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   Chapter 6 WHAT FRANK FOUND ON DECK

The Outdoor Chums on a Houseboat; Or, The Rivals of the Mississippi By Quincy Allen Characters: 9644

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Frank sat up part way, leaning on his elbow, as he listened for a repetition of the strange sound. His heart was beating at an unusual rate, but his mind was as clear as a bell.

Just then he remembered placing his shotgun within reach of his extended arm, if he but chose to lean out of the lower bunk. And he also congratulated himself that the choice of sleeping quarters for the voyage had favored him with one of the two bunks close to the floor of the cabin.

Yes, he certainly could hear someone, or something, tampering with the door. He knew that they had tied up in a rather lonely spot; but it was hard to imagine any wild animal coming aboard to investigate this clumsy craft.

And no wild animals, at least none found outside the countries of apes and monkeys, were able to try the handle of a door, actually turning it several times.

"What is it, Frank?" breathed a faint whisper close to his ears; and he became conscious of the fact that Will had also heard the sound, and was listening in his lower berth, his heart doubtless almost standing still with sudden anxiety.

For answer Frank slipped gently out of his bed. His outstretched hand came in contact with his gun, simply because he knew just where he had placed the weapon. It was a double-barreled shotgun, a hammerless, that had been given to Frank at his last birthday by his three chums, and which as yet he had not had the pleasure of using much.

He knew that Will must have guessed what he was doing, for he caught the intake of breath that signified renewed alarm.

Frank, however, did not creep toward the door, and fling it suddenly open, as no doubt his chum anticipated he would do. He had not the slightest idea of shooting at any intruder, his sole intention being to give the other a good scare, that would be apt to make him think twice before returning again to the moored houseboat.

There were four windows to the cabin, small affairs, each covered with the heavy wire that is used in stables, and places where, air being needed, it is also advisable to keep out intruders. But Frank happened to know that one of these had been only partly covered in this manner, and that there was plenty of room whereby he could thrust the barrels of his gun out, in order to shoot.

This he did without any further delay.

The boom of the shotgun sounded loud in the confined space of the houseboat cabin.

"Whoop!" yelled Bluff, as he came tumbling down from his elevated berth, doubtless under the impression that an earthquake had dropped in upon them for a visit.

Jerry followed suit instantly. Meanwhile, Frank was feeling for his little electric torch, which he had kept within reach of his hand, in case he wanted to see the time during the night, an alarm clock being one of the fixtures of the Pot Luck equipment.

"What under the sun happened?" gasped Jerry; and just then Frank snapped on the bright ray of light, when they immediately saw that he was holding his gun in the other hand.

"Get some clothes on, fellows!" said Frank, quietly; yet smiling to see the blank expression on the faces of the pair who had been aroused as if by the discharge of a cannon.

"What did you shoot, Frank?" demanded Bluff, as, in obedience to the words of one who was looked up to as the leader of the set, he began to draw on a pair of trousers, with the others following suit.

"Nothing," replied Frank.

"But say, you didn't do that just to give us a scare; that wouldn't be like you, Frank," ventured Jerry. "If it were Bluff here, I'd think that was the case, because he's always trying some joke or other. Tell us, Frank, what's up?"

"We heard some wild animal trying to get in here, and Frank shot it through one of the windows!" Will declared, solemnly; for that was just what he believed had happened.

"Did you, Frank; and how could you see to do it, with the night so dark outside?" Jerry demanded.

"Will heard the sound," Frank explained, "but it was no animal at all, only some person trying to get in."

"Tell me that; will you!" burst out Bluff. "Trying to rob us the very first night out! Lucky there's a bolt on the door, as well as a padlock outside; and that we thought to shoot it home. But, Frank, did you hit him; and do you think the poor critter is lying out there now, badly hurt?"

"Don't be foolish, Bluff!" exclaimed Frank, indignantly. "You know me better than to think I'd aim at a human being, when there was no need of it. I just banged away up in the air to give him a scare. And I rather think it filled the bill all right."

"Let's go out and see," suggested the impetuous Bluff, starting for the door.

"Hold on a minute, till everybody is ready," cautioned Frank; "better get your shoes on, too, boys; because it's cold on deck at this time of night."

Pr

esently all pronounced themselves as ready to stroll outside, and see what was awaiting them. From the varied assortment of dangerous weapons which the chums brandished, one might think they anticipated finding the deck fairly swarming with river pirates; and that a serious mix-up was in store. Will carried the hatchet; Bluff his pump-gun, about which the others were always railing; Jerry had a rifle; while, as we know, Frank still kept his reliable double-barreled present handy.

"Shall I open the door now?" demanded the impatient and daring Bluff.

"Yes, and be careful how you use that gun of yours," warned Frank, who knew the hasty ways of the other of old.

So Bluff flung the door wide open, and they poured forth. He carried a lighted lantern in addition to his gun; and Frank still had that useful little electric hand-torch in commission, so that there promised to be plenty of light provided, by means of which the whole deck, from stem to stern, could be illuminated.

Bluff experienced a sense of bitter disappointment, for nothing jumped at him as he had really hoped might be the case. Instead, all seemed peaceful and quiet out there under the summer stars. The river whined and gurgled as it continued to run against an obstruction in the way of the broad houseboat; little wavelets lapped the shore close by; but there was no other sound save the far-away wheeze of a towboat's exhaust, as it bucked the current of the swift-flowing river, with possibly a raft of loaded barges in charge.

"Why, there's not a thing here, Frank," exclaimed Bluff, looking around him, and blinking like an owl at the light of his own lantern.

Frank had not expected to discover anybody still crouching there on the deck. He believed that sudden roar of his gun would be enough to send the trespasser flying, whoever he might be.

"I was pretty sure we wouldn't find him here," he remarked, casting his eyes around at the same time.

"Say, it couldn't be that some animal gnawing, a rat maybe, fooled you bad, I suppose, Frank?" suggested the doubting Jerry.

"How about that, Will?" asked the one addressed, turning to his chum.

"Oh! I heard it as plain as anything," Will hastened to declare, vehemently; "and just as Frank said, it must have been somebody trying to open the door. First I thought of panthers and alligators and all those things; but now I just know it must have been a man, because he turned the knob of the door, and even shook it a little as if he might be angry because it was fast."

"Listen to the nerve of that!" exclaimed Bluff. "Thinkin' we expected to keep open house on this trip. Tried the door, did he? Wanted to come in and join the Outdoor Chums! Perhaps if we'd left that door unfastened we'd have waked up in the morning to find a tramp sleeping on the floor of the cabin."

"What is it, Frank?" asked the nervous Will, upon seeing the other start forward.

For answer Frank stooped down, and seemed to pick some object from the deck, just where the gunwale of the boat cast a little shadow.

"This doesn't belong to anybody here, I reckon?" he remarked, holding aloft the object he had found.

"A hat, and an old slouch one at that!" exclaimed Will.

"I pass!" remarked Bluff, immediately.

"Give me the go-by, Frank; never saw it before now!" called out Jerry, after he had taken one good look at the head covering, which differed in every way from such hats as the boys carried along with them.

"And," Frank went on to say, "as it certainly wasn't here when we went to bed, we can set it down as pretty sure the fellow who crept aboard the Pot Luck while we were asleep dropped it, when he had to cut and run so lively after my shot."

"That goes," observed Jerry, with conviction in his voice; for he evidently was in agreement with all that Frank said.

"Looks to me like a tramp's hat," remarked Will, as he bent closer to examine. "But see here, Frank, there's some marks inside; aren't there?"

"Letters, too," echoed Jerry, crowding closer.

Frank held up the hat so that the light from his torch would cover the inside; and there, sure enough, the boys discovered three letters fastened to the crown of the old felt head covering.

They stared at them as if hardly able to believe their eyes, and there was a good reason for this, since the letters were:

"My goodness!" ejaculated Will, he being the first to recover his breath; and what he said seemed to voice the sentiments of his chums, for they were all of one mind there; "M. T. S. it says, fellows; and don't you see those letters stand for Marcus Stackpole, the very man Uncle Felix warned us never to let come aboard of his houseboat! And here he's tried to break in the very first night we're on the river! Don't it beat everything though, what it all means?"

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