Chapter XI. Bag-Baiting the 'Possums

"Guess you fellows are forgetting about that 'possum hunt?" drawled Cad Morgan as the boys came noisily into camp.

"'Possum hunt?" cried Stacy, brightening at once.

"I wasn't talking to you," answered Morgan witheringly. "Don't break in when men are talking."

"Men? Where are your men? I want to go 'possum hunting, too."

"So do I," chorused Ned and Walter. Tad did not speak. He was watching the Rangers to see if they meant it. Evidently they did.

"That's so," answered Dippy. "We had plumb forgotten all about it. We better get a move on or we won't have that 'possum for breakfast. Ever go bag-baiting for 'possum?" he demanded wheeling on Tad.

"I never did."

"Neither did I," interjected Stacy crowding in between Tad and the Ranger. "I want to bag a 'possum."

"Better look sharp or the 'possum will bag you," warned Pete Quash.

"I guess I'm not afraid of any 'possum that ever climbed a tree. Haven't I killed lions and bob cats and fought Indians, and---"

"Stop it!" roared Dippy. "I'll be worse'n my name if you keep filling me up with that line of talk."

"What's bag-baiting 'possum?" asked Walter.

"What! You never heard of bag-baiting?" demanded Cad.

"I never did."

"Well, you fellows are tenderfeet!"

"May we go along and help?" asked Chunky.

"What do you say, fellows?"

"We might let them on a pinch. I suppose they've got to learn some time."

"All right, you fellows may go out and help us, but it's a job, mind you! You'll get sick of it before you've finished."

"No we won't," cried the boys.

"Well, I reckon we'd better be getting the stuff together," said Cad getting up wearily. "Though I'm afraid the roly-poly will plumb scare every 'possum out of the community."

"If they don't run at sight of you, they'll stand for anything short of a ghost," retorted Stacy sarcastically.

Cad did not reply to this fling. He merely grinned. Tad saw more in that grin than did his companions, but he held his peace. He wanted to see the fun, even if it were still further at his own expense.

Preparations for the 'possum hunt were at once begun. Two burlap sacks were procured from somewhere in the camp. These, with several candles and some stout sticks, made up the outfit for the 'possum hunt.

"Where are you fellows going?" called Withem as he saw the outfit starting away.

"Hunting 'possums," answered Dippy.

Lieutenant Withem smiled.

"I hope you bring back some for breakfast," called the professor. "I am fond of 'possum."

"You won't be of the 'possum they catch," warned the lieutenant, in a low tone.

With pistol holsters slapping against their thighs, Rangers and Pony Rider Boys strode from the camp, circling to the left after leaving the rocky pass where they had their resting place. They followed around the base of the mountains for a half mile. The ground was thickly wooded with second growth and mesquite bush.

Cad finally called a halt.

"I reckon we'll go in here," he said.

"Going to leave a bag here?" asked Polly.

"Sure. Here you, Perkins, catch bold of the bag."

"What do I do?" asked Walter.

"Wait; I'll show you."

Morgan very carefully lighted a candle and stuck it into the ground, packing the dirt about it with his knife.

"Now you hold the bag open. Don't move. Don't jump if you see a 'possum light into the bag. You see the light draws them. It hypnotizes them and they jump right into the light. That means they jump into the bag. The minute one hops in all you have to do is to close the bag, sling it over your shoulder and hike back to camp with it."

"That's easy. I could catch 'possums myself if that's all a fellow has to do," declared Stacy.

"It'll be your turn next, Fatty."

It was. After floundering through the bushes for some distance the Rangers stopped.

"Now, Fatty, it's your turn," announced Cad. "You may have to wait around here for an hour or two while we beat up the bushes and drive the 'possum in, but you won't care. You'll be glad you stayed when you get a nice fat 'possum for your breakfast."

"I'll catch him if he comes this way," replied the fat boy.

"You bet you'll catch it," chuckled Dippy.

"How long do I stay here?"

"Till you git a 'possum," answered Polly. "Mebby that'll be in two minutes and mebby not in two hours, but you've got to stand very still. If you move you'll scare the whole pack of them back into their holes."

Stacy squared himself, holding the opening of the bag close up to the burning candle.

"That's right. A little more to the left with the opening," directed Cad, who had constituted himself the master of the hunt. "Now hold it. You other two lads work around the outside. One of you go to the north, the other to the south about a quarter of a mile, then work gradually in, beating the bushes, slamming these clubs against every tree you come to big enough to hold a 'possum. In that way you'll drive them in."

"Yes, sir," answered Tad and Ned very solemnly.

"And go slow. Just take a step at a time, or some of the birds may get by you."

"A 'possum isn't a bird," corrected Stacy.

"You'll think it is after you've hunted one for an hour or two. Now git going, you beaters. Imagine you're beating the bush for lions. That will keep you from going to sleep on the job."

Chunky's eyes grew large.

"See here, you don't want to stand up straight," rebuked Morgan. "You must lean over just like this," bending himself almost double with his nose close to the ground.

For a half hour Stacy Brown maintained his position. By this time his back was aching, perspiration was running down his face and neck in rivulets. Insects of many shapes and forms, attracted by the light, were hopping about, some getting into the fat boy's eyes, nose and ears, others getting under his clothing. But still he held the bag open. No 'possums came his way. Some few thousands of insects did. A large part of these hopped into the bag. Others crawled in.

In the meantime Tad, his face wearing a grin, had walked away, but instead of beating the bush for 'possum, he headed straight for the camp. He heard the Rangers off to the left, as he emerged from the bush. The men were laughing and talking. Butler reached the camp ahead of them. When they came in they were amazed to see him stretched out comfortably in front of the campfire, taking his ease.

"I thought you were hunting 'possum," cried Polly.

"I thought you were hunting 'possum," laughed the others.

The men looked into each others' faces, then burst out laughing.

"Where's the other one?" meaning Rector, who like Tad was to drive the 'possums in.

"He's hunting 'possum," answered Tad. An hour later Ned Rector came sauntering in.

"Hullo, did you drive out any 'possum?" called Cad.

"Narry a 'poss," answered Ned carelessly. "I thought I'd leave them for you fellows. I didn't want to hog the whole game, you know."

"Are the other two holding the bags open?"

"I don't know. I suppose they are. They'll be even with you for that," answered Ned.

"By the way, Mr. Withem," said Tad strolling towards him, "I thought we were going to meet Captain McKay here."

"The captain is not here," replied the lieutenant with some reservation in his tone.

"Will he be here before we leave?"

"I can't say. Captain Billy may be here in the morning, then again he may not. If you miss him here, he will see you some other time. He wants to know you, pardner," smiled the lieutenant. "Where is the fat boy?"

"Holding the 'possum bag down in the bush," answered Tad with a grim smile.

The Rangers were pulling off their boots and one by one crawling into the single tent that did duty as a bedroom for all except the officers, who had a small tent to themselves. The boys were chuckling to themselves. They thought they had a good joke on at least one of the Pony Rider Boys, and perhaps they had.

About two hours after the men had returned to camp, Walter Perkins, with an exclamation of disgust, threw down his bag.

"Let them catch their own 'possums," he said. "I don't believe there are any 'possums in this country to catch. Even if there were we never could get them in a bag this way. I'll bet they have been playing a joke on me. I'm going back to camp."

Half an hour later, Chunky, his back aching like a sore tooth, straightened up with evident effort. The fat boy began to see a light, other than that furnished by the candle.

"I guess I'm the goat," he said regarding the bag reflectively. "Yes, I am the goat all right."

Picking up the candle, Stacy peered into the bag, then he thought some more. The inside of the bag was literally alive with insects. The fat boy quickly closed the bag, twisting the mouth tight and tying it fast with a string. Then blowing out the candle, he shouldered the bag, setting off for camp as Walter had done some thirty minutes before. But Stacy failed to observe the figure of a man near by as the boy stepped out on the plain. This figure followed along behind him at a safe distance, the man chuckling to himself as he watched the boy and the bag. The mysterious stranger was the Ranger lieutenant.

Reaching the silent camp, Stacy slunk in, apparently seeking to avoid being seen. The grinning lieutenant saw the boy slip cautiously to the tent occupied by the sleeping Rangers. There the fat boy very carefully deposited his 'possum bag, first having opened the mouth of it, after which he slipped away to his own tent and crawled into bed. But Stacy did not go to sleep at once. He lay there listening, gazing up at the roof of the tent through which he could make out the faint light of the sky.

Some twenty minutes elapsed when the boy sat up, thinking he had heard a sound from the other tent. This became a certainty just a few minutes later when a great uproar arose in the tent of the Rangers. Loud voices were heard, threats and shouts. The hundred and fifty-eight varieties of bugs that the fat boy had brought in in his 'possum bag, were getting in their deadly work on the persons of the Rangers. Chunky had turned the tables on his tormentors most beautifully.