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   Chapter 2 LAYING PLANS

The Outdoor Chums on a Houseboat; Or, The Rivals of the Mississippi By Quincy Allen Characters: 12311

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

"Listen to that, will you?" cried Bluff Masters. "He's in, all right!"

The boys hastened to the edge of the bank. The river ran about six feet below, and as there was a fair stage of water at this time of year, Oswald had ducked completely under when he fell in.

He was making frantic efforts to drag himself out, and was spouting water like a geyser. One of his comrades immediately hastened to lower himself by means of some friendly rocks, so as to give the unfortunate Oswald a helping hand.

Dripping from head to foot, and looking like a half-drowned rat, the son of the St. Paul millionaire finally managed to regain the road. He was certainly a forlorn-looking figure. Even a couple of his friends grinned a little behind his back; while Bluff and Jerry made no pretense of hiding their delight. Frank half expected that the other would attack him, though there was not the slightest reason for it, since he had not even touched young Fredericks when so deftly stepping aside.

"What did you do that for, Langdon?" spluttered the other, shivering, either with the cold, or the excitement following his unexpected dip in the water.

"I don't know that I did anything, except to get out of your way," returned Frank, quietly. "You seemed to want the whole road, and I was for giving it to you. What do you find about that to complain of, Fredericks?"

"Oh! go on," sneered the other. "You knew mighty well that if you jumped out of the way I'd go into the river."

"Well," remarked Frank, steadily, keeping his eyes on Oswald, "it was either you or me; and I wasn't at all anxious to get wet; so since you would have it, I let you have first choice. If you'd kept to your side of the road nothing would have happened. You've only yourself to blame. You tried to put up a little game on me, and the biter got bitten himself; that's all there is to it."

"Think you're pretty smart; don't you, Langdon?" snarled the other, who in his anger quite forgot his elegant ways, and seemed ready to descend to the manner of a common bully. "You set up that game on me, and you know it. Didn't I see you telling Bluff Masters what you would do if I happened to brush up against you? I've a good notion to give you what you ought to have had long ago."

"You don't say?" remarked Frank, pleasantly; "and suppose you tell me what that might be, Fredericks."

"A sound drubbing; and I can do it, too, I want you to know!" snarled the other, making a forward movement, though two of his boon companions managed to get a grip on his shoulders and hold him back.

Frank deliberately took off his coat, and handed it to Will Milton.

"That's a new coat," he said, calmly, "and I wouldn't want to get it soiled by rubbing up against your dirty and wet clothes. Now, suppose you start in, and give me what you say I need; because to-morrow may be too late, as we start for home in the morning. This is a nice, quiet spot, and we stand little chance of being bothered by any outsiders."

"Let me go; can't you, fellows?" cried Oswald, making a great show of trying to break away from the detaining hands of his chums; though Bluff noticed that it was something of a pretense after all.

"Don't be a fool, Ossie," said Raymond Ellis, in a low voice; "you know that Langdon's said to be as strong as an ox. He made the baseball team, and will be in the football squad next fall. Let it drop; can't you? It was a bad job all around, and you got caught in your own trap."

"But I tell you I can do him up right now, if you only let me loose!" declared Fredericks, with another vain effort to break away, making his friends only seek the harder to keep him back, the third one now lending a hand, and trying to soothe him with soft words. "What have I been taking boxing and wrestling lessons all winter for, if not just this opening? I knew some day we'd have it out; and why not now? Let loose, Duke Fletcher; I want to show him!"

"Well, you just can't right now, and that's all there is about it," declared the lad last named, as he tightened his grip. "You're soaked to the skin, and excited in the bargain; while he's as cool as a cucumber. Just hold your horses, and maybe some fine day you'll get your chance on even terms."

They started to lead the expostulating Oswald away. Every little while he would break out into another wild series of exclamations, and struggle with the chums who kept their detaining hands on him.

Frank quietly recovered his coat and put it on. There was a curl to his lips as he turned his face toward his chums.

"What do you think of it, boys?" he asked.

"He never wanted to fight, even a little bit!" declared Bluff, scorn in his tones.

"That's right," remarked Jerry. "For all his squirming, he didn't want to break away from his friends. Why, he could have done it in the start, easy enough; but it was all a big bluff. But say, did you ever hear a splash like that, fellows?"

"It certainly did make a noise," remarked Frank, laughing.

"Noise!" echoed Bluff, doubling up with laughter; "why, if you didn't know what happened, you'd think a house had dropped kerplunk into the river. Only time I can remember anything like it, was when Jerry here went overboard once--"

"That'll do for you, Bluff," interrupted the one mentioned; "I could refer to a few of your troubles in the past when it comes to speaking about splashes. Just drop personal things, and let's speak about Fredericks."

"Oh! if I'd only had my little snapshot camera along," exclaimed Will, suddenly remembering what a startling picture he might have taken of Oswald going over the edge of the bank; to be followed with another showing him as he climbed, dripping, out of the river.

"Well, that's nearly always the way," grunted Bluff. "What wonderful things we do see when we haven't got a gun."

"But he's going to set that bath down against you, Frank; and some day try to hand you back something in return," remarked Jerry.

"How could you be so cruel as to side-step, and let the poor chap go over into that cold water?" asked Bluff.

They were all in high spirits as they started once more for

the room where Will and Frank boarded. Healthy boys see no shadows ahead when fortune beckons. And these chums knew of no reason why they should not look forward with delight to that long trip in a houseboat down the Father of Waters.

"I'm going to take the pains to tell Duke Fletcher what our plans are for the summer," said Jerry, who was by long odds far from being one to seek trouble; but in this case he seemed to think it might liven things up if only Oswald and several of his cronies chose to make a similar cruise, and that fortune threw them together now and then.

Frank rather doubted the wisdom of notifying the others of the intended voyage; but he neglected to ask Jerry not to mention it, and so the fact was forgotten until later.

Once they arrived at the room, the letter, with its enclosures, was produced, and for a full hour the boys studied it.

"I declare I can't make head or tail of it," Jerry finally admitted, with a puzzled expression on his face.

"Me, too!" declared Bluff, ready to confess himself "stumped," as he called it. "What do you suppose there is so valuable about this houseboat that would make anybody like Marcus Stackpole want to get it, if only he got on board?"

"Say, perhaps Uncle Felix keeps some of his expensive curios aboard, and this Stackpole knows it, and means to get hold of 'em. I'm going to make it my job to find out if that's so, and you fellows needn't be surprised to see me poking around in any old dark corner, and tapping the walls of the cabin to find concealed treasures."

"That sounds just like you, Jerry; always thinking you're going to strike it rich," jeered Bluff. "Now, I've got a notion it's the craft itself that's so expensively built, and Stackpole, who must have wanted to buy it from Uncle Felix, and has been refused, is just bound to get hold of it."

Frank laughed at all these wild theories. He did not know himself what the solution of the mystery could be, but felt positive that it was along different lines from anything as yet suggested in the fertile brains of his companions. Besides, he wondered what that occasional smile he saw upon the face of Will meant. Evidently the other was keeping back something from his chums; and it must have a connection with the houseboat.

As they expected to start home on the following day, it would not be long before they would arrive in St. Paul, ready to purchase their provisions for the beginning of the river trip, and start down stream.

It was the last night at college for that term and all sorts of affairs were going on among the students, who would separate for two months and more on the morrow. When morning came there was a grand exodus, and the station of the college town presented a gay appearance, as scores of young fellows, with suitcases in their hands, boarded the train that pulled out.

Those who were going later gave the college yell when the whistle of the engine announced that the parting minute had arrived. And amid a shrieking of hundreds of voices the train started that was to bear the four chums to their homes in Centerville.

"There's your dear friend, Oswald Fredericks, Frank!" said Will, as the party hung partly out of a couple of windows in the car they occupied.

"And he's got his eye glued on you, too; don't forget," remarked Jerry.

"Oh! he's a good hater, all right," said Bluff. "If he didn't have any reason to wish you all sorts of bad luck before, that souse in the river settled it. From now on he'll never hear the name of Frank Langdon without getting mad, you mark me. And some day, sooner or later, he hopes to have a chance to even up the score."

"Huh! it may come sooner, then," remarked Jerry, significantly.

"See here," remarked Frank, turning to look at the last speaker, "did you keep your word, and tell Duke Fletcher about our plans this summer?"

Jerry nodded his head coolly.

"Course I did," he admitted. "You heard me tell I was going to do it, and nobody said a word. I like to have things going on all the time! What's the use of living, if you can't have some excitement once in a while? Besides, I'm hoping Oswald will find a chance to 'hop' Frank here. You see, I know what will follow; and he needs a lesson, that upstart does, to take the conceit out of him."

"Oh! well," remarked Frank, with a whimsical smile, "I believe the old Mississippi is something of a river; and even if they do start down in another houseboat, the chances of running across us wouldn't amount to much, anyhow. So what's the use of worrying? We've got all we want to do to keep watch for this tricky Marcus Stackpole, the man Uncle Felix seems to think will try to either rob the boat, or steal the entire outfit."

"Somebody pinch me," said Bluff, as they sat down facing each other in the double seat; "because I just can't believe it's so, all these fine times ahead of us, with a houseboat all our own for weeks, and we living on the fat of the land as we go, taking toll of game and fish by the way."

"Huh!" grunted Jerry, "much game you'll get, with the law on nearly everything that flies; and Frank here a regular stickler for obeying what the law says. But say, we take our guns along, I certainly hope, boys?"

"That's a settled thing," Frank replied. "We might need them in lots of ways; and while Uncle Felix may have a stock of firearms aboard his boat, we would be foolish to take any chances."

"Hear! hear! that makes me happy!" Bluff exclaimed.

"Now he's just thinking about that pump-gun he owns, and what havoc he can make if ever he sees a flock of ducks on a sand bar!" chuckled Will; for the gun had never been a favorite with either himself or Jerry, who declared it was unsportsmanlike to be able to send a volley into a bevy of quail, from a repeating shotgun, though with a rifle the case was different.

And, throughout all that long journey, from the college to their home town, the four chums talked of hardly anything else but the pleasure they anticipated when once they were launched on the mighty Mississippi, bound for the distant Southern metropolis, known as the Crescent City.

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