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Title: The Boy Scouts in the Saddle
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
                             IN THE SADDLE


                                   BY
                             ROBERT SHALER

        AUTHOR OF “BOY SCOUTS OF THE SIGNAL CORPS,” “BOY SCOUTS
        OF PIONEER CAMP,” “BOY SCOUTS OF THE GEOLOGICAL SURVEY,”
           “BOY SCOUTS OF THE LIFE SAVING CREW,” “BOY SCOUTS
               ON PICKET DUTY,” “BOY SCOUTS OF THE FLYING
                  SQUADRON,” “BOY SCOUTS AND THE PRIZE
                   PENNANT,” “BOY SCOUTS OF THE NAVAL
                     RESERVE,” “BOY SCOUTS FOR CITY
                             IMPROVEMENT.”

                                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. The Superior Boy                                                  5
  II. Left on the Ledge                                               17
  III. Surrounded by Perils                                           30
  IV. Scouts to the Rescue                                            43
  V. Seeing Things in a New Light                                     56
  VI. Tracking from the Saddle                                        69
  VII. The Sunken Road                                                82
  VIII. At Raccoon Island Camp                                        95
  IX. Over the Ridge                                                 108
  X. Lying in Ambush                                                 121
  XI. When the Rat Scratched                                         137
  XII. What the Scouts Did                                           148



                     The Boy Scouts in the Saddle.



                               CHAPTER I.
                           THE SUPERIOR BOY.


“Hello! there, landlord, just put five gallons of gasoline in my tank,
and charge it to dad, will you? I forgot to fill up before leaving our
garage in town. I reckon there’d be a lot of trouble in the big granite
quarry we own if Gusty Merrivale failed to show up to-day.”

The speaker was a young fellow nattily attired, of about eighteen years
of age. As he nimbly jumped out of the dusty runabout car, it could be
seen that he was inclined to be rather arrogant in his manner. Indeed,
one glance at his dark, handsome face betrayed the fact that he was more
or less proud, and domineering.

Gustavus Merrivale was comparatively a newcomer in the pleasant town
around which many of the adventures contained in this Scout Series
happened. Somehow Gusty had not seemed to care to mix with the general
run of boys, picking up only a few choice companions from among the
“upper crust.” His father was said to be a very wealthy man, and among
other properties, he owned a logging camp far up among the hills
together with a valuable granite quarry where fully five score of
toilers were employed throughout the entire summer.

The landlord of the village tavern apparently knew his customer. Several
times before young Merrivale had motored through the village, and always
just two weeks apart. By putting two and two together, the tavern keeper
could easily surmise the nature of the errand that took Gus Merrivale up
into that wild country so often. Had he been in doubt before, these last
words of the boy must have enlightened him fully.

“Pay day in the quarry, hey?” he went on to say, as he unlocked the
reservoir that doubtless contained the supply of gasoline which he sold
to passing tourists and others. “Your pa’s got quite a plenty of men
employed up there, I understand, Mr. Merrivale; and just as you say,
they’d kick up high jinks if their pay didn’t show up on Monday twice a
month.”

“Why, hello! Where did that bunch of motorcycles come from, Mr. Tubbs?”
demanded the rich man’s son, pointing, as he spoke, to three up-to-date
twin-cylinder machines standing in a cluster in a safe corner of the inn
yard.

“Three young chaps from your town are sitting yonder on the porch
awatchin’ of us right now,” returned the landlord, softly. “Mebbe you
happen to know them, seeing as how they’re Boy Scouts, and that Hugh
Hardin has made somethin’ of a name around this section, I’m told.”

“Hugh Hardin, eh?” exclaimed young Merrivale with a swift glance toward
the side piazza of the tavern, where he now discovered several sprawling
figures occupying as many chairs, and evidently resting up while waiting
for dinner to be announced. “Yes, and his shadow, that Worth fellow, is
along with him, and also the chap they call Monkey Stallings, who came
to town just a month after I did. He fell in with that common herd right
away, and joined the troop, but none of that silly scout business for
me! I can see myself taking orders from a patrol leader, nit. What are
they doing away up here; and where did they get those expensive
machines, I’d like to know?”

“It happens that I’m able to supply the information, Mr. Merrivale,”
remarked the landlord quickly. Like most of his class, he enjoyed a
chance to gossip and disseminate news which he had picked up.

“Then I wish you’d be so kind and condescending as to inform me right
away, sir. I was just speaking about getting a motorcycle myself; and
even now I’m expecting a bunch of catalogues from which to select a
machine. Those things cost all of two hundred apiece, and I fancy few
boys have got as indulgent a father as I happen to own. So please go on
and give me the facts, Mr. Tubbs.”

“Why, you see, the Stallings boy has money of his own, and the others
have been laying aside dollars right along, most of them earned by
finding wild ginseng and golden rod roots in the woods. Besides, they
say that Hardin boy did something not long ago that brought him in quite
a fat reward, which he insisted on sharing with the chums who happened
to be with him at the time. I kinder guess that Worth boy was along, and
that helped _him_ out. Anyhow, they’re taking their first long run, and
have come something like seventy miles since breakfast at home. I’m
getting a dinner for them, you know. Perhaps you’d like to stay over a
bit and see what kind of a cook my wife is?”

“What, me take pot luck with that crowd?” exclaimed Gus Merrivale with a
curl of his upper lip. “Well, I hardly know them enough to speak to at
home, and it isn’t likely that I’ll put myself out to improve the slight
acquaintance. This scout business makes me sick. I don’t understand what
the fellows see in it to strut around in their old khaki suits, and
salute whenever they meet some one who happens to be higher up in line.
Bah! catch me standing at attention and raising my hand when Hugh Hardin
chances to pass by. If I could be an assistant scout master in the
start, I might get a little fun out of the game; but to commence at the
lowest rung of the ladder—well, excuse me, that’s all.”

The landlord bent lower to hide the smile that flitted across his face.
He knew just what type of high-strung boy young Merrivale was; and also
had his own opinion as to how difficult it is to mix oil and water. From
what he had observed, he understood how thoroughly those three lads
lolling on his porch just then, were infatuated with the new life that
had opened up to them since they threw in their fortunes with the scout
movement. He had heard them talking, and found himself deeply interested
in what they told of discoveries. There was enough of the woodsman in
Uriah Tubbs to appreciate the sentiments they expressed. He, too, many a
time had listened to the voice of Nature when alone in the wilds, and
could understand how fascinating it must be to the right kind of boy to
be able to unravel many of her secrets.

Evidently young Merrivale would not bother investigating in order to
find out what it was that lured these scouts on day after day. He saw
only the surface indications, and resolutely refused to pry off the lid
that hid the wonderful truth.

The landlord did not attempt to enlighten him. There was something about
young Merrivale that he did not exactly fancy—a curl of disdain to his
upper lip, just as though he considered himself a superior person and
above the herd. So Mr. Tubbs simply applied himself to the task of
measuring out the necessary liquid fuel for which his customer had
asked.

When Gusty Merrivale chanced to look toward the porch, one of the three
loungers waved a hand at him after the customary free-masonry of youth.
The driver of the runabout made a careless motion as though meaning to
acknowledge the friendly salute, yet not wishing to allow any undue
familiarity. As the trio of scouts seemed to be very well satisfied with
each other’s company, it was hardly likely that any one of them would go
out of his way to scrape a closer acquaintance with so frigid and
reserved a person.

And yet, Hugh Hardin, the tall, agile chap who wore the badge of patrol
leader and assistant scout master on his khaki coat, had told himself
more than once that the new arrival in town might make a splendid
addition to the ranks of the troop, if only he could drop that superior
air, and meet others on a level. Several times had Hugh endeavored to
become better acquainted with Gus Merrivale, only to be rebuffed, and
made to feel as though he were thrusting himself in where he was not
wanted; so, in time, he had given the idea up.

When the required amount of gasoline had been placed aboard, the young
driver of the road car sprang into his seat. He knew that the three
scouts on the porch were watching him closely, but not for worlds would
he look that way, lest he be compelled to wave his hand again; and to
his mind that would seem too much like saluting.

His car did not need cranking, having a self-starter installed.

“Good morning, Mr. Tubbs. I expect to pass back this way later on in the
day. Those steep hills give my car quite a pull you know!” he sang out
as he threw on the power and started out of the inn yard, presently to
vanish amidst a cloud of dust up the road.

For some little distance young Merrivale made good time. He liked to
fairly fly along, being possessed of a rather nervous disposition. As
the ascent became more pronounced, his pace slackened considerably.

The country had changed also. Instead of farming land on either hand, he
looked upon dense woods, and hills that seemed to be composed of almost
solid rock, though trees managed to find lodgment in crevices, so that
they hid the rough conformation of the ground. It had been somewhere in
this neighborhood that members of the Boy Scout troop had come during
the previous summer when deeply interested in geological study; and,
indeed, they could hardly have found a place better fitted for the
purpose of yielding up valuable information.

Gus Merrivale, however, only considered his surroundings in a mercenary
way. His father owned thousands of acres of such land, as well as the
logging camp, located there when snow covered the country. Five score of
husky Italians labored in the granite quarry all through eight months of
open weather.

By degrees his car began to climb steep grades. It had evidently been
carefully selected with just this capacity for mounting hills in view;
and steadily it kept pulling the lone occupant upward.

Now and then he could catch splendid views of the lowlands, and from the
eager way in which Gus looked out at such opportune moments, it seemed
as though after all he had a touch of admiration for Nature.

In the course of half an hour he had arrived close to a peculiar spot
where the road ran along near a steep precipice. A stout railing had
been erected, under the supervision of the township freeholders who had
charge of bridges and roads, in order to lessen the chances of any
vehicle toppling over from that dizzy height. From this point, as Gus
well knew, he would be able to obtain a splendid view not only of the
road far below but of the distant country where several villages and
towns lay, with their church spires showing above the trees.

For a short distance before arriving at this place, the road lay level,
and here he naturally let out his car so as to make up for lost time.

As he turned a bend, and leaned slightly forward with the intention of
cutting down his rather reckless pace, he suddenly saw something that
gave him a severe shock.

This was nothing less than a fallen tree across the road, hardly more
than a sapling in fact, but enough of an impediment to have thrown his
car aside and brought about a wreck, had he not noticed it in time. And
even as he wildly threw on the brake, he saw the figure of a man,
bearing a massive shining tin star on the left breast of his faded coat,
spring out from the bushes waving his arms violently and shouting
excitedly:

“Hi! hold up there, mister! You’re exceeding the speed limit ahittin’ up
a pace like that! I’m the Squeehonk constable, and I kinder guess I’ll
have to run you in for breakin’ the law! This is an ortomobile trap,
understand?”



                              CHAPTER II.
                           LEFT ON THE LEDGE.


The runabout came to a standstill not five feet away from the sapling
that had been thrown across the road in order to prevent him from
slipping by. It was an angry boy who jumped out and faced the man, who
seemed to enjoy his confusion, if the broad grin on his ugly face could
be taken for any indication.

“What do you mean, stopping me like this away up here in the wilderness,
and then telling me I’m exceeding the speed limit?” Gus hotly demanded.
“You say you’re a constable, but where is this village of Squeehonk, I’d
like to know? I’ve been up here several times and never ran across so
much as a cabin, let alone a village. Why, my father owns pretty near
half of this country up this way, I’d like you to know. My name is
Gustavus Merrivale, understand?”

That was just like Gusty, inclined to brag of the great possessions of
his family. Perhaps he was under the false impression that, at the mere
mention of his name, the country clodhopper would exhibit great alarm,
and begin to beg his pardon for having dared to spring his automobile
trap as he had.

Somehow the fellow failed to be dismayed at learning whom he had stopped
on the public road. The grin even widened perceptibly, and on seeing
this fact, the young driver of the roadster grew red in the face with
increased anger.

“Are you going to take that tree off the highway and allow me to go on;
or will I have to report this brazen hold-up to my father, and get you
punished?” he exclaimed hotly, pointing as he spoke to the obstruction.

Then, as he happened to glance at the shining star that decorated the
breast of the so-called constable, he discovered that it was made of
_tin_, and very crudely fashioned in the bargain, as though some
difficulty had been experienced in cutting out the insignia of office.
This fact caused Gus to look at things in a new light. He even began to
wonder whether the man who had stopped him might not be some escaped
lunatic who fancied that his sole duty in life was to hold up speed cars
and make the drivers recognize his authority.

Now that the boy took the trouble to observe the fellow more closely, he
discovered that he seemed to be rather a hard looking customer. There
was a cruel gleam in his pale eyes that gave promise of merciless
treatment, should he once become aroused and infuriated.

“Go slow, younker,” advised the man, with a noticeable sneer. “Cool your
engine off a mite while you have the chance. I’ll turn that sapling
aside when I get good and ready, and not a minute before, even if you
are in such a hurry. So, you say you’re Old Merrivale’s boy, do you? And
like as not right now you’re heading for the quarries up yonder with the
payroll money along? How about it, younker?”

His words gave Gusty a thrill. For the first time a suspicion flashed
through his brain that this hold-up might stand for something more
serious than the mad whim of an escaped lunatic; or the silly design of
a country constable to line his own pocket with graft money forced from
the owners of passing cars, whom he might threaten to arrest for
violating the speed limits.

The mention of the payroll money reminded the boy of his charge. There
were several thousand dollars in bills and silver in the stout bag that
he had placed under the seat of the runabout, enough to tempt many a
desperate man to take the chances of robbery.

He had been given a revolver by his father to carry along with him
whenever he had to take the semimonthly cash up to the quarries.
Unfortunately, the weapon happened to be under the cushion of the seat.
He wondered what the man would do if he started to try to get hold of
this little gun, and if the fellow was desperate enough to strike him on
the head with the stout stick he carried in his right hand.

Another thing gave Gusty further cause for alarm. The bushes close by
rustled, and a second fellow came into view. He was a shorter hobo than
the one who had pretended to play the part of country constable; but if
anything his face, rough with a week’s stubble beard, looked more
villainous than that of his companion.

Plainly, if anything was to be done, it was high time he started in to
make a move before the others could join forces. At least Gusty
Merrivale did not seem to be a coward, no matter if he did put on
superior airs and imagine himself above the common run of boys who went
to make up the rank and file of the scouts. His actions proved this
fact, for without waiting to ask further questions, or figure on what
the consequences might be, he made a quick whirl on his heel, and jumped
toward the road car.

Of course, his intention was simply to arm himself, so as to meet the
others on something like a fair footing. There was no way of escaping
while that tree blocked the road, and certainly these rascals would not
dream of allowing him to turn around and retire the way he had come.

Before the boy could throw back the cushion so as to seize upon the
weapon that snuggled under it, a heavy figure came down full upon him.
In vain did Gusty try to wriggle loose from the encircling arms that
held him in a fierce hug resembling the clasp of a wrestling bear. Gusty
was fully aroused and fought like a savage wildcat. All the while he was
shouting out words that voiced his indignation, and carried wild threats
as to what would happen to these scoundrels for daring to stop him on
the road and rob him of his trust.

Despite his furious exertions, the man held him until his companion
reached the spot, and more than a few heavy blows were dealt because the
flying fists of the excited boy happened to land in the fellow’s face.

“Let up on that tomfoolery, younker,” snarled the second man, scowling
blackly in the face of the prisoner, “or me an’ my pal’ll have to give
yuh some medicine that mebbe yuh won’t like. Think as how we’d let yuh
reach for a gun? Well, not any, I reckons. Pete, yuh started his nose
tuh bleedin’ lively last time yuh touched him up. Hope yuh didn’t break
it and spile his good looks for keeps. Now, stand still, I tells yuh,
’less yuh wants us tuh kick yuh out o’ your senses. We figgered on
gittin’ that bank roll, an’ there’s no way yuh kin save it, so let up
and make the most o’ a bad bargain. Reckon as how yuh dad he’s got heaps
more o’ this stuff whar it kim from. We needs it in our business, Pete
an’ me. And this here kyar’ll jest suit us tuh ride away in, see?”

Quivering with indignation, sore from his bruises, and almost out of
breath after the furious struggle with his tall captor, young Merrivale
realized that they intended to make a complete job of it.

“Do you mean that you’ll steal my car as well as that bag of cash?” he
demanded, aghast.

“Sure thing,” replied the tall hobo yeggman, still holding him fast.
“We’d be a nice pair of chumps now, wouldn’t we, to give you a chance to
make hot time up to the quarry, and start all that crowd of wild
Italians after us? I happen to know something about running a gas wagon,
so I guess we c’n make out to keep clear of ditches and jump-offs. Bill,
get that rope we had in the bushes.”

“What are you going to do with a rope?” asked Gus, turning a trifle pale
as he noticed that there was a straight limb growing out from the trunk
of the nearest tree close by, which would offer a very fine chance for
raising any one off the ground, did lawless persons feel inclined that
way.

“Just wait and see,” the tall hobo replied; “but we ain’t agoin’ to risk
our precious necks adoing anything that’d call for capital punishment.
We draw the line there, me’nd Bill. And hark to me, young Merrivale, all
the kicking on earth won’t help you a mite, and’ll only cause us to bang
you up some more. So if you’re half as sensible as I take you to be,
you’ll just hold tight, and let us work our will. It’s all planned out,
and nothing’ll make us change things the least bit. Let that soak in,
and it’ll pay you lots better than trying to fight back when you ain’t
got no chance at all. See?”

Gus only gave a groan of despair. Yes, he realized that it would be the
utmost folly for him to try and fight two strong men. He could not hope
to escape, and in their anger they would be apt to do him more bodily
injury. The mention made of a broken nose rather tamed his aggressive
spirit because Gus was very vain of his good looks, and would almost as
soon die as be maimed in such a way as to render him hideous in the eyes
of others.

Bill quickly reappeared from the bushes. He was carrying a stout rope
that might have been twenty feet or so in length, and which these rogues
had doubtless stolen from some person’s backyard where it had served as
a clothes line.

Perhaps it had originally been their design to make use of the rope in
order to stop the pay car. The discovery of an overturned sapling
however had suggested an easier method of proceeding. Bill hastened to
arrange a loop at one end of the rope. This he passed over the head of
the boy, and the touch of the noose on his face sent a cold chill all
through the body of the helpless prisoner.

“Fix it just under his arms, Bill,” commanded the tall man. “I warn you
to keep still, younker, if you know what’s best for you. No matter what
you say, or try to do, you can’t change our plans. We mean to keep you
here, so as to hold back the alarm as long as we can, which’ll give us a
chance to cover many miles, if your dinky old car holds out. Now, walk
over here with us, and you’ll grip on what the scheme is.”

With one on either side Gusty was compelled to advance, and he noted
with considerable trepidation that it was directly toward the precipice
that they led him.

“You wouldn’t hang me over there like this, would you?” he ejaculated,
as a terrible thought flashed into his mind. “Why, before long this rope
would cut into me so I’d be crazy with pain. Tie me to a tree if you
want, so I can’t get away, but don’t put me over there, please!”

It would have to be something beyond the common that could make a proud
boy like Gusty Merrivale plead with anyone; but for the time being he
forgot his haughty spirit, nor was it to be wondered at, considering the
peril he faced.

“No use wastin’ yer breath, kid,” snarled the shorter hobo. “We laid out
our plans an’ we means tuh kerry the same through, don’t we, Pete?”

“It ain’t quite as bad as you thinks, younker,” added the other man, who
seemed to have just a grain of pity in his nature. “’Bout twelve or
fifteen feet down the face of the precipice there’s a ledge that runs
along a little ways. No goat could ever get up or down from that same
place. We’re meaning to land you there, drop the short rope, and leave
you till somebody happens to come along, which might be in one hour, and
mebbe not till night sets in. The rope is ten times too short for you to
use it in lowering yourself down, so you’ve just got to hold the fort.
Now, lay back, and no kicking remember, because you might make us let
go, and that’d mean a tumble on the rocks two hundred feet below here.
Steady now, Bill, wait till I give the word, and lower away slow like.
Make the best of a bad bargain, younker. Remember, we might a done worse
by you.”

Afraid to struggle, and holding his very breath with dreadful suspense,
the boy felt himself being lowered through empty space. He could look
far down toward the winding road, and a wave of horror chilled him to
the core as he contemplated his fate should the men let the rope slip
through their hands, or should some weak spot in the line develop that
would cause it to part.

Foot by foot he was lowered, until he felt his feet strike the rock. He
had reached the ledge spoken of, and eagerly he endeavored to secure a
firm footing there, even sinking to his hands and knees and holding on.

The rope fell beside him, proving that the men had done as they had said
they intended to. A minute or two later, the wretched youth heard the
rapid working of the runabout’s exhaust, telling him that the robbers
had started off.



                              CHAPTER III.
                         SURROUNDED BY PERILS.


“This is a pretty kettle of fish, I must say!” Gus muttered as he heard
the last low grumble of the runabout die away up the ascent, proving
that the hoboes had indeed abandoned him there to his fate.

He started in to examine his surroundings more carefully than before;
but he found very little encouragement. The sheer wall arose for
possibly a dozen feet above his head, with not the slightest sign of any
projection that might serve him in an endeavor to reach the mountain
road where the protecting railing lay.

It is a sudden emergency like this that shows what a fellow is made of.
Young Merrivale had certain qualities about him that might be deemed
objectionable in the eyes of boys who are ready to give and take. He
wanted to be a leader, or not play. In the past, indeed, he had been
more or less domineering in his treatment of those with whom he
condescended to associate.

He was no coward, and while still burning with indignation toward the
pair of rascals who had taken not only the pay money of the quarrymen
but his runabout as well, his one thought was to get out of this scrape
some way or other, and then follow them. He gritted his teeth as he
thought of the glory that would be his could he only overtake the
wretches and bring back the stolen property.

If not above, perhaps he might find safety below. It was, of course, a
long way down to the bottom of the declivity. He had climbed steeps
before, however, where the valuable granite had been blasted from the
face of the mountain, leaving great gaps and towering cliffs where even
a nimble-footed goat would find it difficult to discover safe footing.

So Gus crawled to the edge of the ledge and looked over.

“Whew! it would take a steeple-jack to make that drop without breaking
every bone in his body!” he told himself when he saw how far below lay
the rocky base of the precipice, and marked the lack of friendly
crevices and protuberances.

With his teeth still firmly pressed together, he forced himself to
examine every foot of the surface of the hard rock as far as it could be
seen from his aerie. “If my rope were only two or three times as long as
it is, I could see where I might make the riffle,” he went on to say,
disconsolately, “but with only ten or twelve feet to depend on, it looks
mighty slim.”

Crawling along the ledge, he tried to discover more hopeful signs from
other vantage points, but with little success. A weak boy would have
given it up then and there, and crouching on the shelf waited for some
one whose attention he could attract, to come along the road far below.
Apparently, young Merrivale was not built that way. The stubborn streak
was in evidence as shown by his continued activity. He was positively
determined to take great chances, if only he could discover the spot
where a promising start might be made.

“I’ve got to be careful,” he told himself several times, “because once I
break away from up here there’s no coming back again. And it strikes me
I’d feel like a fly on a window pane if I was flattened out against that
rock down there, and no chance to go up or down. Ugh! this ledge is
better than nothing at all. And if I made a miss, there’d be a heap of
work for old Doctor Kane of Oakvale. So perhaps I ought to go slow, and
not jump from the frying pan into the fire.”

After all, it was the thought of those two grinning men riding away in
his hill-climbing car that jarred him most of all. Every time he
pictured them sitting there in his seat and enjoying themselves so
hugely, Gus would make a wry face and say something under his breath.
Accustomed to having his own way pretty much all of the time, he chafed
under the restraint much more than most boys would have done.

“I’ll follow them if I get out of this scrape—yes, to the end of the
world, to get that car back again, and the money, too, if they haven’t
spent it. I’ll never give it up, any more than they say the hungry wolf
does once he strikes the trail of a stag in the snow. But somehow, I
hate to climb over the edge of this little shelf and take the count. If
only somebody would show up down there on the road, and give me a
helping hand.”

He sat and looked as far as he could see the road between the trees and
bushes that encompassed its borders, but there did not seem to be as
much as a rabbit or a hedgehog moving down there. A shadow flitted past
and caused Gus to raise his eyes.

“Hello! that’s an eagle, and a whipping big one at that!” he remarked as
he saw a large bird swooping past, and heard a hoarse scream at the same
time. “Oh! how easy he cuts through the air with those powerful wings of
his. What wouldn’t I give right now to be able to fly like that! Why,
I’d be out of this nasty scrape in a jiffy! And say, wouldn’t I overtake
those fellows in a hustle, though?”

Just the bare thought gave him some satisfaction, and he smiled. It was
the first time he had done anything but frown since the man beckoned to
him to pull up at the fallen sapling laid across the narrow road.

His examination of the precipice had convinced Gus that, if he attempted
anything at all, it would have to be through making use of his short
rope to lower himself to the first crevice below. Here, if he could only
manage to secure a slender hold for his feet, he might drag the doubled
rope down and try again. The question was could this be done? If the
task proved harder than he expected, his condition instead of improving
would have become precarious.

He drew a long breath and tried to make up his mind. It was a struggle
between his urgent desire for action, and the good sense that told him
he would be foolish to undertake so terrible a risk.

Twice he started to let the rope trail over the edge of the rocky shelf;
and then slowly he drew it up again as he found that it would not reach
the first crevice unless let out at full length. And if he fastened it
above in any way, it would be impossible to count on the rope for
further work, so that he dared not venture to burn his bridges behind
him.

As the minutes passed, he racked his brain trying to think up some
clever method of overcoming the mountainous difficulties that stood in
his way. The winding road looked further off than ever, in the simmering
heat of the early afternoon. Never in all his life had Gus Merrivale
wished for anything so much as that some one might show up down there,
some one to whom he could make signals for help. Minute followed minute,
without a break in the monotony.

“Seems like I’ve just _got_ to choose between one of two things,” he
finally declared with a ring of resolution in his voice. “It’s plain
that I must stay on the ledge and wait and wait ever so long, or else
climb over and try to skip down, hanging by my fingers and toes. I wish
I could see ahead a little. It makes me dizzy to look down there and see
what a pile of rocks I’d land on if I lost my hold. But I haven’t gone
as far along the shelf over to the right as I might. Perhaps there’s a
chance for me in that direction. Anyhow I’m going to crawl along and
find out how things lie yonder.”

On hands and knees, the boy made slow progress, for the ledge kept
getting narrower the further he proceeded. He knew that he must not
continue until it would be a difficult job for him to turn around when
he wished to retreat. Yet there was always the spur of hope goading him
to keep creeping just a little further. He fancied that the surface of
the precipice was not quite as smooth over this way, and had almost made
up his mind that if he did attempt the risky descent it must be in this
quarter.

Then that shadow flickered past him again. Of course, it was the eagle
winging its way through space. Gus fancied that the great bird must have
become curious about his presence there. Perhaps it had a nest back of
some crag not far away, and might take a notion that this cliff climber
was a venturesome egg hunter trying to rob its mate of the contents of
his retreat.

This thought caused Gus to bring his forward progress to a sudden halt.
He even turned his head to see what the eagle might be up to, and
counted himself fortunate in so doing, for it gave him a chance to drop
flat on his face, and thus escape being struck by the swooping bird.

“Here, get out, hang you!” shouted the now alarmed boy as he realized
that in some way his actions were extremely objectionable to the eagle,
which had started to make war upon him. “Don’t be a fool! I’m not after
your nest this trip. Why, I wouldn’t give a snap for all the eagle’s
eggs this side—whew! there he comes at me again. Seems like my troubles
have only begun. And this ledge is mighty narrow over here!”

Again he flattened himself out, and only in time to miss connection with
the passing bird. He could feel the wind made by those broad pinions as
they swept through space just above him, and he shuddered to imagine
what was likely to happen should he be struck fairly and squarely by
such a heavy object.

The boy no longer thought of pushing on. His one desire now was to crawl
back and reach a spot where the ledge, being wider, offered him better
opportunities for defending himself, should the angry eagle persist in
his attack.

Three other times did he have to duck and narrowly escape disaster
before he arrived at the spot where his rope lay. An idea had come into
his head, of which he hastened to avail himself. Quickly clutching the
rope, he passed it around his body and then managed to slip a fold over
a friendly knob of stone that projected from the hard face of the wall
back of him.

In this way he fancied that he had insured himself against a sudden
shove into space, should the eagle manage to strike him with its wing in
swooping past. He also picked up a loose rock which he meant to use as a
means of defense. If, by some lucky blow, he could disable that great
bird, it would be to his advantage.

The next time an attack came, the boy struck out, for the first time
taking the aggressive. He felt a shock that almost knocked all the
breath from his body; but it gave him a keen sense of satisfaction to
know that he had returned the blow of the eagle after a fashion, though
his shoulder where that powerful pinion had struck home ached as though
it had been broken.

How long could he hold out against the furious bird that was rapidly
losing all sense of caution? Gus must have been a sight to have made his
mother almost faint, could she have seen him. His nose had stopped
bleeding, but there were gory marks in evidence all over his face. His
cheek was more or less puffed up as the result of a glancing blow from
the wing of the eagle at the time its full force descended upon his
shoulder. Still, he was game to the core. With teeth tightly clenched
and eyes blazing with excitement, he crouched there awaiting the next
move of the attacking bird of prey.

“I got the hang of things that time,” he said to himself, though even
the sound of his own voice gave him a little encouragement, “and I know
how to hit out better after this. Just come on and try it again, you
crazy thing, and see what you get, that’s all! Two can play at the give
and take game, you’ll find. Here’s a bigger rock I’m going to use, and
look out for yourself, old fellow!”

Despite his brave words, the cowering lad watched the evolutions of the
monarch of the air with a sense of deep anxiety. He inwardly hoped and
prayed that the eagle might determine it had had enough of the fight,
and fly away. In fact, Gus was more than willing to call it a draw, so
that he might be let alone to grapple with his other troubles.

“I sure believe he’s going to swing in at me again!” muttered the lad,
noticing the suggestive actions of the great bird.

He was not kept in doubt long for the eagle once more headed straight
toward the spot where Gus crouched awaiting the attack. Gus drew in a
full breath, and with every nerve strained to the utmost tension, raised
the hand that gripped the rock, striving thus to protect his head
against the stroke of that terrible pinion.



                              CHAPTER IV.
                         SCOUTS TO THE RESCUE.


When the collision came, the boy uttered a shout that was a curious
commingling of pain and exultation. His arm and hand felt as though they
had been given a severe galvanic shock, but he was conscious of the
pleasing fact that he must have struck the eagle a hard blow with the
rock, which had been knocked from his grasp and gone over the edge of
the shelf, rattling down along the face of the precipice.

“Where did he go to?” stammered the boy, beginning to recover from the
concussion, and casting about for another weapon in the shape of a
fragment of granite. “Oh! there he is perched on that spur down below.
And see how his wing hangs, will you? Perhaps it’s broken, for it struck
my stone like a pile driver. Don’t I hope that’s a fact, though! I
warned him he’d get the worst of the bargain if he kept on fooling with
me. Serves the old pirate right. But now I’m worse off than ever,
because with this lame shoulder I wouldn’t dare take the risk of hanging
to a rope and flattening out against the face of the precipice.”

He kept rubbing his lame shoulder while talking. The immediate future
did not look very promising. How much time had elapsed while he had been
there in his predicament, Gus could not say, but no doubt it seemed many
times longer in his mind than was actually the case.

Not being a scout, he had never learned how to tell time from the
position of the sun, moon or stars, so that he could only give a rough
guess as to how much of the summer afternoon had slipped away.

And now, new sources of dread began to assail him. The sun had crept
around so that its scorching rays fell full upon the face of the cliff
above, and this aroused Gus to the fact that he was beginning to get
exceedingly thirsty. Once he allowed himself to think of this, he
imagined that his tongue was trying to cling to the roof of his mouth
for lack of a drink. Yes, and he even remembered reading a short time
before of the terrible sufferings a boat load of shipwrecked people
endured while adrift on the heaving ocean.

Supposing that no one appeared on the road below during the whole
afternoon, how was he going to pass the coming night? He would not dare
go to sleep for fear that he might roll from his insecure lodgment,
unless he took the precaution to fasten himself with the friendly rope,
which he was beginning to look upon as his most valued possession.

More time elapsed, during which Gus was recovering in some degree from
the fatigue following his desperate battle with the eagle. He could
still see the big bird perched on that lower crag, and he noticed, not
without more or less savage satisfaction, that it seemed to be preening
its feathers, paying particular attention to the drooping wing which had
come in contact with the rock.

“For two cents, I’d start bombarding you, and see if you could fly,” he
told the bird, as he shook his fist in that quarter, “but I suppose that
would be a silly move, because if it turned out that the wing wasn’t
broken after all, you might take a notion to start at me again. So I
guess I’ll call it off, and try to forget all I owe you, old chap.
Hello! what’s that I hear? Sounds as if a machine of some kind might be
coming away off yonder!”

He strained his ear to better catch the sounds. As the fickle breeze
came and went, he managed to make out that the queer rattle kept getting
distincter each moment. This would indicate that whatever was giving
vent to the sounds must be approaching, and not going the other way.

The boy prisoner on the rocky ledge began to thrill with excitement.

“But really, I never heard a car act like that,” he muttered as he heard
the peculiar throbbing again welling up from below. “It might be the
exhaust of a motorboat or of a motorcycle, only—oh! there _were_ three
of them at the inn. Yes, it must be those scouts heading up this way!”

At first, the very thought of possibly owing his rescue to Hugh Hardin
and his two chums of the saddle, gave Gus a feeling of chagrin. If he
had his choice, very naturally he would have much preferred that some
stranger pull him up from the predicament in which a cruel fortune had
thrust him. But then, after all he had gone through, the boy’s pride had
been sadly battered, and he did not feel like looking a gift horse in
the mouth. So long as he escaped from this miserable trap, he felt that
he would be foolish to draw distinctions. Besides, somehow he did not
seem to feel _quite_ the same way toward the scouts as before. When worn
by those who were in a position to do him a great favor, those jeered-at
khaki uniforms might look even friendly.

And so, Gus Merrivale kept tabs on the dusty road far below, eagerly
waiting to catch the first glimpse of the coming party.

As he looked, he suddenly saw a swiftly moving object appear around a
bend in the road, the sun’s rays glinting from polished steel and
nickeled parts. It was one of the trio of scouts on his motorcycle, and
heading directly toward the base of the cliff!

Filled with excitement, Gus made a megaphone out of both hands by
cupping them, and shouted at the top of his lusty voice.

“Hello! hello! Help! help!”

He was pleased to see that the rider of the flashing wheel must have
heard his loud call by the way he turned his head upward. Gus
immediately started waving his handkerchief, somewhat after the fashion
he remembered seeing a scout do with his signal flag, and which, at the
time, he had only thought was a silly procedure.

“He sees me! He lifted his hand and waved it!” the prisoner of the ledge
exclaimed, thrilled with delight. “It’s going to be all right after all!
If only I can make them understand that they’ve got to get above so as
to pull me up.”

By now he had discovered a second and then a third speeding motor flash
around the curve. Undoubtedly, the pacemaker must have made some
prearranged signal, for the others immediately cut down their speed, and
a minute later jumped from their saddles at the spot where the first
rider had dismounted.

He was pointing upward toward the ledge, and the eager Gus was able to
catch a few words that came trailing through space.

“What happened to you?” Hugh Hardin was shouting, also making use of his
hands in order to help his voice along.

“On a ledge—can’t get up or down—follow the road to log rail, and get me
out of this—Gusty Merrivale—been stopped on the road and robbed!” was
what the one above shouted down to them.

No doubt his words created something of a sensation, for he could see
the three scouts putting their heads close together as though
conferring. Then once more Hugh, who was looked upon as the leader by
his comrades, called out.

“All right—hold the fort a little while longer—we’re coming up as fast
as we can get there—take things easy—we’ll sure yank you up off that
ledge—so-long!”

Without wasting another minute, the speaker was seen to straddle his
machine and start off, the others following his example shortly
afterward.

With a warmer feeling in his heart toward the scouts than he had ever
known before, Gus watched them shooting toward the foot of the rise. Now
and then he would lose sight of this rider or that one, and for several
minutes he could only trace their progress by the dust that arose. Then
the last fellow had vanished from view. He knew from the sounds that
came occasionally to his ears that they were climbing the ascent which
had tried his little runabout’s powers to the utmost.

It seemed a terribly long wait to the impatient boy. He tried to pass
the time away by picturing to himself how he would immediately start off
after those bold hoboes who had held him up on the road, evidently
knowing that he was due with the money to settle with the quarry workers
on the semimonthly pay day.

“Hello, down there, Gusty! We’re here on deck, and ready to give you a
helping hand!” called out a voice from directly above. The boy, aroused
from his train of thought, looking directly up, saw a friendly face,
which he immediately recognized as belonging to Hugh Hardin, the leader
of the Wolf Patrol.

Immediately another countenance appeared alongside, this time being the
rosy one of Billy Worth, nor was the third scout long in showing up near
by.

“How can you get me up there?” asked Gus anxiously. Now that another
crisis in his affairs had arrived, he began to feel dubious again.

“I’m trying to figure it out,” the other replied. “If it comes to the
worst, we can use a sapling that I noticed lying alongside the road
below here, and have you climb up that.”

“Oh! that same sapling has already played a part in my troubles!”
exclaimed the boy below, with something like a smile, “and perhaps it
would be only evening it up if you used it to get me out of here. But
I’ve got a mighty lame shoulder, you see. I had a fight with that eagle
over there on that stone cap, and I reckon I nearly broke his wing, but
first he gave me some ugly clips. Why, I had to tie myself to the rock
with this piece of rope so I wouldn’t be knocked off!”

“Did you say a rope?” quickly asked the scout leader.

“Yes, this short piece that the men lowered me down here with, and then
threw after me, knowing that I couldn’t use it to get any further down
the precipice,” and the boy on the shelf held it up as he spoke.

“Oh! that makes it as easy as falling off a log,” came from Hugh
cheerfully. “All you have to do is to fix the loop under your arms, and
when I lower a cord, tie it to the other end of your rope. Then we’ll
get hold of it, and up you come!”

“That sounds good to me!” declared Gus, already warming toward the boy
who it seemed was fated to become his rescuer.

A minute later and the dangling cord came within his reach, and as he
had already made the noose secure around his body, Gus hastened to tie
this to the end of his rope. He saw it mount speedily upward, and
presently a shout from Billy announced that the rope had come into their
hands.

“All ready there?” demanded the patrol leader. “Dead sure the loop will
hold?”

“It did when they let me down,” replied Gus with the utmost confidence.
“Please hurry up and begin. And be sure not to slip, because it’s pretty
far down to the bottom. A fellow wouldn’t know what hit him if he took
that drop.”

“Don’t worry about us!” said Billy Worth. “We’ve practiced this same
thing many a time just for fun. You never can tell when it pays to know
how to get a fellow out of a hole. Scouts learn all kinds of clever
stunts, you know, Gusty. This one is going to help you a heap, seems
like.”

Right then and there Gus Merrivale realized that he had been judging
these boys from the wrong standpoint. Really, he had refused to give
them credit for being other than a lot of silly chaps who wasted their
time in camping out, and learning things that could never be of any
earthly good to anyone. After this he was bound to look deeper into the
movement. And his heart warmed toward Hugh and his chums in a way he
would have never believed possible a few hours before.

The rope grew taut, and then he felt himself being lifted from the
ledge, and steadily raised foot by foot. Presently he could reach up and
catch hold of the lowermost log that served as a barrier alongside the
mountain road to prevent accidents to vehicles coming down the grade.

It was with a thankfulness he could hardly find words to express that
the boy was assisted over the railing, and found his feet firmly planted
on the roadway. He drew a long breath of relief, possibly the very first
that he had dared indulge in since being held up by those two brazen
rogues. And then, urged by some better element in his nature, Gusty
Merrivale grasped the hand of the patrol leader and squeezed it in his
own, passing from Hugh to each of the other scouts.



                               CHAPTER V.
                     SEEING THINGS IN A NEW LIGHT.


“Now tell us what happened to you. We’re all wired up about it,” said
Billy Worth when Gus had gone the rounds and shaken each of his rescuers
most cordially by the hand, as though he meant them to feel that his
gratitude was sincere.

“Yes, you said something that sounded like robbed, and we’ve been trying
to figure out what it meant ever since,” added Monkey Stallings, who was
really a late addition to the troop, though making his way up the ladder
by leaps and bounds, being a lad eager to learn all the things of which
a first-class scout must have a knowledge in order to obtain his badge.

“Well,” began Gusty with a whimsical grin, “it’s just this way. I’ve
been sent up here several times twice a month to carry the money used to
pay the hundred Italians and other foreigners working in our granite
quarries. I guess somebody must have spotted me this time. Two men, who
looked like tramps but who may have been worse than that, lay in wait
for me just below here. They had that sapling fixed so that it crossed
the road, and I couldn’t have got past even if I tried.”

“Gee! what d’ye think of that! And right here within twenty miles of
Oakvale, too?” ejaculated Billy, his face expressing the most intense
interest, “but excuse my interrupting you, Gusty. Please go on. You’ve
got me chained fast. Stopped you on the road did they, and robbed you of
the pay money?”

“When I managed to pull up, I was right on the tree they had thrown
across the road,” continued the other. “At first the tall man pretended
he was a country constable, meaning to arrest me because I was speeding,
though of course, it was silly to think of such a thing away up here in
the mountains. Then the other fellow showed up, and they let me know
that they’d been waiting for me in order to steal the money I carried. I
tried to jump into the runabout again to get hold of the gun dad makes
me carry, but they battered me on the head, and nearly did me as you can
see. In the end they lowered me to that ledge, so that I couldn’t get
anywhere and give the alarm. Oh! I’ve been having the time of my life,
let me tell you! But if they think they’re going to get away with this
job so easy, they’re barking up the wrong tree. Now I’m out of that
hole, I mean to get after them lickety-split.”

“How much of a start have they got?” asked Hugh soberly.

“Really I couldn’t tell you,” came the reply. “You see, that short
rascal snatched my gold watch before they lowered me down the precipice.
It seemed to me as if I must have been there for hours.”

“It was just a little more than an hour and a half ago that you left the
tavern where we were waiting to be called to dinner,” Hugh told him. Gus
expressed the greatest surprise, for he had never known time to drag so
before.

“But let’s talk of what can be done to overtake those men and get back
all they took from me,” he suggested doggedly.

“One of us might turn around and make a run for home to get the police
on the track,” ventured Billy, “though it would be taking big chances to
start me over that course, because I’m a bum rider so far, and apt to
take a header if I get a little rattled.”

“How far away are the quarries you were making for, Gus?” asked Hugh.

“Oh, something like ten miles, I should say,” came the reply. “Too far
to go for help. Besides, what good would a dozen or two of those wild
Italian laborers be in a thief chase? Chances are the men would make a
clean getaway. No, something else will have to be tried if we hope to
bring them up with a round turn.”

“What’s to hinder the lot of us whooping after them, and finding some
chance either to have them arrested, or perhaps do the job as slick as
you please, while they sleep?” demanded Monkey Stallings, who came by
his name through his faculty for doings all sorts of antics, from
climbing greased poles that no other boy could mount, to hanging from
lofty limbs of trees by his toes, and pretending to sleep that way, just
as though he were a simian in truth.

“If you only would, it might turn out to be the grandest thing ever!”
exclaimed the Merrivale boy, his face lighting up with sudden hope as he
contemplated the shining motorcycles nearby, and remembered what
wonderful things they were capable of accomplishing in the right hands.

“You see, we were making our way up to a camp where a few of our fellow
scouts have been spending a week,” Hugh explained. “We declined to go
along because we expected these machines to arrive, and were all fairly
wild to get busy with them. And between ourselves we had secretly
arranged to give the boys a big surprise after all of us got so we could
ride fairly well. But you must know that it is a part of a scout’s
education to give up his own pleasure whenever he can help anyone who is
in trouble; and so, Gus, we will do what we can to assist you to recover
your runabout, as well as the money they took from you.”

“That’s fine of you, Hugh!” declared the other boy, flushing with
pleasure, as well as with shame at the recollection of how he had
misjudged these splendid fellows in the past. “I’m beginning to get my
eyes opened to a lot of things about this scout business, and if only
you can help me out, I reckon I’ll just have to join the troop, no
matter if I start in as the worst tenderfoot you ever saw.”

“Bully for you, Gusty!” cried the explosive Billy. “Take my word for it,
you’ll never have any reason to regret the step if you do hitch up with
the scouts. Fact is you’ll wonder how you ever got any fun in life
before you knocked the scales off your eyes, and saw things everywhere
around you. We know. Lots of us have been through the mill, haven’t we,
Monkey?”

“We sure have, Billy,” answered the other solemnly, “and nothing could
hire me to throw up my present job of gymnastic teacher to the troop. As
to learning things, I’ve found out how to stow away a quarter more
rations every meal by just watching you work your jaws, Billy.”

“We can follow after the runabout without much trouble once we examine
the marks made by its tires in some muddy spot,” Hugh said, speaking
directly to the boy who had been taken from the ledge, “because in
nearly every case you’ll find there’s a distinctive mark about the track
left by a rubber-shod wheel. I can tell the trail my motorcycle makes
among a dozen; both the others have individualities about them that all
of us have learned to recognize. And I expect you may have noticed
something about the marks your car leaves that would tell you which road
it took, in case we came to a fork?”

“Well, I don’t think I ever took the trouble to notice anything like
that,” Gus confessed not without more or less confusion, as though he
might already be beginning to realize how lacking in practical
information his education was, “but now that you speak of it, there was
a patch put on one of the rear tires that I should think would leave an
impression something like a diamond. Of course, though, that wouldn’t
show here where the road is rocky; but at the first chance we could
watch out for it.”

Hugh looked at him with a half smile on his face.

“You talk as though you expected to go along with us, Gusty?” he
observed.

“And to tell the truth I’m hoping you’ll ask me to hang on behind,” the
other instantly replied. “You see, I’ve ridden a motorcycle before and I
guess my shoulder isn’t so lame but what I could keep my seat. Those men
treated me about as mean as they knew how, and I’ve been telling myself
all along that, if only I could have a hand in their apprehension, it’d
go a great way to evening things up. Do you reckon now, Hugh, that if
you took me on behind it would go?”

His whole manner was so imploring that even had the patrol leader felt
inclined to hesitate he must have found it very difficult to disappoint
Gusty. It chanced, however, that Hugh knew more about a motorcycle than
either of his chums, or both together for that matter. And he believed
that if the other boy had the nerve to keep his seat he could take him
along.

“I’m willing to make the try, anyhow, Gusty,” was what Hugh told him.

“Oh! thank you, thank you a dozen times, for you’ve made me feel ever so
happy!” cried the Merrivale boy. Apparently he had made a clean sweep
when he threw that pride of his overboard, for once again he reached out
and shook the hand of Hugh, as though determined to look on him as his
best friend. “And there’s one other thing you ought to know, because it
may cut some figure in the chase.”

“What might that be?” asked Billy, evidently more or less relieved to
know the patrol leader would not be wanting him to head back over their
trail so as to carry the startling news of the hold-up to the
authorities in distant Oakvale.

“I only took on five gallons of juice at the inn, you see,” continued
Gusty, eager to advance any item, however small, that might have a
bearing on the successful pursuit of the two bad men, “and I don’t
believe there could have been much aboard at the time, either. So they
couldn’t run more than twenty miles before it would give out. If they
fail to take on a new stock, perhaps we might find my runabout abandoned
on the road somewhere.”

“Either that, or wrecked,” suggested Monkey, “because every fellow who
thinks he can run a car doesn’t succeed. I know, because it cost an
uncle of mine a pile of hard cash to get his machine saved from the
scrap heap after I’d turned over at the foot of a little hill where
there was a sharp curve and lots of loose sand. See that scar under my
hair—that makes me think of how hard a car can kick, every time I look
at it when I’m brushing my locks.”

“If we mean to start this chase, we’d better be making a move,” Billy
advised.

“The crown of the hill seems to be just a little way off,” said Hugh,
“and so I think we ought to push our machines up the rest of the way,
and mount for a coast down the grade. Once we reach the bottom where
there’s a chance to find some moist clay, we’ll try scout tactics, and
get a clew about that mended tire you spoke of, Gusty. Come on, boys!”

“I tell you fellows I’m feeling two hundred per cent. better already,”
announced the boy who had been rescued from the ledge over the brow of
the precipice. “If only we could lay those ugly scoundrels by the heels,
I’d call it a thousand per cent. Your talking about tracking them by
following the clew of my mended tire makes me see how much I’ve been
missing all this while by thinking scouts were a foolish bunch of
crack-brained boys, running after a leader like sheep after the bell
wether. I guess I’m the chump after all who has allowed his prejudice to
run away with his common sense. That’s all in the past, let me tell you.
I’m beginning to see a great light, and this experience is going to
change a lot of the ideas I’ve been hanging on to, believe me.”

While talking in this strain, the four boys were pushing up the rise.
Just as the patrol leader had remarked, the crown of the hill was in
plain sight only a little distance beyond where Gusty had met with his
strange adventure and passed through an experience he would not be
likely to forget soon.

Under ordinary conditions Gusty might possibly have consented to adopt a
sling for his bruised arm, and even walk around for a day or two while
playing the part of martyr, but there was no time for such nonsense. The
prospect of overtaking the two thieves, and at least making some sort of
effort to recover what they had stolen, gave him unexpected strength to
endure the pain without even a grimace. Why, he stood ready to grit his
teeth, and make light of worse conditions than this while the hope of
turning the tables on those hoboes continued to brighten!

When the boys arrived at the brow of the hill, they could see how the
road was beginning to dip. Hugh asked a few questions of Gusty, who had
been over it a number of times before, and was therefore competent to
give advice. He wished to make sure that no sudden bend would crop out
to serve as a trap for inexperienced riders. When this point had been
settled, Hugh had the fourth boy mount behind him, clasp his arms around
his waist, and then the descent of the hill was begun.



                              CHAPTER VI.
                       TRACKING FROM THE SADDLE.


Hugh Hardin was accustomed to serving as pacemaker. Besides being leader
of the Wolf Patrol, to which Billy also belonged, he had long ago been
elected assistant scout master to the troop. When Lieutenant Denmead, a
retired army officer who had taken great interest in the boys of the
town, could not be present, Hugh served in his stead. Being a
first-class scout, he had found no difficulty in securing his
credentials to act in this important capacity from Boy Scout
Headquarters off in New York City.

Consequently, when he led the procession of saddle boys down the slope
of the ridge, he felt quite at home.

There was no attempt to make great speed. This would have been looked
upon as the essence of folly on several accounts. In the first place
there was good-natured Billy Worth who, being a novice with the
motorcycle, was apt to get himself into trouble at any moment. Then they
must remember that they were really tracking the two hoboes who had
stolen the runabout as well as relieved Gusty Merrivale of the pay roll,
which the Italian laborers up in his father’s quarries were anxiously
expecting. And if these two reasons were not enough, there was the fact
that the pacemaker was carrying double on his machine, which made things
just a bit unwieldy.

Of course, there would be stretches along the road where they might
reasonably expect to “hit her up,” as Billy was wont to say. These would
occur where the ground happened to be fairly level, or slightly
up-grade.

Nothing happened up to the time the boys arrived at the foot of the
mountain. Hugh had not forgotten what he had said about taking a good
look at the marks left by the tires of the runabout. He was desirous of
seeing for himself what that diamond-shaped patch, mentioned by Gusty,
would look like when reproduced in the soft soil at some point where
moisture chanced to lie upon a low portion of the road, as, for
instance, in the vicinity of some creek.

The opportunity came much sooner than he had hoped would be the case.
There, a little way ahead, Hugh discovered that the road crossed some
depression by means of a bridge. This would indicate the presence of a
small stream, perhaps a mere thread of water in midsummer, but capable
of becoming a boiling torrent when the Spring rains were on.

He immediately threw up his hand several times in a suggestive way,
which was a part of the code of signals understood by both his chums. It
meant that he intended slowing up, and possibly stopping short.
Motorcycle riders as a rule go at such a pace that they seldom travel
any other way than tandem; and it is expected of each fellow to keep a
wary eye from time to time on the one ahead of him so as to discover any
sign, which he is expected to pass on down the line. In this way
accidents due to speed are usually avoided.

A minute later both the other boys had come to a halt. Leaving their
machines alongside the road, they hurried to where both Hugh and Gusty
were stooping down searching for a positive imprint of the mended tire
of the runabout.

“Here’s a good impression,” remarked Monkey Stallings as soon as he
arrived. He had the quickest eyes in the whole troop, and seemed able to
discover things that it would have taken Billy many times as long to
unearth.

“Couldn’t be better,” observed Hugh, hurrying to his side, “and, as
usual, you’ve beaten us all out again, Monkey. How about this, Gusty?
We’re looking at the sign of the patch, of course?”

“That was what I meant,” replied the other. “But, honest now, this is
the first time I’ve so much as noticed what sort of a mark my old tire
makes. I knew about the way the repair-shop man mended it, and that was
all. Think we can recognize it if we see it again, do you, Hugh?”

Even Billy snorted at that, as he quickly exclaimed:

“If you knew more about how scouts are trained to use their eyes, ears,
and ditto, their thinking boxes, you wouldn’t ask that, my friend. Why,
one of the first of experiments a tenderfoot has to pass through, is to
take a quick look in at a store window where scores of different things
are on exhibition, go away and immediately write down all he can
remember. The more exact he gets the higher his score. That influences
him to begin to exercise his memory. It’s queer how a fellow can
increase his powers that way. Why, my capacity has fairly doubled since
I joined the scouts, and I surprise my folks every day by remembering
things they promised to get for me away back.”

Monkey Stallings grinned as he caught Billy’s eye, and quietly observed:

“Now I’m real glad to hear that, Billy, because there’s some chance that
you’ll even remember that quarter you borrowed from me ‘away back’ when
we were on the train coming home from our trip with the Naval Reserve.
I’d clean given up hope; but I know it’s all right now.”

“Take a good squint at this mark, everybody,” said Hugh, pointing down
to where the wheel which had the mended tire had passed through a yard
or two of clay, making a splendid impression. “We’ll want to look for it
plenty of times as we go along, you understand.”

When all of them announced that they had it engraved indelibly on their
mind’s eye, Hugh once more started off along the road.

“I’ll keep tabs on the right,” he had told Billy and Monkey before he
left them, “while you two watch the other side of the road for any sign
telling that the men turned in. There’s no saying what trick they may be
up to, and we don’t want to go speeding along on a fool’s errand. Get
that, both of you?”

“Sure we do, Hugh,” Billy replied. “Chances are they mean to cover a
good many miles before they abandon the motor car.”

Gusty was in a position to speak whenever the spirit moved him, as his
head came close to that of the one who sat in the saddle. They were as a
rule going at quite a smart pace, and the dust was apt to get in his
mouth whenever he opened it, so that he did not indulge in much useless
talking.

Now and then, however, he would make some pertinent remark. This was
usually in connection with the character of the road, or else had
reference to the fact that a short distance ahead lay a hamlet which he
remembered.

“There’s a road branches off from this one, too,” he went on to say,
after giving this information, “and once I ran over it, having been told
that while it didn’t pass through the little village it had a smoother
surface. And my information was correct to the dot, because it joined
this road further on.”

“If those men know the country as well as I think they do,” Hugh turned
partly in his saddle to say, “they’ll as like as not take that same
road, because it seems that after committing so daring a robbery they’ll
want to keep out of sight as much as they can. Yes, I can see where the
fork lies ahead,” and with that he held out his hand as a sign to the
next in line, who happened to be Billy this time.

It proved that Hugh’s prediction was correct, for the runabout had
certainly started into the other road. This would indicate that the pair
of precious rascals must be pretty well acquainted with the section of
country. It afterward turned out that the taller fellow had been raised
not many miles away from the village which was being left in the rear.
Perhaps he feared that some one might happen to recognize him if he went
through the place, for some of these countrymen have long memories.

Further on they again came back to the road that led to the quarries. A
mile or so beyond the junction, however, another turn was made. After
that Gusty could not venture to give the least information, because they
were now covering ground that was entirely new to him.

Hugh had already made up his mind on one score. This was to the effect
that those whom they were pursuing must be heading for some place which
they had knowledge of, and where they believed they would be fairly safe
from discovery.

As the boys proceeded steadily along, the pacemaker became aware of
another fact that began to give him increasing satisfaction. He and his
two chums had been heading for the distant spot where some of their
fellow scouts were in camp on an island in the river. These other boys
had come a long way by means of a motorboat loaned to them by an
enthusiastic gentleman of the home town, who, being abroad for the
summer, desired to show his appreciation for the manly conduct of the
scouts.

Hugh had a map of the country with him. He had never been over some
sections of it, but, having made a study of topography, he believed that
they were by degrees drawing nearer to the river, and would, if they
kept on, strike it not far away from Raccoon Island, where Don Miller,
leader of the Fox Patrol, had the boys in charge in the absence of
others in authority.

When they made a brief halt in order to slake their thirst at a gurgling
spring that gushed up alongside the road, Hugh put his comrades in
possession of this astonishing bit of information. Naturally they were
greatly pleased, especially Billy, whose merry face glowed with a sudden
inspiring thought.

“Whee! talk to me about the luck of the Wolf Patrol!” he exclaimed.
“Isn’t this just like the old story? Now, chances are those hobo
footpads’ll go into hiding in the woods not three miles away from the
island camp. What’s the answer? Why, we’ll send a signal to the boys
that they’re wanted, and pretty soon one by one they’ll line up till
we’ll be a baker’s dozen all told. I’m sorry for the poor wretches that
took your runabout when that comes about, Gusty. You’ll get your first
lesson on what it means to be a scout, when you see how we work this
deal. Since Ralph Kenyon joined the troop, he’s shown up a heap of new
things connected with woodcraft and the like. Even Hugh here has
admitted that the boy who used to spend his winters trapping wild
animals for their pelts so he could lay by a store of money to take him
to the School of Mines some day, knew more’n he ever did. And there’s
Arthur Cameron, Bud Morgan, Jack Durham, Spike Welling and a lot of
other good fellows in camp up here, too. Hugh, I only hope she turns out
like you say. Are we off again now?”

“Yes, and taking things fairly easy, too,” replied the leader as he
straddled his machine, and waited for Gusty to get in position before
starting. “If they expect to hide somewhere around this region, we’ll
bump in on them soon enough. So, steady, everybody, from now on.”

While at the spring, he had taken out his road map and allowed all of
them to see their location. The river was not many miles away, and this
road crossed it by means of a bridge. Raccoon Island lay some distance
above, where the stream widened and formed quite a shallow lake-like
lagoon with wild borders, an ideal spot for a boys’ camp.

Billy managed to meet with some trifling trouble in making his getaway.
This caused him to bring up the rear, a position he usually occupied, by
the way, in most of their trips, for Billy was inclined to be sluggish
in his movements, though his mind was active enough.

Motorcycles are splendid mounts to carry one swiftly along over fairly
decent thoroughfares, but being more or less noisy, in spite of all
efforts to stifle the explosions by means of the muffler, they can
hardly be deemed just the thing to use when silence is necessary.

Hugh knew that if the men they were following had a camp near the road
they would be apt to discover the approach of the boys long before he
and his chums could lay any plans looking to their capture.

Accordingly, he had already decided in his own mind that whenever it
looked as if the thieves were near the end of their journey, the noisy
wheels would be temporarily abandoned, and the balance of the tracking
necessary done afoot, where their knowledge of Indian tactics might be
brought into successful play.

They could not have covered more than a mile, after leaving the cold
spring at which they had refreshed themselves, when Monkey Stallings
plainly heard a sound from the rear that announced the coming of some
sort of trouble to the rider who brought up the tail end of the
procession. Upon which, he instantly used his horn to let the leaders
know that another halt must be called in order to assist Billy.



                              CHAPTER VII.
                            THE SUNKEN ROAD.


Hugh came running back, with Gusty trailing after him, quite as anxious
as the rest to learn what had happened to the one bringing up the rear
of the motorcycle procession.

They found Billy bending down and examining his machine with a
woe-begone look on his good-natured face. He glanced up at their
approach. Monkey Stallings was on the other side, and still searching
for the cause of the trouble, though he did not know much more than the
stout boy about the intricate construction of motors.

“What ails you now, Billy?” asked Hugh, for he did not have to be told
that the individual in question was the cause of the breakdown.

“Wish I knew,” replied the other, dolefully, “that’s the trouble. You
see I’ve noticed for some little time that I had to make more or less of
an effort to keep my place in the line. While you fellows were gliding
along as smooth as silk, my balky engine had to be coaxed and kicked to
hold its own. And now, after that last little halt she’s gone back on me
altogether. I keep losing ground right along, and would soon be hull
down in the distance. That’s why I let out the toot for help.”

Hugh looked serious.

“It means a delay while we examine things,” he remarked, throwing off
his coat as though getting ready for business.

“I’m sorry if I’ve gone and blundered again,” Billy continued sadly. “It
would serve me just about right if the rest of you went on and left me
to my fate.”

“Oh, rats, don’t mention it,” said Monkey indignantly. “What d’ye take
us for, anyway? What’s the use of being a scout if you won’t hold out a
helping hand to a comrade in distress? We’d expect you to do the same if
one of our machines threw up the sponge, and sulked. Leave it to Hugh;
he’ll bring you around O. K.”

That was an old story with the boys. “Leave it to Hugh” had become a
sort of slogan with the members of the Wolf Patrol. Many a time had
Billy, Bud Morgan, Arthur Cameron or some other member of the famous
patrol, after trying in vain to solve a knotty problem, turned hopefully
to the assistant scout master; and seldom had their sublime confidence
in his ability to find a remedy been misplaced.

As Hugh began to use his little monkey-wrench, unfastening several nuts,
and testing one thing after another, the others watched with
considerable interest. Minutes crept on until it began to look as though
they had lost nearly half an hour on the road. “Billy Wolf,” as he was
often called by his chums, fretted terribly.

“Better leave me here while the rest of you go on,” he said for the
fourth time. He had hardly gotten the words out of his mouth when he
heard Hugh give a little satisfied chuckle.

“Located the trouble?” asked Monkey eagerly, with a triumphant glance
toward Gusty, as though to say: “There! what did I tell you; Hugh is the
boss hand to see through things, isn’t he?”

“After all,” explained Hugh, “it was a mighty simple thing, but it
happened that I tried about seven other possible causes for a gradual
slowing up of the motor before I reached the carburetor. Why, it was
only the needle valve that stuck. I’ll have it working as good as ever
in a jiffy; and you’ll not be bothered again from _that_ cause in a
hurry, Billy, old fellow.”

“Oh! was that it?” remarked the relieved Billy. “I began to think the
whole business must be on the bum, and that I’d have to walk and push
the plagued machine along with me to the village three miles back. Huh!
believe me, I’ll keep an eye on that tricky valve after this. I may make
lots of mistakes, but it’s seldom I tumble into the same old hole twice.
I’m on, Hugh; I see how you do it. I’m learning something new every hour
of the day. Seems like there’s an everlasting lot of things I don’t
grasp yet. The more I know the more I don’t know. Laugh now, Monkey, but
you’re in the same boat yourself.”

Hugh made short work of his job, and presently handed the motorcycle
over to its owner.

On the way back to where his own machine had been left, he was pleased
to hear Gusty remark with considerable vim, as though he meant it:

“I like the way you fellows carry on, honest I do. I’ve been with a set
that would have left a chap in the lurch to take care of his own wheel
while they rode on and told him they’d wait at the next wayside inn,
where they could get a cool drink of mineral water, and lie around
resting up till he came. You scouts stand by each other. And I
understand now why they elected you assistant scout master of the troop.
You’re Johnny-on-the-spot for the job, all right, Hugh Hardin. Excuse me
if I ask all sorts of foolish questions about the way scouts manage. I’m
getting up to my ears interested in this game. I never dreamed it could
be so fascinating. And the more you hear, the more you want to know.”

“That’s the secret of the rapid growth of the scout movement,” Hugh told
him. “As soon as you get the average boy interested he asks questions,
and once that happens, he learns things that set him agoing. After that
nothing can stop him; and in a year’s time, you wouldn’t know it was the
same boy, because he takes such an interest in a thousand things that
are happening all around him.”

Soon they were moving on again, and from the signals that came from the
rear, Hugh knew that all was well with Billy.

Perhaps two more miles had been placed behind them, when all of a sudden
the pacemaker gave a short blast on his horn, and slowed up as though he
had made a discovery of some sort. Immediately he and Gusty were off, he
leaned his motorcycle up against a convenient tree, not waiting to make
use of the stand, and leading the other through a fringe of bushes,
observed:

“Is that your car, Gusty?”

The rich man’s son gave a low cry of mingled surprise and joy.

“I declare if it isn’t my runabout!” he exclaimed. “And to think how
easily you glimpsed it ahead. But what do you expect they drew it in
here for, Hugh? Has the gas given out, or was there a smash of some
sort? Seems to be all right, as far’s I can see at a glance.”

“We’ll have to figure that out in a minute or so,” replied the other.
“You keep on examining the car while I look around to see which way the
two men went from here. That would be apt to give us a clew.”

“In what way?” demanded Gusty, while he started to look his property
over, in order to learn the condition in which it had been left by the
two robbers.

“Well, if they kept on along the road it would look as if they had been
unable to use the runabout further,” answered the patrol leader, as he
stooped and began to use his practiced eyes to advantage. “On the other
hand, if they plunged right into the woods I would think they had come
as far as they expected to on wheels, and finished their journey afoot.”

“What a greenhorn I am not to have understood that!” declared the other
boy, thoroughly disgusted with himself for not having taken the trouble
to exercise his brain more in the past, so as to be alive to such
situations as this; it galled his pride to have to depend on anyone else
for information.

Monkey came along and dropped out of his saddle beside them. He was just
as much surprised and tickled at seeing the car as the owner had been;
but he did not immediately proceed to ask questions. He knew what Hugh
was doing when he saw him bending down and examining the surrounding
earth.

Just as Billy hove in sight and slowed down so that he could join his
chums, the patrol leader remarked that the trail of the two men ran off
directly into the thick of the woods, which at this particular spot grew
rather densely.

“And I can’t find the least thing the matter with my car,” Gusty
observed. “There seems to be some gasoline in the tank, too. So that
they could have gone a good many more miles if they’d wished. Yes, you
were right, Hugh. They abandoned it for another reason. I’d even say
they might know of some hiding place in this region, and right here is a
short-cut to it.”

“That was a time you struck the right nail on the head, Gusty,” remarked
Hugh. “I believe that’s what it will turn out to be in the end.”

“Of course we push through the woods, don’t we?” queried Monkey.

“And that means we’ll have to leave our machines hid away somewhere,”
Billy added, with a ring of solicitude in his voice. “I’d like to do
something so as to make it impossible for anybody to ride away on my
motorcycle while I’m gone. It would be a tough joke on us to chase after
those rogues while they came back on the sly and hooked two of our
precious wheels.”

“We can fix that all right. Meanwhile, Gusty, you disable your runabout
in some temporary way, so that it couldn’t be of any use to anybody
until the missing part is supplied.”

“A great idea, as sure as you’re born! I can do it as easy as anything!”
exclaimed the other boy, hastening to carry out the suggestion without
even stopping to consider that only an hour or so back he would have
laughed scornfully if some one had told him that before long he would be
taking orders from Hugh Hardin as meekly as any private in the scout
troop.

All this took but little time, and presently they were ready to advance
along the forest trail. Gusty found himself quivering with eagerness to
see how these boys would manage to carry out the tracking part of the
business. Had it been left to him, he would have made a sorry mess of
it, he admitted to himself. His pride was touched, and he began to
reflect that never again would he allow himself to be placed in a
position where even a boy like Billy Worth, whom he had previously
looked on as rather stupid, could give him pointers. He would learn
these things for himself. Perhaps he might even organize a new patrol,
and be its leader, if he only busied himself, and stocked his head with
useful knowledge along the line of scoutcraft.

“Here’s what they were heading for!” said Hugh softly after they had
been moving along for some ten minutes. He had several times pointed out
faint indications of footprints to Gusty.

“Why, it looks like an old abandoned road all grown up with grass and
briars!” declared Monkey.

“Just what it is,” replied Hugh. “I’ve been expecting to run across it
right along, because my map shows where it lies. You see, once ever so
many years ago many wagons came along here every day, some loaded with
corn or wheat or rye, and others taking flour back home to the farm.”

“Oh! I know now what you mean, Hugh,” said Billy. “There was a spot
marked on your map, and I read the words ‘old mill.’ Yes, and I remember
hearing tell about some such place up here in the wilderness. Thirty
years ago a miller used the water power of a creek that empties into the
river to grind his grist. Do you think that’s where these two thieves
were heading for, Hugh?”

“Looks like it,” nodded the patrol leader, pointing down. “You can see
that as soon as they struck this sunken road they didn’t even halt, but
started right along it, heading that way. We’ll do the same, and after
this please speak in low whispers if you have to say anything. I don’t
believe that mill can be more than half a mile away if it’s that.”

They moved on, all of them half bent over as they sought to keep track
of the footprints of the two men. It was quite thrilling, Gusty admitted
to himself every little while. He was enjoying it very much. If Boy
Scouts practiced this sort of stunt very often he did not wonder that so
many fellows had joined the organization; and the resolution he had
taken continued to grip him more and more the deeper he pried into the
matter.

“I think I hear water splashing ahead there, Hugh!” whispered Monkey,
who had a very keen pair of ears.

“Yes, we must be getting close to the dam where the water falls,” the
patrol leader told him. “Pretty soon we’ll know whether we’ve cornered
the rats or not. Steady now, and keep under cover the best you can.
Remember, not a sound, fellows!”



                             CHAPTER VIII.
                        AT RACCOON ISLAND CAMP.


“There it is!”

Billy gripped the arm of the patrol leader when he said this in a faint
tone. Indeed, all of them must have glimpsed the old mill at about the
same time, for the trees had thinned out somewhat ahead; and that gurgle
of dripping water drew their eyes toward the spot where the forlorn
structure stood.

Having been neglected for many years, it was now only a tumble-down
wreck. The big wheel was covered with green moss over which tiny streams
of water trickled to drop with a splash into the pool beneath.

In the eyes of Billy, it had a haunted look. He admitted to himself that
he would not much fancy paying a visit to the old mill after darkness
had set in. Of course, he did not believe in _ghosts_, for what boy will
admit that weakness? But even the presence of owls and bats, and perhaps
a prowling mink from the stream, would be apt to make a fellow’s flesh
creep if he found himself left alone in such a place.

“Think they’re there, Hugh?” Monkey Stallings murmured in the other’s
ear.

“Somebody is, for a fact,” came the ready response, “because if you look
sharp you can see a little smoke curling up from the chimney.”

Gusty had not thought to glance at that part of the mill before. Now he
saw that this was so. Evidently there must be some sort of a fire
within. And as the mill was said to have been deserted by its owner
years back, the chances seemed to be that this blaze had been made by
the tramps.

“Wait here for me while I take a scout and find out if it’s so,” Hugh
told his companions, “and be sure to keep down, because one of them
might step out suddenly and discover you. That would put the fat in the
fire, and spoil all our fine plans. I depend on you, Billy, and Monkey.”

“Count me in too, Hugh,” urged Gusty, perhaps considerably to his own
surprise, for it was a new role for him to play “second fiddle” to
anybody.

So Hugh crawled away. He went on his hands and knees, and avoiding the
open road, chose rather to creep along where the wild growing bushes
would shelter him from being observed. So cleverly did he advance, Gusty
noticed, that even should one of the tramps be watching, there was
little chance that he might discover anything amiss. Plainly these
scouts had learned their little lesson and knew how to play the game, he
told himself, as he saw Hugh sliding across a more exposed spot on his
stomach, hitching himself along almost as a snake might have done.

Hugh was gone for some little time, and then he reappeared, returning
over the same course he had taken before. Billy immediately read success
upon the other’s face.

“Then they are there, is that it, Hugh?” he queried when he could place
his lips close to the other’s ear.

“Yes, I managed to get a look-in. Both men are lying down, and I think
they must have been cooking something to eat from the smell I got. One
is smoking a pipe, and the other dozing, every now and then taking a nip
from a black bottle that is passed between them. I saw the short one
examining a wicked looking gun. I guess he’s just the kind of a bad man
to use it before he’d think of giving up to a pack of Boy Scouts. We’ve
got to go slow if we hope to win out here.”

“Well, what’s the program, Hugh?” asked Gusty eagerly.

“I’ve figured it out this way,” came the answer. “I’ll leave the rest of
you here on guard while I make my way to the river, and find the island
where some of the scouts are in camp under charge of Don Miller. All you
have to do is to lie low and never do the least thing to let them know
they’re watched.”

“But what if they take a notion to skip out?” suggested Monkey
Stallings.

“Then you must be ready to leave a message for us in a forked stick
right here, while you try and follow after them. If that happens, make
as broad a trail as you can, because it will save the rest of us heaps
of hard work following. And above all things don’t let them capture you,
because from their looks I rather think it would go hard if you fell
into their hands. They’re a tough looking lot all told.”

“I should say they were all of that, Hugh,” admitted Gusty, who had
reason to know.

Before he left them, Hugh again examined his pocket map of the country.
It was fashioned only as a sort of road guide for tourists, but anyone
could judge from the formation of things about how far it was between
the old mill and the river at the place where a bridge spanned the
stream. And not a great way above this particular spot, the island lay
upon which the scouts were in camp.

Five minutes later, and Hugh replaced the map in his pocket.

“Got your bearings all right, have you?” asked Billy, with more or less
solicitude, for everything depended on the leader finding the camp of
their comrades.

“I reckon it’ll be all right,” Hugh assured him. “You see I expect to go
back first of all to where we left our motorcycles. Once in the saddle I
can soon find my way to that bridge across the river. The island is only
half a mile or so above, where the river widens; and I hope to find some
sort of trail along the bank where I can push my machine.”

“Will you come back the same way?” asked Monkey.

“I don’t know about that,” Hugh replied. “The boys must have been
tramping around more or less since they’ve been up the river, and
perhaps they may know of some short-cut over the hills to the mill. But
I’m off. Don’t expect us until late in the afternoon.”

“Gee! I hope you get here before night sets in,” muttered Billy with a
quick glance toward the weird looking mill as seen through the scattered
undergrowth.

Hugh did not have the least difficulty in following the back trail. All
he had to do was to keep to the road until he came to a couple of white
birches which he had noticed hung out in a queer way just about the
place where the trail had formed a junction with the overgrown mill
road. After that he kept his eyes mostly on the ground, where he could
readily pick up the various footprints left by all those who had passed
along.

When he finally arrived at the place where the motorcycles had been
hidden, he hastened to get his own machine in hand. Once he started
along the back road, he made quick time of it. There was small danger
that he would lose his bearings, as Billy might have done under similar
conditions, for Hugh made sure of things as he went along.

In due time he reached the bridge that spanned the river, which was
quite narrow at this point. Looking up the stream, Hugh found that it
made a quick turn some little distance away. He could also see that it
was beginning to widen at this point.

“I guess it can’t be very far to Raccoon Island,” he told himself.
Having jumped from the saddle, he started to push his machine toward the
left side of the road.

As he had hoped might be the case, he found indications there to tell
him that some sort of a trail ran along the river bank heading upstream.
Doubtless, parties going fishing may have made it; and all sorts of
people had used it in coming or going. Cows even followed the beaten
track, for Hugh quickly discovered traces of their presence.

“Not half as bad as I expected,” he told himself as he pushed on, though
it was anything but fun to urge that heavy machine over roots and uneven
ground.

Hugh generally looked at the bright side of things. He kept his spirits
up when the clouds grew dark and forbidding by telling himself that it
might easily be a great deal worse. That is the way with scouts; they
are taught always to look for the silver lining of the cloud and never
to despair.

Twice the boy had to make a short halt in order to wipe his streaming
brow with his red bandana handkerchief, and rest for a minute or so. But
he always started on again with a grim determination to get there.

The third time he stopped it was to listen eagerly. Then he chuckled.

“I ought to know that voice among a hundred,” he remarked. “No one can
sing quite as well as Blake Merton. I must be pretty close to the island
camp right now. One more push will do the business, I expect. There’s a
fellow I know who won’t be sorry, either.”

As he continued to urge the weighty motorcycle onward, Hugh presently
saw something moving ahead of him. It was very like a white flag, only
in its center it had a blood red square. He certainly ought to know a
signal flag, since he had learned to wigwag equal to the best in the
troop, and there were several experts among the scouts at that,
particularly Bud Morgan, who had once worked with a surveying party,
Arthur Cameron, Blake Merton, Walter Osborne, Sam Winter and Cooper
Fennimore.

Two boys clad in the familiar khaki of the scouts were standing on a
little elevation that was hardly more than a mound. They seemed to be in
communication with some one who must be over on the island. No doubt
they were indulging in a little talk, partly for the fun of the thing,
and to improve their knowledge of the Myers code at the same time.

Hugh stood still and gave the slogan of the Wolf patrol:

“_How-oo-ooo!_”

This weird, long-drawn-out cry startled the pair with the flags. When
they craned their necks and looked around, Hugh waved his hand.

“Hello! Sam and Cooper, how d’ye do?” he called out, starting toward
them.

“Why! it’s Hugh!” cried one of the scouts as though rather taken aback
by the sudden discovery. They had hardly been expecting that the
assistant scout master would get up to Raccoon Island while they were in
camp there.

“And say, look what he’s got along with him, will you?” exclaimed the
second boy astonished. “A splendid motorcycle as sure as you live! No
wonder he had to stay home and wait for it to come along. Chances are
that Billy Worth and Monkey Stallings have got the same kind of bully
mount. Are they back of you, Hugh? What news do you bring to camp?”

“Plenty of things doing, boys,” returned the patrol leader. “But you’ll
have to hold your horses until I can see all the rest of the boys.
Time’s too valuable for me to tell the story more than once.”

“Whew! do you hear that, Sam?” cried Cooper Fennimore excitedly. “Hugh
as much as says there’s something going to happen to give us all a
little whirl. Seemed to feel it in my bones this very morning when I
turned out, that this day wouldn’t go by as quietly as the others did.
Tom Sherwood said it must be going to rain, and that was what affected
me; and Jack Dunham asked me how many helps I’d taken of that stew last
night, because it was a case of indigestion I had developed; but you see
after all it was what you might call a premonition of trouble. Coming
events cast their shadows before, they say; and now I know it.”

“How do you get back and forth between the island and the shore?”
demanded the newcomer impatiently, because Cooper Fennimore was known to
be a great talker, and apt to waste considerable precious time.

“Why,” said Sam Winter, “we’ve got a cute little punt that they call a
dinghy, which belongs to the big motorboat. You can push it with a pole
in the shallow water, or use a paddle if it gets too deep for that. Here
it is drawn up on the bank. It will just carry three of us, Hugh.”

“Then let’s be moving across as quick as we can,” remarked Hugh,
“because the afternoon is wearing away, and there’s a lot to be done
before sunset, if we expect to capture the two hoboes who held Gusty
Merrivale up on the road and robbed him of the money he was taking to
pay the men working in his father’s granite quarry.”

“Whee! listen to that, Sam!” gasped Cooper Fennimore, and then he
hastened to push the flat-bottomed little tender into the water and take
his place, ready to use the pole while Sam handled the paddle.

As they approached the island, there were evidences of considerable
excitement ashore and a number of boys clad in the familiar khaki lined
up to give their leader the customary scout salute. This, of course,
pleased Hugh very much, for he was human enough to feel a thrill of
pride in the affection his comrades seemed to entertain for him.



                              CHAPTER IX.
                            OVER THE RIDGE.


“Glad to see you, Mr. Scout Master!” called Bud Morgan as the dinghy
drew in to the shore, and all the boys crowded down so as to be ready to
shake hands with Hugh. “How’d you come up here, I’d like to know?”

“Oh! he’s got the dandiest looking twin-cylinder motorcycle you ever
laid eyes on!” burst out Cooper Fennimore.

“But there’s something more than that he’s got to tell us,” added Sam as
he threw his paddle ashore, and made ready to follow it personally. “He
said there was no time to string the yarn more’n once, so we would have
to wait till all the bunch had gathered around. Get ready to quiver,
everybody, because there’s a thrill coming for you!”

Of course these words aroused the curiosity of the scouts. Even as they
shook hands with Hugh, they were beginning to watch his face as though
under the impression that they might be able to read his secret there.

“I ought to start right in the beginning, boys,” began the newcomer,
“and tell you how we three, Billy Worth, Monkey Stallings and myself,
planned to give you a surprise by running up here on our new
motorcycles, which came the day after you left on the motorboat. That
was why we said we couldn’t go along, but might be up in time to share
the homeward voyage. Well, we had a great time practicing, because Billy
was bound to get into all sorts of trouble. But we managed to get off
to-day. Somebody bring me a drink, please, I’m as dry as a bone.”

Quickly his want was supplied, and then Hugh went on with his brief
story. As it is already familiar to the reader, there is no need of
repeating it here. Hugh wasted as little time as he could in bringing
out the facts. From the way in which those boys hung on his every word,
with eyes full of eagerness and wonder, it could be seen that he was
making a decided sensation.

In a few minutes he had reached the conclusion by merely mentioning the
fact of his coming to the island camp for help. Looking around him, he
saw that there were just eleven boys present not counting himself. He
also noticed that Arthur Cameron seemed to limp more or less whenever he
had occasion to move, as though he might have sprained his ankle in some
way; and that was an unfortunate thing for Arthur, since it marked him
as one of those who would have to remain behind in order to watch the
camp while the others were away on duty.

“Call for volunteers to go back with you, and clean up those hoboes at
the old mill, Hugh!” suggested Don Miller, who had been having his hands
full keeping the boys in order during the absence of both Lieutenant
Denmead and Hugh, and was only too well pleased at having some one come
to relieve him.

“All who want to go, raise their right hand!” called out Walter Osborne,
leader of the Hawk patrol.

It seemed to be unanimous, for there were just eleven hands elevated.
Hugh smiled and seemed pleased, though he knew that at least two among
the scouts would be compelled to endure heart burnings through
disappointment.

“Listen to me,” he remarked quietly and seriously, so that the boys knew
he meant every word that was said, “Several will have to stay in camp.
Arthur, with that lame ankle, you would hardly be fit to take an
over-hill hike, so make up your mind that this time you’re not to be in
the swim. And Ned Twyford will keep you company.”

He selected the last named scout because he knew that Ned had been sick
before coming on this trip, and was not overly stout at best. If there
was apt to be a battle of any sort with those tramps, then only the
strongest boys should be allowed to take part in it, Hugh concluded.

Ned bit his lips as though in protest; but he knew better than to give
vent openly to his disappointment. A scout learns to obey without
questioning when it is a superior who gives the order; and in this way
he shows that he has some of the elements of a true soldier in him
though fighting is foreign to his training, and it must be resorted to
only when all other means fail.

“How will we go, Hugh?” asked Bud Morgan, who had stepped over to one of
the tents and reappeared, bearing a baseball bat in his hands.

His example started the others to skirmishing around in search of clubs.
One of the boys strapped on his camp hatchet; another secured the belt
that held his hunting knife. Still more found various-sized sticks to
their liking. One and all looked grim and determined, as though they
realized that this expedition was not in the nature of a picnic, but a
serious undertaking, indeed.

“I was hoping that some of you might know a short-cut over the hill in
the direction of that abandoned grist mill?” Hugh observed, looking
straight at Don Miller.

The smile that immediately broke out on the face of the Fox leader told
him that he was about to receive reassuring news.

“We do know a way over,” Don hastened to say. “Fact is some of us had
heard about that old mill, and knew about where it lay. So just the day
before yesterday, Arthur coaxed me to go with him. He said he wanted to
snap off a few photographs of the ruin, which was worth while seeing,
somebody had told him. Well, we made a cut across, and found the mill
all right, but the clouds had come up so black that he never took a
single picture. Arthur was feeling pretty bad about it, and made me
promise to go with him again before we broke camp. Then, on the way
back, he wrenched his foot, and I had to half carry him the last mile.”

“You saw no sign of anyone around the place when you were there, I
suppose,” Hugh remarked.

“Well, there were footprints enough,” Don replied, “and we reckoned that
parties sometimes wandered up that way to try the fishing in the pond
above the mill or in the runway. But we didn’t meet anybody, if that’s
what you mean, Hugh.”

“And Don, couldn’t you manage to carry my camera along, so if the sun
shines you might find a chance to snap off those three views I showed
you?” pleaded Arthur, as he held up the little black box.

Don gave a quick look toward the scout master.

“No harm carrying the camera,” the latter told him. “If you get some
decent views, we’d all like to have copies later on to remind us of the
adventure. Better be getting ashore as fast as you can, boys. Every
minute is going to count, you know. Ned, if you feel like it, act as
ferryman, won’t you? Three passengers might crowd aboard if you’re
careful how you sit.”

“It’s so shallow that you could almost wade with your trousers turned up
to your knees,” one of the boys declared, but since they all had their
leggings on none of them started to try this method of getting ashore.

Hugh, ever thoughtful, gave a few more orders.

“We hope to be back some time to-night,” he told Arthur, who would have
to remain behind, “but, in case necessity keeps us from doing it, we
ought to take something to eat along to serve as a snack.”

“Well, that’s sensible advice, I must say,” remarked Walter Osborne. “It
is tough to lie down to sleep on an empty stomach.”

“I generally lie on my back!” put in Tom Sherwood quickly.

“And that accounts for your snoring so loud,” he was told by one of the
others.

Meanwhile the ferrying process was in full blast. When Ned had landed
three of the scouts, he hastened back for another lot. After all, it did
not take a great while to get those who were going on the tramp ashore,
there being four trips necessary, since ten were to make up the party
that expected to hike over the hill to the region of the old mill.

“Now I’m going to put the trip in your hands, Don,” Hugh said, as the
entire party stood on the bank. “Look out for my motorcycle, will you,
Ned, while I’m off? And if there is any chance for rain get some sort of
cover over it if you can. So long as it’s so new and shiny I hate to get
any part rusty. So-long, and here’s hoping we’ll all come back as sound
of limb as we start out!”

“Same here, Hugh, and fellows. The best of luck go with you. If you come
home by way of the hill, give us the signal when you’re up there, so we
can have the dinghy ashore and waiting,” and as the party trailed along
by twos and threes, with Don and Hugh in the lead, Ned waved his hand
after them.

They were soon busily engaged in climbing the hill. Don kept on the
alert, for he did not want to make any error of judgment now that the
scout master had given him free reign. He had paid strict attention to
many features of the landscape when going and coming on that other day,
as a true scout is always expected to do when on the move, and in this
way it seemed almost as though he were following a blazed path.

Now and then they could look back when an opening occurred, and secure
glimpses of the winding river and the broad stretch of water where
Raccoon Island lay. Once they caught sight of the two scouts in camp,
who had evidently glimpsed their moving forms, for they were waving
their hats. The sound of their cheers also came, borne on the wind up to
the high spot where Hugh and his comrades had stopped for a minute to
get their breath, as the summit of the hill was still above.

All of the boys were young and vigorous. They had also had more or less
experience in mountain climbing, so that their muscles were fairly
hardened to the exercise.

“The top of the ridge!” announced the guide as he came to a fourth
pause, and perhaps at another time some of the scouts might have thought
it their duty to raise a cheer at hearing how they had surmounted the
difficult climb; but they knew better than to start anything of that
sort now without orders from the chief.

Scouts on duty must refrain from giving expression to their feelings,
leaving all that to the time when they are at play. They are expected
always to keep their wits about them, and to exercise judgment.

It was down-grade after that, and much easier for making their way
along. Don was showing commendable ability in following the return
tracks of himself and Arthur, for they had saved considerable time and
distance in coming back, having learned where short cuts might be made.

“We are getting close to the mill, Hugh,” announced the Fox leader,
after some more time had elapsed, during which they had made good
progress.

“Here, what’s this right now over here?” asked Bud Morgan.

“It’s a little stream,” Ralph Kenyon volunteered, “and like as not the
overflow of the mill pond. I’ve never happened to get over in this part
of the country while setting my traps for mink, otter, skunk, foxes and
the like in winter, so you see I can’t post you as I might were we on my
old stamping grounds. But from the specks of foam on the water here I
should say it has come over a dam not far away from this spot.”

“Just what I thought, Ralph,” said Tom Sherwood. “If that’s the case, I
reckon we’d all of us better close our potato traps and talk low.”

“The mill is still some distance away,” Hugh told them. “I know because
that foam comes from the creek tumbling down among those rocks yonder.
Don, you’ve been here before, how about it?”

“Won’t get there for nearly ten minutes according to my figuring,” came
the ready response that proved the reasoning of the scout master to be
nearly accurate.

“And I should think we’d only have to follow up this little stream to
strike the mill,” suggested Walter Osborne.

“That was what we laid out the other day,” Don told him, “and it turned
out all right. So, as I’ve luckily managed to bring you over the rise
and within touch of the mill, I’ll only too gladly turn over things to
Hugh here. He knows the lay of the land, I wager, and——”

“’Sh! drop down, everybody, behind these bushes!” whispered Hugh. “I saw
something moving over yonder, and chances are the hoboes have broken
loose!”



                               CHAPTER X.
                            LYING IN AMBUSH.


These low words coming from the scout master caused a general “ducking”
on the part of the scouts. Every fellow carried out the tactics of
screening himself from observation according to his individual notion.
This one dodged behind an adjacent tree, another curled up back of a
friendly bush, while a third might have been seen hugging the ground,
with his nose touching the virgin soil. Possibly this latter class
believed, like the foolish ostrich, that, as long as they could not see
anything, their bodies must also be concealed.

And after all it turned out to be a false alarm. Hugh himself was the
first to ascertain that it had been a rabbit bounding away that had
disturbed his peace of mind, and caused him to give that sudden warning.

“It’s all over, fellows, and no damage done,” the scout master told them
in his cautious way, though at the same time he could not help smiling
at the ridiculous attitudes assumed by some of the scouts in their wild
endeavor to hide. “Only a scared little bunny, as it turns out. We’ll go
on where we left off.”

Immediately every boy straightened up again, and tried to look as though
he knew all along that it was nothing worth mentioning. Several
pretended to be looking on the ground, just as though they believed they
had dropped something. A few, however, colored up, and allowed sheepish
grins to decorate their faces.

It was not very long before Hugh realized that the scenery began to look
rather familiar to him. This would indicate that they were getting close
to the place in which he had left Billy, Monkey, and Gusty Merrivale.

Now Hugh did not wish to lead the entire command too near the mill.
Something might happen to betray their presence before things had been
properly arranged to surprise the robbers.

Under such circumstances, if the “mountain will not come to Mahomet, why
one must go to the mountain,” an old Eastern proverb says. Accordingly,
Hugh held up his hand to signify that every one was to drop down and lie
low. Then he started in to make a sound that was similar to the grunt of
a hedgehog searching for succulent roots under the trees.

Every once in so often the scout master would grunt, and then wait. He
fancied that either Billy or his mate would catch the sound, for which
they must have been listening more or less anxiously for a long time
past. And as all these things had been arranged beforehand, the boys
would know that it meant they should begin to back away, so as to place
a little more distance between themselves and the ramshackle building
that sheltered the enemy.

Five, six, seven minutes passed thus. Then, during one of the waits
between the giving of the signals, there came a troubled grunting from a
copse near by, which told Hugh the others must be coming. He encouraged
them by getting part way up on his knees, and waving his red bandana
handkerchief three times.

Immediately afterward a figure came stealing toward the concealed
scouts, which turned out to be Monkey. When Hugh discovered two others
following cautiously in the wake of the leader, he breathed easier.
Perhaps, while on the way over to the island camp and back, he may have
had more or less fear that some accident would betray the three boys to
the wary tramps. The consequences would, of course, be very unpleasant.

Soon the trio had joined the balance of the boys, and, crouching among
the bushes, they shook hands all around. Why, even Gusty Merrivale
persisted in clutching the digits of these friendly fellows!
Circumstances beyond his control had placed the rich man’s son in a
position where things began to assume a new aspect in his eyes, and the
sensation in his heart was so very gratifying that he allowed himself to
give way to it entirely.

Hugh, believing that they should all work together, had Don Miller and
Walter Osborne as leaders of the Foxes and Hawks get their heads close
to his and discussed the situation from many angles.

On the way across country, while he and Don were keeping at the head of
the hiking party, the scout master had asked many questions. Of course
he knew something concerning the outside of the mill for, at the time he
had taken that one scout around the place, he had made sure of
surrounding conditions. Then Don had been all over inside when he and
Arthur had roved this way, and he was in a position to tell how the
place was arranged. Don was a careful, wideawake scout who had long
since learned the value of keeping his wits about him, not knowing when
it might prove advantageous to his interests to be able to describe what
he had seen.

Consequently he had been able to draw something of a map of the interior
of the mill, tell where the rusty and worthless machinery lay, and also
just about where passing hoboes had always bunked, as the remains of
many a cooking-fire proved.

Beckoning to Billy to draw near, Hugh asked him if anything out of the
way had happened while he was gone. Nothing had apparently, according to
the report of the Wolf scout. Once or twice they had seen a movement in
the vicinity of the mill, as a hobo came out to take a suspicious look
around, or perhaps gather up an armful of wood to keep the fire going
until the time came to cook another scanty meal. But, as the three lads
faithfully kept securely hidden, their presence in the vicinity had not
been suspected so far as they could say.

The afternoon was pretty well gone. It began to look as though there was
not the slightest chance for them to return to the island camp until
another day had dawned, even if the shift might be made then. Billy
understood this, and, as he was a great feeder, he became very
solicitous to learn whether the boys had been thoughtful enough to
provide against an enforced stay there by the mill. He also wanted to
know if they had remembered that he and Monkey, and probably Gusty also,
possessed something like an appetite; and whether the material to stop
this squeamish feeling down below had been carried along.

He was made happy by having several of the boys assure him that they had
stocked up with more than one ration, so that soon Billy figured he
would have no end of a good time making way with the extra provisions.

“Nothing doing until it gets dark, seems like,” Billy told some of the
others, for having been in consultation with the patrol leaders, he had
managed to pick up information in regard to the decision reached in the
council of war.

“And that strikes me as a mighty clever thing,” remarked Bud Morgan. “An
attack like this is always apt to be successful when made under cover of
the night.”

“Yes,” added Cooper Fennimore quickly, “in all the stories of border
warfare I ever devoured, the Injuns always waited till a short time
before dawn to rush the block-house. Seems like folks sleep heaviest
just before day breaks, though any old time is good enough for me to get
in seven winks.”

“But I don’t think Hugh means to wait till that late,” Billy told them.
“From the smattering I managed to pick up, it seemed that they had
figured on creeping up as soon as night set in, and starting things to
working.”

Bud Morgan gripped his bat with vigor.

“Can’t come any too soon to suit me,” he muttered. As a rule Bud was not
of a vindictive nature, but he could see that the Merrivale boy had not
only been robbed but cruelly hammered by the fists of the two ugly
hoboes and it riled the scout considerably.

“Let’s see,” mused Billy, while waiting for the patrol leaders to
complete their plans and announce the method of working to the rank and
file, “all told there are how many of us on deck?”

“A dozen, no, just thirteen, counting Gusty here, who looks as if he
were in a humor to do his part in the fight, if there is one,” observed
Tom Sherwood.

“Um, thirteen is said to be an unlucky number, too,” grumbled Billy.

“Don’t let that bother you any,” Jack Dunham told him. “I haven’t a
single ounce of superstition in my make-up, and only wish it was Friday,
the thirteenth of the month, into the bargain. I hate all that clap-trap
so much that I always try my best to start things on the bad luck day.
And so far there hasn’t any trouble swooped down on me. In fact, I’ve
had more than my share of good luck.”

“Mebbe you carry a charm in your pocket—the left hind leg of a rabbit
that has been shot in a graveyard at midnight in the full of the moon,”
suggested Monkey Stallings mischievously, at which Jack only snorted and
curled his upper lip, as though he could not find words to voice his
contempt for such foolishness.

“There’s the sun setting, boys,” remarked Blake Merton uneasily, for he
had never been very much of a hand in any rough and tumble game like
football or hockey, and secretly would have remained just as well
satisfied had Hugh picked him out to stick in camp with Arthur Cameron
and Ned Twyford.

“Bully for the sun!” Bud declared, shaking his head aggressively. “The
old chap knows when he isn’t wanted.”

“He knows a good thing when he sees it, anyhow,” added Billy yawning,
for he dearly loved to sleep, and the idea of the sun going to rest for
something like nine hours appealed to him very much.

“The council is breaking up,” Ralph Kenyon whispered.

“That’s right!” said Sam Winter of the Otters. He picked up the rather
tough looking cudgel, which he had managed to secure while on the way
across the ridge, and at the same time a flash of excitement came into
his eyes.

“I’m going to make a very important suggestion to the scout master when
he has told us what our part in the game will be,” Billy remarked. The
others eyed him respectfully, wondering what sagacious idea had come
into the mind of this comrade who was a boon companion of Hugh’s.

But now the three patrol leaders came up. Hugh made motions intended to
gather all the others in a close clump, because he did not wish to speak
any louder than could be helped. Though they had selected a retired spot
in which to gather and consult, there was always more or less danger of
being overheard. Sounds sometimes travel remarkably far in the woods,
especially just as dusk steals out from the shadows and starts to
envelop all Nature in her mantle.

“This is what we’ve fixed on, fellows,” began Hugh, who never made a
practice of using twenty words when ten would answer the same purpose.
“Don knows a way by which some of us can crawl into a sort of loft that
lies just above the place the two tramps will use for sleeping, because
of a layer of straw he saw there. I’ll let him take four of the best
climbers with him—they will be Monkey, Ralph, Sam, and Blake Merton. The
rest of you will stick by me, and we hope to get fixed so that when the
signal is given the scouts will drop and tumble in on those hoboes,
hobbling them by sheer numbers, so that they won’t have so much as a
chance even to use their fists, much less their guns. Get that, do you?”

“As plain as print, Hugh,” advised Bud Morgan, “but what’s the battle
sign going to be, so every one of us may be keen to sense the signal and
act on the flash?”

“When Don has placed his force just as he wants it, he’ll scratch four
times on the floor just like a gnawing rat might happen to do—four
times, no more or less, remember, Don. Then, after waiting about a
minute or so for every fellow to get a full breath, I’ll give a whistle.
Of course that will startle the men, but we calculate to be tumbling in
on them pell-mell before they can begin to get up. Divide your squad,
Don, so that at least two will drop with a squash on that short rascal,
because I rather think he’ll prove the harder one to knuckle under.”

“And do we have the privilege of using these, if necessary?” asked Bud,
holding up the home-run bat which was his special property, and had been
brought along on the camping trip in anticipation of some lucky chance
for a game.

“Only in case of absolute necessity,” Hugh replied soberly. “Don’t
forget that you are first of all scouts, and pledged to try every other
means before resorting to force.”

“Is that all settled then, Mr. Scout Master?” asked Billy eagerly.
“Because if you’ve no other directions to give us, I’d like mighty well
to make what I consider a very important suggestion.”

The rest of the boys pricked up their ears. It was not often that
good-natured Billy Worth conjured up any important idea in that rather
easy-going brain of his, and they were more than curious to hear what it
might be.

“All right, Billy, let us have it,” the scout master told him, “and if
it sounds good to me, I’ll be only too glad to incorporate it in the
program.”

“Then if you stop and think what time of day this is, Mr. Scout Master,
perhaps you’ll remember that some of the boys are right now lugging a
whole lot of stuff around with them that would be doing a heap more good
if placed where it properly belongs. In other words, what’s to hinder us
from eating our suppers while waiting for it to get dark enough to cover
our move?”

Several of the scouts began to snicker, but no one looked unhappy. The
truth of the matter was that every fellow was willing to confess that he
had a vacancy in his system that was crying out to be filled, and they
had long ago learned in school that Nature abhors a vacuum.

Even Hugh chuckled, as though the idea was not displeasing.

“That’s a sensible remark of yours, Billy,” he said readily enough, “and
after all, we’ll feel better qualified to do great deeds if we
strengthen our systems with our regular feed that comes along about this
time every evening. So I’ll appoint you a committee of one to ask the
fellows to divvy up. And, please, no talking while we eat, unless it’s
in whispers. This is no time for joking, you know.”

Billy found no great difficulty in getting the boys who carried the
“snacks” to place them in a great heap in front of Hugh. It looked like
a tremendous amount of provisions when every fellow had unloaded; but
when one remembered that thirteen lusty boyish appetites had to be
satisfied, that mountain of bread and crackers and cheese did not seem
so alarming after all. In fact, it would be next door to a miracle if a
shred of food remained when all would announce themselves contented.

There was a busy time for thirteen pairs of jaws for the next quarter of
an hour. And, after that, no one found any reason to complain because of
having to carry rations, since there wasn’t so much as a single sandwich
left to give them trouble.



                              CHAPTER XI.
                        WHEN THE RAT SCRATCHED.


It was almost dark.

These lads were accustomed to camping out, and believed that they knew
nearly all about the many sounds likely to be heard in the woods around
that region. However, the fact that stories had been told about the old
mill being haunted gave several of them an uneasy feeling.

Since few persons ever came up here, there having been no grist in the
hopper of the mill for many years, Nature had taken back her own.
Everywhere bushes, vines, briars and weeds abounded, and the little wild
animals frisked about under the trees as though they looked upon that
spot as their especial domain.

Night birds, too, began to croak and utter their various doleful cries,
particularly a family of screech owls that called to one another with
whinnies and long-drawn loving notes.

Then there was the constant fretful murmur of the water, dripping over
the moss-covered wheel of the mill, or forcing a passage through
crevices of the dam. Taken all together, things conspired to make some
of the boys shrug their shoulders, and keep rather close to their mates
under the conviction that there is strength in union.

Besides all this they could not forget that they meant to assail a
couple of “tough nuts,” as Billy called the pair of hobo yeggmen in the
mill. This alone was sufficient to strain their courage, for they were
but boys.

Every one was pleased though, when the word came to start moving. Action
is far preferable to lying idle and suffering the pangs of anxiety and
uncertainty.

Each scout seemed to feel that he was on his mettle to do his level
best. Gusty Merrivale took pattern from the rest, and really acquitted
himself in a way to satisfy Hugh that he had the elements to make a good
member of the troop, if he still continued to cherish his present desire
to join them later on.

Soon they could catch fugitive glimpses of a faint gleam of light ahead.
Every one knew without being told that this must proceed from some dusty
window of the mill. The men inside had a fire going in place of a lamp
or a candle. They possibly did not like the cobwebbed interior of the
place any too well, and did their best to make it seem a bit more cheery
by keeping the blaze going, even after their supper had been disposed
of.

This pleased the scouts very much, for it showed them how things lay.
There was less likelihood of any slip happening when those against whom
they were opposed arranged matters so that they could be constantly
seen.

Gradually the entire squad had gained a place close beside the mill.
Those who had been picked out to accompany the leader of the Foxes had
been warned to be very careful of their footing. In order to reach the
outer shed from which they expected to attain the loft, they would be
compelled to pass over the wet and slippery apron of the dam for several
yards.

Should an unlucky scout manage to lose his footing, while crossing the
heavy planks at this point, he might take a plunge that he would never
forget. Instead of capturing the tramps, his mates would have their work
cut out for them in rescuing him from a watery grave in the deep pool
that lay below.

There was one thing on which Hugh relied to help him out. This was the
constant noise of running water which he expected would cover up any
misplay on the part of a clumsy scout.

Leading his own detachment, Hugh made his way carefully to the
broken-down door of the mill. No one of the various casual lodgers
entertained of recent years in the abandoned structure had ever made the
slightest effort to repair the door or smashed windows. All they cared
for was a fairly decent roof over their heads that would shed water in a
heavy rain.

In consequence, there was no trouble in finding an entrance to the
building. Hugh, of course, did not push in without first taking an
observation. He had learned caution as one of the first things after
joining the scouts, and he knew the folly of not looking before leaping
in the dark.

The fire was at the other end of the mill. He could see moving figures
there as though the tramps were not yet ready to settle down to sleep.
Hugh only hoped that no sudden thirst would cause one of the men to
think of starting outside while he and the eager squad at his back were
creeping stealthily toward the fire.

One by one, the boys crossed the doorsill like so many shadows. Gusty
came last of all, not that he was asked to bring up the rear, but simply
because he realized that he did not know as much about these things as
the fellows who had been practicing scout tactics for months. It was a
new departure for Gusty to admit so much even to himself, and showed the
startling change that was being effected in his once overbearing
disposition.

Now they were all inside, and so far everything had gone well. Not a
fellow had tripped, or as much as made the least sound that could have
reached the ears of the two tramps. Counting himself, Hugh had eight
fellows in his bunch; Don carried just five. Surely they ought to be
able to overwhelm the enemy by sheer force of numbers unless they
managed unfortunately to get in each other’s way. This was what Hugh
wished to avoid most of all. He had even tried to give each member of
his force a certain place in the line so as not to interfere with the
rest.

Hugh led the advance. He used his eyes to good advantage in order to
locate each and every possible source of cover, so as to profit by the
same. Trailing in his wake came the others, striving to copy every
movement made by their leader, for they knew that Hugh was a master hand
at such things.

The hoboes seemed to be taking things as easy as they possibly could.
They lay there stretched out at full length, smoking their black pipes,
and exchanging occasional words. No doubt they had canvassed their plans
for the immediate future, and had everything laid out ahead, never
dreaming that danger lay near at hand.

Gusty, coming along in the rear, found himself unaccountably moved as he
crept after one of the scouts. His initiation into some of the exciting
episodes that are likely to come the way of active members of a patrol
had been unusually thrilling. He was having the best time of his life,
and he realized that after all he had it in him right along to
participate in such delightful happenings, though never until the
present awakening to the fact.

Meanwhile Hugh, in the van, had decided just where he and his followers
must come to a halt. They could not get quite as close to the lounging
men as he would have liked. He expected the scouts in the loft to be in
a position to strike the first blow.

They were no longer moving at the pace which had marked their entrance
into the old mill. A snail could hardly have wriggled along slower than
Hugh was doing at this stage of the proceedings, so at least Bud Morgan
thought. Bud, however, had always been inclined toward haste in most
things he undertook. Therefore, he could be hardly looked upon as a good
judge.

At a previous time there had been a half-hearted attempt made to start
operations, looking to rebuilding the falling walls of the abandoned
mill. It had been given up as hopeless, but, at the same time, quite a
pile of stones had been carried into the place. By good luck it came
about that this heap was just where it could be utilized by the scouts.
Indeed, it had served them as a splendid cover more than half the time
while they were creeping forward.

Behind it they ranged, still on their hands and knees. The fire
flickered, and occasionally snapped as some brittle section of wood was
greedily seized upon by the flames. Deep and harsh sounded the voices of
the lounging tramps. Lazily the wreaths of smoke curled upward from
their pipes.

Hugh was fully awake to making his arrangements while the chance
remained. He had it fixed so that about half of his force hovered near
one end of the rock pile, while the rest waited close to the other
termination.

Some of the scouts were holding themselves in just such positions as
they would have assumed had they been entered for a fifty-yard sprint,
and at the sound of the pistol expected to fairly shoot away. They
crouched low, with their finger tips placed on the rough deal planks of
the floor of the mill.

Every fellow was wondering how Don Miller and his four climbers might be
making out. They had had ample time, it would seem, to cover the ground;
and it was to be hoped that not many more minutes would elapse before
the scratching of the imaginary rat four times would tell Hugh that all
was ready.

If ever boys were keyed up to top-notch fever, those seven were who lay
back of the friendly rock pile, and counted the passing seconds. Every
nerve in their whole bodies seemed on edge. Small sounds were terribly
magnified; and several times one or the other of them would fancy that
he had caught the eagerly expected signal from the leader of the Fox
patrol up there in the dense gloom of the loft just above where the
tramps lay on their hay.

Oh! it was cruel the way Don Miller held off! Could anything have
happened to upset his share in the general plan? Had one of his command
slipped on those mossy and slimy planks of the dam, and fallen in? Since
they had heard nothing that sounded like an alarm it did not seem
possible.

And then at last it came—one, two, three, four—plain scratches, as
though an industrious rat had set himself a gigantic task.

It was time!



                              CHAPTER XII.
                          WHAT THE SCOUTS DID.


Every one of those eight boys plainly heard the long awaited sounds,
even Gusty, who was quite as anxious as any of his new friends.
Immediately each wearer of a soiled khaki suit followed the instructions
of their leader, and drew in a full round breath so as to be ready for
the next act in the little drama. This would come in the form of action,
if their program could be followed out as closely as it was intended to
be.

A few seconds ensued. Plainly Hugh had himself well in hand, and would
not allow anything to rattle him. Before giving the signal that would
precipitate a startling change in the situation, he wished to make sure
that the two lounging tramps had not taken the alarm because of the
scratching sounds.

This was quickly settled. The shorter fellow did raise his head a trifle
as if he may have considered that it was an unusually methodical rodent
that bit into the wood with such regularity. But then as the men had
been eating, and doubtless crumbs of food must have been scattered about
on the floor, perhaps it was this that had excited the sleek little
animal on the other side of the wall.

Wandering Willies as a rule become accustomed to having rats for bed
fellows on many occasions, so that there is nothing about the presence
of such vermin to dismay them. The shorter tramp only maintained that
listening attitude for a brief spell; then he once more dropped back and
resumed his easy position.

Hugh knew it was time. He felt sure that Don Miller and those with him
up in the dark loft had measured their distance, and were in a position
to drop directly upon the recumbent rascals underneath.

He had pursed up his lips ready to give the whistle agreed on, and no
sooner was the squatty hobo reclining again at full length than it came.
Clear and sharp the sound rang out. No bugle call, ever blown, brought
about a speedier result.

Every scout was instantly in action. The boys who were so impatiently
waiting in the shelter of that rock pile, shot forward like so many
agile panthers, and every fellow was aiming to project his form straight
at the spot where the tramps had been stretched out at their ease.

Of course the wary rogues realized that they were about to become the
victims of some sort of cleverly arranged trap. The first glimpse they
had of khaki-clad figures bouncing up like a flock of sheep, and even
filling the very air must have given them the startling idea that they
were attacked by a regiment of State’s troops. They had no time to grasp
the situation, for already boys were plunging recklessly down from the
loft over their heads, and alighting full upon the men, not giving them
a chance to get to their knees, much less their feet.

In three seconds the scene was a wild one, indeed. Half a dozen scouts
seemed to be fairly covering each of the tramps, striking and dragging
and hanging on like crazy leeches. The strong men tried as hard as they
could to get up, but to no avail. Above the tumult the clear trumpet
tones of the scout master could be heard urging his followers to hold on
like grim death, and cheering them on, at the same time doing his level
best to keep the flail-like arms of the hoboes from damaging any of the
boys.

“Surrender, both of you, or you’ll get the worst pounding you ever
knew!” shrilled Billy Worth, as he kept bringing both his fists down on
the head of the shorter rascal very much after the style of a
rapid-action pile-driver.

Bud Morgan was much in evidence with that baseball bat of his. He did
not have the heart to use it upon the craniums of the men, but kept
shoving them backward again and again when it looked as though they
might get to their feet in spite of the various figures clinging to
their arms and legs.

This sort of thing lasted for perhaps a full minute. It may have been
much more than that, for no one was in a position to take note of the
passage of time, being wholly occupied with the work of attack and
defense.

With half a dozen-boys busily employed in mixing things up for each of
the men, the tramps soon had enough of the mêlée. First the tall fellow
gave tongue to indicate that he would be glad to surrender, at which
Hugh told him to fall flat on his face so they could secure his arms
behind him. Then the other, seeing how hopeless it was to try and ward
off a reinforced army, hastened to do likewise.

After they had both been secured with the stout cords Hugh had been wise
enough to carry along, being parts of the very rope used to lower Gusty
to the ledge where the scouts found him, all of the boys breathed
easier.

Billy fairly hugged the scout master in the exuberance of joy.

“We did it!” he panted, not having yet been able to recover fully from
his violent exertions. “They’re our prisoners of war, Hugh, taken in
fair battle! Hurrah for the Boy Scouts, say I!”

Up to this point things had been so dreadfully mixed that the hoboes had
not been able to understand what it all meant. When Billy thus gave
voice to his pent-up feelings, the shorter rascal rolled over on his
back, raised his head as well as his bound condition would allow, and
took a good look at their captors. Then he laughed harshly as though
completely disgusted.

“Say, wot d’ye know about it, Pete? We’ve gone an’ got cotched by a
parcel o’ kids, arter all! Me to the pen arter this. I’d be afraid o’
bein’ left alone in the dark for fear o’ ghosts. Sure we’re a couple o’
greenies to let Boy Scouts round us up. I wish somebody’d kick me, so’s
to find out if I’m awake or only dreamin’.”

Nobody volunteered to perform this kind office for him. The scouts were
quite willing, but had some consideration for the feelings of those whom
the fortunes of war chanced to throw into their hands.

“Gusty, do you know how much money they took from you?” asked the scout
master as he looked up from searching the pockets and clothing of the
pair.

He had his hands full of bills, and quite a hefty pile of silver lay on
the floor of the mill.

“I drew exactly fourteen hundred and sixty-three dollars from the bank,”
replied the other, his face lighted up with a happy smile; “thirty of it
was in silver, so as to make change in the pay of the men, who are on
piece work.”

“Count this then,” continued Hugh, “and as they haven’t had any chance
to get rid of a red cent, I should think you’d find it all here.”

To their surprise it turned out that there was considerably more than
that amount, some sixty-two dollars in fact. This proved that Pete and
Bill could not have been “dead broke” at the time they laid that trap in
order to stop the rich man’s son on the road, and rob him of the
quarrymen’s wages.

Gusty was greatly pleased. It was not altogether because he had
recovered both his runabout and the money taken from him. There was
something even more delightful in the knowledge that he himself had
shared in the capture of the robbers, having done his part of the work
of pulling the tall man down. And the new sensation gave him such a
splendid feeling that he was already looking on every one of the scouts
as a brother, whose further acquaintance he meant to zealously
cultivate.

As it was unreasonable to think of returning to the island camp that
night, the boys set about making themselves as comfortable as the
conditions allowed. When the fire had been replenished, things began to
take on a more cheerful air. Even the sad murmur of the dropping water
outside no longer inspired Billy and a few more of the boys with
thoughts of haunted houses and the like. In fact they rather liked it
now, though sticking close to the inside of the mill.

Still that was a very long night. Few of the scouts save Billy Worth
secured any sleep to mention; but nothing could ever keep him from
losing himself to the world.

Hugh often went over to where the two men were, and examined their bonds
so as to make sure that they were not breaking loose. He had taken a
wicked-looking gun from each tramp, and managed to let them understand
that he carried one of these with him for better protection.

When day broke, the scouts were early astir. It had been planned to
start over the ridge toward the river so as to reach the island camp by
breakfast time.

Although all of them were ferociously hungry, the boys made merry as
they trailed along. They felt that they had managed to do something that
would add another triumph to the already long list of praiseworthy deeds
credited to the troop.

In due time they passed over the divide. As agreed on, Hugh immediately
gave the signal to the two boys in camp that they were coming, so that
they might get busy with a bumper breakfast. Billy declared that he was
ready to eat them out of house and home, such was the sharp appetite
this early morning climb had given him.

The scout salute met the victorious army on its arrival, and for a brief
time the air was filled with the totem cries of the various patrols,
Wolf, Hawk, Fox and Otter combined in one grand pæan of victory.

Arthur Cameron was delighted because the friendly scout to whom he had
entrusted his camera had made sure to take several pictures of the group
with their prisoners at the mill, and again on the way over the wild
uplift that separated the scene of their late adventure from the river.

First of all, Hugh, after breakfast had been enjoyed, carried Monkey to
the place where the other two motorcycles had been left. Then he went
back and conveyed Billy the same way. This left only the runabout to be
looked after, and as they must use this in order to get their prisoners
to town, the scout master once more made the trip with a passenger
seated behind his saddle.

It promised to be a busy day indeed for some of the scouts. Hugh decided
to accompany Gusty when the two prisoners were taken to town. Then the
latter meant to start once more for the quarries with the money for the
semimonthly payroll. Doubtless there would be more or less anxiety up
there on account of his failure to arrive on the specified day.

Seeing that they were so near the quarries, Hugh finally changed his
mind and had Gusty first of all run over with the money. After that they
loaded the two bound men into the car, and managed to find places for
themselves.

The hoboes were delivered safely to the police, and were promptly
recognized as men long wanted for other crimes along the line of looting
country stores. Once again praise of the scouts was on everybody’s lips,
and they made new friends all around their home town.

Gusty pleaded with Hugh to be taken back to the island camp in order to
get better acquainted with those whom he meant to join later on; and,
pleased with the way things had turned out, the scout master was only
too glad to accommodate him.

They still had several days ahead of them before the return voyage was
to be undertaken, down the river and home by a circuitous route. Hugh
decided to manage to take his motorcycle aboard and keep company with
the others, for he wished to show Gusty so many things connected with
scoutcraft that he begrudged losing any time. Besides, Hugh believed in
striking while the iron was hot; and he did not mean that this eagerness
on the part of Gusty should find a chance to wane until he was a
full-fledged tenderfoot scout.

The return journey was made safely, though of course, not without
excitement and fun. As vacation time was now near its close, the boys
fancied that they would have to turn their thoughts somewhere else for
amusement. It happened, however, that events were shaping throughout the
home town in a manner to enlist Hugh and his comrades in an enterprise
calculated to show the scouts in quite another light than that of the
past, in which they had figured so prominently.

Just what these events were, and how well the wearers of the honored
khaki bore themselves in the test, will be made plain in the next story
of this series, under the name of “Boy Scouts for City Improvement.”


                                THE END.



                          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; left non-standard spellings and
  dialect unchanged.

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





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