the leaves, a howl of anguish, and when the smoke cleared away, the boys saw Bugle running at full speed through the woods, yelping loudly at every jump. He was out of sight in an instant.

[Pg 27]

"There!" exclaimed Leon. "Go and hunt up your master, and tell him to keep his hands off my snares in future."

"Let's dig out," said Frank hastily. "Oscar can't be far away, and you don't want him to find you here."

No, Leon had not the slightest desire to meet Bugle's master after what he had done. He had talked very glibly about teaching Oscar to mind his own business if he could only get within reach of him for a few minutes, but he knew very well that that was something he could not do.

Oscar was a young athlete, even if he was nothing but a market-shooter. Although he was a few months younger than Leon, he was a good deal larger and stronger, and it would have been no trouble at all for him to take Leon by the collar with one hand and Frank with the other, and give them both a hearty shaking.

Probably Leon was afraid he would do it if he caught them, for he lost no time in acting upon his cousin's suggestion to "dig out." He ran so swiftly that he very soon left Frank[Pg 28] behind, and the latter, who was quickly out of breath, begged him to hold up.

"What makes you take to this rough ground?" panted Frank, as he toiled up a high hill which his cousin had climbed in his rapid flight.

"Because the woods are thicker up here, and afford us better hiding-places," was Leon's answer.

"Well, there's no need that we should run ourselves to death," said Frank, as he seated himself on a huge bowlder and drew his handkerchief across his forehead, "and I'll not go another step."

"There's no need of it, for we are safe now. It is lucky there is no snow on the ground, for if there was, Oscar could follow us all day. We'll have a few minutes' rest, and then we'll see if we can shoot something for our dinner."

Leon took his seat upon another bowlder a short distance away, and during the ten minutes he remained there he never said a word to his cousin. The latter did not speak to him either. Frank had no breath to waste in[Pg 29] words, and Leon was busy with his own thoughts. He was by no means proud of the act he had just performed. He was a bad boy, but he was not wholly depraved, and his conscience smote him when he reflected that he had, in a moment of anger, deprived an industrious, hard-working youth of almost the only means he had of earning a livelihood and keeping a roof over the head of his widowed mother. He knew very well that the ambitious and high-spirited Oscar was not a market-shooter from choice. He followed the business for the same reason that a good many others follow a business they do not like—because he could find nothing else to do, and he was not the one to stand idly by and see his mother suffer for the want of the necessaries of life.

"Father says he deserves a good deal of credit, and that there isn't one boy in a thousand who would do as well as he has done," thought Leon; and then he grew angry again. "What do I care for what father says?" he added mentally. "He is always ready to praise other boys, while for me he has nothing but scowls and cross words. I am glad I[Pg 30] killed that old hound, and I am only sorry that Oscar hadn't got a dozen, so that I could shoot them all. He needn't think he owns all the birds in the country, simply because he makes a living by shooting them for market. Are you rested now, Frank? If you are, we'll go on."

The young hunters did not have far to look to find the dinner of which they were in search. The squirrels were busy gathering their winter's supply of nuts, and on almost the first hickory tree they saw, they found three plump little fellows, and bagged them all; two falling to Leon's double-barrel, and the other coming down with one of Frank's bullets through his head. As soon as they had secured their game Leon led the way to the bottom of the deep ravine, where they found a stream of water, beside which they built their fire. The squirrels were roasted on forked sticks over the flames; and when the bones had all been picked clean, and the last morsel of the lunch had disappeared, the truants stretched themselves at full length beside the fire, and listened to the howling of the wind[Pg 31] which shook the leafless branches of the trees on the summit of the hills above them, and watched the little flakes of snow that now and then found their way into the ravine.

The snow-storm, that all the weather-wise people in the village had been predicting for several days past, was now raging above their heads; but it did not reach them in their sheltered camp, for the thick screen of evergreens, which lined the foot of the high hills on both sides of the stream, effectually protected them from its fury.

"It is of no use to think of hunting as long as it snows and blows like this," said Leon; "so we may as well stay here."

"I was just thinking of something," said Frank. "Suppose we had found your snares all in order, and a partridge or rabbit in each one of them? What would we have done with the game? It wouldn't have been safe to take it home with us."

"Of course it wouldn't," answered Leon. "We should have exposed ourselves at once. What could we have done with it? I never thought of that before, but there's one thing[Pg 32] I have been thinking about all day: What are we going to say to father when we go home to-night?"

"We'll not say anything to him. We'll hide our guns in the barn, and walk into the house as we do every night when we come from school."

"I wish I needn't go home at all," said Leon spitefully. "I could have enjoyed myself to-day if I hadn't been continually haunted by the fear that something is going to happen. I declare, it is growing dark already. What time is it?"

"Three o'clock," replied Frank, consulting his watch.

"Is it as late as that?" cried Leon, jumping to his feet. "Where has the day gone? We mustn't stay here a minute longer. We have four miles to go, and if we are not at home within fifteen minutes after school is dismissed, we shall hear of it, I tell you!"

Leon noticed that Frank did not appear to be quite so indifferent to the consequences of playing truant as he did when they started out in the morning. He sprang to his feet[Pg 33] with all haste, and, after throwing his game-bag and powder-horn over his shoulder, assisted his cousin to put out the fire. When this had been done, the two boys clambered up the hill and struck out at a rapid walk for the village, where a great surprise awaited them.

[Pg 34]


"Preston, as soon as you get those goods tied up, Mr. Smith wants to see you in the office."

The speaker was Mr. Anderson, junior partner of the firm of Smith & Anderson, the leading grocery and dry goods merchants of Eaton, and the person addressed was one of the clerks, who was engaged in putting up some groceries that had just been ordered by a customer.

He was a sturdy, handsome boy of sixteen years of age, and until within a few days had been one of the most cheerful, light-hearted fellows about the store; but he had changed wonderfully of late, and the expression of melancholy his face always wore deepened as the junior partner leaned over the counter and whispered these words into his ear.

"Very good, sir," he replied. "It has[Pg 35] come at last," he added to himself, as the junior partner walked away. "I can't say I am surprised, for I have been expecting it. It is all up with me now. I don't care for myself, but what will become of mother?"

The clerk's hands trembled as he went on tying up the groceries; and when the last article the order-book called for had been weighed out, and all the bundles had been placed on one end of the counter and marked with the owner's name, so that the man who drove the delivery wagon would know where to take them, he called all his courage to his aid and walked into the office, the door of which was open.

As he entered, a gray-headed, hard-featured man, who was sitting on a high stool in front of the desk, turned and looked at him over his spectacles.

"Mr. Anderson says you want to see me, sir," said the clerk.

"Yes; I sent for you," replied the gray-headed man. "There is the money we owe you—fifteen dollars. We shall not need your services any longer."

[Pg 36]

"Am I discharged, sir?" asked the boy, as he took the bills that were handed him.

"Yes. Times are hard and trade dull, as you know, and we must begin to cut down our expenses. You are the youngest clerk in the store, and so you must go first."

"May I ask you for a letter of recommendation, to assist me in obtaining another situation?" asked the clerk.

"I am sorry you ask me for it, Oscar, for I can't consistently give it to you," replied Mr. Smith.

The boy seemed to be utterly confounded. His face grew pale and red by turns, and as soon as he could speak, he said, with more spirit than his employer had ever seen him exhibit before:

"Then you may as well acknowledge that your plan of cutting down expenses is merely a subterfuge. I know why I am dismissed, and I think you ought not to hold me responsible for my brother's rascality nor punish me for it. I regret it more than you possibly can, but I am in no way to blame for it."

[Pg 37]

"We'll not argue the matter," answered Mr. Smith, turning to his desk and picking up his pen. "All I have to say to you, is that we do not need you any longer."

"And all I have to say to you, sir, is good-day!" returned the clerk.

He took his cap from the rack behind the door, walked out of the store like one in a dream, and turned down the street. He went on by the hotel, crossed the long bridge that spanned the creek, and hurried along the road as if he were trying to leave behind him all recollection of the scene through which he had just passed.

"I can't go home yet," he kept saying to himself. "I haven't the heart to tell mother that I have lost my situation, for she has had so much trouble already that it is a wonder how she bears up under it as well as she does."

For two hours Oscar tore along the road as if he were walking a match against time, but, fast as he went, his gloomy thoughts kept pace with him. The wind came down keen and strong from the hills, stripping the[Pg 38] withered leaves in showers from the shade-trees on either side of the road, and causing the boy's hands and face to turn to a deep purple; but he never knew it. He was so completely wrapped up in his troubles that he did not see any of the teams that passed him, nor did he hear a single one of the invitations to ride that were shouted at him by the kind-hearted farmers.

He could think of nothing but Mr. Smith's refusal to assist him in obtaining another situation, and he was only brought to his senses at last by the measured strokes of the town clock, which came faintly to his ears, followed almost immediately by the shrill whistle of the lock-shop.

Then the boy stopped, and looked about him. He was standing on the summit of one of the highest hills, and the village of Eaton could be dimly seen in the distance.

"It's twelve o'clock," said he to himself. "I had no idea it was so late. Now I'll go home. I must go some time, and I might as well go now as an hour later. Besides, mother will be uneasy if I am not there in time for[Pg 39] dinner. Let's look this matter squarely in the face, and see what is to be done about it."

Oscar had just found out that he was completely chilled through. He buttoned his coat, pulled his collar up around his ears, thrust his hands deep into his pockets, and set out to retrace his steps to the village.

Oscar Preston could remember the day when he was as popular among the boys of his native town as his father, during his life-time, had been among them. Mr. Preston had been a contractor and builder, and was at one time thought to be well off in the world. He owned the house in which he lived, and had a small balance at the banker's; but one day he fell off the very church whose bell had just aroused Oscar from his reverie, receiving injuries which confined him to his bed for more than a year, and finally resulted in his death.

During his long illness his savings rapidly dwindled away, and at last he found it necessary to mortgage his home in order to obtain money to support his family and pay his heavy doctors' bills.

[Pg 40]

At the time this happened, Oscar was a student at the high school, and his older brother, Tom, was cashier and book-keeper in Smith & Anderson's store. His salary was small, but still he might have saved something to assist his father in his extremity if he had been so inclined. Tom, however, was wholly devoted to himself, and cared for nothing but his own pleasure.

He thought more of horses and good clothes than he did of anything else, and his money, as fast as he earned it, went into the pockets of the tailor and the proprietor of the livery stable.

Oscar was the only one who could be depended on, and he was prompt to do what he could. He left school, and, through the influence of friends, obtained a situation as clerk in the same store in which his brother was employed. He worked faithfully, and every dollar of the pittance he earned was placed in his mother's hands; he never spent a cent of it for himself.

Mr. Preston's death was a severe blow to Oscar's mother; but she had another hard[Pg 41] trial in store for her. In less than six months after he died Tom suddenly disappeared, taking with him three thousand dollars that did not belong to him. He had now been gone two weeks, and his employers had just completed the work of examining his accounts.

During these two weeks a great change had taken place in Oscar. He noticed that a good many of the village people, who had had a smile or a nod for him in happier days, never noticed him now. One or two of the clerks in the store would hardly speak to him, and at last his employers had discharged him because they were unwilling to allow any of their money to pass through his hands. This was the worst part of the whole miserable business.

Oscar had never told his mother how he was shunned by some of his former friends, for she had trouble enough of her own to bear; but this was something he could not keep from her.

"Mr. Smith has been down on me ever since Tom ran away," said Oscar to himself, after[Pg 42] he had thought the matter over. "I have seen it plainly enough; and, if I could only step into another situation somewhere, I should be glad to leave him. But when I ask a man for work, and he wants to know why I was discharged, what shall I say? That's what hurts me."

"Here you are, Oscar!" exclaimed a cheery voice, breaking in upon his meditations. "It is easier riding than walking. Jump in."

An elegant top-buggy, drawn by a stylish, high-stepping horse, dashed up beside the boy, and the gentleman who was driving drew his reins with one hand, while with the other he threw back the heavy lap-robe so that the boy could get in. It was Mr. Parker—Leon's father.

"I am obliged to you, but I believe I would rather walk," was Oscar's reply.

"But I am not going to let you walk," said the gentleman, almost sternly. "Jump in here."

Oscar was forced to smile in spite of himself; but it was a sickly smile, that did not fail to attract the lawyer's attention.

"Now, then," he continued, after the boy[Pg 43] had seated himself by his side and tucked the lap-robe about him, "what brought you so far into the country this cold day, without your overcoat? and what is the matter with you? You look as though you had lost your best friend."

"And so I have, Mr. Parker," replied Oscar sadly. "Mr. Smith gave me my walking-papers this morning."

"He did?" exclaimed the lawyer, opening his eyes. "What reason did he give?"

"He says he is going to reduce expenses because times are so hard," answered Oscar. "But I know that there is something back of that, for he wouldn't give me a letter of recommendation."

"He wouldn't?"

"No, sir; he wouldn't. I asked him for one, and he said he couldn't give it to me. He has looked crossways at me ever since Tom has been gone. He thinks that because my brother abused the confidence the firm placed in him, I may abuse it, too."

"Whew!" whistled the lawyer.

"My discharge could not have come at a[Pg 44] worse time," said Oscar. "I shall have to make a payment on that mortgage before long, and how am I going to do it now that I am thrown out of employment? If there were a dozen storekeepers in town who wanted a clerk, they would not hire me under the circumstances."

Mr. Parker fastened his eyes upon the little gilt ball on the top of one of the church-spires in the distance, and made no reply.

"I have been told more than once that old Simpson is a sharper, and that I had better look out for him," continued Oscar. "He is always ready to lend money on mortgages to people who, he thinks, will never be able to repay it, and as soon as it becomes due, he forecloses and sells them out of house and home. He owns a dozen farms about the village, and he has got them all in that way. When father died, he told two or three men in town that he would own our house some day. It is worth four thousand dollars, with the lot on which it stands, and the mortgage is only five hundred."

The lawyer kept his gaze directed toward[Pg 45] the distant spire, and said not a word until he drove into the village and reached the street in which Oscar lived. Then he drew up beside the curbstone, and as the boy was about to get out of the carriage, he laid his hand upon his shoulder and said impressively:

"Remember this, Oscar: Heaven always helps those who help themselves. Don't give up."

"Oh, I'll never give up!" was the quick reply. "There must be something in this town for me to do, and if there is, I'll find it before I sleep soundly. I hope you will believe me, Mr. Parker, when I assure you that I have not done one single thing since I have been in that store that I am unwilling my mother should know."

"I do believe you, Oscar," said the lawyer encouragingly. "I have all faith in you. Mr. Smith may find out one of these days that he has made a great mistake. Keep up a good heart, and you will come out all right in the end."

The accents of kindness touched the boy's heart. His eyes filled with tears, and, without[Pg 46] stopping to thank the lawyer for his words of cheer, he turned about and hurried toward home, while Mr. Parker reined his horse away from the curbstone and drove on down the street.

He stopped in front of Smith & Anderson's store, and made his way into the office, where he found the senior partner seated on his high stool, busy with his books. The two men exchanged greetings, made a few remarks concerning the weather, and then Mr. Parker told the grocer why he had come there.

"I understand that you paid Oscar Preston off this morning," said he. "Now, I am somewhat interested in that boy, for it was through my influence that he obtained a place in your store, and I'd like to know what is the matter with him. What is he guilty of?"

"We haven't been able to fasten any guilt upon him," answered Mr. Smith. "We only suspect him."

"Of what?" asked the visitor.

"Now see here, Mr. Parker," exclaimed the grocer, "suppose you had a clerk working for you for twenty dollars a month, out of which[Pg 47] he was obliged to support his mother and pay taxes on a property worth four or five thousand dollars, and that clerk should come to your office every day dressed in better clothes than you wear, and looking as though he had just come out of some lady's band-box, what would you think?"

"Oho!" cried the lawyer. "Because Oscar takes pains to keep himself as neat as a new pin, you suspect him of till-tapping, do you? I can set your fears on that score at rest. In the first place, his mother makes all his clothes, and the boy has no tailor's bills to pay. In the next place, I have known him to make more money in a single week, in a little work-shop he's got at home, than you paid him for a month's services. He is the most expert taxidermist I ever saw. I have a case of birds in my house now for which I paid him forty dollars."

"If he is making money as fast as that, why can't he keep his hands out of my drawer?" demanded the grocer.

"Do you mean to tell me that he has been stealing?" exclaimed Mr. Parker.

[Pg 48]

"I mean to tell you that somebody has been stealing!" was the reply.

"Perhaps it was Tom. A young man who will make false entries in his books would not be above taking money out of the drawer."

"No, it wasn't Tom. We have missed money since he went away."

"I don't see how you can look into Oscar's face and think him dishonest," said Mr. Parker, who was very much surprised. "I would suspect any of your clerks before I would suspect him."

"Well, I wouldn't. They have all been with me for a number of years, and I have never seen anything wrong with them. I watch my clerks pretty closely, too."

"Then I don't suppose it would be of any use for me to ask you to take Oscar back," said the lawyer, as he rose and drew on his gloves.

"It would be of no use whatever," was the prompt and decided reply. "I can't trust him, and I don't want him to touch any more of my money. I am certain that some of it has stuck to his fingers."

"That settles the matter. But mark my[Pg 49] words. You will one day discover that you have done that boy very great injustice. Good-day, sir!"

"If I do, I shall make him all the reparation in my power," said the grocer. "Good-day, Mr. Parker!"

The lawyer was disappointed, but he was not discouraged. He did not get into his carriage again immediately, but walked the whole length of the business portion of the street, entering several stores and calling upon some of his professional friends. He had a good word to say for the discharged clerk wherever he stopped, and the result was made apparent that very afternoon.

Meanwhile, Oscar, all unconscious of the efforts that were being put forth in his behalf, was making all haste to reach home. It was long past the dinner hour, and he knew that his mother would wonder at his absence.

She opened the door for him as he stepped upon the porch, and although he tried to smile and look as cheerful and happy as usual, she saw in a moment that there was something the matter with him.

[Pg 50]


"What is it, Oscar?" said Mrs. Preston, while an expression of anxiety settled on her pale face. "Oscar, what has happened?"

"Nothing much, mother," replied the boy. "I am discharged. That's all. Is dinner ready?"

"O Oscar!" exclaimed his mother.

"It's a fact. Mr. Smith wants to bring down his expenses, and, as I was the youngest clerk, of course I had to go."

He said nothing about the grocer's refusal to give him the letter of recommendation for which he had applied. That was his own trouble, and he would not burden his mother with it.

"Don't look so sober. We have funds enough in the bank to support us for a few months, and there are fifteen dollars more,"[Pg 51] he added, handing out the money he had received from Mr. Smith.

"But you know we were saving that to make the first payment on the mortgage," said Mrs. Preston anxiously.

"Yes, I know; and perhaps we will use it for that purpose yet. I shall start out as soon as I get something to eat, and hunt up a situation. Is dinner ready? I have brought home a good appetite."

And Oscar thought he had. But when he found himself seated at the table in the cosey little dining room, with a substantial and well-cooked dinner before him, he discovered that he did not want anything to eat.

He forced down a few mouthfuls, then put on his overcoat, kissed his mother good-by, and went out.

But where should he go? That was the question. There were but three grocery stores in town, and he knew that they were supplied with all the clerks they needed. If the truth must be told, he did not expect to obtain another situation.

But it would never do, he told himself, to[Pg 52] give up without making an effort; and, besides, he felt much better while he was stirring about in the open air than he would have felt if he had remained at home and mourned over his hard luck.

When he reached Main Street, he could not muster up courage enough to enter a single one of the stores at which he had determined to apply for work. Who would hire a boy that had been refused a letter of recommendation by his last employer?

While he was turning this question over in his mind, someone called out:

"Hallo, there! You're just the boy I want to see. Come in here."

Oscar turned, and found that he had been hailed by Mr. Jackson, the village druggist—a fat, jolly man, who seemed to carry an atmosphere of cheerfulness with him wherever he went.

He gave the boy's hand a tremendous grip and shake, after which he led him through the store into the office, pushed him into a chair, and seated himself in another.

"Well, Oscar," said he, "I haven't seen[Pg 53] you for a long time. How does the world use you?"

"The world uses me well enough," replied Oscar; "but some of the people in it might treat me a little better if they were so inclined."

"Yes; there are a good many people about us who seem to be of no earthly use here except to get themselves and others into trouble," said the druggist; "and when we meet any of them, the best thing we can do is to attend to our own business and pay no attention to them."

"But what shall a fellow do when he has no business of his own to attend to?" asked Oscar.

Mr. Jackson laughed so loudly and heartily that the boy was obliged to laugh, too.

"I know what you mean by that," said the former. "I heard this morning that Mr. Smith had discharged you, and if I were in your place, I should be glad of it. I guess he didn't pay you much."

"No, sir; but the little he did pay me was very acceptable. In fact, I don't see how I[Pg 54] can get on without it. I must find another situation to-day, if it is a possible thing."

"Well, you might as well give up the idea, for it isn't possible," answered the druggist. "I'll warrant that Smith has had half a dozen applications for your place already. Now, while you are waiting for something to turn up, why can't you do a little job of work for me? I want a case of birds, to put in my dining room—something like the one you sold Parker, only different, you know; that is, different birds and different groupings—if that's the way to express it."

Oscar straightened up in his chair at once. It was astonishing what a change these few words made in his feelings.

"I believe Parker paid you forty dollars for that case of his, didn't he?" continued the druggist. "Well, I'm willing to pay the same price for one equally as good. How long will it take you to put it up for me?"

"About a week. I have all the birds I need; they are a fine lot, too, if I do say it myself—but I must make the case, you know."

"All right! Go to work as soon as you[Pg 55] please. When it is finished, take it to my house—Mrs. Jackson will show you where to put it—and come here for your money. Remember, now, that I want nothing but game-birds. I don't care for snow-birds and canaries, like those you put in Parker's case."

"They were not canaries," said Oscar, who could hardly help smiling at the jolly man's ignorance of natural history. "They were gold finches—the little fellows you sometimes see picking the seeds out of thistles."

"Oh!" said Mr. Jackson. "Well, I don't want any of 'em. I want nothing but game-birds."

"I am sorry to say that I can't fill the order that way," replied Oscar. "The bottom of the case won't hold all the birds I intend to give you."

"You needn't put them all on the bottom. Stand them up in a tree, the way you did Parker's. The wood cock, snipe, and plover are small birds, and they could go up there as well as not."

It was now Oscar's turn to laugh.

[Pg 56]

"I can put a grouse in the tree," said he; "but who ever heard of a snipe or wood-cock in such a situation? Those birds are not perchers or climbers; they are waders, and live wholly on the ground."

"Oh! ah!" said Mr. Jackson, settling back in his chair with an air which said that Oscar had not made matters much clearer to him by his explanation. "But I'll tell you what's a fact," he added, straightening up again as a bright idea struck him—"I know I have seen quails in trees."

"So have I; but it was only when they were pursued by some animal, such as a dog or fox. If I should put any quails in your tree I'd have to account for their presence there by putting a fox on the bottom of the case, and he would take up too much room."

"Well, Oscar," said the druggist, after thinking a moment, "I guess you understand your business better than I do. Fix up the case to suit yourself, and I shall be satisfied."

Just then the front door opened, and a couple of ladies came in. Mr. Jackson hurried out to wait upon them, while Oscar, who[Pg 57] was in a great hurry to earn those forty dollars, buttoned his overcoat and left the store.

His face was fairly radiant with joy, and so completely was he wrapped up in his own thoughts that he did not see the gentleman who, after trying in vain to avoid a collision with him, finally seized him by the arm and held him fast.

"Why, Oscar, I thought it was you!" exclaimed the gentleman. "How do you do? By the way," he added, without giving the boy a chance to reply, "have you any more of those horned owls that you stuffed last winter?"

"No, sir; they are all sold," answered Oscar.

"What did you get apiece for them?"

"Three dollars."

"Well, now, I want one of them to put into a little niche at the head of my stairway," continued the gentleman. "If you will shoot one for me, and mount it, I'll give you three dollars for it."

"I am afraid I can't do it, Mr. Shaw.[Pg 58] They are very scarce; and those I shot last winter I found by accident."

"Then get up a little earlier in the morning and hunt a little later at night, and I'll give you five dollars. If you succeed, bring the bird around, and your money is ready."

"I'll do my best. Now I'll just tell you what's the truth," said Oscar to himself, as he pulled his collar up around his ears, and once more turned his face toward home. "I've got some friends yet. I can make the first payment on that mortgage, interest and all, and have a little money left to keep us in fuel and provisions until I can earn more. Two orders in one day! They came in just at the right time, too. I haven't had a chance to sell a bird before for six months."

Oscar did not know that the orders he had just received had been obtained for him that morning through the influence of Mr. Parker.

If he had known it, he would have lost no time in hunting up his benefactor and thanking him for the interest he took in his welfare.

But attributing his unexpected stroke of fortune to his good luck, which he believed[Pg 59] had not yet wholly deserted him, he walked homeward with a light heart; and the smile he carried into his mother's presence was instantly reflected from her own face.

"Yes, I have found work," said he, in reply to her inquiring look. "I've a chance to make as much money in a week as I could have made in the store in two months. Mr. Jackson wants a case of birds something like the one I sold Mr. Parker, and Mr. Shaw wants a horned owl. I am not certain that I shall be able to fill the last order, for an owl is a bird you can't find every day; but I shall do my best, for a five-dollar bill is worth trying for."

Oscar ran upstairs to his room, and when he came down again he was dressed for work.

Taking a bunch of keys from a nail in the kitchen, he hurried through the wood-shed and paused in front of the door leading into his workshop.

As he inserted one of the keys into the lock, a loud bay of welcome arose from the inside, and when he opened the door, Bugle, the finest fox-hound that had ever been seen about[Pg 60] Eaton, crawled out from his warm bed under the work-bench, and after lazily stretching himself, jumped up and placed his forepaws on his master's shoulders.

Bugle was a well-trained hunting-dog, and so fond was he of following his favorite game that his master was obliged to lock him up in the shop every morning.

The hound would stay about the house in perfect contentment so long as Oscar was there; but when the latter went to school or to the store, Bugle would soon grow lonely, and then he would hunt the town over to find someone with a gun on his shoulder.

If he succeeded in his object, he would stick close to that man's side, and if the man went to the woods, Bugle would go also, and run foxes for him with as much zeal and perseverance as he exhibited in working for his master.

If he could not find anyone who was going hunting, he would start out alone, and sometimes he would be gone two or three days.

He could not hunt foxes to any advantage by himself, for there was need for someone to[Pg 61] stand on the runways and shoot the game as it passed; but sometimes he succeeded in digging a hare out of a rotten log in which it had taken refuge, and he always brought the game home to show that his day's work had not been thrown away.

Oscar did not like this roving disposition on the part of his favorite, and, as two or three attempts had been made to steal the hound, he thought it best to keep him under lock and key.

Oscar's work-shop was a clean, well-lighted apartment, and in it the boy had spent many a stormy Saturday while he was a student at the high school; but since he had been employed in the store, he had done but little work there, for his time was fully occupied from seven in the morning until nine and sometimes ten o'clock at night.

He was glad to find himself there once more, for he felt as if he were among friends from whom he had long been separated.

The side of the room opposite the door was occupied by a carpenter's bench, on which were several specimens of Oscar's handiwork,[Pg 62] such as jointed bass-rods, models of yachts (both sloop- and schooner-rigged), and also a neat little centre-table, which needed only the staining and polishing to make it ready to take its place in his mother's sitting room.

At the lower end of the bench was a curtain, reaching from the ceiling to the floor. Oscar drew aside this curtain, revealing a little recess about ten feet square, two sides of which were fitted up with shelves. At the end opposite the curtain was a wide window, and under it was a table filled with little boxes, containing glass eyes and an assortment of tools such as taxidermists use. The shelves were filled with stuffed birds and animals.

The most prominent object in the collection was a magnificent gray eagle, which leaned forward on his perch, with his wings half raised, his neck stretched out, and his eyes fastened upon a plump mallard standing on one foot in the corner below him, with his bill buried under his wing, and his eyes closed as if he were fast asleep; and so life-like did the[Pg 63] eagle look that one almost expected to see him leap from his perch and bear the duck off in his talons.

There were hawks, blue-jays, crows, snow-buntings, grouse, quails, snipes, cedar-birds, and gold finches upon the shelves; in fact, almost all the varieties of the feathered creation which were to be found in the woods about Eaton were here represented. And they were all arranged with artistic taste, too.

Oscar had carefully studied the habits of every bird and animal he hunted, and in his collection there was not one that was awkwardly mounted, or that was placed in a position which the bird or animal would not have assumed during his life-time.

A red fox, on the lower shelf, was creeping along in a crouching attitude, evidently meditating an attack upon a wild goose, which stood a little distance away, engaged in arranging its plumage; a snowy owl watched with wide and solemn eyes a gray squirrel sitting upon its haunches and gnawing its way into a hickory-nut, which it held between its fore-paws; a butcher-bird was engaged in its usual [Pg 64]occupation of impaling an insect upon a thorn; a hawk was about to begin a meal upon an unfortunate quail it had just captured; a mink had its eyes fastened upon a hare which was sitting comfortably in its form; a ruffed grouse—the last object Oscar had mounted—was standing up as straight as an arrow, evidently watching the boy as he came in.

This is the position the grouse always assumes when it is sitting in a tree and sees a hunter approaching. It draws itself up so stiffly, and remains so motionless, that the sportsman often mistakes it for a part of the limb on which it is sitting, and passes on without trying a shot at it.

The birds were all mounted on temporary perches, made by nailing two short pieces of wood together in the form of the letter T, the standard being set into a block about three inches square, to enable them to retain an upright position.

They were fastened to the perch by the wires that came down through the legs and feet, and as the wires extended into the body and assisted to keep the birds in shape, the positions[Pg 65] of the specimens could be changed in an instant at the will of the taxidermist.

Oscar had killed and mounted every one of them himself, and took no little pride in showing them to his friends.

[Pg 66]


The young taxidermist walked over to the table and picked up the grouse. It was a perfect specimen of his work, and he held it off at arm's length and admired it.

"I'll put this in Mr. Jackson's case," said he, as he arranged some of the plumage with a pair of pliers. "Then I'll put in a pair of quails, two English snipes, two wood-cock, that young heron over there, and they will be as many as I can stand on the bottom of the case without crowding them too much. Then in the tree I'll put an imperial wood-pecker, and—hold on! I've got another gamebird that I can put in the tree."

The boy was so well pleased with the thought that had just passed through his mind that he laughed outright.

He put the grouse back upon the table, and took from one of the shelves a beautiful bird[Pg 67] which was mounted on a board, instead of a perch, because it was web-footed. He looked at it closely, and found that it was in as good order as when it first came out from under his hands.

"Yes, I'll put that in the tree, too," said he, with another laugh, "and we'll see what Mr. Jackson will say when he finds it there."

Oscar passed along the shelves, taking down one specimen after another, and when he had selected as many as he thought he could use he went into the shop, dropped the curtain to its place, and, after lighting a fire in the stove, took some well-seasoned boards from the corner where he had placed them for safe keeping, and went to work upon the case.

During the next few days, Oscar toiled early and late. Under his skilful hands, the case grew in size and shape, and when at last it was put together, Oscar thrust his hands into his pockets and stood off to make a critical examination of it.

The front was composed of double glass doors, hung on silver-plated hinges; the joints were tight and, taken altogether, it was a[Pg 68] piece of work with which any cabinet-maker would have been entirely satisfied.

But it was not yet completed. The inside was to be ornamented with a painting of a woodland scene, and the outside was to be stained in imitation of black walnut.

Having satisfied himself that his work could not be improved in any way, Oscar put on his coat, took a small hand-saw from the bench, and turning the key upon the sleeping Bugle, who lay behind the stove, dreaming of foxhunts past and to come, he bent his steps toward the nearest piece of woods.

When he came back again, an hour later, he carried over his shoulder a bundle of small branches which he had cut from hickory saplings. Of these he intended to make the tree that was to be put up in the case for the accommodation of some of the specimens.

He dropped into the post-office as he passed by, on his way home, not because he expected to find anything there, but for the reason that it had become a confirmed habit.

But there was a letter in his mother's box, and when the clerk handed it to him, he found[Pg 69] that it was addressed to himself. He opened it as he walked along, and the first thing he took out of the envelope was a business card, bearing these words:

Calkins & Son,
No. 126 Court St., Yarmouth.
Poultry, Fish, Game, and Furs sold on Commission.
Liberal advancements made on consignments.
A share of the public patronage solicited.

"Humph!" said Oscar, as he thrust the card carelessly into his pocket. "I don't see what they sent that to me for. I can shoot all the game I want, and more, too. And as for fish—if I can't supply any three families in town during the season, I'll give it up."

Oscar next took the letter out of the envelope, and began reading it in the same careless, indifferent way in which he had read the card; but, before he had gone far, he stopped, went back to the beginning, and read it over again with more interest.

The letter ran as follows:

Dear Sir: We intend, during the coming winter, to make a specialty of small game of all kinds, and we wish to engage a competent person in your neighborhood, where, as we understand, partridges, quails, and rabbits[Pg 70] are abundant, to shoot for our Yarmouth market. We will take all you can send us, and you need have no fear of overstocking us.

The accompanying price-current will show you how the market rules at the present date, and by examining it carefully, you will be able to make an estimate of your probable earnings, which ought to be something handsome.

You have been recommended to us by a gentleman living in your vicinity, and we hope you will find it to your interest to return a favorable reply at an early day, and begin work for us at once. We should like a shipment from you immediately. The partridges we are now selling come principally from Michigan, and the demand far exceeds the supply,

Yours, etc., 
Calkins & Son.

"Well, I declare," thought Oscar, after he had read the letter over twice, in order to fully master the business terms it contained, "here's another windfall! They don't want me to buy of them, as I thought they did, but they want a chance to buy of me. They shall have it I wonder what gentleman it was who was good enough to recommend me to them."

While Oscar was turning this question over in his mind, he glanced at the price-current which had been inclosed in the letter, and, after noting the prices paid for the various[Pg 71] kinds of game that were in demand in the Yarmouth market, he replaced it in the envelope, and began a little problem in mental arithmetic, with a view of ascertaining about how much his earnings would amount to each day, if he consented to shoot for Calkins & Son.

He based his calculation upon the amount of game he had bagged during some of his previous hunts, and in this way he obtained a tolerably fair idea of what his profits would be.

While he was thus engaged, he ran into the outstretched arms of his particular friend Sam Hynes, who had been home to dinner, and was hurrying back to school.

"Hallo, here!" exclaimed Sam. "You're just the fellow I want to see. What's that on your back?"

"Something of which to make a tree to put in a new case of birds I am setting up," answered Oscar, after he had returned his crony's cordial greeting.

"Say, Oscar," continued Sam, glancing up at the town clock to see how many minutes he could spend in conversation and still reach the[Pg 72] school-house before the last bell rang, "what are you going to do next Saturday?"

"I shall be quite at your service on that day," replied Oscar, who knew very well what the question meant. "Are they coming in yet?"

"By hundreds!" exclaimed Sam, with great enthusiasm. "I have been making inquiries of some farmers who live down the river, and they all tell the same story. Hang that string out of your window, and I'll have you up at half-past three. We must be on the water at the first peep of day, you know. Good-by!"

This was all that passed between the two friends, but they understood each other perfectly.

Almost every boy has his own way of enjoying himself, and Sam Hynes found all his recreation in wild-fowl shooting. He went fishing sometimes, because he liked to be on the river; but he could see no fun in jerking a string up and down in the water all day, and he preferred to lie back in the boat and watch the clouds as they floated over his head.

[Pg 73]

He could see no sport, either, in tramping about the woods, carrying a heavy gun on his shoulders; but when it came to shooting over decoys, Sam was wide awake and perfectly at home.

He was the best fellow in the world to go hunting with, too. If a sudden shower drenched him to the skin, and wet his powder so that his gun could not be discharged, if the birds flew wild, and he returned at night with no more game than he had when he started out in the morning, it was all the same to Sam. No one ever heard a word of complaint from him.

He knew how to roast a duck over the flames on a forked stick, and could get up so tempting a dinner from the contents of his lunch-basket that he was in great demand among the young Nimrods of the village, and could have accepted invitations for every Saturday in the year, if he had been so disposed. But he preferred to hunt with Oscar.

The latter owned some very fine decoys, which he had made and painted himself, and he knew how to use them, too. More than[Pg 74] that—he was a very lucky young sportsman, and those who went with him seldom returned empty-handed.

After taking leave of his friend, Oscar continued his walk toward home, and before he got there he had finished his problem in mental arithmetic, and arrived at the conclusion that he was in a fair way to extricate himself from his financial difficulties, and that if the good luck that had followed him ever since he was discharged from the store would only continue for one short year, he would be all out of debt, and have something in the bank to draw on in case of emergency.

When Oscar reached home he showed his mother the letter he had received, and after spending a few minutes in conversation with her on the subject of market-shooting and his chances for making money out of it, he went into his work-shop and resumed his work.

On Friday afternoon the case was completed, and it was only necessary to wait until the paint on the inside should become dry, so that he could put up the tree he had made and place the birds upon it.

[Pg 75]

"It will be dry to-morrow night," thought Oscar, as he stood with his brush in his hand, surveying the woodland scene which ornamented the interior of the case, "and on Monday morning I will take it over and see what Mr. Jackson has to say about it. Well, boys, I am glad to see you."

Just then the door was thrown open and Sam Hynes came rushing in—he was always in a hurry—followed by Miles Jackson, the nephew of the gentleman for whom the case of birds was intended.

Sam had dropped in to make sure that the arrangements for the duck hunt on the morrow were fully understood, and Miles had come with him to see how Oscar was progressing.

They did not immediately reply to Oscar's words of greeting, for they were too much interested in what they saw before them.

They looked at the case on all sides, admired the picture Oscar had just finished, and then they turned their attention to the tree, which they examined closely.

"You have got a good fit on these joints," said Sam, who was himself very handy with[Pg 76] tools. "If you stand a little way from it you would take it for a natural tree. It is almost as good a job as I could have done myself. What made you drill all these little holes in the branches?"

"The wires which support the birds go through those holes and turn up on the other side, so that they can't be seen," answered Oscar.

"Oh, yes; I understand. Now, when do you think—— What in the world sent that miserable fellow prowling around here, I wonder?" said Sam, in an undertone, looking at his friend Miles and scowling fiercely.

This exclamation was called forth by the opening of the door and the entrance of a boy for whom Sam had of late conceived a violent dislike. His name was Stuart, and he was one of the clerks in Smith & Anderson's store.

The reason Sam disliked him was because he had heard from several sources that Stuart had treated Oscar very rudely ever since Tom ran away with his employers' money.

He would not speak to Oscar at all, or even look toward him if he could help it; but he[Pg 77] had a great deal to say in his presence concerning thieves and defaulting book-keepers and cashiers.

"Stuart had better not talk that way in my hearing," declared Sam, one day, when a lot of school-boys were talking about Oscar and his troubles; and as he said it he doubled up a pair of fists that were pretty large and heavy for a boy of sixteen. "Oscar is my friend, and any fellow who says a word against him can just scratch my name off his good books. Mark my words: If there was a dishonest clerk in that store, he's there yet; and if money was missed from the drawer while Oscar was employed there, it will be missed now that he is gone. Oscar Preston never had a dishonest penny in his hands."

If Sam had owned the shop he would have ordered Stuart out of it on the instant; but as he had no right to do that, he simply returned the clerk's bow, scowled savagely at his friend Miles, and felt like giving Oscar a punch in the ribs because he greeted Stuart so cordially.

The new-comer seemed surprised to find so many boys in the shop, and for a minute or[Pg 78] two he did not speak. He stood with his hand on the latch, evidently undecided whether to go out or come in. Finally he made up his mind that he would come in.

"I was out delivering goods," said he, as he closed the door behind him, "and I thought I would run in for just a moment and see what a taxidermist's shop looks like. I have a curiosity to see a bird before it is put up ready for sale."

"All right," said Oscar, laying down his paint-brush. "I think I can show you some fine specimens. Come in here."

As he spoke he drew aside the curtain and conducted his visitor into the recess, while Sam showed what he thought of such a proceeding by picking up a block of wood and hitting the work-bench a savage blow with it.

[Pg 79]


"Oscar is too good for any use," said Sam, turning to Miles and speaking in a low whisper. "If Stuart had talked about me as I know he has talked about him, I'd never make up with him in that fashion—never! Let's go home!"

"Oh, no!" whispered Miles in reply. "I haven't seen any birds yet, and neither have you said a word to Oscar about that duck hunt."

Sam pulled out his knife and hunted around on the bench until he found a pine stick, which he proceeded to cut up into the smallest possible pieces; while Miles, after listening to some explanations that Oscar was making for the benefit of the clerk, went into the recess.

Sam was standing with his back to the three[Pg 80] boys, but he could distinctly see every move they made.

On the wall, opposite the curtain, hung a broken mirror, which had once held an honored place in Mrs. Preston's parlor.

Sam glanced into this mirror now and then, while he was engaged in cutting up his stick, and saw that Stuart was paying very little attention to what Oscar was saying to him.

He appeared to be very uneasy, for he was constantly stepping about, and most of the time he kept his eyes fastened intently on Sam.

When Miles came in and began questioning Oscar about the specimen he was holding in his hands, Stuart walked to the other side of the recess, ran his eye over the stuffed occupants of the shelves, and then he came out into the shop and examined the tree on which Mr. Jackson's birds were to be mounted. After that he looked at Sam again.

The latter was standing a little to one side of the mirror, with his hat drawn down over his forehead, and seemed to see nothing but the stick he was whittling.

[Pg 81]

In the work-bench, directly under the tree, was an open drawer in which Oscar kept his paints, brushes, and various odds and ends.

Stuart moved up close beside this drawer, looked first at Sam, then at Miles and Oscar, who were still talking earnestly in the recess, and as quick as thought pulled something out of his coat pocket, raised a sheet of sand-paper that lay on the bottom of the drawer, and placed the object, whatever it was, under it.

This done, he backed up against the drawer, and pushed it to its place. He leaned on the bench for a few seconds, looking toward Oscar, as if he were listening to what he was saying, and then suddenly straightened up.

"I must be going," said he, starting toward the door. "I hope I haven't put you to any trouble, Oscar."

"None whatever," replied the latter.

And Sam noticed, with no little satisfaction, that he did not ask the clerk to call again.

When Stuart closed the door behind him, Sam shut up his knife and slammed his stick down in the corner. The noise attracted the[Pg 82] attention of Miles, who looked over his shoulder, and was surprised to see Sam holding one forefinger upon his lips, and beckoning eagerly to him with the other.

Miles came out into the shop with an inquiring look on his face, while Oscar lingered in the recess to arrange the plumage of one of the specimens which had become rumpled while he was handling it.

Sam walked over to the drawer of the work-bench and opened it, standing with his back toward Oscar.

"I know now what that rascal came here for," said he, in a scarcely audible whisper, "and I want you for a witness."

"What's that?" asked Miles, in his ordinary tone of voice, as his companion raised a sheet of sand-paper, and brought to light the article Stuart had placed there a few minutes before.

"Say not a word," cautioned Sam, "but come with me and I'll tell you all about it."

"Don't you fellows know that it is very rude to whisper in the presence of a third party?" said Oscar gravely. "I am [Pg 83]surprised at you. You did it while Stuart was in here, and I should like to know what you mean by it."

"We didn't want either of you to know what we were talking about," answered Sam. "I wouldn't have treated him as well as you did, and I don't think you would have been quite so cordial if you knew as much as we know," he added, with a significant glance at Miles.

"Oh, that's the trouble, is it? Never mind. We were not put here in this world to quarrel with everybody who doesn't like us. If we did that, we'd have time for little else. You are not going?" said Oscar, as Sam started for the door, with Miles close at his heels.

"Yes, we are. We have some business that must be attended to at once. I'll see you again before I go home."

Sam banged the door as he ceased speaking, and walked through the yard so rapidly that Miles could hardly keep pace with him.

When he had closed the gate behind him, he turned down the sidewalk and hurried on faster than ever.

[Pg 84]

"Hold up here," protested Miles. "You said you would tell me all about it, and how are we going to talk if you go ahead with railroad speed? What was it you took out of that drawer, and what business had you to touch it? I thought it was a pocket-book."

Sam stopped abruptly, and drew the article in question from the inside pocket of his coat.

It was a pocket-book, and quite a large one, too. It was made to carry bills at full length.

It was filled with papers, but Sam did not know whether or not there was any money in it, for he had not opened it, and he did not intend to do so.

He placed his finger under the silver clasp with which it was fastened, and held it up so that his friend could see it.

"What name is that?" he asked.

"Erastus Smith," replied Miles.

"Exactly. You saw me take this pocket-book out of that drawer, didn't you?"

"Of course I did."

"Well, I know who put it there, for I saw him do it."

Sam brought the pocket-book down into[Pg 85] his open palm with a sounding whack, and looked at his companion as if he thought he had made everything perfectly clear to him; but Miles only seemed bewildered.

"I should think you might see through the matter after I have explained it to you," said Sam, with some impatience.

"But you haven't explained it," answered Miles.

"That's so," admitted Sam, after reflecting a moment. "I'll do it now, while we walk along slowly. Stuart put this pocket-book in the drawer—for, as I told you, I saw him do it. He came into the shop for that very purpose. He is the fellow who has been stealing Mr. Smith's money, but he is trying his level best to fasten the guilt upon Oscar."

"Oh, I begin to understand the matter!" said Miles, his face flushing with indignation.

"Now the credit for the discovery I have made does not belong to me," continued Sam, who was as truthful and honest as he was blunt and fearless. "I never should have thought of it if it hadn't been for something Mr. Parker said to me. He told me the other[Pg 86] day that if there had been any stealing going on in that store since Tom Preston left, Stuart was the guilty one; and the reason Mr. Parker suspected him was because he has had so much to say against Oscar. He has told everybody in town who would listen to him that Oscar was discharged for till-tapping; and there were a good many who would listen to him, for there are people everywhere, you know, who take unbounded delight in hearing others slandered. I had two reasons for watching every move Stuart made while he was in the shop. I thought it would be a good plan to keep an eye on him, and I was impatient to see him start for the door. I didn't want him there."

"It was a wonder he didn't see that you were watching him," observed Miles.

"Do you remember that broken looking-glass that hangs on the north wall of the shop?" asked Sam. "I looked in there and saw everything he did."

Miles was astonished at his companion's shrewdness, and could only look the admiration he felt for him.

[Pg 87]

"But what made you rush out of the shop in such a hurry?" he inquired at length. "Why didn't you tell Oscar all about it, and relieve his mind at once?"

"Oh, it will not hurt him to wait a day or two longer," rejoined Sam; "and his vindication will be all the more welcome when it comes, as I am determined it shall come, through the man who has injured him. Mr. Smith has done Oscar a great deal of harm, and he must lose no time in undoing it. Now, then, here we are."

Sam stepped upon the threshold of Smith & Anderson's store, seized the latch with a determined grip, as if he were trying to break it in two, threw open the door and walked in.

The first person he met was Stuart, who started back in surprise at the sight of him. He was greatly alarmed—Sam could see that plainly—and he tried to conceal it by stepping briskly behind the counter and drawing the order book toward him.

"What can I do for you, boys?" he asked, as he held his pencil poised over the book.

"Nothing," growled Sam, who could not[Pg 88] possibly have spoken civilly to one whom he had caught in the act of trying to ruin his friend.

He kept on his way toward the office, and Stuart, as if divining his intention, said hurriedly, and in a low tone of voice:

"There's no one in there, Sam. Mr. Anderson has gone to the depot to see about some freight, and Mr. Smith has just stepped out. In fact, he has gone home, and won't be back to-night. Any word to leave for either of them?"

Sam shook his head and walked right on.

"That's a little too transparent," said he to Miles, who kept close at his side. "What did he want to whisper for? and why did he turn so red in the face? I'll warrant Mr. Anderson isn't near the depot, and that we shall find Mr. Smith perched on his high stool. He's always there since Tom went away."

At that moment, as if to confirm his words, the back door opened and Mr. Anderson came in. He was bareheaded, and had no overcoat on. Moreover, he carried a number of packages in his arms, and that was all the proof the[Pg 89] boys needed to convince them that he had been busy in the warehouse.

When they entered the office, they found the senior partner right where Sam said they would find him—on his high stool.

He laid down his pen and looked at the boys over his spectacles, just as he had looked at Oscar on the day he discharged him.

"Mr. Smith," said Sam, "may we have a few minutes' private conversation with you?"

"I suppose so," was the reply. "Is it very private?"

"Well, we would rather you alone should hear what we have to say. If you choose to repeat it, that is your own affair."

As Sam spoke, he closed the door behind him, and turned the key in the lock.

"Bless my soul!" exclaimed the grocer; "what's the matter?"

"Mr. Smith," said Sam, without replying to the question, "have you lost any money lately?"

"Not a cent since Oscar went away," was the prompt reply.

"Now, let me tell you what's a fact!" [Pg 90]exclaimed Sam. "We didn't come here to listen to any hard words against Oscar Preston, and if you are going to use them we'll not stay. We'll tell you that much to begin with. We will tell you, further, that you have made no friends by the slanderous reports you have circulated regarding that boy."

"I have circulated no slanderous reports about him," replied the grocer, who could scarcely believe his ears. "I said that I didn't think he was honest, and I say so yet."

"Yes; the story is all over town that you discharged Oscar because you thought he had taken money out of your drawer; but all the best people here know that he never did it. You say you have lost nothing lately. Do you happen to own a pocket-book about so long and so wide?" said Sam, placing his hands upon the desk, and indicating by them the length and breadth of the article he was describing.

Mr. Smith started as if he had been shot, and got off his high stool with such haste that he would have gone headlong to the floor if[Pg 91] Miles had not caught him and placed him fairly on his feet again.

He opened the door of a large safe that stood in one corner of the office, and, unlocking a little drawer on the inside, pulled it out and looked into it.

"Great Moses!" he ejaculated; "it is gone!"

"I thought so," said Sam. "Was there anything of value in it?"

"Was there?" shouted Mr. Smith, trembling all over with excitement. "There was a hundred and fifty dollars in money in it, and negotiable paper to the amount of eight hundred dollars more. Have you seen it, Sam? Have you got it? Hand it out here!"

"Now don't try to rush matters," said Sam, whose cool, deliberate way of talking and acting so exasperated the excited grocer that he could hardly refrain from laying violent hands upon him and searching his pockets. "This thing must be done decently and in order, or it can't be done at all. I certainly have a pocket-book in my possession, but I want to be sure that it belongs to you before[Pg 92] I hand it over to you. Here, Miles, look at it while Mr. Smith describes it."

"That's it! that's it!" cried the grocer, catching a momentary glimpse of the pocket-book as Sam handed it to his companion. "I would know it among a thousand. It's mine! Give it to me!"

He made an effort to snatch it, but Sam was too quick for him. He succeeded in placing it in Miles's hands, and the latter held fast to it.

"Sam!" cried the angry and astonished grocer, picking up a heavy ruler and banging it down upon his desk, "do you think I would tell you a falsehood? Do you take me for a thief?"

"All I have to say about that is, if we want people to put implicit faith in us, we must be careful how we accuse others of wrong," answered Sam boldly. "Now, what sort of a pocket-book is it?"

Miles had moved up close to the window, and stood with his back toward the grocer, holding the pocket-book in his hand, and waiting for him to describe it. He thought[Pg 93] he was well acquainted with Sam Hynes, but he told himself now that he had never before known what sort of a fellow he was. He was astonished at Sam's impudence.

Mr. Smith was one of the oldest business men in Eaton; and although he was so close in his dealings, and thought so much of a dollar that he had never gained the respect or good-will of the majority of the people, he had never been suspected of dishonesty or untruthfulness.

And Sam did not by any means suspect him now. He simply wished to show Mr. Smith that he had been handling a two-edged sword that was liable to cut both ways.

[Pg 94]


"What sort of a pocket-book is it?" repeated Sam.

"Look for my name on the clasp," said Mr. Smith, who was so nervous and impatient that he could not stand still.

"I see it," said Miles.

"Then it is my property, and you might as well hand it out here at once," said the grocer. "I want to know how much I have lost, without any more trifling."

"There's no trifling about this," replied Sam. "There is more than one Erastus Smith in the world who is able to own a pocket-book like that. Go on."

"Open it, and look for a hundred dollars in paper money and fifty dollars in gold," said Mr. Smith, with an air of resignation.

"I find no such sum here," answered Miles,[Pg 95] after he had looked through the pocket-book. "All I see is a single five-dollar note."

Mr. Smith groaned.

"Almost thirty-two hundred dollars in clean cash gone out of the firm in less than eight months," said he, with a long-drawn sigh. "That cuts down the profits fearfully—fearfully!"

"I find here some bills receivable."

"Good!" exclaimed the grocer. "I am glad the thief left them. There ought to be between eight and nine hundred dollars' worth of them."

Mr. Smith then went on to give a description of the bills, which were endorsed and filed in nearly the same order in which he referred to them.

So retentive was his memory that he could recall the dates of a good many of them, give their exact wording, and tell the color of the paper and ink that were used in writing them.

After he had gone through half a dozen of the bills in this way, Miles turned and looked at Sam.

"Are you satisfied?" asked the latter.

[Pg 96]

"I am," replied Miles.

"Then hand it over."

Mr. Smith snatched the pocket-book as it was extended toward him, and climbed to his place upon the high stool.

"Where did you get this?" said he.

"In a drawer in Oscar Preston's work-bench," replied Sam.

"Ah!" said the grocer, in a very significant tone of voice. "Now, the next question is: How did it come there?"

The answer almost took Mr. Smith's breath away.

"Your favorite clerk, Will Stuart, put it there, for I saw him do it," said Sam.

And then he went on to describe, in as few words as possible, what Stuart had done while he was in Oscar's shop, and explained the object he had in view in taking the pocket-book out of the drawer without Oscar's knowledge.

Mr. Smith pushed his spectacles over his forehead and listened intently to all the boy had to say, and, when Sam ceased speaking, he brought his hand down upon his desk with a ringing slap.

[Pg 97]

"I wondered why Stuart was so eager to drive the delivery-wagon this afternoon, and this explains it," said he. "I see it all now. Stuart knew that I do not often have occasion to open that little drawer in the safe, and he probably took the book a day or two ago—I know it was there last Saturday, for I saw it—thinking that, if he placed it in Oscar's bench, where it would certainly have been found if we had taken out a search-warrant, we would believe that he stole it before he was discharged. You have no objection to facing Stuart, I suppose?"

"None whatever," Sam promptly replied; "that is just what we came here for."

Mr. Smith climbed down from his high stool, unlocked and opened the door, and looked out into the store. The only person he saw there was the junior partner.

"Send Stuart here, will you?" said he.

"Stuart has gone home," was the reply. "He had a sudden attack of sick headache."

"Oh, he did, did he?" exclaimed Sam. "It must have been very sudden, for he was well enough ten minutes ago."

[Pg 98]

Mr. Anderson came into the office in obedience to a sign from his partner, and was speedily made acquainted with the object of the boys' visit.

He was almost overwhelmed with astonishment, and declared that he never would have believed it of Stuart.

"Now, Mr. Smith," said Sam, when there was a little pause in the conversation, "we will leave this matter in your hands. I am ready to be a witness at any time, if you decide to prosecute; but I shall not spread any damaging reports about Stuart, and neither will Miles. We don't believe in hitting a person when he's down. We have one favor to ask of you, and that is that you will make Oscar all the amends in your power for the great injustice you have done him."

"I know what my duty is under the circumstances, young gentlemen," said Mr. Smith shortly.

He had got his pocket-book back, and eight hundred dollars' worth of bills, and he felt a little more independent.

The boys picked up their caps and left the[Pg 99] store, while Mr. Smith mounted his high stool and mopped his face vigorously with his handkerchief. The exciting scene through which he had just passed had brought the perspiration out on his forehead in big drops.

"I had no idea that Sam Hynes was such a bad boy," said he to his partner. "He wouldn't give up that pocket-book until I proved its contents; and I have done business right here in this town for almost half a century. He had the impudence to tell me, in effect, that if I didn't want to be suspected of dishonesty myself I must not be in such haste to suspect others. I declare, he's a wonderful bad boy—wonderful!"

Meanwhile, Sam was walking down the street, with his hands in his pockets, whistling merrily, and taking such strides that Miles, after trying in vain to keep up, seized him by the arm and held him back.

"Sam," said he, "how dare you talk that way to a grown man? If I had been Mr. Smith, I would have boxed your ears for you."

Sam looked up at the clouds and laughed heartily.

[Pg 100]

"You might have got your hands full," said he.

"What will your father say when he hears of it?" continued Miles.

"He'll hear of it as soon as he comes home to-night," replied Sam. "I make it a point never to do a thing that I am afraid or ashamed to have him know, and I shall tell him of it myself. He'll give me a good going over for not being more respectful to gray hairs; but I deserve it, and I'll never do the like again—never," added Sam, who wished now, when it was too late, that he had remembered that Mr. Smith was the grandfather of two of the members of the ball club to which he belonged. "I knew well enough that he wouldn't lay claim to any but his own property, but he thought I was suspicious of him, and it cut him, didn't it? Perhaps he'll know now how Oscar felt to be unjustly accused. Going to turn off here? Well, good-by! I promised to see Oscar again, you know. I'll drop around to-morrow night and leave a brace of ducks for your Sunday dinner. Now, Miles——"

Sam finished the sentence by shaking his[Pg 101] finger at his friend and then placing it upon his closed lips.

"I understand, and I'll bear it in mind, too," was the reply.

"Good-by, and good luck to you!"

When Sam entered the shop where Oscar was still at work, the latter had a good many questions to ask regarding his abrupt departure a few minutes before; but Sam, being all ready for him, gave his inquiries prompt replies, which, although they satisfied Oscar's curiosity, did not let him into the secret of the matter.

The young taxidermist thought his friend appeared to be very jubilant, and well he might, for he had done something to be proud of.

Suppose a constable had come up there with a search-warrant and found Mr. Smith's property in the place where Stuart had left it! Oscar would have been in trouble indeed. The latter did not know what a narrow escape he had had that day, and it was no part of his companion's plan to enlighten him.

Sam never talked about his exploits. He[Pg 102] sat on the bench with his hands under his legs, school-boy fashion, pounded with the heels of his boots against the drawer in which the pocket-book had been concealed, and talked incessantly about the duck-hunt that was to come off the next day. When all their plans had been discussed, Sam said good-night and left the shop.

As soon as Oscar had eaten his supper he went up to his room, and when he came down again he carried a game-bag, powder-flask, and shot-pouch in one hand, and a double-barrel gun in the other.

Oscar's gun was not just the weapon that one would expect to see after listening to the description of it which Leon Parker had given his cousin. It was a good deal larger and heavier than the little bird-gun which held so prominent a place in Leon's estimation, but it was not a "blunderbuss," and there were several boys, and men, too, in the village, who would have been glad to purchase it at any figures the owner might have put upon it.

But it had once belonged to his father, and Oscar would not have parted with it for any[Pg 103] consideration. It was known all over the country as a "brag shooting-gun," and among all the young hunters in the neighborhood there were but few who could show as many birds at the end of a day's hunt as Oscar could.

Its weight was no detriment to him, for his strong muscles enabled him to handle it very easily and quickly, and he seldom missed a double shot when the opportunity to make it was presented to him.

Having received a thorough rubbing, inside and out, the weapon was set away in one corner with a couple of corks in the muzzles and an oiled rag over the tubes to keep out the dust; and two hours later Oscar was snug in bed, wrapped in a dreamless slumber.

One of his windows was raised about three inches, and through this opening ran a stout cord, one end of which was tied to a chair standing at the head of Oscar's bed; the other reached down to the ground and was securely fastened to a rose-bush.

Shortly after four o'clock in the morning, Bugle, who always slept on the front porch[Pg 104] when the weather was warm enough to permit it, challenged someone who came into the yard, and soon thereafter the cord began to saw up and down over the window-sill.

The chair moved, but Oscar slept on all unconscious of it. The person below waited and listened a few seconds and then renewed his pulls at the string, putting considerably more strength and energy into them.

This time the chair was upset with a loud crash, and Oscar jumped up and hurried to the window. It was too dark to see anybody, but he knew who was there.

"We'll have to make haste, for I overslept myself," said Sam Hynes's well-known voice. "Did I do any damage up there? I heard something come down pretty hard."

"Oh, no!" was the reassuring answer. "Have you had any breakfast?"

"Of course not. I intend to get it here."

"All right. I'll be down in five minutes."

Oscar dressed himself with all haste, and when he went downstairs he found Sam waiting for him at the back door.

Bugle entered when Sam did—he always[Pg 105] kept as close to a gun as he could—and frisked about in high glee, thrashing the boys with his heavy tail and continually getting in their way.

"Splendid morning," said Sam, as he leaned his gun up in one corner. "Warm and foggy; more like spring than fall. The ducks always fly low during a fog. What can I do to help you?"

"Nothing at all. Just sit down and make yourself comfortable. The fire is laid, and it will take but a few minutes to make a cup of coffee. You think it is going to be a good day, do you? Then I ought to make some money before night. Calkins & Son of Yarmouth have written me a letter offering to take all the game I can send them."

"You don't say so!" exclaimed Sam. "I am glad to hear it."

He did not tell Oscar that he knew all about it, but such was the fact. He knew that Mr. Parker had been down to the city to attend to some legal business for that very firm; and it was when he was looking about their store and listening while Mr. Calkins expressed his [Pg 106]regrets that he could not secure game enough to supply the demand, which was unusually great just then, that the lawyer happened to think of Oscar, whom he recommended as the best person Mr. Calkins could engage to shoot for him.

The latter, seeing that his visitor was interested in the boy, said he would try to secure his services, and if he succeeded, he would pay him for his game as soon as it was received, and not wait to sell it on commission.

Mr. Parker gave the merchant Oscar's address, and that was the way our hero came to be a market-shooter.

Sam, we repeat, knew all about it; but he listened while Oscar talked of the offer he had received, and acted as though everything he heard was news to him.

The fire was soon cracking away merrily, and, while waiting for the kettle to boil, Oscar busied himself in setting the table.

Bugle, finding that he was entirely neglected, called attention to himself by uttering a deafening bay.

"Silence!" exclaimed Oscar. "That will[Pg 107] never do. He will disturb mother. We must shut him up. Bugle is no good for ducks."

"I'll fix him," said Sam.

"Take your gun with you," suggested Oscar, as Sam took the key of the shop down from its nail. "You'll never get him in there if you don't."

Bugle was quite ready to accompany Sam when he saw the boy pick up his double-barrel; that is, he was ready to accompany him to the woods, but he would not follow him to the shop.

He ran out of the wood-shed, and, thrusting his head in at the door, looked at Sam, but he could not be induced to go near him.

Oscar could hear his friend coaxing and scolding, and finally a suppressed whine from Bugle told him that Sam had been obliged to collar the animal and drag him into his prison.

A hearty breakfast having been disposed of, a lunch was stowed away in Oscar's game-bag, and the boys were ready for the start.

In the wood-shed they found a light wheelbarrow, which contained the decoys they were[Pg 108] to use during the hunt and also the sail and oars belonging to Oscar's boat.

Sam took his friend's gun under his arm, Oscar set the wheelbarrow in motion, and, with Bugle's farewell ringing in their ears, they set out for the river at a rapid walk.

Bugle recognizes his enemies

Bugle recognizes his enemies.

[Pg 109]


The young hunters found Oscar's skiff where the owner had left it, drawn high and dry upon the bank, and fastened with a lock and chain to a tree that stood a short distance below Mr. Peck's boat-house.

Mr. Peck, who made a business of fishing and renting sail- and row-boats for the accommodation of the village pleasure-seekers, was standing on his wharf when the boys came up.

"Going ducking?" said he. "Well, I'll tell you what I wish you would do for me," he added, upon receiving an affirmative reply. "I let one of my boats yesterday afternoon to a stranger to go down to Cottonwood. He was to have been back before dark, but I aint seen no signs of him yet. Didn't look to me like a man who would be likely to run off[Pg 110] with a boat, because he wore a gold watch and gold spectacles and that showed that he was able to buy a boat if he'd wanted one."

"How long has this fog been on?" asked Oscar.

"Ever since midnight."

"Then perhaps he became bewildered and tied up somewhere to wait for the fog to lift," continued Oscar. "If he is a stranger, of course he doesn't know the river."

"I don't see how in the world he could get bewildered," observed Sam. "If he had rowed over to this bank, and come straight up stream, he would have found the village without any trouble. He certainly knew enough for that."

"Well, I aint so certain of it, neither, Sam," said Mr. Peck. "'Pears to me, now that I think of it, that he didn't know much of anything. I give him my best boat, too, for he looked as though he was able to pay for it. I wish you'd kinder keep an eye out for him, and set him right if he has missed his reckoning."

"We'll do it, Mr. Peck," said Sam.

[Pg 111]

Oscar unlocked his boat, turned it right-side up with his companion's assistance, and pushed it into the water.

Here again Leon's description was at fault. Oscar's craft was not a "leaky old scow"; it was a light, easy-running skiff. As he had built it himself, of course it was not as finely modelled as some of Mr. Peck's costly boats, but it answered the purpose for which it was intended.

Leon had seen it come up to Mr. Peck's wharf almost filled with wild ducks. It had more than once beaten his nice little boat in a fair race up the river from Squaw Island.

It was named after Sam's sister Katie, the prettiest girl in the village, who seemed to prefer Oscar's company to Leon's; and perhaps these were the reasons why the latter could not speak well of it.

The skiff having been launched, the sail was put into it.

The game-bags were stowed away in a little locker in the bow, the guns were carefully loaded and put in their proper places—one in the stern and the other on the midship thwart—and [Pg 112]then Sam shipped the rudder, while Oscar got out the oars and rowed away into the fog.

In five minutes Mr. Peck's wharf and boat-house were out of sight, and the boys found themselves enveloped in a cloud which concealed everything that was more than twenty yards distant from their boat.

"How will this do, Sam?" said Oscar, resting on his oars.

"Do you hear that?" asked his companion, in reply. "I think we had better go a little further out."

Oscar thought so too. He dipped the oars into the water again, and the boat moved deeper into the fog.

The sound that had attracted Sam's attention was made by a solitary whistle-wing as he pursued his way down the river.

Oscar pulled steadily for five minutes longer, and then the oars were allowed to swing around by the side of the boat, and each boy, picking up his gun, squared about on his seat and waited—for a quarter of a minute only.

They had scarcely taken their positions before a flock of mallards suddenly emerged[Pg 113] from the fog, flying so close to the water that the young hunters could have knocked them down with their guns if they had continued on their way; but, of course, they did not.

The ducks arose in the air and sheered off the instant they discovered the boat, and the boys sprang to their feet at the same time.

As the flock flew over their heads, they turned away from each other, and, when the birds had passed the boat, discharged their double-barrels in quick succession. They pulled the triggers so nearly at the same instant that the four reports sounded like two.

Learn two things here in regard to shooting on the wing, if you do not know them already: Never fire at a wild fowl as he is coming toward you. The thick feathers on his breast will glance the shot, and, if some of them do not chance to hit him in the head, he will continue on his way unharmed. Wait until he has passed you, then aim low and a little in advance of him, keeping both eyes open, and[Pg 114] holding so that you can see daylight between him and the muzzle of your gun; then the shot will pass under his feathers, and in a few seconds more you can put him in your game-bag.

If you are hunting with a companion, don't turn toward him when you are getting ready to shoot, but turn away from him. Then, if you accidentally discharge your gun in your excitement (but remember that you must not allow yourself to become excited), the shot will go up into the empty air and no one will be injured.

"That will do for a beginning," said Sam, when the smoke had cleared away so that the boys could see the effect of their shot. "How many ducks were there in that flock?"

"About thirty," said Oscar; "and they were all mallards, too."

"Well, we've got two—four—hold on, there!"

Sam fell to reloading his gun with all possible haste, while Oscar quickly resumed his seat, picked up the oars, and turned the boat's head down the stream. Three of the ducks[Pg 115] had come down with broken wings and were now swimming rapidly away into the fog.

It did not take Sam much longer to charge his old-fashioned muzzle-loader than it would take you to charge your new-fashioned breech-loader. He never used loose shot during a hunt. On rainy days, when he had nothing else to do, he put up a lot of cartridges.

He first made a number of paper bags, a little smaller than the bore of his gun, and glued a wad fast to one end of them. When they became dry, he filled them with different kinds of shot, putting bird-shot in one and duck-shot in another, closed the bag and fastened another wad at that end. Then all he had to do, when he wanted to load his gun, was to pour in the powder from his flask, drive home a couple of these cartridges, which he carried loose in his coat-pocket, put on the caps, which he carried loose in his vest-pocket, and the weapon was ready to be discharged.

All this he did in the same space of time that Oscar occupied in turning the boat[Pg 116] around. He made sure work of two of the wounded ducks, and the other, which seemed too badly hurt to dive, was knocked on the head with an oar.

They secured seven ducks that time, and twelve more out of three other flocks which passed over their heads within the next twenty minutes.

"Now, let me row awhile," said Sam, when the last bird had been picked up. "You are doing all the work, and I am having all the fun."

"Yes, you have had all the best of it," answered Oscar, as he exchanged places with his companion. "It is going to blow now, and this fog will all be gone in ten minutes. I think we had better go down to the head of the island and put out our decoys."

It turned out just as Oscar said it would. The breeze, which had sprung up since they left the shore, grew stronger every minute, the fog rapidly faded away, and in a quarter of an hour the young hunters had a clear river before them.

The village was out of sight behind the[Pg 117] point, and Squaw Island—their favorite camping and shooting ground—was in plain view and about two miles away.

Oscar directed the boat toward it, and Sam, after taking off his coat, laid out his strength on the oars. The wind came up the river in strong, but fitful gusts, and finally raised a sea that made the little boat dance about right merrily.

"I don't think we are going to have such a splendid day, after all," observed Sam, who had grown very weatherwise during his numerous excursions down the river. "I wish this wind would hold up and let the fog settle down again. I don't like it."

"Neither does that fellow," answered Oscar, looking over his companion's shoulder toward some object further down the river. "The wind must be cutting up some strange shines down there, or else he doesn't know what he is about. Just look at him."

Sam released his hold upon the oars, allowing them to swing back alongside the skiff, and, facing about on his seat, directed his gaze down the river.

[Pg 118]

Off the head of Squaw Island, he discovered a sail-boat, which was acting in a very singular manner.

The wind was blowing straight up the river, and it would have been no trouble at all for one who understood his business to make rapid headway against the current. But it soon became plain to Oscar and Sam, both of whom were as good sailors as boys ever get to be who have had no opportunity to try their skill on deep water, that the man who was seated at the helm of the sail-boat did not understand his business.

Instead of letting out the sheet, as he ought to have done, he had drawn it taut, at the same time holding the bow of his boat up the river. The consequence was that the sail was shaking violently, and he was making no headway at all.

"That's the boat Mr. Peck is looking for," said Sam; "and if that is the way she has been handled ever since she left the village, I don't wonder that she didn't get back last night."

"Perhaps we had better go down there,"[Pg 119] replied Oscar. "That man doesn't seem to be quite up to—my gracious! There he goes! Give me an oar, quick!"

Before the words had fairly left Oscar's lips, one of the oars was unshipped and placed in his hands.

The sail-boat had been upset through the ignorance or carelessness of her skipper. The latter, becoming dissatisfied with the very slow progress he was making, had brought his craft around upon the other tack, but he did not change his own position.

He pushed the boom over his head as it swung around, and, instead of moving over to the windward side, he kept his seat on the leeward gunwale, and his own weight, added to the weight of the sail and the pressure of the wind against the canvas, overturned the boat before he could think twice.

"If you ever pulled in your life, pull now!" exclaimed Oscar, as he shipped his oar and tugged at it until he fairly made things snap.

"You're stroke; do your level best!" cried Sam. "You'll not drive your end of the boat ahead of mine, I'll promise you that."

[Pg 120]

Oscar's skiff had never travelled so rapidly under the "white-ash breeze" before. The boys being both good oarsmen, knew how to make every stroke tell, and they brought all their strength and skill into requisition.

Guided by Sam, who sat in the bow, and looked over his shoulder occasionally to make sure of her course, the Katie flew over the waters like a wild-fowl, on the wing, and in much less time than the boys had expected, she came up with and passed the overturned boat, which was floating, bottom up, with the current.

The young hunters ceased rowing, and, springing to their feet, looked in every direction. They could see nobody, and the fear that, after all their efforts, they had arrived too late to save the luckless skipper of the sail-boat was already half formed in their minds, when a shrill, piping voice called to them from the water:

"This way, if you please. I have met with a most untoward accident, and I believe I am in need of a little assistance."

"Well, he is a cool one, whoever he is," said[Pg 121] Sam, in a low tone. "If I were in his situation I should think I stood in need of a good deal of assistance."

Just in time

Just in time.

Sam quickly shipped the oar, which his companion handed to him, and pulled toward the disabled boat, while Oscar threw off his coat, pushed back his sleeves, and, jumping upon the stern-sheets, showed Sam, by signs, how to guide the skiff.

A few of the latter's long, sweeping strokes brought them around the stern of the sail-boat, and there, clinging to the swaying rudder with both hands, and apparently so nearly overcome by his sudden immersion in the cold water that he was on the very point of letting go his hold, was a bald-headed old gentleman in spectacles.

As the boys came up he extended one hand toward them, and at the same instant the other slipped off the rudder. He went down like a piece of lead, and in a second more would have been out of sight, had not Oscar dashed forward, plunged his arms into the water up to his shoulders, and seized him by the collar.

[Pg 122]

This action on his part would have overturned the skiff in an instant, or else Oscar would have gone overboard, had it not been for an equally prompt action on the part of Sam Hynes.

The latter, who never lost his head under any circumstances, threw himself as far as he could over the opposite side of the boat to counterbalance Oscar's weight, at the same time bracing his feet firmly and seizing his friend by the waistband of his trousers.

"Hang on to him," he shouted, "and I can trim the boat and heave you both in!"

Sam was noted among his fellows for his strength, but on this occasion it seemed that he had undertaken more than he could accomplish. The skipper of the sail-boat was so completely benumbed with the cold, and so nearly strangled, that he could not help himself.

Oscar was pretty large and heavy for a boy of his age, and Sam found that it was not so easy to haul them both into the boat. But, after pulling and tugging until he was red in the face, he succeeded in bringing Oscar to an[Pg 123] upright position, so that the latter could use some of his own strength, and then the work was quickly done.

The old gentleman was pulled over the side and placed on the bottom of the skiff, where he would be somewhat protected from the wind.

Sam's hat was put upon his head, and Oscar's coat was snugly wrapped about his shoulders. He had had a very narrow escape; but, to the great amazement of the boys who had saved him, he did not seem to be at all disconcerted.

He wiped the water from his face, coughed once or twice, and said in a shrill voice, addressing himself to Oscar:

"This is neither the time nor the place, young gentleman, to thank you for the gallant service you have rendered me, but I assure you it shall not be forgotten. I have to-day received a new insight into meteorological phenomena, of which I have been a close student for a life-time. Winds, as I now know, are——"

How long the rescued man would have [Pg 124]continued to talk in this strain it is hard to tell; but just then he began to shiver all over, and his teeth chattered so violently that he could not utter a word.

The boys, who had listened to this speech with the greatest astonishment, exchanging significant glances the while, were recalled to themselves by these signs of suffering.

[Pg 125]


"Give me an oar!" exclaimed Oscar. "We must get back to the village without the loss of a moment."

"Then hoist the sail," said Sam, "and we'll go up flying."

"It would be of no use. The wind is dying away, and that fog will be down on us in a quarter of an hour thicker than ever."

Oscar, who pulled the stroke-oar, kept his friend Sam exceedingly busy during the next forty-five minutes, and tested that young gentleman's endurance and muscle in a way they had never been tested before.

They were both tired and quite out of breath when they reached the wharf, where they found Mr. Peck and Mr. Hall, the miller, waiting for them.

The boys were glad to see Mr. Hall there.[Pg 126] His grist-mill was located but a few rods away, and they knew that there was a good fire in the office, in front of which their half-frozen passenger would soon be thoroughly dried and thawed out.

The two men had seen the skiff coming up the river, and knowing by the way the oars were handled that there was something wrong, they had waited to see what it was. When they discovered the rescued man sitting on the bottom of the boat, they knew what had happened, and there was no need of inquiries.

"Give us your hand, sir," said Mr. Hall, as the boys lifted the old gentleman to his feet, "and I'll take you right over to my office. I've got a red hot stove there. Just catch hold of his other arm, Sam, and help him along."

"Where did you find him?" asked Mr. Peck, when he was left alone with Oscar. "And where's my boat?"

"We saw him capsize off the head of the island," replied the boy.

"Didn't I tell you that he didn't seem to[Pg 127] know much of anything?" exclaimed Mr. Peck, in disgust. "There's no excuse for upsetting that boat in this wind."

"None whatever," was Oscar's answer. "When he jibed the sail he didn't move over to windward, and it was his weight and the sails that overturned the boat. The wind wasn't to blame for it at all. We left the boat as we found it, keel up, and going down the river as fast as the current could take it. Our passenger was so nearly exhausted that we couldn't stop to pick it up."

Mr. Peck remarked that he would go down after it himself, and charge the bald-headed old gentleman a good round sum, too, for his carelessness; and just then Sam came back, wearing one of Mr. Hall's old caps and carrying Oscar's coat over his arm. He had left his own cap, he said, for the gentleman to wear, for, of course, he couldn't let him walk to his hotel bareheaded.

While Sam was speaking, he jumped down into the boat, which was at once pushed out into the stream and headed toward Squaw Island.

[Pg 128]

The young hunters had lost more than an hour and a half of the best part of the day, but still there was time enough for them to double the size of their bag if the ducks would only be accommodating enough to come within range of their double-barrels.

Contrary to Oscar's predictions, the breeze which had so suddenly sprung up, and driven off the fog, continued to blow steadily for three hours.

Within twenty minutes after leaving Mr. Peck's wharf they reached the island, but they did not add a single duck to their bag on the way. They saw plenty of birds, but every flock flew wild.

Oscar at once put Sam and his double-barrel on shore, and then pulled back into the stream a short distance, to set out his decoys.

While he was thus employed, Sam was engaged in cutting branches from the willows that grew near by, and filling up the gaps the winds had made in the blind they had put up there the year before.

It was built upon the top of a little knoll,[Pg 129] about thirty yards from the place where the decoys were anchored, and so completely was it concealed by the tall weeds and grass which grew on every side that anyone who did not know just where to look for it would have hard work to find it.

When their preparations were all completed, the skiff was hidden in a little bay, surrounded by the thicket of willows before spoken of; and the boys, with their guns in their hands, sat down behind their blind, opposite two loopholes, which commanded a view as far up as the point, and talked over the incidents of the morning while waiting for the first flock of ducks to swing to their decoys.

They came to three conclusions concerning the man they had saved from going to the bottom of the river. He was well-to-do in the world, judging by his appearance; he knew something about physical geography, and he was not a proper person to be entrusted with the management of a sail-boat.

Thus far they agreed, and then they began to differ in their opinions.

Sam declared that there was something wrong[Pg 130] with his upper story. No man, with a level head on his shoulders, would talk as he did immediately after being rescued from a watery grave.

Oscar, however, had other ideas, and, as it happened, they were correct.

"He is completely wrapped up in his books," said the boy. "Perhaps he does not know much outside of them, but you take him there, and he is perfectly at home. There's more knowledge in that little bald head of his than you and I can ever hope to acquire."

Sam shrugged his shoulders with an air which said, "Perhaps there is, and perhaps there isn't," and just then the discussion was cut short by the appearance of a flock of mallards, which drew to their decoys.

They circled around them once or twice, and were on the point of alighting among them, when one wary old fellow in the flock, not liking the looks of the wooden deceptions, mounted higher into the air with a warning quack. Some of the flock followed him, and others tried to do so, but could not.

Even the wary old fellow himself did not go[Pg 131] far, for Oscar brought him down, in company with two others, before his warning note was fairly uttered.

The volley was not as effective as the boys intended it should be, for only five ducks fell. The current carried them to the shore in a few minutes, and Oscar brought them in and placed them behind the blind.

The sport continued for two hours and a half, and then, the breeze having died away, the fog settled down again, this time bringing rain with it.

When the decoys were shut out from view, the boys laid aside their guns, and Oscar, after placing his game-bag within easy reach of his friend's hand, arose to his feet and walked off toward the willows, while Sam began to cut up some dry branches with his knife.

By the time Oscar returned with an armful of wood he had found in the thicket, Sam had raised a good-sized pile of shavings and kindling-wood, and a roaring fire was under way in short order.

While Oscar continued to make regular[Pg 132] trips between the thicket and the fire, bringing his arms full of wood each time, Sam selected a duck from the pile behind the blind, plucked and cleaned it with skill that would have done credit to any professional cook, and, having impaled it upon a forked stick, thrust the stick into the ground beside the fire and left it there, while he proceeded to overhaul the contents of his game-bag and Oscar's.

The dinner being well under way, and all the firewood they were likely to need having been placed close at hand, the young hunters sat down to take a rest; for the exertions they had made to rescue the skipper of the sail-boat and carry him to the village before he froze to death had wearied them not a little.

Now and then a hoarse "quack, quack!" came to their ears through the thick mist, followed by a loud splashing in the water as a flock of ducks settled into if, and occasionally they heard a lonely whistle-wing flying down the river; but the fog concealed everything from their view outside of a radius of twenty yards, and they were reluctantly compelled to allow the birds to pass unharmed.

[Pg 133]

They had made themselves comfortable in spite of the moist condition of things. The branches that Oscar had spread over the ground kept their feet out of the mud; the high blind, behind which the fire was built, served to protect them from the gusts of rain that came out of the fog, and the boys were well contented and were prepared to enjoy their dinner as heartily as though they had a tight roof over their heads.

The dinner was well worth eating, as all Sam's dinners were; and when ample justice had been done to it, Oscar brought up the ducks that were in the boat and placed them with those that were piled behind the blind.

"Sam," said he, when he had counted them, "we've got just forty-two."

"A pretty good day's work," replied Sam. "I want six of them. You take the rest and ship them to Yarmouth."

"I guess not," answered Oscar promptly. "We'll divide, as we have always done. Twenty-one of these ducks belong to you, and if you want any of them shipped to the city, you can attend to the matter yourself."

[Pg 134]

"So I can. I didn't think of that."

Sam spoke as though he did not care what was done with the ducks, but there was something in his tone that caused Oscar to sit up on his knees and look at him very sharply.

He knew well enough that if Sam sent any of the ducks to Yarmouth they would be sent in his (Oscar's) name, and that his friend would expect him to receive the proceeds and apply them to his own use. Sam did not need the money himself, for he had a rich and indulgent father; but that made no difference to Oscar, who wanted to earn every cent he spent.

"Sam," said he earnestly, "if you do that I shall be very angry at you."

"If I do what?" returned Sam innocently.

"Oh, you can't fool me! If you do it, I'll never go hunting with you again."

"Then I'll not do it, of course; but I don't know what you mean all the same. Now, as we have nothing else to do, let's draw these birds. Our shooting is over for the day."

And so it proved. The boys remained behind their blind until it was three o'clock by Sam's watch, but not another duck showed[Pg 135] himself. They heard them splashing in the water on both sides of the island, but the mist shut them out from view.

The rain having by this time put out their fire, and the birds having been cleaned and made ready for the market, the skiff was launched, the ducks were packed away in the bows, the guns and empty game-bags were stowed in the stern, and, after the decoys had been picked up, the boys pulled through the fog toward the village.

When they came alongside the wharf, they found Mr. Peck and Mr. Hall there, as before.

The former was hard at work upon the wreck of his sail-boat, which he had found near the foot of the island, and towed home after infinite trouble, and Mr. Hall stood by, with his hands in his pockets, looking at him.

"Well, boys," said the miller, "your crazy man is all right. He stayed by my stove until he was warmed and dried, and then he started for his hotel."

"There!" exclaimed Sam, turning to Oscar with a triumphant air. "What did I tell you? Didn't I say he was cracked?"

[Pg 136]

"That accounts for his upsetting the boat," remarked Mr. Peck. "I knew well enough that no man, who had any sense into his head, could capsize in such a breeze as he did."

"There is something wrong with him," continued Mr. Hall. "While he was standing there, shivering in front of my stove, he discovered my pet squirrels and canaries, and he walked over to their cages, and talked to them in the strangest language I ever heard. I took it to be Greek or Latin. He said he had been down the river after—what did he call those things he was looking for, Peck?"

"Blessed if I know," was the answer. "I never heard of any such things before."

"He's got an idea that he is connected with some college," continued Mr. Hall, "and that somebody has given him a lot of money to spend in some foolish way. He didn't think, until he got ready to start for his hotel, that he had lost his gun when his boat upset. The only sensible thing he did while he was in my office was to give me ten dollars to pay Mr. Peck for his trouble, and take down Oscar's name and street. I told him that you had a fancy for[Pg 137] shooting birds and animals, and he said he would make it a point to drop around and see you."

As the miller ceased speaking, he walked off toward his office; Mr. Peck resumed his work upon the wreck; Oscar went into the boat-house after his wheelbarrow, and Sam began unloading the skiff.

When everything had been taken out of it, the boat was drawn up on the bank, turned bottom upward, and made fast to a tree with a chain and padlock. The sail and the oars belonging to it, as well as the decoys, were stowed away in one corner of Mr. Peck's boat-house, where they were to remain until Oscar could find time to come after them. The ducks made as large a load as he could take to the village in his wheelbarrow.

When all this work had been done, Sam selected six of the finest ducks from the pile, and, after tying their feet together with a piece of stout twine, placed them by the side of the boat-house, out of the way, and began to assist Oscar in packing the others away in the wheelbarrow.

[Pg 138]

"Hold on there!" exclaimed the latter. "How many did you put in then?"

"Don't know," answered Sam, depositing another armful on top of the first. "Didn't count 'em."

"But I want you to count them. I own just twenty-one of these ducks."

"Don't you want the others?"

"Of course not. We're going to divide. Those ducks will all have to come out of that wheelbarrow again, so that I can count them."

"All right," exclaimed Sam, "out they come!" And suiting the action to the word, he overturned the wheelbarrow, spilling the ducks upon the wharf. "Now, count them yourself," said he, "and then you'll know that you have got what you want."

Oscar proceeded to count out his share of the birds, which he packed away in the wheelbarrow, and, having placed his gun, game-bag, and powder- and shot-flasks on top of them, he stopped and looked around for Sam.

He was standing near the shore-end of the wharf, with his double-barrel on one shoulder and his bunch of game slung over the other.

[Pg 139]

"If you are all ready, come on," said he.

"But what are you going to do with the rest of those ducks?"

"I am not going to do anything with them. If it is too much trouble for you to ship them to the city, and make forty cents a pair out of them, you had better leave them where they are. I've got all I want."

Oscar looked first at his friend, then at the ducks, and finally began packing them away in the wheelbarrow with the others, while Sam struck up a lively whistle to keep from laughing outright.

He had done his best shooting that day on purpose to make a large bag, fully intending that Oscar should ship the surplus birds and receive pay for them; and this was the way he took to accomplish his object. Indeed, he almost always found a way to make Oscar do just as he wanted him to do.

Having placed the game in the hands of the express agent at the depot, and sent a notice of shipment to Calkins & Son, the two boys started for home, well satisfied with their day's sport.

[Pg 140]


Oscar was very tired when he reached home that night, but he spent some hours at his bench before he went to bed. He was anxious to have his case of birds ready for delivery by the time it had been promised. So as soon as he had eaten his supper, and answered all the questions his mother had to ask regarding the man he and Sam had saved from drowning, he lighted the lamp in his shop and went to work.

Everything being ready to his hand, he made rapid progress, and when he locked his shop, at ten o'clock, he told himself that by Monday, at noon, if nothing unforeseen happened, the case would be safely mounted in Mr. Jackson's dining-room.

And so it was. It was finished at eight o'clock, and Oscar, who was a good judge of such matters, declared, with no little [Pg 141]satisfaction, that he had never seen a finer piece of work.

There was one thing about it that did not look just right, and the boy wondered what Mr. Jackson would say when he saw it.

The wheelbarrow was again brought into requisition, and the case having been placed upon it, and covered with a sheet to protect it from the dust, Oscar trundled it off toward Mr. Jackson's house.

His pull at the bell was answered by that gentleman himself, who, not being an early riser, had not yet eaten his breakfast.

He assisted Oscar to carry the case through the hall and place it upon the little side-table on which it was to stand, and, when the sheet had been removed, he stood off and looked at it critically. Then he called Miles and all the rest of his family in, to pass judgment upon it.

"It is just what I wanted, Oscar," said Mr. Jackson, at length, "and you could not improve it in any way. It is splendid, and I am entirely satisfied. Hold on, here; what's this?"

He walked close up to the case, and placed[Pg 142] his finger on one of the panes of glass opposite a bird in resplendent plumage, with a green and purple crest, marked with two narrow lines of white.

"That's a very pretty bird!" continued Mr. Jackson; "but what is he doing up there? You wouldn't put any woodcock or snipe in the tree, because you said they didn't belong there; and now you've gone and put a duck in it! What sort of work is that?"

"That bird does belong there," said Oscar. "I shot him out of a tree."

Mr. Jackson was well posted in drugs, but he knew nothing of natural history.

He looked toward Miles for an explanation, but as the latter was no better acquainted with birds and their habits than his uncle was, he could give him no information.

"I'll take him out of there, if you wish me to do so, and put a grouse in his place," said Oscar.

"Oh, no!" replied Mr. Jackson quickly. "If he belongs there, let him stay; but I never saw a duck in a tree. Sit down, and have some coffee with us."

[Pg 143]

"Thank you, sir! I had my breakfast three hours ago."

"You did!" exclaimed Mr. Jackson, as he followed Oscar through the hall toward the front door. "Well, I never could see any sense in eating during the night. You will have the dyspepsia some day if you don't stop it. There's your money, and good-by, if you must go.

"Miles," he continued, as he came back into the dining-room, where the rest of the family were seated at the table, "what sort of work would you make of it if you were turned loose in the world, as that boy is, and had no one to depend on but yourself?"

"I am sure I don't know," replied Miles. "I hope I shall never be in that situation."

"So do I," said his uncle. "I hope you will associate with Oscar all you can, for his influence and example will help any boy. If you hear anything said against his honesty, I hope you will have pluck enough to resent it on the spot."

"Oh, I don't think that anyone will ever[Pg 144] hear another word said about his stealing money!" exclaimed Miles, recalling the exciting interview which he and his friend Sam had had with Mr. Smith on the previous Friday.

Then, believing that he ought to give some reason for thinking so, he added:

"It wouldn't be safe to slander Oscar, for Sam Hynes says he will thrash any fellow who does it."

"He's another good one; a little too blunt sometimes, but as true as steel," observed Mr. Jackson. "I can't quite understand why Oscar put a duck in that tree. I believe he has made a mistake, and I am going to find out about it."

And he did.

While he was on the way to his store, he met a tall, dignified gentleman, who stopped to exchange a few words with him.

It was Mr. Chamberlain, the principal of the High School. The two men had met on that very street, at that very hour and near that same spot, every day except Saturdays and Sundays, for more than a year. The[Pg 145] principal was the best educated man in town, and a good many hard nuts were brought to him to crack.

"You know everything, professor," said Mr. Jackson, after the usual greetings had been exchanged; "but you never knew of a duck being shot out of a tree, did you?"

"Certainly," was the unexpected answer. "The wood-duck of Audubon, commonly called summer duck. It is the most beautiful species of the duck family, and reflects all the colors of the rainbow. It never makes its nest upon the ground, but always in some hollow tree that hangs over the water. As soon as the young are hatched, they throw themselves down into the stream below without the least injury. There goes the first bell! Good-morning, Mr. Jackson!"

"I've learned something," thought the druggist, as he continued his walk toward the store. "Oscar was right when he put that duck in the tree. It beats me where that boy found time to pick up so much information about birds and things."

Meanwhile Oscar, with his forty dollars in[Pg 146] his pocket, was trundling his wheelbarrow merrily over the sidewalk toward home.

He wanted first to place his money in his mother's hands—he thought it would be safer there than in his pocket—and then he intended to go down to Mr. Peck's boat-house after the decoys, sail, and oars he had left there on Saturday.

He placed his wheelbarrow in the front yard, but when he tried to open the door he found it was locked.

"Mother has gone over to visit some of the neighbors," thought he. "I'll stay here until she comes back. I've got the key of the shop in my pocket, and I can find plenty to do there."

During the time Oscar had worked in the store, the shop had not been kept as neat and tidy as it usually was. The tools he had found time to use now and then were scattered about over the bench; the shavings and dust had accumulated everywhere, and it was a good hour's work to straighten up things. But it was work that Oscar liked to do, and he whistled merrily as he set about it, Bugle[Pg 147] meanwhile stationing himself in the open door and keeping a close watch over everybody that passed along the street. Presently he uttered a loud bay and sprang out into the yard.

Oscar, knowing that somebody was coming, hurried to the door to see who it was, and discovered the hound following at the heels of a little dried-up man, who was coming around the house toward the shop. It was the same man he and Sam Hynes had found clinging to the rudder of the wrecked sail-boat.

Oscar knew him at once, for he still wore Sam's cap on his head.

"Come here, Bugle!" shouted Oscar. "Don't be afraid of him, sir. He is friendly, even to strangers."

"Good-morning," exclaimed the visitor. "I knocked at the front door, but no one answered my summons. I heard someone whistling, however; so I made bold to come around here."

"Mother went out while I was absent," replied Oscar. "I am glad to see you again, sir, and hope you did not suffer any inconvenience from your cold bath on Saturday.[Pg 148] Will you walk in? I have a fire in here. I am sorry I can't take you into the house."

The visitor made no reply whatever. He came into the wood-shed, stopped in front of the door that gave entrance into the shop, and said:

"I believe your name is—ah—is—ah——"

He thrust his hand into the inside pocket of his coat and pulled out a small notebook. Opening it, he began turning over the leaves to find Oscar's name, which the miller had given him on Saturday.

The book was filled with writing, and on every page the visitor seemed to find something that he wanted to remember, for he stopped to read it over, in a half audible tone, before turning to the next one.

Oscar stood there in the door of the shop, with the broom in his hand, for fully five minutes, waiting for him to say something.

"Your name is Oscar Preston," said the visitor, at length, "and you are the boy who rendered me a very important service two days ago."

"I am the one who caught you as you were sinking, but I never could have brought you[Pg 149] into the boat if it hadn't been for Sam Hynes," replied Oscar.

He did not want all the honor himself, for the absent Sam, who was at that moment puzzling his brains over his Vergil, was entitled to a good share of it, and Oscar intended that he should have it.

The visitor, however, seemed to think that the boy who had kept him from sinking was the one who deserved all the credit, and he did not act as though he heard Sam's name mentioned.

"I am greatly indebted to you, my young friend," he continued, "and I regret that I cannot reward you as you deserve. My name is Potter, and I am president of the Yarmouth University. I was down the river in search of some specimens of the Fuligula Valisneria, which I am told are now and then to be found here."

"Oh, that's what he went after, is it?" thought Oscar. "Well, I am no wiser than I was before. I don't know what those things are, and it is no wonder that Mr. Hall and Mr. Peck didn't understand him."

[Pg 150]

"I became bewildered, and was obliged to pass the night alone upon an island, without food or fire," continued the visitor. "In the morning I attempted to reach the village, but the wind overturned the boat, and I lost a valuable gun and all the equipments belonging to one of the faculty, who had kindly loaned it to me. Perhaps it was just as well, after all, for I was afraid to use it, having never fired a gun in my life, although I hoped to gain courage enough to discharge it, if I saw an opportunity to secure a specimen or two. Your name is" (here he consulted his notebook again) "Oscar Preston, and I am informed that you are an expert taxidermist."

"I am an amateur taxidermist, sir," answered Oscar. "I do not claim to be an expert. I have a few specimens, which I shall be glad to show you, if you are interested in such things. Will you walk in?"

Oscar deposited his broom in one corner, and drew aside the curtain concealing the recess in which his birds and animals were placed.

The professor entered, and instantly seemed[Pg 151] to become entirely unconscious of Oscar's presence, so engrossed was he with what he saw before him. He stopped in front of each bird, and talked to it in an undertone, and finally he began to speak his words aloud, so that Oscar could understand them.

"Ah," said he, "a very fine specimen of the order Rasores, family Tetraonidæ, vulgo partridge; the Tetrao Umbellus of Linnæus, and the Bonasia Umbellus of Bonaparte, which is incorrect. This is a specimen of the order Insessores, family Ampelidæ, genus Bombycilla Carolinensis. Very finely mounted, I should say; much better than some of the specimens we have at the university."

All these hard words were rolled off without the least hesitation, and it was evident that the professor had them at his tongue's end. Oscar listened in genuine amazement, and then seizing a piece of pine board, that happened to be lying near him on the bench, hastily wrote something upon it with a pencil he drew from his pocket, and moved up a little closer to his visitor, so that he could catch every word he said.

[Pg 152]

"Young man," said the latter, "do you know anything about comparative anatomy?"

"No, sir," replied Oscar, who had never heard this expression before.

"You ought to study it," continued the professor, "for it belongs to your business. If you will give a scientist a single bone, he can build the skeleton of the beast or bird to which that bone belongs, although he may never have seen it. The species may even be extinct. Some of my students once brought me a bone they had found in the woods, and which they thought was the bone of a mastodon of the order Pachydermata; but it proved to belong to one of the order Ruminantia, being the bone of an ox."

Oscar wrote two words more on his board, and waited for the professor to go on; and when he did go on, Oscar heard something for which he was not at all prepared, and which astonished him beyond measure.

"I think you are the person we want," continued the visitor.

He stood with his hands behind his back,[Pg 153] and his spectacles on the end of his nose, looking up at the specimens on the shelves; and he seemed to be talking more to himself than to Oscar.

"A generous and public-spirited citizen of Yarmouth has given to our university a hundred thousand dollars, which is to be expended in founding as fine a museum as that amount of money will pay for. The birds and animals of our country are to be represented first, mounted in a life-like manner, and looking, if possible, as natural as they do in their wild haunts. Those of other countries are to be taken in hand afterward.

"We have already gathered a few specimens, though in a desultory way, and some of them are declared by experts to be very imperfect. Of the order Ruminantia, family Cervidæ, we have obtained but one species—the Cervus Virginianus." (Oscar wrote these words on his board. He could easily do it, for his visitor did not seem to be paying the least attention to him.) "We have the Alces Americanus and the Cervus Tarandus, as well as the hollow-horned ruminants, of which[Pg 154] there is but one species in this country, as you are no doubt aware, yet to procure. Of the Digitigrades, family Canidæ, we have but one—the red fox.

"We should be willing to give something handsome for a gray-cross, or black fox. Of the Plantigrades, we have two—Ursus Americanus and Procyon lotor. We should like a specimen of the Ursus horribilis and the Ursus maritimus, and also of the cinnamon bear, which seems to be gaining some notoriety for voracity and fierceness; but I don't suppose that a boy of your years would care to face animals of that description.

"We have been trying to engage an accomplished taxidermist, who is at the same time a successful hunter, to work for us for a term of years at a stated salary; but thus far we have not succeeded in our object, for the reason that those to whom we have applied demand more money than the committee, in whose hands the matter is placed, think they can afford to pay. We are quite willing to give a hundred dollars a month and expenses, provided the collector is [Pg 155]willing to go where we want to send him; but more than that we could not promise, under the terms on which the money was given to us. Ah, here's a Digitigrade!" he exclaimed, when he discovered the fox, which was one of Oscar's first specimens. "Now, if you think you can afford to work for us for that amount of money, we shall be glad to employ you. I know that the committee will indorse any bargain I may make with you; but in order to make 'assurance doubly sure,' perhaps I had better consult with them before we come to any definite understanding."

Oscar had stood with his board in one hand and his pencil in the other, ready to note down as many of the visitor's hard words as he could catch; but while he listened, his hands gradually fell, until they rested by his side, and when the professor ceased speaking, he backed up against his work-bench and leaned heavily upon it.

The astounding offer of a hundred dollars a month and expenses almost knocked him over.

[Pg 156]


"You are not engaged in any regular occupation now, I believe?" continued the professor.

"No, sir, I am not," answered Oscar, as soon as he could speak.

"Then I suggest that you keep yourself at liberty until you hear from some of us. I shall return to the city by the first train, and, as soon as I can see the committee, our secretary will drop you a line. I am confident that I can put you in the way of making a name and a living for yourself. Good-morning!"

The professor disappeared through the door, and Oscar, having seen him close the gate behind him, drew a long breath, thrust his hands deep into his pockets, and walked up and down the shop, thinking over what had transpired. He was so highly excited[Pg 157] that he could not have kept still to save his life.

It hardly seemed possible that the art of taxidermy, which he had taken up simply as a recreation, should be the means of making him rich and famous, and he could not bring himself to believe that such was the fact.

There was one thing that stood in his way. Everybody who came in contact with his late visitor seemed to think that there was something wrong with him, and Oscar himself had seen and heard enough to prove that the professor was a very strange man.

Perhaps his name wasn't Potter, and perhaps, too, he had no connection whatever with the Yarmouth University.

"I'll not build any hopes upon it," said the boy, as these thoughts passed through his mind, "and neither will I say a word to mother when she comes home. She would be very much disappointed if it turned out to be a hoax, and I don't see how she can stand any more trouble. Sam will be around some time to-day, most likely, and I'll ask him what he thinks about it. He has good, sound[Pg 158] sense, and, besides, he knows how to keep a secret."

Oscar picked up his broom again, but very soon found that he had lost interest in everything except Professor Potter and his astonishing proposition.

He could not keep his mind on anything else, nor could he calm his excitement; and believing that a brisk walk in the open air would be more agreeable than working in the dusty shop, he locked the door, picked up his wheelbarrow as he passed through the yard, and set out for Mr. Peck's boat-house, Bugle leading the way.

He found his decoys, sail, and oars where he had left them, and having packed them away in his wheelbarrow, he turned his face toward home.

As he was passing across the park he heard someone calling to him. He stopped, and looking across the street, saw Mr. Anderson running toward him and beckoning with his hand.

"What does he want, I wonder?" thought the boy. "I don't care to see him; but if[Pg 159] he wants to see me, he can come where I am."

He set down the wheelbarrow, and taking his seat on one of the handles, looked at Mr. Anderson, who stopped in the middle of the street and waved his hand to him.

"Come over here!" he shouted.

"I can't see it," said Oscar to himself. "I have been insulted in that store once, and I never want to see the inside of it again. If he has anything to say to me, we'll have the interview right here, for this is neutral ground."

Oscar kept his seat on the wheelbarrow, and resting his elbows on his knees, looked up and down the street in an indifferent sort of way, as if he meant to show that Mr. Anderson and his movements did not interest him in the least.

The junior partner, finding that the boy paid no attention to his words and signals, came across the street and hurried up to him.

Our hero was astonished at his greeting. He thrust out his hand, and Oscar placed his own within it.

[Pg 160]

"I am glad to see you again," said Mr. Anderson cheerfully. "It looks natural to see you around. Come over to the store. Mr. Smith has something very particular to say to you."

"I guess I had better not go," replied Oscar. "I am not in your employ now; and I may say something I shall be sorry for."

"No, you won't, for the opportunity will not be given you!" exclaimed Mr. Anderson earnestly. "You'll have no cause for saying hard things. Be guided by me, just this once, and come in. You will never regret it."

Oscar took a few minutes in which to think about it. Finally he arose to his feet, and pushing his wheelbarrow off the walk, out of the way, he followed the junior partner across the street, and into the store.

When they entered the office, Mr. Anderson closed and locked the door. Mr. Smith occupied his usual place on his high stool, but he scrambled down from it with great haste and gave his former clerk a most cordial welcome.

"Oscar," said he, "I find that I have done[Pg 161] you very great injustice, and I am sorry for it."

The boy's face relaxed on the instant. Knowing Mr. Smith as well as he did, he had never expected him to make such a confession as this.

"Then perhaps you wouldn't mind telling me why I was discharged, and why you refused to give me the letter of recommendation for which I asked," said Oscar.

Mr. Smith cleared his throat two or three times, and climbed back to his high stool again. It was hard work for him to answer that question; and when he met the gaze of the clear, honest eyes that were looking straight into his own, he wondered how he could ever have suspected their owner of being a thief.

"Well, the amount of it is, that somebody has been robbing our till systematically," said he, when he had mustered up courage enough to give utterance to the words. "All our clerks except you had been with us for a long term of years. We had the utmost confidence in their honesty, and—and——"

[Pg 162]

"And you suspected me!" exclaimed Oscar, his face reddening with indignation.

"Well, yes; that's the plain English of it. But we have since found out that we made a woeful mistake. The guilty one has been discovered, and has made a full confession, in which he took particular pains to clear you of all suspicion. Now, we are anxious to make all the amends in our power. Do you want to come back here at thirty dollars a month?"

"No, sir," replied Oscar promptly.

The two grocers seemed very much surprised at this answer. They looked at each other and at Oscar, as if they were waiting for him to say something more, but as he did not speak, Mr. Smith continued:

"Then we'll say thirty-five; and that is almost double the amount we paid you before."

"I am very much obliged to you, but I cannot accept the offer," answered Oscar.

"You do not bear us any ill-will, I hope," said Mr. Anderson.

"None whatever, I assure you. I am overjoyed to know that you no longer believe me to be dishonest, and I shall think of you with[Pg 163] as kindly feelings as I ever did; but I can't come back to the store, for I have something better in prospect."

"For your sake, I am very glad to hear it; for my own, I am sorry," said Mr. Smith, and the words came from his heart. "If the time ever comes when we can advance your interests in any way, do not hesitate to call upon us. You are at perfect liberty to use the firm's name whenever it will be of benefit to you. We know you to be an honest, capable boy, and we shall take pleasure in recommending you as such."

"I am greatly obliged to you, sir, and I may some day be glad to take advantage of your kind offer. Now, I will bid you good-by."

"Just one word more, Oscar," said Mr. Anderson, as the boy laid his hand upon the door-knob; "if you don't secure that better thing of which you were speaking, remember that your old position is open to you."

"At thirty-five dollars a month," chimed in Mr. Smith.

"Thank you; I'll bear it in mind."

Oscar's excitement, which had been worked[Pg 164] up to almost fever-heat by the conversation he had had with the professor in his work-shop that morning, was greatly increased by this interview; but still he managed to keep a few of his wits about him, and when he passed out into the store he ran his eyes hastily around to see if any of the clerks were missing. They were all there except one.

"I'm glad to see you, Oscar!" cried Hudson, the oldest clerk in the store. "You look as happy as a clam. Coming back?"

"It is hardly probable," was the reply. "Where's Stuart?"

"Stuart has been sick in bed ever since Friday—something like brain fever, I think," answered Hudson.

"He works here yet, I suppose?"

"Oh, yes; he'll be back as soon as he gets well. And I'll tell you something, Preston, which surprised me when I first found it out: Mr. Smith's got a heart. I heard him say that Stuart's wages would go right on."

"It is very strange," thought Oscar, as he closed the door behind him. "None of the clerks have been discharged, so the till-tapper,[Pg 165] whoever he is, must still be in the store. I was dismissed when there was not the least proof against me, and now a confessed thief is allowed to retain his situation. I don't see much justice in that. Well, perhaps the guilty fellow is one of their trusted men, and Smith & Anderson don't want to make any stir about it."

"Morning, Oscar!" exclaimed the post-office clerk, who just then hurried by, with his face buried in the collar of his overcoat. "Letter in your box."

Oscar, thanking him for the information, turned down the street, and crossed over to the post-office, and all the while he seemed to be treading on air, so light and buoyant were his spirits.

He had heard good news from two sources that forenoon, and there was something else agreeable in store for him, as he found when the letter was placed in his hands.

It proved to be from Calkins & Son, who acknowledged the receipt, in good order, of the eighteen brace of ducks that had been sent to them on Saturday, asked for a shipment of grouse, quails, or hares at once, and enclosed[Pg 166] their check for $7.20, made payable to Oscar's order.

After reading the letter, he put it into his pocket, seized the wheelbarrow, which now seemed as light as a feather, and trundled it home in much less time than he had ever consumed in making the journey before.

He let himself into the shop, and while he was busy putting away his decoys, a lively whistle sounded in the yard, and Sam Hynes came rushing in.

"O Sam!" exclaimed Oscar.

"Hallo! What's the matter with you?" demanded the visitor, who saw that his friend was greatly excited about something.

"I've had the best luck in the world to-day," answered Oscar. "In the first place, the fellow who got me into all that trouble with Smith & Anderson has been discovered, and has made a full confession."

"No!" cried Sam, opening his eyes and looking very much surprised.

"It's a fact. Mr. Smith informed me, not an hour ago, that he had done me great injustice, and he was sorry for it."

[Pg 167]

"You don't tell me so!" cried Sam, seating himself on the bench and looking the very picture of amazement and delight. "Who was the guilty rascal?"

"I don't know, and I couldn't find out. I didn't ask Mr. Smith, and he didn't volunteer the information. The clerks were busy in the store to-day, and they were all there except Stuart. He is ill, and will come back as soon as he gets well; so the thief, whoever he is, still holds his position."

Sam was really astonished now, and the delight he feigned became genuine when Oscar continued:

"Mr. Smith told me that my old situation was open to me at thirty-five dollars a month."

"Good!" exclaimed Sam, jumping off the bench and extending his hand. "When do you go back?"

"I am not going back at all. I have something better."

Sam opened his eyes again, and listened attentively while Oscar went on to describe the interview he had had with Professor Potter,[Pg 168] and to tell him of the liberal offer the latter had made him.

He did not forget to inform his friend that the professor still wore his (Sam's) cap on his head, and that he had probably carried it to the city with him.

As Oscar proceeded with his story, the look of astonishment on Sam's face gradually gave way to an altogether different expression, and when Oscar ceased speaking, he seated himself on the bench again, and gazed down at the floor in a brown study.

"Now, then, what's the matter with you?" demanded Oscar.

"If I answer your question at all, I shall say just what I think," replied Sam.

"That is what I want you to do. Speak out."

"I will. You have missed it. If you are wise, you will lose no time in telling Mr. Smith that you will take those thirty-five dollars a month."

"But, Sam, I can't do it. I promised the professor that I would keep myself free until I heard from him."

[Pg 169]

"Professor!" exclaimed Sam, with great disgust. "He is about as much a professor as I am."

"If you had heard him talk this morning, you wouldn't think so. I tell you he is educated."

"That may be; but a man who will go on as he did when we pulled him out of the water, and who hasn't sense enough to know when he is wearing a cap belonging to somebody else, can't have much wit. Professor! He never saw Yarmouth University, and you'll never hear from him again, either. What have you got there?" added Sam, glancing at a piece of wood which his companion just then took from the work-bench.

"I wrote down some of his hard words," replied Oscar, passing the board over to Sam. "You are fresh from your books, and I'd like to have you translate them for me. I'll tell you what's a fact: I have come to the conclusion that I don't know anything about natural history."

"He talked in a regular scientific style, didn't he?" said Sam, after he had run his[Pg 170] eyes over the board. "The animal kingdom, as you know, is divided into branches, classes, orders, families, genera, and species. The branch Vertebrates is divided into five classes—fishes, batrachians, reptiles, birds, and mammalia. The class birds is divided into seven orders, two of which you have put down here. The Rasores are scratchers, such as the turkey and grouse, and the Insessores are perchers. To this order belong all our songbirds."

"Well, he went down the river after some specimens of the Fuligula Valisneria," said Oscar. "What are they?"

"That's a conundrum," replied Sam.

"What's a Bombycilla Carolinensis?"

"I give it up. There are only a few words more here that I can understand; and, Oscar, I'll say this much for you: your spelling is simply fearful. The Pachydermata are thick-skinned animals, such as the elephant and rhinoceros; the Ruminantia are those that chew the cud, like the cow and sheep; the Digitigrades walk on their toes—the cat and dog belong to this family—and the [Pg 171]Plantigrades walk on their heels. To this family the bear belongs. That is as far as I can help you. But I'll tell you what we will do," added Sam, jumping down from the bench and pulling out his watch. "I'll be around here to-night, within fifteen minutes after school is dismissed, and you go home and take supper with me. In the early part of the evening I'll beat you playing a game of chess, and then we'll go over and call on Mr. Chamberlain. He will make everything clear to you. I don't believe you have been near him since you left school."

"No, I haven't," answered Oscar. "I was obliged to neglect everybody while I was in the store. I'll be ready for you."

Sam rushed out, slamming the door behind him, and hurried toward the gate; but, just then, Oscar happened to think of something, so he ran to the door and called him back.

[Pg 172]


"I will detain you but a moment, Sam," exclaimed Oscar. "I have received a check from Calkins & Son for $7.20, to pay for the ducks we killed on Saturday."

"Good for Calkins & Son!" replied Sam. "If they are always as prompt as that, they are the men we want to deal with."

"Half of it belongs to you, you know."

"Yes, I know it," answered Sam, once more turning his face toward the gate. "You act as my banker, and when I want my share, I'll make out a draft for it."

"Hold on, Sam!" shouted Oscar, who knew very well what this meant; "I'll do nothing of the kind."

"Oscar, you are the most stubborn fellow I ever had anything to do with," said Sam, shaking his finger at his friend, and utterly ignoring the fact that he had never been[Pg 173] known to give up to Oscar in a single instance. "I never saw so obstinate a boy; you want your own way all the time. Now, put that check in your pocket and keep it there. If it is too much trouble for you to do that, give it to the poor. Good-by, and be ready for me at a quarter past four."

Sam turned down the street and set off at a rapid trot. He had just time enough left to eat his dinner and reach the school-house before the last bell rang.

"If there is a confiding fellow in the world, it is that Oscar Preston," said he to himself, as he ran along. "That crazy man has bamboozled him completely. I was sorry to dash all his bright hopes to the ground, but I thought he ought to be waked up to the real facts of the case. I never saw a boy look so sorrowful and downhearted as he did when I told him what I thought about it. I wish from the bottom of my heart it was an offer he could depend on. Wouldn't he be in clover, though! A hundred dollars a month and expenses, for travelling about the country shooting birds and animals! Just think of it!"

[Pg 174]

Oscar watched his friend as long as he remained in sight, and then, leaning his elbows on the work-bench, he rested his chin upon his hands and looked thoughtfully out of the window toward the evergreen screen behind the house.

He was by no means as cheerful and hopeful as he had been a short half hour before. His crony's visit had depressed his spirits wonderfully, but Sam was not to blame for that.

He had asked him what he thought of the president's proposition, and Sam—as he always did—had answered his question promptly, and in language that could not possibly be misunderstood.

Perhaps Sam was right, and he would never again hear of the man who had called himself President Potter.

Oscar had resolved more than once that day that he would not build any hopes upon the offer he had received; but, in spite of all his efforts, his thoughts would dwell upon it, and every little while he found himself indulging in some rosy dreams of the future.

Would it not be a good plan to take Sam's[Pg 175] advice and tell Mr. Smith that he would go back to the store for the wages he had, of his own free will, offered to give him?

The thirty-five dollars a month he was sure of—the larger sum he was not sure of. While he was thinking about it, his mother came to the door and called him to dinner.

The first thing Oscar did when he entered the dining room was to place in his mother's hands the money he had been paid by Mr. Jackson, and the check he had received from Calkins & Son; but he said not a word to her regarding the interviews he had held with Professor Potter and Mr. Smith.

He could not describe these interviews without telling of the propositions that had been made him, and he did not want to do that until he had determined upon something.

He wanted time to look at the matter from every possible standpoint, and he found ample opportunity to do it that afternoon, for he spent very little time in work. He went back to the shop as soon as he had eaten his dinner, but he could find nothing there to interest him.

[Pg 176]

He finished sweeping out, and rearranged his specimens on the shelves, but it was all done by snatches. He would work a few minutes, and then he would walk up and down the shop with his eyes fastened upon the floor.

When four o'clock came his chores were all done, and having exchanged his working-clothes for a neat business suit, he was ready to accompany Sam to his home, where he passed a few hours in the most agreeable manner.

Everybody who visited there said that Mr. Hynes's house was one of the pleasantest and happiest in Eaton, and Oscar had always found it so. It was just the place to go when one was troubled with the blues, as our hero had been all that afternoon.

Sam's father and mother were very jolly people, and his sister, besides being a fine singer and pianist, played chess so well that Oscar, who was sometimes given to boasting of his own skill, was often badly worsted.

Seven o'clock came almost before the boys knew it, and then they put on their caps and[Pg 177] set out to visit the principal of the High School.

Ringing the bell at his door, they were ushered into the library, where Mr. Chamberlain sat with his slippered feet on the fender and the evening's paper in his hand.

He greeted Oscar very cordially, for the latter had been one of his favorite pupils. He had never been known to break one of the rules of school, and had never been reprimanded. He went to school to learn, and for no other purpose.

Do you know such a boy? If you do, you know one whom all his teachers like.

"I am glad to see you again, Oscar," said Mr. Chamberlain, as he shook his visitors warmly by the hand and placed chairs for them; "and I must congratulate you on your good fortune. I knew it would come after awhile."

"Thank you, sir," replied Oscar, wondering how the gentleman had heard of it.

"It never does any good to allow ourselves to get discouraged," continued Mr. [Pg 178]Chamberlain, sinking back into his easy-chair. "It is always darkest just before daylight, you know. I must say that I am surprised as well as delighted."

"So am I, sir," returned Oscar. "I never expected that he would make an acknowledgment, even though he received the most positive proof that he had been mistaken."

"Acknowledgment!" repeated Mr. Chamberlain. "Who made any acknowledgment? What are you talking about, Oscar?"

"Why, I thought you referred to what passed between Mr. Smith and myself to-day," replied the boy.

"I hadn't heard anything about that. Has Mr. Smith found out that he did you injustice? I am glad of it," said Mr. Chamberlain, upon receiving an affirmative nod from Sam. "I knew that would come, too. You may have the satisfaction of knowing that not a single one of your friends ever believed anything wrong against you. I may also say," he added, with a smile, looking toward Sam, who blushed to the roots of his hair, "that some of your acquaintances hold very strong opinions[Pg 179] on that point, and that those opinions have been enforced with the aid of a ball-club. But I was speaking of the offer you received from President Potter. He called on you this morning, did he not?"

"Do you know him, Mr. Chamberlain?" exclaimed Sam.

"Certainly I do. He was my old preceptor, and my guest while he was in Eaton."

"But is he really president of the Yarmouth University?"

"He certainly is. What else did you take him for?"

"I took him for a crazy man," replied Sam bluntly.

"A crazy man! Sam, I am surprised at you!"

"Well, now, Mr. Chamberlain, if you had been in our boat and had heard him talk when we pulled him out of the water, you would have thought so yourself, if you had been a stranger to him."

With this introduction Sam went on to repeat the speech the professor had made while he was lying on the bottom of Oscar's skiff.[Pg 180] He had paid particular attention to it, and could recall it word for word.

"That is just like him," said Mr. Chamberlain. "If he were lecturing a class in this room to-night, and the house should catch fire, he wouldn't leave off until the smoke or flames drove him out. He becomes so completely absorbed in his subject that he doesn't seem to hear or see anything; and I have known mischievous students to steal out of the class-room, one after another, until there were not more than three or four left, and he never missed them. If I had not called his attention to the fact that he had Sam's cap on his head, he would have worn it to Yarmouth when he went away this afternoon. Sam, you will find the article in question on the hat-rack, when you go home."

"I'd like to ask one question, before I forget it," said Oscar. "Is it possible that there are men who, by looking at a single bone, can give you the name of the beast or bird to which that bone belongs? Mr. Potter told me to-day that some of his students once brought him a bone they had found in the woods, and[Pg 181] which they supposed to be the bone of a mastodon; but it proved to be the bone of an ox."

Mr. Chamberlain leaned his head against the back of his chair, looked up at the ceiling, and laughed until his eyes were filled with tears.

"I wonder if the professor still remembers that little incident?" said he. "If my memory serves me, I used to be pretty well acquainted with that same student. He knew very well that the bone did not belong to a mastodon, but he thought he would test the old gentleman's knowledge. It is hardly necessary to say that he was entirely satisfied with the result of the experiment, and had the laugh turned on him completely by the other students who were in the plot."

There was something in Mr. Chamberlain's tone that made the two boys smile at each other. They believed that if the principal had given the name of that student, he would have given one that sounded very much like his own name.

"The professor told me to-day that he had[Pg 182] offered you a hundred dollars a month and all expenses, to procure specimens for the university museum," continued Mr. Chamberlain, addressing himself to Oscar, "and you may rest assured that you will get it. Mr. Potter has a hundred thousand dollars to spend in that way, and I see no reason why you should not earn a good portion of it. You have a number of years of steady employment before you, at more than living wages, if you are inclined to accept this offer."

The boys listened to these words with the greatest amazement, and it is hard to tell which of the two was the more delighted thereat.

Sam was overjoyed to learn that he had been mistaken in the opinions he had formed, and could hardly refrain from jumping up and tossing his cap into the air.

As for Oscar—he blessed his lucky stars that he had not accepted Mr. Smith's offer, as he had more than once been tempted to do that afternoon.

"Mr. Chamberlain," said Sam, as soon as he had controlled his excitement, so that he[Pg 183] could talk intelligibly, "what is a—a—where's that list, Oscar?"

The latter produced a piece of paper, on which he had copied the hard words he had written on his pine board that morning—that is, all that Sam had not been able to translate for him—and handed it to his companion, who passed it over to the principal.

Mr. Chamberlain glanced at the first words on the list, and shook his head.

"Perhaps I haven't spelled them correctly," observed Oscar.

"They are the things the professor went down the river after on Saturday," chimed in Sam.

"Oh, the Fuligula Valisneria," exclaimed Mr. Chamberlain. "That is the canvas-back duck."

"Ah!" said both boys, in concert.

"The family Canidæ is the dog family," said Mr. Chamberlain, turning again to the list. "The family Tetraonidæ is the grouse family, and Tetra Umbellus is the ruffed grouse, which almost everybody calls a partridge. In the South, the quail is called a[Pg 184] partridge, and the grouse is called a pheasant. I hope you boys will never allow yourselves to fall into such habits. You can't begin too early in life to call things by their right names. To the family Ampelidæ belong the chatterers; Bombycilla Carolinensis is the cedar bird. The Cervidæ comprise the deer family, and Cervus Virginianus is our common red deer; the hollow-horned ruminants are the antelopes. There is only one species in the United States, and that is the pronghorn of our Western plains. If you should go out there to hunt him, you would see no end of sport, Oscar, and, I suppose, no end of hard times. I hope you will not expect to find it all plain sailing, simply because you have stepped into an agreeable and profitable situation. Ursus Americanus is the American black bear; Ursus horribilis—you mustn't have anything to do with him—that's the grizzly bear, the most dangerous and dreaded animal in the country. Ursus maritimus—that's the polar bear—is almost as bad."

"The names on that list include the animals[Pg 185] they want in their museum," said Sam, "and Oscar will be obliged to hunt them if they tell him to do so."

"Would you dare do it?" asked Mr. Chamberlain, looking at Oscar.

"I don't know, sir. My courage has never been put to the test. But I will say this: If they will give me a chance to work around home until I can earn money enough to support my mother while I'm gone, I'll start for the plains, or for Africa, within twenty-four hours after I receive their order."

"I like that spirit," said Mr. Chamberlain. "If you are going into a thing, go into it as though you were alive and wide awake. By the way——"

The principal laid down the list, and arose to his feet. Opening his bookcase, he took from it two large and finely bound volumes, which he placed upon the table at Oscar's elbow.

"When you go home, take these books with you," said he. "Keep them as long as they are of any use to you, and they will tell you everything you want to know about birds[Pg 186] and animals, scientific names and all. I have the best of reasons for saying that you will be summoned to Yarmouth in the course of a few days, to pass a sort of examination before the committee, and I want you to acquit yourself with honor; so, if I were in your place, I would spend all my spare time in 'cramming.'"

[Pg 187]


Oscar thanked the principal warmly for his advice and for the interest he took in his affairs, and just then the little clock on the mantle chimed the hour of nine.

The boys, having promised to be at their respective homes by that time, bade Mr. Chamberlain good-night and hurried out, Sam taking possession of his cap as he passed through the hall.

"What do you think of the situation now?" inquired Oscar, when the gate had been closed behind them.

Sam stopped, and, by way of reply, seized his companion's hand, giving it a grip and a shake that would have made almost any other boy double up with pain.

"I never wanted to yell so badly in my life as I did when Mr. Chamberlain told us that that crazy man was just what he represented[Pg 188] himself to be," said Sam. "I'll hold in until we have our next practice game of ball, or until you and I go down the river again, and then won't I make things ring? Say, Oscar, when you are knocking over that big game, right and left, you'll think of a fellow, won't you?"

"Indeed I will, Sam. How much I wish you could go with me, if I go!"

"Oh, you'll go—you need have no fears on that score!" exclaimed Sam, with great enthusiasm. "I should like to be hanging on to the sleeve of your jacket about the time you catch sight of your first antelope, but it isn't to be thought of. I must be in Harvard by a year from next fall, if I have brains enough to get there. Father has set his heart upon it, and, as he is the very best father any boy ever had, I wouldn't disappoint him for the world."

"Of course not," said Oscar. "Now, Sam, I want to ask you a question: What have you been doing?"

"Nothing—nothing whatever," said his companion promptly. "I have read [Pg 189]somewhere, Oscar, that the way those fellows on the plains hunt the pronghorn is to——"

"That won't do, Sam," interrupted Oscar. "I want to talk about another matter. You have been hitting somebody with a ball-club!"

"No, I haven't—honor bright!" exclaimed Sam, with a great show of earnestness. "I never in my life hit anything with a ball-club except the ball and the home base. Why, man alive, I'd be afraid to do it!"

The boys had by this time reached Sam's home, which was but a few steps from Mr. Chamberlain's house.

As Sam was about to open the gate, Oscar shut it with a bang, and placed his back against it. After that, he put his books upon the top of the gate-post, and stood ready to resist any attempt his companion might make to pull him away from his position.

"Hallo, here!" cried Sam, with well-feigned astonishment. "What do you mean by that performance? Won't you let me go in?"

"No, sir, I won't—not unless you can pull[Pg 190] me away from here, and I don't know whether you can do that or not!"

"I don't, either," replied Sam, backing off, and putting his hands in his pockets; "so I'll not try. But it is after nine o'clock, and I ought to be in bed and fast asleep. Some of the folks might come out here to look for me."

"I know they might, but they won't. Now, what have you been doing with that ball-club? I know you have been up to something, for your face got as red as a beet when Mr. Chamberlain spoke about it."

"I never saw so obstinate and persistent a fellow as you are when you once get your mind set on a thing," said Sam, leaning his elbow on the fence, and trying to look like a boy who was very badly persecuted. "I punched him with it, if you must know."

"There! I told you that you had been hitting somebody."

"But I say I didn't hit him!" protested Sam. "I only poked him in the ribs with the end of it."

"Him? Who?"

"Leon Parker."

[Pg 191]

"And got yourself into trouble by it, for Mr. Chamberlain kept you after school and gave you a good talking to."

"Well, I guess that was about the way of it," said Sam reflectively.

"What did you poke him in the ribs for?"

"Because he had too much to say about—well, he had too much to say."

"Look here, Sam," said Oscar, stepping up and laying his hand upon his companion's shoulder; "I am proud of your friendship, and I know it will continue as long as you and I live. I wouldn't say or do anything to hurt your feelings, and I wish you would be equally careful of mine. Now, don't get yourself into trouble for me any more."

"Oh, it wasn't the least trouble in the world," answered Sam, purposely ignoring Oscar's meaning; he thought his friend was becoming altogether too serious. "I poked him just as easy—and I never hurt him a bit, either."

Oscar was obliged to laugh in spite of himself.

"Well, promise me that you won't poke[Pg 192] any more boys in the ribs with ball-clubs because they talk about me, for I know that was what Leon did," said he.

"I promise. I'll never do it again," assured Sam earnestly.

"And whatever you do, don't touch Leon Parker," continued Oscar. "I owe a great deal to his father, and I wouldn't have Leon hurt for anything. He hasn't injured me by his talking, and neither has anybody; for not one of those whose friendship I prize has turned against me."

"That's so," assented Sam. "Well, I suppose I must say good-night. Shall we take another trip down the river next Saturday?"

"I'll tell you what I'd like to do," replied Oscar. "I'd like to make an effort to recover the gun the professor lost when his boat upset. He said it was a borrowed piece, and a very valuable one, too."

"I am with you. We'll take the decoys along, and then if the ducks happen to come our way, we shall be all ready for them. Good-night! I think I was quite safe in saying that I wouldn't trouble Leon anymore,"[Pg 193] said Sam, as he opened the front door and entered the house, "for the lesson I gave him a few days ago will teach him that he had better keep his slanderous tongue still. A ball-club is a pretty hard thing to push against a fellow's ribs—that's a fact—and I'll not do it any more. I'll use my fist next time."

If Oscar had overheard this soliloquy, he would have been compelled to acknowledge that he had not gained much by the promise he had extorted from his friend Sam.

The young taxidermist walked homeward with a light heart. There was nothing now to prevent him from taking his mother into his confidence, which he proceeded to do as soon as he had entered the house.

Mrs. Preston listened attentively to his story, and when it was finished, she said, with something like a sigh:

"If that committee should decide to send you away from Eaton, I should be very lonely, for you are all I have now; but if you and Mr. Chamberlain think it is to your interest to accept this offer, I have nothing to say[Pg 194] against it. I shall not throw a single obstacle in your way."

The boy was overjoyed to hear this. He had been afraid that his mother might not be quite so well pleased with his prospects as he was, and it would have been a sore disappointment if she had raised any objections to the plans he had determined upon.

Oscar did not settle down into a state of chronic inactivity, as many boys would have done who had a clear hundred dollars a month in prospect.

Money was needed at once to pay part of the principal and all the interest that was due Mr. Simpson, and Oscar went manfully to work to earn it in the only way that was open to him.

He spent four days of that week in the woods with Bugle, and every night a good-sized bunch of grouse, quails, and hares was shipped to Calkins & Son, who, on every second day, sent him a check for his money.

The young hunter had never known game to be so abundant as it was that year, and it was no more trouble for him to secure it than[Pg 195] it would have been to sit in the house and do nothing.

He read and studied diligently every evening, and made regular visits to the post-office, hoping to find there the letter the professor had promised to write him; but it did not come.

When Friday afternoon arrived, Oscar walked down to Mr. Simpson's office and paid him one hundred dollars on the mortgage and thirty dollars for interest at six per cent.

He felt better after that, and told himself that the old sharper's chances for gaining possession of his mother's house and lot were by no means as good as they had been. As he was about to enter the gate, he found the farmer who supplied his mother with wood just driving out of the yard.

"Howdy, Oscar!" exclaimed the man, drawing up his team with a jerk. "Folks say you know all about varmints and things, and I'd like to have you tell me if a black fox is wuth more'n any other kind."

"I should say he was!" answered Oscar. "Have you got one?"

[Pg 196]

"Got him! No, I aint, and that there is just what's the matter of me and my hens. He won't leave one of 'em, that there feller won't, if you and Bugle don't come up to my house and shoot him. We aint got no dogs wuth their salt, and my boys can't somehow do nothing with him. They've tuk after him a time or two; but laws! they can't somehow get him to stick his foot into a trap nuther, 'cause he's smarter than chain-lightnin', that there fox is."

Oscar became interested at once. He was always on the lookout for such chances as this, for they gave him an opportunity to try his skill and Bugle's.

He knew there were many good hunters and dogs in the farmer's neighborhood, and an animal that could outwit them all must be cunning indeed.

And then he was a black fox! Oscar remembered hearing the professor say that he would be willing to give something handsome for one of that species.

"Have you ever seen him, Mr. Bacon?" he asked.

[Pg 197]

"Seen him every morning fur a hull week," was the reply, "and shot at him a time or two; but, laws! he's blacker'n that there nigh hoss of mine, that fox is, all except the tip end of his tail, and that's whiter'n snow."

"He must be a beauty!" exclaimed Oscar. "I wish I had him."

"Well, come up there and shoot him, you and Bugle, why don't you? Save the rest of my hens by knocking that there feller over, and I'll give you as good a dinner as you ever eat in a farmhouse."

"I'll try him on Monday, if nothing happens to keep me at home; but if he can get away from such hunters as I know your boys to be, no doubt he will get away from me, too. Do you know anything about his runways?"

"What's them?" asked Mr. Bacon.

"Why, a fox has regular courses which he always follows when he is started by a hound, and they are just as plain to him, and to a hunter who knows the country and understands the habits of the animal, as this road is to you. Those courses are called runways. You can't keep up with a fox when he is [Pg 198]running before the dogs, and so you must get ahead of him and shoot him as he passes along one of these runways."

"Mebbe there's sunthin' in that there idee of your'n," said Mr. Bacon, after reflecting a moment. "I have always noticed that fox, when he crosses from one side of the holler to the other, takes to my medder and jumps the brook about thirty yards below that bridge in my lane. The dogs always start him on that sugar-loaf hill east of my house—I reckin he's got a den up there—and when he gets tired of foolin' around that hill, he crosses over to the west side of the holler, jumpin' the brook where I told you, and that's the end of the hunt, for them wuthless dogs of our'n can't never find that fox agin that day."

"I thank you for the information," replied Oscar. "You have given me a start, and I can find out the rest for myself."

"All right. Don't you forget to come up to my house and get sunthin' to eat."

Mr. Bacon cracked his whip and drove off, and Oscar went into the house. He put the string out of his window before he went to[Pg 199] bed, and at an early hour Sam awoke him by upsetting the chair.

Everything was ready for the start, and as soon as Oscar had made a cup of coffee, and a hasty breakfast had been disposed of, the boys set out for the river.

As before, they took the wheelbarrow with them, and this time it contained, in addition to the decoys, sail, and oars, an iron drag, with four long curved teeth, which Oscar had ordered made at the blacksmith's.

This drag was made fast to a strong rope, forty feet in length, and was to be used in recovering the gun the professor had lost in the river just a week before.

The boys could not have wished for better luck than they had that day. They shot several ducks on their way down the river, and when they arrived off the head of Squaw Island, and had made up their minds where it was that the professor's boat had been capsized, Sam, who sat in the stern, threw the drag overboard, while Oscar pulled the skiff about in circles.

The water was only about twenty feet deep[Pg 200]—the boys wished the weather was warmer, so that they could dive for the lost fowling-piece—and the bottom was composed of smooth, flat rocks, over which the sharp teeth of the drag passed almost as easily as they would have passed over a floor.

Of course they would catch hold of something occasionally, and stop the progress of the boat, and then Sam would overhaul the rope very carefully, only to find, when the drag came to the surface, that there was nothing on it.

At the third cast, however, his efforts were rewarded. The drag struck against some object that offered but a very feeble resistance as Sam tugged at the rope. He hauled in slowly and cautiously, and in a few seconds brought to light the missing gun, suspended by its trigger-guard from one of the teeth of the drag.

Sam greeted it with a series of frightful yells, flourishing it in triumph over his head, then rubbed it briskly with an oiled rag, which he drew from his game-bag, all the while making running comments upon the general appearance of the weapon, and finally he passed it over to his companion.

[Pg 201]

"Isn't it a beauty?" cried Oscar, holding it off at arm's length and giving it a good looking over. "If it shoots as well as it looks, it is certainly a valuable gun. We have saved somebody a hundred and fifty dollars."

"Yes, and more," remarked Sam. "It was made by Joe Manton, the fashionable gun-maker of England—you can see his name on the barrels—and never cost a cent less than three hundred."

When Oscar had admired the gun to his heart's content, he picked up the oars again, and pulled toward the island.

There were still a powder-flask and shot-pouch somewhere on the bottom of the river (the professor had told Oscar that with the gun he had lost all the equipments), but these articles could be replaced for so little money, and the chances of picking them up with the drag were so few and far between, that the boys did not think it worth while to waste time in looking for them. They had recovered the gun, and the owner would certainly be satisfied with that.

[Pg 202]


Arriving at the head of the island, the decoys were set out, and the boys took their positions behind the blind, where they remained until three o'clock that afternoon.

The shooting was all they could desire, and when they returned home that night, Oscar had thirty-one and a half brace of ducks to ship to the city, after Sam had taken out all he wanted for his own use. The extra duck Oscar carried home for his next day's dinner, and the others were duly forwarded to Calkins & Son.

The first thing Oscar did after he had eaten his supper was to take the recovered shot-gun into his shop and give it a thorough overhauling.

The loads were drawn (Oscar laughed when he saw how small they were—they would scarcely have ruffled the feathers of a mallard[Pg 203] at ten paces), the breech-pins were unscrewed, the locks taken to pieces, and every part was oiled and rubbed until it shone like silver.

He worked upon it until ten o'clock, and when he put it together again no one would have supposed that it had lain for a whole week at the bottom of the river. It could not have been in better order when it first came from the hands of the man who made it.

Oscar was up long before daylight on Monday morning, and, having eaten breakfast, he set out with his gun on his shoulder and Bugle at his heels, to try his luck with the black fox.

Now, Reynard, be on the alert. Bring all your cunning into play, and make use of every artifice known to you, for you have no tyros to deal with to-day.

Mr. Bacon's farm was eight miles from the village, by the road, but by following a short cut across the hills three miles of this distance could be saved.

Of course, Oscar took the nearer way, for his experience had taught him that in foxhunting, when one is sometimes obliged to run[Pg 204] a mile or two through a thick wood in order to reach a runway before the game passes, every step counts.

Bugle, much to his disgust, was kept at heel all the way, for his master's heart was set upon securing a black fox, and he had no time to waste with hares, grouse, or common red foxes.

Just as the sun was rising, the young hunter came to a standstill upon the brink of a high bluff, and saw below him the "hollow" in which Mr. Bacon's farm was situated. He had no difficulty in finding the sugar-loaf hill, for he knew right where to look for it.

When he reached it, the hound was ordered to "hunt 'em up!" and he was only too glad to do it. He disappeared in the bushes, while Oscar climbed slowly up the hill for a short distance, and walked leisurely around it in a direction opposite to that taken by the dog.

Finally, as he did not hear from Bugle, he stopped in a little open space, where he could command a view of an acre or two of the hillside, and sat down to rest and await developments.

[Pg 205]

Ten minutes passed, and then a long-drawn bay, which was so faint and far off that it was scarcely audible, and which was repeated by the echoes, until it seemed to sound from the hills on the other side of the hollow, came to his ears; whereupon Oscar arose to his feet, placed his back against a tree, and, cocking both barrels of his gun, held the weapon across his breast in such a position that it could be brought to his shoulder in an instant.

He did not get behind the tree and look around it, for he knew that if he did he would surely be discovered by the fox, should he chance to come that way. He stood out in plain sight, and that was the proper thing to do.

The hill proved to be a great deal larger than Oscar thought it was, for more than an hour passed before Bugle came around to him; but that he had struck a trail, and a warm one, too, was evident, judging by the way he gave tongue.

At last, his deep-toned bays began to ring out louder and clearer, and then Oscar brought his gun to his shoulder, and standing[Pg 206] as motionless as a figure carved out of stone, kept his eye moving about the clear space below him; but the fox did not break cover.

He must have passed that way, however, for in a few minutes more Bugle dashed around the base of the hill, giving tongue at every jump, and started for another hour's run around the sugar-loaf.

As soon as he was out of hearing, Oscar put down the hammers of his gun and ran across the open space at the top of his speed.

"I was on the right track," thought he, "but not quite far enough down the hill. Now, I wish I knew where that fellow turns off when he makes up his mind to cross the hollow and go over to the hill on the other side. Ah! Here is where he passed. If he tries that trick again he is my fox."

The exclamations were called forth by the discovery of a well beaten path which ran diagonally toward the summit of the hill.

A short examination of it showed the hunter that it had been made by Mr. Bacon's[Pg 207] sheep; and his experience told him that the fox had followed that path in the hope of throwing off the hound.

Crossing newly ploughed fields where the scent will not lie, walking on the top-rail of fences, wading in shallow brooks, and running about among a flock of sheep, or following a road along which they have recently passed, are stratagems to which a cunning old fox will frequently resort to throw off the dogs that are pursuing his trail; but Bugle was much too smart to be deceived by any such tricks, and he had followed the fox up the path without the least trouble.

Being fully satisfied that he had found the right place at last, Oscar stationed himself in front of a large tree that stood a short distance up the path, and in such a position that he could look over the tops of the bushes that surrounded it and command a view of the trail for twenty yards on each side, and patiently waited for Bugle to drive the fox around to him again.

It was a long time before he heard from the hound—longer than before—and then he[Pg 208] heard but a few faint bays, after which all was silent again.

The fox had left the sugar-loaf and taken to another hill standing half a mile further down the hollow. After playing around there for half an hour, he came back to the hill he had left, and started around it in a direction opposite to that he had at first followed.

Oscar's ears told him all this (he could distinctly hear the hound whenever he rounded the base of the hill nearest the hollow), and he prepared to act accordingly. He moved a little further around his tree, and, keeping his gaze directed up the path, cocked both barrels of his gun and drew it to his shoulder.

He had not occupied this position more than five minutes before the fox came in sight. It was the one he was looking for, as sure as the world, for there was that white tip on the end of his tail, and the rest of him was as black as jet.

He was taking matters very coolly, trotting down the path as though he had no particular business on hand, and the first thing that told him of the hunter's presence was the report of[Pg 209] the gun which sent a charge of heavy shot into his head and breast. He bounded high into the air, and when he struck the ground again he rolled rapidly down the hill, sending the twigs and withered leaves in every direction.

He struggled desperately to get upon his feet and continue his flight, but he was too hard hit.

Oscar dashed down the hill after him, and when he came up with the fox, he found him lying motionless on a little pile of leaves, which the winds had heaped against the side of a fallen log. He had robbed his last henroost.

The boy picked him up and looked at him. It was the first black fox he had ever seen; but he had read and heard enough about the species to know that they were very rare and valuable, and he was not a little elated over the success that had attended his hunt.

After loading his gun, Oscar placed his prize on the ground, where he could have a fair view of him, and sat down on the log to admire him and wait for Bugle.

[Pg 210]

It was an hour or more before the hound appeared, and his long absence accounted for the slow and deliberate movements of the fox. The cunning animal had doubled on his trail, and, by making use of extra speed, had placed such a distance between himself and his pursuer that haste was no longer necessary.

If left to himself, he would probably have curled up in some warm spot and rested until the hound came within hearing, when he would have jumped up and continued his flight.

When Bugle arrived on the ground, he did not attempt to bite the fox, as he generally did. He simply smelt it, wagged his tail vigorously in response to his master's caresses and words of praise, and then stood off and looked up at him, as if awaiting further orders.

"We'll have something to eat, old fellow, before we do any more hunting," said Oscar, who always talked to his favorite as if the animal could understand every word he said. "We have earned a good dinner by this morning's work, and we'll go and get it. I declare,[Pg 211] it is ready now. I had no idea it was so late. Let's hurry up!"

Oscar knew that dinner was ready, because he heard signals exchanged between Mr. Bacon's house and the field. First, a shrill female voice shouted:


The call was repeated two or three times, and then an answering "Yeep!" uttered in deep, masculine tones, arose from the field below.

Oscar, followed by Bugle, hurried down the hill, clambered over the fence, and joined Mr. Bacon and his two broad-shouldered sons, who had been at work repairing a stone wall. They were on their way to the house, but they stopped when they saw him coming, and Mr. Bacon, discovering the prize he carried over his shoulder, brought his hands together with a loud clap, and shouted out a cordial welcome.

"Well, you done it, didn't you?" he exclaimed. "That's the feller, 'cause I'd know him two mile off, if I could see him that fur. I told the boys I reckoned mebbe that[Pg 212] was you a-shootin' up there, an' I had half a notion to send one on 'em up to see. Come on now, and get the dinner I promised you—you and Bugle. We'll fill him so full of meat that he won't do no more huntin' this day, that there hound-dog won't."

"Not meat, please!" said Oscar; "it spoils a dog's nose. Bugle has little besides corn-bread and vegetables at home, and he is entirely satisfied with his diet."

"Well, I reckon mebbe Johnnycake'll do him, won't it? Wife always has Johnnycake on Monday, 'cause it's wash-day, you know."

When the farmer and his sons had examined Oscar's prize to their satisfaction, and had told some remarkable stories of the skill he had exhibited in eluding his former pursuers, Mr. Bacon led the way toward the house.

His wife was loud in her praises, and made Oscar laugh by declaring that she "knowed that there fox was gone up when she heard that him and Bugle was goin' to get after him."

Having performed his ablutions, Oscar was shown to a seat at the table, which fairly[Pg 213] groaned under the weight of the good things that were piled upon it.

Mrs. Bacon was sorry she hadn't something better to offer the successful sportsman, but Oscar could see no necessity for any apologies. It was not a "picked-up" dinner, if it was washing-day. He thought the farmer must have an idea that fox-hunters were blessed with more than ordinary appetites, for the plate that was passed over to him was filled so full that not another thing could have been placed upon it.

The meal was enlivened with conversation on various topics, and when it was finished, and the farmer had smoked his after-dinner pipe, Oscar picked up his fox and gun, thanked Mrs. Bacon for the good dinner she had given him, and accompanied the three men to the field. There he took leave of them and struck out across the hills toward home.

He was in no hurry now, so he walked along very leisurely, and picked up quite a respectable bag of game on the way. Bugle drove three hares around to him, and twice as many grouse fell to his double-barrel.

[Pg 214]

At length, when the increasing gloom of the woods told him that the day was drawing to a close, Oscar tied his game together in a bunch with a strong cord he always carried in his game-bag for that purpose, called Bugle to him, and set out at a brisk walk.

As he was working his way through a dense thicket on Mr. Parker's hill-farm, he came suddenly upon two boys, who, just as he appeared in sight, disappeared, dropped a bundle of something behind a log and took to their heels. One of them glanced over his shoulder as he ran, and finally halted and faced about.

"Don't be afraid, Jeff," he shouted to his retreating companion; "it's nobody but Oscar Preston."

Jeff stopped as soon as he could check his headlong flight, and when he had satisfied himself as to the identity of the approaching hunter, he came slowly back.

Oscar knew the two boys, but he never had had anything to do with them. They lived near the river, and belonged to what the order-loving portion of the villagers called a "hard crowd."

[Pg 215]

"What have you been up to?" asked Oscar, as soon as he came within speaking distance. "Something mean, I'll warrant."

"No, we haven't!" answered both the boys in concert. "We haven't been up to anything."

It was only necessary that Oscar should use his eyes to detect the falsehood. One glance around explained everything. The snares which Leon had worked so hard to build were all ruined. Oscar knew that they were Leon's snares, for no one else would be likely to build them on his father's grounds.

"You are a contemptible couple!" said he indignantly; "although I don't know that one can expect you to be anything else. What made you do it?"

"Well, what made Leon shoot my tame pigeons the last time he was down to the river?" whined one of the boys. "He knowed they was mine, but he plumped 'em over all the same. I said I'd spile something of his'n some day, to pay for it, and I've done it."

"That's a pretty way to get even with him,[Pg 216] isn't it?" said Oscar. "I've the best notion in the world to take you both by the neck and knock your heads together. Did you find any birds in these snares?"

"Nary one; and no rabbits neither."

"What did you do with the triggers and strings?"

"We heaved 'em into the bushes as fur as we could, and it's too dark to find 'em again. Say, Oscar, you won't tell nobody about this, will you? That's a good feller."

"No blarney, now. I'll tell you this much," was Oscar's angry reply; "if I catch either of you in an act of this kind again, I'll give you a shaking that will do your hearts good. Now, remember it!"

So saying, he walked past the young vandals, who took care to give him all the room he wanted, and disappeared in the thicket which covered the other side of the hill.

The two boys did not move or speak until they were certain that he had really gone, and then one of them hurried to the fallen log, snatched up the bundle that was lying behind it, and ran off in a direction lying at right[Pg 217] angles with the one Oscar had taken, his companion following close behind him.

The bundle, which seemed to be about as heavy as the boy could conveniently manage, was made up of quail, grouse, and hares, rightfully belonging to Leon.

If Oscar had not been in such haste to reach home and prepare his black fox for mounting, if he had taken a little time to look into things, as he afterward wished he had done—a certain incident we have already recorded never would have happened.

[Pg 218]


When the grouse and hares he had shot that day had been prepared for market and placed in the hands of the express agent, Oscar ate his supper, started a fire in his shop, and set to work to skin the black fox and prepare it for mounting.

He intended that it should be his first contribution to the Yarmouth museum, and he was anxious to make it the finest piece of work he had ever put up.

It was long after eleven o'clock when he went to bed, but at daylight he was in the woods with Bugle, and by nine o'clock three grouse, and twelve out of a flock of fifteen quails he flushed just before reaching Mr. Parker's hill-farm, had found their way into his game-bag.

During his excursion of the previous day, Oscar had found that birds were unusually[Pg 219] abundant in Mr. Bacon's neighborhood, and he was slowly working his way in that direction, when Bugle suddenly jumped a hare from a laurel thicket close in front of him.

Oscar, who was thinking busily about something else, was caught napping that time, and before he could bring his gun to his shoulder, the game had disappeared.

By running in a zig-zag manner and making long leaps from side to side, he succeeded in dodging the hound in the thick bushes. But Bugle very soon found out what his tactics were, and set to work to follow him up in a methodical and scientific way.

Knowing that a hare always runs in circles at the beginning of his flight, Oscar sprang upon a fallen log that lay close at hand, and waited for Bugle to bring the game around to the point from which he started.

He had scarcely settled himself to his satisfaction, when the report of a gun rang through the woods, followed by a doleful yelp from Bugle.

Oscar stood motionless with astonishment. His first thought was that somebody had shot[Pg 220] at the hare and hit the hound instead. But a moment's reflection showed him that such an accident could not possibly happen under the circumstances.

The game had a good start, and the dog could not have overtaken him in so short a time. Beyond a doubt the concealed hunter, whoever he was, had shot Bugle on purpose.

With an exclamation of anger, Oscar sprang down from his log and ran through the woods in the direction from which the report sounded.

When he had gone about a hundred yards, he saw Bugle coming to meet him. The animal seemed to be greatly excited, for he bayed loudly, and now and then he would stop and shake his head violently, or sit down and scratch his ears.

Discovering his master, he ran up to him, laid his chin in his outstretched hand, at the same time whining piteously, and calling attention to his injuries by rubbing his paw over his head.

"I didn't suppose you had an enemy in the world, old fellow," said Oscar, trembling all[Pg 221] over with indignation. "I know who did it. It was those two river boys who destroyed Leon's snares. Now we'll have a settlement with them, if we can find them. Why, Bugle, you are more scared than hurt after all."

While he was speaking, Oscar made a hurried examination of his favorite's wounds, and to his great delight discovered that but two shot had struck him, and they had passed through one of his huge ears without touching his body at all.

Leon had not done as good shooting that morning as he usually did. No doubt he was in a great hurry to have it over with, and became nervous when he thought of the consequences that might follow his rash act, or else the hound moved a little out of range just an instant before he pulled the trigger.

At any rate the shot was not as effective as Leon meant it should be; but the wounded member bled profusely, and his master's indignation increased while he looked at it.

Having satisfied himself that the hound was not seriously injured, Oscar shouldered his[Pg 222] gun again and set out at the top of his speed to overtake the bushwhackers.

A few minutes' run brought him to the thicket in which Leon's snares were placed, and there he stopped, dropped the butt of his gun to the ground, and finally walked over and seated himself on the very log on which Leon and his cousin had been sitting a short time before.

He had different opinions now regarding the identity of the bushwhackers. It was plain enough to him that the river boys had nothing to do with the shooting. Here were Leon's snares—which had been completely destroyed the day before—all in order, and ready to catch the first thing that came within their reach.

He knew very well that the boys he had seen there on the previous day had not come back and repaired the mischief they had done; they would be the last ones to think of such a thing. It followed, then, that Leon must have repaired the snares himself, that very morning; and, beyond a doubt, it was he who shot the hound.

[Pg 223]

Oscar's indignation gave way to a feeling of sadness.

"We'll not look any further, Bugle," said he.

And the hound, which had stretched itself out at his feet, and seemed to have forgotten all about the trifling injuries he had received, rapped the leaves with his tail when his master spoke.

"I don't want to see that boy, for I might say or do something spiteful. I can't understand it at all, for I am sure I never did anything to Leon that should cause him to take such a revenge on me. It can't be that he has anything against you, Bugle, for you never troubled him or anybody else, did you? I can't understand, either, how Leon happens to be in the woods to-day, for I know his father never lets him stay away from school to go hunting. Let's go down to the brook and take a bath, Bugle."

Leon and his cousin had not eluded pursuit so effectually as they thought they had, for Oscar could have overtaken and confronted them in less than thirty minutes after the shooting was done, had he felt so inclined.

[Pg 224]

He heard the reports of the shot-gun and rifle which brought down the squirrels that supplied the runaways with a portion of their dinner, and that was the way he found out that Leon was not alone.

Oscar knew that the other boy could be none other than Frank Fuller, but he never thought of him in connection with the shooting, for he did not believe that Frank had courage enough to perform an act of that kind. He knew, further, that he had only to follow up the stream, on the banks of which he spent half an hour in washing the blood from the hound's head, to find the two boys, for he saw the smoke of their camp-fire rising above the tops of the trees.

But for the sake of the father who had been so kind to him, Oscar was perfectly willing to overlook this unkindly act on the part of the son. He saw that Bugle had forgotten all about it, and he would try to forget it, too.

After the hound's head had been bathed a few times, the animal seemed to be himself again; and when his master led him back to the place where he had been shot he took up[Pg 225] the trail of his own accord, and followed it with all his usual energy and zeal.

Oscar went back to his log, and had scarcely taken up his position upon it when the frightened hare broke cover and was neatly stopped.

Oscar continued to hunt through the woods in the direction of the hollow in which Mr. Bacon lived, but at one o'clock he turned and retraced his steps, with both nets of his game-bag completely filled, and as large a bunch of birds and hares as he wanted to carry slung over his shoulder.

The game was left at the depot in time to be placed upon the evening's train for Yarmouth, and on his way home Oscar stopped at the post-office, where he found two letters waiting for him.

One was from Calkins & Son, enclosing a check to pay for the grouse and hares he had sent them the night before, and the other, to his joy, proved to be from one of the committee who had charge of the money which was to be expended in founding the university museum.

The letter was short and to the point, and[Pg 226] there were no Latin or Greek words in it to bother him. It contained an invitation for him to visit the city at as early a day as possible, bringing with him some specimens of his skill as a taxidermist. If he would drop the writer a line by return mail, telling him on what day and at what hour he might be expected to arrive in Yarmouth, some member of the committee would meet him at the depot with a carriage.

Then came the following postscript:

Professor Kendall desires me to ask if you think there is any way in which he can recover his gun, which was lost when the president's boat was capsized? It is an imported weapon, costing over three hundred dollars, and as it was a present from a very dear friend he cannot bear the thought of giving it up. His college duties have prevented him from visiting Eaton in regard to the matter.

"I wonder what Sam Hynes will have to say now?" thought Oscar, as he put the letter into his pocket. "If he doesn't come around to-night, I must go over to see him. He is as much interested in my success as I am, and I must keep him posted. Now, what ought I to take with me besides that black[Pg 227] fox, and when shall I tell them to look for me?"

Oscar kept his mind on these matters all the way home. He could have started for the city the very next day, if it had not been for the fact that the committee wished to see some of his specimens.

Those he decided to take with him must all be mounted over again, and that was very particular work and could not be hurried. The birds must all be perched in trees, and the standards that supported the trees, as well as the board on which the black fox was placed, must be painted and covered with moss and leaves preserved in paraffine, to make them resemble the ground in the forest.

After that, neat boxes must be made in which to pack the specimens for transportation; and when Oscar had thought it all over, he decided that the work could not be done in less than a week.

He told his correspondent so in the letter he wrote to him as soon as he reached home, and set the following Wednesday for the start.[Pg 228] He added a piece of information that must have delighted Professor Kendall.

He said that the gun had been recovered with but very little effort; that it was safe in his (Oscar's) hands, and that, in order to save express charges, he would take it with him when he went to Yarmouth, if its owner would consent to wait so long for it.

When the letter had been dropped into the office, Oscar went home again and resumed his work upon the black fox. While the specimen was growing into shape under his skilful hands, he was suddenly startled by a loud scream of terror, which sounded from the street, and was immediately followed by angry bays and growls from Bugle.

Oscar, wondering what could be the matter, ran out into the yard with all haste, and was greatly amazed to see Sam Hynes standing in front of the gate holding fast with both hands to the loose, thick skin on the back of the hound's neck.

The animal had reared himself upon his hind legs, and was struggling desperately to reach Leon Parker and his cousin, Frank Fuller, who[Pg 229] stood a little further down the sidewalk, trembling with fear and begging Sam not to let go his hold upon the enraged brute.

They knew that the hound recognized them, and was determined to take revenge on them for what they had done that morning.

Had they taken to their heels, the animal would have become more determined than ever. Their safest course was to stand still and trust to Sam's grip.

Oscar had never before seen his favorite in such a fury. Strong as Sam was, it was all he could do to hold him.

In half a dozen jumps Oscar reached the gate, and seizing Bugle around the body under his forelegs, he dragged him into the yard with Sam's assistance and closed the gate upon him.

Leon and his cousin felt perfectly safe now. They came slowly up the sidewalk, their pale faces showing that they had sustained something of a fright.

"What makes your dog act so?" asked Leon, in a trembling voice, at the same time[Pg 230] moving toward the outside of the walk, as he saw Bugle's white teeth gleaming between the pickets. "Is he mad?"

"Mad!" repeated Oscar, who stood on the inside of the fence to keep the hound from jumping over it. "I shouldn't wonder if he was. Wouldn't you be mad if somebody should send a charge of bird-shot at your head?"

The two boys opened their eyes and tried to look surprised; but they only succeeded in looking guilty.

"You don't mean to say that somebody shot him, do you?" exclaimed Leon.

"Yes, I do; and you were not far away at the time, either."

"It's false, every word of it!" cried Frank, with well-feigned indignation. "We haven't seen him before, to-day."

"Look here, Towny," said Sam, "you can't take that back any too quick."

As he said this, he placed his hand on the latch and opened the gate, which Oscar promptly closed again, holding fast to it with one hand, while he restrained Bugle with[Pg 231] the other. He had two obstinate and determined ones to manage now.

"I mean he is mistaken, for we didn't do it," said Frank, who saw that it would be no trouble at all to get into business then and there.

"That sounds better," replied Sam. "Now you keep still. Nobody was saying a word to you when you chipped in."

Frank said no more, and neither did Leon. They stood silent for a moment, and then with a common impulse walked toward home.

Oscar was glad to see them go, and so was Bugle, who speedily became his own friendly self again; but Sam stood with his hands on the gate, watching them, and wishing that he had not allowed Oscar to keep him in the yard so easily.

"Come into the shop," said Oscar. "I've got something there that will put you in good humor again. Now, as we walk along, tell me how this trouble was brought about."

"Bugle started it," said Sam. "When I opened the gate, he came out to meet me. I saw there was something the matter with his[Pg 232] ear, and while I was examining it, he happened to look down the street and saw Leon and Frank coming. In an instant he was the maddest dog I ever saw. He stuck up the hair on his neck, gave a growl, and charged through the gate. Of course I didn't know what the matter was, for I had never seen him act so before; but knowing that he intended to use the teeth he showed so plainly, I made a grab at him as he went through the gate, and, by the merest chance, caught one of his hind legs. Did you hear Frank scream? I had no idea that a hound was so heavy and strong," added Sam, looking at his hands. "You came just in time, for he would have slipped away from me in a minute. Hey!"

Sam, who was on the point of seating himself on the work-bench, had just caught sight of the black fox. Having never seen an animal like it before, he examined it with the greatest interest.

Oscar had a good budget of news for his friend, for the two last days were big with events.

Taking them in order, he described all the[Pg 233] incidents connected with his hunt after the prize he was then engaged in mounting, and gave the particulars of his encounter with the two boys who destroyed Leon's snares.

He told all about the shooting of the hound, gave a list of the game he had sent away during the afternoon, and finally handed out the letter he had received from the committee.

To say that Sam was delighted with the letter, would but feebly express his feelings. He could not say enough in praise of Oscar's good fortune, although he talked about it until almost dark.

When he saw his friend making preparations to light the lamp over his work-bench, Sam said good-night and started for home.

[Pg 234]


Oscar now gave up hunting entirely (he did not neglect to drop a line to the commission merchants, telling them why he was obliged to do so, and they, in reply, sent him a cordial invitation to visit them when he came to Yarmouth), and devoted himself to the preparation of his specimens.

He worked hard all day and studied late every night, and the nine o'clock train which passed through Eaton on Wednesday morning, carried him away with the rest of its passengers; his specimens, which were carefully and neatly boxed, being stowed away in the express car.

In his hands Oscar carried the gun which he and Sam had fished up from the bottom of the river, and by it he was recognized when he reached Yarmouth depot.

There were two gentlemen there, waiting for[Pg 235] him, and one of them was the owner of the recovered fowling-piece.

The instant he saw it he knew that Oscar was the boy he and his companion were looking for.

Oscar was gone just a week, and what he saw and did during his absence, and what bargain he made with the committee, we shall learn as soon as he meets his friend Sam, who, of course, must know all about it.

We will tell the reader this much, however, for it would not sound well coming from Oscar's lips, even if he knew all about it, which he did not.

The young taxidermist was almost overwhelmed by his reception. He was introduced to the faculty, to the students, and to many prominent citizens as the brave youth who had saved President Potter's life.

That eccentric gentleman had never thought it worth while to mention the name of Sam Hynes in connection with his rescue, but the reader may rest assured that Oscar did not neglect to do it.

Whenever the subject was spoken of in his[Pg 236] hearing, the active and important part taken by the cool-headed Sam was faithfully and graphically described.

This one act on Oscar's part—the saving of the president's life—was enough to make him a hero in the eyes of all the strangers who surrounded him; but what added to the interest with which they regarded him was the fact that he had been selected to complete the university's collection of birds and animals.

The faculty and students, as well as some of the citizens, knew that Professor Potter had at last found somebody to do the work, and when it was announced that that somebody would soon visit Yarmouth to exhibit specimens of his skill, his arrival was awaited with no little impatience.

The professor had not been at all particular about describing the person he had engaged, and the students expected to find themselves confronted by a bearded, fine-looking man in buckskin, or else in high-top boots, red shirt, and slouch hat, standing at least six feet high, with broad shoulders, and so powerful a grip[Pg 237] that nobody would dare shake hands with him.

These being their ideas, how great must have been their astonishment when there appeared among them, one morning, a neatly dressed, modest youth, who seemed to shrink away from them, and who blushed every time anyone spoke to him!

They could scarcely believe their eyes; but the committee took him, and Oscar's position was established at once.

On the second day after his arrival, he was invited to dine at the house of a prominent citizen, and there he met a brilliant company, including the gentleman who had given the money to found the museum.

The men treated him with a respect that astonished him, and the ladies crowded around him and asked questions, until Oscar wished most heartily that he could crawl into a hollow log somewhere and get out of sight.

Through all this trying ordeal, the young taxidermist conducted himself with the utmost propriety; but when the week was ended[Pg 238] and he found himself on board the train bound for Eaton, he drew a long breath of relief, and said to himself:

"Thank goodness, it is all over!"

Sam Hynes was at the depot when Oscar reached the village on Wednesday night, and eager as he was to hear what his friend had to tell him, he was still more eager to communicate to him a piece of news that was just then the talk of the town.

Oscar lingered for a few minutes on the platform to exchange greetings with two or three friends who chanced to be there, but he drew away from them as soon as he could, and started for home, accompanied by Sam. He was very anxious to see his mother.

"Well," said Oscar, as they locked arms and walked briskly toward the village, "I don't see that Eaton has changed any during my absence."

"Oh, you don't!" exclaimed Sam. "One would think you had been somewhere, to hear you talk."

"I have been somewhere, and in less than a[Pg 239] week I am going somewhere else. Have you any news for me?"

"I have, and I know you will be sorry to hear it—not on account of the young rascals themselves, but on Mr. Parker's account. Leon and his cousin, Frank Fuller, have run away from home."

Oscar withdrew his arm, and stopped and looked at his friend, who backed off and put his hands in his pockets.

The two gazed into each other's faces for a few seconds, and then locked arms and walked on again.

"I hope there is some mistake about it," said Oscar, as soon as he could speak.

"I wish there was, from the bottom of my heart!" replied Sam earnestly.

Oscar was silent for several minutes. He recalled all the favors for which he was indebted to the kind-hearted lawyer, thought of the numerous indulgences which he knew Mr. Parker had granted his scapegrace son, and then broke out fiercely:

"Leon deserves to be thrashed within an inch of his life! He is a mean boy who[Pg 240] will run away from such a father as he has."

"Just what I have remarked a score of times," answered Sam. "But Mr. Chamberlain says that the punishment he will receive before he gets through with this business will be worse than thrashing. They packed up and cleared out on the very night that you went to Yarmouth."

"Go on and tell me all about it," said Oscar.

"I don't know much to tell," answered Sam, "for, of course, Mr. Parker and his family have had very little to say about the matter. The amount of it is that Leon has been in trouble ever since his cousin came here. Frank led him into all sorts of scrapes, and finally induced him to run away from school—a thing Leon had never done before in his life. On the same day Mr. Fuller arrived from Boston to see how Frank was getting on with his studies, and the first thing he learned in regard to him was that he had been playing truant. The general impression seems to be that the young men were[Pg 241] disciplined, and that they got angry about it."

"Where have they gone, and what do they intend to do?"

"Nobody seems to know. They took a good supply of clothing with them and also their guns."

"Ah! No doubt they intend to sell their guns in order to obtain money to pay their way," observed Oscar.

"There's no need of that," answered Sam. "I don't know whether or not Frank had any money, but Leon had a pocketful of it. His grandfather, of late years, has made it a point to give Leon a hundred dollars every Christmas. Unfortunately, the money was deposited in the bank to Leon's credit, and all he had to do was to present his book and draw the funds."

"My gracious!" exclaimed Oscar, "what a scamp that boy must be!"

"He wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for Frank. He is the one who has led Leon into all this trouble. Now, let me ask you a few questions. What luck have you had? Your[Pg 242] last letter made me believe that you had some good news for me."

"And so I have," replied Oscar. "I have had the best of luck, and, if nothing unforeseen happens, I shall be on my way to the plains by a week from to-night."

"You don't tell me so!" cried Sam, whose astonishment and delight were almost unbounded. "How was it all brought about?"

"I can hardly tell you, for the truth is I have lived in such a state of excitement and bewilderment ever since I have been away that I hardly knew whether I stood on my head or my heels. In the first place, I was completely upset by the attentions that were shown me when I arrived in Yarmouth. The officers of the college and this museum committee took me in charge at once. They wouldn't let me go to a hotel, as I wanted to do, but President Potter—he is not a crazy man, Sam—took me to his home and kept me there. The next day I was shown over the university, and all the students looked at me as if I had been some rare specimen of taxidermy. I went into their museum, and I tell[Pg 243] you what's a fact, Sam—my specimens beat theirs all to pieces."

"I am glad to hear it," said Sam.

"My specimens are there now," continued Oscar, "and anybody can see for himself which is the best work. It would have made you laugh to see those students crowd around me and ask me questions in natural history, just as though I knew all about it. The committee wanted me to put up some new specimens for them, so I went down to the store of Calkins & Son, and picked out four nice ones—a hare, grouse, mallard, and black squirrel. I told them who I was, and what I wanted the birds and animals for, and they wouldn't take a cent for them. When I found that I was expected to put up these specimens in the presence of a class as well as the committee, and explain every operation, my hand trembled so that I could hardly hold the knife, and I couldn't say a word."

"You were embarrassed," said Sam. "You had never received so much attention before."

"And I hope I never will again," said Oscar honestly.

[Pg 244]

"Ah!" exclaimed Sam, with a knowing shake of his head, "wait until you come back from the plains. If you are successful, they will make a lion of you. What sort of work did you do before the class?"

"Oh, after I got fairly started, and gained a little confidence, I was all right. My tongue ran glibly enough, and I never did quicker or better work in my life. When I got through, I had four as fine specimens as you ever saw."

"Good!" exclaimed Sam. "Well, what was the next thing?"

"The next thing was the best part of the whole business," answered Oscar. "It was a private conference with the committee, during which I was engaged for one year, with the understanding that if they were satisfied with my work, I was to keep right on until I had furnished the museum with specimens from every country on the globe. Just think of that!"

"Whew!" whistled Sam.

"In the first place, as I told you, I am to go out West. My instructions are to confine [Pg 245]myself entirely to large game, although I am at liberty to secure any rare bird or animal that may chance to come in my way. But I mustn't waste my time in hunting for them. What they want most is a specimen of the Felis concolor, and also——"

"Hallo!" exclaimed Sam.

"What's the matter with you?" asked Oscar.

"Nothing," replied his companion. "I forgot that you had been through college. Big words come easy to you since your association with those learned men, don't they? Well, good-night!"

The boys had by this time reached Oscar's gate. Bugle, hearing the sound of his master's voice, came over the fence without touching it, and was so demonstrative in his greeting that Oscar was obliged to seize him by the neck and hold him off.

Oscar wanted Sam to go in, but the latter declined. He knew that his friend would want to talk to his mother about his good fortune, and he wisely concluded that the presence of a third party might not be agreeable.[Pg 246] He would see Oscar the next day, after school, he said, and listen to the rest of the narrative.

So Sam went home, and Oscar went into the house. He told his mother the same story he had told his companion, adding an item of information that astonished her not a little.

[Pg 247]


Let us now return to Leon and Frank, whom we left, at the close of the second chapter, hastening over the hills toward home, after spending the day in the woods.

They had by no means enjoyed themselves as well as they expected they should, and now, when it was too late, they would have given almost anything if they could have lived the day over again.

They would have gone to school. Like all guilty persons, they were afraid, and Leon did not attempt to conceal the fact, although Frank did.

They ran almost all the way to the village, and climbing the fence at the back of Mr. Parker's lot, they hurried across the field, taking care to keep the barn between themselves and the house.

The merry shouts that came to their ears[Pg 248] told them that they had not a moment to lose—that school had just been dismissed.

They entered the barn through the back door, and after hiding their guns and equipments in the hay-mow, ran out again. They crept along on their hands and knees under cover of the currant bushes, crossed two or three lots, and finally reached the street in which the school-house was located. Then they breathed easier.

They slackened their pace and walked along like honest school-boys, believing that all danger of discovery was passed; but what was their astonishment and alarm when one of their schoolmates, who had seen them climb the fence, hurried up to them, exclaiming as soon as he came within speaking distance:

"Hallo, fellows! where have you been to-day?"

"We have been at home," replied Frank, who, having a larger stock of falsehoods at his command than his cousin, was always expected to speak for him. "We couldn't come to school to-day."

"That's very strange," replied the boy.[Pg 249] "Miles Jackson went to your house this morning to ask where you were, and returned with the report that you had started for school as usual."

Leon was almost ready to drop, and Frank, as soon as he had somewhat recovered from his amazement, asked angrily:

"What business had Miles Jackson to make inquiries about us, I'd like to know?"

"The professor sent him," replied the boy. "You see there was a new rule went into operation this morning. Mr. Chamberlain says he'll not be responsible for our advancement, unless we come to school regularly; and hereafter when any of the pupils are absent, he's going to send somebody to their homes to find out what's the matter."

The boy hurried on to overtake some fellows he saw in advance of him, leaving Frank and Leon standing on the sidewalk, and looking at each other in speechless amazement.

"It's all up with us," groaned Leon, as soon as he had recovered the use of his tongue. "We have danced, and now we must pay the fiddler."

[Pg 250]

"What a little snipe that Miles Jackson is!" exclaimed Frank, in great disgust. "Why couldn't he tell the professor that we were kept at home?"

"Oh, he isn't that sort!" replied Leon. "You needn't expect him to help you out of any scrape you get into."

"No; you can't expect such a favor from any fellow in this town," snapped Frank. "It takes city boys to do that. They stick to one another through thick and thin, and any spoony who tries to win the favor of the teacher by carrying tales is cut dead as soon as he is found out. There's another fellow who is mean enough for anything."

"Don't talk so loud," whispered Leon hastily. "You can get into trouble with him in a minute."

"I don't care," replied Frank, in a still louder tone. "I haven't seen a boy yet in this town that I am afraid of."

The subject of this conversation was Sam Hynes, who was striding along about twenty yards in front of them, in his usual free-and-easy manner, his hands in his pockets and his[Pg 251] cap on the back of his head. He must have been very much engrossed with his own thoughts, or else he would certainly have heard what Frank said.

Arriving at the gate that led into Mrs. Preston's yard, he jerked it open—Sam handled everything as if it were made of iron—and, to the intense amazement of Leon and his cousin, was greeted by Oscar's hound.

The moment the gate was opened, the huge animal raised himself on his hind legs and placed his forefeet upon Sam's shoulders.

"Well, I declare!" exclaimed Leon.

"I thought as much," replied his cousin. "There's that dog as gay and frisky as he was this morning, when he was following that trail. A pretty shot you made, didn't you?"

"I know I hit him somewhere," said Leon. "Let's have a look at him, and see if I didn't. It's strange how much everybody thinks of that hound. He's got more friends in town than I have."

The cousins saw Sam pat the animal on the[Pg 252] head, then gently push him off and bend over to examine his ear.

Just then Bugle happened to look around the gate-post and saw Frank and Leon approaching. With an angry growl, he dashed forward, throwing Sam flatter than he had ever been thrown by any boy of his age, and in a moment more something disagreeable and even tragic might have happened, had it not been for Sam's wonderful agility.

He did not know what was the matter, but he saw that the hound had made up his mind to bite somebody and he was resolved to prevent it if he could.

As Bugle passed him, Sam caught him by one of his hind legs, and, scrambling quickly to his feet, drew the dog toward him, until he could seize him by the back of the neck. But Frank thought the animal was coming, and uttered a scream that could have been heard two blocks away.

Then Oscar appeared on the scene, and after that came the colloquy we have already recorded, during which two facts were brought to light. One was that Oscar knew right[Pg 253] where to look to find the person who had shot his favorite, and the other, that there was at least one boy in Eaton of whom the boastful Frank was afraid.

When Leon and his cousin resumed their walk toward home, their faces were very pale; but they soon recovered from their fright, and then, as a natural consequence, they began to get angry.

They had got themselves deeply in trouble that day; but, instead of being sorry for it, and making an honest resolve that they would do better in future, they became enraged at their luck, which had not served them a better turn.

Having no one else upon whom to vent their spite, they began abusing each other.

"If it hadn't been for Sam Hynes, that dog would have made bad work with us!" exclaimed Frank. "You came very near getting us into a pretty scrape by your miserable marksmanship. I wouldn't brag any more about my skill with a shot-gun, if I were in your place."

"That's a nice way for you to talk, isn't[Pg 254] it?" retorted Leon. "Do I brag any more than you do? You said there wasn't a boy in town you were afraid of, and yet, when you saw that Sam Hynes was going to open that gate, you were in such a hurry to take back your words that you couldn't talk plainly."

The cousins, being in a very bad humor, continued to exchange such compliments as these until they arrived in sight of Mr. Parker's house.

Then they became silent, for they had other matters to think of.

What was going to happen when they got on the inside of that house?

They would have been glad if they could have found an excuse for postponing their entrance indefinitely; but, knowing that they must face the consequences of their folly sooner or later, they opened the gate without hesitation, mounted the steps, and entered the sitting room.

To the no small astonishment of both boys, the first person upon whom their eyes rested was Mr. Fuller—Frank's father.

He had come down from Boston to see how[Pg 255] his son was getting on, and hoping to hear a good report of him. He also had some news to communicate that, twenty-four hours before, would have made the boys dance with delight.

He had decided to start for California, on a business tour, in about three weeks; he was going to take Frank with him, and he had asked Mr. Parker to allow Leon to accompany them.

The subject was broached that morning when Mr. Fuller first arrived, and Frank and Leon's prospects for making an extended pleasure-trip looked very bright indeed; but, during the discussion, Miles Jackson—acting under instructions from Mr. Chamberlain—suddenly made his appearance, and wanted to know why the boys were not at school.

The runaway business dashed all their prospects to the ground—and that was only the beginning of their trouble.

Another occupant of the room—whom the boys did not expect to see—was Mr. Parker, who was generally at his office this hour of the day.

[Pg 256]

As the truants came in, he arose and moved toward the library, beckoning to Leon to follow him.

He closed the door behind him, Mrs. Parker left the room, and Frank found himself alone with his father.

"Well, young man," said Mr. Fuller, "where have you been to-day?"

The boy did not know what to say. He was in a scrape that he could not lie out of.

"Where have you been to-day?" repeated Mr. Fuller sternly.

The look and the tone in which these words were uttered loosened Frank's tongue very quickly.

"I have been in the woods, sir," said he.

"Been in the woods!" repeated his father. "Ran away from school! Sneaked out of the house like a thief! Is this what I sent you to Eaton for?"

"No, sir; but I don't like this school, and I don't want to stay here. I want to go home."

"You'll not go home. You will stay right[Pg 257] here, and go to school every day; and if I ever hear of your playing truant again, there will be a settlement between us that you will remember. Now, young man, I will tell you, for your satisfaction, that you have destroyed all your chances of going to California with me. Don't expect any privileges until you have learned to behave yourself."

Mr. Fuller settled back on the sofa and turned his attention to the paper he held in his hand, while Frank, after sitting uneasily on the edge of his chair for a few minutes, and twirling his cap on his finger, arose and left the room.

Presently the door of the library opened, and Leon came out, with red and swollen eyes, and started for the barn.

When he returned, he brought with him his cousin's rifle and his own double-barrel, which had been hidden in the haymow.

The double-barrel and its equipments he carried into the library, and saw them placed in one of the long drawers of the bookcase and locked up. The rifle he carried to his own room, where he found his cousin pacing[Pg 258] back and forth, flourishing his fists in the air and talking to himself.

He was in a state of almost ungovernable fury. When Leon came in, he stopped and looked at him.

"What did your father say to you?" he asked, "and where is your gun?"

"My gun is under lock and key, and I can't have it again this winter," whined Leon. "Father says that if I am going to be a vagabond, and spend my time in the woods, I shall not have a gun to help me enjoy myself. You got us both into a nice mess this morning, didn't you?"

"Now don't go back on me in that fashion," exclaimed Frank. "We are in a bad fix, and we must stick together in order to get out of it."

These words seemed to make an impression upon Leon. The angry scowl faded from his face, and the next words he addressed to his cousin were spoken in a more friendly tone.

"What did Uncle William say to you?" he inquired.

"He said only one thing I can remember,"[Pg 259] replied Frank; "and that is, that I have lost all my chances of going out West."

"That's just what my father said to me," returned Leon. "It seems that Uncle William came here on purpose to make arrangements for taking us with him on his trip to California; but by this day's work we have knocked everything on the head."

"We'll see about that," said Frank, in a savage tone.

"I wish you had been in Guinea, before you proposed running away from school this morning," continued Leon, growing angry again, and slamming his cousin's rifle down upon the bed.

"You were ready enough to join in with me," retorted Frank. "But go back on me if you feel like it. I can take care of myself. I am going to straighten things out in a hurry."

"What do you intend to do?"

"I intend to clear out, and I shall not be long about it, either. Father says I must stay here and go to school every day; but I'll show him whether I will or not. I wouldn't be[Pg 260] afraid to bet him the twenty dollars I've got in my trunk that I'll see that western country before he does."

Leon sat down on the bed and looked at his cousin without speaking.

[Pg 261]


"Your father couldn't have come here at a worse time, could he?" said Leon, at length.

He was disappointed rather than angry. His uncle had formed some very elaborate plans for his enjoyment, and also Frank's, and they had knocked them all on the head by running away from school.

It was Mr. Fuller's intention to cross the plains on horseback (the Pacific Railroad was not in existence at the time these incidents happened) and return by steamer.

The boys would have been delighted by a trip like this, and they might have gone had it not been for their one act of folly. Frank showed a disposition to smash things when he thought about it, but Leon felt more like crying.

"His coming here made no difference. He[Pg 262] would have found out all about it, sooner or later, for your father would have written him full particulars. But I don't care!" said Frank, who continued to stride up and down the room, shaking his fists in the air. "I am going to clear out, and if you have any pluck at all, you will do the same."

Leon placed his elbows on his knees, fastened his eyes upon the floor, and made no immediate reply.

He had talked very glibly about leaving his comfortable home and going out into the world to make himself famous as a hunter and Indian-fighter, but in dreaming about it he had always skipped the preliminaries.

How he was going to leave home and make his way to that pleasant valley in the mountains in which he intended to build his cabin, he did not know, nor did he care to trouble himself about it.

Some boys, as we know, make great calculations, and have much to say about the fame they expect to win, when they are established in some business or profession and have plenty of money at their disposal, but they make no[Pg 263] note of the long hours that must be spent in study and hard work before they can attain to the desired eminence.

So with Leon. He sometimes spent half the night going through imaginary fights with grizzly bears, Indians, and outlaws, and picturing to himself the delight that would be his when he was fairly settled in his mountain-home; but he did not like to dwell upon the thought that, before all this could be accomplished, he must sneak away from his father's house like a thief in the night, and make a long journey by rail and steam-boat before he would be anywhere within reach of his hunting-grounds.

But now these matters were brought squarely home to him, and it was high time he was bestowing some thought upon them.

"You don't seem to be very enthusiastic," said Frank, suddenly pausing in his walk and looking sharply at his cousin. "No longer ago than this morning you talked as though you were crazy to get away from home and become your own master!"

"I wish I could see that western country[Pg 264] before I go there to live," said Leon. "I don't know anything about it."

"Well, how are you going to find out anything about it until you go there?" asked Frank. "And how are you going to get there unless you pack up and start off on your own hook? My father will not take you, or me either. How much money have you got in the bank?"

"Six hundred dollars," replied Leon.

"Whew!" whistled Frank, opening his eyes in great amazement. "That will take us to Independence with flying colors. After we get there we'll buy a couple of saddle-horses and a pack-mule, and then we'll be all right; we'll not ask favors of anybody."

"But how will we know which way to go?" asked Leon.

"Oh, we'll look for a wagon-train; that's the way the most of the emigrants do. If we can't find one, we'll start off by ourselves. We can't get lost, for the trails are as plain as the road in front of the house."

"But the Indians might find us," suggested Leon.

[Pg 265]

"What's the matter with you, anyhow?" demanded Frank sharply. "If you don't want to go, say so at once, and I'll start off by myself. The Indians won't bother us until we get where they are, will they? There are none along these trails of which I speak. Why, as early as 1856, travelling there was perfectly safe. Have you never heard of the two thousand Mormons who walked and pushed hand-carts all the way from Iowa City to Salt Lake? They were often attacked by wolves—we shouldn't mind the wolves, you know; a few fights with them would relieve the monotony of our journey—but the history of that expedition doesn't say that they ever saw an Indian."

When Leon heard this, he straightened up and began to take some interest in what his cousin was saying; but it is probable that his interest would have died away again very speedily if he had been told something of the history of those hand-cart expeditions.

It is thirteen hundred miles from Iowa City to Salt Lake Valley, and it requires fifteen[Pg 266] weeks of constant travelling to accomplish the distance.

Of the first division of five hundred Mormons, who left Iowa City in July to trundle their hand-carts to Salt Lake, one hundred and twenty perished miserably before reaching their destination.

Their cattle starved or died from overwork, their provisions gave out, winter overtook them while they were still five hundred miles from the valley, and it was no uncommon thing for them to wake up in the morning and find from three to fifteen of their number cold in death.

Of the second company of six hundred, which left the Missouri in August, only four hundred and fifty reached the valley; and out of the whole number—two thousand—three hundred were starved, frozen, or devoured by wolves, and two hundred were maimed for life.

Frank knew all this, for he had read a full account of it; but it did not daunt him, for he believed that in some mysterious way he would be able to escape the perils that fell to the lot of other travellers on the plains.

[Pg 267]

"I'll not say a word to Leon about the dangers they encountered," soliloquized Frank, "for if I do, it will take all the pluck out of him. He hasn't even courage enough to run away from a tyrant of a father—I can see that plainly enough; but as I am determined to go myself, and he has money, while I have none to speak of, I must get him interested in the matter. Now, how am I going to do it? That's the question."

Frank, relapsing into silence, placed his hands behind his back and resumed his walk up and down the room, turning the question over in his mind. If he had only known it, there was no need that he should trouble himself about the matter, for that very night an incident happened that turned the scale in his favor.

While he was wondering what he could say that would induce his cousin to fall in with his wild scheme, the supper-bell rang.

The truants would have been glad of an excuse for disregarding the summons, but knowing that if they did not answer it immediately, somebody would come upstairs to[Pg 268] see about it, they made a hasty toilet and descended to the dining room.

To their great relief, nothing was said or done to indicate that anything had gone wrong that day. Their fathers had had a settlement with them, and that was the end of the matter.

They were treated with as much consideration as they usually were, but Frank grew angry again when his father talked about the mines in which he was interested, and described the wonders which he expected to see during his absence.

Frank finished his supper as soon as he could, and then gave his cousin a wink, which the latter understood.

As they asked to be excused, and arose from the table, Mr. Parker turned from his brother-in-law, with whom he was conversing, and said to his son:

"Leon, don't go away to-night."

"No, sir," replied the boy. "Do you know what that means?" he added angrily, when he and his cousin were safe in their room again. "It means that my liberty is[Pg 269] stopped—that I can't even go outside of the gate any more until father says the word."

"Well, you're a fool if you stand it," replied Frank. "Make up your mind to go with me, and then you can do as you please."

"My mind is made up!" exclaimed Leon, with a sudden burst of fury. "If my gun wasn't locked up, I'd start to-night; and if I once get away, I'll never set my foot in Eaton again."

"That gun is just what troubles me," replied Frank. "We can't get it until my father goes away, because he or some of the family are always in the sitting room. Does one key unlock every drawer in that bookcase?"

Leon replied that it did.

"Then we needn't worry. I have often seen the key left in the doors of the bookcase, and when we get ready to start, we'll have that gun out of there. All we've got to do is to watch our chance and slip into the library some night when the sitting room is empty. Where is your bank-book?"

"In mother's bureau."

[Pg 270]

"Have you got pluck enough to steal it out of there?"

"Yes, I have," answered Leon, with more spirit than his cousin had ever seen him exhibit before.

"Well, after you get it, will you go to the bank and draw your money?"

"Yes, I will. I'm not going to be deprived of all privileges and shut up as if I were a felon."

"That's the way to talk," said Frank, giving his cousin an approving slap on the back. "I was mistaken in you. You have some courage, after all."

Frank was satisfied now. If he could only keep his cousin in an angry mood, he was sure of money enough to defray his expenses to the plains. It was not so very difficult to do this, for events seemed to conspire to assist them.

[Pg 271]


The discussion thus commenced was kept up until midnight, and Leon gladdened the heart of his cousin by repeatedly declaring that he had determined upon his course, and that nothing could induce him to change his mind.

They did not go out of their room again that night. They sat at the window and talked about the glorious times they expected to have when they reached the plains, and when Mr. Parker and Mr. Fuller went out of the gate and started for the village, Frank took occasion to comment upon it.

"They are free to go and come as they please," said he, with no little show of temper, "and here we are shut up like a couple of thieves."

"You are not shut up," said Leon. "Your father didn't tell you to stay in."

[Pg 272]

"Do you suppose that I am going to enjoy myself unless you can go, too?" asked Frank, who seemed to have grown very disinterested all of a sudden. "No, sir! We got into this trouble together, and we'll stick to each other until we are safely out of it."

"I've just thought of something," said Leon suddenly. "How are we going to get an excuse to-morrow? You can't write one, for the professor has found out through that little snipe, Miles Jackson, that we ran away."

"We'll not say a word about it," replied his cousin. "If your father feels like giving us an excuse, all right; if he doesn't we'll go without one."

Frank spoke as though he had no interest in the matter, but it troubled him not a little.

It troubled Leon, too, and it was not settled until the next morning, when Mr. Parker said to Leon, as the latter arose from the breakfast table:

"I think it would be a good plan for you to look over the lessons you missed yesterday. I will call at ten minutes of nine, and walk down to the school-house with you."

[Pg 273]

"Yes, no doubt I'll look over those lessons!" said Leon, when he and his cousin had closed the door of the room behind them. "I'll see all the school-books in the country in Guinea before I will touch one until I am obliged to do so!"

But Leon was handling his school-books even while he spoke. He and Frank had each two sets—one at school and another which they kept at home, and which they were supposed to study occasionally of evenings.

The first thing the two boys did was to scatter their books all over the table, so that if Mr. Parker should happen to come into the room, he would be led to believe that they had been studying; and then they sat down and talked about the subject that was uppermost in their minds.

At the appointed time, Mr. Parker came to the foot of the stairs and called to them to come down.

He walked with them to the school-house, and, leaving them in the yard, entered the building and sought an interview with Mr. Chamberlain.

[Pg 274]

What passed between the two gentlemen the truants never knew. There was nothing said to them about running away from school, and they very soon became satisfied that their previous day's work would bring them into no trouble with their teacher. But they got into trouble with somebody else before four o'clock came.

It happened on the ball-ground during the afternoon recess.

Leon was having a good deal to say regarding Oscar Preston's dishonesty and Mr. Smith's refusal to give him a letter of recommendation, and Frank was helping him by putting in a word occasionally, when Sam Hynes and his base-ball bat suddenly appeared on the scene.

Leon's speech was brought to a sudden close, for he was doubled up like a jack-knife by a punch in the ribs from the bat, and Frank escaped similar treatment by taking to his heels.

The consequence was that the names of Sam Hynes and Leon Parker appeared among those of other delinquents who were requested[Pg 275] to keep their seats when the rest of the students were dismissed.

At the end of half an hour a settlement had been had with all the law-breakers except Sam and Leon.

The principal looked at them a moment, and said solemnly:

"Boys, I am sorry to hear that you have been fighting."

"Mr. Chamberlain," said Sam, "I did all the fighting that was done. Leon never lifted a hand."

The professor looked down at the paper-cutter he held in his hand, and finally said:

"Parker, you may go."

"Good for me!" said Leon to himself, as he hurried down the stairs. "I am well out of that scrape. I hope you'll get a good licking, Mr. Sam Hynes; that's all the harm I wish you."

If Leon had been standing in front of the school-house about ten minutes later, he would have been disappointed, and perhaps greatly disgusted.

A step sounded in the hall, and Sam Hynes[Pg 276] came bounding out as if he were set on springs.

When he reached the steps, he thrust his hands into his pockets, struck up a lively whistle, and walked off with an air which seemed to say that he was well satisfied with the world and everybody in it, himself included.

It was evident from his actions that he had not been very severely reprimanded for the part he had taken in the affair on the ball-ground; but Leon could not say as much for himself half an hour after he arrived at his father's house.

Frank had been loitering along the road, waiting for Leon, and when the two reached home, they found all the family there as before.

Leon was at once invited into the library, while Frank, who did not care to stay where his father was, went up to his room. He wondered what was wrong now, and when his cousin came up he found out.

Leon's face was very pale, his eyes were red and swollen, and Frank had never seen him so angry before.

[Pg 277]

"Father knows all about that fuss we had at school to-day," said he, as soon as he entered the room. "He heard some of the students talking about it at the post office. It beats me how many fellows there are in the world who can't be easy until they tell all they know."

"Well, what of it?" inquired Frank shortly.

"What of it!" repeated Leon. "Father gave me the worst going-over I ever had in my life. He praised Oscar up to the skies, and told me, in so many words, that I would do well to take him for a model."

"The idea!" exclaimed Frank. "A market-shooter! He is a pretty model for any decent boy!"

"It has always been so," said Leon bitterly. "Father sees something good in everybody except me; and if I am so awful bad, he won't feel sorry when I get out of his sight."

After this, Leon seemed to throw all his fears and scruples to the winds. He had got it into his head that he was a badly abused boy, that he would be in trouble as long as he[Pg 278] remained in Eaton, and he was impatient to get out into the world where he could do as he pleased without any fear of being taken to task for his misdeeds.

Mr. Fuller remained in Eaton for nearly two weeks, and Frank, who did not think it safe to attempt to carry out his plans until his father was well on his way toward home, fumed and fretted all the day.

During that time the two discontented boys went to school regularly—it was dangerous to play truant now that that new rule had gone into operation—and if they learned nothing else, they did learn these four things:

That Oscar Preston's reputation had been cleared; that Mr. Smith had apologized and offered to make all the amends in his power; that Oscar and Sam Hynes had made heroes of themselves by saving a man from drowning; and that the man was rich, and was going to do something for Oscar.

They were not, however, acquainted with the fact that the rescued man had already done something for the young taxidermist, in that he had offered him a hundred dollars a[Pg 279] month and expenses to procure specimens for the university museum.

In fact, there were very few people in the village who knew that, for Oscar had spoken of it only to those whom he was sure he could trust with the secret.

There was an interview yet to come with the members of the committee, and Oscar thought it would be time enough to speak of the professor's offer after the result of that interview was known.

Tuesday morning came at last, and Mr. Fuller, after taking leave of his son and giving him some good advice—to which, it is hardly necessary to say, Frank paid no sort of attention—stepped into Mr. Parker's carriage and was driven to the depot.

Frank stood on the porch with his aunt and cousin, watching the carriage as long as it remained in sight.

He had assumed a very sober face for the occasion, and seemed to be much dejected. When the carriage disappeared, he went slowly up the stairs to his room, and Leon followed him.

[Pg 280]

The moment the latter closed the door, Frank's countenance changed as if by magic.

"Now, then," said he briskly, "the time for action has come. Go down and steal that bank-book, and be quick about it, for it is almost school-time."

"I am almost afraid to do it," answered Leon. "Mother may have occasion to go to that bureau drawer some time during the day, and what would become of us if she should miss the book and make inquiries about it? The risk is too great. Whenever I steal that book, we must draw the money and get out of town without an hour's delay."

"Now, how in the world are we going to do that?" questioned Frank impatiently. "We can't walk out of town with our guns and carpet-bags in broad daylight. You must get that book now, take it to school with you, and run down to the bank at noon and draw the money. When we come home, we'll think up some way to get your gun, and as soon as it grows dark, we'll slip out and start for Franklin, where we will board the first western-bound train. If we get on the cars at this [Pg 281]station, we will run the risk of being seen by a dozen people who will recognize us. We can't help taking some chances, and if you are afraid to do it, you can stay here and welcome. I am off to-night."

Frank talked rapidly, for time was precious. When he ceased speaking Leon opened the door with an air of dogged resolution, and went downstairs.

[Pg 282]


Frank was by no means so much at his ease as he appeared to be. He knew as well as Leon did that they were playing an extremely hazardous game, and the fear that their plans might be defeated made him so nervous that he could not keep still to save his life.

He paced restlessly up and down the room, awaiting his cousin's return with no little impatience.

Leon was gone a long time—so long that Frank began to be alarmed. He was on the point of going in search of him, when he heard his step on the stairs.

A moment thereafter the door opened and Leon came in. His face was as white as a sheet, and his hands trembled as though he had been seized with an attack of the ague.

"Well?" said Frank.

[Pg 283]

"I've got it," replied Leon, in a scarcely audible whisper, "and I came near being caught in the act, too. I had to wait until mother went into the kitchen; then I slipped into the bedroom, and had just taken the book out of the drawer when I heard her coming back. I tell you, I thought I should drop when she asked me what I was doing in there, and what made my face so pale. Whew!" added Leon, drawing his hand across his forehead. "It was a close call. I don't know how I shall manage to get that gun."

"Don't worry over it," answered Frank, who knew that everything depended upon keeping up his cousin's courage. "We can think about it when the time comes to secure the gun. If I see a chance, I'll get it for you myself."

The two boys were now anxious to leave the house with the least possible delay. They seemed to think that as long as they remained there they were in danger of being found out.

They hurried off to school as soon as they could find their caps, and during the whole[Pg 284] of that forenoon lived in a state of excitement and fear that can hardly be described.

Leon's bank-book felt as heavy as lead in his pocket. Of course he felt guilty, and it seemed to him that the students sitting in his immediate vicinity stared at him a good deal, and with an expression on their faces which seemed to say that they knew all about it.

More than once Leon was on the point of backing squarely out and writing a note on his slate to his cousin, telling him he would not go; but every time he resolved upon this a neat little cabin in the mountains, with its luxurious beds of buffalo robes, joints of venison and bear-meat hanging from the rafters, and a couple of fleet Indian ponies feeding in the glade close by, would rise before his mental vision, and Leon would tell himself that it was worth while to run some risk, if, by so doing, he could live in that way.

Then there was his unhappy home—Leon did not consider that it was made so by his own acts; the gloomy school-room; the law against going outside the gate; the prohibition that had been laid upon his hunting for[Pg 285] the rest of the season—all these things came into his mind, and Leon would shut his teeth hard and resolve again that he would carry out his plans, no matter what happened.

As the hour of twelve drew near, Leon became as nervous and frightened as he was when he stole the bank-book in the morning. The money must be drawn from the bank, and it must be drawn, too, before one o'clock, or not at all that day.

It would be dangerous to postpone this important matter, for his parents might discover that the book was gone from the drawer, and that would lead to an investigation. The sooner their plans were carried into execution, and they were safe out of town, the better it would be for them.

When school was dismissed, the two boys hurried down the street, keeping a good lookout on every side for Leon's father. The lawyer's office was over the bank, and they did not want to go in there after the money until they had satisfied themselves that he had gone home to his dinner.

Mr. Parker had a good deal of business to[Pg 286] do with the bank, and what if he should happen to drop in just as the cashier was handing out Leon's six hundred dollars! The bare thought was enough to frighten them, and they were very cautious in their movements.

They did not see Mr. Parker's carriage when they reached Main Street, but they thought it best to reconnoitre before entering the bank, so they kept on down the street, and when they passed the stairs leading to Mr. Parker's office, they glanced into the hall and saw him standing there, conversing with a couple of gentlemen.

"That knocks us," whispered Leon. "We must give it up for to-day."

"No, sir!" answered Frank emphatically. "You'll never make your way in the world if you are going to give up as easy as that. Let's go where we can keep an eye on him. He'll go to his dinner pretty soon."

As Frank spoke, he led the way across the street, and into Smith & Anderson's store. One of the clerks came up to serve them, but Frank said they didn't want anything.

[Pg 287]

"Of course, your father saw us come in here," said he in a whisper to Leon, "and if he follows us to see what we are about we'll buy some crackers and cheese for a lunch."

But Mr. Parker did not follow them. The boys had scarcely taken up their positions in front of the window, when he came out of the hall and went into the bank.

If Leon and his cousin had not exercised so much caution, he would certainly have caught them there.

At the end of ten minutes, he came out, and walked briskly across the park toward home.

As soon as he had disappeared, the boys opened the door and went out. They hurried across to the bank, and Leon, with a trembling hand, placed his book upon the glass shelf in front of the cashier's desk.

"How much do you want to-day, Leon?" asked that officer.

"I want all of it, sir," was the reply.

"All of it!" repeated the cashier.

The words were uttered in a tone of surprise, and Leon almost expected that the man would tell him he could not pay out so large a sum[Pg 288] of money until he knew what it was to be used for; but he did nothing of the kind.

He knew that the boy had been allowed by his indulgent father to manage his bank account to suit himself, and he had no comments to make.

He consulted a huge ledger that lay on one of the desks, made some figures with a pencil in Leon's book, and then he came back and began counting out the money.

While he was thus engaged, the boys paced back and forth in front of the desk, and cast frequent and anxious glances toward the door, fearing that somebody might come in.

But luck was on their side, and their fears were not realized.

The cashier was a long time in counting out the money, but finally he completed his task, and handed out to Leon a pile of bills that made him and Frank open their eyes in the greatest amazement. It was so large that when Leon rolled it up he could hardly get it into his pocket.

"My gracious!" he exclaimed, as he and Frank hurried out, and bent their steps toward[Pg 289] the school-house; "I had no idea that I owned so much cash."

"Six hundred dollars is a nice little amount of money," answered Frank, "and you must have a tidy sum there for interest. I tell you, Leon, that will set us up in good shape. It will buy us a splendid outfit, and keep us in provisions until we can capture furs enough to get more. We have taken two dangerous steps, and there are only two left."

"What are they?" asked Leon.

"Stealing your gun out of that bookcase is one, and leaving the house with our baggage is the other. If we can take those two steps without being caught, we can breathe easy, for we shall have nothing but plain sailing before us."

It turned out that Frank was anything but a good prophet. Circumstances rendered it comparatively easy for them to secure the gun and leave the house, but they did not afterward have plain sailing.

It was but a short time after that that the trouble began.

[Pg 290]


During the afternoon Leon was so nervous and uneasy that he could scarcely keep his seat.

There were two ways now in which he could be detected. His mother might go to the bureau-drawer and find that the bank-book was missing, or the cashier might casually ask Mr. Parker, if the latter had occasion to enter the bank, if his son had an idea of going into business.

A question like that would, of course, excite the lawyer's curiosity, and might lead to inquiries on his part that would bring the whole plot to light.

It was only by neglecting his books entirely, and dwelling upon the joys of a hunter's life, that Leon could keep up his courage.

He failed completely in every one of his recitations, and his teacher, losing all patience[Pg 291] at last, informed him that if those lessons were not fully mastered by the next time he came into the class-room, he would have the privilege of studying them after school.

"Not much I won't study those lessons after school!" said Leon to himself, as he returned to his seat. "I have been kept as a delinquent for the last time. I hope that after to-day I shall never see a school-book."

When the cousins started for home that night, the fears that had haunted them all the day long increased tenfold.

Leon did not want to face his father and mother after what he had done, and he took good care to keep out of their way until supper-time.

It was a wonder that Mr. and Mrs. Parker did not suspect the boys of some wrong-doing, for their agitation, when they came downstairs in response to the call of the bell, was almost too palpable to escape notice.

They arose from the table after making a very light supper, and started for their room.

That was the last time Leon expected to see his father and mother that night, and perhaps[Pg 292] forever; and he was already telling himself that all danger of discovery was past, when his father suddenly called to him.

The boy's heart almost came up into his mouth as he turned about and went back into the dining room.

"Why, Leon!" exclaimed Mr. Parker, now for the first time noticing the boy's pale face and trembling hands, "what is the matter with you? Are you ill?"

"No, sir," stammered Leon; "I am not sick, but I haven't felt like myself to-day. And that is the honest truth," he added mentally. "I have been so upset by excitement and suspense that I have scarcely realized what was going on around me. I couldn't stand another day like this."

"I am sorry to hear it," said Mr. Parker. "I wish you had spoken of it this morning. I don't want you to go to school if you don't feel well, for of course you can't study. Would you like to go to the concert with us to-night?"

"No, I thank you, sir," replied Leon. "I would rather stay at home."

[Pg 293]

"Well, ask Frank if he wants to go. I have tickets and seats for all of us."

Leon went out again, but instead of going toward the hall, he turned into the sitting room. The door of the library was open, and Leon paused in front of it just long enough to take one look at the bookcase. Then he went up to his room, where he found Frank pacing back and forth in a state of great excitement. He was afraid that everything had been discovered, but one glance at his cousin's face reassured him.

"What did your father say to you?" he inquired, as soon as Leon had closed the door.

"He asked me if I was sick. My gracious! my face is white, isn't it?" said Leon, as he glanced into the mirror; "and wanted to know if I felt like going to the concert to-night. I replied that I would rather stay at home, and he told me to ask if you would like to go."

"Good!" exclaimed Frank, bringing his hands together with aloud slap. "As soon as they start, we'll start!"

"I looked into the library before I came[Pg 294] up," continued Leon, "and I saw that the key of the bookcase is in one of the doors."

"Isn't that lucky?" cried Frank, who was almost ready to dance with delight. "Everything seems to be working in our favor. Now, in order to save time, we had better pack our valises."

The manner in which the two boys went at this work showed that they were in earnest about it, and that neither of them had the least idea of backing out.

They had already selected the clothing they intended to take with them, and in half an hour after that the valises were packed and placed in the closet out of sight.

This done, the boys sat down to talk about the glorious life upon which they were so soon to enter, and to wait until the time came to leave the house, which would be when Leon's father and mother had started for the concert.

Darkness came on apace, and presently the boys heard Mr. Parker calling from the foot of the stairs, whereupon Leon went out into the hall and looked over the balusters.

[Pg 295]

"Does Frank want to go with us?" asked the lawyer.

"No, sir," shouted Frank, from his seat in the window. "I'll stay with Leon."

"Very well. Now, Leon, don't go away to-night."

The boy made no reply.

"Do you understand me?" asked his father.

"Yes, sir," said Leon.

Mr. Parker, being satisfied with the answer, followed his wife out of the front door, and the boys stood at the window and saw them go out of the gate and turn down the street.

When they were out of sight, Leon sprang into the middle of the room and made an awkward attempt to dance a hornpipe.

"I didn't promise him that I wouldn't go away to-night, did I?" said he gleefully. "I simply told him that I understood his order. If he thinks that a boy of my age is going to be confined in a gloomy school-room all day, and then shut up in the yard at night, as if he were an unruly dog, he will find he has made[Pg 296] a big mistake. Now, I'll go down and get my gun the first thing I do."

"Don't be in a hurry," said the cautious Frank. "Something might happen to bring your father back here, and if he should chance to go to that drawer, our cake would be all dough. Don't touch the gun until we are ready to start. It would never do for us to be caught now, after we have carried out all our plans so nicely."

"Shall we leave a note, telling them why we ran away?" asked Leon.

"No, sir. If they are anxious to know, all they have to do is to think of the manner in which they have treated us. I wish it would hurry up and grow dark."

The impatient boys spent another half-hour in walking up and down their room, and then Leon declared he would wait no longer.

At his suggestion, Frank went out to the gate to reconnoitre, and when he had satisfied himself that the coast was clear, and that there was no danger of interruption, he announced the fact by a shrill whistle and walked slowly toward the house. When he[Pg 297] entered the hall, Leon was ascending the stairs, with his recovered gun in his hands.

"I feel as though I had found a long-lost friend," said he, as he flourished the weapon over his head. "There'll be some astonished people in this house to-morrow."

The boys went back to their room, and when Leon's gun had been placed in its case, and the powder-flask and shot-pouch belonging to it had been packed away in one of the valises, they picked up their baggage, took their weapons under their arms, and went down the stairs.

They paused a moment on the threshold of the front door to make sure that there was no one passing along the street, and then, without a single feeling of regret, they turned their backs upon their home and upon the friends they never expected or even wished to see again, and hurried away.

The little town of Franklin, toward which they bent their steps, was situated on the railroad, seven miles west of Eaton. It was there that they intended to purchase tickets and board the cars. By this piece of strategy[Pg 298] they hoped to avoid meeting anybody who might recognize them.

The platform of the depot in Eaton was always crowded at "train time," and if they had been seen loitering about there with their guns and valises in their hands, they might have been asked some questions that they did not care to answer.

Leon led the way, avoiding the principal streets as much as he could, and at the end of an hour the runaways struck the main road, about two miles above the village.

Settling down into a steady walk, they moved briskly along toward Franklin, but before they had gone many rods they heard a wagon coming up behind them.

"Let's wait and ask him to give us a ride," said Frank. "He is going our way."

"Not by a long shot," answered Leon quickly. "I am acquainted with almost everybody about here, and I won't take the risk. This man might know me. Let's hide and wait until he goes by."

Suiting the action to the word, Leon sprang into the bushes that lined the nearest fence[Pg 299] and crouched down among them, his example being promptly followed by his cousin.

In a few minutes the wagon came up and passed their hiding-place, but not so the dog which trotted along a little distance in the rear, industriously exploring the bushes on each side of the road.

His sharp nose quickly revealed to him the presence of the runaways, and, bounding toward the thicket in which they were concealed, he set up a terrific yelping.

"Get out there!" said Frank, in a savage whisper, lifting his rifle above his head.

The dog saw the motion and beat a hasty retreat; but he went no farther than the middle of the road, where he stopped and barked furiously.

[Pg 300]


"Knock him down with something," whispered Leon, in great excitement, as he searched frantically about on the ground for some missile to throw at the dog.

"Let's go out on the road," suggested Frank. "He'll leave if we start toward him."

"Yes; but I don't want that man to see us, for I don't know who he is."

"Well, he'll certainly see us if we allow this miserable cur to stay here and bark at us," returned Frank. "The first thing you know, his master will be back here to see what is up, and we'll be—— I declare! there he comes now."

Leon looked over the bushes and trembled in every limb when he saw the owner of the dog approaching.

He stopped by the side of the road, picked up a formidable-looking club, and after trying[Pg 301] its strength by striking it on the ground, he hurried toward the thicket in which the runaways were concealed.

"Sick 'em, Maje—sick 'em!" he shouted. "Take hold of 'em, you rascal!"

Thus encouraged, the dog bounded into the bushes, and in a moment more would have seized Frank by the leg, had he not received a terrific punch in the ribs from Leon's double-barrel.

That took all the fight out of him. With a howl of anguish, he ran back to the road and took refuge behind his master, who halted very suddenly.

He looked first at the dog and then at the bushes, and finally he began to back off toward his wagon.

It was evident that he did not think it safe to advance any nearer to the thicket, but he seemed determined to find out what it was that had taken refuge there, for, after he had retreated a short distance, he stopped and began swinging his club around his head.

In a moment more it would have been sent crashing into the fence corner, had not[Pg 302] Frank, who could plainly see the motion, called out:

"What are you about there?"

"Good land o' Goshen!" exclaimed the man, lowering the threatening bludgeon. "Who be you, and what did you crawl in there for?"

"Now you've done it," whispered Leon in great alarm. "That's Mr. Jenkins—the farmer who supplies us with wood. I know his voice."

"I'll talk to him," whispered Frank, in reply. "You stay here, and when you hear me whistle, come out and bring my gun with you."

As he said this, he placed his rifle in his cousin's hand, picked up his valise, and walked out into the road.

The dog showed a disposition to be belligerent when he came in sight, but a few words from his master, accompanied by a flourish of the club, put a stop to his demonstrations.

"It's a pity that a fellow can't step aside to rest for a moment without having a dog set on him!" exclaimed Frank. "Is that[Pg 303] the way you generally treat people in this country?"

"I declare to man, I didn't know it was a boy that was hid in them bushes," said the farmer apologetically. "I reckoned mebbe it was some kind of a varmint, 'cause Maje kicked up such a row. Goin' my way? Jump in, and I'll give you a lift."

"I am obliged to you, but I would rather walk."

"You can ride just as well as not," urged the farmer. "I aint got no load."

"Thank you! I don't care to ride," replied Frank, rather impatiently. "I am in no hurry."

The man lingered as if he wanted to say something else, but finally turned and went back to his wagon, followed by Maje, who looked over his shoulder and growled savagely at Frank, by way of bidding him good-night.

Presently the sound of wheels on the hard road told Frank that the farmer's wagon was in motion.

He waited until the sound grew faint in the distance, and after looking up and down the[Pg 304] road to make sure that there was no one else coming, uttered a low whistle.

In a few minutes Leon came up, and the two resumed their walk toward Franklin. This was the first and last adventure that befell the boys during their journey to the frontier.

They reached the town of Franklin in a little less than two hours, and there they purchased tickets for Albany, at which place—so they were told—they could procure through tickets to St. Louis.

The train arrived an hour later, and in five minutes more the runaways were being carried rapidly toward the happy hunting-grounds of which they had so often dreamed.

When they arrived at St. Louis, they boarded a steamer which carried them up the Missouri River, and in due time they found themselves, with their valises in their hands and their guns on their shoulders, standing on the levee at St. Joseph, at which point they had decided to fit out for the plains.

Had they enjoyed themselves during their trip? Certainly not. No one could take[Pg 305] pleasure in a railroad or steamboat ride under such circumstances.

One strange thing we have to record here is that Frank was no longer the leader.

Being a city boy, he knew more about the ways of the world than his country cousin, and Leon had leaned upon and looked to him for advice; but after they had cut loose from home and friends, and were surrounded by strangers, Frank began to grow frightened, and lost a good deal of his assurance. He gradually fell back into the second place, and Leon stepped to the front and assumed command of the expedition. He had more pluck and determination than his cousin, and now these qualities began to show themselves.

The boys stopped on the levee, and gazed about them with the greatest interest.

St. Joe did not look much like Eaton. It was a frontier town at the time of which we write, and everything was new and strange to the runaways.

Canvas-covered wagons, such as emigrants use, were constantly passing; bearded men,[Pg 306] in red shirts and high-top boots, were lounging about, and now and then an Indian, wrapped up to the chin in his blanket, would walk by with dignified step.

"Well, here we are," said Leon at length, "and I must confess that things don't look just as I thought they would."

"No, they don't; and I wish to goodness that we were safe at home again," said Frank, giving utterance to the thought that had passed through his mind a score of times since he left Eaton. "I am afraid we can't make a success of it."

"It is too late to talk that way," said his cousin. "You know that we discussed the matter thoroughly before we started, and made up our minds that we could face anything that came in our way."

"But I didn't know that frontiersmen were such rough fellows. Just look at these men standing around. Their appearance is enough to frighten one."

"If you are so easily frightened, what will you do when we get out to the mountains?" asked Leon.

[Pg 307]

Frank made no audible reply, but to himself he said:

"I don't intend to go to the mountains. I am just as far from home already as I want to be."

"Our first hard work must be to hunt up a hotel," continued Leon; "and our next, to find some experienced man who is good-natured enough to give us some advice."

The boys walked up the levee and turned into the first street that they found, and which proved to be the principal thoroughfare.

As they strolled slowly along, their attention was frequently attracted by such notices as these, which were posted in some of the store-windows:

Parties fitted out for the plains

They lingered long in front of these windows, and Leon's enthusiasm over the rifles, hunting-knives, and revolvers that were there displayed was so contagious that Frank forgot[Pg 308] his homesickness and began to take a little more interest in things.

"Here's the place we're looking for!" exclaimed Leon at length.

As he spoke, he pointed to a sign that hung over the sidewalk.

Frank looked, and saw that it bore the words:


"Of course, all the plainsmen must stop here," continued Leon. "We'll hang around for a day or two until we make the acquaintance of some of them, and perhaps they will tell us all we want to know. Let's go in."

Frank followed his cousin through the door, and found himself in the principal room of the hotel, which did duty as a parlor, office, and bar.

Every chair and bench was occupied, and there was a crowd of men about the counter who were talking loudly.

They were all rough-looking fellows, and Frank trembled when he saw that some of[Pg 309] them wore revolvers and knives strapped about their waists.

These were mainly gold-hunters, who had just returned from the mountains. They had become so accustomed to wearing their weapons while they were in the mines that they did not think to take them off, even though they were among civilized people.

The room was dingy and smoky, and reminded Frank of the sailors' boarding-houses into which he had often glanced as he passed along the wharves of Boston.

The boys' first impulse, after they had run their eyes about the apartment and taken a good look at its occupants, was to open the door and go out again; but, before they could act upon it, the proprietor of the hotel, who had seen them enter, came briskly out from behind the bar and approached them.

He was as roughly dressed as any of his guests, and looked so fierce that, when he reached out his hand for Leon's valise, the boy surrendered it at once.

"Can I do anything for you?" said he.

Leon did not think it would be safe to tell[Pg 310] the man that he had concluded to look further for lodgings, so he asked, in reply:

"Can we stay here for a day or two?"

"You're mighty right," was the answer. "You're not from the plains?"

"No, sir; but we're going there."

"Then this is just the place for you. Some of the boys"—here the proprietor jerked his head toward the men standing before the bar—"are getting ready to start, and you can go with them."

The host deposited Leon's baggage behind the bar, and when he came back after Frank's gun and valise, the latter said:

"Can't you show us to our room, and take our luggage up there?"

"I can; but there's all sorts of fellows stop here, and you had better let me take care of your things. I'll be responsible for them."

"But we would like to perform our ablutions," said Frank.

"Which?" exclaimed the host.

"We want a good wash," explained Leon.

"Oh! Why didn't you say so? There is the sink, and plenty of towels and soap," said[Pg 311] the man, nodding his head toward a corner of the room. "Pitch in as soon as you please."

With this remark, the proprietor—as if he considered that he had done his full duty toward his new guests—returned to his place behind the bar.

[Pg 312]


The boys walked up to the sink and took a survey of it. It contained two tin basins. Several pieces of hard soap were deposited upon a little shelf over it, and the towels looked as though they had done service for weeks.

"I have been used to better things than these," said Frank, who could hardly bring himself to touch one of the dingy basins.

"So have I," answered Leon; "but what's the good of growling? When you get out to the mountains you'll have to wash your hands and face in a brook, and dry them upon a piece of buckskin. We've got to rough it—that's what we came out here for—and we might as well begin now as a month later. We'll get used to it by the time we are settled as hunters."

Frank told himself, very emphatically, that[Pg 313] he never would be settled as a hunter. He was heartily tired of roughing it already and would have been glad to start for home long ago; but he knew by the way his cousin talked and acted that it would be of no use to propose such a thing; so, after a good deal of thinking, he had determined upon a course of action that was mean and cowardly in the extreme. He only waited for a favorable opportunity to carry his plans into execution.

After washing their hands and faces, and drying them upon the cleanest part of the long-used towels, the boys looked around until they found a couple of chairs that had just been vacated, and sat down to listen to the conversation of the miners, who had by this time drawn away from the bar, and were now seated around the stove, talking over their experience.

They talked principally about gold-hunting, but presently one of them launched out into a narrative that held his listeners spellbound.

It was about a fight he and his comrades had with a war party of Cheyennes who drove them away from their diggings.

[Pg 314]

This set the others going on the same subject, and from that hour until supper was announced the boys listened to stories of adventure and hair-breadth escapes from wild animals and Indians that were enough to frighten anyone.

For the first time since leaving home, Leon told himself that perhaps he had mistaken his calling.

If tall, broad-shouldered, powerful-looking men like these could be driven about like sheep by the wild inhabitants of the mountains and plains, what could a boy like himself do in combat with them?

As for Frank, the last particle of his courage oozed out at the ends of his fingers, and he was all the more determined to carry out the plans he had already formed.

He found that he had entertained very erroneous opinions regarding frontier life.

The heroes of his favorite books could not only whip a dozen Indians very easily, and come off without a scratch, but they could go alone into a hostile camp and rescue a "partner" who had been captured by them.

Here were men, however—live men, too—who [Pg 315]were willing to acknowledge that they had been whipped, that they had seen quite enough of savage life, and that they would be glad to reach home, where they could live in peace.

"Leon," said Frank suddenly, "don't you think you had better give me half the money you've got left? You pay all the bills, and that looks as though I was sponging on you."

"Never mind that," was the reply. "It's all in the family."

"But what if somebody should go through you?" urged Frank. "I suppose there are pickpockets here, as well as in the cities. If you lost your share, I'd have mine left to fall back on."

"But I don't intend that anybody shall go through me," answered Leon. "I'll take good care of the money, and pay your bills and mine, too."

"You had better keep close watch over it," said Frank to himself, "for, if I once get my hands on it, I'll take enough of it to see me safely back to Boston, I bet you. Leon," he added, almost desperately, "I am tired of[Pg 316] this! Let's go back before it's too late. We must go some time."

"Ah, ha!" exclaimed his cousin. "That's the reason you want half the money, is it? Well, you can't have it! It is all very well for you to talk about going home, for you will go straight to Boston, and none of your friends there will ever know that you ran away—your folks, of course, won't say anything about it. But if I go home, I must go among those who know everything. No, sir! I'll never see Eaton again until I have made a name for myself!"

Frank, seeing that he had made a mistake, tried to turn the matter off with a laugh, and hastened to assure his cousin that if he was still determined to go through, he (Frank) would stand by him through thick and thin.

He hoped in this way to throw Leon off his guard, so that the latter would relax his vigilance and give him a chance to steal what was left of the six hundred dollars—for that was what he had determined to do.

We may add that he finally succeeded in[Pg 317] his object, and came very near getting himself into a desperate scrape by it.

When supper was announced, the boys followed the crowd into an adjoining room, and took the seats that were pointed out to them by their host.

It was not just such an apartment as that in which they had been accustomed to take their meals at home. It was almost as dingy as the bar. The rough tables were not very clean, and the dishes and viands were scattered about without the least regard to order.

They looked, Leon told himself, as though the waiter had stood off and thrown them at the table, and left them wherever they landed. But there was plenty to eat, and the boys, being very hungry, made a hearty supper.

When they had satisfied their appetites, they went back to the bar-room and sat down on one of the benches, while the gold-hunters smoked their pipes and told stories of life in the mines.

When eight o'clock came, Leon walked up to the bar and asked the landlord to show him and his cousin to their room.

[Pg 318]

In compliance with the request the man lighted a tallow candle, and, leading the boys up a narrow, winding stairway, ushered them into the most cheerless bedroom they had ever seen.

There was no carpet on the floor, and there were no chairs on which to deposit their clothing. In fact, the room contained nothing except a couple of beds, which looked as though the person who made them up must have been in a very great hurry.

"You two tumble into this one," said the landlord, placing the candle on the floor and nodding his head toward one of the beds. "You needn't mind locking your door, 'cause there's another fellow belongs up here."

"Who is he?" asked Frank.

"He's a hunter, and a mighty good one, too, I reckon, for he used to be post-hunter at Fort Laramie."

"Is he all right?"

"Is he?" exclaimed the landlord. "He's the best fellow in the world; good-natured (he hasn't had but three fights since he's been here), free-hearted, and spends his money like[Pg 319] water. He killed eight hundred buffalo this season, and he's going back to kill some more. You needn't mind putting out your candle, 'cause he'll be up directly. He always goes to bed early since he and his money quit. Good-night!"

"That's just the man we want to see," exclaimed Leon, when the landlord had left the room. "He can tell us everything we want to know, and if he will let us, we can't do better than go with him."

The boys had hardly got into bed (Leon took the precaution to place his trousers, which contained the money, under his pillow) when a heavy step sounded in the hall, the door opened, and the third occupant of the room stalked in.

He was roughly dressed, and carried a knife and revolver in his belt.

The runaways, who looked at him with great interest, could not see much of his face, for the lower part of it was concealed by thick, bushy whiskers, which looked as though they had never been combed, and his slouch hat was drawn low over his forehead. There was[Pg 320] something forbidding about him, but the boys could not have told what it was.

"Hallo, pilgrims!" said he, as he placed his hands on his hips and looked down at the runaways. "Are you the kids who are going out on the plains!"

"Yes, sir," answered Leon.

"Come from the States, I reckon, didn't you?"

"Yes, sir; and we're looking for somebody who can tell us just what we ought to do. We're going out to the mountains to hunt and trap. Do you think we can make a living at it?"

"Finest business in the world!" was the encouraging reply. "I know lots of fellows who are getting rich at it. It's a trifle rough sometimes if you get into the Injuns' hunting-grounds, but all you've got to do is to grab your spelter and skip out."

"I understand that you used to be post-hunter at Fort Laramie," said Frank.

"Yes; and I got kicked out 'cause me and the colonel couldn't hitch hosses," replied the man cheerfully.

[Pg 321]

If he had said that he had been detected in an attempt to rob the sutler's drawer, and had been obliged to leave the neighborhood of the fort in order to escape arrest, he would have been nearer the truth.

"Well, we are green——" began Leon.

"Yes; I knowed you were tenderfeet," interrupted the hunter.

"And we want to find somebody of experience who will take us in charge and manage matters for us," added Leon. "We don't know what kind of an outfit we want, or where to go to find good hunting-grounds."

"Have you got any money?"

"Plenty of it," answered Leon readily, "more than enough to foot all our—— O Frank, what do you mean?" he added, changing his tone very suddenly, as his cousin's elbow was brought against his side with considerable force.

Frank made no reply, and the hunter presently continued:

"You don't want to let anybody coax you into spending much of it for an outfit in this place, 'cause things is so dear. All you want[Pg 322] is a hoss, saddle and bridle, and a pair of saddle-bags. In the saddle-bags you can carry a little bacon, corn-meal, salt, pepper, coffee, and sugar, too, if you want it—as I reckon you do, being tenderfeet. Anything else you want to eat you can shoot as you go along."

"When do you start for the fort?"


"Now, why won't you let us go with you? We've got money, and——"

Again Frank's elbow came in vigorous contact with his cousin's ribs.

Then it began to creep through Leon's head that perhaps he was saying too much about his wealth; so he resolved to take the hints Frank had given him, and drop the subject.

"I'll take care of you," answered the hunter. "I was a tenderfoot myself once, and would have been glad to have somebody do as much for me."

Leon drew a long breath, and told himself that he had done a very sensible thing when he turned into the Prairie Hotel.

Here was a man who was an experienced hunter, who was recommended by the [Pg 323]landlord as being the best fellow in the world, who knew just what they wanted, and would assist in fitting them out for the plains.

Things could not have worked more to his liking.

The hunter had by this time extinguished the light and got into bed; but he did not seem at all inclined to sleep.

He talked incessantly for three hours, and kept the boys interested in what he had to say regarding a hunter and trapper's life.

During the progress of the conversation, the boys learned that their friend's name was Eben Webster; that he had left all his outfit, except his horse, at Laramie; that he had come down to St. Joe to rest, after a hard season's work on the plains, and that, having seen enough of civilization for the present, he was going to start back on the following morning.

He said he would pick out some saddle-horses for the boys, show them the way to the fort, where he would secure the rest of their outfit for them, and then he would lead them to the mountains, where they would spend[Pg 324] the rest of the winter together in hunting and trapping.

They were sure to have the best of luck, for he knew right where to go to find plenty of game; and if he didn't make good hunters of them before spring, so that they could start on their own hook, he would give them all the furs he caught.

Leon was highly excited over the prospect, and it was a long time after the conversation ceased before he fell asleep.

[Pg 325]


"You're a pretty fellow, you are!"

This was the way in which Leon was greeted by his cousin the next morning when he awoke.

It was broad daylight. The hunter had arisen at the first peep of day, and the boys were alone in their room.

"What's the matter now?" asked Leon, as he sat up in bed, pulled his trousers from under his pillow, and thrust his hand into his pocket to make sure that his money was safe. "I haven't been doing anything!"

"No; you haven't made a blunder this morning, for you haven't had time; but you made two fearful ones last night," replied Frank. "What in the world induced you to tell that man that you had a pocketful of money? He is a stranger to us, and we don't know whether he is honest or not."

[Pg 326]

"Perhaps I did talk a little too much," said Leon reflectively. "But I wanted to give him to understand that, if he would let us go with him, we would be no expense to him."

"Well, another time don't be in such haste to take a person you don't know into your confidence."

Leon could make no defence, so he said nothing.

He lay for a long time thinking over the conversation he and his cousin had had with the hunter the night before, and there was one thing upon which he dwelt with no little satisfaction.

This new friend had not tried to turn them from their purpose. On the contrary, he had said all he could to encourage them. If his statements were worthy of belief—and Leon did not doubt them in the least—a hunter's life was one of ease and romance, and the only one that was all sunshine. It was true that a hunter was sometimes in danger of his life, but that was a matter of no moment in the opinion of Eben Webster. It only served to put him[Pg 327] on his mettle, and to relieve the monotony of his existence.

Eben, according to his own story, was a typical hunter. He was of the same stamp as those doughty heroes who figure so extensively in cheap novels. He had, time and again, whipped all the hostile warriors that could get around him; and as for bears and panthers, he thought no more of shooting them than Leon did of bringing down a grouse or squirrel.

The boy could not help telling himself that Eben's stories differed widely from those to which he had listened in the bar-room, but still his faith in his new friend was not shaken.

He believed the latter, because he pictured life in the mountains just as he hoped to find it. It never occurred to him that the hunter had told him a pack of falsehoods, but he found out afterward that such was the case.

The loud ringing of a bell at the foot of the stairs interrupted Leon's meditations, and brought him and his cousin out upon the floor in a twinkling. They dressed with all haste,[Pg 328] and, descending to the bar-room, found the guests loitering about, awaiting the call to breakfast.

Eben was there, and he sat beside the boys at the table. His tongue ran as rapidly as it had run the night before, and, among other things, he told the boys that he had been busy that morning looking up a mount for them, and had found just what they wanted.

A couple of gold-hunters who were stopping at the hotel, and were going to start for the States that day, offered to sell the horses they had ridden from the mines for a mere song—twenty dollars apiece, including saddles, bridles, and saddle-bags.

"They can't be good for anything if they can be bought as cheap as that," said Leon. "My father's horse cost six hundred dollars."

"They're good enough to carry you to Laramie," answered the hunter, "and when we get there you can trade 'em off to the Injuns for better ones. What I want to make you understand is, that you don't want to spend a cent more in this town than you are obliged to. Things are so dear!"

[Pg 329]

This was the burden of Eben's advice to the boys, and he repeated it so often while they were purchasing their outfit that they began to wonder at it. Perhaps we shall presently see why it was that the man was so anxious to have Leon take good care of his money.

Breakfast being over, the miners who owned the horses were hunted up, and Eben and the runaways accompanied them to the stable.

The animals were brought out for their inspection, but the boys knew no more about them after they got through looking them over than they did before they saw them.

They were mustangs, and although in very good condition they were by no means handsome, and Frank did not hesitate to say so.

"'Handsome is that handsome does,' pilgrim," said one of the miners. "These hosses have been through two or three fights with Injuns, and if it hadn't been that they're just a trifle faster'n chain lightning, me and my partner wouldn't be here in St. Joe to-day. If we wasn't going back to the States, we wouldn't think of parting with 'em."

These words raised the mustangs wonderfully[Pg 330] in Leon's estimation. Without any further hesitation, he pulled out his roll of bills and paid for them on the spot.

The roll was still a pretty large one, although he had paid his own and his cousin's railroad and steamboat fare out of it. It was large enough to make Eben's eyes grow to twice their usual size, and if the boys had seen the expression that settled on his face, and could have read the thoughts that passed through his mind, it is possible that their own eyes would have been opened.

The horses having been purchased, but little remained to be done, and in an hour more the boys, accompanied by the hunter, were on their way to the plains.

Instead of their valise—for which the landlord had generously allowed them a dollar on their bill—the boys carried, strapped behind their saddles, two small meal-bags, which contained their clothing.

The saddle-bags were filled with provisions that the hunter had selected for them, and they were each provided with a lariat and picket-pin for staking out their horses at night.

[Pg 331]

Eben had protested earnestly against the expenditure of money for blankets, declaring that the boys' heavy overcoats would afford them all the protection they needed at night; but Frank declared that he had never read of a hunter lying before his fire wrapped in an overcoat, and so the blankets were purchased.

The first few days passed without the occurrence of any incident that is worthy of note. They travelled rapidly; for Eben declared that haste was necessary. It would not be many days, he said, before the cold winter storms would begin to sweep over the prairie—in fact, he had never known them to hold off so long before—and if they were caught out in a "blizzard," nothing but certain death awaited them.

So he had the boys up every morning before daylight, allowed them but a very short rest at noon, and kept them in the saddle long after dark.

It is needless to say that, not being accustomed to riding on horseback, they suffered severely; but the tireless mustangs on which they were mounted did not seem to mind it in[Pg 332] the least. They were as willing to go at nine o'clock at night as they were in the morning.

During the first week the boys saw absolutely nothing along their line of travel, for their time was fully occupied in trying to find an easy position in the saddle; but their aches and pains gradually left them as they became "hardened to it," and then Leon began to take some interest in the new and strange sights that met his gaze on every side.

He was very jubilant, Eben was talkative, and Frank was frightened and homesick. And the fact was, he saw a good deal to frighten him.

Every mile of the road was marked by the bleaching bones of horses and cattle, telling of disasters that had befallen some unfortunate emigrant, and now and then the sight of a human grave or the ruins of a "dug-out" would make the cold chills creep all over him.

There was a good deal of travel on the trail for that time of the year. Every day they passed long lines of heavily loaded freight wagons, and they, in turn, were passed by the coaches of the Overland Stage and Mail [Pg 333]Company, which, drawn by four fleet horses and escorted by cavalrymen—who galloped along on each side of them—whisked by at the rate of ten miles an hour.

They also saw trains going the other way—empty freight-wagons, which a few weeks before had gone out loaded with government stores, and others driven by disgusted gold-hunters and emigrants, who were making all haste to reach the States.

The hunter always made it a point to travel rapidly whenever he and his companions met any of these returning wagons.

He took particular pains, also, when they began to think of stopping for the night, to ride so far beyond any camp they might find on the trail that the boys could not go back to visit it.

He did not intend to allow his young companions an opportunity to converse with any of the emigrants, for fear that they might hear something discouraging; but, in spite of all his precautions, they learned something along the route which Eben himself had learned at a station near which they made their camp a few[Pg 334] nights before, but which he studiously kept from the boys.

One afternoon, when they were about twenty miles from Julesburg, and 430 on their way toward Fort Laramie, one of the mail-coaches overtook them, accompanied, as usual, by four cavalrymen.

As the coach dashed by the sergeant who commanded the escort drew up his horse with a jerk, exclaiming:

"Where bound, pilgrims?"

"Fort Laramie," replied Leon, who was the first to speak.

"Laramie!" echoed the sergeant. "You will never see it this year. You'll do well if you get to Julesburg. You want to keep up with us if you can, because the reds have been jumping down on some of the coaches."

So saying, the officer touched his horse with his spurs, and galloped away in pursuit of the coach.

[Pg 335]


The sergeant's words produced the utmost consternation among those who heard them.

The boys turned white with terror, and cast anxious glances toward the surrounding swells, momentarily expecting to see a band of hostile warriors rise over their summits and swoop down upon them.

Eben was alarmed, too; but he did not show it as plainly as his companions did.

"There aint a word of truth in it," he said. "I have been along this trail more'n a hundred times, and never saw no Injuns yet. They wouldn't be roaming about the plains at this season of the year, anyway. They are up on the Big Horn, getting ready for winter."

"But what did the soldier mean when he said that we will do well if we reach Julesburg?" asked Frank in a trembling voice.

[Pg 336]

"He meant that it was going to snow," replied the hunter. "But I can read the signs like a book, and I know it won't snow for a week yet. But even if it does storm, we don't care, for we shall be in Julesburg to-morrow."

With this answer, Eben tried to turn the conversation into another channel, but the boys, being terribly frightened, could talk about nothing but Indians, and speculate upon their chances of reaching a place of safety.

The hunter stood it as long as he could, and then said, almost savagely:

"If there were Injuns about, you wouldn't see so many single wagons along the road. The emigrants would wait for one another, and make up a strong train, so that they could defend themselves."

Leon, who had all faith in the hunter, was somewhat reassured by these words, but Frank's terror increased every time he recalled the sergeant's warning.

Just before dark they passed a camp on the bank of a little stream, and Frank urged Eben to stop there, so that they could have company during the night; but the hunter, following[Pg 337] his usual custom, rode by at a gallop, and as Leon went with him, Frank had to follow or be left alone.

"I can't stand this any longer, and I won't, either," said Frank to himself, as he galloped along behind his companions. "But after all, I don't see how I am going to help myself. I have waited and watched for an opportunity to get my hands on that money ever since we left St. Joe, and I haven't seen a ghost of a chance."

Frank was almost ready to cry with vexation and alarm. He did not know what to do; but as it happened, a way was most unexpectedly opened for him to carry out his plans that very night.

Eben kept his horse in a gallop until the emigrant's camp was left at least five miles behind, and then, drawing rein in a little clump of willows, announced that they would stop there until morning.

The weary boys swung themselves from their saddles, and set about the performance of certain duties that had been assigned them when the journey first began.

[Pg 338]

Frank's business was to cut wood enough to keep the fire burning all night, and although he appeared to work industriously, he spent more than half his time in watching his cousin's movements.

He saw him take his saddle-bags from his horse, lift up the flap that covered one of the pockets and thrust his hand into the bag.

Then he placed the bags upon the ground near the spot on which the fire was to be built, and piled his saddle, blankets, and overcoat upon them, taking care to arrange all the articles in such a position that he could tell at a glance if any of them had been disturbed.

"He has done that every noon and night for the last week," soliloquized Frank, "and now I am satisfied that the money is in those saddle-bags. Mine look exactly like his, and if I see a chance I'll exchange with him and leave. I am sure I could find my way back to that emigrant's camp, and perhaps I could induce him to let me ride in his wagon as far as St. Joe."

The supper, consisting of bacon and crackers which Leon had purchased at one of the mail[Pg 339] stations, was ready in due time, and when it had been disposed of the travellers lay down beside the fire—Eben on his soldier's overcoat and the boys on their blankets—and talked themselves to sleep—that is, Leon and the hunter went to sleep, but Frank kept wide awake. He had no intention of closing his eyes that night.

Before lying down, Leon had placed his saddle-bags across his saddle in the same position they occupied when he was on horseback, and the pocket which contained the money was under his shoulders, while his head rested in the hollow of the saddle, which he used as a pillow.

These precautions almost disheartened Frank, who, for six long hours, lay there, within easy reach of his cousin, revolving in his mind various plans for obtaining possession of the coveted treasure.

Two or three times he reached out his hand and tried to pull the saddle-bags from under Leon's shoulders, but every time he did so Leon stirred in his sleep, and Frank was obliged to desist.

[Pg 340]

He was almost ready to give up in despair, when, to his great joy, his cousin, in tossing about and trying to find a more comfortable position, rolled partly off his rude bed.

Frank was prompt to seize upon the opportunity thus presented, for it was now or never.

As quick as thought, he drew the saddle-bags toward him, unbuckled the flap, and plunged his hand in the pocket.

As he did so, his fingers came in contact with something wrapped up in a piece of paper.

Hardly able to suppress the cry of exultation that arose to his lips, he seized upon it, and, raising himself to his knees, untied the paper with hands that trembled violently.

The fire, which the hunter had replenished several times during the night, was burning brightly, and, by the aid of the light it threw out, Frank saw that he had found what he wanted.

The next thing was to leave the camp without arousing either of his companions.

Frank steals the money

Frank steals the money.

Hastily buckling the flap, he pushed the[Pg 341] saddle-bags back to their place, and arose to his feet.

He spent a moment in arranging his blankets, so that anyone who took a casual glance at them would believe that they covered a human form, took his overcoat on his arm, picked up his rifle and accoutrements, which he had placed at the head of his bed, and stole silently away into the darkness.

He walked a few rods with noiseless footsteps, and then, breaking into a run, flew over the ground at a rate of speed he had never equalled before.

"I've got it! I've got it at last!" he kept whispering to himself; "and if I can only keep it, I am sure of seeing home and friends once more. I will keep it. I'll fight till I drop before I'll give it up. I am rather sorry that I had to take it all, but I was afraid that if I stopped to divide it, one or the other of them would wake up and discover me. Well, Leon stands in no need of it, for he doesn't want to go home. Besides, he has Eben to take care of him, while I must look out for myself."

The boy would have been greatly amazed if[Pg 342] anyone had told him that the hunter had been laying his plans to do just what he (Frank) had done.

Eben never intended to guide the boys to Fort Laramie. His object was to lead them into the wilderness beyond Julesburg, where there were but few wagons to be met at that season of the year, steal Leon's money and Frank's rifle and blankets, and leave them to shift for themselves. But Frank got the start of him, and we shall see what the hunter did about it.

Frank very soon ran himself out of breath, and was obliged to settle down into a walk.

Knowing that his absence would ere long be discovered, and that an effort would be made to overtake him and recover the money, he stopped frequently to listen for sounds of pursuit, holding himself in readiness to leave the trail and seek a hiding-place in the grass if he heard the sound of horses' hoofs. But Leon and the hunter still slept soundly, and Frank went on his way unmolested.

The five miles that lay between his own[Pg 343] camp and the camp of the emigrant seemed to have lengthened out wonderfully since Frank passed that way, but just as the day was breaking he came within sight of the canvas cover of the wagon, and saw the light of the camp-fire shining through it.

Breaking into a run, he dashed up to the wagon, creating no little excitement among the emigrant's children, who ran to their mother and clung to her dress for protection.

The woman looked up from her cooking, the man, who was harnessing his mules, faced suddenly about, and both stared at him, as if to ask what he meant by his intrusion.

"My friend," said Frank, speaking rapidly, and keeping his gaze directed down the trail in the direction from which he had come, "will you do a favor for me?"

"Anything in reason," was the encouraging reply.

"Thank you," said Frank gratefully. "Do you see this rifle? It cost forty dollars in Boston. I will give it to you if you will let me hide in your wagon and ride with you until[Pg 344] we reach one of the mail-stations. I have a little money in my possession, and am in danger of being robbed."

"Mercy preserve us!" exclaimed the emigrant's wife.

"You see," continued Frank, "I started from St. Joe, intending to go to Fort Laramie, but I have seen enough of this Western country, and now I want to go home."

"I don't blame you," said the emigrant. "We want to go home, too."

"Then you can imagine how I should feel if I were robbed and left stranded here on the plains. I assure you that if you will let me go with you and hide in your wagon until all danger is past——"

At this moment Frank discovered something moving rapidly along the trail, about half a mile away.

He looked closely at it, and saw that it was a horseman, who was urging his way forward at full speed.

"That's Eben," said he, in a husky voice. "He is the man who wants to rob me. Don't you believe a word he says to you. If he asks[Pg 345] you about me, tell him that you haven't seen me."

So saying, Frank sprang into the wagon and began covering himself up with the bedding that was scattered over the bottom.

In a second more he was concealed, boots and all.

"If we tell him that, we'll be lying," said the woman thoughtfully.

"Well, mebbe it would be stretching things just a little," said the man slowly, "but in a case like this—that's a mighty fine rifle of his'n, Jane, and squirrels are plenty in Kaintuck."

"And this rifle will bring them out of the tallest hickory in the woods," said Frank, sticking his head out from under the quilts for a moment, and then drawing it hastily back again.

The emigrant once more turned his attention to his mules, the woman went on with her preparations for breakfast, and presently the horseman galloped up to the camp and drew rein.

[Pg 346]


"Say, pilgrim, have you seen a boy dressed in store clothes, and carrying a rifle in his hands, pass along the trail this morning?" inquired the horseman.

The concealed runaway, who had taken care to leave a little opening among the quilts, so that he could hear all that was said, trembled violently as the familiar tones fell upon his ear.

It was the hunter, sure enough. He held his breath in suspense, while he waited for the emigrant's reply.

"Nary boy," drawled the man. "There aint nobody passed this camp since sundown last night."

"Then he must have left the trail and taken to the grass," said Eben. "I've missed him somewhere, but I'll find him if I have to hunt the whole country over."

[Pg 347]

"Has he been a-doing of anything?"

"I should say he had. He stole over three hundred dollars out of my saddle-bags early this morning."

The exclamations this statement called forth from the emigrant and his wife made Frank tremble again.

What if they should take it into their heads to believe Eben's story instead of his own? The emigrant's next words, however, put him somewhat at his ease.

"Well, I aint seen him go past here," said he. "What do you reckon you'll do with him if you ketch him?"

The hunter did not answer the question in words. He drew his revolver and held it off at arm's length, as if he were taking aim at something, at the same time digging his heels into the sides of his horse, which sprang away at the top of his speed.

When Eben was out of sight, the emigrant stepped upon the wagon-tongue and called to Frank:

"Look here, neighbor," he exclaimed, "that man says you robbed him! How is that?"

[Pg 348]

"There isn't a word of truth in it," replied Frank. "He never had his hands on the money I've got in my pocket. Did you take a good look at him? Well, now take a good look at me, and make up your mind which of us you would rather believe."

"There's something in that," said the emigrant. "You look like an honest boy, and I hope you be. You'd best stay in there a spell, I reckon. That feller may come back after a while, and if he gets his eye on you, I am afraid it will go hard with you. I'll hand you in a bite to eat."

The emigrant stepped down from the wagon-tongue, and when he came back again, he placed in Frank's hand a tin plate, containing a piece of bacon and corn-bread, and a quart cup filled with coffee. He and his family ate their breakfast while seated around the fire.

When the meal was over, the mules were hitched to the wagon, the woman and her children climbed in, and the emigrant mounted his seat and drove off.

They had not been on the trail more than two hours before Frank, who was constantly[Pg 349] on the watch, discovered Eben coming back. The instant he caught sight of him he made a dash for his hiding-place, and the emigrant and his wife covered him up with the quilts.

There was no need of all this trouble, however, for the hunter never looked toward the wagon as he galloped by, and only shook his head sullenly when the emigrant asked him if he had found the boy of whom he was in search.

Frank's adventures on the plains were now ended. For a few hours he was extremely nervous and uneasy, and always sought his hiding-place whenever a horseman wearing a military overcoat made his appearance on the trail behind them; but Eben was a good many miles away, and it was a long time before Frank heard of him again.

He remained with the hospitable emigrant until they arrived at one of the stations of the Overland Stage Company, and there he took leave of him and his family, after presenting the man with his rifle, according to promise, and secured a seat in a coach bound for Atchison.

[Pg 350]

Having seen him fairly on his way toward home, we will bid him good-by for the present, and return to Leon, whom we left fast asleep on his blanket.

When Frank had been gone a little more than an hour, and the first gray streaks of dawn were beginning to make their appearance in the east, Eben suddenly sat up and looked about him.

After stretching his arms and yawning, he arose and mended the fire; and it was while he was thus engaged that he discovered Frank's bed was empty.

He looked toward the place where the horses were staked out, and saw that they were all there, but he noticed that Frank's rifle and overcoat were gone, and his suspicions were aroused at once.

Stepping quickly to Leon's side, he seized him by the shoulder and shook him roughly.

"Pilgrim! pilgrim!" he shouted, in stentorian tones. "Wake up here! That pardner o' your'n 's skipped!"

Leon was wide awake in an instant. He looked toward Frank's bed, and, uttering an[Pg 351] exclamation of alarm, caught up his saddle-bags, unbuckled one of the flaps, and thrust his hand into the pocket.

Everything that ought to have been there was there except the article of which he was in search.

He tumbled the contents of both pockets on the ground, tossed them in all directions, but the little round package, wrapped in a piece of newspaper, was not to be found.

"It's gone!" gasped Leon, his hands falling helplessly by his side.

"You don't mean the money?" cried the hunter, whose excitement was fully equal to Leon's.

"Yes, I do mean the money," replied the boy, who felt like yelling with indignation. "It beats me how he got it, for I have kept a close watch over it ever since he told me that he wanted to go home. There were more than three hundred dollars in that roll, too."

The hunter muttered something that sounded very much like the heaviest kind of an imprecation.

"You're a nice one to have money!" said[Pg 352] he angrily. "Why didn't you keep it in your pocket?"

"Because I was afraid it would work out and get lost. Where are you going?" said Leon, as the hunter turned and ran toward his horse.

"I'm going to have that money back," said Eben, in savage tones. "He can't be far off, for he hasn't been gone long enough to put many miles between him and us. He was in his bed the last time I fixed the fire, and fast asleep, too, for I saw him. If I come up with him, he'll never steal any more money, I bet you!"

"Don't be too hard on him," said Leon, who did not like the expression he saw in his companion's face. "He is my cousin, you know."

"I don't care if he's the President's cousin! We make short work of thieves in this country. You stay and watch the camp until I come back."

Eben put the saddle and bridle on his horse in a remarkably short space of time, and, springing upon his back, galloped away, [Pg 353]paying no heed to Leon's repeated request that he would not harm Frank if he succeeded in overtaking him.

"I am really afraid that boy has got himself into a box," thought Leon, as he settled back on his hard bed. "I never saw a man in such a rage as Eben is. He takes a good deal of interest in my affairs, but I hope he'll not let his zeal carry him too far. Frank has got me into a box, too, for if I should grow tired of life in the mountains, and conclude to go back to the States, how am I to get there?"

The indignation Leon felt when he first discovered that his money had been stolen, had given away to a feeling of uneasiness.

He was certain that Eben would overtake his cousin. A boy on foot could not possibly escape from a man on horseback, especially on the plains, and if he would simply bring him back and hand over the three hundred dollars, all would be well; but he was afraid that the angry hunter might take it into his head to punish Frank in some way.

He felt the loss keenly, but he was not troubled concerning the future.

[Pg 354]

Eben had told him that the traders, who were located at the various posts during the winter, were in the habit of furnishing supplies on credit to responsible hunters and trappers, who would bind themselves to sell their furs to no one but the man of whom the supplies were obtained.

So the loss of his money would not prevent him and Eben from spending a few months in the mountains, as they had intended to do.

But still he wanted funds to use, in case of emergency, and he hoped that Eben would succeed in overtaking Frank.

Leon did not cook any breakfast, for he could not have eaten a mouthful if he had tried; his anxiety and suspense were too great.

He spent four hours in walking back and forth between the camp-fire and the trail, and presently he saw Eben coming back.

The expression his face wore when he rode up made Leon afraid to speak to him. It was evident that he had had his trouble for his pains.

While the boy was wondering how Frank could have effected his escape, the hunter [Pg 355]dismounted, and walking over to the place where the two mustangs were staked out, he cut the lariats with which they were confined, and set them at liberty.

This done, he hurried into the camp, and, without saying a word, proceeded to gather up all the articles Frank had left behind, as well as those belonging to Leon.

He picked up the saddle-bags, all the blankets, the meal-bags which contained the boys' clothing, and threw them across the neck of his horse.

After balancing them so that they would not fall off, he came back and picked up Leon's double-barrel, and also the powder-flask and shot-pouch belonging to it.

"What are you going to do?" asked the boy, who had watched the singular movements with surprise, not unmingled with alarm.

"I am off for the mountains," answered Eben in sullen tones. "I have the best notion in the world to knock you over before I go for not keeping that money in your pocket where it belonged."

"But what are you taking my horse for?[Pg 356] If you are going to the mountains, why can't I go with you?"

The hunter made no reply. He sprang upon the back of his own horse and galloped away, followed by the liberated mustangs, and leaving Leon standing beside the fire, almost overwhelmed with astonishment and terror.

[Pg 357]


Leon, who was by no means dull of comprehension, had no difficulty in finding an explanation of the hunter's actions. The latter had deliberately robbed and deserted the boy who had trusted him.

This conviction came upon Leon with stunning force, and literally crushed him to the ground.

He fell down beside the fire, and for a few moments gave way to the most violent grief. Then, suddenly recovering himself, he sprang to his feet and ran swiftly down the trail, shouting the hunter's name and imploring him to come back.

But Eben was out of hearing. In a few seconds more he disappeared over a swell, and Leon was alone on the prairie.

How he managed to exist during the next few hours he never knew.

[Pg 358]

He was animated with but one idea, and that was to reach Julesburg in the shortest possible space of time.

He knew it was a military post, and he hoped to find the hunter there. If he did, he would seek an interview with the commandant, tell him his story, and have the thief arrested.

"But how much better off will I be then than I am now?" sobbed Leon, after he had thought the matter over. "I shall get my property back, of course; but what use will it be to me? I would not dare start for St. Joe alone, for there are Indians along the route, and I have heard Eben say that it will not be long before the roads will be blocked with snow. I suppose I might find a train of empty freight-wagons going back, but who will feed me when I have no money to pay for what I eat? I can't become a hunter, now that Eben has gone back on me, and I—— Oh, I wish I had never seen or heard of Frank Fuller! I wouldn't be here now if he had stayed at home."

Leon ran until he was all out of breath, and then slackened his speed to a walk.

[Pg 359]

He had heard the hunter say that the nearest post was only ten miles distant; but the miles on the prairies are longer than they are in the States, and it was past the middle of the afternoon when he came in sight of the little collection of tents and mud-houses that bore the name of Julesburg.

He directed his course toward the stockade, which stood on a hill a little apart from the town, but when he came to the gate he paused, for there was an armed sentinel pacing back and forth in front of it.

"Do you allow strangers in here?" asked the boy timidly.

"Yes; if they come on business," answered the sentry.

Leon, replying that he had come on business, and very important business, too, walked through the gate and paused to see which way he would go next.

He was surprised at the extent of the fortifications. In the center was a parade-ground large enough to admit of the evolutions of a regiment.

This parade-ground was surrounded by[Pg 360] broad, level walks, the space between the walks and the stockade being occupied with warehouses, the sutler and trader's stores, barracks, officers' quarters, and stables, all built of sun-dried bricks.

A tall flag-staff arose from the parade-ground, and from it floated the Stars and Stripes.

Leon could see nothing of Eben, but he did see three or four men lounging in front of the open door of one of the buildings, and toward them he bent his steps.

The building proved to be a stable, and the men were government teamsters.

When they saw Leon approaching, they ceased their conversation and looked at him with curiosity.

"Good-afternoon!" said the boy, speaking in as steady a voice as he could command. "Do any of you happen to know a hunter named Eben Webster?"

"I reckon," replied one of the men; "and we don't know nothing good of him, neither."

"Have you seen him about here to-day?" asked Leon.

[Pg 361]

"About here? About this fort?" exclaimed another teamster. "Not much. He'll never come through one of our gates unless he comes with a guard over him. You don't want no dealings with him, pilgrim. He's a thief."

"I know it," replied Leon, his lips quivering and his eyes filling with tears. "He stripped me of everything I had, except the clothes I stand in, and left me alone on the prairie."

The teamsters began to prick up their ears when they heard this, and two or three of their companions, who were at work in the stable, came to the door to listen to the conversation.

Leon, finding that he had an attentive audience, began and told the story of his troubles, hoping that, if he could get the men interested, they would assist him in some way.

He told nothing but the truth as far as he went, but he omitted one very important thing which the wagon-master, an old, gray-headed man, who had not yet spoken, supplied for him, after asking a few questions.

[Pg 362]

"Have you got a father?" he asked.

Leon replied that he had.

"And a mother, too?"

The boy nodded his head.

"Then, my young tenderfoot, you're a runaway, that's what you are. No father or mother livin' would let a kid like you come out here to make his bread and bacon by huntin' and trappin'. You're a nice lad to talk about roughin' it in the mountains, aint you, now? Jest step over here 'longside of me and look at yourself."

The old wagon-master spoke seriously, and his words did not raise a laugh at Leon's expense, as the latter expected they would. He hung his head, and it was all he could do to keep his tears from bursting out afresh.

One of the teamsters declared that it was a perfect shame, and this remark brought about a general conversation, during which Leon learned how foolish he had been in taking into his confidence a man with whom he was not acquainted.

Eben had never been post-hunter at Laramie, nor anywhere else. He was nothing but[Pg 363] a renegade, who had married an Indian wife that he might share in the annuities that are yearly distributed among the different friendly tribes.

Leon was also informed that Eben had fled the country a few months before to escape arrest; that he had never killed eight hundred buffaloes during all the years he had been on the plains, and that he was too lazy and too big a coward to spend a winter in the mountains, hunting and trapping. He much preferred to settle down in his teepee and eat government rations.

As for the articles he had stolen, the boy might just as well give them up for lost. Eben had doubtless drawn a bee-line for the place where the band to which he belonged was encamped, and Leon would never see him again.

While this conversation was going on, the wagon-master arose and walked away.

He was gone but a few minutes, and when he came back he beckoned to Leon, who promptly joined him.

"Pilgrim," said he, as they walked away[Pg 364] together, "I wish I was your father for 'bout half an' hour, so 't I could gin you a good trouncin' to pay you for runnin' away from a good home, and comin' out here where you aint got no sort of business in the world. But seein' I aint your father, I'm kinder sorry for you, though you aint wuth no sorrer, and I've been sayin' a good word to the trader for you. I heard him tell one of the leftenants last night that he reckoned he'd have to send to the States for a boy to help him take care on the store. You see, his last clerk, growin' tired of stayin' here, stole some money of his'n and put for home. Now, mebbe you can work yourself into his place."

Leon's thanks were cut short by their arrival at the door of the trader's store.

He followed the wagon-master in, and was presented to a rough-looking man, who stood behind the counter.

A long conversation followed, and when Leon was asked to tell his story, he omitted nothing. The trader scanned him closely, and finally inquired:

"Can you keep a set of books?"

[Pg 365]

"Yes, sir," replied Leon. "Either by single or double entry."

"Now, I don't want to hear no more about double-entry!" exclaimed the trader, growing red in the face, and dashing his clenched hand upon the counter. "That's the way my last clerk kept my books, and a nice mess he made of it. He swindled me out of five hundred or a thousand dollars. There's the books, just as he left them," added the trader, waving his hand toward the desk, "and I can't make head nor tail of them."

"Let me try," said Leon.

"Are you honest?"

"Well, I'll tell you what I am willing to do. I will come here on trial, if you will take me, and you can withhold my wages, whatever they are. If you see anything wrong about me, you need not pay me a cent."

"That's a fair proposition," said the trader. "Hang up your overcoat somewhere, and come around here."

Leon paused long enough to thank the kind-hearted wagon master for the assistance he[Pg 366] had rendered him, and then, taking his stand behind the desk, set manfully to work to earn the money that was to pay his way back to the States. That was all he had in his mind now. His ambition to become a hunter was dead and buried out of sight.

All the rest of the day, and until twelve o'clock that night, the trader and his new clerk stood at the desk trying to straighten out the accounts, which Leon found to be in the greatest confusion.

And we may add that his mind was in great confusion, too. The sudden blighting of his long-cherished hopes seemed to have stunned him, and that strange malady, homesickness, from which Frank had suffered actually ever since leaving Albany, assailed him with the greatest fury.

Frank had not given way to it, for he had been buoyed up by the thought that, if he could only secure his cousin's money, he could at once turn his face toward Boston; but Leon had absolutely nothing to encourage him.

While they were at work, the trader casually remarked that he had paid his former clerk[Pg 367] twenty dollars a month and board, and when Leon thought of the long months he must spend in that dreary place before he could save enough to take him back to Eaton, he felt like crying out in despair.

"I can't stand it! I can't stand it!" sobbed the repentant runaway, as he tossed about on his hard bed in the little room off the store that had been occupied by his predecessor. "I shall die—I know I shall. Oh, mother! if I could only see you just one minute!"

Leon's grief was so intense that he seemed to be on the point of suffocating. He threw open the door of the room and walked the floor until he was almost exhausted; but when he went to bed again he did not sleep, and neither did he get up to open the store at six o'clock, as his employer had told him to do. He was too ill to hold up his head.

The trader opened the store himself, and, after holding a few minutes' conversation with his clerk, walked across the parade-ground and entered the doctor's office.

Returning to his store, he found there a party of teamsters who were waiting for him.

[Pg 368]

While he was attending to their wants, the hospital-steward entered and went into Leon's room.

He stayed there about a quarter of an hour, and when he came out the trader was alone.

"What's the matter with that boy?" he asked.

"Nostalgia; and I suppose that is one of the worst things a poor mortal can be afflicted with," replied the steward. "I have known it to throw every raw recruit in a battalion flat on his back."

"Jerusalem!" cried the trader, his face betraying the greatest consternation. "Is it as bad as that?"

He did not understand the learned term which the steward had applied to Leon's malady, but believing that a disease that bore a name like that must of necessity be something dreadful, he was very badly frightened.

If there was any one thing of which he stood in the most abject fear, it was contagion. He had had some experience with it during his life among the Indians.

The steward, who seemed somewhat [Pg 369]surprised at the trader's words and actions, replied:

"Yes, he is a pretty sick boy. He has told me his story, and I'm going to speak to the doctor about him at once. He ought to be shipped back to the States with as little delay as possible."

The steward went out, and the trader paced up and down behind his counter in a state of mind bordering on frenzy.

"If I ever befriend a vagabond again, may I be shot" said he. "He must be got out of here at once, for I might catch it myself. It is a pretty rough thing to do," he added, as he hurried toward Leon's door, "but self-preservation is the first law of nature. Say, pilgrim," he shouted, as he entered the room where his clerk lay tossing and moaning on his bed, "you climb out o' that and waltz!"

"Sir?" said Leon faintly.

"'Sir!'" yelled the trader. "Get up and clear out! Do you understand that?"

"Oh, yes, I understand it; but what have I done? I couldn't possibly get up. I couldn't stand."

[Pg 370]

"You must, and you will!" roared the trader, flourishing his fists in the air. "The steward says you ought to be kicked out of the fort directly, and that shows you've got something that's catching. Now, you get up and dust. Start this minute, or I'll take you by the collar and drag you out."

This threat put a little life and energy into Leon. He arose to his feet, and although he was so weak that he could scarcely maintain an upright position, he succeeded in putting on his clothes.

Then he picked up his overcoat and staggered through the store and out at the door, the trader shouting after him:

"Now, you go over to the other side of the fort and stay there. Don't let me catch you on this part of the parade-ground again."

Poor Leon! All his hopes of seeing home and friends again were gone now.

[Pg 371]


Leon made the best of his way across the parade-ground, and threw himself helplessly down upon the steps of a warehouse. He was so ill, and so utterly discouraged, that he almost wished he might die then and there, and so bring his sufferings to an end.

He sat with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands, looking the very picture of misery.

His gaze being directed toward the gate through which he had entered the day before, he did not fail to see the neatly dressed young civilian who walked briskly up the hill and stopped to speak to the sentry.

At the sight of him Leon started up, and even attempted to get upon his feet; but he was so weak that he fell back upon the steps again.

"I thought at first it was Oscar Preston,"[Pg 372] said he. "He looks like him, walks like him, and dresses like him. How much good the sight of one familiar face would do me! I wish I was at Oscar's side this minute. I tell you, it wouldn't take me long to get home!"

"Corporal of the guard number seven!" shouted the sentry.

As Leon wearily raised his head he saw the corporal come out of the barracks in response to the call and hasten toward the gate. He exchanged a few words with the visitor, after which he conducted him along the path toward where Leon was sitting.

Again the boy raised his head; his eyes opened to their widest extent; his under-jaw dropped downward; he trembled in every limb. He staggered to his feet, winked hard to clear away something that seemed to be obstructing his vision, and when he looked toward the visitor again he and the corporal were just disappearing through the door of the colonel's quarters.

"That's Oscar Preston, if I ever saw him!" panted Leon; "but what brought him out here? Did my father send him after me? No,[Pg 373] that can't be, for he did not know where Frank and I were going."

Leon picked up his overcoat, which was as heavy a load as he wanted to carry now, and, moving slowly along the path, seated himself upon the threshold of the first door below the colonel's quarters, intending to wait there until the visitor came out again.

He would have a good view of his face as he passed, and then he would know whether or not he had been mistaken in regard to his identity.

At the end of half an hour—it seemed an age to the impatient runaway—a door opened in the commandant's quarters, voices sounded in the hall, and presently the visitor came out, accompanied by the colonel, the post surgeon, and several subordinate officers.

They walked leisurely down the path, conversing gayly, and Leon's heart seemed to stop beating when he heard the colonel say:

"Mr. Preston, when you write to the professor, give him my kindest regards, and assure him that I will do all in my power to assist you. Hallo, here!" he added, in a very[Pg 374] different tone of voice, as a pale and trembling figure arose from a door-step close at his side. "Who are you?"

Leon could not reply. He covered his face with his hands, and tottered as if he were about to fall; but Oscar (for it was he), who was struck motionless and dumb with astonishment, recovered himself in time to spring forward and catch the runaway in his arms.

"Leon! Leon!" he exclaimed, in a voice that was husky with emotion, "is this you? Look up and speak to me."

But Leon's sobs effectually choked his utterance. Supporting him with one arm, Oscar forcibly drew away his hands, and was amazed at the sight of the pale and sunken face which rested on his shoulder.

"It is Leon, as sure as the world!" cried Oscar, who was almost beside himself with excitement. "Doctor, this is a friend and schoolmate of mine, and he is sick. Won't you do something for him?"

"Did you call him Leon?" asked the surgeon, stepping up and putting his hand under the boy's arm. "Then he must be that [Pg 375]runaway my steward was telling me about. Ah!" he added, as Oscar nodded his head to him. "If that's the case, you can do more for him than I can."

Leon was at once assisted into the surgeon's quarters and placed on a sofa.

The doctor felt his pulse, while Oscar knelt beside him, and rested his arm over Leon's shoulder, as if to assure him of protection.

"What's the matter with him, sir?" he asked.

"Oh, I've got something that's catching," sobbed Leon, "and I'm to be kicked out of the fort. The trader told me so. He wouldn't let me stay about where he was."

Oscar and the surgeon looked at each other in surprise, and the latter said:

"Why, my young friend, you're homesick. There's nothing else the matter with you."

"But that's bad enough," said Leon, who was, nevertheless, greatly encouraged. "I shall never see my home again."

"Yes, you will," exclaimed Oscar. "You can start to-morrow, if you are strong enough to sit on a stage-coach."

[Pg 376]

"There!" said the surgeon. "That assurance will do him more good than all the medicine in the dispensary. Sit down and talk to him," he added, handing Oscar a chair. "I'll give him a tonic and go out for half an hour. He will be all right at the end of that time."

When the surgeon had seen Leon swallow the medicine he prepared for him, he left the room, and Oscar drew his chair up beside the sofa and sat down.

Leon pinched himself to make sure that he was not dreaming, and then took Oscar's hand in his own and clung to it as if he were afraid that his friend might vanish into thin air.

"Oscar," said he, "I don't deserve this treatment at your hands."

"Yes, you do," replied Oscar cheerfully. "I shall do all I can for you, and then I shall not begin to cancel the debt I owe your father."

"But you don't owe me anything but ill-will. It was I who shot Bugle."

"I know it; but you didn't hurt him. You only made him angry. Now, drop that—it is[Pg 377] all forgotten—and tell me what in the world brought you to the plains. If I had met my own mother in the fort, I certainly could not have been more surprised."

"I came out to be a hunter," confessed Leon.

"You did? So did I."

It was now Leon's turn to be astonished.

"Yes, sir," continued Oscar. "I expect to make my living for years to come by hunting. I am sent out here to procure specimens for the museum connected with the Yarmouth University."

"Well," sighed Leon, after thinking a moment, "your way of becoming a hunter is better than mine."

"Tell me your story from beginning to end," said Oscar, "and then I'll tell you all about myself."

We know the story of Leon's adventures and mishaps; so we will not repeat what he said to Oscar.

We know everything that happened to Oscar, too, up to the time he left Sam Hynes at his mother's gate on the night he returned[Pg 378] from Yarmouth. We dropped the thread of his narrative there, and will now go back and take it up.

Oscar's mother, you may be sure, was overjoyed to see him. The letters she had received from him during his absence had prepared her for a portion of the story he had to tell, but there were also some things for which she was not prepared, because the boy had had no time to write about them.

"I was never so surprised in my life as I was this morning," said Oscar, after he had told of his reception and experience at the university. "The committee invited me into their room and gave me a check for sixteen hundred dollars. There it is. The thousand dollars I am to use in paying my expenses, and the rest belongs to me. I shall leave it all with you, with the exception of a hundred dollars, which I shall need to buy an outfit; so you will be well provided for during my absence."

"O Oscar!" exclaimed Mrs. Preston; "I don't see how I can consent to this. You will be so far away from home and among strangers——"

[Pg 379]

"But I shan't be among strangers, either," interrupted Oscar, handing his mother a package of papers which he drew from the inside pocket of his coat. "There are my credentials, my instructions, which tell me just where to go and what to do, and letters of introduction to high government officers, both civil and military. You see, Professor Kendall—he is the geologist, you know—has taken two parties of students out to the plains, and during his excursions he made the acquaintance of these officers, who gave him every assistance. These letters will bring me the same aid and comfort. The professor is going to take another party out there next summer, and I am going to arrange matters so that they can camp with me for a few days."

The conversation was kept up until midnight, and when Oscar went to bed he had the satisfaction of knowing that, although his mother could hardly bear the thought of so long a separation, she would adhere to her promise and throw no obstacles in his way.

He set about making preparations for the[Pg 380] journey as soon as he arose the next morning, and when Monday came he was all ready to start.

His friend Sam, who went around looking as though he had lost everything on earth that was worth living for, was with him night and day, and accompanied him when he went to say good-by to his friends.

Early on Monday morning the omnibus drew up before the door. Oscar assisted the driver to carry out his trunk, and then went back to take leave of his mother.

This was by no means an easy thing to do, and when he came out he held his handkerchief to his face.

The only other passenger was Sam Hynes, who did not speak to or even look at him, although Oscar walked to the forward end of the vehicle, where his friend was sitting, and took a seat by his side.

He resolutely kept his back turned, and looked steadily out of the window until they reached the depot; then he jumped up, wrung Oscar's hand for a moment, and started for the door.

[Pg 381]

"Say good-by, Sam, and tell me that you wish me success," cried Oscar.

But Sam did not act as though he heard him. He dashed open the door, and sprang to the ground and hurried away.

There was a large company of schoolboys assembled on the platform to see Oscar off, and if he had stopped to shake all the hands that were stretched out to him, he would have been obliged to wait for the next train.

He sprang upon the steps of the nearest car as the train was moving off, waved his cap to the boys, and looked around for Sam Hynes.

Presently he discovered that young gentleman far up the street, striding along with his hands in his pockets and his chin resting on his breast.

"Good luck to you, Sam, wherever you go and whatever you do!" said Oscar, while a big lump of something seemed to be rising in his throat. "You're the best friend any fellow ever had."

Oscar stopped one day in St. Louis to make a few purchases, and then went on to Atchison, where he took the stage for Julesburg.[Pg 382] He arrived there on time, ate a hearty breakfast, and, leaving his luggage at the station, walked up to the fort to present his letters of introduction to the commandant and surgeon.

The reception these gentlemen extended to him was all he could have desired. They were astonished that a boy like himself should have been selected for so arduous and dangerous a mission, but they entered heartily into the spirit of the matter, and promised to assist him in every way.

We have seen that Oscar's arrival was most opportune. Had he delayed his coming a few days longer, there is no telling what would have become of Leon Parker.

Oscar spent the afternoon in writing long letters to his mother and Sam. The one intended for Sam, which was marked "confidential," contained a full history of Leon's adventures, and wound up with the request that Sam, for the sake of the friendship he bore the writer, would take Leon under his protection. Oscar hoped in this way to make things smooth for Leon.

There were mean boys in Eaton, as there are[Pg 383] everywhere, but they would not be likely to say much to Leon about running away from home when they found he had a friend in such a heavy hitter as Sam Hynes was known to be.

The two boys took their meals with the officers' mess, and slept at the surgeon's quarters that night.

Leon's recovery was wonderfully rapid, as the doctor said it would be, but he was not yet himself by any means. What would his father and his acquaintances in Eaton say to him when he reached home, was the question that worried and haunted him continually.

Oscar said all he could to cheer him, and the next morning he placed in his hands a sum of money sufficient to bear all his expenses, and accompanied him to the station.

The coach arrived in time and the runaway, after shaking Oscar warmly by the hand, and thanking him over and over again for his kindness, climbed to a seat on the top, and in five minutes more was whirled away out of sight.

[Pg 384]


It was a clear, cold afternoon in February. School had just been dismissed, and among those who came down the stairs, and paused to put on their gloves and pull the collars of their overcoats about their ears before venturing out into the frosty air, were Sam Hynes and Leon Parker.

These two were often seen together now, and we may add that the former had twice been kept after school since Leon came home, and reprimanded for fighting.

But Sam declared that he had never had a fight in his life. Perhaps he hadn't; but it is nevertheless true that he had shaken one boy until every tooth in his head rattled, and washed another's face in the snow.

It is hard to tell what Oscar would have thought if he had known how faithfully Sam was carrying out his wishes.

[Pg 385]

The two boys walked together until they arrived at Mrs. Preston's house, and there they separated—one turning in at the gate, and the other keeping on his way toward home.

Sam, followed by Bugle, who came out to meet him, went into the woodshed, and proceeded to fill his arms with stove-wood.

This done, he walked into the kitchen without ceremony, and deposited the wood in the box.

Mrs. Preston, hearing the racket he made, came out to see who was there.

"Now, Sammy," said she, "I wish you wouldn't put yourself to so much trouble."

"No trouble at all," answered Sam. "I happened to pass through the woodshed, and thought I wouldn't come in empty-handed. Heard anything from Oscar lately?"

"No, I haven't; and I begin to feel very uneasy."

"No use feeling uneasy," said Sam cheerfully. "They have had some hard storms out there, and of course the roads are blocked. When the letters do come, they'll come in a bunch."

[Pg 386]

While Sam was speaking, he was looking about the room, and, seeing that the water-bucket was empty, he went out and filled it at the pump.

Mrs. Preston again protested, but Sam silenced her by declaring that he happened to be thirsty, and didn't know any easier way to get a drink.

It was a singular fact that somehow Sam always "happened" to pass through the woodshed about the time the box was empty and the kindling-wood getting low, and that he always "happened" to be thirsty when he came out of school and the water-bucket had to be filled.

Mrs. Preston had not lived alone since Oscar's departure. She had two young lady boarders for company; and as Sam had a way of dropping in and saying something cheerful just at the time when she was growing downhearted and longed to see Oscar, she managed to keep up pretty good spirits. Sam always brought sunshine with him, and the lonely mother felt the better for his visits.

Having satisfied himself that there was[Pg 387] nothing else he could do, Sam departed, with the remark that he might happen around to the post office that evening, and if he did, he would bring up Mrs. Preston's mail, should there chance to be any.

He went there as straight as he could go, and, to his great delight, three letters, addressed to Mrs. Preston in Oscar's well-known hand, were pushed out to him.

With the muttered threat that if he did not find at least one letter for himself from the same source somebody would hear from him, he walked to the other end of the office and looked into his father's box.

It happened that there were two for him, and so Oscar escaped a blowing up. One of the letters was bulky—it took three stamps to bring it through—and the other was much smaller.

"I'll read the mean little one first," thought Sam, as he tore open the envelope after putting the other letters into his pocket, "and save the best for the last."

Sam took the letter out of the envelope and read it as he walked along—that is, he read a[Pg 388] few lines near the end of it. Then he stopped, and stood motionless for a few moments, looking the very picture of astonishment.

Suddenly arousing himself, he crammed the letter back into the envelope, jumped up and knocked his heels together, at the same time uttering a suppressed whoop, and started off at a rapid run.

The longer he ran the faster he ran, and the consequence was that when he reached Mrs. Preston's house he was nearly out of breath.

"I've got three letters for you!" he exclaimed, as he burst into the sitting room. "There they are!"

"And you have run all the way from the office?" said Mrs. Preston.

"Yes'm. This cold weather makes one pretty lively."

Sam banged the door again and set off at the top of his speed. He ran past his father's house, and, mounting the steps that led to Mr. Chamberlain's door, rang the bell furiously.

The summons was answered by the principal, who looked at the boy in great surprise.

"Oscar has gone and done it, sure enough!"[Pg 389] exclaimed Sam, who was so full of news, and so eager to communicate it, that he couldn't wait to be questioned. "You remember the last evening but one that we spent with you, do you not? You asked Oscar if he would have the courage to hunt the savage animals we were talking about. Well, he has; and he has proved himself a hero, too. I just got the letter out of the office, and brought it around here, thinking that perhaps you would like to hear it."

"Certainly I would," answered the principal. "It was very kind and thoughtful of you. Sit down."

While Sam was talking, he and the principal had been walking along the hall, and now turned into the library.

The boy, taking the seat pointed out to him, slammed his cap down upon the floor, drew Oscar's letter from his pocket, and read as follows:

Camp in the Foot-Hills,
January 25, 18—      

Dear Sam: I wrote you a long letter last week (I know you haven't received it yet, for it is at this very moment lying snugly stowed away in one of the pockets[Pg 390] of my saddle-bags), but I want to write just a few lines more, for I have something to tell you.

I have but a very few minutes to tell it in, because my guide is getting ready to make another attempt to reach the fort. He tried a few days ago, but the snow was so deep and soft that he was obliged to turn back before he had gone five miles. He has made a pair of snow-shoes since then, and will travel on them until he strikes the prairie, where he hopes to find the snow all blown off the trail. I tell you, Sam, you don't know anything about storms or snow or drifts in Eaton. You ought to be here now; and I really wish you were, for I hardly know what I shall do with myself while my guide is gone. Of course, I might hunt, but I think I shall be safer in camp. I saw something the other day, and since then I have lost some of my enthusiasm.

The valley in which our camp is located is so effectually protected that there is very little snow in it, and I have been able to go shooting every day. I have secured a very fine pair of mule-deer (called black-tails out here); but, although I have shot sixteen elk, I have not yet found a specimen, the horns not being as perfect as I wish they were. I have stalked one old fellow, who carries a magnificent pair of antlers, more than a dozen times, making use of all the caution and skill I was master of, but he has always been too smart for me. I have a rod in pickle for him, however, and in my next letter I shall tell you that I have got him.

But if I have failed in one thing, I have been remarkably successful in another. Give me a good grip and shake, old fellow, and then go and look at that skin hanging up there. A black bear? No, sir! You never saw one of that species with claws eight inches long. It's a grizzly, and my guide says he never in his life saw[Pg 391] but one larger. I killed him myself with a single bullet. How I did it, or how I had the courage to shoot at him at all, I can't tell for the life of me. It seems more like a dream than a reality. He was close upon my guide, who had wounded him and could not run fast enough to get out of his way, and in a minute more there would have been sad work in that little grove of scrub oaks, had it not been for my lucky snap-shot which broke the bear's neck. I don't hunt alone any more, and now you know the reason why.

Sam, not a word to mother about this. While I shall keep you posted in everything, I shall be careful what I write to her. Don't mention it to anybody who will be likely to repeat it.

But my guide is ready and waiting. I am going to see him a mile or two on his way, and won't I be lonely when I come back to camp! Remember me to all my friends in Eaton, pat Bugle for me, and believe me, as ever,

Faithfully yours, 
Oscar Preston.


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