“The fire will be just the thing,” laughed Tom quietly. “Come on and gather the wood with me. Alf! Oh, you Alf Drew!”
But the cigarette fiend was not in evidence If he heard, he did not answer.
“We might as well pay that imitation boy for his time and let him go,” muttered Harry.
“Oh, I hardly think so,” dissented Reade. “It’s worth some time and expense to see if we can’t make something more nearly resembling a man out of him.”
The fire was soon crackling merrily. Tom led the way to a thicket an eighth of a mile from camp. Here he produced from hiding three repeating rifles and several boxes of ammunition.
“We’ll hold on to these,” Hazelton said.
“For what reason?”
“They’ll come in handy to steer off that other crowd.”
“I wouldn’t be bothered with keeping the rifles about camp,” Tom retorted, as they started backward.
“But say! Gage’s man that went to Dugout will soon be back. Do you forget that he carries a rifle?”
“Jim Ferrers will be back at about the same time,” Tom rejoined. “They’ll have rifles until the camp will look like an outdoor arsenal. We don’t want these added rifles around camp. Besides, if we kept ’em we’d soon begin to feel like thieves with other folks’ property.”
“What are you going to do with these guns, then?”
“By tomorrow,” Reade proposed, “I rather expect to put these guns out where Gage’s crew can find them again.”
“Well, you’re full of faith in human nature, then!” gasped Harry.
“Wait and see what happens,” begged Tom.
When they stepped back into camp Tom threw the magazine of one of the rifles open, extracting the cartridges. Then he stepped over and carefully deposited the rifle across the middle of the fire.
“I might have known!” cried Hazelton.
The other two rifles were soon disposed of in the same manner.
“Let the rifles cook in the fire for an hour,” smiled Reade,” and the barrels will be too crooked for a bullet ever to get through one again.”
“What are you going to do with the cartridges, though?”
“Fire a midnight salute with them,” Tom answered briefly. “Wait and you’ll hear some noise.”
Alf Drew cautiously approached camp when he felt the pangs of hunger. The cigarette fiend must have been satisfied, for Tom and Harry had already gotten the meal. But Reade, without a word of rebuke to their supposed helper, allowed young Drew to help himself to all he wanted in the way of hot food and coffee.
Bringing midnight two hours nearer—–that is to say, at ten o’clock, Tom and Harry, aided this time by Alf, built a large fire-pile in a gully at a safe distance from camp. The wood was saturated with oil, a powder flash laid, then Tom laid a fuse-train. Lighting the fuse, the three speedily decamped.
Presently they saw the flames of the newly kindled fire shooting up through the trees. Then the volleying began, for Tom had carefully deposited through the fire-pile all the captured cartridges.