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   Chapter 1 GLORIOUS TIMES AHEAD

The Outdoor Chums on a Houseboat; Or, The Rivals of the Mississippi By Quincy Allen Characters: 12126

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"Own up, Will, you've got hold of some great news, and you're just keeping it back to tease us! How about that, Bluff?"

"You're right, Frank, for I can see it in his face. His eyes are just dancing with a big secret. But wait up; here comes Jerry across the campus. Now he'll just have to open the box, and show us."

The college boy, called Will by his comrades, and whose last name was Milton, laughed good-naturedly, and then nodded his head.

"Why, fellows," he said, "I saw Jerry coming, and meant to wait for him. When all four members of the Rod, Gun and Camera Club, who call themselves the Outdoor Chums, are present, I've got something to say that is going to set you all just wild."

At that the young chap who went by the name of Bluff made frantic gestures for a fourth lad, just then heading in their direction, to hurry along.

Evidently this freshman must have suspected that something unusual was brewing, for he started on a run, and came up almost panting for breath.

"What's in the wind, fellows?" he demanded, glancing from one eager face to the others. "Don't tell me you've made up your minds where the club is going to put in the vacation just ahead of us, because that would be too good news. Who's going to take pity on me, and relieve my suspense?"

"Why, Will here has got something to tell us, and wanted to wait till you joined the crowd," said Frank Langdon, who was just a little taller, and more manly-looking than any other in the group; though they were all bright, able lads, who had seen considerable of life.

"Listen, boys," said Will, who was inclined to be less given to healthy color than the rest, and who seemed to be not quite so sturdy in build; "I've had a letter from my Uncle Felix, down in New Orleans; and he made the queerest offer you ever heard about. You see, through my mother he must have learned about some of the adventures that came our way the last two years; and, what do you think? he wants the Outdoor Chums to take a voyage all the way down the Mississippi, just as soon as school closes."

"What!" ejaculated Jerry Wallington, as though rather staggered by the sudden outlook; "a voyage down the Mississippi? What on; a floating log?-because we don't happen to own any kind of a boat just now."

"Well, Uncle Felix does, you see," Will went on, coolly. "It's some sort of a houseboat, that he used to live aboard for several years. For some reason, that he doesn't take the trouble to explain, he wants it brought down to New Orleans, where he's recovering from a bad accident, so that he just can't come up himself. And, boys, he enclosed a check for a hundred dollars in the letter."

"Wow! what was that for?" demanded Bluff Masters, who had a little habit of being impetuous, though at heart he was as true as steel to his chums, and always fair toward even his bitterest enemy.

"Why, to buy eats, of course!" declared Will. "You see, a houseboat doesn't often have any way of moving along, only with the current, at least this one doesn't, I know; and so it just has to wander down the river. That takes a heap of time; and four healthy boys have to eat sometimes five times a day to keep from starving to death; anyhow, Bluff here does, I happen to know."

"Well, a hundred dollars ought to buy a heap of grub," remarked Jerry, with a wide grin on his good-natured face. "But after we get there, how do you suppose we're ever to get back home again, unless we draw some of our little nest-egg out of bank, and foot the railroad bill?"

"Trust Uncle Felix for that," Will remarked. "He says he'll see that we all get back home safe in good time. And, as he's got bushels of money, and is a bachelor in the bargain, that part of the job needn't worry us."

"Where's the houseboat now?" asked Frank,

"Tied up in the boatyard of a man named James Whittaker in St. Paul. There was an order on him to deliver the boat to us with all the fixtures, whatever that may mean," Will continued.

"Oh! say, did you ever hear of such luck?" cried Bluff, throwing his cap up in the air and catching it deftly again as it fell.

"Perhaps it's just like a palace, if a rich old bachelor has been knocking around in it for some years," suggested Jerry.

Frank noticed that Will did not think to offer any information on this score, if he happened to possess the knowledge. Perhaps he was willing that his three chums should live in expectation, and be surprised by the wonders of the houseboat upon which Uncle Felix seemed to set such store.

"By the way," continued Will, "there was one funny part to Uncle's letter."

"Tell us about it. If we're going to make a cruise in the houseboat of a millionaire, we ought to know," remarked Bluff.

"He says," Will went on, "he's mighty particular about whom he allows aboard his boat, and wants to impress upon us all that during the cruise we must keep off all undesirable characters."

"Sure thing," remarked Bluff, with a wise nod. "I've always heard that the Mississippi is a tramp's paradise, and that they just swarm down there. It's only right that a rich man would want us to keep such characters off his fine houseboat."

"Hold on there," broke in Will, "I haven't said it was such a palace, have I, Frank? Here Bluff keeps on getting more and more extravagant with his adjectives every time he mentions the boat."

"Oh! well," the other ventured, "it stands to reason that a rich old chap who spends lots of his time on board a pet boat would have things just scrumptious. Me for the first choice of bunks aboard! Wonder if he has silk eiderdown quilts for covers. Yum! yum! we're just the luckiest lot of freshmen that ever squeezed through their first year at college; and, Will, I feel like giving you a bear's hug for bringing us this great news."

"Please don't!" cried Will, half alarmed, for Bluff was a bit rough in his way; "because I'm carrying a bunch of lantern slides in my pocket; and I'd hate to have them broken;" but the observing Frank detected what seemed to be a gleam of suppres

sed amusement on Will's face, that gave him an inkling as to the true state of affairs.

Will had always been the official photographer of the Rod, Gun and Camera Club, and was something of an expert at snapping pictures to commemorate stirring and unusual events in the outdoor experiences of the chums.

"Was that all he said about not letting strangers aboard unless they brought letters of introduction?" asked Jerry.

"He warned us to be particularly careful not to harbor a certain party named Marcus Stackpole, who seems to be some sort of particular enemy of my uncle, though just why he would want to get aboard the houseboat I can't imagine."

"Say, that's queer, now," remarked Bluff.

"Guess he's had some reason for believing this Stackpole to be a thief, and he thinks he's run away with some of the things your uncle carries aboard," Jerry suggested.

Will simply elevated his eyebrows as he replied, evasively:

"I don't know, and that's all I can say, fellows; but suppose we go over to my rooms, where we can read the letter again, and take a look at the course of the Mississippi River from St. Paul to New Orleans."

It happened that Will and Frank had rooms at some little distance from the college buildings, making quite a walk along the road that ran beside the little river. And as they are trudging along, indulging in considerable excited talk, we can devote a few paragraphs to some of the pleasant things that in times past were experienced by these four comrades.

The organization of the club, and what happened to the boys shortly afterward, has been detailed, at length, in the first book of this series, called: "The Outdoor Chums; Or, The First Tour of the Rod, Gun and Camera Club." In the second story are given some of the wonderful happenings that befell them while camping on an island in Camelot Lake, which had, up to that time, been shunned by most people, because of the fierce bobcats that were said to hold possession there. These exciting events you will find narrated in "The Outdoor Chums on the Lake; Or, Lively Adventures on Wildcat Island."

During the Easter holidays another campaign was undertaken in search of excitement and pictures, as well as camping experiences. It had been reported that a ghost roamed over a certain section of the country some miles away from the town of Centerville; and the four boys determined to find out the truth of this rumor. As to what befell them, the reader will find the full details in the third volume, called "The Outdoor Chums in the Forest; Or, Laying the Ghost of Oak Ridge."

When Christmas came, the chums received permission to pay a visit to the Sunny South. And what strange things happened to them on a Florida river, as well as upon the great Mexican gulf, have been told in the fourth book, under the title of "The Outdoor Chums on the Gulf; Or, Rescuing the Lost Balloonists."

Then came a delightful visit to the Far West, where they saw what life on a cattle ranch was like, and had some thrilling times among the wild animals that Will was always anxious to take pictures of, at no matter what risk to himself. You can find all these narrated at length in the fifth book, just preceding this, and bearing the title of "The Outdoor Chums After Big Game; Or, Perilous Adventures in the Wilderness."

"There's that fancy dresser, Oswald Fredericks, and some of his chums, coming this way, Frank!" remarked Bluff, as the four boys were walking along the road.

Frank frowned. If there was one fellow in all the hundreds attending college with whom he had never been able to get on, it had been the rich man's son, Oswald Fredericks. They had never actually come to blows, but for some reason the other had shown jealousy toward Frank, and seldom let an opportunity pass for sneering at him, or doing some small thing to indicate what his feelings toward Frank were.

"And we're bound to meet the bunch just in that narrow part of the road, too, where the river runs close beside it," remarked Will, in disgust.

"Well," spoke up fiery Bluff, "you don't expect that we're going to stand here, and wait for the procession to pass by; do you? I guess four of us ought to be a match for as many of the Fredericks crowd, if they try to muss us up."

"Oh! I don't think Fredericks would try anything like that," Frank remarked.

"You never know what such a fellow might do," declared Jerry. "Once I used to like him; but he got going with a fast set, and I had to cut him dead. He isn't altogether bad, but apt to feel himself superior because his dad's a millionaire."

"And the queer thing about it," broke in Will just then, "is that he lives in St. Paul, where we have to go after our houseboat, and I've often heard him tell about the dandy craft his father owns, used for making cruises down the river. It's got an engine aboard, too, and can run like a steamboat."

"Oh! shucks! I just wish he'd take a notion to make a cruise about the same time as we did," said Bluff in a low voice, for the other party was now quite close by. "Say, wouldn't we have some bully times, though, running races with his old tub?"

Frank somehow felt that the other students were up to mischief. He had noticed that they kept their heads together, and seemed to be whispering suspiciously.

On that account he was on the lookout for trouble. Consequently, when, just as the two parties were passing, some of the others gave Oswald a sudden shove, as doubtless arranged beforehand, and he was thrown toward Frank, the latter deftly jumped aside.

The consequence was that the well-dressed Oswald, not running up against the object he had anticipated shoving over the edge of the bank into the river, made a few wild movements of his arms, as though seeking something to stay his own progress; and then quickly vanished from view over the edge, to the dismay of his companions, and the delight of Bluff and Jerry.

They heard him give a sharp yelp; and then a splash announced that he had plunged into the swiftly-running stream.

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