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In Camp on the Big Sunflower by Lawrence J. Leslie

Part 2 out of 3

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And the Outing Boys had outlined such a glorious programme for the long
vacation, if only they could raise the large amount of money needed to
carry out their ardent plans, that naturally Max was heart and soul
interested in the result.

Besides, Max had a half-formed resolution that if luck favored them, so
that they found another pearl, he would set a trap that very evening. He
was burning with eager curiosity to discover whether Steve might repeat his
strange action of the preceding night. And in case this happened, Max was
grimly resolved to settle the matter once and for all by clutching hold of
the other while in the act.

"Oh! you're wondering whether we're going to find anything in that lot; is
that it!" Max remarked, as he picked up an old oyster knife he had carried
along for the purpose of prying open the mussels, no easy task for
greenhorns at the business, as the boys' cut fingers already testified.

"You just bet I am," returned Steve, possessing himself of the heavy
kitchen knife. "Come along and let's see if we had our wading and toting
the find all the way to camp for nothing."

"Just as you say," Max continued.

"What d'ye take that kettle for!" asked Steve.

"To hold the mussels as we get 'em out. Let the meat and juice drop in
here. Then we'll examine the whole thing several times for results. And
don't forget, both Toby and Bandy-legs made us promise to have a mess of
these same fresh-water clams cooked for supper."

So, taking the vessel and the much-used oyster knife, Max squatted on the
ground tailor fashion alongside the pile of shellfish.

Both of them set to work, Max calmly, as was his wont, but Steve showing
the greatest nervousness.

Finding that his method of trying to open the stubborn bivalves was
awkward, as they could not be handled like oysters, Max took a second
knife. Placing the mussel in an upright position he would drive the blade
down between the two shells by giving it several sharp taps with a piece of
wood. When the stubborn mussel finally yielded to this treatment Max was
able to turn back one shell, and then scrape out the entire contents of the

A dozen had been opened presently, and so far as they could see, there was
not a sign of a pearl, large or small.

Steve's disappointment made itself manifest in the look that gradually
crept over his face.

"Guess we've drawn a blank this time, Max," he remarked, when the
seventeenth bivalve failed to yield up any gleaming little milk-white

"Oh! that isn't a dead sure thing," replied the other, never ready to yield
his hopeful spirit, "this is a lottery, you know. The pearls are to be
found. We know that, Steve, by our first success. If not in this lot,
perhaps in what our chums bring later. There are other days to follow; and
we're bound to put in a week trying our luck."

That was the sort of talk to buoy up Steve's spirits. He was always an
impulsive chap, and had often been called "Touch-and-Go Steve," because of
his quick temper. It had many times carried him into serious trouble,
though, as is usually the case with these impetuous fellows, Steve always
quickly repented of his wrath, and was apt to apologize.

"Here goes for the eighteenth," he remarked, picking up another mussel, and
setting to work industriously.

"This is a scrawny looking one, and I just reckon it'll be time wasted,"
he added.

"You never can tell," laughed Max, himself busily engaged.

"That's so," Steve went on; "because they do say these precious little
pearls are manufactured by the oyster or mussel to cover up some gritty
object that has managed to work into the shell, and which they just can't

"Yes, that's the accepted theory," Max asserted.

"When I read that, I remember figuring out how a smart genius might make a
few millions," remarked Steve.

"You mean by introducing the same kind of grit in some hundreds of
shellfish, and making the things work up a lot of fine pearls, eh, Steve?"

"That's what. Don't you think it could be done, Max?"

"Well, I've heard it's been tried, but since the price of pearls has
advanced all the while, I guess the success of the experiment wasn't so
much," the other went on to say, as he bent his head down quickly to
scrutinize the contents of his opened shell.

"Oh!" gasped Steve, catching his breath.

"What's the matter?" asked Max, his own voice as steady and calm as ever.

"Looky here, will you, Max--ain't that a beaut, though?"

The excited Steve managed to pluck some small object out of the opened
shell he held, though his fingers trembled like the quivering leaves of an

When he placed this in the palm of his hand it was seen to be a lovely
little milk-white pearl, nearly half the size of a buckshot.

"That looks good to me," remarked Max. "Just as fine as the one we lost,
eh, Steve?"

"You bet it is; and we'll make sure no thief lays hands on this beauty,
Max," replied the delighted finder of the new treasure.

"Now, suppose, just for luck, I took a notion to go you one better,"
chuckled Max.

"Hey! what d'ye mean?" exclaimed his chum. "Have you been shaking hands
with Good Luck as well as me? Open up, and show what you've got." "Shut
your eyes, and count five," laughed Max; "now look, and see what I found."

"My goodness gracious; why, it's half again as big as my find; a regular
jim-dandy pearl, Max," cried Steve, trembling all over with, eager delight,
as his enraptured eyes fell upon the object Max exposed.

"Yes, much larger, I admit," the other went on to say with due
deliberation; "but not quite so perfect in form. Your pearl might prove to
be the more valuable one when it came to selling them."

"Oh! just to think of it, Max, we've got two already," Steve remarked as he
took both the prizes in his hand, and surveyed them with that wistful look
in his eyes; for, as he had more than once admitted, pearls always had a
peculiar fascination for him.

Max was watching his companion's face closely, trying to read the emotions
that chased each other across Steve's features.

"Yes, and the chance is still open," he said, slowly.

"Meaning that we may find a lot more; is that it, Max?" Steve demanded.

"Who can say? It's a lottery all around. The next mussel might give us
another prize. Then, again, perhaps we'll clean out the stream and never
get any reward."

Max had a way of looking things squarely in the face. He seldom allowed
his enthusiasm to get the better of his calm, deliberate judgment. And
consequently he did not suffer the grievous disappointment that came so
frequently to excitable Steve.

"Anyway, we ought to get quite a bunch of money for these two dandy
gems," Steve remarked.

"I wouldn't be surprised at all," Max assented.

"What d'ye think they're worth, Max?"

"Well, now, that's where you get me. I'm as green as the next one when it
comes to putting a value on pearls. Only an expert can tell that," the
other quickly replied.

"Shucks! but you can give a guess, can't you?" persisted Steve, not to be
wholly disappointed.

"It would have to be a wide one, then, Steve."

"All right; let's have it!" observed the other.

"Well, I don't doubt but what we'll be able to sell each of these pearls
for a hundred apiece," Max asserted.

"Dollars, you mean, Max?"

"Sure thing. And perhaps they may bring us five or ten times as much. I'll
have my father take them to the city, and consult an expert," Max went on.

"Wow! that's going some, now, I tell you!" cried the other, with delight
pictured on his glowing face.

"Two hundred sure, first pop, and mebbe a thousand! Say, Max, it begins to
look like our wildest dreams might come true, and we'll be able to carry
out all those bully old plans we made."

"Yes," said Max, deliberately, "if we can only guard our new find better
than we did the other."

"We must make sure to have one chum doing sentry duty all the time,"
remarked Steve, solemnly. "That's only good sound sense, I take it, Max."

"Guess you're right about that, my boy," asserted the other, with a
peculiar little smile that, however, Steve failed to notice. "And, now,
suppose we finish up the lot we've still got to open." "Right you are,"
declared Steve.

"But, first, please let me have those pearls. I'd hate to have them lost
in this grass here. And I believe I can keep them safe in this red
handkerchief of mine till we find a chance to stow 'em away in the
haversack, after the boys examine our find."

"In the haversack!" echoed Steve. "Why, that's where we had the one that
disappeared, box and all."

"Sure thing," Max asserted.

"But think of the risk--" Steve began.

"Oh, we've got to hide 'em _somewhere_, you know," laughed Max; "and
they say lightning never strikes in the same place twice. Besides, you
forget that we expect to post a sentry, so that your eyes, or mine, or
those of Owen, Toby or Bandy-legs, will be on the bag all through the
night. I'll take the pearls now, please."

Steve somehow seemed a little loth about letting the lovely little gems
pass out of his possession.

As he handed them over, his chum plainly heard him give a sigh; and he
caught him repeating the words:

"In the haversack, and we've got to look out."

Then both of the boys set to work.

The remaining shellfish were soon opened, and although the young pearl
seekers searched eagerly, with hope tugging at their hearts, no new prize
rewarded their efforts.

"The queerest thing of all," remarked Steve, after he had mastered his
disappointment, "was in our finding the pair of beauties at the same time."

"Yes, and I believe my mussel was as thin and scrawny looking a fellow as
the one you complained of," laughed Max.

"Forget that, please," remarked his chum, with a grimace. "And just to
think, I came near throwing that consumptive looking one away as worthless.
It's taught me a lesson, sure, Max."

"Yes, and one you'll never forget, eh, Steve?"

"I never will," declared the other, vehemently. "Whenever I think of this
lucky strike I'm going to understand that you never can judge things,
people also, by outside looks."

"Sometimes the finest gems come in the meanest of coverings, you mean, eh,

"Right-o. And now what'll we do?" asked the other.

"Carry the shells away, because in a few days we'd object to the rank odor
so near our tent. Listen, Steve. Make a heap of the things, under some
tree you can remember well. We can call that our shell pile, you know."

"See here, you've got a meaning back of all that, you know it,"
complained Steve.

Max laughed aloud.

"How smart we're getting, old chap," he remarked. "But between us I don't
mind saying that I'm curious to see what will happen."

"That is, you mean to give _some one_ a good chance to get away with
all these mussel shells, if so be they feel inclined, eh, Max."

Max nodded his head in the affirmative.

"Meaning this man and boy who seem to be hiding out up here, just like
they were afraid to be seen, and employing their time in raking in all the
scattered shells left by the muskrats and 'coons--how about that, Max?"
Steve continued, as he gathered the opened shells in an extra bag,
preparatory to removing them.

"You hit the nail on the head when you say that, Steve. They seem to know
the mother-of-pearl inside lining of the shells will bring in some money.
And I reckon they're piling the shells up in some cave or secret place,
meaning to get them down the river in a dugout canoe sooner or later."

"Well, they're welcome to all the shells we gather," remarked Steve, with a
shake of the head; "but they'd better not try to steal any more of our
pearls, that's what"; and so saying he marched off with his load, leaving
Max more sadly puzzled than ever.



The afternoon wore on.

Steve kept busy doing things until Owen turned up with a mess of perch, the
bass declining to take his worm bait.

Then the story of the find had to be gone over again, and the prizes
exhibited. Owen was just as much pleased as the others, and declared that
it began to look as though the best of their dreams had a chance of coming

"I think I saw that boy, come to mention it," Owen remarked, after they had
talked over the splendid good luck that had fallen to their lot, until the
subject was pretty well exhausted.

"How did that happen?" asked Max.

"Did you get a chance to talk with him, and ask him why he grabbed our
pearl?" demanded Steve.

"Oh! not much," chuckled Owen. "Fact is, he seemed pretty much like a
scared rabbit. First thing I knew he was staring at me over a bunch of
brush. Then he turned and scooted off like fun."

"But you called out to him, didn't you?" asked Steve.

"Of course, but it only seemed to make him fly the faster. Say, he's a
sprinter, all right. That fellow could get down to second base before the
ball seven times out of seven, I don't care who the catcher was," Owen went
on to say, positively.

"Then you couldn't catch him?" asked Max, in a disappointed tone.

"Huh! guess I didn't even start, after I saw what he could put up in the
running line. Besides," Owen went on to say, "you must remember that I was
tired, and carrying my fishing rod, as well as a bully old string of perch,
which I calculated to clean for supper. Then, I hadn't lost any boy, you
see. So I just hollered after him, and tried to let the silly goose know we
didn't mean to hurt him."

"But it was no go?" remarked Steve.

"Oh! he turned to look back a few times, but all the same he disappeared
from sight. Perhaps next time he won't be quite so frightened," Owen

"There may be some reason for it we don't know about," suggested Max.

"You mean that they don't want people to know about their collecting these
shells, for fear that their little business might be broken up?" Steve

"That's one reason why they'd try to hide things," Max admitted, "but
there might be another. I spoke of it before, you may remember, boys?"

"Sure you did, Max," declared Steve, quickly; "and mebbe you hit the
bullseye when you said this man might be hiding out up here--that p'r'aps
he'd gone and done something to break the law; and when he saw our guns he
expected we might be sent by the sheriff to arrest him."

"I still stick to that idea," Max declared; "but we may know the truth
sooner or later. One thing we must do if ever we get the chance, and that
is let these shell gatherers know we don't mean to harm 'em even a little

"But they've just got to let our pearls be, or else they're going to get
into trouble, that's what," remarked the pugnacious Steve, with a
determined shake of his head and a gritting of his teeth.

Max saw and heard, and was more deeply bewildered than ever. He could not
for the life of him understand such contrary actions on the part of Steve.

Max could positively declare that he had seen Steve taking something from
the haversack on the preceding night, when their first prize pearl
vanished so mysteriously; and yet here he was apparently aroused over their
loss, and denouncing the thief with greater vim than any of the rest.

"But I'm bound to find out what it all means," Max consoled himself by
saying over and over. "If it takes all summer I'll fight it out on this
line, like Grant did in the Battles of the Wilderness. Steve acts like he
was innocent; but I guess I've got a pair of good eyes, and it was
_him_ I saw fumbling at the haversack, all right."

It had been the intention of Max to try and find a few woodcock in the wet
ground of the marsh.

Other things coming up caused him to put this project off until another
day. It was really no time for hunting, with a hot sun beaming down.
Perhaps later on he might find plenty of chances to indulge in his favorite

Owen had cleaned his catch, and supper was being started when voices were
heard approaching.

"Here comes Toby and Bandy-legs," sang out Steve, who had at the first
sound made as if to reach for the guns that rested against the tree close
to the opening of the tent.

"Well," remarked Owen, looking up, "it's good to know they didn't go and get
lost, anyhow. Perhaps that compass kept 'em from straying out of the trail
you said you made, Max?"

"Huh! we made it so plain," remarked Steve, "that a baby ought to be able
to follow our tracks. But then Toby and Bandy-legs always seem to tumble
into trouble if there's just half a chance to get mixed up. Say, they've
got the bags pretty well filled up with mussels, anyhow."

"You bet we have," panted Bandy-legs, as he set his burden down.

"G-g-great s-s-sport," remarked Toby, following.

"Glad you like it," laughed Max, "because we expect to do a heap of wading
while we're up here."

"D-d-did you open the others?"

"We sure did," chuckled Steve.

"F-f-find anything in 'em?"

"Did we? Say, show up, Max; give these poor tired fellows a peek, that'll
make 'em forget all their troubles," and Steve grinned happily as he
watched the other deliberately take out his bandana, unroll its folds, and
then disclose to the wondering eyes of Toby and Bandy-legs the two lovely
white pearls that snuggled against the red background.

"Whoop!" gurgled Bandy-legs, excitedly, his eyes round with wonder and

Toby on his part became so excited that for the time being he could not say
a word. His breath came in gasps, and his lips moved vainly as he tried to
express his feelings. Finally, after Steve had pounded him on the back a
few times, poor Toby managed to pucker up his lips and emit the customary
sharp whistle which seemed to act like magic upon his overwrought feelings,
just as the safety brake does with a runaway car.

Then he drew in a long breath, and enunciated, as plainly and clearly as
Max himself could have done, the one significant word:


"Gee whiz! I guess I'll get busy right away," remarked Bandy-legs, eagerly.

"No need," spoke up Owen. "Your turn will come to-morrow. I'm serving as
cook this afternoon. Don't you smell fish frying? I've been over to the
river myself and hooked a bunch of nice perch."

"F-f-fine. G-g-good for you, Owen," said Toby, slapping the other on the

"Oh, shucks! I didn't have any idea of wanting to knock you out of a job,
old fellow. Where's that oyster knife, Max?" asked the returned pearl

"Say, he wants to begin opening his catch right away," remarked Steve.
"And I'll have to show him how we did it, Max."

This he proceeded to do with alacrity, and the three were soon busily
engaged. Bandy-legs proved more or less clumsy, and not only cut himself
several times on the sharp edges of the shells, but banged his fingers
with the heavy stick with which he pounded.

But one way or another by degrees every one of the mussels were opened.

Disappointment followed, for while three pearls were discovered two were
so small as to give but little promise of returns; while the third proved
to be irregular in shape.

"Never mind," said Max, when he learned the result of the hunt. "Better
luck to-morrow. We've fared splendidly already. And we know our scheme
is going to be a success. Cheer up. There's Owen calling us to supper.
And we can eat our catch as long as it tastes good to us. Draw around,
fellows, and sample our new cook's stuff."

The five boys were soon engaged in satisfying the cravings of hunger. And
through the nearby woods crept the appetizing odors of coffee and fried
fish that must have been very tantalizing to any prowler less fortunate
than themselves.



So the night found them.

Toby and Bandy-legs had managed to recover from their keen disappointment
over the poor result of their afternoon's work.

"Reckon we must have struck a bad place," the latter remarked, as they all
lounged around the cheery fire after supper had been finished.

"That's a f-f-fact," commented Toby, nodding his head in a wise fashion;
"I've read that these p-p-pearls happen in a q-q-queer way. F-f-find 'em
all in a h-h-heap, and then nothin' doin' for w-w-weeks."

"Then our chums must have struck the jolliest place on the whole river,"
Bandy-legs observed.

"H-h-hope they m-m-marked it, then," Toby went on.

"How about it, Max, Steve?" demanded the other pearl hunter of the

"Sure we did," grunted Steve, who somehow seemed strangely quiet for him, a
fact that gave Max considerable uneasiness, knowing what he did.

"And I remember telling you where we did most of our tramping in the
water," he observed.

Toby grinned rather foolishly.

"G-g-guess that's so," he admitted.

"Yes," spoke up Bandy-legs, "but you see we expected that you'd cleaned out
that place pretty well; and as we wanted to pick up a good load we went
higher up."

"That's where you made the mistake, then," remarked Owen. "Perhaps Max and
Steve located something like a pocket. If I take a turn in the morning I
believe I'll go over all the ground they did and pick up a few shells."

"I'll go along to show you if you say so," Steve suggested.

"How about it, Max?" inquired Owen.

"Call it settled at that," came the ready response.

They talked and compared notes, and laid plans for the glorious future, as
the cheery fire crackled and the hour grew later.

Max had shaped the little scheme he had in mind.

The pearls were supposed to be safely lodged in a tiny packet which he had
placed in the haversack in the presence of all the others.

This, however, was all a delusion and a snare, for in pursuance of his
plans Max had secretly managed to quietly slip the two really valuable
gems into his pocket, where he afterwards made them secure.

All this was done with a definite object in view, for he more than half
expected that before another dawn came the haversack would be visited

By degrees the boys fell away, since Max had plainly announced that he
would take the first watch.

No one seemed disposed to dispute the honor with him, because they were all
very sleepy.

First Toby crawled under the tent, and by his heavy breathing they knew he
was dead to the world.

Next Steve followed suit, and then Bandy-legs.

"Wake me early, mother dear, because to-morrow will be the first of May,"
the latter sang out, as he vanished.

This left only Max and Owen.

Now, the weight of his secret was weighing so heavily upon Max that he had
made up his mind to take Owen into his confidence should a good chance

It seemed to be on hand.

Accordingly, after binding his cousin to secrecy, Max began to relate the
strange thing he had seen on the preceding night.

Of course Owen was properly shocked.

He, too, had the utmost confidence in Steve Dowdy, and found great
difficulty in believing that the other could ever descend to such a low
state as making a thief out of himself.

"The plaguy pearls must have fairly turned his head, Max," he declared,
with almost savage earnestness.

"Just what I was beginning to believe," the other admitted, with a shake
of his head.

"But what can we do about it, Max?"

"I'm going to watch," replied the other.

"To-night, you mean?"

"Yes. The fever is still in Steve's veins. He doesn't seem to act like
himself. And, Owen, d'ye know, I've read somewhere that some people are
strangely affected by certain kinds of gems. They seem bewitched when
looking at or handling the same."

"That's it, Max. Pearls must have some sort of terrible fascination for
poor Steve."

"He admitted as much himself, and you all heard him say so," declared Max.

"All right. Count me in," Owen went on.

"What d'ye mean by saying that, cousin?" asked Max.

"Only that you won't have to watch alone, Max."

"Just as you say, my boy. Glad to have your company. But we'd better be
making preparations to keep our eyes on that bag," Max went on.

"Why, I can see it from here, so long as the fire keeps blazing," Owen

"I purposely hung it in that place, and drew back the tent flap so I could
keep an eye on the bag all the time. So Owen, let's settle down here, and
make ourselves as comfy as we can."

"All we have to do is to drop a little wood on the fire once in a while,
eh, Max?"

"That's right; and while we watch we can talk in whispers if we feel like
it, Owen."

"Still, it would be better to keep quiet, I suppose," suggested the cousin
of Max.

"Of course. He might hear us, and lie low," replied the one who was
engineering things.

"But you've fixed it so that while we lie here on our blankets, no one
would be apt to notice us from the tent. You had a purpose in doing that,
I expect?" questioned Owen.

"I thought he might take a look around first to see where I was; and not
discovering me in sight would believe I had gone to sleep on my post,"
Max went on.

"This is a nightmare of a time," grumbled Owen.

"That's right," echoed the other, promptly. "Seems to me I must be
dreaming when I find myself suspecting Steve of such a nasty thing. But
wait up and see, Owen. If nothing happens I'll be surprised, likewise
mighty well pleased."

They accordingly lapsed into silence.

Minutes glided by. To both the boys they seemed to be shod with lead,
so slowly did the time pass.

When the fire burned low, as it did on several occasions, Max would crawl
out, manage to toss an armful of wood upon the red embers, and immediately
seek his hiding place again.

One, two hours had gone, and so far nothing out of the common had come to

Owen found himself getting somewhat sleepy, and in various ways he fought
against the drowsy sensation.

"That's an owl, I reckon, ain't it, Max?" he whispered when certain queer
sounds floated to their ears out of the depths of the forest.

"Of course," replied the other, in the same cautious tone, which could not
have been heard ten feet away.

"And those are tree frogs croaking close by?" continued Owen, who knew all
about these things from reading; while his cousin did the same through
practical experience.

"They're calling for more rain!" chuckled Max; "but I hope the old fellow
up above, who turns on the sprinkler when he takes a notion, don't pay any
attention, because rain in camp is generally a nasty time."

Once more the two boys lapsed into silence.

Perhaps another half hour had passed when Owen, whose eyes were getting
very heavy, so that he found himself nodding, felt something touch his arm.

He started violently, possibly under the impression that some snake or wild
animal from the woods had reached them unawares.


Why, to be sure, it was Max who hissed this warning in his ear. And, of
course, it must be his cousin's hand that was laid on his own arm.


The one word proved sufficient to make Owen remember what they were lying
there for. Accordingly he craned his neck so as to see the interior of the

The fire was burning fairly well, and as Max had fastened the canvas flaps
unusually far back, in order to admit plenty of air, as he had said at the
time, it was easy to see.

Owen felt another thrill, immediately succeeded by a chilly sensation.

There was a movement within the tent, as if some person might be advancing
toward the spot where the haversack hung in plain sight.

The firelight fell plainly upon a face, and Owen had no difficulty in

Almost holding their breath the two boys watched to see what their strange
chum did.

They saw him deliberately open the haversack and plunge his hand inside.

"Oh! look! he's got the little package, Max," whispered the horrified Owen.

Max pinched his arm.

"Keep still," he made out to say in the other's ear.

He feared that Owen's disturbed voice might have reached the ears of the
prowler; but there was no sign to indicate such a thing.

Indeed, Steve went about his task with a deliberation that puzzled both the

"There! he's gone back to his blanket again," muttered Owen, unable longer
to keep still; "and Max, did you see where he put that little packet which
he believes holds all our prizes!"

"Yes," replied the other, "inside that old extra coffee pot we fetched
along to use in case anything happened to the one we have on the fire three
times a day."

"That's the funniest thing I ever heard of, sure," continued Owen. "He's
crazy, that's what. Who'd ever think of looking in that bum old coffee pot
for anything worth while, tell me that, will you?"

"I can't. I'm all up in the air myself," admitted Max.

"Still, we saw him do it, didn't we! It wasn't a dope dream, was it, Max!"

"I'm going to prove it pretty soon, Owen."

"As how?" demanded the other.

"By getting that old coffee pot out here, and looking it over, that's how,"
replied the other.

"Bully idea!" exclaimed Owen, quickly. "Say, looky here, perhaps now you
really expect to find our other lost pearl in there?"

"Wouldn't surprise me one little bit," chuckled Max.

"Oh! can't you sneak in now and crib the coffee pot?" begged Owen.

"Give him ten minutes to settle down," came the reply.

At the end of what seemed the longest ten minutes he had ever known, Owen
saw his agile cousin begin to move toward the opening of the tent.

On the way Max picked up a long, stout stick that had a slight turn at the
end. "He's going to fish for the coffee pot," whispered Owen, in more or
less delight; for he did so enjoy seeing Max undertake anything that
required brains.

The fishing met with speedy reward, for once the crook at the end of the
pole had been inserted into the handle of the coffee pot, and the rest was

So Max came back to where he had left his comrade, bearing in his hands the
old cooking utensil that thus far had not been needed, and might, if the
other only held out, only prove a form of insurance against possible

Deliberately Max opened the coffee pot and thrust his hand inside.

"Here's a package," he said, drawing something out.

"No need to open that," observed Owen, quickly; "because we know it only
holds the three poor pearls found in the catch brought in by the last
squad. Feel deeper, Max. Strike anything?"

For reply the other drew his hand out, nor did it come into view empty.

"The little cardboard box you put the first prize in," gasped Owen.
"Please hurry and open it up, Max."

His chum was no less eager to see what the contents of the box would prove
to be.

No sooner had he removed the lid than the enraptured eyes of the two boys
fell upon the lost pearl! Yes, there it rested on its pink cotton bed,
looking even more beautiful in Owen's eyes than either of the two later

After staring at it for some time the boys allowed their eyes to exchange
a look. Max was pale and distressed, while his cousin, on the other hand,
seemed to be excited, as though indignation and even anger had surged up
within him.



"Well, what d'ye think of that, eh?" Owen exclaimed.

"It's hard to believe," replied the other.

"But all the same, we saw him with our own eyes, Max," declared the other.

"Yes, that's so," answered Max, reluctantly.

"He took the first pearl; and meant to hide the other pair of beauties!"
Owen went on.

"Looks like it," Max admitted.

"Then that ends it. Steve Dowdy can't train in our camp, or go along the
same trail as we do, after this," and Owen shook his head in a very
determined way as he made this assertion.

"Oh! hold your horses a little while, can't you, Owen?"

"What! do you mean to give him another trial--is that it, Max?"

"Just one more, if we're lucky enough to find a prize," replied the other.
"Perhaps after all we'll have to use this jolly little milk-white chap over

"Huh! I hope not," grumbled Owen. "Say, you mean to put it with the others
in your pocketbook, don't you, and let the little box go empty?"

"Of course. But try and forget all about this for a while, Owen. Give me
another day to figure it out, please."

"Say, I bet you've got an idea right now, Max; you're always so quick to
see through things."

"If I have I must think it over," replied the other.

"Well, let me say this just once, and then I'll ring off for good," Owen
went on. "If he tries this same measly old game to-morrow night, you just
ought to jump on Steve, and demand to know what he means by treating his
chums in this way."

Max laughed a little.

"Maybe I will, Owen," he remarked. "The idea struck me before you mentioned
it. Just wait and see how things are going to turn out."

"But you'll bait the trap again, Max, so Steve'll know, or believe the game
is worth the candle?"

"Well, I guess yes," replied the other.

"How about telling Toby or Bandy-legs?" asked Owen.

"Better not," came the quick reply. "Neither of them are worth shucks about
keeping a secret, and chances are they'd give it away."

"Just as you say, Max. I depend on you to run this game down. But it makes
me feel awful sore. I never would have believed it of good old Steve."

"Well, just hold your judgment in the air for a little while longer, Owen,"
Max said, calmly.

His cousin looked hard at him. Then he shook his head as if completely

"Gee! but you do beat the Dutch, Max," he muttered. "I honestly reckon
you're hoping to make me doubt what my own eyes saw. But, anyhow, I'm game
to stand it out to the end."

"Well, let's crawl in now with our blankets," suggested Max.

"What! don't we keep watch any more, or wake up one of the others to take
our place?" Owen demanded.

"Stop and think; what's the use?" chuckled Max.

"Glory! that's so. The performance is over for this night, anyhow. Guess
you're about right, Max; and I do sure feel mighty sleepy."

So both boys managed to find the places reserved for them under the canvas,
and slipped in without disturbing their comrades.

Steve was rolled up in his blanket very much after the manner of a mummy.
Max cast a sharp look that way, and even bent over Steve as he arranged
himself in his rather cramped quarters.

"Seems to be sleeping as sound as a bug in a rug," was his mental comment,
as he caught the even and natural breathing of the suspected chum.

The balance of the night passed away without any further alarm.

When morning came Toby and Bandy-legs took Max to task because he had not
called on them to serve as sentinels over the camp.

"Owen and I looked to that all right," Max laughed back.

"Then you are sure nobody made a sneak on us and got away with the second
batch of prizes?"

It was Bandy-legs who put this question. Both Toby and Steve seemed
intensely interested in the answer.

"Sure, why, of course, we are," replied Max, confidently. "Nobody who
didn't belong here had a chance to poke his nose into our tent last

Toby and Bandy-legs declared themselves satisfied with this assurance. As
for Steve, though he made no remark on the subject, his face seemed to
indicate contentment.

"Is it because he thinks he wasn't seen?" Max kept asking himself,
uneasily; but found no answer.

The plans for the morning were soon arranged.

Steve was to pilot Owen to the river over the trail he and Max had made.
And at the last moment Toby begged for a chance to accompany the

"I w-w-want to show that I w-w-wasn't the Jonah yesterday," he remarked,
after Max had said he could be spared.

"Oh! rats!" spluttered Bandy-legs, whose turn it was to attempt the
cooking; but Max thought he did not seem quite as cheerful as ordinarily.

Max himself really meant to have a try in the marsh for woodcock, as they
were known to frequent the low ground when feeding.

So the three boys went off, each with his empty bag, which he hoped to
bring back partly filled with mussels, some of which might develop prizes
when finally opened up.

Bandy-legs pottered around the fire for a while, but Max could see how
unnaturally he acted.

"That boy's got something on his mind, it is dollars to doughnuts," he
kept saying to himself, as he watched the nervous movements of the new

This uncertainty caused him to postpone his departure in search of the
only game available at that time of year. He thought he would hasten
developments, and bring Bandy-legs to the point.

"Something bothering you a bit, old fellow?" he remarked, presently.

The other looked around uneasily.

"Sure they won't come back on us yet a while, eh, Max?" he asked, eagerly.

"No danger of that," assured Max. "You can say what you want, and nobody
will hear you."

"Oh! Max, it's dreadful," began Bandy-legs.

"What is?" asked the other, though a sudden suspicion of the truth flashed
through his mind.

"About Steve. How could he be so mean?" Bandy-legs went on.

"Hello! what do you know about it?" demanded Max.

"_I saw him!_" answered the cook, shaking his head in a dolorous
fashion. "Say, I've been thinking it over all the time. I was awake when
you and Owen came in. And somehow, Max, I just feel awful about it. He must
be half crazy to do such a thing."

"Perhaps he is," admitted Max, cautiously. "But look here, do you mean you
were awake last night, and saw what Steve did? Is that it, Bandy-legs?"

"Yes. And, Max, he put the pearls in our old coffee pot, would you believe
it?" the other went on, excitedly.

Max took out the stout little pocketbook which was intended for silver. As
he opened this he remarked:

"Hold your hand, Bandy-legs."

"Good gracious! two, three beautiful pearls! Say, are they ours, the first
one as well as the other two? And how did you get hold of them, Max?" cried
the other when he could catch his breath.

So, of course, Max had to tell him the whole story.

"And we must keep mum about it till you play your hand; is that it?" asked
the wondering and awestruck Bandy-legs, at the conclusion of the recital.

"Try and forget all about it, and act just the same as usual toward Steve,"
said Max.

The other agreed to do his best.

"But, Max," he added, "I'm awful sore over it. Steve Dowdy was never known
as having light fingers all the time I went to school with him. Fact is,
only that I saw him do it with my own eyes, nothing could make me believe
Steve a thief. Oh! it's just rank!"

Max sauntered off, gun in hand, while the cook busied himself about the
fire. Bandy-legs had brought his wonderful cookbook along. This contained
dozens of recipes given him by the black "mammy" at home. These Bandy-legs
had written out after his own idea as to what should be used. But, perhaps,
he may have misunderstood the directions in some cases; and the most
astonishing results were apt to follow his attempt to surprise his
campmates with some new dish calculated to tickle their healthy appetites.

He heard Max fire frequently.

"Run across game, all right," chuckled Bandy-legs as he worked on

Eating in all its phases appealed to Bandy-legs; and the very thought of
game for supper tickled his fancy.

When Max did show up later on he was carrying a very nice little bundle of
the long-billed woodcock with their attractive breasts.

"How many?" demanded Bandy-legs, turning away from the fire where he had
something boiling furiously.

"Count and see," laughed Max, placing his shotgun against a tree, and
sitting down to rest.

"Just five," remarked Bandy-legs, presently; "say, that was mighty kind of
you not to skip me, Max. One apiece all around, eh? Wow! I hope now my book
tells just how woodcock are to be done, for blessed if I know a thing about
it. To tell the honest truth, I don't recollect ever having seen the
gamy-looking bird before."

"We'll manage that part of the programme all right, never fear, Bandy-legs.
Pretty near time for the boys to be showing up, ain't it? Hey! something's
boiling over and trying to put out the fire."

With a whoop Bandy-legs made a wild dash for his station, and apparently
managed to "save his bacon," as Max called out, laughingly.

Presently the sound of voices told that the rest of the camping party had

Each of them seemed to be carrying something of a load on his back.

The catch was heaped in a pile, and Bandy-legs left his fire long enough to
admire the product of the morning "wading act."

"Get ready for dinner, you fellows," he remarked, with a trace of anxiety
in his voice.

The rude table was set with the usual tin cups, pie pans for plates,
knives, forks, and spoons. In addition there was a pile of bread, some
cheese and crackers, part of a boiled ham, a mess of cold rice left over
from the previous day, and a dish of hot Boston baked beans.

"Bring on the coffee," sang out Steve, sitting down.

"S-s-say, what you got in the p-p-pot?" demanded Toby, suspiciously.

"A surprise," grinned Bandy-legs.

He filled four bowls with something from the pot and set them before his
chums. It had a queer odor, and the boys sniffed at it first, looking
toward each other.

Toby was the first one bold enough to put a spoonful into his mouth.

"Yum-yum!" he seemed to gurgle, and the others took this as an indication
of approval, for immediately the three followed the example set by the

At once shouts and laughter went up, as every boy, even including the
artful Toby, made haste to get rid of his mouthful as fast as possible.

"Ugh! what a horrible mess!" cried Owen.

"What did you fool us for, Toby?" demanded Steve.

"Huh! t-t-think I w-w-wanted all the t-t-taste to m-m-myself?" demanded

"But whatever did you put in this stew to make it taste so funny?"
demanded Max.

"H-h-hope he didn't p-p-poison us?" broke out Toby.

"Why, I only put some salt in it," explained the cook, greatly broken up
over his first attempt at "surprising" his chums.

"What did you take that salt out of?" asked Owen.

"This little glass jar here; but what're you grinning at? Ain't it salt at
all?" demanded Bandy-legs.

"Taste it and see," Owen fired back.

The cook did so, and made a wry face.

"Baking soda!" he gasped; "and I spoiled my stew."

"And burnt it in the bargain," laughed Max, remembering the boiling-over
episode; "but there's plenty to eat besides. So pitch in, boys, and after
we get through we'll see what sort of luck you had this morning."



"Look at Steve!"

It was Owen who muttered these three words in the ear of his cousin.

"Yes, I've been keeping an eye on him," replied the other, uneasily.

It was to be expected that those who had gone off on the morning hunt for
shellfish would show more or less eagerness to get at their catch, in order
to learn just what sort of luck had attended their labors.

But long before either Toby or Owen had finished eating, Steve hurried over
to the pile, and squatting down, tailor fashion, began opening mussels.

Just as the rest began to leave the vicinity of the fire they heard him
give a shout.

"Say, looky there at Steve--he's dancing around like a wild Injun!" cried

"B-b-bet you he's f-f-found a jim-dandy p-p-pearl," spluttered Toby.

All of them hastened over to where their comrade was carrying on so

"What you got, Steve?" demanded Bandy-legs.

"The best one yet, sure as you're born," and with these thrilling words
Steve opened his palm.

It was certainly a larger pearl than any they had yet found, and presented
a more imposing appearance.

All of them crowded around to admire, and many were the pleased expressions
which the young pearl hunters gave vent to.

"Couldn't hardly believe my eyes when I saw that beauty lying in the
shell," remarked the excited Steve; "and the funniest part of it all is I
picked up that shell myself."

"How d'ye know that?" asked Owen. "There were two others along, perhaps
you remember."

"Sure," laughed Steve, as pleased as a child, his eyes beaming, and his
face flushed. "I'll tell you how it is, fellows. Notice this queer mark
like a five-pointed star on the shell? I remember stopping to look at it
after washing the mud off the outside. Gee! little did I suspect what I was
holding in my hand."

"G-g-guess not," wabbled Toby. "If you d-d-did I just reckon you'd
g-g-gone ashore and b-b-b-b--"

Of course, when Toby floundered in the depths one of his chums as usual
pounded him on the back vigorously; but that would not have wrought a cure
only that the unfortunate stutterer managed to give his whistle, and then
cry triumphantly:

"Busted it open--there!"

"You just bet I would," admitted Steve.

"Say, we forgot to notice something," declared Bandy-legs.

"As what?" asked Owen.

"Whether the shells of those other oysters that held prizes were also
marked with a star," Bandy-legs went on; at which the balance of the crowd
laughed uproariously.

"What d'ye think of that?" cried Steve. "He expects that when a mussel
starts in to grow a nice healthy pearl he scratches a star on his shell to
let the hard-working hunter know when he's struck a bonanza!"

"Oh! my, how k-k-kind," chuckled Toby.

"Anyhow," asserted Bandy-legs, stoutly, as he held the shell in question in
his hand, "me to keep tabs when I'm doing the grabbing act this afternoon.
And I give you all fair warning that if I do run across a shell with the
star, I'm going ashore to open the same."

"Good luck to you, then," laughed Steve. "Here, Max, take charge of this,
won't you, and put it with the rest of our prizes? I want to keep on
opening shells, and see if my luck holds out."

Max and Owen exchanged a quick look.

Apparently Steve was perfectly sincere when he gave utterance to this
natural remark. Their bewilderment grew more and more, and both boys, as
well as Bandy-legs found it impossible to understand what it could mean.

Max walked back to the tent as if meaning to deposit the pearl in the
haversack along with the others. Of course he would really slip it into his
little leather coin purse where the three valuable pearls already reposed
in safety.

"What d'ye make of him, Max?"

Owen asked this question as he bent over his chum, while the other was
making a great pretense of handling the haversack.

"Ask me something easy, please," the other replied, shaking his head from
side to side.

"What bothers me is to understand why he called out, and let us all know
he'd struck a find," Owen continued.

"Same here," Max added.

"You'd think that if Steve was the thief he seemed to be, his first act
would have been to quietly pocket this big pearl, and just keep mum. Ain't
it so, Max?"

"Seems that way," came the ready answer. "To do that would save a heap of
trouble in taking it out of the bag while the rest of us slept."

"But perhaps Steve really enjoys that exciting part of the business,"
suggested Owen.

"Do you know, a thought struck me, though I can't take much stock in it,"
Max went on.

"Let's hear it, anyhow," remarked his chum.

"Well, in order to make sure of the valuable pearls here, I'm putting them
away in my private purse. Well, what if some notion like that has struck
our comrade, and he's hiding 'em unbeknown to us, either for a trick, or
to make doubly sure they don't get lost."

Owen sneered plainly, as if to express his disbelief in this far-fetched

"It's just like you to try and screen a chum, old fellow," he observed;
"but the idea seems too thin for me to take any stock in it. To tell the
truth, I'd call it fishy. It won't wash, and you know it."

Max sighed as he closed the bag that really held only the three next to
worthless pearls.

"Own up," persisted Owen; "say that you just can't believe such a thing
yourself, much as you'd like to."

"Yes, it is so; there must be some other explanation that we haven't
struck yet. But I believe I'm on the right trail. Don't ask me any more,
Owen. To-night will see the answer, I reckon."

"Hope so," grunted the other, and from his manner it was plain to be seen
that Owen did not share the sanguine spirit of his chum.

"Now let's go back and see if there's anything doing with the rest of the
fresh-water clams," suggested Max.

But, although every shell was opened and carefully examined, only a couple
of seed pearls were found, not worth mentioning alongside the four fine

"Anyhow," said Toby, as the last mussel was passed, "it wasn't a s-s-skunk.
We g-g-got one b-b-bully old p-p-prize, didn't we, Steve?"

"Me to look for the star brand of mussels!" declared Bandy-legs; "they're
the only kind worth toting to camp over that long trail."

It was Max and Bandy-legs who started out shortly after, bent upon new

"Look out for him, Max," said Owen; "don't let him throw away all he finds,
just because they don't happen to bear the star brand."

"Oh! I'm not that big a silly," chuckled Bandy-legs, starting off; "come
on, Max."

Max saw a chance to remark in a low voice to his cousin:

"He knows all about it, and has promised to keep a close tongue."

"Then you told him when you were alone here this morning?" remarked Owen,
and his tone announced that he doubted the propriety of confiding in

"That's where you're away off," chuckled Max. "Fact is, he began to tell
_me_ about Steve going to the bag in the middle of the night, and
hiding something in the old coffee pot."

"You don't say?" exclaimed Owen. "How the dickens would Bandy-legs know
about that?"

"Happened to be awake and saw it all. So I thought I'd tell him what we
knew, so as to make him keep a close mouth. I guess he won't leak, Owen."

"Then Toby is really the only one out of the secret?" Owen went on to say.

"Yes. And there's no use telling him--yet. Time enough to-night when we
spring the trap. But I'm off now, after Bandy-legs. So long, Owen."

"Be mighty careful about that coin purse," warned the one who was to stay
in camp during the afternoon. "It would give me a big pain if you let it
drop out of your pocket while you were wading in the river."

"Can't. I've fastened the pocket up snug with a big safety pin," chuckled

He soon caught up with Bandy-legs, who was following the now plainly marked
trail that stretched through the forest between the river and the camp.

Arriving at the water's edge Max soon decided that it might pay them to
work a little lower downstream.

So both removed most of their clothes and started to tread for the mussels
that lay concealed in the mud or sand of the river's bed.

Max was very careful to make sure that the little coin purse was safely
pinned inside his shirt. He would not have risked leaving that ashore for
a good deal.

An hour passed.

"I see you've picked up quite a little load," remarked Max, as the two
pearl hunters happened to come close together while continuing their work.

"All of two dozen, I reckon," grunted Bandy-legs.

"Many marked with the star brand?" asked Max.

"Shucks! never a single one, the more the pity," replied the other,
grinning. "Still, I live in hopes. Found one that's got a cross on the
shell. Might be that's another mark to tell how the old hermit inside has
taken to hatching out a pearl."

"Well, let's make one more try of, say half an hour," proposed Max.

"All right," agreed the other. "It's getting a little tiresome, I tell you.
And I cut my toe on a sharp shell. Sing out when the time's up, Max. Here
goes to try along that point. Looks promising there."

"Yes, because some sort of a bar sets out from the shore. I'll head that
way, too, only covering different ground."

Max kept up the good work until the time limit had been reached. By then
the two boys had about all the load they cared to carry over the trail to
the camp.

"Hope nobody holds us up on the way, and makes us hand over all we've got,"
suggested Bandy-legs. "Not that he'd get much out of me, because
thirty-seven cents is about the limit of my fortune now; but I'm thinking
of them pearls you carry, Max."

"I've still left the coin purse pinned on the inside of my shirt," remarked
Max; "so the chances are he wouldn't be apt to find it on me."

They finished dressing, and, throwing the partly filled gunny sacks over
their shoulders, started back along the trail for camp, Max in the lead.
"Huh!" remarked Bandy-legs, as he trotted along at the heels of his
companion, "the fun about all this thing is the uncertainty of it. Ain't
that so, Max?"

"It sure is," replied the other, without turning his head. "Here we are,
toting over five dozen mussels on our backs up and down, in and out, and
we're just in a state of blissful eagerness and suspense. Perhaps we carry
a prize worth a whole vacation of sport; and then, again, chances are we
draw a blooming blank."

"All right," remarked the cheerful Max, "no matter how things turn out
from now on, I don't see that any of us ought to kick. We've got four
pearls that are bound to give us many times as much as we really hoped to
earn. And that's enough to make us happy."

"It sure is, because now we'll be able to carry out all of those bully
plans we made. Wow! I c'n hardly believe it ain't all a dream, Max," and
Bandy-legs drew a long sigh, as if trying to assure himself that he was
really awake.

"You'll begin to believe it when we send off for our motorcycles, and map
out the summer campaign," laughed Max.

"Glory be! that makes me thrill all over. If it does come to pass, won't we
be the luckiest crowd that ever came down the pike?" assented Bandy-legs.

"Oh! I'd hardly say that," remarked the other. "We've worked for all we've
got so far. The idea was, after all, the main thing, and we owe most of
that to my cousin Owen reading so much about how these pearls are found in
Indiana and Missouri streams."

"Oh! take care, Max!" suddenly cried Bandy-legs.

"What is it?" demanded the other, instantly.

"Danger ahead; because I saw somebody poking a head out of the bushes
there," Bandy-legs went on, breathlessly.



Max instantly dropped his sack of shellfish.

He had picked up a good stout stick, which he used as a cane while walking,
poking ahead in every clump of bushes where it was possible a snake might
lie coiled up in waiting.

Bandy-legs had followed suit, and he, too, flourished a substantial hickory
staff, which looked capable of doing good work in a pinch.

"Now where did you see all this?" asked Max.

"Over yonder where that thick vine crawls all over things," came the
quivering answer.

"All right; let's investigate then," suggested Max, as he took a bold
forward step.

At this demonstration Bandy-legs gasped.

"Say, are you really going to tackle him, Max?"

"Oh! I don't know," replied the other, carelessly, yet with a firm ring to
his voice, and a determined look on his face. "If he's lying in wait to
ambush us, we might as well turn the tables around, and start the ball
rolling ourselves."

"But--gosh! he might have a gun!" suggested Bandy-legs.

"Let's hope not," Max went on, cheerfully; "because that would be unfair,
as we've left all our shooting-irons in camp. Anyhow, it might pay us to
put a bold face on the matter. So come along, Bandy-legs."

"W-w-who's afraid?" gurgled the other, trying to look and act like his
chum, though the effort was not wholly a success.

Accordingly the two boys advanced straight toward the clump of bushes
bordering on the camp trail, and which were overrun by the luxuriant vine.

"There he is again, Max!" hissed Bandy-legs.

"Yes, I see him; and I reckon now that it's only that half-grown boy again,
after all, Bandy-legs."

The other gave a sigh, perhaps of relief.

"Guess you hit the nail on the head that time, when you said what you did;
because it's sure enough no big-bearded man waiting to hold us up. Wonder
what he wants with us, Max?"

"Don't you see he's beckoning right now?" asked the other, in a puzzled

"That's right; but please go slow, Max."

"Why do you say that?" demanded the other, keeping his eyes on the eagerly
beckoning boy who was emerging from the thicket.

"Might be a trap, you know," Bandy-legs went on. "Heard about such things.
The little critter may be just toling us on like they train a dog to do
down in the duck regions along Chesapeake Bay."

"Oh, rats!" Max remarked. "That look of terror on his face ain't put on.
You mark my words, Bandy-legs, he's in a hole of some kind, and wants us
to lend him a hand, see?"

"But where's the hole?" asked the other.

"Oh! come off, won't you? I mean he's in trouble. But here we are, and
we'll soon know."

As Max said these last words he allowed a reassuring smile to creep over
his face. He realized that the ragged boy was in some condition of genuine
distress; and Max had too kind a heart to even dream of adding to the poor
lad's mental agony.

"Hello! who are you, and what's the matter?" he asked, as they drew up
alongside the smaller boy.

"I'm Jim, mister, an' I'm in a heap o' trouble," the boy said, with an

"Well, Jim, we want to be friends," Max went on. "Suppose you tell us what
it's all about, won't you?"

Something in his cheery tone, as well as the kind expression upon his face,
seemed to give renewed confidence to the poor little chap.

This may have been the first time a stranger had ever spoken to him after
such a fashion. Perhaps he had had a cruel experience with the world, and
was accustomed to looking upon all strangers as enemies.

But, now, the look of fear left his face, though there still remained that
expression of agony.

"Reckon as how he's goin' tuh cash in, stranger," he said; and Max grasped
the meaning of his words, although they were next door to Greek to

"Who do you mean by saying he?" asked Max.

"Dad," answered the forlorn specimen, drawing down the corners of his

"Is he sick?" continued Max.

"Nope. Got hurted bad. Falled down a big drop. Reckon like he's a sure
goner," the boy whimpered.

"Where is he now?" the other asked, briskly.

"In our shack. He done crawled part way, an' wen I diskivered him I helped
drag him home."

The lad said this latter a little proudly, as though he wanted these boys
to understand that while he might look thin and puny, still he was not
lacking in pure grit, and the ability to "do things."

"What do you want us to do, Jim?" asked Max.

"I seed yuh goin' along hyah, an' I thort as how p'r'aps yuh wont come over
an' see dad. He's got a leg broke, that's flat; but yuh see he feels so
pow'ful bad inside he's 'feared he's hurt thar. Cain't yuh come 'long with
me, mistah?"

Not for a moment did warm-hearted Max hesitate.

"Sure we will. Lead the way, Jim. I suppose you can bring us back here
again to get our bags of mussels," he said, promptly.

"I sartin kin, an' I will, mistah," replied the boy, a faint look as of
hope appearing on his brown face.

"But, Max--" whispered Bandy-legs, plucking at his companion's coat sleeve.

"What ails you?" asked Max, impatiently.

"Is it safe, d'ye think?" demanded the other; "wouldn't it be better for us
to go on to camp, pick up a gun, and then join Jim here?"

"You can, if you want to," said Max; "as for me, I'm going to believe in
the story he tells."

But he did not throw away the stout stick which at the time he chanced to
be carrying.

The boy had turned around. He wanted to see what they meant to do, and a
new dread seemed to be gripping him.

But when Max once again started forward, Bandy-legs, as if a little
ashamed of his suspicion, kept him company.

Thus, following the uncouth little fellow closely, they began to pass
through a very dense section of forest.

Max considered that since they were going to all this trouble in order to
do a good deed, it might be as well to learn a few things.

Accordingly he quickened his pace, so that he drew up alongside Jim.

"What's your dad's name, Jim?" he asked.

The boy seemed to hesitate, as though even in his young mind he doubted
the propriety of giving away family secrets.

"Calls hisself Tom Jones, mistah," he finally replied; but Max readily
understood that the chances were the man had another name, which he did not
like to own, as possibly it was connected with a prison sentence, or some

However, Max did not allow himself to feel any sort of curiosity in this
direction. It was enough for him to know that the unfortunate man had
fallen upon evil days, and was lying there with a broken leg, perhaps even
dying, and far removed from all doctors.

"We've seen signs around that made us think you were collecting these
mussel shells," he went on.

The boy nodded his head in the affirmative.

"No use denyin' it, mistah, 'case yuh'd see our shack wen yuh git thar,
anyways," he muttered.

"And you've been thinking we'd come up here to beat you out in the game--is
that it?" Max continued.

Another vigorous nod, and a gloomy look answered him.

"Well, that's where you're away off, Jim," Max went on. "We don't care for
the shells, and you're welcome to all we happen to gather, after we've
taken out and eaten the meat. I suppose your dad means to get a load down
the river, and sell the same to some factory that manufactures pearl

"Yep. An' we was a gettin' heaps o' 'em; but if dad he draps off, it's all
busted," Jim replied.

His manner told Max that at least he must cherish a certain amount of
affection for his father.

"Ain't we nearly there?" grunted Bandy-legs, who had proven clumsy, so that
several times, catching a foot in some concealed creeper, he had almost
fallen flat.

"Jest a leetle bit furder, mistah," replied Jim, eagerly, as though he
feared that these new-found friends might grow suspicious or weary, and
desert him in his time of great need.

Five minutes later and they stepped into a little open space. The hill rose
abruptly before them. Max realized that they must be close to the camp of
the shell gatherers, even before he saw this opening, for he could detect
an odor in the air far from delightful, and which he knew must come from a
collection of hundreds and hundreds of shells, many of them possibly
recently opened.

Jim's father had found a natural cave under a great shelf of rock that
jutted out from the base of the hill.

Here the two were safe from the violent summer storms; and with a couple of
worn blankets, a few cooking utensils, and a scant allowance of food, they
were able to carry on the business of gathering the fine shells, with their
mother-of-pearl lining, so necessary in the button trade.

Several piles of shells caught the eyes of the two boys as they approached
the strange camp.

Max, however, looking farther, discovered a form upon the ground, partly
covered by a blanket.

A dreadful suspicion came over him that the man might have died while Jim
was seeking help. This, however, was speedily dissipated, for he saw "Tom
Jones" raise himself on one arm and stare hard at them.

Fear was in those burning dark eyes, such fear as might be shown by a
fugitive from justice, one who believed every honest man's hand was
raised against him.

But Max would not allow himself to even think of this. The poor fellow was
in trouble; he needed help the worst kind, and it was no business of theirs
to ask questions.

"We've come to see if we can help you, Mr. Jones," he remarked, in his
customary cheery tone, as he bent over the injured man.

"Jim got yuh, did he?" muttered the other. "Knowed 'twar the on'y thing tuh
be did, no matter wat follered."

"Make your mind easy, because there's nothing going to follow. Now, it
happens that even if I am only a boy, I've always had an itching to be a
surgeon some day. So I know a little about setting broken bones. I'm going
to play doctor, if you'll let me, Mr. Jones."

As Max said this he stripped off his coat. The boy watched him in awe,
while the man showed signs of newly awakened hope.

For quite some time Max examined his patient, even turning the man over so
that he could test his ribs thoroughly.

"Now I'm going to set that leg the best I can, with splints to hold it.
After all it's a simple fracture a little way above the ankle. Those black
and blue marks don't count for anything, Mr. Jones. Make up your mind
you're going to pull through nicely. You were lucky, for it might have
been much worse."

"But I'm sore up in the body," said the man.

"Yes, you're bruised some, and I expect a rib or two may be broken. But
they'll mend all right. Don't worry for a minute. I'll come and see you
again once or twice before we go back to town. And I'm going to send you up
some things from the store."

The man could hardly express his gratitude, but Max saw tears in his eyes.
He was ragged and wore a rough beard, but his face was not unkind. And Jim
seemed to set considerable store by his father, which would indicate that
the boy was not abused.

"Gettin' shells, too, I reckon?" the man remarked, as Max shook hands with
him preparatory to leaving.

"Well, no," replied Max, and then, obeying a sudden inspiration, he went
on; "it might pay you after this to carefully examine the _inside_ of
every fresh-water clam you gather, because we've found some good pearls
that are worth ten times as much as all your shells. Good-by, Tom Jones.
I'm coming again to-morrow to see you, and bring some coffee and bacon.
Now, Jim, show us the way back to where we left our sacks."



Jim was only too delighted to act once more as guide.

The look of fear had quite left his face, and both Max and Bandy-legs saw
that after all the poor little chap was rather a decent-looking boy.

"Say, is he agoin' tuh git well, mistah?" he asked, turning when they were
once more fairly on the way back to the trail leading to the camp.

"Sure he is, Jim," answered Max.

"But he'd 'a' gone dead on'y for you uns comin' tuh help. Reckon as how we
orter be kinder 'bleeged fur doin' this away," went on the boy, awkwardly
trying to prove that he knew what gratitude meant.

"That's all right, Jim," Max smilingly said. "Perhaps he wouldn't have
died on account of his broken leg, but he'd never walked again without a
limp. But look here, don't you say another word about it, Jim."


"Because," Max went on, quickly, "it's been a pleasure to me to attend your
dad. I'm wanting to be a surgeon some day, and every little bit of practice
helps. Now, if you don't mind, we'd like to know something about you, Jim.
Where'd you come from? I never saw you or your father around Carson, which
is the name of the town where my chum here and myself live."

The boy actually turned red in the face. His confusion told the sharp-eyed
Max that there must be some sort of unpleasant story connected with the

"Hold on, Jim, I take that back," he hastened to say. "It's none of my
business, and you needn't tell me anything about what you've been through."

"But I jest has tuh, 'case it's been a-burnin' in here ever so long, an'
never anybody tuh tell," and Jim slapped his hand on his breast as he

"Oh! well, please yourself, Jim," Max observed, seeing that the confidence
would really satisfy the boy, who had evidently never known a friend in all
his life, save his wandering father.

"And, Jim," put in Bandy-legs, seriously, "just you make up your mind that
we'll never whisper a word of what you tell us to a living soul, eh, Max?"

"That's a sure thing," replied the other.

Jim fell back a little, so that he might be closer to these two splendid
friends, who were already assuming the rôle of heroes in his eyes.

"'Tain't so bad, I reckons," he started in to say. "Yuh see, dad, he never
done as they sez. Lots o' times he tells me as how sum other man he tries
tuh rob that ole farmer. But they ketched him in our camp, an' totes him
tuh the farmhouse. I heerd 'em say as how they means tuh kerry dad tuh town
an' hev him shut up, when mawnin' kims along."

The boy drew a long breath. His eyes flashed with the memory of the wrongs
that had been heaped upon his father; and Max chuckled with glee to see
that after all he had more or less "spunk" in his small body.

"I take it from what you say, Jim, that you weren't made a prisoner at the
same time they nabbed your father?" he remarked.

"Naw," replied the boy, "I chanct tuh be away from camp jest then, yuh see.
Wen I kim back I seed three big men a-hustlin' dad along, an' him a-saying
all' ther time he never done nawthin'."

"Of course you followed them?" said Max.

"Yep. They wasn't nawthin' else tuh be done," came the answer, as the boy
grinned a little.

"Bet you he helped his dad skip out, Max," was the suggestion Bandy-legs
put up.

"Did you, Jim?" demanded the other.

"I sartin did that same, mistah," came the prompt reply, a little proudly.
"Seen whar they done locked dad in the smokehouse. Tried the door, but it
wa'n't no go. Then I started tuh tunnel under the wall."

"Well, I declare! What d'ye think of that, now?" exclaimed the wondering
Bandy-legs. "Ain't he just the little boss schemer, though?"

"And did you succeed--did you get your dad out all right?" asked Max.

"I sartin did. Took a heap o' time, I tell yuh. Reckon 'twas nigh mawnin'
wen he crawled through the hole, an' we lit out foh the woods."

"And since that time you've been in hiding, afraid to show yourselves in
any town?" Max continued, bent on knowing all the particulars, for he had
taken a decided interest in little Jim.

"Yep, we jest stuck tuh the woods," the other went on to say. "Dad, he
'membered hearin' some feller say as how these yer shells was wuth money,
if so be they cud be gathered in heaps. An' so yuh see we ben gatherin' 'em
right along."

"How'd you ever get feed?" asked Bandy-legs, whose mind always traveled to
this very important question.

"Dad had jest a leetle money, left over from his last job," Jim replied.
"Then we set traps an' ketched a few rabbits. I fished some, too. Reckon
we managed tuh get along. Lots o' times, though, I was that hungry I cud
'a' et a raw turnip."

"You say your father worked--was he a farm hand?" Max asked.

"Naw. Dad he's a travelin' printer, an' a good un, too, mistah. But he jest
cain't stay ennywhere long. He's got gypsy blood, yuh see, and the travel
bug he sez is in his body. So arter a little we gets out on the road again
tuh see the sights."

"A traveling printer, eh?" remarked Bandy-legs; "say, that's kind of queer
now. Reckon he'd strike a job if he dropped in on Mr. Robbins, the editor
of the _Carson Weekly Town Topics_."

"What makes you say that?" demanded Max.

"Because I chanced to hear him say his typesetter was bound to leave him in
the lurch, and he didn't know where he'd get a man by the first of the
month," Bandy-legs replied promptly.

"There, do you hear that, Jim?" remarked Max.

"Yep. But reckons as how it ain't a-goin' tuh do we uns any good," answered
the boy, dejectedly.

"Why not? By that time your dad's leg ought to be fairly well. And a couple
of us boys could take him down to Carson soon in one of our boats."

Jim looked into the face of his kind friend while Max was speaking. There
were tears in the little chap's eyes.

"Reckon yuh done forget, mistah!" he sighed.

"Now you mean about the trouble your dad fell into on account of that old
farmer; is that it, Jim?" demanded Max.

The boy nodded his head in a forlorn fashion.

"How long ago was this, Jim--about a month?" Max asked.

"Reckon she be all o' that, mistah."

"And did you hear the name of the old farmer whose house had been robbed,

"I never done forgot that. I seems tuh heah it whispered by every leetle
wind thet blows. Wenever I waked up in the night it kim a-stealin' along
past the ledge o' rock, an' makin' me shiver, I tell yuh. He was a orful
hard-lookin' ole man, mistah."

"But perhaps not quite so hard as he seemed, Jim. Was that name Griffin,
Jim?" asked Max.

"Yep," piped the boy, shivering; "an heah's them two bag o' mussels, jest
whar yuh left 'em."

"All right, Jim. I didn't expect they'd be stolen. Now listen to what I say,

"Yas, suh."

"When you go back to your dad tell him I said he needn't be afraid to show
himself in Carson, or any other town around these diggings; because the
tramp who robbed old Griffin's place was caught, and all the stuff found on

"That's right," interrupted Bandy-legs, anxious to have a part in the
developments; "and I saw the Chief of Police bring him into town, too. He
was sure a tough-looking case. Your dad looks like a gentleman beside that
hobo thief."

"Old Griffin is a just man," Max went on. "I'm sure he's felt sorry for
treating your father as roughly as he did, without having any evidence
against him. And if you two showed up at his place to-day chances are he'd
take you both in and give you jobs."

"But," said Bandy-legs, "there ain't no need of that. I'm bent on seeing
Tom Jones get that vacancy on the local paper."

"Is Tom Jones your father's real name?" asked Max. "You needn't be afraid
to say, Jim, because nobody is going to harm him now."

"It's Thomas Archer. He kin talk jest as good as you kin, wen he wants tuh
to do it. But the fellers we tramps with done lawf at him, so he larns tuh
talk like they does. But yuh done makes me happy, tell yuh, mistah. Glad
now I waited on the trail foh yuh."

"You belong down South, don't you, Jim?" asked Max.

"Reckon Nawth Car'liny was the place I was borned into this world, suh, but
I don't jest see how yuh guessed that," the boy answered.

"Never mind. Suppose you trot along with us to our camp now. I'd like to
send back a few things, like coffee and bacon, for your dad and you."

Jim could only clutch the hand of Max when he said this and squeeze it. But
the other felt something moist drop on the back of his hand, and was sure
it must be a tear.

The boys were once more taken in charge, and their interrupted march along
the trail resumed.

When they entered the camp various were the exclamations of surprise from
the three who had been left in charge.

Of course a perfect rain of questions followed, and for some time both Max
and his fellow laborers in the shellfish industry were kept busily
employed answering these interrogations.

Finally, as the sun was sinking low, Jim was allowed to depart, fairly
laden with the various good things which the campers insisted on sending
to the unfortunate tramp printer.

"We can spare them easy enough," Max had remarked.

"Sure we can, and more, too," echoed Owen.

"B-b-besides, we've b-b-been so lucky, you k-k-know, in our hunt for
p-p-pearls, we ought to be g-g-g-g--"

Again came the usual pounding on the back, which produced no results; but
as soon as Toby could pucker up his lips, so as to whistle, he immediately
calmed down enough to shout at the top of his voice:


"Well, I should say we could," observed Steve, rubbing his hands together
exultantly. "Even if we did lose that first beaut of a gem, haven't we
still got three elegant ones? And perhaps you fellows may have fetched the
mate of the lost one along in this last batch. You never can tell."

Max could not help looking toward Owen, who raised his eyebrows after a
peculiar fashion that could only stand for bewilderment.

Steve certainly had these three loyal chums guessing. But Max was fully
determined that the mystery must not remain such over another night, if he
could arrange matters so that the solution might be hastened.

To this end he presently started to assist Bandy-legs open their catch of
the afternoon, Steve and Toby being engaged in getting supper.

Another prize rewarded their search, a pearl not so fine as the one Steve
had discovered, but so perfect in shape, and so milk-white in color, that
they agreed it ranked with any of the rest in value.

So Max was very careful to wrap this last prize up in some paper, and
thrust it into the haversack, with all his comrades looking on, especially
Steve. The latter stared as usual, as though fascinated by the sight of the
beautiful gem.

"He'll try again, my word on it," whispered Bandy-legs in the ear of Max;
whereupon the other put a finger on his lips to enjoin silence.

The five boys spent the evening as usual in merry conversation and song.
All seemed to be in high spirits, even Steve joining with a vim in the
school songs so dear to their hearts.

Then, as the hour grew later, they began to yawn; and first Toby crawled
inside the tent, then Owen, and finally Steve, Bandy-legs, and Max.

Apparently the idea of keeping guard over the camp had been abandoned, now
that they knew Jim and his father were honest.

A long time passed, with only the heavy breathing of the boys to disturb
the silence. The fire, prepared by Max ere he turned in, continued to burn

It must have been midnight again when Owen felt the hand of his cousin
shake him, and, raising his head a little, he saw that there was something



Steve was on his hands and knees, and apparently in the act of getting to
his feet.

Strangely enough he did not seem to show any sign of nervousness or
caution; and Owen looked in vain to see the suspected thief glance
suspiciously around, as though to observe whether his comrades were all
sound asleep at the time.

Bandy-legs did not stir, and, judging from his heavy regular breathing, he
must have dropped asleep, despite his intention of staying awake.

The exertions and excitement attending that afternoon tramp had proven too
much for Bandy-legs, and neither of the others thought it worth while to
awaken him.

Truth to tell, both Max and Owen were staring at Steve, holding their very
breath with surprise.

The other had by now reached the pole of the tent to which the strap of the
haversack was attached. They could plainly hear him grumbling to himself as
he thrust his hand inside.

Drawing out the little wad of paper in the midst of which Max had secured
the latest find, Steve could be seen carefully closing the bag again.

He did not look around once to see if he was observed, a fact that puzzled
Owen greatly; but passing over to where the cooking outfit lay he calmly
picked up the extra coffee pot, raised the lid, pushed the packet in with
the other stuff that seemed to lie hidden there, and once more placing the
strange pearl bank down, Steve made his way back to his blanket.

He stepped over the forms of Toby and Bandy-legs while so doing, and never
once touched them with his feet. Max believed he could hardly have
duplicated the act, and his astonishment increased accordingly.

Steve seemed to give a satisfied grunt as he settled down again under his
blanket. It was about what one would emit after having felt that he had
done his duty.

Owen heard Max laughing softly to himself.

"What does it all mean, Max?" he whispered, as he heard Steve begin to
breathe regularly once more.

"Tell you in the morning," replied the other. "Too long a story for now.
Besides, I want Steve to be around at the time, you see."

"That's mean of you," grumbled the disappointed one.

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