The minutes passed on leaden wings. What was the matter? Why didn't Jim whoop when he found the tree as he had agreed to do ? Could he have overrun it ? A slight rustle in the bushes on the edge of the clearing some thirty yards to the right caught Billy's attention. Something was moving there. To kill time he started to investigate. " Probably a porcupine," he muttered to him self, as he softly stole forward.
Creeping on hands and knees to the shelter of a fallen tree trunk he cautiously raised his head and peeped over. Instead of the expected porcupine he saw a little brown furry animal vainly trying to pull over an old log, and emitting funny little discontented whines as it tugged. At first glance it looked something like a clumsy puppy, and then the truth flashed across Billy and made his eyes pop out. It was a bear cub, a very little fellow at that.
With impulsive Billy to act first and think afterward was ever the governing principle. It was so now. Quietly dropping down behind the tree trunk he hastily slipped off his jacket. Then rising to his feet he reached forward and threw it over the head of the unsuspecting little animal, recklessly throwing himself after it. For a few minutes there was a desperate struggle accompanied by muffled squeals. Then Billy succeeded in getting the wildly clawing fore-paws smothered in the folds of the jacket and, pinning down the stout little hind-legs, he had his victim helpless.
" Gee, now I've got him what'll I do with him ?" he panted. A sudden inspiration C&m6 to hirn. Ho remembered noticing a huge hollow si in up in tin; mid din of tin; clearing if he could get him over to that and drop him into it he could be held prisoner until the bee hunters returned. Wrapping the enveloping jacket still tighter around the imprisoned head and fore-paws Billy gathered the struggling bundle in his arms and started for the stump.
Just before he reached it pandemonium broke loose in the woods behind him. There were wild yells in all key:-: horn Big Jim's deep base to Chip Barley's shrill falsetto, Billy Chuckled. "Must have stirred them bees up something awful," he muttered. " Funny I didn't, hear 'em choppin'. There, you little fend ! " He dropped I be cub into the hollow and spread the jacket over the top. Then for the first time he realized that a baby as small as his captive must have a mother at no j/n at, distance. His face went a trifle pale under its coat of Ian. "I wish them fellers would quit fightin' bees and come out," he muttered.
Almost with the thought his wish was gratified. Chip came first. The bee veil was still over his head and he looked not on the order of his coming. He floundered out of the brush, caught a heedless toe under a stick and tell headlong. He was up in a Hush, blindly struggled through a raspberry tangle thai he might have gOM around, bumped into a half-hidden sunup and went down again With a little moan. Then, he was on his feet again and passed Hilly as if he was trying to break the hundred yard sprint record.
Tug was a good second, and he had little advantage over Chip in the method of his coming. He seemed to have some pressing engagement back at camp, and was "going strong" when he passed Billy.
Walter and Woodhull appeared next, but as they were unencumbered by veils they picked their footing with more discretion, and Louis stopped as soon as he reached the open, Walter following his example half-way to Billy, lastly appeared Big Jim, who came out of the woods leisurely, his axe still in his band. Jim was grinning. It was clear to Billy that something had happened, but that whatever it was the guide considered the danger past now.
Something had happened. Following the guide in single file they had proceeded some distance when they became aware of a humming sound which steadily increased in volume as they advanced. Suddenly Big Jim abruptly halted and held up a warning hand. There was a puzzled look on the guide's face.
" Somethin' has made them bees plumb mad fer sartin," he whispered.
The volume of sound increased. It was as if off in the tree tops beyond a huge top was spinning. The brush was still too thick for them to see the tree itself. Then into the steady hum of the bees there broke a new note, half growl, half whine, followed by the ripping sound of rent wood.
The guide's face cleared. " You boys are goin't' see somethin' in a minute yer won't likely ever see agen. Now come on, and be mighty careful about not makin' no noise," he whispered.
A few feet further on the thick young growth opened up and they came in full view of Billy's bee tree. What they saw drew a start-Jed exclamation from the three younger boys, at once silenced by a warning hiss from Big Jim. There, fifty feet from the ground, gripping the tree with hind legs and one huge fore arm, was an immense black bear. The long claws of the paw that was free had been hooked into the entrance hole and a long strip the length of the crack which had led to Billy's undoing a few days previous had been torn out, exposing the hollow packed with comb. Bruin was then occupied in scooping out great pieces of comb dripping with honey and transferring them to her mouth, whining and growling and stopping every other second to slap at the bees clustered in an angry cloud about her head.
What no one did see, because all eyes were turned up instead of on the ground, were two little brown bundles of fur that scurried for the shelter of a windfall.
" Ain't a mite o' danger," whispered the guide, noting the panicky look on some of the faces. " In 'bout a minute yer'll see th' worst scared bar in the North Woods. Now don't run when she comes down if yer don't want th' hull camp laughin* at yer," he warned, seeing Chip and Tug already beginning to edge away.