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Title: The Boy Scouts of the Signal Corps
Author: Shaler, Robert
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                             THE BOY SCOUTS
                                 OF THE
                              SIGNAL CORPS


                                   BY
                             ROBERT SHALER


                                NEW YORK
                            HURST & COMPANY
                               PUBLISHERS



                        Sterling Boy Scout Books


                    _Bound in cloth_    _Ten titles_


  1 Boy Scouts of the Signal Corps.
  2 Boy Scouts of Pioneer Camp.
  3 Boy Scouts of the Geological Survey.
  4 Boy Scouts of the Life Saving Crew.
  5 Boy Scouts on Picket Duty.
  6 Boy Scouts of the Flying Squadron.
  7 Boy Scouts and the Prize Pennant.
  8 Boy Scouts of the Naval Reserve.
  9 Boy Scouts in the Saddle.
  10 Boy Scouts for City Improvement.


_You can purchase any of the above books at the price you paid for this
one, or the publishers will send any book, postpaid, upon receipt of
25c._

                        HURST & CO., Publishers
                      432 Fourth Avenue, New York

                  Copyright, 1914, by Hurst & Company.



                                CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
  I. Great Expectations                                                5
  II. Forming the Signal Corps                                        21
  III. A Perilous Encounter                                           35
  IV. A Fire in Camp                                                  48
  V. Reveille                                                         65
  VI. The Chosen Few                                                  81
  VII. The End of the Hike                                            97
  VIII. An Unexpected Reproof                                        113
  IX. The Sham Battle                                                128
  X. Around the Council-Fire                                         140
  XI. A Mountain Adventure                                           152



                   The Boy Scouts of the Signal Corps



                               CHAPTER I.
                          GREAT EXPECTATIONS.


“Hi! you, Billy Worth!” cried the leader of the Wolf patrol, a tall
youth of seventeen named Hugh Hardin, addressing his assistant.
“Scramble out of that bunky, my boy, in two wags of a Wolf’s tail, or
I’ll have scout’s law on you!”

“All right, chief! Coming!” was the prompt response, as Billy, thus
adjured, turned over in his bunk and thrust one long leg over the edge.

His bare brown foot, dangling perilously near the head of another boy
whose bunk was beneath Billy’s, proved too great a temptation for the
lad. Pulling a whisp of straw from his mattress, he proceeded to tickle
the sole of that foot, thereby causing Billy to elevate it hastily with
a loud squeal.

As he did so, Hugh made a dexterous sweep of his arms, and, grasping
Billy around the knees, almost flung him over one broad shoulder and
deposited him none too gently on the floor.

“Ouch!” whooped Billy.

His shout and the dull thump of his fall aroused other inmates of the
cabin who had not already wakened in time to witness the onslaught.

“Help! Murder!” yelled a scout of the patrol.

“Shut up!” another boy said, laughing, as he sprang from his bunk.
“What’s going on here, anyway?”

“Not hurt, are you, old man?” inquired Hugh, a trifle anxiously, for he
seldom cared to perpetrate practical jokes. “I didn’t mean to——”

No response from Billy. He lay where he had fallen, with one arm
outstretched, the other pillowing his head. His face was covered by a
limp hand, but between his fingers he slyly peeped out, and his
twinkling eyes sought the serious face of Hugh, who was bending over
him.

“Billy’s done for!” said the lad who had tickled him. “Let’s put him to
bed, chief, for he will be happier there.”

Ignoring this facetious suggestion, Hugh bent still lower; he even
dropped upon one knee, and put his hands on Billy’s shoulder.

“Wake up, son!” he urged, smiling and giving his chum a gentle shake.
“First round is over, and in ten seconds you will be counted out.”

This was the chance for which Billy had been waiting. Now he saw that
Hugh was completely off his guard. Suddenly his free hand shot out,
grasped Hugh’s ankle from behind, gave it a strong push—and the next
instant Hugh measured his length on the floor. Before Hugh could fully
realize what had happened to upset his equilibrium, Billy gathered up
his own sprawling limbs, and hurled himself upon his fallen leader.

“Down and out, am I?” he gurgled. “Who said so? Come on, we’ll——”

“Sure! We’ll see!” As he spoke, Hugh struggled free from the other’s
hold, and met the reprisal with his usual jolly laugh. “Good for you,
Billy! Good one on me! O-ho!”—he dodged nimbly a “half-Nelson” which
Billy had vainly attempted—“none of your famous strangle-holds, now!”

Then ensued a rough-and-tumble match, the outcome of which was awaited
in joyous suspense by every scout in the cabin. They all gathered in a
wide circle around the wrestlers, showering liberal encouragement. Had
the match been between Hugh or Billy and a member of the other patrol,
however friendly, it might not have been greeted with the same
impartiality.

The circle soon narrowed, for not more than three minutes elapsed before
both contestants were down on their sides, facing each other. Hugh,
being quicker and less stockily built than his chum, was the first to
make a final overthrow. In a trice, he pulled Billy under him; and,
though Billy put up a good fight, he crumpled flat under Hugh’s weight.

“You win!” he gasped. “Get off my arm,—it hurts!”

“Sorry, son,” said Hugh, when murmurs of applause had died away. “Shall
I put you back to bed now?”

“No, thank you; I——”

Laughter greeted Hugh’s query, for Billy Worth bore an undeserved
reputation of being a sluggard. On his part, he took the laugh
good-humoredly.

“Is that what you call doing a daily good turn?” he inquired of Hardin,
with a grin. “You’ve begun the day nicely, I must say!”

“_You_ did the good turn, old scout!” called Walter Osborne, of the Hawk
patrol, from across the room. “I never saw a neater tumble!”

“I’ll take a fall out of you for that, Walt!” threatened Billy,
cheerfully. “If we have archery practice to-day, you’ll miss a feather
from your wing!”

“Hear! Hear!” came a chorus of voices.

“Fly at him, Walt!” urged one of young Osborne’s patrol.

“Go to it, beak and claws,” added another.

“Billy the Wolf’ll catch you if you don’t watch out!” chanted a third,
in a sing-song voice, thumping his pillow as if to beat time to the
words.

Neither Billy nor Hugh made any response to this friendly taunt. Hugh
turned aside and, going to the rear of the room where a tier of lockers
stood, numbered to correspond with the bunks, he drew out a pair of
bathing trunks.

“Going for a swim before breakfast?” asked Billy, turning to a young
fellow who appeared in the doorway of the cabin and paused on the
threshold outside.

“Are you?” came the evasive answer.

“You bet! The Lieutenant gave us permission yesterday, and we’re off to
the lake, bright and early.”

“I see,” remarked the outsider, glancing around the cabin, which was
filled with boys in various stages of undress.

Something in the tone of his voice, a note of wistful bitterness, struck
the ears of Hugh Hardin, who was standing near enough to overhear this
brief colloquy. He looked up from the process of tying the strings of
his shorts tight, and was on the point of making some remark, when,
recognizing the visitor, he kept silence.

Billy Worth was not so tactful.

“Come along, Alec,” he urged. “The water’s fine!”

“Can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I’m on police duty, as punishment.”

“Punishment? For what?”

“Carelessness,” was Alec’s truthful, albeit sulky, reply. “Yesterday I
dumped ‘Buck’ Winter out of a canoe,—though it wasn’t all my fault. The
kid wouldn’t keep still, and he told me he could swim like a fish,—and
he was nearly drowned.”

“Gee! That little piker! Why, he _can_ swim! Didn’t he capture two
points from us last week, in the hundred yards?”

“Wrong again, Billy! It was his brother, who is the star swimmer of our
patrol.”

“Well, your Otters put it all over us, Alec, in those water games.”

“That is why we are so glad to have morning practice,” added Hugh, in a
tone which he honestly intended to be kind. “We Wolves want time to find
out what we can do.”

“Buck must have lost his head,” remarked Walter Osborne, who had drawn
near.

“He did,” said Alec, emphatically, “and he gave Chief Hardin a chance to
qualify in first-aid—at my expense.”

There was no mistaking the resentment that underlay those words. Walt
and Billy glanced uneasily at Hugh.

A flush stained Hugh’s bronzed cheeks and brow at the retort, and he
turned away scornfully, biting his under lip. It was hard to keep his
temper in control, as a scout should; but he managed to do so, and the
next moment he was outside the cabin, filling his lungs with deep
draughts of the pine-scented air and watching the mists roll up the side
of the opposite mountain. With the coming of the sun, he was able to
take fresh note of his surroundings, and his eager dark eyes dwelt
fondly upon the familiar scene in the first light of a new day.

Indeed, it was a scene to stir any red-blooded boy. As far as Hugh could
see through the lifting vapor lay the lake, a great silvery mirror
reflecting the heavily wooded shores so clearly that the inverted forest
appeared no less real than the original. From the shores of the lake, in
every direction, hills sloped ruggedly up into mountains, for the most
part clothed to their summits with the variegated green of a mighty
woodland. The side of one of the nearer mountains was scarred by exposed
ledges of bare rock, which, as Lieutenant Denmead, the Scout Master, had
said, would make fine strategic points for the Signalers’ Game.

“We’ll try it some day this week,” he had told Hugh on the previous
evening, as he sat with his assistant scout master, Rawson, and the
leaders of the four patrols around the camp-fire.

Hugh recalled that vague promise now, as his gaze wandered from those
rocky ledges to the deeper hollows not yet penetrated by the sun’s rays.

How dim and mysterious they looked! How Hugh longed to explore them and
to discover, by means of such woodcraft as he had already learned, the
treasures hidden in those shadowy nooks and ravines!

Several boys of his patrol followed him from the cabin. They saw that
something had vexed him, but they made no comments, even among
themselves. Presently they dashed away, down to the shore of the lake,
where most of the boys from the other cabins were gathered. These boys
belonged to the Otter and the Fox patrols.

Left alone for the moment, Hugh waited for Billy and Walter, to whom he
had decided to make an explanation of Alec’s thrust. As they walked down
to the lake together,—Alec having departed on his rounds to the
chip-basket,—he told them how he had happened to be on hand to give
assistance at the canoe accident.

“I didn’t help very much, really,” he finished, “and I don’t see why
Alec should be so sore.”

“Oh, never mind him, Hugh; he’ll get over his grouch after a while,”
declared Billy. “He is jealous of you because you qualified as a
first-class scout before he did, and because you are in line for a merit
badge as chief scout woodsman.”

“Hello, son!” exclaimed Walter, turning to greet an eager-faced boy,
Number 8 of his patrol, who had trotted up behind them. “What’s eating
you now?”

“Do-do you know why the Big Chief has called a m-m-meeting of the
patrols this morning?” panted the boy.

“No, I don’t,” admitted Walter. “But we will find out after breakfast.
Run along now, son, and mind: not more than ten minutes in the water!”

“All right, I’ll remember,” promised the younger boy, and he raced ahead
several yards. Suddenly he stopped short, turned around, and waited for
the trio to come up. “I-I say, Hugh, will you—will you do me a favor?”
he inquired hesitatingly. “Will you coach me on the crawl?”

“Surest thing you know! That’s what I’m here for,” Hugh responded
heartily.

A few more strides brought them to the shore of the lake, where they
stood for a moment, watching a group of boys swimming out to the raft.
Then, with a quick “Come on, now! Watch me!” Hugh leaped forward into
the water, followed by Walter and Billy. The boy whom he was coaching
stood knee-deep in the water, gazing with admiration not unmixed with
envy at the powerful yet easy overhand strokes that sent the swimmer
through the ripples without apparent exertion, yet at a speed that made
his own best efforts seem hopeless. In another moment he, too, was
breasting the lake, and soon he gained the raft and climbed upon it.

“That’s much better,” was Hugh’s brief comment, at which his admirer
glowed with pleasure. Praise from Hugh, who was usually so reserved, was
rare indeed!

Just as they were practicing swift dives, a bugle call rang clear and
full across the water.

“The ‘recall’,” gasped Billy. “Wonder what’s doing?”

“That means everybody report at once,” said Don Miller, leader of the
Fox patrol. “Back to shore, fellows.”

“Hit her up, son!” added Walter, and, suiting his action to his words,
he slid rapidly through the clear water, leaving a wake of swirling
ripples.

As soon as the swimmers reached shore, they hurried to their respective
cabins, dressed, attended to their beds, and then repaired to the larger
log-house, where a bountiful breakfast was served. During the meal the
talk was all of the eagerly anticipated meeting of the patrols, and
everyone wondered why it had been called.

Mess over, Don Miller and Walter Osborne took their stand at either side
of the cabin door, and as each boy passed out he saluted the two chiefs
with the scout’s salute, and was saluted in return. This was a point of
etiquette upon which Lieutenant Denmead, who was a retired officer of
the United States Army, always insisted, believing that it did much to
maintain discipline and to instill the scout virtues of courtesy and of
respect for superior officers.



                              CHAPTER II.
                       FORMING THE SIGNAL CORPS.


A cheer, heartier and more informal than military, rose from forty
throats, as Lieutenant Denmead and Assistant Scout Master Rawson came
forth from their quarters to break the news to the assembled boys.

“Scouts of Pioneer Camp,” began the lieutenant, smiling, when silence
had been restored, “I have called this meeting in order to lay before
you a plan which I think will merit your approval.

“Most of you have heard that in two weeks there are to be National Guard
maneuvers over in Oakvale and the adjoining meadows, not far from here?”

A murmur of assent greeted this question, and the Scout Master
continued:

“Part of these maneuvers will be the work of a carefully trained and
efficient signal corps, and you boys will undoubtedly be interested in
seeing that, among the other events. To understand it thoroughly, you
should have some practical knowledge of the system of signaling; that
is, the semaphore signal code, the wig-wag or Myer code, and the sound
codes. You should know how to send and receive messages by each and all
of these three methods. Such knowledge may be of great use and benefit
to you or to others, at any time.

“In your woodcraft games, in trailing and stalking, in hunting, you have
learned the various signals used in Indian warfare, the signs and blazes
along a forest trail. Some of you are familiar with the Morse telegraph
alphabet, and every tenderfoot who does not know it must learn it, in
order to qualify as a second class scout.

“Now, what I propose to do is this: Let us form a signal corps made up
of scouts from our four patrols, who can show by superior skill that
they can qualify. Proficiency in any branch of scout-craft, in any of
our games or pursuits (but particularly in the art of signaling) counts
in determining who shall join the corps.

“The number of points or ‘honors’ won by each scout makes his record.
From each patrol two boys who have made the best records will be chosen,
and the leader of the corps will be the scout who has scored the
greatest number of points.”

Lieutenant Denmead paused, and his clear gray eyes roved searchingly
over the group.

“Have I made all this clear?” he added. “Any questions?”

There was a moment’s silence, while the boys exchanged eager glances
among themselves.

“How does the plan appeal to you?” asked Lieutenant Denmead.

Another cheer greeted this question, showing the degree of interest felt
by the majority. Many of the boys were enthusiastic; a few, whose
interests lay in less serious sport, such as water games, canoeing,
fishing, photography, field-day events, etc., rejoiced in it chiefly
because their prowess in such activities would be counted toward
election for the corps; two or three remained silent, considering it
from their individual standpoints.

Among these reflective ones was Alec Sands. Sitting on the ground beside
Don Miller, he had listened attentively to the Scout Master’s
proposition, and he had seen in it only an opportunity for additional
rivalry between the two cabins,—which meant between Hugh Hardin and
himself. For, by tacit consent, Hugh and Alec were regarded as the two
principal leaders among the scouts.

To Alec,—who had gained his leadership of the Otter patrol by
unquestioned ability in scout-craft rather than by virtue of the true
scout spirit of kindness and equality,—rivalry meant a certain degree of
hostility to “the other fellow.” Being the spoiled son and heir of a
railroad magnate, Alec was inclined to consider himself a little above
his companions. To compete with them was an act of condescension.

On the other hand, Hugh Hardin, though but slightly less favored by
fortune, was by no means a snob. His patrol was made up largely of boys
who had not come from homes of wealth, yet among them there was not one
who would ever have suspected, from Hugh’s bearing, that he had been
born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. Reserved and
self-reliant as he was, he possessed an apparently inexhaustible fund of
good-humor, energy, and ready sympathy with others.

The Scout Master’s plan struck a responsive chord in Hugh, to whom
Alec’s personal view of it would hardly have occurred.

“Great idea! Don’t you think so, Billy?” he whispered.

“All to the good, chief.”

“Walt knows a lot about ordinary telegraphy, you know. That ought to
come in handy and count several points for him.”

“‘Bud’ Morgan, in our patrol, worked with a surveying crew last summer.
He learned most of the sig——”

“Cut it! The big chief has something more to say.”

After a brief pause, Lieutenant Denmead continued:

“Since most of you are scouts of the second class, and have some
knowledge of elementary signaling, we can start our try-outs for the
corps by playing the Signalers’ Game this morning. I would like to see
what you can do in work with the semaphore codes. It is going to be a
perfect day, clear and sunny, and we ought to take advantage of it.

“The game is one for good signalers; nevertheless, those of you who are
not so expert can take part in it and learn the first principles. How
many of you know how to play it?”

About eleven hands were raised confidently, then two others went up
almost timidly, as if the owners were uncertain of their knowledge. The
Scout Master counted them, then turned smilingly to his assistant.

“Rawson, there will be quite enough for the first try-out,” he said. “I
will take charge of the smallest division, you of the largest. In that
way we shall work to the best advantage. I observe that most of those
who seem confident of their ability as signalers are Otters. I shall
need a few of them, and you may distribute the others as you think best.

“Now, boys,” he added, “this is how the game is played: The troop must
be split up, temporarily, into three divisions. Division A, numbering
eight scouts, will go with me to some position on high-ground,—like
those bare ridges on old Stormberg yonder,—where we can command a good
view of the stretch of country between here and the mountain. We will
take with us our semaphore flags, to-day, although any other signaling
apparatus will serve equally well in the game. Division B, numbering
twelve scouts, will then go out and keep under cover in this stretch of
country which we, the signalers, or defenders, overlook. This division,
keeping under cover, will try to dodge or trick the signalers by
appearing in different places and disappearing, and will finally take up
a concealed position. After Division B has been out fifteen minutes, the
rest, Division C, under command of Mr. Rawson, will leave camp.

“Then Division A will signal down to Division C, or attackers, the
position of the hostile Division B, and other details that will help the
attackers to advance unseen and surprise the enemy. Of course, Division
B, the enemy, is watching the signals all the while. To win, the
attackers must capture the scouts of Division B by surrounding their
hiding-places. If Division C passes by more scouts than they capture, it
counts a win for Division B.

“We’ll put a time limit of, say, two hours upon the game.”

Following this explanation, came a series of questions about minor
details of the game, which were answered by Rawson, while Lieutenant
Denmead undertook the arrangement of the troop into three divisions, so
that in each division there should be a certain number of scouts who
were familiar with the code.

It so happened that Alec Sands, Don Miller, Walter Osborne, and a lad
named Arthur Cameron, who belonged to Hugh’s patrol and was just
finishing his first month’s service as a tenderfoot, together with Bud
Morgan and three others, were chosen to form Division A, much to their
delight. Hugh was assigned to Division B, the so-called invaders or
enemies, while Billy Worth became Assistant Scout Master Rawson’s
right-hand man in charge of Division C.

Taking their semaphore flags, the first division, led by the Scout
Master, sallied forth from camp. They followed a faintly defined trail
which ran close to the shore of the lake and thence up the nearer slopes
of old Stormberg, climbed up and up, scrambling over rocky patches of
ground, plunging through thickets of white birch, ash, and maple, until
they reached an elevation whereon grew only a few somber spruces and
pines, but which commanded a magnificent view of the surrounding
territory.

As these eight signalers proceeded on their way, they eagerly discussed
ways and means by which their other activities could be correlated with
working for the signal corps.

“Any exceptional feat of woodcraft scores twenty points in the record of
the scout who performs it,” announced Lieutenant Denmead. “For instance,
the scout who positively identifies the largest number of birds,
animals, or trees may count twenty points to his credit; he who obtains
the best six photographs of living wild animals may count fifteen points
each; the same for him who makes the best collection of botanical
specimens, insects, or minerals. And the prime requirement for the corps
will be to send or receive a message by semaphore, American Morse, or
Myer alphabet, sixteen letters per minute.”

Don gave a low whistle.

“You think that is pretty stiff?” inquired Denmead, turning to him with
an encouraging smile. “Just you wait! I expect you fellows will be even
more expert than that before these two weeks are over. Look out there,
Arthur! That ledge you are standing on is rather slippery, my boy. Now
then, Osborne, you and Sands go forward along that bare rib of rock, out
to its edge, where you see a blasted pine-tree. Brace yourselves against
the trunk and the lower branches, if they’re not rotten, and keep a
look-out over the backwoods trail from camp. I suspect Division B will
take that trail first. Have they left camp yet?”

“Can’t tell, sir,” called back Walter, when he and Alec had crawled to
the end of the ledge. “I think they must have left, though, because——”

“Yes, they have, they have!” interrupted Don, pointing down to a clump
of willows that grew in marshy ground near the easternmost arm of the
lake. “See those blackbirds flying out in circles down there? That shows
they are scared by something passing through the willow grove.”

The next moment, while they were taking their places and preparing to
use the flags according to the alphabet-diagrams they had studied, there
came to their ears, faint and far away, the low, weird, mournful howl of
a wolf.

“That is Hugh Hardin calling his own patrol,” declared Billy. “Sounds
like——”

“A trick!” muttered Alec, under his breath. “He wants to make us look
for him in some place where he is least likely to appear.”

As if in answer to the wolf call came the subdued yet shrill
“_Kree-kree-eee_” of a bird of prey, and, by an odd coincidence, a hawk
was seen soaring rapidly above the tree-tops in another direction.

“Some of your Hawks are over there, Walt,” observed Alec. “The real bird
is making no noise that I can hear. There he goes now! Watch him swoop
down into that open glade! Wonder what he saw? A rabbit, most likely.
Well, it must be nearly time for Division B to go into hiding, and I——”

“Attention, boys!” Lieutenant Denmead’s voice sounded close beside them,
and he blew one long blast on his whistle, meaning “Silence,” or “On
guard! Look out for my next signal.”

“Attention!” he repeated. “Get your flags ready. Watch for signs of the
enemy. What is that over in that patch of scrub-oak yonder? Hello! Three
of them! And running for cover, like mad! Signal it! Signal it, Alec!
There! Now Division C has started from camp. They’re advancing to the
attack.”



                              CHAPTER III.
                         A PERILOUS ENCOUNTER.


The three scouts of Division “B” who had been sighted by the Lieutenant
as they made a dash for cover were Cooper Fennimore, Buck Winter, and
his brother Sam, who, mistaking a sound signal of three blasts of Hugh’s
whistle, had been creeping forward quite openly across a clearing made
by lumbermen during the previous summer, thereby coming in full view of
the signalers perched on the ribs of old Stormberg.

Alec and Walter, acting under Lieutenant Denmead’s rapid-fire commands,
lost no time in signaling this information to the advance guard of
Division “C,” as soon as the latter made their sortie from camp.

Instantly Rawson led his attackers in the direction of the clearing,
instead of taking the backwoods trail, as Hugh and his followers had
done.

From a coign of vantage on one of the upper forks of a young oak tree,
which he had climbed with the agility of a monkey, Hugh perceived the
trio’s mistake. He had intended to warn them by those three shrill
blasts, but they had evidently counted only two, which would have meant
“Safe—Go ahead.” Now, to leave no room for doubt, he sounded a
succession of long, slow blasts meaning “Scatter. Get further away,” and
accompanied them with the Wolf’s peculiar, long-drawn-out,
“_How-oo-ooo_.”

Whether these sounds could reach the ears of the signalers he could not
tell, but he had the satisfaction of seeing Cooper and Sam dart across
the clearing and plunge into the surrounding underbrush, where they
could easily find some place to hide in.

Of course, any one of the attacking party could not fail to hear the
whistle signals; but that did not matter, as it would be difficult, at
best, to locate the scouts exactly, since all of Division “B” were
doubtless in hiding by this time.

Not all, however; for there on the edge of the clearing, in full view of
the sending station, stood Buck Winter gazing wildly around him,
evidently trying to make up his mind where to hide. As usual, Buck had
lost his head.

Craning his neck, Hugh could see in the distance two flags,—one held by
Bud Morgan, and the other by Arthur Cameron,—pointing directly, it
seemed, at the bewildered Buck. Another flag, on the end of the mountain
ledge, was being jumped rapidly up and down, to urge speed on the part
of the attackers. The air was so still and clear that morning that the
defenders’ flags could be plainly seen: small, waving patches of
brighter color against the blue of the sky.

Hugh read their messages rapidly.

“Wonder if they can see me?” he asked himself. “I’d better climb down,
get Buck out of danger of being captured, and sprint over to those
rocks. Then I can—oh jingo!”

He uttered the exclamation aloud, for at that very moment he caught
sight of Billy emerging from the timber.

“Buck! I’ve got you!” yelled Billy, dashing forward to seize the young
Otter, who promptly turned and fled.

Hugh watched the chase with keen interest.

“Billy is no match for that kid, in speed,” he commented. “He’ll never
capture Buck! Wish he could! If one of Division B _must_ be captured so
soon, I want it done by a Wolf, anyway: that would give our patrol two
points.”

Suddenly Billy Worth stumbled against a half-buried root, staggered, and
fell headlong, rolling over and over on the dry leaves. Buck Winter
raced ahead—straight into the arms of two scouts of Division “C,” who
had skirted the clearing and come out most unexpectedly on the further
side.

The first capture was made. The attackers had won the first victory.

In silent dejection Buck took his way back to camp, while his captors
signaled the news to the eager watchers on the mountain, and then ran on
to join their comrades who were hunting in the woods.

As Buck passed Hugh’s tree, Hugh called down to him:

“Cheer up, Buckie! You’ll do better next time! You would have got away
from Billy easily.”

“That’s a cinch!” retorted Buck, in an effort to revive his drooping
spirits.

“Wait! I’m coming down.”

“Stay where you are, Hugh!” warned the lad. “There’s Rawson coming this
way, and he’ll see you!”

So saying, he walked away, and soon was lost in the shadows of the
trail.

Nevertheless, Hugh descended cautiously, crawled on all fours through
the tangled underbrush and ferns, and then, rising, strode swiftly yet
noiselessly toward a group of lichen-covered rocks, behind which he
crouched and waited.

All around him he could hear the rustling of leaves, the snapping of dry
sticks, the low calls of unseen comrades who were trying to discover and
surround the hiding-places of his division. At intervals there would be
dead silence in the forest; and once, peering over a jagged boulder, he
caught sight of Billy making questioning signals to the defenders.

Two others of his division passed him, returning to camp, having been
found and “touched” by the attackers. It was evident that Division “B,”
the enemy, was getting the worst of the game! Perhaps they had not had
time to hide. Before starting out, he had told them to select the most
unlikely places for concealment. Perhaps they were hidden where they
could not watch and read the signals. Not much sense in that, but——

Suddenly a low snarl, like that of an angry feline, startled Hugh.
Glancing around him, he beheld a lean, gray, spotted creature crouched
upon a rock not more than ten feet away from the spot where he stood.
The creature’s large pointed ears were laid back, its short tail was
jerking viciously from side to side, its amber-colored eyes were glowing
with a greenish light.

“Bobcat!” muttered Hugh aloud; adding inwardly: “and she’s mad at me,
too!” He raised his voice to a bolder pitch. “Scat! Sca-a-at, you
spotted devil!” he almost yelled, advancing a pace nearer the animal.

But the bobcat did not move.

Hugh “froze” in his tracks. Indeed, a chill shiver crept along his
spine; his nerves seemed to tingle as with cold. Without being actually
alarmed as yet, he realized that he had nothing except his knife with
which to defend himself, in case the beast should spring.

“It isn’t likely she’ll do that,” Hugh decided; “but I didn’t scare her.
She won’t budge!”

Indeed, the bobcat’s only movement now was to crouch lower upon the
rock, tearing its mossy covering with her claws, flexing the muscles of
her sinewy flanks. Would she risk a leap at her enemy? Never had Hugh
encountered a wildcat so fearless, so determined to stand her ground.
Yet this one was not cornered, not at bay; she had every opportunity to
bolt and vanish in the thicket. Why, why did she remain there, poised in
that menacing attitude upon the rock?

Like a flash, the only probable explanation came to Hugh: “Kittens!” he
reasoned swiftly. “There must be kittens hidden somewhere near. I’d
better—no, if I turn she _may_ spring; you never can tell!”

By mere chance his foot dislodged a small stone from the earth. Stooping
quickly, still keeping his eyes on the bobcat, he picked up the stone
and flung it at the snarling beast. It struck sparks from the rock,
glanced off, and went bounding into the dense undergrowth, whence came a
very human howl of anguish. The bobcat vanished—but only for a moment.

“Say, what are you doin’; throwin’ stones?” wailed a voice, and Sam
Winter stood up above the ferns, rubbing his shoulder. “That’s not fair,
Hugh!” he complained. “You are betraying me to——”

“I wasn’t throwing stones at you, you chump! I didn’t know you were
there!”

“What were you trying to hit?”

“A bobcat, Sam.”

“Bobcat? Where?”

“I don’t see—oh, look! There she is, just slipping around that stump!
Look out, Sam! Beat it!”

With a yell, Sam turned and fled, leaving Hugh again face to face with
the creature.

Reckless defiance of danger, a foolhardy lust for battle, now seized
Hugh; and all else was forgotten: his comrades, the game they were
playing, the record he hoped to make. Here was a far more exciting game,
matching his quickness, his steadiness of nerve, with the fierce
instincts of that denizen of the forest. Unarmed, he might lay her low
with a stone or his hunting knife.

Grasping another stone somewhat heavier than the first, in his right
hand, he took careful aim. The next moment, the stone whizzed through
the air, there was a blood-curdling screech, and a furry body hurtled
across the intervening space, straight toward him. In mid-air, however,
it seemed to waver; then it fell headlong to the ground, with a thump,
kicking up a shower of dry leaves and clods. By a miracle, Hugh’s
well-directed missile had struck the cat on the ribs, breaking them; and
she had not had time to check her leap, which had inflicted internal
injuries.

Hugh was trembling now with the reaction of excitement. He could
scarcely believe that he had taken such a slim chance.

“What a fool I was, what a fool!” he gasped, looking down on the dying
wildcat. “I ought to have had more sense than to take such a risk. I’m
sorry I killed her! I’m sorry and ashamed. Poor thing! I must put her
out of misery; it is all I can do now. Oh, I won’t forget this for many
a day! What a blind-lucky fool I was!”

“Yes, you were,” said a deep voice beside him.

“Oh, is that you, Mr. Rawson? Have you your automatic there? Please,
please finish the poor brute! I-I’ve wounded her—after provoking an
attack.”

“I saw you, saw the whole episode,” Rawson declared grimly.

He drew his revolver, a shot rang out through the wood, and the bobcat
lay still.

Silence.

Hugh swallowed hard, choking down a lump in his throat.

“I suppose we’ll have to report this—this exploit,” said Rawson gravely,
laying a hand on Hugh’s shoulder. “Of course you’ll want the skin?”

The absence of any word of praise, any congratulation on his narrow
escape, made Hugh feel doubly ashamed. To be sure, he had done a very
plucky thing, he had shown a certain sort of courage which, had it been
exerted wholly in self-defense, would have won golden opinions from his
comrades, instead of this tacit censure on the part of Rawson. But there
was nothing to do except brazen it out.

“Ye-es, I want the skin,” he replied slowly. “It will remind me
of—of—not to do it again.”

“Take it and welcome, old man. When you have skinned the critter, you
will go back to camp. I’ve caught you, see? You’re my prisoner.”

The young leader of the Wolf patrol, self-accused of needless slaughter,
glanced at his superior with a look of unconcern.

“Oh?” said Hugh. “I forgot! Are we still playing that game?”



                              CHAPTER IV.
                            A FIRE IN CAMP.


The game was over by the time that Hugh, after a fruitless search for
the bobcat’s kittens, returned to camp, and Division “C,” the attackers,
had won the day.

Owing to the fact that each division had been made up of scouts from the
four patrols, no single patrol could claim the honor of victory,
although individuals in each patrol who had done good work in signaling
were complimented by their fellow scouts, as they all were gathered
around the camp-fire that evening.

“Alec Sands will surely make the corps,” declared young Osborne. “The
Chief said that he——”

“I know, I know,” interrupted Billy, whose loyalty to Hugh made him
loath to hear Alec’s praises sung. “You have a good chance, too, Walt.”

“Don’t feel sure at all, myself,” Walter replied, yawning. “Say, Billy,
what’s the matter with Hugh this evening? Look at him sitting over
there, talking to the Lieutenant! He’s as solemn as a great horned owl.
Do you know what he did all afternoon, after we got back?”

“He went to see the Lieutenant first, and showed him the pelt of a big
bobcat he’d killed. Gee! it’s a stunner, Walt! Then he spent two hours
out on the field, practicing wig-wags with Bud Morgan. You see,
to-morrow we are going to change divisions, so everyone will get a fair
trial.”

“Bully! We all need a lot of practice. Even Alec is a little rusty.”

“And the same way with the Myer code and the American Morse,” continued
Billy. “Each one, in turns.”

“For the next two weeks?” queried a boy who sat beside them.

Billy nodded.

“It’s not a bit too long,” Walter affirmed. “We want to make a good
showing as a corps.”

“Hope it will be a nice day to-morrow,” said the boy, looking up at the
sky with its glittering host of stars. “I want to take some photos.”

“Guess you’ll be able to, all right,” was Billy’s confident rejoinder.
Billy was a born optimist, ever ready to see the doughnut before he
beheld the hole; he had the happy faculty of expecting and looking for
the best always, in conditions as well as in people.

“Feel the grass,” he suggested a moment later, passing his hand lightly
over the sward. “It’s as dry as chips. You know what that means?”

“Dangerous to light fires,” said the other promptly.

“Pretty good, for a tenderfoot!” quoth Billy, with a grin. “But I was
thinking of a little rhyme which I’ll repeat for your benefit, if
sufficiently urged.”

“Go ahead. I’m listening.”

  “‘When nights are cold and days are warm,
  A circle round the moon means storm.’”

“Thanks for the information!” laughed the tenderfoot. “You can see the
moon’s rim clearly now. Plenty of sunshine to-morrow? I doubt it!”

  “‘When the grass is dry at night,
  Look for rain before the light.’”

“Oh, well, we can’t do anything but wait and see,” commented Billy.

With which sage remark he rose, stretched himself sleepily, and crossed
over to where the Scout Master and Hugh were seated upon a fallen log.

As he approached Hugh, who was gazing into the fire with his hands
clasped over his knees, Billy noticed a group of boys of the Otter
patrol gathered around Alec Sands, and heard Alec say to them:

“We’re going to have stalking games to-morrow afternoon, after signal
practice in the morning. Don’t let those Wolves give us all the go-by in
stalking, fellows! If we do, it will give every one of them a chance to
score a lot of points. I hope it will rain; then we’ll have to do
something else, or perhaps everyone can do just what he likes best.”

There were murmurs of approval, indistinguishable to Billy, who passed
on and took a place by Hugh’s side. Presently the whole troop was
listening attentively to Lieutenant Denmead’s clear and concise
explanation of wireless telegraphy. It was his custom to give informal
talks on various subjects during these meetings at the evening
council-fire, and to outline a program for the ensuing day.

When the council was adjourned, at a quarter of nine, the scouts retired
to their cabins. Alec and two other boys, being still on police duty,
extinguished the fire, scattered and trod upon the few remaining embers,
and then sought their bunks. Half an hour later, the profound silence of
the forest was broken only by the eerie hoot of an owl and the nocturnal
chorus of frogs in a distant marsh.

Soon after midnight, Hugh, whose bunk was near the open window of the
cabin, was awakened by a faint smell of smoke. A light breeze had sprung
up during the night, wafting that pungent, unmistakable odor to his
sensitive nostrils. Instantly he sat up and threw aside his blankets.

“Billy,” he whispered hoarsely, “wake up, son!”

There was no response save his assistant’s deep, quiet, peaceful
breathing.

Knowing that Billy had a chronic objection to being awakened suddenly,
if at all, Hugh was thoughtful enough to respect his friend’s amiable
weakness even at this crisis. Leaning over the sleeper, he took Billy’s
hand, held it a moment, then pressed it firmly. The result was that
Billy stirred comfortably and opened his eyes, without a start or a
protest.

“What—what’s the matter?” he drawled sleepily, blinking at Hugh through
the darkness.

“I smell smoke,” was the whispered reply. “Billy, do you think a fire
has broken out in camp?”

“What! Fire?” Billy sniffed the air. “Say, Hugh, it can’t——”

“S-sh! Not so loud! We don’t want to wake up the whole cabin. Come
outside. If anything’s happened, we must act at once, or at least give
warning.”

“Wonder where it is coming from? Hope it isn’t a fire in the woods! That
would be more than——” Suddenly he remembered his conversation with the
tenderfoot about the dryness of the grass, and coupled it with a warning
which the Scout Master had given them that very day, concerning the
danger of starting forest fires.

“It is criminal to leave a burning fire,” Denmead had said. “Always put
out a fire with water or earth. A fire is never out until the last spark
is extinguished. Often a log or snag will smoulder unnoticed after the
flames have apparently been trodden down, only to break out afresh with
a rising wind.”

Had this happened now? Billy wondered, as he followed Hugh to the door.
Had the scouts on police duty been guilty of criminal carelessness?

Outside, the two lads instantly discovered the cause of their alarm.

Some of the sparks from the camp-fire must have lodged between the logs
of the mess-cabin, and, lying undisturbed and unnoticed there, have
slowly eaten their way through the resinous wood until it was ignited.
Little tongues of flame were licking one wall, but as the soft breeze
was blowing _away_ from Cabin 2 and the Lieutenant’s cabin, no one could
have detected the smoke, unless by mere accident. Even Joe, the
half-breed guide who, with the cook, occupied a tent not far removed
from the mess-cabin, was apparently oblivious of the threatened danger.

Yet even while Hugh and Billy, each snatching a bucket of water that
stood outside their cabin (left there for morning ablutions) ran over to
the scene of peril, they caught sight of a shadowy form in the
moonlight, rushing from Cabin 2, and heard a voice hoarse with anxiety
call out:

“What is it? Who’s there?”

Without answering, they dashed the two pailfuls of water upon the
flames, and were gratified to hear an immediate sizzling that told them
the fire had not bitten deep into the log walls; indeed, it had only
grazed the bark and outer rings of wood.

The third fire-fighter had now come up to them, but he hung back a
little, as if nervously anxious to avoid recognition.

“Run, Billy! Get another pailful!” directed Hugh, in a low voice, and
his comrade sprang away to carry out instructions. “I’ll club it out
with this roll of old canvas. It’ll be out in a—oh, is that you, Alec?”

“Yes, yes! Hugh!—Billy! Please don’t make any noise!”

“Why, what are you afraid of, Alec?”

“Of—of—oh, nothing; only I think we can put this little fire out,
and—and perhaps no one will be any the wiser, except ourselves. Here,
let me help you!” He seized the small roll of canvas with hands that
actually trembled, and began to assist Hugh in beating out the flames.
“Oh, Hugh, if this is my fault, I——”

“What do you mean? You won’t say anything about it?”

“No!” whispered Alec.

“But it will be seen by daylight to-morrow. The charred logs——”

“I can smooth them off with my knife. Here! Slam it against this one!
That’s the way. Again! Softly, no noise! Thank goodness, here comes
Billy with the pails!”

Alec ran forward to meet Billy and to relieve him of his burden, leaving
Hugh to wonder why he had spoken so strangely. Why this shrinking on
Alec’s part? Had he been in any way responsible for the mishap? In spite
of his proficiency in woodcraft, Alec was sometimes thoughtless,
impulsive, not thorough in his methods. Carelessness was his besetting
sin. But lack of courage to own up to a mistake? Surely he was no
coward! If he had done wrong, he would admit it, make a clean breast of
it, and “face the music.”

These thoughts passed swiftly through Hugh’s mind while he stood
watching Billy and Alec pour a stream of water from the pails upon the
fire.

In a few moments the flames were extinguished, but Hugh’s curiosity in
regard to Alec’s desire for secrecy was not quenched. He resolved,
however, to say nothing more on the subject; it was no concern of his,
anyway.

“All out!” announced Billy cheerfully.

“Do you—do you think there’s been much damage?” Alec questioned, still
speaking in a low and guarded tone.

“Can’t say. Wait till to-morrow.”

“I guess it is very slight,” said Hugh.

“But it will show, I suppose?”

“Of course it will.”

“I don’t want it to show. I might be blamed for it.”

“You!” said Billy, astonished. “Why, how could you be blamed?”

“Fellows, I’ll tell you,” Alec replied soberly. “It’s this way: When
Dick Bellamy and I put out the council-fire this evening, after the
Lieutenant had left us, we were so darned tired we didn’t take any extra
great pains in doing it. All we did was to sprinkle a little water over
the embers, throw dirt on them, and tread them down. Oh, yes, I,—I mean
Dick,—did pile a few stones around them, but that was all. I heard
Rawson say he thought it was going to rain to-night. Now if anyone can
prove that this little blaze started from sparks from the
camp-fire,—which will be pretty hard to prove, after all,—there’ll be
the dickens to pay, and I’ll lose——” He cut his explanation short with a
glance in the direction of the guide’s tent.

“Didn’t you hear footsteps?” he asked nervously.

Mechanically, the three listened. There was, indeed, a muffled tread
upon rustling leaves.

“Cook’s asleep, anyway,” remarked Billy, as a stertorious rumbling
greeted their ears. “Perhaps Joe’s sneaking out on the war-path!”

His good-natured levity jarred upon Alec.

“Shut up, Billy!” he exclaimed irritably. “I’m going to get my knife and
scrape away this charred wood. Will you fellows help me fix it nicely?
Just for appearance’s sake, you know.”

“Never mind it. How fussy you are, Alec!” remarked the unsuspecting
Billy. “Let it go. I’m too sleepy. Come along, Hugh. Me for my little
bunk!”

When the two Wolves went back to their lair, Alec followed them, on a
pretense of having abandoned his idea of subterfuge. He saw that Hugh
disapproved of it, and he resented that attitude.

Bidding them good-night, he hurried to his locker, got out his favorite
claspknife, and returned to the mess-cabin, upon which he at once began
to work, whittling off the burnt and half-burnt wood.

In the midst of this occupation, he heard the same stealthy footsteps,
and, looking up, saw Joe, the half breed, standing beside him.

The grin that distorted Joe’s features made his splendid white teeth
fairly gleam in the moonlight.

“Me know wot you do dere,” he said softly. “Me hear wot you say to Hugh
Hardeen. Why you say eet, boy?”

Alec gave an uncomfortable start.

“You won’t tell on me, Joe?” he asked, with a laugh of pure bravado.
“You’re a pretty good friend of mine, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Joe your frien’.”

“I like you, Joe, and I’ll tell my father to be sure and hire you for a
guide up in Maine, next October. I—I’ll tell him to give you more pay
than the other guides get, too, if—if you’ll say nothing about this
accident. Someone else can take the blame, for a change.”

“Yes, some boy he get bad talk. Not you.”

“That’s right!” Alec laughed again, a strained, hollow, mirthless laugh.
“Joe, I know you admire my silver-handled knife; want it?”

“You no want it, Joe take it. Tanks.”

“Joe, you—you don’t like Hugh Hardin, do you?”

The halfbreed’s answer was merely an ambiguous grunt.

“Neither do I, just now,” said quick-tempered Alec Sands.

Joe said nothing. Doubtless he understood the hint.



                               CHAPTER V.
                               REVEILLE.


When Alec stole back to his cabin, noiselessly entered it, and climbed
into his bunk, half an hour later, it was not very clear in his mind how
he could contrive, even with Joe’s possible assistance, to bring Hugh
Hardin into the shadow of blame for the fire. Of course, he could admit
that he had caught Hugh and Billy in the act of putting out the flames,
and the fact that they had done it secretly, as it were, without
arousing the whole camp, would cast some suspicion upon them.

But their words would be worth exactly as much as his, and, moreover,
Hugh would have Billy’s testimony in support.

How much credence would be given to the halfbreed’s vague hints? Could
Joe be trusted to say anything? Or, might he not even say just the wrong
thing at the critical point, the right thing at the wrong moment?

These questions troubled Alec as he crept shivering between his chilly
sheets and drew his blanket around him closer.

“Wish I had primed Joe a little more,” he said to himself miserably,
“but perhaps I’ll get a chance to speak with him again to-morrow.”

With this comforting reflection he sank into uneasy slumber.

It was strange that a boy trained in the principles and spirit of
scout-craft, particularly a boy who had reached Alec’s position among
his mates, could be capable of feeling such jealousy as Alec showed in
his attitude toward Hugh. But young Sands was an unusual boy, and he had
always been over-indulged. Only with difficulty had he ever been able to
overcome an instinctive dislike of any rival, and in the case of Hugh he
had not tried to do more than comply with the rules of outward courtesy
that obtained in camp.

The rules of Pioneer Camp were few and simple, and every boy in the four
patrols that formed the troop was put on his honor and trusted to live
up to them. Faithfulness to duty, one of the scout virtues, was required
by Lieutenant Denmead, and scarcely a boy in the camp cared or dared to
shirk.

Reveille was sounded at six o’clock every morning, except Sunday, when
it was an hour later. At six-thirty on week-days and seven-thirty on
Sundays mess was served to two of the patrols, and half an hour later to
the other two, the patrols alternating in the order of service. Noon
mess was served from twelve to one o’clock, and evening mess from six to
seven-thirty. At nine o’clock came “taps” which meant “camp-fires
carefully extinguished, lights out, and every boy in bed.”

Every morning, also, a detail from each cabin was assigned to police the
camp; that is, clear up all rubbish, chop fire-wood, draw water from the
bubbling spring nearby, wash dishes, and keep the camp in order.

In the two log cabins, the beds were plain box bunks arranged in a
double tier down the sides, each containing a tick stuffed with straw.
Red blankets, sheets, and a thin pillow filled with aromatic fir balsam
completed the equipment. Of course each boy was expected to look after
the airing and making of his own bed.

Accordingly, when the bugle sounded before sunrise next morning, all was
hustle and activity at the camp, in strange contrast with the quiet lake
and the majestic calm of the mountains.

Hardly had the notes of the bugle call died away in impressive silence,
when new echoes were aroused to sudden life by the lusty shouts and
calls of forty boys, who, being thus musically wakened from the profound
sleep of healthy and vigorous youth, sprang from their bunks and
bestirred themselves about their morning duties.

It seemed to Alec, however, that he had slept scarcely an hour. He felt
tired and out-of-sorts with himself and everybody else, quite devoid of
any zest for the events which the day might bring forth. Wearily he
rose, partly dressed, and went outside the cabin, where, upon a bench,
stood a row of aluminum washbasins, each with a towel, soap, and brush
and comb to bear it company. While he and Dick Bellamy performed their
ablutions, envying those who were going down to the lake for a swim,
Alec “pumped” his comrade with leading questions, in an effort to find
out whether Dick knew anything about the fire. To his satisfaction, Dick
appeared wholly unaware that any accident to the mess-cabin had
occurred.

Dick was jubilant that morning, because it was the last morning of his
week of police duty. After this day he would be free to follow his own
devices and in various ways build up his record for election to the
signal corps.

“Fine day, Alec,” he remarked genially.

“Yes—for ducks!” retorted Alec, glancing up at the sun which now shone
ominously red through a veil of low, swiftly-moving clouds. “Looks like
rain,” he added, in explanation.

“For fish, too,” said Bellamy. “You know they always bite better a
morning like this. I hope to get some big ones to-day.”

“Speaking of fish,” began Alec, “we’re going to have some broiled trout
for breakfast this morning, some that you and Don caught yesterday.”

“Broiled——! Oh, Alec, what time is it now?”

“Quarter past six.”

“Will those lucky chaps never come up from the lake? I’m almost starved!
Where, oh, where has my tummie gone?” warbled Dick, as he resumed his
dressing leisurely. “I’m ’most starved and I can’t pull my belt in
another hole. ’Cause why? There isn’t any.”

“Patience, Dickie, patience. Take courage, don’t worry.”

Dick Bellamy breathed a sigh.

“Worry!” he echoed. “It’s not worry that is troubling me, it’s want of
food. I’m ravenous! My insides are in such a state of emptiness that
they resound like a drum. I could eat every scrap of a five-pound
sirloin steak this very minute.”

“No, you couldn’t,” said Sam Winter, overhearing the remark as he passed
by, dripping water from his limbs and hair. “No, you couldn’t,” he
repeated, “not with me around! I’d defy you to get your lunch-hooks on
it!”

Dick cocked an eye in Alec’s direction.

“Think of it, fellows,” he urged maliciously. “Think of a nice juicy
steak an inch thick, cooked to a turn, and all covered with delicious
crisp fried onions! Doesn’t that make your mouths water?”

The swimmer moaned and clapped both hands over his stomach.

“Don’t,” he begged, “don’t speak of it! I can’t stand it! It makes me
feel faint!”

So saying, he went on into the cabin, followed shortly by his brother.

After Buck came a whirlwind of glistening white forms racing up the path
from the lake to the cabin door, piling through it, and scattering in
all directions to dry and dress themselves.

“Wonder where Spike and Shorty are going this morning?” said a lad.

“Oh, they’ll show up before lunch,” replied one of the Fox patrol
carelessly. “I heard them say they were going up-stream in a canoe, with
Joe.”

Alec pricked up his ears. So he would not have a chance to speak
privately with Joe that morning! The halfbreed would be away from camp,
perhaps taking Spike to some sylvan glade in the forest among the hills,
where he could take photographs of living wild animals, and where
“Shorty” McNeil could collect specimens of rare plants. Why had he,
Alec, not asked permission to enlist Joe’s instructive services on some
expedition yesterday, while waiting with the scouts on the summit of old
Stormberg?

“Evidently we’re not going to have signal practice to-day?” he said
wonderingly.

“Oh, yes,—if it doesn’t rain. If it does, I’ll vote for water-polo,
instead.”

“I’ll second that motion,” returned Alec. “Hurry up, now! It’s nearly
mess-time.”

Half an hour later, when the boys were seated at the long table in the
dining cabin, they heard the sudden patter of raindrops on the roof of
the building, at first soft and stealthy, then louder and faster, as the
drifting clouds relinquished their burden. There would be no games that
morning, it was feared; yet there was a hope that the heavy shower would
be over within a couple of hours. Meanwhile, there was always plenty to
do, and the small but well-selected library in Lieutenant Denmead’s
cabin was available at all times. Thither some went immediately after
breakfast, while others, donning bathing-suits, disported themselves in
the lake or on it in canoes.

Among the latter, those whose energies were not even dampened by the
rain, were Hugh Hardin and Don Miller, and they forthwith rounded up a
few followers from their respective patrols and proposed a game of
canoe-tag, at which Rawson consented to be umpire.

Hearing of the plan, Walter Osborne and Alec Sands summoned their
patrols, each with the appropriate patrol-call, and inquired who would
take part in the game.

“We can make it a game between the two cabins, with any number of
canoes,” said Walter. “The game is for one canoe to tag another by
throwing a cotton bag filled with corks _into_ it. It’s great sport, and
it gives you a chance to show what you can do with a paddle; you’ve got
to be so quick about dodging, turning, and chasing around! The rules are
just like those of ordinary cross-tag.”

“Instead of playing tag, merely, why don’t you get up a tilting-match?”
suggested the Scout Master, standing in the doorway of his cabin and
listening with interest. “Play it with the two larger canoes each manned
by four of you, four of a patrol from each cabin in one canoe tilting
with four of another.”

“Great!” exclaimed Alec.

“That will be even more fun,” Walter agreed warmly, “I’ll run ahead down
to the lake, and put the plan up to Hugh and Don. Come on, fellows.”

He sped down the path, followed by several of his Hawks who were eager
to take part in the tilt.

“We’ll have to draw lots to see who shall man the canoe,” he said, as he
ran on. “There are more of us than can play at one time, but we will all
have a chance. Where’s Alec? Why isn’t he coming?”

“He stayed behind to collect his ablest Otters,” said Arthur Cameron, in
reply, “and I saw him talking with the Chief, just before we ran ahead.”

“Oh, well, I guess he’ll be with us in a few minutes. Hugh! Don! Come
here! I’ve got something to say to you.”

In a few words, he repeated the lieutenant’s suggestion, which the
others welcomed readily. Alec soon joined them, having satisfied himself
that no one as yet had noticed the carefully concealed damage to the
mess-cabin, and presently the four young patrol leaders were drawing
lots, while their followers were dragging the two “war canoes” out of
the boat house, making them ready to launch.

For each canoe four men were required: a spearman, who was also the
captain, a pilot, and two oarsmen. It fell to Hugh’s lot to be spearman
of the first canoe, of which Bud Morgan was one oarsman, Cooper
Fennimore the other, and Arthur Cameron the pilot. In the other canoe,
manned by the Otters, Alec was pilot, Dick Bellamy spearman, Sam Winter
and a tenderfoot being oarsmen.

Armed each with a light ash pole eight feet long with a soft pad on one
end, the spearmen took their places on a little quarter-deck or raised
seat in the bow of the canoe. On the other end of each spear was a hook
made of a forked branch about a foot long, one limb being lashed to the
pole, the other projecting out and slightly backward. Both ends of the
pole were wrapped in waterproof, to keep it from getting wet and heavy.
The padded end of the pole was intended for pushing the enemy from his
stand upon the deck of the canoe, while the hook could be slipped behind
his neck, if a quick change from pushing to pulling should be required.

“To push your opponent back into the canoe on one foot counts you five;
both feet, ten,” said Denmead. “If he loses his spear, except when he
may be pushed overboard, you count five. If you put him down on one knee
on the fighting deck, you count five; two knees, ten. If you put him
overboard, it counts twenty-five. One hundred points is a round, a
battle, we’ll say, is two rounds.”

A cheer broke out, as the two canoes dipped lightly into the water and
skimmed over its placid surface.

By this time, as luck would have it, the rain had ceased, and the lake
shone like polished steel under a gray sky. The figures in the canoes
were silhouetted sharply against it, as the light craft darted to and
fro over the waters. Sam was a better paddler than Bud, but Bud’s slight
clumsiness with the paddle was offset by Hugh’s superior deftness as a
spearman; indeed, at the first encounter of the canoes, Hugh almost
succeeded in pushing Dick Bellamy down on his knees, and was prevented
from doing so only by Alec’s quick turns and returns.

Alec would fain have had Dick’s place and felt the grim satisfaction of
contending with Hugh; but that was not to be, this time. Failing that,
he did his level best to “put it all over poor old Bud,” as he expressed
it to himself; and once he tried the trick of pretending to run his
canoe accidentally against the Wolves’ when Dick had succeeded in
hooking Hugh, thus making Hugh lose his balance and drop back into his
canoe.

But Rawson, the keen-eyed umpire, declared this move a “foul,” and so
the Otters did not win those ten points.

The battle lasted almost half an hour, at the end of which time the
Otters won, owing to Alec’s skill as a steersman and Sam’s strong, even
stroke which he so skillfully adapted to the tenderfoot’s. The next
battle, between the Hawks and the Foxes, was not so long; it ended with
Don’s laughable plunge into the bosom of the lake, a victory for the
Hawks.

Amid cheers and shouts of encouragement, the canoe warriors returned to
their cabins; and that afternoon the signaling games and practice were
resumed. And thus, with alternate recreation and instruction, the days
passed swiftly, bringing in their round the one eventful day when the
members of the signal corps were to be chosen.



                              CHAPTER VI.
                            THE CHOSEN FEW.


Up to that day the records were fairly equal, the honors well
distributed. The Otters had scored heavily by Alec’s winning the
trail-finding contest and the stalking event, and Sam the long-distance
swim. The relay-race had been won by two Foxes; the high and broad
jumps, the pole-vault, and the fifty-yard dash by the Hawks; while Billy
Worth, for the Wolves, had captured the rope-climb, and he and Hugh
together had distinguished themselves in the two-mile cross-country hike
without compass or trail.

Even more important than these athletic events were the various ways in
which the winners as well as the losers had made good individual
records. For example, one lad had completed a really remarkable set of
flashlight photographs taken in the heart of the woods at night; another
had “rigged up” a wireless instrument and built an aerial; a third had
carried out some signal-tests with a heliograph; and Arthur Cameron had
established a camp weather bureau, running up a set of flag signals each
day in communication with the nearest United States Weather Bureau,
which, upon request, sent daily bulletins to Pioneer Camp. Arthur, in
charge of this weather bureau, found it full of personal interest as
well as an opportunity to render the camp a real service. He made a
weather vane of an old arrow which Joe gave him, posted a daily
bulletin, kept a record of temperature, and measured the rainfall and
the velocity of wind. For this achievement he received so many points
that his election to the corps, like that of Walter and Hugh, was a
foregone conclusion.

Again and again, in the various signal practice games, Walter, Alec, and
Hugh had proved their ability to send and receive messages, in all
codes, at the prescribed rate of sixteen letters per minute; so they
were sure of making the corps.

At last, after much deliberation, the Scout Master and his assistant
decided upon the following scouts for the corps:

From the Wolf patrol, Hugh Hardin and Arthur Cameron (no longer a
tenderfoot).

From the Hawk patrol, Walter Osborne and a lad named Blake Merton, who,
toward the end of the trials, showed unexpected skill as a signaler.

From the Otter patrol, Alec Sands and Sam Winter.

From the Fox patrol, Cooper Fennimore and his chum “Spike” Welling.

Strangely enough, neither Don Miller nor Billy Worth qualified for the
corps; the former, because his chief energies had gradually been drawn
into another channel of interest; the latter, because he was absorbed in
the study of forestry. Billy hoped to obtain a merit badge for forestry,
so his disappointment was but slight in comparison with his zeal.

On this account, however, and because he wanted to become thoroughly
familiar with the surrounding country, he was given permission to
accompany the members of the corps, guided by Joe, on a ten-mile
cross-country hike, which was planned as a final test to see who the
leader should be. Of course, the Scout Master joined the hikers. A day
and a night were allowed for the expedition.

So on the same day the corps was formed it set forth from camp, bound
for Oakvale, where the National Guard maneuvers were soon to take place.

“There will be two divisions of the Guard,” explained Denmead, “the Red
Army and the Blue Army. Within a day or two I expect a visit in camp
from my old friend Major Brookfield, of the National Guard, who will
give us further details.”

“How many miles are we supposed to cover to-day?” inquired Blake Merton,
as the corps were descending the further slopes of Stormberg, and
threading their way through a ravine or gulch that presented only a
broken path between jagged rocks and moss-grown boulders, along the
dried bed of a stream.

“About three miles in one group,” was the Scout Master’s reply. “When we
come out at the end of this ravine, we’ll separate; Joe will lead some
of you northward as far as Rainbow Lake, and the rest will follow me in
an easterly direction until we meet at the lower end of the valley, near
the town of Oakvale. That will be about the middle of to-morrow morning.
Then, by pretty steady ‘hiking,’ we ought to be in camp again by
to-morrow night, as we’ll return by a shorter route.”

Emerging presently from the shadows of the narrow gulch, the corps
halted to rest and to draw lots for a division of their number. Half an
hour later they were again on their way, separately; and, at twilight,
Joe’s party came in sight of a small lake set like an emerald in the
darker green of the hills.

“Rainbow Lake, hurrah!” cried Hugh.

“Hurro!” shouted Billy, the odd number.

“Don’t be too sure it is,” Alec advised scornfully; then, turning to the
guide: “Is that Rainbow Lake, Joe?”

“Sure, him Rainbow,” grunted the halfbreed.

“I thought there could be no doubt,” said Hugh, politely. “The route
which brought us to this spot was clearly marked on my map, and it
opened up as we proceeded. For the last hour or more, in spite of Alec’s
opinion, I’ve felt sure we were following the right course. Joe knows
this country, trust him for that!”

“You bet he does!” put in Billy.

Hugh’s compliment was not without effect on the guide, who was already
growing weary of Alec’s continued rudeness to the Wolf leader.

They were some three or four hundred feet above the lake, and behind
them lay the notch amid the mountains through which they had come.
Although the descent to the lake was steep in places, they would have
very little trouble in getting down.

“It’s great up here,” remarked Spike Welling. “I say, Hugh, what’s that
little white mist blowing away from us down there above those trees? It
looks like an Indian smoke signal, but if someone were lost in the woods
there’d be two of them.”

“Joe, what do you make of that?” asked Hugh.

The guide was leaning against a projecting point of rock, gazing down at
the lake without the least sign of emotion. Suddenly he straightened
himself and sniffed the air.

“Hunters down there, make fire, cook bacon,” he announced solemnly.

“You mean to say you can smell frying bacon, at this distance?” queried
Blake. “Joe, that nose of yours is sure a wonder!”

Joe grunted and grinned. “Hungry,” he explained. “Nose good; better when
hungry.”

“Come on, let’s have some grub, ourselves,” suggested Billy. “Then we——”

“No. Wait till we get down little way. Then make camp for night; then
eat.”

As they could plainly see, the shores of the lake were deeply indented
by many inlets and coves. Even from this height, it was impossible to
survey the entire surface of the lake. Afar to the eastward there seemed
to be a portion of it hidden amid some hills.

“Gee! it certainly is pretty!” said Billy, noting the great variety of
trees, shrubs, and plants that clothed the hills with verdure. “Where do
you intend to pitch camp, Joe?”

“Where you say, Alec?” was Joe’s question.

“On that little plateau we’re coming to,” said Alec confidently.

“Where you say, Hugh?”

“I marked a spot on my map where I thought would be a good place for a
one-night camp,” said Hugh. “It’s right here where we can be in signal
communication with Uncle Sam’s weather bureau, and thence with camp,—in
case anything happens,” he added, with a glance at Joe.

For a few minutes they trudged on in silence. Then:

“Good!” grunted the halfbreed, as they reached the spot Hugh had pointed
out. “We camp here.”

The greater part of the next two hours was consumed in gathering
branches suitable for a lean-to shelter, building a fire-place of flat
stones and cooking the evening meal. Finally, when the lean-to was
constructed, and a goodly fire was blazing cheerfully in front of it,
they chatted and laughed as they ate supper.

After supper, Blake Merton, who had a very agreeable voice, entertained
them by singing a number of Irish melodies. The others, with the
exception of Joe,—who strolled to and fro, sniffing the breeze,—joined
in the choruses. But soon Hugh lapsed into silence, listening to the
plaintive airs, feeling a strange, indescribable thrill.

“I wonder what’s worrying Joe?” he remarked, during a pause in the
singing.

Alec looked up quickly.

“He told me he didn’t like the way those hunters left that fire over
there,” said he, then added in a louder tone: “You can’t be too careful
of fires, you know, Hugh!”

If this observation was intended to reach the ears of Blake and Spike,
it failed utterly, and only Billy heard it—with a start of surprise. The
next moment Blake’s youthful tenor warbled out, “I’ve been workin’ on
th’ railroad, all th’ livelong day.”

Now, lounging somewhat apart from the others, Joe betrayed amazing
interest in Blake’s singing. He listened with his thick lips parted and
a surprising expression of animation upon his usually stolid and
immobile features. Once when the others clapped their hands vigorously
in applause, he actually clapped his also.

“Gee!” exclaimed Billy, nudging Hugh with his elbow. “That Injun has an
ear for music. Just look at him! I never saw him perk up this way
before.”

“Yes,” murmured Hugh, “all his people love music. They have their own
wild, sad songs. Perhaps Joe might sing. I’ll ask him, in a moment.
Joe,” he added, “won’t you sing for us? We’d like to hear——”

“Sing? No!”

At first Joe refused, shaking his head almost sullenly, and regarding
Hugh with suspicion. But when, after a little, he seemed somewhat
satisfied that he was not being made sport of and that Hugh really
wished him to sing, he reluctantly consented.

That song was one which none who heard it ever forgot. It was wild and
weird and full of unspeakable pathos. It was more of a chant than a
song, more wailing than tuneful, and to Hugh it seemed that Joe was
lamenting the lost power and greatness of his people. This, however,
Hugh knew could not be possible, for he had often talked with the
halfbreed and had found that Joe knew no more of Indian history than a
child might learn at school.

The singing of the guide seemed to bring a spell upon them, for
thereafter, that night, they talked little and laughed less. Yet this
was undoubtedly because they were tired and sleepy and more than ready
to seek their beds of piled leaves.

All were astir early the following morning. Immediately after breakfast
they continued the descent to the lake, and, following the shore,
encountered many obstacles, being compelled more than once to enter the
water in order to avoid climbing over precipitous rocks. And as they
went along, each one made careful notes of things seen and done; for it
had been decided that the scout who showed the most knowledge of
woodcraft and who wrote the best—that is, the clearest, fullest, yet
most concise—report of the hike should be appointed leader of the signal
corps.

In the course of the morning, as they were almost upon level ground
again, not very far from Oakvale meadows and the town itself, Joe
suddenly disappeared into the woods.

This was strange conduct, indeed, and they marveled at it no less than
at his uncanny ability to slip from sight like an animal of the forest.
They called and sought for him in vain, and Hugh and Spike were growing
decidedly uneasy, when Joe was seen running toward them through the
underbrush, apparently in great excitement.

“See um, see um?” he gasped, pointing through the trees and across the
narrow valley, where, on the brow of a hill, Lieutenant Denmead’s party
could be seen, with the aid of Alec’s field-glasses, making their way
down.

“Yes, yes, we see. They got here before us, Joe.”

“Good t’ing! Good t’ing we get out of de woods. Woods a-fire! See!” He
pointed up the hill they had just descended, and they saw a column of
dark smoke rising against the sky. “Wind blow fire dis way. Comin’ soon,
quick!”

“Je-ru-salem!” exclaimed “Spike” Welling.

“That’s so, that’s true!” Billy added excitedly. “What are we going to
do now?”

“Hugh!” cried Alec, grabbing his rival’s arm. “See that old farmhouse
over there?”

“Yes, I see it. What of——?”

“It’s right in the path of the fire that’s sweeping down this hill!”

Hugh sprang forward.

“Boys, it’s up to us!” he shouted. “Thank fortune, we’ve got our signal
flags and heliograph with us! When the other half of our party starts
for the town on the run, we’ve got to signal to them, telling them just
where the fire is; then they can tell the firemen in Oakvale what to
do.”

“Save that farmhouse!” yelled Alec. “Come on, boys! Out here on this
high rock with me! Now, get out your flags!”

The crack of Joe’s rifle burst upon the warm morning air.

“That’ll attract their attention to us!” Hugh called out. “Ready now!
Come on, begin the messages. Work those flags as we’ve never worked them
before!”



                              CHAPTER VII.
                          THE END OF THE HIKE.


While Alec and Blake remained at their post of duty on the rock,
exchanging messages with Lieutenant Denmead’s half of the corps—who, as
soon as they understood the need, hurried across the meadow, entered the
town, and went directly to the only engine house of which Oakvale could
boast,—Hugh and Spike hastened back some distance up the hill, to see
whence the fire was coming and how far it had already spread. Joe, on
his part, decided to set out for the farmhouse to give warning, if it
should be necessary. He lingered only to make sure that Alec’s and
Blake’s sendings were received and understood by the others in the town.

In the excitement attending the discovery of the fire, when he leaped
down from the rock to follow Spike up hill, Hugh lost his little
leather-covered tablet or note-book in which he had jotted down
memoranda of the march. That is, it fell from his pocket and lay at the
base of the rock upon which Alec and Blake stood waving and wig-wagging.

Alec saw it fall, and an expression of mean satisfaction stole over his
face. Clambering down from the rock, for a moment, he ground the little
note-book into the soft earth with his heel, then took up his position
once more.

He did not see Joe watching this act, nor did he count on the
halfbreed’s secret preference for Hugh. He only realized that without
these notes Hugh would be unable to write a good report of the hike, and
would therefore fail to win the leadership of the signal corps.

To their surprise, Hugh and Spike found that the breeze, instead of
blowing the fire up hill, as it ordinarily would do, was sending it down
the slope from a point about half way from the summit; also, that the
fire was spreading in an irregular semi-circle which would sweep over
the farm as it advanced. They made strenuous efforts to stamp out the
end of the blazing curve by beating it with branches torn from a young
sapling, and succeeded in getting a very small part of it under control.

Fortunately, the ground was covered thickly with leaves and leaf-mould,
damp after recent rains, and so the tongues of flame rose no higher than
the lowest branches of the trees, which they licked greedily and then
passed on, seeking whatever they might devour.

Finding their best efforts of little avail, Spike and Hugh hastened to
rejoin their companions.

When they came to the rock, they found the others had gone on.

“Probably they’ve gone to the farmhouse,” said Spike. “Come on, Hugh!
Which way? Hurry!”

“Look!” Hugh responded, glancing around and pointing to a huge fir tree,
upon the trunk of which an arrow was freshly blazed. “There’s one of
Joe’s signs. They’ve gone in the direction this arrow points.”

“I wond-wonder—what—sort o’ help the lieutenant and—and his scouts
found—found in the vil-village?” panted Spike, as they ran on down hill,
plunging through clumps of second-growth pines, now slipping over the
smooth brown “needles,” now crashing through masses of trailing vines
and tall ferns.

“Nothing but a one-horse engine and-and a bucket brigade, most likely!”
Hugh replied, coughing in the smoke that came drifting between the
trees.

Presently they emerged from the wood and came out upon the wide clearing
in the center of which stood the farmhouse, the big red barn, and a
group of smaller buildings. Before them lay a swampy meadow, evidently a
hog-pasture, surrounded by a rail fence; on their right extended an
orchard whose trees were heavy with green fruit; beyond that, a
cornfield glistened in the sunlight; and, still further, acres of waving
grain swayed lightly as the breeze passed over them. Strange to say, not
an animal nor a human being save themselves was to be seen, and an
uncanny silence reigned over the farm.

Hugh vaulted over the rail fence, followed by Spike, and together they
began to pick their way as rapidly as possible across the pasture.

“Lucky thing this is swampy,” remarked Hugh, “because the fire won’t be
able to crawl over this—ugh!—muck, and get near the barn.”

“No; but don’t forget it is creeping around from that side,” Spike
answered gloomily. “There’s where the danger lies.”

“You’re right. But where on earth are the rest of the crowd? Is this
place deserted?”

“Looks so, certainly. Hello! There’s someone coming from the house!”

Even as he spoke, an old woman appeared in the doorway and came forth,
shading her eyes with one hand and blinking anxiously around her.
Catching sight of the two youths as they ran toward her, she called out:

“Fer th’ land’s sake! More o’ yer! Boys, is it true there’s a fire broke
out on ther mountain? Two boys an’ a wild-lookin’ man come along here,
’bout half an hour ago, yellin’ like demons from ther pit, and they
scart me an’ my ol’ man out o’ our senses!”

“They told the truth, ma’am,” said Spike, with breathless politeness.

“But don’t be alarmed,” Hugh added reassuringly. “It may not be a very
dangerous fire, and we’ve sent for help from Oakvale. Are you alone
here? I mean, is there anyone who——?”

“Nary a soul but me and Jake,” returned the old woman. “Jake Walsh is my
husband; he’s laid up in bed with the rheumatiz,” she added, by way of
explanation, “an’ our son Tom’s gone to town with the calves.”

“Are there any cattle in the barn?” inquired Hugh.

“The ol’ bay-mare—but ye can’t call her cattle,” was the answer. “Ther
cows is all in that meadow, yonder. But ther barn’s full o’ hay!”

In a flash, both boys thought of the destruction that wind-driven sparks
might create, if they should chance to light upon that dry old barn.

“Oh, what’ll I do? What’ll I do?” wailed the poor woman, wringing her
hands as she began to realize the seriousness of the situation. “I never
dreamed as there’d be any danger o’ fire in the woods this summer,
though Tom has often ernough spoke o’ folks’ carelessness a-lightin’
fires an’ leavin’ ’em lay. I can’t leave Jake! I can’t get away from
here with him not able ter walk! An’ Tom’s took ther only wagon we have!
Oh, what——?”

“We’ll help you, Mrs. Walsh,” declared Hugh. “Besides, the village
fire-brigade will be here soon.

“Spike, you’d better climb up that windmill, and see if you can
communicate with the village,” he added, and Welling hastened to obey.

“I can see the engine-house,” Spike called down, a few minutes later.
“There’s a little tower on it, and someone is up in the tower, waving a
flag. It’s Don Miller; I can tell by the way he jerks the flag. He’s
sending: ‘We get your message now—fire brigade rushed to farm—close
by—do your best.’”

They did their best, too. Long before the little engine-and-hose-cart
had reached the outskirts of the farm, they had carried old Jake Walsh
on an improvised litter out of the house and some distance away to an
abandoned cellar, roofed over with boards and sods. Leaving him there in
charge of his wife, they had returned to the farmyard, drawn buckets of
water from the well, poured them over the roof and walls of the
dwelling, and had begun “policing” the farmyard, watching for sparks,
when they were surprised and relieved to hear shouts at a distance.

The shouts seemed to come from the wood. They were accompanied by the
thud of many galloping hoofs and a crashing through the thick
underbrush.

Presently more than a dozen horsemen dashed into view, brandishing long
poles wrapped with wet blankets. They were the advance guard of the
fire-fighters, who had galloped to the scene along an old disused
logging road through the woods. Without stopping to ask needless
questions, these horsemen turned and made off at full speed, spiralling
up the hill in single file, shouting and calling as they rode.

“Wish we could follow them!” said Hugh, gazing after the vanishing forms
until they disappeared in the shadows of the forest and their shouts
became mere echoes. “But I guess we’ll have our work cut out for us
here.”

“That’s just what I was thinking,” answered Spike ruefully.

The two youths did not waste much time in unavailing wishes. Every now
and then they ran to the outskirts of the farm and penetrated a little
way into the wood, to learn, if they could, whether the fire was drawing
nearer. Not being thoroughly acquainted with the topography of this
particular tract of land, they did not know what obstacles the fire
might meet in its path, such as green hollows, cup-like bogs in the
depressions of the hills, streams, or even small ponds. All these were
possible, for the country for miles and miles around Pioneer Camp was
unusually varied.

As it chanced, there was a swiftly flowing brook—which in places widened
to the size of a small stream—not far away, on the edge of the pasture
where a few cows were stolidly grazing; and this stream was the hope of
old Jake Walsh, the one bulwark against the attack of the dreadful
enemy. On their tour of the farm, Hugh and Spike discovered this running
stream, and they realized its value as a means of defence.

The worst danger, as they knew, was from flying sparks; so they kept a
careful watch for these. Two old straw-stacks in the barnyard would go
like tinder, if these were once ignited, and Mr. Walsh advised the boys
to draw water from the horse-tank under the windmill, climb the stacks,
and “souse ’em good an’ plenty.”

“I’d help ye, if I only could!” groaned Jake Walsh, after giving this
urgent advice. “But, consarn these old good-fer-nothin’ limbs o’ mine!
they ain’t a bit o’ use no more. I might’s well have one foot in ther
grave as have my whole livin’ carkiss laid up like this!”

“Come, now; never you mind, Jake,” soothed his wife. “Me an’ ther boys
is lively lads, and we’ll take good care o’ them stacks.” This was more
easily said than done; nevertheless, with Hugh perched aloft on top of
the stack, and with Spike and old Mrs. Walsh forming a bucket-brigade
and handing pails of water up to him, the task was somehow accomplished.

In the midst of their labors they paused, hearing the sound of wheels
along the road.

“Perhaps that’s your son returning?” suggested Spike.

“No, it ain’t him,” declared Mrs. Walsh, putting her hand to her ear.
“Tom took ther heavy farm waggin, and it would make a louder noise than
that. Besides, Polly always whinnies when she’s nearin’ home, an’ ther
ol’ mare answers her.”

“It’s a horse and buggy,” Hugh announced from his look-out. “There comes
another, with three men in it. Hand me one more bucket-full, Spike, old
scout. Now! I guess we’ve soused the stack enough.”

He slid down the slippery side of the straw-stack, and the three workers
awaited the coming of the first arrivals from the village.

“I’m goin’ back to see how my ol’ man’s gettin’ on; he’s like to be
fussin’ an’ frettin’,” said Mrs. Walsh. “If Tom’s come back in thet
buggy, leavin’ the waggin ter be fetched later, he’ll know what ter do
now.”

So saying, she walked slowly away to the warm, dry cellar where her
husband directed the proceedings like a general on a battlefield.

In a few minutes the buggy rattled into the farmyard, and Tom Walsh and
his two companions sprang from it to pour a volley of questions and
thanks upon the two boys. It was not long before the farmyard became the
scene of a motley gathering of Oakvale’s livelier inhabitants, men,
women, and children, who drove up in all sorts of vehicles, including
automobiles, and brought every conceivable implement for fighting a
forest fire. Most of them did not linger there long, but set out for the
woods.

Billy Worth arrived on horseback.

“’Twasn’t possible to fetch the hosecart all this way up here,”
explained Tom, “but we got everything else we could lay hands on.”

Presently, in a large touring-car owned by a resident of Oakvale, came
Lieutenant Denmead, Walter, Arthur, and Cooper, and they brought with
them Alec and Blake, whom they had picked up on the way. By unanimous
wish, the scouts lost no time in hurrying to the woods after the other
fire-fighters, and all did yeoman service in putting out the blaze.

Late in the afternoon the fire was finally extinguished. Fortunately the
Walsh farm escaped damage, except for a blaze in a thatched cow-shed,
and the farmer and his wife and son were deeply grateful. Mrs. Walsh
insisted on serving supper to all who had remained until the danger was
over; and when it was generally learned that the prompt arrival of the
motley fire brigade was due to the warning given by the young
signalers,—for, strange to say, the smoke in the woods had not been
considered alarming by the village folk, who were used to camping
parties among the hills,—Lieutenant Denmead’s corps were the guests of
honor at that “spread.”

And such a feast it was! After all the work and excitement, they were as
hungry as wolves, and the simple supper of ham and eggs, crisp fried
potatoes, pancakes and honey, washed down with copious glasses of fresh
milk, was a banquet fit for the gods! Afterward, they were invited to
spend the night in the hayloft of the barn, if they chose; but the Scout
Master thought it best to decline this kindly, apologetic invitation and
to resume the trip back to camp. Accordingly they took leave of the
Walshes, and set forth, with well-filled stomachs and light hearts, glad
of another opportunity to camp out in the open that night.

Before noon of the following day they reached Pioneer Camp and were
hailed as conquering heroes by their friends.

On the return march, Hugh discovered the loss of his note-book. However,
he said nothing to anyone, not even to Billy. The blow was hard to bear,
the accident crushing to his hopes of leadership; but he knew he had
only himself to blame, and he resolved to accept the mischance with a
good grace.



                             CHAPTER VIII.
                         AN UNEXPECTED REPROOF.


“Hist, old man!” Dick Bellamy whispered, slipping out of his bunk.
“Something is up, and I can’t make out what it is. Don’t say
anything,—just keep quiet and use your ears.”

Alec, strangely thrilled, listened intently. The sounds Dick had heard,
and which now came to Alec distinctly, consisted of a muffled scraping
outside the side wall of the cabin, at the window. Some one was working
at the catch.

It was long after “taps” and all the other scouts of the Otter and the
Fox patrols were sound asleep in the cabin; that is, all save Alec, who,
being restless because of a troubled conscience, had been startled by
the vision of his friend bending over him in the darkness.

“What d’you think it is?” was Dick’s question.

“Go to sleep again, Dick; it’s nothing,” Alec retorted scornfully. And
the next instant he marred the effect of his own words by asking: “What
on earth do you suppose it can be?”

“A bear, perhaps,—or the mate of Hugh’s bobcat.”

“Nonsense! There are no bears around here, Joe says, and you ought to
know that a bob——”

“Speak lower, Alec. It may be one of those Canuk lumberjacks from the
camp in the back-woods. You remember, Pioneer Camp was robbed last
summer, and there was a row over the affair.”

“You certainly have a lively imagination, Dick! Do you think a thing
like that is going to happen again so soon?”

“Well, why not? You can’t trust any one of those toughs. I heard cook
say so once, and then he shut up like a clam ’cause he thought Joe might
hear him. Joe’s respected father was a Canuk, you know. Someone is up to
some treachery.”

The last word grated upon Alec’s ears. “Treachery?” he repeated. “You
mean——? You accuse—Joe?”

“You were foolish to show off that roll of bills your father sent you to
buy camera supplies with, this afternoon,” was the whispered response.

Alec gave a low laugh.

“What’s eating you, Dick, anyway? You’re twice as foolish to talk that
way. Joe might hear you. Besides, he’s as honest as the daylight. Do you
think the Chief would employ him if——”

“Hark! There’s that noise again. I’ll bet someone is stealing into the
cabin.”

“Why doesn’t he steal in through the door, then?”

“Afraid he’ll make too much noise, I guess. He’d rather take his chance
of coming through a hole in the wall.”

“He’s making more noise than he would by using the door,” said Alec.
“We’ll nail him when he gets inside. If it’s some of the fellows from
the other cabin, Dick, we’ll force them to——Get up, then, and get ready
for business.”

Silently the two lads swung to a sitting posture on the edge of their
bunks, and, with straining eyes, peered through the thick gloom toward
the wall from which the muffled sounds were coming. Suddenly, as they
watched and waited, the lower sash of the window,—which, by the way, was
next to Alec’s bunk,—was raised slowly, and a man’s head and shoulders
appeared against the lighter background of silvery moonbeams. This human
figure silhouetted itself sharply in the opening, evidently not striving
for concealment, and an arm was thrust through. It seemed to be groping
around in the darkness of the log-house, and finally a hand rapped
softly on Alec’s bunk, almost touching his leg.

Alec crawled to the foot of his bed, slipped down, and stepped to Dick’s
side. Dick also rose, and the two moved noiselessly upon the prowler.

The man grunted and breathed hard, while crawling through the window.
Just as he was on the point of tugging at Alec’s pillow, both Alec and
Dick seized him. Like a flash, he turned, without making a sound; it
seemed that he was astounded, for a moment.

Yet his amazement was quite apart from the surprise of the unexpected
seizure. A gurgling laugh sounded in his throat.

“You got me! You th’ boy I want to see,” he chuckled, turning to Alec.

The moonlight fell full upon his swarthy face.

“Joe!” gasped Alec. “What are you doing here at this time of night?”

“Want to see you,” explained the half breed, in a whisper.

“Me? What for? Why didn’t you tell me what you want after we got back
yesterday?” Alec’s nervousness betrayed itself in the tones of his
voice. “You could have spoken to me last evening at the council-fire.
What’s the——?”

“No time then, no time to-morrow.”

“That’s so. I forgot we—the signal corps—are going to Oakvale to-morrow.
The Chief told us last night, Dick, that Major Brookfield invited us to
join his headquarters’ staff of signalers in the maneuvers, and so we’re
going to the National Guard camp for a few days. Major Brookfield was in
Oakvale yesterday, and the Chief saw him there. The major was pleased
with the signal work we did during the fire.”

Dick Bellamy heard only a few words of Alec’s news. He kept his eyes
fixed upon the face of the guide, wondering if by any unlucky chance Joe
had overheard any of the insinuations which he, Dick, had uttered. At
heart Dick was afraid of “Injun Joe,” as he called him—behind his back.

“Want to see you, Alec,” repeated Joe, moving toward the door, which, as
Alec and Dick had forgotten, was locked on the inside. “Come out with
me—out there.”

Something authoritative in his voice and manner made Alec obey without
protest. Unbolting the door as noiselessly as possible in order not to
waken the sleepers, and leaving Dick to crawl back to his bunk, the
Indian and the white boy glided out into the open space between the two
cabins, and stood facing each other in the moonlight.

“Joe find somethin’ to-day,” began the guide, fumbling in the pocket of
his coat.

“Something of mine? Something that belongs to me?”

“No.”

“Why do you give it to me, then?”

“Becos you’re a scout, becos Joe a scout, too!” Joe’s unusually stolid
features relaxed in a grim smile. “You no un’erstan’?”

Clad only in his pajamas, Alec shivered; but not entirely because of the
chill night air on his body. The presence of the man before him, the
vague reproach conveyed in Joe’s softly guttural tones, gave, him a
curious “creepy” sensation of cold and a weakness in the knees.

“What-what is it?” he questioned, extending his hand.

“Here. You take this.”

Joe handed the boy a small, thin, oblong thing that felt damp and gritty
to Alec’s touch.

“What is it? What shall I do with it? Oh, Joe, is it that book of trout
flies you promised to sell me?” asked Alec eagerly.

Joe grunted, and gave his broad shoulders an expressive shrug.

“Wait,” he mumbled; “wait and see.”

Whereupon, with another shrug, he turned and strode rapidly away in the
direction of his tent.

Alec looked down at the object in his hand. In the moonbeams he could
scarcely make out what it was, for it was covered with mud-stains.
Mechanically he opened it and turned what seemed to be pages soiled and
crumpled and badly torn. All at once he uttered a little exclamation of
astonishment.

“Oh!” he breathed. “It’s Hugh Hardin’s note-book!”

                            * * * * * * * *

When the signal corps reached the camp of the National Guard, late in
the following afternoon,—having made the trip over to the Oakvale
meadows on foot as far as Rainbow Lake, and thence in Tom Walsh’s farm
wagon,—they were at once taken to Major Brookfield’s quarters and
introduced to that officer. He received them with a genuine cordiality
that straightway won their hearts, and he assigned them to the Blue
Army.

“There is to be a sham battle next Saturday,” he told them, “and the
Blues feel that they will be beaten because they are fighting the
regulars, who compose the majority of the Reds, though they, the Blues,
outnumber their foes. I want you boys to do all you can to save the day.
Who is the leader of this corps, Lieutenant?”

“We have not yet elected a leader, Major Brookfield,” answered Scout
Master Denmead, “owing to the fact that we hadn’t time, before coming
here, to apply the last test which I had decided upon. You see, we left
camp rather hurriedly this morning, in order to be here on time for the
beginning of the maneuvers.”

“I understand. Well, it won’t make any difference, anyway. Perhaps the
work these lads are going to do with us may be counted further toward
some one’s election.”

“That’s an excellent idea.”

“The first ‘job’ you’ll have,” continued the Major, addressing his
attentive listeners, “is to go out ahead with a detachment of Blues and
help lay telegraph wires. I presume most of you are pretty well grounded
in elementary surveying?”

The scouts replied by saluting.

“Well, then, follow my aide here, and he’ll put you in charge of the
captain.”

In orderly array, the eight scouts of the signal corps left headquarters
and were duly presented to the captain in command of the detachment of
Blues. Their work began that very evening, for they were ordered to
proceed from camp and take possession of a high mound east of the
village, a strategic point which the Reds coveted, because it commanded
telegraphic communication with Oakvale.

By the time this mound had been scaled and captured, after a skirmish
with a few Red defenders, the eight new recruits, albeit thrilled by
their first experience of mock warfare, were thoroughly tired. Wrapped
in their blankets, they stretched themselves on the grassy slope of the
mound.

“We’re safe enough here, and we can be comfortable,” said Alec to Walter
Osborne.

“Good fun, this,” was Walter’s sleepy comment. “I’m going to sleep with
one eye open.” He pulled the blanket over him, and yawned. “Forty winks
for me, this night!”

“Forty-four thousand, you mean! I have a life-size picture of you
sleeping with one eye open, after all we’ve been through to-day! Well,
I’m dog-weary. Good night, old scout, and pleasant dreams.”

“Same to you, Alec.”

“You fellows shut up and go to sleep!” came Cooper Fennimore’s voice:
out of the darkness. “Hi, there, Arthur! Quit punching me in the ribs!”

“Never touched you,” protested Arthur, in a drowsy drawl.

“Hugh, why so silent?” demanded Sam.

“Hugh is studying astronomy, fellows,” Blake Merton declared.

“No, I’m not,” said Hugh. “I was just thinking that ’way off in Pioneer
Camp ‘taps’ is sounding now, and Billy the Wolf is wishing he were here
with us. Good old Billy! Hope he wasn’t _very_ much disappointed about
not making the corps.”

It was characteristic of Hugh Hardin to wish that his chum might share
adventures and good-fortune with him.

Suddenly, across Alec’s drowsy consciousness stole a slight jealousy of
Billy Worth. Never had he felt this before; never had he wished that he
and Hugh might be friends with no indifference on Hugh’s part toward
him, and no hostility on his own. Surely if Billy Worth, whom Alec
really liked, found Hugh worthy of respect and regard, Hugh must be a
friend worth claiming. Yet what had he done to make of Hugh a friend?
Nothing. On the contrary, he had been guilty of a mean and selfish act
which, if Hugh suspected it, could not easily be forgiven.

“A scout is friendly. He is a friend to all and a brother to every other
scout.”

So ran the fourth law which Alec had promised to obey when he took the
scout oath. And how had he kept that law? By treachery to another!

“Guess I must be tireder than I thought,” he told himself, trying to
account for these disturbing reflections. “If I want to, I can return
Hugh’s notes to him when we go back to camp; they’re hidden in my locker
now. I suppose Joe meant that it was up to me to return them. Why didn’t
he do it himself? It would be more like him, the sly dog! I wish he had!
I don’t want to return them; they’re so much better than mine. Oh, well,
perhaps——“

But here his brain and body seemed to yield all at once to the
overpowering spell of tired youth, and he sank into dreamless slumber.



                              CHAPTER IX.
                            THE SHAM BATTLE.


Such half-formed resolutions, good or bad, as those which had troubled
Alec that night were naturally lost sight of in the stirring events of
the next three days. Like the others in the signal corps, he was
absorbed in the work assigned to them: surveying the countryside,
working with the linemen who were sent on ahead to lay wires, sending
and receiving telegraphic and signal messages concerning the movements
of “the enemy.” It was a wonderful experience for the eight young
scouts, and they entered into it with a will and with credit to
themselves for their part in the general scheme.

Lieutenant Denmead was proud of them and delighted at the success of his
idea in forming the corps.

Friday came all too soon, in spite of the fact that the eagerly awaited
battle was to be fought on the morrow. When the Blues pitched camp that
evening, they had advanced several miles into the territory supposed to
be defended by the Red Army, and they found themselves in a rather
advantageous position.

The Blues had selected their position with care. Two roads, one a
highway, the other the logging road which skirted the Walsh farm,
approached the town of Oakvale like the two halves of a wishbone, the
best position being at the meeting point. Thus the Blues were so placed
that the men were able to see down the valley and to cover the advance
of the Reds whichever way they came.

When the camp was quiet and no sounds could be heard except the measured
tread of a sentry going his rounds, Hugh, being warm and dusty after the
day’s skirmishing and marching, longed to go for a dip in the nearby
stream. The longing grew upon him to such a degree that he rose from his
cot and stole forth beyond the picket line, going straight toward the
place where the stream formed a deep and narrow pool between some rocks.

The night was warm for that season, and a crescent moon hung low in the
heavens, only a little way above the tops of the tallest trees. Hugh
found the light sufficient to guide him through the wood, and, reaching
the pool, he shed his garments, and plunged in.

For a few minutes he swam lazily to and fro; then, all of a sudden he
was startled by hearing a splash near him and a sound of spluttering, as
someone else took the plunge. The next moment a head appeared above the
inky ripples of the pool and with a vigorous shake came swimming toward
him, the body to which it belonged being propelled swiftly and silently
through the water.

“Is that you, Sam?” whispered Hugh.

“Yes. How did you know?”

“I recognized your crawl stroke, Sam; there isn’t one to beat it in
Pioneer Camp.”

“I guessed where you were going, old man, and followed you here. Isn’t
this great! Gee! I wish we could get up a set of swimming matches at
night when we go back to camp.”

“What a crazy idea! The Chief wouldn’t consider it for a moment; it’s
too dangerous.”

“’Spose it is,” admitted Sam. “I was only thinking what fun this is, and
not of——Say, Hugh, did you hear footsteps just now?”

“I thought I did, but wasn’t sure. Listen.”

Floating easily on their backs, the two lads lay motionless in the water
under the overhanging rock, and strained their ears to catch a
suspicious sound. To their intense surprise, a man’s voice broke the
silence.

“Captain Groome’s division is just beyond here,” it said softly. “He
intends to meet your colonel half a mile beyond the intersection of two
trails in the wood, at the rear of the Blue camp, and advance upon them
from that point, early to-morrow morning. The Blues have no idea that
we’re so close to them.”

“They’re looking for us down the valley,” responded a deeper voice.
“Thanks for the information, sir. I’ll go back now and report it at once
to the colonel.”

“And so will we, Sam!” added Hugh, in an excited whisper, when the
unknown speakers had returned whence they had come. “Do you know what
this means? Why, we’ve overheard two Red officers confiding plans for an
attack on us to-morrow!”

“Sure this war game hasn’t turned your head, Hugh?”

“Of course it hasn’t! Didn’t you hear them with your own ears?”

“Yes, but I couldn’t make much sense out of what they were saying.”

“No matter; it’s important, all the same. The thing that puzzled me was:
Why did they choose this spot so near our lines for their meeting just
now?”

“Perhaps they couldn’t arrange for a safer place.”

“Come on, Sam, let’s go back. We’ve got to tell what we’ve just
learned.”

A few strokes carried them to the edge of the pool; they scrambled out,
dressed hastily, and hurried to the tent where Lieutenant Denmead was
sleeping.

“Hate to wake you up, sir,” said Hugh, when they entered.

“But we’ve got most important news!” supplemented Sam, forgetting his
previous scoffing at the war game.

“Let’s hear it, boys,” said Denmead, sitting up attentively.

They told him, not hesitating to confess their breach of discipline in
stealing out of camp for a swim. When they had finished, the Scout
Master smiled.

“The importance of the news excuses the offense—this once,” he said
grimly. “Go back to your cots and get a few hours of good sound sleep in
preparation for the work cut out for you to-morrow. But report this plan
to Major Brookfield, the first thing you do. I’ll go with you now.”

                            * * * * * * * *

In the gray light of Saturday morning the “battle” began, with a rush of
two troops of Red infantry upon the camp of the Blues.

The ground surrounding the camp was very uneven, and the advance of the
Reds was impeded by thick bushes, trailing vines, and slippery stones
embedded in the soil. Through these vines and thorny bushes the Reds
fought their way, falling, stumbling, wet with perspiration, panting for
breath, but obeying their colonel’s commands instantly,—only to be met
by an alert and determined resistance on the part of the Blue Army.

The Blues disproved all that had been said in criticism of them when the
maneuvers were first organized. They observed perfect discipline and
acted with coolness and intelligence. Indeed, thanks to the information
Hugh and Sam had been enabled to bring, they gave the attacking forces
the greatest surprise of the whole “campaign,” by receiving them fully
prepared and with a decimating fire of blank cartridges, under which,
according to military tactics, the Reds might reasonably have retreated.

But they did not retreat. Instead, there was a steady, bold, cool
advance, as the Reds poured out of the woods like a swarm of angry bees.

Although surprised by the number of the Reds, the Blues drove back one
attack and successfully foiled another by sending a company to block the
march of Red reinforcements up the valley. Not for one minute during the
next two hours did the strain slacken, nor did the officers on either
side call a halt. The action, both in the vicinity of the camp and
further down in the valley, was fast and incessant, as at a good
football game. The conduct of all the men in the “fight” was worthy of
the highest praise.

It was when “the tide of battle” was at the full that Hugh and Alec, who
had been sent to a lookout high up on the side of the hill, observed
that no more Reds were coming from the valley along either road of the
wishbone, and that the company of Blues who had gone out to check their
advance were returning, triumphant.

By means of their semaphore flags, they signaled this news down to the
other scouts, as well as to the regular signal men of the Blue Army,
with the result that a new movement was decided upon:

The Blues made an unexpected sortie from their position, and prepared to
charge the Reds.

In front of the border of woods were a hundred yards or so of open
ground covered with high grass. At the edge of this grass, the Colonel
commanding the Reds ordered the line to cease firing, drop, and wait for
some movement on the part of the enemy.

They had not long to wait. Major Brookfield ordered his lines to charge
across, and the Blue men did so under a heavy but ineffectual fire from
the Reds. It looked like a skirmish line thrown out in advance of a
regiment.

The Reds could not believe that so few men would advance with such
confidence unless they momentarily expected large reinforcements, so,
without attempting to stop them, they turned and ran. As their fire
slackened, those who were returning from the valley saw them retreating,
and the men in blue cheered—a long, derisive, parting cheer.

This charge ended the fight and won the day for the Blues.

                            * * * * * * * *

“Where are Hugh Hardin and Alec Sands?” inquired Denmead, a few hours
later, when the divided armies had returned to their common camp on
Oakvale meadows. “Hasn’t anyone seen them in camp?”

“No, sir,” replied Walter, giving the scout salute.

“Do they know we’re going back to our own camp to-day, by automobile as
far as the railroad station nearest camp?”

“Yes, sir, they know it; but they haven’t showed up yet.”

“Can anything have happened to them, do you think, Chief?” queried Sam
Winter.

“I should hardly suppose so. They may be lost in the woods; but, in that
case, each one is capable of finding his way to Rainbow Lake, and thence
to Pioneer Camp. However, if we don’t see them or receive any message
from them before we start, I’ll send out a search-party, and we’ll make
the trip home on foot, to see if we can find them.”



                               CHAPTER X.
                        AROUND THE COUNCIL-FIRE.


A misfortune had indeed overtaken Alec and Hugh soon after they had
turned the tide in favor of the Blue Army.

In descending from a ledge of rock that overhung the valley to a lower
level where a path wound along the side of the hill, Alec, carrying his
flags in one hand, and clinging to saplings that grew in the crevices of
the rock with the other, slipped and fell, barely saving himself from
tumbling headlong over the cliff.

When he attempted to rise, an excruciating stab of pain in his left
ankle gave warning of a bad sprain.

“I’ve twisted my ankle, Hugh,” he said ruefully, gazing up where Hugh
knelt on the ledge above him. “I can’t bear my weight on it just now.”

He spoke lightly, but there was a catch in his voice.

Admiring his pluck, Hugh looked at him with an expression of deep
concern.

“Wait a second, Alec. I’ll help you up out of that little ravine you’ve
fallen into. Jingo! I thought you would surely slide over the edge when
I saw you fall! I was so thankful that you had the sense to stop short!”

“Were you?”

“You bet I was!” While he was speaking, Hugh was lowering himself
cautiously down from the ledge, and creeping along until he stood beside
Alec. “At last! Are you badly hurt? Let’s see your ankle. Why, it’s
beginning to swell already! Here, let me take off your heavy shoe.”

“If you do, I’ll never be able to get it on again! As things are now, I
don’t see how I’m going to get down to Oakvale. And as for getting back
to Pioneer Camp!—it seems to be at the other end of nowhere, so far
away!”

“Don’t despair. As a matter of fact, I believe our camp is nearer this
spot than Oakvale is. What do you say, Alec, to trying to make our way
back to Rainbow Lake? I remember Joe left an old canoe there, and we can
paddle across and then find the trail back to camp.”

“Go ahead,” responded Alec. “Sorry I can’t go with you.”

“Oh, yes, you can. And you’re coming with me, too.”

“I tell you I _can’t walk_! This darned ankle hurts like sin! It may be
broken, for all I know.”

“I can tell in a moment,” said Hugh, reassuringly, and with no touch of
boasting.

While he carefully felt the injured member, Alec was suddenly reminded
of a remark of his own, a sneer at Hugh’s qualifications in first-aid.
“At my expense,” Alec had said, and now here was Hugh turning his
knowledge to Alec’s benefit, very modestly and simply, quite as a matter
of course!

“No bones broken,” announced Hugh, “but you must let me bind it up with
a handkerchief soaked in cold water, and then put on one of my sneakers.
Then we’ll start for camp, before it gets any worse.”

Alec plucked up a little more courage at this.

“If I could only get up out of this ravine,” he said, glancing around
him in search of foothold, “I might——”

“I’m going to carry you,” said Hugh quietly. But first he followed his
own directions for binding Alec’s ankle firmly.

“Now!” he exclaimed, when that was done to his satisfaction and to
Alec’s relief, “I’m going to get you out of here. Just drape yourself
across my right shoulder, will you, and let your legs hang down in front
so that I——”

“But, Hugh, you’ll never be able to haul me up out of this! I weigh as
much as you do, though I’m not quite so tall!”

“You’ll see. Please do just as I tell you, and let’s not waste any more
time about it.” To his own surprise, Alec obeyed. Hugh knelt on the
ground while Alec slid forward over his shoulder, throwing his right arm
back over Hugh’s left shoulder. Then Hugh passed his right arm between
Alec’s legs, seizing Alec’s right hand; then, shifting his burden a
little, he rose slowly. In this manner he staggered up the sloping sides
of the ravine, and reached level ground and the path.

“Pretty tough on you!” he ejaculated, breathing hard, as he placed Alec
gently on the ground. “How much farther do you think you can stand it.”

“Look here, Hugh,” cried Alec, “what are you thinking of? You can’t
carry me any farther. I won’t have it! I’ll be ever so much obliged to
you if you’ll break off that branch of ash over there,—the one with a
long knob at one end of it,—so that I can use it for a crutch,—and then
please make tracks toward Pioneer Camp as fast as you can.”

“And leave you here alone? Not much! What do you think I am?”

“There’s no danger, Hugh. Besides, the sooner you get to camp and send
Joe and a search-party out after me, the sooner I’ll get there, too.”

Hugh shook his head decisively.

“Sorry, but I won’t do that. But, speaking of search-parties, why can’t
we signal to the National Guard camp and ask them to send one? Where are
the flags?”

“They dropped out of my hand and fell over the cliff,” replied Alec.

“Too bad! Well, it can’t be helped.” Hugh broke off the branch Alec had
pointed out, whittled it smooth, and gave it to his companion. “There
you are! Now, do you think we can stagger on?”

“I guess so. I’ll try, anyway.”

Together, they did stagger on, Hugh assisting Alec over the rough
places, or going before him to sweep aside the entangling vines and
brakes and low-hanging boughs that obstructed their path. The sun and
their little pocket compasses were their guides through the mazes of the
forest, and the fact that they were never hopelessly lost was proof that
they were good woodsmen.

Time and time again, during that long, tedious, wearisome, painful
journey, Alec urged Hugh not to wait for him but to go ahead and return
for him with friends from camp. Finally, seeing that Alec was in great
distress, Hugh resolved to comply with this wish.

“I will leave you just as soon as we come to Rainbow Lake, if you
insist,” he promised reluctantly. “But if you are attacked by any wild
animal, or if you should trip and have another bad fall, I’m not
responsible.”

As it happened, they had followed an old Indian trail through the woods,
one which led them to the northern end of Rainbow Lake in less time than
they had counted on. This trail must have saved them at least four miles
and twice as many hours.

But twilight had begun to fold in the hills and to creep across the
surface of the lake like a veil, when they at last stood upon its shore.
It was too late to go to Pioneer Camp that night, even had the canoe
been on hand for Hugh to use, instead of lying beached on the bare
pebbly shingle at the other end of the lake.

“We’ll have to camp out again to-night, here,” said Hugh. “Have you any
matches to light a fire with, Alec?”

“No, but I always carry my fire-stick, drill, and bow with me. You get
some good tinder, Hugh, and I’ll make a fire in two shakes.”

In a few minutes Hugh returned with a handful of pounded cedar wood, dry
and sweet-smelling, and while he went to try and gather a few berries
for their supper, Alec prepared to start the fire. First he gave a few
strokes with the drill, then rearranged the tiny sticks he had placed
over the tinder, and tried a few more strokes. No success. He gave half
a dozen deft twirls to the drill—the smoke burst forth. He covered it
with the tinder, fanned it a few seconds, and then a bright flame arose,
just as Hugh returned with his cap full of luscious blackberries.

The berries were all they had to eat that night, but both youths were so
tired they did not complain. Long before actual night had fallen, they
were sound asleep, wrapped in their blankets, side by side.

And still Alec had said nothing, as yet, about the rebuke which Joe, the
half breed, had given him. Time enough for that, when they were safe at
Pioneer Camp once more.

The next morning Hugh went in quest of the canoe, which he secured after
considerable delay. Then he paddled back to the place where Alec awaited
him, and soon the pair were gliding swiftly over Rainbow Lake and down
the brawling stream which connected it with Pioneer Lake.

When at last they burst upon the waters of the larger lake and sent a
yell of joy echoing across it, their cry was answered by another yell
from camp, and soon the shore and the pier and the raft were crowded
with eager friends waiting to welcome them.

Around the council-fire that evening sat the entire troop, for the
leader of the signal corps was to be elected, after the reports of the
hike had been read.

Alec, pale as a ghost, had sought Hugh after mess, and told him all he
had tried to do to thwart his rival and to deprive him of the chance for
leadership. It was bitterly hard to make that confession, but, in spite
of his faults, Alec Sands “came up to the scratch” in the final test,
and acquitted himself by telling the truth.

“I’m heartily ashamed of my actions and my thoughts concerning you,
Hugh,” he said, in a low, shaky voice. “In the future, after your
kindness to me yesterday, I’ll be all the more ashamed, and sorry, too.”

“Well, I’m sure I don’t want you to remember anything unpleasant between
us!” laughed Hugh. “Let’s forget it, Alec, and be friends!”

They shook hands upon that compact.

“Hugh, I hope—I feel sure—that I’m shaking hands with the leader of the
signal corps!”

And Alec’s remark was indeed true, for Lieutenant Denmead announced that
evening that Hugh Hardin was appointed leader of the corps.

Thereafter, with Alec’s former hostility removed, there was not a scout
in Pioneer Camp who did not congratulate Hugh with genuine
pleasure,—for, when the history of the maneuvers was told, all felt that
Hugh’s reward had been fairly won.



                              CHAPTER XI.
                         A MOUNTAIN ADVENTURE.


Early one morning in the following week, Hugh and Alec, moved by a
spirit of newly cemented friendship, asked that they, attended by Indian
Joe and accompanied by Billy Worth and Sam Winter, be permitted to make
a trip on foot through the wilderness, to a mountain about five miles
east of old Stormberg.

This request Lieutenant Denmead readily granted, after giving each of
the four young “mountaineers,” as he called them, a physical
examination, testing heart, lungs, muscle, etc. “It ought to be a rule
in all camps,” said he, “that no boy whose heart is not first examined
should attempt a mountain climb over a thousand feet, or a long
march,—that is, no boy in his teens. You fellows, with the exception of
Alec, are ‘sound in wind and limb.’”

“What’s the matter with me, sir?” queried Alec.

“How about that ankle of yours, my boy?”

“Oh, that’s all right, Chief! It’s quite strong again. I had forgotten
all about it.”

“All right, then. But be careful. By the way, I think I’ll ask Rawson to
go with you.”

“Fine!” “Great!” “Wish he would come!” the boys responded
enthusiastically.

Accordingly, George Rawson joined the expedition that set forth bright
and early next morning. Each member carried a haversack filled with
provisions, in addition to the regular equipment for camping-out in fine
weather.

The peak which they intended to climb was locally known as the Pinnacle.
Higher than old Stormberg, it rose in the heart of the forest, and was
approached from camp, first by a long-disused logging road that skirted
the lower end of Pioneer Lake, then by trails and bridle-paths, and
finally by a single trail that wound up its rocky sides. Though not
remote from camp, it was nearly nightfall when the little party arrived
at a farmer’s barn nestling at the foot of the mountain, and, as a
reward for helping him with the last of the day’s “chores,” were allowed
to sleep in his hayloft. Much as they preferred to sleep in the open, a
heavy rain—which had begun suddenly during the last two hours of their
march—forced them to seek the shelter of the barn.

The morrow dawned in a heavy fog, and the Scouts were astir early in
anticipation of clear weather. After a breakfast of oatmeal cakes,
hard-boiled eggs, and cereal coffee, Hugh and Billy approached Joe, who
was packing the cooking outfit, and said, “Rawson says we can go ahead a
little if you will show us the trail, Joe. He has climbed the Pinnacle
before, and will follow later.”

Joe gave a grunt of assent, and the three strapped on their haversacks
once more, left the barnyard, and struck out into the woods.

As they began to ascend the mountain the wreaths of fog floated higher
and higher above them, until the sun came forth in full splendor and all
the moist, dripping woods were bathed again in light. In a few minutes
Hugh realized, with a thrill of excitement, that the slopes of the magic
peak were actually under his feet! He stumbled frequently over the
broken rocks, helping himself up with the aid of trees, saplings, and
undergrowth. Billy, less lithe and agile than Hugh, found it more
difficult to keep in Joe’s wake; and further, he was encumbered with a
camera, which he had insisted on taking with him on this trip. How he
managed to carry the thing along without smashing it, he could never
afterward explain; but in the course of that day he got some remarkable
photographs, and thereby added several points to the credit score of the
Wolf Patrol.

Occasionally they were obliged to swing by their arms, like apes, from
roots or branches projecting over the edge of some miniature precipice.
Their faces were scratched by brambles, their hands cut by the sharp
edges of rocks, and their clothing torn by the jagged limbs of broken
pines and hemlocks.

It was after ten o’clock before they reached a broad ledge, where they
paused to rest and wait for the others. And it was twilight again before
the reunited party reached the summit.

Stunted evergreen trees covered the top of the mountain, but the weary
Scouts found a comparatively open space in an angle of rocks on one
side, a few yards down, and there they made a bed of pine twigs. Then,
collecting a heap of dead branches, they soon had a roaring fire. On all
sides lay the wilderness, a great dark gulf beneath them. From among the
trees came the nocturnal cries of wild animals, the hoot of a great
horned owl, and the soughing of the fitful wind in the pines. In an hour
the moon rose and shed a faint illumination over the weird scene.

In the morning the wilderness was like a green ocean surrounding that
island peak, even the sharp, spiky tops of trees blending softly in a
light haze. After disposing of breakfast, the party started to descend
the mountain on another side, attracted by a lake that they had noticed
shining in the light of the moon. But unwittingly they chose the worst
possible place for descent, and that, in spite of Joe’s general
knowledge of the locality. In about an hour they found themselves
involved in perpendicular cliffs and headlong pitches of the
mountainside, which seemed to their inexperience truly frightful. At
last they came out upon the dizzy brow of a precipice which was too
smooth to afford any foothold.

The cliffs towering behind them seemed to forbid return, and they
searched anxiously for a place where they dared attempt to descend.

“Look!” exclaimed Joe, at last, pointing to a dead pine which had fallen
against the face of the precipice and remained leaning there. “We got to
climb down that tree. Come.”

He crawled forward until half of his body was over the smooth ledge,
then reaching down, he grasped the topmost branch of the leaning pine
and swung himself over, landing on the trunk of the tree. After that it
was easy to crawl along the trunk to its roots, which rested upon more
level ground. The feat was not without peril, but it was the only way
out of the difficulty. Each member of the party in turn followed Joe’s
example, crawling, clinging, scrambling to safety. Then they looked back
at the sheer cliff and rejoiced that they had had even this chance of
escape.

Another danger, however, soon became evident. They had lost their way!
Wandering in the intricacies of a “windfall,” they struggled desperately
with a tangled mass of broken branches and uptorn roots. After spending
the greater part of the forenoon in advancing perhaps half a mile, Sam
climbed a tree, gave a searching look around, and announced that he had
his bearings.

The half-breed climbed up, also, and surveyed the landscape with his
keen black eyes.

“Right!” he grunted positively. “Sam guess right. Joe know Pioneer
Lake.”

Nevertheless, when by slow stages they approached the lake, they found
they still had to traverse broad swamps. At last, they came upon the
backwoods trail which had grown familiar in many stalking games and
signaling tests, and all their difficulties blended into the single one
of tramping for an hour or two without food on a path that was
wearisomely long, though it led out of the wilderness. Presently they
emerged into the open, breaking into a cheer at the welcome sight of the
council-fire of Pioneer Camp.

The “mountaineers” were quickly surrounded by a mob of curious boys and
bombarded with eager questions. Rawson, however, demanded water and food
for the hungry travelers first of all, and not until their exhausted
comrades were amply refreshed did the other Scouts beg again to hear
their experiences. Then Hugh and Alec, supplemented by Billy and Sam and
endorsed by Rawson, told the story of their mountain climb. When it was
finished, the council-fire had crumbled into ashes, and the last sparks
had died out in the light of the stars.

Another day of camp-life was ended. As the boys fell asleep, they smiled
with content at their lot, and wondered what new happenings awaited them
in the Land of Tomorrow, at dawn to become another Today!

That there _were_ new and strangely unforeseen experiences before them,
proof now exists, for the record may be found in “The Boy Scouts of
Pioneer Camp.”



                          Transcriber’s Notes


--Copyright notice provided as in the original—this e-text is public
  domain in the country of publication.

--Silently corrected palpable typos (including once exchanging the order
  of two entire lines); left non-standard spellings and dialect
  unchanged.

--Retained the probable typo “stertorious” for its portmanteau-word
  potential.

--In the text versions, delimited italics text in _underscores_ (the
  HTML version reproduces the font form of the printed book.)





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