He next sighted along the line they proposed to follow out first till his eye encountered a slender young spruce on the far side of the clearing. With this for a marker he slipped the cover on the box while several bees were within, and taking it with him walked straight to the tree he had sighted. On the nearest stump he placed the box and removed the cover. At once several laden bees reestablished their bearings and started for home. It was the quick return of one of these which had drawn from Spud the exclamation exposing his ignorance of the sex of working bees.
The northern edge of the clearing marked "bounds" in that direction for the camp, and only by special permission might the boys go beyond. Spud, less reckless than Billy, or at all events less certain that even a " barrel " of honey would buy Dr. Merriam's pardon for deliberate infraction of the rules, hesitated.
"Let's give it up now, and run the line out to-morrow," he suggested. "We can tell the big chief and get his permission to go out of bounds."
Billy balked. "Oh, you quitter!" he growled. " Look at that line runnin' now and you talkin' about givin' it up ! Say, Spud, I picked you to come in on this with me 'cause I thought you had some sand. You can go on back, but I'm goin' to find that tree ! It can't be more'n a little ways in anyway, the bees are making such a short flight. Anyhow, who's going to know if we do go out of bounds ? We can find the tree and then to-morrow ask permission to go out of bounds. Then we can open up the tree and get the honey."
The excitement of the hunt led Spud to lend an all too willing ear to Billy's argument. " All right," he growled, " I'm with you, but let's hurry up and get back."
Imprisoning some bees as before they once more moved forward and after a short advance into the woods stopped to reestablish the line. This time the bees were back so quickly that Billy knew that the tree was close by, but the trees were so thick that it was difficult to watch the bees and the amateur hunter was afraid that by continuing to advance along the line they might pass the tree without seeing it.
He therefore stationed Spud by the box and himself went forward along the line of flight as far as Spud could see him, where he blazed a tree. Returning he took the bee box with some captives and started off at right angles. At about one hundred and fifty yards he stopped, set his captives free and soon had a line started from that point.
The locating of the tree was now simply a matter of each boy moving forward along his line and where the two lines intersected the tree would be found. They met at the foot of a huge pine. Some fifty feet from the ground was a long gray strip from which the bark had fallen away, denoting dead wood and a probable hollow. Studying this carefully they finally made out a hole just beneath the stub of a dead branch, and circling near this some tiny specks which Billy promptly pronounced bees.
" We've got it! " he whooped joyously. " We've got it! Who says there isn't some class to us as scouts ? "
" Bet that hollow comes half-way down the tree. Must be a ton of honey in it," said Spud examining the tree critically. " What you goin' to do, Billy ? "
" Goin' up to have a look at it," said Billy, taking off his coat.
" Aw, quit your kiddin'; you can't climb that! " replied Spud.
Billy pointed to a young spruce growing close to it. " I can climb that, though," said he, suiting the action to the word.
" Well, hurry up," growled Spud. " It's gettin' darker'n blazes, and we'll be in a pretty pickle if we don't get out of here mighty quick."
In the excitement the boys had lost all track of time and the shadows had begun to steal upon them unawares. Up above it was still bright, but in the hollows it was already dusk.
Billy had reached a point where he could see the entrance clearly. A few belated stragglers were hurrying home with the last of the day's spoils. Extending down from the entrance was a crack which widened slightly just opposite Billy's position, and through it he got a glimpse of weather-stained comb. The temptation was too great to be resisted. Working out on a branch of the spruce he managed to reach over to the tree and with his knife split off a sliver on one side of the crack. Then things happened.
Spud, impatiently waiting below, was startled by a wild yell. He looked up to see Billy descending at a rate that at first led him to think that the boy had lost his balance and was falling. In fact he was literally dropping from branch to branch. How he did it he never could tell. The last twenty feet he dropped clear, landing with a thump that for a minute knocked all the wind out of him.
Spud, genuinely concerned, hastened over to him and then for the first time realized what had happened. Billy had not come down alone. A sharp pain beneath one eye admonished Spud of the fact, and another on his chin drove the fact home. Yes, Billy had company, and the company was fighting mad.
Spud reached for Billy's jacket and wildly fought the enemy, while Billy scrambled to his feet. Then, heedless of direction, they fled, their one thought to get as far as possible from the wrath which was being visited upon them. Crashing through the underbrush, falling over mouldering logs, barking their shins, bumping into trees in the fast gathering dusk, they ran till breath gave out.
The pursuit had been short, for the approach of night dampened the ardor of the avenging insects, and the hive had quieted down long before the boys stopped running. When finally they did stop and were convinced that they had nothing more to fear from the hot-tempered little fighters, they sat down to take account of injuries. Billy had been stung in half a dozen places on the face, four places on his hands and three on his legs. Spud had fared better, having but half a dozen in all, the most painful being the one beneath the eye, which was already puffed and swelling rapidly. Billy was considerably bruised from his fall from the tree, and Spud had scraped the skin from one shin.
Spud's concern for Billy, excited by the latter's fall, had given place to righteous wrath. " A pretty bee hunter you are ! " he sputtered. " What in blazes was you trying to do anyway? I've a good mind to punch your head for getting me into this mess."
He advanced threateningly. Then Billy's pathetic appearance, with his bruised and swollen face, cooled his wrath as suddenly as it had blazed up.
" I guess you've got yours all right, all right, and don't need nothin' more," he muttered. " Now let's get out of here. This blamed eye of mine will be closed tight pretty quick. Gee, how those little duffers can sting! "
Billy had " got his." There was no doubt about that. The stings were paining him acutely and he was stiff and sore from his bruises. But underneath his happy-go-lucky, careless disposition was the stuff from which true manhood is built. It showed now.
" Spud," he said slowly, " it's my fault all the way through. It's my fault that we came out of bounds, and it's all my fault that we got stung. I'm sorry, and when we get back to camp I'm going straight to the big chief and tell him that I'm to blame."
" 'Tain't your fault no more'n mine," growled Spud. " Come, get a move on. Which way do we go ? "
Billy looked up startled, to see the same look reflected in Spud's face. For the first time the boys realized that in their mad flight they had given no thought to direction. Neither had the remotest idea of where the camp lay or even the direction of the bee tree. And for the first time they had become aware of how dark it had grown.
" Billy, we're lost! " whispered Spud, a look of panic in his face.