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Title: Boy Scouts: Tenderfoot Squad - or, Camping at Raccoon Lodge
Author: Douglas, Alan
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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: Tenderfoot Squad - or, Camping at Raccoon Lodge" ***

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[Illustration: _The tree had caught Jem Shock fairly in a trap_]



Tenderfoot Squad; _or, Camping at Raccoon Lodge_

BY CAPTAIN ALAN DOUGLAS SCOUT MASTER

[Illustration]

    M. A. DONOHUE & COMPANY
    CHICAGO   ::    NEW YORK



    Copyright, 1919, BY
    NEW YORK BOOK COMPANY


    Made in U. S. A.



CONTENTS


    CHAPTER                                 PAGE
       I. SURVEYOR RUFUS AND HIS FRIENDS      11
      II. THE GAME POACHER, JEM SHOCK         22
     III. "HIT THE KNOT AND HIT IT HARD!"     33
      IV. SHOWING THE GREENHORNS              46
       V. THE SPIRAL OF BLUE SMOKE            55
      VI. A LITTLE WOODS MINSTREL             66
     VII. MAKING A BARGAIN WITH CONRAD        75
    VIII. A PERIL THAT LAY IN WAIT            89
      IX. THE STRANGE MESSAGE JEM LEFT       102
       X. A CABIN IN THE CLEARING            111
      XI. WHEN THE STORM BROKE               122
     XII. SCOTCH BLOOD                       133
    XIII. A CALL FOR HELP                    146
     XIV. SCOUTS TO THE RESCUE               155
      XV. RUFUS MAKES A STAND                166
     XVI. "ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL!"       177



TENDERFOOT SQUAD



CHAPTER I

SURVEYOR RUFUS AND HIS FRIENDS


"ALL aboard for Raccoon Bluff. Those who can't get aboard take the rail
route! Hi! Elmer, squeeze in!"

"On deck, Lil Artha; but do you expect me to climb on top of that
mountain of camp duffle, and other luggage you've got piled up, so that
your car looks like a tin peddler's outfit?"

"Oh! we've reserved just one crack for you, Elmer. That's right!" sang
out the khaki-clad boy at the wheel, "work your way in alongside George
Robbins, who's holding down the rear seat with Lil Artha. I've got Alec
McGregor beside me here. And after all, worse luck, I had to leave some
things behind that I wanted to take the worst kind."

"What's this sticking out--a gun? You ought to know that it's the off
season for most kinds of game, Lil Artha," expostulated the latest
passenger, as, following directions, he painfully forced his way into
the heavily laden car.

"Yes, I know, and I don't intend to do any great stunts at hunting,
Elmer. I only thought it might be good policy to fetch my little
reliable Marlin along, because sometimes it's mighty pleasant to know
you've got some means of defense handy in case of trouble."

"Hear! hear!" ejaculated the boy answering to the name of George
Robbins, and who it may be said in passing--for the reader would soon
find it out anyway--was a regular born "Doubting Thomas," who nearly
always had to be shown, and seldom believed any statement unless it were
backed up with abundant proof. "Sometimes there are other beasts abroad
in the wild woods besides the common four-footed kind. I believe now
we've all had our experiences with tramps and yeggmen of the Weary
Willie species. For one, I'm glad you fetched your gun along, Lil
Artha."

Meanwhile the driver had once more started the car, and they were moving
along the streets of the home town. Several groups of boys, some of whom
also wore the well-known khaki of the scouts, called out to them in
greeting, and even waved their hats with a salute. Envious eyes followed
the car as it sped along in a cloud of dust; for it was pretty generally
known that the lucky five were starting off on a week's camping trip;
and those fellows of the Hickory Ridge group of Boy Scouts could
anticipate a glorious time ahead for the favored ones.

While the big old seven-passenger touring car, which the father of Rufus
Snodgrass had loaned them for the occasion, is speeding along, doing
very good time as long as the road is fair, a few words connected with
these lively lads may not come in amiss.

Elmer Chenowith was the leader of the well-known Wolf Patrol, and those
boys who have had the good luck to own some of the previous stories in
this series do not need to be told that he was a capable and resourceful
lad, who through his merits as a first-class scout had received from
Headquarters the privilege of acting as assistant scout-master, a rôle
only filled by the most efficient in a troop.

"Lil Artha" was really Arthur Stansbury. When he was very young he had
been given this nickname, and even after he suddenly shot up like a
mushroom, so that he now measured a full head taller than any of his
mates, he could not shake off the ridiculous appellation. People always
smiled when hearing it for the first time; but then Lil Artha treated
the matter as a huge joke, and often joined in the laugh when the
subject came up.

George Robbins was a pretty good sort of a chap, only he did worry his
chums by his continual fault finding, and that everlasting desire to
have everything proved before he could "swallow" it. At one time he had
been inclined to be thin, and a rather poor hand at meal times; but of
late his folks seldom had to ring the dinner bell twice for George;
indeed, as a rule he was keeping an ear to the ground listening for the
welcome sound.

The other two boys were new members of Hickory Ridge Troop, and had not
as yet progressed beyond the greenhorn stage. Indeed, it was partly with
the hope that various opportunities for teaching the "tenderfoot
squad"--as Lil Artha persisted in calling the pair--all sorts of useful
knowledge that scouts must sooner or later acquire, that had induced
Elmer to give up another partly formed plan and consent to accompany the
expedition into the woods.

Rufus Snodgrass was a rather peculiar boy, taken in all. Elmer believed
he had never up to that time come in contact with just such an odd
fellow. He had been somewhat spoiled by a doting mamma, though Elmer
believed he possessed many good qualities about him, if only some
revolution could only bring them forward.

In the first place Rufus lacked self-reliance to a remarkable extent. He
could not seem to feel confidence in himself when some sudden or
alarming emergency arose. On this account he turned out to be somewhat
of a failure as a baseball player, for when he saw a high ball driven to
his outfield his heart always sank "to his shoes," as he told himself he
never could get that fly in the wide world; and lacking confidence he
seldom did hang on to it.

Elmer had faith to believe he could cure Rufus of this grievous fault if
only he associated with him in camp for a time. He would show him a
score of things such as go to make good scouts, and teach him how to
"hit the knot squarely in the centre," when chopping wood, to begin
with.

Alec McGregor was a boy who had not been a great while in America. His
folks, needless to say, hailed from Scotland, and freckle-faced and
red-headed Alec had a delightful little "burr" to his tones when
talking. Like so many of his kind he was inclined to be a bit
pugnacious, and hot-tempered; still Elmer believed him to be both
warm-hearted, and as true as steel. After he had been with the scouts a
while, and picked up a few lessons in the broad principles of the craft,
the patrol leader fancied that Alec would prove one of the smartest
members of the troop.

He had a little sister named Jessie at home, a pretty rosy-cheeked
Scotch lassie, who was the pride of his heart. The boy never tired of
chanting her praises, and often sang ballads, in which "Sweet Jessie,
the Flower of Dumblane," occupied the leading part. And Alec had a
robust tenor voice in the bargain, which his mates always liked to hear
when seated about the camp fire.

Now as to their reason for taking this thirty-mile trip, laden down with
tent, camp duffle, edibles enough for a regiment, and all sorts of traps
in the bargain, so that the car did resemble a moving van, just as Elmer
had remarked when it stopped at his gate for him to work his way aboard.

Mr. Snodgrass was a rich man who had latterly taken up his residence in
the town. He had come into possession of a large tract of land, partly
heavily wooded, and lying up along Raccoon Bluff, a place the boys had
often heard of, but none of them ever visited.

Now, it seemed that Rufus had just one great ambition, which was to
become a civil engineer when he grew up. His mother had supplied him
with all the necessary instruments for the calling of a surveyor, and
for several years now Rufus had associated himself at odd times with
some people engaged in the business, doing very hard work for a boy of
his customary easy habits, simply because his heart was enlisted in the
game.

He now believed that he could carry out the lines about a tract of
ground as well as the next one; and upon hearing his father say that he
distrusted the accuracy of a recent survey that had been given him of
the new territory purchased, Rufus became possessed of an idea which he
was now engaged in carrying out.

His folks had readily given their consent that he should get several of
his scout chums to accompany him up to Raccoon Ridge, and assist him to
re-survey the ground. Indeed, Mr. Snodgrass, who was not blind to the
failings of his only son and heir, insisted that he coax Elmer Chenowith
to go along, as a necessary preliminary to his loaning the big car and
also paying all the expense in the way of provisions.

The real-estate man was a good reader of human nature, and after hearing
all the fine things that were being said about the Chenowith boy he took
occasion to have a heart-to-heart talk with Elmer, in which he told the
patrol leader how much he hoped association with a fellow like him would
be worth to Rufus, and actually begged him to consent to be a member of
the little company.

So that was the way things stood. Rufus, of course, did not know about
this secret understanding between his father and Elmer; had he done so
he might have rebelled, for he was exceedingly high-spirited. As it was
he felt that all these good fellows were only keeping him company
because of their love for outdoor life.

It was that sly rascal, George, who had managed to get possession of the
ear of Rufus, and gain his consent to make out the list of edibles they
would likely want while away. Which fact accounted for the "young
grocery store," as Lil Artha termed it, that was taken along. But then,
no healthy boy has ever been known to be dismayed at a superabundance of
good things to eat; and as Rufus's father did not object to the size of
the bill, none of them felt he really ought to say a single word.

They made no attempt to speed, for what did thirty-odd miles amount to
when in a car, with an abundance of gasolene to take one through? An
hour saw them well on their way. Farmhouses were now becoming "as scarce
as hens' teeth," to quote Lil Artha. As they had not started until
nearly ten in the morning, owing to various causes, it was now getting
well on toward noon.

"What say we pull up at the next farm-house we strike, and get dinner,
if the good woman of the place will agree?" asked the driver of the
expedition, who had in the beginning laid down the law that no one was
going to spend one cent except himself, for his father had insisted on
this.

"Suits me, all right," said George, with alacrity. "You see, I had
breakfast pretty early this morning, and right now I'm feeling about as
empty as Si Hunker's hen-coop was that morning after the gypsies camped
near his place."

Some ten minutes afterwards they found a wayside farm-house, and the
woman, for a consideration, agreed to cook dinner for the crowd. Elmer
on his part took occasion to pick up considerable useful information
concerning the region which generally went under the name of Raccoon
Bluff, possibly because there chanced to be an unusually large number of
those "ring-tailed varmints" so destructive to corn fields, and poultry
flocks, making their dens in hollow trees around that vicinity.

Among other things the farmer warned Elmer to keep an eye out for Jem
Shock. The oddity of the name impressed the boy, and he asked what there
might be about the said Jem to give them any cause for uneasiness.

"Well, Jem has been a thorn in the flesh of folks up in this neck of the
woods for nigh ten years now, I guess," was what the tiller of the soil
told him. "He c'n work when he wants to, but he'd a heap rather loaf,
with a gun over his shoulder. He fishes and hunts out of season. I've
seen him spearing trout, and more'n once heard how he was known to be
taking meat home in the close season, that couldn't have been sheep or
veal. Besides that, he's a quarrelsome man, and a desperate character. I
wouldn't trust him out of my sight, for I believe he'd steal from a camp
as quick as anything. But I hope you don't have any trouble with Jem."

Elmer hoped so, too. At the same time he found himself wondering
whether, after all, some of those country people might not be judging
the man harshly. Perhaps Jem Shock might not be such a bad character, on
better acquaintance. And Elmer decided that if the opportunity should
come to him he would take occasion to know the old poacher at close
range, so as to study him well.

Once more they were on the move, and as this farm-house would be the
last they expected to run across, all of them were keenly on the lookout
for signs of the ridge which would mark their arrival at Raccoon Bluff.

They had possibly gone six or seven miles since eating that glorious
farm dinner, when suddenly as they were passing slowly through a piece
of woodland where the road was a bit soft and wet, there rang out the
nearby report of a rifle, startling them all, and causing George Robbins
to involuntarily duck his head, as though his first suspicion was that
some one had fired at them.

Then came a crashing in the bushes, and across the road sprang a buck,
whose antlers were just reaching their full growth after the late
rutting season.

Never had the boys seen a prettier picture than when that buck bounded
lightly across the road. Lil Artha mechanically reached out a hand
toward his gun, though, of course, he never would have thought of using
the same while the law protected the game. Then the frightened animal
plunged into the thick copse on the opposite side of the woodland road,
and could be heard bounding swiftly away.



CHAPTER II

THE GAME POACHER, JEM SHOCK


RUFUS had involuntarily halted the car at the very instant the shot was
heard, so that the boys were stationary at the time the deer leaped past
them.

"Oh! what a beaut!" exclaimed George Robbins.

"The equal of any Scotch stag I ever saw in the preserves!" echoed Alec,
who had stared with eyes that were round with wonder.

"But somebody shot at him, all the same, don't you know, and the close
season on in the bargain," Lil Artha hastened to say, indignantly.

"Hush! here he comes!" observed Elmer.

They all heard a hasty trampling sound, as though someone might be
hurrying through the bushes close by. It came from exactly the same
quarter from which the alarmed buck had appeared.

Then a moving figure caught the gaze of the five scouts. A burly man,
roughly dressed, strode into view. He stared at the car and its
occupants, as though he considered the boys to be mostly responsible for
his recent ill-luck.

"Howdye, mister," sang out Lil Artha, not to be cowed by angry looks;
"are we on the right road for Raccoon Bluff, would you mind telling us?"

Suspicion lay in the look which the man was now bending on them. He
acted as if he imagined they might be more than they seemed; for a
guilty conscience can discover a game warden in every inoffensive
traveler, especially when the culprit is suddenly caught in the very act
of trying to kill a deer out of season.

"Raccoon Bluff ain't far ahead o' ye, if that's whar ye happen tuh be
headin' fur," he told them grumblingly; "but might I arsk what yuh
a-doin' away up here in this forsaken kentry?"

"Oh!" Lil Artha told him blithely, "we're off on a little trip, and mean
to spend a week or so under canvas around this section. You see, the
father of the young fellow at the wheel here, Rufus Snodgrass, of
Hickory Ridge, has lately come into possession of some property up this
way, and we're going to find out if it's been surveyed right and proper.
If you see our smoke some time or other, drop in and have a little chin
with us, stranger. We nearly always have the coffeepot on the fire, and
the latch-string is out."

Perhaps the man may have understood this sort of a genial invitation,
but all the same he gave no indication of being pleased because of it.
The look of suspicion could still be noticed about his dark face, and he
twisted his rifle about in his hands kind of nervously, as though he
wished he could keep it from being seen.

"I reckon I ain't a-goin' tuh bother ye much, strangers," he mumbled. "I
got my own business tuh look arter. Yuh see, I'm the assistant game
warden o' this region, an' it takes a heap o' trampin' tuh kiver my
territory."

With an odd sort of chuckle and grin he nodded his head toward them, and
then whirling on his heel vanished amidst the scrub. They soon lost
track of his retreating footsteps.

Lil Artha laughed in his peculiar way.

"Huh! smoked the coon out, didn't I? Game warden, did he call himself?
Whoo! to think of his colossal nerve! I bet you any warden in the State
would give a month's salary to have been here, and caught him in the act
of shooting at a deer when the law is on."

"Then he was a braw poacher, was he?" burst from Alec. "Aweel, I can
feel for him in a way, because, to tell you the truth, lads, I've snared
my hare more than a few times across the big water. But then it's
different there, because all the game country is owned by rich dukes and
lords, and the poor man hasn't any show; while over here all he has to
do is to tramp off into the wild woods for a couple of days, and take
his chances.

"Elmer, do you think that could have been Jem Shock?" asked Rufus just
then.

The patrol leader showed his surprise, for up to then he did not know
that Rufus had ever heard that name; at least, the other had kept his
knowledge to himself, for some reason or other.

"I'm pretty sure that's who he is," he told the boy at the wheel; "but
how did you know about him and his ways; when the farmer only told Lil
Artha and myself?"

Rufus chuckled, and looked wise.

"Oh! I plead guilty," he acknowledged. "I heard stories about Jem Shock
before I left home, but I wasn't silly enough to pass them along to the
rest of the party, because some of you might have changed your minds,
and found an excuse for not coming on the trip."

Lil Artha snorted indignantly.

"Now, don't get mad, Lil Artha," said Rufus, promptly.

"Oh! I'm not riled so much because you kept your knowledge to yourself,
Rufus," the tall scout told him; "but on account of you thinking Elmer,
George and myself could be shooed off by such a little thing as that. If
you looked back at the history of the Wolf Patrol you'd find that the
boys belonging to it have all been through a heap of excitement. We've
exposed so-called ghosts, had adventures with ugly hobo bands, been in
forest fires, fought floods and--well, time wouldn't allow me to
enumerate one-half of the things that have befallen us."

"That's enough, Lil Artha," said Elmer, seeking to soothe the
long-legged scout, and pour oil on the troubled waters. "Rufus will come
to know us better after he's graduated from the tenderfoot class. But
suppose we start on again. That incident is closed. We may and we may
not see more of Jem Shock. For myself, I'm half hoping I do, because
he's something of a character, and opens up a new type for a fellow to
study."

"So far as I'm concerned," observed Rufus, scornfully, "I hope we never
run across him again. He looked like a bad egg to me, and his eyes had a
wicked stare in them, that I didn't like."

"Oh! that can be easily accounted for," said Elmer, as the car once more
commenced to glide along the rough woods-road. "You see, in the first
place he had that feeling of guilt that makes a rascal look at all the
rest of the world as his enemies. Then again I half imagine Jem thinks
the game wardens are back of our coming up to this neck of the woods."

"Game wardens, Elmer!" exclaimed Alec; "how could that be, and what
would scouts have to do with the officers of the State?"

"Well, scouts seem to have a hand in a good many things that are
connected with keeping the laws, and making communities live on a higher
standard," the patrol leader explained. "I could tell you of dozens of
things our troop has been connected with along those lines. And why
shouldn't they enter into an arrangement with the head warden to get
evidence against some of these guides who kill deer out of season, and
hotel proprietors who offer it to their guests as 'mountain sheep'?"

Alec apparently was a bit puzzled to understand all this, and so Lil
Artha, leaning forward, took occasion to explain it more fully as they
continued on.

They were passing into an even wilder section of country than any thus
far encountered. Not a sign of the white man's presence could they see
except in some sections where the original timber had been cut away
years back, and a second growth now covered the land; with here and
there an old forest monarch left to overtop its neighbors like a giant
looking down on a pigmy host.

"This just suits me to a fraction," Lil Artha was saying, as they began
to ascend what seemed to be another rise of land. "Why, it's as free
from the restraints of civilization as that Adirondack region where we
went with Toby Jones last winter, to visit his hermit uncle, Caleb, who
was living all by himself in the heart of the wilderness. My lands! if
only I thought we'd have half as much fun on this trip as we ran across
then, I'd be happy as a clam at high tide."

"Perhaps we will," Elmer told him. "You never can tell what's ahead of
you when starting out on one of these trips."

He was thinking at the time of Jem Shock, and wondering whether the
poacher might not take it into his head to make things interesting for
them during their stay along Raccoon Ridge. Secretly Elmer was almost
hoping he _would_ see something more of the strange man. He wondered how
Jem lived; what his ambition, providing he had any, might be; whether he
cared for a single human creature besides himself in all the wide
world--these and many more thoughts were gripping Elmer's mind, and he
could not shake them off.

Although, of course, he did not know it at the time, still it was fated
that the golden opportunity he so eagerly sought was destined to come
his way under conditions of a peculiar nature. But of that more anon,
since it would be hardly fair to lift the curtain now, and disclose the
presence of coming events long before they were due to arrive.

"Don't you think this must be the place they call Raccoon Bluff, Elmer?"
asked George just then, as they continued to climb the rise by means of
the winding road, so seldom used that Rufus had the greatest difficulty
in forcing the car over exposed roots and outcropping rocks.

"I've been looking around," explained the scout leader, "and according
to what that farmer told me, I'm sure this is our destination. We can
keep our eyes on the lookout for a suitable camp site right along now.
There'll be plenty of time for us to get our tent fixed, and a lot of
other things done, before sunset comes."

"Well, we seem to have mounted to the crest of the bluff, if that's what
this rough piece of ground turns out to be," said Rufus, with a sigh of
relief, for at times he had found it hard work navigating the rough
road, and occasionally he almost feared they would have to get out and
walk the balance of the way.

A couple of minutes later and Elmer called out to him to stop the car.

"I think I glimpse a dandy place for a camp over yonder!" was what the
patrol leader remarked to the others, pointing as he spoke. "And see
what a glorious view we'll have all the time we're here."

They faced the west, where the sun was heading toward the horizon,
though a good two hours must elapse before he sank from view. Through
openings in the dense forest they could obtain fine glimpses of distant
parts. It was really as delightful an outlook as any of the scouts had
ever gazed upon. Alec McGregor, accustomed to those Scotch mountain
views, was loud in his admiration.

So Rufus brought the car as near the camp site as was possible, and then
all of them leaped out. Filled with a burning desire to get things
started they proceeded to carry the cargo of the big touring car across
the intervening ground.

Lil Artha, George and the leader held a brief discussion as to the exact
spot that was most suitable for erecting their waterproof tent, rendered
so through a process of tanning that changed its color to correspond
with their own khaki-hued garments.

This important detail being finally settled they began work. Alec and
Rufus, being tenderfeet, of course had to be told about everything they
attempted; but as the spirit of willingness was strong upon them in the
beginning, they carried out orders cheerfully enough.

Elmer was looking for that inherent weakness on the part of Rufus to
crop out, and sure enough it came to the surface before they had been a
full hour on the ground. The tent having been properly set, and a
fireplace built after the most approved scout fashion by Lil Artha, with
the two new fellows taking accurate notes so they could in turn carry
out a similar task, Rufus was set to work chopping firewood, while Alec
had been given another job connected with making a drain on the upper
side of the tent.

"That is so the water will run aside, and not flood us out," explained
George, who was directing operations in this quarter. "You see, we may
have a whopping big storm while we're up here, and again not a drop of
rain may fall; but all the same a true scout gets things ready to meet
an emergency. That's what our motto 'Be Prepared' stands for. It's a
sort of insurance against possible loss by fire. Your house may never
burn down; in fact, you don't expect it ever will, but you take out a
fire policy all the same, if you're a wise dicky."

"I get what you are telling me, George," admitted the shrewd Scotch lad,
"and all the while I'm understanding this scout business better. There's
a muckle mair in it that I used to ken, but I like the way it turns out;
and I'm o'er glad now I joined the ranks o' the scouts."

Meanwhile Rufus was having his troubles a-plenty. Evidently he was not
very well posted as to the best way of handling an ax, though he swung
the tool with quite a lusty stroke, Elmer noticed. For some little time
he managed to smash a certain amount of wood, but finally he seemed to
have run across a section of hard oak that was giving him a lot of
trouble.

He stopped several times to wipe his reeking forehead with his big red
bandanna. Elmer could see him shake his head as though he felt that he
was up against a hard proposition. For some time the scout leader did
not interfere. When, however, he saw Rufus throw the ax down petulantly,
as though determined to give the job up as a bad bargain, Elmer
concluded the moment had come for him to take a hand in the game and
pilot the tenderfoot through his initial troubles.

As a greenhorn in camp, Rufus must be expected to do considerable of the
fuel getting; and in order to meet his duties with the least possible
friction and trouble, the sooner he learned how to handle an ax
properly, the better for his peace of mind. Besides, Elmer did not like
to see that "white flag" business. He disliked a quitter above all
things; and was grimly determined that before that camp broke up the
said Rufus would have learned a lesson or two that would be profitable
to him.



CHAPTER III

"HIT THE KNOT AND HIT IT HARD!"


"HOW are you coming on, Rufus?" asked Elmer, pleasantly, as he dropped
down on the log alongside the perspiring chopper.

Rufus laughed, a little unpleasantly, Elmer thought.

"Oh! I guess I was never cut out for a hewer of firewood, Elmer," he
remarked indifferently. "Some fellows may take to that sort of thing,
but I incline in the direction of less strenuous employment. I can
fiddle with a surveyor's outfit all day long, tramp through the woods
and the brush, cut a path, and enjoy it all; but swinging an ax doesn't
seem to be my forte."

"Then if I were you, Rufus," the other told him, quietly, "I'd shut my
teeth together and make it my forte. I never would let a little thing
like that get the better of me. Why, I couldn't sleep easy at night if I
did."

Rufus moved a little uneasily at that. He undoubtedly must have guessed
that the scout-master meant to reprove him for giving up so soon. Then
he shook his head and frowned.

"Oh! there'll be heaps of other things I _can_ tackle around the camp,
besides playing wood-chopper, Elmer, that's sure. I've given it a fair
trial, and don't seem to get the hang of the old thing. Why, it's lucky,
I reckon, I didn't smash my foot. My hands don't seem to tackle the ax
properly. Alec may be better suited to it."

"It isn't hard, once you learn," said Elmer.

"Well, I've given it a try, and I'm ready to call it off, though I know
you don't like to hear that kind of talk," grumbled Rufus, actually
turning redder than ever with confusion as he felt the eyes of the other
fastened upon his face.

"That's not the spirit in which a scout who has any respect for himself
should act," Elmer told him, slowly and with a friendly slap on the
shoulder. "Deep down in your heart, Rufus, you just know that you _can_
master such a little job as learning how to handle an ax, if only you
keep persistently at it, and never give up. A scout on being baffled
once or twice just sets his teeth together, takes a fresh grip on
himself, and says he's going to do that thing, no matter if it means
trying sixty-seven times. It's the old maxim of 'Pike's Peak, or Bust,'
which the emigrants across the great plains years ago used to paint on
their wagon-tops. And generally they got there, too, remember, Rufus."

Then Elmer got up and took hold of the offending ax.

"Now, if you watch me you'll see just how I swing it, and bring it down
in the exact spot I want to strike," he went on to say, after which he
made several strokes and the stubborn piece of oak that had resisted all
the efforts of Rufus to split it fell into two slabs.

"Well, that was certainly fine," admitted the boy, wonderingly; "but
you're an old hand at it, Elmer. I'd never be able to do that sort of
work."

"Get that notion out of your head in the beginning, Rufus," he was told,
sharply. "There's no reason in the wide world why you shouldn't make a
good axman, perhaps even better than any of us. You're strongly built,
and can put a heap of muscle in the work. At first you'll strike poorly,
until you grow accustomed to landing on a given spot. Practice makes
perfect in that particular. And now, there's one great lesson for you in
chopping wood, just as there is for every beginner. Take a look at the
stick, see which way it will split easiest; and then if there's a nasty
knot in it, as there was in the one you tackled, strike the blade of
your ax straight into the centre of that knot _again and again_, until
you succeed in making it give up the ghost. Hit the knot, Rufus, and hit
hard! That ought to be a maxim you'd find ringing in your ears every
time you feel tempted to be a quitter!"

That last word stung, just as Elmer meant it should. Rufus flushed, and
jumped to his feet almost half angrily.

"Here, give me that ax again, Elmer," he said between his set teeth;
"and pick out for me the toughest old chunk of oak you can find. We'll
see if I'm a _quitter_. I'll hit the knot, and hit her hard, to boot;
you watch me!"

Elmer hastened to accommodate him. He was secretly congratulating
himself on his success so early in the game. It chanced that a second
fragment of oak lay near by, and offered a fairly good test, as it, too,
had a difficult knot in its heart. He showed Rufus just how to take the
right sort of grip on the ax, and several times corrected him when he
struck violently. Of course the blows lacked much of the accuracy that
long practice gives, and thus considerable energy was wasted; but after
he had been working away for five minutes, a lucky stroke caused the
thick bit of oak to fall apart. It had been done by keeping up a
constant pounding at the centre of resistance, which in this case was
that tough knot.

Rufus was perspiring, and short of breath after his exertion, but there
was a look of extreme pride on his flushed face, and his eyes kindled
also. Indeed, there was good reason for his self-congratulation; he had
proven to himself that "where there is a will there is a way"; and
possibly for the first time in his life Rufus realized the power that
one may command when determined not to give in.

"Well, I did do it, didn't I, Elmer?" he chuckled, visibly pleased. "And
next time I won't be so ready to throw up the sponge. I was a little bit
huffed because you spoke the way you did, Elmer, but now I thank you. I
wouldn't be surprised but that I'd have caught that big fly last summer
instead of muffing it, and losing the game for our side, if only I'd
made up my mind I _could_ hold it, and must."

"That's the ticket, Rufus," the other told him. "Confidence is half the
battle, and the rest is in doing it. But you've chopped enough for a
while; better change work and give some other set of muscles a chance to
get busy."

"Now, that isn't a bad idea, either, Elmer," Rufus went on to say. "I'd
like to take a little turn out of camp before evening comes on, because
somehow I seem to have a sneaking notion we'll run across one of the
survey lines close by here. You see, they run down from the bluff across
that wide stretch of country toward the setting sun; and by pushing
along the ridge we ought to find a slashing."

"Well, if you can coax George, here, to go with you, Rufus," the patrol
leader remarked, "I've no objections. I can understand how eager you
must be to get your location fixed in the start; and I expect you'll
sleep easier tonight if you learn that our camp happens to be near one
of the survey lines."

George upon being appealed to readily agreed to go with the greenhorn.
He knew why Elmer had made this arrangement; for as Rufus was quite a
novice in most things pertaining to woodcraft, the chances were he would
get lost the first thing. If given an opportunity, George, as a
first-class scout, could begin the education of the tenderfoot thus
placed in his charge; and the first lesson would be upon various methods
of learning how to make his way through the densest forest when caught
without a compass, and unable even to see the sun so as to know east
from the west, the north from the south.

So George took great pride in explaining how the moss on the trees would
serve as an almost infallible guide, all else failing.

"You see, in this section of country nearly all the big storms come from
the southwest," he told Rufus as they walked on. "The moss is almost
always on the north side of the trees, veering just a little toward
northeast. Notice that fact well, Rufus, and never forget it. Some time
it may save you heaps of trouble; I know it has me, and lots of other
scouts in the bargain."

Finding that the tenderfoot seemed to show considerable interest, George
went on to tell of other facts connected with the important subject.

"Now," he observed, soberly, "you may think I'm going to a lot of
trouble telling you all this, Rufus; but if ever you do get lost in the
woods, and keep wandering around for hours, and then have to make a
lonely camp, and sit up most of the night listening to the owls and
foxes and such things, why, you'll understand why it's so important a
thing in the education of a scout."

Meanwhile Lil Artha and Alec were trying their hands at the woodpile;
for as the elongated scout explained to the Scotch lad, they would have
need of considerable fuel during the long evening, as they sat by their
fire and talked.

Alec proved to have enough stamina, at least; there was a stubborn
streak in his Scotch blood that would never allow him to give up easily.
Nevertheless, Lil Artha knew Alec had faults that must be corrected
before he could reach that condition of excellence that all true scouts
aspire to attain.

He had a hasty temper, like most red-haired, impulsive boys, and was,
moreover, a little inclined to be cruel, especially toward dumb animals.
Lil Artha, himself, had once been the same sort of a chap, and could
readily sympathize with Alec; but at that he meant the other should see
the error of his ways, and reform. So the tall member of the Wolf Patrol
took it upon himself to be a mentor; and who so well fitted for the task
as a boy who had had personal experience? No one can preach temperance
so splendidly as the man who, himself, has passed through the fire of
unbridled passions, and learned the folly of giving way to them.

Alec was particularly interested in the subject of the reversal of his
badge. He had, of course, followed the customary habit of all scouts by
fastening this to his coat in the morning in an upside-down position,
until he found some opportunity for doing a good deed toward some one,
which act allowed him to change its position.

"That was easy enough at home, d'ye mind, Lil Artha," he was saying, as
he rested upon his ax, and recovered his breath, "because a fellow would
be a gillie if he couldnae find mony a chance to do something for sae
sweet a bairn as our little Jessie. But it's going to be a harder task
away up here in the wilderness, I trow."

"Oh! I don't know about that, Alec," the other told him, encouragingly.
"All you have to do is to keep your eyes about you. There are four chums
around, and if at any time, for instance, you took a notion to do my
stint of wood-chopping, that ought to entitle you to turn your badge
over, because it would be a good deed, you see."

Alec looked queerly at him, and then laughed.

"But it would be depriving you of your necessary exercise, Lil Artha,"
he hastened to say, "and that I'd hate to do."

"Well, seriously speaking then, Alec, there are endless ways of doing
good. You needn't be confined to lending a helping hand to human
beings; a boy who takes a stone out of the shoe of a limping mule is
just as much a benefactor as the one who helps a poor old woman across a
crowded street, or carries her heavy basket part of the way home from
market. I've bound up the broken wing of a crow; yes, and I knew a scout
who even helped one of those queer little tumble-bugs get his ball up a
little rise, after he'd watched him fall back a dozen times, and then
claim the right to alter his badge. The rest of the troop laughed at
him, but the scout-master hushed them up, and said the boy was right;
and that not only had he done a good deed toward one of the humblest of
created things, but he had learned a practical lesson in pertinacity and
never-give-upitiveness that would be of great value to him all the rest
of his life."

"Nae doot, nae doot," muttered the Scotch lad, reflectively, as though
Lil Artha's interesting words had found a firm lodgment in his heart. "I
can see where it is a verra interesting subject, this scoutcraft, Lil
Artha. And ye ken I'm mair than glad now I took up with it."

"And as you get to be more intimate with the little animals of the
woods," continued the experienced scout, "you come to like them as
brothers. We usually have a pet squirrel ducking about the camp, picking
up the crumbs; and birds will come, too, if you're kind to them. All
those little things help to make an outing more enjoyable, you'll find,
Alec, the deeper you dip into them."

Alec scratched his head as though he found it just a little difficult to
understand; he had been raised under such vastly different conditions
that it would take some time to change his habits, Lil Artha realized.
Still, he liked the tenderfoot very much, and meant to do all he could
to make him see things through another pair of spectacles than those he
had used in the past.

Already his lessons in handling the ax had borne fruit, and Alec gave
promise of soon becoming an expert at the job. His success also gave the
greenhorn a new-born ambition to excel in other branches of scout
education. Lil Artha did not believe he would have much trouble in
posting Alec; getting him to govern his temper, and be kind to
everything that had life, would be another proposition; but constant
association with such a fellow as Elmer Chenowith was bound to work a
change little short of miraculous, Lil Artha had faith to believe; for
he knew personally what the patrol leader was able to accomplish in his
quiet, persistent way.

"After you've finished with that log, Alec," he told the other, "we'll
start our fire. I want to show you just how to go about that task,
because there are a hundred things connected with making a fire that
you'll find mighty interesting."

"Ye don't say, Lil Artha? I didna ken that there was more than one way
to start a blaze, which was to sticket a match to the paper, and let it
go at that."

The tall scout laughed delightedly. Really, he would find great pleasure
in showing this greenhorn how many curious ways there were of starting a
fire. Lil Artha had made this a sort of fad for some time past; and
while several tricks were still beyond his comprehension, he had
mastered a number of others; so that he could start into the woods minus
a single match, or even a burning sun glass, and make a fire in any one
of five different ways.

"Oh! I can see where you've got a whole lot to learn, Alec," he told the
other. "I'll promise to show you some interesting things while we're up
here in the Raccoon Bluff camp. For instance, I'll make a blaze by
rubbing flint and steel together, like the old Indians used to do
centuries back on this continent. Then I've a little trick with a couple
of sticks and some dry tinder to catch the spark."

"Ye maun show me that, for a certainty!" cried the other, "because I've
read of it in Robinson Crusoe, or some ither book of travel and
adventure amang the islands of the sea."

"Oh! there are lots of other ways for doing it in the bargain," pursued
Lil Artha, now upon his most favored subject. "You'll think it a most
fascinating thing, Alec, I promise you. And once you wake up to the
fact that a scout can learn a thousand facts, if only he uses his eyes
and his head, you'll be more than glad you joined the troop. Why, we
live in a world of our own, and the poor ninnies outside don't have
one-tenth of the fun that falls to us."

"There come Rufus and George," remarked Alec. "They look unco' pleased,
as if they had discovered the slashing they went to look for. I'm a
little interested in survey work mysel'. Rufus is clean crazy over it,
too, and sometimes his fash is all aboot theodolites and chains and
compasses and the like. They told me he was lazy, but if ye seed him
workin' at the business he loved, ye'd know they leed, they leed."

Alec turned back to his work of splitting the log he had attacked.
Already he had a wedge well driven into its heart. A few more lusty
blows of the ax and he had opened another cleft further along, into
which he was able, with Lil Artha's directions, to place a second wedge.
After that it was easy to continue lengthening the split until with a
doleful crack the log fell apart, having been cleft in twain.

"That will do for now, Alec," said Lil Artha. "You have done splendidly
for your first real lesson in wood-chopping, and I can see with half an
eye that you bid fair to beat us all at the game, given a little time,
and more experience. You've got a great swing, and seem able to hit a
space the size of a dime, every time you let fall. That's half of the
battle in chopping, to be able to drive true to the mark; because
there's energy wasted in false blows."

Alec looked pleased. A little praise judiciously bestowed is always a
great accelerator in coaxing reluctant boys to take up their tasks
cheerfully; and wise Lil Artha knew it.

Just then Alec happened to catch a glimpse of something moving amidst
the branches of the tree over his head. Lil Artha had turned aside, and
did not chance to notice what the other was doing, as the Scotch lad,
stooping down, snatched up a stout cudgel, and hastily threw it aloft.

His aim must have been excellent, judging from the immediate results.
Lil Artha heard him give a satisfied cry, which, however, almost
immediately changed to a howl of alarm. Whirling around, the tall scout
saw something that might have amused him at another time, for it
possessed the elements of comedy rather than tragedy.

Alec in hurling that stick aloft must have succeeded in dislodging some
animal from its hold on the limb. The beast in falling had alighted
fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the astonished Scotch boy, and
given him a severe case of fright. Lil Artha saw that it possessed a
long ringed tail, and hence he knew instantly that it was only a
harmless raccoon, and not a fierce wildcat, as he had at first feared.



CHAPTER IV

SHOWING THE GREENHORNS


"WHOO! tak' him off, Lil Artha! It's a mad cat, it is, I'm thinkin'!"

The 'coon being presently dislodged, after having only given Alec a few
trifling scratches, proceeded to retreat in hot haste. The angry Scotch
lad, snatching up another billet of wood, was about to rush after the
frightened animal as though to vent his fury upon it, when Lil Artha
barred the way.

"Don't do it, Alec!" he called out, holding up a restraining hand; "let
the poor thing trot along. He's more scared than you were, take it from
me."

"But he _bit_ me, ye ken; and I don't let any fearsome wild beastie do
that with impunity, I tell ye!" snapped Alec.

"Well, who's really to blame, Alec?" said Lil Artha, promptly. "That's
only a harmless raccoon. He must have his nest in a hollow limb of this
tree we're under. Hearing all the talk going on below here, can you
blame him for peeking, and trying to pick up a few points about eating,
and the like? He was within his rights, and you had no business to knock
him down with that chunk of wood. He happened to fall on your shoulders,
and commenced scratching and clawing when you jabbed at him so with your
hands. He only scratched you a little, and drew the blood. Elmer has the
stuff to put on that, and prevent any chance of blood poisoning setting
in. But surely you wouldn't kill that inoffensive little runt because he
allowed you to knock him out of the tree."

Alec hung his head.

"Aweel, it may be you're right, Lil Artha," he muttered, being conquered
by the arguments advanced by the other. "Anyway, it's too late now to
chase after him, for the beastie is lang out of sight. Perhaps I was
o'er hasty to throw. Next time I'll try to hold my hand."

"It pays not to be too fast while in the woods," he was assured. "If now
that had happened to be a bobcat, you'd have been in a nice pickle, let
me tell you; and he might have scratched out both your eyes before the
rest of us could lift a hand to save you. Better go slow but sure, Alec.
And try to look at things once in a while from the standpoint of the
woods animal. You'll find it mighty interesting to put yourself in their
place, and figure just what you would do."

Again Alec scratched that tousled red head of his. Plainly he was
puzzled to exactly grasp what Lil Artha meant; but then, as time passed
and he became more accustomed to this strange camp life, now so new to
him, the boy would doubtless understand many things that in the
beginning looked very mysterious.

When, a short time later, Lil Artha began to initiate him into the
mysteries of fire-making, Alec displayed more or less fresh interest. He
knew he was going to like that sort of thing first-rate, he told the
other; which acknowledgment caused the tall scout to grin with pleasure,
since it repaid him tenfold for all the trouble he had taken thus far.

The fire was soon burning cheerily. Somehow it seemed a great source of
joy to everyone, especially Elmer, Lil Artha and George. As veteran
scouts the crackle of a blaze instantly called up fond memories of
numerous former occasions when in the woods, and camping amidst the
solitudes they had met with all sorts of interesting and even thrilling
adventures, never to be utterly forgotten, even when they had grown to
manhood, and gone forth into the world upon their appointed life
missions.

Next in order came the preparations for cooking the camp supper. Here
Lil Artha had fresh and glorious opportunities to show the tenderfoot
squad all sorts of things that it was of prime importance they should
early manage to acquire, if they expected to make good scouts.

And when the ham had been nicely browned in the skillet; the potatoes
and onions thoroughly cooked; the coffee allowed to settle, after being
brought to a boil; and the rudely-built table set with all sorts of good
things besides, from cookies, jam, home-made pies, pickles, and such
articles as the crafty George had prevailed upon his dupe, Rufus, to
include in the bulky stores, it seemed as though there was hardly room
to allow their plates a chance to find crevices for lodgment.

By this time the sun had set in a blaze of glory that called forth loud
words of sincere admiration from the entire party. Twilight was upon the
land as they sat down to enjoy that glorious spread; and both Rufus and
Alec vowed they had never in all their lives felt one-half so hungry as
right then and there.

That supper would never be forgotten by those tenderfoot scouts. Every
fellow once new to the woods can look back to the first meal under such
conditions, and remember how wonderfully good everything did taste. The
food at home never had such tempting qualities, and his one great fear
was that the supply would not be equal to the _enormous_ demand.

After supper came the dish washing. That was not quite so fine,
especially since Rufus and Alec had fairly gorged themselves. But Elmer
knew that it was good to start out right.

"Oh! what's the use bothering with the old dishes tonight?" complained
Rufus, spoiled at home by a doting mother; "I'm feeling too fine to be
disturbed. Please don't spoil it all by doing anything disagreeable,
Elmer."

His wheedling tone had no effect. The scout-master was determined that
these two new recruits must learn that duty always precedes pleasure
with a scout. After all work has been finished is the proper time to
"loaf," and take things easy.

"We have a rule in camp that is as unbending as that of the Medes and
the Persians, Rufus," Elmer went on to say, positively. "That is, the
dishes must be cleaned up immediately after supper, by those who are
delegated with the task. I'll be only too glad to show you and Alec how
to go about it, in case you haven't had any experience; but the pot of
hot water is waiting, and none of us can settle down to an evening's
enjoyment until things are cleared away. All of us mean to take our
turns at the job, remember, but we thought the new beginners ought to be
the ones to start first."

Rufus looked as though inclined to rebel. Just then Alec jumped up,
being more ready to give in than the boy who had always had his own way.

"Coom alang, Rufus, and we'll wrestle with the pots and pans!" he called
out. "Between the baith of us we should be able to manage, I ken. And
then for a lang evenin' listenin' to the stories Lil Artha, here, has
promised to spin, that will, nae doot, mak' Robert Louie Stevenson's
wildest tales tak' a back seat."

Well, after that Rufus could not hold out. He even grinned sheepishly a
bit as he got up from his comfortable position, and followed the Scotch
lad and Elmer over to where the dishpan was hung on a convenient nail,
together with a supply of towels, and several dish cloths, all seen to
by Lil Artha, who knew by long experience how necessary such things are
in a well conducted camp.

So by slow degrees Elmer and his mates might make progress in educating
the tenderfoot squad along the lines that every well drilled scout has
to follow. Of course they would meet with many discouragements, and
sometimes feel that the task was beyond their strength, especially in
connection with Rufus, who had allowed such a multitude of tares to grow
amidst the good seed that would have to be rooted out; but it is
astonishing how much persistence and patience will accomplish, and in
the end surprising results might reward the laborers in the vineyard.

They sat up late that night and the fire continued to crackle merrily as
fresh fuel was applied from time to time. How wonderful it all seemed to
Rufus and Alec, experiencing their very first night in camp. The moon
had already set, being young, and darkness hung over the scene. Strange
sounds, too, welled up out of that gloom to thrill the greenhorns as
they listened. Again and again did one of them interrupt the
conversation or the story-telling to demand that some fellow tell what
manner of queer creature could be making such and such a noise.

Now it was some night bird giving a hoarse cry; again a distant loon,
doubtless out upon some lake, the presence of which they had not even
suspected, sent forth a fiendish sound like the laugh of an evil sprite
and which chilled the blood in the veins of the tenderfoot scouts; later
on they heard tree frogs commence their weird chorus, and were relieved
to learn the nature of the noisy sounds, for they half suspected a
circle of ravenous wolves might be closing in around the camp.

And so it went on, one thing after another. Perhaps the most singular
effect of all was produced by the hooting of a big owl, doubtless
squatted in some dead treetop within a few hundred yards of the fire.
The two greenhorns really believed some man was calling out and making
fun of them. Rufus, on his part, jumped to the conclusion that the
poacher, possibly under the influence of liquor, was daring them to come
out and have a fight with him, for that tantalizing "whoo! whoo!" seemed
to breathe defiance and scorn. Alec, too, showed symptoms of "firing
up," much to the secret amusement of Lil Artha and George.

They both quieted down after being told what sort of a big-eyed bird was
responsible for the weird noise; though from time to time as the hoots
continued to be wafted to them on the night air, the tenderfoot scouts
would move uneasily, and exhibit fresh traces of interest bordering on
rank incredulity, since it was difficult for them to really believe any
feathered creature could indulge in such a mocking monologue.

And later still, after they had crept into their warm blankets, and
sought to go to sleep, while the three veterans after a while managed to
find forgetfulness in honest slumber, the other pair tossed back and
forth, changed their hemlock-filled pillows into new positions, sighed
dismally, and put in one of the most trying nights they had ever known.

But then it would not be so bad on the next occasion; and before many
nights passed they, too, would be "dead to the world a short time after
hitting the hay," as Lil Artha expressed it. Every fellow has to be
broken in before he can sleep, when camping out for the first time; the
great wilderness around seems peopled with countless unseen, but
nevertheless present, creatures, which his lively imagination pictures
as seeking to steal a march upon the camp, and either to purloin all
their possessions or else eat them alive.

Why, even experienced campers usually have a poor first night of it,
until they can again grow accustomed to the difference between their own
soft beds within the four walls of home, and this canvas covering, or
perhaps only the starry heavens above for a canopy.

That long night seemed never to reach an end, to Rufus at least; for
even after the Scotch lad had passed into slumberland the other squirmed
about uneasily, sat up and looked around him many times; and even crept
out twice to throw additional fuel on the fire, because he hated to see
it getting so dismally dark around, with all those queer sounds welling
up in chorus--the said chorus being produced in part, if Rufus only knew
it, which he didn't, by katydids, crickets, tree-frogs, and such
harmless little creatures.

But even the longest night must come to an end at last. Rufus, having
finally fallen into a doze, found himself aroused by some one talking,
and opening his eyes discovered to his surprise that it was broad
daylight, with breakfast cooking near by.



CHAPTER V

THE SPIRAL OF BLUE SMOKE


ONE thing, at least, pleased Rufus when he crawled forth and stretched
himself, giving a yawn at the same time--it promised to be a fine day.
To a fellow who expected to do considerable prowling around in the
vicinity of Raccoon Bluff this was a matter of material importance; for
a heavy rain must have put a damper on his cherished plans.

By the time the latest up had finished dressing the welcome call to
breakfast was sounding. Lil Artha performed this sacred rite, and in the
customary camp way, wishing to initiate the two tenderfoot chums in all
the mysteries that went with the ceremony. Taking the biggest frying-pan
they had fetched along, he rattled a lively tattoo upon it with a heavy
cooking spoon. And during the course of their stay it may be said in
passing that never was there a more eagerly anticipated racket, in the
opinion of Rufus and Alec, when their camp appetites developed, than
that same summons to the "festive board," as Lil Artha dubbed the rude
makeshift table.

While they enjoyed the fruits of the cook's skill in wrestling with the
culinary outfit, and made the bacon and fried eggs vanish in a most
remarkably swift fashion, the boys also laid out their plans for the
first day.

Of course Rufus was eager to get busy looking up the lines of the
survey; and he had already bound Alec to the task of being his helper.
The latter did not object in the least, though after a day or two had
elapsed, and the fever calmed down somewhat with Rufus, the Scotch lad
anticipated having his time more to himself; for he was eager to learn a
great many scout secrets which the accommodating lanky Lil Artha had
promised to impart to the new fellows.

Elmer, however, had no intention of allowing those two greenhorns free
swing for a whole day. The chances were ten to one they would get lost
the first thing; and it would be too bad if a good part of their limited
stay at Raccoon Bluff was taken up in hunting missing comrades.

"I appoint you, Lil Artha, as supervisor," he went on to say, with a
smile; "and your duties today will be to stick to Rufus and Alec like a
porous plaster. Don't let one of them get out of your sight for a
minute. You can lend a hand as much as you please; and fetch them back
to camp at midday, when we'll have lunch, leaving the big meal until the
day's work is all done."

Rufus looked as though about to rebel. He was so accustomed to having
his own way that it came hard with him to be ordered to do anything.
Then he suddenly remembered his scout vow, and that he had solemnly
promised to bow to superior authority. Elmer was the "boss," and his
word was law while they were away from home; so, making a virtue of
necessity, Rufus shrugged his shoulders and grinned.

"Just as you say, Elmer," he observed, a bit ungraciously, "but I never
was lost in all my life."

"That's nothing to boast of, Rufus," remarked Lil Artha. "It only goes
to prove how many splendid opportunities you've missed. On my part I was
just as proud of my ability to look after myself as you are; and yet I
used to get twisted in my bearings a heap until I got the hang of
things. I can remember several times when I walked straight away from
camp, under the belief that I was heading for it. You see, while I could
easily tell which was north and east, I didn't know _which way the camp
lay_; because my faculty for observation hadn't yet been developed to
any great extent. It'll all come to you by degrees, if you really want
to learn."

"Well, what am I to do this morning, Elmer?" asked George.

"That's an easy one," chuckled the leader. "As you're such a stickler
for having everything so neat about the camp, George, with things handy
to the reach, I'll appoint you camp warden for today. You can fuss
around all you please, and by night I expect we'll find that Camp
Comfort well deserves its name."

George looked pleased. His good qualities often more than
counterbalanced his poor ones; and being neat is something no scout
should ever feel ashamed of.

Elmer did not mention what he meant to do himself. In fact, he had not
wholly determined that point, though he fancied that he might take a
wide turn around, and see what the country about Raccoon Bluff looked
like.

Although Elmer had not said anything about it to the others, the fact is
he had made a little discovery that aroused his interest considerably.
Just before they sat down to breakfast he had chanced to step over to a
point where the best view was to be had, and using a pair of
field-glasses which had been brought along, took a casual survey of the
country.

In one particular spot he believed he could see a faint column of pale
blue smoke climbing straight skyward from amidst the thick growth. Elmer
was a pretty good woodsman, and he did not have to be told that such
smoke always comes from well seasoned wood, while black smoke springs
from greener stuff.

Some one had a fire over there, that was evident, and knew what sort of
fuel to select in the bargain; which fact made it patent that he was
educated in the ways of the woods. Elmer's curiosity was excited. He
wondered who their neighbor could be. Was it some fishing party, perhaps
camped on the shore of the unseen lake on the bosom of which that loon
they had heard cry had been swimming at the time?

Of course there might be numerous answers to the question Elmer was
asking himself. Perhaps lumbermen were looking over the property which
had lately come into the possession of Mr. Snodgrass, with an idea of
making him a proposition for the right to cut off the big timber. Then
again, charcoal-burners sometimes worked in the season; or it might be
game wardens were abroad, with the idea of catching detested poachers at
their work.

Then last of all Elmer thought of Jem Shock, the slippery customer whom
no warden had thus far been able to catch red-handed, breaking the game
laws; and who, it seemed, had gained an unenviable reputation for
boldness as well as knavery, so that his name, bandied about from lip to
lip, had gradually become a synonym for everything that was bad, whether
the fellow deserved it or not.

Well, they knew that this same Jem lived somewhere in the wilderness,
since he seldom appeared in any town; and what more likely than that his
camp lay over yonder, where the blue trail of smoke lifted toward the
sky?

Elmer felt an enticing temptation beginning to assail him. It has been
said before that he had found himself attracted toward Jem Shock, simply
because of a curiosity to know what the _real_ man might be like; for
Elmer was loath to believe all he heard about any one, knowing how
stories are magnified in the telling.

And by the time breakfast was over with, the scout leader had decided
that he would take a little stroll, which might, there was no telling,
carry him in the direction of the blue column of smoke.

It happened that Rufus was so busy getting ready to start out with his
surveying instruments that he had given no thought to looking around.
Lil Artha on his part would, of course, take note of the general lay of
the land; but with the ridge to serve as a guide he believed he could
always make a bee-line back to camp whenever the necessity arose.

All was soon ready, and Alec, laden with the heavier material, called
out a cheery goodbye to the two who were being left behind.

"I'm glad this day that I've got on the braw khaki breeks," he was
saying, "for if they were woollen ye maun rest assured it would tak all
my time picking off the beggars' lice, as ye call these little burrs.
We'll be back the noo and expectin' lunch to be served, George,
remember, lad."

"Well, stick by Lil Artha then, if you know what's good for you,
Scotchy," called out the keeper of the camp. "And I'm glad Elmer made
each one of you put a little snack of cheese and crackers in his pocket.
If you have the misfortune to get lost that will be the only thing to
stand between you and starvation."

Rufus sniffed in disdain.

"Talk away, George," he told the other, "we all know that you're one of
these pessimists, and always seeing the black side of things. Who
expects to get lost? Certainly neither of us. And besides, what do we
have a guardian angel like Lil Artha along with us for? Not because of
his good looks, that's sure."

"Oh! come along, and don't talk so much, Rufus!" the said "guardian
angel" called out, though smiling broadly at being so highly
complimented.

"Just see Lil Artha feeling of his shoulders, will you?" George jeered.
"Now you've gone and spoiled him for any decent sort of work, Rufus;
after this he'll be spending most of his time looking for his angel
wings to sprout. But goodbye, and good luck, fellows. Look for you about
noon, remember."

So they went off, seemingly as happy as boys could well be; for Rufus
was about to test his superior knowledge of survey work. Alec saw a
chance of having many little talks between whiles with the tall guide,
upon whom he was leaning more and more as an exponent of the jolly
times to be had in the open; while Lil Artha, himself, was always
supremely happy when he could shoulder his Marlin gun, and stalk abroad,
no matter whether he meant to do any hunting or not.

Elmer knew very well that nothing would tempt Lil Artha to fire his gun
with the intention of breaking the law. The only reasons he insisted on
taking it along were that it might come in handy in case they met a
wildcat, always a possibility, of course; and that he loved to feel its
familiar touch upon his shoulder, where his khaki coat was well worn
from contact with it.

For some little time afterwards Elmer busied himself in fixing certain
things of his own. George had already cleaned up the mess of breakfast
pans and dishes, so that he could devote himself to other matters. He
had already sized things up, and made a list of certain improvements
that were calculated to add to the comfort and peace of mind of the
campers.

"While we're only going to be up here at Raccoon Bluff for a matter of
seven days or so," he had remarked in the hearing of the tenderfoot
squad, "that's no reason we ought to let things run along in a slipshod
fashion. It's a pleasure to me to have the camp look spic and span to
begin with, no matter if it does get littered up somewhat as the days go
by."

That is just the way with scouts, as a rule. No one of them unites all
the virtues in his single person; but while owning up to certain faults,
at the same time he will be found to possess a number of splendid
qualities that add to the comfort and health of his comrades. George
could make himself one of the most disagreeable chaps going, when his
argumentative and unbelieving mood was upon him; then again, he would
suddenly blossom out in another phase, and cause all his chums to bless
him as a real public benefactor.

Finally Elmer strode forth from the tent.

"I'm going to take a little turn around, George," he remarked casually,
"and see what this part of the country looks like."

"All right, Elmer," the busy one told him, "I can manage alone, I guess,
because I've got a heap to do before I'm satisfied with the way things
look. No use telling _you_ to not get lost; because that'd be next to
impossible."

"Nevertheless," the scout-master assured him, "I mean to keep on the
alert, for when you're in the woods constant vigilance is the price of
safety. I always take observations as I go along; and notice many
queer-shaped trees, so that I'll know them again when I see them. I also
look back considerably, too, because it pays to notice how things appear
from the other side."

"It certainly does," agreed George, very amiably; "I've had that
experience myself more than once. Thought I had taken stock of
bent-over trees and rock formations, yet on trying to follow the trail
back, they all looked vastly different from what they had before. Taught
me a lesson I've never forgotten either. Well, so-long, Elmer. I'll
expect you when you turn up. I hope though you don't happen to run foul
of that ugly poacher chap, Jem Shock. I didn't much fancy the cut of his
jib when we met him on the road; and I reckon he'd be a bad one to rile
up."

Elmer only laughed lightly and walked off. He had cut a stout cane, and
this was the only kind of weapon he cared to carry along. It would serve
him in good stead should he happen to come across a rattlesnake, for
this was likely to happen at any time, since they had been warned by the
friendly farmer that such venomous reptiles abounded along Raccoon
Bluff. And in case a bobcat should turn up, Elmer fancied he could
defend himself against attack with that choice staff. Besides, it was
not often that a cat was to be met with in broad daylight, since they
prefer to do most of their wandering about in search of food after
nightfall comes.

He stopped and looked back at the camp. It had a very picturesque
appearance just at that time, with the fire casting up a spiral of smoke
toward the clear heavens, George bustling around in the capacity of
campkeeper; and the whole overhung by those magnificent trees.

Elmer dearly loved this sort of thing. Something implanted in his
nature, coming down possibly from far-back ancestors who used to hunt
game for a living, caused the boy to possess an earnest yearning to
spend a season every year in the primeval wilderness, close to Nature's
heart. It was as near the "call of the wild" as the ordinary boy ever
gets, since school duties, as well as home ties, have dominion over him
most of the year.

Elmer prepared to enjoy himself to the full. The air was certainly
delicious at this time in the morning, though growing rapidly warmer as
the sun climbed higher. All outdoors seemed to be rejoicing with him. He
could hear the merry voices of insects all around; the croaking of frogs
in a nearby marshy spot he passed; and the constant cawing of crows in
the treetops, as they prepared to sally forth bent on finding a late
breakfast, or possibly teaching their young how to use their wings in
short flights around the home nests.

"This is the life!" said Elmer, exultingly, as he walked along with a
brisk step, and used his eyes to notice a thousand and one things around
him, most of which would of a certainty never be seen at all by an
ordinary boy, until his senses had been sharpened, brought about through
practical scout activities.



CHAPTER VI

A LITTLE WOODS MINSTREL


NOTHING seemed to escape the trained eyes of the scout-master, as he
walked on through the woods, across open glades, and sometimes crossing
ravines where little brooks gurgled along in a happy care-free fashion,
after the habit of wandering streamlets in general.

One of the first things that came to his attention was the unusual
number of wild bees that seemed to be working in the flowers that dotted
some of these open places. This interested Elmer very much; and as he
stopped to watch them going in and out of the flowers, busily adding to
their stores of sweets or pollen, he was rubbing his chin reflectively
while saying to himself:

"It looks as if there might be a hive or so around this region, away up
in some hollow tree. I'd like mighty well to spend a morning trying to
locate it, and if nothing hinders I'll get one of the boys to help me
track these little chaps to their hiding-place. I've done it before, and
ought to be able to again, if I haven't forgotten the trick that old
woodsman showed me. And I should think Alec, perhaps Rufus in the
bargain, would be pleased to see how the thing is done."

Then as he went on a little further he discovered small tracks, plainly
outlined in the hardening mud alongside one of the streams that trickled
down toward the lower levels.

"Hello! good morning, Mr. Mink!" said Elmer, as he bent over to examine
the tracks which he easily guessed were made by the fur-bearing animal
he had mentioned. "Been out late for a stroll, haven't you? Visiting
around, perhaps, to see how your relatives are getting on; and dodging
in and out of all these holes along the bank. Well, all I can hope is
that no bad trapper covets your sleek coat, and lies in wait for you
next winter with his sharp-edged steel trap."

Next he discovered another track quite different in design.

"Why, how do you do, Brother Fox?" Elmer chattered, amusing himself by
this manner of monologue, just as though the animal might be within
sound of his voice. "You were also abroad during the night, I see, and
carrying home some sort of game in the bargain, for the little foxes in
the den, judging from the scratches alongside your own tracks. Let's see
if I can find out what it was you managed to grab."

He followed the trail fully fifty yards before making any discovery.
Then the observant boy triumphantly snatched something up from the
ground.

"A fine, fat young partridge, I wager, you caught, old lady," he
chuckled, as he twirled the feather between forefinger and thumb, and
then stuck it in the band of his campaign hat. "Well, it was a sorry
night for the poor bird; but those little foxes just had to have
something to devour ever so often. Now, I'd like to find out whether
this was a red fox; one of those dandy blacks like we took out of the
trap when we were up at Uncle Caleb's woods cabin;[A] or a gray rascal.
I'll see if I can settle that part of it and satisfy my curiosity."

It did not take long for a boy of such wide experience as Elmer to find
a clue on which to build his theory. Inside of three minutes he came to
a place where the returning four-footed hunter had to pass through close
quarters, in pushing under some brush. Elmer knew just where to look,
and was speedily laughing as he held up several hairs he had found
caught on a thorn.

"As red as any fox that ever crept up on a sleeping partridge, and
snatched her from her nest in the thicket!" Elmer declared, also placing
the evidence away, for he would want to show it to the tenderfoot squad,
when telling the simple story of the wonderful things he had come
across while just taking a little ramble through the woods.

And so it went on. One thing followed another in endless procession. The
red-headed woodpecker tapping the rotten top of a tree; the bluejay
hunting worms or seeds amidst the dead grass; the chipmunk that switched
around to the other side of a stump and then with sharp eyes watched the
two-legged intruder on its haunts curiously; the harmless garter-snake
that glided from under his foot, though _giving_ him a certain thrill as
he remembered the stories about these deadly rattlers--all these, and
many other things arrested the attention of the boy who long ago had
become possessed of the magical key that unlocks the storehouse of
knowledge in Nature's own kingdom.

And yet Elmer did not forget to always pay attention to the course he
was taking. He placed numerous landmarks down in his memory, so that he
would know them again later on. Now it might be an odd freak in the way
of a bent-over tree, that had the appearance of a drawn bow, with some
unseen giant of the woods standing back of it, drawing the cord taut;
then again a cluster of white birches would be impressed on his mind, to
be readily recognized again in case the necessity arose.

All this time he was heading in a direct line toward that region where
the blue spiral of smoke had been noticed in the still morning air.
Elmer, too, fancied, when an hour had passed, that he must by now be
drawing well along toward the origin of the smoke column.

Possibly he may have questioned whether he was exactly wise in thinking
of invading the precincts of the camp, that might prove to be the home
of the man who possessed the evil reputation.

"But my motives are all right," Elmer told himself, when this arose to
annoy him; "and I mean no harm to Jem or his people, if so be he _has_
any family, which somehow no one ever bothered to tell me, even if they
knew. I guess Jem's been something of a mystery to the people up here.
He seems to have no friends, and it may be nobody ever did penetrate to
his camp. Well, then, I'll be the pioneer in the game. I'm not afraid of
Jem, for all his black looks. I'd just like to get to _know_ him, and
find out if he's as tough as they say."

And accordingly Elmer, instead of taking warning from his fears and
turning back, continued resolutely along the course he had marked out
for himself. He would beard the lion in its den, and try to convince
this same poacher Jem that he had nothing to fear from a party of boys
out on a holiday. Perhaps Elmer may have also had some little scheme in
mind whereby they could do more or less good by utilizing some of those
superabundant stores which George had cleverly advised Rufus to lay in,
under the possibility of their being storm-bound up in the woods, with a
great need for much provisions. A little present of excellent tea might
quite win the heart of Jem's wife, provided he had one; and Elmer had
even known of a case where the fragrant odor of coffee had entirely
disarmed a woods bully, who had been half inclined to clean out the camp
previous to his inhaling that delicious perfume.

Now and then the boy would pause and commence sniffing the air. He knew
that he had been walking directly up the wind for quite a while now, and
hence more than half expected that he might catch the whiff of hard-wood
smoke, telling of the presence of a fire not far distant, and dead
ahead.

It was when Elmer was standing still and looking about him that he
suddenly heard a sound that sent a peculiar thrill through his whole
person. There was nothing so strange about the sound in itself, only the
oddity of hearing it under such peculiar conditions.

"Why, upon my soul, I do believe that's a violin being tuned up!" he
whispered, straining his ears still more while speaking. "Yes, it is,
for I can hear the plain chords now. Perhaps some fiddler who plays at
country barn dances is passing through the woods, and has stopped over
night at Jem's shack. Why, he seems to have a knack for striking
wonderfully fine chords, it seems to me. I'll just push on and see what
it means."

This he accordingly did, and as he began to catch the sound of music
more plainly as he kept advancing, Elmer found his curiosity rising to
fever heat. Now the notes of the weird music came floating to him on the
soft air, more and more distinctly. It seemed to the boy as though the
violin fairly sobbed with the spirit of the one whose fingers trailed
the bow across those taut strings.

"It's wonderful, that's what!" Elmer was telling himself for the tenth
time as he kept on walking, and straining his hearing more and more.
"Why, I've heard some pretty fine players, but never anything like that!
Whoever can it be! I'd wager a heap that the gift of inherited genius is
back of that playing. I can see that he isn't an educated violinist at
all; but the notes are meant to express the language of the soul within.
Oh, I'm glad now I decided to start out; because I wouldn't have missed
this for anything!"

He knew that he was by now close to the spot, for the sounds came very
distinctly. As he continued to advance, Elmer kept watching, wondering
what manner of person he was going to see. Could some professional
violinist have taken a notion to spend his summer up here amidst the
solitudes, communing with Nature, so as to secure new inspiration for
his work? It would not be improbable, though there was that about the
playing to suggest an utter lack of training.

Now only a screen of bushes seemed to intervene. Once he had crept to
the further edge of these and Elmer would be able to see the one who
handled that bow so eloquently.

Three minutes later and he found himself looking eagerly out of his
leafy screen, to receive a fresh shock. Instead of a man with the looks
of a professor, or even a lady performer, he discovered that the party
responsible for those sweet chords and sad strains that pierced his
heart, was only a flaxen-haired boy not over ten years of age!

He sat there with his slender legs coiled up on a stump, and drew the
wonderful notes from his fiddle without any apparent effort, just as
though the music was in him, and had to find an outlet somehow. He was
barefooted, and dressed shabbily. Yet, despite these evidences of
poverty, Elmer could note what seemed to be a distinguished air about
the lad that fairly stunned him. He thought at once of Mark Twain's "The
Prince and the Pauper." Was this a real prince masquerading in dingy
apparel?

He lay there and drank in the wonderful harmony for a full quarter of an
hour, hardly daring to move lest his actions frighten the little chap,
and cause that flood of music to cease. All the while Elmer was trying
to figure out what it could mean. Was this boy Jem Shock's child; and,
if so, how in the wide world could the child have come into such an
amazing musical inheritance? Who was his mother, and had she sprung from
some genius known to the world of melody?

"No matter what the answer is," Elmer told himself, "that child has
genius deeply planted in his soul; and it will be a burning shame if he
never has a chance to be educated along the right channel. I'm bound to
bring this up before some of the good people at home, and see what can
be done. Oh! if only they could hear him as I am doing right now, it
would be easy to collect a sum of money to start him on the road to
becoming the most famous of American violinists. I never heard such
wonderful music in all my life. He mustn't get away from me now."

Elmer said this last because he saw that the boy was apparently about to
cease playing. He had tucked his violin away in a much-soiled bag of
once green baize, and was climbing down from the stump, as though to
depart from the theatre he apparently liked above all other places for
his daily concert.

So Elmer stepped forth and swiftly approached. The boy did not hear his
footsteps at first, for Elmer knew how to tread softly; but presently he
looked around and for a moment the scout leader feared he meant to dart
away.

FOOTNOTE:

[Footnote A: See "The Hickory Ridge Boy Scouts Storm-Bound."]



CHAPTER VII

MAKING A BARGAIN WITH CONRAD


"HOLD on, please, don't go away; I'd like to talk with you, and tell you
how much I've enjoyed listening to your playing."

Upon hearing the stranger say these kind words, the boy apparently
reconsidered his intention of running off. He drew himself up proudly,
and waited. Elmer saw that while he was a very handsome little fellow,
there was no trace of weakness about his face; he had just as resolute a
chin as Jem Shock himself; and his blue eyes could evidently flash fire
if his spirit were aroused.

So Elmer walked forward and joined the other. Standing there barefooted,
and with his clothing well worn, though neatly patched, the boy
presented a strange appearance, hugging his cherished violin in its
faded case close under his arm. Elmer would never forget the picture he
had made as he sat there drawing all those remarkable sounds from the
wooden case; he would have labeled such a painting simply "Genius," and
let people catch the idea according to their bent.

"You play very sweetly, my boy," he told the other. "I have been
listening for a long time. Where did you learn how to handle the bow?
Who taught you to make a violin talk, and tell all the things that you
have been hearing the birds and the little woods folks saying?"

"My mother showed me how to hold the bow, and the rest I just picked up
like, mister," the boy replied.

Elmer was further astonished. He had expected to hear this woods boy
speak most ungrammatically; but few lads of his age, who had gone to
school for five years or over, could have expressed themselves one-half
as well. But then the same mother who had shown him how to grasp the bow
must have taken pains to teach him other things that went with the
education of a growing boy. His observation had done the rest; for just
as Elmer himself was accustomed to doing, this boy had ever heard a
thousand voices in the solitudes where he dwelt; and these elements he
was weaving into music as he dreamily drew his bow again and again
across the responsive strings.

"Do you live near here?" next asked Elmer, who saw that the boy was
curiously looking him over, and seemed to be visibly impressed with his
khaki suit, as well as his leggings and his campaign hat.

He noticed the glint of suspicion suddenly shoot into the blue eyes.

"What do you want to know that for?" he asked sharply. "Are you a
warden, or a revenue officer?"

Elmer laughed in his customary cheery way that usually proved so
catching, and made him so many friends.

"Well, I should say not, my friend," he hastened to assure the other.
"This is the regular uniform of the Boy Scouts. Have you ever heard of
the scouts, and would you like me to tell you some interesting things
about them?"

The boy looked him all over again, and when he saw what a frank and
engaging face Elmer had, he seemed to make up his mind that really he
ought to have no fear from so friendly a boy.

"Yes, I would, if you didn't mind telling me," he went on to say. "Once,
a year or so ago, mother took me to a town to have my teeth looked
over--I've got better clothes than these at the cabin, you know--and
while we were there I saw a boy dressed like you are. He had a drum, and
was beating it ever so hard, making music that nearly killed me, it was
so terrible. But I didn't know he was a scout. So I'd like to hear about
them, if you don't mind."

Accordingly, Elmer sat down on a convenient log, it being a part of the
very same tree the stump of which the boy had utilized as his rostrum,
when playing his sad airs to an imaginary audience.

"Come and sit beside me, please," he went on to say, encouragingly; "and
first, before I start talking, I ought to introduce myself. My name is
Elmer Chenowith, and I live in the town of Hickory Ridge. Would you mind
telling me your name, because, you see, it's rather awkward for two boys
to chat without knowing how to speak to each other."

"I'm Conrad!" the boy said simply, as he took the designated seat, and
carefully placed his precious violin on the ground beside him.

"Conrad Shock?" continued Elmer, at which the boy shut his teeth hard,
and then almost defiantly said:

"Yes, and Jem Shock is my father, too, if you want to know it!"

"That's all right, Conrad," the other told him. "I have heard a lot
about Jem, but I don't believe much of what is told me. Besides, it's
none of my business, and I don't mean to meddle with anybody else's
affairs. Now I want to be friends with you. I must hear about your gift
of playing, because you have got it without a question. After I've told
you all about scouts, and what they aim to do in the world, I hope
you'll tell me about yourself, Conrad."

"Perhaps I will, Elmer," the other replied, calmly.

So once again the story of scout craft was told in simple language. The
boy hung upon every word as though he felt the keenest interest in all
he heard. And never could there have been a more zealous narrator than
the leader of the Wolf Patrol; for Elmer's heart was wrapped up in his
present calling as typified in the khaki, and he fairly fascinated his
young auditor by relating how the scouts took upon themselves so many
uplifting resolutions; how they learned new things every day by
observing, and remembering what they saw and heard; also how the
movement was widening in its scope continually until even the Government
at Washington had taken notice of its beneficial effect upon the youth
of the land, and was at last legislating in behalf of the organization.

"And now," he said in conclusion, "you understand who and what we are. I
have four chums along with me, two of them new beginners whom we call
tenderfeet, because they know so little about the great book of Nature,
and have so much to learn. We came up here, partly to camp out and enjoy
ourselves as scouts always do when they get the chance. Then it happens
that the father of one of the boys has bought a big tract of land around
Raccoon Bluff, and his son wanted to survey it over, not being satisfied
with the original work. We chanced to see your father while we were on
the road, and told him this, but I'm afraid he didn't wholly believe us;
but, Conrad, I give you my word of honor as a scout that we haven't the
least idea of spying on him, or doing him any harm. Do you believe me?"

The boy looked him in the eye, and doubtless soul spoke to soul in that
exchange of looks, for he presently said, slowly but positively:

"Yes, you could never tell a lie if you wanted to, Elmer. And I'm going
to tell you that my father has been acting queer ever since he met you
boys on the road. I don't know what ails him, but I heard him saying a
name over and over again, and looking ever so black."

"What was the name; can you tell me, Conrad?"

"It was a funny one--Snodgrass," the boy replied, and Elmer shivered
when he heard him say this, for it came to him like a flash that
possibly Jem Shock might have some reason to think of that name with
anything but pleasant memories.

"That is the name of the new boy whose father owns this property up
here," he admitted; "but he came from some other section of the country,
and has only been in our town a few months. Tell me about your mother,
for you say she showed you how to hold the bow. Did she used to play the
violin herself long ago?"

"Oh! no, it was her father, the celebrated player, Ovid Anderson. He is
long since dead, you know. And this was his violin, too, with which he
used to charm so many thousands of people. My mother has often told me
how they would take him on their shoulders and march up the street
shouting that he was the greatest player in all the wide world. And some
day I mean to be his equal; I feel it in here," and as the boy said this
most solemnly, he placed a hand on his bosom, where his heart beat most
tumultuously, and called upon him for deeds worthy of the name his
ancestor had made famous.

For Elmer had himself heard that name of Ovid Anderson. He remembered
that the player, long since dead, had been a Swedish violinist of
international reputation. How it came that his daughter should ever mate
with a man like Jem Shock, and be lost to the world in this wilderness,
was a puzzle too much for Elmer to understand.

But he hoped that all in good time he might find the explanation; for
now that he had made the acquaintance of Conrad he was more determined
than ever to meet that mother, even if in doing so he had to run the
gauntlet of Jem Shock's anger.

But Conrad was showing evidences now of a desire to depart. Elmer would
have liked to ask to accompany him to his cabin home, but he hesitated.
Still he meant to pave the way to a future meeting, and then it might be
time to ask to meet the boy's mother.

"Our camp is up on the bluff, where the road runs. You can see the smoke
of our fire, and perhaps the tent under the trees, if you look that way.
And we'd be glad to have you and your mother, yes, and Jem Shock, too,
visit us any time, Conrad, if you felt inclined that way. Do you often
come here to play the things that you feel in your soul?"

"Every morning when it isn't raining, and then the day is very long to
me, for I believe I would die if it wasn't for the music," the boy
hurriedly replied. "But I want to thank you for saying what you did
about my father. I know people all say he is a terribly bad man, that he
gets drunk, and beats us; but it's a whole pack of lies, that's what it
is. He never drinks a drop. He seems to hold a grudge against the whole
world for something that happened a while ago, but he is good to my
mother, and he loves me, he says, like the apple of his eye."

"I'm mighty glad to hear that, Conrad, sure I am!" exclaimed Elmer.
"Lots of times people are given bad names when they don't deserve them
one whit. I made up my mind that I wanted to know your father, and some
day I mean to drop in at your cabin and introduce myself. Yes, and
tomorrow I'll be coming over here again as sure as anything, to listen
to you play some more. Some day you will get your chance to take lessons
from some big professor, who will fit you for taking the place your
famous grandfather filled. And perhaps I may be able to start the ball
rolling; you wait and see."

Conrad turned white with the wild hope that surged through his ambitious
young heart. He wrung Elmer's hand eagerly as he said goodbye. The
scout leader watched him going on through the aisles of the forest, and
noticed that his course took him directly toward the place where the
smoke came from.

Fully satisfied with the adventure of the morning, and filled with a
growing ambition to be the one to interest music-loving friends in the
wonderful genius of the great Ovid Anderson's grandson, Elmer turned in
his tracks, and commenced to head for the camp.

"I never dreamed of such a thing happening to me, when I consented to
come up here and help Rufus make his new survey," he was telling
himself, as he walked on, never forgetting to note his surroundings, as
a true woodsman always must, no matter what his mind may be occupied
with. "And wouldn't it be a great thing, though, if we did manage to get
that boy's mother to bring him down to town, so the folks who love music
could only hear him play. Why, they'd go crazy over him, I'm sure, and
the rest would be as easy as falling off a log."

Somehow Elmer failed to pay as much attention to animated nature around
him on his return trip as he had when going out; but then that was not
to be wondered at. He had really run across a most remarkable thing; and
it crowded most other matters out of his mind.

When he reached camp, he found George still "up to his eyes" in work,
and enjoying every minute of the morning. The fixing up of camp was such
a pleasure to him that for the time being he seemed transformed into a
real sociable fellow, quite different from his usual complaining self.

Elmer told him of his adventure, and George was mildly interested. He
did not happen to be much of a lover of music himself, and perhaps
thought Elmer might be overestimating the ability of a boy player.

"Oh! there are plenty such cropping up from time to time, I reckon," he
remarked, scornfully; "but they seldom amount to a row of beans. You
thought this little chap was some punkins just because you happened to
hear him amidst peculiar surroundings. Now, the chances are when you
listen to him in a concert hall you'll be bitterly disappointed in his
genius, as you like to call it."

"You're jumping at conclusions too fast, as usual, George," the scout
leader told the objector. "In the first place, Conrad will never be
heard on the concert stage while he is as green as he is along the lines
of musical culture. He will show what is in him to genuine critics, and
then if they prove as wild over him as I believe they are bound to be,
he'll be put under the charge of the best teacher in New York City, to
begin along the proper lines."

As George was so busily employed, and Elmer had nothing else to do, he
started getting lunch ready later on. There was an abundance of material
to choose from, and it was really a pleasure to make the selection. So
presently savory odors began to arise in the vicinity, that, when wafted
to the olfactories of the three boys coming wearily back over their
morning trail would be sure to hasten their footsteps.

It was easy to see that Rufus had made more or less progress along the
lines of carrying out his plans for checking up the previous survey.

"Of course it's a whole lot too soon," he told Elmer, when he came into
camp and threw himself down to rest, "to say that the job was pretty
much of a bungle; but I'm beginning to believe that same. And before two
suns have set I'll have the figures to prove it, too."

"What object do you suppose those civil engineers could have had in
rushing it all through, and doing a rotten job in the bargain?" demanded
George. "Could it be possible there was some crooked work back of the
survey, and that they took a money bribe to falsify the figures? In
other words, has your respected dad been stung when buying some square
miles of ground up here along Raccoon Bluff?"

"Oh! I'm hardly prepared to go as far as that," said Rufus, hastily.
"I'd be more inclined to believe that the men who came up here just
slouched at their work and failed to do what they should. They made a
slash three-quarters of the way back in one place, we found, and then
probably guessed the rest. It's going to turn out a bad piece of work,
and they'll hear from my dad, you can wager. The Snodgrass pluck and vim
won't stand for such monkey shines one minute, as any person who knows
my father can tell you."

Elmer suddenly remembered how the lad with the flaxen hair had said that
his father, Jem Shock, seemed to cherish a singular antipathy toward
some one by the name of Snodgrass; and that ever since meeting them on
the road, he had kept repeating it to himself, and frowning as though
furious. He wondered again whether that rich father of Rufus could at
some time in the past have wronged the same Jem in a real estate deal.
It would be very unfortunate if such proved to be the case; and might
spoil some of the plans he, Elmer, had been building up, connected with
the wonderful boy musician.

Later on, while they were discussing the lunch, he started in and told
Lil Artha, Rufus and Alec what he had run across. All of them were
greatly interested; but the scout-master, for reasons of his own, failed
to mention that the man who was called a "poacher," and who had somehow
gained the name of a bad man, seemed to hold hard feelings against a
Snodgrass.

Rufus was loud in his desire to help the "cause" along.

"If ever you can coax these woods people to let the boy come to town,
Elmer," he went on to say loftily, though also with considerable
feeling, "I'll promise to interest my folks in him. And my father thinks
a lot of anybody who has musical talent. I know he took a heap of
pleasure in helping to send one young lady to Europe to complete her
voice culture; she's now singing in opera, and thinks she owes
considerable of her dazzling success to what he did for her. She's often
been at our house when we lived nearer New York."

"That sounds good to me, Rufus," Elmer told him; "and if the opening
comes I may call on you to redeem your promise."

At the same time, Elmer wondered whether it might not be the irony of
fate if the same man who had helped "down" the father, were to stretch
out a helping hand to the son. He also figured that Jem Shock would
indignantly refuse to accept any aid from that source. But then the
whole thing was wrapped in mystery; and Elmer, like a wise boy, decided
that it would be foolish to try to figure things out until he had a
better grip on the conditions.

After lunch, the surveying party, considerably refreshed by their meal,
and the hour of loafing about the camp, went off again to take up the
work where they had dropped it. George, too, had found some other things
which he might as well do while his hand was in; and so Elmer had to
cast around him for some means of passing the long afternoon away.



CHAPTER VIII

A PERIL THAT LAY IN WAIT


IT was an hour and more after the surveying party had trooped forth,
bearing their paraphernalia for a good afternoon's work, when Elmer
happened to remember something. He was himself getting ready to take
another tramp, though in a different direction than his morning stroll
took him.

"Seems to me, George," he remarked, casually, "I've heard you say you
liked honey pretty well?"

George stopped fretting over what he was doing, and licked his lips at
the mere mention of the word "honey."

"Finest stuff that ever was made; that is, when you get the real
article, and none of that sugar-water imitation some bee-keepers put on
the market nowadays, which tastes as insipid as mucilage. Yum! yum!
makes my mouth water when I think of all the good times I used to have
when we kept bees. But father had the misfortune to upset a hive, and
got so badly stung that he bundled the lot off at a bargain price to an
old farmer. But what makes you speak of it now, Elmer? Just to
tantalize me, because that was one of the things I had Rufus put on his
list and he forgot to get, worse luck."

"Oh! I only wanted to say that perhaps we may find a chance while we're
up here to lay in a store of luscious honey, if we have half-way good
luck, George."

"Does that farmer keep bees, and do you mean some of us can take a run
back to his place to buy a bucket of comb?" asked George, eagerly.

"Better than that," chuckled Elmer. "I've noticed a great many wild bees
working in the flowers, and I think I can track them to their woods
hive. Once we find where they hold out, it won't be hard to chop the
tree down, and take our fill of the newest stores."

"A splendid idea, Elmer, I give you my word if it isn't!" cried the
other, looking greatly pleased. "It certainly takes you to think up fine
things. And when you start to follow the honey-makers home, please let
me go along. I've always wanted to see how that dodge is worked."

"We'll all be on deck," the scout-master assured him; "for above
everything else I want the tenderfoot squad to learn a practical lesson
on how easy it is for an experienced woodsman to find his bread and
butter and sweets by using his brains instead of hard cash. But we'll
lay our plans tonight while we sit around the fire."

"Off for another tramp now, are you, Elmer?" George continued, as he saw
the other pick up his handy stick again.

"Well, yes; I don't like to waste such a glorious day; and there's
really nothing for me to do around camp, since you've taken the run of
things in your hands."

"Going off to see that wonderful child fiddler again. I suppose, Elmer?"

"You guessed wrong that time, George, because I've laid out to follow
after our civil engineering party, and see how Rufus is getting on with
his work. He certainly is in love with it; and his father will be unwise
if he doesn't encourage the boy in every way possible. I tell you, a
host of fellows have made failures of their lives because their parents
insisted on their taking up some profession they hated."

"Just so, Elmer," chirped George, "a case of round pegs in square holes,
so to speak. And when I get to the point of choosing what I want to be
as a man, I hope my folks won't force me to go contrary to my liking."

Knowing George's stubborn qualities, Elmer could easily guess that the
Robbins tribe would have a pretty hard task of it bending _him_ to their
will. However, he did not say this, not wishing to either offend George
or arouse his argumentative powers, but started forth on his tramp.

"'Course you'll just keep an eye on their trail, won't you, Elmer?" the
camp-guardian called out after him.

"It would be silly to try any other way, George," he was told.

So Elmer went on. The tracks left by the three surveyors could hardly
have been overlooked, even by the veriest greenhorn at trailing, for
they had none of them made the least attempt to hide their footprints.
So Elmer had an easy task of it, and indeed could employ his extra time
in observing many things around him.

He saw the mother rabbit start out of the bunch of grass where doubtless
her offspring lay hidden, and with halting steps act as though badly
injured. Elmer laughed, and clapped his hands as though in keen
appreciation for her cleverness.

"The same old trick birds and small animals always play when they want
to lure a trespasser away from their nest," he told himself; "by
endangering themselves in the desire to save their young. She coaxes me
to rush after her, so as to wean me away from her brood. If I started
she'd go off a little farther, and then stop once more to coax me on
again. I've seen a hen partridge do the same thing, fluttering along the
ground as if with a broken wing. Now just for fun let's see if I'm not
right."

He had carefully noted the exact spot where the mother rabbit first
appeared, and stepping over that way parted the tall grass. Instantly
there was a hurried scurrying, as a number of small but nimble
half-grown rabbits darted this way and that, as if greatly frightened.

"Don't kill yourselves trying to escape, little bunnies," said Elmer,
greatly amused; "because I wouldn't harm a single hair of your pretty
bodies. But I tell you the thousand-and-one lessons that a fellow can
learn from Nature's big book ought to be enough to make every boy want
to become a scout, and take up the study of outdoor life. There's
something fresh and new every day one lives."

By then the devoted mother rabbit had vanished, doubtless filled with
consternation over the dispersal of her brood, which she would have to
call together in some fashion of her own. So Elmer walked on, observing
many other interesting things as he proceeded, for his eyes were ever on
the alert when he went into the woods and cruised on the waters.

He guessed that he must be gradually drawing up on his three chums, for
occasionally he caught the sound of a halloo, as though there might be
an exchange of signals between Rufus and his stakeman, who went on ahead
to assist him. Lil Artha probably prowled along near by, seeing things
for himself, and with not a great deal of interest in the prosaic
operations of the surveyors.

Suddenly Elmer heard loud excited voices. He believed be caught the
voice of Lil Artha saying, "Steady, Rufus, don't move on your
life--steady, boy!"

Then came a loud report. Elmer knew that it was the discharge of the
lanky scout's gun. He was already plunging forward as fast as he could
go when this sound came to his startled ears. The others were close by,
for he could now hear their excited voices.

A minute later, and Elmer, still on the full run, burst through a
thicket, and discovered the three boys. Lil Artha had his gun half
raised to his shoulder, as if doubtful whether the newcomer would prove
to be a friend or an enemy; and with true scout preparedness not meaning
to be taken off his guard. But on sighting Elmer, of course he lowered
his weapon.

Rufus was standing there, looking as "white as a ghost," and trembling
as if he had the ague. Alec grasped his small ax, and seemed quite ready
to use the same. Something twisted and squirmed upon the ground, and as
Elmer looked, his horrified gaze made out an enormous rattlesnake that
seemed to have part of its head shot away. The chilling sound of its
rattles was what Elmer had thought to be the "chill" of a buzzing locust
upon some neighboring tree.

In another moment Elmer was alongside Rufus.

"Don't tell me the thing struck you, Rufus?" he ejaculated, himself pale
with apprehension.

"It's all right, Elmer," said Lil Artha, soothingly. "Nobody hurt the
least mite, I give you my word. But if Rufus hadn't had the good sense
to stand still when I called out, I really believe the critter would
have struck at him. And it was close enough to make a hit, too."

"I don't deserve any credit, fellows, indeed I don't!" said Rufus,
truthfully. "I was so scared that I seemed frozen stiff. Why, I couldn't
have moved hand or foot for all the money in the world. Guess that's
what they mean when they say a rattler charms people."

"It may be so," Lil Artha went on to say, "but I've known one to get
birds to flutter within reach, just as if there was something magical in
the whirr of that buzz rattle at the end of its tail. After all, I guess
it was lucky that I _did_ conclude to fetch my gun along this afternoon.
The boys were laughing at me in the morning for lugging it when I didn't
mean to fire a shot at any game. But say, a measly rattler hasn't any
close season; he's a fit object for business, summer or fall."

"You made a cracking fine shot, Lil Artha," commented Elmer, after
stepping closer to observe the result of the other's quick aim.

"Oh! middling, middling, partner," chuckled the tall scout, modestly; "I
oughtn't to be proud of it; but then I own up I was some rattled for
fear Rufus would move, and make the snake shoot forward with that poised
flat head of his. But I stopped his fun all right, which ought to be
enough for me."

"But how d'ye suppose I missed the fearsome de-il?" asked Alec,
wonderingly.

"Oh! I happened to step aside while getting my bearings for that last
sight," explained the trembling Rufus, "and must have drawn too near
where the viper was coiled up for defense. First thing I knew was
hearing what I took to be the whirr of a locust. Then I looked down and
saw it! After that I seemed to turn to ice. I heard Lil Artha coming,
and afterwards he said something. When he fired I nearly fell over,
thinking I had been shot. Oh! I'll never forget my sensations; and after
this I'm going to keep on the lookout all the time for snakes."

"It pays to be on the watch," assented Elmer. "The fellow who keeps his
eyes about him in the woods is doubly armed. We must drag it back with
us, and show George. He said he didn't believe there was any truth in
that farmer's story about rattlesnakes up here. We'll have to show him."

"But, Elmer, supposing it had given me a crack, would I have had to die?
Is there any remedy for a rattlesnake's poison?" asked Rufus.

"Oh! we'd have pulled you through all right, depend on it, Rufus," said
Lil Artha, taking it upon himself to answer the question. "I'd have
sucked the wound in the first place, making sure that I had no scratch
or abrasion about my mouth so that I couldn't be infected by the poison
that I ejected. Then Elmer here, who is a pretty good surgeon when it
comes right down to brass tacks, would have cut into the wound, and
afterwards, when it had bled freely, he'd apply some stuff he always
carries with him to neutralize the poison. Some people give whiskey, and
perhaps it does help; but science and medicine have found a better
remedy."

"Then why are there so many fatal cases of snake bites?" asked Rufus,
determined to find out all he could on the subject.

"Well, most of them are neglected too long," Elmer told him. "The person
who has been struck may be alone at the time; or if he has companions,
they become panic-stricken, and only think of hurrying the poor chap to
the nearest doctor as fast as they can. That's nearly always the worst
thing they could do, for in the time it takes, the deadly poison has had
a chance to circulate through the blood, and all the doctors going
couldn't save the patient."

"That's where first aid to the injured comes in with the scouts," said
Lil Artha, proudly. "All boys who wear the khaki are instructed how to
act in order to save human life by prompt measures, whether it is in
case of near-drowning, snake bite, injury by cutting an artery with an
ax, swallowing some poisonous toadstool in place of delicious
mushrooms, and a dozen other things too numerous to mention. You'll
learn all about it in good time, Rufus."

"I mean to, Lil Artha, depend on it," the other assured him earnestly.
"I give you my solemn word here and now that I'll begin right away. I
never want to be taken unawares again, so that I feel as helpless as a
kitten. I'm going to be aimed and equipped with the book of knowledge. I
can see that it pays compound interest for all your time and trouble."

"Now I'm delighted to hear you say that, Rufus," Lil Artha told him;
"and I promise to instruct you at the first opportunity; Alec, too, if
he is so minded."

"I am verra curious aboot it, and ye can count on me being a listener
whenever ye begin the lessons. Aye! it would hae been peetiful if Rufus
had been struck. I'd hae sucked his wound with ye, Lil Artha, or done
anything else ye asked."

Rufus laid a hand on the Scotch boy's shoulder fondly.

"I'm sure you would, Sandy," he went on to say, for sometimes he used
that name in speaking to his comrade, though always with affection. "But
after that fright I guess I'm done working for today. Let's go back to
camp."

No one raised any objections, so they prepared to return. Lil Artha
managed to fasten a strong cord to the tail of the rattlesnake, which
Alec said he would drag after him. The long-legged scout had already
shown the two tenderfeet the cruel looking curved fangs in the partly
shattered head, as well as the sickly, green-hued poison that could be
pressed from the sack by using a stick on a certain part of the said
head. They had been greatly impressed, and likewise shocked to realize
what a narrow escape both of them had had from near-death.

All the way back the talk was of the hidden perils that lie in wait for
unsuspecting passersby in the woods. This ranged from wildcats to
rattlesnakes and adders and scorpions. Lil Artha seemed to be a "walking
encyclopedia" of knowledge along these lines; part of this he had picked
up through personal experience, and the rest came through extensive
reading, or hearing others tell about it. A scout may find scores of
ways for learning useful things, if only he cares to bother about doing
it.

Later on they approached the camp.

George, who had managed to get through with his numerous odd jobs and
was resting, seemed surprised, to have them come back so soon.

"Huh! guess you got tired of the job quicker'n you expected, Rufus!" he
called out lazily from his seat on the soft moss under a tree. "All work
and no play makes Jack a dull boy, they say. But what in the dickens is
that you're dragging along after you, Alec? Great Scott! a rattler!"

George scrambled to his feet, filled with excitement. His eyes stared at
the four-foot reptile, which still showed signs of life; and Lil Artha
had assured Alec its tail would continue to jerk until sundown, even
though its head be cut clean off.

"I hope it didn't strike any of you fellows?" George went on to add with
a vein of fright in his voice.

The story was quickly told, and the convinced George had to measure the
reptile with his tape line, finding it only an inch or two short of four
feet.

"As big a rattler as I ever saw," Elmer told them. "They have them five
feet long down in Florida, I understand, those diamond-back fellows; but
as I haven't been there I can't say anything about it. For a Northern
snake this one is certainly a whopper."

"Lil Artha has promised to get the rattle for me," remarked Alec. "Rufus
had the first choice, but man, he said he'd never sleep easy nichts if
he had it hangin' on the wall of his room at home, thinking about his
narrow escape. But it's a verra curious thing to me, and I don't care a
bawbee about the sound. It wasn't _my_ ox that was gored, ye ken."

George was acting now in something of a mysterious manner. Elmer noticed
this and was looking at the camp-keeper out of the tail of his eye, as
though trying to guess what was in the wind. He felt certain that
George had a secret of some kind or other, which he was holding back,
just for the satisfaction it gave him.

Lil Artha was an observing chap, as we happen to know; and before long
he too noticed the same thing. This, however, was after he had seen
Elmer observing George closely, with a line across his forehead that
told of a puzzled mind.

The tall scout was not the one to bother himself about trying to solve a
thing when there was a short cut to the answer. He believed that the
best way to get at the meat in a cocoanut was to smash the shell.

"Here, what's brewing with you, George?" he suddenly demanded, facing
the other.

George grinned, and then hastened to say:

"What makes you ask that, Lil Artha?"

"Because I know right well you've got something of a surprise up your
sleeve, and you're aching to spring it on us. What have you been doing
since we left camp? Now don't you squirm, and try to keep us in the
dark. Own up, George, and tell us."

So George, seeing there was no escape, apparently, determined to let the
"cat out of the bag."



CHAPTER IX

THE STRANGE MESSAGE JEM LEFT


"WELL, we've had a visitor in camp since you fellows all went away!"
George confessed.

Of course every one was interested. Lil Artha seemed to immediately jump
to the conclusion that the guest must have been a four-footed one.

"Bet you now, it was a measly wildcat," he hastened to exclaim. "It's
too bad a fellow with a gun can't be in two places at the same time. I
was needed out with the tenderfoot squad; and seems like I could have
been made useful here at home. Did the varmint get away with any of our
grub, George?"

The camp defender grinned as though amused.

"Go a bit slow, Lil Artha, can't you?" he complained, petulantly. "Don't
rush as if you knew it all. Nobody said the visitor was going on four
feet, did they? Why, it happened to be a biped, a man!"

"Then it was Jem Shock!" ventured Elmer, quickly, as though he had half
guessed the answer before then.

"Just who it was," agreed George, nodding his head in the affirmative,
and looking very important.

"What did he want?" demanded Lil Artha.

"Hold your horses!" continued Elmer; "don't keep jumping at conclusions
so fast. In the first place, remember that we invited Jem to drop in on
us any time he was near our camp. The invitation didn't seem to give him
much joy, but later on he may have concluded to make a call. Now tell us
what he said, and how he looked, George."

"Oh! he carried that gun of his just as we saw him before," the other
explained. "And he certainly looked pretty savage, in the bargain."

"Savage?" echoed Rufus, "why should he act that way? Possibly because my
father owns about all this property up here. Perhaps Jem believes he may
be dispossessed of his cabin. I've heard that squatters always do get to
thinking they own the land they build on, as if possession gave them a
quit claim deed."

"Well," continued George, steadily, and keeping his eye fixed on Rufus,
"to tell the honest truth, he seemed most of all interested about _you_,
Rufus."

"Oh! is that so?" sneered the other; "well, that's just about in line
with what I was telling you. He knows the name of Snodgrass,
apparently."

"I guessed he did from the way he acted after I'd told him about your
father," George went on to say.

"Now, what could you have to say about my dad?" snapped the touchy
Rufus.

"Well, Jem asked me first of all if one of the boys in camp was a
Snodgrass, and of course I told him yes," George explained. "Then he
asked me if I knew what your father's first name was. I told him I had
heard it, but just then, somehow, it seemed to have slipped my memory.
At that he up and asked me if it was Hiram."

Rufus gave a little cry at hearing this.

"It might be this man knew my father once on a time, or they may have
had some business deal together; though that's hardly likely, because
Jem Shock, poacher and farm laborer, would hardly be the one _my_ father
would be friendly with."

"I don't know anything about that," said George, swiftly; "but when I
told him I remembered, on his mentioning it, that Hiram was your
father's name, he gritted those big white teeth of his like everything,
and his eyes certainly looked wicked enough to give a fellow a shiver."

"But didn't he say anything to explain why he had come to the camp?"
asked Lil Artha, deeply interested in the story.

"He asked no favor, neither would he sit down and have a cup of coffee
when I offered to make him one," George went on; "but he asked me to
give you a message which he wanted you to carry to your father when you
went home. He said: 'Tell that Snodgrass boy to say to his father that
Jem Shock never will forgive the rank treachery that handed him over to
a gang of sharpers in the land speculating business. And tell Hiram
Snodgrass, too,' he went on, 'that he ought to thank his stars his son
wasn't treated by Jem Shock as he deserved. Only for the prayers of a
good woman in his cabin, and the influence of a sweet child, Jem Shock'd
be tempted to do something wicked to wipe out the debt he owed your
father.'"

Rufus went white on hearing this. Then the color surged back to his
cheeks and his eyes sparkled like twin fires.

"It's all wrong, I'm sure it must be!" he cried, angrily. "I know my
father better than most people do, and I'm as certain as I breathe that
he wouldn't deliberately betray anybody who trusted in his word. There
must be some terrible mistake about it, don't you see, fellows? I'll
bring you face to face with my dad when I'm telling him about this, and
you'll hear for yourselves what he says. But nothing can shake my
confidence in his integrity; I've seen it tested too many times to doubt
him now, just because this poacher fellow dares accuse him of wrong
doing."

It sounded very fine, this defense on the part of a loyal son, and Elmer
could only admire Rufus for showing himself so faithful. At the same
time, he knew real-estate dealers often have a peculiar code of morals,
and frequently do things that others may not exactly approve of, salving
their own consciences in some way. Elmer was a little afraid that Hiram
Snodgrass might have been tempted to turn a client over to some
combination of operators, some of whom were not just as scrupulous as an
honest man would like to have them in his dealings.

"Was that all he said, George?" asked Lil Artha, out of pity for Rufus,
who appeared to be suffering acutely from mental pain.

"Yes, and after delivering the message, he whirled around and walked
away with the grand air of a lord of the realm," George explained.
"Somehow, poacher that he may be, because he believes like a good many
persons that wild game isn't the property of the State, there's
something about Jem Shock that tells me he isn't a common dickey. He
hates all human kind because his nature has been soured by some wrong
he's endured, that's all."

"Well, I'm going to find out what it all means, and as soon as I get the
chance," Rufus asserted, between his set teeth. "If it was a mistake, it
shall be righted. I tell you my father is too big a man to play mean
toward anybody. But while we're up here nothing can be done. I wish I
had a chance to ask this fellow what it's all about, so I could get the
hang of things."

"H'm! if I were you, Rufus," suggested wise George, "I'd go slow about
showing myself to Jem Shock. He hates the sound of your name, and if you
gave him half an excuse, why he might forget his good resolutions, and
hurt you, with the idea of revenging himself on your dad. How about
that, Elmer; is my logic sound?"

"Yes, there's no use taking unnecessary risks," admitted the
scout-master, "and common prudence demands that Rufus should keep away
from Jem. Later on, if he does find that a terrible mistake has been
made, it would be easy to come back up here and square things up with
the poacher. But it certainly pleases me to know that the home influence
is working on Jem's revengeful mind. If the mother is anything like that
splendid little clear-eyed chap I don't wonder at it, either."

Secretly, Elmer was more determined than ever to try and make the
personal acquaintance of Conrad's mother, the daughter of that once
famous Swedish violinist whose bow had thrilled countless thousands, and
drawn genuine tears from their eyes.

The subject was by common consent dropped then and there, though, of
course, it would remain to agitate the mind of Rufus long afterwards.
Indeed, the boy seemed to be unusually quiet during the balance of that
afternoon, and even while they sat around the crackling camp-fire after
supper had been disposed of.

Elmer could guess the reason why. The tenderfoot had, in the first
place, been under a most severe strain when he experienced that peril
with the deadly snake. It would have an effect upon his nervous system
for some little time; and possibly he might even awaken from sleep
occasionally with a half-suppressed cry of horror, as though in his
dreams he again saw that horrid reptile with its great coils, its flat
square head drawn back for striking, and its tail elevated so that the
monotonous danger signal at the tip could continue to buzz angrily.

Then again the boy had taken that accusation on the part of the poacher
quite to heart. It could be easily seen that he had a great affection
for his father, even though it was his fond mother who had always given
in to his whims, and come near utterly spoiling Rufus by her favors.

"It galls him to have heard any one accuse his father of being a
trickster," was what Elmer told himself, as he noticed the soberness of
Rufus, while the others in the circle about the fire chattered away, and
seemed to be enjoying themselves hugely.

He had not changed his own plans a particle on account of hearing about
the visit paid to the camp by Jem Shock. If anything, his resolution was
stronger than ever to see more of Conrad, and perhaps meet his mother.

All of them were pretty tired, and, of course, as the tenderfoot pair
had secured so little sleep on the first night, it was likely they
would soon be "dead to the world" after letting their heads fall on
their crude pillows. These were made out of a slip filled with sweet
hemlock browse stripped by hand fresh from the tree, and fragrant as
could be, with the incense of the woods. This bosky odor in itself is
said to be conducive to sound slumber; at least all who spend their
vacations close to Nature's heart so affirm, and they should know.

The night passed without any sort of alarm. Indeed, Alec and Rufus, once
they got to sleep, knew next to nothing up to the time Lil Artha aroused
them by beating on his frying-pan gong, as "the first call to
breakfast."

They were glad to see that again the weather favored them, since there
were all the signs of a pleasant day ahead. Elmer, however, warned the
new recruits not to be too optimistic, because after the warmth of the
last few days, it was likely that some sort of storm might develop.

It was arranged that George should change places with Lil Artha on this
day, and accompany the two surveyors as a guard. The tall scout insisted
on his carrying the gun along with him.

"Of course you won't need it to shoot any deer you happen to scare up,
George," the owner went on to tell him, "but, as we saw yesterday, there
may crop up conditions that make the having of a shooting-iron mighty
handy. You may not need a gun at all, but if you do you want it right
there."

Lil Artha possibly had something in mind which he wanted to do while
left behind. He kept his own counsel, however, and Elmer, knowing that
the tall scout was to be thoroughly trusted, did not ask questions.

So along about nine in the morning, when he thought it likely he would
be apt to find Conrad seated in his favorite nook and playing some of
his dreamy airs, all of them creations of his own brain, Elmer started
forth. Lil Artha of course could easily surmise from the direction he
took that he meant to look the boy up again, but immersed in his own
affairs, he said nothing, only waved a cheery goodbye after the other.

So Elmer strode along, and this time he paid a little less attention to
the many interesting things that cropped up on this side or that, for
his thoughts were mostly concerned with Conrad, and his quaint thrilling
music, which he yearned to hear again.



CHAPTER X

A CABIN IN THE CLEARING


AS the scout-master found himself drawing near the spot where he had had
his former interesting meeting with little Conrad, he listened with
eagerness to catch the first faint notes from the quavering strings of
the wonderful violin that had once been in the possession of Ovid
Anderson.

"I'm no judge of such instruments myself," Elmer had told his chums when
speaking of the matter, "but I expect that violin must be a valuable
piece of polished wood. It certainly had an extra sweet singing tone to
me, and seemed to just _talk_ as the boy drew his bow over the strings.
I wouldn't be surprised now if it turned out to be a Stradivarius or a
Cremona, which I understand represent the finest makes of violins known
to the profession."

When George seemed inclined to scoff at the idea, since such an
instrument was likely to be worth thousands of dollars, and would have
been sold long ago to get common necessities, Elmer had also told him
that perhaps the daughter of the famous player would have parted with
her soul before allowing that remembrance of her father leave her house.

Then Elmer caught the first faint sound of music. It thrilled him as he
continued to hurry forward, and the sounds became stronger. Yes, and
sure enough, there was lacking now some of that sadness he had detected
in the playing of Conrad on the preceding day. Doubtless hope filled the
aspiring heart of the lad. His talk with his mother may have given him
new zeal, and the rainbow of promise was arching his heaven even then as
he played, and waited for his new friend to appear.

"That sounds more like it," Elmer told himself, "and shows what a
creature of circumstances a genius must always be. Even this child makes
the music he finds in his own soul. But it's sweeter by far than what he
played yesterday, for there is the breath of hope and promise in every
note."

He soon came in sight of the familiar stump, and found the lad curled up
there as before, with his violin tucked under his chin; just as though
he might be to the manner born, while his deft right hand wielded the
bow so tenderly that the daintiest sort of sound came forth at his
command.

But he was watching at the same time, and no sooner did Elmer appear
than the playing abruptly ceased, while the boy came running to meet
him. Elmer then felt sorry that he had not remained in concealment a
while longer, so that he might have enjoyed more of that crude but
appealing music.

"Oh! I'm glad to see you again, Elmer!" exclaimed the boy, as he held
out his hand, which the other did not attempt to squeeze too roughly,
for he remembered that those little digits had to retain their
sensitiveness to a remarkable degree in order to coax persuasive notes
to come forth.

"But before we do any talking," said Elmer, "you must let me hear you
play again. I notice that you are in a more joyous mood today, for it
shows in your music. Please sit on your stump again, Conrad, and humor
me for a while. Afterwards we can have a nice long chat; and I'm meaning
to ask a great favor of you later."

The boy's eyes flashed with genuine pleasure. It was evidently a treat
for him to have an audience besides the squirrels and rabbits, with
perhaps a curious old red fox that, prowling around in search of a
dinner, may have stopped to investigate the origin of those queer
squeaks and twirls, and those sobbing notes, so like a hen partridge
clucking to her brood.

For possibly ten minutes or so he played with scarcely any intermission.
Elmer thought he could never tire of drinking in the sweet combinations
of sounds which that deft little hand tempted from the five strings of
the violin. It seemed as though the spirit of the old virtuoso must
haunt the sacred instrument, and give forth some of his choicest chords
through the medium of his descendant, heir to his undoubted genius.

And it also seemed as though the lad's power to delineate the sounds
that appealed to him from the woods and waters was unlimited, for he
seldom repeated as he went on, making up astonishing strain after
strain.

Elmer was more than satisfied now his first impression had not been
wrong. He felt doubly convinced that all this lad needed to develop into
one of the greatest players the world had ever known was the directing
hand of a master, who could guide him past the rocks on which his young
talent might be wrecked if not taken in time.

"Now, that is enough for today," said Conrad, suddenly allowing his hand
holding the bow to drop; "I never try to play when something inside
tells me to stop. And I'm eager to tell you something good. My mother
wants to meet you, Elmer."

This intelligence caused the scout-master to smile with pleasure.

"Why," he exclaimed eagerly, "do you know, that was the favor I meant
when I said I wanted to ask you something. I have been wishing I could
meet the mother of my new little friend; for I am sure she must be a
remarkable woman."

"So she is," stoutly asserted Conrad, faithful little soul; "and the
best mother there ever could be. All I know she has taught me, for, you
see, she used to be a school teacher once, after grandfather died, and
the money was lost."

"You told her about me, then?" asked Elmer.

"Why, of course; I tell her everything that happens to me!" Conrad
declared, simply. "I couldn't have a secret from my mother, could I? And
you ought to have seen how her eyes sparkled when she heard what you
said about seeing I had a chance to learn the many things I ought to
know about using a violin properly. Why, Elmer, I guess it must have
been the wish of her heart, that some one would come along and say that;
because she took me in her arms and hugged me, yes, and she cried some,
too, I know she did, for I felt hot tears on my cheek; but then it must
have been because she was so happy, for she laughed ever so hard right
afterwards."

Elmer himself was deeply affected. He could picture that loving mother,
possessed of the knowledge that the fires of genius burned in the soul
of her child, and each night praying that in due time the opportunity
might come for that to be developed into a glorious flame; and how
overcome she might be on realizing that the one great wish of her whole
life seemed about to be realized.

They talked on for quite a long while. Conrad with a child's natural
curiosity asked many questions about the outside world, of which he had
seen so little of recent years, since his father seemed to want to get
away from all mankind. Elmer told him many things that excited his
interest. Then finally he mentioned the fact that time was passing, and
before a great while he would have to think of returning to his chums at
the camp.

"I'd like very much to meet your good mother before I go back, Conrad,"
he suggested, at which the lad seized his hand and began to lead him
off.

"So you shall," he remarked, briskly, "and I know she's waiting for me
to fetch you over, because she told me to be sure and do so. You'll like
my mother, Elmer, I know you will."

Elmer could understand why a mother should be anxious to meet one who
had made such a vast promise to her boy, and which might mean so much in
shaping his destiny.

"She wants to size me up," he told himself, with a satisfied smile, as
he walked along at the side of the chattering boy; "she wants to see if
I look like a vain boaster, or one she could trust. Well, I hope I don't
disappoint her, that's all."

Any one who knew Elmer Chenowith well could have assured that anxious
mother she could place the most implicit trust in a boy built after his
type; his word was as good as his bond any day in his home town; and
that is where they know a boy best of all.

Pretty soon they sighted a cabin through the trees. Smoke was coming
from the chimney, made of slabs, and hard mud that had gained the
consistency of cement by the drying process. Elmer smiled when he saw
that it was of the same blue consistency as the thin column that had
caught his attention on the preceding morning, and caused him to stroll
that way later on. Yes, and he could catch the incense of burning
hickory, than which there cannot be anything more delicious in the
nostrils of a real fire-worshipper such as Elmer.

Their coming must have been noticed, for quickly a form appeared in the
open doorway. It was that of a small woman, evidently Conrad's mother,
for the boy quickly waved his violin toward her, and called out
joyously:

"Here he is, mother; I've brought Elmer home with me to meet you, just
as I promised I would!"

She greeted the scout warmly, and asked him inside where it was cool,
out of the sun. Elmer felt rather than saw her eyes fixed eagerly on his
face. Apparently Conrad's mother must have been more than satisfied with
what she saw there, for she looked very contented, and even happy.

They were soon chatting as though the best of friends. Elmer told her
about his home, and how he felt positive there were several well-to-do
people in the town, lovers of good music, who would, if only they could
hear Conrad play, be delighted to make up a generous purse and see that
the grandson of so famous a man as Ovid Anderson was placed under the
proper teacher in New York.

He also told about the father of one of his comrades having sent a girl
abroad to have her voice cultivated, and how after she came to sing in
opera, and turned out to be a great star, she had insisted on returning
every cent he had expended on her, so that he might pass it along to
some other poor girl or boy who had the gift of music, without the
opportunity to accomplish results through lack of means.

Elmer was too wise to mention that name of Snodgrass when telling this;
he feared that it might be too much like flaunting a red flag before a
bull; for if Mrs. Shock shared Jem's antipathy for the Snodgrass clan,
she would likely decline to let Conrad profit by such generosity.

It was plain to be seen that what he said interested her greatly. She
told him more or less of her hopes and fears concerning the prodigy over
whose future such clouds of uncertainty hung. Elmer sympathized with
her, too, and quite won her heart by his manner; but then that was not
an unusual thing with the scout leader, who by Nature had been gifted
with a winning way that gained him hosts of loyal friends.

A little to the boy's surprise, too, she even ventured to speak of
herself. Naturally she must have guessed that his curiosity would be
aroused on finding the daughter of a famous man mated with one whom
people deigned to look down on, and even shun, though, for that matter,
Jem Shock wanted none of their society.

"They do not know him as Conrad and I do," she went on, hastily, after
introducing the subject of her own accord. "I first met him away up in
the mountains. After my father died, and the property was taken from me
through an error in his will, I taught school for some years to gain a
living. Then, one fall when I was in the Adirondacks, it chanced that a
dreadful forest fire swept down from every side. I was caught in the
midst of it, and I had given up all hope of surviving; when _he_ came
and took me up in his arms. Somehow I seemed to feel that all would be
well. Oh! how strong he was, and how he braved every sort of peril in
order to carry me safely through. It was then and there that my heart
went out to him. And afterwards we were married. He has always been the
same to me, tender and kind; though latterly his life has been soured
through the treachery of one whom he trusted."

She stopped there, sighed, and looked sad. Elmer would have liked very
much to know how they came to be there near Raccoon Bluff, which, by a
strange twist of Fate, had recently come into the possession of the very
man against whom Jem Shock believed he had such a grievance. It was too
delicate a subject, however, for him to attempt to handle; she must tell
him, if at all, through her own volition, Elmer concluded.

But somehow it did him good to hear such fine things said of the rough
Jem; for it coincided with his belief that one cannot always tell from
the exterior what may be within the shell. If only now Rufus could
discover that it had all been a grievous mistake, and that his father
would give anything to make amends for the unfortunate past, how
delightful things would be.

So Elmer, as he continued to talk with the little lady--for she was that
in every sense, although her dress may have been of the cheapest
material, and there was a painful lack of many comforts in her modest
cabin home--came to know her as well as if he had met her long before.
Glimpses of her life, her hopes and fears were constantly passing before
his mental observation; and he was more than glad now that he had taken
that notion to walk in the direction of the blue smoke wreaths eddying
upward in the lazy morning air several miles distant.

Conrad had put his beloved violin carefully away. It could be seen that
his whole heart was tied up in that precious instrument. Elmer,
remembering the dispute he had had with unbelieving George, asked about
the violin, and whether it was really the former possession of the lad's
famous grandfather.

"Yes, that is true," she told him, sighing again. "He used it all of his
last years of playing. It shared some of his most wonderful triumphs,
and he loved it as the apple of his eye. It is a genuine Stradivarius
instrument. I could have sold it for thousands of dollars, since it had
once been his means of fascinating untold myriads of music lovers; but
that would have killed me. It is all I have left to remember him by; and
besides, something told me when Conrad came that he was destined to
inherit the talent."

Just then Elmer saw the boy spring down from his seat close beside his
mother. At the same time he heard the sound of a heavy footfall, and
guessed what that meant. Jem Shock was coming home. How would he greet
one of the boys from the camp where that son of the man he had such
cause for hating held forth? Elmer stood up. If he felt the least tremor
in the region of his heart, he certainly gave no sign of this, for his
face was wreathed in one of his most genial smiles as he waited for the
poacher to appear.

Then a form darkened the open doorway, and with a shout Conrad rushed
forward, to be gathered up in the arms of Jem Shock, and held tight to
his breast. And seeing this Elmer somehow could not doubt but that it
was all bound to come out right in the end, no matter what clouds might
drift across the sky meanwhile.



CHAPTER XI

WHEN THE STORM BROKE


WHEN Jem Shock discovered that he and his wife and boy were not alone in
the cabin his manner instantly changed. Elmer saw the heavy brow knit,
as though in sudden suspicion. He remembered that this man distrusted
all his fellows, and that he had even defied the majesty of the law with
regard to shooting wild game out of season, as well as catching fish by
methods called illegal.

His manner of life would make him scan with suspicious eyes any stranger
who came to his isolated cabin home, and who might just as well as not
be some clever game warden, bent on securing evidence that would convict
him.

"This is Elmer, and he is the good friend who promised to see that I got
a chance to play my violin the proper way," said Conrad, with a dignity
that would well have become a grown man.

As he spoke, he took the young scout-master by the hand and led him a
pace or two forward. Elmer tried to be most cordial. He wanted to win
the good will of this man, for many reasons. First, there was Conrad,
and his possible brilliant future, if his amazing genius could be placed
under the fostering care of a master. Then there was Elmer's belief that
Jem had been badly treated by the whims of Fortune, and possibly the
greed of some man; he needed a friend if ever any one did.

So Elmer held out his hand as he advanced. He also smiled warmly, as if
to chase away that look of distrust he could see gathering on Jem's
strong face.

"We have met before, Jem, on the road, while our party was on the way up
here," he went on to say in as cordial a tone as he could muster. "You
remember I said then I hoped to see something more of you, and invited
you to stop in and have a cup of coffee with us, in case you happened to
be passing our camp. And now that I have made the acquaintance of Conrad
and your good wife, I hope we can be friends, Jem."

The man still continued to frown. Under his heavy eyebrows he was
looking keenly at the speaker. Elmer's manner was surely enough to
disarm suspicion; and doubtless he would have quite won the man over
then and there only for one thing. This was the presence of a boy in the
party bearing that unfortunate name of Snodgrass; and which seemed to
represent everything that was evil, in the estimation of the poacher.

So Jem did not make the first move to take the extended hand. If he had
suspected the other to be ready to suddenly snap a pair of handcuffs on
his wrists, he could not have held more aloof.

"I'm not making friends with anybody these days," he managed to mutter,
"leastways when they are so thick with the son of the man who sold me
out and left me high and dry on the bank."

"But the rest of us never heard of you before, Jem; and even Rufus says
it must be some terrible mistake, because his father would never do such
a mean trick, even if he is a real-estate operator. But, Jem, I want to
be friends with you just because of Conrad here. It would be a burning
shame if he didn't get his chance to prove that his grandfather's talent
is running in his blood. I am sure that I'll be able to interest some
really good people, all of them lovers of the best music, in Conrad; and
that arrangements can be made to put him under the charge of a leading
teacher, who will see that he has a chance to thrill the world, when he
grows older."

The man's face lighted up for just a brief interval. Perhaps he had
dreamed of some day seeing Conrad the centre of a madly applauding
throng of well-dressed people, who would be ready to crown the lad as
the greatest genius of the decade. Then the old doubts returned again,
and he scowled darkly.

"We may be poor," he said bitterly, "which isn't my fault, but my
misfortune; yet we're not paupers; and even to see my boy snatch the
prize he deserves I wouldn't beg money from any living man or woman.
I'll die before I accept _charity_. If I had my just dues there would be
plenty of money to fix Conrad out; as it is he must wait, and take his
chance."

"But, Jem, this wouldn't be charity," Elmer insisted, earnestly. "It
could be done on strictly business principles, a bargain being made in
black and white, so that a record of the expense might be kept; and
after Conrad began to earn big money, he could gradually return the loan
to those kind friends who had been so deeply interested in his fortunes.
Don't shut him out from his only chance, Jem, just because one man may
have injured you. There are other kinds of people in this world,
kind-hearted people who are always looking for an opportunity to help
struggling genius. Oh! please don't decide in a hurry. Think it over,
talk it over with your wife here before you turn the offer down; because
it is given in good faith, Jem."

Mrs. Shock listened, and her eyes grew moist. She apparently did not
think it wise to interfere while a stranger was present, but Elmer
believed her influence was bound to be thrown in favor of the
proposition. Therefore he did not quite despair, though the poacher
continued to shake his head, and keep his teeth firmly clenched, after
the manner of a stubborn man who has made up his mind, and against whom
all power cannot prevail.

You see, Elmer, young though he may have been, was somewhat of a
philosopher. He knew that gentle influence may sometimes accomplish much
more than the most sturdy strength. He had never forgotten the moral of
that old story about the traveler who was trudging along a country road,
when the two rival elements, the Sun and the Wind, entered into a heated
argument as to which might be the more powerful, and determined to test
their assertions upon the devoted head of the pilgrim. So the wind blew
harder and harder, but only had the effect of making the traveler draw
his cloak tighter about him. Then the sun has his turn, and began to
warm up to his task, until the almost baked man was glad to throw off
his cloak, which result gave the victory to the heavenly orb.

And so perhaps the gentle but persuasive influence of Conrad's mother
might in the end prevail against the wild gusts of the man's anger.
Elmer at least would continue to hug that hope to his heart.

He saw that his continued presence would do no further good. It were
perhaps better that he took himself off, and allowed the seed he had
sown to germinate. Time can often work wonders, and the look Mrs. Shock
gave him somehow further aroused his confidence that all might yet be
well.

So he said he would be going, and the last he saw of them Conrad was
waving his hand in farewell, while his mother nodded her head
significantly. As for Jem, he continued to stand there looking glum, as
though a riot of thoughts might be holding high carnival in his brain,
the old suspicion and hatred for mankind engaged in a desperate conflict
with newly awakened hopes.

Elmer made his way back to camp, and arrived long before noon came, so
that he had plenty of time to rest and think over the situation. He
wondered whether he had succeeded in making any progress by his
morning's expedition. He had met Jem, for one thing, and told him how
much he was interested in Conrad's playing. Yes, Elmer concluded that
the game he meant to play had been advanced more or less since the
coming of another day.

The surveyors came trooping into camp along about noon, heated and
tired. Rufus was apparently getting quite enough of that hard work, for
the time being. Besides, he admitted that he had gone sufficiently far
by then to make sure that the previous survey had been a failure, and
that the job would have to be done over again in order to get the right
lines.

Elmer was not sorry to hear him say that, and for several reasons. First
of all, he wanted the tenderfeet to have further opportunities for
picking up more or less useful knowledge of woodcraft, while in camp;
and this could not be done if most of their time was spent in using
those instruments, and worrying about backing new lines through the
thickets and swamps that beset their course.

Then again Elmer did not like the looks of the weather. It was beginning
to act suspiciously, as though a big storm might be brewing. The sun
still shone up there in the sky, and both Rufus and Alec only thought it
insufferably hot; but to one more experienced in such things, there was
a deeper meaning in the heavy atmosphere, the strange silence on the
part of birds and smaller animals, and the peculiar bank of clouds that
lay low along the distant southwestern horizon.

Lil Artha sensed danger, too, for he spoke of it as they were eating
lunch.

"Perhaps, Elmer," was the way he put it, "we'd be sensible if we took an
extra reef or two in our sail this afternoon, while we have the chance.
An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, I always did
believe; and scouts are taught that it's wise in time of peace to
prepare for war."

"Hey! what's all this talk mean?" demanded the bewildered Rufus. "To
hear you, Lil Artha, a fellow would think we had something terrible
hanging over our heads. It must be you're prognosticating a _storm_, but
I don't see what makes you think that, when the sun never shone
brighter. Do the birds carry the secret, and have you fellows found a
way to understand their lingo?"

"Well, in a way that's correct, too, Rufus," chuckled the lanky scout.
"When you get on familiar terms with everything that lives in the woods,
you can tell a heap. It does seem that insects, birds and animals are
given instinct in place of reasoning powers. So the squirrel knows when
it promises to be a severe winter, and he lays in an extra big store of
nuts. And in the same way something warns these little creatures when a
storm is coming, although human beings see no sign. Well, from the
change that's taken place all around us we scouts can give a good guess
that these same birds and insects are making ready for trouble; and it's
bound to come from that quarter yonder, where you can see a bank of dark
clouds hugging the horizon."

"But, Lil Artha," protested Alec, strenuously, "I noticed yon bank o'
clouds mair nor two hours back, and I gie ye my word it hasn't moved a
wee bit in a' that time."

"Oh! that's often the way a storm comes along," the other assured him,
in a positive fashion, as though he had no doubt concerning the accuracy
of his prediction. "Clouds will lie low for half a day, and then
suddenly with a shift of the wind spread out over the whole heavens like
magic. I promise you that before two hours have gone by you'll be
stopping your ears with your fingers so's to shut out the crash of
thunder."

Of course, as both Elmer and George seemed to agree with what Lil Artha
said--and it was really wonderful to have "Doubting George" let an
opportunity to object pass him by, the greenhorns had to believe what
they heard.

When lunch had been disposed of, Elmer gave orders that set the whole
five working to improve the security of the camp. Extra pegs were driven
deep down so as to hold the tent more firmly; and some bits of strong
rope were also brought into play with this same end in view.

Rufus could not restrain his amusement, and finally burst out with:

"Well, from the way you're carrying on, fellows, it must be you expect a
regular old hurricane to break loose in this region. I guess it would
take a whole lot of wind to tear that tent loose from its moorings now.
Besides, we're sheltered somewhat by those trees over yonder."

"Wait and see, that's all," warned Lil Artha, not one whit abashed.
"You've never been caught in a big storm, and so you can't know how the
wind tears at a tent as if it had a special spite against the canvas.
I've seen more'n one tent carried away like a big balloon, and lodged
far up in a tree. This is only following out the scout rule of
preparedness. It's better to err on the side of safety, Rufus; just
remember that as you pass along the road. It's no sign of timidity to
get ready for trouble; the wisest of business men always insure their
property, and when the storm comes they weather it, where the more
reckless go to the wall."

"That's sound logic, Lil Artha," commented Elmer, smiling to hear the
other give such splendid advice; for, as a rule, the lengthy scout was a
bit inclined toward that same recklessness himself.

In many other ways did they prepare for the coming storm, particularly
in seeing that a small stock of wood was placed so that it might be kept
dry; since they might be glad of a fire later on. Their stock of
provisions, too, had to be provided for; and Rufus also covered the old
car with a tarpaulin which he had fetched along for that purpose.

During the last half hour of work even the most skeptical found himself
forced to admit that there was no longer any doubt about the approach of
bad weather. As the dark bank of clouds advanced up the heavens the
birds again made their appearance, and flew wildly about, uttering
warning cries that impressed Rufus visibly.

Then they began to hear distant muttering of heavy thunder that was soon
causing a distinctly felt vibration of the earth under their feet. The
wind had entirely ceased, and there seemed to be an ominous calm upon
Nature. Rufus and Alec had an apprehensive expression on their faces as
they waited for further developments.

"Don't you think it might be safer over among the trees than here,
Elmer?" asked Rufus at one time, after the thunder had temporarily died
away.

"Not on your life!" burst out Lil Artha, taking it on himself to answer.
"If the gale gets half as severe as I expect, you'll hear trees crashing
down like toothpicks. It'd be all your life was worth to be caught in
the woods then. An experienced hand might manage to escape, but often
the best of them get caught under a falling tree and killed outright.
That's one reason why we built our camp away from all trees but this
dwarf one that isn't apt to go down, and serves as a sort of wind-break,
you see. But listen, everybody!"

A distant but terrifying sound stole to their ears. The lack of a
movement in the atmosphere had prevented them from catching it sooner.

"Is that the storm coming?" asked Rufus, trying to keep his voice
steady, though there was a distinct quaver to it, despite his efforts.

"Yes, that's the wind, and back of it is the first burst of rain,"
advised Elmer. "It will be on us in a jiffy now, so we'd better get
inside, and lace the opening up. We faced the tent to the north
purposely, you see, because we knew that any storm at this time of year
was likely to jump out of the southwest."

Hardly had they made the flap secure when the gale broke upon them.



CHAPTER XII

SCOTCH BLOOD


AMONG other things, Lil Artha had seen to it that a pot of coffee was
made ready just before he scattered the fire, and put out the last
ember. This would keep warm for a long time, and they could manage to
make out a supper with some of the things that would not need cooking.

With a rush and a roar the storm burst upon them. Wildly did the stout
tent sway as the wind broke against it. Rufus understood speedily enough
why the scout comrades who had had experience went to so much extra
pains to fasten it so securely. There were lots of times when, despite
all the precautions, he feared the canvas could never hold out against
that terrible wind that made playthings of forest monarchs, and seemed
capable of sweeping everything from its path.

Never, so long as they lived, would the two tenderfoot scouts forget
that night; it would always be marked with a white stone in their minds,
such were the tortures they endured. Often Rufus would half squirm to
his knees, his face turned pale with apprehension, as he clutched the
sleeve of Elmer or Lil Artha's coat, in deadly fear that the worst was
about to happen.

The rain descended in torrents, and the lightning flashed in a way to
fairly cause them to shut their blinded eyes; while terrific bursts of
thunder rocked the ground and made them think a salvo from the heaviest
guns known to modern warfare was being fired.

So the time dragged wearily along, hour after hour. No one dreamed of
trying to snatch a wink of sleep while this din was going on. They sat
there, glad to know that, thanks to the admirable way in which the heavy
canvas had been waterproofed, and the addition of a fly over the tent,
they were able to keep the rain out. Of course a small amount did seep
under certain portions of the tent, despite all their precautions, and
the drain that had been dug above to carry the flood off; but they were
able to keep pretty dry, all things considered.

With the storm came a cool air that chilled them to the bone. They had a
couple of lanterns, one of which was kept lighted all the time, and this
enabled them to see what was going on. Lil Artha set a good example,
after night came on, by wrapping his warm blanket about his shoulders,
as he sat there Indian fashion. Rufus was indeed glad to copy this
example, and found it well worth while for the additional comfort he
secured thereby; and in the end all of them did the same thing.

Every now and then they heard awe-inspiring sounds that Lil Artha told
the tenderfeet were produced by falling trees. Each crash gave Rufus
cause for a fresh shiver; he could not help thinking of what he had
proposed concerning their being likely to find more safety if they took
up their station under the forest growth. He was glad now in every atom
of his being that those more experienced scouts had frowned down upon
such a silly proposition.

Along about midnight, however, Elmer discovered positive signs that the
worst was over. His announcement brought a feeling of relief to Rufus
and Alec; indeed, even Lil Artha was heard to give expression to his
gratitude. George, however, grumbled, as was his habit of old.

"Tough luck, that's what I call it, fellows," he went on, as though
wholly disgusted with the freaks of the weather. "Why couldn't this old
storm have held off till we got back home again? What business did it
have coming down on us right in the midst of our camping? Why, we
haven't begun to enjoy ourselves much yet; it's been all work so far;
and now everything's going to be soaking wet, the mud'll bother us, and
like as not a second rain'll follow the first. Things pretty nearly
always do happen in threes, you notice."

"Oh! well, we're all alive, George, for one thing," Lil Artha told the
grumbler. "And we've still got heaps and heaps of good stuff to eat
along. Things might have been a whole lot worse than this, let me tell
you."

"Huh! I can't just see that," continued the other, though in a fainter
tone, as if really half ashamed of his complaining manner; which had
become second nature with George, so that he often spoke in that way
without thinking how badly it sounded.

"If only this terrible storm will stop, all would be forgiven," said
Rufus. "We may get a few winks of sleep yet before dawn comes. And I
guess the ground will dry up pretty well by noon. Besides, I'm done
creeping through the woods and among the thickets, trying to follow
those slashes made by the fake surveyors. We can lie around camp here,
until it's fit to go abroad."

"Spoken like a true scout, Rufus," Elmer told him, encouragingly.
"That's what a fellow ought to learn the first thing after he dons the
khaki--that things are never so bad but what they might be worse. George
here never did learn his lesson in the right way, more's the pity. If
you keep on, Rufus, you'll be a better specimen of a true scout than
George is today, with all his experience."

George did not say anything, but Elmer hoped the seed might have fallen
on fallow ground, so that it would take root and grow; for there were
times when, like most of the other fellows in the Hickory Ridge Troop,
he did get mightily tired of hearing the remarks of a natural-born
"croaker," as Lil Artha called the other.

But Elmer was right when he said the backbone of the storm had been
broken. Inside of another half hour even Rufus was fain to admit that
the thunder had lost considerable of its fierceness, while even the
flashes of lightning came less frequently, nor were they so vivid as
before.

"The rain has stopped, fellows!" announced Lil Artha, as he sidled along
over to one side of the tent, and cautiously began to undo the securely
fastened flap; after which he thrust his head out so as to take an
observation.

When he drew back again the others eagerly awaited his report.

"Why, the clouds are breaking, and I even saw a star right overhead,"
announced the tall member of the little party, enthusiastically; "which
proves that the end of the concert is close by. That last thunder-clap
was some distance away. Guess we may be getting a little snooze inside
of another half hour. For one I'm going to hunt out a dry place and make
ready."

There was considerable of a scurry on the part of everybody, with this
end in view. Rufus was heard to wish most ardently that he had still
another blanket to huddle under, for that night air, after the violent
battle of the elements, seemed to be very chilly and piercing, since
they could not enjoy the luxury of a fire.

Nevertheless, in spite of all this, when another hour had crept along
all of the boys were sound asleep. No longer did the harsh voice of the
thunder disturb them; and the fitful glow of lightning came from far
off. The lantern had been extinguished, for they might need what small
allowance of kerosene they had fetched along with them; and therefore
darkness reigned within the sheltering tent.

They had some hours of sleep before morning found them stirring. There
was more or less disinclination to be the first out, but Lil Artha
proved to be the martyr and presently the crackle of a fire tempted
Rufus and Alec forth; while even that sly old fox, George, opened one
eye, and began to sniff the air, as though he fancied he had gotten the
first whiff of sweet bacon frying in the pan.

Elmer had been close upon the heels of Lil Artha, of course, and between
the two of them some of the ravages of the storm in the camp had been
repaired long before the rest put in an appearance.

A warm and bountiful breakfast seemed to put new animation in them all.
Even that born grumbler, George, admitted the sun did shine "fairly
well," and that coffee, bacon and flapjacks with syrup, all served
lavishly as regarded quantity, made life worth living again.

"I don't believe I was ever so hungry as this morning," Rufus candidly
declared, as he gulped down his third cup of coffee, and eyed the last
flapjack as if tempted to gorge himself, though already as full as
prudence dictated.

"That's because so far in life you've lived on Easy Street," Lil Artha
told him, "and never have known what it meant to miss a single meal.
Some of us have gone a day without a bite, and we know how it goes on an
empty stomach. I warrant you right now some woods animals are feeling
that way too, because they couldn't get around last night as usual."

It was strange that this casual remark on the part of Lil Artha should
be fully confirmed before a great while had passed, and in a most
convincing fashion.

Alec chanced to be the one fated to bring the thing about. None of them
meant to wander away from camp until noon had come, and the warm sun had
had a chance to dry things out; but being a little restless, and,
moreover, inspired with a desire to ascertain if any of those ill-fated
trees had fallen close to the camp, he picked up a heavy walking stick
and stepped out.

"Be sure you don't go farther than you can hear Lil Artha chopping with
the ax," cautioned Elmer, seeing him about to take a stroll; "and if you
fail to catch any sound, or need help, just give a whoop. We'll answer
right away."

"Hoot, mon," said the Scotch lad, a bit sarcastically, "d'ye ken I've
cut me eye-teeth the while as a scout? I'm observing all aboot me, and
I find it mair interesting than I ever believed could be possible. I'm
o'er glad now I made up my mind to join the troop. Now I'll gang awa'
and be verra careful. And if some fearsome beastie jumps up in front o'
me ye'll hear me shout at the tap o' my voice."

He went away, still laughing, as though he thought it a good joke. Lil
Artha continued to ply his ax industriously, meaning to lay by a good
store of firewood while at the job; though Elmer warned him that task
should really fall to the greenhorns, since neither of them seemed to be
much of a cook, and it was only fair the various duties about the camp
should be impartially shared alike by all the party.

Hardly had ten minutes passed when the four by the fire heard a shout.
Elmer instantly answered it, thinking, of course, that as Lil Artha had
dropped his ax Alec wanted some sound to serve as a guide to locating
the camp. To the astonishment, and also consternation of the others,
they heard the Scotch lad calling:

"Here's a hungry cat facing me, and growling like everything. Aye, but
he's wild to get at me, and I don't know just what a braw scout should
do under the circumstances. Shall I gi'e the gillie a rap o'er the head
wi' me stick; or beat a retreat like a wise general? I'm no' so taken
wi' his looks I confess that I'm wishin' to make his further
acquaintance. Hey; ye would bite me, eh? Tak' that, then, and learn
better manners!"

Elmer snatched up another stick, while Lil Artha darted over to the tent
and immediately reappeared bearing his trusty Marlin. They knew what it
meant to be attacked by an angry bobcat, even if it was far in the
morning, and these animals usually hide during the better part of the
day, preferring the shades of night for their prowling.

Even as the pair started toward the spot, followed in turn by George and
Rufus, as soon as the others could manage to find some sort of crude
weapon, they heard a most terrific crashing going on. There were also
short cries, now of pain and again of momentary triumph, to tell how
Alec was progressing in his task of beating off the savage attack of the
hungry wildcat.

There was no trouble in locating the spot where all this disturbance was
taking place; the scuffling of Alec's feet, his jerky cries, and now and
then a plainly heard snarl from the enraged cat led them as truly as the
magnetic needle of the mariner's compass points out the North Star.

When they finally came in sight of the little woods drama they were
thrilled to see how the brave Scotch lad managed to keep his four-footed
enemy at bay by means of his clever strokes with his stick. Even as they
looked he gave the beast a good blow upon the head that rolled it over;
but instantly the cat was on its feet once more, and leaping at him.
The performance was repeated, with the same result; but in case Alec
failed in his stroke, he stood a good chance of having the animal land
on his breast, when its claws and teeth would do terrible damage.

"Get the beast, Lil Artha!" cried Elmer, seeing that even their bursting
on the scene did not appear to intimidate the enraged feline adversary
that Alec was battling with.

He had hardly given the word than a report sounded. Lil Artha had once
been quite a smart hunter, though of late his ambition to excel along
those lines had waned. On this occasion his aim was particularly true,
for the cat was seen to be writhing on the ground, as though fatally
injured. Lil Artha immediately ran up and dispatched the dying beast
with several blows from a stone; for although a hunter by instinct, Lil
Artha could not be cruel and see anything needlessly suffer.

"I sure hated to have to do it the worst kind," he told Elmer, as he
looked down at the now quiet beast, ferocious even in death, "because I
reckon now she's got kits somewhere near by, which was what made her act
so savage like. She smelled the food in camp, and was sneaking around in
hopes of stealing something, when Alec, he chanced to run across her,
and I guess waved his stick in a way she didn't just like. But I had to
shoot her, and you thought the same, Elmer, you know."

"Yes, it couldn't be helped," the scout-master told him, "and besides, a
fellow need hardly ever be ashamed of making way with a wildcat, because
they are mighty destructive to all game. Why, this one beast would, in
the course of a year, devour more young partridges, quail, rabbits and
squirrels than half a dozen human hunters. And besides, I was afraid she
might get inside Alec's guard, though he did swing that stick of his in
great fashion."

"A few scratches is all the beastie managed to gi'e me," admitted the
still panting Alec, and then, as he looked down on his now quiet
adversary, he shook his head, continuing: "faith I tauld ye to tak
yersil' awa' and leave me alone, but ye knew best. I'm awfu' sorry ye
had to be kilt, but it was no fault o' mine."

Elmer and Lil Artha exchanged satisfied glances. They both felt that for
a tenderfoot, Alec had proven a credit to the troop, and this was
encouraging. After all, this outing seemed bound to be the making of a
couple of embryo scouts; it would bring out whatever good qualities they
possessed, and show what sort of foundation there might be for their
immediate future.

"Come back to camp with me right away, Alec," Elmer told the other, who
was still curiously examining the dead cat, especially interested in
its savage looking claws and the cruel teeth that were exposed in the
snarl that death had set upon its face. "I want to take a look at those
same little scratches you mention. They may appear harmless enough, but
many a fine hunter has died from such simple things."

Of course Alec was astounded. He stared hard at his hands, and shook his
head in a skeptical way.

"I ha'e nae doot but that ye knaw best, Elmer," he finally said, "but
would ye tell me the noo how such a wee bit o' scratches could mean so
much?"

"Blood poisoning is apt to set in," explained the other, readily enough,
as he locked arms with the Scotch lad and hurried him off toward the
camp. "You see, carnivorous animals that live upon the flesh of their
prey are apt to have their claws contaminated. Even a slight abrasion
caused by those claws is impregnated with just so much danger. Nothing
might come of it; but scouts believe in taking as little chances as
possible. I've got a phial of permanganate of potash along for just such
purposes, and we'll daub some of it on. You'll resemble a wild Indian
with the splotches, for it stains a deep purple, but safety first before
looks."

Indeed, Alec did look rather odd after his several slight injuries had
been duly attended to, for Elmer did not spare the "painting."

"I wish me mither could see me the noo," chuckled the Scotch boy, after
he had surveyed his mottled appearance in a tiny hand mirror one of them
had been thoughtful enough to fetch along. "Ye ken, she's often tauld me
aboot the Highland chiefs in their war-paint in the gude auld days of
lang syne. I warran ye she'd think her son and heir had copied after the
McGregor, Rob Roy, ye remimber, our outlaw ancestor."

Lil Artha was to fetch along the defunct wildcat, for it was designed to
save the skin, and present it, when properly tanned, to Alec, who could
use it in his den at home for a small mat. Every time he looked down at
it he must be forcibly reminded of his stirring adventure, and it would
serve to encourage him in his endeavor to become a first-class scout.

It was perhaps half an hour afterwards that Elmer heard voices, and
looking toward the spot where Lil Artha had been working with the pelt
of the bobcat, he was both surprised and thrilled to discover that the
long-legged scout was talking with a small party in whom Elmer
immediately recognized Conrad Shock!



CHAPTER XIII

A CALL FOR HELP


"WHAT'S this mean?" Elmer heard George saying, which proved that the
other had also discovered Conrad's presence. "I reckon that must be your
Boy Wonder with the fiddle and the bow, Elmer. Now, whatever brought him
away over here to visit us, do you think? Perhaps his folks don't know
that scouts are at home in the woods, no matter what sort of gay storm
crops up. Mebbe now they were afraid some of us had suffered. Well, it
was nice of them to send a messenger, anyhow."

But Elmer was disposed to view the matter differently. He could see that
there was a look of considerable apprehension visible on the peaked face
of Conrad. Elmer scented some kind of trouble at once. The boy had
sought them out, possibly sent with a message by his mother.

Lil Artha had entirely suspended operations with the pelt which he had
been engaged in fastening to a crude but effective stretching board,
fashioned after the directions he had received from the old scientist
and trapper some of the boys had visited a while before.[B]

Lil Artha loved good music, in which he differed from George. Hence he
had felt considerable interest in all Elmer told them about Conrad being
the direct descendant of the famous violinist, Ovid Anderson, of whom he
had often heard. He was in truth quite eager himself to hear the child
play, though ready to take Elmer's word for it that Conrad was the
possessor of wonderful genius.

As Elmer hastened toward the spot Lil Artha looked around and discovered
him.

"Hi! here's your young friend come to hunt you up, Elmer!" he called
out. "He is just telling me that his mother sent him. I hope now there's
nothing gone wrong over at their place. If we can do anything, of course
we'd be only too willing."

The boy shot him a look of gratitude at hearing Lil Artha say this. Then
he turned eagerly toward Elmer.

"Mother sent me over to see you," he went on to say in a voice that
quivered a little despite his manly effort to control his feelings.

"I hope she isn't sick, Conrad?" ventured the scout-master, anxiously.

"No, it's father," the boy said after he had gulped several times. "You
see, he hasn't come home; and we're so afraid something dreadful has
happened to him."

Elmer looked doubly concerned.

"Do you mean he was away from home during that awful storm last night?"
he went on to ask.

The other nodded his head, and then managed to explain further. Even the
proximity of Elmer seemed to have already done him much good; for there
was a certain atmosphere connected with the resolute scout-leader that
inspired the utmost confidence.

"He started to go to the lake that is farthest away, for there are two
small ones, you may not know," Conrad explained. "He had some set lines
there that needed attention, and we wanted the fish for eating, too. But
father backed out once, for he said he had wrenched his leg and felt a
little lame. But in the end he decided to start, though mother didn't
just like him to go."

"About what time was that, Conrad?" asked Elmer, in his methodical way,
eager to grasp the full details so he could figure out the answer.

"Just about an hour before the storm came along," the boy told him.
"Father said he believed it would hold off long enough for him to get
there and back, but his leg must have kept him from walking as fast as
he generally does. So the storm broke, and we kept watching through the
window when we could see anything, for the rain and the flying leaves.
But night came, and oh! what a night we had, mother and I. It never
seemed to end. I did fall asleep somehow, but I don't believe she once
shut her eyes--poor mother."

Elmer was fearful of the worst. A sturdy man like Jem Shock, accustomed
to buffeting the rough storms to be met with in the woods of a summer,
was not likely to stay away from those he loved unless something
terrible had happened to him. Elmer shivered as he remembered those
dreadful crashes in the depth of the forest, each signaling the collapse
of some mighty tree that had breasted the gales of a century, perhaps,
only to meet its fate in the end.

"And then your mother thought we might help find your father, did she?"
asked the sympathetic Lil Artha; while the others crowded around,
listening with white faces to the conversation; for even the two
tenderfeet could realize how serious the conditions must prove to be.

"Yes, that is why I am here," said the manly little fellow, whose
correct manner of speech astonished Lil Artha, himself apt to be more or
less "slangy," and even ungrammatical, in his careless boyish way. "She
knew of no one else close by to turn to; and Elmer was so kind, she
said. Oh! please come with me, and help find father. We are afraid that
he was caught under one of the falling trees; or he may have tripped in
the darkness, with that lame leg giving way under him, and fallen into
some terrible hole."

Elmer's mind was of course made up on the instant. Indeed, such an
appeal never came to a scout camp without being immediately accepted;
for every fellow who so proudly wears the khaki has it implanted in his
heart that he must eagerly grasp such golden opportunities to prove his
worth, and be of assistance to those who are in distress.

Elmer knew, too, that he could depend on his comrades to back him up.
Lil Artha, of course, must go along, for the tall scout's excellence as
a tracker was well known, and this might come in very handy before their
end was accomplished.

Then it would be of more or less benefit to the tenderfeet to have a
share in his rescue work; Elmer hailed the opportunity to increase their
fund of woodcraft knowledge with eagerness. They could pick up more
valuable points through practical experience than by means of any books
or technical advice.

As for George, he must stay by the camp. Elmer remembered just then that
George had been limping, more or less, and complained of having stubbed
his toe since breakfast. Then it would be best for him not to walk so
far, or he might be lamed for the balance of their stay in camp.

The scout-master quickly explained his plan of campaign. George, of
course, frowned at first, and took on the look of a martyr; but then
that was his customary way, and Elmer paid very little attention to it
except to say that "a stitch in time saves nine"; and that George might
thank his lucky stars he did not _have_ to go along, but could rest
himself, and let that injured foot have a chance to get well again.

Conrad was wild for them to get started, and so Elmer lost as little
time as possible. Before he went, however, he made sure to carry along
with him several things he thought might be needed in case they found
Jem with a broken leg--he only hoped it would be no worse than that, for
many a man had had his back broken by the fall of a tree.

"Lil Artha, be sure not to forget the camp ax," he called out.

Of course that excited the curiosity of the two greenhorns, and seeing
the look of bewilderment which they exchanged, Elmer took occasion to
explain just a little.

"If Jem has been badly hurt in any way, and lies several miles away from
home," Elmer told them, "we would want to make some sort of stretcher so
as to carry him back to his cabin. A hatchet or an ax is indispensable
under such conditions; and you may have a chance to see just how it's
done."

George saw them go away with a wry face, for he did not like to be
cheated out of any pleasure; still, when he stepped around and found how
his foot hurt if he made any unusual exertion, he must have realized on
second thoughts that Elmer knew best.

Elmer had an idea at first of getting Conrad to head toward home, when
they were well upon the trail leading toward the lake, and which the boy
had said he could show them. Upon suggesting such a thing, however, he
immediately met with a prompt refusal.

"No, mother told me to take you to the second lake, and I shall," Conrad
said firmly. "Oh! I can stand much more than you would believe; I am
stronger than I look. And I have been over the trail with father, many
times. What does a few miles matter when father may be lying there, and
suffering terribly? Besides, mother depends on me to take you there.
What if you went alone and could not find it, for, you see, it is hidden
in the woods, and not at all easy to see if you haven't been over the
trail before. He might lie there for hours if that happened. So I must
go."

Of course that settled it. Elmer could not have the heart to deny the
lad the privilege he demanded. Besides, he knew that on the whole it
would be much better for them to have some one along who was acquainted
with the lay of the land. They might go astray, experienced though two
of them were in the secrets of woodcraft; for confusing trails might
deceive them, especially after the storm had washed away Jem's late
footprints.

And so they hurried along. Little Conrad walked as though eager to even
run; and more than once Elmer had to restrain the anxious lad. He saw
that Conrad was worked up to a feverish pitch that was not good for him;
and accordingly Elmer made it his business to try and reassure the
little fellow.

"Depend on it we'll find your father, Conrad," he went on to say in that
steady tone of his that carried weight, and could soothe even the most
troubled breast like "balm of Gilead," as Lil Artha slily told Rufus,
trotting along at his side. "And the chances are a broken leg will be
the extent of his injuries. Why, he may not even be so badly off as
that, you know. Perhaps he was called on to help some other unfortunate
family in that storm, and has been held up on that account."

But Conrad sadly shook his wise little head. He knew Elmer only meant to
encourage him; and that even he could have little hope such a strange
thing had happened.

"Oh! I'd like to believe that, Elmer," he said, with half a sob, "but
there is no other family near enough for such a thing to happen. But I'm
still hoping for the best. Mother told me to keep thinking that way. She
will not believe he could be taken away from us while we need him so
much. Yes, we must find him, poor, poor father!"

All this while they were heading in a certain direction that Elmer knew
would, in due time, unless they changed their course, take them to the
cabin in the clearing, where he had met Conrad's father and mother.

Just as he expected, however, eventually the boy brought them to a halt.

"See," he called out, as he pointed ahead, "there is where the trail
lies. One way is home, the other the first lake, with the second one
farther away. Now we must keep right on, and listen as we go. I shall
call out, too, ever so often, for if he hears my voice and can answer he
will let us know where he lies."

As they started to follow what was a plain trail, every one had his
senses on the alert, expecting to make some sort of discovery sooner or
later. Rufus and the other tenderfoot scout were very much excited. It
was their first experience on missionary work, and it gripped their
hearts with an intensity they may never have felt before.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote B: See "The Hickory Ridge Boy Scouts Storm-Bound."]



CHAPTER XIV

SCOUTS TO THE RESCUE


EVERY step they took now was carrying them on toward the twin lakes that
nestled amidst the woods and valleys, their presence really unsuspected
by the vast majority of people living in towns within thirty miles of
the place. Elmer himself was wild to try the fishing there, for he
fancied that the bass must be enormous fellows, and as gamey as could be
found anywhere. Lil Artha, too, would be sure to want to make more than
one trip across country, and spend a few hours casting in the almost
virgin waters in the solitudes where sportsmen had possibly seldom
invaded.

Conrad kept up amazingly, but then it was love that gave him additional
strength, and Elmer knew full well what that could do for any one. Many
times they heard some slight sound that gave them a start, for their
nerves being on edge they imagined every such noise to be a feeble cry
for help. The snappy bark of a red squirrel as he clung head downward to
the lower trunk of a tree, and watched the intruders of his sacred
realm; the sudden cawing of a startled crow; the rasping cry of a
bluejay; or it might be the distant screech of an eagle poised above
some fish-hawk that had darted down and secured its dinner which the
bald-headed robber of the air would snatch away from him presently,
after a swift pursuit upwards--all these they heard, and many times did
one of the greenhorns ask to be told what it meant.

Still nothing was seen or heard to indicate that Jem Shock had been
overtaken by a falling tree while on his way from the first lake. They
did come across several such overthrown monarchs of the forest that had
fallen close to the trail; and once the way was really blocked by a mass
of broken limbs, together with the heavy trunk of a tree that had come
crashing down.

Conrad darted hastily forward before Elmer could interfere, and was
looking, oh, so eagerly, and with such an expression of anxiety, for any
sign to indicate that the dear one he sought might be lying under the
wreckage.

"Father, father!" he called out, with such a plaintive ring to his voice
that Rufus felt something rising in his throat; while Alec McGregor
might have been seen to turn his head aside, and then violently blow his
nose, as though he had taken cold.

But there was no response. Elmer and Lil Artha went all around the
fallen tree, and even crawled underneath the same to make positive that
Jem was not there. Finally even Conrad became assured as to this, for he
expressed an eagerness to once more go on.

So they proceeded. From the lay of the land, and other signs that his
quick eye caught, Elmer guessed that they could not be far away from the
first lake. Perhaps he was guided somewhat in making this decision by
the sight of that fish-hawk or osprey, which he knew would be apt to
hover over a body of water, since it must obtain its whole sustenance
from the lakes.

"What's that glistening in the sunlight yonder, Elmer?" suddenly asked
Alec, who, it seemed, possessed a pair of incredibly keen eyes.

Lil Artha laughed.

"That's one on us, Elmer," he remarked, "when a tenderfoot is the first
to discover the presence of water. I reckon now, Alec, you've got the
making of a pretty good scout in you, if you stick at it; and they do
say the Scotch are the most persevering chaps going. That's the lake,
the first one Conrad told us about, I should say."

"Yes, that's the first one," hurriedly admitted the boy, "and we'll soon
reach its border. You will say that it's a lovely little sheet of water,
too. Father told me he had never set eyes on one that struck him as more
beautiful. And I love to sit and look out over it when the wind dimples
the surface, or it is so quiet that you can see a picture all along the
shore, with the trees reflected in the water like a big looking-glass."

"Then we'll have to call it Mirror Lake," said Lil Artha, struck by the
wonderful poetic way in which the small boy described things, which may
in part have come to him through his mother.

"Yes, that is what my mother calls it," Conrad instantly told him; "for
once she crossed over with me to see the water. We shall be there very
soon now, in less than ten minutes I think."

Nothing further occurred to startle them during the balance of the time
that was consumed in covering the ground separating them from the shore
of the lake. When Elmer and his three comrades found themselves staring
out upon that wonderfully clear and altogether charming body of water,
they felt that words must fail to describe it and do justice. Elmer had
looked upon a good many pretty lakes, both large and small, but never
one the equal of this.

As for Lil Artha, he knew now what would be occupying considerable of
his spare time during the balance of their stay in camp. Why, even as he
looked he could see big bass "break" here and there, as though they
might be feeding on flies, late though the season was. All the sporting
blood Lil Artha possessed was on fire at the sight. He had resolved to
give up much of his love for hunting, because of the change that had
taken place of late in his ideas concerning the cruelty of such sport;
but nothing would ever cause him to lose that eager desire to match his
wits and a slender line with a fly attached to the leader against the
strength and cunning of a bronze-backed black bass, and see which could
win in the struggle for supremacy.

"Oh! listen, please!" exclaimed the boy, anxiously, his very soul in his
voice.

"That was only a kingfisher calling," said Lil Artha, who knew all about
such things; "see, there he flits across that little bayou, and perches
on the limb that overhangs the water. He's after his dinner, I guess,
and was calling to his mate. But lead the way, Conrad, and we'll keep
along after you."

They began to follow the uneven indentations of the shore. Elmer knew
that this must be the favorite course taken by the fish poacher when
going to see what his set lines held. A plain trail it was, and even
Rufus or Alec might have followed it most of the way; though at times
they would have hard work to pick it out, since the heavy rain had
washed things pretty badly.

But Conrad knew where he was going, and just at which point they were to
turn their backs on Mirror Lake, heading for its mate near by.

"We'll like as not run across the intake or outlet of this water," Lil
Artha told the two new scouts, "because, of course, the lakes are
connected by a little stream. And sure enough, there it is right now."

Both tenderfeet were visibly impressed with this show of knowledge on
the part of the elongated scout. Doubtless they mentally determined that
eventually they too would be able to tell just such things by using the
power of deduction that a scout's education puts into his head.

Conrad turned sharply upon arriving at the small stream. Elmer noticed
that it ran _from_ the lake they were just in the act of leaving; and
this fact told him the other must set somewhat lower down, and have an
outlet of its own.

All these things were interesting enough to fellows who had made a habit
of observing whatever took place around them; nevertheless, Elmer wished
the main object of their coming might be attained without much further
loss of time. He was himself beginning to grow exceedingly nervous from
the long-continued strain; and could understand just how poor Conrad
must feel.

Lil Artha was more and more amazed to learn what a wild bit of scenery
lay within thirty miles of the home town. He never would have believed
it possible, had he been told about it by any one; but seeing is a
convincing way of settling things, and Lil Artha certainly knew he could
depend on his own eyes.

Through small openings among the trees they quickly caught glimpses of
the other sheet of water. The second lake was about the same in size as
the first, but lacked of the wonderfully rugged surroundings that made
the other so beautiful. Still, had they not set eyes on Mirror Lake, the
boys would have quickly called this one a spot well worth a long tramp
just to see, not to mention its potentialities along the line of
fishing.

Once again they had come across a fallen tree that lay close to the
trail, even bridging the little stream with its trunk, and forming a
picture that Elmer immediately resolved to take with his snapshot camera
before leaving the region.

"Looks to me," remarked Rufus shrewdly, "as if the old storm must have
hit this particular section a whole lot more violently than any place
we've struck so far. Right from where we stand I can see three, yes,
four trees that have been uprooted, and tumbled over, all lying in the
same direction, too, which is odd, I should think."

"Oh! that's a common occurrence," said Lil Artha, "I've seen hundreds of
fallen trees in a place where a hurricane passed through the timber, and
they lay like a sheaf of matches, all in the same identical direction.
You see, the same wind took them down, as it did here. But so far as I
can notice, there's no sign of anybody under this tree; how about it,
Elmer?"

"No, he wasn't here when this fellow crashed down," admitted the other,
in a satisfied tone. "He had either passed farther along, or else had
not reached this place."

"Then let's go on farther," pleaded Conrad.

Lil Artha knew that their chances of finding Jem were gradually getting
less and less, as they covered more of the ground he must have passed
over. He wondered what they should do if after all their efforts they
could manage to obtain no trace of the missing man. Perhaps it would be
good policy to head for the cabin, in the hope that since Conrad had
left, his father might have managed to make his way home, and
consequently they would find him there, too weak and exhausted to start
out again.

"We must go around the lake, to make sure," the boy was saying in a
strained tone that cut Elmer to the heart, because he could understand
how Conrad must be beginning to fear that his father was dead, since he
did not answer any of his cries.

As they began to circle the new sheet of water, Conrad again lifted his
childish treble and kept calling that one word: "father!" He seemed to
have faith to believe that if only he could reach the ears of Jem Shock,
an answer of some kind would be immediately forthcoming.

Again his appeals were mocked by some of the startled birds,
unaccustomed to having their solitary haunts invaded by two-legged
creatures that gave forth such doleful sounds. Step by step the little
party persevered along their course, following the shore of the second
lake. It was harder going than before, because of the density of the
growth surrounding this body of water; but Conrad kept along, always on
the lookout for signs or sounds that would assure him success was near
at hand.

After all, it was Lil Artha who gave the word, and he thrilled them when
he went on to say:

"I think I heard a voice just then, fellows, and it seemed to come from
over on the other side of that little bayou just ahead of us. Get a good
grip on yourself, Conrad, because mebbe we're going to find him right
away."

The boy was really beyond the power of making any verbal reply, but the
look he threw Lil Artha, because of those cheering words, was full of
gratitude. To gain the other side of the indentation, they must go
around for quite some distance. Conrad, too, had by now managed to
remember something; and finding his voice he weakly remarked:

"Oh, yes! I know now where we are. Father told me he always had the best
luck with a line set from that point over there. The fish seem to be
larger than anywhere else about the lake, too. Oh! and I can see that
there is another big tree down, right in sight!"

Elmer knew that this was so, for he himself had already made the same
significant discovery. He raised his voice and gave a lusty shout.

"Jem--Jem Shock, are you there?" was what he called.

Then they all listened eagerly. A woodpecker tapped noisily on a dead
stump; but even the breeze seemed to temporarily stop rustling through
the tops of the tall trees, as though sympathizing with their anxiety,
and bent on giving all possible chances for their hearing any reply to
this hail.

"There, somebody answered you, Elmer," snapped Rufus, delightedly.

"We've found him," said Elmer, gravely. "Be brave now, my boy," as he
laid a hand affectionately on the shoulders of poor trembling Conrad.
"For one thing, he's alive, and that's enough to be thankful for."

"Yes, oh! yes, I _am_ thankful!" cried the boy, "but please hurry,
Elmer. Oh! what he must have suffered; but he _did_ answer you, didn't
he, and so he must be alive! Poor father. We're coming!" he tried to
call aloud, though the effort only resulted in a screech; "I'm here,
father, your own Conrad! Mother sent me to find you. Just be patient,
and we'll soon reach you. Oh! if only I had wings how glad I would be!"

Elmer and Lil Artha led the way. They quickly started around the tongue
of marshy land bordering the little bay, for the ground was low there;
and doubtless the natural outlet of the twin lakes would be discovered
somewhere in that section, the scouts concluded.

Now they were advancing upon the fallen tree. They could see it was a
big one, and that it reached almost to the water's edge as it lay there,
a derelict of the recent storm.

Every eye was keenly on the alert to discover a first sign of the
unfortunate poacher who had been caught, not by the stern hand of the
law, but through a freak of the storm, and pinned to the ground, so that
he was utterly helpless to free himself from the toils.

Then Conrad gave a sudden shriek.

"I see him!" was the burden of his shrill cry. "Oh! there, he moved and
tried to wave his hand at me! Elmer, did you see him do that? He's
really alive, and that is enough for me!"



CHAPTER XV

RUFUS MAKES A STAND


THEY were quickly at the tree, for every one just had to keep up with
Conrad, who fairly flew along, such was his eagerness. Elmer saw
immediately that they had a pretty tough job before them, for the tree
in falling had caught Jem Shock fairly and squarely in a trap. A
good-sized limb bore him down so that he could hardly do more than
breathe.

His face was streaked with blood from various scratches, and so he
looked considerably worse than might otherwise have been the case. At
sight of Conrad, however, he actually smiled, which was enough to prove
what a hold the lad had upon the father's heart.

"We'll get you out of that in short order, Jem," said Elmer, promptly.
"You see, we fetched our ax along for just such a purpose. Lil Artha,
get busy, and start a cross-cut of this limb. Strike in about here. I'll
spell you if you want me to."

"Shucks! watch the chips fly, that's all!" jeered the tall fellow, as he
immediately set to work; and the lively ring of steel smiting hard wood
rang through the aisles of the adjacent forest as well as out upon the
water of the second lake, where a loon was swimming, and watching these
newcomers suspiciously.

Elmer noted the fact that the limb seemed to have fallen directly across
only one of Jem's legs, a rather peculiar circumstance, by the way, he
considered. There was not the least doubt in his mind but that the leg
must have been broken; indeed, he could already see that this was so.
Apparently, then, they must be ready to make that stretcher which had
already been mentioned to the greenhorns; but then such a task presented
few real difficulties to experienced scouts, trained in all the ways of
the woods, where every one had to _know_ how to do things.

Conrad was fondling his father, who had one free arm about the shoulders
of the little chap. No doubt Conrad took occasion to tell Jem how kind
these new friends of his had been, and how readily they had responded to
his appeal for assistance.

The scout-master wondered just how Jem would take it. That proud spirit
of his was bound to show itself. He might feel indebted to the others,
and not mind so much, but to realize that one of his rescuers was the
son and heir of the very Snodgrass whom he believed he had such abundant
cause to despise and hate, would gall him, and "cut to the quick."

Yes, Elmer, watching, could see the different shades of feeling crossing
the strong face of the injured man, just as sometimes he had observed
clouds chasing athwart the blue sky in fleecy array. Love for the child;
pain because of his injury and long wait there by the lakeside;
suspicion concerning the presence of Rufus Snodgrass, and something like
genuine gratitude toward the rest of the scouts--all these varying
emotions Elmer could detect as they passed in review across the face of
the other.

In the endeavor to take Jem's thoughts from his late precarious
condition, Elmer now started to talk with him, asking how it happened
that a woodsman of his long experience should be caught by a falling
tree in a storm.

The man laughed a bit harshly, as though disgusted with himself.

"It was an accident, pure and simple, boy," he went on to say. "Jem
Shock never believed he would be caught like a rat in a trap; but I
ducked the wrong way, my foot slipped, and before I could recover I was
down. So I've lain here for hours, hoping my Conrad might come along,
for he knew about the lakes, and where I went to look after my
fish-lines. I never once thought about you boys. Yes, I'm glad, of
course, you came, because Conrad never could have got me out alone; only
it hurts me to be beholden to _his_ son."

And Rufus, hovering near by, heard this. His face flushed painfully,
and he bit his lips until the blood came, while his eyes flashed
indignantly. With an effort, however, he managed to get a grip on
himself. Perhaps it was the look he caught on the face of the
scout-master that brought this about. At any rate, when Rufus spoke, his
voice was fairly calm; and, moreover, there was a note of entreaty in
it.

"Jem Shock," he said, in thrilling tones, while the methodical "chunk"
of Lil Artha's ax told how its sharp edge was biting deeply into the
hard wood of that limb by which the man was pinned down, "please listen
to me. I can understand just how you must feel while you believe my
father did you a great wrong. I don't blame you a particle either, for
feeling mean toward him. But you must know that sometimes terrible
mistakes do happen, and that even the best of men may blunder. I tell
you I am dead sure such a thing came about, and that at this day my
father is utterly unconscious of the fact that you believe he wronged
you."

"Not quite that, youngster," said the man grimly. "He knows before now
what my opinion of Hiram Snodgrass is; because, after I learned that
he'd come to a town near by to live, I sent him a letter."

Rufus refused to be disconcerted by this startling intelligence.

"All right," he said, "I'm real glad you did, Jem. My father ought to
know what a cloud his name is under. I meant to tell him all about it
myself just as soon as I got home from this trip. Make your mind up
you'll hear from him before long, Jem. He'll never rest easy until he's
investigated the thing to the bottom, and found out the whole truth. If
some men bamboozled you, and let you believe he was in the bunch, my
father'll fix them, all right. They'll do the right thing by you when
_he_ gets after them with a sharp stick, or I'll eat my head. I guess I
ought to know my dad better than anybody else could, and he's straight
as a die, even if he is a real estate speculator."

Elmer was visibly impressed with the splendid way in which Rufus stood
up for his father. He only hoped the elder Snodgrass might prove to be
just the kind of man the boy claimed. Jem Shock, too, could not but be
somewhat affected by the sturdy championship of the accused man's cause;
though a sneer found a place on his blood-streaked face, and his eye
still showed signs of coldness and unbelief.

At least, he allowed the subject to drop as though he did not wish to
say anything further in that line, which was so unpleasant. He confined
himself to petting Conrad, and giving Lil Artha further directions as to
just how to finish his task; for, as a competent woodsman, Jem Shock
knew all about the use of an ax. Elmer could see that, despite his
agonizing condition, the man had kept his wits about him.

Finally, the limb separated, and after that the boys, by uniting their
strength, were enabled to raise the portion that still held Jem pinned
down. He wriggled free, although the pain was so great that he almost
fainted.

After that, Elmer took charge again. Water was brought, and a fire made
to warm it in the pail Alec had been told to carry along. Once it was
heated, Elmer proceeded to cleanse first Jem's face, so that he might
not look so terribly grim; and after that he started to get at the
broken leg.

He found that it was indeed pretty serious, for it had swollen
dreadfully on account of the neglect; but Elmer was a pretty good
amateur surgeon, as his chums all knew, and understood just how to go
about setting the fractured bone, after carefully washing the limb.

Alec and Rufus had their hands full just about that time. They did not
want to lose a single thing of all that was going on around them, and
were often called upon by Elmer to lend a helping hand. It was
noticeable that Rufus was always the one to do this. Jem seemed to
visibly shrink from the touch of the boy's fingers, as though they
affected him somehow; but even this aversion failed to prevent Rufus
from persevering. Evidently, he was determined that Jem should know that
the Snodgrass family did not have all the bad traits with which he,
Jem, had in his mind endowed them; and, besides, Rufus was bound to keep
in close touch with the man who had so long believed ill of his father.

It pleased Elmer more than a little to notice this trait in the
tenderfoot. He believed Rufus had the making of a good scout, and that
association with the other fellows of the troop would in time serve to
cast out the bad traits in his character mainly produced through the
mistaken weakness of his adoring mother, who had always given in to his
every whim.

But the wonderfully clever way in which Elmer managed to handle that
broken leg, and then bind it up carefully, was not the only thing Rufus
and Alec had to watch in their ardent desire to acquire practical
knowledge of what a scout should know.

There was the industrious Lil Artha, working away like a trooper, and
making a rude but amply sufficient stretcher, on which the wounded man
could recline, while four sturdy boys bore him toward his home, since it
would be utterly impossible for Jem to even hobble, with that injured
limb under him.

Both greenhorns watched the stretcher grow, and marveled at the skill
displayed by the accomplished Lil Artha, who felt proud to be the one to
show them how easy it was for a fellow who had been taught to bring his
knowledge into play when the emergency arose.

Finally everything was done. Elmer had bound the leg up so firmly that
Jem was full of praise for his work.

"I want to say that you boys sure know your business," he told Elmer,
still refusing to look at the persistent Rufus, who continued to hover
near him, despite all these rebuffs, for he was a stubborn fellow, it
seemed, and would not abandon his plans easily. "I've heard some about
scouts, and thought they didn't amount to much, but I reckon I'll have
to change my mind after this. A regular sawbones couldn't have done the
job neater, Elmer. I'm thanking you for it too; and I calculate that a
lot Conrad's been telling us about you must be true."

"Oh! it is, father, it is!" ejaculated the pleased boy, with tears in
his eyes. "Elmer is just a grand fellow; and besides, he promised me
that I'd get a chance to be taught by some one who would know what to do
with me. You'll not set your foot down on that, will you, father?"

The man smiled grimly, though this changed to a tender look as he
smoothed the fair hair of his little son.

"We'll see, Conrad, we'll see," he told him. "Just now it don't look
like I could set one of my feet down on anything for a month or more.
But they're going to have a hard job of it getting a heavy man like me
all the way home."

"Oh! don't you worry about that, Jem Shock!" sang out Lil Artha,
blithely enough; "we know just how to go about it; and besides, it isn't
going to be such a very tough task divided among four of us. Now, Rufus,
you can take the upper left end, and I'll look after the right. Elmer
and Alec will manage the foot of the stretcher easy enough."

Rufus shot him a look of gratitude, showing that he readily understood
how the wise Lil Artha had purposely allotted him one of the holds that
would be apt to keep him as close to Jem's face as possible. The
elongated scout evidently considered it good policy to force Jem to grow
accustomed to the proximity of a Snodgrass; while familiarity is said to
often breed contempt, in this case Lil Artha meant that it should be the
cause of a growing confidence.

So they gaily started forth. Conrad ran alongside, and at times
persisted in keeping hold of his father's hand. He would now and then
utter words calculated to cheer the other up, as though he feared that
the strain of the trip, on top of his father's condition after lying
there so long unattended, might cause him to show signs of a relapse.

But they got along famously. The first lake was soon reached and put
behind them. Lil Artha cast several longing glances over his shoulder as
they left, and it did not need the aid of a prophet to tell that he was
making up his mind to be back there the first thing in the morning, to
test the voracity of the bass fighters that dwelt in those waters.

Following the plain trail, they continued to put much ground between
themselves and the spot where they had found Jem. The man bore the
journey well, all things considered, though many times Elmer could see
him compress his jaws as if to better stand the acute pain that shot
through his bruised body.

So they finally drew near the clearing where the cabin stood. Elmer, who
had been there once before, as will be remembered, saw familiar signs to
tell him of this fact, for he had impressed certain landmarks on his
memory.

"Oh, listen!" suddenly exclaimed Conrad, "I hear voices, and they are
men talking, too, strangers. What can it mean, father?"

The man on the stretcher winced painfully, and then smiled grimly.

"Well, things generally come with a rush, Conrad," he said. "There are
some men that have been wanting to interview me for a long time now. I
reckon they've found the nerve to come away up here, just to see what's
going on. But they've got to have proof in order to convict a man of
poaching game out of season. Anyhow, I'm in no condition to resist now;
and I don't believe they'll stir up any evidence around the cabin. Woods
mutton is scarce these days."

It was Rufus who now uttered a cry.

"There, I can see several men now in front of a cabin," he went on to
say, "and oh! as sure as you live, one of them is my own father! Do you
hear that, Jem Shock, the Snodgrass you've been believing cheated you in
a land deal has come straight up here to see you just as soon as he got
that letter of yours. Does that look like guilt, tell me? Oh! something
is going to happen, and before long you'll be changing your mind about
the Snodgrass tribe!"

Quickening their pace, the little procession hastened to reach the
cabin, where several men stood watching their coming, with both wonder
and interest showing on their faces. The good wife ran out to meet them,
and was soon crying copiously over the figure on the stretcher, though
Jem told her it was all right, and not to worry.



CHAPTER XVI

"ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL!"


IT was a moment of considerable suspense to the boys when Mr. Snodgrass,
bustling forward, looked down at the injured man. Jem with clinched
teeth glared up at him, but said nothing, waiting for the other to
speak.

"I'm sorry to see you hurt in this way, Jem," said the magnate. "Just as
soon as I received your letter I went to the city, and had a little
heart-to-heart talk with Messrs. Bolten and Hall, my former partners in
that real-estate deal of some years ago. I threatened them with
immediate prosecution if they did not own up to deceiving both of us;
and Jem, here they are ready to eat humble pie, and make good that
property they defrauded you out of some years ago. Fool that I was never
to have suspected the truth; but thank Heaven, it isn't too late yet.
We'll soon fix this thing; and after they've made good, Jem Shock, I'm
going to offer you my check for fifty thousand dollars for that land of
yours; because it's doubled in value since you let it pass from your
hands."

Rufus fairly beamed with happiness.

"What did I tell you, Jem Shock?" he burst out with. "I knew my father
wouldn't stand for a crooked real estate deal. He's proud of the record
he's made, and lots of people think he's the only honest land speculator
there is. And now perhaps you will shake hands with him, Jem; yes, and
with me, too. The Snodgrasses aren't so _very_ bad a tribe, once you get
to know them."

Jem had some difficulty in grasping the wonderful change that had come
about in his financial condition, when later on the two real estate men
admitted that they had played a sharp trick upon him, for which they
were genuinely sorry--Lil Artha winked several times very hard when he
heard them say this, and thought of "alligator's tears."

Jem even offered his hand to the man he had for years been condemning as
an unworthy friend, and a treacherous dealer in land.

Conrad was the happiest little fellow imaginable. He would run from his
father to Elmer and pat their hands; then back again to kiss his mother,
and possibly shake hands with Lil Artha, Alec and Rufus.

"It's all happened because of the scouts coming up here to camp," he
said in the midst of his great joy. "Oh! what don't we owe to you,
Elmer?"

"He fixed my broken leg as fine as any army surgeon could have done, for
one thing," admitted Jem Shock, now looking as though a great load had
been taken off his shoulders; "and for that alone I could always
remember the boy. Yes, it's been a great day for all of us. I'm glad now
that tree caught me, and all the time I lie around waiting for the bone
to knit, I'll be saying that I got just what I deserved for thinking
evil of any man."

"None of that, Jem," said Mr. Snodgrass, with more or less asperity.
"You were justified in holding hard feelings toward me, and thinking me
a scoundrel. For once in my life I allowed a pair of precious knaves to
dupe me, and never suspected how matters stood until I had your letter.
But I forced them to make restitution. I stood ready to land them both
behind the bars if they refused."

Messrs. Bolten and Hall had departed before this was said, pleading an
important engagement, and promising to do anything else Mr. Snodgrass
demanded, so long as he kept his word not to make the affair public, as
it would ruin their legitimate business to have it known that they had
been concerned in one big shady deal. Doubtless their ears must have
burned as they retraced their way in the direction of the car that had
brought them from the distant station; but then, since all was now well,
even Jem Shock could forgive them.

While Mr. Snodgrass spent two days in camp with the boys, he had plenty
of chances of hearing Conrad play, for the boy kept his promise to come
over with his wonderful Stradivarius violin, and charm them with his
magical music. The gentleman agreed with Elmer that the child was very
precocious, and had the "touch" that had made his grandfather
illustrious.

"It would be a great crime," he said, "if such wonderful genius failed
to find expression. If his father was unable to send him to the right
master I'd certainly insist on it myself. And between us, boys, I'm
determined on forcing Jem Shock to allow me to advance all the funds
needed to put Conrad where he belongs. It's the only way I can make up
in part for my unconscious share in his troubles."

Later on this same thing was arranged, and Conrad, it is needless to
say, is at present studying hard under the best violin teacher in New
York. Those who watch his career are loud in their praise, and say that
when his time comes to appear in public, all such stars as Elman,
Kreisler and Maud Powell will have to take a "back seat."

Of course since George had not been present when all these wonderful
events came about, the others were forced to give him every possible
opportunity to learn the exciting details. He asked a thousand
questions, and heard the whole story told over and over again, from the
time the expedition left camp up to the unexpected meeting between Jem
and Mr. Snodgrass, and the humbling of the pair of precious real estate
sharks.

Indeed, it usually did take several tellings to convince so skeptical a
fellow as Doubting George, especially when there was something quite out
of the common going on.

The balance of the scouts' stay in camp up at Raccoon Bluff was filled
with all sorts of good times. Lil Artha went fishing over at the twin
lakes, and came back with as heavy a load of fish as he could stagger
under. He announced that never before in all his varied experience had
he known such gallant fighters as those bronzed-backed warriors of
Mirror Lake. His arms fairly ached from reeling them in; and he would
never forget what a glorious morning he had had there. Of course this
caused Elmer also to long to wet a line; and as Alec expressed a desire
to see how the thing was done over in America--he had actually caught a
big salmon once upon a time in a Scotch loch--he insisted on going
along.

This was only a part of the glorious times they enjoyed. Rufus even got
busy again with his surveyor's outfit, and did a little more work, just
to "keep his hand in," he said; but as Alec had other things on the
programme that he fancied much better than "running a line," or
"slashing" through a thicket with an ax and bush hook, he absolutely
balked on giving up much more time to that sort of thing.

They took pictures, and Elmer made sure to get one of the tree that in
falling had arched the streamlet in such a remarkable way. Elmer also
tried a few night exposures, catching some of the prowling 'coons in the
act of stealing bait from a trap set so that when the trigger was sprung
there would be a flashlight exposure, and the startled little animal
would really take its own picture, being "caught in the act."

Besides they paid many visits to Jem's cabin, always carrying over heaps
of good things to eat, despite the protests of Conrad's mother. Elmer
explained that greedy George had deceived Rufus, who provided the
provender for the week's campaign; and that consequently they had
brought enough along to last a whole month; which they hated to "tote"
back again, and so wished her to accept a few trifles, because Jem would
not be able to be moved for some weeks, and hence no supplies could be
laid in.

Conrad, of course, always played for them, and even George, whose ear
for music was not of the best, for he rather preferred ragtime to
"classical stuff," admitted that the little fellow did wield a magical
bow, and could fairly make that "fiddle talk" when he got down to
serious business.

They saw no more ferocious wildcats, though for several nights after the
storm, Rufus complained that he was kept awake by some sort of plaintive
mewing, though he was unable to exactly locate the sounds. Elmer feared
that this might be caused by a kitten left behind by the cat Lil Artha
had been compelled to slay in order to save Alec from rough clawing. He
even hunted around during the daytime, hoping to find the small beast,
but was unable to do so. Finally, the mewing was heard no more; from
which they concluded that the kitten had either succumbed to hunger, or
else, being fairly able to provide for itself, had departed for other
fields.

The 'coons, however, afforded the campers no end of amusement by their
curious antics. George gave it as his opinion that whoever named that
particular section of country Raccoon Bluff knew his business, for never
had he seen one half so many of the "bushy-tails" as during their stay
there.

They proved to be great pests in the bargain, stealing whatever cooked
food was left over; and becoming so tame, that it was a common
occurrence to have several prowling around at any time of the day; while
at night one of the campers found it necessary to rush out of the tent
several times during the period of darkness in order to "shoo" the
impudent rascals away.

Mr. Snodgrass had enjoyed himself heartily during the parts of two days
he stayed with the boys. He expressed deep regret that pressing demands
of business caused him to start back to town, Rufus seeing him safely
to the nearest station, some six miles distant, as the crow flies.

And from what they all saw of Mr. Snodgrass during his stay, the others
were inclined to believe Rufus knew what he was talking about when he so
boldly told Jem Shock that his father was as "honest as the day was
long," and "the best man that ever lived." Elmer concluded that any
father who had so lived that his boy believes this of him has a right to
be proud, and feel that "example is much better than precept." Too many
fathers, Elmer realized, act upon the theory that a boy can maintain his
respect for his parent who advises him to "do as I say, not as I do."

When finally the time came for breaking camp, the two tenderfeet felt
sure they had made giant strides along the road that led to their
goal--the distinction of becoming a first-class scout. They had learned
innumerable things since leaving home; indeed, life looked altogether
different nowadays, because they saw ten interesting things where before
there had appeared but one. And the thirst for knowledge had gripped
them so that never again would either Rufus or Alec be content to plod
along as before, "seeing things as through a glass darkly," and not more
than half comprehending what wonders surround boys of today on every
side, if only they have the vision to notice and comprehend.

There is really no need for us to accompany Elmer, George, Lil Artha
and the tenderfoot squad home again. But the story of their achievements
while up there in camp at Raccoon Bluff will always make a bright page
in the annals of the Hickory Ridge Boy Scouts. Of course we expect to
meet these good friends again at no far distant day, in the pages of
another volume, wherein may be detailed further of their interesting and
often thrilling adventures. Until that time comes we must lower the
curtain, and write the last words,


THE END



THE EDWARD S. ELLIS SERIES

STORIES OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN; MYSTERY, ROMANCE AND ADVENTURE


Every red blooded American Boy and Girl will be greatly pleased with
these books. They are written by the master writer of such books, EDWARD
S. ELLIS. There is mystery, charm and excitement in each volume. All the
following titles can be procured at the same place this book was
procured, or they will be sent postpaid for 25c per copy or 5 for $1.00.

    Astray in the Forest
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_Read every one of the above Titles You will enjoy them_


  M. A. DONOHUE & COMPANY
  _Manufacturers and Publishers Since 1861_
  701-733 SOUTH DEARBORN STREET        CHICAGO



FURRY FOLK STORIES

By JANE FIELDING


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_Price each 50 cents postpaid_

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    3. Kitty Purrpuss              _The Memoir of a Cat_
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THE JINGLE BOOK

By CAROLYN WELLS


_Price each 60 cents postpaid_

      A popular book of Jingles by this well-known writer. A
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LET'S MAKE BELIEVE STORIES

By LILIAN T. GARIS


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  _For sale by all booksellers or sent postpaid on receipt of 75c._

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       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired.

Page 49, "for" changed to "from" (from the entire party)

Page 56, "import" changed to "impart" (promised to impart)

Page 99, "walk" changed to "talk" (the talk was of)

Page 113, "virtuosa" changed to "virtuoso" (the old virtuoso)

Page 132, "wind-brake" changed to "wind-break" (sort of wind-break)

Page 186, "excitment" changed to "excitement" (charm and excitement)





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