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´╗┐Title: Boy Scouts on a Long Hike - Or, To the Rescue in the Black Water Swamps
Author: Fletcher, Archibald Lee
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Boy Scouts on a Long Hike - Or, To the Rescue in the Black Water Swamps" ***

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BOY SCOUTS ON A LONG HIKE
or
To the Rescue in the Black Water Swamps

By
Archibald Lee Fletcher

Chicago
M. A. DONOHUE & COMPANY

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Copyright 1913
M. A. DONOHUE & CO.
CHICAGO

------------------------------------------------------------------------

CONTENTS

Chapter                                   Page

I--THE BOYS OF THE BEAVER PATROL             7
II--HELPING NOODLES                         16
III--THE GENTLE COW                         26
IV--IN ALABAMA CAMP                         35
V--A HELPING HAND                           44
VI--THE HOME-COMING OF JO DAVIES            53
VII--INNOCENT OR GUILTY?                    62
VIII--"WELL, OF ALL THINGS!"                71
IX--THE RUNAWAY BALLOON                     81
X--DUTY ABOVE ALL THINGS                    90
XI--THE TRAIL IN THE SWAMP                  99
XII--WHERE NO FOOT HAS EVER TROD           108
XIII--THE OASIS IN THE SWAMP               117
XIV--JUST IN THE NICK OF TIME              126
XV--ON THE HOME-STRETCH                    135
XVI--"WELL DONE, BEAVER PATROL!"           146

------------------------------------------------------------------------

BOY SCOUTS ON A LONG HIKE
Or, To the Rescue in the Black Water Swamps



CHAPTER I

THE BOYS OF THE BEAVER PATROL


"They all think, fellows, that the Beaver Patrol can't do it!"

"We'll show 'em how we've climbed up out of the tenderfoot class; hey,
boys?"

"Just watch our smoke, that's all. Why, it's only a measly little
twenty-five miles per day, and what d'ye think?"

"Sure Seth, and what's that to a husky lot of Boy Scouts, who've been
through the mill, and wear merit badges all around? Huh! consider it as
good as done right now!"

Half a dozen boys who wore khaki uniforms, were chattering like so many
magpies as they stood in a little group on an elevation overlooking the
bustling Indiana town of Beverly.

Apparently they must have been practicing some of the many clever things
Boy Scouts delight to learn, for several of the number carried signal
flags; two had pieces of a broken looking-glass in their possession;
while the tall lad, Seth Carpenter, had a rather sadly stained blanket
coiled soldier fashion about his person, that gave off a scent of smoke,
proving that he must have used it in communicating with distant
comrades, by means of the smoke code of signals.

Besides Seth there were in the group Jotham Hale, Eben Newcomb, Andy
Mullane, Fritz Hendricks, and a merry, red-faced boy who, because of his
German extraction, went by the name of "Noodles Krafft."

The reader who has not made the acquaintance of these wide-awake scouts
in previous volumes of this Series will naturally want to know something
about them, and hence it might be wise to introduce the members of the
Beaver Patrol right here.

Eben was the official bugler of Beverly Troop. He had been made to take
this office much against his will, and for a long time had the greatest
difficulty in getting the "hang" of his instrument, so that his comrades
guyed him most unmercifully over the strange medleys he used to bring
forth when meaning to sound the various "calls." But of late Eben seemed
to have mastered his silver-plated bugle, and was really doing very
well, with an occasional lapse excepted.

Andy was a Kentucky boy, but outside of a little extra touch of pride,
and a very keen sense of his own honor, you would never know it.

Seth was the champion signal sender, and delighted to study up
everything he could discover concerning this fascinating subject.

Fritz, on his part, chose to make an especial study of woodcraft, and
was forever hunting for "signs," and talking of the amazing things which
the old-time Indians used to accomplish along this line.

As for good-natured Noodles, if he had any specialty at all, it lay in
the art of cooking. When the boys were in camp they looked to him to
supply all sorts of meals that fairly made their mouths water with
eagerness to begin operations long before the bugle of Eben sounded the
"assembly."

Last of all the group, was Jotham Hale, a rather quiet boy, with an
engaging face, and clear eyes. Jotham's mother was a Quaker, or at least
she came from the peace-loving Friends stock; and the lad had been early
taught that he must never engage in fights except as a very last resort,
and then to save some smaller fellow from being bullied.

On one occasion, which no one in Beverly would ever forget, Jotham had
proven that deep down in his heart he possessed true courage, and grit.
He had faced a big mad dog, with only a baseball bat in his hands, and
wound up the beast's career right on the main street of the town, while
everybody was fleeing in abject terror from contact with the animal.

Because in so doing Jotham had really saved an old and nearly blind
veteran soldier from being bitten by the terrible brute, he had been
adjudged worthy to wear the beautiful silver merit badge which is sent
occasionally from Boy Scout Headquarters to those members of the
organization who have saved life at great peril to themselves.

But Jotham was not the only one who proudly sported a badge. In fact,
every one of the eight members of the Beaver Patrol wore a bronze medal
on the left side of his khaki jacket. This had come to them because of
certain services which the patrol had rendered at the time a child had
been carried away by a crazy woman, and was found, later on, through the
medium of their knowledge of woodcraft.

Of course there were two more boys connected with the patrol, who did
not happen to be present at the time we find them resting on their way
home after a rather strenuous afternoon in the open.

These were Paul Prentice, the patrol leader, and who served as acting
scout master when Mr. Alexander was unable to accompany them; and "Babe"
Adams, the newest recruit, a tenderfoot who was bent on learning
everything connected with the game.

They had gone home a little earlier than the rest, for reasons that had
no connection with the afternoon's sport, each of them having a pressing
engagement that could not be broken. "Babe" had been nick-named in the
spirit of contrariness that often marks the ways of boys; for he was an
unusually tall, thin fellow; and so far as any one knew, had never
shirked trouble, so that he could not be called timid in the least.

"No use hurrying, fellows," declared Seth, as he flung himself down on a
log that happened to be lying near the edge of a little precipice,
marking the abrupt end of the shelf which they had been following, so
that to descend further the scouts must pass around, and pick their way
down the hillside.

"That's so," added Jotham, following suit, and taking great care not to
knock his precious bugle in the least when making the shift; "for one,
I'm dead tired after such a hard afternoon. But all the same, I want
you to know that I'm in apple-pie condition for that long hike, or will
be, after a night's rest."

"What d'ye suppose made Mr. Sargeant offer a prize if the Beaver Patrol
could walk to Warwick by one road, and back along another, a distance of
just an even hundred miles, between sunrise of four days?" and Fritz
looked around at his five comrades as though inviting suggestions.

"Because he's fond of boys, I reckon," remarked Andy. "They tell me he
lost two splendid little fellows, one by drowning, and the other through
being lost in the forest; and when he learned what sort of things the
scouts practice, he said he was in favor of encouraging them to the
limit."

"Well, we want to get busy, and show Mr. Sargeant that we're going to
give him a run for his money," said Seth.

"We've all seen the cup in the window of the jewelers in town, and it
sure is a beauty, and no mistake," added Jotham.

"Don't anybody allow himself to think we can't cover that hundred miles
inside the time limit. You know how Paul keeps telling us that
confidence is more'n half the battle," Fritz went on to say.

"You pet we want dot gup, undt we're yust bound to get der same,"
observed Noodles, who could talk quite as well as any of his mates, but
who liked to pretend every now and then, that he could only express
himself in "broken English," partly because it pleased him and at the
same time amused his mates.

"We're right glad to hear you say that, Noodles," declared Seth, with a
wink in the direction of the others; "because some of us have been
afraid the hike might be too much for you, and Eben."

"Now, there you go again, Seth," complained the bugler, "always
imagining that because I seldom blow my own horn----" but he got no
further than this, for there broke out a shout, from the rest of the
boys.

"That's where you struck it right, Eben!" cried Seth, "because in the
old days you seldom did blow your own horn; but I notice that you're
improving right along now, and we have hopes of making a champion bugler
out of you yet."

"Of course that was just a slip; but let it pass," remarked Eben,
grinning in spite of the fact that the joke was on him. "What I meant to
say was that because I don't go around boasting about the great things
I'm going to do, please look back on my record, and see if I haven't got
there every time."

"Sure you have," admitted Seth, "and we give you credit for bull-dog
stubbornness, to beat the band. Other fellows would have thrown the
bugle into the bushes, and called quits; but you kept right along
splitting our ears with all them awful sounds you called music. And say,
if you can show the same kind of grit on this long hike we're going to
try, there ain't any doubt but what we'll win out."

"Thank you, Seth; you're a queer fish sometimes, but your heart's all
right, underneath the trash," observed Eben, sweetly; and when he talked
like that he always put a stop to the other's teasing.

"How about you, Noodles; d'ye think you're good for such a tough walk?"
asked Fritz, turning suddenly on the red-faced, stout boy, who was
moving uneasily about, as though restless.

"Meppy you don't know dot me, I haf peen practice on der quiet dis long
time, so as to surbrize you all," came the proud reply. "Feel dot
muscle, Seth, undt tell me if you think idt could pe peat. Gymnastics I
haf take, py shiminy, till all der while I dream of chinning mineself,
hanging py one toe, undt all der rest. Meppy you vill surbrised pe yet.
Holdt on, don't say nuttings, put wait!"

He put on such a mysterious air that some of the boys laughed; but
Noodles only smiled broadly, nodded his head, and made a gesture with
his hand that gave them to understand he was ready and willing to let
time vindicate his reputation.

"Hadn't we better be moving on?" remarked Andy.

"Yes, the sun's getting pretty low in the west, and that means it must
be near supper time," said Fritz, who was the possessor of a pretty
brisk appetite all the time.

"Oh! what's the use of hurrying?" Seth went on to say, shifting his
position on the log, and acting as though quite content to remain an
unlimited length of time. "It won't take us ten minutes to get there,
once we start; fifteen at the most. And I like to walk in just when the
stuff is being put on the table. It saves a heap of waiting, you know."

"That's what it does," Eben echoed. "Because, if there's anything I hate
to do, it's hanging around while they're finishing getting grub ready."

"Here, quit walking all over me, Noodles!" called out Fritz, who had
coiled his rather long legs under him as well as he could, while
squatting there on the ground.

"I haf nodt der time to do all dot," remarked the German-American boy,
calmly, "idt would pe too pig a chob. Oh! excuse me off you blease,
Fritz; dot was an accident, I gif you my word."

"Well, don't stumble across me again, that's all," grumbled the other,
watching Noodles suspiciously, and ready to catch him at his tricks by
suddenly thrusting out a foot, and tripping him up--for Noodles was so
fat and clumsy that when he took a "header" he always afforded more or
less amusement for the crowd.

It was not often that Noodles displayed a desire to play tricks or joke,
which fact made his present activity all the more remarkable; in fact he
was developing a number of new traits that kept his chums guessing; and
was far from being the dull-witted lad they had formerly looked upon as
the butt of all manner of practical pranks.

While the scouts continued to chat, and exchange laughing remarks upon
a variety of subjects, Noodles kept moving restlessly about. Fritz felt
pretty sure that the other was only waiting for a good chance to pretend
to stumble over his legs again, and while he pretended to be entering
heartily into the rattling fire of conversation, he was secretly keeping
an eye on the stout scout.

Just as he anticipated, Noodles, as though discovering his chance,
lurched heavily toward him. Fritz, boylike, instantly threw out a foot,
intending to simply trip him up, and give the other a taste of his own
medicine.

Well, Noodles tripped handsomely, and went sprawling headlong in a
ludicrous manner; but being so round and clumsy he rather overdid the
matter; for instead of simply rolling there on the ground, he kept on
scrambling, hands and legs shooting out every-which-way; and to the
astonishment and dismay of his comrades, Noodles vanished over the edge
of the little precipice, close to which the scouts had made their
temporary halt while on the way home!



CHAPTER II

HELPING NOODLES


"Oh! he fell over!" shouted Eben, appalled by what had happened.

"Poor old Noodles! What if he's gone and broke his neck?" gasped Jotham,
turning a reproachful look upon Fritz.

"I didn't mean to go as far as that, fellows, give you my word for it!"
Fritz in turn was muttering, for he had been dreadfully alarmed when he
saw poor Noodles vanish from view in such a hasty fashion.

"Listen!" cried Andy.

"Hellup!" came a faint voice just then.

"It's Noodles!" exclaimed Fritz, scrambling over in the direction of the
spot where they had seen the last of their unfortunate chum.

"Oh! perhaps he's gone and fractured his leg, and our family doctor,
meaning Paul, ain't along!" groaned Eben.

All of them hastened to follow after the eager Fritz, and on hands and
knees made for the edge of the shelf of rock, from which in times past
they had sent many a flag signal to some scout mounted on the roof of
his house in town.

Fritz had more of an interest in discovering what had happened to the
vanished scout than any of his comrades. Possibly his uneasy conscience
reproached him for having thrust out his foot in the way he did, and
sending poor Noodles headlong to his fate.

At any rate he reached the brink of the descent before any of the rest.
They unconsciously kept their eyes on Fritz. He would serve as a
barometer, and from his actions they could tell pretty well the
conditions existing down below. If Fritz exhibited any symptoms of
horror, then it would afford them a chance to steel their nerves against
the sight, before they reached his side.

Fritz was observed to crane his neck, and peer over the edge of the
shelf. Further he leaned, as though hardly able to believe his eyes.
Then, when some of the rest were holding their breath in expectation of
seeing him turn a white face toward them, Fritz gave vent to a hoarse
laugh. It was as though the relief he felt just had to find a vent
somehow.

Astounded by this unexpected outcome of the near-tragedy the others
hastened to crawl forward still further, until they too were able to
thrust out their heads, and see for themselves what it was Fritz seemed
to be amused at.

Then they, too, chuckled and shook with amusement; nor could they be
blamed for giving way to this feeling, since the spectacle that met
their gaze was comical enough to excite laughter on the part of any one.

Noodles was there all right; indeed, he was pretty much in evidence, as
they could all see.

In falling it happened that he had become caught by the seat of his
stout khaki trousers; a friendly stump of a broken branch connected with
a stunted tree that grew out of the face of the little precipice had
taken a firm grip upon the loose cloth; and since the boy in struggling
had turned around several times, there was no such thing as his becoming
detached, unless the branch broke.

"Hellup! why don't you gif me a handt?" he was shouting as he clawed at
the unyielding face of the rock, while vainly endeavoring to keep his
head higher than his flying heels.

While it was very funny to the boys who peered over the edge of the
shelf, as Noodles would have an ugly tumble should things give way, Andy
and Seth quickly realized that they had better get busy without any more
delay, and do the gallant rescue act.

Had Paul been there he would have gone about it in a business-like way,
for he was quick to grapple with a problem, and solve it in short order.
As it was a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth, one boy suggested
a certain plan, only to have a second advanced as a better method of
getting Noodles out of his unpleasant predicament.

Meantime the poor fellow was kicking, and turning, and pleading with
them not to go back on an old chum, and leave him to such a terrible
fate.

"Der rope--get quick der rope, undt pull me oop!" he wailed.

"That's so, boys, Noodles has struck the right nail on the head!" cried
Seth. "Here, who's carrying that rope right now?"

"Noodles has got it himself, that's what!" exclaimed Eben.

"Did you ever hear of such rotten luck, now?" demanded Seth.

"Hold on!" interrupted Andy, "seems to me I remember seeing him lay
something down over here. Let me look and find out. Whoop! here she is,
boys! That's what I call great luck. Seth, suppose you see if you can
drop the loop over his head."

"Pe sure as you don't shoke me, poys!" called out the dangling object
below, in a manner to prove that he heard all they said.

"Get it over his feet, Seth; then we can yank him up. He won't mind it
for a short time. Some of his brains will have a chance to run back into
his head that way," suggested Eben.

"Make quick, blease!" wailed the unhappy scout, who was growing dizzy
with all this dangling and turning around. "I hears me der cloth gifing
away; or else dot dree, it pe going to preak py der roots. Hurry oop!
Get a moof on you, somepody. Subbose I want to make some squash pie down
on der rocks?"

But Seth was already hard at work trying to coax that noose at the end
of the dangling rope to fall over the uptilted legs of the unfortunate
scout.

"Keep still, you!" he shouted, when for the third time his angling
operations were upset by some unexpected movement on the part of the
struggling boy. "Think I c'n lasso a bucking broncho? Hold your feet up,
and together, if you want me to get you! There, that's the way.
Whoop-la!"

His last shout announced sudden success.

Indeed, the loop of the handy rope had dropped over the feet of Noodles,
and was speedily drawn tight by a quick movement on the part of the
operator.

The balance of the boys laid hold on the rope and every one felt that
the tension was relieved--that is, every one but Noodles, and when he
found himself being drawn upward, with his head down, he probably
thought things had tightened considerably.

As the obliging branch saw fit to let go its tenacious grip about that
time, of course Noodles was soon drawn in triumph over the edge of the
shale, protesting more or less because he was scratched in several
places by sharp edges of the rock.

"Hurrah for Scout tactics; they count every time!" exclaimed Eben.

Fritz was unusually solicitous, and asked Noodles several times whether
he had received any serious hurt as a result of his strange experience.
The German boy felt himself all over, grunting several times while so
doing. But in the end he announced that he believed he was all there,
and beyond a few minor bruises none the worse for his adventure.

"Put you pet me I haf a narrow escape," he added, seriously. "How far
must I haf dropped if dot pully oldt khaki cloth gives vay?"

"All of twenty feet, Noodles," declared Andy.

"Dwenty feets! Ach, petter say dree dimes dot," asserted Noodles. "I
gives you my word, poys, dot it seemed I was on der top of a mountain,
mit a fine chance my pones to preak on der rocks pelow. Pelieve me, I am
glad to pe here."

"I hope you don't think I did that on purpose, Noodles?" asked Fritz,
contritely.

The other turned a quizzical look upon him.

"Tid for tad, Fritz," he remarked, "iff I had nodt peen drying to choke
mit you meepy I might nodt haf met with sooch a shock. Petter luck nexdt
time, hey?"

"I don't know just what you mean, Noodles, blest if I do," remarked
Fritz, with a puzzled look on his face, "but I agree with all you say.
This practical joke business sometimes turns out different from what you
expect. I'm sure done with it."

But then, all boys say that, especially after they have had a little
fright; only to go back to their old way of doing things when the shock
has worn off. And the chances were that Fritz was far from being cured
of his habits.

"How lucky we had the rope along," ventured Jotham, who was coiling up
the article in question at the time he spoke.

"I always said it would come in handy," remarked Eben, quickly and
proudly, "and if you stop to think of the many uses we've put that same
rope to, from yanking a fellow out of a quicksand, to tying up a bad man
who had escaped from the penitentiary, you'll all agree with me that
it's been one of the best investments we ever made."

"That's right," echoed Seth, always willing to give credit where such
was due.

"Ketch me ever going into the woods without my rope," declared Eben.

"Well, do we make that start for home and mother and supper right now;
or are we going to stay here till she gets plumb dark?" asked Fritz,
impatiently, moving his feet out of the way every time anyone approached
too closely, as though possessed by a fear lest he be tempted to repeat
his recent act.

"Come on, everybody," said Eben, making a start, "I refuse to hang out a
minute longer. Seems like I c'n just get a whiff of the steak a sizzling
on the gridiron at our house; and say, when I think of it, I get wild.
I'm as hungry as that bear that came to our camp, and sent us all up in
trees like a covey of partridges."

"If you're as hungry as that after just an afternoon's signal practice,
think what'll happen when we've been hiking all day, and covered our
little forty or fifty miles?" suggested Andy, chuckling.

"Oh! come off, Andy, you don't really mean that, do you?" called out
Eben over his shoulder. "I'm good for twenty-five miles, I think; but
you give me a cold feeling when you talk about fifty. And poor old
Noodles here will melt away to just a grease spot, if the weather keeps
on as warm as it is now."

"Don't let him worry you, Eben," sang out Seth. "I heard Paul telling
how at the most we might try for thirty the second day, so as to get
ahead a bit. But what is going to count in this test is
regularity--keeping up an even pace each day of the four. And chances
are we'll own that fine trophy by the time we get back to Beverly
again."

"Didn't I hear something about our having to register at a lot of places
along the way?" asked Jotham.

"Yes, I believe that's a part of the game," replied Seth. "It's only
right, just to prove that we haven't cut across lots, and shirked any.
Mr. Sargeant and the two members of the committee mean to wait up for us
at each station, and kind of keep an eye on us. I guess they want to
encourage us some, too, when we come in, dusty and tired and feeling
pretty near fagged out.

"Some of the other fellows, Steve Slimmons, Arty Beecher, and two more,
who expect to start our second patrol in the fall, wanted to go along
with us; but Mr. Sargeant preferred to limit it to just the Beavers. He
said we were seasoned scouts by this time, while the other fellows might
be called tenderfeet; and it would be a pity to run chances of losing
the prize, just because one of them softies fell down."

Fritz offered this explanation, and somehow at mention of Steve
Slimmons' name a slight smile could be seen flitting across more than
one face. For well did the scouts remember when this same boy had been
accounted one of the toughest lads in all Milltown, as that part of
Beverly across the railroad tracks was called.

At that time he had been called "Slick" Slimmons, and in many ways he
deserved the name, for he was a smooth customer. But circumstances had
arisen, as told in a previous volume of this series, whereby Steve had
gone through a rather serious experience, and had his eyes opened to the
fact that in leading such a wild life he was carrying the heavy end of
the log.

He had broken with the tough crowd of which he had been a member up to
then, and now was hand in glove with Paul Prentice and his scouts, in
fact considered himself a member of Beverly Troop.

The active lads found little trouble in negotiating the descent leading
down to level ground. Even Noodles had become many times more agile than
before he donned the magical khaki of the scouts; for the various duties
that had to be performed from time to time by every member of the patrol
had done wonders for the slow moving German-American boy.

With their goal now in sight, the six scouts started off at a lively
pace. If any of them felt in the least bit tired he was evidently
determined not to show it to his comrades, or any one they might happen
to meet on the road leading to Beverly. Pride is a great thing at
certain times, and helps ride over many difficulties.

So, in due time they separated, each fellow heading toward his own home.
And the last words they called back to each other were in connection
with the great hike upon which they expected to start on the following
morning, which would be Tuesday.

Many anxious looks were cast upward toward the blinking stars that
night, and speculations indulged in as to the probable kind of weather
that would be doled out to them while on the road.

And more than one scout lay awake long after he went to bed, trying to
lift the curtain that hid the future, just a little way, so as to get a
peep of what was waiting for the Beaver Patrol, but of course without
the least success.



CHAPTER III

THE GENTLE COW


"Paul, how do we hold out for the third day on the hike?"

"Yes, and Paul, please let us know just how much further you expect to
coax the leg weary bunch on today? Not to say that I'm tired; but then I
know Noodles, and another scout not far away right now, are grunting
like fun every little rise in the road we come to," and Seth gave his
head a flirt in the quarter where Eben was anxiously gripping his bugle,
as if in momentary expectation of getting a signal from the patrol
leader to blow the call that would signify a halt.

"It's only four o'clock, fellows," began the acting scoutmaster.

Dismal groans sounded; but with a smile Paul went on to add:

"We've already made our twenty-five miles since sun-up, just this side
of Warwick; but it's a fine day, and I did hope we might hang on a
little while further, so as to cut down our last day's hike a few miles.
It's always the hardest part of the whole thing, the finishing spurt.
But of course, if any of you feel played out we can call it off right
now."

Eben and Noodles braced themselves up at this, and tried to look as
though they had no calling acquaintance with such a thing as fatigue.

"Oh! I'm good for a couple more miles, I guess," declared the former.

"Make idt tree, undt you will see how I holdt oudt!" proudly boasted the
stout boy, who spent half his time mopping his red face; for the day had
been a pretty warm one, so Noodles, who had to carry a third again as
much weight as any of his companions, thought.

"Bully boy!" exclaimed impulsive Seth, "didn't I say they had the sand
to do all we tried. You never would have believed Noodles here could
have covered the ground he has. Scouting has been the making of him, as
it will of any feller that cares to set his teeth together, and just try
real hard."

"I suggest then," went on Paul, his face beaming with pleasure, "that we
take a little rest right here, say of half an hour; and then march along
again for three miles, as near as we can guess. And if we do that,
fellows, it leaves only twenty more for the last day."

"I reckon that silver trophy is as good as won," remarked Andy Mullane.

"Barring accidents; and you never can tell when something may happen,"
added wise Seth.

"Then I hope it will be to you, and not to me," said Eben, who was
rubbing his shin at a place where he had bruised it earlier in the day.

"Have we got enough grub along to last out?" queried Fritz.

All eyes were turned toward Noodles, who generally looked after this
part of the business when they were abroad, either camping or tramping.

"I wouldn't say yes, if Fritz he puts der crimp in dot appetites off
his," was what the cook announced, gravely.

"Then we'll see to it that he gets no more than his regular ration after
this," Paul declared, pretending to look severe.

"Huh! that makes me feel real bad right away, let me tell you, fellers,"
Fritz remarked, touching his belt line with a rueful face. "However do
you think I can fill up all this space here with just one ration? It's
different with some of the rest of the bunch; take Noodles for example,
he hasn't got room for more'n half a ration. I speak for what he can't
make way with."

"Say, there's a chance right now for you to fill up ahead of time!"
exclaimed Eben, as he pointed through the fence; and looking, the scouts
saw a cow standing there, placidly chewing, her cud, and evidently
watching them curiously as she attended strictly to business.

"Sure," Fritz went on to say, quickly, getting to his feet, "she's got
plenty of rations, quarts and quarts of fine rich milk. I've got half a
notion to step in there, and see how it tastes. See here, if I tied a
nickel or a dime in a piece of paper, and attached it to her horn,
wouldn't that be all right, Paul? Ain't scouts got a right to live off
the country as they hike through, 'specially if they pay for what they
take?"

"Well, if it was a case of necessity, now----" began the scoutmaster.

"It is," broke in Eben, who for some reason seemed to want to egg Fritz
on, "our comrade's plumb near starved, you know, and we're talking of
cutting his grub allowance down to half. But I don't think he's got the
nerve to fill up on nice rich fresh milk, that's what. Some people talk
pretty loud, but when you pin 'em down, they say they didn't mean it."

Of course that finished Fritz. If he had been joking before, he now took
the matter in a serious light.

"Huh! that remark don't hit me, Eben," he said, disdainfully, "If it was
a ferocious old bull I might hesitate about trespassing on his field,
but a gentle cow, whoever knew one to act ugly? Here goes, after I've
tied up this nickel in a piece of paper, with a string to it, to fix it
on Sukey's horn. Anybody else feel milk thirsty? Don't all speak at once
now, because I'm first."

Apparently no one else was hankering after fresh milk just then; at
least none of the scouts gave any indication of meaning to accompany the
bold invader.

"If you're really intending to go over the fence and try the milk
supply," suggested Paul. "I'd advise you to leave that red neck scarf
that you're so proud of wearing, behind you, Fritz."

"Yes, that's so," broke in Seth, "cows, as well as bulls, don't fancy
anything red, I've been told. Better leave it with me, Fritz."

"Huh, think I ain't on to your little game, Seth Carpenter," declared
the other, making no move to take off the necktie in question, "don't I
know that you've always wanted that scarf? Ain't you tried to buy it off
me more'n a few times? Not much will I let you hold it. That tie stays
by me. If the poor old cow don't like it, she can do the next best
thing. Now, watch me get my fill, fellers. Milk is the staff of life,
more'n bread; and I always did like it fresh. Here goes."

He clambered up on the top of the fence, while all the other scouts
watched to see how the operation turned out.

"Take care, Fritz," warned Eben, solemnly, "she's got her eye on you,
all right, and she's stopped chewing her cud too. P'raps she may turn
out to be a hooker; you never can tell about cows. And chances are,
she's got a calf up in the barn. You see, a cow is always ugly when she
thinks they're agoin' to steal her calf away, like they did lots of
other times."

"Oh! rats!" sneered the valiant Fritz, drawing his staff over with him,
so as to get a purchase on the ground within the field, and ease his
intended jump.

"Listen, Fritz," added Jotham, "see that little enclosure just back of
where she stands? Looks like it might have been fenced off to protect
some fruit trees or something. Well, if I was in your boots now, and she
made a jump for me, I'd tumble over that same fence in a hurry. A cow's
got horns the same as a bull, and you'll be sorry if ever she tosses
you."

But Fritz had evidently made up his mind, and would not allow anything
to deter him. The more the other scouts threw out these hints the
stronger became his determination to carry his clever scheme to
completion. And when he said he was fond of fresh milk Fritz only told
the truth; though the chances were he would never have accepted such a
risk only for the badgering of Eben and Seth.

Using his long staff in a dexterous way he dropped lightly to the
ground, and immediately started to walk toward the spot where the cow
stood.

She had raised her head a little, and appeared to be observing his
coming with certain suspicious signs.

"Go slow, Fritz; she don't like your looks any too much!" warned Paul,
who had climbed to the top of the rail fence, the better to see what
happened.

Perhaps Fritz himself may have felt a little qualm just about that time,
for the actions of the cow were far from reassuring; but he was too
proud to show anything that seemed to savor of the "white feather"
before his chums, especially after making all the boasts he had.

And so he kept grimly on, even if his knees did begin to knock together
a little, when he actually saw the cow suddenly lower her head, and
throw up the dirt with those ugly looking short horns, to one of which
he had so recently declared he meant to secure the coin he would leave,
to pay for all the milk he expected to consume.

Paul had called out once or twice, words of warning. He also suggested
that it would be wise for the adventurous one to turn back; because, if
appearance went for anything the animal had a bad temper, and would be
apt to give him more or less trouble.

But that had no effect on Fritz, who, having embarked on the venture,
did not mean to back down until absolutely forced to do so.

And so the other five scouts, ranged along the fence, watched to see
what would happen. Perhaps their hearts were beating just a little
faster than ordinary; but if so, that was not a circumstance to the way
Fritz felt his throbbing like a trip hammer, even while he kept steadily
moving ahead.

He started to utter what he meant to be soothing words, as he approached
the gentle bovine. He had heard farmers talking to their cows when
starting to do the milking act, and thought it the proper caper. But
Bossy must have finally made up her mind that this trespasser had a
suspicious look, and meant to carry off the little calf that could now
be heard calling away off beyond a rise where a farm house and stable
evidently lay.

Suddenly she lowered her head, and started toward Fritz. Frenzied shouts
arose from those who were watching the proceedings from a safe distance.

"Run, Fritz! she's coming!" bawled one.

"Remember the fence over there, Fritz, and what I told you!" cried
Jotham.

Fritz did not take the trouble to reply. He could hardly have done so
even had he so desired, for just then he was most actively employed.

At the time the cow made her abrupt plunge toward him the scout could
not have been more than thirty feet away. He was wise enough to realize
that should he attempt to make a wild dash for the fence surrounding the
field, the active four legged animal would be able to overtake him
before he could get half way there. And as the one way left to him Fritz
jumped to one side, in order to avoid contact with those cruel-looking
black horns.

His first act was one of impulse rather than anything else; he just
sprang to one side, and allowed the animal to go surging past, so close
that he could have easily reached out his hand, and touched her flank,
had he chosen to do so.

Of course she would quickly realize that her attack had been a failure,
and recovering, turn again to renew it. He must not be on the same spot
when that time came. And as there was no better opening offered than the
enclosure mentioned by Jotham, he started for the same, with the cow in
full pursuit, and his chums shrieking all sorts of weird advice.

So close was the angry animal behind him that at first Fritz could not
take the time to mount that fence. He chased around it, and as if
accepting the challenge, Bossy did the same, kicking her heels high in
the air, and with tail flying far in the rear.

Fritz managed to keep a pretty good distance ahead of his pursuer, and
as there did not seem to be any particular danger just then, some of the
boys allowed their feelings of hilarity to have full swing, so that
peals of riotous laughter floated to the indignant ears of the
fugitive.

Indeed, Eben laughed so much that he lost his hold, and fell into the
meadow; but it was ludicrous to see how nimbly he clambered up again, as
though fearful lest the cow take a sudden notion to dash that way,
changing her tactics.

Meanwhile Fritz was laying his plans looking to what he would call a
coup. When he had gained a certain distance on the circling cow, so that
he would have time to scramble over the fence, he hastened to put this
scheme into operation.

Fritz had dropped upon the ground, and was evidently panting for breath.
At any rate, the boys, perched like a lot of crows on the distant fence,
could see him waving his campaign hat rapidly to and fro, as though
trying to cool off after his recent lively experience.

"Look at the old cow, would you?" burst out Eben, "she sees him now, I
tell you! Say, watch her try and jump that fence, to get closer
acquainted with our chum. Oh! my stars! what d'ye think of that now;
ain't she gone and done it though?"

While the bugler of Beverly Troop was speaking, the angry cow made a
furious dash forward. Eben had naturally imagined she meant to try and
follow Fritz over the fence but he was wrong. There was a terrific crash
as the head of the charging beast came in contact with the frail fence;
and the next thing they knew the cow had thrown down an entire section,
so that no longer did any barrier separate her from the object of her
increasing fury.



CHAPTER IV

IN ALABAMA CAMP


Fritz was no longer sitting there taking things comfortably, and cooling
himself off by using his hat as a fan.

With the terrific crash the scout was on his feet, ready for further
flight, as he saw the head of the cow not ten feet away from where he
stood.

This time he made straight for another section of the fence, and passed
over it "like a bird," as Seth declared. But evidently fences had little
terror for the aroused cow, since she immediately proceeded to knock
down another section in about the space of time it would take to read
the shortest riot act ever known.

This prompt act again placed her on the same side as the fleeing Fritz.
The loud shouts of his chums warned him of her coming on the scene
again, even if that suspicious crash had failed to do so.

Fritz was becoming used to clambering over fences by now; in fact it
seemed to be something like a settled habit.

The cow saw his lead, and went him one better, for a third crash told
how the poorly constructed fence had gone down before her rush, like a
pack of cards in the wind.

All the while Fritz was changing his location. He calculated that if
only he could hold out for say three more "climbs," he would be in a
position to make a run for the border fence, which was made much more
stoutly then the division one, and would probably turn back even a
swooping bull.

After it was all over, Fritz would demand that his comrades give him
full credit for his cunning lead. Meanwhile he was kept as busy as any
real beaver; getting first on one side of the crumpling fence, and then
on the other; while the cow kept on making kindling wood of the barrier.

Paul took advantage of the animal's attention being wholly centred upon
Fritz, to run out upon the field, and pick up the cast-off staff of the
busy scout. His intention at the time was to render all the assistance
in his power; but discovering that Fritz was rapidly approaching a point
where he could work out his own salvation, the scoutmaster thought
discretion on his part warranted a hasty departure, unless he wished to
take the place his comrade vacated.

The boys on the fence were shouting, and waving their hats, and doing
all manner of things calculated to attract the attention of the "gentle
cow," and cause her to ease up in her attack; but apparently she was not
to be bought off so cheaply, and meant to pursue her advantage to the
bitter end.

Then came the chance for which the artful Fritz had been so
industriously working, when he made one more fling over the remnant of
the enclosure fence, and upon reaching the outside, galloped away toward
the road as fast as his legs could carry him.

Of course the cow chased after him again as soon as she had knocked down
another section of fence; but Fritz seemed to have pretty good wind,
considering all he had been through; and he showed excellent sprinting
powers that promised to put him among the leaders at the next high
school field sports exhibition.

And the other five scouts gave him a hearty cheer when they saw him
nimbly take the high fence on the bound, with those wicked horns not
more than five feet in his rear.

They soon joined the panting one, who greeted his mates with a cheery
grin, as though conscious of having done very well, under such
distracting conditions.

"But you've yet to know whether that milk is as rich as you hoped?"
remarked Paul, smilingly, as he handed Fritz his staff.

"And chances are, you went and lost that blessed nickel you meant to tie
to one of gentle Bossy's horns; what a shame, and a waste of good coin!"
said Seth, pretending to be very much disappointed.

"Huh! getting off pretty cheap at that!" grunted Fritz. "Ketch me tryin'
to milk any cow that's got a calf up in the barn. I'd rather face two
bulls than one like her. Don't ever mention milk to me again; I know
I'll just despise the looks of it from now on. Whew! but didn't she mean
business; and if ever those sharp horns had got attached to me, it would
have been a hard job to break away."

"If you feel rested, and have changed your mind about that same splendid
milk," remarked Paul, "perhaps we'd better be getting along now. Three
miles--why, Fritz, I wouldn't be much surprised if you covered all of
that in the little chase you put up. All you needed to beat the record
for flying was a pair of wings."

Fritz was wonderfully good-natured, and they could not make him angry.
When other boys were apt to scowl and feel "grouchy," Fritz would come
up smilingly after each and every round, ready to take punishment
without limit.

And so they continued to walk along the road, chatting among themselves
as cheerily as footsore and weary scouts might be expected to do when
trying to encourage each other to further exertions.

Every step really meant a good deal to their success, for in the course
of ten minutes Paul declared that another mile had been duly covered.

When they saw another cow inside a fenced enclosure the boys tried by
every argument they could devise to tempt Fritz to try his hand once
more, but he steadfastly declined to accept the dare.

"Say what you like, fellers," he remarked firmly, "me and cows are on
the outs, for this trip anyway. It's somebody else's turn to afford
amusement for the bunch. I've sure done my duty by the crowd. Let me be,
won't you? Tackle Seth there, or Babe Adams. I happen to know that they
like milk just every bit as much as I do. Water's good enough for me,
right now; and here's the spring I've been looking for a long while."

At that they all hastened to discover some spots where it was possible
to lap up a sufficient supply of the clear fluid.

This cooling drink seemed to invigorate the boys, so that when they
started off again it was with a somewhat quicker step, and heads that
were held up straighter than of late.

It enabled them to reel off another mile without any great effort.

"Only one more, and then we've just got to let up on this thing," said
Paul.

"I really believe you're getting tired of it yourself, Mr. Scoutmaster?"
ventured one of the boys, eagerly; for if Paul would only confess to
this, they felt that they could stand their own weaknesses better.

"And that is no joke," laughed Paul, frankly. "You see, I haven't been
hardening my muscles as much lately as when the baseball season was in
full swing. But with two miles placed to our account, we shouldn't be
much worried about how things are coming out. Will we try for that last
mile, boys? It's for you to say!"

He received a unanimous shout of approval, which announced that the
others were of a united mind. And so they kept along the road though
some steps lagged painfully, and it was mainly through the exertions of
the mind that the body was whipped into obeying.

Finally Paul turned to Eben, and made a quick gesture that the bugler
was waiting for, since he immediately raised the shining instrument to
his lips, puffed out his cheeks, took in a tremendous breath, and gave
the call that was next to the "fall in for supper" signal, the most
popular known to the scouts.

"Alabama! Here we rest!" cried Seth, turning aside into the woods after
Paul, who evidently had his eye on a certain location, where he meant to
pitch the third night's camp.

"That's a good idea," remarked Andy, always quick to seize upon anything
that gave a hint concerning his beloved South, "let's call this Alabama
Camp!"

"Put it to a vote," called out Fritz, "all in favor of the same say aye;
contrary no. The ayes have it unanimously. Hurrah for Alabama Camp.
Seems like that's a good restful name; and I hope we sleep right good
here; for most of us are pretty well used up."

"Don't mention that same above a whisper," warned Seth, "because we've
got two awfully touchy chums along, who're always carrying chips on
their shoulders when it comes to the subject of being knocked out. Say,
Paul, did you know about this camp site before; because it's the
dandiest place we've struck on the big hike?"

"Just dumb luck," replied the other, shaking his head in the negative.
"I thought it looked good this way, when I called for a halt. And you're
just about right, Seth; it does fill the bill great. Here's our spring
of clear cold water; and there you have a splendid place to start your
fire, Jotham. Now, let's throw ourselves down for a little while, and
then when we feel rested, we'll get busy doing things."

All of them were only too glad to do as Paul suggested. And when
another ten minutes had slipped past, Jotham struggled to his feet to
wearily but determinedly gather together some material with which to
start a blaze.

When he had it going Noodles realized that it was now up to him to start
getting some supper cooking. They had come in very light marching order,
since Paul realized that if they hoped to win that lovely prize he must
not load any of the boys down with superfluous burdens.

As a rule they depended on the farmers to supply them with such things
as they needed, chiefly eggs and milk. The former they had along with
them, several dozen eggs in fact, purchased from an obliging farmer
earlier in the afternoon, and fortunately carried in other knapsacks
than that of Fritz, who would have smashed the entire supply, had he
been in charge of the same at the time of his exciting adventure with
the cow.

Upon putting it to a vote they decided that they could just as well do
without any milk for one night; especially after Fritz had shown them
how difficult it sometimes was to accumulate a supply.

Of course a coffee pot had been brought along, for somehow a camp must
always seem like a dreary desert without the delicious smell of boiling
coffee at each and every meal that is prepared.

So Noodles made a grand big omelette, using sixteen eggs for the same,
and the two frying pans that had been strapped, one to each pack of a
couple of scouts.

Besides this they had some cheese and crackers, which would help fill
the vacuum that seemed to exist an hour after each and every meal.
Several potatoes for each scout were duly placed in the red ashes of the
fire, and jealously watched, in order that they might not scorch too
badly before being thoroughly roasted.

On the whole, there was no reason for being ashamed of that camp supper.
Everything tasted just "prime," as several of the boys took pains to
say; for they were artful enough to know that by showering words of
praise upon the cook, they might secure his valuable services for all
time to come, because Noodles was open to flattery.

And what was better still, there was an abundant supply for all of them,
regardless of the difference in appetites; Fritz was not stinted in the
least, for he actually declined a further helping, and had to be urged
to clean out the pan just to keep "that little bit of omelet from being
wasted."

Having no tent along, and only a couple of dingy old blankets which they
expected to use for sending smoke signals, should the occasion arise,
the scouts were compelled to resort to more primitive ways of spending
the night than usual. But then Paul had shown them how to sleep with
their heads away from the fire; and he also arranged to keep the small
blaze going during the entire night, since it was apt to get pretty
chilly along about two in the morning.

All these things had been arranged on the first night out, so that by
this time the boys were pretty well accustomed to the novel way of
sleeping. And on the whole they had taken to it fairly well, no one
complaining save when the mosquitoes annoyed them in one camp near the
water.

An hour after supper had been disposed of some of the boys were already
beginning to nod drowsily. And when fellows are just dead tired it seems
a sin to try and keep them awake, especially when there is no need of
it.

So Paul announced that those who wanted to could turn in, while the rest
were enjoined to keep quiet, doing their talking in whispers, so as not
to disturb the sleepers; just as if the discharge of a six pound cannon
close by would bother those weary scouts, once they lost themselves in
the dreamland of Nod.

Babe Adams had just stepped over to get a last drink at the near-by
spring, when the others were surprised to see him come tearing back
again, evidently in great excitement.

"Paul, come over here with me, and you can see it!" he called out.

"See what?" demanded the scoutmaster, at the same time climbing to his
feet.

"Looks like some farmhouse might be afire; because you c'n see the red
flames jumping up like fun!" was the thrilling announcement made by the
tenderfoot scout.



CHAPTER V

A HELPING HAND


"It's a fire, all right!" announced Paul, after he had taken a good
look.

"No question about that," declared Seth, who was right on the heels of
the others, for you could never keep him quiet when there was anything
going on, because he always wanted to be "in the swim."

"Yes, either a house, or a barn ablaze," remarked Eben, sagely.

"Might be only a hay stack, you know," suggested Jotham.

"Don't burn like that to me; I seem to see something of a building every
now and then, when the flames shoot up," Paul went on to remark, for he
was always discovering things upon which to found a reasonable theory.

"How far away does it lie, dy'e think, Paul?" asked Andy.

"Not more than half a mile, I should say," came the reply.

"Just my idea to a dot," Jotham admitted.

"Why, you c'n even hear the crackle of the flames, whenever the night
wind happens to blow this way," Babe Adams asserted; and they all agreed
with him, for the same sound had come to their ears also.

"We might help the poor old farmer, if we only happened to be closer,"
Eben said, in the goodness of his heart.

"And if we didn't feel so bunged-up tired," added Andy.

Somehow the scouts began to show signs of nervousness. Those might seem
like pretty good excuses to some fellows; but when a boy becomes a scout
he somehow looks at things in a different way from in the old days. No
matter how tired he may be, he eagerly seizes on a chance to be useful
to others; to do some good deed, so as to experience the delightful glow
that always follows a helpful act.

"Say, how about it?" began Jotham.

"Could we be useful if we did manage to trot over there, Paul?" Andy
demanded.

"I'm sure we might," answered the scoutmaster, firmly; "and if we're
going, why, the sooner we make a start the better. Seconds count when a
house or barn is on fire. I feel pretty well rested, speaking for
myself; and half a mile each way oughtn't to do us up. We're scouts on a
long hike, and able to do lots of things that other fellows wouldn't
dare attempt."

"Take me along, Paul!" cried Jotham.

"And me!"

"Hope you won't forget that I'm ready to be in the bunch," Seth
exclaimed.

In fact, there was not one out of Paul's seven companions who did not
vociferously inform the leader of the patrol that he was a subject for
the draft.

"You can't all go," decided Paul, quick to decide; "and as two fellows
ought to stay and look after camp while the rest are off, I'll appoint
Noodles and Eben to that duty."

Groans followed the announcement.

"Oh! all right, Paul; just as you say," remarked the bugler, after
giving vent to his disappointment in this manner; "we'll keep guard
while the rest of you are having a bully good time.

"Perhaps something will happen along here to let us enjoy ourselves."

"If you need help let us know it," Paul called back, for he was already
moving off in the direction of the fire, followed by the five lucky
scouts.

"How?" bellowed Noodles; "do we whoop her up, Paul?"

"Sound the assembly, and we'll hurry back," came the answer, as the pack
of boys disappeared in the darkness of the night.

They kept pretty well together, so that none might stray. Consequently,
when one happened to trip over some log or other obstacle that lay in
the path he would sing out to warn his comrades, so as to save them from
the same trouble.

With such a bright beacon ahead there was no trouble about keeping on a
direct line for the fire. And all the while it seemed to be getting more
furious. Indeed, what with the shouts that came to their ears, the
bellowing of cattle, and whinnying of horses, things began to get pretty
lively as they approached the farmyard.

Presently they seemed to break out from the woods, and reach an open
field. Beyond this they could plainly see the fire.

"It's a barn, all right!" gasped Jotham, immediately.

"Yes, and they seem to be afraid that the farmhouse will go, too," added
Andy.

"They're throwing buckets of water on it, sure enough," sang out Babe
Adams.

Now some of the boys could easily have outrun their mates, being
possessed of longer legs, or the ability to sprint on occasion; but they
had the good sense to accommodate themselves to the rest, so that they
were still in a squad when drawing near the scene of the excitement.

A man and a woman seemed to be about the sole persons visible, and they
were laboring like Trojans to keep the fire from communicating to the
low farmhouse that was situated close to the burning barn.

The six scouts must have dawned upon the vision of the sorely pressed
farmer and his wife almost like angels, for the pair were nearly
exhausted, what with the labor and the excitement.

"Buckets--water--let us help you!" was what Paul exclaimed as they came
up.

Cows were running this way and that, bellowing like mad, as though half
crazed.

What with frightened chickens cackling, and hogs grunting in their
near-by pen, the scene was one that those boys would not forget in a
hurry.

"In the kitchen--help yourselves!" the farmer said, pointing as he
spoke; and without waiting for any further invitation the scouts rushed
pellmell into the rear part of the house, where they seized upon all
sorts of utensils, from a big dishpan, to buckets, and even a small tin
foot bath tub.

A brook ran close to the barn, as Paul had learned with his first
comprehensive glance around. This promised to be a most fortunate thing
for the would be fire-fighters.

Led by the scoutmaster, the boys dashed in that direction, filled
whatever vessel they happened to be carrying, and then hurried back to
the house. Here the water was dashed over the side of the building that
seemed to be already scorching under the fierce heat of the blazing
barn.

"Get us a ladder; that roof will be on fire if we don't throw water over
it!" Paul shouted to the farmer, as he came in contact with the man.

"This way--there's a ladder here by the hen house!" was what he replied.

Several of the boys seized upon it, and before you could think twice
they were rushing the ladder toward the side of the house. Paul climbed
up, carrying with him a full bucket of water; and having dashed the
contents of this in such a way as to wet a considerable portion of the
shingle roof, he threw the bucket down to one of the boys below.

Another was quickly placed in his hands. Everybody was working like a
beaver now, even the farmer's wife, carrying water from the creek, and
getting it up to the boy on the ladder. It was pretty warm work, for the
heat of the burning barn seemed terrific; but then boys can stand a good
deal, especially when excited, and bent on accomplishing things; and
Paul stuck it out, though he afterwards found several little holes had
been burned in his outing shirt by flying sparks.

The barn, of course, was beyond saving, and all their energies must be
expended on the house. By slow degrees the fire was burning itself out.
Already Paul felt that the worst was past, and that if they could only
keep this up for another ten minutes all would be well.

A couple of neighbors had come along by this time, to help as best they
could. When a fire takes place in the country everybody is ready and
willing to lend a hand at carrying out things, or fighting the flames in
a primitive fashion; for neighbors have to depend more or less upon each
other in case of necessity.

"I reckon the house ain't liable to go this time," Andy remarked, when
Paul came down the ladder finally, trembling from his continued
exertions, which had been considerable of a strain on the lad, wearied
as he was with three days' tramping.

"That's a fact," remarked the farmer, who came hustling forward about
this time, "and I owe you boys a heap for what you done this night. I
guess now, only for you comin' to help, I'd a lost my house as well as
my barn. As it is I've got a lot to be thankful for. Just put insurance
on the barn, and the new crop of hay last week. I call that being pretty
lucky for once."

He shook hands with each of the scouts, and asked after their names.

"I want to let your folks know what you done for us this night, boys,"
he said, "and p'raps you might accept some little present later on, just
as a sort of remembrance, you know."

"How did the fire start, sir?" asked Paul.

"That's what bothers me a heap," replied the farmer.

"Then you don't know?" continued the scoutmaster, who felt a reasonable
curiosity to learn what he could of the matter while on the spot.

"It's all a blank mystery to me, for a fact," continued the farmer,
whose name the boys had learned was Mr. Rollins. "My barn and stable was
all one, you see. My man has been away all day, and I had to look after
the stock myself, but I finished just as dark set in, before supper, in
fact, so there ain't been so much as a lighted lantern around here
tonight."

"Perhaps, when you lighted your pipe you may have thrown the match away,
and it fell in the hay?" suggested Paul.

"If it had, the fire'd started long ago; fact is, I'd a seen it right
away. And to settle that right in the start let me say I don't smoke at
all, and didn't have any occasion to strike a single match while out
here."

Of course this statement of the farmer seemed to settle all idea of his
having been in any way responsible for the burning of the barn.

"It looks like a big black mystery, all right," declared Fritz, who
always liked to come upon some knotty problem that needed solving.

"Have you any idea that the fire could have been the work of tramps?"
Paul went on to ask.

"We are never troubled that way up here," replied the farmer. "You see,
it's away from the railroad, and hoboes generally follow the ties when
they tramp across country."

"That makes it all the more queer how the fire could have started," Paul
went on to remark, thoughtfully.

"Couldn't a been one of the cows taken to smoking, I suppose?" ventured
Seth, in a humorous vein.

"One thing sure," continued the farmer, a little uneasily, "that fire
must have been caused by what they call spontaneous combustion; or else
somebody set it on purpose."

"Do you know of anybody who would do such a terrible thing; that is,
have you any enemy that you know of, sir?" questioned Paul.

"None that I would ever suspect of such a mean thing as that," was the
farmer's ready reply. "We're human around here, you know, and may have
our little differences now and then, but they ain't none of 'em serious
enough to tempt a man to burn a neighbor's barn. No, that's a dead sure
thing."

"Well, I'm glad to hear it," the scoutmaster went on. "And I don't
suppose now, you've missed any valuables, have you, sir?"

The farmer turned a shade whiter, and Paul could see that a shiver went
through his frame.

"Gosh! I hadn't thought about that. Wait here a minute, will you,
please?"

With that he dashed into the house, as though a sudden terrible
suspicion had assailed him. The six scouts stood there awaiting his
return. Mrs. Rollins was talking with the neighbors, as they watched
the last of the barn disappearing in a bed of red cinders.

Hardly had a full minute passed before the boys saw the farmer come
leaping out of the building again. No need for any one to ask a
question, because his whole appearance told the story of new excitement
and mystery. If ever a man looked worried and nearly heart broken the
farmer did then.

"It's sure enough gone, every cent of it!" he groaned, as he reached the
scouts.

"Your money, I suppose you mean?" Paul asked, sympathetically; while
Fritz and Seth pricked up their ears eagerly at the prospect of another
chapter being added to the little excitement of the evening.

"Yes, three thousand dollars that was to pay off my mortgage next week.
I had it hid away where I thought no thief could even find it; but the
little tin box, and everything has been carried off. And now I know why
the barn was fired--so as to keep the missus and me out there, while the
rascal made a sneak into the house, and laid hands on my savings. All
gone, and the mortgage due next week!"



CHAPTER VI

THE HOME-COMING OF JO DAVIES


"Whew! that's tough!" observed Seth.

One or two of the other scouts whistled, to indicate the strained
condition of their nerves; and all of them pressed up a little closer,
so as not to lose a single word of what was passing.

"But if as you say, sir, that you had this money securely hidden, it
doesn't seem possible that an ordinary tramp would know the place where
you kept it, so that he could dodge right into the house, and in a
minute be off with it; isn't that so?"

Paul was the greatest hand you ever heard of to dip deeply into a thing.
Where most other boys of his age would be satisfied to simply listen,
and wonder, he always persisted in asking questions, in order to get at
the facts. And he was not born in Missouri either, as Seth often
laughingly declared.

The farmer looked at him. There was a frown beginning to gather on his
forehead as though sudden and serious doubts had commenced to take a
grip on his mind.

"If he took my money I'll have the law on him, as sure as my name is
Sile Rollins," Paul heard him mutter, half to himself.

"Then you've thought of some one who might have known that you had three
thousand dollars under your roof, is that it, sir?" he asked.

"Y-yes, but it's hard to suspect Jo, when I've done so much for him
these years he's been with me," admitted the owner of the farm; though
at the same time his face took on a hard expression, and he ground his
teeth together furiously, while he went on to say, "but if so be he has
robbed me, I ain't called upon to have any mercy on him, just because
his old mother once nursed my wife, and I guess saved her life. Jo has
got to hand my money back, or take the consequences."

"Is Jo your hired man?" Paul asked.

The farmer nodded his head moodily; he was evidently a prey to mingled
feelings, and close upon the border of a dazed condition. These
calamities following so swiftly upon each other's heels had taken his
breath away. But presently he would recover, and be eager to do
something.

"You said just a bit ago that he was away today, and that you had to do
the chores this evening, looking after the stock, and such things;
wasn't that it, sir?" continued the scoutmaster.

"He asked to have this afternoon off; wouldn't say why he wanted to get
away, either. And by ginger! now that I think of it, Jo did look kind of
excited when he was asking me for leave. I can see why that should be
so. He was figuring on this nasty little game right then and there. He
wanted to be able to prove an _alibi_ in case he was ever accused. And
this evening he must have put a match to the hay in the barn, and then
watched his chance to creep into the house when both of us was busy
trying to save the stock. Oh! it makes my blood boil just to think of
it. And I never would have believed Jo Davies could have been so cold
blooded as to take the chances of burnin' the animals he seemed to be so
fond of."

"Did he stay here over night with you?" Paul asked.

"Not as a rule, Jo didn't. You see, he's got an old mother, and they
live in a little cottage about a mile away from here toward town. So Jo,
he always made it a point to sleep there. I had no fault to find,
because he was on hand bright and early every morning. But this will
kill his old mother; however could he do it? Chances are, he fell in
with some racing men when we had the county fair, and has got to
gambling. But I'll be ruined if I don't get that money back again."

"Could we help you in any way, Mr. Rollins? You know, Boy Scouts are
always bound to be of assistance whenever they find a chance. We're on a
great hike just now, and a little leg weary; but if we can stand by you
further, please let us know. How about that, boys?" and Paul turned
toward his chums as he spoke.

"That's the ticket, Paul!" replied Andy, promptly.

"Our sentiments, every time," said Seth.

And the others gave vigorous nods, to indicate that they were all of the
same mind; which unanimity of opinion must have been a great
satisfaction to the leader.

"Then let's go right away, boys!" remarked the farmer, eagerly. "P'raps
now we might come up with Jo on the way, and ketch him with the goods
on. If he'll only give me back my money I'll agree not to prosecute, on
account of his poor old mother, if nothing else. But I'm as bad off as a
beggar if I lose all that hard earned cash."

Without saying anything to Mrs. Rollins or the neighbors, they hurried
away, the boys keeping in a cluster around the farmer. If any of the
scouts began to feel twinges in the muscles of their legs, already hard
pushed, they valiantly fought against betraying the weakness. Besides,
the excitement acted as a tonic upon them, and seemed to lend them
additional powers of endurance, just as it does in foot races where the
strain is terrific.

"It looks bad for Jo Davies, I should think, Paul," Andy managed to say,
as they pushed resolutely along.

"Well, he is the one fellow who may have known about the money,"
admitted the scout master, "and if the temptation ever came to him, he
could easily watch his employer, and learn where he hid the cash. How
about that, Mr. Rollins?"

The farmer had heard what was being said, and immediately replied:

"If Jo was bent on robbery, p'raps he could have watched me some time,
and seen where I hid that little tin box away in the attic. I used to go
there once a week to add some money to the savings that I'd foolishly
drawn out of bank long before I needed 'em, just to see how it felt to
be rich for a little while."

"When was the last time you went up there to look at it?" Paul asked.

"Let me see, when Web Sterry paid me for the heifer I sold him I put the
money away; and that was just ten days back."

"And it was all there then, you say?" questioned Paul.

"Surely," replied the farmer.

"Was Jo working near the house then, can you remember, sir?"

Mr. Rollins appeared to reflect.

"When was the day we did some carpenter work on that extension--as sure
as anything it was the day Webb paid me! Yes, I remember, now, that Jo
came around from his work on the plane, and told me Webb was there."

The farmer's excitement was increasing. Things, under the clever
questioning of the young scoutmaster, seemed to be fitting in with each
other, just as a carpenter dovetails the ends of a box together.

"It looks as though Jo might have spied on you when you went up to the
attic to put that new money away with the rest. If he suspected that you
were keeping a large sum in the house that's what he would most likely
do when he knew you had just taken in some more cash. Now, I don't know
Jo Davies, and I don't like to accuse him of such a terrible crime; but
circumstantial evidence all points in his direction, Mr. Rollins."

Paul measured his words. He never liked to think ill of any one; but
really in this case it seemed as though there could be hardly any doubt
at all; Jo Davies must be the guilty party.

"Are we gettin' near where Jo lives?" asked Jotham, trying to speak
lightly, although there was a plain vein of anxiety in his voice; for
when a fellow has covered nearly thirty miles since sun-up, every rod
counts after that; and following each little rest the muscles seem to
stiffen wonderfully.

"More'n two-thirds the way there," replied the farmer. "We'll see a
light, like as not, when we get around this turn in the woods road.
That'll come from the little cabin where he lives with his old mother.
Oh! but I'm sorry for Mrs. Davies; and the boy, he always seemed to
think so much of his maw, too. You never can tell, once these fast
fliers get to running with racing men. But I only hope I get my own back
again. That's the main thing with me just now, you know. And if Jo, he
seems sorry, I might try and forget what he's done. It all depends on
how things turn out. See, just as I told you, there's the light ahead."

All of them saw it; and as they continued to walk hastily forward
through the darkness Paul was thinking how human Mr. Rollins was, after
all; for it was only natural that his first thought should be in
connection with the safe recovery of his hard earned money.

They rapidly drew near the cottage, and all of the boys were beginning
to wonder what was fated to happen next on the programme. Doubtless they
were some of them fairly quivering with eagerness, and hoping that the
thief might be caught examining the stolen cash box.

"Hush! there's somebody coming along over there; stand still,
everybody!" Paul gave warning, suddenly, and the whole party remained
motionless, watching a lighted lantern that was moving rapidly toward
the cottage from the opposite direction, being evidently carried by an
approaching man.

It continued to advance straight toward the cottage. Then the unknown
opened the door, and went in.

"That was Jo," muttered Mr. Rollins, "I seen his face plain as anything;
but why would he be coming from the direction of town, instead of my
place?"

"Oh! that might be only a clever little trick, sir," Seth made haste to
say, as though to indicate in this way that scouts were able to see back
of all such sly dodges.

"Say, he sure had something under his arm," broke in Jotham just then.

"Yes, I saw that, too," added Paul. "It was a small package, not much
larger than a cigar box, I should say, and wrapped up in brown paper."

"P'raps my tin cash box?" suggested Mr. Rollins, in trembling tones.

"It might be, though I hardly think any one smart enough to play such a
game as setting fire to a barn in order to draw all attention away from
the house he wanted to rob, would be silly enough to carry home a tin
box that would convict him, if ever it was found there."

Paul made this remark. They had once more started to advance, though by
no means as rapidly as before. The fact that Jo Davies had arrived just
before them, and not only carrying a lighted lantern, but with a
suspicious packet under his arm, seemed to necessitate a change of pace,
as well as a new line of action.

"Let's sneak up to the window, and peek in?" suggested Fritz, and
somehow the idea appealed to the others, for without any argument they
proceeded to carry out the plan of campaign.

It promised to be easy work. The shade seemed to be all the way up, as
though the old lady who lived in the humble cottage had left a light
near the window purposely in order to cheer her boy when he turned the
bend below, and came in sight of home.

As noiselessly as possible, therefore, the six scouts, accompanied by
the farmer, crept toward this window. The sill was not over four feet
from the ground, and could be easily reached; indeed, in order not to
expose themselves, they were compelled to stoop rather low when
approaching the spot.

Some sort of flower garden lay under the window. Paul remembered
stepping upon unseen plants, and somehow felt a pang of regret at thus
injuring what had probably taken much of the old lady's time and
attention to nurse along to the flowering stage. But this was an
occasion when all minor scruples must be laid aside. When a man has been
basely robbed, and by an employee in whom he has put the utmost
confidence, one cannot stand on ceremony, even if pet flowerbeds are
rudely demolished. And if the farmer's suspicions turned out to be real
facts, Jo Davies' old mother was apt to presently have worries besides
which the breaking of her flowers would not be a circumstance.

Now they had reached a point where, by raising their heads, they could
peep into the room where the lamp gave such illumination.

As scouts the boys had long ago learned to be cautious in whatever they
attempted; and hence they did not immediately thrust their heads upward,
at the risk of attracting the attention of whoever might be within the
room. On the contrary each fellow slowly and carefully raised himself,
inch by inch, until his eyes, having passed the lower sill he could see,
first the low ceiling, then the upper part of the opposite wall, and
last of all the occupants themselves.

They were two in number, one an old woman with a sweet face and
snow-white hair; the other a tall, boyish-looking chap, undoubtedly the
Jo who had been farmhand to Mr. Rollins, and was now under the dreadful
ban of suspicion.

When Paul first caught sight of these two they were bending over the
table, on which something evidently lay that had been holding their
attention. Jo was talking excitedly. Every minute he would pause in
whatever he was saying, to throw his arms around the little old lady,
who in turn would clasp her arms about his neck; and in this way they
seemed to be exchanging mutual congratulations. But when they moved
aside while thus embracing, Paul felt a cold chill run up and down his
spine because _there upon the table were several piles of bank bills_!



CHAPTER VII

INNOCENT OR GUILTY?


Paul could feel the farmer trembling as he happened to come in contact
with his person; and from this he guessed that Mr. Rollins had also
discovered the pile of money on the table.

Was Jo Davies, then, such a silly fellow as this? It did not seem
possible that anyone not a fool would rob his employer, and immediately
hurry home, to throw the stolen money before his dear old mother, with
some wonderful story of how he had found it on the road, perhaps, or had
it given to him by a millionaire whose horse he stopped on the highway,
when it was running away with a lady in the vehicle.

And somehow, from the few little glimpses Paul had caught of the young
fellow's face he rather liked Jo Davies. If, as seemed very likely, the
young man had been tempted to steal this money, it would cause Paul a
feeling of regret, even though he had not known there was such a being
as Jo Davies in the world half an hour before.

"Whoo! see the long green!" he heard Seth whisper. "Reckon he's gone and
done it, worse luck!" and from the words and the manner of his saying
them, Paul guessed that the speaker must have taken a fancy to Jo, as
well as himself.

The window happened to be shut, and so this whisper attracted no
attention on the part of those within the cottage. Indeed, they were so
given over to excitement themselves that they were hardly apt to notice
anything out of the common.

Paul could feel the farmer beginning to slip down, and it was easy to
understand that the sight of all that money made him want to rush
inside, to claim it, before the bold thief had a chance to hide his
plunder somewhere.

And this was the only possible thing that should be done. While Mr.
Rollins in the kindness of his heart might wish to spare the dear old
lady all he could, he dared not take any chances of losing sight of his
property.

"Come on, boys!"

That was quite enough, for when the other scouts heard Paul say these
three simple words they knew that there was going to be something doing.
And quickly did they proceed to fall in behind their leader and the
farmer.

Under ordinary conditions, perhaps, it might have occurred to the patrol
leader to throw some sort of guard around the cabin, so as to prevent
the escape of the desperate thief. He did not think of doing such a
thing now, for various reasons.

In the first place, one of the scouts could hardly hope to cope with
such a husky young fellow as the farmhand, if once he wanted to break
through the line.

Then again, it hardly seemed likely that Jo Davies would attempt to
flee, when his old mother was there to witness his confusion; in fact,
the chances appeared to be that he would brazen it out, and try to
claim that the money belonged to him. The door was close at hand, so
that it took only part of a minute for the eager farmer to reach the
means of ingress.

He did not hesitate a second, after having set eyes on all that alluring
pile of bank notes on the table, under the glow of the lamp.

And when he suddenly opened the door, to burst into the room, Paul and
the other scouts were close upon his heels, every fellow anxious to see
what was about to happen.

Of course the noise caused by their entrance in such a mass, was heard
by those in the room. Jo Davies sprang to his feet, and assumed an
attitude of defiance, one arm extended, as though to defend the little
fortune that lay there exposed so recklessly upon the table.

Possibly this was the very first time in all his life that he had
experienced such a sensation as fear of robbery. When a man has never
possessed anything worth stealing, he can hardly know what the feeling
is. So it must have been sheer instinct that caused Jo to thus stand on
guard, ready apparently to fight, in order to protect his property,
however recently it may have come into his possession.

No wonder that he felt this sudden alarm, to have the door of his home
rudely thrown open, and a horde of fellows fairly tumbling over each
other, in their eagerness to enter.

Then, the look of alarm seemed to pass away from the face of the young
fellow; as though he had recognized his employer. Paul wondered whether
this was real or cleverly assumed. He saw Jo actually smile, and
advancing a step, half hold out his hand toward Mr. Rollins.

But the farmer was looking very stern just then. He either did not see
the extended hand, or else meant to ignore it purposely, for he
certainly made no move toward taking it.

"I've got back, Mr. Rollins," Jo said, his voice rather shaky, either
from excitement, or some other reason; and he stared hard at Paul and
the other khaki-garbed scouts, as though puzzled to account for their
being there.

"So I see," replied the farmer, grimly.

"I hope you didn't hev too much trouble with the stock, Mr. Rollins," Jo
went on to say, in a half hesitating sort of way.

"Well, if I did, they are all safe and sound; perhaps you'd like to know
that now," the farmer went on to remark, a little bitterly.

Jo looked at him queerly.

"He either doesn't understand what that means, or else is trying to seem
ignorant," was what Paul thought, seeing this expression of wonderment.

"I'm glad to hear that, sure I am, Mr. Rollins," the other remarked,
slowly, "an' seein' as how you're dropped in on us unexpected like,
p'raps I ought to tell you what I meant to say in the mornin.'"

"What's that?" demanded Mr. Rollins, unconsciously edging a little
closer to the table where that tempting display of greenbacks could be
seen; just as though he began to fear that it might suddenly take wings
and fly away before he could put in a claim for his property.

"I've come in for a little windfall, sir," began Jo, proudly it
appeared.

"Looks like you had," grumbled the farmer, as he flashed his eyes again
toward the display so near at hand.

"And if so be you're of the same mind about that Thatcher farm, p'raps
we might come to terms about the same, sir. I guess you'd just as lief
sell it to _me_ as anybody else, wouldn't you, Mr. Rollins?"

"You seem to have a lot of money all of a sudden, Jo?" suggested the
farmer, in a hoarse tone, so that he had to clear his throat twice while
speaking.

"Yes, sir, that's so," declared the young farm hand, eagerly. "I never
dreamed of such grand good fortune as an old aunt of mine dying up in
Indianapolis, and leaving me all she had in bank. That's why I asked to
get off this afternoon, Mr. Rollins, so I could run over, and get what
was comin' to me."

The farmer was grinding his teeth a little; but so long as he believed
he saw all his stolen hoard before him, within reach of his hand, he
seemed able to control himself; he even waxed a trifle sarcastic, Paul
thought, when, looking straight at his hired man, he went on to say:

"Perhaps now, Jo, I might give a pretty good guess about the size of
this wonderful fortune you've come into so sudden-like. How would three
thousand sound to you, Jo? Is that about the figure now, tell me?"

Jo turned a wondering face toward his old mother.

"Well, did you ever hear the beat of that, maw?" he cried, "Mr. Rollins
has just guessed the size of my pile to a dollar, because it was just
three thousand old Aunt Libby left me--a few dollars over p'raps.
However did you know it, sir?" and he once more faced the sneering
farmer.

"I'll tell you, Jo," continued Mr. Rollins, coldly, "I happen to have
just had three thousand dollars in bills stolen from my house this very
night, by some rascal who first of all set fire to my stable and barn,
so that the missus and me'd be so taken up with saving our pet stock
we'd leave the farmhouse unguarded. Yes, and there _was_ a few dollars
more'n three thousand dollars, Jo. Queer coincidence I'd call it now,
wouldn't you?"

Jo turned deathly white, and stared at his employer. His eyes were round
with real, or assumed horror. If he was "putting on," as Seth would term
it, then this farm hand must be a pretty clever actor for a crude
country bumpkin, Paul thought.

"Oh! Jo, my boy, my boy, what does he mean by saying that?"

The little old lady had arisen from her chair, though she trembled so
that she seemed in danger of falling; but Paul unconsciously moved a
pace closer, ready to catch her in his arms if she swooned. But Jo,
quick as a flash, hearing her voice, whirled around, and threw a
protecting arm about her.

"It's all right, maw; don't you go and be afraid. I ain't done nawthing
you need to be fearful about. This money's mine! Set down again, deary.
Don't you worrit about Jo. He ain't agoin' to make your dear old heart
bleed, sure he ain't."

And somehow, when Paul saw the tender way in which the rough farm boy
forced the little old lady back into her chair, and caught the positive
tone in which he gave her this assurance, he seemed almost ready to
believe Jo _must_ be innocent; although when he glanced at the
money his heart misgave him again.

"Now, Mr. Rollins, please tell me what it all means?" asked Jo, turning
and facing his employer again, with a bold, self-confident manner that
must have astonished the farmer not a little. "I just come up from town
as fast as I could hurry, because, you see, I knew I was bringin' the
greatest of news to maw here. I did see a sorter light in the sky when I
was leavin' town, and thinks I to myself, that old swamp back of the ten
acre patch must be burnin' again; but I never dreamed it was the stable
and hay barn, sure I didn't sir."

The farmer hardly seemed to know what to say to this, he was so taken
aback by the utter absence of guilt in the face and manner of Jo.

Before he could frame any sort of reply the young fellow had spoken
again.

"You said as how you'd got all the stock out safe, didn't you, Mr.
Rollins? I'd just hate to think of Polly and Sue and the hosses bein'
burned up. Whatever d'ye think could a set the fire agoin'? Mebbe that
last hay we put in wa'n't as well cured as it might a been, an' it's
been heatin' right along. I meant to look into it more'n once, but
somethin' always came along an' I plumb forgot it."

Mr. Rollins looked at him, and frowned. He did not know how to answer
such a lead as this. He was growing impatient, almost angry again.

"Give me my money, Jo, and let me be going; I can't breathe proper in
here, you've upset me so bad," he said, holding out his hand with an
imperative gesture.

"But I ain't got no money of yours, Mr. Rollins," expostulated the
other, stubbornly. "I'm awful sorry if you've gone and lost your roll,
and I'd do most anything to help you find it again; but that money
belongs to me, and I don't mean to turn it over to nobody. It's goin' to
buy a home for me and maw, understand that, sir--your little Thatcher
place, if so be you'll come to terms; but some other if you won't.
That's plain, sir, ain't it?"

"What, do you have the nerve to stick to that silly story, after
admitting that this wonderfully gotten fortune of yours tallies to the
dollar with what has been taken from my house?" demanded Mr. Rollins,
acting as though half tempted to immediately pounce upon the treasure,
and take possession, depending on Paul and his scouts to back him up if
Jo showed fight.

"I sure do; and I know what I know, Mr. Rollins!" declared the farmhand,
with flashing eyes, as he pushed between the table and the irate farmer;
while his little mother wrung her clasped hands, and moaned pitifully to
see the strange thing that was happening there under her own roof.

It looked for a moment as though there might be some sort of a rumpus;
and Seth even began to clench his hands as if ready to take a prominent
part in the same; but as had happened more than a few times before when
the storm clouds gathered over the scouts, Paul's wise counsel
intervened to prevent actual hostilities.

"Wait a minute, Mr. Rollins," he called out. "This thing ought to be
easily settled, one way or another. You understand that queer things may
happen sometimes, and there is a chance that two sums of money may be
almost exactly alike. Now, if Jo here has inherited a nice little
fortune, he ought to be able to prove that to us by showing letters, or
some sort of documents. How about that, Jo?"

To the surprise, and pleasure as well, of the scoutmaster, Jo's face
immediately expanded into a wide grin, and he nodded his head eagerly.

"Say, maw, what did you do with that letter we had from the law firm
over in Indianapolis, tellin' me to come and claim my property, and to
bring along something to prove that I was the said Jo Albion Davies
mentioned in Aunt Selina's last will and testament? In the drawer, you
mean? All right, I'll get it; and let these gentlemen read the same. And
there's Squire McGregor as went up with me to identify me to the
lawyers, he'll tell you he saw me get this money from the bank, just
before they closed this arternoon. There she is; now read her out loud,
young feller."



CHAPTER VIII

"WELL, OF ALL THINGS!"


"All right; I'll be only too glad to do the same," said Paul, as he
accepted what appeared to be a well thumbed letter from Jo.

One glance he gave at the same, and then a load seemed to have been
lifted somehow from his boyish heart; because, after he had seen how Jo
Davies loved that dear little white-haired mother, he would have felt it
keenly did the circumstances make it appear that the young farmhand were
guilty of robbing the man who trusted him so fully.

So Paul read out the letter. There is no need of giving it here, because
it was rather long, and written in a very legal-like way, each sentence
being enveloped in a ponderous atmosphere.

But it was upon the letter-head of a big law firm in Indianapolis, and
in so many words informed the said Jo Albion Davies that his respected
aunt, Selina Lee Davies, had passed out of this life, leaving him her
sole heir; and that if he were interested, it would be to his advantage
to come to the city as speedily as possible, to claim the little sum
that was waiting for him in bank; and to be sure and bring some one
along with him who would be able to vouch for his being the party in
question.

Luckily Jo had taken Squire McGregor along, who happened to know one of
the members of the big law firm; for otherwise the heir might have had
some trouble in proving his identity, since he had forgotten to carry
even the letter in his pocket, it seemed.

But of course after that Mr. Rollins could not say a word about claiming
the tempting display of greenbacks that lay exposed upon the table. Jo
was already engaged in tenderly gathering them up, as though meaning to
secrete his little fortune either on his person, or somewhere else.

"Looks like I'm clean busted, don't it?" the farmer said, with a sigh,
turning toward Paul, upon whom he had somehow come to rely in the
strangest way possible.

"It does seem as though your money has gone in a queer way, sir,"
replied the young scoutmaster, "but honestly now, I find it hard to
believe that a common hobo would be able to find it so quick, if you had
it hidden away up in a corner of the garret, and hadn't been there for
ten days."

Jo stopped gathering his fortune together; he had snapped several heavy
rubber bands around it, evidently supplied at the city bank when he drew
the money.

"I wonder, now, could that have anything to do with it," they heard him
mutter, as he looked curiously at the farmer.

The words were heard by Mr. Rollins, who, ready to grasp at a floating
straw, in his extremity, even as might a drowning man, quickly observed:

"What do you mean by saying that, Jo? I hope you can give me some sort
of hint that will help me find my money again; because I meant to pay
off my mortgage with it, and will be hard pushed to make good, if it
stays lost."

"I'll tell you, sir," said Jo, readily. "It was just about a week ago
that I'd been to town, you remember, and getting home along about
midnight I was worried about one of the hosses that had been actin' sick
like. So I walked over here, not wantin' to wait till mornin'. Just when
I was agoin' back I seen a light movin' around over at the house, and I
stopped a minute to watch the same."

"Yes, go on; a week ago, you say?" the farmer remarked, as Jo paused to
catch his breath again.

"On Thursday night it was, Mr. Rollins," the other went on. "Well, just
then I saw the back door open, and somebody stepped out. I seen it was
you, and about the queerest part of it all was that it looked to me as
if you might be walkin' around in your pajamas! Do you remember comin'
outdoors on that night for anything, sir?"

"I don't even remember walking around that way," replied Mr. Rollins,
hastily, and looking as though he did not know whether Jo were trying to
play some sort of joke on him, or not, "but go on and tell the rest.
What did I do? Did you stop long enough to see?"

"Well," continued the farm hand, "I saw you go over to the old Dutch
oven that hasn't been used this twenty years, and move around there a
bit; but it wasn't none of my business, Mr. Rollins, and so I went along
home. I guess any gentleman's got the right to go wanderin' around his
own premises in the middle of the night, if he wants to, and nobody
ain't got any right to complain because he don't make the trouble to put
on his day clothes."

The farmer looked helplessly at Paul. Plainly his wits were in a stupor,
and he could not make head or tail of what Jo was telling him.

"Can you get a pointer on to what it all means?" he asked, almost
piteously.

Paul had conceived a wonderful idea that seemed to give great promise of
solving the dark puzzle.

"You just as much as said that you could not remember having come out of
your house that night; and that you never knew yourself to walk around
out of doors in your pajamas; is that so, sir?" he asked.

"That's what I meant; and if I was put on the stand right now, I could
lift my right hand, and take my solemn affidavit that I didn't do any
such thing--unless by George! I was walking in my sleep!"

"That's just the point I'm trying to get at, Mr. Rollins," said Paul,
quietly. "Jo, here, says he _saw_ you as plain as anything, and yet you
don't recollect doing it. See here, sir, can you ever remember walking
in your sleep?"

"Why, not for a great many years," answered the farmer, somewhat
confused, and yet with a new gleam of hope appearing in his expectant
eyes.

"But you admit then that you _have_ done such a thing?" pursued the
scoutmaster.

"Yes, as a boy I did a heap of queer stunts when asleep. They had to
lock my door for a time, and fasten my windows. Why, one night they
found me sitting on top of the chimney, and had to wait till I took the
notion to come down; because, if they woke me, it might mean a nasty
tumble that would like as not break my neck. But I haven't done anything
in that line for thirty years."

"Until one night a week ago, Mr. Rollins," continued Paul, convincingly,
"when dreaming that your money was in danger, you got out of your bed,
went up and took it from the garret where you had it hidden, walked
downstairs, passed outside, and stowed it nicely away inside the big old
Dutch oven. And chances are you'll find it right there this minute."

"Oh! do you really think so, my boy?" exclaimed the delighted farmer,
"then I'm going off right away and find out. If you'll go with me I'll
promise to hitch up, and carry the lot of you back to your camp, no
matter where that may be."

"What say, shall we go, fellows?" asked the patrol leader, turning to
the others.

There was not one dissenting voice. Every boy was just wild to ascertain
how this strange mystery would turn out. And as it would be just about
as long a walk to Alabama Camp as going to the farmer's place, they
decided the matter without any argument.

"And you just bet I'm going along, after what I've heard about this
thing," declared Jo Davies, "maw, you ain't afraid to stay alone a
little while longer, be you? You c'n sit on this blessed windfall while
I'm gone, but don't go to fingerin' the same, because walls often have
eyes as well as ears, remember."

When the six scouts started off in company with Mr. Rollins, Jo Davies
tagged along with them. In his own good fortune the farm hand was only
hoping that the money which his employer had missed might be found in
the old Dutch oven, just like this smart Boy Scout had suggested.

They covered the distance in short order. You would never have believed
that those agile lads had been walking for nearly twelve hours that day,
if you could see how they got over the ground, even with two of them
limping.

It can be easily understood that there was more or less speculation
among the scouts as they hurried along. Would the farmer find his
missing wad snugly secreted in the old Dutch oven, as Paul so
confidently suggested? And if such turned out to be the case, wouldn't
it prove that the scoutmaster was a wonder at guessing things that were
a blank puzzle to everybody else?

So they presently came again to the farm. The ashes were still glowing
where the big barn had so recently stood. Here and there a cow or a
horse could be seen, nosing around in the half light, picking at the
grass in forbidden corners, and evidently about done with their recent
fright.

Straight toward the back of the house the farmer led the way, and up to
the old Dutch oven that had been built on to the foundation, for the
baking of bread, and all family purposes, many years back; but which had
fallen into disuse ever since the new coal range had been placed in the
kitchen.

Everybody fairly held their breath as Mr. Rollins dropped down on his
hands and knees, struck a match, and half disappeared within the huge
receptacle. He came backing out almost immediately; and before his head
and shoulders appeared in view Paul knew that he had made a glorious
find, because they could hear him laughing almost hysterically.

"Just like you said, my boy, it was there!" he cried, holding up what
proved to be the missing tin box that held his hoard. "And to think that
I stole my own cash while I was asleep! I guess my wife'll have to tie
my feet together every night after this, for a while; or perhaps I'll be
running away with everything we've got. Say, Jo, I hope you ain't going
to hold it against me that I suspected you'd been and had your morals
corrupted by some of them horse jockeys you met at the county fair this
summer? And about that Thatcher place, Jo, we'll easy make terms,
because nobody ain't going to have it but you and your maw, hear that?"

"Well, of all things," exclaimed the delighted Seth.

Jo evidently did not hold the slightest ill feeling against his old
friend and employer, for he only too gladly took the hand Mr. Rollins
held out.

"Turns out just like the fairy story, with everybody happy; only we
don't see the princess this time," said Seth, after the scouts had given
three cheers for Jo, and then three more for Mr. Rollins.

"Oh!" remarked Jo, with a huge grin, "she's comin' along purty soon now;
and my gettin' this windfall'll hurry up the weddin' a heap. Drop past
the Thatcher farm along about Thanksgivin' time, boys, and I'll be glad
to introduce you to her."

"Say, perhaps we will," Seth declared, with boyish enthusiasm, "because,
you see, we all live at Beverly, which ain't more'n twenty miles away as
the crow flies. How about it, fellows?"

"We'll come along with you, Seth, never fear. And now, the sooner we get
over to camp the better, because some of us are feeling pretty well used
up," Andy went on to admit with charming candor.

"All right, boys, just give me a minute to run indoors, and put this
package away, and I'll be with you. It won't take long to hitch up,
because we managed to save the harness and wagons, me and the missus."

True to his word Mr. Rollins was back in a very brief space of time, and
catching the two horses he wanted, he attached them to a big wagon.

"Tumble in, boys," he called out, as he swung himself up on the driver's
seat, after attaching the lighted lantern to the front, so that he could
see the road as they went along.

The scouts waited for no second invitation, but speedily secured places
in the body of the vehicle. As there was half a foot of straw in it,
they found things so much to their liking that on the way, at least
three of the boys went sound asleep, and had to be aroused when the camp
was finally reached.

Eben and Noodles were poor sentinels, it seemed, for both were lying on
the ground asleep, nor did they know when the other returned until told
about it in the morning. But fortune had been kind to the "babes in the
wood," as Seth called them in derision, for nothing had happened while
the main body of the patrol chanced to be away on duty.

And so it was another little adventure had come along, with wonderful
results, and the happiest of endings. Really, some of the boys were
beginning to believe that the strangest of happenings were always lying
in wait, as if desirous of ambushing the members of the Beaver Patrol.
Why, they could even not start off on a hike, it seemed, without being
drawn into a series of events, the like of which seldom if ever befell
ordinary lads.

During the hours of darkness that followed all of them slept soundly,
nor was there any alarm given to disturb them. And as nothing in the
wide world brings such satisfaction and contentment as good sleep, when
at dawn they awoke to find the last day of the great hike at hand, every
fellow declared that he was feeling especially fit to make that
concluding dash with a vim.

Breakfast was hastily eaten; indeed, their stock of provisions had by
this time gotten to a low ebb, and would not allow of much variety;
though they managed to scrape enough together to satisfy everybody but
Fritz, who growled a little, and wanted to know however a scout could do
his best when on short rations?

Then to the inspiring notes of Eben's silver-plated bugle the boys of
the Beaver Patrol left Alabama Camp, and started on the last lap for
their home goal.



CHAPTER IX

THE RUNAWAY BALLOON


"Hey! look at all the crows flying over, would you?"

Seth called this out as he pointed upwards, and the rest of the patrol
naturally turned their heads in order to gape.

"Whew! did you ever see such a flock of the old caw-caws?" burst out
Eben.

"Give 'em a toot from your bugle, and see what they think?" suggested
Jotham.

"For goodness sake, be careful," broke in Fritz, "because they might be
so knocked in a heap at Eben's fine playing, they'd take a tumble, and
nearly smother the lot of us. We'd think it was raining crow, all
right."

"Are they good to eat?" demanded Babe, who was pretty green as yet to a
great many things connected with outdoor life, "because, if we have time
to stop at noon to cook a meal, we might--"

He was interrupted by a shout from several of the other and wiser
scouts.

"Say, hold on there, Babe, we haven't got that near being starved as to
want to eat crow," declared Andy.

"Can they be eaten at all, Paul?" persisted Babe, as usual turning to
the scoutmaster for information; "seems to me I've heard something like
that."

"Yes, and people who have tried say they're not near as bad a dish as
the papers always make out," Paul replied. "I don't see myself why they
should be, when most of the time they live on the farmer's corn."

"But can you tell where that bunch is coming from, and where bound?"
continued Babe. "They all come out of that same place, and keep
chattering as they soar on the wind, which must be some high up there."

"Well, I've heard it said that there's a big crow rookery somewhere back
in the gloomy old Black Water Swamps; but I never met anybody that had
ever set eyes on the same. Every day, winter and summer, that big flock
comes out, and scatters to a lot of feeding grounds; some going down the
river, where they pick up food that's been cast ashore; others bound for
a meal in the corn fields."

"And they come back again in the night to roost there; is that it,
Paul?"

"Yes, I guess if we stood right here half an hour before dark we'd see
squads of the noisy things heading over yonder from all sorts of
quarters. D'ye know, I've sometimes had a notion I'd like to explore the
heart of that queer old swamp," and the young patrol leader cast a
thoughtful glance toward the quarter from whence that seemingly endless
stream of crows flowed continually.

"Hurrah! that's the ticket!" exclaimed Seth. "I've heard a heap about
that same spooky old place myself. They say nobody ever has been able to
get to the heart of it. And I heard one man, who traps quite a lot of
muskrats every winter, tell how he got lost in a part of the swamp
once, and spent a couple of pretty tough days and nights wandering
around, before he found his way out again. He said it'd take a heap to
tempt him to try and poke into the awful center of Black Water Swamps."

"But what's that to us, fellers?" ejaculated Fritz. "The boys of the
Beaver Patrol ain't the kind to get scared at such a little thing as a
swamp. Just because it's a tough proposition ought to make us want to
take up the game, and win out. We fairly eat hard jobs! And looking back
we have a right to feel a little proud of the record we've made, eh,
fellers?"

Of course every scout stood up a little straighter at these words, and
smiled with the consciousness that they had, as Fritz so aptly put it, a
right to feel satisfied with certain things that had happened in the
past, and from which they had emerged acknowledged victors.

"Just put a pin in that, to remember it, Paul, won't you?" said Andy.

"Why, sure I will, since a lot of you seem to think it worth while,"
replied the obliging scoutmaster, with a smile, "and if we haven't
anything ahead that seems to be more worth while, we might turn out here
later on, prepared to survey a trail right through the swamp. I admit
that I'm curious myself to see what lies hidden away in a place where,
up to now, no man has ever set a foot."

"Hurrah for the young explorers!" cried Eben, who seemed strangely
thrilled at the tempting prospect.

They say the boy is father to the man; and among a bunch of six or
eight lads it is almost a certainty that you will find one or two who
fairly yearn to grow up, and be second Livingstones, or Stanleys, or Dr.
Kanes. Eben had read many books concerning the amazing doings of these
pathfinders of civilisation, and doubtless even dreamed his boyish
dreams that some fine day he too might make the name of Newcomb famous
on the pages of history by discovering some hitherto unknown tribe of
black dwarfs; or charting out a land that had always been unexplored
territory.

They looked back many times at the stream of flying crows that continued
to issue from that one point beyond the thick woods. And somehow the
very prospect of later on trying to accomplish a task that had until
then defied all who had attempted it, gave the scouts a pleasing thrill
of anticipation. For such is boy nature.

Strange how things often come about.

Just at that moment not one of the scouts even dreamed of what was in
store for them. How many times the curtain obscures our sight, even when
we are on the very threshold of discovery!

They tramped along sturdily, until they had covered perhaps two miles
since departing from the place where the third night had been spent, and
which would go down in the record of the big hike as Camp Alabama.

A couple of the scouts limped perceptibly, but even they declared that
as they went on the "kinks" were getting out of their legs, and
presently all would be well.

The sun shone from a fair sky, though now and then a cloud would pass
over his smiling face; but as the day promised to be rather hot none of
them were sorry for this.

"Hope it don't bring a storm along, though," remarked Babe, when the
matter was under discussion.

"Well, it's got to be some storm to keep the boys of the Beaver Patrol
from finishing their hike on time," declared Seth, grimly.

"That's so, Seth, you never spoke truer words," added Fritz. "I reckon,
now, half of Beverly will turn out on the green this after noon to see
the conquering heroes come home. There's been the biggest crowds around
that jeweler's window all week, staring at that handsome cup, and
wishing they would have a chance to help win it."

"And we'd hate the worst kind to disappoint our friends and folks,
wouldn't we, fellers?" Eben remarked.

Somehow both limpers forgot to give way to their weakness, and from that
minute on the very thought of the great crowd that would send up a
tremendous cheer when the boys in khaki came in sight, was enough to
make them walk as though they did not know such a thing as getting
tired.

"Look!" cried Fritz, a couple of minutes afterwards, "oh! my stars!
what's that big thing rising up behind the tops of the trees over
there?"

"Somebody's barn is blowing away, I guess!" exclaimed Eben, in tones
that shook with sudden alarm. "Mebbe's it's a cyclone acomin', boys.
Paul, what had we ought to do? It ain't safe to be under trees at such a
time, I've heard!"

"Cyclone, your granny!" jeered Seth Carpenter, who had very sharp eyes,
and was less apt to get "rattled" at the prospect of sudden danger, than
the bugler of Beverly Troop, "why, as sure as you live, I believe it's a
balloon, Paul!"

"What! a real and true balloon?" almost shrieked Eben, somewhat relieved
at the improved prospect.

"You're right, Seth," declared the scoutmaster, "it _is_ a balloon, and
it looks to me right now as though there's been trouble for the
aeronaut. That gas-bag has a tough look to me, just as if it had lost
about half of the stuff that keeps it floating! See how it wabbles, will
you, fellows, and how low down over the trees it hangs. There, it just
grazed that bunch of oaks on the little rise. The next time it'll get
caught, and be ripped to pieces!"

"Paul, do you think that can be a man hanging there?" cried Seth.
"Sometimes it looks to me like it was; and then again the balloon tilts
over so much I just can't be sure."

"We'll know soon enough," remarked the patrol leader, quietly, "because,
as you can see, the runaway balloon is heading this way, full tilt. I
wouldn't be surprised if it passed right over our heads."

"Say, perhaps we might grab hold of some trailing rope, and bring the
old thing down?" suggested Fritz, looking hastily around him while
speaking, as if desirous of being prepared, as a true scout should
always make it a point to be, and have his tree picked out, about which
he would hastily wind a rope, should he be fortunate enough to get hold
of such.

"Whew! I wouldn't want to be in that feller's shoes," observed Eben, as
they all stood there in the road, watching the rapidly approaching
balloon.

"Solid ground for me, every time, except when I'm in swimming, or
skimming along over the ice in winter!" Andy interjected, without once
removing his eager eyes from the object that had so suddenly caught
their attention.

It was a sight calculated to hold the attention of any one, with that
badly battered balloon sweeping swiftly along on the wind, and
approaching so rapidly.

All of them could see that there was a man clinging to the ropes that
marked the place where the customary basket should have been; evidently
this latter must have been torn away during a collision with the rocks
or trees on the top of a ridge with which the ungovernable gas-bag had
previously been in contact; and it was a marvel how the aeronaut had
been able to cling there.

"Will it land near here, d'ye think, Paul?" asked Jotham, round-eyed
with wonder, and feeling very sorry for the wretched traveler of the
upper air currents, who seemed to be in deadly peril of his life.

"I hardly think so," replied the scoutmaster, rapidly measuring
distances with his ready eye, and calculating upon the drop of the half
collapsed balloon.

"But see where the bally old thing's heading, will you?" cried Seth,
"straight at the place where them crows came out of. Say, wouldn't it be
awful tough now, if it dropped right down in the heart of Black Water
Swamps, where up to now never a human being has set foot, unless some
Indian did long ago, when the Shawnees and Sacs and Pottawattomies and
all that crowd rampaged through this region flat-footed."

The scouts stood there, and watched with tense nerves as the drifting
balloon drew rapidly closer.

Now they could plainly see the man. He had secured himself in some way
among the broken ropes that had doubtless held the basket in place. Yes,
and he must have discovered the presence of the little khaki-clad band
of boys on the road, for surely he was waving his hand to them wildly
now.

Perhaps he understood that it was a safe thing to appeal to any boy who
wore that well known suit; because every one has learned by this time
that when a lad takes upon himself the duties and obligations of
scoutcraft, he solemnly promises to always help a fellow in distress,
when the opportunity comes along; and with most scouts the habit has
become so strong that they always keep both eyes open, looking for just
such openings.

Closer and closer came the wrecked air monster.

Just as one of the boys had said, it seemed about to pass very nearly
overhead; and as the man would not be more than sixty or seventy feet
above them, possibly he might be able to shout out a message.

"Keep still! He's calling something down to us!" cried Seth, when
several of the others had started to chatter at a lively rate.

Now the balloon was whipping past, going at a pretty good clip.
Apparently, then, it did not mean to get quite low enough to let them
clutch any trailing rope, and endeavor to effect the rescue of the
aeronaut. Fritz did make an upward leap, and try to lay hold of the only
rope that came anywhere near them; but missed it by more than a foot.

"Accident--badly wrenched leg--follow up, and bring help--Anderson, from
St. Louis--balloon _Great Republic_--report me as down--will drop in few
minutes!"

They caught every word, although the man's voice seemed husky, and weak,
as if he might have been long exposed and suffering. And as they stood
and watched the balloon drift steadily away, lowering all the time,
every one of those eight scouts felt moved by a great feeling of pity
for the valiant man who had risked his life and was now in such a
desperate situation.

"There she goes down, fellers!" cried Eben, excitedly.

"And what d'ye know, the bally old balloon has taken a crazy notion to
drop right in the worst part of the Black Water Swamps, where we were
just saying nobody had ever been before!"



CHAPTER X

DUTY ABOVE ALL THINGS


"Gee! whiz! that's tough!"

Fritz gave vent to his overwrought feelings after this boyish fashion;
and his words doubtless echoed the thought that was in the mind of every
fellow in that little bunch of staring scouts.

True enough, the badly damaged balloon had taken a sudden dip downward,
as though unable to longer remain afloat, with such a scanty supply of
gas aboard; and as Seth said, it certainly looked as though it had
chosen the very worst place possible to drop--about in the heart of the
swamp.

"Now, why couldn't the old thing have dipped low enough right here for
us to grab that trailing rope?" demanded Jotham, dejectedly; for he
immediately began to feel that all manner of terrible things were in
store for the aeronaut, if, as seemed likely, he would be marooned in
the unknown morass, with no means of finding his way out, and an injured
leg in the bargain to contend with.

"Hope he didn't come down hard enough to hurt much," remarked Andy.

"Huh! if half we've heard about that place is true, little danger of
that," declared Seth. "Chances are he dropped with a splash into a bed
of muck. I only hope he don't get drowned before help comes along!"

"Help! what sort of help can reach him there?" observed Fritz, solemnly;
and then once again did those eight scouts exchange uneasy glances.

"As soon as we let them know in Beverly, why, sure they'll organize some
sort of relief expedition. I know a dozen men who'd be only too glad to
lend a helping hand to a lost aeronaut," Andy went on to say.

"Wherever do you suppose he came from, Paul?" asked Eben.

"Say, didn't you hear him say St. Louis?" demanded Seth. "Better take
some of that wax out of your ears, Eben."

"Whee! that's a pretty good ways off, seems to me," the bugler remarked,
shaking his head, as though he found the story hard to believe.

"Why, that's nothing to brag of," Seth assured him. "They have big
balloon races from St. Louis every year, nearly, and the gas-bags drift
hundreds of miles across the country. I read about several that landed
in New Jersey, and one away up in Canada won the prize. This one met
with trouble before it got many miles on its journey. And he wants us to
report that the _Great Republic_ is down; Anderson, he said his name
was, didn't he, Paul?"

"Yes, that was it," replied the scoutmaster.

Paul seemed to be looking unusually grave, and the others realized that
he must have something of more than usual importance on his mind.

"How about that, Paul," broke out Fritz, who had been watching the face
of the patrol leader, "we're about eighteen miles away from home; and
must we wait till we get there to start help out for that poor chap?"

"He might die before then," remarked Jotham seriously.

Again a strange silence seemed to brood over the whole patrol. Every
fellow no doubt was thinking the same thing just then, and yet each boy
hated to be the one to put it into words.

They had taken so much pride in the big hike that to even suggest giving
it up, and just in the supreme moment of victory, as it were, seemed
next door to sacrilege, and yet they could not get around the fact that
it seemed right up to them to try and save that forlorn aeronaut. His
life was imperiled, and scouts are always taught to make sacrifices when
they can stretch out a hand to help any one in jeopardy.

Paul heaved a great sigh.

"Fellows," he said, solemnly, "I'm going to put it up to you this time,
because I feel that the responsibility ought to be shared; and remember
majority rules whenever the scoutmaster thinks best to let the troop
decide."

"All right, Paul," muttered Seth, dejectedly.

"It's only fair that you should saddle some of the responsibility on the
rest of the bunch," admitted Jotham, hardly a bit more happy looking
than Seth; for of course every one of them knew what was coming; and
could give a pretty good guess as to the consequences.

"That's a fact," added Fritz, "so out with it, Paul. When I've got a
bitter dose to swallow I want to hurry, and get it over."

"It hurts none of you more than it does me," went on the scoutmaster,
firmly, "because I had set my heart on winning that fine trophy; and
there'll be a lot of people disappointed this afternoon when we fail to
show up, if we do."

"Sure thing," grunted Seth, "I c'n see our friend, Freddy Rossiter,
going around with that sickly grin on his face, telling everybody that
he always knew we were a lot of fakirs, and greatly overrated; and that,
like as not, even if we did show up we'd a been carried many a mile on
some hay-wagon. But go on, Paul; let's have the funeral quick, so a
feller c'n breathe free again."

"I'm going to put a motion, and every scout has a right to vote just as
he thinks best. Only before you decide, stop and think what it all
means, to that poor man as well as ourselves," Paul continued.

"Ready for the motion," mumbled Fritz, who looked as though he had lost
his very last friend, or was beginning to feel the advance symptoms of
sea sickness.

"All in favor of changing our plans, and trying to rescue the lost
balloonist right now, say yes," the scoutmaster demanded, in as firm a
tone as he could muster.

A chorus of affirmatives rang out; some of the boys were a little weak
in the reply they made, for it came with an awful wrench; but so far as
Paul could decide the response was unanimous.

He smiled then.

"I'm proud of you, fellows, yes I am," he declared heartily. "I think I
know just what each and every one of you feels, and when you give up a
thing you've been setting your minds on so long, and just when it looks
as if we had an easy walk-over, I'm sure it does you credit. Some of the
Beverly people may laugh, and make fun when we fail to turn up this
afternoon; but believe me, when we do come in, and they learn what's
happened, those for whose opinion we care will think all the more of us
for doing what we mean to."

"Hope so," sighed Seth, who could not coax any sort of a smile to his
forlorn looking face, "but because I talk this way, Paul, don't you go
and get the notion in your head that if the whole thing depended on me
I'd do anything different from what we expect to. There's such a thing
as duty that faces every scout who's worthy of the name. For that he
must expect to give up a whole lot of things he'd like to do. And you'll
find that I can stand it as well as the next feller."

"P'raps when they know what happened, the committee'll be willing to
give us a chance to make another try next week?" suggested Jotham.

"Good boy, Jotham, and a clever idea," cried Fritz.

Somehow the suggestion seemed to give every one a sensation of relief.

"I think myself that we'll be given another chance to show what we can
do," was what Paul remarked. "We can prove that we had the victory about
as good as clinched when this unexpected thing came along. And I know
Mr. Sargeant will be pleased to hear that we gave up our chances of
winning that trophy because a sudden serious duty confronted us."

"Then we're going to start right away to try and find the middle of
Black Water Swamps--is that the idea, Paul?" inquired Seth.

"That's what it amounts to, it looks like, to me," replied the
scoutmaster, as he stood there in the open road, looking long and
steadily at the very spot where they had seen the last of the dropping
balloon; just as though he might be fixing the locality on his mind for
future use.

"Do we all have to go, Paul, or are you going to let several of us tramp
along to Beverly?" some one asked just then.

"That depends on how you feel about it," was the answer the scoutmaster
gave. "It won't do any good for a part of the patrol to arrive on time,
because, you remember one of the rules of the game is that every member
must fulfill the conditions, and make the full hundred miles hike. Do
you want to go to town, while the rest of us are searching the swamps
for the aeronaut, Eben?"

"I should say not," hastily replied the bugler.

"How about you, Noodles?" continued Paul.

"Nixey doing; me for der swamps, undt you can put dot in your pipe undt
smoke idt," the one addressed replied, for there were times when the
scouts, being off duty, could forget that Paul was anything other than a
chum.

"Well," the patrol leader went on to say, laughingly, "I'm not going to
ask any other fellow, for I see by the looks on your faces that you'd
take it as an insult. So, the next thing to settle is where we'd better
strike into the place."

Seth came to the front again.

"Well, you see, I talked a lot with that feller that got lost in there;
and he told a heap of interesting things about the blooming old swamp,
also where he always started into the same when trapping. You see,
somehow I got a hazy idea in this silly head of mine that some time or
other I might want to get a couple of chums to go with me, and try and
see what there was in the middle of the Black Water Swamps."

"That's good, Seth," declared one of his mates, encouragingly.

"The smartest thing you ever did, barring none," added Jotham.

"It's apt to be of more or less use to us right now, and that's a fact,"
was the way Paul put it.

"I reckon," Andy remarked, looking thoughtfully at Seth, "that you could
tell right now whether we happened to be near that same place. It would
be a great piece of good luck if we could run across the entrance, and
the trail your trapper friend made, without going far away from here."

"Let's see," continued Seth, screwing his forehead up into a series of
funny wrinkles, as he usually did when trying to look serious or
thoughtful, "he told me the path he used lay right under a big sycamore
tree that must have been struck by a stray bolt of lightning, some time
or other, for all the limbs on the north side had been shaven clean
off."

"Well, I declare!" ejaculated Jotham.

"Then you've noticed such a tree, have you?" asked Paul, instantly,
recognizing the symptoms, for he had long made a study of each and every
scout in the troop, and knew their peculiarities.

"Look over yonder, will you?" demanded Jotham, pointing.

Immediately various exclamations arose.

"That's the same old blasted sycamore he told me about, sure as you're
born," declared Seth, with a wide grin of satisfaction.

"The Beaver Patrol luck right in the start; didn't I say nothing could
hold out against that?" remarked Fritz.

"Come along, Paul; let's be heading that way," suggested Jotham.

In fact, all the scouts seemed anxious to get busy. The first pang of
regret over giving up their cherished plan had by this time worn away,
and just like boys, they were now fairly wild to be doing the next best
thing. They entered heart and soul into things as they came along,
whether it happened to be a baseball match; a football scrimmage on the
gridiron; the searching for a lost trail in the woods, or answering the
call to dinner.

And so the whole eight hurried along over the back road, meaning to
branch off at the point nearest to the tall sycamore that had been
visited by a freak bolt from the thunder clouds, during some storm in
years gone by.

Paul was not joining in the chatter that kept pace with their movements.
He realized that he had a serious proposition on his hands just then.
If so experienced a man as that muskrat trapper could get lost in Black
Water Swamps and stay lost for two whole days, it behooved a party of
boys, unfamiliar with such surroundings to be very careful in all they
did.

But Paul had ever been known as a cautious fellow. He seldom acted from
impulse except when it became actually necessary, in order to meet some
sudden emergency; and then there were few who could do things more
quickly than the patrol leader.

In a case of this kind, the chances were that they must take unusual
precaution against losing their bearings; that is, they must feel that
they had a back trail to follow in case forward progress became
impossible, or inexpedient.

Paul had his theory as to the best way to accomplish such a thing; and
of course it had to do with "blazing" trees as they went along. In this
fashion all chances of making mistakes would be obviated; and if they
failed to effect the rescue of the man who had dropped in the heart of
the dismal morass at least the eight boys need not share his sad fate.

Leaving the road they now headed straight for the sycamore that stood as
a land mark, and a specimen of the freaks of lightning. No sooner had
they reached it than Paul's eyes were on the ground.

The others heard him give a pleased exclamation, and then say:

"It's all right, fellows; because here is a well beaten trail that seems
to lead straight in to the place. And now, follow me in single file!"



CHAPTER XI

THE TRAIL IN THE SWAMP


When the eight scouts found that they were leaving solid ground, and
actually getting to where little bogs surrounded them on almost every
side, they had a queer feeling. Up to now none of them had ever had much
experience in passing through a real swamp, because there were no such
places nearer to Beverly than this one, and eighteen miles is quite too
far for boys to walk on ordinary occasions, when seeking fun.

They looked around time and again, though none of them dared loiter, and
Paul, as the leader, was setting a pretty good pace.

Just behind Paul came Seth. The scoutmaster had asked him to keep close
at his heels, for since Seth had acquired more or less of a fund of
swamp lore from the man who trapped muskrats for their pelts, in the
fall and winter, if any knotty problems came up to be solved the chances
were Seth would be of more use than any one of the other fellows.

Evidently they were in for some new and perhaps novel experiences. And
there is nothing that pleases the average boy more than to look upon
unfamiliar scenes, unless it is to run up against a bit of an adventure.

One thing Paul had made sure to fetch along with him when taking this
big hike, and that was his little camp hatchet. Fritz had begged to be
allowed to carry his old Marlin shotgun, under the plea that they might
run across some ferocious animal like a wildcat, or a skunk, and would
find a good use for the reliable firearm; but the scoutmaster had set
his foot down firmly there.

But they would have to make numerous fires while on the way, and a
little hatchet was apt to come in very handy.

And the feel of it in his belt had given Paul his idea about "blazing"
the trees just as soon as they no longer had the trapper's path to serve
them as a guide against their return.

It is a very easy thing to make a trail in this way; only care must
always be taken to make the slices, showing the white wood underneath
the bark, on that side of the tree most likely to be seen by the
returning pilgrim. Great loss of time must result if one always had to
go behind every tree in order to find the blaze that had been so
carefully given, not to mention the chances of becoming confused, and
eventually completely turned around.

That path twisted and turned in the most amazing and perplexing manner
possible.

Although Paul had purposely warned the boys to try and keep tabs of the
points of the compass as they passed along, in less than ten minutes
after striking the swamp proper it is doubtful whether one of them could
have told correctly just where the north lay, if asked suddenly; though
by figuring it out, looking at the sun, and all that, they might have
replied with a certain amount of accuracy after a while.

But then they felt sure Paul knew; and somehow or other they had always
been in the habit of relying on the scoutmaster to do some of their
thinking for them--a bad habit it is, too, for any boys to let
themselves fall into, and one that Paul often took them to task for.
They would cheerfully admit the folly of such a course, and promise to
reform, yet on the next occasion it would be the same old story of
depending on Paul.

"Path seems to be petering out a heap, Paul," remarked Seth, when
another little time had crept along, and they had penetrated still
deeper into the swamp, with a very desolate scene all around them, water
surrounding many of the trees that grew there with swollen boles, such
as always seems to be the case where they exist in swampy regions.

"Yes, I was thinking that myself," replied the other; "and it's about
time for me to begin using my little hatchet, even if I don't happen to
be George Washington."

"Let's stop for a breath, and listen," suggested Eben; "who knows now
but what we might be nearer where the balloon dropped than we thought.
P'raps we could even get an answer if we whooped her up a bit."

"How about that, Paul?" demanded Fritz, who could shout louder perhaps
than any other boy in Beverly, and often led the hosts as a cheer
captain, when exciting games were on with other school teams.

"Not a bad idea, I should say," was the reply, as the patrol leader
nodded his head in approval. "Suppose you lead off, Fritz, and let it
be a concerted yell."

Accordingly Fritz marshaled them all in a line, and gave the word. Such
an outbreak as followed awoke the sleeping echoes in the swamp, and sent
a number of startled birds flying madly away. Indeed, Jotham noticed a
rabbit bounding off among the hummocks of higher ground; and Noodles
afterwards declared that he had seen the "cutest little pussycat"
ambling away; though the others vowed it must have been a skunk, and
gave Noodles fair warning that if ever he tried to catch such a cunning
"pussycat" he would be buried up to the neck until his clothes were
fumigated.

"Don't hear any answer, do you, fellers?" remarked Seth, after the
echoes had finally died away again.

Everybody admitted that there seemed to have been no reply to the shout
they had sent booming along.

"Hope we didn't scare him by making such a blooming row," Seth went on
to say.

"I'm bothered more by thinking that he may have been killed, or very
badly hurt when the balloon fell down," Paul ventured to say.

The thought made them all serious again. In imagination they pictured
that valiant fellow who had taken his life in his hands in the interest
of sport, possibly lying there on the ground senseless, or buried in the
slimy mud, which could be seen in so many places all around them. And it
was far from a pleasing prospect that confronted those eight scouts,
though none of them gave any sign of wanting to back out.

"Mebbe a blast from my horn would reach him?" suggested Eben.

"Suppose you try it, eh? Paul?" Fritz remarked.

"No harm can come of it, so pitch in Eben," the other told the troop
bugler.

"And put in all the wind you c'n scrape together," added Seth.

Accordingly Eben blew a blast that could have been heard fully a mile
away. He grew red in the face as he sent out his call; and doubtless
such a sweet medley of sounds had never before been heard in that
desolate looking place since the time of the ice period.

"No use; he don't answer; or if he does, we don't get it," Seth
observed, in a disappointed tone.

"Then the only thing for us to do is to go ahead," Andy proposed.

"Paul's getting his bearings again," remarked Eben.

"I wanted to make dead sure," the scoutmaster observed, with a glow of
determination in his eyes. "You see, we tried to note just about where
the balloon seemed to fall; and it takes a lot of figuring to keep that
spot in your mind all the while you're turning and twisting along this
queer trail. But I feel pretty sure of my ground."

"Huh! wish I did the same," said Seth, holding up one of his feet, and
showing that he had been in black mud half way to his knee, when he
made some sort of bad guess about the footing under him.

Apparently Paul was now ready to once more start out. But they saw him
give a quick hack at a tree, and upon looking as they passed they
discovered that he had taken quite a slice off the bark, leaving a white
space as big as his two hands, and which could easily be seen at some
distance off in the direction whither they were bound.

That was called a "blaze."

If Seth thought he was having his troubles, they were slight compared
with those that attacked one other member of the little band of would-be
rescuers.

Noodles, besides being a good-natured chap, was more or less awkward.
Being so very stout had more or less to do with this; and besides, he
had a habit of just ambling along in any sort of happy-go-lucky way.

Now, while this might not be so very bad under ordinary conditions, when
there was a decent and level road to be traveled over, it brought about
all sorts of unexpected and unwelcome difficulties when they were trying
to keep to a narrow and crooked path.

Twice already had Noodles made a slip, and gone in knee-deep, to be
dragged out by some of his comrades. And he was glancing around at the
gloomy aspect with a look approaching _fear_ in his eyes, just as though
he began to think that they were invading a haunted region where
respectable scouts had no business to go, even on an errand of mercy.

Such was the wrought-up condition of his nerves, that when a branch
which some one had held back, and then let slip, came in contact with
the shins of Noodles, he gave out a screech, and began dancing around
like mad.

"Snakes! and as big as your wrist too! I saw 'em!" he called out,
forgetting to talk in his usual broken English way, because of his
excitement.

They had some difficulty in convincing him that it was only a branch
that had caressed his ankle, and not a venomous serpent; for Noodles
confessed that if he dreaded anything on the face of the earth it was
just snakes, any kind of crawling varmints, from the common everyday
garter species to the big boa constrictor to be seen in the menagerie
that came with the annual circus visiting Beverly.

Again and again was Paul making good use of his handy little camp
hatchet, and Seth took note of the manner in which the blazed trail was
thus fashioned. It may be all very fine to do things in theory, but
there is nothing like a little practical demonstration. And in all
likelihood not one of these seven boys but would be fully able to make
just such a plain trail, should the necessity ever arise. When one has
_seen_ a thing done he can easily remember the manner of doing it; but
it is so easy to get directions confused, and make blunders.

Paul was not hurrying now.

A mistake would be apt to cost them dear, and he believed that an ounce
of prevention is always better than a pound of cure. If they could avoid
going wrong, it did not matter a great deal that they made slow
progress. "Be sure you're right and then go ahead" was the motto of the
famous frontiersman, Davy Crockett, and Paul had long ago taken it as
his pattern too.

Besides, it paid, for any one could see that they were steadily getting
in deeper and deeper. The swamp was becoming much wilder now; and it was
not hard to realize that a man getting lost here, and losing his head,
might, after his bearings were gone, go wandering at haphazard for days,
possibly crossing his own trail more than a few times.

It seemed a lonesome place. Animals they saw none. Perhaps there might
be deer in the outer portions, but they never came in here. Although the
scouts saw no evidences that wild-cats lived in the swamp, they could
easily picture some such fierce animal crouching in this clump of matted
trees or back of that heavy bush, watching their passage with fiery
eyes.

The scouts found their long staves of considerable use from time to
time. Had Noodles for instance been more adept in the use of the one he
carried he might have been saved from a whole lot of trouble. Perhaps
this might prove to be a valuable lesson to the boy. He could not help
but see how smartly the others kept themselves from slipping off the
narrow ridge of ground by planting their staves against some convenient
stump, or the butt of a tree, anywhere but in the oozy mud.

"Wait up for me!" Noodles would call out every little while, when he
fell behind, for he seemed to have a horror lest he might slip into that
horrible bed of mud, and be sucked down before his chums could reach
him. "It iss nodt fair to leave me so far behindt der rest. How wouldt
you feel if you rescued der argonaut, and lose your chump; dell me dot?
Give eferypody a chance, and--mine gootness, I mighty near proke my pack
dot time," for he had come down with a tremendous thump, when his feet
slipped out from under him.

But as a rule boys are not apt to give a clumsy comrade much sympathy,
and hence only rude laughter greeted this fresh mishap on the part of
Noodles.

"Nature looked out for you when she saw what an awkward chap you were
going to be, Noodles," called back Fritz. "You're safely padded all
right, and don't need to feel worried when you sit down, sudden-like. If
it was me, now, there might be some talking, because I'm built more on
the jack-knife plan."

"Oh! what is that?" cried Eben, as a strange, blood-curdling sound came
from a point ahead of them; just as though some unlucky fellow was being
sucked down in the embrace of that slimy mud, and was giving his last
shriek for help.

As the other scouts had of course heard the same thing, all of the
detachment came to a sudden halt, and looking rather apprehensively at
one another, they waited to learn if the weird gurgling sound would be
repeated, but all was deathly still.



CHAPTER XII

WHERE NO FOOT HAS EVER TROD


"Now whatever do you suppose made that racket?" demanded Seth.

"Sounded just like a feller getting drowned, and with his mouth half
full of water. But I don't believe it could have been a human being, do
you, Paul?" and Eben turned to the one in command of the troop.

"No, I don't," returned the scoutmaster, promptly. "More than likely it
was some sort of a bird."

"A bird make a screechy sound like that?" echoed the doubting Eben.

"Some sort of heron or crane. They make queer noises when they fight, or
carry on in a sort of dance. I've read lots of things about cranes that
are hard to believe, yet the naturalists stand for the truth of the
accounts."

Paul started off again, as though not dismayed in the slightest by the
strange squawk, half human in its way. And his example spurred the
others on to follow in his wake, so that once more they were making
steady progress.

"I wouldn't care so much," grumbled Fritz, as he trailed along, "if only
I had a gun along. But it's tough luck to be smooching through a place
like this, where a sly old cat may be watching you from the branch
overhead, and your trusty Marlin hanging on the nails at home."

"They say you always see plenty of game when you haven't got a gun; and
so I guess we'll run across all sorts of things, from bobcats to
alligators!" Paul went on to remark, whimsically, but there was one
scout who chose to take his words seriously, and this was Noodles.

"What's that about alligators?" he called out from his place at the rear
of the little procession. "Blease don't dell me now as we shall some
reptiles meet up mit pefore we finish dis exblorations. If dere iss one
thing I don't like, worser as snakes, dose pe alligators. I would go
across der street to avoid dem. You moost some fun pe making when you
say dot, Paul?"

"Sure I am, Noodles," replied the scoutmaster quickly, "because there
are no alligators or crocodiles native to the state of Indiana. I
believe they have a few lobsters over in Indianapolis, but they don't
count. But the chances are we will run across some queer things before
we get out of this place."

"What gets me," remarked Jotham, "is the way the thing came on us. Why,
we'd just about said that we'd like to explore the old swamp, from
curiosity if nothing else, when that balloon hove in sight, and settled
down where we'd have to push right into the center of the place to find
the man who was hanging to the wreck."

"Well, we had our wish answered on the spot, didn't we?" questioned the
patrol leader, "and it came in such a way that we couldn't well back
out. So here we are, up to our necks in business."

"I only hopes as how we won't pe up to our necks in somedings else
pefore long," came a whine from the rear, that made more than one fellow
chuckle.

A number of times Paul stopped, for one reason or another. Now it was
some little imprint of animal feet that had attracted his attention in
the harder mud at the side of the narrow ridge he was following; then
again he wanted to listen, and renew his observations.

Seth was watching him closely. Somehow he was reminded of that grizzled
old carpenter whom he had observed, when the addition was being put to
their house, and who, after measuring a board three blessed times, and
picking up his saw, made ready to cut it in twain, when, possessed of an
idea that he must not make a miscalculation, laid down his saw, and went
to work to measure it for the fourth time!

Paul was not quite so bad as all that, but he did like to make sure he
was right before taking a step that could not be recovered, once it was
gone.

"There's one thing sure," Seth could not help remarking, after he had
watched Paul for some time, and noted how confident the other seemed
with every forward step that was taken.

"What might that be, Seth?" demanded Babe Adams, when the other paused.

"If that feller I talked with, the one that hunts muskrats around here
in the season, had been just half as smart as Paul, he never would a
lost hisself in the swamps, and come near starving to death."

"So say we all of us!" added Jotham.

"That's as neat a compliment as I ever had paid me, boys; though I
hardly think I deserve it, yet. Wait and see if we get lost, or not. The
proof of the pudding's in the eating of it, you know. Talk is cheap and
butters no parsnips, they say. I like to _do_ things. But honestly
speaking, I believe we're getting through this place pretty smartly."

"But she keeps agettin' darker right along, Paul?" complained Noodles,
taking advantage of a brief halt to pick up a stick and start to wiping
the dark ooze from the bottom of his trousers.

"That only means we're pushing steadily in toward the center; and I'm
beginning to lose my fear about getting there. Perhaps, after all, it
may be an easy thing to put our feet where those of no other white man
has ever trod."

Paul spoke with an assurance that carried the rest along with him. That
had ever been one of his strongest points at school in the leadership of
the class athletic and outdoor sports team.

It was getting more and more difficult for several of the scouts to
follow their leader. The narrow ledge had been bad enough, but when it
came to passing along slippery logs, with the water all around, and a
bath sure to follow the slightest mishap, Eben's nerve gave way.

"If it's going to keep up like this, Paul, you'll have to drop me out,
because I just can't do it, and that's a fact!" he wailed, as he clung
with both hands and knees to an unusually slippery place, having lost
his stick in making a miscalculation when trying to brace himself.

One of the other fellows recovered the staff, and then Eben was assisted
across. Paul had been expecting something like this, and was not very
much surprised. He felt pretty sure there was another who would welcome
an order to stay there on that little patch of firm ground, and wait for
the return of the rest.

"Well, I was just thinking of leaving a rear guard, to protect our line
of communications," he proceeded to say, gravely, but with a wink toward
Seth and Fritz, "and as it will be necessary for two to fill the
position, I appoint Seth and Noodles to the honorable post. You will
take up your position here, and if anybody tries to pass you by without
giving the proper countersign, arrest him on the spot."

"Which spot, Paul?" asked Noodles, solemnly.

"Well, it doesn't matter, so long as you stay here and guard our line of
retreat. And boys, keep your eyes on the watch for signals. Perhaps we
may have to talk with you by smoke signs. So you can amuse yourselves by
picking up some wood, and getting ready to start a smoky fire, only
don't put a match to it unless we call you."

"All right, Paul," returned Eben, taking it all in deadly earnest,
although the other fellows were secretly chuckling among themselves.
"And then again, I've got my bully old bugle, in case I want to give you
a call. Don't worry about Noodles; I'll be here to look after him."

"The blind leading the blind," muttered Seth as he turned his face away.

"There, you see now," broke in Fritz, "if we only had my gun along, Eben
here could be a real sentry, and hold a feller up in the right way.
Watch this second slippery log here, boys. You c'n easy enough push
anybody into the slush if he gets gay, and refuses to give the
password."

Then he in turn also followed after Paul, leaving the bugler and Noodles
there, congratulating themselves that they could be doing their full
duty by the enterprise without taking any more desperate risks.

And then when the six scouts had gone about fifty feet Eben was heard
wildly shouting after them.

"Paul, O! Paul!" he was bellowing at the top of his voice.

"Well, what is it?" asked the scoutmaster.

"You forgot something," came the answer.

"What?"

"You didn't give us the password, you know; and how c'n we tell whether
any fellers has it right, when we don't even know."

Paul just turned and walked on, laughing to himself; and those who
followed in his footsteps were shaking with inward amusement. Either
Eben had taken the bait, and gorged the hook, or else he was having a
little fun with them, no one knew which.

However, all of them soon realized that Paul had done a clever thing
when he thus coaxed the two clumsy members of the patrol to drop out of
line, and allow those better fitted for coping with the difficulties of
the slippery path to go forward; because it steadily grew worse instead
of better, and neither Eben nor Noodles could have long continued.

Why, even Fritz began to feel timid about pursuing such a treacherous
course, and presently he sought information.

"Don't you think we must be nearly in the heart of the old bog, Paul?
Seems to me we've come a long ways, and when you think that we've got to
go back over the same nasty track again, perhaps carrying a wounded man,
whew! however we are going to do it, beats me."

Paul stopped long enough to give a tree a couple of quick upward and
downward strokes with that handy little tool of his, and then glance at
the resulting gash, as though he wanted to make sure that it could be
seen a decent distance off.

"Well, that's a pretty hard question to answer," he replied, slowly. "In
the first place, we don't know whether the man fell into the heart of
the Black Water, or over by the other side. Fact is, we haven't come on
anything up to now to settle the matter whether he fell at all."

"Great governor! that _would_ be a joke on us now, wouldn't it, if we
made our way all over this beastly place, when there wasn't any aeronaut
to help? We'd feel like a bunch of sillies, that's right!" burst out
Fritz.

"But we acted in good faith," Paul went on to say, positively. "We
weighed the matter, and arrived at the conclusion that he had fallen
somewhere in here; and we agreed, _all of us_, mind you, Fritz, that it
was our duty to make a hunt for Mr. Anderson. And we're here on the
ground, doing our level best."

"Ain't got another word to say, Paul," Fritz observed, hastily, "you
know best; only I sure hope it don't get any worse than we find it right
now. I never did like soft slimy mud. Nearly got smothered in it once,
when I was only a kid, and somehow it seems to give me the creeps every
time I duck my leg in. But go right along; only if you hear me sing out,
stop long enough to give me a pull."

"We're all bound to help each other, don't forget that, Fritz," said
Seth. "It might just as well be me that'll take a slide, and go squash
into that awful mess on the right, or on the left. Don't know whether to
swim, or wade, if that happens; but see there, you can't find any bottom
to the stuff."

He thrust his long Alpine staff into the mire as far as it could go; and
the other scouts shuddered when they saw that so far as appearances
went, the soft muck bed really had no bottom. Any one so unfortunate as
to fall in would surely gradually sink far over his head, unless he were
rescued in time, or else had the smartness to effect his own release by
seizing hold of a low-hanging branch and gradually drawing his limbs out
of the clinging stuff.

Then they all looked ahead, as though wondering what the prospect might
be for a continuance of this perilous trip which had broken up their
great hike.

"I guess it's about time to make another try with a shout or so, Fritz,"
said Paul, instead of giving the order for an advance.

"All right, just as you say," returned the other, "we've come quite some
distance since we made the last big noise; and if he's weak and wounded,
yet able to answer at all, p'raps we might hear him this time. Line up
here, fellers, and watch my hands now, so's all to break loose
together."

It was a tremendous volume of sound that welled forth, as Fritz waved
his hands upward after a fashion that every high school fellow
understood; why, Seth declared that it could have been heard a mile or
more away, and from that part of the swamp half way out in either
direction.

Then they strained their ears to listen for any possible answer. The
seconds began to creep past, and disappointment had already commenced to
grip hold of their hearts when they started, and looked quickly,
eagerly, at one another.

"Did you hear it?" asked Fritz, gasping for breath after his exertions
at holding on to that long-drawn school yell.

"We sure did--something!" replied Jotham, instantly, "but whether that
was the balloonist answering, Eben or Noodles calling out to us, or some
wild animal giving tongue, blest if I know."

And then, why, of course five pair of eyes were turned on Paul for the
answer.



CHAPTER XIII

THE OASIS IN THE SWAMP


"Was that another fish-eating bird like a crane, Paul?" asked Seth.

"Sounded more like a human voice," Jotham put in.

"And that's what it was, or else we're all pretty much mistaken," was
the verdict of the scoutmaster.

They turned their eyes toward the quarter from whence the sound had
appeared to come; and while some thought it had welled up just in a line
with this bunch of bushes, or it might be a leaning tree, still others
believed it had come straight up against the breeze.

Although there might be a few points difference in their guesses, still
it was noticeable that on the whole they were pretty uniform, and
pointed almost due east from the spot where they stood.

"How about the prospect of getting through there?" queried Jotham,
anxiously.

"Huh! couldn't be tougher, in my opinion," grumbled Seth.

"But if you look far enough, boys," remarked Paul, "you can see that
there seems to be some firmer ground over there."

"Well, now, you're right about that, Paul," interjected Fritz, "I was
just going to say the same myself. Made me think of what an oasis in a
desert might look like, though to be sure I never saw one in my life."

"Solid ground, you mean, eh?" said Babe Adams, gleefully, "maybe, now,
we won't be just tickled to death to feel the same under our trilbies
again. This thing of picking your way along a slippery ledge about three
inches wide, makes me feel like I'm walking on eggs all the while. Once
you lose your grip, and souse you go up to your knees, or p'raps your
neck, in the nasty dip. Solid ground will feel mighty welcome to me."

"Do we make a bee line for that quarter, Paul?" asked Andy.

"I'd like to see you try it, that's what," jeered Seth. "In three shakes
of a lamb's tail you'd be swimming in the mud. Guess we have to follow
one of these crazy little hummocks that run criss-cross through the
place, eh, Frank?"

"Yes, you're right about that, Seth; but I'm glad to say I think one
runs over toward that spot; anyway, here goes to find out."

The young scoutmaster made a start while speaking, and the balance of
the boys lined out after him.

"Keep close together, so as to help each other if any trouble comes,"
was what Paul called out over his shoulder.

"Yes, and for goodness sake don't all get in at once, or we'll be
drowned. Think what an awful time there'd be in old Beverly, if six of
her shining lights went and got snuffed out all at once. Hey, quit your
pushin' there, Jotham, you nearly had me overboard that time."

"Well, I just _had_ to grab something, because one of my legs was in up
to the knee. Oh! dear, what a fine time we'll have getting all this mud
off us," Jotham complained, from just behind.

But they were making pretty fair progress, all the same; and whenever
any of the boys could venture to take their eyes off the faintly marked
path they were following, long enough to send a quick look ahead, they
saw that the anticipated haven of temporary refuge loomed up closer all
the time.

At least this was encouraging, and it served to put fresh zeal in those
who had begun to almost despair of ever getting across the acre of mud
that lay between the spot where they had last shouted, and the Promised
Land.

They were a cheery lot, taken as a whole; and what was even better, they
believed in passing their enthusiasm along. So one, and then another,
called out some encouraging words as the humor seized them.

Foot by foot, and yard by yard they moved along, Paul always cautious
about venturing upon unknown ground; but finding a way to gain his end.

"Here's a little patch of solid ground, and we can rest up for a minute
or so," was the welcome announcement that came along the line of toiling
scouts, and of course brought out various exclamations of delight.

It was indeed a great relief to be able to actually stand upright once
more, so as to stretch the cramped muscles in their legs. Some of the
boys even started to dancing, though Seth scorned to do anything like
this, and pretended to make all manner of fun of their contortions.

"Talk about them cranes doing funny stunts when they get together and
dance," he remarked, "I guess, now, they haven't got anything on you
fellers. Why, if anybody happened to see you carryin' on that way he'd
sure believe the whole bunch had broke loose from some lunatic asylum.
When I dance I like to have some style about it, and not just hop around
any old way."

So Seth took it out in stretching his arms, and rubbing the tired
muscles of his legs.

It was Jotham who made a discovery. In jumping around he had by chance
wandered a dozen yards away from the rest, when he was heard to give
vent to a cry; and the other boys saw him dart forward, as if to pick
something up from the ground.

"What is it, Jotham?" several cried in an eager chorus; for their nerves
had been wrought up to a high tension by all they had gone through, and
they felt, as Seth aptly expressed it, "like fiddle strings keyed to
next door to the snapping point."

For answer Jotham turned and came toward the rest. He was carrying some
object in his hand, and seemed to regard it with considerable interest,
as though he felt that he had made an important discovery.

As he reached the others he held it up before the scoutmaster; and of
course all could see what it was.

"A piece of old yellow cloth!" exclaimed Seth, in disgust, "say, you
made all of us believe that you'd run across something worth while."

"How about it, Paul?" appealed Jotham, turning to the one whom he
fancied would be more apt to understand, "don't this tell a story; and
ain't it a pretty good clue to run across?"

"I should say, yes," replied Paul, as he took the article in question in
his own hands, and felt of it eagerly, "because, you see, Seth, this is
really silk, the queer kind they always make balloons out of. And that
ought to tell us we're on the right track. So you see it was an
important pick-up, and ought to count one point for Jotham."

"Gee whittaker! you don't say?" ejaculated Seth, staring with
considerable more respect at the foot of dingy yellow stuff which the
scoutmaster was holding in his hands. "Well, if that's so, then I pass
along the honors to Jotham. But if a piece of the bally old balloon fell
right here, Paul, don't that tell us the wreck must a passed over where
we're standing now?"

"Not the least doubt about that," asserted the confident Paul, "and I
was just looking up to see if I could make out the course it took.
Because it must have struck the top of a tree, to tear this piece
loose."

"How about that one over yonder?" suggested Fritz, pointing as he spoke.
"Looks to me like the top was broke some, and I just bet you now that's
where the big gas-bag did strike first, when it started to drop in a
hurry."

"Then following the course of the wind, which hasn't changed this last
hour, it would be carried on straight east," Paul continued, logically.

"Sure thing," declared Seth, "and if you look close now, you'll glimpse
where it struck that smaller bunch of trees just ahead, where we're
going to land soon. And Paul, hadn't we better be trying our luck some
more now? Guess all the boys must be rested, and if we've just _got_ to
do the grand wading act, the sooner we get started the better."

"First let's call out again, and see if we get any answer. It would
cheer the poor fellow up some, if he happens to be lying there badly
hurt; and if he does answer, we'll get our bearings better. Hit it up,
Fritz!"

They always turned to Fritz when they wanted volume of sound. That
appeared to be his specialty, the one thing in which he certainly
excelled.

Of course there was little need of any great noise, now that they had
reason to believe the object of their solicitude must be close at hand;
but then boys generally have plenty of spare enthusiasm, and when Fritz
gave the required signal they let out a roar, as usual.

"There, that was certainly an answering call!" declared Jotham, proudly.

"Sounded like he said just two words--'help--hurry!'" spoke up Babe.

Somehow the rest seemed to be of about the same opinion, and the thought
gave the scouts a strange thrill. Was the unfortunate aeronaut slowly
bleeding to death, lying there amidst the bushes on that tongue of land?
They had given up their dearly cherished plan in order to rescue him,
and had undergone considerable in the line of strenuous work, so as to
arrive in time, and now that they were so close to the scene of his
disaster it would be too bad if they were held back until it was too
late to do him any good.

"Can't we hit it up a little faster, Paul?" begged Andy, who was rather
inclined to be impulsive, because of the warm Southern blood that flowed
in his veins.

They had once more started on, and were really making pretty good
progress; but when one gives way to impatience, it may seem that a fair
amount of speed is next door to standing still.

Paul understood the generous impulse that caused the Kentucky boy to
speak in this strain and while he knew that it was dangerous to attempt
any swifter pace than they were then making, still, for once, he bowed
to the will of the majority, and began to increase his speed.

All went well, for beyond a few minor mishaps they managed to get along.
What if one of the scouts did occasionally slip off the wretched
footing, and splash into the mud; a helping hand was always ready to do
the needful, and the delay could hardly be noticed.

"There's the beginning of the firm ground just ahead!" Paul presently
remarked, thinking to cheer his comrades with the good news.

"Oh! joy!" breathed Jotham, who often used queer expressions, that is,
rather odd to hear from a boy.

Seth was the more natural one of the two when he gave vent to his
delight by using the one expressive word:

"Bully!"

In a couple of minutes at this rate they would have reached the place
where the slippery trail merged into the more solid ground.

Perhaps some of the others may not as yet have noticed strange sounds
welling up out of the bushes beyond, but Paul certainly did, and he was
greatly puzzled to account for the same.

That singular growling could not be the wind passing through the upper
branches of the trees, for one thing. It seemed to Paul more like the
snarling of an angry domestic cat, several times magnified.

For the life of him he could not imagine what a cat would be doing here
in the heart of the dreaded Black Water Swamps. Surely no hermit could
be living in such a dismal and inaccessible place; even a crazy man
would never dream of passing over such a terribly slippery ledge in
order to get to and from his lonely habitation.

But if not a cat, what was making that angry snarling?

Paul knew next to nothing about balloons, but he felt pretty sure that
even the escaping of gas could hardly produce such a sound--it might
pass through a rent in the silk with a sharp hiss, but he could plainly
catch something more than that.

And then his foot struck solid ground; with a sigh of relief he drew
himself up, and turned to give a hand to Seth, next in line, if it was
needed.

So they all came ashore, so to speak, and delighted to feel able to
stand in a comfortable position once more.

No time now for stretching or dancing, with that ugly snarling growing
constantly deeper, and more angry in volume. Forward was the word, and
Paul somehow felt glad that they gripped those handy staves, tried and
true, with which every scout in course of time becomes quite adept. They
would come in good play should there be any necessity for prompt action.

"Follow me, everybody," said Paul, as he started off.

"Count on us to back you up!" Seth declared, from which remark the
scoutmaster understood that by now the others must have caught those
suspicious sounds, and were trying to figure out what they stood for.

It seemed as if with every forward step he took, Paul could catch them
more and more plainly. Nor was the snarling sound alone; now he believed
he caught a rustling of dead leaves, and something that might be likened
to low muttered words, as though the speaker were being hard pressed,
and had little breath to spare.

Then, as he pushed through the last fringe of bushes that interfered
with his view, Paul found himself looking upon the cause of all these
queer noises.



CHAPTER XIV

JUST IN THE NICK OF TIME


"Holy smoke! look at that, would you?" exclaimed Seth, who had been so
close on the heels of the scoutmaster that he sighted the struggling
objects ahead almost as soon as Paul did himself.

"It's a big wildcat!" echoed Jotham, with a suspicious tremor in his
voice.

Indeed, the animal in question was a sight well calculated to give any
one more or less reason to feel a touch of alarm.

Evidently she must be a mother cat, for a couple of partly grown kittens
stood there in plain sight, with every hair on their short backs
erected, and their whole appearance indicating that they were "chips off
the old block," as Seth afterwards declared.

The wounded aeronaut sat there with a stick in his grasp. This he was
wielding as best he could, to keep the angry animal at a distance,
although his efforts were growing pitifully weaker, and only for the
coming of the scouts he must have been compelled to throw up the sponge
in a short time.

Evidently the wildcat had come upon him there after he had been dropped
amidst the wreckage of his balloon. Whether it was her natural hatred
for mankind that tempted the savage beast to attack the balloonist, or
the scent of fresh blood from some of his scratches, it would be hard
to say, possibly both reasons had to do with her action.

Just how long the scrimmage had been going on Paul could only guess; but
he did know that the beast must have ripped the clothes partly off the
aeronaut's back, and in turn he could see that one of the animal's eyes
was partly closed, from a vigorous whack which the desperate man had
given with his cudgel, no doubt.

Paul instantly made straight for the scene of commotion, never so much
as hesitating a second. This was one of those emergencies spoken of
before now, when the scoutmaster did not allow himself to pause and
consider, but acted from impulse only.

The man saw him coming, and gave expression to his satisfaction in a
weak hurrah. As for the cat, at first it seemed ready to try conclusions
with the whole troop of Boy Scouts, for it turned on Paul with the
ugliest glare in its yellow eyes he had ever seen.

Every fellow was shouting vigorously by now, and the volume of sound
must have had more or less to do with settling the question. Besides,
the pair of kittens seemed to have been frightened off with the coming
of the scouts, having slid into the friendly bushes.

So the mother cat decided that after all she could yield gracefully to
superior numbers--seven to one was pretty heavy odds, and those waving
staves had an ugly look she did not exactly fancy.

But all the same there was nothing inglorious in her retreat; she
retired in perfect good order, keeping her face to the foe, and
continuing to spit and snarl and growl so long as she remained in sight.

Several of the scouts were for following her up, and forcing the issue;
but a word from Paul restrained them. He saw that the animal was
furiously angry, and if hard pushed would undoubtedly make things
extremely interesting for any number of fellows; flying into their
midst, so that they could not well use their sticks, and using her sharp
claws to make criss-cross maps across their faces.

Scratches from the claws of all carnivorous animals are dangerous. Blood
poisoning is apt to set in, because of the fact that their claws are
contaminated from the flesh of such birds or small game as have served
them for a previous meal. And just then Paul had nothing along with him
to prevent the possibility of such a dreadful happening taking place.

Seth in particular was exceedingly loth to give over. He looked after
the vanishing wild cat, and shook his head in bitter disappointment.
Only for his pride in obeying all orders that came to him from the
scoutmaster, Seth very likely would have followed the cat, and probably
rued his rashness when he had to call for help a minute or so later.

Meanwhile Paul had hurried to the side of the aeronaut, who raised his
hand in greeting, while a smile broke over his anxious face.

"Welcome, my brave boys!" he exclaimed. "I never dreamed that you could
ever get to me here, when I saw what a horrible sort of bog I had
dropped into. And then, after that savage beast set on me I about gave
myself up as lost. She kept walking around me, and growling for a long
time before she made a jump. Oh! it was a nightmare of a time, I assure
you. I've seen some scrapes before in my ballooning experiences, but
never one the equal of this. I'm mighty glad to meet you all. But I'll
never understand how you found me. After this I'll believe Boy Scouts
can do about anything there is going."

Well, that was praise enough to make every fellow glow with
satisfaction, and feel glad to know he wore the khaki that had won the
sincere respect of this daring voyager of the skies.

"I hope you're not very badly hurt, Mr. Anderson?" Paul ventured, as he
knelt at the side of the other.

"I don't believe it's serious, but all the same I'm pretty much crippled
after all I've gone through with on this ill-fated trip. But I'm willing
to exert myself to the limit in order to get out of this terrible swamp.
You can't make a start any too soon to please me."

Paul drew a long breath. If it had been so difficult for active boys,
used to balancing, and doing all sorts of stunts, to cross on those
treacherous little hummock paths, how in the wide world were they ever
going to get a wounded man out of this place?

He only hoped Mr. Anderson would prove to be the possessor of tenacious
will power, as well as a reserve fund of strength; he would certainly
have good need of both before he struck solid ground again, once the
return journey was begun.

"Well, while my chums are getting their breath after our little jaunt,
suppose you let me look at any cuts you've got, Mr. Anderson," he
suggested, first of all, in a business-like way that quite charmed the
aeronaut.

"What, you don't mean to tell me that you are something of a doctor as
well as a leader of scouts?" he remarked, with evident pleasure, as he
started to roll up one of the legs of his trousers, so as to expose his
bruised ankle.

"I know just a little about medicine, enough to make the other fellows
want me to take charge whenever they get hurt. Let me introduce my
friends, sir."

And accordingly Paul mentioned his own name, and then in turn that of
Andy, Babe, Jotham, Seth and Fritz; also stating that there were two
more in the patrol whom they had left stranded about half way out of the
swamp, to be picked up again on the return journey.

The pleased aeronaut shook hands heartily with each boy. He was
experiencing a delightful revulsion of feeling, for all of a sudden the
darkness had given way to broad daylight.

Paul on his part, after a superficial examination, was glad to find
there was really nothing serious the matter. He had feared lest he might
find a broken leg or even a few ribs fractured; but nothing of the kind
seemed to be the case.

It was true that Mr. Anderson had a lot of black and blue places upon
his person, and would doubtless feel pretty sore for some days to come,
but really Paul could not see why he should not be able to keep company
with his rescuers. He seemed to possess an uncommon share of grit; his
determined defense against the savage wildcat proved that plainly
enough; and on the whole, with what help the scouts might give on
occasion, there was a fair chance of his getting out of the swamp inside
of an hour or so.

"Now I'm ready to make a start, if you say the word," Paul observed,
when perhaps five minutes had passed.

The gentleman had been helped to his feet. Trying the injured leg, he
declared he believed he would be able to get along; even though he did
make a wry face at the very moment of saying this.

Paul endeavored to explain to him what sort of work lay before them,
passing along on such insecure footing.

"Well, I must get in touch with a doctor, and that as speedily as
possible," remarked Mr. Anderson, "and I'll get out of this horrible
place if I have to crawl every foot of the way on my hands and knees.
But I don't imagine it's going to come to such a pass as that, yet
awhile. I'm ready to take my first lesson, Paul, if so be you lead the
way."

Already the aeronaut seemed to have taken a great fancy for the young
scoutmaster; but then that was only what might be expected. Paul had led
the relief expedition; and besides, there was something attractive about
the boy that always drew people to him.

"Then please follow directly after me; and Seth, you fall in behind Mr.
Anderson, will you?" Paul went on to say.

"Huh! hope you don't mean that the way you say it," grunted Seth, with a
wide grin, "because, seems to me I've done nothing else but _fall in_
ever since I got on the go. I've investigated nearly every bog along the
line, and found 'em all pretty much alike, and not to my likin' one
single bit."

But all the same, Seth felt proud of the fact that the scoutmaster had
selected him for the post of honor; for he knew that, coming just behind
the wounded balloonist, he would be expected to lend a helping hand at
such times as Mr. Anderson experienced a slip.

Just the consciousness of responsibility was apt to make Seth much more
sure-footed than before. It is always so; and wise teachers watch their
chances to make boys feel that they are of some consequence. Besides,
experiences goes a great way and Seth, having tested nearly all the
muddy stretches along the way, had in a measure learned how to avoid
contact with them again.

In another minute the boys and Mr. Anderson were on the move. No doubt,
if that savage mother cat and her charges were secretly watching from a
leafy covert near by, they must have been heartily gratified because the
menacing enemy had seen fit to quit the oasis in the swamp, leaving the
remnants of the wrecked balloon to be pawed over by the frolicsome
kittens.

"I see that you are true scouts, for you have blazed the way as
prettily as I ever saw it done, Mr. Anderson remarked presently.

"That was Paul's doing," spoke up Seth, not in the least jealous.

"Oh! it's the easiest thing to do that anybody ever tried," declared the
scoutmaster without even looking back over his shoulder, for he needed
his eyes in front constantly.

"So I understand," continued Mr. Anderson, "but then, it isn't everybody
who can be smart enough to do the right thing at the right time."

"How do you make out, sir?" asked Paul, wishing to change the
conversation, for, strange to say, he never liked to hear himself
praised, in which he differed very much from the vast majority of boys.

"Getting along better than I expected, Paul," replied the wounded
balloonist.

"It's only a question of time, then, before we pass out of the swamp,"
the other went on to say. "And as we've got our trail all laid out, and
Seth knows the best places to try the mud, I guess we'll make it."

He was already thinking deeply and seriously. A sudden wild hope had
flashed into Paul's brain, and if all went well he meant to put it up to
the other scouts after a while.

When he looked at his watch he found that it was now just a quarter
after ten; and doing some lightning calculating he believed they could
be out of the morass, discounting any serious trouble, by another hour.

Then, supposing it took them forty-five minutes to get Mr. Anderson to
the nearest farm house, even though they had to make a rude stretcher,
and carry him, that brought the time to exactly noon.

Could they really do it, make the eighteen miles that still lay between
themselves and the field at Beverly, where they were expected to show up
some time that day, if they hoped to win the prize?

Some how the very possibility of being put upon his mettle gave Paul a
thrill. He had no doubts concerning his own ability to finish the great
hike within the specified space of time, before the sun had vanished
behind the western horizon, but it was a grave question whether some of
the other scouts could accomplish the task. There was Eben for instance,
never a wonder when it came to running; and then fat Noodles would be
apt to give out before two-thirds of those eighteen miles had been
placed behind them.

But if there was a ghost of a chance Paul was determined to take
advantage of it, and he believed that even the laggards would be keen to
make the attempt, once he mentioned the subject to them.

And so they kept pushing steadily along, Mr. Anderson showing wonderful
pluck, considering the pain he must be suffering all the while from his
numerous bruises and cuts.



CHAPTER XV

ON THE HOME-STRETCH


Perhaps they were becoming experts at the game; or it might be that the
going back over familiar ground made the job easier, since they could
see each slippery place where an accident had happened on the outward
trip, and thus grow additionally cautious.

Be that as it might, they made very few missteps on the return journey.
Even Mr. Anderson managed to do himself great credit, and Seth did not
have to help him up on the narrow ridge more than three or four times;
nor were any of his mishaps of a serious nature.

In due time, therefore, they came in sight of the place where Eben and
Noodles had been left. Their voices must have warned the pair that they
were coming, for they could be seen shading their eyes with their hands
to shut out the glare of the sun, as they watched the string of figures
slowly picking a path through the sea of mud and water.

Apparently they must have counted an extra form among the muddy group;
and just had to give expression to their satisfaction; for Noodles
yelped excitedly, while Eben sent out a series of blasts from his bugle,
which, upon examination, seemed to bear some faint earmarks to "Lo, the
Conquering Hero Comes!"

And when they landed at this half-way stage in their tiresome journey,
Mr. Anderson had to be introduced to the remaining members of the
Beaver Patrol. He also insisted on shaking hands with them, as he had
done all the others, and letting them know his now exalted opinion about
the ability of Boy Scouts to do wonders, all of which was sweetest music
in the ears of the pair who had been cheated out of their share of the
honors in the actual rescue party.

When the march was resumed--and Paul hastened matters as much as he
could in reason--Noodles and Eben insisted on asking many questions as
to just how they had found the balloonist. They grew quite excited when
they heard about the mother wildcat and her savage little kittens; and
even indulged in speculations as to what a great time they would have
had defending themselves, had a trio like that paid them a visit.

Oh! it was certainly wearisome work, keeping up that strained position
of the leg muscles so long. Paul began to fear that they would never be
able to accomplish the other task beyond, for he heard Noodles take his
regular plunges every little while, and judged that the stout boy must
by this time be a sight calculated to make his mother shed tears, if
ever she saw him in such a state.

But all things must come to an end, and finally Seth gave a shout, like
unto the glad whoop a wrecked mariner might set up at sight of land
ahead.

"There's the place where we started in, Paul; yes, and I can see that
queer tree at the spot the trapper's path ended, and the fun began!" he
exclaimed.

"Bless you, Seth, for those comforting words!" called out Eben from
close to the rear of the procession.

"One last little bulge, and then victory for us!" Fritz remarked, and if
the gladness expressed in his voice could be taken as an index to the
feelings of his heart, then the scout must be a happy fellow just then,
when the clouds rolled away, to let the sun shine again.

Of course they made it without any more trouble than Noodles giving a
last try at the friendly mud, as though wanting to really find out
whether it did have any bottom down below or not. And when they took
some sticks, and scraped the worst of the sticky mess off his face,
Noodles promised to be a sight indeed. But Paul assured him that they
would stop at the first spring they came across, in order to allow him
to wash some of the stuff off.

"Ain't we a nobby looking bunch of scouts now, though?" remarked Fritz,
as he glanced ruefully down at his muddy uniform; for as a rule the boy
had been quite particular with his clothes, having reformed after
joining the organization.

"It's too bad you were put to such straits to help me," declared Mr.
Anderson, heartily, "and I mean to do everything in my power to keep you
from feeling sorry that you gave up all chances of winning that
beautiful trophy today. It was a shame, and I regret having been the
unfortunate cause of it more than I can tell you."

"Oh! perhaps there might be a _little_ bit of a chance left to us yet,
sir," said Paul; at which every one of the other seven scouts pricked up
his ears and crowded around.

"What d'ye mean, Paul, by sayin' that?" demanded Seth, his eyes opening
wide as they became glued upon those of the scoutmaster, for knowing
Paul as he did, he understood that the other must have some clever idea
in mind.

"Yes, tell us what the scheme is?" pleaded Jotham, who had been really
more disappointed of giving up the hike than any of the others; for he
knew his mother, and a certain girl Jotham thought a good deal of, would
be on the grandstand at the baseball grounds, waiting to cheer him as he
passed by with his fellow scouts.

"It all depends on how long it takes us to get Mr. Anderson to the
nearest farmhouse," Paul went on.

"Why, I remember seeing a house near the road just below where we left
it to head for the swamp!" spoke up Fritz, eagerly, "and I guess we
could carry him there in less'n half an hour if we had to."

At that the aeronaut spoke up.

"I protest. Please don't take me into consideration at all, boys," he
hastened to say, "if there's the remotest chance for you to make your
race, leave me right here, and start off. I'll find my way to the road,
and then a farmhouse, where they'll take me in, and have me looked
after. You've done wonders for me as it is, saved my life, I haven't
the least doubt; and I'm going to remember it, you can depend, but I
wish you'd let me take care of myself from now on."

But Paul shook his head. He understood the feeling that prompted the
gentleman to speak in this vein; but he did not think Mr. Anderson was
as well able to look out for himself as he would have them believe.

"We never do things by halves, sir," the scoutmaster said, steadily. "If
you can hobble along with one of us on either side to help, we'll go
that way; but if it's too much of an effort then I'll show you how smart
we are about making a litter out of some of these saplings here on which
we'll carry you."

Mr. Anderson looked pleased to hear Paul talk in this confident way; but
would not listen to such a thing as treating him like a badly wounded
man.

"Give me a shoulder to lean on, and I'm sure I can make it in decent
time, boys," he declared.

So Paul ranged on his right, with sturdy Seth closing up on the left,
and in this fashion they started out.

The road was no great distance away, it will be remembered; and in less
than ten minutes they had reached it. Then turning toward distant
Beverly, they commenced to cover the ground they had previously gone
over.

There was no mistake about the farmhouse, in due time it was reached.
Their arrival quite excited the little household, for the men had come
in from the fields to their midday meal.

Paul did not want to stop to explain matters; all that could be left to
Mr. Anderson. The odor of dinner did make more than one of the scouts
raise his eyebrows, and exchange a suggestive look with another; but
they realized that every minute was precious to them now, and that they
just could not stay long enough to sit and partake, though the farmer
cordially invited them.

They did accept a few things to munch at as they walked along; and
promised to send word to a certain address which the aeronaut gave them;
and in fact Paul was to notify a committee by wire that disaster had
overtaken the _Great Republic_, but that the aeronaut was safe, and
wished the news to be communicated to his wife at a certain hotel in St.
Louis.

Of course all of the boys knew what the new hope that had come to Paul
amounted to. He had, with his customary carefulness, shown them in black
and white figures just the number of miles that still remained
uncovered, about eighteen in all, and then they figured out when the sun
would be setting at Beverly.

"Six full hours, and then some," Seth had declared, with a look of
contempt; as though he could see no reason why they should not come in
on time easily. "Why, of course we c'n do it, and then not half try.
Now, you'd think I'd be feeling stiff after that crouching work in the
swamp. All a mistake. Never fitter in my life. I could start on a run
right now, and cover some miles without an effort."

"Well, don't do it, then," advised Paul, "you know what happens to the
racer who makes too big an effort in the start. Get warmed up to your
work, and there's a chance to hold out. Better be in prime condition for
the gruelling finish. That's the advice one of the greatest all-around
athletes gives. So we'll start at a fair pace, and later on, if it
becomes necessary we'll be able to run some."

Of course Paul was thinking while he said this of the weak links in the
chain, no other than Eben and Noodles. The latter was a wretched runner
at best. He could walk fairly well, after a fashion, as his work of the
last three days proved; and by judicious management Paul hoped to coax
Noodles along, mile after mile.

As they walked they munched the sandwiches provided at the farm house
where Mr. Anderson had been left. Thus they killed two birds with one
stone, as Paul put it--continued to cover a couple of precious miles
while securing strength and comfort from the food.

Whenever a chance occurred Noodles would get to work again scraping some
more dirt off his garments. Fritz often declared the county would
prosecute him for leaving so many piles of swamp mud along the pike; but
after each and every operation the stout boy declared that he felt in
far better trim to continue the journey, and that at least pleased all
hands.

"I'm beginning to hope, Noodles," remarked Jotham, "that by the time we
get to Beverly you'll look half way decent, and not make the girls
ashamed to own us as we march through the town to the music of a band,
mebbe."

"Put I don't want to be owned py any girl as I knows; so what
differences does idt make, dell me?" was all the satisfaction he got
from the other; who was evidently more concerned about the cost of a new
suit, all to be earned by his own individual exertions, than anything
else.

When the first hour had passed, and they found that they had made four
miles as near as could be told, some of the scouts were exultant, and
loudly declared it was going to be as easy as falling off a log.

"A regular picnic, believe me!" declared Seth.

"Like taking candy from the baby!" Fritz affirmed.

"A walk-over!" was Babe's style of expressing his sentiments.

"Well, it will be that, if we ever get to Beverly green before the sun
drops out of sight," laughed Paul.

He was only concerned about Noodles, truth to tell, for he knew that
Eben, while no great athlete, had a reserve fund in his stubborn
qualities, and would shut his teeth hard together toward the end,
plodding along with grim determination. Noodles must be watched, and
coddled most carefully, if they hoped to carry him with them over the
line in time to claim the glorious trophy.

And that was really why Paul asked him to walk along with him, so that
he could from time to time cheer the other up by a few words of praise
that would make him believe he was showing great improvement in his
stride. It could be seen by the way his eye lighted up that Noodles
appreciated this flattery; he had a real jaunty air as he walked on, and
even cast an occasional glance of commiseration back at the fellows
less highly favored than himself.

Besides, Paul, as a careful manager, wished to husband a certain portion
of the other's strength for the last five miles. He knew that must be
the sticking time, when probably Noodles would declare he could not go
another step, and endeavor to drop down beside the road to rest.

Now Paul knew how far being diplomatic went in an affair of this kind.
He remembered hearing a story about two gentlemen on a hunting trip up
in Maine, carrying a couple of air rubber mattresses for sleeping
purposes, and wondering how they could get the two guides, one a native,
and the other a Penobscot Indian, to blow them up every night.

So during the supper one of them got to comparing the chests of the two
men, and exciting their rivalry as to which had the larger lungs. When
he had them fully primed he said he had means of testing the matter, and
brought out the twin air mattresses. Eagerly then the guides lay flat on
their stomachs, and at the word started to blow like two-horse power
engines. The first test was declared a _tie_; and after that the guides
could hardly wait for night to come to try out their lungs against each
other.

And with this story in his mind the young scoutmaster determined to play
the two weak members of the Beaver Patrol against each other, having in
view the benefit that would result from such keen rivalry.

First he talked to Noodles about Eben's awakening talent in the line of
pedestrian feats; and soon had the stout boy affirming that he could
beat the best efforts of the bugler without more than half trying.

Then Paul found a chance to arouse the ambition of Eben in turn, by
hinting at what Noodles had boasted. Thus Paul presently had the two
lads jealously watching each other. They did not come to any open
rupture, because they were good fellows, and fast friends, but did Eben
happen to take a notion to go up a little in the line in order to speak
to one of the others, Noodles clung to him like a leech.

Indeed, Paul had to restrain the eager pair more than once, for they
were so determined to excel the record, each of the other, that they
gave evidences of even wanting to run.

By carefully nursing this spirit of emulation and rivalry the patrol
leader believed he was assisting the cause, without doing either of his
chums the slightest injury. It was a case of simply bringing out all
there was in a couple of lads who, as a rule, were prone to give up too
easily.

And so they kept tramping along the turnpike leading toward home,
jollying each other, and every now and then, when resting for a bit,
trying to remove some of the dreadful evidences of black mud from their
usually natty uniforms and leggins.

"P'raps they'll think it the biggest joke going," remarked Seth, "when
they get on to it that we've been in the Black Water Swamps, and I guess
Freddy's crowd'll laugh themselves sick, like a lot of ninnies, but just
wait till we tell what took us there, and show the card Mr. Anderson
gave us, with his message for St. Louis on the back. Then it seems to me
the laugh will be on them."

They took great consolation in remembering what a gallant piece of work
they had been enabled to carry out since leaving Camp Alabama that
morning. It would perhaps be carried far and wide in the papers, when
Mr. Anderson's story was told, and reflect new glory on the uplifting
tendency of the Boy Scout movement. People who did not understand what a
wonderful lot of good was coming out of teaching growing lads to be able
to take care of themselves under any and all conditions, besides being
considerate for others, brave in time of danger, and generous toward
even their enemies, would have their eyes opened.

And so it was a happy and merry parcel of scouts that plodded along the
road leading to Beverly town that afternoon, as the sun sank lower and
lower toward the West.



CHAPTER XVI

"WELL DONE, BEAVER PATROL!"


They had struck along the road leading from Scranton, and reached the
well-known Jerusalem pike, of which mention has been frequently made in
previous stories of this series.

As they passed the Stebbens and the Swartz farms the scouts gave a cheer
that brought a waving of handkerchiefs from the windows of the houses,
which were in plain sight of the road.

Far down in the west the glowing sun was sinking; but Paul had
calculated well, and he knew that, barring accidents, they could easily
make the town before the king of day passed from sight.

Once they had halted for a few minutes' rest, the last they expected to
enjoy, and Paul had taken advantage of the opportunity to start a smoky
fire; after which he and Seth, the signal sender of the patrol, used the
latter's blanket to send a series of dense smoke clouds soaring upward
at certain intervals.

One of the boys who expected to join the second patrol in the early
fall, Steve Slimmons, would be on the lookout for this signal that would
announce the coming of the weary column; and when he caught sight of the
smoke waves it would be his duty to announce that, after all, the scouts
had not fallen down in their brave attempt to win that glorious trophy;
but were coming right along, and hoped to be on hand in due time.

Well, there would be a good many suppers delayed in and around Beverly
on that night, some of the scouts told each other.

They could easily picture the green swarming with people, all watching
up the road for the patrol to turn the bend, and come in sight, with
unbroken ranks, having fulfilled the conditions of the hike to the
letter.

There was no longer any need for Paul to excite the slumbering ambitions
of either Eben or Noodles. Why, after they passed the crossroads where
the ruins of the old blacksmith shop lay, in which they had held their
first meetings, but which had been mysteriously burned down, some
thought by mischievous and envious town boys--after they had gone by
this well-known spot, and sighted the Scroggins farm beyond, every
fellow had actually forgotten such a thing as fatigue. They held
themselves up straight, and walked with a springy step that would go far
toward indicating that a hundred miles in four days was only play for
such seasoned veterans.

And now the outlying houses of the home town began to loom up. Why, to
several of the boys it really seemed as though they must have been away
for weeks. They eagerly pointed out various objects that were familiar
in their eyes, just as if they had feared the whole map of the town
might have been altered since they marched away on their little four day
tramp.

Seth in particular was greatly amused by hearing this kind of talk. He
had been away from home so much that the novelty of the sensation of
coming back did not appeal to him, as it may have done to Eben and
Jotham for instance.

"You fellers," said Seth, chuckling while he spoke, "make me think of
the little kid that took a notion to run away from home, and wandered
around all day. When night came along he just couldn't stand it any
longer, and crept home. His folks knew what was up, and they settled on
punishing him by not noticing him, or saying a thing about his being
gone. The kid tried to ketch the attention of maw, but she was sewing,
and kept right along, just like he'd been around all day. Then he tried
dad; but he read his paper, and smoked his pipe, and never paid the
least attention. That boy just couldn't understand it. There he'd been
away from home a whole year it seemed to him, since morning, and yet
nobody seemed to bother the least bit, or make a fuss over him. And when
he couldn't get a rise from anybody, he saw the family pussy sittin' by
the fire. 'Oh!' he says, says he, 'I see you've still got the same old
cat you had when I went away!'"

Even Eben and Noodles laughed at that. They knew the joke was on them;
but just at that moment both were feeling too happy to take offense at
anything.

"There's the church steeple!" cried Babe.

"Yes, you're so tall you c'n see things long before the rest of us do,"
declared Jotham, not maliciously, but with the utmost good humor, for
he knew that in a very short time now he would see his dear little
mother, proudly watching him march past; and perhaps also discover a
tiny web of a handkerchief waving from the pretty hand of a certain
little girl he knew; and the thought made Jotham very happy.

"Listen! ain't that boys shouting?" demanded Seth.

"Just what it is now," replied Andy. "They've got scouts at the bend of
the road, and know we're coming."

"We've done what we set out to do, fellers!" cried Seth, gloatingly.

"And the trophy belongs to us; for right now we're in Beverly town, and
there's the blessed old sun still half an hour high," Fritz observed
with pardonable pride in his voice.

"And think of us getting that balloon man safe out of the Black Water
Swamps; yes, and going to the middle of the patch, something that they
say nobody ever did before! That's going to be a big feather in our
caps, believe me," Seth went on to say, as he took a glance down at his
stained khaki trousers and leggins.

Paul gave his little command one last look over, for they were now at
the bend, and in another minute would come under the eyes of the dense
crowd which, from all the signs that came to his ears, he felt sure had
gathered to welcome the marching patrol home again after their long
hike.

Then the curve in the road was reached; a dozen more steps and they
turned it, to see the green fairly black with people, who waved their
hats and handkerchiefs, and shouted, until it seemed to the proud scouts
that the very foundations of the heavens must tremble under the roaring
sound.

Chief Henshall was there, together with several of his men, keeping an
avenue open along which the khaki-clad boys were to march, to a spot in
front of the grand stand, where the generous donor of the trophy,
together with a committee of prominent citizens of Beverly, waited to
receive them.

It was perhaps the proudest moment in the lives of those eight boys when
Paul, replying to the little speech which accompanied the passing of the
silver cup, thanked Mr. Sargeant and the committee for the great
interest taken in the formation of Beverly Troop; and in a few words
explained just why he and his comrades came so near being unable to
fulfill the obligations governing the hike.

When Mr. Sargeant read aloud the message which the wrecked balloonist
was wiring to St. Louis, in which he declared that he owed his very life
to the daring of the Boy Scouts, who had penetrated to the very center
of the Black Water Swamps in order to rescue him, such a din of cheering
as broke out had never been heard in Beverly since that
never-to-be-forgotten day when the baseball nine came up from behind in
the ninth inning, and clinched the victory that gave them the high
school championship of the county for that year.

But the boys now began to realize that they were, as Seth expressed it,
"some tired," and they only too willingly allowed their folks to carry
them off home, to get washed up, and partake of a good meal. But no
matter what each scout may have secretly thought when he sat down to a
white tablecloth, with silver, and china, and polished glass around him,
he stoutly avowed that nothing could equal the delight of a camp-fire,
tin cups and platters, and simple camp fare, flanked by an appetite that
was keener than anything ever known at home.

This work of four days was likely to long remain the banner achievement
of the Beaver Patrol lads; but the vacation period still held out a few
weeks further enjoyment, and it may be readily understood that such
wide-awake fellows would be sure to hatch up more or less excitement
before the call came to go back to school duties.

That this proved to be the case can be understood from the fact that
another volume follows this story, bearing the significant title of "The
Boy Scouts' Woodcraft Lesson; or, Proving Their Mettle in the Field."
And the young reader who has become interested in the various doings of
the scouts belonging to the Beaver Patrol can find in the pages of that
book further accounts of what Acting Scoutmaster Paul Prentice and his
seven valorous chums started out to accomplish, in order to prove that
the education of a Boy Scout brings out the best there is in him, under
any and all conditions.

The End

------------------------------------------------------------------------

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Transcriber's Notes:

1. Punctuation has been normalized to contemporary standards.

2. corrections to typographic errors in original:

  Table of Contents listed Chapter VIII on page 17, corrected to 71.

  p. 11 "samee" to "same" ("But all the same, I want")

  p. 26 "sup-up" to "sun-up" ("since sun-up")

  p. 29 "fresk" to "fresh" ("hankering after fresh milk")

  p. 41 "superflous" to "superfluous" ("superfluous burdens")

  p. 48 "promises" to "promised" ("promised to be a most fortunate thing")

  p. 73 "mortagge" to "mortgage" ("meant to pay off my mortgage")

  p. 79 "befel" to "befell" ("seldom if ever befell ordinary lads")

  p. 81 "alway" to "always" ("as the papers always make out")

  p. 85 "trememduous" to "tremendous" ("tremendous cheer")

  p. 101 "or" to "of" ("habit of relying")

  p. 112 "susprised" to "surprised" ("not very much surprised")

  p. 143 "commisseration" to "commiseration" ("glance of commiseration")

  p. 146 "Jersualem" to "Jerusalem" ("well-known Jerusalem pike")

  p. 149 "price" to "pride" ("with pardonable pride in his voice")

  First advertising page ("Boys Copyrighted Books"):
     "Tayne" to "Jayne" ("Lieut. R. H. Jayne.")

  Fourth advertising page ("Donohue's Plays"):
     "eveything" to "everything" ("everything that is fresh")





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that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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