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CHAPTER XI


A MIDNIGHT SCARE


The Rovers reached Cottonton without catching sight of Dan Baxter again, nor did they locate him while stopping at the town.

"He knows enough to keep out of our way," remarked Dick. "Even now he may be watching every move we make."

They did not remain in Cottonton long, and that night found them once more on a trail leading to another patch of timber. All were in excellent spirits, and Hans enlivened the time by singing a song in his broken English in a manner which convulsed them all.

"Hans would make his fortune on the variety stage," remarked Fred. "His manner is too funny for anything."

"Vot you said apout a stage?" demanded the German youth. "I ton't vos ride on no stage ven I got a goot horse alretty."

"Fred wants you to go on the stage," said Sam.

"He thinks you might play Shakespeare," said Tom.

"Vot kind of a play is dot Shakespeares?"

"It's a farce in 'steen acts and twice as many scenes," said Dick. "You might play the double-tongued mute."

"I like not such a blay. I like dot blay vere da vos all killed off kvick."

"Good gracious! Hans wants to go in for tragedy!" ejaculated Tom. "Who would think he was so bloodthirsty. If you keep on like that, Hansy, dear, I'll be afraid you'll murder us in our sleep."

"I like dem murders. Da vos alvays make dem goose skins mine back town."

At this there was a general roar.

"'Goose skins' is good," came from Fred.

"Vot you laffin' at, hey?" demanded Hans.

"Nothing."

"Dere don't been noddings to laugh at by a murder, not so?"

"That's true, Hansy," said Sam.

"Maybe of you vos killed, you vould sit ub and laugh at him, hey?"

"I shouldn't laugh," said Tom. "I'd keep quiet about it."

"Yah, I know you, Tom Rofer. I bet you sixteen cents I vos a better actor mans as you been," continued Hans, warming up.

"I don't doubt it, Hansy. Some day we'll put you on the stage."

"Of I got on der stage, I make me a hundred dollars a veek, I pet you my head!"

"Maybe you'd make two hundred, Hans," suggested Songbird.

"You all peen jealous of vot I can do. But some day I vos show you, you see!" cried the German youth, and rode on ahead, somewhat out of sorts.

They had resolved to camp out that night in true hunter fashion, and approaching a spot that looked inviting, they came to a halt. The place was some distance from the road and ideal in many respects, being on high ground and with a spring of pure water flowing into a tiny brook but fifty feet away.

As they had no tent, they proceeded to make a shelter of boughs, and covered the flooring with the same material. In the meantime, a campfire was lit, and two of the number set about preparing the supper which had been brought along.

"This is all very well, when one has his stuff with him," observed Fred. "But if we had to go out and shoot game or catch fish, it would be a different story."

"Pooh, as if we haven't done that!" cried Tom. "I shouldn't like anything better than to go out into the woods for a month."

By the time the shelter was in readiness for the night, the supper was cooked, and all sat around the campfire to partake of the meal. A certain part of it had been slightly burnt, but to this nobody paid attention, although it would have been noticed if this had occurred at home or at a hotel. But camping out makes such a difference, doesn't it, boys?

"Supposing some wild animals came along to eat us up?" said Sam when they were finishing their meal.

"Are there any wild animals around here?" questioned Songbird.

"I am sure I don't know. There may be bobcats in the timber."

"Vot is a popcat?" asked Hans.

"It's a kind of a wildcat—very strong and very fierce."

"Of dot peen der case, I ton't vonts to meet Mr. Popcat."

"I don't think any of us want to meet such a beast," said Tom. *ls anybody to stay on guard to-night?"

"Don't ask me—I'm too dead tired," said Dick promptly.

"Nor me!" came from the others.

"Let us go to sleep and venture it," said Sam. "I don't think a thing will come near us."

So it was decided, and as soon as the campfire began to die down, one after another of the boys retired. Songbird was the last to lie down, and soon he was slumbering as peacefully as the rest.

Sam had been sleeping perhaps three hours, when he woke up with a slight start. He sat up and tried to pierce the darkness around him.

"Did anybody call?" he questioned after a pause.

Nobody answered, and he listened attentively. The horses had been tethered in the bushes close to the shelter, and now he heard several of the animals move around uneasily.

"Something must be disturbing them," he told himself. "I'll have to get up and see what it is."

At first, he thought he would arouse some of the others, but all appeared to be sleeping so soundly he hated to do so.

"They won't thank me for waking them up, unless it is worth while," was what he told himself.

He arose and felt his way over the others who lay between himself and the opening of the shelter. Outside, there was no moon, but the stars were shining brightly, and he could make out objects that were not too far off.

As he moved toward the horses, he heard a rustling in the bushes. He strained his eyes and made out a dark form stealing along close to the ground.

"A wild beast!" he muttered. "I wish I had a gun."

He turned back to the shelter and aroused Dick, and then Tom. This awoke all of the others.

"What's the matter?" questioned Dick, as he got out a pistol.

"Some sort of a wild animal is prowling around this place."

"Py chiminy! Vos it von of dem catpobs?" ejaculated Hans, turning pale.

"I don't know what it is."

"Where is it now?" came from Fred.

"I don't know that, either. It was slinking around yonder bushes a minute ago."

"Let us stir up the fire," put in Songbird. "All wild animals hate a big blaze." And he set the example, and Hans helped to heap up the brushwood.

"I ton't vont to become acquainted mit dem catpobs nohow," said the German youth. "He can go avay so kvick like he come."

After the fire was brightened, there came a painful pause. Each boy was on his guard, with eyes straining from their sockets.

"I see something!" cried Fred suddenly.

"Where?" asked the others in a breath.

"There—but it's gone now."

Again they waited, and soon came a rustling on the other side of the camp, followed by the cracking of a bone which had been thrown away during the evening repast.

"There he is!"

"Shoot him!"

"No, don't shoot!" burst out Tom. "I know what it is."

"What?"

"Nothing but a dog."

"Nonsense."

"I say it is." Tom began to whistle. "Come here, old boy," he went on. "Good dog, come here."

At this, the animal stopped crunching the bone and came forward slowly and suspiciously. It was indeed a large, black dog, with curly hair and lean sides.

"Hullo!" cried Sam. "Come here, that's a good dog. Say, fellows, he looks half starved."

"Are you sure it ain't no catpob?" queried Hans anxiously.

"Yes, Hans," answered Songbird. "He is nothing but a dog, and rather friendly at that."

The dog came closer, wagging his tail slowly and suspiciously. Dick put out his hand and patted him, and then he waved his tail in a vigorous fashion.

"He is willing enough to be friends," said the eldest Rover. "I shouldn't be surprised if he is homeless."

"In that case, we might adopt him," said Tom, who loved a nice dog.

"Let us try him on something to eat," put in Songbird. "There is no meat left on that bone."

Some things had been saved for breakfast, and a portion was set before the newcomer. He devoured it greedily and wagged his tail furiously.

"He feels at home now," said Dick, and he was right. The dog leaped up, first on one and then another, and licked their hands.

"What's your name?" asked Tom, and the dog wagged his tail and gave a low, joyful bark.

"Better call him Wags," suggested Sam. "He seems to be death on keeping that tail going."

"Wags it is," announced Tom. "How do yon like it, Wags, old boy?" And the dog barked again and leaped up and down several times in joy.

"Vell, he vos goot enough," was Hans' comment. "Bud I ton't see vy he couldn't introduce himselluf by der daydime alretty. I vos going to ped again," and he rubbed his eyes sleepily.

"So am I going to bed," said Fred. "Tom, are you going to stay awake to watch the dog?"

"No, he is going to sleep with me," answered the fun-loving youth. "Come on, Wags, get your nightcap and come to bed."

He made a certain move of his hand and the canine suddenly sat upon his haunches and cocked his head to one side.

"Hullo, he's a trick dog!" exclaimed Dick. "Shake hands," and the dog did so. Then, as Sam snapped his fingers, the animal began to walk around the camp on his hind legs.

"I'll wager he knows a lot of tricks," said Tom. "And, if so, he must be valuable."

"Then whoever owns him will want him back," was Songbird's comment.

"Well, I guess he can travel with us until somebody claims him," said Tom; and so it was decided.