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´╗┐Title: The Banner Boy Scouts Afloat - Or, The Secret of Cedar Island
Author: Warren, George A.
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 "The Banner Boy Scouts Afloat - Or, The Secret of Cedar Island" ***

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The Banner Boy Scouts Afloat

OR

The Secret of Cedar Island

By GEORGE A. WARREN

1913



CONTENTS

CHAPTER


     I THE MYSTERIOUS BOXES

    II GLORIOUS NEWS

   III FOR CEDAR ISLAND--GHOST OR NO GHOST

    IV LAYING IN THE STORES

     V JUST AFTER THE CLOCK STRUCK TEN

    VI THE GREAT CRUISE OF THE SCOUTS BEGUN

   VII STUCK FAST IN THE MUD

  VIII WHAT THE WATER GAUGE SHOWED

    IX ON THE SWIFT RADWAY

     X DODGING THE SNAGS AND THE SNARES

    XI THE CAMP ON CEDAR ISLAND

   XII WAS IT A BURSTING METEOR?

  XIII THE FOOTPRINTS IN THE SAND

   XIV TRYING TO FIGURE IT ALL OUT

    XV ORDERED OFF

   XVI UNDER COVER OF DARKNESS

  XVII PITCHING TENTS IN THE "SINK"

 XVIII WHAT LAY IN THE BRUSH

   XIX LAYING PLANS

    XX THE EXPLORING PARTY

   XXI A MYSTERY OF THE OPEN GLADE

  XXII THE WIGWAG MESSAGE

 XXIII STILL FLOUNDERING IN THE MIRE

  XXIV THE DISCOVERY

   XXV TIME TO GO BACK

  XXVI HONORABLE SCARS

 XXVII ANOTHER THREATENING PERIL

XXVIII PREPARED FOR THE WORST

  XXIX LIFTING THE LID

   XXX GOOD-BYE TO CEDAR ISLAND

  XXXI A SCOUT'S DUTY

 XXXII CONCLUSION



PREFACE


Dear Boys:--

It is with the greatest pleasure that I present you with the third volume
of the "Banner Boy Scouts Series." This is a complete story in itself;
and yet most of the leading characters you, who have already read the
first and second volumes, will easily remember. I trust you will heartily
welcome the appearance once more on the stage of Paul, Jack, Bobolink and
all the other good fellows belonging to Stanhope Troop of Boy Scouts.

Those of you who are old friends will recollect that while the Red Fox
Patrol was forming, the boys had a most strenuous time, what with a deep
mystery in their midst, and the bitter strife resulting from their
competition with rival troops belonging to neighboring towns. How the
beautiful banner was cleverly won by Stanhope, I related in the first
volume, called: "The Banner Boy Scouts."

In the succeeding story the Stanhope Scouts went on their first long
hike, to camp in the open. The remarkable adventures they met with
while enjoying this experience; as well as the stirring account of how
they recovered a box of valuable papers that had been stolen from the
office of Joe Clausin's father, form the main theme of "The Banner Boy
Scouts on a Tour."

And now, in this third book, I have endeavored to interest you in another
series of happenings that befell these wide-awake boys before their
summer vacation was over. I hope you will, after reading this story
through to the last line, agree with me that what the young assistant
scout master, Paul Morrison, and his chums of Stanhope Troop endured
while afloat all went to make them better and truer scouts in every sense
of the word.

Cordially yours

GEORGE A. WARREN.



CHAPTER I

THE MYSTERIOUS BOXES


"What are you limping for, Bobolink?"

"Oh! shucks! I see there's no use trying to hide anything from your sharp
eyes, Jack Stormways. Guess I just about walked my feet off today, goin'
fishin' with our patrol leader, away over to the Radway River, and about
six miles up."

"Have any luck, Bobolink?" instantly demanded the third member of the
group of three half-grown boys, who were passing after nightfall through
some of the partly deserted streets on the outskirts of the thriving town
of Stanhope; and whose name it might be stated was Tom Betts.

"Well, I should say, yes. Between us we got seven fine bass, and a
pickerel. By the way, I caught that pickerel; Paul, he looked after the
bass end of the string, and like the bully chap he is divided with me;"
and the boy who limped chuckled as he said this, showing that he could
appreciate a joke, even when it was on himself.

About everybody in town called him Bobolink; and what boy could do
otherwise, seeing that his real name was Robert O. Link?

As the trio of lads were all dressed in the khaki suits known all over
the world nowadays as typifying Boy Scouts, it could be readily taken for
granted that they belonged to the Stanhope Troop.

Already were there three full patrols enlisted, and wearing uniforms;
while a fourth was in process of forming. The ones already in the field
were known as, first, the Red Fox, to which these three lads belonged;
then the Gray Fox, and finally the Black Fox. But as they had about
exhausted the color roster of the fox family, the chances were that the
next patrol would have to start on a new line when casting about for a
name that would stamp their identity, and serve as a totem.

An efficient scout master had been secured in the person of a young man
by the name of Mr. Gordon, who cheerfully accompanied the lads on their
outings, and attended many of their meetings. But being a traveling
salesman, Mr. Gordon often had to be away from home for weeks at a time.

When these lapses occurred, his duties fell upon the shoulders of Paul
Morrison, who not only filled the position of leader to the Red Fox
Patrol, but being a first-class scout, had received his commission from
Headquarters that entitled him to act as assistant scout master to the
whole troop during the absence of Mr. Gordon.

"How did you like it up on the Radway?" continued the one who had made
the first inquiry, Jack Stormways, whose father owned a lumber yard and
planing mill just outside the limits of the town, which was really the
goal of their present after-supper walk.

"Great place, all right," replied Bobolink. "Paul kept calling my
attention to all the things worth seeing. He seems to think a heap of the
old Radway. For my part, I rather fancy our own tight little river, the
Bushkill."

"Well, d'ye know, that's one reason I asked how you liked it," Jack went
on. "Paul seemed so much taken with that region over there, I've begun to
get a notion in my head he's fixing a big surprise, and that perhaps at
the meeting to-night he may spring it on us."

"Tell me about that, will you?" exclaimed Bobolink, who was given to
certain harmless slang ways whenever he became in the least excited, as
at present. "Now that you've been and gone and given me a pointer, I c'n
just begin to get a line on a few of the questions he asked me. Well,
I'm willing to leave it to Paul. He always thinks of the whole shooting
match when trying to give the troop a bully good time. Just remember
what we went through with when we camped out up on Rattlesnake Mountain,
will you?"

"That's right," declared Tom Betts, eagerly; "say, didn't we have the
time of our lives, though?"

"And yet Paul said only today that as we had so long a time before
vacation ends this year, a chance might pop up for another trip,"
Bobolink remarked, significantly.

"Did, eh? Well, don't that go to prove what I said; and you just wait
till we get back to the meeting room in the church. Paul's just bursting
with some sort of secret, and I reckon he'll just have to tell us
to-night," and Jack laughed good-naturedly as he still led his two
comrades on toward the retired lane, where his father's big mill adjoined
the storage place for lumber; convenient to the river, and at the same
time near the railroad, so that a spur track could enter the yard.

Besides these three boys five others constituted the Red Fox Patrol of
Stanhope Troop. In the first story of this series, which appeared under
the name of "The Banner Boy Scouts; Or, The Struggle for Leadership,"
the reader was told about the formation of the Red Fox Patrol, and how
some of the boys learned a lesson in scout methods of returning good for
evil; also how a cross old farmer was taught that he owed a duty to the
community in which he lived, as well as to himself. In that story it was
also disclosed how a resident of the town offered a beautiful banner to
that troop which excelled in an open tournament also participated in by
two other troops of Boy Scouts from the towns of Aldine and Manchester;
the former on the east bank of the Bushkill, about six miles up-stream,
and the latter a bustling manufacturing place about seven miles down, and
also on the same bank as Aldine.

In this competition, after a lively duel between the three wide awake
troops, Stanhope won handsomely; and had therefore been given the banner,
which Wallace Carberry proudly carried at the head of the procession
whenever they paraded.

The second book, "The Banner Boy Scouts on a Tour; Or, The Mystery of
Rattlesnake Mountain," was given over almost exclusively to descriptions
of the wonderful things that came to pass when Stanhope Troop spent a
part of their vacation camping out in order that those who were backward
in their knowledge of how to take care of themselves when in the open
should have a good chance to learn many of the secrets of Nature.

So many strange things happened to the boys when up on Rattlesnake
Mountain that it would be utterly impossible to even mention them here;
but if you wish to know all about the mystery they solved, and the
numerous other exciting events that befell them, you must get the
second volume.

There was to be a special meeting, which the acting scout master had
called for this evening; and Bobolink, Jack, and Tom Betts expected to
be back from their errand in time to answer to their names when the roll
was called.

It was only to oblige Jack that the other two had left home half an hour
earlier than was really necessary. Jack had asked them, over the
telephone, to drop around, as he had to go out to his father's mill
before he could attend the meeting in the church, where a room in the
basement had been kindly loaned to them by the trustees.

"What's all this mean about you going to the mill at this queer old
hour?" Bobolink was saying, as the three boys continued to walk on
abreast, the speaker carrying the silver-plated bugle which he knew how
to manipulate so well when the occasion allowed its use.

"Why, you see it's this way," Jack went on to explain. "My father knows a
man of the name of Professor Hackett, though what he's a professor of
you needn't ask me, because I don't know. But he's a bright little
gentleman, all right; and somehow or other he looks like he's just cram
full of some secret that's trying to break out all over him."

Bobolink laughed aloud.

"Well, that's a funny description you give of the gentleman, I must say,
Jack; but go on--what's he got to do with our making this trip to the big
mill tonight?"

"I just guess it's got everything to do with it," replied the other. "You
see, the professor had a number of big cases sent up here on the train,
and they came today, and were taken to the mill; for my father promised
to keep them there a couple of days until the owner could take them away.
What under the sun's in those big boxes I couldn't tell you from Adam;
all I know is that he seems to be mighty much afraid somebody's going to
steal them."

"Wow! and are we going there to stand guard over the blooming old
things?" exclaimed Bobolink in dismay; for he would not want to miss that
special meeting for anything.

"Oh! not quite so bad as that," answered Jack, with a laugh. "But you
see, that professor wrote my father that he wanted him to hire a trusty
man who would stay in the mill over night until he could get up here
from New York and take the boxes away, somewhere or other."

"Oh, that's it, eh? And where do we find the guardian of the treasure? Is
he going to bob up on the road to the mill?" Tom Betts demanded.

"He promised father to be on deck at seven-thirty, and it'll be close on
that by the time we get there, I reckon," Jack continued.

"And what have you got to do about it?" asked Bobolink.

"Let him in, and lock the door after he's on duty," replied Jack,
promptly. "You see, ever since that attempt was made to burn the mill,
when those hoboes, or yeggs, thought they'd find money in the safe, and
had their trouble for their pains, my father has been mighty careful how
he leaves the office unfastened. He couldn't see this man, Hans Waggoner,
who used to work for us, but talked with him over the 'phone, and told
him I'd be there to meet him, and let him in. That's all there is to it,
boys, believe me."

"Only, you don't know what's in those boxes, and you'd give a cookie to
find out?" suggested Bobolink.

"It isn't so bad as that," replied the other. "Of course I'm a little
curious about what they might hold, that they have to be specially
guarded; but I guess it's none of my business, and I'm not going to
monkey around, trying to find out."

"Say, d'ye suppose your dad knows?" asked Tom.

"Sure he must," came from Jack, instantly. "He'd be silly to let anybody
store a lot of cases that might hold dynamite, or any other old
explosive, in his planing mill, without knowing all about 'em; wouldn't
he? But my father don't think it's any of my affair, you see. And
besides, I wouldn't be surprised if that funny little professor had bound
him not to tell anybody about it. They got the boxes in on the sly, and
that's a fact, boys."

"Oh! splash! now you've got me worked up with guessing, and I'll never be
able to sleep till I know all about it," grumbled Bobolink.

"You're just as curious as any old woman I ever heard of," declared Jack.

"He always was," said Tom Betts, with a chuckle, "and I could string off
more'n a few times when that same curiosity hauled Bobolink into a peck
of trouble. But p'raps your father might let out the secret to you, after
the old boxes have been taken away, and then you can ease his mind.
Because it's just like he says, and he'll keep on dreamin' the most
wonderful things about those cases you ever heard tell about. That
imagination of Bobolink is something awful."

"Huh!" grunted the one under discussion, "not much worse than some
others I know about right now; only they c'n keep a tight grip on
theirs, and I'm that simple I just have to blurt everything out. Both of
you fellers'd like to know nearly as much as I would, what that
mysterious little old man has got hid away in those big cases. Of course
you would. But you jump on the lid, and hold it down. It gets away with
me; that's all."

"All the same, it's mighty good of you fellows, coming all the way out
here with me tonight; and even when Bobolink's got a stone bruise on his
heel, or something like that," Jack went on to say, with a vein of
sincere affection in his voice; for the boys making up the Red Fox Patrol
of Stanhope Troop were very fond of each other.

"Oh! rats! what's the good of being a scout if you can't do a comrade a
little favor once in a while?" asked Bobolink, impetuously. "But there's
the mill looming up ahead, Jack, in the dark. Half a moon don't give a
whole lot of light, now, does it; and especially when it's a cloudy night
in the bargain?"

"Well, I declare!" exclaimed Jack.

"What is it; did you see anything?" demanded Tom Betts, hastily.

"I'm not dead sure," admitted Jack; "you see, just as Bobolink said, the
light's mighty poor, and a fellow could easily be mistaken; but I
thought I saw something that looked like a tall man scuttle away around
that corner of the mill, and dodge behind that pile of lumber!"

"Whew!" ejaculated Bobolink, showing the utmost interest, for excitement
appealed to him.

"Say, perhaps Hans has arrived ahead of the half hour," suggested
Tom Betts.

"No, it wasn't Hans, because I know him well, and he's a little runt of a
Dutchman, but a fighter from the word go; and my father knows nobody's
going to get away with those boxes of the professor while Hans and his
musket, that was used in the Civil War, are on guard. That was a tall
man, and he ran like he'd just heard us coming, and wanted to hide. I
guess somebody else is curious about those boxes, besides Bobolink."



CHAPTER II

GLORIOUS NEWS


"Look! there he goes scooting away over past that other pile of lumber!"
said Tom Betts, pointing as he spoke; and both the others caught a
glimpse of a dim figure that was bending over while hurrying away, as if
anxious not to be seen.

"Well, what d'ye think of the nerve of that?" ejaculated Bobolink, making
a move as though in his impetuous way he was sorely tempted to chase
after the disappearing figure of the unknown; only that the more cautious
Jack threw out a hand, and caught hold of his sleeve.

"Never mind him, boys," remarked the son of the lumber man. "Perhaps it
was only a tramp from the railroad, after all, meaning to find a place to
sleep among the lumber piles. But I'm going to tell my father about it,
all the same. Seems to me he ought to have some one like Hans stay here
every night. Some of those hoboes will set fire to things, either by
accident, or because they are mad at the town for not handing enough good
things out to suit their appetites."

They walked on, and in another minute were at the office door. There they
sat down on the stoop to rest and talk; but only a few minutes had passed
when they heard the sound of approaching footsteps; and a small but very
erect figure appeared, carrying an old-fashioned musket of the vintage of
'61 over his shoulder.

"Hello! Hans, on time all right, I see!" called out Jack.

"Dot is me, I dells you, every time. I am punctuality idself. I sets me
der clock, undt figure dot all oudt, so I haf yust der time to valk here.
Der sooner you obens der door, Misder Jack, der sooner I pe on der chob,"
was the reply of the little man who had been hired to watch the mill, and
those strange boxes, during the night.

Evidently Hans was "strictly business." He had been hired to watch, and
he wanted to be earning his wages as quickly as possible.

So Jack used his key, and the four entered the office. It was quite a
good-sized room. The windows were covered with heavy wire netting, and it
seemed strong enough to resist any ordinary degree of force. After that
attempt to rob his safe, Mr. Stormways had taken precautions against a
similar raid.

The watchman also carried a lantern, which he now lighted. No sooner had
this been done than Bobolink uttered an exclamation.

"I reckon now, Jack, that these three big boxes are the ones the
professor wants watched?" he observed, pointing as he spoke to several
cumbersome cases that stood in a group, occupying considerable space.

Tom Betts, also looking, saw that they were unusually well fastened. In
addition to the ordinary nailing, they were bound along the edges with
heavy twisted wire, through which frequent nails had been driven. When
they came to be opened, the job would prove no easy one.

"Yes, those are the ones; and Hans is to spend most all his time right
here in the office," Jack went on to say. "I'm going to ask my father if
he ought not to hire you to be night watchman right along, Hans. This
plant of ours is getting too big a thing to leave unguarded, with so many
tramps coming along the road in the good old summer time. I suppose you'd
like the job, all right?"

"Sure," replied the bustling little man, his eyes sparkling. "I always
did enchoy vorkin' for Misder Stormways. Undt it habbens dot yust now I
am oudt off a chob. Dot vill pe allright. I hopes me idt turns out so.
Undt now, off you like, you could lock der door some. I stay me here
till somepody gomes der mornin' py."

"Oh! you keep the key, Hans," replied Jack. "You might want to chase out
after some one; but father told me to warn you not to be tempted to go
far away. You see, he's storing these cases for a friend, and it seems
that somebody wants to either get at 'em, or steal them. They're what
you're hired to protect, Hans. And now let us out, and lock the door
after we're gone."

Anxious to get to the church before the meeting could be called to order,
the three scouts did not linger, although Hans was such an amusing little
man that they would have liked nothing better than to spend an hour in
his society, listening to stories about his adventures--for the Dutchman
had roamed pretty much all over the world since his boyhood.

"Shucks! I forgot to examine those boxes," lamented Bobolink, when they
were on the way past the end of the lumber yard.

Jack was glancing sharply about, wondering whether that tall, skulking
figure they had glimpsed could be some one who had a peculiar interest in
the boxes stored in the office of the mill until Professor Hackett called
for them; or just an ordinary "Weary Willie," looking for a soft board to
sleep on, before he continued his hike along the railroad track.

But look as he would, he could see no further sign of a trespasser. Of
course that was no sign the unknown might not be within twenty feet of
them, right then. The tall piles of lumber offered splendid hiding-places
if any one was disposed to take advantages of the nooks; Jack had
explored many a snug hole, when roaming through the yard at various
times, and ought to know about it.

"Oh! I took care of that part," chuckled Tom Betts. "I saw you were
talking with Jack and old Hans, so I just stepped up, and walked around
the boxes. There isn't a thing on 'em but the name of the professor, and
Jack's dad's address in Stanhope."

"And they didn't look much like animal cages to me," muttered Bobolink;
upon which both of the others emitted exclamations of surprise, whereupon
the speaker seemed to think he ought to make some sort of explanation, so
he went on hastily: "You see, Jack, I somehow got a silly idea in my mind
that p'raps this little professor was some sort of an animal trainer, and
meant to come up here, just to have things quiet while he did his little
stunts. But that was a punk notion for me, all right; there ain't any
smell of animals about those boxes, not a whiff."

"But what in the wide world gave you that queer notion?" asked Tom.

"Don't know," replied Bobolink, "'less it was what Jack said about
the professor writing up from Coney Island near New York City; that's
the place where all the freaks show every summer. I've been down
there myself."

"Listen to him, would you, Jack, owning up that he's a sure enough freak?
Well, some of us had a little idea that way, Bobolink, but we never
thought you'd admit it so coolly," remarked Tom Betts, laughingly.

"And the wild animal show down there is just immense," the other went on,
not heeding the slur cast upon his reputation; for like many boys,
Bobolink had a pretty tough skin, and was not easily offended; "and I
guess I've thought about what I saw done there heaps of times. So Coney
stands for wild animal trainin' to me. But that guess was away wide of
the mark. Forget it, fellows. Only whenever Jack here learns what was in
those boxes, he must let his chums know. It's little enough to pay for
draggin' a lame scout all the way out here tonight; think so, Jack?"

"I sure do, and you'll have it, if ever I find out," was the reply.
"Perhaps, after they've been taken away by the professor, my father
mightn't mind telling me what was in them. And we'll let it rest at
that, now."

"But you mark me, if Bobolink gets any peace of mind till he learns,"
warned Tom.

Chatting on various matters connected more or less with the doings of the
Boy Scout movement, and what a fine thing it was proving for the youth of
the whole land, Jack and his chums presently brought up at the church
which had the bell tower; and where a splendid meeting room had been
given over for their occupancy in the basement, in which a gymnasium was
fitted up for use in the fall and winter.

In that tower hung a big bell, whose brazen tongue had once upon a time
alarmed the good people of Stanhope by ding-donging at a most unusual
hour. It had come through a prank played upon the scouts by several tough
boys of the town whose enmity Paul Morrison and his chums had been
unfortunate enough to incur. But for the details of that exciting episode
the reader will have to be referred back to the preceding volume.

Jack Stormways never glanced up at that tower but that he was forcibly
reminded of that startling adventure; and a smile would creep over his
face as he remembered some of the most striking features connected with
the event.

In the big room the three scouts found quite a crowd awaiting their
coming. Indeed, it seemed as though nearly every member of the troop had
made it an especial point to attend this meeting just as though they
knew there was something unusual about to come before them for
consideration.

As many of these lads will be apt to figure in the pages of this story,
it might be just as well to listen to the secretary, as he calls the
roster of the Stanhope Troop. Once this duty had devolved upon one of the
original Red Fox Patrol; but with the idea of sharing the
responsibilities in a more general way, it had been transferred to the
shoulders of Phil Towns, who belonged to the second patrol.

RED FOX PATROL

1--Paul Morrison, patrol leader, and also assistant scout master.
2--Jack Stormways.
3--Bobolink, the official bugler.
4--Bluff Shipley, the drummer.
5--Nuthin, whose real name was Albert Cypher.
6--William Carberry, one of the twins.
7--Wallace Carberry, the other.
8--Tom Betts.

GRAY FOX PATROL

1--Jud Elderkin, patrol leader.
2--Joe Clausin.
3--Andy Flinn.
4--Phil Towns.
5--Horace Poole.
6--Bob Tice.
7--Curly Baxter.
8--Cliff Jones, whose entire name was Clifford Ellsworth Fairfax Jones.

BLACK FOX PATROL

1--Frank Savage, patrol leader.
2--Billie Little, a very tall lad, and of course always called Little
Billie.
3--Nat Smith.
4--Sandy Griggs.
5--Old Dan Tucker.
6--"Red" Conklin.
7--"Spider" Sexton.
8--"Gusty" Bellows.

Unattached, but to belong to a fourth patrol, later on:

George Hurst.
"Lub" Ketcham.

Thus it will be seen that there were now twenty-six lads connected with
the wide awake Stanhope Troop, and more coming.

After the roll call, they proceeded to the regular business, with Paul
Morrison in the chair, he being the president of the association. It was
surprising how well many of these boyish meetings were conducted; Paul
and some of his comrades knew considerable about parliamentary law, and
long ago the hilarious members of the troop had learned that when once
the meeting was called to order they must put all joking aside.

Many a good debate had been heard within those same walls since the
scouts received permission to meet there; and yet in camp, when the rigid
discipline was relaxed, these same fellows could be as full of fun and
frolic as any lads going.

Tonight it had been whispered around that Paul had some sort of
important communication to make. No one could give a guess as to what it
might be, although all sorts of hazards were attempted, only to be
jeered at as absurd.

And so, while the meeting progressed, they were growing more and more
excited, until finally it was as much as some of them could do to repress
a cheer when Paul, having made sure that there was no other business to
be transacted, arose with a smile, and announced that he had a certain
communication to lay before them.

"Are you ready to hear it?" he asked; "every fellow who is raise
his hand."

Needless to say, not a single hand remained unraised. Paul deliberately
counted them to the bitter end.

"Just twenty-four; and as that is the total number present, we'll call it
unanimous," he said, just to tantalize them a little; and then, with an
air of business he went on: "Two splendid gentlemen of this town, by name
Mr. Everett and Colonel Bliss, happen to own motorboats. As they have
gone to Europe, to be away until late in the Fall, they thought it would
show how they appreciated the work of the Stanhope Troop of Boy Scouts if
they offered the free use of their two boats to us, to make a cruise
wherever we thought best during the balance of vacation time. Now, all in
favor of accepting this magnificent offer from our fellow townsmen
signify by saying 'aye!'"

Hardly had the words fallen from the speaker's lips when a thunderous
"aye" made the stout walls of the building tremble.



CHAPTER III

FOR CEDAR ISLAND--GHOST OR NO GHOST


"Three cheers for Colonel Bliss and Mr. Everett!" called out Bobolink,
almost too excited to speak plainly.

Paul himself led the cheering, because he knew those delighted boys just
had to find some sort of outlet for the enthusiasm that was bubbling up
within them. And doubtless the walls of that sacred building had seldom
heard such cheers since away back in the time when a meeting was held
there at news of the Civil War breaking out in 1861 and the patriotic
citizens had formed a company on the spot, to volunteer their services to
the President.

"Where will we go?" called out one scout, after the cheering had died
down, and they found time to consider ways and means of employing the
motorboats that had been so generously given into their keeping.

"Down the Bushkill to the sea!" suggested one.

"I suppose you think these motorboats can jump like broncos?" declared
Jud Elderkin, with a look of disgust; "else how would they ever get
around that big dam down at Seely's Mills? We could crawl a few miles
_up_ the Bushkill, but to go down would mean only a short cruise."

"Let Paul say!" cried Bobolink, shrewdly reading the smile on the face of
the assistant scout master, as he listened to all sorts of wild plans,
none of which would hold together when the rest of the scouts started to
pick flaws.

"Yes, Paul's got a scheme that'll knock all these wildcat ones just to
flinders, see if it don't," remarked Tom Betts, waving his hands to
enforce silence.

"Go on and tell us, Paul; and I reckon I c'n give a right smart guess
that it's about that Radway River country," declared Bobolink.

"Just what it is," said Paul. "Listen, then, and tell me what you think
of my plan. I've figured it all out, and believe we could make it a go.
If we did, we'd surely have the time of our lives, and find out something
that I've wanted myself to know a long while back. It's about a trip up
the Radway River, too, just as our smart chum guessed."

"But, say, the boats are right here at Stanhope, and have been used in
running up and down the Bushkill; then how in the name of wonder can we
carry them over to the Radway, which is some miles away, I take it?"
asked William Carberry, soberly.

"Wait and see; Paul's got all that arranged," declared the confident
Tom Betts.

"Have 'em hauled over on one of his father's big lumber wagons, mebbe,"
suggested Nuthin, who was rather a small chap, though not of quite so
little importance as his name would seem to indicate.

"Oh, you make me tired, Nuthin," declared Bobolink; "why, those
motorboats weigh a ton or two apiece. Think of gettin' a wagon strong
enough to carry one; and all the slow trips it'd have to take to get 'em
there and back. I reckon the whole of our vacation'd see us on the dry
land part of the cruise. Now, let Paul tell us what plan he's been
thinking about to get over to the Radway with 'em."

"Well, it's just this way," the chairman of the meeting went on to say,
calmly, with the air of one who had studied the matter carefully, and
grasped every little detail; "most of you know that there was a stream
known as Jackson Creek that ran into the Bushkill a mile below
Manchester. That was once dredged out, and made to form a regular canal
connecting the two rivers. For years, my father says, it was used
regularly by all sorts of boats that wanted to cross over from one
river to the other. But changes came, and by degrees the old canal has
been about forgotten. Still, it's there; and I went through it in my
canoe just yesterday, to sound, and see if it could be used by the
motorboats now."

"And could it?" asked Bobolink, eagerly.

"I think there's a fair chance that we'd pull through, though it might
sometimes be a close shave. There's a lot of nasty mud in the canal,
because, you see, it hasn't been cleaned out for years. If we had a good
rain now, and both rivers raised, we wouldn't have any trouble, but could
run through easy enough."

"Well, supposing we did get through, how far up the Radway would we
push?" asked Bobolink, determined to get the entire proposition out of
Paul at once, now that they had him going.

"All the way to Lake Tokala," replied Paul, promptly. "Some of you happen
to know that there's a jolly island in that big lake, known as Cedar
Island, because right on top of a small hill in the middle, a splendid
cedar stands. Well, we could take our tents along, and make camp on that
island, fishing, swimming, and having one of the best times ever heard
of. What do you say, fellows?"

Immediately there was a clamor of tongues. Some seemed to be for
accepting Paul's suggestion with a whoop, and declared that it took them
by storm. A few, however, seemed to raise objections; and such was the
racket that nobody was able to make himself understood. So the chairman
called for order; and with the whack of his gavel on the table every
voice was stilled.

"Let's conduct this meeting in a parliamentary way," said Paul. "Some of
you must have thought it stood adjourned. Now, whoever wants to speak,
get up, and let's hear what you've got to say."

"I move that we take up the plan offered, and make our headquarters on
Cedar Island," said Wallace Carberry, rising.

"Not on your life!" declared Curly Baxter, bobbing up like a
jack-in-the-box; "I've heard lots about that same place. It's troubled
with a _mystery_, and only last week I heard Paddy Reilly say he'd never
go there fishin' again if he was paid for it. He's dreadfully afraid of
ghosts, Paddy is."

"Ghosts!" almost shouted William Carberry; "I vote to go to Cedar
Island then. I've always wanted to see a genuine ghost, and never yet
had a chance."

"Now, I heard that it was a wild man that lived somewhere on that same
island," remarked Frank Savage. "They say he's a terror, too, all covered
with hair; and one man who'd been looking for pearl mussels in the river
up that way told my father he beat any Wild Man of Borneo he'd ever set
eyes on in a freak show or circus."

"Oh, that's a fine place for honest scouts to pitch their tents, ain't
it--I don't think!" observed Joe Clausin, with a sneer.

"H-h-huh! ain't there j-j-just twenty-six of us s-s-scouts; and ought we
b-b-be afraid of one l-l-little g-g-ghost, or even a w-w-wild man?"
demanded Bluff Shipley, who stuttered once in a while, when unduly
excited, though he was by degrees overcoming the nervous habit.

"Put it to a vote, Mr. Chairman!" called out Bobolink.

"Yes, and majority rules, remember," warned William Carberry.

"But that don't mean a feller just _has_ to go along, does it?" asked
Nuthin, looking somewhat aghast at the thought.

"Of course it don't;" Bobolink told him; "all the same you'll be on deck,
my boy. I just know you can't resist having such a jolly good time, ghost
or not. Question, Mr. Chairman!"

"Vote! Vote!"

"All in favor of trying to go through the old canal that used to connect
the Bushkill with the Radway, and cruising up to Cedar Island, camping
there for a week or ten days, say 'aye,'" Paul went on to remark.

A thunderous response cheered his heart; for somehow Paul seemed very
much set upon following out the scheme he himself had devised.

"Contrary, no!" he continued.

There were just three who boldly allowed themselves to be set down as not
being in favor of the daring plan--Nuthin, Curly Baxter and Joe Clausin;
and yet, just as the wise, far-seeing Bobolink had declared, when it came
to a question of staying at home while the rest of the troop were off
enjoying their vacation, or swallowing their fear of ghosts and wild men,
these three boys would be along when the motorboats started on their
adventurous cruise.

"The ayes have it; and the meeting stands adjourned, according to the
motion I can see Jack Stormways's just about to put," and with a laugh
Paul stepped down from the platform.

For fully half an hour they talked the thing over. It was viewed from
every possible angle. Many objections raised by the doubters were
promptly met by the ready Paul; and in the end it was definitely decided
that they would give just one day to making all needed preparations.

They had tents for the three patrols now, and all sorts of cooking
utensils; for frequently the scouts were divided into messes, there being
a cook appointed in each patrol.

What was needed most of all were the supplies for an extended stay; and
when it was taken into consideration that a score of boys, with ravenous
appetites, would want three big meals each and every day, the question of
figuring out enough provisions to see them through was no light matter.

But then they had considerable money in the treasury, and a numbers of
the boys said they would bring loaves of bread, and all sorts of eatables
from home; so Paul saw his way clear toward providing the given quantity.

"Don't forget that the gasoline is going to eat a big hole into our
little pile of the long green," remarked Curly Baxter, still engaged in
trying to throw cold water on the scheme.

"Oh, that makes me think of something I forgot to tell you, fellows,"
declared Paul, his face filled with good humor. "One of the stipulations
connected with the lending of these two motor-boats by the kind gentlemen
who own them was that they insisted on supplying all the liquid fuel
needed to run the craft. The tanks are to be filled, and each boat
carries in addition another drum, with extra gasoline. We'll likely have
enough for all our needs that way, and without costing us a red cent,
either. So, you see how easy most of your objections melt away, Curly.
Chances are, you'll fall into line, and be with us when we start the day
after tomorrow."

Several of the boys were feeling pretty blue. They wanted to accompany
the rest of the troop the worst way; but it happened that their folks had
planned to go down to the sea-shore for a month, until school began
again; and the chances were they would have to go along, though every one
of them declared they would choose the cruise up the Radway in the two
motorboats, if given their way.

But it looked as though there was going to be a pretty fair crowd on each
boat. Paul counted noses of those he believed would be along, and found
that they seemed to number eighteen. If two of the three timid ones
concluded to throw their fears to the winds, and come along, it would
make an even twenty.

"Of course, it will be hard to sleep so many aboard, because the boats
are small affairs, taken altogether," Paul observed; "but we hope to make
the journey in a full day, and be on Cedar Island by nightfall."

"Whew! night on Cedar Island--excuse _me_ if you please!" faltered Curly
Baxter, holding up both hands, as though the idea suggested all sorts of
terrible things to his mind; but much as he seemed desirous of causing
others to back out, Paul saw no signs of any one doing so.

"Meet here at noon tomorrow, boys, and I'll report what I've done. Then
we can figure on what else we have to lay in store, so as to be
comfortable. We must get everything down to the boats before evening,
because we start early on Wednesday, you hear. At eight A. M., Bobolink,
here, will sound his bugle; and ten minutes later we weigh anchor, or cut
loose our hawsers, as you choose to say it, for it means letting go a
rope after all."

They started home in bunches, as usual, those who happened to live near
together naturally waiting for each other. Paul, Jack, and Bobolink
walked together.

"And just as it happens so many times," Paul was saying, as they
sauntered on in the direction of home. "Mr. Gordon is away on the road
somewhere, selling goods; so we have to go without having our fine
scoutmaster along to look after us."

"Guess nobody will miss him very much, although Mr. Gordon is a mighty
nice man and we all think a heap of him; but you are able to fill his
shoes all right, Paul; and, somehow, it seems to feel better not to have
any grown-up along. The responsibility makes most of the fellers behave,
and think for themselves, you see," Jack went on to say.

Paul heaved a little sigh, for he knew who shouldered most of that same
responsibility.

"But," remarked Bobolink, as he was about to separate from Jack and Paul
on a certain corner, where their ways divided; "I'd give something right
now to just know what's in those queer old boxes Professor Hackett has
stored in your mill, Jack; and why they have to be watched, just like
they held money or something that has to be guarded against an unknown
enemy! But I guess I'll have to take it out in wantin', because you don't
know, and wouldn't tell till you got the consent of your dad, even if you
did. Goodnight, fellows; and here's hoping we're going to have the time
of our lives up and around Cedar Island!"



CHAPTER IV

LAYING IN THE STORES


Well, it was a busy day for the scouts of Stanhope Troop.

There was the greatest running back and forth, and consultations among
the lads, ever known. Where a parent seemed doubtful about giving
permission for a boy to take part in the intended cruise, influence was
brought to bear on coaxing neighbors to drop in, and tell how glad they
were their boys were independent, as it was the finest thing that could
ever come to them; and also what slight chances there seemed to be of any
accident happening that might not occur when the lads stayed at home,
where they would go in swimming anyhow.

And owing to the masterly way in which the objections of certain parents
were met and overcome, long before noon every boy who had a ghost of a
chance of sailing on the two motor-boats reported that he had gained
consent; even Curly Baxter admitted that his folks had been won over,
and that he "could go along, if so he he chose to shut his eyes to facts,
and just trust to luck," which, be it said, he finally did, just as Paul
had believed would be the case.

Meanwhile Paul and Jack were making their purchases of provisions, using
a list that had been found useful on their other camping trip; although
several little inaccuracies were corrected. For instance, they had taken
too much rice on that other occasion; and not enough ham, and salt pork,
and breakfast bacon.

Eggs they hoped to buy from some farmer over on the mainland; and
possibly milk as well. Jack even hinted that they might feel disposed, if
the money held out, to get a few chickens, and have one grand feed before
breaking camp.

"And this time we'll try and make sure that none of our grub is hooked,
like it was when we camped up on old Rattlesnake Mountain," Jack had
declared, with emphasis, for the memory of certain mysterious things
that had happened to them on that occasion often arose to disturb some
of the scouts.

"Oh! it ought to be easy to look out for that part of the job," Paul had
made answer; "because, you see, we'll have the two boats to store things
in, and they can be anchored out in the lake, if we want, each with a
guard aboard."

By noon the whole town knew all about the expected cruise. Boys who did
not have the good luck to belong to Stanhope Troop became greatly excited
over it; and by their actions and looks showed how envious they were of
their schoolmates.

Just about then, if the assistant scout master had called for volunteers,
he could have filled two complete additional patrols with candidates; for
the fellows began to realize that the scouts were having three times as
much fun as any one else.

But Paul was too wise for that. He believed in selecting the right sort
of boys, and not taking every one who offered his name, just because he
wanted to have a good time. These fellows would not be able to live up to
the iron-clad rules that scouts have got to subscribe to, and which are
pretty much covered in the twelve cardinal principles which, each boy
declares in the beginning, he will try and govern his life by--"to be
trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient,
cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent."

Some of the scouts were at Headquarters, as the room under the church was
called, getting the supplies there in order, to take down to the boats
later on, when they were surprised to have a visitor in the shape of old
Peleg Growdy.

This man lived just outside the town limits, on the main road. He had
once kept his wagon yard in a very disgraceful condition, much to the
disgust of the women folks of Stanhope. The boys, too, looked upon Peleg
as a crusty old fellow, who hated their kind.

He had done something to offend one of the scouts, and it was proposed
that they play some sort of trick on the old fellow in order to pay him
back; but Paul ventured to say that if the scouts went in a body to his
place, when he was asleep, and cleaned up his wagon yard so that it
looked neat, he would have his eyes opened to the debt he owed the
community.

Paul, it seemed, had learned the main cause of the old man's holding
aloof from his neighbors. It came from the fact that some years back he
had lost his wife and children in the burning of his house; and ever
since had looked upon boys as especially created to worry lone widowers
who wanted only to be let alone.

Well, the scouts certainly made a great friend of Peleg Growdy. He had
even tried to induce them to let him purchase their suits to show that he
was a changed man; but of course they could not allow that, because each
true scout must earn every cent of the money with which his outfit in the
beginning is bought. But in many ways had old Peleg shown them that he
was now going to be one of the best friends the boys of Stanhope Troop
had ever possessed.

He had heard about their intended trip, when he came to town with some
produce; and rather than go back home with some things for which there
did not seem to be any sale at the price he wanted, he had come around
with his wagon to ask his boy friends to please him by accepting them as
his contribution to the cause.

They could not disappoint the generous-hearted old man by refusing; and
besides the half-bushel of onions, and double the quantity of new
potatoes, looked mighty fine to the lads.

About two o'clock, when it seemed that their list was about complete,
even though they would doubtless think of a lot of things after it was
too late to get them, Paul decided to send for the wagon that was to haul
the tents and other things, including blankets for the crowd, brought
from various homes to the meeting place, down to the waiting boats.

"I wanted to get Ezra Sexton, but he was busy," Jack explained, when he
had carried out the errand given into his charge; "fact is, I hear,
Bobolink, that Ezra came early this morning with an order from the
professor, and took all those big cases away in his two wagons."

"Well, that was quick work now, wasn't it?" grumbled Bobolink; "reckon I
won't ever have a chance to see what was inside those boxes. Say, see
here, d'ye happen to know where Ezra hauled 'em? Not to the railroad, I
should think, because they only came that way yesterday."

But Jack shook his head.

"Some distance off, I reckon, because the trucks don't seem to be back
yet, so I couldn't get to see Ezra," he remarked; "but when we come home
again, I'll ask my father about it, and relieve that curiosity of yours,
Bobolink."

"Huh! that means mebbe two weeks or so I'm to go on guessing, I s'pose,"
the other remarked, in a disconsolate way that made Jack laugh.

"Funny how you do get a notion in that coco of yours; and it'd take a
crowbar to work it loose," he observed, at which the other only
grinned, saying:

"Born that way; must 'a made a mistake and left the wrong article at our
house for the new baby; thought it was a girl; always wantin' to know
everything, and never happy till I get it. But Jack, I'll try and keep
this matter out of my mind. Don't pay any attention to me, if I look
cross once in a while. That'll be when it's got me gripped fast, and I'm
tryin' to guess."

"I've known you to do the same when you had one of those puzzles, trying
to work it," chuckled Jack Stormways. "Fact is, I remember that once you
told me you sat up till two o'clock in the morning over that ring
business."

"But I got her, Jack--remember that; won't you? If I hadn't I'd been
burning the midnight oil yet, I reckon. 'Taint safe to make _me_ a
present of a puzzle, because I'm just dead sure to nearly split my poor
weak brain trying to figger it out. And Jack, I'll never be happy till I
know what was in those boxes; and why did that sly little professor
believe someone wanted to steal his thunder and lightning?"

It took several loads to carry all their traps down to the boats. But
finally, as the groceries had also been delivered, the scouts took count
of their stock, and it was believed they had about everything, save what
the boys might bring in the morning from home.

Paul advised them to go slow with regard to what they carried along, as
they did not expect to be gone six months. If any garments gave out, why,
there would be plenty of soap and water handy; and the fellow who did not
know how to wash a pair of socks, or some handkerchiefs, had better take
a few lessons on how to play laundry woman in an emergency.

"If things keep on multiplying much more," the scout master remarked, as
he looked around at the tremendous amount of stuff which the boys were
now beginning to stow away systematically; "why we won't be able to
navigate the boats through that shallow canal at all. They'll just stick
fast, because they'll be so low down in the water; and chances are we'll
have to spend all our vacation slobbering around in that mud trying to
coax them along. Go slow, fellows; bring just as little as you possibly
can in the morning. If there's any doubt about it being a real necessity,
why leave it at home. We're all scouts and true comrades, ready to share
and share alike; so, no matter what happens, no one will go without."

Of course there were many persons who came down to watch the loading of
the supplies, for half of Stanhope was interested in the expedition; and
groups of envious boys could be seen in various nooks, taking note of all
that went on, while they wished they had such good luck.

No one was allowed on board who had no business there. Of course when any
of the fathers or mothers of the boys who were going happened along, they
were only too proudly shown through both boats, and had everything
explained by half a dozen eager scouts. But a couple of guards stood at
the gangplank, and no boy was allowed aboard unless accompanied by his
parents; and even then a strict watch was kept, because there were some
pretty mean fellows in town, who believed in the motto of "rule or
ruin." When they were not allowed to play, they always tried their best
to see to it that no one else played, either.

"There's Ted Slavin and Ward Kenwood sitting up on the bank over there,
Paul," remarked Jack, about half an hour before the time when the scouts
would have to be going home to their suppers.

"I've been watching them," replied the scout master; "and from the way
they carry on, laughing when they put their heads together, I had just
about made up my mind that they were hatching up some mischief."

"Mischief!" echoed Bobolink, who was close by at the moment, and heard
what was being said; "say, that's too nice a word to use when talking
about the pranks of that combination. Ward, he supplies some of the
brains, and all of the hard plunks; while that bully, Ted Slavin, does
the work, or gets some of his cronies to do it for him. Now, I wonder if
they'll try to come aboard here, and play hob with our stuff, like they
did once before when we were all ready to hike off on a jaunt?"

"Don't bother yourself about that, Bobolink," said Paul, quietly. "I had
decided, even before I noticed Ward and Ted, that we must have a guard
stay on board all night. I'm going to see right now what fellows can be
spared. They can go home to supper, and some of us will wait for them to
come back."

"Let me be one, Paul; won't you?" pleaded Bobolink.

"But you are so quick to act, and it might bring on trouble," objected
the other.

"Oh! I'll promise to think five times before I act once; and besides,
there'll be some fellow along, like Jack here, who can keep me quiet. Of
course, though, if you believe I'm not fit to do the work, why--"

"That'll do for you, Bobolink," Paul broke in, "if your folks say you can
stay, come back ready to camp on board. I'll find you one or two
mates--four if possible--so you can sleep in relays of twos. And I'll
also try to fix up some dodge that will cool those fellows off, in case
they try to jump aboard between sunset and daylight."

"Huh! I'd rather _warm_ their jackets for 'em," growled Bobolink; who,
having suffered before at the hands of the meanest boy in Stanhope, Ted
Slavin, had only the poorest opinion of him, and of those who trained in
his company.

"When I come back tonight, after supper," continued Paul, "I'm going to
fetch my shotgun along. It might come in handy on the cruise in case we
ran up against a wildcat, or something like that. And I've known such a
thing as a double-barrel to be mighty useful, when fired in the air, to
make sneaking boys nearly jump out of their skins with alarm--but always
in the air, remember, Bobolink."

"Oh! don't worry about me; my bite is not half as bad as my bark. I like
to make out I'm just fierce, when all the while, if you could look
inside, you'd find me chuckling to beat the band. I wouldn't shoot a gun
at anybody, unless it was to save another fellow's life; and then I'd try
to pepper his legs. Fetch the gun, Paul; it'll come in real handy."

So, when Paul did come back after dark, he carried the weapon under his
arm in true hunter style; for Paul had been several times up in Maine,
and knew a good deal of woodcraft, having had actual experience, which is
better than theory, any day.

These four scouts were left in charge of the two boats, when finally Paul
went back home to get some sleep before the eventful day that was to
witness the sailing of the motorboat expedition:

Bobolink; Tom Betts; Spider Sexton, of the Black Fox Patrol and Andy
Flinn, who belonged to the Gray Foxes; and firmly did they promise Paul
to keep a bright lookout to make sure that no harm came to the boats
during the long night.



CHAPTER V

JUST AFTER THE CLOCK STRUCK TEN


"Here we are, monarchs of all we survey," remarked Bobolink, as the last
of the other scouts went off, leaving the four guards to their task of
taking care of those two fine motorboats for the night.

It was nine o'clock.

The well-known sounds from the church steeple had told them that; and
somehow every fellow counted the strokes aloud, as though on this night
in particular they meant far more than at other times.

Stanhope, not being a manufacturing town, like Manchester, was, as a
rule, rather quiet of nights; except when the Glorious Fourth was being
celebrated; or some other holiday kept the younger element on the move.

Bobolink had been given the post of "Captain of the Guards;" while Tom
Betts was to be considered the second in command. They were to divide the
duties in such fashion that there would be two of them on deck at a time.

"I'll take Andy for my mate; and you can have Spider to help out,"
Bobolink had told Tom, when they were arranging the programme.

"And how long will the watches be?" demanded Spider, who liked to sleep
about as much as any fellow in the troop; he had gained that odd name not
because he was artful and cruel; but on account of his slender legs,
which long ago some smart boy had likened to those of a spider; and it
only requires a hint like that to establish a nick-name.

"Two hours each, divided into four," replied the chief, feeling the
responsibility of his position; for this was really the first time
Bobolink could remember being placed over any of his fellow scouts--Paul
wished to "try him out," and discover what sort of reliance could be
placed in the lad.

"That's an awful short time to get a snooze," complained Spider, yawning.
"Why, you'd hardly get asleep before you'd have to wake up."

"Then what's the use going to sleep at all, at all?" remarked Andy
Flinn, with a broad smile. "Let's draw lots to say who'll stand guard
the whole night"

"Well, I guess not," objected Spider, vigorously. "Half a loaf is some
better'n no bread, they always say; and four hours ought to make a
fellow feel as though he hadn't been shut out altogether from his
needed rest."

"Needed rest is good for you, Spider; the only trouble is you need too
much," Bobolink remarked. "But here's the way we'll fix it: Andy and me,
why, we'll be the pioneers on the job, starting in right now, while you
others curl up somewhere, and get busy taking your forty winks. At
eleven-ten we'll give you the foot, and take your places. Jack left me
his little watch, so we could tell how time goes; but sure, you can hear
the clock in the church steeple knock off the hours. And for the last
time, listen to me; not one wink must any sentry take while on duty.
Sleeping on post is the most terrible thing you can do. They shoot
soldiers in war time who betray their trust that way. Get your
instructions, fellows?"

"I'm on to what you mean, all right," said Spider; "and I guess I know my
weakness, as well as anybody. To prove that I want to do the right thing,
I'm going to fix it up with my mate to give me a jab with this pin, every
time he gets a notion in his head that I'm drowsing."

"Say, that sounds heroic all right," remarked Bobolink, doubtfully; "but
you don't want to get too gay with that same pin, Tom. It'd be a shame to
wake Andy and me up every ten minutes, making Spider give a yelp. Better
just shake him if he acts sleepy. And above everything else, keep a
bright watch along the shore."

"Think they'll be apt to come from that direction, do you?" asked Spider.

"Just as like as not," the other returned; "but that isn't saying you
ought not to keep an eye on the other side, and all around. I wouldn't
put it past that Ted Slavin to swim down this way from some place above,
thinking he could do his little trick by fooling us, and coming aboard on
the water side."

"Whew! do you really think, then, he'd dare board these boats, knowing
that they belong to two of the richest and most prominent citizens of
Stanhope?" asked Spider, who occasionally liked to air his command of
fine language.

"Well, you ought to be on to the curves of that Ted Slavin; and if you
just look back to things he's been known to do in the past, why, lots
of times he's played his pranks on people that had a pull. Why, didn't
he even sneak into the loft over Police Headquarters once, and rig up a
scare that came near breaking up the force. Ted fixed it so the wind'd
work through a knot-hole in the dark, whenever he chose to pull a
string over the fence back of the house, and make the awfullest
groaning noise anybody ever did hear. It got on the nerves of Chief
Billings and his men. They hunted that loft over and over, but of
course the groans didn't come when they were up there. Why, he had 'em
so badly rattled that they all just about camped out on the pavement
the rest of that night."

"Sure, I remember that," declared Andy Flinn, laughing. "Three nights did
he play the same joke, and then they got on to him. Wan officer do be
sneakin' up to the loft, while the rist pretended to be huntin' around
downstairs. He discovered the sthring, cript downstairs again, wint out
on the sly, and, be the powers, followed it to the fince. Then he wint
around, and jumped on Tid while the bhoy was a pullin' his sthring like
smoke, makin' worse groanings than any time yit. Sure they thried to hush
the joke up, the police was that ashamed; but it cript out some way."

"Well, get off to bed, Spider and Tom;" said Bobolink, "we'll wake you up
when it's time to change the watch. And remember what a nice little
surprise we've got ready for anybody who thinks he can meddle with things
that don't belong to him. Skip out now, both of you."

The two motorboats had been lashed side by side. They were about of a
size, and something like twenty-four feet in length, with a rather
generous beam, because their owners went in for pleasure and comfort,
rather than racing. Still, one of the boats, the _Speedwell_, was said to
be capable of doing a mile in seven minutes, if pushed, on flat water;
while the other, called the _Comfort_, being broader, could not do
anything like that.

It was easy to pass from one boat to the other, as they lay there. Each
had a canopy top, and curtains that could be dropped, and buttoned,
during a wet spell, or if the owner chose to sleep aboard; but on this
occasion Paul had believed it best that these latter should remain up, so
as to allow of free observation all around.

A stout hawser secured the boat nearest the shore to a big stake that
had been driven deeply into the earth. Thus the boats lay close beside
a short dock that was called a landing stage. As the current of the
Bushkill was always pretty strong there must be more or less of a
strain on that hawser; but since it was comparatively new, the boys
felt that there could not be the slightest danger of its breaking,
unless some outside influence were brought to bear on it, such as a
keen-edged knife blade.

In that case, as it was very taut, it would naturally part readily; and
with consequences disastrous to the safety of the two boats, which must
be carried off down-stream in the darkness, possibly to be driven ashore
on some rocks below.

And so Bobolink, having been duly warned with regard to possible trouble
in connection with that same hawser, had mentally called the rope his
"dead line;" and he watched the shore above that point three times as
much as any other place.

He and Andy had planned not to talk while on duty. If they found it
necessary to say anything at all, which was hardly likely, the
communication would be in the lowest whisper.

Bobolink was not greedy, but he really hoped that if any sort of
trouble did come it would come along while he and Andy were holding the
post of guards. He had a little fear that Spider Sexton might not be
depended on, no matter what his good intentions, while Tom Betts was an
unknown quantity.

In case Andy happened to be sitting in one boat, while Bobolink was
occupying the other, they had fixed it up so that by taking a lead
pencil, the "commander" could give a few little light taps on the side of
the craft, using his knowledge of the Morse code to send the message, and
in this way ask whether his assistant were wide awake, and on the job,
when Andy would send back a reply along the same order; for he aspired to
be a signal man of the troop, and was daily practicing with the wigwag
flags, as well as smoke and fire signals.

The town clock boomed out the hour of ten.

Bobolink had himself begun to feel rather sleepy, and more to arouse his
dormant faculties than anything else, he sent a message along the wooden
telegraph line. The reply was a bit slow in coming, which made him think
Andy might also be inclined to fall into a doze.

So Bobolink decided that he must bestir himself, and give the signal more
frequently. He would not have this, his first important commission, turn
out poorly, for a good deal. Perhaps his whole future usefulness as a
scout who could be depended on in emergencies rested on the way he
accounted for the safety of the motorboats this night.

When he found himself letting his eyes shut, even for a minute, he would
immediately try to picture the consternation that would ensue should a
fire suddenly envelope the boats that had been placed in the hands of the
scouts, and for which they would be held responsible.

He knew Ted Slavin of old, and felt that the town bully would not
hesitate at even such a thing as that.

Then there was such a thing as cutting the hawser, and letting the boats
drift down-stream, to bring up against some rocks that might stave a hole
in the delicate planking. Who could tell but what the rope had parted
under a strain? Sometimes a break may look like the work of a sharp
knife; and anyway, as darkness lay upon the scene, with a cloudy sky
overhead to hide the young moon, the identity of the vandal could never
be absolutely known.

All these things Bobolink was turning over and over in his mind as he sat
there trying to keep awake.

It is one of the hardest things to do, and especially when the subject is
only a half-grown lad, with but a dim idea of the responsibility
depending on the faithful discharge of his duty.

Hello! what was that? Bobolink thought he surely heard a sound like
muttered conversation. But then, even in steady old Stanhope, there were
a number of happy-go-lucky chaps who tarried late in the saloons; and
when they finally started homeward, used to talk to themselves along the
way. Perhaps it was only one of these convivial fellows trying to find
the way home, and getting off his course, coming to the open place along
the river bank, intending to lie down and sleep his confusion off.

Bobolink was thrilled, however, a minute later, when he felt sure he
could again hear the low mutter of voices. It struck him that several
persons might be urging each other on, as though inclined to feel the
need of backing.

It came from up-river, too, the point he meant to watch more than any
other; and this fact increased the suspicious look of the case.

"Oh! it's coming," whispered the eager boy to himself; "and I only hope
the water will be hot enough, that's all."

His words were mysterious enough to suit any one; and even while he was
speaking in this manner Bobolink started to crawl under the canopy that
sheltered him from the dew of the night. He allowed the end of his pencil
to throb against the side of the boat, giving the one significant word:
"Come!" An immediate answer assured him that Andy heard, and understood.
Another minute, and the Irish boy came shuffling over from the other
boat, trying to keep from making any more noise than was necessary.

"Take hold," Bobolink whispered in his ear, pulling the other's head down
close to his lips; "They're coming! Be ready to go at it licketty-split
when I say the word. Get that?"

"Sure!" came in the faintest tone from the other; whereupon Bobolink,
feeling that his hour had arrived, started once more to crawl back to his
former position.

But now he had something in his hands that looked very like a snake; or
since Bobolink was known to fairly detest all crawling creatures, it
might be a rope, although there are still other things that have that
same willowy appearance--a garden hose, for example.



CHAPTER VI

THE GREAT CRUISE OF THE SCOUTS BEGUN


When Bobolink again reached the bow of the _Comfort_, and peered above
the side, he glued his eyes to the spot where he knew the rope lay that
held the boats moored to the shore.

And as the half moon condescended to peep from behind the dark clouds
that had until now hidden her bright face, the scout could make out a
flattened figure, that seemed to be hugging the earth, while creeping
slowly forward.

Not only one, but three more, did he see, all in a line, as though in
this way the conspirators had arranged to keep their courage up to the
sticking point. Each fellow might watch his mates, and see that no one
lagged behind.

Bobolink was quivering with eagerness and excitement. He figured that
these night crawlers had only five more feet to cover before they would
be as close to his "dead line" as prudence would dictate that he allow,
since it might require only a single sweep of the knife to cut that rope.

They kept on advancing as though anxious to get the job over with, now
that they had keyed their courage up to the proper pitch.

Another foot was all that Bobolink meant to allow, and then his time
would come to act. Those last few seconds seemed fairly to crawl, so
wrought-up was the waiting scout; but finally he concluded that it was no
use holding off any longer. So he suddenly called out the one word:

"Now!"

Instantly a new sound broke the silence. Bobolink elevated the object
he was hold in his hands. There came a queer, whizzing noise, like
water squirting from the end of a nozzle; which was exactly what it
was, and _hot_ water in the bargain, not actually scalding, but of such
a temperature to make a fellow wince, if it happened to sprinkle
over-his face.

It was all Bobolink's idea. He had brought a little garden pump aboard
during the afternoon, with the hose that went with it. There was a
kerosene cookstove aboard each boat, used when going ashore might be
unwise on account of rainy weather; and on this the artful schemer had
heated his water. Every time he went back to that quarter he tested its
temperature, to see whether it kept up to the pitch he meant it should
be. And Andy's part of the job was to manipulate the handle of the little
pump with all his vim and power.

Imagine the consternation of four plotters, who, when just about to
carry out their pleasant little scheme, suddenly and without warning,
found a spray of hot water touching every exposed part of their skin!

Do you wonder that they immediately let out a few yelps, and scrambling
to their feet, rushed headlong away, followed by the laughter and jeers
of Bobolink and his hard-working assistant.

"Go it, you tigers! My! what sprinters you can be, when you only half
try! Come again, when you cool off a bit! Plenty more of the same kind on
tap! Don't be bashful, Teddy; let's hear from you again, and often. Whee!
just listen to 'em howl, would you?"

Perhaps some of those who were with Ted Slavin in his little game were
more frightened than hurt by the hot water, but they certainly did
chatter as they kept on up the river bank. Little danger of them making
another try to injure the boats again that night!

Of course Spider and Tom Bates had jumped up at the first outbreak, ready
to help repel boarders. Their assistance was not needed; but they enjoyed
the joke as much as their chums and for the next half hour all sat
around, talking, and comparing notes.

But finally silence again rested over the scene; Spider and Tom
condescended to crawl under their blankets again for another "cat-nap,"
as the former dubbed it, while Bobolink and his able assistant resumed
their duties as sentries.

The night, however, was disturbed no more by any outbreak. Those would-be
jokers seemed to know when they had taken hold of what Bobolink termed
the "business end of a buzz-saw;" at any rate they were only conspicuous
during the remainder of the night by their absence.

Of course every one of the boys on board the two motorboats was glad when
the first peep of dawn came. It had seemed about "forty-eleven hours
long," Spider admitted; though he also triumphantly asked Tom Betts
whether the other had had occasion to jab that pin into him even once,
which the second scout laughingly admitted he had not.

"See there," Spider had declared, "can't I keep awake when duty
calls me? You needn't be afraid to trust a Sexton, when you need a
faithful watcher."

Before the sun appeared Paul and Jack were on hand, to make sure that
everything was in shape for an early start, for they hoped to get away by
nine o'clock.

Others of the scouts began to drop around, and from the appearance of
their eyes Paul was of the opinion that a full night's sleep had not been
enjoyed by many of the members of the troop. Of course, it was the
excitement of starting out on such a glorious cruise that kept them
awake; for it is not given to scouts very often to enjoy such a prospect,
afloat, with staunch motorboats given over into their keeping.

Since so many things had been looked after on the preceding afternoon,
there was really little to be done that morning. Every fellow was
supposed to be on hand at a certain time, ready with his little blanket,
and his haversack, in which he would carry a towel, some soap, a brush,
an extra shirt, some socks and handkerchiefs; and if he could find a
spare bit of room, why, he was entitled to cram in all the crullers or
other dainties he could manage; for after that supply was gone there
would be only plain camp fare until they got home again.

Paul was kept busy seeing that everything was stored away in the right
place. Of course the supplies of food and the tents, as well as the
numerous blankets, had to be divided as equally as possible, so that each
boat would have its fair cargo.

When the roster of those who could go was taken, just before the time
came to start, and the others were ordered ashore, it was found that all
told there were just eighteen fellows lucky enough to be in the lot.

Some of the boys who could not go looked pretty doleful as they watched
the preparations. There were the twins, William and Wallace Carberry,
whose parents insisted on their going to the sea-shore; and Horace Poole,
as well as Cliff Jones, of the second patrol, also compelled to obey the
parental injunction; when, if given their choice, they would ten times
sooner have remained at home, and had the chance of starting out on this
wonderful cruise with their chums.

Sandy Griggs, the butcher's son, was laid up with a lame leg; while
George Hurst happened to develop a touch of malaria, and his parents
would not hear of him going on the water at such a time. As for Red
Conklin and Lub Ketcham, for some reason or other which they did not care
to explain, they had been positively refused permission to go along;
perhaps they were being punished for some misdemeanor; and if so, to
judge from the long faces they showed, the like would not be apt to
happen again very soon; for it pained them dreadfully to think that they
were to be debarred from all that glorious fun which the fortunate
eighteen had ahead of them.

With nine to a boat there was considerable crowding; but this came mostly
on account of the tremendous amount of material carried. Why, one would
almost be inclined to think those boys were going off for a whole three
months, instead of not more than two weeks at most, to judge from the
stuff they carried. It takes boys a long time to learn to plan such trips
as this in light marching order, doing without everything save absolute
necessities.

Why, there was Bobolink, who ought to have known better, actually trying
to get Paul to allow him to take along that little garden pump, with its
line of hose. Just because it had come in so happily when those jokers
meant to cut the hawser, and set the two boats adrift, Bobolink declared
there could be no telling how many times it would prove a blessing; but
Paul utterly refused to carry such a burden; and so in the end it was
put ashore, and given in charge of the twins to return in safety to the
Link garden.

When nine o'clock struck, everything seemed to be ready.

"I can't think of anything else; can you. Jack?" Paul asked his second in
command, and who was to take charge of the _Speedwell_, while Paul
himself ran the other craft.

"I see you've got the extra gas aboard, and that was one thing I had on
my mind," replied Jack. "There's nothing else that I know. Look at
William Carberry, will you? I honestly believe he's figuring in his mind
right now whether he dares go, against his home order, and jump aboard,
to sail with us."

"I wouldn't let him, now that I know he couldn't get permission,"
remarked Paul, promptly. "We want to make a start with a clean record. No
fellow is going without the full permission of his folks. I'd hate to
think that any scout sneaked off, and came anyhow. He wouldn't have a
good time, because all the while he'd be thinking of what was coming when
he got back."

"Bobolink is rubbing his chin every time he looks at that little garden
pump," Jack went on, chuckling mightily, as though he enjoyed watching
the faces of his comrades, and reading all sorts of things there. "He
just can't see why you wouldn't let him carry it along. I heard him tell
how it would be good for giving us all a clean-off shower bath, when we
went in swimming; and all that sort of thing. When he can't have what he
wants, Bobolink is a hard loser; isn't he, Paul?"

"Well, he beats any one else in hanging on," replied the other. "Now
take those boxes that little old professor stored one night in your
father's mill--Bobolink just can't get them out of his mind; and he
never will be happy till you find out what was in them. After that he'll
forget all about the things. But if everything is ready, I guess we
might as well start."

When the _Speedwell_, being on the outside, started to "popping," and
then moved off, there was a cheer from fully five score of throats;
and counting the girls who had also come down to see the beginning of
the motorboat cruise, there must have been nearly double that number
on the bank.

Then the roomier _Comfort_ also made a start, and following in the wake
of the pilot boat, turned until her nose pointed down-stream. Flags were
flying from fore and aft of both boats; and the boys waved their
campaign hats, while they sent back hearty cheers in answer to the many
good wishes shouted after them by the crowd ashore, while Bobolink blew
cheery blasts on his bugle, and Bluff Shipley would have beaten a lively
tattoo on his drum, only it had been decided best to leave that
instrument at home.

And with all this noisy send-off, the two boats began to chug-chug down
the Bushkill, bound for that far-away island in Lake Tokala, about which
so many strange stories had from time to time been told.

"Well, we're off at last, Bobolink," said Jack, who had that individual
aboard with him.

"That's right, and everything seems lovely, with the goose hanging high,"
replied the other. "But seems to me the troop owes us guards a vote of
thanks for serving as we did. Just think what a lot of grunters we'd have
been this fine morning, if our boats had been set adrift, and brought up
on the rocks down below, with chances of holes being knocked in the
sides! Say, we've got a whole lot to be thankful for, Jack; and my old
garden pump stood up to the racket first-rate, too."

"That's true, Bobolink; and as soon as we're settled in camp I'm going to
make sure that the troop acknowledges its indebtedness to you four
fellows by a vote of thanks, see if I don't."

"Oh say, now, I didn't mean to hint that way," objected the other,
turning a little red in the face with confusion. "We only did our duty,
after all, if we did lose a lot of sleep. But then, I guess we got as
much as a lot of the fellows that went to bed at home. Yes, we're off at
last, and things look great. I'm as happy as a lark, and that free from
care--well, I would be, that is, if only somebody could up and give me
just a hint what those boxes had in 'em. It was so funny to have that
queer professor store 'em with your father in his mill; and then to have
somebody sneakin' around, wantin' to steal them. Needn't grin at me that
way, Jack; you know I'm a little weak in that quarter. I sure _do_ want
to know! Don't suppose you've heard anything new since I talked with you
last about it?" and as Jack shook his head in the negative, Bobolink
looked disappointed, and turned away.



CHAPTER VII

STUCK FAST IN THE MUD


"About three mile's below Stanhope now; aren't we, Paul?" asked Jud
Elderkin, the leader of the second patrol, who, with Bluff, Nuthin,
Joe Clausin, Gusty Bellows, Old Dan Tucker, Phil Towns and Little
Billie, constituted the crew of the _Comfort_, commanded by the scout
master himself.

Jack had been given charge of the other boat, because Frank Savage was
not feeling any too well, though probably he had not let his folks know
about it, lest he be kept at home.

"More than that, Jud," answered the other; "and in the most ticklish part
of the river, too. I ought to signal the other boat to slow up some more.
You see, while there are no rocks around here, the eddies form sandbars
that keep changing, just as I understand they do away out in the big
Mississippi, so that a pilot on his way up-river finds a new channel cut
out, and bars that were never there when he went down a week before."

"And notice, too, that Jack's given over the wheel to Bobolink, while he
is back looking after the motor. Now, Bobolink is a cracker-jack of a
fellow to get up all sorts of clever schemes for sprinkling creepers in
the night; but he's a little apt to be flighty when it comes to running a
boat. There! what did I tell you, Paul; they've run aground, as sure as
you live!"

"You're right, Jud; and it looks like the _Speedwell_ might go over on
her beam-ends, the way she's tilted now. Good for Jack; he's ordering
them all over on the upper side! That may keep her from toppling over!"
Paul exclaimed, as he gave the wheel a little turn, and headed straight
for the boat in peril.

"Wow! that was a right smart trick of Jack's!" cried Jud, in admiration.
"If he'd lost his head, like some fellows I know might have done,
nothing'd ever kept that boat on her keel. And just to think what a nasty
job we'd have on our hands, trying to right her again, and before our
great trip had hardly started."

"Yes," added Old Dan Tucker, who happened to be close to them, "that
ain't the worst of it. You know the main part of the grub's aboard the
other boat Think of those juicy hams floatin' off down the Bushkill, with
not a single tooth ever bein' put in 'em; and all that bread and stuff
soaked. Oh! it gives me a cold shiver to even think of it," for Dan loved
the bugle call that announced dining time better than any other music.

The greatest excitement prevailed aboard both boats. Jack seemed to be
keeping his crew perched along the upper rail, where their weight had the
effect of holding the boat with the narrower beam from toppling over on
her side. It looked like a close shave, as Jud Elderkin said, with that
swift current rushing past on the port quarter, and almost lapping the
rim of the cockpit.

Of course, as soon as she struck Jack had shut off power, so that the
boat was now lying like a stranded little whale.

Paul brought up alongside, looking out that he did not strike the same
unseen sandbar.

"Take this rope, some of you, and make fast to that cleat at the stern,"
Paul called out, giving a whirl that sent it aboard the tilted motorboat.

"What are you meaning to do, Paul; give us a pull back?" asked Jack, who
did not seem to be one-half so "rattled" by the mishap as some of the
other fellows; simply because he had the faculty of keeping his wits
about him in an emergency.

"That's the only way I can see," came the reply. "And as the stern
is under water, Jack, what's the matter with backing when we start
to pulling?"

"Not a thing, that I can see," answered the skipper of the _Speedwell_;
"But I hope she slides off all right."

"Have your crew get as far aft as they can," continued Paul. "That will
lighten the bow, more or less. And keep them all on the side they're on;
only as soon as she drops back on an even keel, they must get over, so
she won't swing to starboard too much. All ready, now?"

"Yes, the rope's tied fast to the cleat, and unless you yank that out by
the roots, the boat's just _got_ to move! Say when, Paul," with which
Jack again bent over the three horse-power motor with which the faster
boat was equipped.

Paul took one look around before giving the word. He wanted to make sure
that everything was in readiness, so there might be no hitch. A mistake
at that critical stage might result in bringing about the very accident
they were striving to avoid, and as a consequence it was wise to make
haste slowly. That is always a rule good scout masters lay down to the
boys under their charge. "Slow but sure" is a motto that many a boy would
be wise to take to himself through life.

And when Paul had made certain that everything was in readiness he
started the motor of the _Comfort_, reversing his lever; so that every
ounce of force was exerted to drag the companion boat off its sandy bed.

Jack complied with the requirements of the situation by also starting
his motor the same way; and with the happiest results.

"Hurrah! she's moving!" cried little Nuthin, who was not in danger, but
just as much excited as though the reverse had been the case.

"There she comes!" yelled several of the anxious scouts, as the
_Speedwell_ was seen to start backward.

"One good pull deserves another; eh, fellows?" cried the delighted
Bobolink, who was wondering whether Jack would ever entrust the wheel to
his care again, after that accident; but he need not have worried, for
somehow the skipper did not seem to feel that it was his fault.

And Bobolink, when he was again placed in charge of the wheel, felt that
he had had a lesson that would last him some time. In this sort of work
there could be no telling what was going to happen; hence, each scout
would be wise to remember the rule by which they were supposed to always
be guided, and "be prepared." That meant being watchful, wakeful,
earnest, and looking for signs to indicate trouble, so that should it
come they would not be caught napping.

After a little while they came in sight of Manchester, with its smoking
stacks, and its busy mills. Possibly the news of the expedition of the
Stanhope Troop had been carried to the boys down here. At any rate, there
was a group of several fellows wearing the well known khaki-uniform, who
waved to them from the bank and acted as though wishing the expedition
success. They were pretty good fellows, those Manchester scouts, and the
Stanhope boys liked them much more than they did the members of the
Aldine troop up the river. Everybody knows there is a vast difference in
boys; and sometimes even the fellows in various towns will seem, to be
built along certain lines, having pretty much the same leading
characteristics. The Manchester lads had proven a straight-forward set in
what competitions the several troops had had so far. And hence every
fellow aboard the two boats swung his hat, and sent back hearty cheers.

"What's the matter with Manchester? She's all right!" they called, in
unison, as Gusty Bellows took upon himself the duties which, on the ball
field, made him invaluable as the "cheer captain."

His name was really Gustavus Bellows; but that was easily corrupted into
Gusty when the fellows learned on his first coming to Stanhope what a
tremendous voice he had.

About a mile or so below Manchester, Paul had said, the mouth of what
had once been Jackson Creek, might be found. Several of the boys
could remember having heard more or less about that abandoned canal;
perhaps the Manchester lads knew about it, since it was closer to
their home town.

Everybody, then, was anxiously scanning the shore on the left, because
they knew it must lie somewhere along there.

"I see the mouth!" exclaimed Phil Towns, who had very keen eyesight.
"Just look on the other side of that crooked tree, and you'll glimpse
a little bar that juts out. That must be on the upper side of the
creek's mouth; because Paul said bars nearly always form there. How
about that, Paul?"

"Go up head, Phil; you've struck the bull's eye," replied the other, with
a laugh, as he began to head in toward the crooked tree mentioned, and
which doubtless he took for his landmark when in search of the creek.

The _Comfort_ was in the lead now. Jack was content to play "second
fiddle," as he called it. As Paul had gone through the disused canal in
his canoe, exploring it pretty thoroughly, he must act as pilot.

Once they had pushed past the mouth of the creek they found a rather
disheartening prospect. The water seemed very low, so that they could see
bottom everywhere. Even Paul frowned, and shook his head.

"It surely must have lowered several inches since I was here yesterday,"
he declared, in dismay.

"Think we'll get through safely?" queried Jud Elderkin, anxiously.

"I hope we may," replied the scout master; "but we've just got to creep
along, and be mighty careful. You see, most of the bed of this canal is
mud, and not sand. Once the sharp bow starts to rooting in that, there's
no telling how far we'll explore before letting up. And it's surprising
how that same mud clings. I could hardly work my light canoe loose two or
three times. Just seemed like ten pair of hands had hold of her, and were
gripping tight. Easy there, Jack, take another notch in your speed, old
fellow! Crawl along, if you can. And have the poles ready to fend off, if
we get into any bad hole."

The boys were strung along the sides of the slowly moving motorboats.
Every fellow came near holding his breath with nervousness.

"Excuse me from getting stuck here in this nasty mess," remarked Nat
Smith, on board the roomier boat with Jack, Bobolink, Tom Betts, Andy
Flinn, Curly Baxter, Spider Sexton, Frank Savage and Bob Tice.

"Why, we might stay here a week," observed the last mentioned, in a voice
that told plainly how little he would relish such a mishap, when they had
planned such splendid times ahead.

"All summer, if it didn't rain, because the creek would get lower all
the time." Paul himself observed, with emphasis, wishing to make every
scout resolve to avoid this catastrophe, if it were at all possible.

"Who'd ever think," remarked Jud, "that there was such a queer old
place as this not more'n seven miles away from home? And not one of us
ever poked a boat's nose up this same creek before Paul came down, to
spy out things."

"Oh! well, there's a reason for that," replied Phil Towns, who knew all
about everything that had ever happened in and around Stanhope. "Until
lately, when the scouts organized in these three towns, the boys of
Stanhope and those of Manchester never had much to do with each other.
Many's the stone fight I've been in with those big mill chaps. Sometimes
we whipped them; and then again they chased us right home. So no Stanhope
boy ever dared go far down the river in the old days. That's the reason,
I guess, why none of us ever tried to explore this place. Say, we seem to
be getting in worse and worse, Paul. It isn't more'n a foot deep over
there on the right, and less'n ten inches here on the left."

"I know it, Phil, and I'm beginning to be afraid we'll have to back out
of this the best way we can," replied the scout master, reluctantly; for
his heart had been set on carrying out this plan, and he hated to be
compelled to give it up.

Hardly had he spoken than the boat brought up with a jolt that came near
throwing several of the scouts into the water and mud. They had run
aground after all! Paul turned the motor to the reverse, and the little
propeller fairly sizzled in its mad efforts to drag the craft back into
clear water, but it was just as Paul had said--there seemed to be
innumerable hands clinging fore and aft that refused to let go. And in
spite of all the work of the motor they did not move an inch.

"Rotten luck!" exploded Jud Elderkin, as he looked helplessly around, as
if to see whether a fellow could at least jump ashore; but since ten feet
of that ooze lay on either side, he failed to get much encouragement.

"Ahoy, _Speedwell_, you'll have to give us a lift!" called Paul, making a
megaphone out of his hands.

"Y-y-yes, t-t-turn about's f-f-fair p-p-play," added Bluff, waving his
bugle. "We p-p-pulled you off, and n-n-now you g-g-got to return the
f-f-favor."

"Listen!" said Paul, sharply; "Jack's calling something."

And as they all lined up along the side of the _Comfort_ they heard
Jack's voice come across the forty feet of water and mud, saying:

"Only wish we could, Commodore; but sad to say, we're stuck about as fast
in this lovely mess as you are, and can't budge her an inch!"



CHAPTER VIII

WHAT THE WATER GAUGE SHOWED


"Well, here is a pretty kettle of fish!" grunted the disgusted Jud. "We
seem to take to sandbars and mud flats today to beat the band."

Paul had stopped the motor, since it seemed useless. But of course he did
not mean to give up trying to get the boat off.

"One thing's sure," he said, positively, when the others gathered around
him, as if in this emergency they looked to the scout master to invent
some method of beating the sticky mud at its own game; "every minute we
stay here makes it all the worse for us."

"Yes, because our weight is sure to make the boat sink deeper in her
nest!" declared Little Billie, leaning far over the side, as if to see
how far down in her muddy bed the boat lay.

"Yes, that's one thing," added Paul; "but another is the fact that the
creek is falling all the time. Unless it rains, there'll soon be nothing
but mud around us. Now, every fellow crowd back here, and leave the bow
as free as we can. That might loosen the grip of the mud; and when I
turn on the motor at full speed again, let's hope she'll move."

It was a sensible suggestion; and indeed, about the only thing possible,
since the other boat, being in the same fix, could not come near, either
to give a friendly tug, or take off the _Comfort's_ crew.

When he had them all as far in the stern as they could get, with a
warning not to allow themselves to be shaken loose, unless they wanted a
mud bath, the skipper started his motor working.

When it was going at full speed the boat quivered and strained, but did
not move, so far as any one could see; and they were all eager to detect
the first sign of motion.

"No good!" sighed Jud. "Might as well look the thing in the face,
fellows. Here we stay, and eat up all our grub, day after day. Ain't it
fierce, though? How d'ye suppose we'll ever stand it? If anybody had a
pair of wings now, and could fly ashore, we might get help to pull us
out. But we couldn't use our wigwag flags, even if we tried, because
who'd see 'em? Oh! what tough luck!"

Paul may have felt somewhat discouraged himself, but he was not the
fellow to betray the fact--so early in the game, at least.

"Well, Jud," he said, soberly, "perhaps we may have to stick it out
here for a while, but I hope it won't be as bad as you say. And make
up your mind that if we do, it'll be a mighty strange thing, with
eighteen wide awake scouts to think up all sorts of schemes and dodges
that we can try."

"That's the stuff, Paul!" exclaimed Phil Towns. "Every fellow ought to
get right down to hard pan, and try to think up some way of beating this
old sticky mud. What's the use of being scouts, if we let a little thing
like this get the better of us? If I could only wade ashore, I'd fix a
hawser to a tree back there, and then by workin' the engine p'raps we
might pull the boat off. I've seen 'em do that with a steamboat, away
down on Indian River, when I was with my folks in Florida last winter.
And it worked, too."

"Well, try the wading; it looks fine!" laughed Joe Clausin.

"Don't think of it," called out Gusty Bellows at that moment. "I stuck
this pole down in the soft slush, and my stars! it goes right through to
China, I reckon. Anyhow, I couldn't reach bottom. And if you jumped over,
Phil, you'd be up to your neck at the start. Let's tie a rope under your
arms first, anyhow."

But Paul quickly put an end to all this sort of talk.

"There's no use trying anything like that," he said. "Even if you did
reach the shore, we haven't got a rope long and strong enough to do the
business. Besides, we may have help soon."

With that all the boys began craning their necks, as if they expected to
see some kind of a queer craft that could pass over mud as easily as
other boats did water, bearing down on them, with the design of dragging
them from the bank,

"Say, what does he mean? For the life of me I can't glimpse anything
worth shucks; and the blooming old _Speedwell_ seems to be sticking tight
and fast, just the same way we are. Loosen up, Paul, and put us wise;
won't you?" pleaded Phil.

"I didn't mean that any living thing was going to hold out a hand to
us," remarked the smiling scout master; "but look aloft, boys, and see
what's coming."

With that they followed his instructions.

A general shout went up.

"Whee! rain a-comin' down on us! Get the curtains ready to button fast,
boys, or we'll have all our fine stuff soaked through and through."
Little Billie called, himself setting things in motion by seizing one of
the rolled curtains, and letting it come down, to be fastened around the
cockpit by means of gummets and screws.

"But Paul meant something else," declared Jud Elderkin, wisely. "You see,
if only that rain does come, and it's heavy enough, there's going to be
a lot more water in this old canal than we need to pull through with. You
know how quick the Bushkill River rises; and I guess it's the same way
with the Radway."

"Oh! don't we wish that there'll just be a little old cloud-burst!" cried
Gusty Bellows. "I could stand anything but staying here seven or ten
days, doin' nothing, only eat, and stare at this mud, and wish I was back
home. Come on, little clouds; get a move on you, and let's hear you growl
like thunder."

They had by now called the attention of the others to the prospects for
rain. Indeed, as soon as the first curtain fell, some of Jack's crew took
note of the significant fact, and they could be seen looking up at the
blackening heavens. There had been very few times in the past when those
boys had hoped it would rain. Perhaps, when they were kept home from a
picnic--for reasons--some of them may have secretly wished the clouds
would let down a little flood, so that those who had been lucky enough to
go, might not have such a laugh on them after all.

But certainly they never felt just as they did now, while watching the
play of those gathering storm clouds.

"And the best of the joke is," commented Jud, with a grin, "that lots of
the good folks at home right now are looking up at those same black
clouds, and pitying us boys. They don't realize how we're just praying
that the rain won't turn out a fizzle, after all. Wasn't that a drop I
felt?"

[Transcriber's note: Beginning of sentence missing from original text]
till that gray gets nearly overhead," remarked Paul, pointing up
at a line marked across the heavens about half-way toward the horizon,
and in the direction of the wind.

"It's getting dark, anyway," remarked Nuthin, rather timidly; for truth
to tell, the small boy had never ceased to remember how, earlier in the
season, when in camp up near Rattlesnake Mountain, a terrible storm had
struck them and as he clung desperately to the tent they were trying to
hold down, he had actually been carried up into the branches of a tree,
from which position only the prompt work of his fellow scouts had finally
rescued him.

"And look at that flash of lightning, would you?" echoed Joe Clausin.
"Wow! that was a heavy bang; wasn't it? Tell you now, that bolt must 'a
struck somethin'! Always does, they say, when it comes quick like that."

"How's the cover; just as snug as you can make it, boys?" demanded Paul;
"because we'll likely get a bit of a blow first, before the rain comes,
and it'd be a bad job if we lost this whole business. Stand by to grab
hold wherever you can. After that, if we weather it all right, there'll
be no trouble."

"And say, she's coming licketty-split, believe me," called Jud. "I c'n
hear it hummin' through the trees over there like the mischief. Take
hold, everybody; and don't let it get away from you!"

"We'll all go up together this time, then!" muttered little Nuthin; but
with the grit that seemed a part of his nature, once he started in to do
anything, he also seized the canvas covering at the bottom, and set his
teeth hard.

With a roar the wind struck them. Had it come from the right quarter Paul
believed it might have helped work them loose; but it happened
unfortunately that just the reverse was the case. If anything, they were
driven on the mud-bank all the harder.

But at any rate the tarpaulin canopy did not break loose, and that was
something to be satisfied with.

The wind whooped and howled for perhaps three minutes. Then it died down,
as if giving up the attempt to tear the boat's top out of the hands of
the determined boys.

"The worst's over, fellows!" called Paul, breathing hard.

"Hurrah! that's better'n saying it is yet to come. How'd the _Speedwell_
make out?" Jud asked, sinking back on a thwart, the better to find some
place to peep out.

"Seems to be all there," replied Nuthin, who had been quicker to look
than the more clumsy Jud. "She's got her cover on, and I guess that means
they're safe and sound; but she don't seem to be floatin' worth a cent.

"No more are we; but listen, there comes the rain. Now for it," observed
Paul, as with a rush the water began to descend, rattling on the roof of
the canopy cover.

"Fine! Keep right along that way for a while, and something's bound
to get a move on it, which I hope will be our two boats!" cried
Gusty Bellows.

"Did you ever hear it come down heavier than that?" demanded Old Dan
Tucker, as he looked anxiously around to see that none of the cargo was
exposed to the flood.

"Wonder if this old thing sheds water?" suggested Jud, looking up at the
heavy canopy as though he fancied that he felt a stream trickling down
the back of his neck.

"You can bank on it," declared Joe Clausin. "Anything Mr. Everett owns
has got to be gilt-edged. And he'd never stand for a leaky canopy.
What're you lookin' at out there, Paul?" for the scout master was leaning
a little out on the side away from their companion boat in misery.

"Why, you see," replied the scout master, drawing his head back, "I
fixed a little contrivance here, just before the storm broke, and I'm
looking now to see whether it shows the least gain in water. I marked
this pole with inches, and rammed it just so far in the mud. If the water
starts to rising any, I can tell as soon as I look."

"And is she going up yet?" asked Jud, eagerly,

"Well, it wouldn't be fair to expect that for some time yet," replied
Paul. "At the best I expect we'll have to stay here an hour or so, until
the water up-stream has a chance to come down. I hope it may surprise me,
and get here quicker than that. And boys, if we have to spend all that
time doing nothing, why we might try that little oil stove Mr. Everett
has, and see how it can get us a pot of coffee, with our cold lunch."

"What time is it now?" asked Jud; while Old Dan Tucker pricked up his
ears, at the prospect of "something doing" along his favorite line.

"Going on eleven; and I had my breakfast awful early!" remarked
Little Billie.

"And I had hardly a bite--reckon I was too much excited to eat--so I'm
mighty near starved right now," declared Dan Tucker; but then the boys
had known him to put up that same sort of a plea only an hour after
devouring the biggest meal possible, so they did not expect to see him
collapse yet awhile from weakness through lack of food.

All the same, Paul agreed that it might serve to distract their minds if
they did have lunch. He also asked Jud to get in communication with those
on the other boat, if the rain had let up enough for them to exchange
signals, and by means of the flag, tell them what those on the _Comfort_
meant to do.

Just as Bobolink, who answered, had informed them that those under Jack
were about to follow the same course, Paul took another glance at his
rude water gauge.

When he drew in his head, Jud, who had been waiting to tell what the
others reported, saw that Paul was smiling as though pleased.

"What's doing, Commodore?" he asked.

"The water has risen half an inch, and is still going up," replied Paul.

At that there was a roar of delight--only Old Dan Tucker was so busy
watching the lunch being got ready, he did not seem to hear the
joyous news.



CHAPTER IX

ON THE SWIFT RADWAY


"Let me work my flags a little, and tell the other boat the news!"
suggested Jud; and as no one objected he got busy.

It was good practice, and he had something worth while to communicate, so
Jud enjoyed the task.

By the time he was through, lunch was ready, the coffee having boiled
enough to please the most critical among the boys.

"Rain seems to be letting up some," remarked Gusty Bellows, as they
gathered around to discuss what was to be their first meal of the trip.

"Oh! I hope it isn't going to tantalize us, and raise our hopes only to
dash 'em down again," said Gusty.

"From the signs I don't think we're through with it all yet," Paul
observed; and as they had considerable faith in the acting scout master
as a weather prophet, there arose a sigh of satisfaction at this remark.

"Take a look, and see if she's still moving up the scale, Paul," begged
the anxious Phil Towns.

When this had been done, there was a look of eager expectancy on
every face.

"Over a full inch since the start," Paul reported.

"And that's nearly half an hour back," complained Gusty. "Gee! if it goes
up as slow as that, we'll be camping here at sun-down, sure, fellers."

"Oh! I don't know," Paul put in, confidently; "you must remember that
the rain has fallen all over the watershed that supplies both these
rivers; and this canal now serves as a link between the two. If either
one rises a good deal, we're just bound to get the benefit of that
little flood. Even at an inch an hour we could be moving out of this
before a great while. And I expect that the rise will do better than
that, presently. Just eat away, and wait. Nothing like keeping cool when
you just have to."

"Yes, when you tumble overboard, like I did once on a time," chuckled
Jud. "I kept perfectly cool; in fact, none of you ever saw a cooler
feller; because it was an ice-boat I dropped out of; and took a header
into an open place on the good old Bushkill. Oh! I can be as cool as a
cucumber--when I have to."

An hour later Paul announced that the rise had not only kept up as he
predicted, but was increasing.

"Here's good news for you, fellows," he remarked, after examining his
post, "if it keeps on rising like it's doing right now, we'll be starting
in less than another hour!"

"Whoopee! that suits me!" cried Gusty, enthusiastically.

"Ditto here," echoed Jud. "I never was born for inaction; like to be
doing something all the time."

"So do I," Paul observed, quietly; "but when I find myself blocked in one
direction I just turn in another, and take up some other work. In that
way I manage not only to keep busy, but to shunt off trouble as well. Try
it some time, Jud, and I give you my word you'll feel better."

But that next hour seemed very long to many of the impatient boys. They
even accused the owner of the watch of having failed to wind it on the
preceding night, just because it did not seem inclined to keep pace with
their imagination.

The water was rising steadily, if slowly, and some of them declared that
there was now a perceptible motion to the boat whenever they moved about.

Urged on by an almost unanimous call, Paul finally agreed to start the
motor again, and see what the result would be. So Jud sent the order to
the second boat by means of his signal flags.

When the cheerful popping of the _Comfort's_ exhaust made itself heard,
there was an almost simultaneous cheer from the scouts.

"We're off!" they shouted, in great glee.

"Goodbye, old mud bank!" cried Gusty, waving his hand in mock adieu
to the unlucky spot where so much precious time had been wasted. "See
you later!"

"Not much we will!" echoed Joe Clausin. "I've got that spot marked with a
red cross in my mind, and if this boat ever gets close to it again,
you'll hear this chicken cackle right smart. It's been photographed on my
brain so that I'll see it lots of times when I wake up in the night."

"How about the other boat?" asked Paul, who was stooping down to fix
something connected with the motor at the time, and could not stop to
look for himself, although he could hear the throbbing of the
_Speedwell's_ machinery.

"Oh! she slid off easier than we did, I reckon," remarked Old Dan Tucker,
now snuggled down comfortably, and apparently in a mood to take things
easy, since it would be a long time between "eats."

"Tell them to go slow, all the same, Jud," Paul remarked.

"You don't seem to trust this creek as much as you might, Paul?"
chuckled Gusty, who was handling the wheel, during the minute that
Paul was busy.

"Well, after that experience I confess that I'm a little suspicious of
all kinds of mud banks. They're the easiest things to strike up an
acquaintance with, and a little the hardest to say goodbye to, of
anything I ever met. Give her a little twist to the left, Gusty. That
place dead ahead don't strike me as the channel. That's the ticket. I
guess we missed another slam into a waiting mud bank. Now I'll take the
wheel again, if you don't mind."

"Rain's over!" announced Little Billie.

"Looks like it, with that break up yonder," Jud remarked, glancing aloft.
"Hope so, anyhow. We've had all the water we needed, and if it kept on
coming we'd be apt to find things kind of damp up there at the island."

The mention of that word caused several of the boys to glance quickly at
each other. It was as though a shiver had chased up and down their spinal
columns. For Joe and Little Billie, and perhaps Gusty Bellows, were not
quite as easy in their minds about that "ghost-ridden" island as they
might have been; although, if taken to task, all would doubtless have
stoutly denied any belief in things supernatural.

The _Comfort_ acted as the pilot boat, and led the way, slowly but
surely, with the _Speedwell_ not far behind. The latter had one or two
little adventures with flirting mud banks, but nothing serious, although
on each occasion the cries of dismay from the crew could be plainly heard
aboard the leading craft.

And so they came in sight of a river that had a decided current, after
the smart shower had added considerably to its flow. By now the sun was
shining, and the rain clouds had about vanished, being "hull-down" in the
distance, as Jud expressed it; for since they were now on a voyage, he
said that they might as well make use of such nautical terms as they
could remember.

"That's the roaring Radway, I take it," observed Gusty, as all of them
caught glimpses of the river through the trees ahead.

"Just what it is," replied Paul; "and as it has quite a strong current,
we're going to have our hands full, pushing up the miles that lie between
here and our camping place."

"But we c'n do it before dark; can't we, Paul?" asked Phil Towns.

"Sure we can, if nothing happens to knock us out," said Gusty, before the
other could reply. "Why, we've got several hours yet, if we did have such
tough luck in the blooming old canal."

"We ought to be mighty glad we got off as as easy as we did, that's
what!" declared Old Dan Tucker, who was something of a philosopher in
his way, and could look at the bright side as well as the next one,
always providing the food supply held out.

Ten minutes later the _Comfort_ was in Radway River, headed
up-stream. Just as Paul had said, the current proved very swift, and
while the little motor worked faithfully and well, their progress was
not very rapid.

Besides, it kept them always on the watch. No one was acquainted with
the channel, and the presence of rocks might not always be detected from
surface indications. Some of the treacherous snags were apt to lie out
of sight, but ready to give them a hard knock, and perhaps smash a hole
in the bow.

And so Paul stationed two boys in positions where they could watch for
every suspicious eddy, which was to be brought to his attention
immediately it was discovered.

An hour passed, and they were still moving steadily up the river. Paul,
in reply to many questions by his impatient comrades, announced that to
the best of his knowledge they ought to arrive at their destination an
hour and more before dark; which pacified the croakers, who had been
saying the chances were they would have to spend their first night on the
bank, short of the island by a mile or more.

"That's all right," Old Dan Tucker had remarked; "just so long as we get
ashore in time to build our cooking fire, it suits me."

Everything seemed to be moving along with clock-like regularity, the
boat breasting the current and throwing the spray in fine style, when
Jud gave a cry.

"Something's happened to the _Speedwell_!" he announced.

Of course every eye was instantly turned back, and they were just in time
to see something that announced the truth of Jud's assertion.

Andy Flinn stood up in the bow of the second boat, which no longer
chugged away as before, and he threw something out that splashed in
the water.

"It's their anchor!" cried Jud. "Either somebody's overboard, or else
their motor's broken down!"

"It's the motor, I guess," Paul observed. "Get out our anchor, and
follow suit."



CHAPTER X

DODGING THE SNAGS AND THE SNARES


A minute later both motorboats lay anchored in the middle of the
swift-flowing Radway, and about sixty feet apart.

"What's the matter?" shouted Jud, taking it upon himself to learn the
facts in the quickest possible time, so that signal flags were not used.

"Something's happened to our motor; but Jack thinks he can fix her up,
given a little time," came in the voice of Bobolink.

"Well, call on us if we can help out any," Paul shouted; for the slapping
of the water against the sides of the boat, as well as over the stones on
either hand, made it hard to hear plainly.

"What if they can't fix the motor up?" remarked Phil Towns; "I hope that
won't mean we've got to spend the whole night out here in the middle of
the river."

"Oh I if it comes to the worst, we can tow her ashore; and then it's camp
on the river bank for ours," announced Paul, cheerfully. He always seemed
to have plans made up in advance, as though anticipating every trouble
that could arise, and getting ready for it.

"Huh! that mightn't be so bad, after all," grunted Joe Clausin; and even
Gusty Bellows and Little Billie nodded their heads, as if agreeing that
there were things less desirable than camping on the bank.

The minutes dragged along, until half an hour had gone. Even Paul began
to show signs of restlessness. He finally made a megaphone of his hands,
and called to Bobolink:

"Tell Jack to step up; I'd like to ask him a question or two."

"Ay, ay, sir," replied the other, touching his forelock in true
man-o'-war style, and immediately the head of Jack appeared.

"What's the good word, Jack?" asked the Commodore of the expedition. "Can
you make the mend, d'ye think; and just about how long is it going to
take you?"

"Between five and ten minutes, not more," came the reply; "I've got the
hang of it now, and the end's in sight."

"Whoopee! that sounds good to me!" shouted Gusty Bellows, waving his hat.

Five minutes had hardly passed before they heard the familiar pop-pop-pop
of the _Speedwell's_ motor exhaust.

"How is it?" called Paul once more.

"Fine and dandy," answered Bobolink, waving his bugle; and giving a few
vigorous blasts to indicate that victory was nigh.

"They're hauling in the anchor, which is a good sign," declared Nuthin.

Presently both boats were again breasting the stream. Apparently no
serious result had come from the accident, save that more than a good
half-hour had been wasted. But still Paul declared that he had hopes of
making their destination before darkness set in.

The sun was getting very low, and the river looked desolate indeed. It
was bordered by swampy land; and where the ground showed, there seemed to
be such a vast number of rocks that farming had never been attempted.

"What d'y'e suppose is in those marshes?" Gusty asked, after they had
passed about the fifth.

"I understand that a lot of cranberries are gathered here every Fall, and
sent down to the cities for the market," Jud Elderkin replied.

"And seems to me a bear was killed last year somewhere up here," Nuthin'
put in, rather timidly. "So I'm glad you brought that gun along, Paul. We
are not lookin' for a bear, because we never lost one; but if he _did_
come to camp it'd be nice to feel that we could give the old chap a warm
reception."

"Huh! I can see the warm reception he'd get," chuckled Jud.
"Seventeen trees would each one have a scout sitting up in the
branches as quick as hot cakes. Guess Paul would have to be the
reception committee all alone."

"Don't you believe it," remarked Gusty Bellows; "You'd see me making for
the axe in a _big_ hurry, I believe in an axe. It makes one of the
greatest weapons for defence you ever saw. I've practiced swinging it
around, and I know just how to strike."

"Well, we'll remember that; won't we, fellows?" remarked Jud, with a
laugh. "Plenty of axe exercise Gusty needs, to keep him in trim for
bears; and I can see now how our firewood is going to be attended to."

They kept pushing on all the while; and there was never a time that the
lookout did not have to keep his eyes on the alert, because of the traps
and snares that lay in wait for the voyagers up the rough Radway.

"Great river, I don't think!" Joe Clausin ventured to remark, after they
had done considerable dodging, to avoid a mass of rocks that blocked the
way in a direct line.

"Still, you'll notice that there's always a passage around," said Paul.
"It's that way with nearly everything. Lots of times we don't see the
opening till we get right on it, and then all of a sudden, there's the
path out."

"I guess you're right, Paul," observed Joe. "Things do happen to a fellow
sometimes, in a funny way, and just when he feels like giving up, he sees
the light. You remember a lot of trouble I had once, and how it turned
out splendidly? And so I learned my lesson, I sure did. I look at things
different now. It showed me how silly it is to worry over things that you
can't help."

"But all the same," remarked Gusty, "I wish we had a squint at that same
old lake ahead. It's getting sunset, and beyond, Paul."

"I know it, and we must be pretty near the place now," replied the scout
master. "Unless we see it inside of ten minutes I'll have to give the
word to turn in to the shore at the next half-way decent landing, where
there seems to be enough water to float our boats."

"There's a good place right now," declared Joe, pointing; "and we
mightn't run across as fine a landing again."

"Ten minutes, I said," repeated Paul, positively; because he believed
that there were certain signs to tell him they would come in sight of
the big lake, from which the Radway flowed, after they had turned the
next bend.

Somehow the others seemed to guess what he had in mind, and all were
anxiously watching as they drew near the bend.

As the trees ceased to shut out their view, they gave a shout of delight,
for the lake was there, just as Paul had anticipated.

"Whew! she's a big place, all right!" declared Jud, as they looked toward
the distant shore, where the trees seemed lost in the shadows.

"I never dreamed there was a lake like this so near Stanhope," declared
Joe, as he stared. "That one up by Rattlesnake Mountain could be put in a
corner of Tokala, and wouldn't be missed. And say, that must be the
island over yonder; don't you think so, Paul?"

"Look and see if you can sight a cedar growing on the top of the hill
that they say stands in the middle of the island," suggested the scout
master, still busy at the wheel; for the danger was not yet all over, as
they had not entered the lake itself, though very near.

"It's there, all to the good!" announced Jud.

"Anybody could see that" added Gusty, who was a little jealous of the
superior eyesight of several of his comrades, he being a trifle
near-sighted.

"Well, if we are going to make a job of it, the sooner it's over the
better," was the queer remark Joe made; but no one paid any particular
attention to his words, they were so taken up with watching the island.

And so the leading motorboat left the noisy waters of the Radway, and
glided into the smoother lake, much to the satisfaction of the crew; for
the boys had grown tired of the constant need of watchfulness in avoiding
reefs and snags.

Paul shut off power, and waited to see whether the companion boat
succeeded in reaching the calm waters of the big lake as successfully as
they had done. As it was now pretty close to dark, in spite of the
half-moon that hung overhead, seeing the partly hidden rocks was not an
easy task.

And so he watched with not a little concern the progress of the
_Speedwell_ during those last few minutes. But Jack was alive to the
situation; and managed to bring his boat safely through, being greeted
with a cheer from those on board the waiting _Comfort_.

"Now it's straight for the island!" called out Bobolink, as the boats
drew together, and the motors started as cheerfully as if they had not
undergone a hard day's work from the time the voyagers left Stanhope.

"We'll have to make camp by firelight, that's plain," grumbled Gusty.

"What's the odds, so long as we get fairly comfortable for the night?"
Bobolink retorted, being one of the kind who can make the best of a bad
bargain when necessary. "All we want to do is to get the tents up and a
fire going, so we can cook something. Then in the morning we'll do all
the fancy fixing you can shake a stick at, and try out all the new
wrinkles every fellow's had in mind since our last camp. This is what I
like. A lake for me, with an island in it that nobody lives on, but
p'raps an old wildcat or a she bear with cubs."

"But they say something _does_ live on it, and that he's a terror too; a
real wild man that's got hair all over him like a big baboon--I heard it
from a man that saw him once, and he wouldn't lie about it either," Joe
Clausin called out.

Although the rest of the scouts mocked him, and pretended to jeer at the
idea of such a thing as a wild man existing so near Stanhope,
nevertheless, as the two motorboats gradually shortened the distance
separating them from the mysterious island, they gazed long at the dark
mass lying on the still water of the big lake and its gloomy appearance
affected them.

Just as Joe Clausin had said, it had a real "spooky" air, that, at the
time, with night at hand, did not impress them very favorably.



CHAPTER XI

THE CAMP ON CEDAR ISLAND


It was with extreme caution that the two motor-boats crept along the
shore of the island, with numerous eyes on the lookout for a good
landing place.

"Seems to be plenty of water right here," remarked Jud, who was sounding
with one of the poles. "Eight feet, if an inch, Paul."

Paul shut off the power immediately.

"And this looks like the best sort of place to make our landing," he
said. "If we don't like it, or find a better for a permanent camp in the
morning, we can change. Get busy with the poles, fellows, and shove the
boat alongside that bank there."

This was readily done, and Jud was the first to jump ashore. He wanted to
be able to say that of the whole troop he had landed before any one else,
ghost or no ghost.

Soon the others followed suit, even if Joe and Little Billie--and yes,
Gusty Bellows also looked timidly around. There was Nuthin, always
reckoned a rather timorous chap, showing himself indifferent to spirits,
and all such things. What bothered Nuthin concerned material things, like
cats, and dogs, and wandering bears; he snapped his fingers at spooks,
because he had never seen one, and did not believe in "fairy stories," as
he called them, anyway.

As the second boat came alongside, and her crew swarmed over the side,
there were plenty of hands to do things, though they naturally looked to
Paul for orders.

"A fire, first, fellows!" called out the scout master; "so we can see
what we're doing. Because it's getting pretty dark around here, with
these trees overhead. Jud, you take charge of that part, and the rest
gather wood."

Many hands make light work, and in what Bobolink called a "jiffy" there
came plenty of wood of all kinds, from dead branches to small-sized logs.

Jud, like every true scout, knew just how to go about starting a fire.
True, the recent rain had wet pretty much all of the wood, so that a
tenderfoot would have had a difficult task getting the blaze started,
though after that trouble had been surmounted it would not be so bad. But
Jud knew just how to split open a log, and find the dry heart that would
take fire easily; and in a brief time he had his blaze springing up.

Then others began to bring some of the things ashore, particularly the
tents, in which they expected to sleep during their stay.

Most of the boys were deeply impressed by the size of both the lake and
the island; since they had not dreamed that things would be upon such a
large scale.

Then there was that strange silence, broken only by the constant murmur
of the water passing out, where the Radway River had its source; and
perhaps, when a dry spell lowered the water of the lake, even this might
not be heard.

It seemed to some of the scouts as though they were isolated from all the
rest of the world, marooned in a desolate region, and with many miles
between themselves and other human beings.

However, when the white tents began to go up, as the several squads of
workers took hold in earnest, things began to look more cheerful. There
is nothing that chases away the "blues" quicker than a cheerful fire, and
the sight of "homey" tents.

"In the morning, if we feel like it, we can put up a flagstaff in front,
and fly not only our banner, but Old Glory as well," Paul observed. "And
now, suppose some of you fellows give me a hand here."

"What you going to do, Paul?" asked Old Dan Tucker, eagerly.

"Begin to get supper," came the answer.

"I'll give you a hand there," said the other.

"Me too," said Nat Smith, who was a clever cook.

And when the odor of coffee began to steal through the camp, the boys
felt amply repaid for all they had undergone in the rough trip from
Stanhope. They sniffed the air, and smiled, and seemed ready to declare
the expedition a great success.

More than that, the cooks being blessed with healthy appetites
themselves, had cut generous slices from one of the fine hams, and these
were also on the fire, sizzling away at a great rate, and throwing off
the most tempting odors imaginable.

It was a happy sight about that time, and showed the best side of camp
life. All of the boys belonging to the Red Fox Patrol at least, had been
through the mill before, and knew that there was another side to the
picture; when the rain descended, and the wind blew with hurricane force,
possibly tearing the canvas out of their hands, and leaving them exposed
to the storm, to be soaked through.

But of course they hoped nothing of that sort was going to happen to them
on this trip. Once a year ought to be enough.

If the season of preparation was delightful, what shall be said of that
time when the eighteen boys sat around in favorite attitudes, each with a
cup of steaming coffee beside him, to which he could add sugar and
condensed milk to suit his taste; while on his knees he held a
generous-sized tin pannikin, upon which was heaped a mess of friend
potatoes and ham, besides all the bread he could dispose of?

"This is the stuff; it's what I call living!" Bobolink remarked.

"You never said truer words." mumbled Old Dan Tucker, who was about as
busy as a beaver, his eyes sparkling with satisfaction.

"One thing sure!" declared Spider; "when Dan stops eating, he'll
quit living."

"Huh! guess all of us will," added Curly Baxter.

They were in no hurry to finish the feast; and when the end did arrive,
it would take a microscope to discover any crumbs left over.

"The worst is yet to come," announced Jud, "and that's washing up."

But all these things had been arranged for beforehand, so that in due
course of time every fellow would have his share of camp duties. Today he
might have to assist in the cooking; tomorrow help wash dishes; the next
day be one of the wood-getters; and then perhaps on the fourth blissful
day, he would be at liberty to just loaf!

And no doubt that last day was the one most of them would be apt to
enjoy above all else; for otherwise they would hardly have been flesh
and blood boys.

While those whose duty lay in cleaning up after the meal were engaged,
some of the others joined Paul in bringing the blankets ashore, and
distributing them to the various tents.

There were three of the latter, which would allow of six boys to each,
perhaps a rather "full house"--but then they could curl up and not take
much room.

"Aren't we going to keep any watch, Paul?" asked Joe Clausin, when later
on some of the more tired talked of turning in.

"Watch for what?" demanded Bobolink.

"Guess Joe thinks Ted Slavin and his crowd might get over here, and throw
stones at our tents, like they did once before," suggested Nuthin.

"Well, they do say there's a wild man around here," declared Joe, in a
half hesitating way; for he was actually ashamed to expose his belief in
supernatural things for fear of being laughed at.

"Let Mr. Wild Man come around; who cares?" sang out Bobolink. "Why, the
circuses are always wantin' wild men, you know; and I guess we'd get a
pretty hefty sum now, if we could capture this wonderful critter that's
been living here so long covered with the skins of wild beasts he's ate
up. It's me to hit the rubber pillow I fetched along. And Joe, if you
want to watch, nobody is going to keep you from doing it"

And with these words Bobolink dodged into the tent that he knew his mess
belonged to; in which action he was followed by numerous other scouts.
Joe, finding himself left in the lurch, cast a fearful glance around at
the heavy growth of timber on one side the camp, the lake being on the
other; after which he shook his head as though the prospect of sitting
there by the dying fire did not appeal very much to him--and crawled
under the flap, too.

Perhaps it could hardly be said that silence rested on the scene; for
with a dozen and a half boys trying to get to sleep there is always more
or less horseplay. But an hour later, something like quiet settled down.
The fire was dying out, too, since they had no reason for keeping it
going, the night air being balmy.

Midnight came and went, and it must have been toward two o'clock in the
morning when every boy suddenly sat upright, as though a galvanic shock
had passed in and out of every tent.

So it had, for the very earth trembled under them, as a terrific
detonation sounded, just as though a bolt of lightning had struck a
nearby tree. And some of the scouts were ready to declare that the
shock had been accompanied by a brilliant electric flash, that almost
blinded them.

Immediately there began to be an upheaval, as blankets were tossed aside
and the scouts crawled or scrambled from under, uttering all sorts of
exclamations, and apparently too dazed to account for the phenomenon.

They began to swarm out of the tents, and loud were the outcries of
astonishment when they discovered not a cloud as big as a hand in the
starry heavens.



CHAPTER XII

WAS IT A BURSTING METEOR?


"Who hit me?" exclaimed Bobolink, rubbing his eyes as he gained his feet
and looked around at the dimly-seen forms of the other scouts; for the
moon had by now sunk behind the horizon.

"What busted?" demanded Nuthin. "I bet it was that bottle of raspberry
vinegar my sister put in my knapsack. It's gone sour, and exploded, sure
as anything."

Strange to say, none of the others even bothered laughing at such a
foolish remark as this. They stared at the clear sky overhead, and the
twinkling stars looking down upon them, just as though winking to each
other, and enjoying the confusion of the valiant scouts.

Even Paul, who generally knew everything, seemed mystified.

"I declare if I can tell what it was," he said upon being appealed to by
some of the others in the group. "I was sound asleep, like the rest of
you, when all of a sudden it seemed as if the end of the world had come.
I felt the ground shake under me and as I opened my eyes it seemed as if
I was nearly blinded. The flash came and went just like lightning, and
that bang was what would pass for thunder in a storm; but for the life of
me I can't see any sign of trouble up there."

"And we don't hear anything more; do we?" demanded Jud.

"Sounded like a big cannon to me," remarked Jack.

"Couldn't be that the State troops are out, and having manoeuvres, with a
sham battle, could it?" questioned Gusty Bellows.

"Well, hardly, without somebody knowing about it. And they generally take
up that sort of thing later in the year. There's only one explanation
that sounds a bit reasonable to me," Paul went on.

"Tell us what that is, then?" asked Bobolink.

"I've heard about meteors falling, and exploding when they hit the
earth," the scout master went on to say.

"That's right!" echoed Jack; "and say, they're always accompanied by a
dazzling light, as they shoot through space, burning the air along with
them. Yes, siree, that must have been a big meteor stone."

"Then it struck the earth right close to our camp, mark me," vowed Jud.

"Ain't I glad it didn't pick out this spot to drop on," crowed
Nuthin. "Whew! guess we'd have been squashed flatter than that pancake
you hear about."

"What are meteors made up of--they drop from stars; don't they?"
asked Bob Tice.

"Oh! there's just millions and billions of 'em flying around loose," said
Phil Towns, who liked to read of astronomy at times. "Lots of 'em happen
to get caught in the envelope of air that surrounds the earth. Then they
fall victims to the force of gravitation, and come plunging down at such
speed that they do really burn the air, just like Jack said. You see,
they're made up for the most part of metals, and our old earth draws 'em
like a monster magnet."

"Is that what shooting stars are?" Bob went on to ask.

"Why, yes, they're really small meteors. We often pass through a mess of
'em. I've counted hundreds in a single night," Phil continued, always
willing to give any information he could along his favorite study.

"Well, they say lightning don't strike in the same place twice; and that
goes with your old buzzing meteors too, I reckon; so what's the use in
our staying up any longer?" remarked Bobolink, who seemed quite satisfied
with the explanation Paul had given of the queer noise, and the flash of
brilliant light.

So they crawled back into their snug nests, and tried to compose
themselves for sleep. But it is extremely doubtful whether a single one
of those eighteen boys secured so much as a decent cat-nap between that
hour and dawn.

Despite their apparent belief in the explanation of the phenomenon
advanced by Paul, the boys could not get rid of the notion that that
tremendous crash had something to do with the strange things told about
the haunted island, and which helped to give it its bad name.

They were up pretty early, too. The first birds were beginning to chirp
in the brush when figures came crawling out of the tents, with a great
stretching of arms, and long yawns.

Then the lake tempted many of the boys, and a great splashing announced
that those who could swim were enjoying a morning dip while others were
taking a lesson in learning the first rudiments in the art; for Paul
wanted every scout in Stanhope Troop to be able to swim and dive before
the Fall came on.

The scout master himself watched the proceedings, hardly able to get his
own dip because of his anxiety concerning those who, for the time being,
had been placed in his charge.

This thing of being responsible for seventeen lively boys is not all that
it may be cracked up to be; especially if the acting scout master is a
conscientious chap, alive to his duties. Paul felt the weight of the
load; but he did not shrink.

Breakfast was presently under way, and nobody found any fault when
Bobolink announced that he meant to instruct Nat Smith and another boy
just how to go about making those delicious flapjacks for which he
himself had become famous.

In the cooking contests, at the time the Stanhope Troop carried off their
banner in competition with the troops of Manchester and Aldine, Bobolink
had easily outclassed all rivals when it came to the science of camp
cookery, and his flapjacks were admitted without a peer, so that ever
since, when the boys had an outing, there was always a shout when it was
found that Bobolink was willing to get a mess of cakes ready for their
attention.

Although most of the boys had looked a bit peaked, and even haggard, when
they first issued from the tents, this had long since vanished. The
frolic in the cool water, and now this feast in the open, proved the
finest tonics possible.

They were now filled with new energy and pluck. Nobody dreamed of being
frightened away from camp by such a little thing as a meteor bursting
near by, or any other strange happening. Perhaps, when night came around
again, this buoyant feeling might take wings, and fly away; but then,
there would be fourteen and more hours before darkness again assailed
them, and what was the use fretting over things so far removed?

All had made up their minds to do a lot of things while up at camp,
according to their various tastes. One began to look around for subjects
he could take snapshots of, having a liking for photography. Another got
a companion to take up a station along the shore, so that they could
exchange messages, using the flags and the code.

Then there were several who evinced a decided interest in finding the
tracks of wild animals, like a raccoon, or a rabbit, or even a squirrel,
when nothing better presented itself. These they minutely examined, and
applied all sorts of theories in forming the story of the trail. In many
cases these proved very entertaining indeed, and Paul was always pleased,
with Jack's assistance, to pass on such things, being adapted through
practical experience to correct errors, and set the beginner straight on
certain facts that he had mixed.

There were numerous other things to do also. One boy loved to hunt wild
flowers, and as soon as he could coax a mate to accompany him, since Paul
would not allow the scouts to go off alone, he busied himself in the
undergrowth, looking in mossy spots for some of the shy blossoms that
appealed to his collecting taste.

Another seemed to have a love for geology. He wanted to find specimens
of every sort of stone, and hinted of certain stories of mining having
been carried on in these regions a century or two ago. But as he did not
find any ore that contained precious minerals in paying quantities,
during their stay on Cedar Island, the chances are that his father will
still have to go right along paying his bills, even after he gets into
college later in life.

The morning was slipping away fast, and they had not found any better
place to settle on for a camp. It seemed that, by the merest chance, they
had hit upon the best spot for a short stay on the island.

Three of the boys wandered along the shore, fishing. Paul had seen them
pull in several good-sized bass, and began to make up his mind that after
all they were going to have a fish dinner, if the luck held. He was even
debating whether he dared leave camp for a while, and taking his jointed
rod, joined the trio who had wandered around the bend of the eastern
shore of the island; for Paul certainly did love to feel a lively fish at
the end of his line, and could not think of leaving Lake Tokala without
giving its finny inhabitants a chance to get acquainted with him.

Just as he had about decided that he could be spared for the hour that
still remained until noon, Paul thought he heard a shout. Now, the
scouts had more than a few times given tongue during the morning, when
engaged in some boisterous game; but it struck Paul, whose nerves were
always on the alert for such things, while this responsibility rested on
his shoulders, that there was certainly a note, as of alarm, about this
particular outcry.

It seemed to come from around that bend, too, where he had seen the three
boys disappear. Even as he looked in that direction, he saw something
come in sight among the rocks that lay so thickly around. It was Gusty
Bellows, one of the anglers; yes, and there was Little Billie just behind
him, taking great leaps that promised to speedily leave the other far in
the lurch.

Paul's heart seemed to stand still. Where was Jud, who had been in the
company of the two? What could have happened?

The scout master dropped his rod, which he had been in the act of
jointing, and started on a run to meet the two fishermen; for he
could hear them shouting, though unable to distinguish just what they
were saying.



CHAPTER XIII

THE FOOTPRINTS IN THE SAND


Then Paul felt a sensation of sudden relief pass over him. He had
discovered a third figure running, some distance in the rear of the other
scouts; and when he recognized this as Jud Elderkin, he knew that
whatever might have happened to frighten the fishermen, at least none of
them seemed to be in any immediate danger.

Of course, by this time scouts were springing up all around, and all
heading toward the common centre, which would be where Paul and the
fishermen must meet.

Little Billie was the first one to arrive, for, being possessed of long
legs, in spite of his name, he could get over ground at a prodigious
rate, given cause. And judging from his ashen face, he had plenty of that
right now.

"What is it?" demanded Paul, as the other came panting along.

"Wild man!" gasped Little Billie.

"Whee!" exclaimed Bobolink, who had managed to get near enough to catch
what was said.

"'Fraid he nabbed poor Jud!" said Gusty, now reaching the spot, and just
about at his last gasp.

"Not much he didn't, because there he comes now!" ejaculated Bobolink.

"Oh! mercy!" exclaimed Little Billie, evidently thinking he meant
the wild man.

"It's Jud, and all to the good; but even he looks white around the gills,
too, Paul. They must have seen _something_, to give 'em all such a
scare," Bobolink went on to say.

"You just bet we did; ask Jud!" declared Gusty, just as though he
imagined the others might question their veracity, but would believe the
patrol leader, who was now coming along with great leaps and bounds.

And presently Jud Elderkin halted at the group. He looked first at Gusty,
and then at Little Billie. There was a question in his eye.

"Sure, we saw it, too, Jud!" declared Gusty, holding up his quivering
hand just as though he were in the witness box; but then, as his father
was a lawyer, possibly Gusty often experimented on himself, since he
meant to either take up the same pursuit in life, or give his magnificent
voice a chance to earn him a living in the role of an auctioneer.

"Me too; and say, wasn't it a terror, though?" the tall scout declared.

"Well, I didn't wait long enough to have any words with the Thing,"
admitted Jud. "You see, I happened to be further away from home than the
other fellows, and I knew I'd have more space to cover. So, after letting
out a yell to sort of warn 'em, why I just put for cover. Never ran
faster even between bases. Thought he'd get me sure before I rounded that
bend; but when I looked back, blessed if he wasn't grabbin' up our
strings of fish like fun, and making off with 'em. I don't know right now
whether I'm just scared, or only boiling mad. Tell me, somebody!"

"A little of both, I guess!" declared Bobolink, grinning.

"Say, then, it wasn't just a big yarn about that wild man, after all; was
it?" said Tom Betts.

"How about that, Little Billie; did you see him?" demanded Jud.

"Did I? Think I was runnin' for my health? Why, he looked all of seven
feet high to me, and covered with long hair. Talk about your Robinson
Crusoe making him a coat of an old nanny goat, that feller was in the
same class; eh, Gusty?" loudly asserted the tall boy.

"I saw him, all right, don't you forget it," declared the one
addressed. "And I certain sure thought he was after _me_. But if Jud
says he took our nice string of bass, why that changes the thing, and
makes me mad as hops. Think of us workin' all that time, only to fill
up a crazy crank. Next time I go fishin' I'm meanin' to sit home, and
do it off the door step."

Paul was revolving many things in his mind and trying to understand.

"I want several of you to go back with me," he said, presently; "the rest
head for camp or go about whatever you were doing."

"Want to take a squint at his tracks; eh, Paul?" asked Jud.

"No harm done if we do," remarked Bobolink, thus declaring his intention
of being one of those who were to accompany the leader.

Jack also went along, and Jud, making four in all; but the last mentioned
refused to budge a foot until he had obtained a healthy-looking club,
which he tucked under his arm.

"Now, I want to warn that same critter to keep his distance from me," Jud
said, as he led off with long strides. "He gave me one scare, and I
promise you that if he tries that game again there's going to be a warm
time around these regions. But I reckon he's satisfied with all our nice
fish, and we won't see anything of him until he gets good and hungry
again. Wonder if he eats 'em raw, Chinese fashion, or has some way of
making a fire?"

"What's that over yonder?" asked Paul.

"Where?" gasped Jud, brandishing his club.

"Looks like a string of fish; and so, you see, the wild man didn't get
_all_ you fellows caught. We'll just pick that lot up, and trot along,"
observed Paul.

"He got mine, all right; these must have been what one of the other
fellows had. You see, they were so badly rattled they just cut and run,
and held on to their rods only. Yep, there's a second string of fish, and
that accounts for both; but you needn't think mine'll be laying around,
for he got 'em.

"Well, show me just about where he was when you saw him last,"
Paul demanded.

Jud could easily do this. They found the print of human feet in the
earth. It must have been an unusually large foot that made the marks; and
this tallied with what had been said about the height of the wild man.

"You're not goin' to try and follow him, I hope, Paul?" asked Jud,
uneasily, as if he drew the line at certain things, ready and willing as
he might be to back the scout master in most ventures.

"Oh! it wouldn't pay us," retorted Paul. "As one of the boys said, we
haven't lost any wild man; and so far as I know there's no one missing
around Stanhope, so it can't be some man from there. I think we'd do well
to mind our own business in this affair; don't you, fellows?"

"Yes, I do," replied Jack, "but I was wondering whether this thing will
crop up to give us a heap of bother while we're camping up here."

"How's that?" asked Bobolink. "There's only one thing that gives me any
carking care, and you know what that is, Jack, old boy. If I only knew
about those boxes, I'd be so much easier in my mind."

"Well," said Paul, "if this crazy man would steal our fish, he'd just as
lief take anything else we've got that's good to eat. When he smells our
coffee cooking it'll call up some long-forgotten craving for the Java
bean; and first thing you know he'll be invading our camp every night,
hunting around for any old thing he can steal."

"Now, I like that," said Bobolink, satirically. "Nice prospect, ain't it,
not to be able to step out of the tent of nights, without bumping noses
with that awful Man Friday in wild animal shows? P'raps in self-defense
we may have to do that grand capture act after all, Paul."

"Well, there's nothing more to learn here, so we might as well turn back
again. As I don't see anything of your string of fish, Jud, I calculate
that he must have gotten away with 'em. We can add a few more to these,
and have enough for a regular feast. Come on, boys, back to camp for us."

Some way or other it was noticed that during the early afternoon most of
the boys hung around the camp. It seemed to have an especial attraction
for them all. One busied himself sorting over the collection of the
morning in the way of plants. A second was polishing up certain specimens
of quartz he had found, after cracking some of the round stones that had
washed on the island during a flood, possibly many years back. A third
developed his pictures, having brought along his daylight tank.

And so it went, until Paul smiled to observe what a busy colony he had in
his charge. On his part, he took a rod and line, with some bait, and went
off with Jack to add to the number of fish, so that there would be enough
for all at supper time. And as the others had fished in one direction,
Paul and his chum decided to move in the other.

They put in an hour with very fair success, considering that it was not
the best part of the day for fishing.

Of course, as they walked along, keeping close to one another,
occasionally Paul and Jack would chat on various subjects. They also kept
their eyes open, not wishing to be taken by surprise, should that hairy
individual, who seemed to have a craving for fish, rush out at them.

And more than that, Paul had copied the example set by Jud. It was
fashionable about that time not to walk forth without a nice little Irish
shillelah under one's arm, with which a head could be made to sing
unmercifully, in case of necessity.

Paul had just had a pretty lively time with a good fish, and had
succeeded in bringing his prize to land, when he happened to look down at
the beach on which he was standing. Bobolink and Tom Betts were coming
along, as though curious to see how fast the stock of provisions for
supper was increasing.

So Paul bent down to examine something that had caught his attention. The
other three coming up, Jack having joined Bobolink and Tom, found the
scout master still on his hands and knees.

"Hello! found something, have you?" asked Bobolink.

"Mebbe the footprints of the ghost!" chuckled Tom, meaning to be
humorous.

But Jack saw that his chum was very serious; and as he dropped down
beside Paul, he let his eyes fall upon the sand.

"What's this, Paul?" he remarked, immediately. "Looks like the prow of a
rowboat had been pulled up here--why, that's a dead certainty, because
look at the plain prints of boots here, and several different kinds,
too. Shows that somebody landed here on the island; and Paul, it must
have been _after_ that rain storm, for these marks don't seem to be
washed, as they would be if the rain had beat down on them. What in the
world d'ye suppose it means? Are there people on this queer old Cedar
Island? If there are, who can they be, and why should they hide from
everybody like this?"

As Jack said this he looked up. Bobolink and Tom were staring at the
plain marks in the sand, with wonderment written on their faces; and even
Paul shook his head.



CHAPTER XIV

TRYING TO FIGURE IT ALL OUT


"We'll have to look into this thing," said Paul, finally, seeing that his
three chums were waiting for an opinion from the one they looked up to as
their leader.

"But what I said was pretty close to the truth; wasn't it, Paul?"
Jack asked.

"Every word of it" came the ready response, for Paul was always willing
to give every fellow his meed of praise. "The only trouble is, it stops
right where you left off. None of us can say a word after that."

"How many men were there in the crowd?" asked Tom Betts.

"I could make out four," replied Jack; "you take another look, Paul, and
see if that's correct."

"I know it is," remarked the scout master, nodding, "because I counted
them before I called you. And they seemed to lift something heavy from
the boat, which they carried away into the bushes here."

"Whee! something heavy, eh?" burst out the impetuous Bobolink; "and they
carried it between them, two and two; was it, Paul?"

"Why, yes, two on each side; if you look close, you can see where they
stepped into each other's footprints," assented the patrol leader.

"That's so," agreed Bobolink, after bending down hastily; "just
like--er--you've seen the pall-bearers at a funeral!"

"Oh!" exclaimed Tom, turning a little white at the idea.

"Of course, that isn't saying it _was_ a funeral," remarked Bobolink,
hastily, as he noticed that Paul glanced at Jack, and the two shook their
heads a trifle, as though the idea failed to impress them favorably. "But
whatever it was, they seemed to find it heavy, the way their toes dug
into the sand here."

"Yes, it was heavy, all right," admitted Paul. "I think, from the way the
rear men stepped into the prints of the one up head, that whatever they
were carrying could not have been very lengthy; in fact, it must have
been short, but rather broad."

"Well, that's a smart idea of yours, Paul, and I c'n see how you hit on
it," Bobolink was quick to say, with a look of sincere admiration.

"But whatever do you reckon would bring four men up here to this lonely
island, carrying some heavy object in a rowboat?" Tom Betts went on.

"That's where we have to do our guessing," Paul replied. "We don't know;
and as they haven't been obliging enough to write it out, and fasten the
card to a tree, why, we've just got to put on our thinking caps, as my
mother would say."

"Well, we've had some experience in the past with hoboes; think they
could be a batch of Weary Willies, Paul?" remarked Tom Betts.

"I'm not ready to say off-hand that they're not," replied the other,
slowly; "but it hardly seems likely. In the first place, every one of
them seemed to be wearing sound shoes. Did you ever know four tramps
to do that?"

"Well, I should say not," replied Bobolink, scornfully. "It'd be a wonder
if one out of four had shoes that'd hold on without a lot of rope. You
clinched that idea the first thing, Paul."

"Then what'd you say they were?" demanded Tom.

Bobolink rubbed his chin reflectively.

"A heap of difference between plain tramps, and the kind they call yeggs;
isn't there, Paul?" he asked, presently.

"Everybody says so," came the answer. "Yegg-men are supposed to be the
toughest members of the tramp tribe. They're really burglars or
safe-blowers, who pretend to be hoboes so they can prowl around country
towns, looking up easy snaps about the banks and stores that ought to be
good picking. And so you think these four men might belong to that crowd,
do you, Bobolink?"

"It's barely possible, anyhow," the one addressed went on, doggedly. "And
I was just trying to remember if I'd heard of any robbery lately. There
was a store broke into over at Marshall two weeks ago, and the thieves
carried off a lot of stuff. But seems to me, the men got nabbed later on.
I'm a little hazy about it, though. But supposin' now, that these four
men had made a rich haul somewhere, and wanted to hide their stuff in a
good place, could they find a better one than up here on Cedar Island?"

The other three exchanged glances.

"I guess that's about right," admitted Tom.

"It's certainly quiet enough to suit anybody; and chances are they
wouldn't be disturbed in a coon's age," declared Jack. "Our coming here
was a freak. It mightn't happen again in many years."

"And this old island's already got a bad name; hasn't it?"
Bobolink went on.

"That would help keep people away," admitted Paul. "I've heard of men
coming up in this region winters, trapping the muskrats that swarm in the
marshes; but up to cranberry picking time it's almost deserted."

"Jack, you must have had an idea, too?" remarked Bobolink.

"Well, I did; but perhaps the rest of you'll only give me the laugh if I
mention it," replied Jack.

"All the same, it isn't fair to keep anything back," Tom declared. "My
guess didn't pan out much, and you couldn't have worse luck than that.
So tell us."

"Yes, go on, Jack, and give us the benefit of your think-box. I've known
you to get away up head more'n a few times, when it came to a live race.
And mebbe some of the rest of us mightn't think so badly of your idea as
you do yourself," and as he said this Bobolink sat down on the sand to
listen, all the while eyeing those mysterious tracks as though he half
expected them to give tongue, and tell the true story of their origin.

"Oh! well, that seems only fair, so here goes," Jack began. "Somehow I
happened to remember that once on a time I read about some counterfeiters
who had their nest in an old haunted mill, away up in the country."

"Whee!" Bobolink said, sitting bolt upright.

"None of the country people would ever go near the place, you see; and
when a light happened to be seen in it at night time, they talked about
the ghost walking, and all that," Jack continued.

"Huh! that must have been when the boss was paying off his hands,"
chuckled Bobolink. "I always heard that was the time the ghost walked."

"In this case the truth was only found out by some accident," Jack went
on to say, without paying any heed to the interruption. "I think a hunter
was overtaken by darkness, having lost himself in the woods. He was a
stranger, and had never heard about the haunted mill. So, seeing a light,
he went up to ask his way, or if he could get a chance of a bed that
night, I forget which. He saw enough to give him a suspicion; and when he
did get back to the tavern he was stopping at, he sent word to the
Government authorities. A raid resulted, and they caught four
counterfeiters hard at work."

"_Four,_ you said, Jack!" echoed Tom.

"Yes, just the same number there seems to be here; but then that's only a
coincidence, because those others are serving ten-year sentences in the
penitentiary. Now, you see, I guess the fact of Cedar Island being said
to have a real ghost got me into the idea of thinking about that story I
read in the paper. Of course it's a silly idea all around."

"Well, I don't know," said Paul, slowly.

"You don't mean to say you think it might happen that way here?" demanded
Jack, seeming to be the only one desirous of "shooting holes" in the
proposition he had himself advanced, as Bobolink expressed it later on.

"It's possible," Paul said, simply.

"Huh! for my part," spoke up Bobolink, "I think it's more than that,
even. If you asked me straight now, I'd be inclined to say it's
probable."

"Same here," remarked Tom Betts, eagerly.

Jack laughed as if pleased.

"I declare, I really expected to hear you knock my idea all to flinders,"
he remarked.

"But what under the sun could they be carrying in that big box?" asked
Tom Betts.

"Box!" muttered Bobolink, frowning, as though the word recalled to his
mind a matter that had been puzzling him greatly of late; but he did not
think to say anything further on that subject.

"Well, sometimes machinery comes that way," suggested Paul. "If these
strange men did turn out to be what Jack said, they might be getting
a press of some kind up here, to do their printing with. I never saw
an outfit, but seems to me they must have such a thing, to make the
bogus bills."

"That's right," added Tom. "I read all about it not long ago. Wallace
Carberry's so interested in everything about books and printing, that he
clips all sorts of articles. And this one described a kind of press that
had been taken in a raid on some bogus money-makers. Yep, it must have
been machinery they were lugging off here. Whew! just to think of us
bein' mixed up in such a business. I wonder, now, if the Government ever
pays a reward for information about such things."

"Oh! rats! that's the last thing a scout should bother his head about,"
said Bobolink, scornfully. "He ought to see his duty, and do it. Though,
of course, if a nice little present happens along afterwards, why, I
guess there's no law against a scout acceptin' it; eh, Paul?"

"Certainly not," replied the other, "you've got the idea down pretty
fine, Bobolink. But let's see if we can guess anything else. Then we'd
better go back to camp, and start the rest of the fellows thinking about
it. Perhaps Jud or Andy or Nuthin might dig up something that never
occurred to any of us."

But although they talked it over for some little time they did not seem
able to conjure up any new idea; everything advanced proved to hinge upon
one of the explanations already spoken of. And in the end they were
forced to admit that they had apparently exhausted the subject.

"Let's pick up our fish, and stroll back, fellows," proposed Paul,
finally.

"Lucky to have any fish, with that hog around," remarked Bobolink.

"Now you're meaning the wild man, I take it?" said Jack.

"No other; the fellow that drops in on you when you ain't expectin'
company, and just swipes your string of fish like he did Jud's. I might
'a thought Jud was giving us a yarn to explain why he didn't have
anything to show for his morning's work; but both Little Billie and Gusty
saw the same thing. Say, that's another link we got to straighten out.
What's a crazy man doing up here; and is he in the same bunch that made
these tracks?"

"That's something we don't know," admitted Paul.

"But we mean to find out," asserted Bobolink, with a determined snapping
of his jaws.

"Perhaps so--anyhow, we'll make a brave try for it," Paul declared.

"He wasn't one of these four, that's flat," said Tom Betts. "We all saw
what a big foot the wild man had; and besides, he goes without shoes."

"Glad to see you noticed all that," commented Paul, who always felt
pleased when any of the troop exhibited powers of observation, since it
proved that the lessons he was endeavoring to impress upon their minds
had taken root.

They turned their faces toward the camp, and Paul made sure to pick up
the fish he and Jack had caught.

"With what we'e already cleaned, they'll make a fine mess for the
crowd," he remarked, pointing out an unusually big fellow that had given
him all the fun he wanted, before consenting to be dragged ashore.

"I notice that you both kill your fish as you get 'em," remarked Tom.

"I wouldn't think of doing anything else," replied Jack. "It only takes a
smart rap with a club on the head to end their sufferings. I'd hate to
think of even a fish dying by inches, and flapping all over the boat or
the ground, as it gasps its life away. That's one of the things scouts
are taught--to be humane sportsmen, giving the game a chance, whether
fish, flesh or fowl, and not inflicting any unnecessary suffering."

"Wonder if anything's happened in camp since we came away; because
Bobolink and I have been gone nearly an hour," remarked Tom Betts, to
change the subject; for his conscience reproved him with regard to the
matter Jack was speaking about.

"What makes you think that?" asked Paul, suspiciously.

"Oh! nothing; only things seem to be on the jump with us right now; and a
fellow can't turn around without bumping into a wild man, or some bogus
money-makers, it seems. P'raps the ghost'll show up next. Listen! wasn't
that somebody trying to blow your bugle, Bobolink, that you left hung up
in the tent?"

"It sure was, for a fact. Let's start on a run, fellows. Mebbe they've
gone and grabbed that wild man! P'raps he was bent on carryin' off the
whole outfit this time. You never can tell what a crazy man'll do next;
that's the hard part of being a keeper in a queer house, where they keep
a lot of that kind; anyhow a man told me that once who'd been there. But
listen to that scout trying to sound the recall, would you? Whoop her up,
boys; there's _something_ happened, as sure as you live!"



CHAPTER XV

ORDERED OFF


It was about four o'clock in the afternoon of this, the first day of
their intended stay on Cedar Island, when Paul and his three comrades
came running around the bend of the shore above the camp, and saw some of
the scouts beckoning wildly to them.

"They've gone and grabbed him, sure as shooting!" gasped Bobolink,
exultantly.

But Jack and Paul noted that while there teemed to be a cluster of the
boys no strange form could be seen among them. In fact, they appeared to
be greatly excited over something Jud Elderkin was holding.

And in this manner then did the quartette reach the camp.

"Where is he; got him tied up good and hard?" demanded Bobolink, speaking
with difficulty, from lack of breath.

Nobody paid the slightest attention to what he was saying; and so
Bobolink, happening to notice that it was Curly Baxter who had been
taking liberties with his precious bugle, quietly possessed himself of
it, and examined it carefully, to make sure that it had not been dented.

"Take a look at this, Paul," said Jud, as he held out the fluttering
piece of paper that had evidently caused all the excitement.

Written upon this the scout master saw only a few words, but they
possessed considerable significance, when viewed in the light of the
strange happenings of the recent past.

"_Leave this island at once_!"

Just five words in all. Whoever wrote that order must be a man who did
not believe in wasting anything. There was no penalty attached, and they
were at liberty to believe anything they chose; just the plain command to
get out, and somehow it seemed more impressive because of its brevity.

Paul looked at Jack, and then around at the anxious faces of the other
scouts. He saw only blank ignorance there. Nobody could imagine what this
strange order meant. The island might have an owner, but at the best it
was only a worthless bit of property, and their camping on its shore for
a week could not be considered in the light of trespass.

"Where did you get this, Jud?" asked the scout master.

"Why, Old Dan Tucker brought it to me," replied the leader of the Gray
Fox Patrol, promptly.

"And where did _you_ find it, Dan?" continued Paul, turning on the scout
in question, who seemed only too willing to tell all he knew--which, it
turned out, was precious little at best.

"Why, you see, I had a dispute with Nuthin about the number of hams
fetched on the trip. He vowed there was two, and I said three, countin'
the one we'd cut into last night. So to prove it, I just happened to step
into the tent where we've got some of the grub piled up. It was three,
all right, just as I said. But I found this paper pinned to one of the
whole hams, which, you know, are sewed up in covers right from the
packers. I couldn't make out what it meant. First I thought Nuthin was
playin' a joke on me; but he denied it. So I took the paper to Jud,
seein' that you were away, Paul."

"It was pinned to one of the hams, was it?" asked the scout
master, frowning.

"Sure, and the pin's still stickin' in it," answered Dan, positively.

Paul looked around.

"I want to settle one thing right at the start, before we bother any more
about this matter," he remarked. "Did any one of you write this, or have
you ever seen it before Dan brought it to Jud?"

"He showed it to me," exclaimed Nuthin; "but it was the first time I
ever glimpsed that paper or writin', Paul, I give you my word."

"If anybody else has seen it before, I want him to hold up his hand,"
continued the scout master, knowing how prone boys are to play pranks.

The boys glanced at each other; but not a single hand went up.

"Well, that settles one thing, then," declared Paul. "This note came
from some one not belonging to our camp. He must have crawled into the
tent from the rear, taking advantage of our being busy. Yes, there's a
bunch of scrub close enough to give him more or less shelter, if he
crawled on all fours. Let's see if one or two of the tent pins haven't
been drawn up."

Followed by the rest, Paul strode over to the tent where a quantity of
the provisions were kept. Entering this, he quickly saw that it was
exactly as he had suggested. Three of the tent pins, which the boys had
pounded down with the camp axe, had been pulled up, and this slack
allowed the intruder to crawl under the now loose canvas.

"I can see the place he shuffled along, and where his toes dug into the
earth," declared Jack, as he bent over.

"We'll try and follow it up presently, and see where he got on his feet
to move off," Paul remarked. "I'd like to find out whether his shoes
make a mark anything like some of those we were looking at up the
shore, Jack."

"Whew!" exclaimed Bobolink, who was again deeply interested in what was
going on, since he had found his precious bugle unharmed.

"Let's look at that paper again," resumed Paul. "The writing was done
with a fountain pen, I should say. That seems to tell that the owner was
no common hobo. And the writing is as clear as the print in our copybooks
at school. The man who did that was a penman, believe me. 'Leave this
island at once!' Just like that, short and crisp. Not a threat about what
will happen if we don't, you see; we're expected to just imagine all
sorts of terrible things, unless we skip out right away. One thing sure,
Jud, your wild man never wrote that note, or even pinned it on our ham,
because the crawler wore shoes."

"That's right," muttered Jud, his face betraying the admiration he felt
for the scout master who knew so well how to patch things together, so
that they seemed to be almost as plain as print.

"Now, the rest of you just stay around while I take Jack and Bobolink
with me along this trail. We want to settle one thing, and that'll come
when we hit the place where this party got up on his feet to move off."

So saying, Paul himself got down and deliberately crawled under the
canvas the same way the trespasser had. Jack and Bobolink hastened to
follow his example, only too well pleased to be selected to accompany
the leader.

It was no great task to follow the marks made by the crawling man. His
toes had dug into the soil, going and coming, for apparently he had used
the same trail both ways.

"Here we are, boys; now, take a look!" said Paul, presently.

They were by this time in the midst of the timber with which this end of
the island was covered. Glimpses of the tents could be seen between the
trees; but any intruder might feel himself reasonably justified in rising
to his full height when he had made a point so well screened from
inquisitive eyes.

This man had done so, at any rate. The plain print of his shoes was
visible in a number of places. Both Jack and Bobolink gave utterance to
exclamations as soon as they saw these.

"One of the four, that's dead sure!" the former declared, positively.

"I'll be badgered if it ain't!" muttered Bobolink, staring at the tracks.

"So you see, we've settled one thing right at the start," said Paul.

"That's what we have," observed Bobolink. "It's those fellows who carried
the heavy load from the rowboat, after landin' on the island, after the
rain storm, that want our room more'n our company. The nerve of that
bunch to tell us to clear out, when chances are we've got just as much
right here as they have--p'raps a heap sight more."

"That doesn't sound much like you wanted to make a change of base,
Bobolink?" remarked Paul, smiling.

"No more do I," quickly replied the other. "I'm not used to bein' ordered
around as if I was a slave. What if there are four of them, aren't
eighteen husky scouts equal to such a crowd? No, siree, if you left it to
me, I'd say stick it out till the last horn blows. Give 'em the defi
right from the shoulder. Tell 'em to go hang, for all we care. We c'n
take care of ourselves, mebbe; and mind our own business in the bargain."

"But it's something else that makes you want to stay?" Paul suggested.

"How well you know my cut, Paul," declared the other. "You reckon I never
can stand a mystery. It gets on my nerves, keeps me awake nights, and
plays hob with my think-box all the time. Now, there was those boxes--but
I guess I'll try and forget all about that matter now, because we've got
a sure enough puzzle to solve right on our hands. Who are these four men;
what are they hiding on Cedar Island for; why should they want to chase
us away if they weren't afraid we'd find out _somethin_' they're a-doin'
here, that ain't just accordin' to the law?"

"You've got it pretty straight, Bobolink," admitted Paul. "But since
we've learned all we wanted to find out, suppose we go back to the rest
of the boys. We must talk this thing over, and decide what's to be done."

"Do you mean about skipping out, Paul?" Bobolink exclaimed. "Oh! I hope
now, you won't do anything like that. I'd feel dreadfully mean to sneak
away. Always did hate to see a cur dog do that, with his tail between
his legs."

"Still, it might seem best to leave here by dark," said Paul.

Something in his manner gave Jack a clue as to the meaning back of these
words. He knew the scout master better than did any other fellow in the
troop, and was accustomed to reading his motives in his look or manner.

"I take it that means we might _pretend_ to clear out, and come back
under cover of the night, to make another camp; eh, Paul?" Jack now
remarked, insinuatingly.

"That was what I had in mind," admitted the other; "but of course it'll
be up to the boys to settle such a question. I believe in every fellow
having a voice in things that have to do with the general business of
the camp. But majority rules when once the vote is taken--stay, or go
for good."

"Glad to hear you say so," ventured Bobolink. "Because here's three votes
that will be cast for sticking it out; and if I know anything about Jud
and Nuthin and Bluff, together with several more, the majority will want
to stick. But I mean to give them a hint that we think that way. Several
weak-kneed brothers are always ready to vote the way the leaders do. When
the scout master takes snuff they start to sneezing right away."

"And for that very reason, Bobolink, I don't want you to say a word in
advance to any of the fellows. When we have a vote, it should be the free
opinion of every scout, without his being influenced by another. But what
do you think of the idea, Jack?"

"I think it's just great," answered his chum. "And by the way, if we
should conclude to come back to the island again in the night, I know the
finest kind of a place where we could hide the motorboats."

"Where is that?" asked the scout master, quickly.

"You haven't been around on the side of the island where the shore curves
into a little bay, like. The trees grow so close that their branches
overhang the water. If the boats were left in there, and some green stuff
drawn around them, I don't believe they'd ever be noticed, unless some
one was hunting every foot of the island over for them."

"Yes, I think I know where you mean," said Paul. "I wasn't down by the
little inlet you speak of; but back on the shore there's a dandy place
among the rocks and trees, where we could pitch a new camp, and keep
pretty well hidden, unless we happened to make a lot of noise, which
we won't do if we can help it But everything depends on how the boys
look at it."

"Anyhow," said Bobolink, resolutely; "I feel that we ought to put it up
to them that way; tell 'em how easy it will be to screen the boats, and
have a hidden camp. You'll let me tell about that, Paul, I hope, even if
I mustn't say you mean to vote to come back?"

"I suppose that would be fair enough, because we ought to hold up our
side of the question," the scout master replied, as they drew near the
place where the three tents stood, and several groups of chattering
scouts could be seen, doubtless earnestly discussing this mysterious
thing that had come about; for, of course, Tom Betts had already told all
about the suspicious tracks of the four men who had carried a heavy
burden into the brush.

They looked eagerly toward the advancing three, as though expecting that
Paul would now take them fully into his confidence.

This he proceeded to do without further delay; and it was worth while
observing the various shades of emotion that flitted across the faces of
the listeners while the scout master was talking. Some seemed alarmed,
others disposed to be provoked, while not a few, Bobolink noted with
secret glee, allowed a frown to mark their foreheads, as though they were
growing angry at being so summarily ordered off the island by these
unknown men, who did not even have the decency to present their command
of dismissal in person.

He knew these fellows could be counted on to vote the right way when the
question came up as to what they should do.

When the entire thing had been explained, so that they all understood it,
Paul asked for a vote as to whether they clear out altogether, or appear
to do so, only to come back again.

And, just as the sanguine Bobolink had expected, it resulted in thirteen
declaring it to be their idea that they should come back, and try to find
out what all these queer goings-on meant. When the result of the vote was
made known, even the five who had voted to go moved that it be made
unanimous.

Perhaps they came to the conclusion that since a return was decided on it
would be safer to be with the rest on the haunted island, than off by
themselves in a lone tent on the distant shore, where no assistance could
reach them.

"Well, we'd better have an early supper, then, and get away; or since it
is getting dark now, perhaps we'll have to put off the eating part until
later," Paul suggested.

"Any old time will do for that," declared Bobolink, carelessly, whereupon
Old Dan Tucker gave him a look of dismay, and sadly shook his head, as
though he did not indorse such a foolish theory at all.

So, when the others were carrying things to the boats, and showing
considerable nervousness while doing it, Old Dan managed to fill his
pockets with crackers, which he hoped might stave off starvation for a
little while at least.

Acting on the suggestion of Jack, the scouts gave all sorts of
exhibitions of alarm as they busied themselves taking down the tents, and
loading their traps aboard the two motorboats. Every now and then one of
them would point somewhere up or down the shore, as though he thought he
saw signs of the enemy coming, whereupon a knot of the boys would gather,
and stare, and then scatter, to work more feverishly than ever.

They really enjoyed acting the part, too. It seemed to appeal to their
fondness for a joke. And the best of it was, they always fancied that
somewhere or other at least one pair of hostile eyes must be observing
these signs of panic with satisfaction.

Just as darkness began to creep over water and island, clouds shutting
out the moonlight again, all was pronounced ready. And then the cheery
"chug" of the motors sounded, for the boys purposely made all the noise
they could, under the impression that it might seem to add to the
appearance of a hasty flight.

In this manner did the troop of scouts break camp before they had been on
Cedar Island more than twenty-four hours; and, so far as appearances
went, deserted the place of the evil name for good and all.



CHAPTER XVI

UNDER COVER OF DARKNESS


Paul had settled it all in his mind as to what their course should
be. He drew a mental map of the island, and its surroundings; and
also remembered certain conclusions he had previously entertained
connected with the depth of water on all sides, between their late
camp and the mainland.

So the _Comfort_ set the pace, which was not very fast; for they wanted
darkness to settle fully over the lake, in order that they might move
around without being seen from the island.

"Tell me when the island is out of sight, Jud," remarked Paul; for some
of the time the two boats were side by side, and nothing interfered with
a clear view in the rear.

"Why, it's swallowed up already in the night mist; I can just make out
that old cedar that stands on top of the little hill," came Jud's reply.

"Good. Then we'll have an easy time slipping back, I reckon," said Paul.

"Going all the way over to the shore; are you?" asked the other.

"Might as well; though we'll have to feel our way. Pretty shallow; ain't
it, Jud?" for the scout master had set the other to work sounding with
one of the setting poles, by dropping it over every little while.

"Touch bottom every time but seems to be plenty of water. Guess this
lake ain't near so deep as that other one up by Rattlesnake Mountain,"
Jud remarked.

"Oh! it's many times deeper on the other side of the island," observed
Paul. "I picked out this way across for a good reason."

"I suppose you did," Jud said, with a sublime confidence that was
refreshing.

"Because, you see," added Paul, "when we start back again, we'll have to
do without the help of our motors, for, muffle them as we might, they'd
make enough noise to betray us."

"Oh! I see now," declared Jud, chuckling. "In place of the motor business
we'll use good hard muscle with these setting poles. And so long as we
can touch bottom right along, it ain't going to be a very hard job
getting back to the island. You don't think it's more'n half a mile; do
you, Paul?"

"Not much more, and we can take our time, Jud. The one thing above all
others we've got to keep in mind is silence. Nobody ought to knock a
pole against the side of a boat under penalty of being given black marks.
And as for talking, it'll have to be in whispers, when at all."

"S-s-sounds g-g-good to m-m-me," said Bluff, who somehow seemed to have
gone back to his old stuttering ways; though it might be the excitement
that caused the lapse.

Nothing more was said on the way over, though doubtless the boys kept up
considerable thinking. They were tremendously worked up over the
situation. This scheme proposed by the scout leader seemed to appeal to
the spirit of adventure which nearly every boy who has red blood in his
veins feels to be a part of his nature.

There was one among them, however, who was silent because of another
reason; for Old Dan Tucker always declared it a very bad and injurious
plan to try and converse when one's mouth was crammed full; and crackers,
too, being apt to get in the wind-pipe, may do all manner of choking
stunts. So he said never a word.

They presently could see the other shore looming up, though it was
getting very dark, just as though a storm might be threatening to again
demoralize them.

"Getting more shoal, Paul," warned the pole heaver.

"How much water have you now?" demanded the leader, ready to give the
signal for bringing both motorboats to a stop, when it seemed necessary.

"Eight feet, last time; now it's about seven, short," announced Jud.

"Keep on sounding, and when it gets down to three, let me know,"
ordered Paul.

They were creeping along at a snail's pace now, so even should either
boat strike mud bottom, which Jud had declared it to be, no particular
damage would result.

The shore was very close, and still Jud admitted that there was
plenty of water.

"Keeps up in great shape, Commodore," he remarked, "reckon we could go
ashore here if we felt that way."

"Which we don't," declared Gusty Bellows, in a low tone.

And not a single voice was raised in favor of such a proceeding; if there
were any timid souls present, they failed to exhibit their weakness,
either through fear of boyish ridicule, or some other reason.

Then Paul shut off power, and when he no longer heard the sound of the
_Comfort's_ exhaust, Jack followed suit.

"We'll hang out here for half an hour, and then head back,"
explained Paul.

"The outlet isn't far away from here; is it?" Joe Clausin asked.

"Not very far--on the right," Paul replied. "I had that in mind when
choosing to come this way. You see, if we were intending to only go
ashore, they'd expect to see a fire burning somewhere. As it is, they'll
be sure to think we've dropped down into the Radway, preferring to risk
all sorts of danger from the rocks and snags there, rather than stay here
another night."

"Makes me think of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow," remarked Nat Smith in
the other motorboat.

"Oh! come off, will you?" ridiculed Bobolink. "Napoleon was a good one,
but not in the same class with _us_. He never came back, like we're going
to do. This retreat is only a fine piece of strategy, remember, while his
was in deadly earnest."

They talked in low tones that were cousins to whispers, and certainly
could not be heard half way over to the mysterious island, even
though water does make the finest conductor of sound possible, as
every boy knows.

Finally, when about half an hour had gone, Paul said it was time to make
a fresh start. He had thought it all out, and while taking one pole
himself, asked the expert, Jud, to handle the other in their boat.

Jack and Tom Betts were to look after those in the _Speedwell_; for the
scout master knew that Tom could be very careful, given a job that
required caution.

They took their time, and by degrees Paul led the way across the shallow
part of the lake. Bobolink had aptly described their movement, when he
said it reminded him of the words in the song: "He came right in, and
turned around and walked right out again."

Now it was so dark that most of the scouts found themselves confused as
to their bearings, the minute they lost sight of the trees along the
shore. Some wondered how Paul was going to go straight back over their
recent course, when he did not have even the stars to guide him.

But then, there were many other things he did have, one of which was the
slight breeze that blew in his face, and which had been directly behind
them at the time they left the island.

Slowly and laboriously, in comparison with their other trip, the scouts
crossed the stretch of water. And when finally those who were so eagerly
watching out for that cedar on the top of the little elevation in the
middle of the island whispered to Paul that it was dead ahead, they
realized with wonder that the pilot had led them in a direct line back
over their course.

Now they altered the line of advance a little. This was in order to
approach the island about the place where the little bay extended into
its side, as described by Jack. And Paul allowed the other to take the
lead, since Jack would be more familiar with the locality than he himself
might feel.

Noiselessly did the two boats enter that miniature bay, and glide along
until close to the bank, where the overhanging trees afforded the
protection they wanted, in order to conceal the craft.

Landing was next in order, and then all their things must again be taken
ashore, from tents and blankets, to cooking kettles and eatables.

By now the scouts had reduced many of these things to a system. Every boy
knew just what was expected of him; and presently there was a procession
of burden bearers carrying things into the brush along a certain trail,
once in a while perhaps stumbling a little, but keeping strict silence.

They seemed to enjoy it hugely, too. Their nerves tingled while carrying
out this part of the programme--at least, Bobolink said he had such a
feeling, and doubtless several more were in the same condition.

Of course there were those who trembled with anticipation of some sudden
alarm. And then again, others might be beginning to think they would soon
nearly "cave away" with the empty feeling they had; that was what Old
Dan Tucker confided in a whisper to Joe Clausin, resting firm in the
belief that none of the others knew about the pocket full of crackers,
that he called "life preservers"--which, alas, were all gone now, to the
last crumb.

Paul led the line and picked out the easiest method of reaching the
place he had selected for the new camp among the rocks and trees. It was
in a depression, too, the others noticed, when he told them to drop
their bundles. That would enable them to have a little fire, since it
could not be seen as it would be if they were on a level, or an
elevation. And really, a fire was necessary, if Paul meant they should
have any supper at all.

"As we brought about all we need, there's no use of making another trip
to the boats," Paul remarked in a low tone; from which the others judged
that conversation was not going to be entirely cut out, only they must
not elevate their voices above a certain pitch, so long as things were as
quiet as at present.

Now began the task of getting the three tents in position again. And well
had the scouts learned their lesson in this particular; some of them even
going so far as to declare that they could do the job with their eyes
blindfolded, so familiar were they with every part of the operation.

"Like learning type-writin' by touch in school," Bobolink had said.

After all the tents had been raised, and the blankets placed inside, Paul
gave permission for a small cooking fire to be made.

To some boys a fire is always a fire, no matter what its intended use;
but the scout who has camped out soon gets to know that there is a vast
difference between a camp fire, for instance, and one meant only for
getting meals over.

The former may be composed of great logs and branches that send up a
cheery and brilliant blaze; but which is next to useless when the cook
wants to get close in, and attend to his various kettles and frying pans.

Sometimes a hole is scooped out of the ground, and the fire for cooking
made in that, especially when on level ground, and danger exists of
hostile eyes discovering the blaze, however small.

As a rule, however, such a fire is made about after this fashion: Two
logs may be used, if they have flat surfaces, having been more or less
squared off; but when stones can be procured they are to be preferred.
Two sides are fashioned out of flat stones, somewhat in the shape of the
letter V, only not having the line quite so pronounced. Thus a coffeepot
will rest snugly over the smaller end, while the big frying pan cozily
covers the larger.

The fire need only be small, but when the cooking commences, there
should be for the most part red embers in the fireplace, capable of
sending up great heat, with but a minimum of blaze. And there a cook
can work in comfort, without dodging back every time a fierce blaze
darts toward him, threatening to singe his eyebrows, and shorten his
crop of hair.

Jud knew just how to make such a fire, and as they would need several, in
order to cook for such a host, some of the other boys busied themselves
in copying what he did. They had seen him make such a stone fireplace
before, any way, and some of them had practiced the art in private, being
desirous of knowing how to do many of the things the leaders were so
proficient in.

Soon they had more light, when Jud got his fire started; and it was
then that the boys realized just how fitting that spot was for a hidden
camp. Their tents could not be seen thirty feet away; and as for the
small amount of light made by the three cooking fires, little danger of
it being noticed, unless some one were close by, and actually stumbled
on the spot.

In fact, the greatest chance they had of being discovered, as Paul well
knew, did not come from any sense of sight or hearing, but that of smell.
Should the odors from their supper chance to be carried across the
island, and in the direction of where these men were staying, they might
begin to suspect something was wrong, and start an investigation that
would lead to the discovery of the new camp.

But Paul had also noticed that the night breeze was doing them another
good service; it had helped him find his way back to the island through
the darkness resting on the big lake; and now, blowing toward the distant
shore, the odors of cooking coffee, and frying bass would be taken
entirely away.

And anyhow, there were eighteen half-starved scouts who had to be fed,
come what might. So the cooking went on apace, and in due time supper was
announced as ready. At which more than a few of the waiting lads heaved
sighs of satisfaction, and Old Dan Tucker, as usual, managed to be the
first to sit down.



CHAPTER XVII

PITCHING TENTS IN THE "SINK"


"This thing is giving us lots of good practice at making camp, and that's
something," Bobolink remarked while he ate, always taking care to keep
his voice down to a low pitch, so it would not carry far on the night
air; though for that matter the wind had increased by now and was making
quite some noise through the tops of the trees around them.

"I'd like to see anybody put up tents faster and better than we did right
here," declared Frank Savage; who had by now about recovered from the
feeling of sickness which came so near keeping him at home, when the
expedition was formed.

"And as for fires, these couldn't be beat," observed Spider Sexton, as
he began to catch glimpses of the bottom of his tin platter, after
making away with some of the food that had been piled high on it by the
cook of his mess.

"And talk about the grub--it just takes the cake," admitted Old Dan
Tucker; though no one seemed to pay the least attention to what he
thought, for they knew him of old, and that the present meal was always
the "best he had ever eaten, barring none."

Of course it was only natural that while the scouts were enjoying
their meal in this fashion, many looks betrayed an uneasiness on the
part of some among their number. Possibly they were wondering whether
it could be that hostile eyes were fixed upon them then and there, and
if so, what those strange, unknown men, who seemed to want to rule the
island, would do when they discovered that the scouts had disobeyed
their order to leave.

Would they resort to violence? It would not be an easy task to banish a
dozen and a half lively boys, they were thinking.

Paul had made up his mind with regard to certain things that must be
done. First of all, they ought to get their heads together, and decide on
a plan. Should they make any sort of attempt that night to explore the
island? He owned a splendid little hand electric torch, into which he had
slipped a fresh battery before starting out on the voyage along the two
rivers; and this might prove very useful in searching dark and gloomy
parts of the island. But on the whole, it seemed so foolish to think of
such a thing, Paul wanted the rest to settle the matter.

So, still cautioning them to speak only in whispers at the most, he
placed the whole matter before them; much as might the chairman of a
meeting, after which he asked in so many words:

"You've heard all I know about it; now, what is your pleasure, fellows?"

"So far as I'm concerned," said Bobolink, always the first to speak; "I'm
willing to do anything the rest say, or go wherever they want to head;
but to be honest, boys, I'd think we were off our base if we went
prowling around this queer old island at night time. There are a heap of
things about it that some people don't want us to know, it seems; and we
ought to take daylight to spear such facts."

Others were of the same opinion; and when Paul put the vote, it was
overwhelmingly the sentiment of the meeting that they simply take things
as easy as they could until dawn came, and then, with fourteen hours of
light ahead, do all the exploring they liked.

That settled it, since there could be no going behind the returns when a
majority favored any move. Accordingly, they made preparations for
passing the night as the conditions best allowed.

"Of course, we must have sentries posted to keep watch?" remarked Jack.

"All through the livelong night. They will have to be changed every
hour; and four can be on guard at a time. That'll give about two
turns to every scout, with a chance to get four hours sleep between
times on duty."

And having said his, Paul, as the acting scout master, proceeded to
assign each one to his post number. There was no confusion. They had
practiced this same movement many a time, and now that it was to be
carried out, the boys profited by their experience.

It could be seen that there was a condition of almost feverish excitement
under the surface, try as they might to conceal the fact by an appearance
of coolness. A real peril seemed to be hovering over them, since they had
chosen to disobey the mandate of the unknown who seemed to claim the
island as his private property. And if they were discovered during the
night, there would be no telling what might happen.

At the same time the boys were enjoying the novel experience. It seemed
to give them a peculiar thrill, not unlike that of a daring skater who
shoots boldly over thin, new ice, that crackles under him, and bends in a
dreadful way, but does not break, because his passage has been too swift.

In the morning Paul would pick out several of them, as he thought best;
and with this exploring party set out to learn what the island contained.
Meanwhile they would rest quietly in that rocky retreat, in the hope that
their return had not been noted by any observing eye, and that their
presence on the island was utterly unknown.

The sentries had been selected, and every boy knew just when his turn to
take a post would come around. Those who were ready to lie down and get
some rest were expected to arouse their successors, so that the thing was
calculated to run along as smoothly as though on a greased track.

If anything out of the ordinary came to pass, and there was time to
arouse the scout master, Paul wanted it done. He could not remain awake
himself more than any one of the others, much as he might wish to be on
the job all the time; but that need not prevent his keeping in touch with
whatever happened.

Paul still had his shotgun, and had of course made sure to bring it from
the motorboat when he led his column of burden-bearers trailing through
the timber and rocks to that little sink in which the new camp had been
pitched. It had served him often and well, and he was accustomed to
placing the utmost confidence in the trusty little weapon. But he hoped
he would find no occasion to use it now, and against human beings. Only
as the very last resort would he turn to this.

Still, there are times when the presence of an empty gun has done
wonders; since imagination invests it with all the attributes of a loaded
weapon. And that was one of the many reasons why Paul kept the
double-barreled gun close to him, even when he crept into the tent to
which he was assigned, and lay down on his blanket to try and get a
little sleep.

Some of the other boys whispered for a while, as they lay with their
heads close together; but they were too sleepy to keep this up for long;
so that one by one they dropped off, until from their regular breathing
it was easy to guess that all had surrendered to the heavy hand of sleep.

Those on guard duty were not supposed to move about very much. They had
been posted at what might be called the four corners of the camp. Here
they could, between them, about cover all the space around the sink, for
their positions were on the more elevated ground.

And as the clouds were breaking at the time Paul crawled under the
tent, he felt pretty sure that before long they would have the
assistance of the moon, now more than half full, and which would not
set until after midnight.

Those who were the first on duty fulfilled their part of the programme
faithfully. After standing out their "spell," they proceeded to quietly
awaken those who were scheduled to follow after them. Each fellow knew
who his successor was, and it had been made a part of his duty to see
that this scout was not only awakened, but on the job; after which he
himself could crawl in under his blanket, and take it easy until his
second turn came, hours later.

Thus Bobolink was one of the second watch. In turn he would have the
pleasure of arousing the commander, and seeing that Paul took up his
duty; for in laying out the schedule Paul had not spared himself in
the least.

Bobolink was an imaginative boy. He could see many things that others
were apt to pass by without discovering anything out of the ordinary. It
was a weakness which Bobolink had to guard against; lest he discover
things that had no foundation in fact.

He sat there, listening and looking, for a long time. The music of the
breeze in the tree-tops made him a little nervous at first; but presently
he seemed to get more accustomed to the sounds, and then they made him
drowsy, so that he had to take himself sharply to task more than once
because his eyes found it so easy to shut.

Wishing to have something to think about, so as to keep his wits aroused,
Bobolink began to try and figure out just where his fellow sentinels were
located and imagine what they were doing. Could they be struggling, as he
was, to keep awake, one of the hardest things a boy can battle with?

What was that? Surely something moved out yonder among the scrub!

Bobolink sat straight up. He was no longer sleepy. This thing seemed to
have made his eyes fly wide open; and with his heart pumping at a
tremendous rate, sending the hot blood bounding through his veins, surely
he was now in no danger of sleeping on his post.

He watched the spot from which the sound had seemingly come. The moon
penetrated the bushes only faintly, because it was now nearing the
western horizon, its journey for the night almost done. Strive as
Bobolink might to see whether any one was crawling along there, he could
not for a time make sure.

Then he detected a movement that must mean something. And at the same
time he discovered what seemed to be twin glowworms in the darkness.

Bobolink had had some little experience in such things, and had read a
good deal on the subject. He knew that in the night time the eyes of many
wild animals, particularly of the cat tribe, can appear luminous, so
that, seen in a certain kind of gloom, they seem to be like yellow
globes. And that was what these were.

"Huh!" said Bobolink to himself, after he had watched these queer glowing
balls of fire move several times, that proved in his mind they must be
the eyes of an animal: "Guess I better give Paul the high sign, and let
him figure out what it is."

And with that he started to creep into the camp, leaving his post for
the time being unguarded; for with three other sentries on duty
Bobolink did not imagine there could be any danger in his withdrawing
from the line.



CHAPTER XVIII

WHAT LAY IN THE BRUSH


"Wake up, Paul!"

Bobolink accompanied these whispered words by a gentle shake. He seemed
to know instinctively just where the scout master was lying; or else it
must have been, that all this had been systematically laid out
beforehand; and every fellow had a particular place where he was to curl
up in his blanket when not on duty.

Paul was awake instantly, even though he had been far gone in sleep at
the moment that hand touched his arm.

"All right, Bobolink," he said, in a low tone, so as not to arouse any of
the others. "I'm with you. Time up?"

"Not quite, Paul; but there's some sort of beast creeping around the
camp; and I thought you ought to know."

Paul sat up at once.

"You did the right thing, Bobolink," he remarked, quietly.

The sentry could hear him groping around, as if for something. Presently
Paul seemed to have found what he sought. Of course it was his shotgun.

Wildcats were to be found in some of the woods not many miles from
Stanhope. The scouts knew this, because they had experience with these
bold pests, who had been attracted by the smell of food in their camp.
Besides, there were sometimes packs of wild dogs roaming the woods
that might need to be taught a lesson, in case they gave the campers
any trouble.

So Paul had been wise to bring that double-barreled gun along. In a
pinch it would prove a handy thing to have with them. And no doubt it
gave Bobolink considerable satisfaction to realize that Paul had such a
weapon handy.

Immediately the sentry started to crawl out of the tent again, with Paul
close at his heels. A head was raised, and one of the supposed sleepers
watched the dim figures retreating.

It was Nuthin, who had chanced to be restless, and was awake at the time
Bobolink came in to arouse the scout master. He had heard all that passed
between them, and of course felt a thrill at the idea of some ferocious
wild beast prowling around the tents.

Hardly had the other pair withdrawn before Nuthin started after them. He
might be a rather timid boy by nature; but when there was anything going
on Nuthin could not rest content unless he placed himself in a position
where he could see or hear--perhaps both.

Bobolink led the way back to the post he had been occupying at the time
he made his discovery. He hoped those luminous eyes would still be
there, because it might not look just right should he be able to show no
proof of his story; and boys will take occasion to make all sorts of
jeering remarks about a fellow falling asleep on his post, and dreaming
wonderful things.

So it was with considerable anxiety that the sentry crept along to the
very spot which he remembered he had been occupying at the time.

Considerably to his dismay he could see nothing. There was the patch of
brush in which he had discovered those gleaming orbs, and from which had
arisen a low, threatening growl when he first moved off; but look as he
might Bobolink was unable to detect the first sign of a hostile presence.

He felt disgusted with himself. Luck seemed to be playing him all
manner of tricks of late, and nothing went right. There was that affair
of the queer boxes which had been bothering him so long; then the
mystery of the unknown men who had ordered the scouts to leave the
island in such a peremptory fashion, without giving the least reason
for their churlishness. And now, here, even this little matter could
not work straight.

"It's gone, Paul!" he felt compelled to mutter, after striving several
times to detect some sign, however faint, of those terrible yellow eyes.

"Just where did you see it, Bobolink?" asked the scout master, knowing
from his chum's manner how disappointed the sentry must feel that he was
thus unable to prove his assertion.

"Right in that brush yonder; you c'n see it looks darker than anything
else," replied Bobolink, eagerly; as if hoping that after all Paul's eyes
might prove better than his own, and pick up the lost glow.

"Well, it seems to have gone away, then," said the scout master.

"I'm afraid so," grumbled Bobolink, for all the world as though his whole
reputation for veracity depended on his showing the other that he had not
been imagining things when he gave his alarm.

"What did you see?" continued Paul.

"Two yellow eyes, and say, weren't they just awful, though? But seems
like the varmint has side-stepped, and vamoosed. Just my luck, hang it! I
wanted you to see 'em the worst kind, Paul."

"A pair of shining eyes, eh? When you moved, did you hear anything,
Bobolink?"

"Sure I did. It growled just like our dog does at home, when he's got a
bone, and anybody gets too near him," the sentry hastened to explain.

"Made you think of a dog, did it, and not a cat?" asked Paul, quickly.

"Why, yes, I reckon it did," replied Bobolink; "leastways, that's what
came into my mind. But then a big cat, a regular bobcat, I take it, could
growl that way, if it felt a notion to."

"You came straight in to wake me up, of course?" continued Paul,
wishing to figure on the time that might have elapsed since Bobolink
left his post.

"Crawled right in, and we got back here in a jiffy; but you see it was no
use when that jinx is on my trail, meanin' to loco everything I do. Now,
I reckon if it'd been any other feller in the bunch, the critter'd just
stood its ground, and I'd be vindicated. But me--I'm hoodooed of late,
and can't do a thing straight."

"Listen!" said Paul, a little sharply, as though he had no sympathy with
such talk.

They strained their hearing for possibly a full minute. Then Bobolink,
who liked to talk, could no longer hold in.

"What'd you think you heard, Paul?" he whispered.

"A little rustling sound just alongside the brush you pointed out," the
scout master replied.

"But you didn't get it again; did you?" urged the other.

"No. But that needn't be proof that something isn't there, and watching
us, even if we don't glimpse his eyes," replied Paul.

"Oh!" ejaculated Bobolink, with a sudden sense of relief in his voice.

"You heard the rustling then; didn't you?" Paul demanded.

"I sure did, and right over back of the brush it seemed to be. P'raps
he's givin' the camp the shake, Paul; mebbe he's made up his mind it
ain't as healthy a place as he thought, after all."

"It couldn't be one of the other sentries moving around, I suppose?"
ventured Paul, at which his companion gave a low chuckle.

"With those glaring yellow eyes? Well, hardly, Paul. My stars! but if
you'd only seen 'em, you'd never say that. And besides, the boys were
ordered not to leave their posts, only to wake up the fellow that
came after 'em. Oh! put it down for me that isn't any of our bunch
stirring around."

"Then I must find out what it is!" said Paul, with a ring of
determination in his voice.

"Wow! d'ye mean to rush the beast, Paul, and try to knock him over with a
charge of Number Sevens?" demanded Bobolink.

"I've got something better than that to scare him off," replied Paul.
"You know we don't want to shoot a gun, if we can help it; because the
report would tell the men that we'd come back, and might bring trouble.
I've got my little electric hand torch with me, and if I flash that into
the face of any wild animal the chances are it'll give him a scare
that'll send him off about his business."

"Oh! I forgot all about that," said Bobolink. "It's just the thing, too.
How lucky you brought it along, Paul."

Bobolink looked on a good many things as "luck," one way or the other,
when of a truth they were really planned ahead. The scout master had
realized that such a useful little contrivance would be apt to come in
handy on many occasions, when camping out, and had made it a particular
point to put the torch in his pack before leaving home.

He had it beside him as he slept, but did not consider it wise to press
the button when awakened, lest the flash arouse the others who were
sleeping in the same tent.

Bobolink could feel him moving away, and not meaning to be left behind,
he started after. Bobolink possessed courage, even if he lacked
discretion. The possibility of an encounter with this doubtless savage
animal did not deter him from following his leader.

Again they heard that suspicious rustling in the bushes ahead, this time
louder than before. And quickly on the heels of this sound came a low,
threatening growl that, strangely enough, made Bobolink chuckle softly,
he was so pleased over having his announcement proven true to the
Commodore of the motorboat fleet.

"Look out, Paul," he whispered; "he's laying for you in those bushes.
Better keep your gun handy, and be ready to give him Hail Columbia!"

Paul did not answer. He had his gun held in such a way that it could be
fired with a second's warning. At the same time his left hand was
gripping the little electric torch, with his thumb pressed against the
trigger that would connect the battery, and send an intense ray of light
wherever he pointed.

When he heard another rustle, and a growl even more vicious than before,
he judged about the position of the sounds, and pointing the end of the
torch straight ahead, pressed the button.

As the vivid flash followed Paul saw something that looked like a
crouching panther staring at the dazzling glow of his torch--a hairy
beast that had rather a square head, and a tail that was lashing to and
fro, just as he had seen that of a domestic cat move with jerks, when a
hostile dog approached too close to suit her ideas of safety.



CHAPTER XIX

LAYING PLANS


"Whee!"

That, of course, was Bobolink giving expression to his feelings when he
too saw the crouching figure of the ugly beast in the pile of brush.

He fully expected that Paul would now feel it necessary to raise his gun
to his shoulder, and fire, on the spur of the moment. Contrary to his
belief, he found that the scout master did nothing of the sort. Instead,
Paul took a deliberate step forward, straight toward the animal that lay
there, staring at the blinding light.

"Oh I my stars! he's going to scare him off with only that light!" said
Bobolink, talking to himself; and yet, strange to say, he followed close
at the heels of the advancing scout master, clutching his club tightly,
and doubtless fully determined that if they were attacked, he would make
the stout weapon give a good account of itself.

For a brief space it seemed an open question whether the animal would
turn tail and slink away, or openly attack the advancing boys. But there
was evidently something in that approaching dazzling light, and the
presence of human beings behind it, that proved too much for the beast.
He gave a sudden turn, and bounded off, vanishing in the denser scrub
beyond; and for a short time the listening Bobolink could hear the sound
of his retreat.

"Whew I that was the stuff, Paul!" cried Bobolink. "He just couldn't look
you in the eye; could he? That fierce little staring orb was too much for
him. But what was it, Paul, a panther?"

Some one laughed back of them, and turning, light in hand, Paul
saw Nuthin.

"What ails you, and how did you get here?" demanded Bobolink.

"Heard what you said to Paul in the tent, and wanted to see what was up,
so I just crawled out," answered the smaller scout, still grinning, as
though he had discovered something comical in the adventure.

"Well, what ails you?" Bobolink demanded again, feeling irritated
somehow.

"Panther! Well, I guess he hasn't got that wild, yet!" ejaculated Nuthin.

Paul began to understand something about it.

"See here, Nuthin," he said, sternly; "you know that was a dog, as well
as I do; have you ever seen him before? Do you know him?"

Nuthin laughed softly.

"Guess you fellows must have forgot that old mongrel dog, Lion, we used
to have," he went on. "Well, he disappeared a long time ago, and we never
knew what did become of him. There always was a sorter wild streak in the
critter. And now it seems that he's found, it nicer to live like a wolf
in the woods, than stay at home and be tied to a kennel. Because that was
Lion, I give you my word for it!"

"Mebbe he smelled you here, and wanted to make up again?"
suggested Bobolink.

"Don't you believe it," retorted Nuthin. "He never did like me, and my
dad wouldn't let me go near his kennel. When he skipped out we all felt
glad of it. And to think he'd show up here, of all places! What d'ye
reckon he's doin' over here on this island, Paul?"

"Listen. When he got away from you did he have a rope around his neck,
with six feet of it trailing on the ground?" Paul asked.

"Did he? Not any that I know about. We always kept him fastened with a
chain; and when he broke away, it was his collar that busted. I've got it
home yet," was the response.

"Well, that dog had the rope, just as I described. He's been tied up,
of late, and broke away," the scout master observed, with conviction in
his voice.

"Then he must have been in the keep of these men who're doin' somethin'
queer over here on Cedar Island, and don't want a parcel of peepin'
scouts around; looks that way, don't it, Paul?" Nuthin inquired.

"I was wondering whether it could be that crowd, or the other," Paul
replied, musingly.

"D'ye mean the wild man?" asked Bobolink.

"It might be," replied Paul. "If your old dog, Nuthin, has taken to the
free life of the woods--gone back to the type of his ancestors, as I've
heard of dogs doing many a time--why, you see, he'd just seem to fit in
with a wild man who lived about like the savages used to away back."

"Wonder if he'll come again to bother us?" queried Bobolink.

"Honestly now, I don't think he will," Paul made answer. "That little
evil eye of the torch threw a scare into him he won't forget in a hurry.
I suppose he must have been roaming around, and got a sniff of our
cooking. That made him feel hungry, and he was creeping in closer and
closer, in hopes of stealing something, when we broke up his game. And
now, if it isn't time for me to go on duty, I'll crawl in again, and get
a few more winks of sleep."

"Say, Paul, don't you think it'd be about right to leave that little
flashlight with me, in case the dog comes around again?" asked Bobolink.

"I was going to say that very same thing; and when my turn comes you can
hand it over again. Here you are, Bobolink; and don't go to fooling with
it, unless you really hear something."

"I won't, Paul," replied the other. "But chances are, I'd better make the
rounds and tell the other fellers about what happened; because they must
have seen the flash, and heard us talkin' over here; which will throw 'em
into a cold fit, wantin' to know all about it."

"A good idea, Bobolink," observed the other, as he and Nuthin moved
toward the tents again.

The balance of the night passed without any further alarm. If the wild
dog came prowling around again, attracted by the presence of good things
to eat, which may have reminded him of other days when he was content to
remain chained up in the Cypher back yard, and take the leavings from his
master's table, he certainly did not betray his presence nor could he
muster up enough courage to crawl into the camp, when it was guarded by
such a terrible flashing eye.

Morning arrived in good time, and the boys were on the alert. This novel
experience was having its effect on them all. They showed that their
sleep could not have been as sound as appearances might indicate, for
many had red eyes, which were the cause of considerable comment, and not
a little good-natured chaff on the part of those who betrayed no such
telltale signs of wakefulness.

Breakfast was prepared about in the same fashion as the supper had been
on the preceding night. Fires were carefully lighted, and such fuel
chosen, which, in the opinion of the best judges, would be least apt to
send up heavy smoke, such as might betray their presence on the island.

All these little things were supposed to be a part of their education as
scouts and woodsmen. They aroused considerable interest among the boys,
many of whom had never bothered their heads before to discover that kinds
of wood burned in various ways; that one might give out only a light
brown smoke, hard to discern, while another would send up a dense smudge
that could not fail to attract the eye of any watcher.

Paul showed them that when they wanted to signal with smoke, as all
scouts are taught to do when learning the wigwag code, they must be
careful to select only this latter kind of wood, since the other would
not answer the purpose.

He had been thinking deeply over the matter, and had about made up his
mind as to what course they should pursue. Like most of his comrades,
Paul was averse to being driven away from Cedar Island by unknown
parties, without at least another effort to explore the mysterious
place, and making an attempt to discover what sort of business these men
were engaged in.

That it was something unlawful he was convinced, as much as any of his
chums. Indeed, everything would seem to point that way. Men do not often
hide themselves in an unfrequented section of the country, unless they
are engaged in some pursuit that will not stand the light of day.

At one time Paul had even suspected that these men might be some species
of game poachers, who wishing to defy the law that protected partridges,
and all feather and fur-bearing creatures in the woods, during the summer
season, had taken up their dwelling on lonely Cedar Island.

This was in the beginning. On thinking it over, however, he came to the
conclusion that there was hardly enough game of all kinds within fifty
miles of Stanhope to pay several men to spend their time snaring it; and
so on this account he had thrown that theory overboard.

As they ate their breakfast the boys talked of nothing else but the
mystery of the island, and many were the expressions of opinion that they
must not think of leaving without doing everything in their power to lift
the curtain.

They wanted to know who the strange men were who had brought some bulky
object across from the mainland in a rowboat; what business they were
engaged in there; who the wild man might be, and last of all whether he
had any connection with the others.

"You see," declared Bobolink, in his customary impressive way of talking,
"it looks to me as if they had him here to scare meddlers off. Who wants
to rub up against a wild man? Everybody would feel like giving the hairy
old fellow a wide berth, believe me. But Paul, if you make up a bunch to
explore this bally old island, please let me go along."

There were others just as anxious and then again some gave no expression
to indicate how they felt about it. So the wise scout master, not wishing
to have any half-hearted recruits with him on such an errand, observed
these signs, and made sure to pick only such as had pleaded for
recognition.

"You can go along, Bobolink," he said, presently; "and I shall need five
others in addition. Jack, you're one; then there's Bluff, Tom Betts,
Phil, and Andy. Jud Elderkin will be left in full charge here, and every
scout is expected to look to him as the chief while I'm gone. Is that all
understood, fellows?"

Everybody looked satisfied--those who had been selected because they
wanted to be with the party of exploration and the scouts who would
remain behind because they had no particular desire to prowl through that
dense undergrowth, looking for what might prove to be a jack-o'-lantern.

And as they continued to devour the food that had been cooked over the
little fires they exchanged confidences, all sorts of queer theories and
plans being suggested. For when eighteen wide awake scouts put their
heads together, it can be set down as positive that little remains unsaid
after they have debated any subject pro and con.



CHAPTER XX

THE EXPLORING PARTY


Soon after breakfast was over, Paul began to make his arrangements. Like
a wise general he wanted to have all the details arranged beforehand, so
far as he could do so.

"I hope you'll take the gun along, Paul," remarked Bobolink, when those
who had been selected to accompany the leader were stowing some crackers
and cheese in sundry pockets, so that they might have a little lunch, in
case they were delayed longer than seemed probable.

"Yes, because we're more apt to find need for it than those who stay in
camp," the scout master had replied; which fact seemed to give Bobolink
considerable satisfaction.

He had not liked the looks of that big fellow which Nuthin claimed to
have recognized as his old Lion. If they chanced to run across the beast
again, it might feel disposed to attack them; and nothing would please
Bobolink more than to have Paul bowl the creature over with a single
shot. Any dog that did not have the sense to stay at home, and feed at
the hands of a kind master, deserved to get the limit, he thought.

"It isn't that alone," Bobolink had protested, when Paul took him to
task for showing such a bloodthirsty spirit; "I've been hearing lately
that some of the farmers up this way are complainin' about dogs killin'
their lambs this last spring. And chances are, this same Lion's been one
of the pack that did the mischief. Once they start in that way, nothin'
can cure 'em but cold lead. My father said that right out at table. So
you see, when dogs take to runnin' loose, they're just like boys, an'
get into bad ways."

Paul thought this was a pretty good argument. He had himself made up his
mind that should they ever meet that animal again, and he showed a
disposition to attack any of the scouts, there was only one thing to do.

"How about getting into communication with you while you're gone?" asked
Jud, who was naturally feeling the new responsibilities of his position
more or less, and wished to be posted.

"It might be found a good thing," replied the scoutmaster; "and we could
do it easy enough by flags, if we managed to get to the top of that hill
where the lone cedar grows. So all the time we're away, Jud, be sure and
have a scout posted in a tree, where he can watch that cedar, keeping his
flag handy to answer, if he gets the signal.

"Guess that can be fixed, all right," declared Jud.

"Have him keep his eye out for smoke at the same time," continued Paul.
"We might want to tell you something, even without getting up to that
cedar tree. And in case you felt like sending back an answer, you'd
better have the boys collect a lot of that wood I showed you, that makes
a black smoke. You know our smoke code, Jud; no danger of our failing to
make good while you're handling the other end of the line."

That made Jud smile, and feel like doing everything in his power to
satisfy the scout master. A few drops of oil prevents a vast amount of
friction. Paul knew there are few boys who do not like to be appreciated;
and they will do double the amount of work if they feel that they possess
the full confidence of the one who has been placed in command over them.

When the word was finally given for the little expedition to leave camp,
and start into the unknown depths of the island, those who were to
remain behind insisted on shaking hands all around, and wishing them the
best of luck. Bobolink pretended to make light of it, and to laugh at
the fellows.

"Great Scott! you'd think we were going away off to Hudson's Bay, not to
come back again for many moons, if ever!" he scoffed. "Talk about
Stanley's farewell to Livingstone in the African jungle, why it wasn't
in the same class as this. Don't you dare try to embrace me, Dan Tucker.
What d'ye think I am, the pretty new girl that's come to town, and who
danced with you at our class spread? Hands off, now! And don't any of
you cry when we're gone. I declare if you aren't turnin' into a lot of
old women."

So the seven scouts strode away from the hidden camp in the sink,
plunging into the heavy growth of timber that covered most of the island.
Once only did they turn, to wave a goodbye to their watching companions,
who flourished their hats in response, but dared not give the cheer that
was in their hearts, because Paul had enjoined the strictest silence.

Paul and Jack had more than once tried to figure out what Cedar Island
must look like; but at the best it was only guess work. None of them had
ever been here before, and so far they had only roamed over a small
portion of one end of the island, so that they could not tell even its
general shape.

That was one of the reasons why Paul wanted to climb the little hill on
which grew the cedar from which the island must have taken its name.
Once they gained this point, he fancied they might be able to see all
parts of the place, and in this manner get a comprehensive idea as what
it was like.

They kept pretty well together as they pushed through the brush and
timber. Paul instructed them to watch constantly on all sides, so that
nothing might escape their scrutiny; and as the little band of scouts
pushed deeper into the unknown depths of the mysterious island, they felt
more than ever a sense of the responsibility that rested upon their
shoulders.

As one of the boys had remarked before, this was good training. They
could look back to other occasions when they had roamed the woods, once
in search of a little chap who had been lost; but somehow these incidents
lacked the flavor of mystery that surrounded them now.

If these men should turn out to be what they already suspected, lawless
counterfeiters, would they not be apt to show a revengeful spirit if the
persistent boys interfered with their business to any extent?

Just how far he would be justified in leading his companions on, when
there was this element of danger in the affair, was a serious question,
which Paul had as yet not settled in his mind. He was waiting until
something more definite turned up, and when that occurred he expected to
be governed by circumstances to a great extent.

Of course they had frequent little shocks. These came when some small
animals rustled the bushes in fleeing before them, or a bird started out
of the thick branches of a tree.

The boys were keyed up to such a pitch that their nerves were on edge.
When a crow, that had been watching their coming with suspicious eye,
gave a series of harsh caws, and flapping his wings, took flight, Andy
caught hold of Bluff's sleeve, and gave it a tug.

"Q-q-quit t-t-that!" exclaimed Bluff, in a shrill whisper. "G-g-guess I'm
k-k-keyed up enough, without m-m-akin' me j-j-jump out of my s-s-skin!"

"Arrah but I thought it was that ould dog a-goin' to lape at us, so I
did!" muttered the Irish lad, shaking his head, and grasping his cudgel
more firmly.

All of them had been wise enough to arm themselves in some way before
starting out. And when seven fairly muscular boys wield that many clubs,
that have been tried and found true, they ought to be capable of doing
considerable execution. But in truth there were but six of the cudgels,
for Paul carried his gun only.

They had by now cleared quite considerable ground, even though their
progress was in anything but a direct line. On account of dense patches
of thorn bushes Paul found it necessary to make various detours; but then
this did not matter to any great extent; for while it added to the length
of their journey, at the same time it promised to reveal more of the
island to their search.

One thing surprised Paul. They found the trees so dense that most of
the time it was possible to obtain only glimpses of the sky above.
Fortunately the sun continued to shine. He thought it must be pretty
dingy here on a cloudy day. And the more he saw of Cedar Island the
less he wondered that some of the ignorant country people believed it
to be haunted.

Bobolink must have been allowing his mind to run in a similar groove, for
presently pushing up alongside Paul, he remarked in a whisper:

"Gee! did you ever see a more spooky place than this is, Paul? Now, if a
fellow _did_ believe in ghosts, which of course I don't, here's where
he'd expect to run across some of them. Look at that hollow over yonder,
would you? There goes a woodchuck dodging back into his hole in the bank.
Ain't it queer how all these animals ever got across from the mainland to
this island? Why, seemed like all of half a mile to me."

"Wait till we get on top of that hill, and perhaps the thing won't seem
so queer, after all," replied Paul. "I was thinking the same way; and
then it struck me that the land might be a whole lot closer to the island
on the northern side. Why, how do we know but what it's only a narrow
strait there?"

"I wonder, now," mused Bobolink, who always found much food for thought
in what information he extracted from the scout master.

They kept on for some five minutes longer, under about the same
conditions. Paul, however, began to believe that they must by now be
drawing somewhere near the foot of the little hill that arose near the
center of the island, as closely as they could figure from their camp at
the southern end.

The result of their watchfulness was made apparent when Tom Betts
suddenly declared that he had seen something that looked like a
blacksmith's forge just beyond a screen of bushes ahead of them.

Cautiously advancing, the seven scouts presently found themselves looking
upon the exact object Tom had mentioned, which proved that his powers of
observation were good. It was a forge of some sort, with a bellows
attached, and a wind screen, but no shelter over the top; which fact
would seem to indicate that it must be in the nature of a field smithy,
used for certain purposes to heat or melt metal.

There being no sign of life around, Paul and his six followers swarmed
out of the brush, and surrounded the forge, which was about as unlikely a
thing to be run across, away in this forsaken quarter of the country, as
anything they could imagine.

And as Paul examined the portable forge closer he made an interesting
discovery.



CHAPTER XXI

A MYSTERY OF THE OPEN GLADE


"This has been used since we had that hard rain, fellows," Paul observed.

Some of the others had noticed him handling the ashes that marked where
the fire had been.

"Say, they are not warm, now, are they?" asked Phil, looking uneasily
around, as if half expecting to see some rough men come swarming out of
the bushes.

"Oh! I didn't mean that," replied the scout master. "But you can see
for yourselves that when it rains there's nothing to keep the water
from running down over this forge. In that case the ashes would be
soaked. If you look again you'll see these are perfectly dry, and have
never been wet."

Several of the scouts picked up some of the ashes, and found that it was
exactly as Paul stated. They were as dry as powder; and could certainly
never have been rained upon.

"That means the forge has been used since the storm that helped us get
through that muddy canal of Jackson's Creek; is that what you mean,
Paul?" asked Bobolink.

"Nothing else," replied the other, still continuing his investigations,
as if he hoped to make some further discovery, that might tell them what
the field forge was intended for, when these unknown men carried it to
this secluded island.

"Great governor, Paul!"

Bobolink had stooped, and picked something from the ground. This he was
now holding in his hand, and staring at it, as though he could hardly
believe his eyes.

The other scouts crowded around him, and their eyes, too, widened when
they discovered what it was.

"A quarter of a dollar!" exclaimed Jack.

"And a shining new one in the bargain," declared Tom Betts.

"What d'ye think of that, now?" said Phil.

Paul reached over, and took possession of the coin.

"Did you find that, Bobolink?" he asked, for sometimes the other was
known to play tricks.

"I sure did, Paul, right like this," and stooping over, Bobolink was
about to pretend to pick up something when he uttered a gasp.

"Another one!"

He was holding a second coin in his hand, the exact duplicate, so far as
they could see, of the first one.

"Must grow here in flocks!" exclaimed Phil; "let's see if we can dig up a
whole bunch of 'em, boys!" But although they all started digging with the
toes of their shoes, no more shining coins came to light; and it began to
look as if Bobolink had been fortunate enough to pick up all there were.

Paul closely examined the two bright quarters.

"If those are queer ones then they'd fool me all right, let me tell you!"
declared Bobolink.

"I never saw better in my life," Paul admitted.

The boys were looking pretty serious by now. It began to seem as though
that guess made by one of their number could not have been so wide of the
mark as at the time some of them believed. Here was pretty strong
evidence that these men were engaged in manufacturing spurious coins.

Ought they to consider they had gone far enough, and give up the
exploration of the island, returning home to sound the alarm, and
send word to the authorities, so that these men might be trapped as
they worked?

Paul was tempted to consider that his duty lay that way. Still, there
were some things that puzzled him, and made him hesitate before
concluding to follow that idea.

Why should they keep the forge out here in the open, when some shelter
would seem to be the proper thing, if, as the scouts now believed, they
were using the fire to smelt metals, and blend them to the proper
consistency for the bad coins?

That was something that puzzled Paul greatly. It caused him to look
around in the neighborhood of the forge, in the hope that he might pick
up some other clue.

The ground was pretty well trampled over, as though a number of men had
been walking back and forth many times in their occupation, whatever it
could have been. Paul also saw a number of indentations in the earth,
which made him think some heavy object had rested in that open space.

"Whatever they brought here," remarked Jack, presently, "it looks like
they must have used some sort of vehicle to carry it; because these
tracks have the appearance of ruts made by wheels."

"Rubber tires, too," added Phil. "I've seen too many of 'em not to know;
for my father has a garage."

"Is that so?" exclaimed Bobolink, shaking his head, as if to say that
with each discovery the mystery, instead of getting lighter, only grew
more dense.

"And look how close together they seem to be, would you; a pretty narrow
bed for a wagon, don't it seem?" asked Tom Betts.

"But they run off that way," observed Bobolink, "and there are so many of
the tracks you can hardly tell which are mates. There's Paul followin'
'em up; reckon we'd better keep with him, boys. We don't want to get
separated."

Paul soon came to a stop, and was joined by the others.

"Queer how the marks all seem to knock off about here," he remarked,
pointing to the ground. "You can't find one further on. And it isn't that
the ground suddenly gets hard, either. This looks the queerest thing of
them all. What do they run that thing with wheels up and down here for?
Anybody know?"

But silence was the only answer he received, since every one of the six
other scouts seemed to be scratching his head, and wrinkling his
forehead, as though deep in thought, yet unable to see light.

So they went back to the field forge, to look around again, though their
labor was all they had for their pains.

"Not even another lovely quarter to be picked up where it got spilled
when they made 'em here, p'raps by the bushel," grumbled Bobolink,
scratching the earth with his toe in vain.

He had recovered the coins from Paul, and jingled them in his pocket;
though the envious Bluff warned him that they might get him into a peck
of trouble, should he be caught by Secret Service men.

"Huh! guess you think you c'n scare me into droppin' them," declared
Bobolink, thrusting out his chin at Bluff. "Let me know if you see me
doin' it; will you? I c'n just see you falling all over yourself, tryin'
to grab these dandy coins, if I let 'em slip by me. Shoot a ball up
another alley, Bluff. Go hunt a fortune for yourself, and don't want to
grab mine. Hands off, see?"

"Do we go back now, Paul; or had we better keep on to the hill?" Jack
asked, as though he knew the other must have been settling this important
matter in his mind.

"I think as we've come this far, with the hill just ahead of us, it would
be a disappointment not to get up to that cedar tree," Paul replied; at
which every one of the other scouts nodded his head.

"W-w-want to s-s-see what the old p-p-place l-l-looks like," remarked
Bluff, in his positive way.

"And there's no use in our staying around here any longer, either, I
should think," ventured Phil. "How do we know but what some of the men
may just happen to butt in on us, while we're looking their old forge
over? And if they did, I just guess they'd make things hum for us. So I
say, into the woods again for me--the sooner the better."

"I hope we're doing the right thing by keeping on," Paul observed,
looking at his companions in a way they took as an invitation to
back him up.

"Who's got a better right to go where we feel like?" demanded Bobolink.

"Honest men wouldn't have any kick coming, just because a troop of Boy
Scouts happened to camp on their island; and it only goes to show
they're doing something shady, that's what. I say go on," Phil gave as
his opinion.

Jack, Andy, Bluff and Tom were quick to declare themselves opposed to any
change of plan, at least, until after they had reached their goal, which
was the foot of the cedar on top of the hill.

This decision seemed to give Paul more heart, and when they left the open
space he cast a last glance back at it, as though still puzzled.

The trees grew even more dense as they drew nearer the foot of that
peculiar rise in the ground which went to make up what they called a
hill. Indeed, the boys were astonished to find such an almost
impenetrable jungle.

"Isn't that some sort of shack you can see over yonder?" asked Phil,
presently.

As the rest looked, they agreed that it looked like a rude shelter, made
out of branches, and some boards fastened together in a crude way.

There was no sign of life about the place, and after making sure of this
the scouts grew bold enough to advance upon it from what seemed to be the
rear, though this could be settled only by the fact that the entrance to
the rustic hut appeared to be on the other side.

Creeping noiselessly up until they were alongside the shelter, the scouts
set about finding loopholes through which they might obtain a glimpse of
what lay on the other side of those frail walls.

Then one by one they drew back, and the looks they cast at each other
indicated that what they had seen was not a pleasant sight.



CHAPTER XXII

THE WIGWAG MESSAGE


The other side of the rough shack was partly open, so that
considerable light managed to gain admittance. This had enabled the
scouts to see a figure lying on some old blankets, together with the
skins of several animals.

It was without doubt the wild man who had given some of their troop such
a bad scare when he turned up near the camp soon after their arrival on
the island.

He seemed to be sound asleep, and none of them were at all anxious to
make any sound calculated to arouse him. Indeed, more than one put a
finger to his lips to indicate that they were sealed, as he turned and
looked anxiously at his comrades.

Paul made motions to let them know it would be just as well if they quit
the vicinity of that queer shack, where the crazy man, as they now deemed
him, had his home.

A few minutes later, when they had put enough distance between themselves
and the rude shelter to permit conversation, Bobolink could no longer
keep his opinions to himself.

"He was a jim-dandy, all right, and a genuine wild man of the woods!" he
remarked. "What are the circus fellows thinkin' of, to let such a fine
chance slip by to get a real 'What-is-it,' fresh from the jungles of
Borneo, half man, and the rest gorilla?"

"And he had Nuthin's dog, after all," observed Paul, quietly.

"What makes you say that, Paul?" asked Jack.

"Because, in the first place, I saw a lot of bones, picked as clean as a
whistle, lying on the ground over in a corner. Then there was a lair that
looked as if an animal slept in it. And if that wasn't enough, I noticed
a piece of broken rope fastened to a stake, close by that corner. You
remember I said the dog was dragging a piece of rope around with him,
when he came creeping up near our camp last night? He broke away, all
right; and I guess the wild man will be minus his dog after this."

"Well, that's one thing settled," asserted Phil "We know now, for sure,
there _is_ a wild man up here; and some of the officers will have to come
and capture him. My father is one of the county freeholders, and he's
overseer of the poor in the bargain; so I suppose it'll be up to him to
carry out the job. They can't afford to have people say there's a crazy
wild man at large, in our district, you see."

"Did any of you notice that there was a rude sort of table in the shack?"
asked Paul, as they kept on moving forward, wondering if a third
discovery might be made at any minute.

"Well, now, that's a fact," replied Bobolink. "I did see that, but
somehow didn't think it queer at the time, not enough to mention it,
anyhow. But come to think of it, it was kind of out of the way in the
shack of a wild man, eh?"

"There was something on the table that would seem stranger, if you'd
noticed it. I saw a battered old coffeepot there!" observed Paul,
smiling grimly.

"What?" ejaculated Bobolink. "A wild man liking coffee! Where d'ye
suppose he gets the roasted bean? It don't grow on the bushes up here;
and he sure don't look as if he had the cash to buy it. Oh! p'raps they
use him to pass some of this bogus coin they make! Mebbe he goes to
towns, and buys their supplies, all the time they're workin' like beavers
up here, makin' the stuff."

"I don't just agree with you there, Bobolink," said Paul. "In the first
place, as Phil will tell you, if such a scarecrow ever came into
Stanhope, or any other town in the country, the officers would be sure
to arrest him, and examine him to see if he oughtn't to be shut up in the
asylum. If he got the old pot and the coffee to go with it from these
men, then it was in the nature of a bribe not to interfere with their
business, as they wanted to stay here on his Island."

"Great brain, Paul; you seem to hit the right idea every time. And
chances are, that's just what happened," Bobolink remarked.

"That dog didn't come back," observed Tom Betts.

"And therefore he's still loose," added Phil, uneasily. "Hope we don't
run across the beggar again; but if we should, remember Paul, the country
expects you to do your duty. You must bag him, no matter what noise you
have to make doing it"

"Leave that to me," remarked the scout master. "Now that we know pretty
well how the land lies, and whose dog it is, perhaps I won't be so
squeamish about shooting the beast if the chance comes along."

"Here's the foot of the rise," Jack broke in.

"And the trees grow more thin as the ground ascends, you notice," Paul
went on. He called their attention to all such things, because he was
acting as scout master of the troop, and it seemed to him that he should
not allow any chance to pass whereby he might enlarge the horizon of
scout lore of the lads under him.

"Then it strikes me that we ought to be a bit careful not to show
ourselves too plain, as we go up," Jack suggested.

"You're right," added Bobolink. "For all we know, these fellows may
have a lookout in a tree, as well as we have, and he'd see us if we got
careless. That means we must dodge along, taking advantage of every
sort of shelter that crops up. Great fun, boys, and for one I'm just
tickled to death over the chance to prove that we learned our little
lesson O. K."

All were presently stooping at one moment, where the bushes grew sparse;
crawling in among some sheltering rocks at another, and even getting down
to wriggle along like so many snakes, when not even so much as a bush
offered a means of hiding from observation, in case hostile eyes happened
to be turned upwards toward the hilltop at the foot of the lone cedar.

It was not a great distance to cover, and before long they found
themselves close to their goal.

Already could they see over the southern side of the island; and after
they gained the cedar it would probably be easy to also survey the
northern half, the part which doubtless held more of interest to them
than any other, since they had reason to believe that the mysterious
dwellers on the isle were somewhere there.

"Five more minutes will do it," remarked Paul, when they had gathered in
a shallow depression which afforded shelter until they caught their
breath again for another climb.

Paul was looking hard at something far beyond the lake. Bobolink, of
course, being attracted by his scrutiny, also allowed his gaze to wander
in that quarter; but all he saw was what he took to be a buzzard, almost
out of sight--a dim speck in the heavens, and about to pass out of sight
altogether where clouds hovered above the southern horizon.

"I c'n see about where our camp is," Phil was saying, "and I think I know
which tree the signal corps is stationed in. Anyhow, I seem to glimpse
something white moving among the green leaves, which, I take it, is a
flag being held ready to wave at us."

"I reckon Paul will soon let 'em know we're still on the map," observed
Bobolink. "But won't they be s'prised when they learn that we saw the
terrible wild man in his own den; and ran across the plant where those
rascals make their bogus coin, that looks as bright and good as any Uncle
Sam stamps out?"

Just then the leader gave the signal for another advance, and the six
scouts who followed set about completing the last leg of the climb.

They finally found themselves at the roots of the cedar tree that crowned
the elevation, and which proved of a size far beyond what any of the
scouts had imagined.

"Well, here we are at last," said Phil, breathing hard after his
exertions.

"And," added Bobolink, also badly winded, though he would chatter; "now
to see Paul get one of the other fellows on the line, to wig his wag at
us, or do something that sounds that way. There he goes at it. And looky
there, they've been watching us climb, I reckon, because almost before
Paul made the first sign, that other fellow began sendin'."

They watched the fluttering red flag with the white centre. Some of them
had taken more or less interest in sending and receiving messages; but
the boy in the tree proved too fast for any of them to follow. They
suspected that it was Jud Elderkin himself; for outside of Paul and Jack,
he was the best hand at that sort of thing.

"My stars! he keeps right along doing it; don't he?" muttered Bobolink.

"Must be some message, too, believe me," added Phil.

"N-n-now, what d'ye s-s-suppose has happened at c-c-camp since we
q-q-quit?" remarked Bluff, anxiously waiting for the message to be
translated.

Not once did Paul break in on the sending of the message. He sat there,
close to the base of the big cedar which sheltered his back from the
north side of the island; and seemed to be wholly engrossed in
transcribing the various signs of the flag code.

They could not see the boy in the branches of the tree; but from their
elevated position the white and red flag was in plain view. Up and down,
and crosswise, it continued to write its message, that was doubtless like
printed letters to Paul and Jack, while unintelligible to those who had
never taken lessons in wigwagging.

Finally came the well known sign that the message was done; and that the
sender awaited the wishes of the party with whom he was in communication.

Paul turned upon his comrades. They saw that the frown had come back
again to his usually smooth forehead, as though he had learned
something to add to the perplexities of the problem they were trying so
diligently to solve.

"It's Jud," he said, simply, "and he's just sent an astonishing
message. This is the way it ran, boys: 'Presence here known. Man in
aeroplane passed over camp. Went down lake half hour ago. Out of sight
now. Answer!'"

No wonder Bobolink fairly held his breath, and the other five scouts
looked at each other, as though they could hardly believe their ears. For
a full minute they sat there and stared; while Bobolink remembered the
far-away black object that, at the time, he had thought to be a buzzard.



CHAPTER XXIII

STILL FLOUNDERING IN THE MIRE


"Whee!"

It was, of course, Bobolink who gave utterance to this characteristic
exclamation.

Like most of the others, he had been so stunned by the message
read by Paul, that for the moment he failed to find words to
express his feelings.

An aeroplane had passed over the camp! And heading south, which would
take it toward the quarter where Stanhope lay!

Here they had thought themselves so far removed from civilization that
the only persons within a range of miles might be set down as a wild man
and some lawless counterfeiters, who had chosen this region because of
its inaccessibility.

And now they had learned that one of the latest inventions of the day had
been moving above the island, with the pilot actually looking down on the
camp, and so discovering the fact of the Boy Scouts having returned after
their banishment from the place.

No wonder they all stared at each other, and that speech was denied them
for a time.

Jack was the first to speak. He had read the message, being nearly as
good a signalman as Paul or Jud.

"Things seem to be picking up at a pretty lively clip for us; eh,
fellows?" was the way he put it.

"Picking up?" gasped Bobolink; "Seems to me they're getting to the red
hot stage about as fast as they can. An aeroplane! And up here on our
desert island at that, which folks said was given over to spooks and
wild men! That _is_ the limit, sure! Hold me, somebody; I think I'm
going to faint!"

But as nobody made any movement in that direction, Bobolink
changed his mind.

"Let's look into this thing a little closer, fellows," said Paul, always
prompt to set an investigation going.

"That's what!" echoed Bluff, surprising himself by not stammering a
particle, even though he was still quivering with excitement.

"Jud says an aeroplane passed over the camp; but he didn't tell whether
it rose from the island or not, though the chances are that it did," Paul
continued.

"Why do you say that as if you felt sure?" demanded Tom Betts.

"Yes," put in Phil, eagerly, "you've got on to something, Paul; give us
a chance to grab it, too, please."

"Sure I will," complied the scout master, cheerfully. "And I'm only
surprised that one of you, always so quick to see such things, hasn't
jumped on to this little game as soon as I have. Look back a short time,
and you'll remember how we were scratching our heads over the tracks of
wheels down in that big opening!"

"Wheels!" exclaimed Bobolink, with fresh excitement. "Well, I should say
yes; and looks to me like we had 'em in our heads too, where the brains
ought to be. Wheels, yes, and rubber-tired wheels too! Remember how they
seemed to run up and down a regular track, and just went so far, when
they gave out? Whoop! why, it's as easy as two and two make four. Anybody
ought to have guessed that."

"Huh!" remarked Tom Betts, scornfully; "that's what they said, you
recollect, when Columbus discovered America. After you know, everything
looks easy. In my mind Paul goes up head. He's in a class by himself."

"And that forge might have been used, among other things, for doing all
sorts of mending metal pieces connected with an aeroplane," Paul went on,
smiling at Tom's tribute of praise.

"Not forgetting these sort of things," Bobolink observed, positively,
as he took out a pair of bright new quarters, and jingled them
musically in his hand.

"Well, we haven't had any reason to change our minds about that
thing,--yet," said Paul. "But what strikes me as the queerest of all is
the fact that while we must have been pretty close by when that aeroplane
went up, how was it none of us heard the throbbing of the engine?"

They looked at each other in bewilderment. Paul's query had opened up a
vast field of conjecture. One and all shook their heads.

"I pass," declared Tom.

"Me too," added Phil.

"Must 'a got some new kind of motor aboard that is silent,"
suggested Jack.

"J-j-just a-goin' to s-s-say that, when Jack t-t-took the w-w-words out
of m-m-my m-m-mouth," Bluff exploded.

"No trouble doin' that, Bluff," laughed Bobolink. "If that aeroplane did
climb up out of that field, while we pushed through the heavy timber, and
none of us heard a thing, let me tell you, boys, they've got a
cracker-jack of a motor, that's what!"

"But arrah! would ye be thinkin' that a lot of bog-trottin'
counterfeiters'd be havin' a rale aeroplane?" burst out Andy Flinn, who
had up to now been unable to give any expression to his feelings.

"I'd say these fellers must be a pretty tony lot, that's all,"
Bobolink declared.

"Whatever do you suppose they use such a machine for?" asked Tom.

Again all eyes were turned upon Paul, as the oracle of the group of
wondering scouts. He shrugged his shoulders, as if he thought he had as
much right as any of the others to admit that he was puzzled.

"Well, we'd have to make a stab at guessing that," he observed. "Any one
thing of half a dozen might be the truth. An aeroplane could be used for
carrying the stuff they make up here to a distant market. Then again, it
might be only a sort of plaything, or hobby, of the chief money-maker;
something he amuses himself with, to take his mind off business. All men
have hobbies--fishing, hunting, horse racing, golf--why couldn't this
chap take to flying for his fun?"

"That sounds good to me," declared Bobolink; "anyhow, we know he must be
a kind of high-flier."

"Seems like our mystery bulges bigger than ever," remarked Phil,
frowning.

"It does, for a fact," admitted Tom; "instead of finding out things,
we're getting deeper in the mud all the time."

"Oh! I don't know," Paul said, musingly; and although the rest instantly
turned upon him, fully expecting that the scout master would have some
sort of communication to make, he did not think it worth while, at that
time, to explain what he meant.

"Say, I wonder, now, if we could see anything of those fellows from up
here?" remarked Bobolink, suddenly.

"That's so," echoed Phil, perceiving what the other intended to convey;
"we can see the whole of the island now; and if they're camped somewhere
on the north end, perhaps we might get a glimpse of canvas."

"What makes you think these men have their headquarters on the north end,
rather than anywhere else?" asked Paul, quickly.

"Why, when we got up here, I noticed that smoke was climbing up over
there; and smoke means a fire; which also tells that some person must be
around to look after it," replied Phil, promptly.

"Pretty good reasoning," said Paul, nodding his head toward Phil; for if
anything gave him pleasure as scout master of the troop, it was to see a
boy using his head.

All now looked over the crown of the hill, toward the upper end of the
island. The first thing they saw, of course, was the thin column of
smoke which Phil had mentioned. Then Bobolink burst out with:

"And you were right, Paul, when you said that the chances were the island
was close to the north side of the lake, so animals could swim across.
Why, only a narrow streak of water separates 'em there, sure enough."

"Oh! that was only a guess on my part," Paul confessed. "I saw about how
far away the mainland trended up there, and supposed that our island must
run near it in places. I'm pleased to see that I hit the mark, for once
at least, in this mixed-up mess."

Paul was evidently more or less provoked because he had been unable to
understand many of the strange things that had happened since their
arrival on Cedar Island. And the others knew that he was taking himself
to task because of his dullness; but what of them, if the scout master
needed to be wakened up--where did they come in?

"I can't be sure about it," observed Phil, who had been looking intently
at one particular spot; "but it seems as if I could make out the roof of
a shed of some kind, over yonder, close to where the smoke rises."

This set them all to looking again. Andy, who had very good eyes,
declared he could make it out, and that it was a roof of some kind; one
or two of the others, after their attention had been called to the spot,
also admitted that it did look a little that way, though they could not
say for a certainty.

"Anyhow, I reckon that's where these men live," Paul declared; "and now
the question is, are we going to turn back here; or keep right on
exploring this queer old Cedar Island?"

Bobolink, who was busy cutting his initials in the bark of the big cedar
that topped the squatty hill, spoke first of all; for being an impetuous
fellow, he seldom thought twice before airing his opinions.

"Me to push right on," he said. "What difference does it make to us that
some other fellows chance to be camping on the same island? It's free to
all. We aren't going to bother them one whit, if only they leave us
alone. But they began wrong, you see, when they told us to get off the
earth. That riled me. I never did like to be sat on by anybody. It just
seems like something inside gets to workin' overtime, and all my badness
begins to rise up, like mom's yeast in a batch of dough. Count my vote to
go on ahead, Paul."

"Well, who's next?" asked the scout master "and remember, that when
it comes to a matter like this, I always try and do what the
majority wants."

"I'm willing to do what the rest say," came from Jack.

"Go right on, and make a clean job of it," said Tom Betts, grimly.

"S-s-same here!" jerked out Bluff.

"That spakes my mind to a dot, so it do," Andy followed.

Paul threw up his hand.

"Enough said; that makes four in favor already, and settles the matter. I
won't tell you which way I would have voted, because the thing's been
taken from my hands. And besides, I would only have considered your
welfare in making my decision, and not my own desire."

"Which manes he would have said yis for himsilf, and no for the rist of
us," declared the Irish boy, exultantly; "so it's glad I am we've made up
our minds to go on. Whin do we shtart, Paul, darlint?"

"Right away," replied the one addressed. "There's no use staying any
longer up here, unless you think I'd better get Jud again, and wigwag him
all that we've learned up to now."

"It'll keep," said Phil, hastily, for he wanted to see the faces of those
other scouts when the several astonishing pieces of news were told;
especially about the finding of the real wild man asleep, the discovery
of the field forge in the open glade and the picking up of the two silver
quarters, which last he felt sure would give them all a surprise.

"A11 right!" the scout master announced, "I think pretty much the same
way; and besides, it would take a long while sending all that news.
But perhaps I ought to let the boys know we're going on further; and
that they needn't expect us much before the middle of the afternoon.
That'll give us plenty of time to roam around, and perhaps come back
another way."

So he started once more to catch the attention of Jud, perched high up in
that tree above the sink near the lower end of the island, where he could
have an uninterrupted view of the cedar on the top of the hill.

Then there was a fluttering of the signal flag and briefly the scout
master informed the other as to what their intentions were.

"That job's done," Paul remarked, presently, when Jud replied with a
gesture that implied his understanding the message; "and now to move
down-hill again. We're taking some big chances in what we're expecting to
do, fellows, and I only hope it won't prove a mistake. Come along!"



CHAPTER XXIV

THE DISCOVERY


"There's one thing that I think we haven't bothered our heads much about,
Paul," remarked Jack, just before they quitted the vicinity of the big
cedar on top of the hill.

"What?" asked Bobolink, cocking his head on one side to see how well his
initials looked in the bark of the tree from which Cedar Island took its
name; and which would tell later explorers that others had been there
ahead of them.

"Why, it seems to me those clouds down there on the southern horizon have
a look that spells storm," Jack continued.

"Wow! wonder if we will strike another rainy spell?" said Bobolink, so
quickly that none of the others had a chance to get a word in; "that last
one helped us get out of the mud in the canal; if another comes will it
be as accommodatin', or turn on us, and whoop things up, carrying our
tents away over the island, and losing 'em in the swamps beyond there?"

"Oh! say, don't imagine so much, Bobolink," interrupted Phil. "You're
the greatest fellow I ever saw for figuring all sorts of bad things out
long before they ever get a chance to start. What Jack means is, will we
be apt to get caught in the rain, and be soaked?"

"That's the main thing," added Tom Betts, who was rather particular about
how his khaki suit looked on him, for Tom was a bit of a "dresser," as
some of the others, less careful with regard to their looks, called it.

"I've noticed that it's grown pretty close and muggy," Paul went on.

"I should say it had," added Bobolink. "I kept moppin' my face most of
the way up the rise. Thought we'd sure get a fine breeze after reachin'
the top; but nixey, nothing doing. It's as dead as a door nail; or Julius
Caesar ever was. Yes, that spells rain before night, I'd like to risk my
reputation as a weather prophet in saying."

"Still, we go on?" Paul asked.

"Well, we'd be a fine lot of scouts," blurted out Bobolink, "if the
chance of getting our backs wet made us give up a plan we'd decided on."

"Lead the way, Paul; they're bent on finding out something more about
these men. And feeling that way, as Bobolink says, a little rain storm
wouldn't make them change their minds," and Jack, while speaking, started
after the scout master, who had commenced to descend the hill.

They did not immediately turn toward the north side. There seemed no use
in deliberately making their presence known to any one stationed over at
the north end of the island, providing the mysterious men were not
already aware of it.

Paul, when doing his wigwag act, had been careful to keep the crest of
the hill between his flag and that suspicious quarter where the smoke
column was lazily creeping up, as smoke has a habit of doing just before
rain comes.

Of course it might be possible that the man in the aeroplane, after
discovering the tents in the sink, may have made some sort of signal
that would tell his comrades the fact of the scouts having returned in
the night.

Paul wished, now that it was too late, he had thought to ask Jud about
that point. It might be of some benefit to them to know whether the men
were aware of their presence; or rested serene in the belief that they
were the only occupants of the island, besides the wild man.

After the scouts had gone down a little way, Paul began to change his
course. He was now turning toward the north. The trees grew much more
thickly here, and would surely screen them from observation.

The boys had resumed their former habit of observing everything that came
in their way, as true scouts always should. They turned their heads from
right to left and Bobolink even looked back of him more than a few times.
Perhaps he remembered that there was a wild man at large who might take a
notion to awake from his sleep, and, discovering the scout patrol, think
it his business to follow them.

And then, to be sure, they ought to keep in mind the fact concerning that
wild dog that had gone back to the habits of its ancestors, preferring to
live by hunting, rather than take food from the hand of man. It would be
far from pleasant to have old Lion suddenly sneak up on them, and give
them a scare.

But everything seemed peaceful around them. Now and then a bird would fly
out of a thicket, or give a little burst of song from the branch of some
tree. A red-headed woodpecker tapped boisterously on the dead top of a
beech near by, trying hard to arouse the curiosity of the worms that
lived there, so as to cause them to poke out their heads to see who was
so noisy at their front doors; when of course the feathered hammerer
stood ready to gobble them up.

"Oh!" gasped Bobolink, when there was a sudden whirring sound of wings,
and they had a furtive glimpse of something flashing through the
undergrowth near by.

"It's only a partridge; don't be worried!" remarked Phil.

"Sure it was," muttered Bobolink, with scorn; "any fellow with only one
eye'd know that _now_; but all the same, the thing gave me a bad turn,
I'm that keyed up."

"And that's a cotton-tail looking at us over yonder, so don't throw
another fit when he takes a notion to skip out," Phil continued, pointing
with his cudgel to where a rabbit sat, observing the intruders, as though
wondering what business any human beings had coming to the island that
had been left alone so long.

Presently the little animal skipped off a few paces and then stopped
again. As the scouts advanced, it repeated these tactics; indeed, so
tame did it seem that any of them could have easily hit the rabbit with
a stone, had they felt so inclined, which, as scouts, they could not
think of doing.

"Looks like she's got a litter of young ones close by here," said
Bobolink; "and is playing lame just to lead us away from the bunch. I've
seen rabbits do that before now. The cuteness of the thing! Look at her,
would you, just beggin' us to run after, and try to capture her?"

"I've seen a partridge act as if she had a broken wing," Jack remarked,
quietly; "and flutter along the ground in a way that couldn't help but
make one try to catch her; but if you chased after her, it would be to
see the old bird take wing pretty soon, and go off like a rocket."

"Same here," declared Paul; "and going back, I flushed a whole covey of
the prettiest little birds you ever saw. They'd been crouching under a
bush while the old one played lame; just as if she'd told them all about
it. But I heard her calling in the brush later on, and of course she got
them all together again."

"There goes your lame rabbit now, Bobolink; and say, look at the way she
jumps over the ground," remarked Phil, chuckling.

"Not so loud, boys," cautioned the scout master. "These things are all
mighty interesting; but we mustn't forget what we're here for nor yet the
fact that we've got a pretty good hunch there are some men close by who
would be just as mad as hops if they knew we meant to stalk their camp
and spy on them. If you have to say anything, whisper it softly,
remember."

At that they all fell silent. It was true that they had forgotten for the
moment that they were doing scouting work; and under such conditions
talking was not allowed, especially above the lowest tone.

All of them noticed that it was getting very close now, for they had to
use the red bandanna handkerchiefs they carried, and quite frequently at
that, to wipe away the perspiration that oozed from their foreheads.

"Lucky we left our coats in camp; isn't it?" remarked Phil.

"Looks that way now, but if that rain does strike us, we may wish we had
'em on," Tom Betts replied; showing that he at least had not been able to
put out of his head the possibility of a storm.

"Seems to me we must be getting somewhere," Phil observed.

"It can't be very much further," Paul answered, feeling that the remark
was addressed to him as the pilot of the expedition."

"I should say not," came from Bluff, as chipper as a bird's song, and
without the least sign of halt or break; "if we go on much more, we'll
walk off the end of the island."

Bobolink patted him on the back, as if to encourage him in well doing.

"That's the stuff, Bluff; you c'n do it when you try," he whispered; "but
as to steppin' into the lake, I guess we aren't that near the north end
yet, by a good sight."

Paul nodded his head, but said nothing; from that Bobolink knew the scout
master agreed with him. They could go considerably longer without being
halted by coming to the water's edge.

Jack called the attention of his chums just then to something ahead.

"Seems to me I smell smoke," he said, "and if you bend down here, so you
can look under the branches of the trees, you'll see something that's got
the shape of a shed, or cabin, off yonder."

The others, upon making a try, agreed with Jack that it did seem that
way.

"Oh! we're right on top of the nest, all right" chattered Bobolink, but
showing his wisdom by keeping his voice down to its lowest note; "and
now, if we c'n duplicate that little dodge we played at the shack of the
wild man, it's goin' to be as easy as turning over off a spring-board,
with a ten foot drop."

"But if we're caught we might get shot at," suggested Phil, as if the
idea had struck him for the first time that they were really playing with
fire, in thus bearding desperate lawbreakers in their den.

"We aren't going to get caught," said Bobolink; "who's afraid? Not I.
Lead along, Paul. I want to get this thing out of my system, so I c'n
have a little rest up here," and he placed a hand on his brow.

Although himself doubtful as to the wisdom of the move, Paul could not
back down now, after allowing the boys to vote on the matter. Perhaps he
was more or less sorry that at the time he had not exercised his
privilege as scout master to put his foot down on their taking any more
chances, just to satisfy such curiosity as reckless fellows like Bobolink
might feel, with regard to the unknown men.

It was too late now. Until some of the boys themselves manifested a
desire to call the retreat, he must go on; although it began to seem more
than ever audacious--this creeping up on a den of men who were hiding
from the eye of the law in order to carry on their nefarious trade.

And so they started to creep forward, now dodging behind trees, and
crawling back of friendly patches of bushes whenever the chance presented
itself. It was all exciting enough, to be sure, and doubtless gave the
boys many a delightful little thrill.

In this fashion they came upon a larger clump of trees and bushes, which,
instead of trying to round, they concluded to pass through.

It was just as they gained a point inside this clump that they were
brought up with a round turn by discovering a couple of objects standing
there, as though they had been left behind when the valuable contents
which they formerly encased had been taken out.

These were two large packing cases, of unusual shape, and made of heavy
planed boards!

Some of the scouts looked at them carelessly, for to them these objects
did not carry any particular meaning. Not so Jack, Tom Betts and
Bobolink. Those three boys had received a shock, as severe as it was
unexpected.

They recognized those cases as being the identical ones which had only
lately reposed snugly in the planing mill of Jack's father in Stanhope,
and to guard which one Hans Waggoner had been hired by the man who owned
them, Professor Hackett! And as they stood there and gaped, doubtless
among the many things that flashed into the minds of those three lads was
the fact that _somebody_ had been trying to get to see what the contents
of those mysterious cases might be; which person they now knew must have
been a Government Secret Service man, a detective from Washington, on the
track of the bold counterfeiting gang!

All these things, and much more, flashed through the minds of Jack and
his chums, as they stood there in that thicket, and stared hard at the
two big cases bound around with twisted wire, but which had now been
relieved of their unknown contents, for they stood empty.

And the others, realizing that something had occurred out of the regular
channel, waited for them to speak, and explain what they had discovered.



CHAPTER XXV

TIME TO GO BACK


"What is it, Bobolink--Jack?" asked the scout master.

"The boxes yonder!" Bobolink managed to exclaim.

"You evidently have seen them before; tell me, Jack, are they the ones
you said your father stored for that man?" continued Paul.

"They certainly look mighty like them," replied the other; "and you know,
they were taken away that morning early. They must have been carried
across country to the shore of the lake, and then ferried over in a
rowboat. That was what we saw the marks of, and the four men walked off
with these between them."

"Whee! did you ever?" gasped the still bewildered Bobolink. "Yes, here
you c'n see the markin' on the lid they threw away when they opened this
one--'Professor Hackett, In care of John Stormways, Stanhope,' all as
plain as anything. And to think how after all my worryin' the old boxes
have bobbed up here. Don't it beat the Dutch how things turn out?"

That seemed to be the one thing that gripped Bobolink's attention--the
strange way in which those two heavy boxes with the twisted wire binding
had happened to cross his path again.

But Paul was thinking of other things, that might have a more serious
bearing on the case. He turned to Jack again.

"What do you know about this so-called professor?" he asked.

"Me? Why, next to nothing, only that he comes from down near New York
City at a place called Coney Island, where lots of fakirs hold out; and
plenty of men too, in the summer season, who would want to circulate a
little money that did not bear the Government stamp."

"But your father seems to have known him; or at any rate believed he was
a law-abiding citizen," pursued Paul; "otherwise he would hardly have
given him the privilege of storing his cases in his mill over night."

"Oh! my father is that easy-going, nearly anybody could pull the wool
over his eyes. He believed the yarn this pretended professor told him,
I've no doubt, and thought it next door to nothing to let him keep the
boxes in the mill for a short time. You know, my father is the
best-hearted man in Stanhope, barring none. But I agree with the rest of
you that this time he must have got stung. The professor is sure a bad
egg. I must put my dad wise as soon as I get half a chance."

"Perhaps it's already too late to save him from getting stuck with a lot
of the stuff they manufacture?" suggested Tom Betts.

"Oh! that could hardly be so," Jack replied, cheerfully. "When these
bogus money-makers want to get rid of some of their stock they always
have go-betweens do the job for them. It would be too easy tracing things
if they passed the stuff themselves. So I guess my dad hasn't taken in
any great amount of the counterfeits."

Bobolink was down on his knees. He even crawled into one of the
overturned boxes, as though trying hard to ascertain from sundry marks
what could have been contained under that wooden cover.

He came out, shaking his head, as though his efforts had not been
attended by success.

"Looks like machinery of some kind, that's all I c'n tell," he admitted.
"But of course, they'd need a press of some sort to work off the paper
money on. Now, chances are, it's bein' put up right in that long shed
yonder, that we c'n see. Question is, how're we goin' to get close enough
to peek through a crack, and find out what's goin' on in there?"

Again did most of the boys look uneasily at each other. Paul believed
that, now the great test had arrived, they were beginning to weaken a
little. No doubt it did not seem so glorious a thing when you got close
up, this spying on a band of lawless men, who would be apt to deal
harshly with eavesdroppers, if caught in the act.

Still, he would not give the order to retreat unless they asked for it.
They had been allowed to settle that matter when they voted; it was up to
Bobolink, Tom, Bluff or Andy to start the ball rolling, if they began to
reconsider their hasty conclusion of a while back.

Bobolink looked toward the low, long shed, now plainly seen, in something
of a rocky opening, with glimpses of water beyond which told how close to
the shore it had been built. But he did not act as though as anxious to
rush matters as before.

"Why d'ye believe they ever landed those boxes where they did, and toted
'em all the way up here, heavy as they were, when there's the water close
by?" asked Jack.

"I was thinking about that a minute ago," replied Paul; "and the only
explanation I can find is this: Perhaps the water is mighty shallow all
around up at the north end of the island. I can see that the shore is
rocky, and if that's so, then no boat with a heavy load could get close
enough in to land the stuff. And so they had to get busy, and carry the
boxes, one at a time."

"Sounds reasonable, and we'll let her go at that," commented Bobolink,
who, as a rule, was contented to take Paul's opinion.

Paul himself stooped down to take a look into the cases. He did not make
any remark as he straightened up again, nor did any of the others think
to ask his opinion; which possibly may have been lucky, for perhaps Paul
would not have liked to commit himself just then. If he had found
anything that gave him a new clue, he was evidently keeping it to himself
until he could get more proof.

"S'pose we ought to make a fresh start," suggested Bobolink, but with a
lack of eagerness that was plainly noticeable; it was as though the
discovery of those two mysterious boxes under such strange conditions had
rather cooled his ardor.

"That's so," remarked Tom.

"We've g-g-got so n-n-near now, we ought to f-f-finish!" Bluff declared.

And yet none of them made the slightest movement looking to an advance, a
fact that Paul could not help but notice, and which warned him they were
close to the point of a change of policy. A suggestion that they give up
the spy business at this stage, and retreat in good order to their camp,
would doubtless have met with favor, and been sure of a unanimous vote.

But still Paul, having his own notions of such matters, when dealing with
boys, declined to say anything. If one of the four who were mainly
responsible for their being there should take it upon himself to offer
such a motion, he would only too gladly put it to a vote. Until such time
came he must continue to remain silent.

"Just as you say, boys; I'm carrying out your plans," he remarked,
quietly, wishing to let them know that they had it in their own power to
alter conditions at any time they so desired.

They all finally moved after the scout master, even if some feet did lag
a little. Bluff and Phil particularly were conscious of a strange sinking
sensation in the region of their hearts, which they mistrusted signified
fear; and rather than have any of their comrades suspect that they had a
cold hand pressing there, they shut their teeth hard together, and
determined that under no circumstances would they show the white feather.

So Paul led them on.

Again they tried to conceal themselves as best they might in devious
ways. Here the wide and generous trunk of a friendly tree afforded them
a certain amount of shelter; a little further on a small pile of rocks
answered the same benevolent purpose; but always the main idea was to
hide from any curious eyes that might be on the lookout in the
vicinity of that queer looking shed--newly made, if the fresh boards
signified anything.

"Looky here! there's a man!" suddenly exclaimed Bobolink.

The others had discovered the man at about the same time. They all lay
flat and hardly dared breathe, lest in some manner they attract the
attention of the stranger, who seemed to be not only a big man, but
rather a fierce-looking fellow in the bargain.

He was glancing all around at the heavens, as though wondering whether
the aeroplane was not coming back, whatever its mission in flying away
south could have been. Standing there, he shaded his eyes with his
hands and continued to look toward the south for several minutes. Then
he made a gesture as of disappointment, and vanished around the corner
of the shed.

"Never looked down this way once!" Bobolink said triumphantly, as though
their escape had caused his spirits to rise a little.

"That leaves the coast clear again, anyhow," said Tom Betts, as if he now
had a rather disagreeable duty to perform, which, since it had to be
done, had better be gotten through with as speedily as possible.

When leaving camp these brave scouts had never dreamed but that
spying upon the enemy would prove the most delightful task imaginable.
Even later on, when they had voted to keep moving forward, with so
much assurance, the picture had not begun to fade; but now it did not
seem the same.

As the shelter grew less and less, however, it became evident that
presently, if they continued to advance in this fashion, they must reach
a point where, in order to make progress, they must expose themselves to
hostile eyes, should any be on the watch.

Would even this cause one of the four scouts to "take water," as Bobolink
called it, and make the sign that he had had enough?

Paul knew them all pretty well, and he also realized the fact that every
fellow possessed a nature bordering on the stubborn. It was the dread of
being thought cowardly that kept them from taking the cue from Paul, and
ending this foolish advance.

They had gone over fifty feet since the last stop, and passed the last
large tree which could be looked on to give them any shelter.

It was just at this moment that once again the big man was seen coming
hastily around the corner of the shed.

At sight of him the boys stood still. There was no use trying to hide
now. Perhaps some faint hope took possession of them that they might be
unnoticed if they did not move; just as the still hunter, stalking a
feeding deer, will watch its short tail, and whenever he sees it twitch
he stands perfectly motionless; for he knows that the animal is about to
raise his head, and that he will probably be taken for a stump if he does
not move hand or foot.

But evidently the man had sighted the seven khaki-clad scouts. He seemed
almost petrified with amazement at first, and stood staring at them. As
if awaking from his trance, he began to make frantic motions with his
arms, and at the same time shouted hoarsely at them:

"Go back! Get out of that! You're crazy staying there! Run, I tell you,
while you have the chance! Get away! Get away, you fools!"

The scouts looked at each other in astonishment. What could it all mean?
Were all the men on this queer island stark, staring crazy? He called
them that, but it is always a rule for mad people to believe every one
else crazy but themselves.

"Say, what does the guy mean?" cried Bobolink, who seemed to be utterly
unable to understand a thing; "mebbe it's a small-pox hospital we've run
on, fellows!"

But Paul was beginning to see a light. Possibly the excited gestures, as
well as the urgent words of the big man, may have assisted him to arrive
at a conclusion.

He no longer felt so decided about not speaking the word that would
cause his little detachment to turn and retreat. There must be danger
hovering over them, danger in some terrible form, to make that unknown
man so urgent.

"Let's get out of this, boys!" he called, "every fellow turn, and streak
it as fast as he can. And get behind trees as quick as you can,
because--"

They had already started to obey the scout master, and possibly had
covered a few jumps when it seemed that the very earth shook and quivered
under them, as a fearful roar almost deafened every boy.

Just as you have seen a pack of cards, made into tent shape in a curving
row, go falling down when the first one is touched, so those seven scouts
were knocked flat by some concussion of the air.

They had hardly fallen than one and all scrambled to their feet, and fled
madly from the scene, as if fearful lest the whole end of the island
might be blown up behind them, and catch them in a trap from which there
could be no escape.



CHAPTER XXVI

HONORABLE SCARS


So it turned out after all that the scout master did not have to change
his mind, and give the order for retreat. When that dreadful panic
overwhelmed the scouts, it was really a case of "every one for himself."

Either by rare good luck, or some sort of instinct, the seven lads
managed to keep pretty well together as they ran. Not a single fellow
dreamed of allowing himself to get separated from his comrades. It seemed
to be a case of "united we stand, divided we fall," or "in union there is
strength."

If in their mad rush some of the boys collided with trees, or stumbled
over obstacles that they failed to discover in time, they were not of a
mind to let such trifles interfere with their making record time.

In such cases it was only necessary to scramble erect again, and put on a
little extra spurt in order to overhaul their comrades.

What had taken them half an hour to cover when they were "scouting" in
such approved fashion, was passed over in about five minutes.

It was Paul who came to his senses first. He realized that there was no
one chasing them and that, to tell the truth, not one of the boys could
have been seriously hurt by what had befallen.

So he began to laugh, and the sound reaching the ears of the others,
appeared to act on their excited minds like soothing balm.

Gradually the whole lot slackened their pace until they were going at a
jog trot; which in turn settled down to a walk.

Finally Bobolink came to a full stop.

"Whee! let's get a few decent breaths, fellows!" he managed to gasp.

The others were apparently nothing loth, and so they all drew up in a
bunch. A sorry lot they looked just then, to tell the truth. It seemed as
though nearly every fellow had some distinguishing mark.

Phil's rather aristocratic face had a long scratch that extended down the
right side, and gave him a queer look; Jack was caressing a lump on his
forehead, which he may have received from a tree, or else when he was
knocked down without warning by that singular explosion; Andy was trying
to quench a nose-bleed, and needed his face washed the worst way; Bluff's
left eye seemed partly closed, as if he had been too close to the
business end of an angry bee; while Bobolink had two or three small cuts
about his face that made him look as if he had been trying to tattoo
himself--with wretched success.

So they looked at one another, and each thought the balance of the crowd
had the appearance of a set of lunatics on the rampage.

Hardly had they stared at each other than they set to laughing.

"Oh! my stars! but aren't you a screamer though, Andy, with all that
blood smeared over your face; and Bluff, why he looks as if he'd been in
a prize fight!" was the way Bobolink expressed his feelings, bending over
as he laughed.

"Huh! you're not so very pretty yourself!" replied Bluff, with not the
slightest sign of an impediment in his speech--evidently it had been
frightened out of his system for the time being. "Anybody'd think you
were a South Sea Islander on the warpath. And wouldn't they cross over to
the other side of the road in a hurry if they met you! Say, if Mazie
Kenwood or Laura Carson could only see you now, they'd give you the cut
straight."

"Look at Jack's bump, would you?" Tom Betts exclaimed.

"Don't call attention to me any more than you can help," Jack remarked,
making a wry face, as he caressed the protuberance on his forehead; "it
feels as big as a walnut, let me tell you, and hurts like fun. The sooner
I'm back in camp, so I can slap some witch hazel on that lump, the better
it'll please me, boys."

After a little more laughing and grumbling, Paul, who had escaped without
any visible hurts, though he walked a little lame, remarked:

"Well, do we start right back again, and take a look-in on those men?
Don't everybody speak at once, now!"

All the same they did, and the burden of the united protest was that
circumstances alter cases; that they had arrived at the conclusion that
what those men were doing on the island could be no affair of honest,
law-abiding scouts; and that as for them, the camp in the sink offered
more attractions at that particular moment than anything else they
could think of.

Of course that settled it. The scouting was over for that occasion. They
had done themselves credit, as far as it went; but then, who would ever
dream that they would come within an ace of being blown sky-high with the
whole upper end of the island?

As if by common consent, they started to move forward again, and every
fellow seemed to know, as if by instinct, which was south, and
whereabouts the camp was, for they needed no pilot now.

And as they journeyed they talked it all over. Every boy seemed to have
an opinion of his own with regard to what had happened, and they differed
radically.

"Tell you what," said Tom Betts, who had also escaped with only a few
minor injuries, because he was as quick as a cat, and must have fallen on
a soft piece of ground besides; "tell you what, I thought that old hill
had turned into a volcano, and just bust all to flinders."

"Well, now," Phil admitted, "I somehow had an idea that storm had chased
up when we didn't chance to be watching, and lightning had struck a tree
close to the place where we happened to be standing looking at that crazy
man wave his arms."

"Me?" Bobolink remarked; "why, I was dead sure what we guessed about a
war game bein' played up here between two pretended hostile armies was
right; and that one of 'em had blown up the fort of the other. You see,
that aeroplane had a sorter military air about it, even if I didn't see
it. And I'm not sure yet it isn't that."

"One thing sure," remarked Paul; "the man was trying to warn us to keep
back, for he knew some sort of mine was going to explode, and that we
might be killed. As it was, we got off pretty lucky, I think. This sprain
will heal in a day or two; but if a rock weighing a ton or two had
dropped down on me, I guess the chances of my ever seeing Stanhope again
would have been mighty slim."

"But tell me," Bobolink asked, "what in the world would counterfeiters
want with exploding mines, and doin' all that sort of thing? Just
remember that big bang we had the other night, that woke everybody up.
Shows it's a habit with 'em, and that this wasn't some freak accident.
Gee! my head's buzzing around so I can't think straight. Somebody do my
guessin' for me; won't you, please?"

"That's right," said Tom Betts, suddenly; "who are these men, anyway?
P'raps we didn't size 'em up straight when we made up our minds they were
bogus money-makers. Mebbe they happen to be a different sort of crowd
altogether. How about that, Paul; am I off my trolley when I say that?"

"I've been beginning to believe something was crooked in our guess for a
little while, Tom," replied the scout master; "but all the same, you've
got me up in the air when you ask who and what they are. I'm rattled more
than I've been in many a day, to be honest with you all."

Bobolink took out something from his pocket. He stared hard at the two
shining quarters, and jingled them in his hand.

"Look good to me," he was heard to say; "I'd pass 'em any time for
genuine. But what silly chump'd be throwing good money around like
that, tell me?"

"Or bad money either, Bobolink," remarked Paul; "so you see, it was an
accident in any case. You've lost money many a time out of your pocket;
well, this man was in the same boat. Chances are, that's straight goods."

Bobolink grinned.

"If that's so," he remarked calmly, "I'm in a half dollar, and that's
some satisfaction. But say, what a time we'll have tellin' the boys. Wow!
I can see the eyes of Little Billie, and Curly, and Nuthin just stickin'
out of their heads when they hear all we've run up against."

"And we'd better move along a little faster while about it,"
observed Paul.

"Why? Hope you don't think any of those men are chasin' after us; or that
we'll run up against that wild man, or the big yellow dog again?"
Bobolink inquired, glancing fearfully about him.

"No, I was considering the feelings of the boys," replied the
scout master.

"That's a fact," Jack went on, "they'll be worried about us, after
hearing that terrible report, and think something has happened to our
crowd. But we're not a great way from camp now, Paul."

"No, and if the distance was greater, I'd stop long enough to send up a
smoke signal that would tell Jud we were all right. But that'd take time,
and perhaps we'd better hurry along," and the scout master set a new
pace, even though limping slightly.

"Got hurt some yourself; did you, Paul?" Jack asked, solicitously.

"Oh! only a little sprain, but it happens to be on a muscle that I have
to use when I walk, and you know a fellow favors such a pain. But I can
see where the sink lies now; we'll be there in ten minutes, perhaps
half that."

They continued to push on. For the time being most of them forgot about
their personal troubles, in their anxiety to join their comrades. And
Bobolink, as he walked beside Jack, spoke what was on his mind:

"It was a grand old scare, all right, and one we won't ever forget,
believe me; but there's one thing that tickles me half to death, Jack. We
know _now_ where the queer old boxes went to, even if we are up in the
air about what was in them. And the chances are we may find that out
before we're done with this business; because those men ought to come
down and ask if anybody got hurt by their silly Fourth of July fireworks
display. There's the camp, boys. Whoopee!"



CHAPTER XXVII

ANOTHER THREATENING PERIL


Loud cheers greeted the appearance of the seven scouts, as they hurried
forward into the camp. And when those who had remained with the tents saw
the various scratches, contusions and bumps that adorned most of the
returned boys' faces, they were burning with eagerness to hear the
details of the adventure.

Such a clatter of tongues as ensued, as every fellow tried to tell his
version of the happening. If half that was said were written down, it
would require many more chapters to give the details.

Gradually, however, each stay-at-home scout began to get a pretty clear
idea of the series of adventures that had befallen their mates in trying
to explore the mysteries of the island. They understood all about the
wild man, and what the consensus among the seven explorers seemed to be
concerning the strangers who occupied the island, and were conducting
such an amazing series of experiments, even making use of an aeroplane to
accomplish their ends.

The guesses that followed were legion, yet Paul, who listened patiently
to the most astounding theories, shook his head in the end.

"I don't believe any of us have hit on the right thing yet, fellows," he
said. "But there's meat in a number of the guesses you've made, and
perhaps we'll get the story after a while. But how about grub; we're as
hungry as bears?"

"Never expected to join you at lunch, for a fact," grinned Bobolink; "but
then, we made better time than we ever thought we could on the return
journey. Talk to me about a prize spurrin' a fellow on to do his level
best--the whip that does it is to put a first-class scare in him. Then
you're goin' to see some runnin' that takes the cake. Wheel didn't we
sprint, though? Bet you I jumped clear over a log that stood six feet
high from the ground--more or less."

It happened that the stay-at-home scouts had just prepared their noon
meal at the time the explosion occurred that made the whole island
tremble. That had startled them so much that they had not had the
heart to think of sitting down because of anxiety about the fate of
their chums.

And so the dinner had remained untouched up to the time they heard the
"cooee" of the returning warriors; and then caught the bark of the fox,
that told them that Paul and his posse had returned.

There was enough for all, because the cooks were very liberal in making
up their messes. And over the dinner more suggestions were made as to
what their future course ought to be.

By now even the fire-eating Bobolink was ready to cry quits, and
back down; nor did he seem at all ashamed to admit the fact that he
was afraid.

"If those sillies mean to blow up the whole island, some way or other,
why, what's the use of us stayin' here, an' goin' up with it, I'd like to
know?" he said. "Tell you what, I've got another guess comin', and it's
this: P'raps they're meanin' to get rid of this island and lake, and have
started to do the job. Mebbe some big railroad wants a short line across
country, and this thing is right in their way. I've heard of 'em doin'
bigger things than just blowing up a little island; haven't you, Paul?"

He always appealed to the scout master when one of his brilliant thoughts
came along. Paul nodded his head.

"That sounds more reasonable than a whole lot of things I've been
listening to, Bobolink, for a fact," Paul admitted. "Still, we don't
know, and there's no way to find out the true story, right now.
Listen, fellows!"

"Thunder, away off, Paul; guess we've all got explosions on the brain,
because it gave me a start, too," said Jack, laughing.

"And if a storm's coming along," observed Jud Elderkin, who seemed vastly
pleased when he heard that his signalling had been so easily understood,
"why, I reckon we ought not to think of pulling down our good tents, and
getting out of here, till she's over."

It was plain from this that the scouts had determined to abandon their
dangerous island, and spend the balance of the outing by making a camp on
the mainland, where at least there was a reasonable expectation of not
being blown sky-high by some explosion.

"And since we're done eating perhaps we'd better take another look at the
tent pins, to make sure they'll hold when the wind strikes us. Some of
these summer storms have a lively advance breeze, you know, boys," Paul
suggested.

"Little Billie and I'll go over to the boats, and see that the curtains
are buttoned down snug. Some of us can stay inside while its rainin' and
that'll give more room in the tents," Bobolink remarked, jumping to his
feet, with a return of his customary lively Way.

"And in this sink we'll be protected from any wind coming from the south,
don't you think, Paul?" Jack ventured.

"Couldn't be better," was the reply. "Those trees and bushes, as well as
the rise in the ground, will help a lot. But get busy, fellows, with
those tent pins. I'll take the axe, and go the rounds myself, to make
doubly sure. It's not the nicest thing in the world to have your canvas
blow away--eh, Nuthin?"

"You're right, it isn't," replied the little scout, "'specially when it
lifts you right up with it into a tree, and has you tied up there in the
snarls of a clothes line. I know all about that, and none of the rest of
you ever tried it. Excuse me from another balloon ride like that."

In a short time everything was done that could be thought of to render
things storm-proof. Then the boys went over to the edge of the water to
watch the advance of the black clouds, which those at the boats in the
little cove declared was a sight worth seeing.

And it certainly was, all the scouts admitted. Some of them were filled
with a certain awe, as they saw how inky the clouds looked. But what boy,
or man either, for that matter, is there who has not felt this sensation
when watching scurrying clouds that tell of an approaching storm?

By degrees the boys began to drift back to the camp. Every sort of excuse
was given for leaving the beach. One fellow suddenly remembered that he
had left his coat hanging on a bush, another had forgotten to fasten his
knapsack, while a third wished to tie his blanket in a roll, in case the
water did find a way to get into the sink.

Paul, Jack, Bobolink and Jud remained until they saw the rough water away
down near the southern shore of the lake, and understood that the first
squall must be swooping upon them. Then they too gave up the vigil, for
the chances were the rain would come with the first breeze.

With a howl and a roar the storm broke upon them. Cowering in the tents,
about four in each, as the others had taken to the boats, they waited
with more or less suspense what might happen.

The wind made the canvas shake at a lively clip, and the fastenings on
the southern side were sorely tried; but they had been well taken care of
and Paul called out that he believed they were going to hold.

For half an hour the rain beat down in torrents. None of them remembered
ever hearing such a deluge descend, but perhaps their imaginations were
excited on account of the peculiar conditions that surrounded them. All
the same it rained, and then rained some more, until a very large
quantity of water must have fallen, all of them decided.

With Paul and Jack in the tent that was nearest to the lake were
Bobolink, Tom Betts and Nuthin.

"Seems to me it's gettin' kind of damp in here," remarked Bobolink,
when the clamor outside had died down somewhat, and they could hear each
other talk.

"That's a fact," declared Paul; "and after all it's just as well that we
made sure our blankets and other things were tied up and hung away from
the ground. But seems to me I hear one of the fellows in the boat
shouting to us."

When he opened the flap he found that the rain had almost stopped, as
well as the wind to a great extent. Perhaps the storm was over.

"Hello!" Paul called out.

"Hey! that you, Paul?" came in a voice he recognized as belonging to Jud,
who had been one of those in charge of the nearby boats.

"Yes, what's wrong?" asked the scout master.

"Can't you come over here? Going to be the dickens to pay, I reckon. The
bally old lake's rising like fun. Looks like the outlet must have got
stopped up somehow. You're sure going to have to move your tents mighty
quick. Coming, Paul?"

"All right," answered the other, as he crawled out, and started under the
dripping trees for the spot where the two motorboats lay in the cove,
sheltered from the waves that had been dashing against the shore
elsewhere.

When he reached the spot he found that all of the boys who had been
sheltered in the boats were lined up on the shore, where they could see
down the lake. Jud himself seemed to be watching the water steal up a
stick he had thrust into the sand.

"Gee! she's mounting like fun!" he exclaimed. "Water must be pouring into
the old lake from every side, and little gettin' out. Say, if this keeps
on, the whole island, except that hill up yonder, will be under water
before night. It sets rather low, you understand, Paul."

The scout master was naturally thrilled by these words. He knew that the
leader of the Gray Fox Patrol was no alarmist, and that he seldom lost
his head in times of excitement.

And so it was with considerable apprehension that Paul stooped down so he
might see just how fast the lake was rising. And when he noticed that it
actually crept up the stick before his very eyes, he knew that what Jud
had said about the whole island being covered might not be such a silly
assertion after all.

It began to look as though the adventures of the scouts had not yet
reached an end, and that they were in for another thrilling experience.



CHAPTER XXVIII

PREPARED FOR THE WORST


"She's just walking up hand over fist; eh, Paul?" asked Jud.

"No question about it, Jud," came the reply as the scout master cast an
apprehensive look across the half-mile of water that separated them from
the outlet of the lake. "I'd give something to know what's happened down
there, to dam this water up, and just how far it's going to rise on us."

"Tell you what," said Bobolink, who had followed Paul when he left the
tent, as had also the rest of the occupants, "I wouldn't be a bit
surprised if that awful explosion shook the shoulder of earth and rock
down, that we saw hanging above the mouth of the Radway River where she
leaves the lake."

"You've hit it, I do believe!" cried Paul, exultantly; "and that's just
what did happen, chances are, fellows."

"But if the outlet is filled up," said Jud, "and this water keeps pouring
in on four sides, it's dead sure the blooming lake will fill up in short
order. What had we better do, Paul?"

"That's just what I'm trying to figure on, Jud," answered the other;
"it's one of two things--either hike out for the hill, where we'll be
safe until the water goes down; or else get our things aboard the boats,
and stay here."

"That last strikes me as the best of all!" declared Jack.

"Besides," broke in Nuthin, "we don't want to lose those boats, you know.
They were loaned to us and if we let 'em go to smash, wouldn't it take us
a long time to pay the bill, though? Besides, we'll need 'em to get away
from here."

"That isn't the worst of it," remarked Paul, who was very serious.

"Why, what is there besides?" demanded Bobolink.

"Suppose the water does get up so as to cover the island, all but the
hill," the scout master went on deliberately, as though making sure of
his ground as he talked; "and then, all of a sudden the weight of it
broke through the dam; don't you see the suction, as the water rushed
out, would be something _terrific_. No rope ever made, I reckon, could
hold these boats back. They'd sure be drawn through the gap, and carried
on the flood, any old way, even upside-down, maybe."

"Whew!" whistled Bobolink; and as for some of the other fellows, they
began to lose their usual color as they realized what Paul was saying.

"Now, that's just an idea that came into my mind," Paul went on, seeing
that he had alarmed some of the scouts. "It may never happen, you
understand. But you know the motto we believe in is 'be prepared!' That
means never to take things for granted. Keep your eyes and ears always on
guard, and see lots of things, even before they swoop down on you. So,
it's up to us, fellows, to get our tents and other fixings loaded up as
soon as we can. After that we'll go aboard ourselves, and try to prepare
against a sudden break in the dam."

"And lookin' at that water creeping up," remarked Jud, "the sooner we get
busy, the better."

Accordingly, they all hastened back to the camp. It was found that
already the water seemed to be creeping into the sink. Those in the other
two tents were talking it over, and wondering what was about to happen.

When they heard the latest news, their faces indicated both astonishment
and not a little alarm. But under the direction of the scout master, they
started to convey all their belongings to the boats.

First the blankets and clothes bags were taken over; then the food and
cooking utensils; and finally the tents came down in a hurry, for the
boys were working in water almost up to their knees when this last part
of the job was concluded.

Once out of the sink, they found plenty of high ground to walk on, while
carrying the wet tents to the landing where the boats were lying.

After they were all aboard, the scouts packed the stuff as best they
could, so that it would take up as little space as possible. Meanwhile
Paul and Jack, with both the other patrol leaders, were trying to figure
out just what would be the best course for them to pursue.

"Makes me think of old Noah, when he went aboard the ark, and the animals
they followed two by two," said Bobolink, with a chuckle.

"Huh, call yourself a kangaroo, or a monkey, if you like," spoke up Old
Dan Tucker, "but as for me I'd rather play the part of Ham, or one of the
other sons."

"Sure thing!" assented Bobolink, cheerfully; "never saw the time yet
when you raised any kick about takin' the part of Ham. Sounds good,
don't it, Dan?"

It was pretty hard to keep the spirits of Bobolink from sizzling and
gushing forth like a fountain when the water is turned on. He could joke,
even while the several leaders of the expedition were consulting gravely
about their chances of holding the boats against the frightful suction of
the current, when the obstructions in the outlet of the lake gave way,
which they hoped would not be suddenly, but by degrees.

It was certainly a condition that confronted them, and not a theory. Paul
was really more worried than he showed; for he kept his feelings under
control, knowing that if some of the others realized how much he was
concerned, the fact might create a panic.

"If I really thought the worst would come," Paul said, in a low tone, to
Jack, after it had been concluded that they would stay by the boats, and
do the best they could, "why I'd be tempted to give the order to just cut
for the hill, and leave everything but some food behind. Once up there,
we would be safe, and that's what we can't say is the case now."

"But even if the water goes out with a rush, it can't tear a tree like
this one up by the roots; can it?" asked Jack, pointing to where the
cables of the boats had been secured as strongly as possible.

"That's so," replied the scout master; "but then, think of the ropes, and
what a terrible strain would come on them. I'm afraid both would snap
like pipe-stems. To hold tight, we'd need a big chain; or a hawser like
that one the switching engine on the railroad uses to drag cars on a
parallel track. But then, the water may be nearly as high, right now, as
it will get We'll hope so, anyhow."

That was Paul's way of trying to look on the bright side, although he
never failed to prepare for the worst, even while expecting the best.

"If we could only think up some way to help ease the strain, it would be
a good thing," observed Jack, thoughtfully.

"I wish you could. It would ease my mind more than I care to tell you,"
was Paul's answer.

"One thing, the storm is over," called out Jud, just then; "see, there's
a break in the clouds, and I reckon the sun will be peepin' out soon."

"But the water will keep on rushing down the sides of the hills away off
yonder," Paul remarked, "and filling up this cup until it runs over. They
say that the Radway River drains three times the amount of country that
our own Bushkill does. And by the way the water comes in here, I believe
it. Look out there on the lake, will you; it shows that it's getting
wider right now."

"Why, in another half hour, if it keeps on the same way, it's going to
lap over pretty much all the lower part of the island," Jack declared.

Everything else was neglected now, and the scouts gathered along the side
of each boat, watching the lake. It was as if they half expected to see
the water suddenly take to rushing toward the spot where they knew the
peculiar outlet lay, not more than twenty feet across, and with abrupt
sides, one of which had been partly overhanging the water at the time
they entered.

It was, of course, this section which must have been dislodged by the
blast which shook the surrounding territory, filling the bed of the
stream, and causing the rapidly accumulating waters of the lake to back
up, since they could find no place to discharge, as usual.

It was while they were moodily watching the waste of waters that one of
the scouts, who had wandered across to the other side of the _Comfortt_
suddenly sounded a fresh alarm, that sent another thrill to the hearts of
the already excited boys.

"Hey! here's a lot of men comin' down on us, fellows I They're meanin' to
capture our boats, just like pirates. Boarders ahoy! Get busy everybody.
Clubs are trumps!"

As they rushed to the other side, some having to clamber over the heaps
of duffle that took up so much room aboard, the scouts saw that it was no
false alarm. A number of men were hurrying toward them, splashing through
water that was in places almost knee deep, even when they took the upper
levels. Should they make a blunder, and stray off the ridges, it was
likely they would speedily have to swim for it.

Paul was considerably aroused at first. They did not know very much
about these mysterious people of the island; and after their recent
rough experience, most of the boys were decidedly averse to knowing
anything more of them. And yet, here they were hurrying toward the
two motor-boats, as though they might indeed have some desperate
idea in view.

Perhaps they meant to capture the boats, so as to insure their escape
from the rising waters. And then again, it seemed at least possible
that they might want to keep the scouts from telling what strange
things they had seen.

So the first thing Paul did when he had that glimpse of the oncoming men,
was to hasten to possess himself of his double-barreled shotgun. Not that
he expected that there would be any necessity for firing it, but it was
apt to inspire a certain amount of respect.

And the balance of the scouts had made haste to arm themselves with
whatever they could find that would help hold the enemy at bay. Some had
brought their clubs aboard, others seized upon the push poles, while one
grabbed up the camp axe, and another seized upon the hatchet.

When eighteen husky and determined lads line the sides of two boats,
prepared to give a good account of themselves, it must needs be brave men
who would dare try to clamber aboard.

And it was about this time, when things were looking rather
squally around the floating homes of the scouts, that Paul noticed
something singular.



CHAPTER XXIX

LIFTING THE LID

Three men could be seen splashing desperately through the water; and they
seemed to be carrying a fourth, who was lying on a rude sort of litter,
as though he might either be sick, or badly hurt.

And so it flashed through Paul's mind that perhaps after all their
mission was not one of conquest, or even hostility, but that they were
seeking help.

"Hold up, fellows," he hastened to say; "we'll have to let them come
aboard now, because they never could get back to the hill again, with the
water rising so fast. Besides, I think they've got a wounded man along,
and need help. Don't forget we're scouts, and always ready to hold out a
helping hand."

"That's the ticket!" declared the impulsive Bobolink, forgetting his
warlike disposition when he saw the man on the litter.

So Paul beckoned to the men to approach. He had already made the
discovery that one of those who bore the litter was the big man who had
waved them away with such violent gestures, just before the terrible
explosion, when they happened to get too near the mine that was being
fired for some strange purpose.

Two minutes later, and still splashing through water that came almost up
to their hips, those who bore the injured man arrived close to the boats.

"Why, it's Professor Hackett who's being carried!" exclaimed Jack.

The small man on the litter, who looked very white, lifted his head with
an effort, and tried to wave his hand.

"Yes, that's who it is; and you're Jack Stormways; aren't you? Oh! I hope
that chum of yours can do something to stop this bleeding; I made them
carry me down here as a last chance. My man who was sent for a doctor in
our aeroplane, has not come back, and we're afraid he had an accident.
Can some of you boys help lift me aboard? I'm very weak from loss of
blood, and nearly gone."

His voice was as faint as a whisper; and indeed, it was a wonder that he
managed to speak at all.

The scouts had quite forgotten everything but that there was some one in
trouble. Tender hands immediately were forthcoming to assist in raising
litter and man over the side of the boat. Then the three attendants
climbed aboard, and strange to say the scouts seemed to have forgotten
all their fear of the men they had believed to be lawbreakers. For now
they saw that they were an intelligent lot of men, who bore little
resemblance to such criminals as they had seemed to be.

Paul had long been interested in surgery. His father was the leading
doctor of Stanhope, and had always encouraged this fancy in the boy. It
seemed that the professor chanced to remember that he had been told about
the ability of Jack Stormways' chum; and when matters began to look
desperate, since none of his assistants could seem to stop the flow of
blood that followed his accident, as a last resort he had forced them to
put him on a litter, and make for the spot where they knew the scouts had
their camp, the man in the aeroplane having signaled the fact back to
them, just as Paul suspected.

Of course they had not dreamed of such a thing as the lake rising, until
they had gone too far to retreat; and then they took desperate chances of
finding the boys still there, where they had boats with which they could
go to the mainland.

Paul busied himself immediately. It was a pretty bad wound that the
little man had received, and his left arm would be practically useless
the balance of time; but he cared not for this, if only his life might
be spared.

Jack and Jud assisted whenever their services were needed and in the end
Paul had not only stopped the flow of blood, but had the injured arm
neatly bandaged--as well, the professor weakly declared, as any surgeon
could have done.

"And now," said Paul, turning on the big man, who had hovered around
anxiously, watching what was being done, as though he thought a great
deal of the professor; "in return for what we've done, won't you please
tell us who and what you are, and why you're doing all these queer stunts
away up here on this lonely island, where nobody can see you? We're all
mixed up, and don't know what to think. At first we believed you must be
a lot of counterfeiters hiding from the Government agents; but what with
these explosions, and such things as aeroplanes, I'm getting it in my
head that it means you're trying out some big sensations that are going
to be sprung on the Coney Island public next season."

"And that's where you made a pretty clever guess, my boy," said the big
man, as he settled down to take it a bit more easily after his recent
hard work; "Professor Hackett has invented most of the biggest sensations
seen at seaside resorts these last ten years. He expects to excel his
record next season, and then retire; and I tell you, now, I began to
think he'd retire another way, if he lost much more blood from that
wound, which he got by accident this morning."

The scouts looked at each other, and a broad smile appeared on many a
face that only a short time before had been pale with apprehension.

When a thing that has seemed a dark mystery is finally explained, it
often looks so easy and simple that all of us wonder how we ever could
have bothered our heads over such a puzzle. And so it was in this case.
Why did it come that no one had guessed the true explanation before, when
it was so easy?

They began to tell the big man all about their experiences, and how so
many things seemed to make it appear that the strangers were hiding
from officers.

"How about that fellow who was hanging around my father's mill that night
you had your two big boxes stored there?" Jack asked.

"He represented a rival inventor, who has always been jealous of
Professor Hackett, and is forever trying to find out what he has on the
stocks," replied the big man, whose name they learned was Mr. Jameson, an
able assistant to the inventor of aerial bombs, brilliant exploding
mines, and a dozen other wonders that thrill audiences at the seashore
each season.

"But wouldn't he be likely to follow the wagon when it took the boxes
away in the morning?" the boy continued to ask.

"Oh! we put him on a false scent, by shipping two other boxes away on a
train," was the reply. "He must have gone two hundred miles before he
discovered his mistake; and I doubt very much if he knows yet, but is
watching those cases to see what we do with them, away out in western New
York State."

"Er, how about these?" asked Bobolink, jingling the two shining quarters
in his hand. "I picked 'em up close to that field smithy you have on the
island. We thought they were the best counterfeits we ever saw. I guess
they are."

"I lost a bunch of small change through a hole in my pocket," laughed the
man, "and so I judge those are a part of it. But keep them as souvenirs
of your wonderful adventures on Cedar Island. Every time you look at them
you'll remember that narrow escape you and your friends had when you came
near stepping on a mine, the fuse of which had been lighted; for
Professor Hackett, even while he was wounded, would not hear of us
stopping our work."

"Thanks," replied the gratified Bobolink, again pocketing the quarters
that had been the cause of so much speculation among the seven scouts;
"I'll be glad to accept your kind offer. But there's another thing we'd
like to know."

"Speak up, then, and I'll be pleased to accommodate you, if the
knowledge is in my power to bestow. This flood bids fair to bring our
experiments to an end for the time being, even if the professor's
weakness hadn't made it necessary that we get to some place where he can
receive the right kind of care, to build up his strength. What's
bothering you now, my boy?"

"How about the wild man?" asked Bobolink.

"Oh! he was here when we came, and we made friends with him," the other
replied, promptly. "You see, some of us have been up here for a month. We
had some new stuff shipped in those big cases; but it'll all be rusted
now by this water. The poor fellow is harmless, for all he looks so
fierce. Why, at the smell of coffee the tears trickled down his dirty
cheeks like rain; it seemed to be just one last link that bound his
flitting memory to something in the far-away past. We gave him an old
saucepan to cook it in, and showed him how. Ever since he's visited us
often, and we supplied him with food, because it seemed as though he was
the one who had first right to this island."

"I hope the poor old chap has the good sense to climb that hill, and get
away from the rising water," remarked Jack, with some feeling. "Have you
any idea who he can be, or where he came from?"

"We made up our minds that he had been out of his head a long time, and
perhaps had escaped from some institution. He mentioned the name of John
Pennington once, and we think it must have been his. The professor
intended to make inquiries, later on, and if possible have him returned
to his home, wherever it might be."

"Did he have a big yellow dog tied up at his shack?" asked Nuthin,
eagerly, as though he wished to settle that point, because the animal in
question had once belonged to the Cypher family.

"Yes," answered Mr. Jameson, "but it got away from him one night, by
breaking the rope, and he's been making a great fuss about it ever since.
But from the ugly looks of the beast, I'd sooner put a bullet in him than
try to make friends."

"Well, that about finishes the list of questions we've been nearly dying
to ask somebody," remarked Bobolink, "and seems like everything's been
explained. What we want to know now, and there isn't a livin' soul c'n
tell the answer to that, I reckon, is, how high is this old lake goin' to
get before she commences to fall again? And how in Sam Hill are we
expectin' to ride those motor-boats over that pile of rocks and mud, that
lies in the outlet? Anybody know the answer? I'd like to hear it."

But they shook their heads. Nobody could say, although all sorts
of guesses ran the rounds, for the scouts were good hands at that
sort of thing.

The water was still rising, and apparently just as fast as ever. Already
it had encroached upon the main part of the island; and Mr. Jameson
declared that he was sure it must be all around the shed where they kept
their machinery, that had been brought secretly to this isolated spot,
where they hoped to complete the greatest marvel in the way of sensations
ever known to curious crowds at watering places.

"It'll be badly hurt, unless the water goes down soon," remarked the
big man; "but that doesn't seem to be the worst thing that can happen,
if what your Doctor Paul here, says, turns out to be true, and the
water goes out of the lake in a raging torrent that may drag boats and
all with it."



CHAPTER XXX

GOOD-BYE TO CEDAR ISLAND


They passed a most anxious hour, after the coming of the professor and
his assistants. The lake kept on rising until pretty much all of the
island except the hill was under water. Of course the trees stood out,
but most of their roots were under ten feet or more of water.

It would not last much longer, that they knew, for the supply must be
falling short, and besides there was always a chance that the fearful
force exerted by such a mass of pent-up water would break away the
obstruction that clogged the outlet.

Paul had done everything he could think of to add to their security in
case the worst came. Some of the scouts were even perched in the
neighboring trees. These were the more timid, who Paul knew were
shivering from anxiety, and watching the spot where the lake water
ordinarily escaped, as though dreading lest at any second they should see
a sudden heave that would mean the beginning of the end.

"Good news, Paul!" sang out Jud Elderkin, to whom had been delegated the
duty of keeping watch on the rise of the flood. "She's stationary at last
Never rose a bit the last ten minutes. And believe me, I honestly think
she's begun to go down just a little."

The other boys let out a cheer at this news. That was what they were all
hoping for--that the water would go down gradually, so as not to endanger
the motorboats.

Just how the craft were to get out of the lake, if the exit remained
closed, no one could say; but then they might look to Paul to open a way
somehow. He could make use of some dynamite to blow up the obstructions,
so Mr. Jameson had suggested, and it sounded all right.

Five minutes later Jud was quite positive that the tide was on the ebb.

"Two inches lower than she was at the highest point. Paul!" he called
out, jubilantly.

"Hurrah! that sounds good to me!" exclaimed Bobolink, swinging his
campaign hat vigorously about his head, as he sat in the bow of the
_Comfort_, it being a part of his task to watch the cable, and if the
worst came to ease up on it so that there would be less likelihood of a
sudden snap.

"But we're not out of danger yet, remember," cautioned the scout master.

Presently the water was lowering at a still faster rate.

"Looks like the opening might be getting larger," said Jack, when this
fact was made clear beyond any doubt.

"Watch over there," said Paul, "and see if there's any sudden rush,
though already the water is escaping so fast that I begin to believe we
might hold on here, even if the whole pile of earth and rocks were washed
away, leaving the channel clear."

Five, ten, fifteen minutes crept along, and all the while the water kept
going steadily down until much of the island could be seen again under
the trees.

"Oh! look, there she goes!" cried Bobolink, without warning, and thereby
causing some of the fellows who had descended from the trees to wish they
were aloft again.

Over in the vicinity of the outlet they could see something of a
commotion. The water seemed to be running down hill, as it struggled to
pour out through the now cleared passage.

Immediately the boats felt the suction, which must have been very strong
indeed. They strained at their ropes, and those who had the cables in
charge obeyed the instructions given to them, allowing a certain length
of line to slip, thus easing the fearful drag.

"Whoop! they're going to hold!" exclaimed Bobolink, in great glee.

Paul believed so himself, and a smile came to his face that up to now had
looked careworn and anxious; for a dreadful catastrophe had been hovering
over them, he felt certain.

And the ropes did make good, holding in spite of that fierce drag. The
water soon got down to about its normal level, when the pull upon the
hawsers ceased, and everything seemed to settle back into the old rut.

But the boys had had quite enough of Cedar Island. It was water-soaked
now, and offered little attraction to them for camping. Paul suggested
that they leave the cove and head for a certain section of the main shore
which, on account of being much higher than the island, had not been
overflowed.

There was not a single voice raised in opposition, and so they started
the motors and with a series of derisive sounds that seemed almost like
chuckles the boats said goodbye to Cedar Island. Landing they found a
splendid spot for the erection of the tents, and before the coming of
night the scouts were as snugly fixed as though nothing had happened to
disturb them.

The injured professor declared that he meant to stick by Paul until his
messenger arrived with a carriage and a doctor by way of the road, which
ran only a half mile away from the lake.

He expressed himself satisfied with the work Paul had done on his arm,
and believed it to be the right thing.

They hoped to spend a quiet night. There would be no bomb explosions in
the heavens to disturb them, at least. Mr. Jameson had already
explained to the boys that, if they had happened to be awake at the
time of that first tremendous shock, they must have seen by the glare
in the heavens that it was a new kind of aerial bomb that had been
fired; and possibly under such conditions some one of the scouts would
have guessed the truth. But when they crept out of the tents there was
nothing to be seen aloft.

Luckily, these wide-awake boys could accommodate themselves to their
surroundings. Their former experiences had made most of them
quickwitted, resolute and cheerful under difficulties that might have
daunted most lads.

Although they had received a tremendous shock because of the numerous
remarkable occurrences that had taken place since their landing on Cedar
Island, now that their troubles seemed to have departed, most of the
scouts were just as full of life and good-natured "chaff" as ever.

Bluff seemed to never tire of entertaining those who had not been
fortunate enough to be among the valiant band of explorers with
wonderful accounts of all they had seen. He had them holding their
very breath with awe, as he described, in his own way, how they first
of all crept up to the shack in the thicket and looked in upon the
wild man asleep.

But when Bluff told of how he and his comrades had been warned off in
such a dramatic manner by the unknown man, and immediately afterwards
found themselves knocked down by that tremendous concussion, as the
explosion took place, he had them hanging on his every sentence.

But words failed Bluff when he tried to picture the wild scene that had
followed. That furious scamper through the wooded part of the island must
remain pretty much in the nature of a nightmare with the boys.

Phil and Bobolink and Andy all eagerly chimed in, trying to do the
subject justice, but after all it seemed beyond their powers. They could
only end by holding up both hands, rolling their eyes, shrugging their
shoulders, and then mutely pointing to the various cuts, scratches and
contusions that decorated their faces. The rest had to be left to the
imagination.

Fortunately there was an abundance of witch hazel ointment along, so that
every sufferer was able to anoint his hurts. The whole bunch seemed to
fairly _glisten_ from the time of their arrival at the boats. Indeed,
there never had been such a wholesale raid made upon the medical
department since the Stanhope Troup of Banner Boy Scouts was organized.

But after all was said and done they had come out of the whole affair at
least with honor. And now that the peril was a thing of the past they
could well afford to laugh at their adventures on Cedar Island.



CHAPTER XXXI

A SCOUT'S DUTY


"Seems like a dream; don't it, Paul?"

Jack dropped down beside the acting scout master as he made this
remark. He had just stepped out from the new camp on the mainland, and
found Paul sitting upon a log, looking across the water in the
direction they had come.

The sun was just setting, and a rosy flush filled the western heavens. It
seemed to fall softly upon mysterious Cedar Island, nestling there in the
midst of the now tranquil waters.

Paul looked up with a smile, as he made room on the log for his chum, who
had always been so willing to stand by him through thick and thin.

"Well, do you know, Jack," he spoke, "that was just exactly what seemed
to strike me. I was staring hard at the island, and wondering if I had
been asleep and dreamed all those queer happenings. Fact is, just before
you spoke I even pinched my leg to see if I was really wide awake."

The other laughed at this.

"Oh! you're awake, all right, Paul," he remarked. "You seemed to get off
without any show of damage to your good-looking face. As for the rest of
us, if ever we begin to think we've been and dreamed it, we've got a
remedy better than pinching. All we have to do is to bend down over a
still pool of water and take a look at our faces. That'll convince us in
a hurry we _did_ have a lively time of it."

Paul pointed across the lake to where the island lay bathed in that
wonderful afterglow that shone from the painted heavens.

"Did you ever see a prettier sight?" he asked. "It looks as peaceful as
any picture could be. You wouldn't think a bunch of fellows could run up
against such a lot of trouble over on such a fine little place as Cedar
Island; would you, now?"

"I feel the same way you do, Paul; and I'd say we never ought to have
left it, only after the flood it'd be a muddy place, and we wouldn't take
any pleasure getting around."

"Oh! well," Paul rejoined cheerfully, "after all, perhaps it isn't our
last visit up this way. Who knows but what we may have another chance to
come over here and look around. It was a good scheme, I'm thinking, Jack,
and we'll never be sorry we came."

"I should say not," remarked the other, quickly; "just turn around and
take a look back into our camp. See where Professor Hackett is lying
propped up with pillows from the boats. Well, suppose we'd never come
over this way, what d'ye think would have happened to him? He says he
owes his life to your skill, Paul, and that, try as they would, Mr.
Jameson and the other assistants couldn't seem to stop the bleeding. That
alone pays us for all we've gone through, Paul."

"I guess it does," Paul admitted, readily, "because he's a smart man, and
has done a lot to entertain the crowds that go to the seashore to rest
and forget their troubles. But I'm glad none of the boys seem to have
suffered any serious damage from the effect of the explosion or that mad
chase afterwards."

"Yes, we ought to call ourselves lucky, and let it go at that,"
Jack remarked.

"When you think about all that might have happened, I tell you we've got
lots of reason to be thankful," Paul went on, with considerable feeling.

"Sure we have," added Jack. "Instead of that stick taking me in the
cheek, it might have struck my eye and injured my sight for life."

"And where I got only a wrench that may make me limp a little for a few
days, I could have broken a leg," said Paul.

"That's one of the rules scouts have to keep in mind, you know," Jack
continued; "always be cheerful and look on the bright side of things. I
reckon there never comes a time when you can't find a rainbow of promise
if you look far enough. Things are never as bad as they might be."

"The boys seem to have settled down here just as if they meant to enjoy
the rest of the stay," Paul observed, as he turned his head again, so as
to look at the bustling camp close by.

"Yes, and even the very air seems to tell of peace and plenty," said
Jack, with a little laugh, as he sniffed the appetizing odors that were
beginning to announce that preparations for the evening meal had started.

"You're right," agreed Paul, "I guess there's nothing more 'homey' than
the smell of onions frying. I never get a whiff of it on the street of a
winter evening but what I seem to see some of the camps I've been in. And
then, just think how it gets your appetite on edge, till you can hardly
wait for the cook to call out that supper's ready. But I was thinking of
some other things when you came up."

"I reckon I could mention one of them," said Jack.

"Let's hear, then," the other demanded.

Jack swept his hand down the lake in the direction of the outlet.

"You're worrying about that," he said.

"Well, that's just about the size of it, Jack. We know the lake's gone
down to about what it was before the storm hit us; but what if a great
big rock blocks the passage?"

"You know what Mr. Jameson said you could do?" Jack remarked.

"About the dynamite, to blast an opening big enough for our boats to get
through? Yes, Jack, I suppose that could be done."

"And he says he'll stand by to see that it _is_ done," the other
continued. "As Mr. Jameson is an expert at all sorts of explosives, you
can just make up your mind we'll have no trouble getting away. Besides,
Paul, I've got a feeling that when we go down in the morning to take a
survey, we'll be more than pleased with the way things look."

"Which all sounds good to me," Paul hastened to declare. "Anyhow, I'm
going to believe it's bound to turn out as you say. In spite of our
troubles we've been a pretty lucky lot."

"But you talked as though the getting away part of the business was only
a part of what you had on your mind," Jack went on.

"There was something else," the other scout admitted.

"Suppose you open up and tell me, Paul; because somehow I don't seem to
be able to get what you mean."

"It seems to me," the patrol leader remarked, seriously, "that while all
of us scouts, and the professor's party in the bargain, have been shaking
hands with each other over the lucky escape we had, we've pretty near
forgotten one poor chap."

Jack gave a start, and then whistled softly.

"That's right, Paul," he said, "for I take it you mean the crazy
islander."

"How do we know what happened to him?" Paul continued.

"But Mr. Jameson seemed to feel sure he would take to the hill when the
flood came," Jack replied. "And he also told us, you remember, that some
of their food was at a higher point than the water could have reached.
So, if the crazy man wanders about that camp, there's no need of his
going hungry long."

"I guess that's about so," Paul agreed, as though these words from his
chum took away some of his anxiety. "From what they say, it seems as if
he has come to look on them as friends. So, chances are ten to one he'd
go to their different camps after the flood went down."

"Queer how he came to be here," Jack remarked.

"Oh, I don't know," the other observed; "there's no telling what a crazy
person will do. His coming to this island must have been with the hazy
notion that any one searching for him couldn't find him here."

"Searching for him, Paul?"

"Well, you remember Mr. Jameson said he had an idea the poor fellow must
have escaped from some institution," Jack continued.

"Yes, he did say that; and for all he looks so big and fierce, with his
long hair and beard, he's harmless. But, Jack, between us now, do you
think we could go back home when our little vacation trip is over and
feel that we'd done _all_ our duty as true scouts, when that poor chap
had been left up here--perhaps to starve on Cedar Island?"

"Whew! You're the greatest boy I ever saw, Paul, to get a grip on a
situation and remember things."

"But--answer my question," persisted the other.

"Well, what you said must be so," Jack acknowledged; "and it makes me
feel pretty small to remember that, while we've all been feeling so merry
over our wonderful escape, I'd forgotten all about _him_."

"Jack, it's too late to do anything tonight, you know."

"I reckon it is, Paul," replied the other, looking a bit anxiously across
the water to where the glow was commencing to give way to shadows along
the wooded shore of Cedar Island; "but if you thought best, I'd be
willing to take the lantern and cross over with you."

Paul thrust out his hand impulsively.

"Shake on that, old chum," he exclaimed. "Your heart's as big as a bushel
basket, and in the right place every time. But on the whole, Jack, I
don't believe it would be the wise thing for us to do."

"Just as you say, Paul; only I wanted you to know I was ready to back you
up in anything."

"We're both tired, and sore in the bargain," continued the scout
master, steadily.

"Yes," Jack admitted, unconsciously caressing his painful bruises.

"The island is in a bad state just now, after being flooded," Paul
continued.

"That's right, I can jolly well believe it," his chum agreed.

"And if the wild man hasn't been drowned, he'll surely be able to look
out for himself a while longer. Mr. Jameson felt sure he wouldn't starve,
with all the food they left behind."

"Then it won't hurt to let it go till tomorrow, eh, Paul?"

"I had made up my mind that we'd organize another party, this time taking
some of the fellows who have been kept in camp, and comb Cedar Island
from end to end to find that man."

"A good plan, Paul," said the other scout; "but do you think he'll make
friends with us, even when we find him?"

"Mr. Jameson says he understands the peace sign," the scout master
continued, "and must really have had a bright mind at some time. He told
me he had an idea the man may have met with some injury that had
unsettled his reason. He seemed to be greatly interested in all they were
doing, and several times even made suggestions that startled the
professor."

"I remember that much, too," said Jack, "and Mr. Jameson also said he
meant to try and learn if anybody knew about a John Pennington. That was
the name the man spoke once in his rambling talk."

"Well, perhaps we may be able in some way to do the poor fellow a good
turn, Jack. I hope so, anyhow. My! how those boys are trying to beat the
record at getting up a grand supper. Seems to me my appetite is growing
at the rate of a mile a minute."

"If it keeps on that way, good-bye to our stock of provisions," laughed
Jack; "but, to tell the truth, I feel pretty much the same. The most
welcome sound I could hear right now would be Bluff calling everybody to
get a share of that fine mess."

"Then you won't have to wait long, I guess," his chum declared,
"because from all the signs of dishing out I imagine they're about ready
right now."

Paul proved a true prophet, for immediately Bluff began to ding-dong upon
a sheet iron frying pan, using a big spoon to produce a discord that, in
the ears of the hungry boys, was the sweetest music in the world.

Gathering around, the scouts made a merry group as they proceeded to
demolish the stacks of savory food that had been heaped upon their tin
plates; and drink to each other's health in the fragrant coffee that
steamed in the generous cups, also of tin, belonging to their mess chest.

After supper the scouts sat around, and while some of them worked at
various things in which they were particularly interested, such as
developing the films that would give a dozen views of the great flood,
others sang songs or listened to Mr. Jameson tell strange stories.

The man had been to the corners of the world during a busy lifetime,
often with scientific parties sent out by societies interested in
geography, natural history or astronomy. And hence it had fallen to the
lot of Mr. Jameson to experience some remarkable adventures. The boys
felt that he was the most interesting talker they had ever met.

After several hours had slipped by, some of the scouts, notably those
who had been among the bold explorers band, were discovered to be nodding
drowsily. Indeed, Andy and Tom Betts had gone sound asleep, just as they
lay curled up before the fire. The warmth of the blaze, together with the
unusual exertions of the day, had been too much for the boys.

And so the bugler was told to sound "taps" to signify that it was time
they crawled under their blankets.

A few chose to sleep aboard the motor boats, which, of course, relieved
the tents from overcrowding. Professor Hackett and his assistants had
been lodged in one of the tents, which fact had something to do with the
lack of room.

But presently all these things had been arranged. Paul himself intended
to pass the night in the open. He declared he would really enjoy the
experience; and two others insisted on keeping him company--little Nuthin
and Bobolink.

So Paul, who knew a lot about these things, showed them just how to wrap
themselves up like mummies in their blankets, and then lie with their
feet to the fire. He said old hunters and cowboys always slept that way
when camping in the open.



CHAPTER XXXII

CONCLUSION


Paul was awakened by feeling something nudging him in the ribs. It was
Bobolink's elbow; and, thinking at first that it might be an accident,
the scout master made no move.

But again he received a severe jolt. And at the same time came a whisper
close in his ear:

"Paul! Are you awake?" Bobolink was saying, so low that any one six feet
away could not have heard his voice.

"What ails you?" asked Paul.

He might have imagined that the other had been taken ill, from over
feeding, perhaps, and wanted Paul, as the doctor of the troop, to give
him some medicine. But on second thought Paul realized that there was too
much mystery about the action of Bobolink to admit of such an
explanation.

"Listen, Paul," the other went on, still whispering, "there's some sort
of wild beast goin' to raid the camp!"

"What's that?" asked the scout master, a little sternly, for, knowing
the weakness of Bobolink in the line of practical joking, he suspected
that the other might be up to some of his old tricks.

And Bobolink must have detected an air of doubt in the manner in which
Paul spoke those two words, for he immediately resumed:

"Honest Injun, Paul, I ain't foolin'! Say, do they have panthers around
here? Because that's what I think it must be."

"Where'd you see it?"

As Paul put this question he was working his arms free from the folds of
his blanket. When he lay down, more through force of habit than because
he thought there would be any need of such a thing, Paul had placed his
shotgun on the ground beside him. And no sooner was his right hand at
liberty than, groping around, he took possession of it.

"Up in that big oak tree," Bobolink went on. "You watch where that limb
hangs out over the camp and you'll see somethin' move; or I've been
dreamin', that's all."

Paul did not have to twist his head very far around in order to see the
spot in question. He watched it as the seconds began to troop along,
until almost a fell minute had gone.

And Paul was just about to believe Bobolink must have been dreaming, when
he, too, saw the bunch of leaves violently agitated.

Undoubtedly some tree-climbing animal was up there. Paul felt a thrill
pass through him. Unconsciously, perhaps, his fingers tightened their
grip upon the shotgun, which was apt to prove a tower of strength in case
the worst that could happen came to pass.

Straining his eyes, as he partly lifted his head, Paul believed he could
just make out a shadowy form stretched upon the large oak limb.

He was more than puzzled.

Wild animals were not altogether unknown within the twenty-mile limit
around Stanhope. A bear might be seen occasionally--or at least the
tracks of one, for the timid beast knew enough to hide in the daytime in
one of the numerous swamps.

But this did not seem large enough for a bear, which would have surely
made a more bulky object clinging to the limb. Moreover, bears were not
reckoned bold, and no hunter had ever known one to come spying around a
camp. As soon as the trail of human beings is run across by a bear, the
animal always takes the alarm and hastens to its den, to lie low until
the danger has passed.

But Bobolink had mentioned the magic word "panther," and this caused the
other aroused scout to look more closely at the dimly seen object Sure
enough it did seem to be flattened out on the limb, much as Paul
imagined a big cat might lie.

"What'd we better do about it, Paul--give a yell and jump up?" Bobolink
asked, his voice quivering, perhaps with excitement, or it might be under
stress of alarm; for it was not the nicest thing in the world to be lying
there helpless with a hungry panther crouching above.

"Wait, and let's make sure," replied the careful Paul.

Some impetuous boys would have thought, the very first thing, of bringing
that double-barrelled gun to bear on the dark, shadowy figure, and
cutting loose, perhaps even firing both charges at once.

At such close range, less than thirty feet, a shell containing even bird
shot is apt to be projected with all the destructive qualities of a large
bullet. Paul knew all about this, and also had faith in the hard-hitting
qualities of his long tested gun; but he was not the one to be tempted
into any rash action.

"Be sure you're right; then go ahead," was a motto which Paul always
tried to practice. He had certainly found it worth while on more than one
occasion in the past, and it was likely to serve him well now.

And so he waited, ready for a sudden emergency, but not allowing himself
to be hurried.

He soon had reason to feel very thankful that his good sense had
prevailed, for presently the leaves were again set to shaking and, as
they parted, Paul saw something that gave him a shock.

"Oh! what d'ye think of that, now? It's the wild man of Cedar Island!"
gasped Bobolink, actually sitting up in his excitement.

And Paul had already made certain of this fact as soon as his eyes
fell upon the hairy face seen among the branches. The shudder that
passed through his frame had nothing to do with fear. Paul was only
horrified to realize what might have happened had he taken Bobolink's
suggestion for the truth, and fully believed the figure in the oak to
be a savage panther.

"We'd better let Mr. Jameson know," Paul remarked, as he also sat up and
cleared his legs of the blanket.

"Yes, he'll know how to get him down. I bet you, Paul, the feller went
and swam across from the island. But how would he guess we were here?"

"Oh! he could see the boats in the day time; and don't forget we've had a
fire burning all night, so far," said the scout master.

When Mr. Jameson came out of the tent, in answer to Paul's low summons,
and learned what had happened, he readily agreed to influence the wild
man to come down. The poor fellow had learned to look on Mr. Jameson as
a friend, and, realizing that he had abandoned the island, doubtless it
was his desire to see him again that had induced this visit.

He proved to be harmless, and upon being given food ate ravenously. Later
on it was discovered that he had launched a log and made his way to the
mainland by means of this crude craft, with a branch for a paddle.

Mr. Jameson declared that he would take the stranger to Stanhope when the
vehicle came for the professor, and do all in his power to learn just who
he was, as well as get him safely back among his friends.

To dispose of the wild man of Cedar Island once and for all, it might be
said right here that Mr. Jameson kept his word. The name John Pennington
served as a clue, and in the end he learned that was his name. He had
lost his mind through an accident and, though his case was deemed
hopeless, occasionally he was apt to have little flashes of his former
cleverness. He was returned to the sanitarium from which he had escaped,
and the boys never heard of him again. But the memory of the wild man
would always be associated with Cedar Island.

On the following day Paul and Jack managed to get around to the outlet,
for the scout master was anxious to learn what the chances of their
leaving the lake, when they were ready, might be.

They found that, just as had been believed that shoulder of rock and
earth had been shaken loose by the tremor of the earth at the time of the
big shock, when the professor was experimenting with some new explosive.

In falling, it had indeed dammed the outlet, and the storm coming so soon
after, of course the water in the lake had risen at a frightful rate. In
the end the obstruction had commenced to disappear; but luckily for all
concerned, it had held fairly well until much of the water had escaped,
when finally it had given way.

The channel was as good as ever; indeed, Paul seemed to think that
it offered fewer impediments to a passage now than before all this
had happened.

That eased the minds of the scouts, and they could go back again to their
camp with good news for the others.

A carriage came that day for the professor, and his assistants managed to
carry him across country to the road; just as they had undoubtedly done
the two big boxes of material that came from Mr. Stormways' mill that
other day.

He shook hands with each and every scout before leaving, and promised to
remember them always for what they had done. When he came to Paul, he
clung to his hand, and there were tears in the eyes of the little
professor as he, said:

"I honestly believe that you saved my life, my boy, and I trust that
through your ability I may be spared a few more years. And depend on it,
I'm never going to let you get out of touch with me, Paul Morrison. I
hope to live to see you a great surgeon, some day."

The scouts filled out the balance of their vacation at the lake, and
considered that they had had some of the strangest experiences that could
happen to a group of boys; but although at the time they could not
suspect it, there were still more interesting things in store for Paul
and his comrades of Stanhope Troop of Boy Scouts. What these were, you
will find related in the next volume of this series, to be called, "The
Banner Boy Scouts Snowbound; Or, A Tour on Skates and Iceboats."

When the time came for them to start back, it was with more or less
anxiety that they came to the canal connecting the waters of the two
rivers flowing parallel for a few miles, and only a short distance apart.

But they need not have borrowed trouble, for the Bushkill was still
higher than usual at this season of the year and all through the
disused canal they found plenty of water, so that neither of the boats
stuck in the mud.

In good time, then, the Banner Boy Scouts arrived home, to thrill the
lads who had not been fortunate enough to accompany them on their trip
afloat, with wonderful accounts of all the remarkable things which had
happened to them while in camp on Cedar Island.





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