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Title: A Scout of To-day
Author: Hornibrook, Isabel, 1859-1952
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 "A Scout of To-day" ***

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 +------------------------------------------+
 |                                          |
 | Transcriber's Note                       |
 |                                          |
 | Both "Ne'er-do-weel" and "Ne'er-do-well" |
 | are used, so both spellings have been    |
 | preserved.                               |
 |                                          |
 +------------------------------------------+



[Illustration: "WHAT IS IT? WHAT IS IT?"]



A SCOUT OF TO-DAY

BY

ISABEL HORNIBROOK

_Author of "Camp and Trail," "Lost in Maine Woods,"
"Captain Curly's Boy," etc., etc._

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS

[Illustration]

    BOSTON AND NEW YORK
   HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
  The Riverside Press Cambridge 1913

    COPYRIGHT, 1913, BY ISABEL HORNIBROOK
   ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
 _Published June 1913_

AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED TO "NED"


The Author expresses her indebtedness to Edmund Richard Cummins for the
song, "THE SCOUTS OF THE U.S.A."



CONTENTS


     I.  THE GREAT WOODS                  1

    II.  ONLY A CHIP'                    17

   III.  RACCOON JUNIOR                  34

    IV.  VARNEY'S PAINTPOT               55

     V.  "YOU MUST LOOK OUT!"            70

    VI.  THE FRICTION FIRE               82

   VII.  MEMBERS OF THE LOCAL COUNCIL   104

  VIII.  THE BOWLINE KNOT               121

    IX.  GODEY PECK                     145

     X.  THE BALDFACED HOUSE            159

    XI.  ESTU PRETA!                    178

   XII.  THE CHRISTMAS BRIGADE          196

  XIII.  THE BIG MINUTE                 207

   XIV.  A RIVER DUEL                   215

    XV.  THE CAMP ON THE DUNES          230

   XVI.  THE PUP-SEAL'S CREEK           244

  XVII.  THE SIGNALMAN                  262

 XVIII.  THE LOG SHANTY AGAIN           271



ILLUSTRATIONS


 "WHAT IS IT? WHAT IS IT?" (page 99) _Colored Frontispiece_

 "HELP! _HELP!_"                                         56

 "MAK' YOU S-SILENT! W'AT FOR YOU SPIK LAK DAT?"        150

 IN CAMP                                                238

 "CAN'T YOU SEE THE TIDE IS LEAVING YOU?"               252

 _From drawings by J. Reading_



A SCOUT OF TO-DAY



CHAPTER I

THE GREAT WOODS


"Well! this would be the very day for a long tramp up into the woods.
Tooraloo! I feel just in the humor for that."

Colin Estey stretched his well-developed fourteen-year-old body among
the tall feathery grasses of the broad salt-marsh whereon he lay,
kicking his heels in the September sunshine, and gazed longingly off
toward the grand expanse of New England woodland that bordered the
marshes and, rising into tree-clad hills, stretched away much farther
than the eye could reach in apparently illimitable majesty.

Those woods were the most imposing and mysterious feature in Colin's
world. They bounded it in a way. Beyond a certain shallow point in them
lay the Unknown, the Woodland Wonder, whereof he had heard much, but
which he had never explored for himself. And this reminded him
unpleasantly that he was barely fourteen, in stature measuring five
feet three _and_ three eighths, facts which never obtruded themselves
baldly upon his memory when he romped about the salt-marshes, or rowed a
boat--or if no boat was forthcoming, paddled a washtub--on the broad
tidal river that wound in and out between the marshes.

Yet though the unprobed mystery of the dense woods vexed him with the
feeling of being immature and young--woodland distances look vaster at
fourteen than at eighteen--it fascinated him, too, more than did any
riddle of the salt-marshes or lunar enigma of the ebb and flow of tide
in the silvery, brackish river formed by an arm of sea that coursed
inland for many a mile to meet a freshwater stream near the town where
Colin was born.

Any daring boy above the age of ten could learn pretty nearly all there
was to know about that tidal river: of the mammal and fish wherewith it
teemed, from the great harbor seal, once the despot of the river, to the
tiny brit that frolicked in the eddies; and about the graceful bird-life
that soared above its brackish current.

He could bathe, shrieking with excitement, as wild from delight as any
young water-bird, in the foam of the rocky bar where fresh stream and
salt stream met with a great crowing of waters and laughter of spray.

He could imitate the triple whistle, the shrill "Wheu! Wheu! Wheu!" of
the greater yellow-legs so cleverly as to beguile that noisy bird, which
is said to warn every other feathered thing within hearing, into
forgetting its panic and alighting near him.

He could give the drawn-out, plaintive "Ter-lee-ee!" call of the
black-breasted plover, and find the crude nest of the spotted sandpiper
nestling beneath a tall clump of candle-grass.

All these secrets and many more were within easy reach and could be
studied in his unwritten Nature Primer whose pages were traced in the
flight of each bird and the spawn of every fish.

But the Heart of the Woods was a closed book to most fourteen-year-old
boys born and brought up in the little tidal town of Exmouth.

Colin had often longed to turn the pages of that book--to penetrate
farther into the woods than he had dared to do yet. This longing was
fanned by the tales of men who had hunted, trapped or felled trees in
them, who could spell out each syllable of the woodlore to be studied in
their golden twilight; and who, as they roved and read, could put a
finger on many a colored illustration of Nature's methods set against a
green background of branches or fluttering underbrush, like the flitting
foliage of moving pictures.

To-day the wood-longing possessed Colin so strongly that it actually
stung him all over, from his neck to his drumming, purposeless heels.

He glanced up into the brilliant September sky arching the salt-marshes,
questioning it as to what might be going on in the woods at this moment
under its imperial canopy.

And the blue eye of the sky winked back at him, hinting that it knew of
forest secrets to be discovered to-day--of fascinating woodland
creatures to be seen for a moment at their whisking gambols.

The sunlight's energy raced through him. The briny ozone of the
salt-marshes was a tickling feather in his nostrils, teasing him with a
desire to find an outlet for that energy in some new and unprecedented
form of activity.

He sprang to his feet, spurning the plumy grass.

"Gee whiz! I'm not going to lie here any longer, smelling marsh-hay," he
cried half articulately, his eye taking in the figures of two hay-makers
who were mowing the tall marsh-grass and letting it lie in fragrant
swathes to dry into the salt hay that forms such juicy fodder for
cattle. "It's me for the woods to-day! I want to go farther into those
old woods than I've ever gone before--far enough to find Varney's
Paintpot and the Bear's Den--and the coon's hole that Toiney Leduc saw
among the alders an' ledges near Big Swamp!"

He halted on the first footstep, whistling blithely to a gray-winged
yellow-legs that skimmed above his head. The curly, boyish whistle,
ascending in spirals, carried the musical challenge aloft: "I'm glad I'm
alive and athirst for adventure; aren't you?"

To which the bird's noisy three-syllabled cry responded like three
cheers!

"It's me for the woods to-day!" Colin set off at an easy lope across the
marshes. "I'm going to look up Coombsie and Starrie Chase--and Kenjo
Red! Us boys won't have much more time for fun before school reopens!"
grammar capsizing in the sudden, boisterous eddy within him.

That eddy of excitement carried him like a feather up an earthy
embankment that ascended from the low-lying marshes, over a fence, and
out onto the drab highroad which a little farther on blossomed out into
houses on either side and became the quiet main street of Exmouth.

Colin turned his face westward toward the home of "Coombsie," otherwise
Mark Coombs--also shortened into "Marcoo" by nickname-loving boydom.

He had not gone far when his loping speed slackened abruptly to a
contemplative trot. The trot sobered down to a crestfallen walk. The
walk dwindled into a halt right in the middle of the sunny road.

"Tooraloo! here comes Coombsie now," he ejaculated behind his twitching
lips. "And some one with him! Oh, I forgot all about that!" Dismay stole
over his face at the thought. "Of course it's the strange boy, Marcoo's
cousin, who came from Philadelphia yesterday and is going to stay here
for ever so long--six months or so--while his parents travel in Europe.
This spoils our fun. Probably _he_ won't want to start off on a long
hike through the woods," rigidly scanning the approaching stranger as a
stiffened terrier might size up a dog of a different breed. "His folks
are rich, so Marcoo said; I suppose he's been brought up in a city
flowerpot--and isn't much of a fellow anyhow!" with a disgruntled grin.

But as the oncoming pair drew within twenty yards of the youthful critic
the latter's tense face-muscles relaxed. Reassurance crept into his
expression.

"Gee! he looks all right, this city boy. He's not dolled-up much anyway!
And he doesn't look 'Willified' either!" was Colin's complacent comment.

No, the stranger's dress was certainly not patterned after the fashion
of the boy-doll which Colin Estey had seen simpering in store-windows.
He wore a khaki shirt stained with service, rough tweed knickerbockers
and a soft broad-brimmed hat. He carried his coat; the ends of his blue
necktie dangled outside his shirt, one was looped up into a careless
knot. His gray eye was rather more than usually alert and bright, his
general appearance certainly not suggestive of a flowerpot plant; his
step, quick and springy, embodied the saline breeze that skipped over
the salt-marshes.

So much Colin took in before criticism was blown out of his mind by a
shout from Coombsie.

"Hullo! Col," exclaimed Marcoo. "Say, this is fine! We were just
starting off to hunt you up--Nix and I! This is my cousin, Nixon Warren,
who popped up here from Philadelphia late last night. Nix, this is my
chum, Colin Estey!"

The two boys acknowledged the introduction with gruff shyness.

"Nixon and I settled on going down the river to-day in Captain Andy's
power-boat, and Mother put us up a corking good luncheon," Marcoo
significantly swung a basket pendant from his right hand. "But we've
just been talking to Captain Andy," glancing backward over his shoulder
at the receding figure of an elderly man who limped as he walked, "and
he says he can't take us to-day. He won't even loan us the Pill."
Coombsie gesticulated with the basket toward the broad tidal river
gleaming in the sunshine, on which rode a trim gasolene launch with a
little rowboat, so tubby that it was almost round and aptly named the
Pill, lying as tender beside it.

"Pshaw! the Pill isn't much of a boat. One might as well put to sea in a
shoebox!" Colin chuckled.

"I know! Well, we can't go on the river anyhow, so we've determined to
take the basket along and spend the whole day in the woods. Nix is--"

"Great O!" whooped Colin, breaking in. "That's what I've been planning
on doing too. I want to go _far_ into the woods to-day,"--his hands
doubled and opened excitedly, as if grasping at something hitherto out
of reach,--"farther than I've ever been before,--far enough to see
Varney's Paintpot and the old Bear's Den--and some of the other wonders
that the men tell about!"

"But there aren't any bears in these Massachusetts woods now?" It was
the strange boy, Nixon Warren, who eagerly spoke.

"Not that we know of!" Coombsie answered. "If one should stray over the
border from New Hampshire he manages to lie low. Apparently there's
nothing bigger than a deer traveling in our woods to-day--together with
foxes in plenty and an occasional coon. The last bear seen in this
region, Nix, had his den in the cave of a great rock in the thickest
part o' the woods. He was such an everlasting nuisance, killing calves
and lambs, that a hunter tracked him into the cave and killed him with
his knife. Ever since it has been called the Bear's Den. I've never seen
it; nor you, Col!"

"No, but Starrie Chase has! I was going to hunt him up too, and Kenjo
Red: they're a team if you want to go into the woods; they know more
about them than any other boy in Exmouth."

"Kenjo has gone to Salem to-day. And Leon Chase?" Coombsie's expression
was doubtful. "I guess Leon makes a bluff of knowing the woods better
than he does. He'll scare everything away with his dog and shotgun.
Captain Andy is hunting for him now," with another backward glance to
where the massive figure of the old sea-captain was melting from view.
"He's threatening to shake Starrie until his heels change places with
his head for fixing the Doctor's doorbell last night, wedging a pin into
it so that it kept on ringing until the electricity gave out--and for
teasing old Ma'am Baldwin again."

"'Mom Baldwin,' who lives in that old baldfaced house 'way over on the
salt-marshes!" Colin hooted. "Pshaw! she ought to wash her clothes at
the Witch Rock, where Dark Tammy was made to wash hers, over a hundred
years ago. I guess Leon knows the way to Varney's Paintpot anyhow," he
advanced clinchingly.

"What sort of queer Paintpot is that?" Nixon Warren spoke; his
stranger's part in the conversation was limited to putting excited
questions.

"It's a red-ochre swamp--a bed of moist red clay--that's hidden
somewhere in the woods," Colin explained. "The Indians used it for
making paint. So did the farmers, hereabouts, until a few years ago. I
believe it's mostly dried up now."

"Whoopee! if we could only find it, we might paint ourselves to our
waists, make believe we were Indians and go yelling through the woods!"
Nixon's eye sparkled like sun-touched granite, and Colin parted with the
last lingering suspicion of his being a flowerpot fellow.

This suggestion settled it. Starrie Chase, otherwise Leon, might let his
boyish energy leak off as waste steam in planting another thorn in the
side of the hard-worked doctor who bore the burdens of half the
community, and in persecuting lonely old women, but--he was supposed to
know the way to Varney's Paintpot!

And the three started along the road to find him.

The quest did not lead them far. Rounding a bend in the highroad, they
came abruptly upon Leon Starr Chase, familiarly called Starrie, almost a
fifteen-year-old boy, of Nixon's age.

He was leaning against a low fence above the marshes, holding a dead
bird high above the head of a very lively fox-terrier whose tan ears
gesticulated like tiny signal flags as he jumped into the air to capture
it, with a short one-syllabled bark.

"Ha! _you_ can't catch it, Blink--and you shan't have it till you do,"
teased his master, lowering its limp yellow legs a little.

The dog's nose touched them. The next instant he had the bird in his
mouth.

With equal swiftness he dropped it on the sidewalk, growling and gagging
at the warm feathers which almost choked him. "Ugh-r-r!" He spurned it
with his black nose along the ground, the tiny yellow claws raking up
minute spirals of dust.

"There! I knew you wouldn't eat it," remarked his master indifferently.
"You're a spoiled pup!" Simultaneously Leon caught sight of the three
boys making toward him and burst into a complacent shout of recognition.

"Hullo, Colin! Hullo, Coombsie!" he cried. "See what I've got! Six
_yellow-legs_! I fired into a flock; the first I've seen this year. They
were going from me and I dropped half a dozen of them together, with
this old 'fuzzee'!" He touched an ancient shotgun propped beside him.
"I've shot quite a number one at a time this week."

His left hand went out to a huddle of still quivering feathers on top of
the fence in which five pairs of yellow spindle-legs were tangled like
slim twigs.

Colin, as was expected of him, burst into an exclamation of wonder at
this destructive skill. Coombsie's admiration was more forced.

Blink, the terrier, scornfully rolled over the feathered thing in the
dust. He snapped angrily at the stranger, Nixon Warren, who tried to
pick it up and examine it.

"That bird won't be fit to eat now, after the dog has played with it,"
suggested the latter, addressing Leon without the benefit of an
introduction.

"I don't care. Probably I'll give the whole bunch of yellow-legs away,
anyhow--Mother doesn't like their sedgy flavor. She'd rather I'd let the
birds alone, I guess!"

"Why do you shoot so many if you don't want them?"

"Oh! partly for the sport and partly because these 'Greater Yellow-legs'
are such telltales that they warn every duck and other bird within
hearing by their noisy whistle."

Impulsively Nixon put out a finger and touched one slim leg with its
limp claw that protruded from the fence. At the same moment he glanced
upward.

Over the boys' heads, having just risen from the feathery marshes,
skimmed a feathered telltale, live counterpart of the one he touched,
its legs golden spindles in the sunshine, its shrill joy-whistle: "Wheu!
Wheu! _Whe-eu!_" proclaiming the thanksgiving which had rioted through
Colin's mind on the fragrant salt-marshes: "Glad I'm alive! Glad I'm
alive! _Glad_--I'm alive!"

A smothered exclamation broke from Coombsie as he followed the finger
and the flight.

Leon snatched up the gun.

"One can't have too much of a good thing: I guess I could drop that
'telltale,' too!"

But Marcoo's hand fastened upon his arm with an impulsive cry.

"Eh! What's the matter with you--Flutter-budget?" Lowering the pointed
shotgun, Leon whisked round; his restless brown eyes had a lightning
trick of shutting and opening, as if he were taking a photograph of the
person addressed, which was in general highly disconcerting to the boy
who differed from him. "No need to make a fuss! I wouldn't let her off
here, anyhow," he added, fondling the gun. "Father would be fined if I
should fire a shot on the highroad."

"_We're_ starting off on a hike--for a long tramp into the woods, Leon,"
began Coombsie hurriedly, anxious to create a diversion. "We want you to
come with us, as leader; Colin says that _you_ know the way to Varney's
Paintpot!"

The other's expression changed like a rocket: Starrie Chase enjoyed
leading other boys, even more than he reveled in "popping
yellow-legs"--for the former Nature had intended him.

"All right!" he responded with swift eagerness. "Just, you fellows, keep
an eye on my gun while I run home with the birds; I'll be back in a
minute!"

"Oh! you're not going to take your gun into the woods?"

"Sure--I am! I might get a chance at a fox!"

"Won't it be an awful nuisance carrying it all the way through the thick
undergrowth--we want to go as far into the woods as the Bear's Den?"
suggested Marcoo tactfully.

"Well, perhaps it would. I'll just scoot home then, and be back in no
time!"

He snatched the dead birds from the fence, raced away and reappeared in
three minutes, with the terrier barking at his heels.

"I'm going to let Blink come anyhow; he'll have a great time chasing
things--eh, Blinkie?" Leon made a hurdle of his outstretched arm for the
scampering dog to jump over it.

And the terrier replied in a volley of excited barks, saying in doggy
talk: "Fellows! if there's fun ahead, I'm in with you. The woods are a
grand old playground!"

He led the way, and the four boys followed, jostling each other merrily,
rubbing their high spirits together and bringing sparks from the
contact--bound for that mysterious forest Paintpot.

But the stranger, Nixon Warren, could not forbear throwing one backward
glance from under his wide-brimmed hat at the poor dog-scorned
yellow-legs, its joy-whistle silenced, stiffening in the dust.



CHAPTER II

ONLY A CHIP'


"Oh! I wish I had worn my tramping togs," exclaimed Nixon Warren as the
four boys, after covering an easy mile along the highroad and over the
uplands that lay between marsh and woodland, plunged, whooping, in amid
the forest shadows roofed by the meeting branches of pines, hemlocks,
oaks, and birches, with here and there a maple already turning ruddy,
that formed the outposts of the dense woods.

A dwarf counterpart of the same trees laced with vines and prickly
brambles made an undergrowth so thick that they parted with shreds of
their clothing as they went threshing through it, in a fascinating
gold-misted twilight, through which the slender sunbeams flashed like
fairy knitting-needles weaving a scarf of light and shade around each
tall trunk.

"Why! you're better 'togged' for the woods than the rest of us are,"
answered Leon Starr Chase, looking askance at the new boy. "That's a
dandy hat; must shade your eyes a whole lot when you're tramping on
open ground! I guess ours don't need any shading!"

A wandering sunbeam kindled a brassy spark in Leon's brown eye which
looked as if it could face anything unabashed. In his mind lurked the
same suspicion that had hovered over Colin's at first sight of Nixon,
that this newcomer from a distant city might be somewhat of a flowerpot
fellow, delicately reared and coddled, not a hardy plant that could
revel and rough it in the wilderness atmosphere of the thick woods.

Nothing about the boy-stranger supported such an idea for a moment,
except to Leon, as the party progressed, the interest which he took in
the floral life of the woodland: in objects which Starrie Chase who
invariably "hit the woods" as he phrased it, with destruction in the
forefront of his thoughts, generally overlooked, and therefore did not
consider worth a second glance.

He stood and gaped as Nixon, with a shout of delight, pounced upon some
rosy pepper-grass, stooped to pick a wood aster or gentian, or pointed
out to Coombsie the green sarsaparilla plant flaunting and prolific
between the trees.

"What do you call this, Marcoo?" the strange boy would exclaim
delightedly, finding novel treasure trove in the rare white blossoms of
Labrador tea. "I don't remember to have seen this flower on any of our
hikes through the Pennsylvania woods!"

To which Coombsie would make answer:--

"Don't ask me, Nix; I know a little about birds, but when it comes to
knowing anything of flowers or plants--excepting those that are under
our feet every day--I 'fall down flunk!' Hullo! though, here are some
devil's pitchforks--or stick-tight--I do know them!"

"So do I!" Nixon stooped over the tall bristly flower-heads, rusty green
in color, and gathered a few of the two-pronged seed-vessels that cling
so readily to the fur of an animal or the clothing of a boy. "It's funny
to think how they have to depend upon some passing animal to propagate
the seeds. Say! but they do stick tight, don't they?" And he slyly
slipped a few of the russet pitchforks inside Leon's collar--whereupon a
whooping scuffle ensued.

"It looks to me as if _some_ lightfooted animal were in the habit of
passing here that might carry the seeds along," said the perpetrator of
the prank presently, dropping upon his hands and knees to examine
breathlessly the leaves and brambles pressed down into a trail so light
that it seemed the mere shadow of a pathway leading off into the woods
at right angles from where the boys stood.

"You're right. It's a fox-path!" Leon was examining the shadow-tracks
too. "A fox trots along here to his hunting-ground where he catches
shrews an' mice or grasshoppers even, when he can't get hold of a plump
quail or partridge. Whew! I wish I'd brought my gun."

Dead silence for two minutes, while each ear was intently strained to
catch the sound of a sly footfall and heard nothing but the noisy
shrilling of the cicada, or seventeen-year locust, with the pipe of
kindred insects.

"Look! there's been a partridge at work here," cried Nixon by and by,
when the still game was over and the boys were forging ahead again.

He pointed to a decayed log whose flaky wood, garnished here and there
with a tiny buff feather, was mostly pecked away and reduced to brown
powder by the busy bird which had wallowed there.

"He's been trying to get at some insects in the wood. See how he has
dusted it all up with his claws an' feathers!" went on the excited
speaker. "Oh--but I tell you what makes you feel happy!" He drew a long
breath, turning suddenly, impulsively, to the boys behind him. "It's
when you're out on a hike an' a partridge rises right in front of
you--and you hear his wings sing!"

Colin and Coombsie stared. The strange boy's look flashed with such
frank gladness, doubled and trebled by sharing sympathetically, in so
far as he could, each bounding thrill that animated the wild, free life
about him! They had often been moved by the liquid notes from a
songster's throat, but had not come enough into loving touch with Nature
to hear music in a bird's wings.

If Leon had heard it, his one idea would have been to silence it with a
shot. He stood still in his tracks, bristling like his dog.

"Ughr-r! 'Singing wings'!" he sneered. "Aw! take that talk home to
Mamma."

"Say that once again, and I'll lick you!" The stranger's gaze became,
now, very straight and inviting from under his broad-brimmed hat.

The atmosphere felt highly charged--unpleasantly so for the other two
boys. But at that critical moment an extraordinary sound of other
singing--human singing--was borne to them in faint merriment upon the
woodland breeze, so primitive, so unlike anything modern, that it might
have been Robin Hood himself or one of his green-coated Merry Men
singing a roundelay in the woods to the accompaniment of a
woodchopper's axe.

  "Rond! Rond! Rond! peti' pie pon' ton'!
  Rond! rond! rond! peti' pie pon' ton'!"

"_What is it?_ Who is--it?" Nixon's stiffening fists unclosed. His eye
was bright with bewilderment.

"Houp-la! it's Toiney--Toiney Leduc." Colin broke into an exultant
whoop. "Now we'll have fun! Toiney is a funny one, for sure!"

"He's more fun than a circus," corroborated Coombsie. "We're coming to a
little farm-clearing in the woods now, Nix," he explained, falling in by
his cousin's side as the four boys moved hastily ahead, challenges
forgotten. "There's a house on it, the last for miles. It's owned by a
man called Greer, and Toiney Leduc works for him during the summer an'
fall. Toiney is a French-Canadian who came here about a year ago; his
brother is employed in one of the shipbuilding yards on the river."

The merry, oft-repeated strain came to them more distinctly now, rolling
among the trees:--

  "Rond, rond, rond, peti' pie pon' ton'!
    C'éta't une bonne femme,
    Qui garda't sex moutons,
  Rond', rond', rond, peti' pie pon' ton'!"

"He's singing about the woman who was taking care of her sheep and how
the lamb got his chin in the milk! He translated it for me," said Colin.

"'Translate!' He doesn't know enough English to say 'Boo!' straight,"
threw back Leon, as he gained the edge of the clearing. "It is Toiney!"
he cried exultingly. "Toiney--and the _Hare_!"

"The--what? My word! there are surprises enough in these woods--what
with forest paintpots--and the rest." Nixon, as he spoke, was bounding
out into the open too, thrilled by expectation: a musical woodchopper
attended by a tame rodent would certainly be a unique item upon the
forest playbill which promised a variety of attractions already.

But he saw no skipping hare upon the green patch of clearing--nothing
but a boy of twelve whose full forehead and pointed face was very
slightly rodent-like in shape, but whose eyes, which at this startled
moment showed little save their whites, were as shy and frightened as a
rabbit's, while he shrank close to Toiney's side.

"My brother says that whenever he sees that boy he feels like offering
him a bunch of clover or a lettuce leaf!" laughed Leon, repeating the
thoughtless speech of an adult. He stooped suddenly, picked some of the
shaded clover leaves and a pink blossom: "Eh! want some clover, 'Hare'?"
he asked teasingly, thrusting the green stuff close to the face of the
abnormally frightened boy.

The hapless, human Hare sought to efface himself behind Toiney's back.
And the woodchopper began to execute an excited war-dance, flourishing
the axe wherewith he had been musically felling a young birch tree for
fuel.

"Ha! you Leon, you _coquin_, _gamin_--rogue--you'll say dat one time
more, den I go lick you, me!" he cried in his imperfect English eked out
with indignant French.

"No, you won't go lick me--you!" Nevertheless Starrie Chase and his
mocking face retreated a little; he had no fancy for tackling Toiney and
the axe.

"That boy's name is Harold Greer; it's too bad about him," Coombsie was
whispering in Nix Warren's ear. "The doctor says he's 'all there,'
nothing wrong with him mentally. But he was born frightened--abnormally
timid--and he seems to get worse instead o' better. He's afraid of
everything, of his own shadow, I think, and more still of the shadows of
others: I mean he's so shy that he won't speak to anybody--if he can
help it--except his grandfather and Toiney and the old woman who keeps
house for them."

Nixon looked pityingly at the boy who lived thus in his own shadow--the
shadow of a baseless fear.

"Whew! it must be bad to be born scared!" he gasped. "I wish we could
get Toiney to sing some more."

At this moment there came a wild shout from Colin who had been exploring
the clearing and stumbled upon something near the outhouses.

"Gracious! what is it--a wildcat?" he cried. "It isn't a fox--though it
has a bushy tail! It's as big as half a dozen squirrels. Hulloo-oo!" in
yelling excitement, "it must be a coon--a young coon."

There was a general stampede for the hen-house, amid the squawking
cackle of its rightful inhabitants.

Toiney followed, so did the human Hare, keeping always behind his back
and casting nervous glances in Leon's direction.

"Ha! _le petit raton_--de littal coon!" gasped the woodchopper. "W'en I
go on top of hen-house dis morning w'at you t'ink I fin' dere, engh? I
fin' heem littal coon! I'll t'ink he kill two, t'ree poulets--littal
chick!" gesticulating fiercely at the dead marauder and at the bodies of
some slain chickens. "Dog he kill heem; but, _sapré_! he fight lak
_diable_! Engh?"

The last exclamation was a grunt of inquiry as to whether the boys
understood how that young raccoon, about two-thirds grown, had fought.
Toiney shruggingly rubbed his hands on his blue shirt-sleeves while he
pointed to a mongrel dog, the other participant in that early-morning
battle, with whom Leon's terrier had been exchanging canine courtesies.

Blink forsook his scarred brother now and sniffed eagerly at the coon's
dead body as he had sniffed at the poor yellow-legs in the dust.

"Where did he come from, Toiney? Do you suppose he strayed from the
coon's hole that you found in the woods, among some ledges near Big
Swamp?" Colin, together with the other boys, was stooping down to
examine the dead body of the wild animal which measured nearly a foot
and a half from the tip of its sharp nose to the beginning of the bushy
tail that was handsomely ringed with black and a shading buff-color.

"Yaas, he'll com' out f'om de forêt--f'om among heem beeg tree." Toiney
Leduc, letting his axe fall to the ground, waved an eloquent right arm
in its flannel shirt-sleeve toward the woods beyond the clearing.

"Isn't his fur long and thick--more like coarse gray hair than fur?"
Nixon stroked the raccoon's shaggy coat.

"Tell us how to find those ledges where the hole is? There may be some
live ones in it. I'd give anything to see a live coon," urged Coombsie.

"Ah! la! la! You no fin' dat ledge en dat swamp. Eet's littal black in
dere, in gran' forêt--in dem big ole hood," came the dissuading answer.

"He always says 'hood' for 'wood,'" explained Marcoo _sotto voce_.

"Ciel! w'en you go for fin' dat hole, dat's de time you get los'--engh?"
urged Toiney, suddenly very earnest. "You walkee, walkee--lak wit' eye
shut--den you haf so tire' en so lonesam' you go--_deaded_."

He flung out his hands with an eloquent gesture of blind despair upon
the last word, which shot a warning thrill to the boys' hearts. Three of
them looked rather apprehensively toward the dense woods that stretched
away interminably beyond the clearing.

But the fourth, Leon, was not to be intimidated by anything short of
Toiney brandishing the woodchopper's axe.

He paused in his gesture of slyly offering more clover to the boy with
the frightened eyes.

"Oh! I know the woods pretty well, Toiney," he said. "I've been far into
them with my father. I can find the way to Big Swamp."

"I'll bet me you' head you get los'--hein?"

"Why don't you bet your own seal-head, Toiney? You can't say 'Boo!'
straight." Leon scathingly pointed to the Canadian's bare, closely
cropped head, dark and shiny as sealskin.

"_Sapré!_ I'll no bet yous head--you Leon--for nobodee want heem, axcep'
for play ping-pong," screamed the enraged Toiney.

There was a general mirthful roar. Leon reddened.

"Oh, come; let's 'beat it'!" he cried. "We'll never find that coon's
burrow, or anything else, if we stand here chattering with a Canuck.
Look at Blink! He's after something on the edge of the woods. A red
squirrel, I think!"

He set off in the wake of the terrier, and his companions followed,
disregarding further protests in Toiney's ragged English.

Once more they were immersed in the woods beyond the clearing. The
terrier was barking furiously up a pine tree, on whose lowest branch sat
the squirrel getting off an angry patter of "Quek-Quik!
Quek-quek-quek-quik!" punctuated with shrill little cries.

"Hear him chittering an' chattering! There's some fire to that
conversation. See! the squirrel looks all red mouth," laughed Nixon.

The mouth of the little tree-climbing fury yawned, indeed, like a tiny
coral cave decorated with minute ivories as he sat bolt upright on the
dry branch, scolding the dog.

"Oh! come on, Blink, you can't get at him. You can chase a woodchuck or
something else that isn't quite so quick, and kill it!" cried his
master.

The "something else" was presently started in the form of a little
chipmunk, ground brother to the squirrel, which had been holding
solitary revel with a sunbeam on a rock.

With a frightened flick of its gold-brown tail it sought shelter in a
cleft of a low, natural wall where some large stones were piled one upon
another.

Instantly it discovered that this shallow refuge offered no sure shelter
from the dog following hot upon its trail. Forth it popped again, with
a plaintive, chirping "Chip! Chip! Chir-r-r!" of extreme terror and
fled, like a tuft of fur wafted by the breeze, to its real fortress, the
deep, narrow hole which it had tunneled in under a rock, and which it
was so shy of revealing to strangers that it would never have sought
shelter there save in dire extremity.

It was such a very small hole as regards the round entrance through
which the chipmunk had squeezed, which did not measure three inches in
circumference--and such a touchingly neat little hole, for there was no
trace of the earth which the little creature had scattered in burrowing
it--that it might well have moved any heart to pity.

The terrier finding himself baffled, sat down before it, and pointed his
ears at his master, inquiring about the prospects of a successful siege.

"He was too quick for you that time, Blinkie. But you'll get another
chance at him, pup," guaranteed Leon, while his companions were
endeavoring to solve the riddle--one of the minor charming mysteries of
the woods--namely, what the ground-squirrel does with the earth which he
scatters in tunneling his grass-fringed hole.

No such marvel appealed to Leon Chase! With lightning rapidity he was
wrenching a thin, rodlike stick from a near-by white birch, and tearing
the leaves off. Before one of the other boys could stop him, he had
inserted this as a long probe in the hole, working the cruel goad
ruthlessly from side to side, scattering earth enough now and torn grass
on either side of the spic-and-span entrance.

"Ha! you haven't seen the last of him, Blink!" he cried. "I'll soon
'podge' him out of that! This hole runs in under a rock; so there can't
be a sharp turn in it, as is the case with the chip-squirrel's hole
generally! I guess I can reach him with the stick; then he'll be so
frightened that he'll pop out right in your face," forming a quick
deduction that did credit to his powers of observation and made it seem
a bruising pity as well for persecutor as persecuted that such boyish
ingenuity should be turned to miserable ends.

Leon's eyes were beady with malicious triumph. His breath came in short
excited puffs. So did the terrier's. It boded ill for the tormented
chipmunk cowering at the farthest end of the desecrated hole.

"Hullo! that's two against one and it isn't fair play. _Quit it!_"
suddenly burst forth a ringing boyish voice. "The chip' was faster than
the dog--he ought to have an even chance for his life, anyhow!"

Leon, crouching by the hole, looked up in petrified amazement. It was
Nixon Warren, the stranger to these woods, who spoke. The tormentor
broke into an insulting laugh.

"Eh--what's the matter with _you_, Chicken-heart?" he sneered. "None o'
your business whether it's fair or not!"

A flash leaped from the gray eyes under Nixon's broad hat that defied
the sneer applied to him. His chest heaved under the Khaki shirt with
whose metal buttons a sunbeam played winsomely, while with defiant
vehemence Leon worked his probing stick deeper, deeper into the hole
where the mite of a chipmunk shrank before the cruel goad that would
ultimately force it forth to meet the whirlwind of the dog's attack.

Colin and Coombsie held their breath, feeling as if they could see the
trembling "chipping" fugitive pressed against the farthest wall of its
enlarged retreat.

Another minute, and out it must pop to death.

But upon the dragging, prodding seconds of that minute broke again the
voice of the chipmunk's champion--hot and ringing.

"_Quit that!_" it exploded. "Stop wiggling the stick in the hole--or
I'll make you!"

"You'll make me, eh? Oh! run along home to Mamma--that's where your
place is!" But right upon the heels of the sneer a sharp question rushed
from Leon's lips: "Who are you--anyhow--to tell me to stop?"

And the tall trees bowed their noble heads, the grasses ceased their
whispering, even the seventeen-year locust, shrilling in the distance,
seemed to suspend its piping note to listen to the answer that rushed
bravely forth:--

"I'm a Boy Scout! A Boy Scout of America! I've promised to do a good
turn to somebody--or something--every day. I'm going to do it to that
chipmunk! Stop working that stick in the hole!"

"Gee whiz! I thought there was something queer about you from the
first."

The mouth of Starrie Chase yawned until it rivaled the enlarged hole.
Sitting on his heels, his cruel probing momentarily suspended, he gazed
up, as at a newfangled sort of animal, at this daring Boy Scout of
America--this Scout of the U.S.A.



CHAPTER III

RACCOON JUNIOR


"Scout or no scout, you are not going to boss me!"

Thus Starrie Chase broke the breathless silence that reigned for half a
minute in the woods, following upon Nixon's declaration that he was a
boy scout, bound by the scout law to protect the weak among human beings
and animals.

For the space of that half-minute the tormenting stick had ceased to
probe the hole. The wretched chipmunk, cowering in the farthest corner
of its once neat retreat, had a respite.

But Leon--who was not inherently cruel so much as thoughtlessly teasing
and the victim of a destructive habit of mind, now felt that should he
yield a point to this fifteen-year-old lad from a distant city, the
leadership which he so prized, among the boys of Exmouth, would be
endangered. He was the recognized head of a certain youthful male gang,
of which Colin and Coombsie--though the latter occasionally deplored his
methods--were leading representatives.

"Go ahead, scout, prevent my doing anything I want to do--if you can!"
he flung out, his brown eyes winking upward with that snapshot quickness
as if he were photographing on their retina the figure of that new
species of animal, the scout of the U.S.A. "I've heard of your kind
before; you know a lot of things that nobody else knows--or wants to
know either!"

The last words were to the accompaniment of the goading stick which
began to move vehemently to and fro in the hole again. That neat little
hole, which had been one of the humbler miracles of the woods, now gaped
as an ugly, torn fissure beneath its roof of rock.

Before it was a defacing débris of torn grass and earth in which Blink
scratched impatiently, whining over the delay in the chip-squirrel's
exit.

"Oh! give it up, Leon; I believe I can hear him stirring in the hole!"
pleaded Colin Estey.

Simultaneously the scout flung himself on his knees before the
chipmunk's fortress, well-nigh captured, and seized the cruel goad.

"Let go of this stick or I'll lick you with it! I can; I'm as old--older
than you are!" Leon was now a red-eyed savage.

"That would be like your notion of fair play! Oh! drop the stick an'
come on with your fists! I'm not afraid of you."

The probable result of such a duel remains a problem; any slight
advantage in age was on Leon's side, but each alert movement of the boy
scout showed that he possessed eye, mind, and muscle trained to the
fullest to cope with any situation that might arise. Whoever might prove
victor, the expedition to Varney's Paintpot would have been abruptly
frustrated by a fight among the exploring party, had not Marcoo the
tactful interfered.

"Oh! what's the use of fighting about a chip'?" he cried, thrusting a
plump shoulder between the bristling combatants. "It's just this way,
Leon: Nix is right; it's a mean business, trying to force that chipmunk
out of its hole for the dog to catch it! You can withdraw the stick
right now, come with us an' share our luncheon; or you can go off on
your own hook--and you don't get a crumb out of the basket--we'll find
the Paintpot without you!"

Leon drew a long wavering breath, looking at Colin for support.

But Public Opinion as represented by the two younger boys, was by this
time entirely with the scout. For it is the genius among boys, as among
grown-ups, who voices what lies hidden and unexpressed, in the hearts of
others; we are always moved by the bold utterance of that which we have
surreptitiously felt ourselves.

Both Colin Estey and Marcoo had known what it was to feel their sense of
pity and justice outraged by Leon's persecuting methods. But it needed
the trained boldness of the boy scout to put the sentiment into words;
to be ready to fight for his knightly principles and win. For he had
won.

Leon Chase fairly writhed at the choice set before him--at the necessity
of yielding a point to the stranger! But he felt that it would be still
more obnoxious to his feelings to be deserted by his companions, left to
beat a solitary retreat homeward with his dog or wander--alone and
fasting--through the woods, a boy hermit!

"All right! Have your way! Come along," he cried crossly. "We'll never
get anywhere--that's sure--if we waste any more time on a chipmunk!"

Withdrawing the stick from the enlarged aperture, he flung it away and
scrambled to his feet, whistling to the dog.

It needed much moral suasion on the part of all four boys to lure the
terrier away from the raided hole with whose earth his slim white legs
were coated. But he presently consented to explore the woods further in
search of diversion.

And the incident ended without any torn fur flying its flag of pain on
the summer air.

The flag of feud between the two boys, Starrie Chase and Nixon, was not,
however, immediately lowered. Coombsie--a studious, thoughtful lad--had
the unhappy feeling of having brought two strange fires together which
might at any moment result in an explosion that would be especially
disastrous on this the first day of his cousin's visit to him.

But as one lad has remarked: "Two boys cannot remain mad with each other
long: there's always too much doing!"

And everybody knows that sawdust smothers smouldering fire! It did in
this instance. After about ten minutes of "grouchy" but uneventful
tramping, the forest explorers came to a logging camp, a rude shanty,
flanked by a yellow mountain of sawdust where a portable sawmill had
been set up during the preceding winter and taken down in spring.

In spite of the fact that so much lay before them to be seen in the
woods--if haply they might arrive at the various points of heart's
desire--it was not in boy-nature to refrain from scaling that unstable,
shelving sawdust peak for a better view onward into those shadowy woods.
And a lusty sham battle ensued, in the midst of which Leon found
occasion to repay the trick played on him with the pitchfork seeds by
slipping a handful of sawdust inside the scout's khaki collar.

"Whew! that's worse than the devil's pitchforks," groaned the latter,
writhing and squirming in his tan shirt.

But does not a trifling discomfort under such circumstances enhance
while curbing the enjoyment of a boy, tying him to earth, when his young
spirit like an aeroplane, winged with sheer joy of life and youthful
daring, feels as if it could spurn that earth sphere as too limited,
and, riding on the breeze of heaven, seek adventure among the clouds?

In such a mood the four boys, drinking in the odor of the pine-trees as
a fillip to delight, were presently exploring the loggers' shanty, with
its rude bunks, oilcloth-covered table, here an old magazine, there a
worn-out stocking, relics of human habitation.

"Nobody occupies this camp during the summer," said Leon. "I think
Toiney Leduc and another man worked up here last winter."

"I'm pretty sure that Toiney did! Look there!" The scout was unfolding a
piece of charred paper pinioned in a corner by a tomato can; it was a
printed fragment of a French-Canadian _voyageur_ song, at sight of which
the boys made the shanty ring with:--

  "Rond! rond! rond! peti' pie pon' ton'!"

"But I'm not so sure that nobody is using the shanty now," remarked
Nixon presently. "See that tobacco ash and the stains on the white
oilcloth!" pointing to the dingy table. "Both look fresh; the ash
couldn't possibly have remained here since last winter; 'twould have
been blown away long ago by the wind sweeping through the open shanty.
There's some more of it on the mattress in this bunk," drawing himself
up to look over the side of the rude crib built into the wall. "I guess
somebody _does_ occupy the camp now--at night anyway!"

"Oh! so you set up to be a sort of Sherlock Holmes, do you?" jeered
Leon.

"I don't set up to be anything! But I can tell that the men ground their
axes right here." The scout was now kicking over a small wooden trough
that had reposed, bottom uppermost, amid the long grass before the
shanty.

"How can you make that out?" It was Colin who spoke.

"Because, look! there's rust on the inside of the trough, showing that
there are steely particles mixed with the dust of the interior and that
water has dripped into it from the revolving grindstone."

"Pshaw! anybody could find that out who set to work to think about it,"
came in a chorus from his three companions.

But that "thinking" was just the point: the others would have passed by
that topsy-turvy wooden vessel, which might have been used for sundry
purposes, with its dusty interior exactly the hue of the yellow sawdust,
without stopping to reason out the story of the patient axe-grinding
which had gone on there during winter's bitter days.

"But, I say, what good does it do you to find out things like that?"
questioned Starrie Chase, kicking over the trough, his shrewd young face
a star of speculation. "If one should go about poking his nose into
everything that had happened, why! he'd find stories in most things, I
guess! The woods would be full of them."

"So they are!" replied the scout quickly. "That's just what we're
taught: that every bird and animal, as well as everything which is done
by men, leaves its 'sign!' We must try to read that 'sign' and store up
in our minds what we learn, as a squirrel stores his nuts for winter, so
that often we may find out things of importance to ourselves or others.
And I'll tell you it makes life a jolly lot more interesting than when
one goes about 'lak wit' eye shut'! as Toiney says. I've never had such
good times as since I've been a scout:--

  Then hurrah for the woods, hurrah for the fields,
    Hurrah for the life that's free,
  With a heart and mind both clean and kind,
    The Scout's is the life for me!

    And we'll shout, shout, shout,
    For the Scout, Scout, Scout,
      For the Scouts of the U.S.A.!"

The speaker exploded suddenly in a burst of song, throwing his broad hat
into the air with a yell on the refrain that woke the echoes of the log
shanty, while the breezy orchestra in the tree-tops, like noisy reed
instruments, came in on the last line:--

  "For the Scouts of the U.S.A.!"

Colin and Coombsie were enthusiastically shouting it too.

"Say! Col, that fellow suits me all right," whispered Marcoo, nudging
his chum and pointing toward the excited scout.

"Me, too!" returned Colin.

"Pshaw! he thinks he's It, but I think the opposite," murmured Leon
truculently.

"To what troop or patrol do you belong, Nix?" questioned his cousin.

"Peewit Patrol, troop six, of Philadelphia! I was a tenderfoot for six
months; now I'm a second-degree scout--with hope of becoming a
first-class one soon. Want to see my badge?" pointing to his coat. "Each
patrol is named after a bird or animal. We use the peewit's whistle for
signaling to each other: Tewitt! Tewitt!"

Again the woods rang with a fairly good imitation of the peewit's--or
European lapwing's--whistling note.

"Oh! I'd put a patent on that whistle if I were you," snapped Leon
sarcastically: "I'm sure nothing like it was ever heard in these--or any
other--woods! We'd better be moving on or the mosquitoes will eat us
up," he added hastily. "There hasn't been any frost to get rid of them
yet."

But as the quartette of boys left the log-camp behind and, with the
terrier in erratic attendance, plunged again into the thick woods, it
by and by became apparent to each that, so far as a knowledge of their
exact whereabouts went or an ability to locate any point of destination,
they were approaching the truth of Toiney's words and wandering "lak
wit' eye shut!"

For a time they kept to a logging-road that branched off from the
shanty, a mere grass-grown, root-obstructed pathway, over which, when
that great white leveler, Winter, evened things up with his mantle of
snow, the felled trees were drawn on a rough sled to some point where
stood the movable sawmill.

The dense woods were intersected at long intervals by such
half-obliterated paths; in their remote recesses lurked other rough
shanties where a scout might read the "sign" that told of the hard life
of the lumbermen.

But neither vine-laced road nor shanty was easy of discovery for the
uninitiated.

"Whew! it kind o' brings the gooseflesh to be so far in the woods as
this without having the least idea whether we're getting anywhere or
not." Thus spoke Coombsie at the end of half an hour's steady tramping
and plowing through the underbrush. "Are you sure that you know in which
direction lies the cave called the Bear's Den, Leon? A logging-road
runs past that, so I've heard."

"Oh, we'll arrive there in time, I guess; Varney's Paintpot is somewhere
in the same direction as the cave," replied the pseudo-leader evasively.
"They're some distance apart, but we've made a bee-line from one to the
other when I've been in the woods with my father or brother Jim."

But these woods were a different proposition now, without an older head
and more experienced woodlore to rely upon: Leon, who had never before
posed as a guide through their mazes, secretly acknowledged this.

He had not imagined that it would be so difficult to find one's way,
unaided, in this wilderness of endless trees and underbrush, through
whose changing aspects ran the same mystifying thread as if the
gold-brown gloom of a shadowy hill-slope,--where only the sunbeams
waltzing on dry pine-needles seemed alive,--or the jeweled twilight of a
grassy alley bound a gossamer handkerchief about one's eyes, so that one
groped blindfold against a blank wall of uncertainty.

"Say! but I wish I had brought my pocket compass with me," groaned the
scout. "Guess I didn't live up to our scout motto: BE PREPARED! But
then--" he looked at his cousin--"we started out with the intention of
going down the river and you objected to my trotting back for it,
Marcoo, when we determined on a hike through the woods."

"I was afraid that if the men knew what we were planning, they'd have
headed us off as Toiney tried to do," confessed Marcoo candidly.

"Well, I wish now that I had gone back; I could have packed the luncheon
into my knapsack; it would have been much more easily carried than in
this basket. I miss my staff too!" Nixon deposited the lunch-basket,
with which he was now impeded, on the ground in a green woodland glade
where the noble forest trees, red oak, cedar, maple, interspersed with
an occasional pine, hemlock, or balsam fir, rose to a height of from
sixty to a hundred feet, bordering a patch of open ground, starred with
wildflowers, dotted with berries.

Delicate queen's lace, purple gentians, starry wood-asters, waxen Indian
pipes, made it seem as if this must be the wood-fairies' dancing-ground,
where at night they rode a moonbeam from flower to flower, and sipped
juice from the milk-berries, bunch-berries or scarlet fox-berries that
strayed at intervals along the ground.

"I'd like to stay _here_ forever." Colin stretched himself upon a bank
of moss, his mind going back to the explorer's longing, to the
wood-hunger which had consumed him, as he lay upon the fragrant
marsh-grass some hours before. He was getting his wish now--and not
everybody gets that without having to pay for it. "The trees look kind
o' fatherly an' protecting; don't they?" he murmured lazily.

Yes, here one felt admitted to the companionship of those noble
trees,--the greatest story-tellers that ever were, when one listens and
interprets their conversations with the breeze. A "Hurrah for the
woods!" was on every tongue as the boys chewed a berry or smoked a
pearly orchid pipe.

Moods changed a little as they took up their wandering again and
presently waded, single file, through a jungle of bushes, scrub oak,
dwarf pine, pigmy cedar and birch, laced with brambles. Here the trees
overhead were of less magnitude and the tall leafy undergrowth foamed
about their ears, giving them somewhat the distracted feeling of being
cast away on a trackless sea--each sequestered in his own little
boat--with emerald billows shutting out all view of port.

"Three cheers! We're almost through with this jungle. I guess we're
coming to more open ground again--none too soon, either!" cried Leon who
led, with his dog. "Shouldn't wonder if we were approaching a swamp: it
may be Big Swamp, as the men call that great alder-swamp that's all
spongy in parts and dotted with deep bog-holes, where one might sink out
of sight quick!

"For goodness' sake! look at the crows," he whooped three minutes later,
as, leaving the wavy undergrowth behind, he plunged out on a mossy slope
strewn with an occasional boulder. "_The crows!_ What do you suppose
they're after? They're teasing something! 'Hollering' at something!"

The same amazed exclamation broke from his companions' lips. Halfway
down the slope was an old and leafy chestnut tree. Around this the crows
were circling, now alighting on the branches, now fluttering off again
on sloping sable wing, their yellow beaks gleaming.

A cawing din filled the air, with an occasional loud "Quock!" of alarm
or indignation.

"They're teasing something--perhaps it's a squirrel! I've seen them do
that before; they're regular pests!" exclaimed Leon, inconsistently
finding fault with the crows for being birds of the same feather with
himself.

"Whew! there's something doing here. Let's see what it is!" Nixon was
equally excited.

With the terrier scampering ahead, the four boys set off at a run toward
the crow-infested tree.

"I believe there's something--some animal--hidden in the hollow between
the branches!" Leon gave vent to a low shout, his brown eyes yellow with
excitement. "It's round that the crows are hovering!"

"There is! There is! I see the end of a big, bushy tail. It isn't a
squirrel's tail either!" returned the scout in a fever of mystification.
"Let's go softly, so that we won't frighten the thing whatever it
is--then we can have a good look at it!"

"Suppose it should be a wildcat, then we'd 'scat'!" gasped Colin,
feeling his wildest hopes and tremors fulfilled. "I see its nose--a
black nose--over the edge of the hollow! It's like--Gee! it can't be
another coon from the swamp--like the dead one that Toiney found in the
hencoop?"

Simultaneously the terrier, Blink, was launching himself like a white
arrow toward the spreading nut-tree, which stood upon a grassy knoll,
while the woods rang with his fusillade of barking.

And from the hollow in the tree came a shrill whimpering cry, remarkably
like that of a small and frightened child.

Starrie Chase fairly gambolled with excitement: "That's where you're
right, Col," he panted. "If it isn't a coon--another young coon--I'm a
Dutchman! I hunted one in the woods, by night, with my brother, last
year!"

"He keeps on singing," breathed Coombsie. "Isn't his cry like a
two-year-old child's?"

"Oh! if we only had my brother's coon dog here--and could get him down
from the tree--the dog might finish him!" Leon seemed emitting sparks of
excitement from his pointed elbows and other quivering joints. "Go for
him, Blink!" he raved, hardly knowing what he said. "You're not afraid
of anything--you feel like a mastiff! Oh! we _must_ get him out of that
tree-hollow on to the ground."

"Caw! Caw!... Caw!... Quock! Quock!" At the approach of the boys and dog
the crows set up a wilder din, describing broader circles round the tree
or fluttering upward to its loftier branches.

Again came that petulant whimpering cry from the hollow of the
chestnut, where a young raccoon (probably brother to the intruder which
had made a short bee-line through the woods, guided by instinct and its
nose, to Toiney's hencoop) now wailed and quailed, finding himself
between two sets of enemies: the barking dog and excited boys below, the
pestering crows above.

Abandoning the wise nocturnal habits of his forefathers, with the
rashness of youth, he too had strayed at sunrise from that secluded hole
among the ledges on the borders of Big Swamp, filled with dreams of
juicy cornfields and other delicacies.

Not readily finding such a land of milk and honey, he climbed into the
hollow of this chestnut tree, flanked by a young ash upon the knoll, and
there composed himself to sleep.

But thither the crows, flocking, found him; and recognizing in him an
hereditary enemy of their eggs and nestlings, set to work to make his
life a burden.

Nevertheless Raccoon Junior preferred their society to that of the boys
and dog which instinct warned him to dread above all other foes.

As the well-bred terrier--game enough to face any foe, though it might
prove a sorry day for him if he should tackle that young
raccoon--reared on his hind legs, and clawed the bark of the trunk in
his excitement, the rash Junior climbed swiftly out of the hollow and
fled up among the branches of the tall chestnut tree, seeking to hide
himself among the long thick leaves amid a stormy "Quock!" and "Caw!
Caw! Caw!" from the crows.

"Oh! there--there he goes! See his stout body and funny little legs!"

"And his long gray hair and the black patch over his eyes--makes him
look as if he wore spectacles!"

"And his bushy tail! Huh! there's some class to that tail--all ringed
with buff and black."

Such cries broke from three wildly excited throats. Leon spent no breath
in admiration. Like lightning, he had snatched up a stone and sent it
flying up the tree after the fugitive with such good aim that it struck
one of the short, climbing legs.

Another whimpering cry--sharp and shrill as that of a wounded
child--rang down among the thick leaves.

"What did you do that for? You've broken one of his legs, I think!"
exclaimed the scout.

"So much the better! If he should light down from the tree, he can't run
so fast! I want that dandy tail of his--and his skin!" Starrie Chase
was now beside himself with the greedy feeling, that possessed him
whenever he saw a wild animal, that its own skin did not belong to it,
but to him.

"Say, fellows!" he cried wildly, "if you'll stay right here by the tree
and prevent his coming down, I--I'll run all the way back to that
farm-clearing--I guess I can find my way--and bring back Toiney's gun,
and shoot him. Say--will you?"

No such promise was forthcoming.

"Well, I know what I'll do!" Leon tore off his jacket. "I'll tie the
sleeves of my coat round the trunk of the tree; that will prevent his
coming down, so I've heard my father say. Bother! they won't meet. I'll
have to use your coat too, Nix!"

He snatched up the scout's Norfolk jacket, thrown down beside the basket
at the foot of the tree, and was knotting it to his own, when there was
a wild shriek from Colin:--

"Look! Look! He's jumped over into the other tree. Oh! he's come down;
he's on the ground now--there beyond the ash tree--rolling over like a
ball! Oh, he's going--going like a slate sliding downhill!"

While Leon had been so cleverly knotting the coats round the
tree-trunk, and his terrier barking up it, the young coon had outwitted
them and dropped like an acrobat to the ground, having gained the odds
of a dozen yards in his race for safety.

Off went the terrier after him, now! Off went the four boys, hot on the
trail too, madly rushing down the hill clear to the edge of the
alder-swamp toward which it sloped--yes! and into its quagmire borders
too, while the crows, raving like a foghorn, supplied music for the
chase.

But the speed of the limping wild animal enabled it, having gained its
short legs--despite the injury of the stone--to reach the shelter of a
quivering clump of alders where Blink worried in and out in vain, nose
to the ground--sniffing and baffled.

"Oh, we've lost sight of him now! He's given us the slip," cried Colin,
recklessly dashing for the alders.

Suddenly the air cracked with his cry that raved with terror like the
crows: "Help! _Help!_ I'm into it now--into it plunk--into Big Swamp!
I'm sinking--s-sinking above my waist! Help! Help!"



CHAPTER IV

VARNEY'S PAINTPOT


"I'm 'plunk' into it! I'm sinking in the swamp mud! I can't--can't get
out! Oh--h-help--help!"

Colin's wild cries as he found himself sinking in the oozing,
olive-green mud of the vast alder-swamp, struck his comrades with a
momentary blind horror.

The half-immersed boy was indeed "plunk" into it; he was submerged to
his waist and slowly sinking inch by inch farther, now fairly gibbering
in his frantic terror of being swallowed bodily by one of the many
sucking throats of Big Swamp.

He writhed and struggled madly, snatching at the rank grass whose slimy
roots came away in his hand--at the bushes--even at the brilliant poison
sumac, already ruddy as a swamp lamp--with the clutch of a drowning man;
Leon's remembered words stinging his ears like noisome insects: "There
are _live_ spots in that swamp where one might go out of
sight--_quick_!"

The hideous slimy life of the spongy bog, half water, half mud!

Leon's sharp-featured face at that moment seemed to be carved out of
pale wood as his snapping eyes took in the swamp, with its groves of
whispering alders, its margin of scattered birch-trees and swamp cedars,
the lamplike sumac burning maliciously--the sinking boyish figure amid
the moist green dreariness!

Now, Starrie Chase was by Nature's gift more quick-witted than his
companions, even than the trained boy scout.

"If we try to wade in toward him, we'll sink ourselves!" he cried. "I'll
try to haul him out with that birch-tree."

A leaping, plunging run, sinking to his ankles, and with the long bound
of a gray squirrel he alighted upon the supple trunk of a tall
white-birch sapling that grew within the borders of the swamp!

No squirrel ever climbed more rapidly than did he to its middle
branches.

And the yellow flame in his eyes, now, was not a spark from
persecution's fire.

[Illustration: "HELP! _HELP!_"]

"Hold on, Col! Keep up! The tree'll pull you out. I'll bend it down to
you. When it comes within reach of your arms catch hold of the trunk!
Hang on for your life! I'll shin down, and 'twill hoist you up--you're
lighter than I am!"

He was bending the tall, supple trunk, with its leafy crown,
down--down--as he spoke. It creaked beneath his fifteen-year-old weight.
The strained roots groaned in the swampy soil.

"Gee! if the roots should give way _I'll_ land in the soup too," was his
piercing thought; and a shudder ran down his spine as he saw the pools
of olive-green bog-soup beneath him--bottomless pools--in which floated
slimy, stagnant things, leaves and dead insects.

Pools more horrible even than the patch of liquidescent mud in which
Colin was sinking!

But Starrie Chase would never have attained to the leadership that was
his among the boys of Exmouth if there had been nothing in him but the
savage--the petty, not the primitive savage--that persecuted chipmunks
and old women. Now the hero who slept in the shadow of the savage was
aroused and there was "something doing"!

Lying flat upon the pliant sapling he forced it down with his heaving
chest, with every ounce of will and weight in his strong body.

The silvery trunk bent to the sinking boy like a white angel.

With a cry he flung his arms upward and grasped it. At the same moment
Leon slid down and jumped to a comparatively firm spot of the quagmire.

The flexible young tree rebounded slowly with the weight lighter than
his pendant from it--like a stone attached to the boom of a derrick.

In a few seconds it was almost upright, with Colin Estey, mud-plastered
to his arm-pits, hanging on like an olive-green bough, his dilated eyes
starting from his head, his face blanched to the gray-white of the
friendly trunk.

"Slide down now, Col, an' jump--I'll stand by to give you a hand!" cried
Leon, the daring rescuer.

And in another minute the victim was safe on _terra firma_--out of the
slimy throat of Big Swamp.

"Oh! I thought I was going--to sink down--out of sight!" he gasped
between lips that did not seem to move, so tightly was the skin of his
face stretched by terror. "That I'd be swallowed by the mud! I would
have been--but for Leon!"

"You surely were quick! Quick as a flash!" The two boys who had been
spectators gazed open-mouthed at Starrie Chase as if they saw the hero
who for three brief minutes had flashed out into the open.

"Whew! I got such a fright that I'll never forget it; I declare I feel
weak still," mumbled Coombsie.

"Pooh! your fright--was nothing to mine," Colin's stiff lips began to
tremble now with recovering life. "And I'm plastered with mud to my
shoulder-blades--wet too! But I don't care, as I'm out of it!" He
glanced nervously toward Big Swamp, and at the clump of restless alders
which probably still sheltered Raccoon Junior.

"The sun is quite hot here; let's move back up the hill and sit down!"
Nixon pointed to the grassy slope behind them where the crows still
flapped their wings around the chestnut-tree with an occasional relieved
"Caw!" "We'll roll you over there, Col, and hang you out to dry!"

"Well! suppose we eat our lunch during the process, eh?" suggested
Marcoo. "Goodness! wouldn't it be 'one on us' if a fox had sneaked out
of the woods and run off with the lunch-basket? We left it under the
chestnut-tree."

They made their way back to that nut-tree, whose hoary trunk was still
swathed with Leon's coat and the scout's Norfolk jacket, knotted round
it to prevent the young coon which had signally outwitted them from
"lighting down."

"Whew! I feel as if 'twas low tide inside me. A scare always makes me
hungry," remarked Leon, not at all like a hero, but a very prosaic boy.
"I think eating in the woods is the best part of the business!"

"I say! You'd make a jolly good scout; do you know it?" put forth Nixon.

But the other only hunched his shoulders with the grin of a
contortionist as he bit into a ham sandwich, richly flavored with peanut
butter and quince jelly from the shaking which the basket had undergone
on its passage through the woods.

The troop of hungry crows which had pecked unavailingly at the wicker
cover, had retired to some distance and watched the picnic in croaking
envy.

Colin lay out in the sun, being rolled over at intervals by the scout,
to dislodge the caking mud from his clothes, and to knead up his "soggy"
spirits.

"Well! if we had carried out our first intention this morning, Nix, if
we had gone down the river to the Sugarloaf Sand-Dunes near its mouth,
we might _all_ have stuck high and dry, in the river mud, if the tide
forsook us," said Coombsie by and by, as he dispensed a limited amount
of cold coffee from a pint bottle. "That's a pleasure in store, whenever
we can get Captain Andy to take us in his motor-boat. Say! he's great;
he was skipper of a Gloucester fishing schooner until a year ago, when
he lost his vessel in a fog; the main-boom fell on him and broke his
leg; he's lame still. He stays in Exmouth with his daughter most o' the
time now. He was one o' the Gloucester crackerjacks: he saved so many
lives at sea that he used to be called the Ocean Patrol!"

"Why, he must be a regular sea-scout," Nixon's eye watered; he had the
bump of hero-worship strongly developed.

"Captain Andy's laying for you, Leon," remarked Coombsie, passing round
some jelly-roll.

"Oh, I guess I know why!" came the nonchalant answer. "It's for tying a
wooden shingle to a long branch of the apple-tree near old Ma'am
Baldwin's house, so that it would keep tapping on her door through the
night. If the wind is in the right direction it works finely--keeps her
guessing all the time! I've lain low among the marsh-grass and seen her
come to the door, in the dark, a dozen times, gruntin' like a grizzly!
I hate solitary cranks!"

"Captain Andy says that she was never peculiar as she is now, until her
youngest son ran wild and was sent to a reformatory," suggested Marcoo
gravely.

"I'd cut out that trick, if I were you!" growled the scout.

"Oh! I don't know; there are times when a fellow must paint the town
red--or something--or 'he'd bust'! That reminds me, we were going to
daub ourselves with red from Varney's Paintpot. If we're to find it
to-day, we'd better be moving on pretty soon. It must be after two
o'clock now."

"I haven't got my watch on, but it's quite that, or later," the scout
glanced upward at the brilliant afternoon sun.

"Hadn't we better give up all idea of visiting the Paintpot or the
Bear's Den," Marcoo suggested rather nervously, "and begin tramping
homeward--if we can discover in which direction home lies? I think we
ought to try and find some outlet from the woods."

"So do I. Col will have a peck of swamp mud to carry round with him. His
clothes are heavy and damp. If I only had my compass we could steer a
fairly straight course, for these woods lie to the southeast of the
town; don't they? Anybody got a watch on? I left mine at home." Nixon
looked eagerly at his companions.

"Our boy-scout handbook tells us how to use the watch as a compass by
pointing the hour-hand to the sun and reckoning back halfway to noon, at
which point the south would be."

"My 'timer' is out of commission," regretted Marcoo.

Neither of the other two boys possessed a watch.

"In that case we might trust to the dog to lead us out of the woods.
We'd better just tell Blink to go home, and follow him; he'll find his
way out some time; won't you, pup?" Nix stooped to fondle the tan ears
of the terrier which had taken to him from the first, having never
harbored the ghost of a suspicion of his being a "flowerpot fellow."

The little dog stretched his jaws in a tired yawn. The pink pads of his
paws were sore from much running, following up rabbit trails, and the
rest. But the purple lights in his faithful brown eyes said plainly:
"Leave it to me, fellows! Instinct can put it all over reason, just
now!"

But Blink's master started an opposition movement. He had been invited
to guide the expedition; he was averse to resigning such leadership to
his terrier; in that case his supposed knowledge of the woods, of which
he had boasted aforetime to the Exmouth boys, would henceforth be
regarded as a "windy joke."

"Follow Blink!" Thus he flouted the idea. "If we do, we won't get out of
these woods before midnight! He'll dodge round after every live thing he
sees, from a weasel to a grasshopper--like a regular will-o'-the-wisp.
The sensible thing to do is to search for a logging-road--we're sure to
come to one in time--and follow that on. Or a stream--a stream would
lead out on to the salt-marshes, to join the river."

"There don't appear to be any streams in these woods; they seem as dry
as an attic!" Nixon, the scout, knew that the proposal now adopted by
the majority was all wrong, contrary to the advice derived through his
book from the great Chief Scout, Grand Master of Woodlore, but he hated
to raise another fuss or make a split in the camp.

So the quartette of boys filed slowly up the slope and back into the
woods, Coombsie carrying the almost empty basket, containing sparse
remnants of the feast: "We may be hungry before we arrive home!" he
remarked, with involuntary foreboding in his tone.

That foreboding increased as they pressed on. Each one now became
depressingly sure that he was wandering in the woods "lak wit' eye
shut"; without any knowledge of his bearings, or of how to retrace his
steps to the log shanty flanked by the mountain of sawdust, whence he
might be able to find his way back to the farm-clearing where he had
encountered the musical woodchopper, frightened boy and dead raccoon.

The boy scout was silently reproaching himself for having fallen short
of the prudent standard inculcated by his scout training. Carried away
by the novelty of these strange woods and his equally strange
companions, he had lowered the foresail of prudence--just tramped along
blindly with the others--taking no note of landmarks, nor leaving any
trace behind him that would serve to guide him back along the course by
which he had come.

But, then, he had trusted to Leon's leadership; and the latter's boasted
knowledge of the woods proved, as Coombsie had suspected, to consist of
bluff as a chief ingredient!

"I wish I had kept my eyes open and noticed things as I came along, or
that I had thought of notching the trees at intervals with my
penknife--blazing a trail--which we could have followed back," lamented
the scout. "I guess we're only wandering round in a circle now; we're
not hitting a logging-road or trail of any kind. Tck! puppie,"--emitting
an inarticulate summons between his tongue and palate,--"let's see
what's the matter with those forepaws of yours! Blood, is it? Have you
scratched them?"

He stooped to examine Blink's slim white forelegs.

"_Gee whiz!_ it isn't blood--it's clay--red clay: we must be on the
trail of Varney's Paintpot, fellows!"

So they were! They presently found it, that red-ochre bed, lying in
obscurity among the bushes, scrub oak, dwarf pine and cedar, together
with tall ferns, that stood guard over it jealously, in a particularly
dense portion of the woods.

Once the clay had been vivid and valuable, with wonderful painting
properties. Many an Indian had stained his arrow blood-red with it. Many
a white man, an early settler, had painted the rude furniture of his
home from that forest paintpot--then a moist tank of Nature's pigment.

Later on it had been used too, as civilization progressed, and was
claimed by the man whose name it bore.

Now, it was for the most part caked and dried up, its coloring power
weakened; yet there were still moist and vivid spots such as that in
which Blink, with the dog's unerring instinct for scenting out the
unusual, had smeared himself.

And those spots the boys promptly turned into a rouge-pot. They painted
their own faces and each other's, until more savage-looking red men
these woods had never seen.

They forbore from delaying to smear their bodies, as Nixon had
suggested, for one word was now booming in each tired brain like a
foghorn through a mist: "Lost! Lost! _Lost!_" And they could not quite
escape from it in this new diversion.

Still they tried to dye hope a fresh rose-color at this forest paintpot
too: to silence with whooping yells and fantastic capers, and in
flitting war-dances in and out among the trees, the grim raving of that
word in their ears.

They painted Blink likewise in zebra-like stripes across his back,
whereupon he promptly rolled on the ground, blurring his markings,
until he was a mottled and grotesque red-and-white object.

"He looks like a clown's dog," said Coombsie. "If any one should meet us
in the woods, they'd think we were a troop of painted guys escaped from
a circus! We'll create a sensation in the town when we get home--if we
ever do?" _sotto voce_. "Hadn't we better stop 'training on' now, and
try to get somewhere?"

So, controlling the training-on, capering savage now rampant in each one
corresponding to his painted face, they toiled on again, while the
afternoon shadows lengthened in the woods--until they stood transfixed,
their war-whoops silenced, before another surprise of the woods on which
they had tumbled, unprepared.

It was a lengthy gray cairn of stones with a rude wooden marker at the
top bearing the date 1790, and at the foot a modern granite slab
inscribed with the words: "Bishop's Grave," and the date of the stone's
erection.

"_Bishop's Grave!_" Coombsie ejaculated, while the empty basket drooped
heavily from his hand as if "the grasshopper had suddenly become a
burden." "I've heard of the grave, but I've never seen it before. Bishop
was lost in these woods about a hundred and twenty-one years ago; he
couldn't find his way out and wandered round till he died. His body was
discovered months afterwards and they buried it here."

Awe fell upon the four boys. Their faces were drawn under the smearing
of paint. Their eyes gleamed strangely, like sunken islands, from out
their ruddy setting. The mottled terrier, with that sympathetic
perception which dogs have of their masters' moods, pointed one ear
sharply and drooped the other, like a flag at half-mast, while he stared
at the rude cairn.

The scout impulsively lifted his broad-brimmed hat as he was in the
habit of doing if, when marching with his troop, he encountered a
funeral.

In the mind of each lad tolled like a slow bell the menacing echo of
Toiney's words: "You walkee--walkee--en you haf so tire' en so lonesam
you _go deaded_!"



CHAPTER V

"YOU MUST LOOK OUT!"


The four boys did not linger long before that lonely grave; the fears it
evoked were too unpleasant. They pushed on again through the woods, each
one clearing his throat of a husky tickling that was third cousin to a
weary sob.

The scout was inwardly combating the depressing memory of Toiney Leduc's
warning with the advice of the Chief Scout that if he should ever find
himself lost in the woods, Fear, not hunger or cold, would prove his
worst enemy.

"I mustn't lose my grip! I must keep my head--not be fogged by fear! I'm
a boy scout of America," he reminded himself.

Still the shadow of that gray cairn stalked him as well as the others.
Even Leon was subdued by it. His manner had lost the last trace of its
shallow cocksureness. The mantle of bluff had melted from him, leaving
him a distracted, temper-tried boy like his three companions.

"I know that the cave called the Bear's Den is not quite a mile from
Bishop's grave, but I haven't the least idea of how to go about
reaching it," he admitted. "A logging-road passes the cave; that might
lead us somewhere. I wish we could strike a stream."

"So do I! My mouth is dry as dust; I'm parched with thirst." Nixon, as
he spoke, stooped, picked up a round pebble, inserted it between his dry
palate and tongue and began sucking on it, as on a gum-drop.

"What on earth are you doing that for?" questioned Leon sharply; the
nerves in his tired body were now jangling like an instrument out of
tune; together with his three companions he was cross as a thorn--ready
to quarrel with his own shadow.

"'What am I doing it for?' Why! to start the saliva," quavered the
scout, sucking hard; "to prevent me from feeling the thirst so much."

"_Blamed_ rubbish!" Starrie Chase snorted. "As if sucking a stone like a
baby would do you any good!"

"Everything is 'rubbish,' except what you know yourself; and _that's_
next to nothing!" Nixon was now equally cross. "You don't know half as
much about the woods as your dog does. If it hadn't been for you, we'd
have been out of this place long ago!"

"Oh! you think you're It, because you're a boy scout, but I think the
opposite!"

"Shut up! Don't give me any of your 'jaw'!"

But there was a sudden, queer contortion of the scout's face on the last
word.

Abruptly he stalked on, humming to himself--a curious-looking being,
with his painted face and dazed eyes under the broad-brimmed hat.

"What's that you're singing, Nix?" Coombsie was catching at a straw to
divert thought from Bishop's grave.

"Oh! go on, let's hear it. Sounds lively!" urged Leon, whose temper had
sunk beneath the realization of their plight, a quenched flash.

The scout sidetracked his pebble between right cheek and gums and began
to sing with what cheerfulness he could muster, as much for his own
encouragement as that of his companions, a patrol song, the gift of a
poet to the boy scouts of the world:--

  "Look out when your temper goes
    At the end of a losing game;
  And your boots are too tight for your toes,
    And you answer and argue and blame!
  It's the hardest part of the law,
    But it's got to be learned by the scout,
  For whining and shirking and 'jaw,'
    All patrols look out!
  These are our regulations,
    There's just one law for the scout,
  And the first and the last, and the present and the past,
    And the future and the perfect is look out!"

Before Nixon had finished the chorus his three companions were shouting
it with him as a spur to their jaded spirits.

"Ours is a losing game in earnest--all because we didn't look out and
take proper precautions so that we might have some chance of returning
by the way that we came," remarked the soloist with a grim laugh. "Now,
we 'jolly well must look out!' as the song says. I'm going to climb the
next tree that's good an' tall, and see whether I can discover any
faraway smoke that would show us where a house might be,--or a gap in
the woods,--or anything."

"Good idea! I'll climb too," seconded Leon. "You choose one tree; I'll
take another, and see what we can make out!"

But they were toiling through a comparatively insignificant part of the
fine woods now, where the foamy undergrowth billowed about their ears.
Here the birch-trees, hickories, and maples, with an occasional pine and
hemlock, only averaged from thirty-five to forty feet in stature. Not
for another half-mile or so did Nixon sight a tall stately trunk
towering above its forest brethren, its many-pointed leaves proclaiming
it to be a fine red oak.

"Whoo'! Whoo'! It's me for that oak-tree!" he cried. "I'll shin up that,
right to the top and scour the horizon. 'Twill be easily climbed too!"

"See that freak pine with the divided trunk a little farther on? I'm
going to climb that," announced Leon Chase. "It's a fine tree, if it is
a freak--like the Siamese Twins."

In another minute with the agility of a cat he had climbed to the crotch
of the freak tree where its twin trunks divided.

"Look out! those lower branches are brown an' rotten, Starrie. I
wouldn't trust to them if I were you!" shouted Colin, indicating the
drooping pine-boughs about ten feet from the ground; he kicked a similar
large drab branch, as he spoke, which had fallen and lay decaying at the
foot of the freak tree.

"Right you are! I won't." Leon was a wonderful climber; twining his arms
and legs round one olive-green trunk of the divided pine he managed to
reach the firm boughs above through whose needles the late afternoon
breeze crooned a sonorous warning.

The scout, meanwhile, had clambered like a squirrel nearly to the top
of the splendid oak-tree. Presently the two boys upon the ground heard a
shrill "Tewitt! Tewitt!" the signal-whistle of his peewit patrol, fully
sixty feet above their heads, followed by Nixon's voice shouting: "Can't
see smoke anywhere, fellows--or any sign of a real break in the woods.
But there seems to be some sort of little clearing about two hundred
yards from here, I should say!" He was carefully scanning the space over
intervening tree-tops with his eye, knowing that if he could judge this
distance in the woods with approximate accuracy it would count as a
point in his favor toward realizing the height of his ambition and
graduating into a first-class scout.

Leon, a moment later, was singing out blithely from the pine-tree's top:
"I see that gap between the trees too, just a little way farther on. I
guess it's a logging-road at last--probably a shanty as well--the road
will lead somewhere anyhow. Hurrah! We'll be out o' the misery in time.
Race you down, Nix?" he challenged exuberantly at the top of his voice.

Then began a swift, racing descent, marked on Leon's part by the touch
of recklessness that often characterized his movements; he was
determined that though the boy scout might excel him in certain points
of knowledge, he should not outdo him in athletic activity.

"There! I knew I could 'trim' you anywhere--in a tree or on the ground,"
he cried all in one gasping breath as--caution to the winds--he stepped
on one of the lower dead boughs which he had avoided going up.

It snapped under his hundred and twenty-five pounds of sturdy weight,
like a breaking twig. He crashed to the ground, alighting in a huddle
upon the decayed branch, the crumbling wind-fall, at the foot of the
tree.

"Gracious! are you hurt, Starrie?" Coombsie and Colin rushed to him.

"I--think--not! I guess I'm all here." Leon made a desperate attempt to
rise, and instantly sank back, clutching at the grass around him with
such a sound as nobody had ever heard before from the lips of Leon Starr
Chase--the moan of a maimed creature.

"My ankle! My right ankle!" he groaned. "I twisted it, coming down on
that rotten branch. It feels as if every tree in the woods had fallen on
it together! Ouch! I--can't--stand." Drops of agony stole out upon his
forehead.

"You've sprained it, I guess!" Nixon was now bending over the victim.
"Here, let me take your shoe off, before the foot swells! Perhaps, with
Col and me helping you, you can limp along to that clearing?"

Leon made another attempt, with the leather pressure removed, but sank
down again and began to relieve himself of his stocking too, in order to
examine the injury.

"Ou-ouch!" he groaned savagely. "My ankle is as black as a thundercloud
already. It feels just like a thunderstorm, too--all heavy throbs an'
lightning shoots of pain!"

The trail of those fiery darts could be traced in the livid blue and
yellow streaks that were turning the rapidly swelling ankle, in which
the ligaments were badly torn, to as many hues as Joseph's coat, against
a background of sullen black.

"Well! this is the--limit!" Coombsie dropped the lunch-basket, to which
he had clung faithfully, into a nest of underbrush: with a probable
logging-road within reach that might serve as a clue to lead them
somewhere, here was one of their number with a thunderstorm in his
ankle!

And then the hero that dwelt in the shadow of the savage in that
contradictory breast of Leon Chase flashed awake again in a moment, as
at Big Swamp; the real plucky boyhood in him shone out like a star!

"'Twill be dark--in the woods--before very long," he said, his voice
sprained too by pain, while his clammy face, still coated with the
red-ochre pigment of Varney's Paintpot, smeared by the drops of agony
and his coat-sleeve, was a lurid sight. "You fellows will have to hustle
if you want to reach that road--if it is a logging-road--and get out of
the woods before night! I can hardly--hobble. I'd better stay here:
Blink will stay with me; won't you, pup? When you boys get home--let my
father know--he and Jim will come out an' find me; they know every inch
of the woods."

"And leave you alone in the woods for hours? Not I, for one!" The
scout's answer was decisive, so were the loyal protests of the other two
lads.

Blink, with a shrewd comprehension that something was wrong with his
master, had been alternately licking Leon's ear and the inflamed pads of
his own paws. At the mention of his name he pressed so close to the
victim's side, sitting bolt upright on his haunches, that their two
bodies might have been joined at one point like the trunks of the freak
tree. And the purple fidelity lights in his brown eyes said plainly
that not hunger, thirst, or lonely death itself, could separate him from
the being who was a greater fellow in his eyes than any scout of the
U.S.A.

The other three boys were at that stage of fatigue and discomfiture when
the well of emotion is easily pumped; their eyes grew moist at the dog's
steadfast look.

But the scout shook himself brusquely as if trying to awake something
within.

"We ought to be able to fix you up so that you can get along to that
little clearing, anyhow!" he said, his mind busy with the sixth point of
the scout law and how under these circumstances he could best live up to
it and help an injured comrade. "We might form a chair-carry, Col and I,
but the undergrowth ahead is too thick; we couldn't wrestle
through--three abreast. Ha! we'd better make a crutch for you; that's
the idea! There's a birch sapling, neat an' handy, as an Irishman would
say!"

And the ubiquitous white birch, the wood-man's friend, came into play
again. Its slim trunk, being wrenched from the ground, roots and all,
and trimmed off with Nixon's knife, formed a fair prop.

"Chuck me your handkerchiefs!" said the crutch-maker to the other two
uninjured boys. "We'll pad the top of it, so that it won't dig into his
armpit. Now then, Leon! get this under your right arm and put your left
one round my neck--that will fix you up to hobble a short distance."

A half-reluctant grin, distorted by agony, convulsed Leon's face as,
leaning hard upon the white-birch prop, he arose and limped a few steps;
he recollected how at odd moments in the woods--whenever there wasn't
too much doing--he had believed that he held a grudge against the scout
for making him yield one sharply contested point and that about such an
infinitesimal thing in his eyes as the brief life of a chipmunk.

"Oh! I guess I can limp along with the crutch," he said, smearing the
dew of pain over his bedaubed face, now ghastly under the paint.

"Go on; you're only wasting time!" Nixon drew the other's left arm with
its moist cold hand around his neck--all the heat in Leon's body had
gone to swell the thunderstorm in his ankle.

And thus plowing, stumbling through the undergrowth, the scout's right
hand keeping the impudent twigs from poking his companion's eyes out,
they reached the narrow clearing along which the ambient light of a
September sunset flowed like a golden river.

No coveted log shanty, where at least they could encamp for the night,
decorated it.

But on its opposite side there loomed before the boys' eyes as they
issued from the woods a great, lichen-covered rock, over twenty feet
high, with a deep cavernous opening that yawned like a sleepy mouth at
sunset as it swallowed the rays streaming into it.

"Glory halleluiah! it's the Bear's Den--at last," ejaculated Leon, pain
momentarily eclipsed. "Thanks, Nix: you're a horse!" as he withdrew his
arm from his comrade's shoulders. "But that cave is about five miles
from anywhere--from any opening in the woods! What on earth are we going
to do now?"

"Why! light a fire the first thing, I guess," returned the boy scout
practically.



CHAPTER VI

THE FRICTION FIRE


"We haven't got any matches to start a fire with!" Coombsie sat down in
a pool of gold with the well-nigh empty basket beside him, and turned
baffled eyes upon the others.

"I have a few in a safety box in my pocket. Thank goodness! I didn't go
back on our scout motto: 'Be Prepared!' so far as matches are concerned,
anyway." Nixon felt in each pocket of his Norfolk jacket with a face
that lengthened dismally under the smears of Varney's Paintpot.
"_Gone!_" he ejaculated despairingly. "I must have lost the box!"

"It probably dropped out of your pocket into the grass when I tied our
coats round the chest-nut-tree, to prevent that young coon from
'lighting down,'" suggested Leon, and _his_ face grew pinched; it was
not a refreshing memory that conjured up a picture of Raccoon Junior
limping back to the hole among the ledges near Big Swamp, with a leg
broken by his stone, at the moment when a fellow had a whole
thunderstorm in his ankle.

"Well! we're up against it now," gasped the scout. "We can't get out
of the woods to-night; that's sure! We could sleep in the cave and be
jolly comfortable too"--he stooped down and examined its wide
interior--"if we only had a fire. But, without a camp-fire or a single
blanket, we'll be uncomfortable enough when it comes on dark; these
September nights are chilly."

He threw his hat on the ground, drew his coat-sleeve across his ruddy
forehead, rendering his bedaubed countenance slightly more grotesque
than before. He had forgotten that it was smeared, forgotten paint and
frolic. An old look descended upon his face.

He was desperately tired. Every muscle of his body ached. His head was
confused too from long wandering among the trees; his thoughts seemed to
skip back into the woods away from him; he felt himself stalking them as
Blink would stalk a rabbit. But there was one thing more alive in him at
that moment than ever before, a sense of protective responsibility.

With Leon disabled and the two younger boys completely worn out, it
rested with him alone to turn a night in the Bear's Den into a mere
"corking" adventure, or to let it drag by as a dark age of discomfort
with certainly bad results for two of the party. Nixon had felt Leon's
hand as it slipped from his neck at the edge of the clearing, it was
clammy as ice; his first-aid training as a scout told him that the
injured lad would feel the cold bitterly during the night.

Starrie Chase would probably "stick it out without squealing," as in
such circumstances he would try to do himself. But it would be a hard
experience. And young Colin's clothing was still sodden from his partial
immersion in Big Swamp. It was one of those moments for the Scout of the
U.S.A. when the potential father in the boy is awake.

"I've _got_ to fix things up for the night, somehow," he wearily told
himself aloud. "I wonder--I wonder if I could manage to start a fire
without matches--with 'rubbing-sticks'? I did it once when we were
camping out with our scoutmaster. But he helped me. If I could only get
the fire, now, 'twould be a--great--stunt!"

"'Start a fire without matches!' You're crazy!" Colin and Coombsie
looked sideways at him; they had heard of people being "turned round" in
their heads by much woodland wandering.

"Shut up, you two!" commanded Leon, suddenly imperious. "He knows what
he's about. He did a good stunt in helping me along here."

"If I could only find the right kinds of wood to start a friction
fire--balsam fir for the fireboard and drill, and a little chunk of
cedarwood to be shredded into tinder!" The boy scout was eagerly
scanning the trees on either side of the grass-grown logging-road, trees
which at this moment seemed to have their roots in the forest soil and
their heads in Heaven's own glory.

"_There's_ a fir-tree! Among those pines--a little way along the road!"
Leon spoke in that slow, stiff voice, sprained by pain. "Perhaps I can
help you--Nix?"

"No, you lie still, but chuck me your knife, it's stronger than mine! I
ought to have two tools for preparing the 'rubbing-sticks,' so the Chief
Scout tells us in our book, but I'll have to get along somehow with our
pocketknives."

Nix Warren was off up the road as he spoke; hope, responsibility, and
ambition toward the performance of a "great stunt," forming a fighting
trio to get the better of weariness.

The glory was waning from the tree-tops when he returned, bearing with
him one sizeable chunk of balsamic fir-wood and a long stick from the
same tree.

"Any sort of stick will do for the bent bow which is attached to the
drill and works it; that's what our book says," he murmured, as if
conning over a lesson. "Who's got a leather shoe-lace? You have--cowhide
laces--in those high boots of yours, Colin! Mind letting me have one?"

The speaker was excitedly setting to work, now, fashioning the flat
fireboard from the chunk of fir-wood, carving a deep notch in its side,
and scooping out a shallow hole at the inner end of the notch into which
the point of the upright drill would fit.

In feeling, he was the primitive man again, this modern boy scout: he
was that grand old savage ancestor of prehistoric times into whose ear
God whispered the secret, unknown to beast or bird, of creating light
and warmth for himself and those dependent on him, when the sun forsook
them.

"Say! can't you fellows get busy and collect some materials for a fire,
dry chips and pine-splinters--fat pine-splinters--and dead branches?
There's plenty of good fuel around! You wood-finders'll have a cinch!"

It certainly was a signal act of faith in Colin and Coombsie when they
bestirred their weary limbs to obey this command from the wizard who was
to try and evoke the mysterious fire-element latent in the combustible
wood he handled, but hard to get at without the aids which civilization
places at man's disposal.

They each kept a corner of their inquisitive eyes upon him while they
collected the fuel, watching the shaping of the notched fireboard, of
the upright pointed drill, over a dozen inches in length, and the
construction of a rude bow out of a supple stick found on the clearing,
with Colin's cowhide shoe-lace made fast to each end as the cord or
strap that bent the bow.

This cord was twisted once round the upper part of the drill whose lower
point fitted into the shallow hole in the fireboard.

"Whew! I must find a piece of pine-wood with a knot in it and scoop that
knot out, so that it will form a disc for the top of the drill in which
it will turn easily," said the perspiring scout. "Oh, sugarloons! I've
forgotten all about the _tinder_; we may have to trot a long way into
the woods to find a cedar-tree."

"I'll go with you, Nix," proffered Marcoo, while Leon, lying on the
ground near the cave, with his dog pressing close to him, undertook the
task of scooping that soft knot out of the pine-disk.

"All right; bring along the tin mug out of your basket; perhaps we may
find water!"

And they did! Oh, blessed find! Wearily they trudged back about sixty
yards into the woods, in an opposite direction from that in which they
had traveled before--Nixon taking the precaution of breaking off a twig
from every second or third tree so as to mark the trail--before they lit
on a grove of young cedars through which ran a sound, now a purling sob,
now a tinkling laugh; softer, more angel-like, than the wind's mirth!

"_Water!_ A spring! Oh--tooraloo!" And they drank their fill, bringing
back, along with the cedar-wood for tinder--water, as much as their tin
vessel would hold, for the two boys and dog keeping watch over the
fire-sticks on the old bear's camping-ground.

The soft cedar was shredded into tinder between two stones. The drill
was set up with its lower point resting in the notched hole of the
fire-board, its upper point fitting into the pine-disk which Nixon
steadied with his hand.

Then the boy scout began to work the bent bow which passed through a
hole in the upper part of the drill, steadily to and fro, slowly turning
that drill, grinding its lower point into the punky wood of the
fireboard.

In the eye of each of the four boys the coveted spark already glowed,
drilled by excitement out of the dead wood of his fatigue.

Even the dog, his jaws gaping, his tongue lolling out, lay stretched at
attention, his gaze intent upon the central figure of the boy scout
working the strapped bow backward and forward, turning the pointed drill
that bored into the fireboard.

Ground-up wood began to fall through the notch in the fireboard adjacent
to the hole upon another slab of wood which Nixon had placed as a tray
beneath it.

This powdered wood was brown. Slowly it turned black. Was that smoke?

It was a strange tableau, the four disheveled boys with their
red-smeared faces, the painted clown's dog, all holding their breath
intent upon the primitive miracle of the fire-birth.

Smoke it was! _Increasing smoke!_ And in its tiny cloud suddenly
appeared the miracle--a dull red spark at the heart of the black wood
dust.

"What do you know about that?" Marcoo's voice was thick.

"Gee! that's a--wonderful--stunt. I guess you could light a fire with a
piece of damp bark and a snowball!" Leon looked up at the panting scout.

Colin's mind was telegraphing back to the moment when he lay on the
salt-marshes that morning, hungry for the woods. If any one had told him
that, before night, he would assist at a forest drama like this!

"Hush! Don't speak for fear you'd hoodoo it! We haven't got it yet--the
fire! Perhaps--perhaps--I can't make it burn." It was the most wonderful
moment of his life for the boy scout as he now took a pinch of the
cedar-wood tinder, half-enclosed in a piece of paper-like birch-bark and
held it down upon the red fire-germ--in all following the teaching of
the great Chief Scout.

Then he lifted the slab of wood that served as tray, bearing the ruddy
fire-embryo and tinder, and blew upon it evenly, gently. It blazed. The
miracle was complete.

"_Wonderful stunt!_" murmured Starrie Chase again. His hand in its
restless uneasiness had been plucking large flakes of moss from the gray
rock behind him and turning them over, revealing the medicinal gold
thread that embroidered the earthy underside of the sod; he was sucking
that bitter fibre--supposed to be good for a sore mouth, but no panacea
for a sprained ankle--while a like gold thread of fascinated speculation
embroidered the ruddy mask of his face.

"Hurrah! we'll have a fire right away now, that will talk to us all
night long." The triumphant scout lowered the flame-bud to the ground,
piled over it some of the resinous pine-splinters and strips of
inflammatory bark, fanning it steadily with his hat. In a few minutes a
rollicking camp-fire was roaring in front of the old Bear's Den.

"Now! we must gather some big chunks, dry roots and stumps, to keep the
fire going through the night, cut sods to put round it and prevent its
spreading into the woods, and break up some pine-tips to strew in the
cave for a bed. There's lots of work ahead still, fellows, before we can
be snug for the night!"

The scout, having got his second breath with his great achievement, was
working hard as he spoke; Marcoo and Colin followed his example in
renewed spirits. Leon, chafing at his own inactivity, tried to stand and
sank down with a groan.

"How's the thunderstorm sprain?" they asked him.

"Worse--ugh-h! And I'm parched with thirst--still!"

"Well, we'll lope off into the woods and bring you back some more water.
If you'll leave a little in the bottom of the mug I'll soak our
handkerchiefs in it and wrap them round your ankle; cold applications
may relieve the pain;" the scout was recalling what he had learned about
first aid to the injured.

Darkness descended upon the old bear's stamping-ground. But the
camp-fire burned gloriously, throwing off now and again a foam of flame
whose rosy clots lit in the crevices of the tall rock and bloomed there
for an instant like scarlet flowers.

The work necessary in making camp for the night done, the four boys
gathered round it, dividing their scanty rations, the scraps of food
left in Coombsie's basket, and speculating as to how early in the
morning a search-party would come out and find them.

"Toiney Leduc will certainly be one of the party. Toiney is a regular
scout; he's only been here a year, but he knows the woods well,"
remarked Leon, then was silent a minute, gazing wistfully into the heart
of the flames which filled the pause with snappy conversational
fire-works.

"Tell us something about this boy scout business, bo'!" he spoke again
in the slow, sprained voice, his feverish eyes burning into the fire,
his tone making the slangy little abbreviation stand for brother, as he
addressed Nixon. "It seems as if it might be The Thing--starting that
fire was a great stunt--and if it's The Thing--every fellow wants to be
in it!"

"Oh! you don't know what good times we have," began the scout.

And briefly skimming from one point to another, he told of the origin of
the Boy Scout Movement far away in Africa during the defense of a
besieged city, and of the great English general, the friend of boys, who
had fathered that movement.

Leon's eyes narrowed as he still gazed into the camp-fire: it was a long
descent from the defense of a beleaguered city to the championship of a
besieged chipmunk, but his quick mind grasped the principle of fiery
chivalry underlying both--one and the same.

"Can you sing some more of that U.S.A. song which you were shouting in
the woods near the log camp?" Marcoo broke in, as the narrator dwelt on
those good times spent in hiking, trailing, camping with the
scoutmaster.

"Perhaps I can--a verse or two! That's the latest for the Boy Scouts of
America--the Scouts of the old U.S. Don't know whether I have a pinch of
breath left, though!"

And the flagging voice began, gathering gusto from the camp-fire, glee
from the stars now winking through the pine-tops:--

  "Mile after mile in rank or file,
    We tramp through field and wood:
  Or off we hike down path or pike,
    One glorious brotherhood.
      Hurrah for the woods, hurrah for the fields,
        Hurrah for the life that's free!
      With a body and mind both clean and kind,
        The Scout's is the life for me!"

"Chorus, fellows!" he cried:--

  We will fight, fight, fight, for the right, right, right,
   "Be prepared" both night and day;
  And we'll shout, shout, shout,
  For the Scout, Scout, Scout,
   For the Scouts of the U.S.A.

The rolling music in the pine-trees, the reedy whistle of the breeze
among beeches and birches, soft cluck of rocking branches, the bagpipe
skirling of the flames leaping high, fluted and green-edged, all came in
on that chorus; together with the four boyish voices and the bark of the
dog as he bayed the blaze: the night woods rang for the Scouts of the
U.S.A.

  "If when night comes down we are far from town,
    Both tired and happy too,
  Camp-fires we light and by embers bright
    We sleep the whole night through.
      Hurrah for the sun, hurrah for the storm,
        Hurrah for the stars above!
      We feel secure, safe, sane and sure,
        For we know that God is Love."

"Why have you that knot in your tie?" asked Leon after the last note had
died away in forest-echo, while the scout was wetting the bandages round
his inflamed ankle before they crept into the cave to sleep.

"To remind me to do one good turn to somebody every day."

"Well, you can untie it now; I guess you've done good turns by the bunch
to-day!"

Lying presently upon the fragrant pine-tips with which they had strewn
the interior of the cave, the scout's tired fingers fumbled for that
knot and drowsily undid it. He had lost both way and temper in the
woods. But he had tried, at least, to obey the scout law of kindness.

As he lay on guard, nearest to the cave's entrance, winking back at the
stars, this brought him a happy sense of that wide brotherhood whose
cradle is God's Everlasting Arms.

From the well of his sleepy excitement two words bubbled up: "Our
Father!" Rolling over until his nose burrowed among the fragrant
evergreens, he repeated the Lord's Prayer, adding--because this had been
an eventful day--a brief petition which had been put into his lips by
his scoutmaster and was uttered under unusual stress of feeling, or when
he remembered it: That in helpfulness to others and loyalty to good he
might be a follower of the Lord of Chivalry, Jesus Christ, and continue
his faithful soldier and servant "until the scout's last trail is done!"

       *       *       *       *       *

It was almost morning when he awoke for the second time, having stirred
his tired limbs once already to replenish the camp-fire.

Now that hard-won fire had waned to a dull red shading on the undersides
of velvety logs, the remainder of whose surface was of a chilly gray
from which each passing breeze flicked the white flakes of ash like
half-shriveled moths.

"Whew! I must punch up the fire again--but it's hard to get the kinks
out o' my backbone;" he straightened his curled-up spine with difficulty
and stumbled out on the camping-ground.

It was that darkest hour before dawn. The stars were waning as well as
the fire. The trees which had been friends in the daytime were
spectators now. Each wrapped in its dark mantle, they seemed to stand
curiously aloof, watching him.

He attacked the logs with a stick, poking them together and thrusting a
dry branch into the ruddy nest where the fire still hatched.

Snip! Snap! Crackle! the flames awoke. Mingling with their reviving
laughter, came a low, strange cluck that was not the voice of the fire,
immediately followed by a long shrill cry with a wavering trill in it,
not unlike human mirth.

It hailed from some point in the scout's rear.

"For heaven's sake!" The stick shook in his fingers. "Can it be a
wildcat--or another coon?"

Stiffly he wheeled round. His eyes traveled up the great rock--in whose
cave his companions lay sleeping; as they gained the top of that old
grayback, they were confronted by two other eyes--mere twinkling points
of flame!

The scout's scalp seemed to lift like a blown-off roof. His throat grew
very dry.

At the same moment there was a noiseless flitting as of a shadow from
the rock's crest to a near-by tree whence came the weird cry again.

"_An owl!_ Well, forevermore! And my hair is standing straight still!"

"_What is it?_ _What is it, Nix?_" came in muffled cries from the cave.

"Only a screech owl; it's unusual to find one so far in the woods as
this!"

As it happened two ruddy screech owls, faithful lovers and monogamists,
which had dwelt together as Darby and Joan in the hollow of an old
apple-tree in a distant orchard, being persecuted both by boys and blue
jays, had eschewed civilization, isolating themselves, at least from the
former, in the woods.

As dawn broke between the tall pines and a pale river of daylight flowed
along the logging-road, they were seen, both together, upon a low bough,
with the dawn breeze fluffing their thick, rufous plumage, making them
look larger than they really were, and their heads slowly turning from
side to side, trying to discover the meaning of a camp-fire and other
strange doings in this their retreat.

"Oo-oo! look at them," hooted Colin softly, creeping out of the cave and
stealthily approaching their birch-tree. "They have yellow eyes and
faces like kittens. Huh! they're more comical than a basket of monkeys.
Oh, there they go."

For even as his hand was put forth to touch them, they vanished
silently as the ebbing shadows in the train of night.

"This must be a great place for owls," said Leon, blinking like
one--not until far on in the night had he slept owing to the
wrenching pain in his ankle. "Listen! there goes the big old
hooter--the great horned owl--the Grand Duke we call him. Hear
him 'way off: 'Whoo-whoo-hoo-doo-whoo!' Sounds almost like a wolf
howling! _Ou-ouch!_"

"Is your ankle hurting badly, Starrie?"

"It's--fierce."

"Daylight is coming fast now; I'll be able to find the spring and wet
those bandages again--and bring you a drink too"; this from the scout.

"Thanks. You're the boy, Nix!"

The brotherly act accomplished, there was silence in the cave where the
four boys had again stretched themselves while young Day crept up over
the woods.

Suddenly Leon's voice was heard ambiguously muttering in the cave's
recess: "If it's The Thing, every fellow wants to be in it!"

"Say! fellows, I've got an idea," he put forth aloud.

"Out with it, if it's worth anything!" from Colin.

"Oh, for heaven's sake, Leon! get it out quick, and let us go to sleep
again!" pleaded Coombsie, who knew that if Starrie Chase was oppressed
by an idea, other boys would hear it in his time, not in theirs.

"I propose that after we get home--when my ankle is better--we start a
boy scout patrol in our town and call it the Owl Patrol! I guess we've
heard the owls--different kinds--often enough to-night, to be able to
imitate one or other of them."

"Good enough! The Scout's is the life for me!" sang out Colin.

"The motion is seconded and carried--now let's go to sleep!" from
Marcoo.

"As I expect to stay in these parts for six months, or longer, I'll get
transferred from the Philadelphia Peewits to the new patrol!" decided
Nixon.

"Bully for you! We'll ask Kenjo Red and Sweetsie to come in; they're
dandy fellows--and who else?" Leon hesitated.

"Why don't you get hold of that frightened boy who was with Toiney on
the edge of the woods? We had a boy like him in our Philadelphia troop,"
went on Nixon hurriedly, ignoring a surge of protest. "Scared of his own
shadow he was! Abnormal timidity--with a long Latin name--due to
pre-natal influences, according to the doctors! Well, our scoutmaster
managed somehow to enlist him as a tenderfoot. When he got out into the
woods with us and found that every other scout was trying to help him to
become a 'fellow,' why! he began to crawl out of his shell. He's getting
to be quite a boy now!"

"But the '_Hare_'! he'd spoil--_Ouch!_" A sudden wrench of agony as Leon
moved restlessly put the pointed question as to whether the mental pain
which Harold Greer suffered might not be as hard to drag round as a
thunderstorm ankle.

"All right, Nix! Enlist him if you can! I guess you'll have to pass on
who comes into the new patrol."

Colin dug his nose into the pine-tips with a skeptical chuckle: that new
patrol would have a big contract on hand, he thought, if it was to
gather up the wild, waste energy of Leon,--that element in him which
parents and teachers sought to eradicate,--turn it to good account, and
take the fright out of the Hare.

But from the woods came a deep bass whoop that sounded encouraging: the
Whoo-whoo-hoo-doo-whoo! of the Grand Duke bidding the world
good-morning ere he went into retreat for the day.

It was answered by the Whoo-whoo-whooah-whoo! of a brother owl, also
lifting up his voice before sunrise.

"Listen, fellows!" cried Leon excitedly. "_Listen!_ The feathered owls
themselves are cheering the Owl Patrol."



CHAPTER VII

MEMBERS OF THE LOCAL COUNCIL


And thus the new patrol was started.

Three weeks after the September morning when an anxious search-party led
by Asa Chase, Leon's father, and by that clever woodsman Toiney Leduc,
had started out at dawn to search the dense woods for four missing boys,
and found a grotesque-looking quartette with faces piebald from the
half-effaced smears of Varney's Paintpot, breakfasting on blueberries
and water by a still ruddy camp-fire,--three weeks after those morning
woods had rung with Toiney's shrill "Hôlà!" the first meeting for the
formation of the Owl Patrol was held.

In virtue of his being already a boy scout with a year's training behind
him, Nixon Warren was elected patrol leader; and Leon Starr Chase who
still limped as a result of his reckless descent of that freak
pine-tree, was made second in rank with the title of corporal--or
assistant patrol leader.

Among the half-dozen spectators, leading men of the small town, who had
assembled to witness the inaugural doings at this first meeting and to
lend their approval to the new movement for the boys, there appeared one
who was lamer than Leon, his halting step being due to a year-old injury
which condemned him to limp somewhat for the remainder of his life.

This was Captain Andrew Davis, popularly known as Captain Andy, who had
been for thirty years a Gloucester fishing-skipper, one of the
present-day Vikings who sail forth from the Queen Fishing City at the
head of its blue harbor.

He had commanded one fine fishing-vessel after another, was known along
the water-front and among the fishing-fleet as a "crackerjack" and
"driver," with other more complimentary titles. He had got the better of
the sea in a hundred raging battles on behalf of himself and others. But
it partially worsted him at last by wrecking his vessel in what he
mildly termed a "November breeze"--in reality a howling hurricane--and
by laming him for life when at the height of the storm the schooner's
main-boom fell on him.

He was dragged forth from under it, half-dead, but, "game to the last,"
refused to be carried below. Lashed to the weather main-bitt--one of
the sawed-off posts rising from the vessel's deck to which the
main-sheet was made fast--in order to prevent his being swept overboard
by the great seas washing over that deck, he had kept barking out orders
and fighting for the lives of his crew so long as he could command a
breath.

"And I didn't lose a man, Doc!" he said long afterwards to his friend
and admirer, the Exmouth doctor, the hard-working physician with whose
long-suffering bell Leon had mischievously tampered. "I didn't lose a
man--only the vessel. When the gale blew down we had to take to the
dories, for she was just washing to pieces under us. Too bad: she was an
able vessel too! But I guess I'll have to 'take my medicine' for the
rest of my life--an' take it limping!"--with a rueful smile.

But the many waters through which he had passed had not quenched in
Captain Andy the chivalrous love for his human brothers. Rather did they
baptize and freshen it until it sprouted anew, after he took up his
residence ashore, in a paternal love for boys which kept his great heart
youthful in his massive, sixty-year-old body; and which kept him
hopefully dreaming, too, of deeds that shall be done by the sons now
being reared for Uncle Sam, that shall rival or outshine the knightly
feats of their fathers both on land and sea.

So he smiled happily, this grand old sea-scout, as, on the occasion of
the first meeting for the inauguration of the Boy Scout Movement, he
heaved his powerful frame into a seat beside his friend the doctor who
was equally interested in the new doings.

"Hi there, Doc!" said Captain Andy joyously, laying his hand, big and
warm as a tea-kettle, on the doctor's arm, "we're launching a new boat
for the boys to-night, eh? Seems to me that it's an able craft too--this
new movement--intended to keep the lads goin' ahead under all the sail
they can carry, and on a course where they'll get the benefit of the
best breezes, too."

"That's how it strikes me," returned the doctor. "If it will only keep
Starrie Chase, as they call him, sailing in an opposite direction to my
doorbell, I'm sure I shall bless it! D'you know, Andy," the gray-bearded
physician addressed the weatherbeaten sea-fighter beside him as he had
done when they were schoolboys together, "when I heard how that boy Leon
had sprained his ankle badly in the woods and that the family had sent
for me, I said: 'Serve him right! _Let_ him be tied by the leg for a
while and meditate on the mischief of his ways; I'm not going to see
him!' Of course, before the words were well out, I had picked up my bag
and was on my way to the Chase homestead!"

"Of course you were!" Captain Andy beamed upon his friend until his
large face with its coating of ruddy tan flamed like an aurora borealis
under the electric lights of the little town hall in which the first boy
scout meeting was held. "Trust you, Doc!"

The ex-skipper knew that no man of his acquaintance lived up to the
twelve points of the scout law in more thorough fashion than did this
country doctor, who never by day or night closed his ears against the
call of distress.

"I'll say this much for the young rascal, he was ashamed to see me bring
out my bandages"; the doctor now nodded humorously in the direction of
Leon Chase, who made one of a semicircle composed of Nixon, himself and
six other boys, at present seated round the young scoutmaster whom they
had chosen to be leader of the new movement in their town.

"But by and by his tongue loosened somewhat," went on the grizzled
medical man, "and he began to take me into his confidence about the
formation of this boy scout patrol; he seemed more taken up with that
than with what he called 'the thunderstorm in his ankle.' Leon isn't one
to knuckle under much to pain, anyhow! Somehow, as he talked, I began to
feel as if we hadn't been properly facing the problem of our boys in and
about this town, Andy."

"I see what you mean!" Captain Andrew nodded. "Leon is as full of tricks
as a tide rip in a gale o' wind. An' that's the most mischievous thing I
know!" with a reminiscent chuckle. "But what can you do? If a boy is
chockfull o' bubbling energy that's going round an' round in a whirl
inside him, like the rip, it's bound to boil over in mischief, if there
ain't a deep channel to draw it off."

"That's just it! Ours is a slow little town--not much doing for the
boys! Not even a male teacher in our graded schools to organize hikes
and athletics for them! I am afraid that more than one lad with no
natural criminal tendency, has got into trouble, been ultimately sent to
a reformatory, owing to a lack in the beginning of some outlet safe and
exciting for that surplus energy of which you speak. Take the case of
Dave Baldwin, for instance, son of that old Ma'am Baldwin who lives over
on the salt-marshes!" The doctor's face took on a sorry expression.
"There was nothing really bad in him, I think! Just too much tide rip!
He was the counterpart of this boy Leon, with a craving for excitement,
a wild energy in him that boiled over at times in irregular pranks--like
the rip--as you say."

"And you know what makes _that_ so dangerous?" Captain Andy's sigh was
heaved from the depths of past experience. "Well! with certain shoals
an' ledges in the ocean there's too much water crowded onto 'em at low
tide, so it just boils chock up from the bottom like a pot, goes round
and round in a whirl, strings out, foamy an' irregular, for miles. It's
'day, day!' to the vessel that once gets well into it, for you never
know where 'twill strike you.

"And it's pretty much the same with a lively boy, Doc: at low tide, when
there's nothing doing, too much o' something is crowded onto the ledges
in him, an' when it froths over, it gets himself and others into
trouble. Keep him interested--swinging ahead on a high tide of activity
under all the sail he can carry, and there's no danger of the rip
forming. That's what this Boy Scout Movement aims at, I guess! It looks
to me--my word! it _does_ look to me--as if Leon was already 'deepening
the water some,' to-night," wound up Captain Andy with a gratified
smile, scrutinizing the face of Starrie Chase, which was at this moment
marked by a new and purposeful eagerness as he discussed the various
requirements of the tenderfoot test, the elementary knowledge to be
mastered before the next meeting, ere he could take the scout oath, be
invested with the tenderfoot scout badge and be enrolled among the Boy
Scouts of America.

"A movement such as this might have been the saving of Dave Baldwin,"
sighed the Doctor. "He was always playing such wild tricks. People kept
warning him to 'cut it out' or he would surely get into trouble. But the
'tide rip' within seemed too much for him. No foghorn warnings made any
impression. I've been thinking lately of the saying of one wise man:
'Hitherto there has been too much foghorn and too little bugle in our
treatment of the boys!' Too much croaking at them: too little challenge
to advance! So I said to the new scoutmaster, Harry Estey, Colin's
brother," nodding toward a tall young man who was the centre of the
eager ring of boys, "I said, 'give Leon the _bugle_: give it to him
literally and figuratively: you'll need a bugler in your boy scout camp
and I'll pay for the lessons; it will be a better pastime for him than
fixing my doorbell.'"

"I hope 'twill keep him from tormenting that lonely old woman over on
the marshes; the boys of this town have made her life a burden to her,"
said Captain Andy, thinking of that female recluse "Ma'am Baldwin," to
whom allusion had been made by Colin and Coombsie on the memorable day
which witnessed their headstrong expedition into the woods. "She has
been regarded as fair game by them because she's a grain cranky an'
peculiar, owing to the trouble she's had about her son. He was the
youngest, born when she was middle-aged--perhaps she spoiled him a
little. Come to think of it, Doc, I saw the young scape-grace a few days
ago when I was down the river in my power-boat! He was skulking like a
fox round those Sugar-loaf Sand-Dunes near the bay."

"How did he look?"

"Oh, shrunken an' dirty, like a winter's day!" Captain Andy was
accustomed to the rough murkiness of a winter day on mid-ocean
fishing-grounds. "He made off when he saw me heading for him. He's
nothing but an idle vagrant now, who spends his time loafing between
those white dunes and the woods on t' other side o' the river. He got
work on a farm after he was discharged from the reformatory, but didn't
stick to it. Other fellows shunned him, I guess! Folks say that he's
been mixed up in some petty thefts of lumber from the shipyards lately,
others that he keeps a row-boat stowed away in the pocket of a little
creek near the dunes, and occasionally does smuggling in a small way
from a vessel lying out in the bay. But that's only a yarn! He couldn't
dodge the revenue officers. Anyhow, it's too bad that Dave should have
gone the way he has! He's only 'a boy of a man' yet, not more'n
twenty-three. When I was about that age I shipped on the same vessel
with Dave's father--she was a trawler bound for Gran' Banks--we made
more than one trip together on her. He was a white man; and--"

"_Captain Andy!_" A voice ringing and eager, the voice of the
scoutmaster of the new patrol who had just received his certificate from
headquarters, interrupted the captain's recollections of Dave Baldwin's
father. "Captain Andy, will you undertake to instruct these boys in
knot-tying, before our next meeting, so that they may be able to tie the
four knots which form part of the tenderfoot test, and be enrolled as
scouts two weeks from now?"

"Sakes! yes; I'll teach 'em. And if any one of 'em is such a lubber that
he won't set himself to learn, why, I'll spank him with a dried codfish
as if I had him aboard a fishing-vessel. Belay that!"

And the ex-skipper's eye roved challengingly toward the scout recruits
from under the heavy lid and short bristling eyelashes which overhung
its blue like a fringed cloud-bank.

The threat was welcomed with an outburst of laughter.

"And, Doctor, will you give us some talks on first-aid to the injured,
after we get the new patrol fairly started?" Scoutmaster Estey, Colin's
elder brother, looked now at the busy physician, who, with Captain Andy
and other prominent townsmen, including the clergymen of diverse creeds,
was a member of the local council of the Boy Scouts of America which had
been recently formed in the little town.

"Yes; you may rely on me for that. But"--here the doctor turned
questioningly toward the weather beaten sea-captain, his neighbor--"I
thought the new patrol, the Owl Patrol as they have named it, was to
consist of eight boys, and I see only seven present to-night. There's
that tall boy, Nixon Warren, who's visiting here, and Mark Coombs, his
cousin; then there's Leon Chase, Colin Estey, Kenjo Red, otherwise
Kenneth Jordan," the doctor smiled at the red head of a sturdy-looking
lad of fourteen, "Joe Sweet, commonly called Sweetsie, and Evan Macduff.
But where's the eighth Owl, Andy? Isn't he fledged yet?"

"I guess not! I think they'll have to tackle him in private before they
can enlist him." The narrow rift of blue which represented Captain
Andy's eye under the cloud-bank glistened. "You'll never guess who they
have fixed upon for the eighth Owl, Doc. Why! that frightened boy, Ben
Greer's son, who lives on the little farm-clearing in the woods with his
gran'father and a Canadian farmhand whom Old Man Greer hires for the
summer an' fall."

"Not Harold Greer? You don't mean that abnormally shy an' timid boy whom
the children nickname the 'Hare'? Why! I had to supply a certificate for
him so that he could be kept out of school. It made him worse to go,
because the other boys teased him so cruelly."

"Jus' so! But that brand o' teasing is ruled out under the scout law. A
scout is a brother to every other scout. I guess the idea of trying to
get Harold enlisted in the Boy Scouts and thereby waking him up a
little an' gradually showing him what 'bugaboos' his fears are,
originated with that lad from Philadelphia, Nix Warren, who, as I
understand, showed himself to be quite a fellow in the woods, starting a
friction fire with rubbing-sticks an' doing other stunts which caused
his companions to become head over heels interested in this new
movement."

"But how did _he_ get interested in Harold Greer?" inquired the doctor.

"Well, as they trudged through the woods on that day when they made
circus guys of themselves at Varney's Paintpot, and subsequently got
lost, they passed the Greer farm and saw Harold who hid behind that
French-Canadian, Toiney, when he saw them coming. Apparently it struck
Nix, seeing him for the first time, what a miserable thing it must be
for the boy himself to be afraid of everything an' nothing. So he set
his heart on enlisting Harold in the new patrol. He, Nix, wants to pass
the test for becoming a first-class scout: to do this he must enlist a
recruit trained by himself in the requirements of a tenderfoot; and he
is going to try an' get near to Harold an' train him--Nixon's cousin,
Mark Coombs, Marcoo, as they call him, told me all about it."

"Well, I like that!" The doctor's face glowed. "Though I'm afraid
they'll have difficulty in getting the eighth Owl sufficiently fledged
to show any plumage but the white feather!" with a sorry smile. "I pity
that boy Harold," went on the medical man, "because he has been hampered
by heredity and in a way by environment too. His mother was a very
delicate, nervous creature, Andy. She was a prey to certain fears, the
worst of which was one which we doctors call 'cloister fobia,' which
means that she had a strange dread of a crowd, or even of mingling with
a small group of individuals. As you know, her husband, like Dave
Baldwin's father, was a Gloucester fisherman, whose home was in these
parts. During his long absences at sea, she lived alone with her
father-in-law, her little boy Harold and one old woman in that little
farmhouse on the clearing. And I suppose every time that the wind howled
through the woods she had a fresh fit of the quakes, thinking of her
husband away on the foggy fishing-grounds."

"Yes! I guess at such times the women suffer more than we do," muttered
Captain Andy, thinking of his dead wife.

"Well!" the doctor cleared his throat, "after Harold's mother received
the news that her husband's vessel was lost with all hands, on Quero
Bank, when her little boy was about five years old, she became more
unbalanced; she wouldn't see any of her relatives even, if she could
avoid it, save those who lived in the house with her. I attended her
when she was ill and begged her to try and get the better of her
foolishness for her boy's sake--or to let me send him away to a school
of some kind. Both Harold's grandfather and she opposed the latter idea.
She lived until her son was nine years old; by that time she had
communicated all her queer dread of people--and a hundred other scares
as well--to him. But in my opinion there's nothing to prevent his
becoming in time a normal boy under favorable conditions where his
companions would help him to fight his fears, instead of fastening them
on him--conditions under which what we call his 'inhibitory power of
self-control' would be strengthened, so that he could command his
terrified impulses. And if the Boy Scout Movement can, under God, do
this, Andy, why then I'll say--I'll say that knighthood has surely in
our day come again--that Scout Nixon Warren has sallied forth into the
woods and slain a dragon more truly, perhaps, than ever did Knight of
the Round Table by whose rules the boy scouts of to-day are governed!"

The doctor's last words were more to himself than to his companion, and
full of the ardor of one who was a dragon-fighter "from way back": day
by day, for years, he had grappled with the many-clawed dragons of pain
and disease, often taking no reward for his labors.

As his glance studied one and another of the seven boyish faces now
forming an eager ring round the tall scoutmaster, while the date of the
next meeting--the great meeting at which eight new recruits were to take
the scout oath--was being discussed, he was beset by the same feeling
which had possessed Colin Estey on that September morning in the Bear's
Den. Namely, that the Owl Patrol would have a big contract on hand if it
was to get the better of that mischievous "tide rip" in Leon and prove
to the handicapped "Hare" what imaginary bugaboos were his fears!

But Leon's face in its purposeful interest plainly showed that,
according to Captain Andy's breezy metaphor, to-night he was really
deepening the water in which his boyish bark floated, drawing out from
the shoals among which he had drifted after a manner too trifling for
his age and endowment.

And so the doctor felt that there _might_ be hope for the eighth Owl
chosen, and not present, being still a scared fledgling on that little
farm-clearing in the woods, having never yet shaken a free wing, but
only the craven white feather.



CHAPTER VIII

THE BOWLINE KNOT


Scout Nixon Warren, henceforth to be known as the patrol leader of the
Owls, was himself possessed by the excited feeling that he was faring
forth, into the October woods to tackle a dragon--the obstinate
Hobgoblin of confirmed Fear--when on the day following that first boy
scout meeting in Exmouth he took his way, accompanied by Coombsie, over
the heaving uplands that lay between the salt-marshes and the woodland.

Thence, through thick grove and undergrowth, they tramped to the little
farm-clearing, where they had come upon Toiney and the dead raccoon.

Nixon had arrayed himself in the full bravery of his scout uniform
to-day, hoping that it might attract the attention of the frightened boy
whose interest he wished to capture.

The October sun burnished his metal buttons, with the oxidized silver
badge upon his left arm beneath the white bars of the patrol leader,
and the white stripe at his wrist recording his one year's service as a
scout.

Because of the impression they hoped to produce, Marcoo too had donned
the uniform, minus stripes and badge--the latter he would not be
entitled to wear until after the all-important next meeting when, on his
passing the tenderfoot test, the scoutmaster would pin it on his shirt,
but reversed until he should have proved his right to wear that badge of
chivalry by the doing of some initial good turn.

But Marcoo, like his companion, carried the long scout staff and was
loud in his appreciation of its usefulness on a woodland hike.

And thus, a knightly-looking pair of pilgrims, they issued forth into
the forest clearing, bathed in the early afternoon sun.

As before, their ears were tickled afar off by the sound of a tuneful
voice alternately whistling and singing, though to-day it was
unaccompanied by the woodchopper's axe.

"That's Toiney!" said Marcoo. "Listen to him! He's just 'full of it';
isn't he?"

Toiney was indeed full to the brim and bubbling over with the primitive,
zestful joy of life as he toiled upon the little woodland farm, cutting
off withered cornstalks from a patch which earlier in the season had
been golden with fine yellow maize of his planting. His lithe, energetic
figure focused the sun rays which loved to play over his knitted cap of
dingy red, with a bobbing tassel, over the rough blue shirt of homespun
flannel, and upon the queer heelless high boots of rough unfinished
leather, with puckered moccasin-like feet, in which he could steal
through the woods well-nigh as noiselessly as the dog-fox himself.

As the two scouts emerged into the open he was singing to the sunbeams
and to the timid human "Hare" who basked in his brightness, a funny
little fragment of song which he illustrated as though he had a sling in
his hand and were letting fly a missile:--

  "Gaston Guè, si j'avais ma fron-de,
  Gaston Guè, je te l'aurais fron-dé!"

This he translated for Harold's benefit:--

  "Gaston Guè, if I haf ma sling,
  Gaston Guè, at you I vould fling!"

"Well! you needn't 'fling' at us, Toiney," laughed Nixon, stepping
forward with a bold front. "Hullo! Harold!" he added in what he meant to
be a most winning tone.

"Hullo, Harold! How are _you_?" supplemented Marcoo in accents equally
sugared.

But the abnormally timid boy, with the pointed chin and slightly
rodent-like face, only made an indistinguishable sound in his throat and
slunk behind some bushes on the edge of the corn-patch.

Toiney, on the other hand, was never backward in responding vivaciously
to a friendly greeting.

"Houp-e-là!" he explained in bantering astonishment as he surveyed the
two scouts in the uniform which was strange to him. "_Houp-e-là!_ We
arre de boy! We arre de stuff, I guess, engh?" He pointed an earthy
forefinger at the figures in khaki, his black eyes sparkling with
whimsical flattery. "But, _comment_, you'll no come for go in gran'
forêt agen, dat's de tam' you'll get los' agen--hein?"

"No, we're not going any farther into the woods to-day. We came to see
_him_." Nixon nodded in the direction of Harold skulking timidly behind
the berry bushes. "We want to speak to him about something."

"Ah--miséricorde--he'll no speak on you; he's a _poltron_, a scaree:
some tam' I'll be so shame for heem I'll feel lak' cry!" returned
Toiney, moved to voluble frankness, his eye glistening like a moist
bead, now, with mortified pity. "Son gran'père--hees gran'fader--he's
go on town dis day: he's try ver' hard for get heem to go also--for to
see! Mais, _non_! He's too scaree!" And the speaker, glancing toward the
screen of bushes, shrugged his shoulders despairingly, as if asking what
could possibly be done for such a craven.

Scout Nixon was not baffled. Persistent by nature, he had worked well
into the fibre of his being the tenth point of the scout law: that
defeat, or the semblance thereof, must not down the true scout.

"Then I'll talk to you first, Toiney," he said, "and tell you about
something that we think might help him."

And in the simplest English that he could choose, eked out at intervals
with freshman French, he made clear to Toiney's quick understanding the
aim and methods of the Boy Scout Movement.

The Canadian, a born son of the woods, was quick to grasp and commend
the return to Nature.

"_Ça c'est b'en!_" he murmured with an approving nod. "I'll t'ink dat
iss good for boy to go in gran' forêt--w'en he know how fin' de way--for
see heem beeg tree en de littal wil' an-ni-mal, engh? Mais,
miséri-corde,"--his shrugging shoulders pumped up a huge sigh as he
turned toward Harold,--"mis-éri-corde! _he'll_ no marche as
_éclaireur_--w'at-you-call-eet--scoutee--hein? He'll no go on meetin' or
on school, engh?"

And Toiney set to work cutting down cornstalks again as if the subject
were unhappily disposed of.

Such was not the case, however. At one word which he, the blue-shirted
woodsman, had used in his harangue, Nixon started, and a strange look
shot across his face. He knew enough of French to translate literally
that word _éclaireur_, the French military term for scout. He knew that
it meant figuratively a light-spreader: one who marches ahead of his
comrades to enlighten the others.

Could any term be more applicable to the peace scout of to-day who is
striving to bring in an advanced era of progress and good will?

Somehow, it stimulated in Scout Warren the desire to be an _éclaireur_
in earnest to the darkened boy overshadowed by his bugbear fears, now
skulking behind the berry-bushes.

"I guess it's no use our trying to get hold of him," Coombsie was saying
meanwhile in his cousin's ear. "See that old dame over there, Nix?" he
pointed to a portly, elderly woman with an immense straw hat tied down,
sunbonnet fashion, over her head. "Well! she took care of Harold's
mother before she died; now she keeps house for his grandfather, and
she, that old woman, told my mother that up to the time Harold was seven
years old he would often run and hide his head in her lap of an evening
as it was coming on dark. And when she asked what frightened him he said
that he was 'afraid of the stars'! Just fancy! Afraid of the stars as
they came out above the clearing here!"

"Gee whiz! What do you know about that?" exclaimed Nixon with a rueful
whistle: that dark hobgoblin, Fear, was more absurdly entrenched than he
had thought possible.

Yet Harold's seemed more than ever a case in which the scout who could
once break down the wall of shyness round him might prove a true
_éclaireur_: so he advanced upon the timid boy and addressed him with a
honeyed mildness which made Coombsie chuckle and gasp, "Oh, sugar!"
under his breath; though Marcoo set himself to second his patrol
leader's efforts to the best of his ability.

Together they sought to decoy Harold into a conversation, asking him
questions about his life, whether he ever went into the woods with
Toiney or played solitary games on the clearing. They intimated that
they knew he was "quite a boy" if he'd only make friends with them and
not be so stand-offish; and they tried to inveigle him into a simple
game of tag or hide-and-seek among the bushes as a prelude to some more
exciting sport such as duck-on-a-rock or prisoner's base.

But the hapless "_poltron_" only answered them in jerky monosyllables,
cowering against the bushes, and finally slunk back to the side of the
blue-shirted farmhand with whom he had become familiar--whose merry
songs could charm away the dark spirit of fear--and there remained,
hovering under Toiney's wing.

"I knew that it would be hard to get round him," said Marcoo
thoughtfully. "Until now all the boys whom he has met have picked on an'
teased him. Suppose you turn your attention to _me_ for a while, Nix!
Suppose you were to make a bluff of teaching me some of the things that
a fellow must learn before he can enlist as a tenderfoot scout! Perhaps,
then, he'd begin to listen an' take notice. I've got a toy flag in my
pocket; let's start off with that!"

"Good idea! You do use your head for something more than a hat-rack,
Marcoo!" The patrol leader relapsed with a relieved sigh into his
natural manner. "I brought an end of rope with me; I thought we might
have got along to teaching him how to tie one or other of the four knots
which form part of the tenderfoot test. You take charge of the rope-end.
And don't lose it if you want to live!"

He passed the little brown coil to his cousin and receiving in return
the miniature Stars and Stripes, went through a formal flag-raising
ceremony there on the sunny clearing. Tying the toy flag-staff to the
top of his tall scout's staff, he planted the latter in some soft earth;
then both scouts stood at attention and saluted Old Glory, after which
they passed and repassed it at marching pace, each time removing their
broad-brimmed hats with much respect and an eye on Harold to see if he
was taking notice.

Subsequently the patrol leader stationed himself by the impromptu
flagstaff, and delivered a simple lecture to Coombsie upon the history
and composition of the National Flag; a knowledge of which, together
with the proper forms of respect due to that starry banner, would enter
into his examination for tenderfoot scout.

Both were hoping that some crumbs of information--some ray of patriotic
enthusiasm--might be absorbed by Harold, the boy who had never been to
school, and who had scantily profited by some elementary and
intermittent lessons in reading and writing from his grandfather. His
brown eyes, shy as any rodent's, watched this parade curiously. But
though Toiney tried to encourage him by precept and gesticulation to
follow the boy scouts' example and salute the Flag, plucking off his own
tasseled cap and going through a dumb pantomime of respect to it, the
"scaree" could not be moved from his shuffling stolidity.

The starry flaglet waving from the scout's planted staff, might have
been a gorgeous, drifting leaf from the surrounding woods for all the
attention he paid to it!

"Say! but it's hard to land him, isn't it?" Nixon suspended the parade
with a sigh almost of despair. "Well, here goes, for one more attempt to
get him interested! Chuck me that rope-end, Marcoo! I'll show you how to
tie a bowline knot; perhaps, as his father was a sailor--a deep-sea
fisherman--knot-tying may be more in his line than flag-raising."

The next minute Coombsie's fingers were fumbling with the rope rather
blunderingly, for Marcoo was by nature a bookworm and more efficient
along lines of abstract study than at anything requiring manual skill.

"Pass the end up through the bight," directed Scout Warren when the
bight or loop had been formed upon the standing part of the rope. "I
said _up_, not down, jackass! Now, pass it round the 'standing part';
don't you know what that means? Why! the long end of the rope on which
you're working. Oh! you're a dear donkey," nodding with good-humored
scorn.

Now both the donkey recruit and the instructing scout had become for the
moment genuinely absorbed in the intricacies of that bowline knot, and
forgot that this was not intended as a _bona-fide_ lesson, but as mere
"show off" to awaken the interest of a third person.

Their tail-end glances were no longer directed furtively at Harold to
see whether or not he was beginning to "take notice."

So they missed the first quiver of a peculiar change in him; they did
not see that his sagging chin was suddenly reared a little as if by the
application of an invisible bearing-rein.

They missed the twitching face-muscles, the slowly dilating eye, the
breath beginning to come in quick puffs through his spreading nostrils,
like the smoke issuing from the punky wood, heralding the advent of the
ruddy spark, when in the woods they started a fire with rubbing-sticks.
And just as suddenly and mysteriously as that triumphant spark
appeared--evolved by Nixon's fire-drill, from the dormant possibilities
in the dull wood--did the first glitter of fascinated light appear and
grow in the eye of Harold Greer, the prisoner of Fear, disparagingly
nicknamed the "Hare"!

"I--I can do that! I c-can do it--b-better than he can!" Stuttering and
trembling in a strange paroxysm of eagerness, the _poltron_ addressed,
in a nervous squawk, not the absorbed scouts, but Toiney, his friend and
protector.

"I can t-tie it better'n _he_ does! I know--I know I can!" The shrill
boyish voice which seemed suddenly to dominate every other sound on the
clearing was hoarse with derision as the abnormally shy and timid boy
pointed a trembling finger at Marcoo still, like a "dear donkey,"
blundering with the rope-end.

Had the gray rabbit, which suddenly at that moment whisked out of the
woods and across a distant corner, opened its mouth and addressed them,
the surprise to the two scouts could scarcely have been greater.

"Oh! _you can_, can you?" said Nixon thickly. "Let's see you try!" He
placed the rope-end in Harold's hand, which received it with a fondling
touch.

"Here you make a small loop on this part of the rope, leaving a good
long end," he began coolly, while his heart bounded, for the spark in
the furtive eye of the twelve-year-old "scaree" was rapidly becoming a
scintillation: the scouts had struck fire from him at last.

A triumph beside which the signal achievement of their friction fire in
the woods paled!

The intangible dragon which held their brother boy a captive on this
lonely clearing, not permitting him to mingle freely with his fellows
for study or play, was weakening before them.

"That's right, Harold! Go ahead: now pass the end up through the loop!
Bravo, you're the boy! Now, around the standing part--the rope
itself--and down again! Good: you have it. You can beat _him_ every time
at tying a knot: he's just a blockhead, isn't he?"

And Scout Warren pointed with much show of scorn at Marcoo, the normal
recruit, who looked on delightedly. Never before did boy rejoice so
unselfishly over being beaten at a test as Coombsie then! For right here
on the little farm-clearing a strange thing had happened.

In the gloom of every beclouded mind there is one chink by which light,
more or less, may enter; and a skillful teacher can work an improvement
by enlarging that chink.

Harold's brain was not darkened in the sense of being defective. And the
gray tent of fear in which he dwelt had its chink too; the scouts had
found it in the frayed rope-end and knot.

For while the timid boy watched Coombsie's bungling fingers, that drab
knot, upon which they blundered, suddenly beckoned to him like a star.

And, all in a moment, it was no longer his fear-stricken mother who
lived in him, but his daring fisherman-father whose horny fingers could
tie every sailor's knot that was ever heard of, and who had used that
bowline noose in many an emergency at sea to save a ship-wrecked
fellow-creature.

The bowline was the means of saving the fisherman's son now from mental
shipwreck, or something nearly as bad. Harold's eager thoughts became
entangled in it, while his fingers worked under Nixon's directions; he
forgot, for once, to be afraid.

Presently the noose was complete, and Nixon was showing him how to
tighten it by pulling on the standing part of the rope.

This achieved, the timid human "Hare" raised his brown eyes from the
rope in his hand and looked from one to another of his three companions
as in a dream, a bright one.

For half a minute a rainbowed--almost awed--silence held the three upon
the clearing. Toiney was the first to break it. He flung his arms
rapturously round the hitherto fear-bound boy.

"Bravo! mo' fin," he cried, embracing Harold as his "cute one." "Bravo!
mo' smarty. Grace à bon Dieu, you ain' so scare anny longere! You go for
be de boy--de brave boy--you go for be de scout--engh?" His eyes were
wet and winking as if, now indeed, he felt "lak' cry"!

"Certainly, you're going to be a scout, Harold," corroborated Nixon,
equally if not so eloquently moved. "Now! don't you want to learn how to
tie another knot, the fisherman's bend? You ought to be able to tie
that, you know, because your father was a great fisherman."

Harold was nothing loath. More and more his father's spirit flashed
awake in him. Through the rest of that afternoon, which marked a new era
in his life, he seemed to work with his father's fingers, while the
October sky glowed in radiant tints of saffron and blue, and a light
breeze skipped through the pine-trees and the brilliant maples that
flamed at intervals like lamps around the clearing.

"We'll come again to-morrow or the day after, Harold, and teach you more
'stunts'; I mean some other things, besides knot-tying, that a boy ought
to know how to do," said Nixon as a filmy haze hovering over the edges
of the woods warned them that it bore evening on its dull blue wings.

"Aw right!" docilely agreed Harold; and though he shuffled his feet
timidly, like the "poltron" or craven, which Toiney had in sorrow called
him, there was a shy longing in his face which said that he was sorry
the afternoon was over, that he would look for the return of his new
friends, the only boys who had ever racked their brains to help and not
to hurt him.

Before their departure he had learned how to tie three knots, square or
reef, bowline and the fisherman's bend. He had likewise admitted two
more persons within the narrow enclosure of his confidence--the two who
were to liberate him, the _éclaireurs_, the peace scouts of to-day.

And, for the first time in his life, he had awkwardly lifted his cap and
saluted the flag of his country as it waved in miniature from the
planted staff.

That afternoon was the first of several spent by Scout Warren and his
aide-de-camp, Coombsie, on the little farm-clearing in the woods, trying
to foster a boyish spirit in Harold, to overcome his dread of mingling
with other boys, to awaken in him the desire to become a boy scout and
share the latter's good times at indoor meeting, on hike, or in camp.

When the date of the second meeting drew near at which seven new
recruits were to take the scout oath and be formally organized into the
Owl Patrol, they had obtained the promise of this timid fledgling to be
present under Toiney's wing, and enlist, too.

"I wonder whether he'll keep his word or if he'll fight shy of coming at
the last minute?" whispered Nixon to Coombsie on the all-important
evening when the other recruits led by their scoutmaster marched into
the modest town hall, a neutral ground where all of diverse creeds might
meet, and where the members of the local council, including the doctor
and Captain Andy, had already assembled.

"If he doesn't show up, Nix, you won't be able to pass the twelfth point
of test for becoming a first-class scout by producing a recruit trained
by yourself in the requirements of a tenderfoot," suggested Marcoo.
"You've passed all the active tests, haven't you?"

Scout Warren nodded, keeping an anxious eye on the door. Having been
duly transferred from his Philadelphia troop to the new patrol which had
just been organized in this tide-lapped corner of Massachusetts--where
it seemed probable now that he would spend a year at least, as his
parents contemplated a longer stay in Europe--he had already passed the
major part of his examination for first-class scout before the Scout
Commissioner of the district.

He was an expert in first-aid and primitive cooking. He had prepared a
fair map of a certain section of the marshy country near the tidal
river. He could state upon his honor that he had accurately judged with
his eye a certain distance in the woods--namely, from the top of that
towering red-oak-tree which, when lost, he had chosen as a lookout
point, to the cave called the Bear's Den--on the never-to-be-forgotten
day when four painted boys and a dog finally took refuge in that rocky
cavern; the boy scout's judgment of the distance being subsequently
confirmed by lumbermen who knew every important tree in that section of
the woods.

He had passed tests in swimming, tree-felling, map-reading, and so
forth! But he would not be entitled to wear, instead of the second-class
scout badge, the badge of the first-class rank, beneath the two white
bars of the patrol leader upon his left arm, until he produced the
tenderfoot whom he had trained.

But would that timid recruit from the little woodland clearing--that
half-fledged Owlet--appear?

"Suppose he should 'funk it' at the last minute?" whispered Marcoo
tragically to the patrol leader. "No! No! As I'm alive! here they
come--Toiney, with Harold in tow. Blessings on that Canuck!" he added
fervently.

It was a strange-looking pair who now entered the little town hall:
Toiney, in a rough gray sweater and those heelless high boots, removing
his tasseled cap and depositing in a corner the lantern which had guided
him with his charge through the woods, as facile to him by night as by
day; and Harold, timidly clinging to his arm.

The brown eyes of the latter rolled up in panic as he beheld the big
lighted room wherein the boy scouts and those interested in them were
assembled. All his mother's unbalanced fear of a crowd returning upon
him in full force, he would have fled, but for Toiney's firm
imprisonment of his trembling arm, and for Toiney's voice encouraging
him gutturally with:--

"Tiens! mo' beau. _Courage!_ Gard' donc de scout wit' de flag on she's
hand! V'là! V'là!" pointing to Nixon, the patrol leader, supporting the
Stars and Stripes. "Bon courage! you go for be de scout too--engh?"

His country's flag, blooming into magnificence under the electric light,
had, to-night, a smile for Harold, as he saw it the centre of saluting
boys.

Something of his brave father's love for that National Ensign, the
"Color" as the fisherman called it, which had presided over so many
crises of that father's life, as when on a gala day in harbor he ran it
to the masthead, or twined it in the rigging, at sea, to speak another
vessel, or sorrowfully hoisted it at half-mast for a shipmate
drowned,--something of that loving reverence now began to blossom in
Harold's heart like a many-tinted flower!

"Well! here you are, Harold." Coombsie was promptly taking charge of the
new arrival, piloting him, with Toiney, to a seat. "I knew you'd come;
you've got the right stuff in you; eh?"

It was feeble "stuff" at the moment, and in danger of melting into an
open attempt at flight; for Harold's eyes had turned from the benignant
flag to the figure of Leon Chase.

But Leon had little opportunity, and less desire, to harass him
to-night.

For, as the kernel of the initiatory proceedings was reached, the first
of the seven new recruits to hold up the three fingers of his right hand
and take the scout oath was Starrie Chase:--

     "On my honor I will do my best, to do my duty to God and my
     country, and to obey the scout law: To help other people at all
     times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally
     straight."

Captain Andy cleared his throat as he listened, and the doctor wiped his
glasses.

Then, as corporal or second in command of the new patrol, Leon stood
holding aloft the brand-new flag of that patrol--a great, horned
hoot-owl, the Grand Duke of the neighboring woods, embroidered on a blue
ground by Colin's mother--while his brother recruits, having each passed
the tenderfoot test, took the oath and were enrolled as duly fledged
Owls.

Harold, the timid fledgling, came last. Supported on either side by his
sponsors, Nixon and Coombsie, he distinguished himself by tying the four
knots which formed part of the test with swiftness and skill, and by
"muddling" through the rest of the examination, consent having been
obtained from headquarters that some leniency in the matter of answers
might be shown to this handicapped boy who had never been to school and
for whom--as for Leon--the Boy Scout Movement might prove The Thing.

Captain Andy declared it to be "The Thing" when later that night he was
called upon for a speech.

"Boys!" he said, heaving his massive figure erect, the sky-blue rift of
his eye twinkling under the cloudy lid. "Boys! it's an able craft, this
new movement, if you'll only buckle to an' work it well. And it's a
hearty motto you have: BE PREPARED. Prepared to help yourselves, so that
you can stand by to help others! Lads,"--the voice of the old
sea-fighter boomed blustrously,--"there comes a time to 'most every one
who isn't a poor-hearted lubber, when he wants to help somebody else
more than he ever wanted to help himself; and if he hasn't made the most
o' what powers he has, why! when that Big Minute comes he won't be 'in
it.' Belay that! Make it fast here!" tapping his forehead. "Live up to
your able motto an' pretty soon you'll find yourselves going ahead under
all the sail you can carry; an' you won't be trying to get a corner on
the breeze either, or to blanket any other fellow's sails! Rather,
you'll show him the road an' give him a tow when he needs it. God bless
you! So long!"

And when the wisdom of the grand old sea-scout had been cheered to the
echo, the eight members of the new patrol, rallying round their Owl
flag, broke into the first verse of their song, a part of which Nixon
had sung to them by the camp-fire in the woods:--

  "No loyal Scout gives place to doubt,
    But action quick he shows!
  Like a knight of old he is brave and bold,
    And chivalry he knows.
      Then hurrah for the brave, hurrah for the good!
        Hurrah for the pure in heart!
      At duty's call, with a smile for all,
        The Scout will do his part!"

"Sing! Harold. Do your part, and sing!" urged Nixon, the patrol leader.
"Oh, go on: that isn't a scout's mouth, Harold!" looking at the weak
brother's fear-tightened lips. "A scout's mouth turns up at the corners.
Smile, Harold! Smile and sing."

A minute later Scout Warren's own features were wreathed by a smile,
humorous, moved, glad--more glad than any which had illumined his face
hitherto--for by his side the boy who had once feared the stars as they
stole out above the clearing, was singing after him:--

  "Hurrah for the sun, hurrah for the storm!
    Hurrah for the stars above!"

"He's going to make a good scout, some time; don't you think so, Cap?"
Nixon, glancing down at the timid "poltron," nudged Captain Andy's arm.

"Aye, aye! lad, I guess he will, when you've put some more backbone into
him," came the optimistic answer.

But Captain Andy's gaze did not linger on Harold. The keen search-light
of his glance was trained upon Leon--upon Corporal Chase, who, judging
by the new and lively purpose in his face, had to-night, indeed, through
the channel of his scout oath, "deepened the water in which he floated,"
as he stood holding high the royal-blue banner of the Owl Patrol.



CHAPTER IX

GODEY PECK


That stirring initiation meeting was the forerunner of others thereafter
held weekly in the small town hall, when the members of the new patrol
had their bodies developed, stiffened into manly erectness by a good
drill and various rousing indoor games, while their minds were expanded
by the practice of various new and exciting "stunts" as Leon called
them.

To Starrie Chase the most interesting of these in which he soon became
surprisingly proficient was the flag-signaling, transmitting or
receiving a message to or from a brother scout stationed at the other
end of the long hall. Spelling out such a message swiftly, letter by
letter, with the two little red and white flags, according to either the
semaphore or American Morse code, had a splendid fascination for him.

More exciting still was it when on some dark fall evening, at the end of
the Saturday afternoon hike, he gathered with his brother scouts around
a blazing camp-fire on the uplands, with the pale gray ribbon of the
tidal river dimly unrolling itself beyond the low-lying marshes, and the
scoutmaster would suggest that he should try some outdoor signaling to
another scout stationed on a distant hillock, using torches, two red
brands from the fire, one in each hand, instead of the regulation flags.

"Oh! but this is in-ter-est-ing; makes a fellow feel as if he were
'going some'!" Starrie would declare to himself in an ecstatic drawl,
as, first his right arm, then his left, manipulated the rosy firebrands,
while his keen eyes could barely discern the black silhouette of his
brother Owl's figure on its distant mound, as he spelled out a brief
message.

It certainly was "going." There was progress here: exciting progress.
Growth which made the excitement squeezed out of his former pranks seem
tame and childish!

And more than one resident of the neighborhood--including Dave Baldwin's
old mother, who lived alone in her shallow, baldfaced house, almost
denuded of paint by the elements, at a bleak point where upland and
salt-marsh met--drew a free breath and thanked God for a respite.

In addition to the indoor signaling there were talks on first-aid to
the injured by the busy doctor and on seamanship by Captain Andy whose
big voice had a storm-burr clinging to it in which, at exciting moments,
an intent ear could almost catch the echo of the gale's roar, of raging
seas, shrieking rigging and slatting sails--all the wild orchestra of
the storm-king.

Then there were the Saturday hikes, and once in a while the week-end
camping-out in the woods from Friday evening to Saturday night, whenever
Scoutmaster Estey, Colin's much-admired brother, could obtain a forenoon
holiday, in addition to the customary Saturday afternoon, from the
office where he worked as naval architect, or expert designer of
fishing-vessels, in connection with a shipbuilding yard on the river.

A notable figure in relation to the scouts' outdoor life was Toiney
Leduc, the French-Canadian farmhand. As time progressed he became an
inseparable part of it.

For Harold, the abnormally timid boy, for whom it was hoped that the new
movement would do much, was inseparable from him: Harold would not come
to scout meeting or march on hike without Toiney, although with his
brother Owls and their scoutmaster he was already beginning to emerge
from his shadowy fears like a beetle from the grub.

In time he would no doubt fully realize what impotent bugaboos were his
vague terrors, and would be reconciled to the world at large through the
medium of the Owl Patrol.

Already there was such an improvement in his health and spirits that his
grandfather raised Toiney's wages on condition that he would consent to
work all the year round on the little farm-clearing, and no longer spend
his winters at some loggers' camp, tree-felling, in the woods.

Moreover Old Man Greer, to whom the abnormal condition of his only
grandson had been a sore trial, was willing and glad to spare Toiney's
services as woodland guide to the boy scouts, including Harold, whenever
they were required for a week-end excursion.

And so much did those eight scouts learn from this primitive woodsman,
who could not command enough English to say "Boo!" straight, according
to Leon, but who understood the language and track-prints of bird and
animal as if they the shy ones had taught him, that by general petition
of all members of the new patrol, Toiney was elected assistant
scoutmaster, and duly received his emblazoned certificate from
headquarters.

His presence and songs lent a primitive charm to many a camp-fire
gathering; no normal boy could feel temporarily dull in his company, for
Toiney, besides being an expert in woodlore and a good trailer, was
essentially a _bon enfant_, or jolly child, at heart, meeting every
experience with the blithe faith that, somehow--somewhere--he would come
out on top.

In the woods his songs were generally inaudible, locked up in his heart
or throat, though occasionally they escaped to his lips which would move
silently in a preliminary canter, then part to emit a gay bar or two, a
joyous "Tra la la ... la!" or:--

  "Rond', Rond', Rond', peti' pie pon' ton'!"

But on these occasions the strain rarely soared above a whisper and was
promptly suspended lest it should startle any wild thing within hearing,
while he led his boy scouts through the denser woods with the skill and
stealth of the Indian whose wary blood mingled very slightly with the
current in his veins.

Those were mighty moments for the young scoutmaster and members of the
Owl Patrol when they "lay low," crouching breathlessly in some thicket,
with Toiney, prostrate on his face and hands, a little in advance of
them, his black eyes intent upon a fox-path, a mere shadow-track such as
four of their number had seen on that first memorable day in the woods,
where only the lightly trampled weeds or an occasional depression in
some little bush told their assistant scoutmaster, whom nothing escaped,
that some airy-footed animal was in the habit of passing there from
burrow to hunting-ground.

The waiting was sometimes long and the enforced silence irksome to
youthful scouts; there were times when it oppressed one or other of the
boys like a steel cage against the bars of which his voice, like a
rebellious bird, dashed itself in some irrepressible sound, a
pinched-off cry or smothered whistle.

But that always drew a backward hiss of "Mak' you s-silent! W'at for you
spik lak dat?" from the advance scout, Toiney, or a clipped, sarcastic
"_T'as pas besoin_ to shoutee--engh?"

And the needless semi-shout was repressed next time by the reprimanded
one, many a lesson in self-control being learned thereby.

[Illustration: "MAK' YOU S-SILENT! W'AT FOR YOU SPIK LAK DAT?"]

More than once patience was at last rewarded by a glimpse of the
trotting traveler, the sly red fox, maker of that shadow-path: of its
sandy coat, white throat, large black ears, and the bushy, reddish tail,
with milk-white tip, the "flag" as woodsmen call it.

Instinctively on such occasions Leon at first yearned for his gun, his
old "fuzzee," with which he had worked havoc--often purposeless and
excessive--among shore birds, and from which he had to part when he
enlisted in the Boy Scouts of America, and adopted principles tending
toward the conservation of all wild life rather than to destruction.

Gradually, however, Starrie Chase, like his brother scouts, came under
the glamour of this peaceful trailing. He began to discover a subtler
excitement, more spicy fun--the spicier for Toiney's presence--in the
brief contemplation of that dog-fox at home, trotting along, unmolested,
to his hunting-ground, than in past fevered glimpses of him when all
interest in his wiles and habits was merged into greed for his skin and
tail.

Many were the opportunities, too, for a glimpse at the white flag of the
shy deer as it bounded off into some deeper woodland glade, and for
being thrilled by the swift drumming of the partridge's wings when it
rose from its dusting-place on the ground or on some old log whose
brown, flaky wood could be reduced to powder; or from feasting on the
brilliant and lowly partridge-berries which, nestling amid their
evergreen leaves, challenged November's sereness.

Each woodland hike brought its own revelation--its special
discovery--insignificant, perhaps--but which thereafter stood out as a
beauty spot upon the face of the day.

The hikes were generally conducted after this manner: seven of the Owls
with their tall scoutmaster would leave the town bright and early on a
Saturday morning, a goodly spectacle in their khaki uniforms, and, staff
in hand, take their way through the woods to the little farm-clearing
where they were reinforced by the assistant scoutmaster in his rough
garb--Toiney would not don the scout uniform--and by Harold, the still
weak brother.

Their coming was generally heralded by modified shouting. And the
impulsive Toiney would suspend some farm task and stand erect with an
explosive "_Houp-là!_" tickling his throat, to witness that most
exhilarating of present-day sights, a party of boy scouts emerging from
the woods into a clearing, with Mother Nature in the guise of the early
sunshine rushing, open-armed, to meet them, as if welcoming her stray
children back to her heart.

Then Toiney, as forest guide, would assume the leadership of the party,
and not only was his thorough acquaintance with "de bird en de littal
wil' an-ni-mal" valuable; but his fund of knowledge about "heem beeg
tree," and the uses to which the different kinds of wood could be put,
seemed broad and unfailing, too.

The most exciting discovery of that season to the boys was when he
pointed out to them one day the small hole or den amid some rocky ledges
near Big Swamp where the Mother Coon--as sometimes happens, though she
generally prefers a hollow tree--had brought forth her intrepid
offspring; both the one which had raided Toiney's hencoop, and Raccoon
Junior who had come to a warlike issue with the crows.

Toiney, as he explained, had investigated that deep hole amid the ledges
when the woods were green with spring, and had discovered some wild
animal which by its size and general outline he knew to be a coon,
crouching at the inner end of it, with her young "littal as small cat."
He had beaten a hasty retreat, not willing to provoke a possible attack
from the mother rendered bold by maternity, or to disturb the infant
family.

He was radiant at finding the coon's rocky home again, though
tenantless, now.

"Ha! I'll know we fin' heem den"; he beamed upon his comrades with
primitive conceit. "We arre de boy--engh? We arre de bes' scout ev'ry
tam!"

And that was the aim of each member of the Owl Patrol, with the
exception, perhaps, of Harold, not indeed to be the "best scout," but to
figure as the equal in scoutcraft of any lad of his age and a
corresponding period of service, in the United States. To this end he
drilled, explored and studied, somewhat to the mystification of boys who
still held aloof from the scout movement!

"Where are ye off to, Starrie?" inquired Godey Peck, a youth of this
type, one fair November afternoon, intercepting Leon about an hour after
school had closed. "Don't you want to come along with me? I'm going down
to Stanway's shipyard to have a look at the new vessel that they're
going to launch at daybreak to-morrow. She's all wedged up on the ways,
ready to go. Say!" Godey edged slyly nearer to Leon, "us boys--Choc
Latour, Benjie Lane an' me--have hit on a plan for being launched in
her. You know they won't allow boys to be aboard, if they know it, when
she shoots off the launching ways. But those ship carpenters'll have to
rise bright and early if they want to get ahead of us! See?"

Godey laid a forefinger against the left side of his nose, to emphasize
a high opinion of his own subtlety.

"How are you going to work it?" Leon asked briefly.

"Why! there's a vessel 'most built on the stocks right 'longside the
finished hull. Us boys are going to wake very early, trot down to the
shipyard before any of the workmen are around; then we'll shin up the
staging an' over the half-built vessel right onto the white deck o' the
new one that's waiting to be launched. 'Twill be easy to drop below into
the cabin an' hide under the bunks until the time comes for launching
her. When we hear 'em knocking out the last block from under her
keel--when she's just beginning to crawl--then we'll pop up an' be on
deck when she's launched; see?"

"Ho! So you're going to do the stowaway act, eh?" Starrie Chase, with
that characteristic snap of his brown eyes, seemed to be taking a mental
photograph of the plan.

"Only for an hour or two. You want to be in this too; don't you,
Starrie?"

Leon was silent, considering. The underhand scheme ran counter to the
aboveboard principles of the scout law which he had sworn to obey; of
that he felt sure. "On my honor I will do my best ... to keep myself
morally straight!" Voluntarily and enthusiastically he had taken the
chivalrous oath, and he was "too much of a fellow" to go back on it
deliberately.

"No! I don't want to play stowaway," he answered after a minute. "It's a
crazy plan anyhow! Give it up, Gode! Likely enough you'll scratch up the
paint of the new cabin with your boots, skulking there all three of
you--then there'll be a big row; and 'twould seem a pity, too, after all
the months it has taken to build an' paint that dandy new hull."

Such a view would scarcely have presented itself to Leon two months ago;
he certainly was "deepening the water" in which he floated.

"Well, let's pop down to the shipyard anyhow, an' see her!" urged Godey,
hoping that a contemplation of the new vessel, airily wedged high on the
launching ways, with her bridal deck white as a hound's tooth, would
weaken the other's resolution.

"No, I'll be down there to-morrow morning, on the river-slip, to see her
go. But I want to do something else this afternoon. I'm going home to
study."

"What?"

"Flag-signaling in the Boy Scout Handbook. I can send a message by
semaphore now, twenty letters per minute; I must get it down to sixteen
before I can pass the examination for first-class scout!" Starrie threw
this out impetuously, his face glowing. "We're going to have an outdoor
test in some other things this evening--if I pass it I'll be a
second-class scout. I don't want to be a tenderfoot for ever! Say! but
the signaling gets me; it's so interesting: I'm beginning to study the
Morse code now."

"Pshaw! You boy scouts jus' make me tired." Godey leaned against the
parapet of the broad bridge above the tidal river whereon the boys
stood, as if the contemplation of so much energy ambitiously directed
was too much for him. "Here comes another of your kind now!"

He pointed to Colin Estey who came swinging along out of the distance,
his quick springy step and upright carriage doing credit to the scouts'
drill.

Colin halted ere crossing the bridge to hail a street-car for an old
gentleman who was making futile attempts to stop it, and then
courteously helped him to the platform.

Godey shook his head over the action. "Cock-a-doodle-doo!" he crowed
scornfully. "Ain't we acting hifalutin?"

Yet there was nothing at all bombastic about the simple good turn or in
Colin's bright face as he joined the other scout upon the bridge and
marched off homeward with him, their rhythmic step and erect carriage
attracting the attention of more than one adult pedestrian.

Godey lolled on the parapet, looking after them, racking his brain for
some derisive epithet to hurl at their backs; he longed to shout,
"Sissies!" and "Spongecakes!" But such belittling terms clearly didn't
apply.

The only mocking shaft in his quiver that would come anywhere near
hitting the mark of those well-drilled backs--straight as a rod--was one
which even he felt to be feeble:--

"Oh! you Tin Scouts," he shouted maliciously. "Tin Soldiers! _Tin
Scouts!_" sustaining the cry until the two figures disappeared from view
in the direction of the Chase homestead.



CHAPTER X

THE BALDFACED HOUSE


But Leon did not study signaling and the Morse alphabet that afternoon.
He was presently dispatched by his father, who owned a pleasant home on
the outskirts of the town, on an errand to a farm some two miles distant
on the uplands that skirted the woods.

The afternoon had all the spicy beauty of early November, with a slight
frost in the air. The fresh breeze laughed like a tomboy as it romped
over the salt-marshes. Each eddying dimple in the tidal river shone like
a star sapphire, while the broad, brackish channel wound in and out
between the marshes with as many wriggles as a lively trout.

"Those little creeks look like runaways," thought Leon as he paused upon
the uplands and beamed down upon the wide panorama of golden marsh-land
and winding water. "They're for all the world like schoolboys that have
cut school, giggling an' running to hide!" His eye dreamily followed the
course of many a truant creek that half-turned its head, looking under
the tickling sunbeams as if it were glancing back over its shoulder,
while it burrowed into the marshes vainly trying to hide where the
relentless schoolmaster, called, for want of a better name, Solar
Attraction, might not find it and compel its return to the ocean.

"And the Sugarloaf Sand-Dunes; don't they look fine?" reflected the boy
scout further, his eye traveling off downstream to where the curving
tidal channel broadened into pearly plains of water, bounded at one
distant point, near the juncture of river and sea, by a dazzlingly white
beach.

There the fine colorless sand, which when viewed closely had very much
the hue of skim milk, the white being shot with a faint gray-blue tinge,
had been piled by the winds of ages into tall sand-hills, into pyramids
and columns: one dazzling pillar, in especial, being named the Sugarloaf
from its crystalline whiteness, had given its name to the whole expanse
of dune and beach.

The tall Sugarloaf gleamed in the distance now like a snowy lighthouse
whose lamps are sleeping, presiding over the mouth of the tidal river;
its brother sand-hills capped by vegetation might have been the pure
bright cliffs of some fairy shore.

The boy scout stood for many minutes upon the uplands, gazing afar, his
mouth open as if he were physically drinking in that distant beauty.

"Gee whiz! this is gr-reat; isn't it, Blinkie?" he murmured to the
squatting dog by his side. "I never before saw that old Sugarloaf look
as it does to-day; did you, Mr. Dog?"

It had appeared just as radiantly beautiful, off and on, during all the
seasons of Leon's life. But his powers of observation had not been
trained as was the case of late. In the years prior to his becoming a
scout, when his inseparable companion on uplands and marsh had been a
shotgun--from the time he was permitted free use of one--and the
all-absorbing idea in his mind how to contrive a successful shot at
shore bird or animal, he had gone about "lak wit' eye shut," so far as
many things just now beginning to fill him with a wonderful, speechless
gladness were concerned.

"Well, we're not heading for that farmhouse, are we, pup?" he said at
length, turning from the contemplation of runaway creeks and radiant
dunes to the completion of his father's errand.

But the sunlit beauty at which he had been gazing coursed through his
every vein, finding vent in a curly, ecstatic whistle that ascended in
spirals until it touched the high keynote of exultation and there hung
suspended; while the rest of the trip to that upland farmhouse was
accomplished in a series of broad jumps, the terrier being as wild with
delight as his master.

The errand performed and the boy scout having put in half an hour
condescendingly amusing the farmer's two small children, while Blink
exchanged compliments with his kind, master and dog started upon the
return walk.

"Oh! it's early yet; don't you want to come a little way into the woods,
doggie?" said Leon, doubling backward after they had taken a few steps.
"We haven't had many runs together lately. Your nose has been out of
joint; poor pup!" stooping to caress the terrier. "Toiney says we can't
take you on our scout hikes, because you'd scare every 'littal wil'
an-ni-mal' within a mile. You would, too; wouldn't you? But there's an
outdoor scout meeting to-night to be held over in Sparrow Hollow, each
fellow lighting his own camp-fire--using not more than two matches--and
cooking his own supper. And you may come. Yes, I said you might come!"
as the dog, gyrating like a feather, seized his coat-sleeve between
strong white teeth in his eagerness not to be excluded from any more fun
that might be afoot.

They were soon on the sere skirts of the woodland, prancing through
leafy drifts.

"We can't go far," said Leon. "We must get back to the town and buy our
half-pound of beefsteak that we're to cook without the use of any
ordinary cooking-utensil, and so pass one of the tests for becoming a
second-class scout. I'll divvy up with you, pup! But whew! isn't this
just fine?... The woods in November can put it all over the September
woods to my mind."

He added the last words to himself. There was something about the rugged
strength of the stripped trees, with the stealing blue haze of evening
softening their bareness, about the evergreen grandeur of pine and
hemlock lording it over their robbed brethren, about the drab,
parchment-like leaves clinging with eerie murmur to the oak-tree, and
the ruddy twigs of bare berry-bushes, that appealed to the element of
rugged daring in the boy himself.

He could not so soon break away from the woods as he had intended,
though he only explored their outskirts.

Dusk was already falling when he found himself on the open uplands
again, bound back toward the distant town.

"The scouts are to start for Sparrow Hollow at six o'clock: we must
hustle, if we want to start with them," he said to the dog. "The only
way we can make it is by taking a short cut across the marshes and
wading through the river; that would be a quick way of reaching the town
and the butcher's shop, to buy our beefsteak," muttering rapidly, partly
to himself, partly to his impatient companion. "The tide is full out
now, the water will be shallow; I can take off my shoes and stockings
and carry you, pup. Who cares if it's cold?"

The boy scout, with an anticipatory glow all over him, felt impervious
to any extreme of temperature as he bounded down the uplands, with the
breeze--the freshening, freakish breeze--driving across the salt-marshes
directly in his face, racing through every vein in him, stirring up a
whirligig within, presently bringing waste things to the top even as it
stirred up dust and refuse in the roadway.

"Hullo! there's the old _baldfaced house_," he cried suddenly to the
dog. "Here we are on our old stamping-ground, Blink! Wonder if 'Mom
Baldwin' is doing her witch stunts still? We haven't said 'Howdy!' to
her for a long time; have we, pup?"

Slackening pace, for that fickle breeze was blowing away many things
that he ought to have remembered, among them the lateness of the hour,
he turned aside a few steps to where a lonely old house stood at the
foot of the slope as the uplands melted into the salt-marshes.

It was a shallow shell of a dwelling--all face and no rear
apparently--and that face was bald, almost stripped of paint by the
elements. Just as storm-stripped was the heart of the one old woman who
lived in it, and whom Leon had been wont to call a "solitary crank!"

To the neighborhood generally she was known as Ma'am Baldwin, mother of
the young scape-grace, Dave Baldwin, who had so troubled the peaceful
town by his pranks that he had finally been shut up in a reformatory,
and who was now, a year after his release, a useless vagrant, spending,
according to report, most of his time loafing between the white
sand-dunes on one side of the river and the woods on the
other--incidentally breaking his mother's heart at the same time.

She had lived here in the old baldfaced house, with him, her youngest
boy, the child of her middle age, until his wild doings brought the
law's hand upon him. After his imprisonment shame prevented her leaving
the isolated dwelling and going to live with her married daughter near
the town, though that daughter's one child, her little grandson Jack,
possessed all the love-spots still green in her withered heart.

In her humiliation and loneliness "Mom Baldwin," as the boys called her,
had become rather eccentric.

She had more than once been seen by those town boys--Leon and his
gang--stationed behind the smeared glass of her paintless window, doing
strange signaling "stunts" with a lighted lantern, whose pale rays
described a circle, dipped and then shot up as, held aloft in her bony
old hand, it sent an amber gleam over the salt-marshes.

"She's a witch--a witch like Dark Tammy, who lived on the edge of the
woods over a hundred years ago and who washed her clothes at the Witch
Rock," whispered Starrie Chase and his companions one to another as they
lay low among the rank grass of the dark marshes, spying upon her.
"She's a witch, working spells with that lantern!"

Older people surmised that she was signaling to her vagabond son, who
might be haunting the distant marshes, trying to lure him home; shame
and grief on his account had half-unbalanced her, they said.

But the boys pretended to stick to their own superstitious belief,
because, to them, it offered some shabby excuse for tormenting her.

Leon Chase in particular made her rank little garden his nightly
stamping-ground, and was the most ingenious in his persecuting
attentions.

He it was who devised the plan of anchoring a shingle or other light
piece of wood by a short string to the longest branch of the apple-tree
that grew near her door.

When the wind blew directly across the marshes, as it did this evening,
and drove against that paintless door, it operated the impromptu
knocker; the wooden shingle would keep up an intermittent tapping,
playing ticktack upon the painted panels all night.

Sometimes Ma'am Baldwin had come to the door a dozen times and peered
forth over the dark salt-marshes, believing that it was her vagrant son
who demanded entrance, while the perpetrators of the trick, Leon Chase,
Godey Peck and others of their gang--tickled in the meanest part of them
by the fact that they "kept her guessing"--hid among the marsh-grass
and watched.

Hardly any prank could have been more senseless, childish, and
unfeeling. Yet Starrie Chase had actually believed that he got some sham
excitement out of it.

And to-night as his feet pressed his old stamping-ground beneath that
apple-tree beside the house, while the wind raked the marshes and
whipped his thoughts into dusty confusion, the old waste impulses which
prompted the trick were mysteriously whirled uppermost again.

The mischievous tide rip boiled in him once more.

Just as he became conscious of its yeasty bubbling, his foot touched
something on the ground--a hard winter apple. He picked it up and threw
it against the house, imposing silence on his dog by dictatorial gesture
and word.

There was a stir within the paintless dwelling. Through the blurred
window-panes he caught sight of a shrunken form moving.

"Ha! there's the old 'witch' herself. She looks like a withered
corn-stalk with all those odds and ends of shawls dangling about her.
Ssh-ssh! Blinkie. Down, doggie! _Quiet, sir!_"

Leon's fingers groped upon the ground, where twilight shadows were
merging into darkness, for another apple. Since he enlisted as a boy
scout mischief had been sentenced and shut up in a dark little cell
inside him. But Malign Habit, though a captive, dies hard.

Those seeking fingers touched something else, a worm-eaten shingle blown
from the old roof. He picked it up and considered it in the darkness,
while his left hand felt in his pocket for some twine.

"Gee! it would be a great night for that trick to work," he muttered
with a low chuckle that had less depth to it than a parrot's. "The wind
is just in the right direction--driving straight through the house. Eh,
Blink! Shall we 'get her on a string' again?"

The dog whined softly with impatience. Of late, in his short excursions
with his master, he had not been used to such stealthy doings. With the
exception of the trailing expeditions through the woods from which
canines were debarred, movements had been open, manly, and aboveboard
since the master became a boy scout.

But Leon had forgotten that he was a scout, had momentarily forgotten
even the outdoor test in Sparrow Hollow, and the necessary preparations
therefor.

His fingers trifled with the shingle and string. His brain going ahead
of those fingers was already attaching the one to the other when--the
paintless door opened and Ma'am Baldwin stepped out.

She did look like a wind-torn corn-stalk, short and withered, with the
breeze catching at the many-colored strips of shawls that hung around
her, uniting to protect her somewhat against that marsh-wind driving
straight from the river through her home.

From her left hand drooped a pale lantern, the one with which boyish
imagination had accused her of working spells.

It made an island of yellow light about her as she stepped slowly forth
into the dusk. And Leon saw her raise her right arm to her breast with
that timid, pathetic movement characteristic of old people--especially
of those whom life has treated harshly--as if she was afraid of what
might spring upon her out of the gusty darkness.

Not for nothing had Starrie Chase been for two months a boy scout! Prior
to those eight weeks of training that feebly defensive arm would have
meant naught to him; hardly would he have noticed it. But just as his
eyes had been opened to consider at length, with a dazzled thrill, that
distant Sugarloaf Sand-Pillar and other of Nature's beauties as he had
seldom or never contemplated them before; so those scout's eyes were
being trained to remark each significant gesture of another person and
to read its meaning.

Somehow, that right arm laid across an old woman's breast told a tale of
loneliness and lack of defenders which made the boy wince. The distance
widened between his two hands holding respectively the shingle and
string.

There was a wood-pile within a few yards of him. Ma'am Baldwin stepped
toward it, breathing heavily and ejaculating: "My sen-ses! How it do
blow!" While Leon restrained the terrier with a "_Quiet_, Blink! Don't
go for her!"

Ma'am Baldwin, intent on holding fast to her shawls and procuring some
chunks from the wood-pile--nearsighted as she was, to boot--did not
notice the boy and dog standing in the blackness beneath the bare
apple-tree.

She set the lantern atop of the pile. As she bent forward, groping for a
hatchet, its yellow rays kindled two other lanterns in her eyes by whose
light the lurking boy gazed through into her heart and saw for a brief
moment how tired, lonely, and baffled it was.

At the glimpse he straightened up very stiffly. There was a gurgle in
his throat, a stirring as of panic at the roots of his hair.

But not scare produced the rigidity! It was caused by a sudden great
throe within which scraped his throat and sent a dimness to his eyes.
The captive, Malign Habit, imprisoned before, was dying now in the grasp
of the Scout.

To put it otherwise,--at sight of an old woman's arm pathetically
shielding her breast, at a startled peep into her heart, the tight
little bud of chivalry in Leon, watered of late by his scout training,
fostered by the good turn to somebody every day, burst suddenly,
impetuously into flower!

With a low snarl at himself, he thrust the coil of string deep into his
pocket, and flung the shingle as far as he could into the night.

"Ughr-r-r! Guess I was meaner'n you'd be, Blink!" he muttered,
swallowing the discovery that sometimes of yore, in his dealings with
his own kind, he had been less of a gentleman than his dog.

To which Blink, freed from restraint, returned a sharp, glad "Wouf!"
that said: "I'm glad you've come to your senses, old man!"

"Hullo! 'Mom Baldwin,'" Leon stepped forward as the bowed woman started
at the monosyllabic bark, and peered fearfully into the darkness. "Don't
you want me to split those chunks for you? You can't manage the
hatchet."

Ma'am Baldwin's experience had taught her to distrust boys--Leon
especially! As her peering eyes recognized him, she backed away, raising
her right arm to her breast again with that helpless gesture of defense.

Starrie Chase blenched in turn. That pathetic old arm warding him off
hurt him more at the core than a knockdown blow from a stronger limb.

But remembering all at once that he was a scout, trained to prompt
action, he picked up the hatchet where she had dropped it, and set to
work vigorously, chopping wood.

"Now! I'll carry these chunks into the house for you," he said
presently. "Aw! let me. I'd just as soon do it!"

Ma'am Baldwin had no alternative. Leon pushed the paintless door open
and carried the wood inside, while she hobbled after him, well-nigh as
much astonished as if Gabriel's trump had suddenly awoke the echoes of
the gusty marshland.

The scout went to and fro for another ten minutes, splitting more
chunks, piling them ready to her hand within.

Meanwhile his beneficiary, the old woman, seemed to have got a little
light on the surprising situation. Grunting inarticulately, chewing her
bewilderment between her teeth, she disappeared into a room off the
kitchen and returned holding forth a ten-cent piece to her knight.

"No, thanks! I'm a boy scout. We don't take money for doing a good
turn." Leon shook his head. "Say! this old house is so draughty; you
burn all the wood you want to-night; I'll run over to-morrow or next day
an' split some more. Is there anything else I can do for you before I
go? You've got enough water in from the well," he peered into the
water-pail, which winked satisfactorily.

Ma'am Baldwin had sunk upon a chair, alternately looking in perplexity
at the energetic boy, and listening to the frisky gusts: "My sen-ses!
Whatever's come over you, Leon?" she gasped; and then wailingly: "Deary
me! if it should blow up a gale to-night, some things in this house'll
ride out."

"No, it isn't going to blow up a storm," Leon reassured her. "The wind's
not really high, only it gets such a rake over the marshes. Here, I'll
tie these old shutters together for you, the fastening is broken," and
the coil of string was produced from his pocket for a new purpose. "But
it must be _awful_ lonely for you, living here by yourself, Ma'am
Baldwin. You'll be snowed in later on; we'll have to come and dig you
out."

Still chewing the cud of her bewilderment, she stared at him, mumbling,
nodding, and stroking the gray hair from her forehead with nervous
fingers. But there was a humid light in the old eyes that spilled over
on the boy as he worked.

"Why don't you go to live with your daughter an' your grandson in the
town?" went on Leon as he tied together the last pair of flapping
shutters. "And you're so fond of little Jack too; he's a nice kid!"

"So he is!" nodded the grandmother; a change overspread her entire face
now, she looked tender, grandmotherly, half-hopeful, as if for the
moment trouble on behalf of her ne'er-do-well son was forgotten. "Well!
perhaps I will move there before the winter sets in hard, Leon. I'm not
so smart as I was. I'm sure I don't know how to thank you! Good-night!"

"Good-night!" returned the scout. "You can untie those shutters easily
enough in the morning."

And he found himself outside again upon the dark marshland, with the
obedient terrier who had trotted at his heels during the late
proceedings, waltzing excitedly at his side.

"Ah, la! la! as Toiney says, it's too late now, Blink, for us to put
back to the town to buy our supper--half a pound of beefsteak and two
potatoes, to be cooked over each one's special fire," muttered the boy,
momentarily irresolute. "Well! we'll have to let the grub go, and race
back across the uplands, over to the Hollow. Stir your trotters, Mr.
Dog!"

As the two regained the crest of the hilly uplands, Leon paused for
breath. On his left hand stretched the dark, solemn woods, where the
breeze hooted weirdly among leafless boughs. On his right, beyond upland
and broad salt-marsh, wound the silver-spot river in whose now shallow
ripples bathed a rising moon.

Quarter of a mile ahead of him a rosy flush upon the cheek of darkness
told that in the sheltered hollow, between a clump of pines that served
as a windbreak and the woods, the Owls' camp-fires were already blazing.

"Tooraloo! I feel as if I could start my fire to-night without using a
match at all--just by snapping my fingers at it, or with a piece of damp
bark and a snowball, as the woodsmen say," he confided half-audibly to
the dog.

Whence this feeling of prowess, of being a firebrand--a genial
one--capable of kindling other and better lights in the world than a
camp-fire?

Starrie Chase did not analyze his sensations of magnificence, which
bloomed from a discovery back there on the marshes of the secret which
is at the root of the Boy Scout Movement, at the base of all Christian
Chivalry, at the foundation of golden labor for mankind in every age:
namely, that the excitement of helping people is vastly, vitally, and
blissfully greater than the spurious excitement of hurting them!



CHAPTER XI

ESTU PRETA!


"Hullo! here's Starrie. Well! it's about time you turned up. We waited
quarter of an hour for you before leaving town.--Hey! Starrie, we've got
our six cook-fires all going. I only used two matches in lighting mine;
I've passed one half of to-night's test.--So've I! Whoopee! _I_ 'went
the jolly test one better': I lit my fire with a single, solitary
match."

Starrie Chase, bounding down the grassy side of Sparrow Hollow, with
these lusty cries of his brother Owls greeting him, stood for a moment
in the brilliant glare of a belt of fires, as if dazed by the ruddy
carnival, while his dog, making a wild circuit of the ring, bayed each
bouquet of flames in turn.

"Yaas; we'll get heem littal fire light lak' wink--sure! We ar-re de
boy! We ar-re de scout, you'll bet!" supplemented the merry voice of
Toiney, the assistant scoutmaster, who, with the tassel of his red cap
bobbing, and the flame-light flickering on his blue homespun shirt, was
on his knees before Harold's cook-fire, using his lungs as a pair of
bellows.

"Hurrah! I'm in this: I'll light my fire with one match, too. Kenjo Red
shan't get ahead of me: no, sir!" Corporal Leon Chase was now working
like lightning, piling dry leaves, pine splinters, dead twigs into a
carefully arranged heap in a gap which had been left for him in the ring
of half a dozen fires kindled by six tenderfoot scouts, ambitious of
being admitted to a second-class degree.

But he, the behind-time tenderfoot, was abruptly held up in his tardy
labors by the voice of the tall scoutmaster, who with Scout Warren, the
patrol leader of the Owls, was superintending the tests.

"I want to speak to you for a minute, Leon," said Scoutmaster Estey,
with a gravity that dropped like a weighty pebble into the midst of the
fun.

And Corporal Chase, otherwise Scout 2, of the Owls, obediently suspended
fire-building, approached his superior officer and saluted.

"I'd like to know where you have been for the last hour," began the
scoutmaster with the dignity of a brigadier-general holding an
investigation, while his keen eyes from under the drab broad-brimmed
hat searched Leon's face in the sixfold firelight. "Jimmy Sweet,"
nodding toward a squatting Owl, "said he caught a distant glimpse of you
nearly an hour ago over on the edge of the salt-marshes near Ma'am
Baldwin's old house. I hope you haven't been plaguing her again?"

The voice of the superior officer was all ready to be stern, as if he
had visions of a corporal being requested to hand over his scout-badge
of chivalry until such time as he should prove himself worthy of wearing
it.

"Have you?"

"No!" Leon cleared his throat hesitatingly. "No,"--he suddenly lifted
steady eyes to the scoutmaster's face,--"I have been chopping wood and
doing a few other little things for her; that made me late!"

A moment's breathless silence enveloped the six cook-fires. The face of
the scoutmaster himself was set in lines of amazement: genially it
relaxed.

"Good for you, Corporal!" He clapped the late-comer approvingly on the
shoulder, and in his voice was a moved ring.

For, as he scanned the boy's face in the sixfold glow, he read from it
that, to-night, Leon had really become a scout: that, back there on the
salt-marshes, the inner and chivalrous grace of knighthood, of which his
oath was the outward and heralding sign, had been consciously born
within him.

The scoutmaster was feeling round in his broad approval for other words
of commendation, when Toiney's sprightly tones broke the momentary
tension.

"Ha! dis poor ole oomans," he grunted, vivaciously pitying Ma'am
Baldwin. "She's lif' all alone en she's burst she's heart for she haf
such a _bad boy_, engh? She's boy, Dave, heem _canaille_,
_vaurien_--w'at-you-call, good-for-nodings--engh?"

"I'm afraid he is," agreed the scoutmaster regretfully. "Yet I pity Dave
too. His elder brother went West when he was a little fellow; his
father, who was a deep-sea fisherman, like Harold's father, was away
nearly all the year round. Dave grew up without any strong man's hand
over him; out of school-hours he had to work hard on a farm, and I
suppose in his craving for fun of some kind he played all sorts of
foolish pranks. After he left school and was old enough to know better,
he kept them up--ran a locomotive out of the little railway station one
night, came near killing a man and was sent to a reformatory!"

"Bah! heem jus' vagabond--_errant_--how-you-say-eet--tramp-sonne-of-a-
gun--_vaurien_, engh?" declared Toiney, gutturally contemptuous, while
he poked Harold's fire with a dry stick.

"Yes, he's a mere vagrant now, loafing about the Sugarloaf Sand-Dunes
and the woods; and likely to get into trouble again through petty
thefts, so people say. When he had served his sentence he seemed to
think there wasn't much of a future before him, and didn't stick to the
job he got. I pity his old mother! I think that every boy scout should
make it a point to do a good turn for her when he can."

"Ah! _oui_; shes break in pieces, engh?" murmured Toiney, the
irrepressible, still punching up the fire, to prepare it for the cooking
tests.

Somehow, his eloquent sympathy sent a stab through Leon--whom everybody
was at the moment regarding with admiration--for it brought a sharp
recollection of an old woman backing away from him in fear, with her
right arm laid across her breast in piteous self-defense.

"Gee! I wish I could do something more for her than chopping
wood--something that would make up for being mean to her," thought
Corporal Chase, as he returned to his fire-building, arranging the fuel
methodically so as to allow plenty of draught, and then triumphantly
rivaling Kenjo's feat by lighting his cook-fire with one match.

The tiny, snappy laughter of that matchhead, seeming to rejoice that
another baby light was born into the world, as he drew it along a dry
stick, restored his towering good spirits.

"And now for the cooking test!" cried the scoutmaster. "Each scout to
put his two potatoes to roast in the embers of his fire, and make a
contrivance for broiling his beefsteak! And look out that you don't
'cook the black ox,' boys, as Captain Andy would say!"

"What do you mean by 'cooking the black ox'?" from two or three excited
and perspiring scouts.

"Why! that's what the sailors say when their beef is burnt to the color
of a black-haired ox," laughed the superior officer. "Scout Chase,
haven't you brought any beefsteak and potatoes?"

"No, I meant to go back to the town for them an' meet you there. Blink
an' I don't want any supper; we'll get it when we go home," returned
Leon nonchalantly, swallowing his mortification at not being able to
complete the outdoor test, this evening.

"Oh! I'll share my rations with you, Starrie," volunteered Colin Estey.
"I shan't 'cook the black ox': I'm too nifty a cook for that; trust me!"
Colin was concocting a handsome gridiron of peeled twigs as he spoke.

"Don't mind him, Starrie: I could cook better when I was born than Col
can now! I'll divide my beefsteak and 'taters' with you," came from
another primitive chef, the offer being repeated more or less alluringly
by every boy scout.

"Well! you're a generous-hearted bunch," put in Nixon, the patrol
leader, from his over-seer's post. "But the scout-master and I have more
than a pound of raw beefsteak here which we brought along for our
supper. As I'm not in these tests" (Nixon was now a full-fledged
first-class scout) "I'll cut off a piece for Leon so that he can cook it
himself; I guess we can spare him a couple of potatoes too; then he can
pass the test, with the others."

During the supper which followed while each scout, sitting cross-legged
by his own cook-fire, partook of the meal in primitive fashion and
Toiney made coffee for the "crowd," more than one Owl shared in the
opinion once enunciated by Leon that eating in the woods--or in a woodsy
hollow such as sheltered them now from the breeze that drove keenly
across the marshes--was the "best part of the business."

They modified that opinion later when the seven small fires, which had
sputtered merrily under the cooking, were reinforced by logs and
branches, and stimulated into a belt of vivacious camp-fires, each
rearing high its topknot of crested flame, and throwing wonderful
reflections through the stony hollow.

"I always wanted to be a savage. To-night, I feel nearer to it than ever
before," said Colin, listening with an ecstatic shiver to the wind as it
chanted among the pines that formed their windbreak, capered round the
hollow, flinging them a gust or two that made the camp-fires roar with
laughter, and then, as if unwilling to disturb such a jolly party,
rushed wildly on to take it out of the trees in the woods. "And now for
the powwow, Mr. Scoutmaster!" he suggested, looking across the ring of
fires at his tall brother and superior officer.

"Hark! that's an owl hooting somewhere," broke in Coombsie. "It's the
Grand Duke, I think--the big old horned owl! One doesn't hear him often
at this time of year. He wants to be present at the Owl Powwow."

"Ah, la! la! I'll t'ink he soun' lak' hongree ole wolf, me," murmured
Toiney dreamily.

But the distant hoot, the deep "Whoo-hoo-hoodoo hoo," or
"Whoo-hoo-whoo-whah-hoo!" as some of the boys interpreted it, from the
far recesses of the woods, added a final touch of mystic wildness to the
sevenfold radiance of the firelit scene which was reflected in the
sevenfold rapture of boyish hearts.

And now the heads of human Owls were bent nearer to the golden flames as
notebooks were drawn out containing rough pencil jottings, and scouts
compared their observations of man, beast, bird, fish, or inanimate
object, encountered in the woods, on the uplands or marshes, or upon the
river during the past few days!

Kenjo Red offered the most important contribution.

"I went to Ipswich yesterday to spend the day with my uncle," he began,
as he lay, breast downward, gazing reflectively into his fire. "In the
afternoon we walked over to the Sugarloaf Sand-Dunes and lounged about
there on the white beach, watching the tide go out. We didn't see many
birds, only a few herring gulls. But I'll tell you what we did see: two
big harbor seals and a young one, lying out on a sand-spit which the
tide had just left bare. They were sunning themselves an' having a dandy
time! One was a monster, a male, or big old dog-seal, my uncle said; he
must have been nearly six feet long, and weighed about half a ton."

"More or less?" threw in the scoutmaster, laughing at Kenjo's jesting
imagination. "Generally a big male weighs almost two hundred pounds,
occasionally something over. Hereabouts, he is indifferently called the
'dog-seal' or 'bull-seal,' according to the speaker's taste; his head is
shaped rather like a setter dog's, with the ears laid flat back,--for
the seal has no ears to speak of,--but the eyes are bovine," he
explained to Nixon, who knew less about this sea mammal than did his
brother scouts, and who had never seen him at close quarters.

"Isn't it unusual to find seals high and dry at this time of year?"
asked Coombsie. "In the spring and summer one sees plenty of them down
near the mouth of the river, sprawling in the sun on a reef or sandbar.
But in the late fall and winter they mostly stay in the water."

"Not when the river is frozen over--or partially frozen," threw in
Leon. "They love to take a ride on a drifting ice-cake, so Captain Andy
says! Is there any bounty on their heads now, Mr. Scoutmaster?" he
addressed the troop commander.

"No, that has been removed. The marbled harbor seal, so called because
of his spots, was being wiped out, as he was wiping out the fish many
years ago, before the Government put a price on his head. Now that he is
no longer severely persecuted the mottled dotard, as he is sometimes
called,--I'm sure I don't know why, for I see no signs of senility about
him,--is becoming tamer and more prevalent again. Still, he's wilder and
shyer than he used to be."

"Yes, there's an old fisherman's shack on one corner of the Sugarloaf
Dunes, where a clam-digger keeps his pails and a boat," said Kenjo. "He
let my uncle take the boat and we rowed across to the sand-spit. The
seals let us come within thirty yards of them: then they stirred
themselves lazily, with that funny wabble they have--just like a person
whose hands are tied together, and his feet tied more tightly
still--lifting the head and short fore-flippers first and swinging them
to one side, then the back part of the body and long hind-flippers,
giving them a swing to the other side. Say! but it was funny. So they
flopped off into the water."

"Goodness! I wish that I'd been with you, Kenjo," exclaimed Scout
Warren. "I haven't seen a harbor seal yet, except just his head as he
swam round in the water, when Captain Andy took me down the river in his
power-boat, the Aviator. We rowed ashore in the Aviator's Pill,"
laughingly, "in that funny little tub of a rowboat which dances
attendance on the gasolene launch, but though we landed on the white
sand-dunes and stayed round there for quite a while, not a seal did we
see sprawling out on any reef."

"I'll see heem _gros seal_ on reever," broke in Toiney gutturally. "I'll
see heem six mont' past on reever _au printemps_--in spring--w'en, he go
for kill todder gros seal; he'll hit heem en mak' heem go deaded--engh?"

"Yes, the males have bad duels between themselves occasionally. But
they're mild enough toward human beings. However, my father had a
strange experience with them once," said the scoutmaster, pushing back
his broad hat, so that the sevenfold glow from the fires danced upon his
strong face. "He's told me about it ever since I was a little boy, and
Colin too. When he was a very young man he rowed down to the mouth of
the river one day with some sportsmen who went off to shoot ducks,
leaving him to dig clams and get a clambake ready for them on the white
dunes. Well, sir! left alone, he pulled off to the clam-flats, drew up
his boat, stepped out, and the tide being at a low ebb, set to work to
dig up the clams which were here and there thrusting their long necks up
from the wet sand, to feed on the infusoria--their favorite feeding-time
being when it is nearly, but not quite, low water.

"The tide had receded altogether from the other side of the sand-flats,
so that they joined the marshy mainland, and as my father landed he saw
that there was a big herd of twenty or thirty seals lying out on those
flats. It was before a bounty was set upon their heads, when they were
very plentiful and tame. My father was not in the least afraid of them
and was proceeding to dig his clams peacefully, when he suddenly saw
that the whole herd was thrown into a wild panic by the discovery that
_he_ was between them and the water. They broke into a floundering
stampede and came straight for him--or rather for the water behind
him--at a fast clip, half sliding, half throwing themselves along. A
funny sight they must have been! Father says one big fellow came at him
with his mouth wide open: the four sharp white teeth in front, two upper
and two lower, shining. So Dad just turned tail and ran for the water as
he had never run before; not waiting to jump into his boat, he plunged
into the channel up to his waist!"

"But the seals wouldn't have attacked him, would they?" incredulously
from Nixon.

"No; I think not. But he might not have been able to keep his feet. They
would, perhaps, have struck him with their heavy bodies and knocked him
down. And to feel a dozen or so of damp seals sliding over a fellow,
their weights ranging anywhere from a hundred to two hundred and fifty
pounds, wouldn't be a pleasant sensation, to say the least!"

"I guess not!" chuckled the Owls.

"I'd like to catch a creamy pup-seal--isn't that what you call the only
child, the young one? 'Twould be fun to tame it," said Nixon. "Perhaps
I'll get a chance to do so when we camp out on the Sugarloaf Dunes next
summer. Aren't we going to have a camp there for two weeks during the
end of August and beginning of September, Mr. Scoutmaster?"

"I hope so, if I can get permission from the landlord who owns the
dunes."

"Maybe we'll run across Dave Baldwin too--the _vaurien_, as Toiney calls
him--if he stays round there a part of the time?" This from Leon.

"That wouldn't be a desirable encounter, I'm afraid. Now! has any scout
a suggestion to make that would be useful in planning our work for this
winter?" Scoutmaster Estey looked round at the ring of boyish faces,
reflecting the sevenfold glow, at Harold, lying on his face and hands,
blinking dreamily under Toiney's wing, while the firelight burnished the
latter's swarthy features beneath the tasseled cap.

"Mr. Scoutmaster!" Nixon Warren sprang to his feet impulsively, "Marcoo
and I have a suggestion to offer,"--Nixon glanced at his cousin
Coombsie,--"it hasn't any direct relation to our work, but we humbly
submit it as an idea that might be useful, not only to our boy scout
organization here, but to the movement everywhere all over the world."

"Ho! Ho! What do you know about that? Out with it, Nix, if it's worth
anything," came the dubious encouragement of his brother Owls.

"I must tell a little yarn first. The day before yesterday Marcoo and I
were in Boston. We lunched at a fine restaurant. At a table near us was
a gentleman--he looked like a Mexican or Spaniard--who couldn't speak
any English and addressed the waiter by signs. There was a boy with him,
a classy-looking fellow of about fourteen, his son, I guess. 'I'll wager
that boy is a scout!' I whispered to Marcoo. 'His eyes take in
everything, without seeming to stare about him much--and see the way he
carries himself--straight as a string!'"

"So I suggested that we should try the scout salute on him as we passed
out," struck in Marcoo. "We did! And fellows, he was on his feet like a
flash, holding up his right hand, thumb resting on the little
finger-nail, and the other three fingers upright, saluting back! We
guessed then that he was a Mexican boy scout, traveling with his
father."

"He seemed jolly glad to see us," Nixon again took up the anecdote;
"just beamed! But he didn't apparently understand a word of English
except 'Good-day!' not even when we passed the scout motto to him as a
watchword: 'Be Prepared!' We might all three have been mutes saluting
each other.

"We talked it over, coming home, Marcoo and I," went on the patrol
leader. "And we arrived at the conclusion that it would be a great thing
if our hearty motto, as Captain Andy calls it, could be taught to boy
scouts all over the world, in some common form understood by all, as
well as in their mother tongue. So that when scout meets scout of
another country he could pass it on as a kind of bond and
inspiration--together with the Scout Sign which is understood in almost
every land to-day."

"So we looked it up in Esperanto--the only attempt at a world-language
of which we know, and in which my father is interested." Marcoo leaped
to his feet, too, as he excitedly spoke. "And it sounded fine! Give it
to them, Nix!"

"_Estu preta!_"

"Estu preta! Estu preta! BE PREPARED!" One and all these present-day
scouts took it up, shouting it to the seven fires, and to the wind which
caught it from their lips like a silver feather to bear it away beyond
the hollow, as if it would girdle the world with that hearty motto, in
some universal form, as Nixon had suggested.

"Estu preta!" it was still on their tongues when, camp-fires
extinguished, they marched home. They flung it at each other in joyous
challenge as they said good-night.

It entwined itself with the drowsy thoughts of the patrol leader from
whom it emanated when he lay down to sleep, eclipsing his interest in
the future summer camp, in marbled seals and cooing pup-seals--though
such might not have been the case could he have foreseen how exciting
would be his first glimpse of the "gros seal" at close quarters.

It mingled with Leon's dreamy reminiscences too, as the first ripple of
slumber, like the inflowing tide, invaded his consciousness.

"Whew! this certainly has been a great day," he murmured, after
repeating the Lord's Prayer with an elated fervor which he had never put
into it before.

Yet there was one smirch upon the day's golden face in the sudden memory
of an old woman shrinking away from him with uplifted arm.

"Gee! I wish I could do something for her beyond a few good turns." His
drowsy tongue half-formed the words.

And like a silver echo, stealing through his confused consciousness came
the automatic answer: "_Estu preta!_ Live up to your able motto! Be
Prepared!"



CHAPTER XII

THE CHRISTMAS BRIGADE


"Estu preta!" During the days that followed, while the fall season was
merged in winter, the Owls who had passed their outdoor tests in Sparrow
Hollow, six of whom were tenderfeet no longer, but second-class scouts,
did try to live up to their hearty motto. And this not only in the
development of their strong young bodies by exercise and drill, so that
every expanding muscle was under control, not only in the training of
their mental faculties toward keen observation and alert action, but
also in the chivalrous practice of the little every-day kindness to man
or beast--almost too trivial to be noticed, perhaps, yet preparing the
heart for the rendering of a supreme good turn!

Thus the Owl Patrol presently began to be recognized as a patriotic and
progressive force. The Improvement Society of the little town sought its
coöperation, and it soon became "lots more fun" to the boy scouts to
lend a hand in making that too staid town a more beautiful and lively
place to live in than to pile--as had often been the case
formerly--destruction on its dullness.

Under the direction of their energetic young scoutmaster they engaged in
other crusades too, besides that against things ugly and retarding, in
crusades for the rescue of many a needless and undue sufferer of the
animal kingdom, their most noted enterprise along these lines being an
attack upon the use of the steel trap among boys, especially those of
the woodland farms, whereby many a little fur-bearing animal met its
slow end in suffering unspeakable.

The use of this steel-jawed atrocity was bad enough in the hands of the
one or two adult professional trappers of the neighborhood who visited
their traps regularly. (And it is to be hoped that the Boy Scouts of
America, who champion the cause of their timid little brothers of the
woods, will some day sweep this barbarous contrivance altogether from
the earth!) But its use by irresponsible boys who set the traps in copse
or thicket, and, in the multitudinous interests of boydom, frequently
forgot all about them for days--leaving the little animal luckless
enough to be caught to suffer indefinitely--is a cruelty too heinous to
flourish upon the same free soil that yields such a fair growth of
chivalry as that embodied in the Scouts of the U.S.A.

One or two of the Owls, who shall remain incognito, had possessed such
traps in the past: now, they took them out into a back yard, shattered
them with a hammer, relegated the fragments to a refuse heap, and
instituted a zealous crusade against the use of the steel trap by
non-scouts of the neighboring farms, such as Godey Peck and his gang.

There was a hand-to-hand skirmish over this matter before the Owl Patrol
had its way; and the result thereof gave Godey cause for reflection.

"It hasn't made 'softies' of 'em anyhow, this scout movement," he
soliloquized. "They got the better _of us_. And they seem to have such
ripping good times, hiking an' trailing! But--"

The demurring "but" in this boy's mind sprang from the proviso that if
he enlisted in the Boy Scouts of America, he would be obliged, like
Leon, to part with his gun. Also, from a feeling that he would be
debarred in future from the planning of such lawless escapades as
playing stowaway aboard an unlaunched vessel; a scheme, it may be said,
which was never carried through, being nipped in the bud by watchful
shipwrights!

Godey Peck was on the fence with regard to the new movement. And he did
not yet know on which side he would drop down. Meanwhile from his
wavering point of indecision, beset with discomfort, he soothed his
feelings by renewed and vehement shouts of "Tin Scouts! Tin Soldiers!"
whenever a khaki uniform and broad drab hat hove in view.

He had ample opportunity to air his feeble-shafted malice during the
week preceding Christmas, for scouts, in uniform and out of it, were
constantly to be seen engaged in "hifalutin stunts," according to Godey,
which meant that they had been organized into a brigade by the
scoutmaster for the doing of sundry and many good turns befitting the
season.

It might be only the carrying of parcels, for a heavy-laden woman, who
had visited a distant city on a shopping expedition, from the little
railway station on the edge of the yellow wintry salt-marshes to her
home! Or the bearing of gifts from a benevolent individual or society to
some poor or solitary human brother or sister who otherwise might forget
the meaning of Christmas.

It was on behalf of one such person that Corporal Leon Chase--detailed
for duty on this brigade--took counsel with his mother on the afternoon
of Christmas Eve.

"You don't suppose that _she'll_ stay alone in that old baldfaced house
to-day and to-morrow, do you, mother?" he said, rather ambiguously. "The
town authorities ought to forbid her living on there all by herself;
she'll be snowed in pretty soon if this cold snap continues. Why! the
river is all frozen over--ice fairly firm too. I'm going skating by an'
by."

"I'd wait until it is a little more solid, if I were you," returned the
mother anxiously. "You know our brackish ice is apt to be treacherous;
the salt in the water softens it, so your father says, renders it more
porous and unsafe. I suppose you were speaking of old Ma'am Baldwin. I
don't see what the authorities can do. They can't force her into an
institution; she owns that old house. And I don't know that her
daughter's husband--little Jack's father--wants her in his home. It's
too bad that her son Dave should have turned out such a
good-for-nothing! Trouble about him has aged her, I guess; she's not as
old as she seems."

Then Starrie Chase inveigled his dimpling mother into a pantry and,
while she made passes at him with a rolling-pin, proceeded to whisper
in her ear--with a measure of embarrassment, for he was not accustomed
to himself in the rôle of alms-bearer. But in a shadowy corner within
him, once tenanted by Malign Habit, there still lurked a vision which
sprang out on him at times, of an old woman raising her feeble arm to
ward him off: it caused him to grit his teeth and mutter: "I wish I
could do something more than to chop her wood occasionally!" And vaguely
the mental answer would come: "_Estu preta!_ At a time when you least
expect it, you may find yourself up against the Big Minute!"

And in the mean time Starrie cornered his mother in the pantry--floury
shrine of Christmas culinary rites!--and presently listened,
well-pleased, to her answer:--

"Yes! I'm glad that you put it into my head, son. I'll pack some things
into a basket for her, and you can take it across the marshes now. It
must be bitterly lonely for her, poor old woman! And oh! Leon, as you'll
be in that direction, could you go on into the woods and get me some red
berries for Christmas decorations?"

"Sure, mum!" And Leon stepped forth to speak to Colin Estey, who was
awaiting him at the rear of the Chase homestead, exercising in a
preliminary canter a new pedalomotor which Santa Claus, masquerading as
the expressman, had dropped at his home a little too soon.

"Take care you don't run into a tree, smash it up, and drive a splinter
through your nose, as Marcoo did when he got his, last year!" admonished
Starrie. "Say! Col, I can't go skating for a little while: I'm bound for
the woods first to get some alder-berries for decorations. Want to
come?"

"Guess so!"

"You can leave that 'pedalmobile' here. Wait a minute! Mother's just
putting some Christmas 'grub,' mince-pies an' things, into a basket for
old Ma'am Baldwin; we'll deposit it at her door as we go along!"

"How'd it be to write on it, 'Merry Christmas from the Owls'?" suggested
young Colin whimsically: "that would keep her guessing; she'd maybe
think birds had come out o' the woods to feed her as they did Elijah or
Elisha of old."

So a card was tacked to the basket, on which was traced with a stub-end
of colored chalk the outline of a perching owl, highly rufous as to
plumage, with the proposed salutation beneath it.

But the two Owls who placed the gift did not find the recipient at home.
That baldfaced house beyond the frost-spiked marshes was empty, its
paintless door, half screened by the icy boughs of the wind-beaten
apple-tree, fast locked.

"I guess she's gone over to the town to spend Christmas Eve with her
daughter," suggested Colin. "She dotes on her gran'son, little Jack
Barry; he's quite a boy for nine years old! What shall we do with the
basket?"

"Raise that kitchen window an' slip it inside--the fastening's broken!"

"Say! but you're as barefaced as the house." Colin hugged himself with a
sense of having got off a good joke as he watched Leon boldly raise the
loose window and deposit the present within. "Let's put for the woods
now!" he added, the deed accomplished.

And the two scouts climbed the uplands toward those midwinter woods that
crowned the heights in dismantled majesty.

But they were not robbed of beauty, the December woods: the frosty
sunshine knew that as it picked out the berry-laden black alders
displaying their coral branches against the velvet background of a pine,
and embraced the regiment of hemlock bushes, green dwarfs which,
together with their full-sized brothers, held the fort for spring
against all the hosts of winter.

"Whee-ew! I think the woods are just dandy at this time o' year!" Leon
led a whistling onslaught upon the vividly laden black alder bushes,
while the white gusts of the boys' breath floated like incense through
the coral and evergreen sanctuary of beauty, guarded by the silvery
pillars of white birch-trees, where, in the bare forest, Nature had not
left herself without a witness to joy and color.

"These berries are as red as Varney's Paintpot," laughed Colin by and
by, as the two scouts retraced their steps across the salt-marshes,
crunching underfoot the frozen spikes of yellow marsh-grass. "Well, we
had a great time on that day when we found the old Paintpot--though we
succeeded in getting lost!"

"We surely did! I wonder if the frost will hold, so that we'll have some
good skating after Christmas? It's freezing now." Leon's gaze strayed
ahead to the solid white surface of the tidal river, stained with amber
by the setting sun.

They were within a hundred yards of it by this time, and caught the
shrill cries and yells of boyish laughter from youthful skaters who
careered and pirouetted at a short, safe distance from the bank. But a
clear view of what was going on was shut off from the two berry-laden
scouts, crossing the saffron marshes at a leisurely pace, by some
tumble-down sheds that intervened between them and the river.

"Well, the kids seem to be having a good time on the ice anyhow--though
I don't think it can be very firm yet. Whew! what's that?" exclaimed
Colin suddenly, as a piercing cry came ringing from the river-bank
whereon each blade of the coarse beach-grass glittered like a jeweled
spike under the waning sunlight.

"Oh! _somebody_ is blowing off the smoke of his troubles," laughed Leon
unconcernedly.

The afternoon was so sharply delectable, with the sky all pale gold in
the west, flinging them a remote, lukewarm smile like a Christmas
greeting from some half-reminiscent friend, the hearts of the two scouts
reflecting the beauty of the Christmas woods were so elated that they
could not all in a moment slide down from Mount Happiness into the
valley where danger and pain become realities.

But _now_ a volley of cries, frenzied and appealing, rang out over the
salt-marshes. Mingling with them--outshrilling them--came a call which
made each scout jump as if an arrow had struck him.

It was the weird hoot of an owl uttered by a human throat, shrill with
desperation, the signal call of the Owl Patrol--but with a violent note
of distress in it such as to their ears had never sharpened it before.

"_Gee whiz!_ Something's wrong--something's up! I'll wager 'twas Nix
Warren who hooted that time!"

Starrie Chase dropped his coral-laden branches upon the frozen ground.

"The Owls to the rescue!" he cried, and dashed toward the frozen
river-bank.



CHAPTER XIII

THE BIG MINUTE


When Scouts Chase and Estey reached that frosty bank a confused scene
met their eyes.

Before the tumble-down sheds some wildly terrified small boys were
stumbling to and fro on the pale brink of the ice, floundering like
river seals in their attempts to walk upon the skates which they were
too distracted to remove, and shrieking at intervals:--

"He's drown-dr-rowning! Oh! he's _drowning_. Jack Barry's drowning in
the river!"

"Who's drowning? What's the matter, Marcoo? Has anybody gone through the
ice?" questioned Leon sharply of the one older boy upon the bank, who
turned upon him over a heaving shoulder the pleasant, ruddy face,
empurpled by shock, of Coombsie.

"Yes, the ice gave way out there." Marcoo pointed to a wide hole thirty
yards from the bank, where the dark, imprisoned water bubbled like a
whirlpool. "Little Jack Barry has fallen through. Ice rotten there!
Couldn't reach him without a rope! Nix gone for it!" Coombsie flung the
words from him like broken twigs. "Here he comes now!"

Bareheaded, breathless, the patrol leader of the Owls tore toward the
bank, in his hand a coil of rope. Behind him ran two distracted women
from a near-by house; the drowning boy's mother and his
grandmother--whose one unshattered idol he was--old Ma'am Baldwin.

She looked more like a ragged cornstalk than ever, that little old
woman, thought Leon--in the way that trivial reflections have of being
whirled to the surface upon the tempest of a moment like this--with all
her odds and ends of shawls streaming on the icy breeze that skated
mockingly to meet her. With her long wisps of gray hair outstreaming
too!

And as she came she raised her right arm to her breast with that
pathetic gesture familiar to Starrie Chase, as though to shield her
half-broken old heart from the last blow that Fate might deal to it: as
if she would defend the image it held of the drowning child, and
therewith little Jack himself, from the robber Death.

Starrie's brown eyes took one rapid snapshot of the old woman in her
quaking anguish, and his mind passed two resolutions: that the Big
Minute had come: and that there wasn't water or ice enough in the tidal
river to keep him from saving Ma'am Baldwin's grandson.

"Tie this rope round me! _Quick!_ Bowline knot! I'll try an' crawl out
to him!" Nixon was shrieking in his ear.

"You can't alone! The ice is too rotten. You'd break through--and we
mightn't be able to pull you out that way. Must make a chain! I'll go
first. Crawl after me, Nix, and hang on tight to my feet!"

Corporal Chase was already lying flat on his stomach, working himself
out over the infirm ice where, here and there, within the white map of
lines and circles traced by the skates of the small boys, were small
holes through which the captive water heaved like Ma'am Baldwin's
breast, under a thin, glassy fretwork.

After him crawled Nixon, grasping his ankles in a strong grip. And,
performing a like service for the patrol leader, came Coombsie, and
after Coombsie Colin; the four forming a human chain, trusting their
lives to the unstable, saline ice, and to the grip of each other.

"Hold on tight, Nix! I see his head. We'll land him--yet!" Leon flung
the last challenge between his set teeth at the white, porous ice and
the little dark wells of bubbling water.

Worming his body in and out between those fretting holes, he reached the
glassy skirts of the larger fissure which imprisoned little Jack. There
the nine-year-old victim's hands clutched frantically at the jagged
edges of the encircling ice, while his screams for help grew weaker. To
Jack himself they seemed not to rise above the cold, pale ring that
hemmed him in.

"_Hold--tight!_" The clenched word was passed along the chain as Leon at
its head, hearing the tidal current beneath him sobbing, straining to be
free, flung his hands out and grasped the victim's collar and shoulder,
trying to lift him out of the hole.

But with a groan the brittle ice surrounding it gave way: the foremost
rescuer's body was plunged too into the freezing, brackish water.

"We'll both go now--Jack an' I--unless Nix hangs on to me like a
bulldog!" was the thought that stabbed him as an ice-spear while the
dark tidal current, shot with glints of light like cruel eyes, engulfed
his shoulders.

But Nixon held on to his ankles, like grim death fighting grim Death
himself. Not a link in that human chain parted, though the ice cracked
ominously beneath it!

And Leon, half submerged, battling for breath, clung steadfastly to
Jack, as if indeed there was not water enough in the seven miles of
tidal river to sunder them.

Presently, while his comrades backed cautiously, dragging upon the lower
part of his body, his head and arms reappeared, the latter clasping
Ma'am Baldwin's grandson.

A sob, half hysterical, burst from the gathering spectators on the bank.

"If--if the Lord hadn't been with him, he couldn't have hung on to him
that time!" muttered Captain Andy, the old life-saver, who had limped to
the scene.

And, indeed, it did seem as if the Lord was with Leon Chase and made his
strength in this desperate minute--like that of one of the famous
knights of the Round Table--as the strength of ten because his heart was
pure!--Purified of all but the desire to help and save!

"Starrie's got him! Starrie's holding on to him!" came in an exultant
cry from a group of boys rigid upon the river-brink; in their midst
gleamed the face, pale and fixed as the ice itself, of Godey Peck; and
from Godey's eyes streamed the first ray of ardent hero-worship those
rather dull eyes had ever known--leveled at the Tin Scouts.

"Keep cool, boys! Take it easy an' you'll land him now!" shouted Captain
Andy.

Afraid, for their sakes, to burden farther the ice with his massive
body, he, too, stretched himself, breast downward, on the more solid
crust near the bank, and seizing Colin's ankles directly they came
within reach added another link to that human chain by means of which
Jack's half-conscious body was finally drawn ashore and placed in his
mother's arms.

"You saved him, Leon. I'll thank you as well--as well as I can--Leon!"
quavered the grandmother's broken voice.

"Aw! that's all right," came in an embarrassed shiver from between the
chattering teeth of the foremost rescuer, from whom the water ran in
rivulets that would freeze in another minute.

"I'll forward the names of you four boys to National Headquarters, to
receive the scout medal for life-saving!" proudly cried Scoutmaster
Estey, who at this minute appeared upon the river-bank, while he plucked
Jack's numbed body from his mother's shaking arms and set off at a run
with it toward the nearest house.

Leon was hustled in the same direction by an admiring crowd.

But whence came that shrill challenge waking the echoes of the Christmas
Eve? Did Godey's lips utter the cry: "What's the matter with the Boy
Scouts? They're all right!"

And a score of throats gave back the answer:--

"Three cheers for the Boy Scouts of America! Three cheers--an' a
tiger--for the Owl Patrol."

"Say, Mister!" Half an hour later, as Scoutmaster Estey issued from the
cottage where, with the help of Kenjo Red and another scout, he had been
turning his first-aid knowledge to account in the resuscitation of
little Jack, he heard himself thus addressed and felt a hand pluck at
his sleeve. Looking down, in the twilight, he saw Godey Peck.

"Say! it hasn't made 'softies' of 'em, this scout business," declared
Godey oracularly. "I want to be a scout too. Us boys all want to come
in!" He glanced behind him at his gang who had constituted him their
spokesman.

"Really? Do you _all_ want to enlist in the Boy Scouts of America?"

"Sure! We want to come in now at the rate of sixty miles an hour, you
bet!" Godey chuckled.

"Oh! well, if you're in such a hurry as that, come round to my house
to-night; we're going to have a Christmas celebration there." And the
tall scoutmaster walked off, laughing.

Thus on Christmas Eve did Godey drop off the fence on the side of the
boy scouts, whose code of chivalry is only an elaboration of the first
Christmas message: "Peace on earth, good will to men!"



CHAPTER XIV

A RIVER DUEL


With the enlisting of Godey and his gang, who mainly represented
whatever tendency there might be to youthful rowdyism in the demure
little town, the whole vicinity of the tidal river was won over to the
Boy Scout Movement.

The new recruits, those who gave in their names on Christmas Eve as
would-be scouts, together with one or two later additions, were formed
into a second patrol, of which Godey became patrol leader, called the
Foxes in honor of the commonest animal of moderate size to be found in
their woods; the red fox being prevalent, too, among the white
sand-hills, the Sugarloaf Dunes, that formed part of the wild coast near
the mouth of the Exmouth River.

Those milky dunes, formed of pale sand which was popularly supposed to
have drifted down from New Hampshire to the sea and to have been swept
in here by the winds and tides of ages, were a sort of El Dorado to the
boys of the little town far up the tidal river.

Pirates' treasure was confidently believed to be buried there; each lad
who made the trip by steam launch, motor-boat, or plodding rowboat
downstream for several miles to the dunes, was certain that if he could
only hit upon the right sand-hill and dig deep enough, he would find its
whiteness richly inlaid with gold.

Other wild tales centred about the romantic dunes, of smugglers and
their lawless doings in earlier and less law-enforcing times than the
beginning of the twentieth century.

It was even hinted that within recent years there had been unlawful
importations at rare intervals of certain dutiable commodities, such as
intoxicating liquors and cigars, by means of a rowboat that would lie up
during the day in the sandy pocket of some little creek that intersected
the marshes near the white dunes, stealing forth at night into the bay
to meet a mysterious vessel.

The latest report connected the name of Dave Baldwin, the _vaurien_, as
Toiney contemptuously called him, with this species of petty smuggling.

Wiseacres, such as Captain Andy and the doctor, were of opinion that no
such lawless work could be carried on to-day under the Argus eyes of
revenue officers. But it was known that Dave spent most of his vagrant
days hanging round the milky dunes and their neighborhood, sleeping on
winter nights in some empty camp or deserted summer cottage, and
occasionally varying the pale monotony of the dunes by sojourning in the
woods at the opposite side of the river.

The possibility of running across him during a visit to the Sugarloaf
Sand-Hills, or of seeing his "pocketed" boat reposing in some little
creek where the mottled mother-seal secreted her solitary young one, had
little interest for the boy scouts.

Toiney's contempt for the skulking vagrant who had caused his mother's
heart to "break in pieces," had communicated itself to them. They were
much more interested in the prospect of pursuing acquaintance with the
spotted harbor seal, once the floundering despot of the tidal river, now
scarcer and more shy.

As winter merged into spring a third patrol of boy scouts was formed,
composed of boys from farms down the river, who had recourse to this
harbor mammal for a name and called themselves the Seals.

Thus when April swelled the buds upon the trees, and the salt-marshes
were all feathery with new green, there were three patrols of boy
scouts who met in the little town hall of Exmouth, forming a complete
scout troop, to plan for hikes and summer camps; and to go on their
cheery way out of meeting, ofttimes creating spring in the heart of
winter by doing the regulation good turn for somebody.

In especial, good turns toward the sorrow-bowed old woman, Ma'am
Baldwin, were in vogue that season, because a first-rate recipe for
sympathy is to perform a service for its object. The greater and more
risky the service, the broader the stream of good will that flows from
it!

So it was with the four members of the Owl Patrol who had received the
boy scout medal for life-saving--the silver cross suspended from a blue
ribbon, awarded to the scout who saves life with considerable risk to
himself--for their gallant work in rescuing the old woman's grandson
from the frozen waters of the tidal river. Their own moved feelings at
that the finest moment of their young lives were thereafter as a shining
mantle veiling the peculiarities of her who, solitary and defenseless,
had once been regarded as fair game for their most merciless teasing.

She was not so solitary now. Much shaken by the accident to her
grandchild, she was in no fit state to return to her baldfaced house on
Christmas Eve or for many days after; so Public Opinion at length took
the matter into its own hands and decreed that henceforth she must find
a home with her daughter.

There, in a little dwelling on the outskirts of the town, she often
watched the khaki-clad scouts march by. Invariably they saluted her. And
Jack, the rescued nine-year-old, would strut and stretch and stamp in a
vain attempt to hasten the advent of his twelfth birthday when he might
enlist as a tenderfoot.

The Saturday spring hikes were varied by trips down the river when each
patrol in turn was taken on an excursion in Captain Andy's motor-boat.
It was on such an occasion that Nixon Warren, who had begun his scout
service as a member of the Peewit Patrol of Philadelphia, obtained his
coveted chance of seeing Spotty Seal at close quarters.

"You stay round Exmouth during the spring an' summer, Nix, and I'll take
you where you'll see a seal close enough for you to shake his flipper,"
promised the sea-captain; and he kept his word, though the pledge was
fulfilled after a fashion not in accordance with his intentions.

It was a glorious day, when the power-boat Aviator, owned by Captain
Andy, left the town wharf with six of the Owls aboard in charge of the
assistant scoutmaster, Toiney Leduc, and with the absurd little rowboat
that danced attendance upon the Aviator, and which was jocosely named
the Pill, bobbing behind them on the tidal ripples at the end of a
six-foot towrope.

Spring was on the river to-day. Spring was in the clear call of the
greater yellow-legs as it skimmed over the marshes, in the lightning
dart of the kingfisher, in the wave of the tall black grass fringing
each marshy bank, showered with diamonds by the advance and retreat of a
very high tide tickled into laughter by the April breeze.

And spring was in the scouts' hearts, focusing all Nature's joy-thrills,
as they glided down the river.

"_Houp-e-là!_ I'll t'ink heem prett' good day for go on reever, me,"
announced Assistant Scoutmaster Toiney, his black eyes dancing.

And he presently woke the echoes, while they wound in and out between
the feathery marshes, with a gay "Tra-la!" or "Rond'! Rond'! Rond'!"
that seemed the very voice of Spring herself bursting into song.

"Goodness! I can hardly wait for the end of August when our scoutmaster
will get his vacation and we're to camp out on the Sugarloaf Dunes,"
said Leon Chase. "You can see the white dunes from here, Nix. It's a
great old Sugarloaf, isn't it?" pointing across broad, pearly plains of
water which at high tide spread out on either side of the central tidal
channel, at the crystalline sand-pillar, guarding the mouth of the tidal
river.

"The other sand-hills look like a row of tall, snowy breakers at this
distance. Whew! aren't they splendid--with that bright blue sky-line
behind them? I expect we'll just have the 'time of our lives' when we
camp out there!" came in blissful accents from the patrol leader.

"Well! we're not going to land on the dunes to-day," said Captain Andy,
who was standing up forward, steering the gasolene launch, his keen eyes
scanning the plains of water from under his visored cap, in search of
Spotty Seal's sleek dog-like head cleaving the ripples as he swam, with
his strong hind-flippers propelling him along.

"Whoo'! Whoo'! she threw the water a bit that time; didn't she, lads?"
alluding to his motor-boat, as the April breeze plucked a crisp sheet of
spray from the breast of the high tide, like a white leaf from a book,
and laughingly threw it at the occupants of the launch. "But that's
nothing!" went on the old skipper. "Bless ye, boys, I've been down this
river in a rowboat when the seas would come tumbling in on me from the
bay, each looking big as a house as it shoved its white comb along!
'Twould rear itself like a glassy roof over the boat and I'd think it
meant 'day, day!' to me, but I'd crawl out somehow. An' I've lived to
tell the tale.

"But I'm gettin' too old for such scrapes now," went on the old
sea-fighter. "I'm going to turn 'Hayseed!' You mayn't believe it, but I
am!" glowering at the laughing, incredulous scouts. "I'm about buying a
piece o' land that's only half cleared o' timber yet, up Exmouth way;
going to start a farm. But, great sailor! how'll I ever get along with a
cow. That's what stumps me."

"We'll come out an' milk her for you, Captain Andy," volunteered with
one breath the boy scouts, their merry voices ringing out over the
mother-of-pearl plains of water, bounded on one side by the headlands of
a bold shore, on the other by green peninsulas of salt-marsh, insulated
at high water by the winding creeks that burrowed among them, and
farther on by the radiant dunes.

"I'll t'ink he no lak' for be tie to cow, me!" Toiney nodded
mischievously at the sea-captain. Then, all of a sudden, his voice
exploded gutturally like a bomb: "_Gard' donc! Gard' donc_, de gros
seal! _Sapré tonnere!_ _deux_ gros seal. Two beeg seal! _V'là V'là!_
shes jomp right out o' reever--engh!"

The excited Canadian's gesticulating hands drew every eye in the
direction he indicated, which was a little to the left of the central
tidal channel, between them and the straying creeks.

And the scouts' excitement fairly fizzed like a burning fuse as, mingled
with Toiney's cry, sounded a hoarse bark, wafted across the plains of
water, the harsh "Beow!" or "Weow!" according as the semi-distant ear
might translate it, of an angry bull-seal.

Each boy's heart leaped into his distended throat at the sound, but not
so high as leaped the bull-seal, to whom the other term significant of
his male gender--that of dog-seal--hardly applied, for he outweighed
half a dozen good-sized dogs.

Breathlessly gazing, the scouts saw him jump clear out of the water not
quarter of a mile from them, his sleek, dark bulk sheathed in crystal
armor, wrought of brine and sunbeams--his flippers dripping rainbows!
Down he came again with a wrathful splash that sent the foam flying, and
struck his companion, an apparently smaller animal whose head alone was
visible, a furious blow on that sleek head with one of his clawed
flippers.

"_Gard' donc!_ _Gard' donc_, les gros seal _qui se battent_! De beeg
seal dat fights--dat strike heem oder, engh?" exploded Toiney again.

"So they are--fighting! Goodness! that big fellow is pitching into the
one in the water. Going for him like fury, for some reason!" broke from
the excited boys, as they stared, open-mouthed, while this belligerent
performance was repeated, accompanied once or twice by the grunting bark
of the larger seal.

"Great guns! he's a snorter, isn't he? You could hear that battle-cry of
his nearly a mile off, at night, when the weather is decently calm as
to-day," came from Captain Andy while he slowed down the panting
motor-boat in order that the scouts might have a good view of the angry
sea-calf--another name for the harbor seal--which Nixon yearned to see,
and which was so absorbed in wreaking vengeance on a flippered rival
that it paid no attention at all to the approaching launch.

"Gee whiz! isn't he a monster?"--"Must be five or six feet
long!"--"Can't he make the foam fly, though?"--"You'd think he owned the
river!" came at intervals from the gasping spectators.

"_Nom-de-tonnerre!_ she's _gros_ seal: shes mak de watere go lak'
scramble de egg--engh?" gurgled Toiney, mixing up his pronouns in
guttural excitement over this river duel, such as he had witnessed once
before, when two male seals contested for the favor of some marbled
sweetheart.

In this case the duelists were evidently unevenly matched, for presently
a wild cry came from Scout Nixon:--

"See! See! he has him by the throat now. That big fellow has his fangs
in the other seal's throat! Must have! For he's dragging him along to
that little creek! He's going to kill him."

"_Mille tonnerres!_ I'll t'ink shes go for choke heem, me: dat's de tam
he'll go deaded sure--engh?" Thus Toiney came gutturally in on the
excited duet, as seven strained faces peered over the motor-boat's side
at the one-sided battle.

"_Mille tonnerres_"--"a thousand thunders"--were being launched,
indeed, upon the spotted head of the weaker animal, half stunned by the
furious blows rained on him by the clawed hind-flippers of his
adversary, and now finding himself dragged, willy-nilly, through the
water into the secluded creek, like a prisoner to the block.

He tried diving, to loosen those cruel fangs, but was mercilessly forced
to the surface again by his big rival.

"Well! I think this fight has gone on long enough; I'm going to separate
them," cried Captain Andy. "I guess the tide is high enough for us to
overhaul them in that little creek, without danger of being pocketed, or
hung up aground, there!"

And with a warning _chug! chug!_ the power-boat Aviator made straight
for the bubbling mouth of the creek, across the foamy wake left by the
fighting seals, and dashed in after them.

Not until it was almost upon them did the triumphant male tear his four
fangs from his rival's throat. Then, startled at last, he swam off a few
strokes in a wild flurry, and dove, while Captain Andy drove his
throbbing boat in between the combatants.

For a thrilling minute the scouts found themselves at the centre of a
grand old mix-up that churned the waters of the creek; the weaker seal,
now half dead, was right beneath the boat. Presently his head appeared
upon the surface a few yards ahead of it. Swimming feebly a short
distance, he crawled out of the water a little higher up the creek and
lay upon the marshy bank entirely played out.

His merciless rival reappeared too, to the rear of the boat, strong as
ever, swimming rapidly for the creek's mouth and the open water beyond
it.

"That seal is 'all in';" Nixon pointed to the victim. "If we could go on
to the head of the creek, we might step out on the bank and have a good
look at him."

"I can't land you from the power-boat, but you can get into the little
Pill if you like, an' row up 'longside him." Captain Andy pointed to the
tubby rowboat bobbing astern. "No! only three of you may go, more might
capsize her; she ain't much of a boat, though she's a slick bit o' wood
for her size! Easy there now! Steady!"

The sturdy Pill was drawn alongside. Scouts Warren and Chase, with one
brother Owl, stepped into her, and rowed to the head of the creek,
whence they had a near view of the half-throttled creature as he lay,
mouth open, stretched out upon the marshy bank, his strong hind-flippers
extended behind him, their brown claws glistening with brine.

"Whew! he's spotted like a sandpiper's egg," said Nixon, looking at the
head and back of the marbled seal. "Seems to me he's of a lighter color
than the big fellow who nearly did for him; _he_ looked almost black out
of water--but then he was all wet. And what a funny little tail this one
has, not bigger than a pair of spectacles!"

"See his black nose an' short fore-flippers!" whispered Leon. "Don't his
eyes stick out? They're a kind o' blue-black an' glazy. There! he's
noticing us now. He's trying to flounder off--with that funny, teetering
kind o' wabble they have! Say! hadn't we better row back to Captain
Andy, and leave him to recover? He's all used up; that big one gave him
an awful licking."

And this merciful consideration from Starrie Chase, who, prior to his
scout days, would have had no thought save how to finish the cruel work
of the big bully and put an end to the beaten rival!

"Well! you did see a harbor seal, Nix, 'most near enough to shake his
flipper, eh?" challenged Captain Andy as the three scrambled back aboard
the motor-boat, and made the little Pill fast astern by its short
towrope, while the Aviator bore out of the blue creek, to head upstream
toward the town again.

"Yes! I'd have tried to do it too, if he hadn't been so completely 'all
in,'" laughed the scout. "I suppose we'll have plenty of opportunities
to see seals and listen to their barking when we camp out on the white
dunes during the last days of August and the beginning of September.
They say the young ones make a kind of cooing noise, much like a
turtle-dove, only stronger; I'm bent on capturing a pup-seal, to tame
him!"

"Oh! you'd have no trouble about the taming, only you couldn't feed him!
But you'll see seals a-plenty an' hear 'em, too, next summer. They just
love to lie out on a reef o' rocks in the sun, when the tide's low,
especially if the wind's a little from the no'thwest," said the
ex-skipper. "A lonely reef, a warm sun, and light no'thwesterly breeze
make up the harbor-seal's heaven, I guess!"



CHAPTER XV

THE CAMP ON THE DUNES


And when those fervently anticipated last days of August did in due time
dawn, they brought with them many opportunities to Nixon and his brother
scouts of watching Spotty Seal and his kindred in the enjoyment of their
mundane paradise, whose pavement of gold was a wave-washed reef and its
harpings the mild bluster of a northwesterly breeze.

During the final week of August and the first of September their
scoutmaster, a rising young naval architect, had a respite from
designing wooden vessels, from considering how he could best combine
speed and seaworthiness in an up-to-date model; and he arranged to
devote the whole of that holiday to camping out with his boy scout troop
upon the milky Sugarloaf Dunes.

A more ideal camping-ground could scarcely have been found than among
the white sand-hills, capped with plumy vegetation which formed the
background for an equally dazzling line of beach, where the
gray-and-white gulls strutted in feathered rendezvous, and were hardly
to be scared away by the landing in their midst of the first patrol of
scouts, put ashore from Captain Andy's motor-boat in a light skiff, a
more capacious rowboat than the Pill.

But they had brought the tubby Pill down the river too, in tow of the
launch; and Captain Andy, who was partial to scouts, had arranged to
leave that rotund little rowboat with them, so that, two or three at a
time, they might explore the tidal river with the creeks that
intersected the marshes in the neighborhood of the white dunes.

"Just look at that gray gull, will you?" laughed Patrol Leader Nixon, as
he landed from the skiff. "He's made up his mind that we Owls have no
rights here: that this white beach is his stamping-ground, and he won't
be frightened away!"

Other gulls had reluctantly taken wing and wheeled off during the
prolonged process of landing the eight members of the Owl Patrol, with
their scoutmasters and camp outfit, in various detachments from the
launch, which was too large to run right in to the beach.

But this one youthful sea-gull, a mere boy in plumage gray, held his
ground, parading the lonely beach with head turning alertly from side
to side, as if he were admonishing his wheeling brothers with: "These
are boy scouts! Look at me: I tell you, you have nothing to fear!"

So bold was his mien, so peaceful the attitude of the human invaders,
that presently the regiment of sea-gulls fluttered back to a point of
rendezvous only a little removed from their former one.

"We won't have much company beyond ourselves and the birds, I guess!"
remarked Nixon presently. "There are no houses in sight except those
three fine bungalows about quarter of a mile off on the edge of the
dunes. And the fisherman's shack on the beach below them!"

"Yes, that belongs to an old clam-digger," said Kenjo Red. "He keeps his
pails there. Don't you remember my telling you about his letting us--my
uncle an' me--have his boat one day last November, so's we could row
over to the sand-spit opposite, and take a look at some seals that were
sunning themselves there?"

"Oh! yes, _we_ remember, Kenjo; you've told about that at half a dozen
camp-fire powwows, at least." Starrie Chase plucked off Kenjo's cap and
combed his ruddy locks with a teasing forefinger. "They say Dave
Baldwin, the _vaurien_," with guttural mimicry of Toiney's accents,
"hangs out among the dunes here, when he isn't loafing in the woods up
the river," added Corporal Chase, peering off among the white
sand-hills, capped with biscuit-colored plumes of dry beach-grass, and
the more verdant beach-pea, as if he expected to see young Baldwin's
head pop up among them.

"I wonder if we'll run across him?" said Nixon. "He can't 'make camp'
among the dunes. Nobody is allowed to camp out here, without special
permission. Boy scouts are privileged persons; they know we won't set
fire to the brush."

"Oh! when he needs a fire--when he knocks a woodchuck on the head and
wants to cook it--I suppose he rows over to one of those little islands
there; they say he has an old rowboat here." Leon pointed to two small
islets rising from the plains of water a little higher up the river.

"Well, I don't envy him!" Marcoo shrugged his shoulders. "He must have a
bitter time of it in winter, when the river is frozen over down to the
bay, an' you don't hear a sound here beyond the occasional pop of a
sportsman's gun, or the barking of the seals--and even they're pretty
quiet in midwinter. Hey! Look at that spotted sandpiper. 'Teeter-tail'
we call him: see his tail bob up and down!" exclaimed Coombsie, who was
an enthusiast about birds.

In watching the sandpiper rise from the white beach and dart across the
water, in listening to his sweet, whistling "peet-weet!" note,
speculations about the habits of the _vaurien_, the good-for-nothing
young vagrant, were forgotten.

He, Dave Baldwin, faded completely from the campers' thoughts as the
narrow skiff grounded its sharp nose for the fourth time on the beach,
landing the remainder of their camp dunnage and commissariat; and the
work began of selecting a site for the camp amid the milky sand-hills,
interspersed with a few trees, slender and short of stature.

Those gray birches and ash-trees formed pleasant spots of shade amid the
dazzling whiteness of the dunes. But there was other and more unique
vegetable growth to be considered.

"Say! but will you just look at the cranberry patch, growing out of the
white beach?" shrieked young Colin after an ecstatic interval,
addressing no one scout in particular.

"Cranberries there near the tide!"--"Growing out of the
sand!"--"Tooraloo!"--"Nonsense!" came from his brother Owls who were
already getting busy, erecting tents.

But cranberries there were, in ripening beauty--as the workers presently
saw for themselves--cranberries whose roots underran the dazzling beach,
whose crimson creepers trailed delicately over its whiteness, whose
berries nestled their rosy cheeks daintily, each upon its snowy pillow.

"_Gee!_" The one united ejaculation--the little nondescript, uncouth
monosyllable which expresses so many emotions of the boyish heart, from
panic to panegyric--was all that the scouts could find voice for in
presence of this red-and-white loveliness secreted by Nature upon a
lonely shore.

"Hey! fellows, Captain Andy is going," the voice of the busy scoutmaster
broke in upon their bliss. "He's to bring the Foxes down to-morrow in
his motor-boat," alluding to the Fox Patrol, of which Godey was leader.
"The Seals will row over, to-morrow forenoon, from the other side of the
river; so our scout troop will be complete. We owe a lot to Captain
Andy. Don't you want to show him that you can make a noise: don't you
want to give your yell, with his name at the end? Now, all in line, and
together!"

And each scout with his arm around a comrade upon either side--Leon's
clasping the back of Harold Greer who, a year ago, had cowered at sight
of him--all in a welded line, swaying together where the ripples broke
upon the milky beach, they proved their prowess as chief noise-makers
and made the welkin ring with:--

        AMERICA
      Boy Scouts! Boy Scouts!
        Rah! Rah! Rah!
    Exmouth! Exmouth! Exmouth!
  Captain Andy! Captain Andy! _Cap-tain An-dy!_

The weatherbeaten ex-skipper, standing "up for'ard" in his launch, which
was just beginning its panting trip up the river, waved his hand in
acknowledgment, while the Aviator's whistle returned a triple salute to
that linked line upon the water's edge.

"They're fine lads!" A little moisture gathered in the captain's
narrowed blue eye as he gazed back at the beach--moisture which did not
come in over the Aviator's rail. "Some one has spoken of this Boy Scout
Movement as the 'Salvation of England'--as I've heard! So here's to it
again as the Future of America!" And he sounded three more whistles--and
yet another three--giving the scouts three times three, until it seemed
as if his power-boat would burst its steel throat.

Then comparative silence reigned again upon the sands and certain
startled birds resumed their feeding avocations, notably that
white-breasted busybody, the sanderling or surf-snipe, called by
river-men the "whitey."

"See! the 'whitey' doesn't believe that 'two is company, three none':
they're chasing after their dinner in triplets! They run out into the
ripples and back again, pecking in the sand, so quickly that the larger
waves can't catch them: don't they, Greerie?" said Leon Chase, pointing
them out to Harold in the overflowing brotherliness established by that
yell.

Harold was no longer the "Hare." That nickname had been forbidden by the
patrol leader of the Owls under pain of dire penalties. The "poltron,"
or coward, as Toiney had once in pity called him, was "Greerie" now; and
was gradually learning what mere bugaboos were the fears which had
separated him from his kind and from boyhood's activities--something
which might never have come home to him thoroughly, save in the
stimulating society of other boys who aimed earnestly at helping him.

"We're going to have a splendid time here for the next two weeks,
Greerie, camping among the dunes," Leon assured him. "To-morrow Nix an'
you and I will go out in the little rowboat, the Pill, and hunt up a
creamy pup-seal and bring him back to camp for a pet. Now! you must come
and do your share of the work--help to set up the other tents among the
sand-hills."

One was already erected, a large canvas shelter, to contain four boys,
another went up like unto it for the other four members of the patrol,
then a smaller tent for the scoutmaster, and the cook-tent which
sheltered the "commissariat," stocked with cans of preserved meats,
vegetables, and all that went to make up the scouts' daily rations.

"Where are _you_ going to sleep, Toiney?" asked Patrol Leader Nixon.

"Me--I'll lak' for sleep out in de air, me--wit' de littal star on top
o' me!" Toiney shrugged his shoulders complacently at the summer sky,
now taking on the hues of evening, as if the firmament were a blanket
woven for his comfort.

"Oh! I'll sleep out with you.--And I!--Me, too!" Each and every member
of the patrol, from the leader downward, longed to feel the white sand
beneath him as a mattress, to have the stars for canopy, to hear the
night-tide as it broke upon the near-by beach crooning his lullaby.

[Illustration: IN CAMP]

"You may take it in turns, fellows--each sleep out with him one night,
when the weather is fine," decided the scoutmaster. "Now! I'm going to
appoint Scouts Warren and Chase cooks for to-night."

A first-rate supper did those cooks turn out, of flapjacks and scrambled
eggs, the latter stirred with a peeled stick, while the great
coffee-pot, brooding upon its rosy nest of birch-logs, grinned
facetiously when a stray flame wreathed its spout, then broke into
bubbling laughter.

Night fell upon the pale dunes that turned to silver monuments under the
smile of a moon in its third quarter. A gentle, lowing sound came to the
scouts' ears from the tide at far ebb upon the silvery beach, as, the
cook-fire abandoned, they gathered round a blazing camp-fire that cast
weird reflections upon the surrounding white hillocks.

The holding of a calm powwow on this first night in camp, when each
heart was thrilling tumultuously to the novelty of the surroundings, was
impossible. Toiney sang wild fragments of songs that found a suitable
accompaniment in the distant, hoarse barking of the harbor seal, and in
the plaintive "Oo-oo-ooo!"--the dove-like call of the creamy pup-seal to
its marbled mother in some lonely tidal creek.

Once and again from the shore side of the scouts' camp-fire, from among
the shimmering sand-hills, came the weaker, more snappy bark of the
little dog-fox, as he prowled the dunes.

The dazzling Sugarloaf Pillar near the mouth of the river was wrapped in
night's mantle. But lights flickered out in two of the handsome summer
bungalows which the boys had noticed, standing at some distance from
their camping-ground, looming high above the beach, erected upon
stilt-like props driven into the sandy soil.

"Those houses were only built last spring; they're occupied for the
first time this summer," said Kenjo Red, who was more familiar with this
region than the others. "Say! let's chant our African war-song, fellows.
This is just the night for it." And the barbaric chant rang weirdly
among the sand-hills, the leader shouting the first line, his companions
answering with the other three, to the accompaniment of the flames'
crackle and the night calls of bird and beast:--

  "Een gonyâma--gonyâma.
  Invoboo!
  Yah bô! Yah bô
  Invoboo!"

Presently the bark of the dog-fox was heard farther off. _He_ knew, the
stealthy slyboots, that he was not the only lone prowler among the pale
dunes that night who listened intently to the boisterous revelry round
the scouts' camp-fire.

His keen sense of smell informed him that behind one plumed sand-hill,
between his own trotting form and the noisy company in the firelight,
there lurked a solitary man-figure.

But he, the sandy-coated little trotter from burrow to burrow, could
neither hear nor interpret the sound, half groan, half oath, savagely
envious, that escaped from the other night-prowler's lips as he listened
to the boys' voices.

Silence, broken only by ringing snatches of laughter, reigned
temporarily over the dunes. Then once again it blossomed into song:--

  "Hurrah for the brave, hurrah for the good,
    Hurrah for the pure in heart!
  At duty's call, with a smile for all,
    The Scout will do his part!"

And the soft purr of the low tide, with the breeze skipping among pallid
dunes that looked like capped haystacks in the darkness, flung back the
cheer for the "Scouts of the U.S.A."

"_Aghrr-r!_" snarled the testy dog-fox, his distant petulant growl much
resembling that of Leon's terrier, who, unfortunately, was not present
upon the dunes to-night. Blink had already added the word "Scout" to
his limited human vocabulary, but the wild fox had no such linguistic
powers. The foreign music upon the lonely dunes was irritating, alarming
to him.

It seemed to have something of the same effect upon his brother-prowler,
upon the man who skulked among the sand-hills within hearing of the
song: at any rate, the semi-articulate sound which from time to time he
uttered, deepened into an unmixed groan that escaped from his lips again
later when the clear notes of a bugle rang over the Sugarloaf Dunes,
warning the scouts by the "first call" that fun was at an end for
to-night, and sleep would be next upon the programme.

Then when lights were out, came the sweet sound of "Taps," the wind-up
of the first day in camp, the expert bugler being Corporal Chase.

For the Exmouth doctor had kept his word: Leon had been given the
"bugle" literally and figuratively since he enlisted as a scout, symbol
of the challenge to all the energy in him to advance along new lines,
instead of the "foghorn" reproofs and warnings that had been showered on
him prior to his scouting days.

Then, at last, stillness reigned, indeed, upon the moonlit dunes.

The bark of the dog-fox melted into distance, becoming indistinguishable
from the voice of the returning tide.

The man-prowler among the sand-hills slipped away to some lair as lonely
as the fox's.

And Toiney, with Scout Nixon Warren wrapped in his camper's blanket
beside him, slept out upon the white sands "wit' de littal star on top
o' them!"



CHAPTER XVI

THE PUP-SEAL'S CREEK


The music of "Taps" was eclipsed by the blither music of "Reveille," the
morning blast blown by Leon standing in front of the white tents, the
sands beneath his feet jeweled by the early sunshine, the blue ribbon
attached to his bugle flirting with the breeze that capered among the
plumy hillocks.

The tide which had ebbed and flowed again since midnight--when the last
excited scout had fallen asleep lulled by its full purr--broke high upon
the beach, where the white sands gleamed through its translucent flood
like milk in a crystal vase.

Far away in dim distance, higher up the tidal river upon its other side,
beyond the plains of water, the woods which enclosed Varney's Paintpot
and the cave called the Bear's Den smiled remotely through a pearly veil
of haze.

And all the waking glee of tide, dunes, and woods was personified in the
boy bugler's face.

The sight of him as he stood there, face to the tents where his comrades
scrambled up from cot or ground, his brown eyes snapping and flashing
under the scout's broad hat, with the delight of having found an
absorbing interest which stimulated and turned to good account every
budding activity within him--that sight would have made the veriest old
Seek-sorrow among men take heart and feel that a new era of chivalry was
in flower among the Scouts of the U.S.A.

And the old religious reverence, that fortifying kernel of knighthood,
was not neglected by this boy scout patrol.

Bareheaded, and in line with their scoutmasters presently, while their
eyes gazed off over the sparkling dunes and crystal tide-stretches, they
repeated in unison the Lord's Prayer, offering morning homage to the
Power, dimly discerned, of whom and through whom and to whom are all
things. Of his, the Father's, presence chamber, gladness and beauty
stand at the threshold!

"_Now_, for our early swim! The tide's just right. Come along, Harold;
I'm going to give _you_ your first swimming-lesson; and I expect you'll
be a star pupil!" cried Nixon, the patrol leader, when the brief
adoration was over. "What! you don't want to learn to swim? Nonsense!
You _are_ going into that dandy water. Oh! that's not a scout's mouth,
Harold."

And the corners of Harold's mouth, which had drooped with fear of this
new experience, curled up in a yielding grin.

Once he was in the invigorating salt water, feeling the boisterous tidal
ripples, fresh and not too cold, rise about his body, the timid lad
underwent another lightning change, just as at the moment of his tying
the bowline knot, the spirit of his fisherman father became uppermost in
him, and he learned to swim almost as easily and naturally as a
pup-seal.

The improvement in his condition was such that his brother Owls had won
his promise to enter school when it should reopen after this jolly
camping period was over. "And if any boy picks on you or teases you,
Harold, mind you're to let us know at once, because we're your brother
scouts--and he won't try it a second time!" So they admonished him.

Thus Harold, under the Owls' sheltering wing, was gradually losing his
inherited and imbibed dread of a crowd, of any gathering of his own
kind.

Although this bugbear fear returned upon him a little when, later on
that morning, the Fox Patrol, with Godey Peck as its leader, was landed
upon the Sugarloaf Dunes from Captain Andy's motor-launch, and still
later in the day the Seals rowed across in two large rowboats from
certain farms or fishermen's houses upon the opposite side of the river,
to join the other two patrols. So that the boy scout troop was complete,
and Harold found himself one of twenty-four boisterous, though
good-natured, boys upon this strange white beach.

A little homesickness beset him for the farm-clearing in the woods and
his grandfather's staid presence, to cure which Scouts Warren and Chase
took him off with them in the little rowboat, the Pill, lent by Captain
Andy, to explore the tidal river and the little truant creeks that
escaped from it to burrow among the salt-marshes.

"We're going to try and hunt up a creamy pup-seal, Harold, and bring it
back to camp," said Nixon; and in the excitement of this quest the still
shy boy forgot his nervous qualms.

Fortune favored the expedition. It was now between one and two o'clock
in the afternoon. The tide, which had been high at six in the morning
and again at twelve, was once more on the ebb, as the two elder scouts
rowing in leisurely fashion, turned the Pill's snub nose into a pearly
creek whose shallow water was clear and pellucid, over its sandy bed.

Hardly half a dozen strokes had they taken between bold marshy banks
when, from some half-submerged rocks near the head of the creek, they
heard a prolonged and dulcet "Oo-oo-oo-ooo" that might have been the
call of a dove, save that it was louder.

"_Hear him?_" cried Leon, shipping his oar in blinking excitement.
"That's our pup-seal, Nix! We've got him cornered in this little creek;
if he dives, the water is so shallow that we can pick him up from the
bottom; and he can't swim fast enough to get away from us--though as
likely as not he won't want to!"

The last conjecture proved true. The young seal, little more than two
months old, which lay sprawled out, a creamy splotch, upon the low reef
which the tide was forsaking, with his baby flippers clinging to the wet
rock and his little eyes staring unwinkingly into the sunlight, had not
the least objection to human company. He welcomed it.

When the scouts rowed up alongside the ledge he suffered Nixon to lift
his moist fat body into the boat, where he stretched himself upon the
bottom planks in perfect contentment, and took all the caresses which
the three boys lavished upon him like any other lazy puppy.

"Isn't he 'cunning', though?" gasped Harold, trying to lift the youthful
mammal into his arms, an attempt which failed because he, the weak one
of the Owls, was not strong enough to do so without capsizing the
Pill--not because the pup-seal objected. "I thought he'd be a kind of
whitish color, eh?" appealing diffidently to Leon.

"So he was, when born; his hair is turning darker now, to a dull yellow;
by and by it will be a brownish drab. See, Greerie! his spots are
beginning to appear!" Leon ran his finger down the seal's dog-like head
and back, already faintly dotted with those round markings which gain
for his family the name of the "marbled seal."

"Isn't he a 'sprawly' pup, and so friendly? The other scouts will be
'tickled to death' with him--" Nixon was beginning, when a shadow
suddenly fell across the boat and its three occupants, whose attention
was entirely upon the young seal.

"Hi, there! You'll get pocketed in this little creek, you fellows--hung
up aground here--if you don't look out! Can't you see that the water is
leaving you?" cried a harsh voice from the bold marsh-bank which
overhung the creek to the right of them, so suddenly that the three
jumped.

Looking up, they saw the unkempt figure of a young man, short of stature
and showing a hungry leanness about the neck and face. This sudden
apparition which had approached noiselessly over the soft marshes, was
plainly outlined against the surrounding wildness of salt-marsh and
tideway.

Had the little dog-fox which prowled among the moonlit dunes been near,
he might have recognized in the shabby figure his brother-prowler of the
night before.

Recognition was springing from another source. Starrie Chase caught his
breath with such a wild gasp that he rocked the Pill as if a gust had
struck it. Something about that stocky figure and in the expression of
the face, half wistful, half savage, reminded him overwhelmingly of an
old woman whom he had seen issuing, lantern in hand, from her paintless
home, and who had raised her trembling arm to her breast at sight of
him, Leon.

"Forevermore! it's _Dave Baldwin_," he ejaculated in a whisper audible
only to Nixon. "That's who it is--Nix!"

"Don't you see that the tide is leaving you?" snapped the stranger
again. "There won't be a teaspoonful of water in this creek presently."

He was looking down at the Pill and its occupants, with a gleam in his
eyes fugitive and phosphorescent as a marsh-light, which revealed a new
expression upon his mud-smeared face, one of passionate envy--envy of
the boy scouts healthily rejoicing over their captive pup-seal.

"Tide leaving us! S-so it is!" Nixon seized an oar as if awakening from
a dream. "Thank you for warning us! We don't want to be hung up in the
pocket of this little creek--until it rises again!"

"Then pull for all you're worth! Your boat--she's a funny one," broke
off the stranger with the ghost of a boyish twinkle in his eye; "she
looks as if she was made from a flat-bottomed dory that had been cut in
two!"

"So she was, I guess!" Leon too found his voice suddenly.

"Well! luckily for you, she doesn't draw much water; you may scrape by
an' get out into the open channel while there's tide enough left to
float her!" And with an inarticulate grunt that might have been
construed into some sort of farewell, the stranger disappeared over the
marshes abruptly as he had come.

Their own plight now engrossed the boys. It was clear that if they did
not want to be pocketed in this out-of-the-way creek with their
amphibious prize, grounded in the sand for the next five or six hours,
without a hope of getting back to their camp on the dunes until the tide
should rise again, they certainly must row for all they were worth!

Even as it was, the two older scouts, divesting themselves of shoes and
stockings, rolling up their khaki trousers, had to "get out and shove"
ere they could propel the flat-bottomed Pill through the mouth of the
creek.

"If that fellow hadn't warned us just in time, we'd have been in a bad
scrape," said Scout Chase. "We're not out of the misery yet, Nix! See
the old mud-shadow poking its nose up on either side of the main
channel!"

"Yes, the water on those shallows looks like the inside of an
oyster-shell,--thick and iridescent. 'Shove' is the word again,
Starrie!" returned his toiling companion, arduously putting that
watchword in practice, pushing the little boat containing Harold and the
pup-seal (the latter being the only member of the party placidly
unmoved by the situation) through the iridescent opaqueness of the
ebbing ripples that now barely covered vast silvery stretches of tidal
mud.

[Illustration: "CAN'T YOU SEE THE TIDE IS LEAVING YOU?"]

"Look at that old clam-digger, who has his shack on the white beach,
about quarter of a mile from our camp! He's left his boat behind and is
wading out to the clam-flats." Nixon paused, with his breast to the
boat's stern, in the act of propelling it. "Goody! I'd like to stop and
dig clams with him. But we'd never get back to camp! What ho! she sticks
again. There! that brings her."

By dint of alternately propelling and rowing the three scouts, with
their prize, finally reached the white beach of the dunes before the
tide completely deserted them. They brought a full cargo of excitement
into camp in their tale of the stranger who had warned them; who, with
worthless vagrancy stamped all over him, they felt must be the
_vaurien_, Dave Baldwin; and in their engaging prize, the flippered
pup-seal.

The latter quite eclipsed the interest felt in the former. Never was
there a more docile, fatter, or more amiable puppy. He enjoyed being
fondled in a scout's arms, under difficulties, as, for a pup, he was
quite a heavy-weight and slippery too, on account of the amount of
blubber secreted under his creamy skin. His oily brown eyes were softly
trustful.

But the tug-of-war came with feeding-time. Vainly did the boy scouts
offer him of their best, vainly did Marcoo and Colin tramp a mile over
the dunes to bring back a quart of new milk for him from the nearest
farm, and try to pour it gently down his infant throat!

He set up a dove-like moaning that was plainly a call for his mother as
he lay sprawled out on the white sands. And, at nightfall, by order of
the scoutmaster, Scouts Warren and Chase rowed out into the channel and
returned him to the water in which he was quite at home.

But he was possessed of a contradictory spirit, for he swam after the
Pill, crying to be taken aboard again. They could hear his dulcet
"Oo-oo-ooo!" as they gathered round their camp-fire in the white hollow
among the sand-hills.

At the powwow to-night the encounter with Dave Baldwin, if the vagrant
of the marshes was really he, came in for its share of discussion.
Guesses were rife as to the probability of the scouts running across him
again, and as to how he might occupy his time in the lazy vagabond life
which he was leading.

It was here that Harold broke through the semi-shy reserve which still
encrusted him and contributed a remark, the first as a result of his
observations, to the powwow.

"Well! he had an _awful_ sorry face on him," he said impulsively,
alluding to the vagrant. "It just made me feel badly for a while!"

"You're right, Greerie, he had!" corroborated Leon. "Whatever he's
doing, it isn't agreeing with him. We'll probably come on him again some
time on the marshes or among the dunes."

But eleven days went by, eleven full days for the scout campers, golden
with congenial activity, wherein each hour brought its own interesting
"stunt," as they called it; and they saw no more of the _vaurien_, the
worthless one, who had caused his mother's heart to "break in pieces."

And they gave little thought to him. For those breezy days, the last of
August and the first of September, were spent in observation tours over
marsh and dune or on the heaving river, in playing their exciting scout
games among the sandhills, in clam-bakes, in practising signaling with
the little red-and-white flags according to the semaphore or wig-wag
code--one scout transmitting a message to another posted on a distant
hill--and in the various duties assigned to them in pairs, of cooking,
and keeping the camp generally in order.

The more fully one lives, the more joyously one adventures, the more
quickly flutters the present into the past, like a sunny landscape
flitting by a train! It had come to be the last night but one in camp.
Within another two days the Sugarloaf Dunes would be deserted so far as
campers were concerned.

School would presently reopen. And at the end of the month the Owls
would lose their brother and patrol leader: during the first days of
October Scout Nixon Warren's parents were expected home from Europe, and
he would rejoin his former troop in Philadelphia.

To-night, every one was bent upon making the end of the camping trip a
season of befitting jollity. They sang their scout songs as they
gathered round the camp-fire. They retailed the last good joke from
their magazine. They challenged the darkness with their hearty
motto,--both in the strong sweet mother tongue wherein it had been given
to the world, and in the pretty _Estu preta!_ form, which two of their
number thought might serve as a universal link.

But the night refused to rejoice with them. It was chilly, colder than
on the same date one year ago when four lost boys camped out in the
Bear's Den. The inflowing tide broke on the beach with sobbing clamor.
There was no moon, few stars. The white sand-hills were wild-looking
sable mounds waving blood-red plumes of beach-grass or beach-pea
wherever the light of camp-fire or camp-lantern struck them.

The clusters of gray birches and ash-trees scattered here and there
among the dunes cowered like ebony shadows fearful of the rising wind.

"Bah! De night she's as black as one black crow," declared Toiney with a
shrug as he threw another birch log on the camp-fire and set one of the
two bright oil-lanterns on a sand-hill where it spied upon the gusty,
secretive darkness like a watchful eye.

With the exception of a few small carbide lamps attached to tent-posts,
those lanterns were the only luminaries in camp.

"An' de win' she commence for mak' noise lak' mad cat! Saint Ba'tiste!
I'll t'ink dis iss night for de come-backs--me." And Toiney glanced
half-fearfully behind him at the sable mounds so milky in daylight.

"He means it's a night for spooks--ghosts! He doesn't believe much in
'come-backs,' though: look at his face!" Leon pointed at the assistant
scoutmaster's black eyes dancing in the firelight, at the tassel of his
red cap capering in the breeze. "By the way, Nix and I saw one
'come-back,' about an hour ago--a human one!" went on Corporal Chase
suddenly, after a minute's pause: "that rough customer, Dave Baldwin, as
we suppose him to be, turned up again this evening near the summer
bungalows away over on the beach. He was acting rather queerly, too!"

"He certainly was!" chimed in Nixon, looking thoughtfully at a little
topknot of flame that sprouted upon the blazing log nearest to him as he
lay, with his brother Owls, prone upon his face and hands, gazing into
the fire.

"What was he doing?" asked Jesse Taber, a member of the Seal Patrol.

"Why, he was up on the high piazza of the largest bungalow--that house
built just on the edge of the dunes which looks as if it was standing on
stilts, and getting ready to walk off! He seemed to be trying one of the
windows when we came along as if attempting to get in."

"The summer people who own that house left there this morning; we saw
them going," broke in Godey Peck of the Fox Patrol. "I guess all the
three houses are empty now; those dandified 'summer birds' don't like
staying round here when the wind 'makes noise like mad cat'!" Godey
hugged himself and beamed over the wild noises of the night, and at the
voice of the tidal river calling lustily.

"Well! did he get into the house?" asked Jemmie Ahern of the Seals.

"No, as we came along over the dunes he saw us and scooted off!" Thus
Corporal Leon Chase again took up the thread of the story. "But Nix an'
I looked back as we walked along the beach; it was getting dusk then,
but we made out his figure disappearing into a large shed belonging to
that bungalow."

"I hope he wasn't up to any mischief," said the scoutmaster gravely.
"Now! let's forget about him. Haven't any of you other scouts some
contribution to make to to-night's powwow about things you've observed
during the day?"

"Mr. Scoutmaster, I have!" Marcoo lifted his head upon the opposite side
of the camp-fire where he lay, breast downward, on the sand. "Colin and
I and two members of the Seal Patrol, Howsie and Jemmie Ahern, saw an
_awfully_ big heap of clam-shells between two sand-hills on the
shore-edge of the beach. They were partly covered with sand; but we dug
them out; and--somehow--they looked as if they had been there for
ages."

"Likely enough, they had! The Indians used to hold clam-bakes here." The
firelight danced upon the scoutmaster's white teeth; he greatly enjoyed
the camp-fire powwow. "You see, fellows, this fine, white sand is
something like snow--but snow which doesn't harden--the wind blows it
into a drift; then, perhaps, another big gale comes along, picks up the
drift and deposits it somewhere else. That's what uncovered your
clam-shells."

"Then how is it these white dunes aren't traveling round the country?"
Colin waved his arm toward the neighboring sand-hills with a laugh.

"Because they are held in place by the vegetation that quickly sprang up
on and between them. That beach-grass has very coarse strong roots which
interlace under the surface. Now! let's listen to Toiney singing; we
must be merry, seeing it's our second last night in camp." Scoutmaster
Estey waved his hand toward his assistant in the blue shirt and tasseled
cap.

Toiney, tiring of the conversation which it was an effort for him to
follow, was crooning softly an old French ditty wherewith he had been
sung to sleep by his grandfather when he was a black-eyed babe in a
saffron-hued night-cap and gown:--

  "À la clair-e fontain-e
  M'en allant promener,
  J'ai trouvé l'eau si belle,
  Que je m'y suis baigné!"

"Oh! you took a walk near the fountain and found the water so fine that
you went in bathing!" cried one and another of the scouts who were in
their first year in high school. "Must have been a pretty big fountain!
Go ahead: what did you do next, Toiney?"

But the singer had suddenly sprung to his feet and stood, an alert,
tense figure, in the flickering twilight.

"_Gard' donc!_" he cried gutturally, while the cat-like breeze capered
round him, flicking his short red tassel, catching at his legs in their
queer high boots. "_Gard' donc!_ de littal light in de sky--engh? _Sapré
tonnerre!_ I'll t'ink shee's fire, me. No camp-fire, _non_! Beeg
fire--engh? _V'là! V'là!_"

He glanced round sharply at his scout comrades, and pointed, with
excited gesticulations, across the sable dunes in the direction of those
recently erected summer residences.



CHAPTER XVII

THE SIGNALMAN


"Patrol leaders and corporals, muster your men!" The voice of the young
scoutmaster rang sharply out upon the night.

The three boy patrols, Owls, Seals, and Foxes, who fell quickly into
line at his order, were no longer surrounding their camp-fire amid the
dusky sand-hills. That had been deserted even while Toiney was speaking,
while he was pointing out the claims of a larger fire on their
attention.

From the glare in the sky this was evidently a threatening blaze; its
fierce reflection overhung like an intangible flaming sword the trio of
recently erected summer residences about quarter of a mile from the
scouts' camp--those handsome bungalows from which the summer birds had
flown.

"That's no brush fire," Scoutmaster Estey had exclaimed directly he
sighted the glare. "It's a building of some kind. Come on, fellows;
there's work for us here!" And snatching one of the two camp-lanterns
from its sandy pedestal he led the way across the dark wilderness of the
dunes.

Nixon caught up the second luminary and followed his chief. In their
wake raced the three patrols, down in a sandy hollow one moment,
climbing wildly the next, tearing their way through the plumed tangle of
beach-grass and other vegetation that capped each pale mound now swathed
in blackness, Toiney keeping Harold by his side.

"It isn't one of the houses, thank goodness! Only a big shed!" cried the
scoutmaster as they neared the scene of the fire, where golden flames
tore in two the darkness that cowered on either side of them, having
gained complete mastery of an outbuilding which had been used as a
modest garage during the summer.

"_Whee-ew!_ Gracious!" Nixon vented a prolonged whistle of
consternation. "Why! 'twas into that very shed that we saw Dave
Baldwin--or the man whom we took for him--disappear a couple of hours
ago."

But the demands of the moment were such, if the three houses were to be
saved, that the remark, tossed at random into the darkness, was lost
there amid the reign of fiery motes and rampant sparks that strove to
carry the destruction farther.

"Luckily, the wind isn't setting toward the house--it's mostly in
another direction!" The scoutmaster by a breathless wave of his blinking
lantern indicated the largest of the three bungalows to which the
blazing outbuilding belonged. "No hope of saving that shed! But if the
little wood-shed near-by catches, the house will go too. We may head the
fire off!"

It was then that he issued the ringing order to patrol leaders and those
second in command to muster their men.

And as the boy scouts fell into line, while Toiney was muttering,
aghast: "Ah, _quel gros feu_! She's beeg fire! How we put shes
out--engh?" the alert brain of the American scoutmaster had outlined his
plan of campaign; and the air cracked with his orders:--

"Toiney, take the Owls and break into that clam-digger's shack on the
beach: get his pails! Foxes and Seals form a line to the beach; fill the
pails as you get them an' pass 'em along to me! Tide's high; you need
only wade in a little way! Hey! Leon,"--to Corporal Chase, who was
obeying the first order with the rest of his patrol,--"you're good at
signaling: take these lanterns, get up on the tallest sand-hill an'
signal Annisquam Lighthouse; tell them to get help! Men there can
probably read semaphore!"

"_We_ may not be able to prevent the fire's spreading. And if it attacks
that bungalow, the others will go too--the whole colony! Lighthouse men
may take the glare in the sky to mean only a brush-fire," added the
scoutmaster, _sotto voce_, as he stationed himself upon the crest of the
sandy slope that led from the burning shed to the dim lapping water.

That doomed shed was now blazing like a mammoth bonfire. The flames
flung their gleeful arms out, seizing a solemn gray birch-tree for a
partner in their wild dance, scattering their rosy fire-petals broadcast
until they lodged in the roof of the wood-shed adjacent to the house,
and upon the piazza of the bungalow itself.

But they had a trained force to reckon with in the boy scouts. In the
clam-digger's shack were found more than a dozen pails which their owner
had cleaned and set in order before he went home that evening. And among
the excited raiders who seized upon them with wild eagerness was Harold
Greer--Harold who a year ago was called "poltron" and "scaree" even by
the friend who protected him--Harold, with the last wisp of bugbear
fear that trammeled him burned off by the contagious excitement of the
moment--acquitting himself sturdily as a Scout of the U.S.A!

Under his patrol leader's direction he took his place in the chain of
boys that formed from the conflagration to the wave-edge of the beach,
where half a dozen of his comrades rushed bare-legged into the howling
tide, filled the pails and passed them along, up the line, to their
scoutmaster on the hill.

And he held to his place and to his duty stanchly, did the one-time
"poltron," even when Toiney, his mainstay, was summoned to the hill-top,
to aid the commander-in-chief in his direct onslaughts upon the fire.
Seeing which, Scout Warren touched his shoulder once proudly, in
passing, and said in a voice huskily triumphant: "Well done, Harold! I
always knew you were a boy!"

The dragon which had held sway upon that woodland clearing was slain at
last, and the scars which he had left upon his victim were being
cauterized by the fire.

"Go to it, boys! Good work! That's fine!" rang out the commanding shout
of the scoutmaster above the sullen roar of semi-defeated flames and the
hiss of contending elements.

"_Houp-là!_ _Ça c'est bien!_ Dat's ver' good!" screamed Toiney airily
from his perch atop of a ladder which he had found in the wood-shed.

From this vantage-point he was deluging with salt water the roof of the
smaller shed and also the walls of the bungalow wherever a fire-seed
lodged, ready to take root. Like a huge monkey he looked, swarming up
there, with the flame-light dancing deliriously upon his dingy red cap!
But his voice would put merriment into any exigency.

"_Houp-e-là!_ We arre de boy! We arre de bes' scout ev'ry tam'!" he
carolled gayly, as he launched his hissing pailfuls at each threatened
spot. "_Continue cette affaire d'eau_--go on wit' dis watere bizness. We
done good work--engh?"

So they were, doing very good work! But the issue was still exceedingly
doubtful as to whether, without any proper fire-fighting apparatus, they
could hold the flames in check, restricting their destruction to the
large shed whose roof toppled in with a resounding crash, and a
volcano-like eruption of sparks.

And what of Leon? What of Corporal Chase, alone upon the tallest
sand-hill he could pick out, a solitary scout figure remote from his
comrades with the dune breeze shrieking round him?

What were his feelings as he shook his two bright signaling lanterns
aloft at arm's length, to attract the attention of the men who kept the
distant lighthouse beyond the dunes at the mouth of another tidal river,
and then spelled out his message with those flashing luminaries, instead
of the ordinary signal-flags: "Fire! Get help! House afire! Get help!"
calling assistance out of the black night?

Well! Starrie Chase was conscious of a monster thrill shooting through
him to his feet which firmly pressed the sandy soil: breaking up into a
hundred little thrills, it made most of the sensations which he had
misnamed excitement a year ago seem tame, thin, and unboyish.

He stood there, an isolated, sixteen-year-old boy. But he knew himself a
trained force stronger than the "mad-cat" wind that clawed at him, than
the tide which moaned behind him, even than the fire he combated;
stronger always in the long run than these, for he was growing into a
man who could get the better of them ninety-nine times out of a hundred.

He was a scout, in line with the world's progress, allied with rescue,
not ruin, with healing, not harm, with a chivalry that crowned all.

"Fire! Get help!" Thus he kept on signaling at intervals, his left arm
extending one flashing lantern at arm's length, while the companion
light was lowered to his knees for the formation of the first letter of
the message. And so on, the twin lights held at various angles
illumining the youthful signalman until he stood out like a black statue
on a pedestal among the lonely dunes.

To Starrie Chase that sand-peak pedestal seemed to grow into a mountain
and his uniformed figure to tower with it--become colossal--in the
excitement of the moment!

While, not twenty yards distant, behind a smaller sand-hillock, crouched
another figure whose half-liberated groan the wind caught and tossed
away like a feather as he gazed between clumps of beach-grass at the
gesturing form of the scout.

It was the same figure which had haunted the dunes, listening to the
camp-fire revelry upon the boy scouts' first night in camp, the same
which had so suddenly appeared upon the marshes near the pup-seal's
creek.

But distress seemed now to lie heavier upon that vagrant figure,
instead of diminishing. For, as he still studied the light-girdled form
of the signalman, Dave Baldwin vented a groan full and unmistakable, and
blew upon a pair of burned hands.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE LOG SHANTY AGAIN


"This fire has been the work of some incendiary--that's what I think!"
was the opinion delivered later that night by the captain of the nearest
fire-brigade, who, with his company, had been summoned by Leon's
signaled message, passed on via telephone wires by the lighthouse men.

"Of course, it may have been a case of accident or spontaneous
combustion, but the former seems out of the question, seeing that the
houses were empty, and the latter not probable," went on the grizzled
chief. "Anyhow, I congratulate you on your boys, Mr. Scoutmaster! Under
your leadership they certainly did good work in saving this whole summer
colony."

"So they did; I'm proud of them!" returned the scoutmaster impulsively,
which made the three patrol leaders within hearing, Scout Warren of the
Owls, Godey Peck of the Foxes, and Jesse Taber of the Seals, straighten
their tired bodies, feeling repaid.

"Well! I expect you'll see one or two officers landing upon these
Sugarloaf Dunes to-morrow, to try and get at the cause of the fire,"
said the chief again. "It started in that shed where, so far as we know,
there was nothing inflammable."

"I ought to tell you," Scoutmaster Estey looked very grave, "that two of
my scouts saw a man entering the shed," pointing to what was now a mere
smouldering heap of ashes, "just about an hour, or a little over, before
the fire broke out. When they first caught sight of him he was on the
piazza of the bungalow itself, and seemed trying to get into the house."

"Ho! Ho! I thought so. This is a case for the district police, I guess!"
muttered the grizzled fire-chief.

That was the opinion also of the police representatives who landed upon
the white dunes from a motor-boat early the next morning. And when the
sharp questioning of one of the officers brought out the fact that the
individual who had lurked about the scene of the fire was believed to be
a youthful ne'er-do-weel, Dave Baldwin, with a prison record behind him,
whose name was known to the two policemen, though his person was not,
suspicion fastened upon that vagrant as possibly the malicious author
of the fire.

"That fellow first got into trouble through a morbid craving for
excitement," said one of the officers. "The same craving _may_ have led
him on from one thing to another until he hasn't stopped at
arson--especially if he had a spiteful motive for it, which is likely
with a tramp. That may have been his purpose in trying to enter the
house."

"I can scarcely imagine Dave's having become such an utter degenerate,"
answered the scoutmaster sadly. "I went to school with him long ago. And
Captain Andy Davis knew his father well; they were shipmates on more
than one trawling trip to the Grand Banks. Captain Andy speaks of the
elder David Baldwin as a brave man and a big fisherman. Even if the son
did start this fire, it may have been accidental in some way."

"Well! we must get our hands on him, anyhow," decided the officer. "I
wonder if he's skulking round among the dunes still; that's not
probable? I'd like to know whether any one of these observant boy scouts
of yours saw a boat leave this shore since daybreak?"

It transpired that Coombsie had: after a night of unprecedented
excitement--like his tossing brother scouts who sought the shelter of
their tents about one o'clock in the morning--he had been unable to
sleep, had crept out of his tent at daybreak and climbed a white
sand-hill, to watch the sun rise over the river.

"I saw a rowboat shoot out of a little creek farther up the river, I
should say about half a mile from the dunes," said Marcoo. "There was
only one person in it; seemed to me he was acting rather queerly; he'd
row for a while, then stand up in the stern and scull a bit, then row
again."

"Could you see for what point he was heading?"

"For the salt-marshes high up on the other side of the river, I guess! I
think he landed there."

"Then, he's probably hiding in the woods beyond the marshes. We must
search them. That French-Canadian, Toiney Leduc, who's camping with you,
has worked as a lumberman in those woods; he knows them well, and is a
good trailer. I'd like to have him for a guide this morning." Here the
officer turned to the scoutmaster. "And if you have no objection I think
it would be well that those two boys should come with us," he nodded
toward Scouts Warren and Chase. "They can identify the man whom they saw
trying to enter that bungalow last night."

There is nothing at all inspiriting about a man-hunt; so Nixon and Leon
decided when, within an hour, they landed from the police boat on the
familiar salt-marshes high up the river, and silently took their way
across them, in company with Toiney and the policemen, over the uplands
into the woods.

They had come upon the fugitive's boat, hidden among a clump of bushes
near the river. Using that as a starting-point, Toiney followed Dave
Baldwin's trail into the maze of woodland; though how he did so was to
the boy scouts a problem, for to them it seemed blind work.

But the guide in the tasseled cap, blue shirt, and heelless high boots,
would stop now and again at a soft spot on the marshes or uplands, or
when they came to a swampy patch in the woods; at such times he would
generally drop on all fours with a muttered: "Ha! _V'là ses pis!_" in
his queer patois. "Dere's heem step!" And anon: "Dere me fin his feets
again!"

When there was no footprint to guide him Toiney would stoop down and
read the story of the dry pine-needles, just faintly disturbed by the
toe of a rough boot which had kicked them aside a little in passing.

Or he would carefully examine a broken twig, the wood of which, being
whitish and not discolored, showed that it had been recently snapped by
a tread heavier than that of a fox; and again they would hear him mutter
in his quaint dialect: "_Tiens! le tzit ramille cassé_: de littal stick
broke! I'll t'ink hees step jus' here--engh?"

It was a lesson in trailing which the two boy scouts never forgot as
they took their way through the thick woods, fairly well known to them
now, past Varney's Paintpot, Rattlesnake Brook, and other points of
interest.

Ere they reached the Bear's Den, however, the trail which Toiney had
been following seemed to turn off at an angle and then double backward
through the woods, in an opposite direction to that in which they had
been pursuing it.

"Mebbe she's no' de same trail?" pondered the guide aloud. "Mebbe dere's
oder man's feets, engh?"

It was now that a sudden idea, a swift memory, struck Scout Warren.

"Say! Starrie," he exclaimed in a low tone to his brother scout. "Do you
remember our looking all over that loggers' camp last year, the shanty
back there in the woods, with the rusty grindstone trough and mountain
of sawdust beside it? We found some fresh tobacco ash on the table and
in one of the bunks which showed that, though the shanty was deserted in
summer, somebody was using it for a shelter at night. That somebody may
have been Dave Baldwin."

"Yes, they say he has spent his time--or most of it--loafing among the
dunes or in the woods," returned Leon, well recalling the incident and
how, too, he had scoffed at the boy scout for taking the trouble to read
the sign story told by every article in and about the rough shanty,
including the overturned trough.

"Eh! what's that, boys?" asked one of the two policemen, catching part
of the conversation.

As in duty bound they told him; and the search party turned in the
direction of the log shanty.

As they surmised it was not empty. On the discolored mattress in the
lower bunk left there by the lumbermen who once occupied it, was
stretched the figure of a man, fast asleep. One foot emerging from a
charred, torn trouser-leg which looked as if it had come into contact
with fire, hung over the edge of the deal crib.

When the party filed into the shanty the sleeper started up and rubbed
his eyes. At sight of the two policemen his smudged face took on a
pinched pallor.

"I didn't do it on purpose!" he cried in the bewilderment of this sudden
awakening, without time to collect his senses. "So help me! I never
meant to set that shed on fire!"

"You were seen hanging round there an hour before the blaze broke out,
and trying to get into the house too," challenged the elder of the
policemen.

Dave Baldwin slipped from the bunk to the ground; he saw that his best
course lay in making a clean breast of last night's proceedings.

"So I was!" he said. "And these two fellows," he pointed to the boy
scouts, "saw me up on the piazza of the house, trying a window. I was
hungry; I'd had nothing to eat all day but the last leg of a woodchuck
that I knocked on the head day before yesterday. I thought the summer
people who had just gone away might have left some canned stuff or
remnants o' food behind 'em. I didn't want to steal anything else, or to
do mischief!" he went on with that same passionate frankness of a man
abruptly startled out of sleep, while the policemen listened patiently.
"I didn't, I tell ye! I'd been hangin' round those Sugarloaf Dunes for
nigh on two weeks, watching the boys who were camping there, having a
ripping good time--doing a lot o' stunts that I knew nothing
about--wishing I'd had the chanst they have now!"

"How came you to go into the shed that was burned down?" asked one of
the officers.

"I was hungry, as I tell you, an' I couldn't get into the house, so I
thought I'd lie down under the nearest cover, that shed, go to sleep an'
forget it. I guess I knocked the ashes out o' my pipe an' dozed. Smoke
an' the smell o' wood burning woke me. I found one side o' the shed was
on fire. Maybe, some one had left an oily rag, or one with turpentine on
it, around, and the spark from my pipe caught it. I don't know! I tried
to stamp out the fire--to beat it out with my hands!" He extended
blistered palms and knuckles. "I've made a mess o' my life I know! But I
ain't a crazy fire-bug!"

"Why didn't you try and get help to fight it?"

"I was too scared. I thought, likely as not, nobody would believe me,
seeing I had a 'reformatory record,'" the youthful vagrant's face
twitched. "I was afraid o' being 'sent up' again, so I hid among the
dunes and crossed to the woods this morning."

"Well, you can tell all that to the judge; you must come with me now,"
said the older policeman inflexibly, not unkindly; he knew that men when
suddenly aroused from sleep usually speak the truth; he was impressed by
the argument of those blistered palms; on the other hand, the youthful
vagrant's past record was very much against him.

But those charred palms were evidence enough for Toiney; though they
might leave the officers of the law unconvinced.

"Ha! _courage_, Dave," he cried, feeling an emotion of pity mingle with
the contempt which he, honest Antoine, had felt for the _vaurien_ who
had caused his old mother's heart to burst. "_Bon courage_, Dave! I'll
no t'ink you do dat, for sure, me. Mebbe littal fire fly f'om you' pipe.
I'll no t'ink you do dat for de fun!"

"We don't think you did it on purpose, Dave," struck in the two boy
scouts, seconding their guide.

Nevertheless, Dave Baldwin passed that night in a prison cell and
appeared before the judge next morning with the certainty confronting
him that he would be remanded to appear before the higher court on the
grave charge of being an incendiary.

And it seemed improbable that bail would be offered for the prisoner, so
that he would be allowed out of jail in the mean time.

Yet bail was forthcoming. A massive, weatherbeaten figure, well known in
this part of Essex County, stood up in court declaring that he was ready
and willing to sign the prisoner's bail bonds. It was Captain Andy
Davis.

And when all formalities had been gone through, when the prisoner was
liberated until such time as his case should come up for trial, Captain
Andy took him in tow.

"You come along home with me, Dave!" he commanded. "I'm going to put it
up to you straight whether you want to live a man's life, or not."

And so he did that evening.

"I've been wanting to get hold of you for some time, Dave Baldwin," said
the sea-captain. "Your father an' I were shipmates together on more'n
one trip. He was a white man, brave an' hard-working; it's hard for me
to believe that there isn't some o' the same stuff in his son."

The youthful ne'er-do-weel was silent. Captain Andy slowly went on:--

"As for the matter of this fire, I don't believe you started it on
purpose. I doubt if the policemen who arrested you do! It's your past
record that's against you. Now! if I see the district attorney, Dave
Baldwin," Captain Andy's eyes narrowed meditatively under the heavy
lids, "and succeed in getting this case against you _nol prossed_--I
guess that's the term the lawyer used--it means squashed, anyhow, do you
want to start over again an' head for some port worth while?"

"Nobody would give me the chance," muttered the younger man huskily.

"I will. I've bought a piece of land over there on the edge of the
woods, lad; it ain't more'n half cleared yet. I'm intending to start a
farm. But I don't know much about farming; that's the truth!" The grand
old Viking looked almost pathetically helpless. "But you've worked on a
farm, Dave, when you were a boy and since: if you want to take hold an'
help me--if you want to stick to work an' make good--this is your
chance!"

An inarticulate sound from the _vaurien_; it sounded like a sob bitten
in two by clenched teeth!

"The two boys who were with the officers who arrested you told me that
you declared you'd been hangin' round the Sugarloaf Dunes lately,
watching those scouts at their signaling stunts an' the like, an'
wishing that you'd had the chance they have now, when you were a boy.
Well! _theirs_ is a splendid chance--better than boys ever had before,
it seems to me--of joining the learning o' useful things with fun."
Captain Andy planted an elbow emphatically upon a little table near him.
"Now! Dave, you don't want to let those boy scouts be the ones to do the
good turns for your old mother that you should do? If you ain't set on
breaking her heart altogether--if you want to be a decent citizen of the
country that raises boys like these scouts--if you want to see your own
sons scouts some day--well, give us your fin, lad!"

The captain's voice dropped upon the last words, the semi-comical
wind-up of a peroration broken and blustering in its earnestness.

There was a repetition of the hysterical sound in Dave Baldwin's throat
which failed to pass his gritting teeth. He did not extend his hand at
Captain Andy's invitation. But his shoulders heaved as he turned his
head away; and the would-be benefactor was satisfied.

"And so Captain Andy is going to stand back of Dave Baldwin and give him
another chance to make good in life!" said the Exmouth doctor, member of
the Local Council of Boy Scouts, when he heard what had come of the
vagrant's arrest. "That's like Andy! And I don't think he'll have much
difficulty with the district attorney; nobody really believes that
Baldwin started that fire maliciously, and the district attorney will be
very ready to listen to anything Captain Andy has to say!"

Here the doctor's eye watered. He was recalling an incident which had
occurred some years before at sea, when the son of that district
attorney, who did not then occupy his present distinguished position,
and the doctor's own son, with one or two other young men of Dave
Baldwin's age, had been wrecked while yachting upon certain ragged rocks
of Newfoundland, owing to their foolhardiness in putting to sea when a
storm was brewing.

At daybreak upon an October morning their buffeted figures were sighted,
clinging to the rocks, by the lookout on the able fishing vessel,
Constellation, of which Captain Andrew Davis was then in command.

The furious gale had subsided. But as Captain Andy knew, the greatest
danger to his own vessel lay in the sullen and terrible swell of the
"old sea" which it had stirred up.

Nevertheless, the Constellation bore down upon the shipwrecked men,
getting as near to them as possible, without being swept on to the rocks
herself.

Then Captain Andy gave the order to put over a dory, stepped into it,
and called for a volunteer. Twice, to and fro through the towering swell
of the old sea, went that gallant little dory. She was smashed to
kindling wood on her second trip, but not before the men in her could be
hauled aboard the Constellation with ropes--not before every member of
the yachting party was saved!

"And I guess if Captain Andy wants a chance to haul Dave Baldwin off the
rocks where the old sea stirred up by the gusts of his own waywardness
and wrongdoing have stranded him, the district attorney won't stand in
the way!" said the doctor to himself.

His surmise proved correct.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was just one month after the fire upon the dunes that the three
patrols of boy scouts, Owls, Foxes, and Seals, assembled at a point of
rendezvous upon the outskirts of the town, bound off upon a long
Saturday hike through the October woods.

But some hearts in the troop were at bottom heavy to-day, though on the
surface they rose above the feeling.

For it was the last woodland hike, for the present, that Scout Warren of
the Owls would take with his patrol. The return of his parents from
Europe was expected during the coming week; and he--now with two white
stripes upon his arm, signifying his two years of service in the Boy
Scouts of America, wearing also the patrol leader's bars and first-class
scout badge--would rejoin his Peewit Patrol in Philadelphia.

However, his comrades' regrets were softened by Nixon's promise that he
would frequently visit the Massachusetts troop with which he had spent
an exciting year, and which, unintentionally, he had been instrumental
in forming.

And on this brilliant October Saturday Assistant Scoutmaster Toiney
Leduc, perceiving that the coming parting was casting a faint shadow
before, exerted himself to banish that cloudlet as the troop started on
its hike.

"_Houp-e-là!_ We arre de boy! We arre de stuff! We arre de bes' scout
ev'ry tam'!" he shouted with an _esprit de corps_ which found its echo
in one breast at least--that of the terrier, Blink, who to-day capered
with the troop as its mascot. "We arre de bes' scout; _n'est-ce pas_,
mo' smarty?" And Toiney embraced Harold, marching at his side--Harold,
whose lips turned up to-day and every day now in the scout's smile, for
since the night of the dune fire had not each of his comrades and the
scoutmasters too, kept impressing on him that he had "behaved like a
little man and a good scout" at duty's call!

There were individuals among the onlookers, too, watching the three
patrols march out of the town that morning, who shared Toiney's
primitive conceit that they were the "best scouts"; or at least fairly
on the way to being a model troop.

Little Jack Baldwin, gazing at his rescuers, Scouts Warren and Chase,
Marcoo and Colin Estey, marching two and two at the head of the leading
patrol, clapped his hands and almost burst his heart in wishing that he
could be twelve years old to-morrow so that he might enlist as a
tenderfoot scout.

Whereupon his old grandmother smilingly bade him "take patience," for
the two years which now separated him from his heart's desire would not
be long in passing.

And the boy scouts, as they raised their broad-brimmed hats to old Ma'am
Baldwin, saw a happier look upon her face than it had ever worn before,
to their knowledge.

Farther on they came upon the explanation of this! They were taking a
different route to-day from that which they usually followed in entering
the woods. About a mile from the town they struck a partial clearing,
where the land, not yet entirely relieved of timber, was evidently being
gradually converted into a farm.

As the scouts approached they heard the ringing strokes of a woodsman's
axe, and presently came upon a perspiring young man, putting all his
strength into felling a stubborn oak-tree.

"Hullo, Dave; how goes it?" cried the scoutmaster, halting with his
troop.

"Fine!" came back the panting answer from the individual engaged in this
scouting or pioneering work, who was the former _vaurien_, Dave Baldwin.

"Find this better than loafing about the dunes, eh?"

"Well! I should say so," came the answer with an honest smile.

But the boy scouts were hardly noticing Dave Baldwin: Owls, Foxes, and
Seals, they were gazing in transfixed amusement at their hero-in-chief,
Captain Andy, owner of this half-cleared land.

He, who in his seagoing days had been known by such flattering titles as
the Grand Bank Horse, the Ocean Patrol, and the like, was seated in the
midst of a half-acre of pasture land, holding on like grim death to one
end of a twenty-foot rope coiled round his hand, the hemp's other
extremity being hitched to the leg of a very lively red cow which
presently dragged him the entire length of the pasture and then across
and across it, in obedience to her feminine whims.

"She'll be the death o' me, boys!" he shouted comically to the convulsed
scouts. "Great Neptune! I'd rather take a vessel through the breakers on
Sable Island Bar than to be tied to her heels for one day."

"For pity's sake! Hold on to her, Cap!" Dave Baldwin paused in his
energetic tree-felling. "Yesterday, she got into that little plowed
field that I'd just seeded down with winter rye, and thrashed about
there!"

"Ha! I'll t'ink you go for be good _habitant_--farmer--Dave," broke in
Toiney suddenly and genially. "I'll t'ink you get dere after de w'ile,
engh?"

It was plain to each member of the troop that so far as Dave himself was
concerned he was already "getting there,"--reaching the goal of an
honest, industrious manhood.

The triple responsibility of starting a farm, directing the energies of
his benefactor, and combating the cow, was rapidly making a man of him.

They heard the virile blows of his axe against the tree-trunk as they
marched on their woodland way. And their song floated back to him:--

  "At duty's call, with a smile for all,
    The Scout will do his part!"

Dave Baldwin paused for a minute to listen; then, as he swung his axe in
a tremendous, final blow against the tottering oak, he too broke
triumphantly into the refrain:--

  "And we'll shout, shout, shout,
  For the Scout, Scout, Scout,
    For the Scouts of the U.S.A!"


THE END





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