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Title: The Boy Scouts at Mobilization Camp
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
                                   AT
                           MOBILIZATION CAMP


                                   BY
                             ROBERT SHALER

   AUTHOR OF “THE BOY SCOUTS OF THE SIGNAL CORPS,” “THE BOY SCOUTS OF
                       PIONEER CAMP,” ETC., ETC.


                                NEW YORK
                            HURST & COMPANY
                               PUBLISHERS

                          Copyright, 1918, by
                           Hurst & Co., Inc.



                               CONTENTS.


  CHAPTER.                                                         PAGE.
  I Good Luck                                                          5
  II A Breakdown on the Road                                          18
  III Rising Suspicions                                               30
  IV The Hold-up                                                      39
  V An Echo from the Past                                             48
  VI The Burning Bridge                                               62
  VII The Accusation                                                  73
  VIII In the Mobilization Camp                                       84
  IX the Disappearance of Felix                                       95
  X Bud Morgan on the Scent                                          106
  XI The Value of a Good Reputation                                  117
  XII The Search Squad                                               128
  XIII The House by the Roadside                                     140
  XIV A Successful Round-up                                          149



                  The Boy Scouts at Mobilization Camp



                               CHAPTER I
                               GOOD LUCK


“Honest Injun, Hugh, I never wanted to go anywhere half so much as I do
right now to drop in at that State camp where the militia has started
mobilizing.”

“Just so, Bud, and, to tell you the truth, I’m feeling the same way
myself. Ever since we scouts waved good-bye to our gallant Battery K
some five miles up the road, and watched the last gun, caisson and
supply wagon disappear over the crown of Kettledrum Hill, I’ve had that
picture in my mind.”

“Say, I wager things are just _humming_ over at that same camp, Hugh,”
sighed the first boy in faded khaki, “Bud” Morgan by name, and a member
of Oakvale’s famous Boy Scout Troop.

“They certainly must be,” admitted his comrade, who wore the insignia of
rank that marks not only a patrol leader, but an assistant scout master
as well. “This morning’s paper says that besides our fellows, there is a
full regiment already in camp, not to mention other commands, such as
the Engineers’, Signal Corps and Red Cross detachments.”

“Don’t forget to count the Aviation Squad, Hugh,” added Bud, eagerly.
“You know, I’m head over ears interested in the birdmen and their
doings, as well as in signaling, surveying and inventions.”

“Yes, it certainly must be a glorious sight,” Hugh said enviously. “To
tell you the truth, old fellow, I’m lying awake nights trying to think
up some reasonable excuse for paying a flying visit to the concentration
camp.”

“Anyhow,” remarked Bud, brightening up a little, “we can squeeze some
satisfaction out of the fact that the scouts had a heap to do with
getting Battery K off to the camp with their roster on a full war
footing.”[1]

“We’ve undertaken an all-summer job helping to run the Pastor farm for
the crippled old man, so his boy, Corporal Tony, could go to the Mexican
border with his company. That’s one way scouts can help Uncle Sam when
trouble comes along. It’s partly on account of that promise I’m holding
back about leaving Oakvale.”

“Oh! so far as that goes, Hugh,” said Bud, slyly, after the manner of a
tempter, “you’ve got the programme all laid out, and Alec Sands could
take your place for a week. The site for the camp we expect to start up
there near the Pastor farm has been arranged, so the boys would make the
hike, and then be handy in getting the hay crop cut, and have it taken
to the barn inside of ten days. If you took a notion, Hugh, don’t you
think the two of us might manage to get away? Try hard and think up some
good excuse for making the trip. A dozen people here in Oakvale would
want to send messages and packages to their boys, you know.”

Hugh Hardin laughed at the entreating manner of his companion. They were
standing at the time in front of the post office building, where people
kept coming and going in squads and singly, for that was one of the
busiest places in the mill town of Oakvale.

Hugh and Bud both belonged to the _Wolf_ Patrol of the troop, which was
in a most flourishing condition, having four full patrols, and another
well along. These enterprising lads of Oakvale had been more or less in
the limelight for several seasons past. Circumstances had allowed them
to engineer quite a number of really successful enterprises that were
one and all to their credit. Those readers who may be only making their
acquaintance with Hugh and his friends in this story, if at all curious
to know what some of those stirring adventures were, should secure
previous volumes in this series, and enjoy reading accounts of scout
activities as related therein.

One thing certain, those same enterprising and ambitious scouts had
succeeded in convincing the most skeptical persons that the coming to
town of such an organization had been the means of a regeneration among
the boys of Oakvale. Many things had been tolerated under the old order,
with the familiar excuse that “boys will be boys, and you must expect
them to play practical pranks, and do all manner of shocking things in
order to work off their extra enthusiasm,” but such outbreaks were quite
unknown in these later days. The reason was that a new means for
allowing the high-spirited lads to “let off steam” had been found.

On the morning the call of the President came summoning the National
Guard to mobilize, with a view to being sworn into the service of the
Government, so as to proceed forthwith to the Mexican border, and guard
the same against aggression, it sent a thrill across the entire country
from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Tens of thousands of young fellows flocked to the armories, and the most
intense excitement followed, as hurried preparations were started
looking toward increasing these various military organizations from a
peace to a war footing.

Oakvale had a battery of four guns, together with such equipment as was
necessary for utilizing these field pieces; but just then it happened,
as in many similar organizations, that the roster contained just enough
names to prevent the company from being disbanded under the law by the
State authorities.

Consequently a feverish hunt began to enlist new units, or, what was
better yet, former members who had left the ranks to sign again, so as
to swell the number to a high level of which the town might be proud.

In this little drama it chanced that Hugh and his fellow scouts bore
themselves right handsomely, so that it was chiefly owing to their manly
efforts that a number of former members came forward again to put their
names down.

After a very eventful period of preparation, which lasted for several
days, Battery K had started for the mobilization camp. As connections on
the railroad did not happen to favor them, they concluded to make the
trip overland, knowing that it would take less than two full days, and
must prove of considerable benefit to both men and horses in the way of
practice, which they greatly needed.

Once more Oakvale had settled down to the humdrum monotony of customary
life. Things resumed their former conditions, but after the feverish
outburst of patriotism people found it difficult to attend to business.
They missed the faces of those gallant young fellows who had gone to
serve their country. So, too, they found things terribly dull after all
that exhilarating music which the fine Oakvale brass band had provided
while the battery lay encamped on the grass-covered public square. They
missed the enlisting officers’ tent, surrounded day and evening by a
curious throng, where the khaki-clad men urged their friends to sign the
muster roll so as to bring the local company up to a war footing.

Some of the boys had been inconsolable ever since they watched the last
of the troop vanish over the hill, as Hugh had described. Being
ambitious and patriotic lads, they would have liked nothing better than
a chance to accompany those artillerymen to camp, and even to the far
distant Southwest border where the followers of the Mexican bandit,
Villa, were threatening further bold raids across the international
line.

Never dreaming of having their ardent wishes suddenly realized, the two
boys continued to stand there, chatting of scout affairs in general, and
what they expected to do while in camp in particular. Bud, upon turning
his head, discovered something which he communicated to Hugh in his
breezy fashion:

“Unless I miss my guess, Hugh, we’re going to hear some news worth
while. There’s our comrade, Blake Merton, heading this way like a
schooner with all sails set. He looks considerably worked up, too. I
wonder what ails him? Perhaps something’s happened to keep him from
joining the bunch when we start on our hike tomorrow for that camp up
near the Pastor farm?”

Hugh, taking a look, remarked calmly:

“We’ll soon know what’s up, for he’s heading our way, and making signals
that he wants us to wait for him. I hope it hasn’t anything to do with
that case of scarlet fever my folks were talking about this morning,
because it happens that the Werner house is close to where Blake lives.
If one of his younger sisters came down with the disease they’d have to
quarantine the Mertons, and so Blake couldn’t go with us.”

“Wee whiz! that _would_ be tough luck—with vacation just starting in!”
the sympathetic Bud went on to say.

“Hello! Hugh!” remarked the newcomer as he arrived, partly out of breath
from hurrying so fast, and looking excited as well, “I’ve been searching
for you all over town. They put me on several false scents, but I’m
awful glad to find you at last!”

“What’s the trouble, Blake?” asked the patrol leader; for, although the
Merton boy belonged to the _Hawk_ Patrol, somehow, when he wanted
counsel and advice, he turned to the assistant scout master rather than
to Walter Osborne, who was the _Hawk_ leader.

Blake glanced toward Bud, and then, as though making up his mind,
quickly exclaimed:

“I guess Bud can be depended on to keep a secret as tight as a drum, and
so I’m going to speak up. Fact is, Hugh, I’m in a peck of trouble about
my cousin, Felix Platt.”

“Oh! I remember that he went away with the battery, being a member of
the same,” Hugh observed. “What ails Felix? Has his mother fallen sick,
and ought he come home again before being mustered into Uncle Sam’s
service?”

Blake Merton shook his head.

“No, it isn’t that, Hugh, worse than that, even, I should say!” he
declared.

“Well, you’ve got us worked up, all right, Blake,” exclaimed Bud,
feverishly, “so please explain what you mean when you say that. I hope
your cousin hasn’t gone and done something wrong?”

“He’s made a fool of himself, I’m sorry to say, and stands a good chance
of losing all his uncle’s property. You must know that Uncle Reuben is
his guardian as well, and has made his will in favor of Felix, so as to
cut off that bad son of his who disgraced him several times.”

“Yes, we know all about what Luther Gregory has done to worry his
father,” admitted Bud, encouragingly. “But Reuben isn’t any blood
relation of yours, is he?”

“Oh! no, though Felix happens to be my second cousin. You see, they had
some warm words the night before the battery left town, and Felix, being
a hot-blooded young fellow, said something he shouldn’t, and which has
cut Uncle Reuben to the quick. Just this morning the old gentleman had
his lawyer, Judge Marshall, to change his will once more, cutting off
Felix. The good old judge managed to coax him to wait a bit; and so
Uncle Reuben has vowed that if he doesn’t receive an apology from Felix
by sundown of tomorrow, nothing will keep him from doing as he
threatens, much as he has cared for the boy since his own son failed
him. Yes, he threatens to leave every dollar of his big fortune to
charity.”

“That’s too bad,” mused Hugh, shaking his head, for he had always liked
Felix, who was a pretty fine sort of a young chap, as they go in these
days. “But how is it you come to know about this matter, Blake?”

“Just this way, Hugh,” came the ready reply. “Uncle Reuben made Judge
Marshall promise that he wouldn’t communicate with Felix, or send him
any direct word; but, having the best interests of all parties at stake,
and, believing the old man would secretly applaud his action if ever he
knew it, the judge called to me over the wire to drop in right away and
see him. Then he told me about it, not suggesting a single thing, mind
you, but leaving it up to me to do what I thought best, because he knew
how fond of Felix I’ve always been.”

“Well, then,” said Hugh, beaming on him, “why don’t you get busy, and
write Felix a letter right away, explaining the case, and begging him to
send the apology? By now he’s cooled down, and ten chances to one is
mighty sorry for speaking as he did.”

“Hugh, I thought of that the first thing, but what if the letter didn’t
reach him?” objected Blake, frowning as he spoke.

“You could register it, or send with a quick delivery stamp,” remarked
Bud.

“Even then there would always be a lot of uncertainty about it,”
continued the other, stubbornly.

“Evidently, then, you’ve got some other dandy scheme up your sleeve!”
exclaimed Bud, suspiciously. “Let’s hear about it, Blake, if you need
any advice.”

“Well, I’ve always believed that when you want anything done, the only
safe way is to do it yourself. You remember the bird telling her young
ones in the nest that so long as the farmer depended on his relatives
and friends to help cut the wheat there was no need for worry; but when
finally he told his son they’d start in and do the job themselves the
mother bird admitted it was time for flitting. Now, Hugh, I’ve got a
hunch that if only you’d go along with me to give advice, I’d make a
start for the mobilization camp right away, and tell Felix face to face
what a fool he has been, as well as fetch back a letter for Uncle Reuben
that would heal all the bitter feelings in the old gentleman’s heart.
What do you say to that, Hugh?”



                               CHAPTER II
                        A BREAKDOWN ON THE ROAD


Hugh and Bud exchanged glances, and then the latter burst into a laugh.

“Blake, bless your heart, of course Hugh will be glad to go along with
you over to the big State camp so you can tell Felix what a silly he’s
made of himself. You know, scouts are always ready to perform a good
deed, and bringing Uncle Reuben and his favorite nephew together again
would be just bully. And, say, you’ve got to count me in the deal,
ditto, understand?”

“Why, I don’t know just how that might be?” stammered Blake; when
energetic Bud broke in upon him with a vigor that would brook no
refusal.

“I’ll tell you several reasons for my going along, Blake,” he said,
tapping one finger after another. “First off, it happens that Hugh and
myself were just saying we only wanted some half-way decent excuse for
deserting the other fellows right now, and heading straight for the big
camp. Then, secondly, I c’n get a sort of decent old car in which we
could make the run, if nothing happened to ditch us on the road. Then,
last, but far from least, I want to go! And that settles it.”

“All right, Bud,” agreed the other, carried away by this enthusiasm and
desire to serve a comrade in trouble, “what you say goes. That idea
about the car is a good one. Hugh, you haven’t told me what you think
yet; please help me out of this pickle, won’t you?”

“Oh! just as Bud here remarked,” laughed the patrol leader. “I’m like a
hungry fish biting at the first baited hook I see ahead of me. I
certainly do want to go over to that mobilization camp the worst way,
and the only thing that kept me from starting was the want of a decent
excuse. Now that a comrade has called on me to assist him, there’s no
further reason for holding back!”

“Bully for you, Hugh!” exclaimed Bud Morgan, beaming happily on his two
comrades.

“I just knew I could depend on you to help me tide over this trouble,
Hugh,” said Blake, grasping the other’s hand, and squeezing it warmly.
“Now that we’ve got all that fixed, let’s make the necessary
arrangements as soon as we can; time counts in a game like this; and,
besides, I’ve got certain reasons for fearing there may be
interruptions.”

He did not choose to enter into any explanation for these rather strange
words, seeing which Hugh presently went on to say:

“I’ll get in touch with Alec Sands, the leader of the _Otters_, and tell
him that he must take charge of things for some days while I’m away.
Alec can see about the hike tomorrow; making camp up there near the
Pastor farm; and even starting in at the hay-cutting if we’re not back
in time. Fortunately, Alec knows considerable along the line of farm
work; and then, too, old Mr. Pastor can coach the boys.”

“But, Hugh, please don’t drop a hint about why you’ve got to go over to
the big camp,” pleaded Blake. “You see, it might happen to get to the
ears of Uncle Reuben, and offend him. That’s got to be a dead secret
between the three of us until I can put a letter from Felix in his
guardian’s hand, and know the old gentleman’s really forgiven him for
his hasty words.”

“We’ll both shake hands with you on that, Blake,” said Hugh, wishing to
make sure that Bud would be willing to take the same vow of secrecy on
himself.

When this operation had been completed, Blake appeared to be much
relieved.

“How long do you expect it will take you to see Alec, and arrange other
things, Hugh?” he asked.

“Oh!” the patrol leader immediately replied, “so far as that goes, I
believe an hour ought to cover everything, such as telling my folks at
home, and getting Alec to take charge. How about you two?”

“I can do it in far less time,” admitted Blake.

“Same here, unless the old car has to be fixed in some way. Generally
the tires aren’t holding any too well,” explained Bud. “But, then, a
fellow mustn’t look a gift horse in the mouth; all it’ll cost us is the
gas and lubricating oil. We c’n fix that up among us easy enough, eh,
boys?”

So it was agreed that they should rendezvous at a certain spot as soon
as possible. If Hugh could accomplish his several errands in any shorter
time so much the better, he remarked. The three boys hastened away in as
many different directions, each one making all possible speed, for their
hearts were evidently in the work that now engaged their attention.

So well did luck stand by them, that before three-quarters of an hour
had passed by the trio met again at the appointed place. Each carried a
small package, and, besides, Bud had driven up in a rather dilapidated
looking old car that doubtless had a past history, and now quite out of
the running where speed was considered a prime requisite.

Still, as Bud himself had remarked, it was not polite to be too
particular of a gift. The car might carry them in safety over the forty
miles or more that lay between Oakvale and the mobilization camp; then,
again, they might have a few punctures or blowouts, for the tires were
certainly in poor condition.

Hugh looked the machine over, and raised his eyebrows expressively;
whereat Bud hastened to say:

“Don’t condemn the old rattletrap yet awhile, Hugh. Sometimes things
turn out mighty deceptive, you remember. She’s seen heaps of service in
her day, for a fact, and been pretty dependable, too, I wager. May be
she’ll behave scrumptuously for us on this trip. We’re going on an
errand of mercy, and deserve encouragement, for a fact. Jump in,
fellows, and we’ll get started.”

So they were soon off. The car groaned and wheezed when power was
applied, and Blake looked pretty anxious until finally they began to
move along the road out of Oakvale at a fair clip.

“Say, she seems to go pretty decent, after all!” declared the driver,
for Bud, likewise Hugh, knew much about the mechanism of cars, and could
pilot one as well as any boy around Oakvale. Blake was a novice at such
things.

“We must be making as much as ten miles an hour right now!” laughed
Hugh.

“Which rate of speed, if continued, would fetch us to the camp in less
than five hours, wouldn’t it?” demanded the now sanguine Blake.

“Oh! well, the worst is yet to come!” grinned Bud Morgan. “You see,
we’re going on the level now, and there happens to be some pretty tough
old hills which have to be surmounted before we reach our haven. Hills
can play hob with most old worn-out cars. I’m not boasting any yet,
Blake, you notice; hold your horses, and we’ll see what happens.”

For some little time they continued to move along fairly well, and a
number of miles were placed behind them. Indeed, they had even managed
to climb several good-sized elevations; and, although once it seemed as
though the machinery was about to give up with a last groan, clever Bud
managed to pull the machine to the top of the rise, so that they could
coast down the declivity, which they did in great style.

“She can run like a bird, once you cut the power off, and let her
coast,” shrilled the enthusiastic pilot, as they continued to “scoot”
along the level below.

“Whee! but look what’s ahead of us?” cried Blake, in an appalled tone.

“Oh! that hill isn’t half as bad as it seems,” Bud told him. “I’m going
to take it on the run, and get to the top, all right, watch me!”

He made an heroic effort to accomplish the end he had in view, and, in
fact, did manage to negotiate more than three-fourths of the climb. Then
suddenly the engine gave up the ghost, and only through a frantic use of
the brake did the pilot keep the car from starting backward down the
steep incline.

“Well, here we are, held up!” he remarked, calmly; “it’s up to me to get
busy and see what’s wrong.”

“I’ll help you to it, Bud,” Hugh told him, stripping off his coat, and
donning one of the old linen dusters Bud had thoughtfully fetched along
for just this purpose, since he suspected they would find good use for
it.

They were a busy bunch for the next hour, the two boys most of the time
working under the car and Blake hovering near, growing more and more
anxious as the precious minutes slipped past.

“How far have we come, do you reckon, Hugh?” he asked once.

“I should say about seventeen miles,” the other replied, after mental
figuring; “though that’s only a guess, because we don’t happen to have
any way of telling. This car isn’t equipped with a cyclometer, you know,
or any other thing that costs money. I’m surprised that the tires have
held out so well.”

“That isn’t much more than one-third of the way to camp, either,”
declared Blake, disconsolately. “I’m wondering what I could do in case,
after all your work, you fail to coax the poor old engine into going
again. It’ll be too bad if we get to the camp too late to carry that
letter back to Uncle Reuben in time; for he is a terrible man to keep
his word, and he’ll make that new will tomorrow night as sure as
anything, unless he hears from Felix by sundown.”

“Well, if it comes to the worst,” Hugh told him, soothingly, “you could
wire Uncle Reuben to hold up, and that a letter was on the way with an
ample apology. I suppose you don’t have any doubt about Felix giving you
such a letter, Blake?”

“No, I don’t, Hugh. Not that he cares so much about the old gentleman’s
money, because, you see, he has some of his own coming to him in another
year or so; but Felix is a good-hearted fellow, and really cares a heap
for his guardian.”

Meanwhile, Bud Morgan was working with all his might, trying to locate
and cure the engine trouble. Bud was a very determined fellow, as his
chums had learned many a time in the past. Once he set his mind on
accomplishing anything he would persist everlastingly at the job, even
when it seemed next door to hopeless.

“I’m beginning to get on to it, boys, I want to tell you,” he finally
said, as he crawled out from under the car so as to stretch his cramped
limbs, and wipe the perspiration from his forehead with a bandanna that
had once upon a time been a beautiful red, but was now sadly faded.

“But almost two hours have slipped by since our plug engine balked on
us,” complained Blake Merton, painfully. “Not that I’m trying to rub it
into you fellows, because both of you are doing the work, while a
greenhorn like me has to sit around and grunt, and count the minutes. If
only some other motorist would come along about now maybe he might be
able to lend us a hand.”

“Wish to gracious one would show up,” sighed Bud. “What a fellow doesn’t
know about pesky engines like this would fill a book. Another pilot
might just happen to be familiar with this particular kind of trouble.
‘Many men, many minds,’ you remember. But don’t think I’m going to give
it up. There’s a little of the old U. S. Grant about me, and I purpose
‘fighting it out on this line if it takes all summer.’”

“That’s a bully way of looking at it, Bud, and I give you lots of
credit,” said Blake, shrugging his shoulders. “If we stick here until
tomorrow I might just as well head back toward Oakvale, for all the good
a visit to camp will do me.”

“Listen!” warned Hugh, holding up a finger.

“Ginger! some one coming, as sure as anything!” ejaculated Bud, looking
inexpressibly relieved.

The plain sound of an approaching car could now be heard. It was also
coming from the same direction as their course had just covered, that
is, from distant Oakvale.

“I can see him starting to take the hill,” announced Blake, eagerly,
“and, say, if it is only a flivver, it tackles the rise as if no ascent
had any terrors for it. One man is in the little car, but, then, he may
be an angel in disguise. I hope so, I certainly do.”

So the trio of anxious scouts waited for the coming of the lone motorist
whose small car was already courageously mounting the elevation.



                              CHAPTER III
                           RISING SUSPICIONS


The oncoming car soon reached the spot where Hugh, Bud and Blake were
stalled. Hugh threw up his arm as a signal that they would be greatly
obliged to the party in the lone machine if he would stop for a brief
time to hear their tale of woe, and either assist them, or at least give
advice.

The occupant of the little car was a dark-faced man of middle age with
what seemed to be a perpetual smile on his face, or was it a leer? Hugh
did not like his looks any too well, he confessed to himself. When
motorists are in trouble they have no business to find any fault with
the looks of a possible Moses who might lead them out of the wilderness.
Whether he is handsome or homely, pleasant-looking or a sour-visaged man
matters little if only he is accommodating.

“We’re in a mess, it happens, sir,” Hugh commenced saying.

“So I see,” sneered the man, looking suggestively at Bud’s grimy hands,
and then toward the stalled ramshackle car.

“Our knowledge of mechanics isn’t all it should be,” continued Hugh,
determined not to be daunted by this poor beginning, “and if you could
spare five minutes to take a look at the cause of our trouble, perhaps
you might tell us how to remedy the same. I’m sure we’d feel under heavy
obligations, sir.”

“We certainly would,” added Blake; “it’s of prime importance that we get
along just now, because we’re heading for the mobilization camp, on an
important errand, sir. Please oblige us, won’t you?”

He tried to throw all the pathos possible into his application. Hugh
thought the man was laughing in his sleeve, so to say. At any rate, he
failed to make the first movement toward getting out of his still
throbbing car.

As a general thing, motorists are most accommodating toward those in
distress. It seems to be a rule of the road that when the signal is
given, any one passing by must be adjudged next door to a criminal. A
fellow feeling makes all men who drive motors sympathize with one
another, for there is no telling just how soon they may themselves be in
dire need of the same help.

“Sorry to say I’m in a desperate hurry myself, boys,” snapped the man,
between his set teeth. “I’d like to help you, but any delay just now
might cost me a big amount in money. I reckon you’ll get her going, some
way or other. At the worst, you could let her drop back down the hill. I
think there’s a farmhouse up that little dirt road half a mile or so
where you could stay over-night. So I’ll have to push along and leave
you. Sorry, too, for I’d like to help you.”

With that he once more started along, and the three scouts stared after
him struggling under various emotions.

“The mean skunk!” gritted Bud. “I’ll fix my old engine if it takes a
leg. Course, he might have shown me a better way, but I’m coming along.”

Blake Merton was shaking his head as though some new thought had taken
possession of his mind.

“This means _something_, I tell you, Hugh!” he burst out with. “It isn’t
just one of those accidents that bob up now and then. That chap was
chuckling to himself all the while, just because he had come on us
stalled here.”

“What’s that?” asked Hugh, somewhat startled by such an assertion. “Why
should a stranger care whether a pack of scouts were held up with engine
trouble or not?”

“I’ll try and tell you, Hugh,” came the quick reply, as Blake’s eyes
snapped. “I didn’t think to mention it before because—well, so many
other things chased through my brain, you know. But this is the same
fellow I saw talking to Luther Gregory.”

“You mean the degenerate son of Uncle Reuben, the tough case he threw
over, and vowed never to have anything to do with again?” gasped Bud
Morgan, stopping when about to once more crawl under the stalled car.

“No other,” came the quick reply.

“Has he been seen again in Oakvale lately?” demanded Hugh. “I remember
that he got mixed up in some row, and his father paid the bill only on
condition that Luke promised to shake the dust of the home town off his
feet, and never show up again. If the slippery fellow hadn’t agreed to
this, Mr. Gregory was going to let the law take its course, for his
patience had reached the limit.”

“Listen,” said Blake, earnestly. “I saw Luke this very morning while
getting my little package, after leaving you fellows, and going home to
say good-bye to my folks. I, too, was surprised to set eyes on him,
knowing about that promise to stay away from Oakvale. He was talking
with that very man we just saw pass us. Hugh, they seemed to be on good
terms, for I saw them shake hands as if to bind some sort of bargain.
Then Luke discovered me, and gave the other a nudge. I thought that man
stared mighty hard at me as I passed, just like he meant to remember my
face. Now, I’m wondering what all that could mean.”

Hugh was silent for a brief spell. His mind was endeavoring to grapple
with the problem that confronted him.

“It seems almost too big a thing to be true, Blake,” he finally
remarked; “but if Luke Gregory could have in some way learned what his
father was meaning to do about making another will, and cutting Felix
out entirely, why, he might think it worth his while to plot so as to
keep you from seeing your cousin in Battery K.”

Bud Morgan whistled to indicate his deep interest in the matter.

“Now, I happen to know that Luke Gregory used to be a right smart sort
of a chap when he lived in Oakvale,” Bud observed. “I wager he’s up to
just that kind of a game. However he could have learned the news we’ll
never find out. He may have a spy among the servants in the Gregory
house, some one who used to care for him when he lived at home, and who
reported the interview his father had with Judge Marshall. Then, again,
it might be that same spy followed the lawyer, and saw him talking with
Blake here.”

“That’s pretty far-fetched,” admitted Hugh. “You must remember that it
was over the ’phone the judge asked Blake to come and see him. Possibly,
though, this spy in watching the lawyer’s house noticed Blake going in,
and guessed why he had been sent for. But, no matter, there seems to be
a chance that Luke _did_ know, and that he believes it to be to his
interest to prevent a meeting between Blake and Felix until the time set
has expired.”

“It might be,” mused Blake, “that Luke has never stopped hoping he might
yet be able to make up with his father, and that he thinks his first
move should be to get Felix out of the running. This, then, would be too
good a chance to be lost. He has started that man toward the camp,
knowing about our coming. So, now, we can understand why he seemed to be
grinning all the while.”

“It did seem to tickle him, seeing us stalled here, and likely to stay
for goodness knows how long,” admitted Bud, frowning.

Hugh took more stock in the theory the longer he considered it. Although
at first it may have seemed far-fetched, just as he had remarked,
“familiarity did not breed contempt” in this case.

“Well, there’s nothing to be done but, get our engine running again, if
we can,” he said, while Bud was hammering noisily under the body of the
car. “If, in the end, that fails, we’ll try and think up some other
scheme, for the more difficulties that crop up in our path, the more
stubborn we become.”

“Oh! thank you for saying that, Hugh!” exclaimed Blake. “I know mighty
well that when you’ve set your teeth, and start in to win, something is
bound to come from it. I was beginning to get discouraged, but, say,
that’s passing away now, and I seem to be drawing in my second wind.”

Just then there came a whoop from underneath the car.

“Cheer up, fellows!” called out a muffled voice.

“Do you think you’ve found out how to fix her up so she’ll work again,
Bud?” cried Blake, his face aglow with renewed hope.

“Watch my smoke, that’s all,” was the reassuring reply, followed by
additional pounding; and presently Bud wriggled out from his confined
quarters, a sight to behold, so far as face and hands and discolored
duster were concerned; but Hugh paid little or no attention to these
things, because he saw that a huge grin decorated the greasy countenance
of his chum.

Some more pottering followed. Then Bud gave the crank a few turns. There
was no response, and evidently the balky engine still declined to behave
itself. Nothing daunted, Bud tried a second, and then a third time. When
still once more he flirted with the crank there came a sudden roar, and
sure enough the car rocked under the pulsations of the conquered motor.

“Hurrah! you’ve done it, Bud, sure you have!” cried the happy Blake, as
he danced up and down in his excitement.

“Wait till I get these things back again, and wipe some of this mess
from my face and hands,” said the mechanic, “and then we’ll start right
up the hill with a push that can do next door to anything.”

“I really believe she’s working better than ever before,” suggested
Blake.

“Well, considering what I did in cleaning things up,” grinned Bud,
holding out his grimy hands, “that isn’t to be wondered at. She was
fairly clogged with dirt. Give me just another minute, boys, and then
we’ll be on the jump!”



                               CHAPTER IV
                              THE HOLD-UP


“This is something like living,” Blake remarked, after they had easily
made the top of the hill, and were coasting down the other side with
increased celerity, though Bud apparently did not dare allow full speed
for fear lest something would happen to a dilapidated part of the worn
machinery, and cause a bad accident.

All of them were pleased. Although much time had been lost, still, with
anything like decent luck, they should easily be able to make the camp
while the sun still hung above the western horizon. Blake asked for
nothing better.

“That scamp in the flivver had nearly an hour’s start of us, boys,”
Blake later on observed. “By rights he ought to be ten miles and more
ahead of us, I say; but do you know I half thought I caught a glimpse of
his car when we came over the top of the last rise, and not so very far
away, either.”

“I certainly heard a sound that might have been made by a car dashing
across a short bridge ahead, there,” admitted Hugh.

“All of which looks queer to me,” continued Blake. “Do you think, Hugh,
he might have held back to see how we came out of that scrape? Would he
be figuring on doing something to hold us up on the way?”

“I don’t know,” was the reply of the patrol leader. “All we can do is to
keep a good lookout as we go along, and fight shy of breakers. If only
Bud can keep that engine going, we’re bound to arrive, some time or
other. If that man tries to bother us, he may wish he hadn’t,” and the
light that shone in Hugh’s eyes as he said this told how he meant every
word.

“Huh! he wouldn’t be the first fellow who felt sorry he’d fooled with
the scouts of Oakvale,” boasted Bud, with memories of previous exploits
crowding his brain. “If a silly bear will monkey with a buzz-saw, he c’n
expect to get hurt, that’s all.”

“Pull up!” hastily ejaculated Hugh as he saw something glisten in the
road ahead of them.

They had just started around a bend, and were going at a fair pace at
the time. Bud put on the brake, and the car speedily came to a stand,
but, alas! just a trifle too late to avoid the breakers. There was a
sudden explosion.

“Gee! a tire’s busted!” cried Blake, in dire dismay.

All of the boys jumped out, and it needed only one look to tell them the
truth, for the left front tire lay flat.

“Glass!” snapped Bud, wrathfully, as he glanced around. “Just think of
anybody heaving a bottle overboard like that, when there are so many
stones around. Seems to me the least the rascal could have done would be
to throw the same into the bushes here.”

Hugh was bending over as though deeply interested, and just then he
electrified his two companions by crying out:

“It was no accident, after all, fellows, but a part of a cleverly
arranged plot! These bottles were fetched along purposely. They were
broken right on this rock, where you can see all the fine glass; and the
pieces were put on the road so that a car couldn’t pass along without
being terribly cut. See here, and here, and here!”

Bud was furious. He gritted his teeth, and growled like a “bear with a
sore head,” as he himself afterwards explained it.

“Hugh! you’re right, hang the luck if you ain’t!” he went on to say, as
he looked the ground over. “That miserable skunk laid the plot, and I’m
sorry to say it worked like a charm. See how he chose a place just
around a bend, so we mightn’t get warning in time by the sun glinting
from the broken glass? Oh! he’s a corker of a schemer, that chap is; and
I’d like to get my hands on him! Say, what I wouldn’t do to him would be
hardly worth mentioning.”

“Forget all that, Bud,” cautioned wise Hugh. “That sort of talk never
mends cut tires. All of us must get busy, and see what we can do.
Luckily enough you made out to have an extra tire along, even if it’s a
tough proposition. Let’s make the change in double-quick time.”

All the while they worked the boys exchanged opinions, and if that man
could only have heard what they thought of him surely his ears would
have burned.

“One thing certain,” Hugh was saying later on, as the job progressed
fairly well, “this thing has settled the question about his being
interested in keeping us out of the mobilization camp.”

“Just what it has, Hugh,” admitted Blake, jubilantly. “When once you
know what you’re up against, the chances of winning out are stronger;
anyway, that’s always been my opinion.”

“Have you cleaned off the road ahead of us, Blake?” asked Bud, “because
we’ll be on the move again as soon as I get a little more air in this
tire.”

“I walked along the road for a hundred yards,” replied the other, “and
found no more of the glass. I reckon he bunched it all around here, so
we couldn’t dodge running smack into the same.”

“After this,” said Bud, grimly, “I’ll slow up whenever we come to a
turn. You never can tell what a wretch like that may have fixed around
the bend. Once bit, twice shy, isn’t a bad motto. I don’t mean to get
trapped in the same way again, if I know it.”

“So I was right, wasn’t I?” Blake remarked, with a touch of satisfaction
in his voice, “when I said I felt sure I had seen that flivver a mile or
two ahead of us, when it should have been at least ten miles further
along?”

“That’s correct, Blake,” assented Hugh; “your eyes told you the truth.
All of us will have to keep on the watch right along. The man who could
play such a mean trick on people in a car with such bad tires as this
one has would be equal to anything, in my opinion. Ready now, Bud?”

“Yes, and that tire seems to be pretty snug,” came from the hard-worked
pilot, who, however, never once complained, for Bud was not a shirker,
if he did have certain faults of his own to contend with. “I only hope
the others don’t turn out to have been cut so they’ll go back on us
sooner or later. Glass like this is a bad proposition when you’re
running on worn rubber.”

Once more they were moving along. How keenly they kept their eyes on the
lookout for further trouble ahead could be detected by the manner in
which all three forgot to observe the scenery around them, the dusty
road monopolizing their attention.

As the minutes continued to slip past they had the satisfaction of
knowing that they were putting the miles behind them. Five and more had
been dropped since that last accident. Blake asked further questions
concerning the probable distance over which they had now come, and as
usual Hugh was able to give a conservative guess.

“All of twenty-five miles from Oakvale by now, I should say,” he
announced. “If you want to know how I’m able to say that, let me
explain. I have a rough map of the country up here. I copied it hastily
from one they had at the recruiting tent, for you know the battery must
have come along this same road we’re now on. A mile back we saw a
crossroads. That was marked on the map with the figures twenty-four; so
after all it was easy to add another mile to that score; and there you
are.”

“Only for your long head in making a rough copy of that road map, Hugh,”
declared the admiring Blake, “we would certainly be up against it now.
Well, that leaves some fifteen or twenty more miles. Can we fetch it by
sundown, do you believe, Bud?”

“Oh! easy going!” came the flippant reply, though accompanied by a side
wink in the direction of Hugh, which was possibly intended to convey the
meaning that the aforesaid result could be attained if they were
fortunate, and met with no further mishaps such as had already delayed
them on two occasions.

“I think we’re coming to some sort of village,” observed Hugh, later on,
“for I can see a small house on one side of the road, with some chickens
and a dog in the way. Slow up, Bud; we don’t want to race through here,
and be hauled up for exceeding the speed limit; or else have to stop and
pay for some silly hens that were bound to get under our wheels.”

Several cottages were passed. Then they came to a stretch of woodland,
beyond which, doubtless, the town proper lay, for they could see signs
of smoke rising, and there was also a sound as of an engine working in
some sort of mill.

Suspecting no immediate trouble, the boys were running along quite
smoothly when, without the slightest warning, they received a sudden
shock. Again it came to them just around a bend in the road, though Bud
had kept his word, and was moving slowly at the time.

A rope was stretched directly across from one tree to another. To make
the hold-up even more positive, a log had been rolled out, and lay
there, blocking the road, so that even should a swiftly-going car have
broken the rope, it was bound to come to grief against that other
obstacle.

“Pull up, Bud! quick!” almost shrieked Blake Merton, but he might just
as well have spared himself the trouble of letting out this frantic
appeal, for the driver had his car well under control, and was easily
able to bring it to a halt some ten feet away from the obstructions.

No sooner had they halted than a gruff voice was heard calling out:

“Throw up your hands and surrender, you three young raskels! I’ve got
yuh covered, all right, and yuh might as well give in peaceable like,
because you’re up against the strong arm of the law!”



                               CHAPTER V
                         AN ECHO FROM THE PAST


The boys, following up this rasping voice, stared to see the figure that
broke out of the scrub close to the barrier, and approached them. No
wonder they almost felt their breath taken away, for had this been a
scene from some ridiculous motion picture play, the representative of
the majesty of the law as met with in a country marshal or constable,
could not have seemed more ridiculous.

The man was old, and spare of figure. He was dressed in gray garments,
and wore a large soft hat built after the Western sombrero model. It had
a gilt cord around the crown, and was tilted up rakishly on one side.
Even to the glistening nickel star, that decorated his left breast, was
this representative of law and order, gotten up to shame one of those
stage sheriffs at whose antics youngsters in the cheap “movies” scream
with laughter.

“Don’t laugh, fellows, on your lives!” whispered Hugh, instantly, afraid
lest rash Bud, for instance, should break out into a loud roar that
would seriously offend the officer, and mean further trouble for them.

He raised his hands, as did the other two boys, though Blake was
complaining after his customary fashion.

“But, say, we couldn’t have broken any speed law, Mister, because you
saw yourself we were just fairly _crawling_ along?” he protested,
weakly.

The officer was holding a tremendous horse pistol of an ancient vintage;
it had an ominous look, and doubtless could give a fair account of
itself if fired, for they made good weapons in old-time days.

“I never said as how yuh was pinched for speedin’, did I?” he went on to
observe, with a grim smile hovering about his stern mouth, while his
beady eyes continued to rove from one boyish face to another. “Huh! I
guess now it’s somethin’ a heap worse nor _that_ you’re wanted for.
Where did yuh git this car?”

“Why, it belongs back in Oakvale,” stammered Bud, hardly knowing what it
meant when the man with the nickel star shot this question directly at
him as the pilot of the expedition, or at least the one who was handling
the wheel.

“K’rect. That corresponds with the information I had given tuh me,”
continued their strange captor, nodding his head until his goatee made
him resemble a pugnacious billy-goat.

Hugh instantly began to see a faint glimpse of light. Something about
the words which the constable had just uttered gave him a suspicion as
to the possible truth. He began to take a deeper interest in the
hold-up, which could turn out to be of an altogether different character
from what they had up to that moment believed.

“My friend,” he started to say, giving the constable one of his frank
smiles, “after all, don’t you think you may have made a mistake in
holding us up as you have? Honest, now, do we look like fellows who
would steal a car; and even if we ever had such a scheme afoot, wouldn’t
we be apt to pick out a machine worth taking, rather than a rattle-trap
like this ramshackle thing?”

The constable somehow seemed a bit impressed. There might have been that
in the manly bearing of the boy who was speaking, as well as something
in his voice that touched a responsive chord in his old heart. He
stroked his straggly chin whiskers with his unemployed hand, and
continued to ogle the three lads so eagerly leaning toward him from the
car.

“Uh! waal, it does seem like yuh’d be a passel o’ fools tuh grab a
rattle-trap car as this un when yuh might a had your pick. But then he
says tuh me there was a reason why yuh did it.”

“Oh! then some one put you wise to our coming along this road, did
they?” Bud flashed out. “Guess we can hit on the skunk, all right,
Mister. He was a little ornery reptile, wasn’t he, with a grin on his
black face all the time? Tell me, doesn’t that cover his description all
right, sir?”

“My name is Eben Wheezer, and I am the reg’lar authorized constable of
Halletsburg,” the other went on to explain. “I’m free to confess that I
was give a pointer concernin’ yuh boys. Mebbe it’s jest a lark you’re
playin’, but, all the same, when a car has been taken without the
owner’s knowledge or permission, the eye of the law looks on it as a
_bony fide_ theft. It becomes the duty of a constable to pinch the
offenders.”

“Listen, Mr. Wheezer, please,” urged Hugh. “Delay of even an hour would
mean a serious thing to us just now. We are on our way to the
mobilization camp, and it is of extreme importance that we get there
some time this evening. That man you talked with seems to be an enemy of
ours. He is connected with a scamp back in Oakvale who would be glad if
we failed to get to the camp, because it might mean money in his pocket.
He has already done his best to knock us out, even filling the roadway
with glass from broken bottles, so as to cut our weak tires, and keep us
from getting on.”

“Which happened, too, as you can see if you glimpse that tire we’re
carrying, and which is slashed something terrible,” interjected Bud,
impulsively.

The country constable was interested, seeing which Hugh returned to the
attack on the principle that when you have the enemy started a vigorous
offensive should be carried out to get him on the run.

“Besides, Mr. Wheezer,” Hugh went on to say, confidingly, “we are, as
you see, scouts. Our uniforms will tell you that, our badges too; and,
if you want, I can show you a number of clippings from the papers that
tell of certain things of merit the Oakvale scouts have done in the
past.”

“By gum! what’s that shiny medal you’re wearin’, son, stand fur?”
suddenly demanded the constable, fixing his glittering eyes on Hugh’s
left breast. “She looks a heap like the real stuff to me, an’ gold, at
that!”

Hugh at once took it off and passed it over. If ever he felt proud on
account of the possession of such a fine medal, that time was then and
there, because he believed it was going to save himself and chums a good
deal of trouble and time.

The constable put on a pair of glasses with huge horn rims, and peered
at the inscription, turning the neat little medal over in his hands.
When he looked again at the owner there was a marked interest in his
thin and pinched face.

“Tell me, air yuh this same Hugh Hardin it speaks of here?” he demanded,
hoarsely, taking a step nearer the halted car.

“That happens to be my name, sir,” replied Hugh.

“Did yuh git this here medal fur savin’ lives when that flood was
rampagin’ through the town of Lawrence?” continued the officer, his
voice now showing signs of hoarseness that might have come from excess
emotion.

“Why, yes. Several of my chums and I were visiting there when that dam
up the valley broke, and the bridge over the river was carried away. We
had a pretty lively time of it during the few days we were detained
there, on account of no trains running. We managed to hold out a helping
hand to some of the poor people caught in the flood. You know, sir,
that’s what scouts live for, to assist others not so well off as
themselves.”

Eben Wheezer heard the boy through. Then he did a number of queer
things, first of all ramming that ancient pistol out of sight in one of
his pockets, and then actually holding out a thin and trembling hand to
Hugh.

“Say, son, I want tuh shake hands with yuh, that’s what I do!” he
startled them by saying, enthusiastically. “This hold-up is all off, yuh
understand. I was an old fool tuh take that rascal’s seegar, and b’lieve
half he says tuh me ’bout some boys comin’ along the road here as how he
reckoned had stole a car, and that there was likely tuh be a reward
offered fur their apprehension, which I might jest as well rake in as
the next un. But I kin see it all now, an’ I’m right glad tuh meet up
with Hugh Hardin.”

“What do you know about me, Mr. Wheezer?” asked the patrol leader,
flushing at the same time with pleasure as he felt the cordial grip of
that lean hand.

“Oh! only this, son,” laughed the old constable, pumping the boy’s hand
as though he might be the milkman making up a deficiency in his cans,
“it happens that I had an ole wife a visitin’ over there in Lawrence at
the time that dam broke. Yes, and, what’s more, she told me it was a boy
named Hugh Hardin that kim along with some other scouts in a rowboat and
saved her from a house that was a-floatin’ off in the flood. Huh! think
I’d ever forgit _that_ name when it belonged to the lad who kept me from
bein’ a forlorn widower? This here is a joyous occasion for me, I tell
yuh.”

Bud gave a whoop, and danced around like a crazy thing.

“Talk to me about bread cast upon the waters returning before many
days,” he was crying excitedly. “Did anybody ever hear the equal of
this! See, Hugh, how your good deeds repay you heaps of times over. We
thought we had run across another enemy, and he turns out to be a bully
sort of a friend. Won’t you shake hands with me, Mr. Wheezer, even if I
wasn’t lucky enough to be in that bunch that did such good work at
Lawrence—the honor of that exploit goes to Hugh, here, Billy Worth and
Monkey Stallings. But, then, we’re all chums, you know, sir, and in the
same boat.”

The delighted constable was only too glad to oblige Bud, and so warm was
his grip that possibly the other felt a tinge of regret at insisting
upon being given a hand-shake. Blake Merton felt that it would not do
for him to be left out in the cold, so he had to grimace and bear it
when Eben got to working his lean fingers.

Indeed, all of the boys felt they had good reason for feeling thankful.
What had threatened to prove a disaster and promised to overwhelm their
plans was now working in their favor. The wearing of his badge, given by
Scout Headquarters to those members of the organization who have saved
human life at great peril to themselves, had turned out to be a most
wonderful blessing to them. Instead of being held up, perhaps thrust
into a miserable country lock-up until the next day, with their plans
ruined, they were now free to proceed along their way.

Hugh did not want to lose any more time than could be avoided, so
instead of entering into a long conversation with the constable, he
hastened to say:

“If we were not in such a great hurry, Mr. Wheezer, it would give me
great pleasure to stop over with you, and visit your home, to meet your
wife. I reckon I would know her again if I saw her. I’d be glad to tell
you the story of what happened over in Lawrence when the flood swept
down the valley. But we have a big stake in trying to make that camp by
tonight. One of my chums here has a cousin in the battery who stands to
lose a fortune if we are kept back; and the man who hired that rascal
you met hopes to win it. So you’ll excuse us if we say good-bye now, and
thank you for being so kind.”

The constable had already removed the log from the road, and now he
unfastened his stout rope from the tree to which he had attached it.

“No apologies needed, son,” he hastened to say, cheerily. “Yuh knows
your business best, and if yuh chase after it in the same way yuh won
your spurs over tuh Lawrence, I reckons now yuh’ll upset all the
kalculations o’ thet schemer. Good-bye an’ good luck tuh yuh, boys!”

He waved his official hand to them as they shot forward, and the last
Blake saw of the odd, though good-hearted country constable, he was
standing there in the road looking after the retreating car, and still
waving his sombrero, while that bright nickel star on his manly breast
gleamed in the rays of the westering sun.

“Congratulations, Hugh!” cried Blake, bubbling over with delight over
their recent narrow escape. “They say chickens come home to roost, and
that good deeds will pay a fellow back a thousand fold. Well, I want to
tell you there never was such a positive illustration of their truth as
this.”

“The best of it is,” laughed Hugh, happily, “that no matter how much our
enemy plots against us, something comes along to upset all his
calculations. He thought we were stuck there all afternoon, with an
engine out of joint, but Bud here fooled him. Then there was that broken
bottle game, which did hold us up a bit; but in spite of a slit tire we
got started again. Last, but far from least, he fixed up this clever
trick of telling the old constable three boys had stolen a car, and were
coming along the road a ways back; also hinting that there might be a
good reward offered for capturing the rascals and holding them
over-night in the town cooler. But again our luck held good, and we
slipped through.”

“I’m satisfied now,” asserted Blake Merton, “that nothing is going to
keep us from getting there some time tonight. I’ll hunt up Felix right
away, talk to him like a Dutch uncle, get him to write that letter, and
then the first thing in the morning we can start back home again.”

“If anything goes wrong with the car, we’ll find some other way of
returning, make up your mind to that, Blake,” Hugh assured him.

It was in this happy frame of mind that the three scouts passed through
the little town of Hallettsburg, and continued onward. As they went they
could frequently discover plain signs that to their practiced eyes
assured them the battery had traversed the same road they were now on.
Perhaps a boy untrained in the art of using his eyes, and seeing small
things that told a story, would never have been able to accomplish this
thing; but Hugh, Bud and Blake had served their time at studying
woodcraft, as practiced by the Indians from the days of Daniel Boone,
and they knew dozens of things that would, when noticed and examined,
tell an interesting story.

The sun was getting pretty low in the west, and evening was coming on.
It was about the last quarter of the moon, which had been full on the
fifteenth of the month, so that no help from this source could be
expected until toward midnight, when the silvery remnant would be seen
rising in the East. That was one reason why the boys were anxious to be
getting on as fast as they dared chance it, because, once night settled
in, their progress would be blocked.

“The sun’s going down, Hugh,” announced Blake, with a touch of dismay in
his voice.

“That’s all very true,” replied the scout master, “but we’ll have half
an hour of light yet, perhaps more, and I think we ought to make the
camp in that time!”



                               CHAPTER VI
                           THE BURNING BRIDGE


“Hugh!” called out Blake Merton a short time later, “did you see that
light flash up ahead of us there?”

“Just what I did,” came the immediate reply.

“Do you think it could be one of the camp fires of the boys, a sort of
vidette post, you might say?” further questioned Blake, eagerly.

“There it goes again, as sure as you live!” ejaculated Bud Morgan at the
wheel, “and, say, it’s a fire, all right—growing stronger all the while.
I wonder what it can mean for us?”

“We’ll soon find out,” remarked Hugh, confidently. “We’re advancing, and
will come to a clear stretch in a minute or so, where the trees happen
to be sparse, and we can see ahead.”

“Perhaps, after all, it’s only some cabin alongside the road, with the
people doing their cooking outdoors,” observed Bud. “I saw that done
heaps of times when my folks took me down to Florida that winter I was
sick.”

Their curiosity grew by leaps and bounds as they proceeded along the
road. The closer they drew to the scene of the illumination, the more
puzzled all of the boys found themselves.

Then suddenly it broke upon them. They must have turned a bend in the
road, for just as though a wave of a magician’s wand had caused the
picture to appear before their eyes, they saw it all.

“Oh! look at that, will you?” shrilled Blake, aghast at the vision.
“It’s a bridge afire!”

“It sure is!” echoed Bud, staring as though he could hardly believe his
eyes.

“See how the flames are creeping along the wooden sides!” continued the
Merton boy, hysterically. “Why, they look like red snakes, that’s what
they do. Hugh, what can we do to get across that river if the bridge
goes down?”

“I can’t tell you just yet, Blake!” snapped the other. “Let her out some
more, Bud. Never mind the risk to the old plug of an engine; we’ve _got_
to get there so as to fight that fire, or we’ll be dished. I know what
stream that is, and it’s a deep one, too, far too deep for us to ever
hope to ford it with this car. Faster, Bud, faster, I tell you!”

Bud Morgan never accepted anything that bordered on a dare. He had held
in thus far principally because he knew Hugh would not be apt to
countenance speed when it necessitated additional risk. Now he “let out
another notch,” as he himself would have expressed it.

The old car shambled along with dizzying celerity, making all manner of
ridiculous sounds, as though protesting against such haste. Still
nothing happened to indicate another breakdown; and at least they were
advancing toward the burning bridge with accelerated speed.

All the while Hugh was wondering what could have caused the fire. It was
very strange, he concluded, that a country bridge should take a notion
to start up in a blaze like this, and just when it became a most
important link in their drive to the concentration camp.

So they arrived on the scene. Bud was evidently for trying to run the
gantlet with a mad rush, but Hugh called upon him to draw up short,
which he did, stopping the car close to the near end of the wooden
structure.

“We might have made it, Hugh!” urged Bud, reproachfully, as though he
regretted the cautious policy of the scout master.

“But there would always be a chance that our gas tank would explode!”
cried Hugh; “look how the flames are driven straight across the bridge
by the wind. Then the fire is along both sides, so we’d have to run a
regular gantlet. No, Bud, old fellow, we couldn’t afford to take the
chances. Out with you all, and let’s see if we can’t save the old bridge
yet.”

“Go to it, boys!” shouted Bud, instantly on the move, for he was a lad
of action, and never happier than when doing things.

“Work on the windward side first!” ordered Hugh, with the sagacity that
leadership in an energetic scout organization is apt to bestow upon any
wideawake youth. “Here, snatch up these old lap-robes, and souse them in
the water. If you beat at the flames just as we did when the woods on
fire that time, you’ll find they can be mastered. Everybody get busy!”

“Whoop! watch my smoke, will you!” cried Bud, starting off with a rush.

There chanced to be some old lap-robes in the car that Bud had managed
to secure, not of any great value, to be sure, so far as things of
beauty went, but bound to be of great value in an emergency like the
present. Each of the three scouts managed to secure possession of one of
these, and it required but a brief time to submerge the same in the
swift flowing and deep stream.

With this soaking cloth in hand the energetic boys started to fight the
fire, slapping at the running flames as they curled along the side of
the bridge in long spirals that resembled creeping snakes.

When three lively fellows get started at a task of this sort it is
wonderful what remarkable progress they can attain. With each stout blow
it seemed as though the fire that was threatening to demolish the entire
wooden structure received a serious setback. The boys fought their way
completely across the bridge, which was not of any great length.

“Good enough for us!” cried the panting Bud. “We’ve licked that line of
skirmishers; do we tackle the other side now, Hugh?”

“One good turn deserves another, so go for it!” advised the leader,
setting a pace himself that kept the others hustling to continue in the
same class.

Success is always encouraging, and, having found that they could get the
better of those creeping flames, the three boys fought all the harder,
determined to crush the fire completely.

“A little more elbow grease, boys, and victory is going to perch on our
banner!” Bud was crying, while he slapped that scorched laprobe again
and again on the railing of the bridge, even mopping up the floor with
it when occasion demanded.

The boys were past masters at this sort of thing. They had served their
time at it on another occasion, when the woods, catching fire not many
miles from Oakvale, they had been called upon to help save certain
isolated farmhouses and crops that were threatened with destruction.[2]

Breathing heavily, the three lads finally had the satisfaction of seeing
the last zigzag line of fire succumb to the vigor of their attack.
Still, Hugh would not be wholly satisfied.

“Let’s go down and wet these rags again,” he told his chums, “and hunt
out every crack where the least bit of fire hides, so that after we go
on it isn’t going to spring up again.”

“Might as well make a clean job of it while we’re about it,” agreed Bud,
as he followed Hugh down to the edge of the river, there to immerse
their “fighting togs” again in the water.

As they walked along, carefully scanning both sides of the bridge for
any evidences of hidden peril, Bud once more broke out, voicing some
suspicion that he had evidently been harboring in his brain.

“Hugh, don’t you think it’s mighty funny how this old bridge could get
afire? Suppose a threshing machine traction engine could have passed
over here lately; but, then, it’s too early in the season for anything
like that to be going around. If a man on a wagon threw a burning match
aside after lighting his pipe, would it start things to burning? Somehow
I just can’t believe this is an accident at all.”

“Oh! do you really mean you suspect it was done _on purpose_, perhaps to
keep us from crossing this deep river, and making us miss connections
with the camp?” asked Blake, apparently thrilled with the thought.

“I’m certain of it,” asserted Hugh, positively. “I’ll tell you why. Just
bend your heads closer here, and take a whiff where this rail has been
only a little charred; what does it smell like?”

“Why, Hugh, it makes me think of home, when the girl is starting our oil
stove going!”

“That’s a fact,” added Bud, gritting his teeth ferociously, “and
somebody’s gone and saturated both sides of this bridge with kerosene,
so as to give the fire a good send-off. Oh! the low-down wretch, what
wouldn’t I give to have a chance to choke him.”

“Try it again over here, and you get the same odor,” Hugh observed,
impressively; “yes, and right there you can see where some of the stuff
spilled, for the spot looks greasy. He must have had a can of kerosene
along with him in his car for just such a purpose as this.”

Each boy in turn dropped on his hands and knees, the better to take a
“sniff” at the discolored spot on the floor boards of the bridge that
had such a “close call.” As they once more regained their feet they
nodded their heads, unanimous in their opinion as to the origin of that
greasy mark.

“Which shows that our good luck still haunts our footsteps,” Blake said,
trying to smile happily, though there was a deep-seated look of
apprehension to be detected in his eyes.

Truth to tell, all of them were more or less impressed with the
malignity shown by this party whom they believed to be in the pay of
Luther Gregory. He was evidently bent upon earning the sum promised him
in case he, by hook or crook, prevented the boys from reaching the
mobilization camp until it was too late to secure that apology from the
quick-tempered Felix.

“Well, do we cross over now, and move along our way?” asked Blake,
unable to conceal the anxiety he naturally felt because of these
numerous delays.

“Nothing to hinder that I can see,” replied Hugh.

“I’ll drive the old car across, presently, while you two wait for me at
the other side,” Bud said, as he climbed aboard. “Take a good look as
you go, and tell me if any of the flooring is burned through.”

As they crossed over, Hugh and Blake kept a good lookout, and reported
all safe; so presently Bud, having coaxed the engine to start again
after some effort, joined his mates on the further side of the stream.

“I certainly do hope,” ventured Blake Merton, with a sigh, as he
proceeded to settle down in his old seat again, “that we’ve run up
against the last obstacle. It’s certain that chap can’t think up much
more evil to turn against us.”

“What’s coming now?” cried Bud. “I can hear shouts, and, Hugh, there
seems to be men running around that clump of undergrowth alongside the
road.”

“I bet you there’s a village along there, and that the people have just
discovered the smoke of the fire here,” advanced Blake. “They know about
the bridge, and are coming to save it. They would have been just too
late if not for us.”

“They ought to give us a vote of thanks, then, for our services,” said
Bud.

“Listen to ’em shouting, will you?” continued Blake. “Why, it sounds to
me like they were real mad at something. Hugh, don’t it strike you that
way, too? Look at some of the fellows in the lead shaking their fists at
us, just as if we’d gone and done something mean. Gee whiz! I hope now
they don’t get the notion into their silly heads that _we_ started this
bridge to burning.”

Quite a crowd was coming wildly toward them, consisting of men and boys,
though there were also a few energetic women. Some of them carried
clubs, and waved these in a suggestive fashion.

“Sit tight,” warned Hugh, sternly; “it means that we’re up against it
again. Above all things, don’t do or say anything to start a fight!”



                              CHAPTER VII
                             THE ACCUSATION


If one of the three scouts entertained doubts as to the hostility of the
mob that came running along the country road, these were quickly
dispelled. In another minute the car was surrounded by an angry crowd. A
dozen voices shrilled at them, and sticks were shaken in their faces.

“Stand back, everybody!” shouted a burly man, who seemed to be invested
with more or less authority. “I’m the sheriff of this county, it
happens, and I don’t allow any interference with my business. Three of
my posse being present, I call on them to stand by me. The rest of you
hold your peace. I’ll do what talking is necessary.”

Hugh was glad to know this. He could deal with, a single individual,
where it was utterly impossible in the case of an excitable mob. So Hugh
hastened to speak up, addressing his remarks to the man of authority.

“Will you kindly tell us what all the row is about?” he asked,
pleasantly. “We are heading for the camp where the State militia is
mobilizing, and, discovering this bridge afire, worked with all our
might to put out the flames. If you look at those dirty cloths lying
there, you’ll find that they were once lap-robes. We soaked them in the
water, and slapped the flames out as we were trained to do in fighting a
forest fire.”

A few of the villagers may have been impressed with the words spoken by
Hugh, as well as his manly bearing; but they were vastly in the
minority. Most of those present were so worked up by anger that they
seemed blind to the facts.

“Don’t believe him, Sheriff,” urged one man, venomously; “he’s only
lying. All boys’ll lie whenever they get a chanct. I know these here
scouts, how they like to strut around like heroes. And, Sheriff, you c’n
depend on it they set fire to our bridge just a purpose to make believe
they did a big thing whipping the flames out.”

“That’s what he told us they’d like enough say,” called out another man,
whose small face and vinegary looks told of a mind that was below the
mediocre. “He says he saw ’em running around like they was pourin’
something on the sides of the bridge from a bottle. Say, I kin smell
coal oil, by Jimminy crickets; if I can’t now.”

“Lock the young rascals up, Sheriff!”

“Larn ’em a lesson they’ll never forget. ’Cordin’ to my mind, there’s a
heap too much talk nowadays ’bout boys doin’ great stunts. It’s jest
upsot a lot o’ ’em, so they’re lookin’ around all the time for ways to
make people think they’re jest like little David when he knocked over
that Goliath chap long ago.”

So several other men had their say. Hugh listened to it all, and waited
for an opportunity to get a chance to explain. He knew that he must
depend on the sheriff, and so he kept him in mind when he finally
started in to speak.

“Please listen to me, Mr. Sheriff,” he began to say, impressively. “We
belong in the town of Oakvale, where you’ll find, if you telephone the
Chief of Police, that our reputation is gilt-edged. We are on our way to
the big camp over beyond the hills yonder, where Battery K, from
Oakvale, is located. We have very important business with one of the
members, who is a cousin of this boy here. It will cost him his
inheritance if we are unable to talk with him by tomorrow. There is a
man whose interest it is to keep us from doing this. He has tried
through an agent of his in a number of ways to hold us back; and, if you
wish, I would take pleasure in telling you all about these things. Sir,
we have good reason to believe that this setting fire to your bridge was
a part of his scheme to detain us.”

“What’s that, boy?” asked the sheriff, hastily. “Can you tell us what
this man you’re speaking of looks like?”

“A man passed us while we were fixing our engine on the road hours ago,”
Hugh readily explained, “and when we asked him to lend us a hand he said
he was in too big a hurry to stop. He seemed to be grinning all the
while, as though tickled at finding us in such a bad mess. We believe
that man is the agent sent out to hold us back from arriving at the camp
until it is too late to do any good.”

“Was he a little man, with a sharp face, and eyes that glittered like a
snake’s?” called out one of the more friendly disposed men.

“Yes, and he was in a flivver, a small machine with the top down,”
explained Bud, taking part in the affair now. “He wore a suit that
looked as near green as you could find, and had on a leather cap with
goggles pushed up above the peak.”

The sheriff was impressed by what he heard. At the same time, he did not
appear disposed to drop the case against the three lads. Perhaps the
knowledge that some of those in the crowd refused to take any stock in
the story of the boys influenced him more or less; for murmurs were
heard rising here and there.

“Don’t you believe half he says, Sheriff,” one man called out.

“Boys c’n be all-fired tricky,” another remarked, sharply, “and he’s
certainly got a smooth tongue. Better run the lot of ’em in, and make
’em prove their innocence. That’s the best way to fix it, ’cordin’ to my
mind.”

Hugh felt uneasy. If the sheriff were so disposed he could, of course,
lock them up on suspicion; and while nothing might eventually be done
toward convicting them for the crime of setting fire to the bridge, the
delay would cost them dear.

But it happened that once more in their extremity fortune worked what
almost seemed like a miracle in their behalf. Hugh noticed that two
children had joined the crowd. He also knew that they had certainly not
come along the road with the runners, for they could never have kept
pace with the mob racing toward the river.

A sudden thought struck him. He turned to the sheriff and began to
suggest a plan of action that would possibly prove the truth or falsity
of the charges against them.

“Listen, Mr. Sheriff,” Hugh began. “I think that small boy and girl
there must have been somewhere near by, because they came up out of the
bushes here just now. Ask them questions, won’t you, sir, and find out
if they saw anything of what took place here? It may be they were in
hiding, and saw us come up while the bridge was burning. It’s only a
fair deal we want, sir, and I’m sure you’ll agree to that.”

The sheriff was more impressed than ever with the bearing of the boy who
addressed him. Besides, the plea he advanced seemed very plausible. He
turned upon the two children, a bright-looking boy and girl of about
ten. They were barefooted.

“Look here, Billy Burt, and you, too, Sally, were you hiding in the
bushes here when we came up?”

“Yep, that’s what we was,” said the boy, urged to speak by sundry
punches in his side, given by the elbow of his girl companion.

“Why did you hide there?”

“We was skeered when we got here, and seen the fire,” came the answer.

“Then the bridge was burning, was it, when you came along?” continued
the sheriff.

“It shore was,” the boy told him, positively.

“Were these boys around at that time?”

The boy stared at Hugh and Blake and Bud, then he grinned. “Nixey, they
wasn’t. They kim hurryin’ along, and fit the fire like wildcats. Yuh
jest orter seen how they slashed and slashed around till every bit o’
flames was done fur. Me’n Sally jest hid there in the bushes an’ watched
the fun. It was better’n the movin’ picture fire I seen down in
Hallettsburg.”

“Huh! that ought to settle the case against us, I should think,” laughed
Bud as the boy finished his recital, which, though framed in
ungrammatical language, loomed as high as any speech ever delivered
before a judge in an appeal to free the accused before the bar.

The sheriff threw up his hands.

“Boys,” said he, briskly, “you win. Instead of plucking you, and running
you in for attempted arson, I’m goin’ to thank you most heartily on
behalf of the village of Scroggs Corners, which I happened to be
visiting this afternoon on business. Only for your efficient work we’d
have been a bridge shy tonight. Shake hands with me, and kindly excuse
my excess zeal that might have worked you all an injury.”

Well, the boys bore no malice. They were only too happy to know that
nothing was going to interfere with their onward progress. In fact, they
felt as though victors in the brisk engagement between this clever foe
and themselves. It was likely to be the last expiring effort of the
unscrupulous schemer; after this he would have to give up the attempt to
keep them from the camp until sufficient time had elapsed to destroy all
hopes of Felix making his peace with his uncle.

“If you could only manage to round up that smart rascal who did set this
fire, Mr. Sheriff,” Bud could not help saying, when shaking hands with
the official, now very friendly toward their cause, “it might be
possible to prove the crime against him. Perhaps you may discover he had
been carrying kerosene in his car, and that would be a strong piece of
evidence against him. He’s given us heaps of trouble, which is partly
why I’m showing such a rattlesnake spirit toward him.”

“I mean to send word along the line, and round him up if he can be
headed,” the sheriff admitted, though Hugh really believed he had not
dreamed of such an idea until Bud made his suggestion.

Of course, even those who had been most disposed to believe the boys
guilty of arson had now been convinced of their innocence by the
statement of the boy who had seen all that went on from his
hiding-place. So when Bud started the car once more there was no sign of
opposition; indeed, only cries of goodwill followed the scouts as they
proceeded.

Passing through the village, which they found to be laboring under more
or less excitement, the trio continued on their course. Later on, when
they came to a steep hill, the engine balked again, so that half an hour
was lost in coaxing it to be good.

Blake had been sighing with impatience through the operation. Once he
had even gone so far as to suggest that he and Hugh start on foot, since
it could only be a matter of a few miles at the most that lay between
them and their intended destination. The working mechanic, however,
nipped this scheme in the bud by declaring that he was getting the upper
hand of the balky engine, and hoped to be able to make a fresh start
before ten minutes more had passed.

Still, that half-hour delay was fated to have some effect upon their
fortunes.

When the engine trouble had been mastered, and they were again on the
way, Blake seemed content. The persistent manner in which his comrades
managed to meet each new crisis as it appeared, and win out through any
and every kind of trouble, elicited his ardent admiration. Blake was
ready to declare that the day’s reckoning would only redound to the
credit of scout efficiency.

Hugh suspected that they were now close upon the big camp. He must have
caught certain sounds to tell him this. At least, as they drew near the
top of the slope, he bade both his chums keep on the lookout, because he
believed they were due for a pleasant surprise.

Loud exclamations broke from their lips when, on reaching the summit,
they beheld a wonderful spectacle spread before them. Night was
gathering, and already the broad valley beyond the ridge lay in
semi-darkness, for the moon would not rise until very late.

Scores, almost hundreds of fires, were burning a mile or more away,
looking weird to the startled eyes of the three scouts. They could also
discover a myriad of the same kind of khaki waterproof tents that
Battery K had used in Oakvale when endeavoring to drum up recruits at
the station in the public square.

There lay the great mobilization camp of the State before them, with
some thousands of stalwart young men training so as to be accepted by
the Government for service along the far distant Mexico, where the
threatening shadow of war hovered.



                              CHAPTER VIII
                        IN THE MOBILIZATION CAMP


“Well, this sure pleases me!” exclaimed Bud, as he stopped the car on
the summit of the ridge, so that they could feast their eyes on the
remarkable spectacle of all camp fires burning in the near distance.

“It is wonderful,” breathed Blake, “and well worth all the trouble it’s
cost us to get here. I reckon that we must be close to the border of the
camp, and can expect to be held up by a sentry any minute.”

“I’m going to start up my headlights going down this decline,” admitted
the pilot. “The more we drop into the valley the darker it’ll be; and we
can’t afford to meet with a smash-up at this stage of the game, when
we’ve about won out.”

He took especial pains in going down the slope, and finally the bottom
was reached in safety. Here they were suddenly greeted with a gruff
command to halt, and discovered a soldier in khaki bearing a gun
standing alongside the road.

“Say, this does look like war-times, doesn’t it?” said Blake, in a low
tone, “when you get hauled up by a vidette post. Hugh, please fix it so
we can go on.”

Some conversation followed between Hugh and the guard. Then a
non-commissioned officer was called, and more talk ensued. Hugh had laid
out his plan in advance, and so sagaciously that in the end he was given
permission to move on, although a soldier was placed upon the footboard
of the car to accompany the scouts to the quarters of Battery K.

Possibly the fact that they too wore the khaki had something to do with
their being allowed to enter the camp at this late hour, so long after
the time when soldiers were given a chance to see relatives and friends.
No matter what the reason, all of the boys felt as though they had won
fresh laurels in making that run from the home town in such a rack of a
car, and also being obliged to overcome baneful opposition of an
unscrupulous enemy.

They followed the road and were soon amidst some of the glowing fires.
Here they found guardsmen sitting around, and eating their supper, which
had evidently been prepared by the company cooks according to the rules
that govern the summer training camps.

So far as Hugh and his chums could see, they were a jolly crowd,
laughing and carrying on as though they did not have a care in the wide
world. Once the bitterness of parting from their loved ones had been
passed over, these healthy-minded young soldiers could play their part
like men, and meet every situation that was likely to arise.

“I tell you I’m nearly tickled to death because I came,” Bud was saying
as they rolled along the road between two rows of fires that crackled
and sent up myriads of sparks. “Talk about camping out, this has got all
our experiences knocked to flinders. Why, there must be millions of
soldiers here in this big valley.”

“Better say thousands, and be nearer the truth, Bud,” cautioned Blake.
“But it is a great sight, and one we’ll never forget, either. If a
fellow needed to have his patriotism stirred to the bone, he’d get it
done here. See how Old Glory is fastened up over that big tent yonder.
Now I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the colonel’s tent; or it might
even be Headquarters for the general in charge of all these forces of
the State.”

“We’ve got to pass through the whole camp before we come to where
Battery K is located, so the sergeant said,” Hugh remarked, as they
moved slowly on.

Numbers of the soldiers came forward to have a look at those in the car.
Possibly some of them may have entertained vague hopes that the
newcomers might turn out to be friends or relatives, urged to make the
trip by a desire to glimpse a dear face once more before the guardsmen
were ordered South. Hugh believed there was a wistful expression on many
of the faces he saw turned their way.

As for Blake, he could hardly restrain his impatience. The fact that
inside of a comparatively few minutes more he was to see his cousin, and
that there was still plenty of time for accomplishing his mission before
another day dawned, filled him with ecstacy.

“Don’t you think we must be nearly there, Hugh?” he would say,
pleadingly. “There couldn’t be any mistake now, could there, so that
we’re going the wrong way to strike our boys of Battery K? Are you sure
it’s directly along this road, Bud, we ought to keep on going?”

“That’s what the _non-com._ told us,” replied the driver of the car,
“and we must abide by orders when we’re in a military camp. Besides,
we’ve got some one along with us to show us the way; so ease up, Blake,
or you’ll crack sure.”

“Guess you’re right, Bud,” admitted the other, “and I’ll try to hold
myself in; but somehow I can’t feel dead sure till I’m shaking hands
with Felix, and know it’s going to be all right.”

The fact of the matter was, as Hugh suspected, Blake was now beginning
to fear that his impulsive cousin might prove obdurate, after all, and
absolutely decline to humble himself so as to write a letter of apology
to his uncle and guardian. Of course this would settle the matter just
as positively as though that agent of Luther Gregory had succeeded in
holding them up by having them arrested and kept for twenty-four hours
in some village jail.

“Look yonder, will you?” suddenly exclaimed Bud, nodding his head, and
using one hand to point to the left with, “there’s a battery of
field-pieces, but it isn’t the one from Oakland. Just beyond must be the
camp of the Engineers, because you can see a heap of picks and shovels
and such tools lying there. You know the Engineer Corps have to make
roads, build cook-houses, lay tent-floors for the officers’ quarters,
and do heaps of things like that. A fellow told me about it who used to
belong, and quit because he said it was such hard work.”

“Look over on this side, Bud, and you’ll see something that tickles
you,” called out Blake.

“The Signal Corps’ headquarters, I’ll be bound!” ejaculated the other in
sudden admiration. “See the wires they’ve run out. I warrant you every
command in the whole camp has a telephone in its headquarters, with a
Central station to boot. Now, if only I could run across the aviation
field, and see a few hangers for aeroplanes in evidence, I’d be happy.”

“Oh! they’re further away, over to the right,” explained the soldier who
stood on the footboard of the car. “We have three ’planes working every
day now, and more coming along. My brother is one of the air pilots, you
know, so what I’m giving you is straight goods, boys.”

They were by this time gradually approaching the other end of the great
camp, as could be told from the fact that the fires were becoming less
numerous beyond them.

“Your battery lies just ahead of us now,” announced the soldier, who
seemed to be thoroughly acquainted with the lay of the camp, and able to
direct any one to the location of each and every unit composing the
entire mobilization centre.

Yes, they could already begin to see guns posted in a clump, or
“parked,” to use a military term. These seemed to have a familiar look
to the Oakvale scouts, because they had many times handled the
dull-finished modern field-pieces, doubtless envious of the luck of
those whom they chanced to know as members of the company.

Leaving the car alongside the road, the boys followed after their guide,
who led them directly over to where the battery had its tents,
Immediately Hugh and his two chums began to recognize familiar faces. A
number of the men jumped to their feet and hurried toward the newcomers.
Hugh noticed that in some cases it was a look of sudden concern that
came upon the reddened faces of the young artillerymen; and he could
give a pretty good guess why this should be so. They were assailed with
sudden fears lest something terrible might have happened to those left
behind in the home town, and that the scouts had been dispatched to
carry the sad news.

“Hello! Hugh. Hello, boys. What fetches you away off here?” called out
one of the Battery K members; and his question must have voiced what was
on the minds of several others, since they all waited anxiously to hear
what Hugh might say in reply.

“We’ve come to have a little chat with Blake Merton’s cousin, Felix
Gregory, that’s all,” the patrol leader answered, at which something
like a look of relief passed over several faces.

“Well, it must be something pretty important to fetch the three of you
forty and more miles in a car?” suggested one fellow.

“Just what it is,” jauntily admitted Blake. “Now, can any of you direct
us to where we’ll find my cousin Felix?”

“I was talking with him about half an hour back, but haven’t seen him
since, now you mention it!” one called out.

“I’d advise you boys to look up Captain Barclay, and he’ll put you in
touch with Felix, who must be around somewhere, because we have orders
not to wander beyond bounds. There’s the captain’s tent over yonder,
Hugh.”

The speaker was big Hank Partridge, a cousin of Lige Corbley, and quite
well known to Hugh. As the advice seemed sound, the scout master
immediately turned his face toward the tent thus pointed out.

“Come along, boys, and we’ll see what the captain can do for us,” he
told his two mates, at the same time starting forward.

Blake was by now beginning to have that worried expression steal back
upon his face. His old fears had awakened again, as was evidenced by the
remark he made almost immediately after they started toward the
captain’s tent.

“It’s mighty queer, I think, how not a single one of all those fellows
could remember seeing my cousin inside of half an hour. Things have been
happening so contrary lately I’m beginning to be afraid that something
may have come along to whisk Felix out of the old camp here so I never
will find him.”

“Oh! how silly to let yourself borrow trouble in that way, Blake,” Bud
told him, scornfully. “What could carry him off but an aeroplane, and
I’m pretty sure they haven’t yet got to ducking down in the heart of a
camp, and snatching a fellow up bodily. Just hold your horses, and we’ll
run on him pretty soon now.”

They reached the tent of the commanding officer, where a sentry always
stood on guard. Hugh, knowing the rules that applied, asked to see
Captain Barclay, with whom he was, of course, well acquainted. In
another minute the captain himself came forth.

He shook hands with Hugh and the other two scouts. Then the story was
briefly told, particular emphasis being laid on the numerous attempts
that had been made to keep them from meeting Felix Gregory. The officer
was, of course, deeply interested. To lose such a fortune as Uncle
Reuben owned would, he felt sure, be a calamity for any young fellow.

“You deserve every encouragement, boys, after what you’ve done to save
Felix from the folly of his quick temper,” he told them at the close of
the recital. “I’m sure he must have been sorry long before. I know his
generous nature well. I’ll send out and have him come here to you. Then
Blake can talk with him aside, and, if my influence is worth anything,
you can depend on it I’ll only too gladly say a good word.”

So he gave an order, and the soldier to whom it was delivered hastened
away. While he was gone the boys continued their chat with the captain.
Finally the messenger returned, made his salute to his superior officer,
and said something. Hugh was watching and saw the other look grave.
Blake clutched the arm of his chum when the captain of Battery K,
advancing slowly toward them, went on to explain.

“Strange to say, boys, so far no one can be found who has seen Private
Gregory inside of half an hour. He seems to have mysteriously
disappeared; but, of course, he can be found, and if you will wait for
me here I’ll go the rounds myself and rout him out. Don’t worry while
I’m gone, for it’ll be all right.”



                               CHAPTER IX
                       THE DISAPPEARANCE OF FELIX


When the captain turned and left them again, the three scouts exchanged
uneasy glances. Blake suffered more than either of his chums, for his
heart had been wrapped up in his task. It meant much to him whether he
failed or won out in his self-imposed mission to the camp.

“Hugh, do you know I expected something like this would happen,” was the
way he expressed himself. “Somehow, even when we had beaten that
scheming rascal at his game several times, I seemed to have a feeling
that in the end he might be too smart for us.”

“Apparently, then,” remarked Bud Morgan, “you’ve already made up your
mind that this queer disappearance of your cousin Felix can be laid at
the door of the same man we had so much trouble with on the road, the
chap in the flivver?”

“Doesn’t it stand to reason it must be that way?” demanded Blake. “Why
should Felix clear out of camp here otherwise? These fellows of Battery
K are in for the war, and wouldn’t desert for all the money going. Felix
is as loyal as they make ’em; he’d sooner cut his hand off than be
thought a coward or a quitter. So there’s only one way of explaining his
vanishing; which is through this man.”

“How about it, Hugh?” and Bud turned toward the patrol leader, as had
become a chronic habit with most of the members of the troop whenever
anything arose to bother or mystify them.

“All I can say as yet,” replied the other, steadily, “is that it begins
to look a whole lot that way. We had better wait a bit before deciding.
The captain may pick up some information that will give us a pointer.
Men don’t disappear from a mobilization camp, as easy as all this,
without leaving some traces behind them.”

Blake shook his head dismally. Apparently he was losing heart, for so
many things had arisen to balk his ambition that the strain was telling
on him.

“Well, all I can say is I wish this business was all over,” he observed,
plaintively, “and we were on our way back home with that precious letter
to Uncle Reuben. I tell you I’ll feel like shouting if we do win!”

“Victory is always sweeter when you’ve had to fight hard to get it,” Bud
declared, with boyish philosophy. “Don’t we all remember that when we’ve
been up against a tough proposition, and had to take the bit between our
teeth before we could land? Never lose faith in what you’re doing,
Blake. For one thing, you’ve got a couple of comrades along that mean to
stand back of you through thick and thin. That ought to be some comfort
to you.”

“It is, Bud, it certainly gives me a heap of satisfaction, the way both
of you stick to me. I’m going to take a brace up! We’ll get there yet,
we’ve just _got_ to, and that’s all there is about it.”

Brave words, those, and possibly Blake Merton meant them, but,
nevertheless, there were times when that anxious look would creep over
his face again, as fresh difficulties kept piling up before them, and
the desired end seemed as far away as ever.

They continued to stand there and talk for some little time, all the
while eagerly awaiting the return of the friendly captain, whom all of
them knew very well, since he was a prominent business man in Oakvale.

“There he comes!” asserted Bud, suddenly.

Blake lost color, and his hand trembled when he accidentally touched the
sleeve of Hugh’s khaki coat—perhaps, after all, it was through some
design that this contact came about, for a positive realization that the
scout master was standing by him must have given Blake renewed
confidence, of which he was evidently in great need just then.

Captain Lawrence Barclay came hastily toward them. Hugh, discovering the
look of annoyance still on his face, guessed that he bore bad news.

“Brace up, Blake, and show that you can stand whatever may be coming,”
he managed to say in a low tone to his companion.

Then the commander of Battery K arrived. He was a bluff sort of a man,
not much given to beating around the bush when he had anything to say;
nor could he smooth over disagreeable news as some men might.

“I’m sorry to report that young Gregory seems to have disappeared from
camp altogether,” he immediately remarked. “It is a most extraordinary
occurrence. In fact, several officers with whom I’ve spoken say they
would never have believed a man could vanish from the midst of a
thousand or two of his fellows, with sentries posted, and camp rules in
force. But I’ve sent out in every direction to find Gregory, but without
any success so far.”

Both Blake and Bud left things pretty much to Hugh, knowing his ability
to handle such a case. Like a wise scout, the patrol leader immediately
began to ask questions, with the design of getting facts that might give
them a clue to the solution of the camp mystery.

“Captain,” he started in to say, “would you mind telling us when Felix
Gregory was last seen about here?”

“Several men seemed to agree on that point,” replied the accommodating
officer, “and I am inclined to say that it was just about half an hour
back. At the time he was talking with a civilian who had managed in some
way to gain permission to enter the camp in his car. From what I have
learned, I believe Felix appeared to be considerably excited while he
held this conversation with the stranger.”

“Hugh, just as we suspected, it must have been that man!” gasped Blake.
Bud Morgan nodded his head, and pinched the other to keep him quiet.

“Did any of them describe the man and his car, Captain?” continued Hugh.
“You remember what we told you about the party who gave us so much
trouble on the road? He was a small fellow, with a dark face, and snappy
eyes, and his car was one of that cheap class called a flivver. Does
that agree with what any of the men said, sir?”

“It seems to cover the case exactly, Hugh,” the officer hastened to
admit; “and, taken in conjunction with your remarkable story, makes the
matter seem more mysterious than ever. Apparently, then, that man who
tried to prevent you from getting to camp, finding that all his schemes
had failed, turned another tack, and now aims to keep Felix from seeing
you. How he has been able to get him out of the camp beats me; it would
seem to be an impossible task.”

Hugh was on his mettle now; his fighting blood aroused. The gleam in his
eyes told that, as he shut his teeth together with a snap, and went on
to say:

“There will be some way of tracking them, and we’ll find it out by hook
or by crook, Captain Barclay. If that man succeeds in keeping Felix
hidden away for the next twenty-four hours our goose is cooked, because
then it’s going to be too late for any reconciliation between him and
his guardian. But there will be hours before that happens, and every
minute of that time the three of us here will be working like beavers to
find out the truth. We never give up until the last gasp; that’s a
slogan of the scouts, you know, sir.”

“A mighty fine rule for any one to go by, I must say,” remarked the
officer, looking admiringly at the speaker’s flushed and determined
face. “I’ve heard lots of good things said about you Oakvale scouts, and
now I can understand why you’ve always met with such splendid success. I
want to say, Hugh, that you can count on me to render any assistance in
my power. What can I do for you now?”

Hugh was equal to the occasion. Although he had had little time in which
to map out his course, owing to the sudden surprise by which they had
been confronted, he knew that one thing would be needed.

“If you could manage it, Captain Barclay, so that we three might go
about camp without being held up, and put to a whole lot of
inconvenience, it would help us a heap.”

“That can be arranged, I think, Hugh,” said the other, after a brief
period of reflection. “I’ll try and get the general to write out three
passes, such as they may be, and word them so that you’ll be likely to
have no trouble moving about. It is something unusual, of course, to
allow civilians to remain in camp at a time like this, especially over
night; but I think I can manage it all right.”

Leaving the three lads again, the captain entered his tent to start
operations looking to securing the passes. There was more or less
sending of messages, possibly between Battery K and Headquarters, while
Hugh and his companions tried to possess their souls in patience.

Finally, after a long delay, Captain Barclay again made his appearance,
and in his hand he bore several folded papers.

“I’ve had more trouble than I expected, boys,” he told them pleasantly;
“but I believe everything is smoothed over now, and you will find little
trouble in moving about. Only a few newspaper correspondents have so far
been given the same privileges; but when the general learned what fine
things you scouts had to your credit in and around Oakvale, he obliged
me with his signature. Which shows again how a good reputation pays
every one a high rate of interest.”

Each of the boys received one of the “passes” that would allow them to
wander at will through the mobilization camp for the next twenty-four
hours, the privilege expiring with the setting of the following day’s
sun; for after that time Hugh and his comrades would have no longer any
desire to remain there, since their mission before then must be either a
success or a failure.

“You didn’t tell us what others thought of the disappearance of Felix
Gregory, Captain?” Hugh remarked, as though anxious to learn this fact,
since it might have a bearing on the solution of the mystery.

“Well, I interviewed one man in particular who was rather chummy with
Felix,” replied the officer. “His name is Andrew Burtis, and you all
know him well. He told me he felt sure there was something on the mind
of Felix, for he brooded over something, and acted strangely for a
fellow of his happy disposition. In fact, it was Andrew who suggested
that possibly the young chap had gone out of his mind over some trouble,
and while in this condition had managed to leave the camp, for some
purpose or other.”

“But we know what it was troubling Felix, sir, as we have told you,”
burst out Blake Merton, eagerly. “I guess he was worrying about that
quarrel with his uncle, because they had thought a good deal of each
other. But it would never cause Felix to go out of his mind, Captain,
you can believe me. No, that man was responsible for his going away; and
Hugh here will get on the track, some way or other, I’m certain.”

“Well, you have my best wishes, boys,” said the officer. “I must leave
you now, as I have duties to look after; but if I can do anything to
assist you later on, be sure and look me up.”

He shook hands most cordially with each one of them in turn, and there
could be no question about his sincerity when he made that assertion.
Left to themselves, the scouts faced a situation calculated to try their
mettle to the utmost. Poor Blake in particular looked woe-begone as he
turned a beseeching eye on Hugh, fully conscious that the last lingering
hope of finding his missing cousin rested with the scout leader’s dogged
pertinacity. Belonging to the _Wolf_ Patrol meant a good deal to Hugh
Hardin; for in a case of this kind he knew that it would be necessary to
emulate the example of the wolf that follows the track of a deer over
hill and through valley, hour after hour, day and night, until by sheer
persistence he has run the tired quarry to earth, and so secures the
meal he sought.

So Hugh would never give up so long as a shred of hope remained. He was
determined to start out and seek for a clue capable of leading him to
success. Yet, after all, it happened that accident had considerable to
do with the final outcome of the big game upon which the three scouts
had embarked.



                               CHAPTER X
                        BUD MORGAN ON THE SCENT


“What’s our plan of campaign, Hugh?” asked Bud Morgan.

“I was just going to say,” remarked the scout master, “that if we
separated, and covered as broad a field as possible, the chances for
picking up some sort of clue would be all the better. In that way we
could agree to meet here, say in an hour or so, and compare notes. Then
if by good luck one of us managed to strike a warm scent we could lay
out a scheme for taking up the trail. What do you say to that, fellows?”

Both of the others admitted that what Hugh proposed would be the wisest
move. Doubtless, Blake would have been happier had Hugh decided to keep
him in his company; but, then, he was too proud to hint at such a thing.
Besides, he realized that the greater field they covered, just as Hugh
had said, the better would be their chances for picking up news.

So they separated, with the understanding that in about an hour from
that time they were to come together again near the tent of Captain
Barclay, so as to compare notes and decide on the next step.

Bud Morgan was more than eager to wander about the big, bustling camp.
There were a thousand interesting things he wanted to see for himself.
This was a golden opportunity which he meant to utilize to the utmost.
He had been yearning for just such a legacy of good luck; and it had
really come to him. That magical paper, signed by the general himself,
would allow him to move at will. If any sentinel challenged his right to
be amidst the tents of the assembled guardsmen representing the
sovereign power of the State, all he had to do was to flash that
document before his eyes, and the sight of the name signed at the end of
the pass would end the detention instantly.

So Bud started forth with high hopes. He really meant to do all that lay
in his power to assist poor Blake find his missing relative; but, then,
while thus engaged there was no reason that Bud could see why he should
not have a look-in at those things in which his heart were was bound up.

For a short while, then, he talked with some of the Battery K boys whom
he knew, and who were naturally delighted to see any face from the home
town.

Bud managed to show nice discretion. He was averse to telling the story
of Felix, and his silly quarrel with his rich uncle and guardian to
every one; and so, when by a few judicious questions, he found that
those with whom he chatted had no information to give him, he soon broke
away and resumed his wanderings.

In this fashion he soon exhausted the limited fund of information that
could be picked up among the artillerymen of Battery K. The result was
so meagre that Bud felt disgusted. He must branch out and seek other
fields. Far and wide he would continue his investigations, ask his
leading questions, and seek by every possible means in his power to get
a clue worth having.

By degrees, however, his ambition began to wane. He met with so little
success that he began to allow himself to grow slack in his efforts.
Hugh would be almost certain to unearth some clue, for he most always
did accomplish whatever he set out to perform. Then Bud was wild to
spend a little time with the Aviation Corps, for deep down in his boyish
heart he cherished an ambition to some day be an air pilot.

This would account for his fetching up in the distant section of the
camp where he had been told the aviation squad had their hangars. More
than half an hour had passed since parting from his chums, and Bud could
truly say that he had worked faithfully to unearth a few crumbs of
comfort for Blake.

“I deserve a little recreation,” he told himself. “All work and no play
makes Jack a dull boy. I may never get another such a fine chance to
talk with fellows of the aviation class.”

Having thus relieved his mind of any remorse he might have felt, Bud
hurried his steps, and before long found himself in the region of the
odd-looking hangars, or sheds, hastily constructed, in which several
aeroplanes rested when not in use.

He had met with little obstruction thus far. Several times a sentinel
had stopped him, acting under orders, but the sight of the magic paper
had always sufficed to cause the man with the bayonet and gun to wave
him along; so that by this time Bud was under the impression he could go
anywhere he pleased.

Arriving at the ground where the birdmen held forth, he found a number
of bronzed young fellows squatting around a fire, and swapping stories
of possible past experiences. As Bud came up and stood there, curious
glances were cast upon him. Perhaps most of them jumped to the
conclusion that he must be the representative of some important
newspaper, for Bud was a pretty husky sort of a fellow for his age; and
young blood is often sought after by the great metropolitan dailies.

So Bud presently dropped down, and sat there listening. He drank in all
he heard those aviators saying. One of them, it seemed, had been across
the sea, and taken part in some of the dangerous forays, when Allied
aeroplanes made daring raids on fortified towns or military
concentration camps in the rear of the enemy forces, and his
reminiscences of the thrilling scenes upon which he had gazed held Bud
spellbound.

Others in the little group had not been so fortunate in seeing actual
hostilities, but each man in turn narrated certain adventures that had
befallen him; for even in piping times of peace aviators meet with
perils calculated to make a stirring story.

One man in particular interested Bud. At the time he hardly knew why
this should be so, for they were all strangers to him. Afterwards he was
inclined to believe there must have been some sort of intuition about
it, causing him to listen to everything this air pilot was saying.

His name seemed to be Johnson, for Bud heard him called that several
times. The conversation had turned upon odd incidents connected with
meeting people under peculiar conditions, and as he listened Bud heard
Johnson saying:

“Queer how people bob up that you’d never expect to meet. Now, today
while we were on the road here from the station, with the truck carrying
our ’plane, I had a thing like that happen to me. Two years back it came
about that I was flying at county fairs down in Florida. I did it as a
means for making ready money, because I wanted to get hold of a new
model hydroaeroplane that I was wild to own. My companion in the Fair
venture was a fellow I never really liked, though he certainly had
plenty of grit, and knew a heap about this flying business.

“Well, we separated in the end, because I couldn’t stand for some of his
crooked ways. From that day to this I did not see him once; yet today,
when we passed a little old house on the road here from the railway
station, who should I see looking from the second-story window, and
staring at all the aviation squad moving along, but my former partner of
the Florida county fair flights. Which shows how small this old world
is, after all. Why, I wouldn’t have been any more surprised if I’d
landed on top of Mount Washington, and come face to face there with
Luther Gregory!”

Bud almost fell over, he received such a shock at hearing the aviator
calmly mention that name. Luther Gregory, the wild son of Uncle Reuben,
the very man whose scheming had caused the scouts all that trouble while
on the road to the mobilization camp—it came to Bud almost like an
inspiration that in this astonishing way he had struck a clue.

Through his brain chased a dozen brilliant thoughts. Why, if Luther
Gregory had really been the employer whose money had hired that clever
trickster in the flivver to do everything in his power to obstruct the
progress of Blake and his chums, didn’t it stand to reason that the
chief plotter must have come on the ground in order to have a hand in
the final attempt to keep Felix from making up with his uncle?

Bud wanted to shake hands with himself, he felt so tickled. For some
little time he sat there and communed with himself, laying out various
plans whereby he and Hugh and Blake might yet win the game that had
seemed to be going against them.

He was suddenly aroused by seeing Johnson getting on his feet, and
yawning, as if he felt sleepy, and thought of turning in, although
“taps” had not yet sounded.

Bud came to a quick determination. He must have a little chat with the
air pilot, and learn a few facts from him. In order to accomplish his
end it would be necessary for him to relate the story of Felix, but he
could bind the other to secrecy. So he also arose and followed the
aviator.

When a tap came on his shoulder, and Johnson turned to find himself
confronted by the boy, he may have noticed sitting near the fire,
listening, no doubt he felt a little curiosity as to why he had been
picked out for an interview.

“Guess you’ve selected the wrong man, young fellow,” he went on to say
with a jolly laugh, “if you’re expecting a thrilling yarn for your
paper. Better tackle Tom Sherlock, who’s seen exciting adventures over
the big drink. He can spin you a story that will make your readers’ hair
stand on end.”

“But I want to have a little chat with you, Mr. Johnson,” urged Bud. “I
would thank you to give me just a few minutes of your time. It is on a
matter that means a whole lot to a chum of mine. The queer part of it is
that the mention of Luke Gregory’s name by you is the whole cause of my
asking this favor.”

The aviator, naturally enough, was surprised.

“Well, you’ve managed to arouse my curiosity from the start, my boy!” he
exclaimed, heartily. “I’ll be only too glad to listen to anything you
may have to say. Come over here to my tent and sit down on a bench
there; we can talk better at our ease. Right from the beginning let me
say that if Luther Gregory has any share in your story, I’d wager it
isn’t going to be to his credit.”

“You hit the nail right on the head when you say that, Mr. Johnson!”
declared Bud, mentally hugging himself with delight over the wonderful
success that had come his way.

He started in by telling how he and Hugh had been trying to find some
reasonable excuse for visiting the mobilization camp, when Blake came
along and told about the unfortunate quarrel between Felix and his
uncle. Then Bud went on to relate how they had started for the camp in
the old car. Step by step he narrated the difficulties they had to
surmount, and how they felt positive most of their troubles came through
the plotting of the man in the flivver, and who had been seen talking in
a mysterious fashion with Luther Gregory in Oakvale.

It was an altogether thrilling story, and the aviator listened with rapt
attention until Bud had come down to the point where he heard him
mention that name of Uncle Reuben’s profligate son, and tell how he had
actually seen him close to the border of the camp.

“All I want you to tell me, Mr. Lawrence,” Bud wound up with, “is the
location of that little old house where Luther Gregory, you say, was
looking out of the second story window as your Aviation Corps passed
this afternoon. Don’t you see, if they have managed somehow to sneak
Felix out of camp, it stands to reason he would be taken to that place,
and kept hidden for twenty-four hours or so, until the time limit was
past. Oh! please tell me, so I can carry the news to my chums, who will
be tickled half to death to hear it.”

The air pilot saw the point, and proceeded forthwith to enter into such
explanations that Bud felt sure he could not miss finding the place; and
after that he hastened to break away, being fairly wild to see Hugh, and
tell him the great news.



                               CHAPTER XI
                     THE VALUE OF A GOOD REPUTATION


When Bud presently arrived at the appointed rendezvous neither of his
comrades were in sight. He was nervously walking up and down when a few
minutes later Blake put in an appearance.

Blake looked particularly woe-begone. Evidently all his efforts to pick
up a promising clue to the solution of the great mystery had failed
miserably. Seeing Bud’s nervous stride, he eyed him hungrily.

“Something ails you, Bud, I’m sure it does from the way you act!” he
exclaimed, fresh hope struggling to gain a new grip on his heart.
“Please tell me if you’ve found out anything at all, because I haven’t
had the least bit of luck.”

“Well, I’ve nosed around like a regular bloodhound on the scent,”
observed Bud, with perhaps a little pardonable pride, “and I reckon now
I’ve got some _important_ news for Hugh when he shows up here.”

“Oh! have you found Felix?” burst from Blake, excitedly.

“Er, hardly as strong as that,” admitted the other, “but I’ve run across
a man who saw Luther Gregory looking from the second-story window of a
house not two miles from the border of this camp, and only this
afternoon, in the bargain; which you’ll have to own up is some evidence
that he knows what’s happened to your cousin.”

Blake proceeded forthwith to pump the hand of his wideawake chum as
though in this fashion alone could he show his sincere appreciation of
the wonderful news Bud had brought in.

“There comes Hugh right now,” added Bud, with the smile of conscious
superiority spread across his face, “and there’ll be something doing
soon, believe me.”

The scout master approached. He did not look particularly happy himself,
for, to tell the truth, Hugh had failed to succeed in finding any
conclusive evidence that promised to take them to where the absent Felix
might be found. When he saw how his two comrades were beckoning to
hasten his steps, and discovered their triumphant manner, Hugh lost no
time in joining them.

“Glad to see that you’ve had more success this time than fell to my
lot,” was his salutation as he came up; “now string it off, and tell me
what’s happened to make you both look so oh-be-joyful.”

Bud waited for no second invitation. It did not happen every day that he
was given such a splendid chance to shine in the limelight, and he would
not have been a genuine boy had he failed to take advantage of the
golden opportunity. So, in as terse terms as he could possibly summon to
the front, he told the story of how, after a myriad of efforts, he had
finally run across what seemed to be a most promising clue.

Hugh listened and made little comment until the story had been ended.
Then he gripped the other’s hand.

“Bud, old man, I’m beginning to think that the luck of this deal is
running strongly in your direction!” he exclaimed, heartily. “If that
master schemer of a Luther Gregory is close by, the man he hired must
know where to find him; and it stands to reason that if he succeeded in
bundling Felix out of camp, even if no one is able to tell how it could
be done, why the first thing he’d do would be to take him to that
house.”

“Oh! and then all we’ve got to do,” broke in the delighted Blake, who
was hardly able to keep from dancing on his tiptoes, such was his
increasing happiness, “is to get a detail of the guardsmen, and go there
to arrest the whole bunch.”

“Of course that’s our move,” admitted Hugh, “though we mustn’t be too
fast about carrying it out. The whole night is before us, you know. They
won’t hurt Felix, if our theory is correct. All they want to do is to
keep him out of our reach for twenty-four hours.”

“But we ought to see Captain Barclay again, hadn’t we, Hugh?” questioned
Bud.

“That would be our wisest move,” agreed the patrol leader, “because
we’ll need some help to round up those rascals; and it can only be
gotten through an order signed by our friend, the artillery captain.”

“No sleep for me tonight, I wager,” said Blake; but somehow he seemed to
glory in the fact rather than put on a doleful expression. Action meant
a fresh possibility for a successful ending of his search.

Hugh looked around him. The camp of the guardsmen still presented a
wonderfully fascinating picture in his eyes, even though some of the
tired militiamen had sought their tents in order to try and get a little
sleep, having had their rest broken more or less since leaving their
widely separated homes.

“There’s the captain heading this way now!” exclaimed Bud, with sudden
zeal. “P’r’aps we had better tackle him while we have the chance, Hugh.
He’s got a heap of camp duties to look after, and, according to military
rules, they’d have to take precedence above any private business.”

“Come on, then, and we’ll start the ball rolling,” the scout master
agreed.

When Captain Barclay saw his trio of boy friends from Oakvale heading
toward him, he smiled amiably, and nodded his head.

“Any good news, boys?” he immediately asked, showing that he still
remembered about their mission; “heard of Felix Gregory anywhere, and
was he visiting in some other part of the camp?”

“No, sir, nothing can be learned about him from any of the men,” replied
Hugh, and then immediately adding: “Our chum here, Bud Morgan, happened
to learn something that we believe may offer a strong clue.”

“Tell me about it, then,” the officer commanded. “I’m very interested in
the result of your noble mission; and this strange disappearance of an
enlisted man from camp is bothering some of us. I haven’t mentioned it
to any one higher up, but was just thinking of seeing the general about
it. Things like that reflect upon the management of a military camp,
where it is expected that discipline governs every movement, so that it
would appear to be impossible for a single individual to drop out. Now
proceed, please.”

Hugh told the story, giving Bud due honors for having made the wonderful
discovery that Luther Gregory was hovering near by, evidently bent on
sharing some of the foul work with the man whom his money had hired.

Captain Barclay asked several sharp questions. It could be seen that he
was intensely interested. Bud made haste to enlighten him on the points
that did not appear to be quite clear in his mind.

“Just as you say, Hugh,” he finally remarked, decisively, “things begin
to look promising. The chances are ten to one that if Felix has been
coaxed or smuggled out of the camp here, he was taken to that lonely
house on the road. I believe I can remember noticing the place as we
passed from the station this afternoon, where I went to look after some
additional baggage that had been shipped by rail from the home town.”

“You’ll help us, won’t you, Captain?”

“I certainly will, to the full extent of my power,” came the hearty
response, “though before anything can really be done in the matter I
must have a talk with my commanding officer at Headquarters. Fortunately
there seems to be nothing of moment to demand my attention. So, if you
will once more wait for me here, I’ll see the general again. He was
interested in you before, after I had told him some things I knew, and
how Oakvale held the scouts in such high esteem.”

“Oh! I hope he agrees to let you help us surround that house, and see if
Felix is held a prisoner there,” remarked Blake.

“I don’t have the slightest doubt about the ultimate outcome,” said the
officer, “so far as the general’s co-operation goes. Whether we find
your cousin there or not is another thing; but I believe the chances are
fairly good. Look for me inside of half an hour, boys.”

With that he hastened away, turning his back upon his comfortable tent
with its inviting camp cot, which must have appealed strongly to a tired
soldier.

“Half an hour he said, didn’t he?” sighed Blake. “Gee whiz! that’s a
whole thirty long minutes. It’ll seem like a week to me, I guess. But
what’s the use looking a gift horse in the mouth. I ought to be thanking
my lucky stars that there’s such a bully chance ahead. I’m going to quit
grumbling.”

“What do you expect he meant by saying the general was interested in us
as scouts, Hugh?” asked Bud.

“Oh! just what he explained by telling us he’d mentioned some of the
things we Oakvale scouts had hung up to our credit,” the patrol leader
answered. “I suppose there are few troops in the East that can point
with pride to a record like ours. We’ve been a whole lot lucky to have
such chances to do things come along.”

“At a time like this,” Bud continued, a look of satisfaction covering
his face, “it certainly does make a fellow feel good to know he hasn’t
any reason to be ashamed of his past record.”

“There, I saw a soldier stop the captain and salute, after which he
handed him something,” Blake burst out with, excitedly. “Now Captain
Barclay is pointing straight toward us, boys; and see, he’s handed the
thing back again. Looks to me as if he had ordered him to deliver the
same to us. I wonder what under the sun it can be?”

“We’ll soon know,” advised Bud, “because here comes the soldier; and by
the same token it’s Burch Shafter, Hugh, whom you got to join the
battery after convincing his mother it was a duty he owed his
country.”[3]

They watched the man in uniform approach them with growing interest. It
struck the scouts as having some sort of connection with their mission
in the mobilization camp. Perhaps the young fellow was bringing them
fresh news—Blake even began to speculate upon the most improbable
things, to the extent of wondering whether this might not be some
audacious communication from Luther Gregory telling him that his quest
would be fruitless, and that he might just as well return to Oakvale,
since he could not find Felix within the given time.

Then the artilleryman arrived. Young Shafter recognized them all, and he
looked particularly at Hugh with a gleam of affection in his eyes,
because the scout master had been mainly instrumental in getting his
mother’s consent to his enlistment. Nevertheless, he made a stiff
military salute upon first arriving, and then dropped his hand at his
side “at attention.”

“Huh! that doesn’t go among old friends, Burch,” chuckled Bud. “Nobody’s
watching you now, so you c’n drop your camp manners, and be sociable.”

With that he clutched the other’s hand and shook it. The “rookie”
laughed, and from that moment became companionable. Hugh and Blake in
turn greeted him; for up to then they had not chanced to run across
young Shafter, as he had been in another part of the camp, possibly sent
on official business.

“Something was found in Felix Gregory’s tent, and they dispatched me
with it to the captain,” he went on to explain. “When he looked it over
he said Blake here ought to take charge of the same, and so I’m turning
it over to him.”

When Blake glanced at the object that was placed in his hand he gave a
cry of astonishment.

“Look here, Hugh, Bud!” he commenced to say, deeply moved, “it’s a
letter written by Felix, and sealed; and, would you believe it, the same
is directed to Uncle Reuben. Oh! I wonder now did Felix repent of his
own accord of those ugly things he said in his hasty temper, and write
to apologize? Wouldn’t that be a great thing, though, and a bully ending
of the whole silly affair?”



                              CHAPTER XII
                            THE SEARCH SQUAD


“Don’t be hasty about opening that letter, Blake,” cautioned the scout
master, who saw that such a move was indeed contemplated by his chum.

Blake held his hand before he had started to tear an end off the sealed
envelope.

“Why, I thought it would be only right to find out if Felix had said he
was sorry, Hugh,” he hastened to explain, looking somewhat disappointed.
“Because if things did turn out that way, you see I could get this
letter to Uncle Reuben, and then the object of our run up here to camp
would be accomplished.”

“Yes, I understand all that, Blake,” answered the other, quietly, “but
we mustn’t forget that a seal should be considered inviolate, and a
letter like this not opened except as a last resort. He hadn’t mailed
it, and might reconsider writing the same, no matter what the contents
are. Then, again, you can’t be sure that he did repent, and was wanting
Uncle Reuben to forgive him.”

Blake gave a big sigh.

“I suppose you’re right about that, Hugh,” he admitted, reluctantly,
“though I’d certainly like to see what’s inside of this the worst kind.”

“Better let Hugh keep it in his pocket,” suggested Bud.

“Which means that maybe I might yield to a strong temptation and slit
the envelope open some time or other,” Blake remarked, quickly. “Well,
it might be just as good that I didn’t have the chance, so here, you
keep it, Hugh.”

Accordingly, the patrol leader took the letter addressed to Mr. Reuben
Gregory at Oakvale.

“I’ll tell you how we’ll settle this thing,” he proposed, thinking it
best to have it decided, and wishing to give poor Blake what measure of
comfort he could; “suppose we say we’ll leave the letter unopened until
nine tomorrow morning. Then, if nothing comes from our hunt for your
cousin tonight, and the mystery of his disappearance is still
unexplained, why, I’ll take chances and we’ll see what he wrote.”

“All right, Hugh,” agreed Blake, instantly. “That’s about as good a
programme as we could arrange. Still, we have all admitted that it looks
promising that Felix went to the trouble of writing a letter to Uncle
Reuben, Something must have been worrying him—we’ve heard from one of
his comrades here that he hasn’t been himself ever since the battery
left Oakvale. It was an uneasy conscience, I’m sure; I know Felix pretty
well, and I’m certain that if he began to believe he had acted in a mean
way he would get no peace of mind until he had done all in his power to
rectify his error.”

Apparently Blake was in a decidedly “chipper” frame of mind since this
last odd happening. He seemed to feel that things were finally working
out to serve their ends, and that success must soon perch on their
banner.

“Well,” remarked the philosophical Bud, “nothing like having two strings
to your bow, I’ve always believed. Never put all your eggs in one
basket. Now, in case our little excursion along the road to the railway
station turns out a complete failure, you see we’ve always got this
letter to turn to.”

“And, of course,” added Blake, “when the time limit has expired those
men won’t bother trying to hold poor Felix any longer. They’ll believe
their game is won, and turn him loose. Now, just ten minutes have
dragged by since Captain Barclay left us, and he said half an hour,
didn’t he?”

All this was like so much Greek to young Shafter, and, seeing the look
of bewilderment on his face, Hugh took pity on him. Besides, since the
story was getting to be in general circulation through devious channels,
one guardsman taken into their confidence would not matter. Then, again,
the telling might serve to kill a little of the time that promised to
hang so heavily on their hands.

Accordingly he started in to entertain Burch Shafter with a remarkable
story that held his attention closely all the way through. Hugh was not
the one to waste words, and so he kept “hewing close to the line” until
he had arrived at the point where they were waiting for Captain Barclay
to return with permission from Headquarters to take a detail of armed
men and ascertain who the inmates of that old house on the roadside
were; likewise, whether Private Gregory were detained there against his
will.

“All I can say,” remarked the deeply interested listener, after the
stirring account of their adventures on the road had been brought to a
finish, “is that it beats the Dutch how you scouts do have thrilling
happenings come your way. Why, there’s a list as long as my arm of fine
things you fellows have done. Here you promise to add another laurel to
the wreath you’ve won. I take off my hat to Hugh Hardin and the boys of
Oakvale Troop. They are trump cards, every one of them, and that’s the
truth.”

He suddenly remembered he was a soldier, and that his time could not be
called his own; so, saying a hasty good-bye, Burch Shafter strode away.
His coming, and what he had brought with him, had given them all new
reasons for gratitude, and the rainbow of promise was once more shining
brilliantly in the heavens above.

The time dragged horribly after that, although they talked of many
things, so that Blake might not give way to impatience. There was a
never-ending source of delight in just glancing around them at all the
queer sights by which they found themselves surrounded, with veterans
and rookies carrying on a multitude of camp duties. Had it been in the
daytime instead of about nine o’clock at night, doubtless the visitors
would have witnessed a multitude of intensely interesting things, such
as are born of camp life, from comrades being shaved by fresh barbers,
to others engaged in taking their first lesson in the art of washing
their own clothes under very primitive conditions.

Finally, when Blake had sighed for about the hundredth time, and Bud
himself took to yawning because of the inaction, Hugh announced that he
believed he had seen an officer hurrying in their direction.

“Unless I’m greatly mistaken, it’s our friend the captain,” he added.

“Sure it is, and no mistake,” chuckled Bud; while Blake drew in a long
breath that spelled relief because his “watchful waiting” period was
over.

As the officer approached they took new hope upon seeing the look spread
upon his face. Surely he would not smile so broadly if he were bringing
them bad news.

“It’s all right, boys, all right,” he told them, immediately.

“Then the general has given permission for us to carry out the scheme,
has he, sir?” asked Hugh, greatly pleased.

“He told me to take charge of it personally, and leave no stone unturned
to ascertain how Private Gregory could be taken out of the camp
undetected; also to bring before him those guilty of the outrage, if
they could be caught. That house, it seems, comes within the boundaries
of the camp, and hence any one living there, or occupying the premises,
is amenable to military discipline and rules.”

“Then if by good luck we trap that schemer and good-for-nothing Luther
Gregory,” exclaimed Blake, rubbing his hands in joy, “it’s going to be
hard for him because he’s interfered with the liberty of one of Uncle
Sam’s recruits? Well, I guess on the whole he’ll get only what he
deserves, and I’ll be glad of it.”

“Are you going with us, Captain?” asked Bud.

“Yes, and I shall take a detail of men, so as to make doubly sure,”
explained the officer, as though he had mapped out his plan of campaign,
like a wise soldier, as he came along. “The moon will soon be rising,
and we may get some benefit of her light, though that does not matter
much.”

He was told about the letter, and seemed to feel a good deal like Hugh
in that it had better not be opened, save as a last resort. If other
things failed them, and no signs of the missing Felix could be found,
then it would be time enough to think of breaking the seal.

“You know,” he went on to say, particularly directing the words toward
Blake, whom he guessed had been the one desirous of reading the letter,
“there’s always a mean feeling comes on any one when you open a sealed
envelope surreptitiously. It’s like a thief breaking into a house in the
night; you think you’re doing something you ought to be ashamed of, no
matter how good your motives really are. So better let that rest until
all other hope has been abandoned.”

“Yes,” added Bud, “and even at noon tomorrow we could telegraph to Uncle
Reuben we were on the road with a letter of apology, and he’d be only
too willing to wait for us to arrive before changing his will. I reckon
the old gentleman would be only too glad of a chance to meet a
compromise halfway, if he thinks as much of Felix as Blake Merton here
tells us he does.”

“I want you to come with me over to the camp of the aviation boys,” said
Captain Barclay. “I have authority to enlist anyone I please in the
squad we shall take with us for duty, and that being the case it might
be just as well to have that party along who told you about Luther
Gregory.”

“Johnston was his name, Captain,” explained Bud, “and I reckon he’s some
punkins of an aeroplane pilot, too, because he’s been giving daring
exhibitions in lots of county fairs down South last winter. From what he
said, I reckon Johnston will be glad to be in the bunch, because things
are getting kind of stale for him here, with so little material to work
with.”

The captain left them for a short time. When he came back, three men
carrying guns followed at his heels. Blake surveyed their armament with
considerable interest, as though convinced by this time that the clouds
were gathering around the devoted heads of the two schemers who must
soon find themselves in the toils.

“There’s the moon just peeping above the horizon, you see, boys,” the
captain remarked, as he joined the waiting trio of scouts. “It isn’t
more than ten o’clock, either, and we needn’t be in any hurry. Let’s
head across to where the aviation squad have their quarters, so as to
pick up Johnston, the air pilot.”

As they were proceeding along, the clear notes of a bugle ascended from
some point close by, and never would Hugh and his chums forget the
peculiar effect produced upon them when, for the first time, they heard
“taps” sounded in a military camp while the grim shadow of impending war
was hovering over the land. It seemed to thrill them through and through
with its significance, for they could not help remembering how it is
this same sweet sad call that is invariably given over the grave of a
soldier when his comrades bury him with full military honors.

When they finally arrived at the border of the camp, where lay the field
that was to be devoted to such aviation work as could be carried on with
the poor material on hand, Captain Barclay immediately sought the
officer in command of the squad, whom he chanced to already know.

He found no trouble in securing permission to have the air pilot
Johnston join them, though, doubtless, the other wondered much what it
all meant, for there was no time to enter into full explanations.
Captain Barclay did promise to see him on the next day, and tell him an
interesting story connected with the visit of these three scouts from
his home town.

Johnston recognized Bud, and readily agreed to lead the little
expedition to the house where he had seen his old associate in
aeronautics, Luther Gregory. As he had, it may be remembered, heard
pretty much the whole story of the adventure from Bud Morgan’s lips, at
the time the other was coaxing him to tell the location of the house
where he claimed to have seen Luther, the aviator did not express any
surprise, only satisfaction that his services had been thought worth
while securing.

There being nothing else to detain them now, the captain gave the order
for marching, and the little company started forth. A sentry on the
border of the great camp challenged, and demanded the password, which
Captain Barclay whispered in his ear; and so with the last obstacle to
their progress removed they began to follow the road that led to the
railway station, possibly four miles away.



                              CHAPTER XIII
                       THE HOUSE BY THE ROADSIDE


When Bud Morgan glanced back over his shoulder just as they struck the
road and were well launched on their night tramp, he could not help
thinking what a wonderful sight it was that greeted his admiring eyes.
Bud had always been a great hand for drinking in scenes that were
uncommon, and had been known to temporarily forget that he was engaged
in a running match, when from the top of a rise a vista of unusual
beauty burst upon his vision.

The battered old moon was above the horizon now, and lay low in the
east. A myriad of camp fires flickered through the broad valley where
the State guardsmen were encamped, waiting to be sworn into the service
of Uncle Sam, and entrain for the distant border. All sorts of murmurous
sounds came floating to the ear, and formed a medley never to be
forgotten.

Bud, finding that the others were fast leaving him in the lurch,
hastened to catch up with his chums; but he knew he would carry that
wonderful picture in memory as long as he lived. The very mention of a
mobilization camp would make him think of the soft dab of yellow in the
sky marking the rising moon, the glittering patches scattered about that
looked like giant fireflies; and the murmuring sound of many voices,
braying of mules, and kindred camp notes.

But “taps” had sounded, and all this would presently die away, for
strict military regulations governed the uniformed community.

Bud found a place alongside Blake, while Hugh strode on with Captain
Barclay and the aviator guide, Johnston. It was perfectly natural that
the two boys should desire to communicate while on the way. Blake in
particular wanted to find certain things, and as he could bend his head
close to that of his comrade, before they had been three minutes on the
road in company, he was whispering:

“Bud, would you mind if I asked you something?”

“Why, of course not, Blake,” replied the other in a soft tone, “only be
careful how you speak. Remember that we’re under the captain’s orders
now, and he told us not to say anything louder than a whisper. So fire
away.”

No doubt Bud understood how very anxious the other must be, for Blake
had far more at stake in the successful outcome of their adventure than
either of his companions, hence the willingness of Bud to accommodate
him; for Blake was a pretty decent sort of fellow, as boys go, and well
liked by the Oakvale Troop.

“Why, I only wanted to ask if you could give any kind of guess what the
programme is going to be after we get to that lonely house by the road?”
Blake asked, showing that, after all, it was more a desire to receive
some comforting assurance than a hope for knowledge that actuated him.

“Oh! shucks! how c’n I tell that, Blake?” protested the other. “Just as
like as not we’ll first of all throw a loop around the old shanty, so
nobody c’n skip out, and then start in to comb it from attic to cellar.
All I’m hoping is that they don’t think to carry Felix further away in
that little flivver car, you know.”

“Huh! say, Bud, d’ye know that’s just what’s been bothering me right
along,” admitted Blake. “Everything hinges on our finding that bunch
hiding at the house alongside the road. I wish we were there, so we’d
know the worst.”

“Brace up, Blake,” said Bud, encouragingly. “I’ve got a hunch that it’s
all going to come off gilt-edged. Show your colors, old fellow, and
don’t forget that a scout can keep his fears under control.”

After that Blake fell quiet. Perhaps he realized that it was foolish to
give way to these doubts, just as Bud meant to imply. Silently the
little detachment advanced along the road, the four armed soldiers
bringing up the rear. Once they were challenged, for videttes had been
posted even outside the limits of the big military camp, since strict
army rules prevailed, and in a hostile country this would be the
practice. The captain, however, gave the password in the ear of the man
who suddenly challenged them, and they were permitted to move along.

After this had kept up for possibly fifteen minutes, the boys knew they
must be close upon the object of their search. Johnston had, in the
beginning, said it was less than two miles away, and hence, at any
moment now, they might expect to hear a low command to halt, after which
the captain would give directions governing their future movements.

Eagerly, Blake was straining his eyes in hopes of discovering some sort
of house ahead. More than once he thought he had hit upon it, only to
find, upon drawing near, that a clump of trees formed the dark shadow
patch upon which his gaze had settled.

But all things must have an end, and in due time the guide of the
expedition signified that they were now within stone’s throw of their
destination. The captain beckoned them to gather around him, after which
in whispers he designated every one’s part in the venture.

The four privates were to circle the house, guarding every exit, whether
this be a door or window. Their orders were to hail first, and then, if
the fleeing party refused to halt, to shoot, though trying to “pepper”
the man’s legs rather than mortally injure him.

As for the three scouts, they were to accompany the captain and
Johnston, whose intention it was to enter the building and arrest the
inmates.

When Blake heard this he fairly quivered with an excess of emotion and
zeal. He was only too delighted at such a chance to be “in at the
death,” as he mentally termed it. How good it was of their friend the
captain to allow them this privilege. Most army officers would have
considered boys a nuisance, and, doubtless, ordered them to stay back
until things had shaped themselves, and the danger was past; but then
Captain Barclay lived in Oakvale, and knew just how bravely the scouts
had carried themselves on numberless occasions.

All of them could see the house, for they were creeping forward again.
It happened to be upon the side of the road where the low-lying moon’s
rays did not fall, so that the shadows were fairly dense; but sharp eyes
could make it out.

Blake was glad to notice that all seemed as still as death around the
place. So far as he could see, there was no sign of a light visible. If
the inmates were awake and burning a lamp, they must have first
carefully drawn the shades, and otherwise darkened the windows, for try
as Blake might, he failed to detect even a narrow shaft of illumination.

A near-panic gripped the boy’s rapidly beating heart. He feared that
those they sought might not be at the roadhouse—that when the man in the
flivver had arrived with Felix in his car they may have continued the
flight, and by this time were many miles away.

However, Blake’s fright was of short duration. He remembered what Bud
had said about mastering himself, and thus managed to get a firm grip on
his weak heart.

Great care was taken while advancing to keep well in the shadow.
Although everything seemed so still about the place, there was no
telling whether the suspected inmates of the house were on guard or not.
For all they knew, hostile eyes might be peering out from some crack,
and ordinary caution required that they take just as much pains as
though they knew this for a certainty.

By motions rather than even the lowest of words the captain stationed
his four men. He had evidently planned his every move, and there was to
be no hitch that would imperil the success of the enterprise.

When the armed guards had been placed, the next thing was to approach
the door and knock. Blake again had a chilly feeling attack as he
realized that the crisis was now at hand, when success or failure would
follow. If repeated knocking went without any response, the chances were
the house had been abandoned, and that they would have had all their
trouble for their pains. Of course, though, Blake told himself, they
would give the place a thorough overhauling, so as to make sure those
they sought were not hiding.

Well, there was one comfort that appealed to him. This lay in the letter
which Felix had written, and now in the possession of Hugh Hardin. If
the worst came they could open that, and always have a chance that it
would be what they wanted, an apology meant for Uncle Reuben’s eye.

The captain had stepped boldly up to the door. Blake saw him place his
ear close to the panels, after trying the knob and finding that a key
had been turned in the lock, for the door refused to open. If Captain
Barclay detected the least sign of human occupancy, he gave no
indication of it; but he did knock loudly with his knuckles.

Everybody listened intently. The four uniformed guards had been
cautioned to keep out of sight, and the shadows engulfed them. Had any
one peered from a window he would have been able to see nothing, unless
in some manner he managed to glimpse that little group on the stone step
before the door.

But some person was certainly moving inside, for even Blake heard sounds
indicating such a thing. The officer waited a minute, and then again
thumped lustily on the panel. A glimmer of light was seen, telling them
that some one approached; then came the sound of a key turned in the
lock, after which the door swung partly open, revealing a man standing
there, holding a lighted lamp.



                              CHAPTER XIV
                         A SUCCESSFUL ROUND-UP


“Don’t drop that lamp if you value your life!” called out Captain
Barclay, as he immediately covered the startled man with a weapon.

“That’s him, Captain—it’s Luther Gregory!” shrilled Blake, forgetting
that as the captain lived in Oakvale he must also have known the other
in times gone by.

Luther Gregory it was for a fact, and Hugh, upon discovering this, felt
a wave of relief rushing over him. He believed they were going to meet
with success in their undertaking, and that all would come out well.

“What’s all this mean?” exclaimed the man who held the lamp.

Hugh immediately started to relieve him of the light, for he was afraid
that a sudden desperate move toward escape might be inaugurated by the
plotter dropping the lamp, and causing either an explosion, or darkness
to cover the scene.

“Only that you are under arrest, Gregory, charged with unlawfully taking
an enlisted man out of camp against his will.”

With that the captain summoned one of the guards and placed him at the
side of the prisoner. When Luther Gregory saw this he laughed and
shrugged his shoulders after the fashion of a reckless man who, having
played for high stakes, sees his castles in the air falling in ruins,
and cares little what becomes of him.

“Oh! the game is up, is it?” he called out. “Well, you won’t hear a
squeal from me. I haven’t done anything so terrible that the Government,
or the State, either, can hold me for it. Coaxing an enlisted man to
desert might seem a crime, but inviting him to visit you, and spend the
evening is another. You can’t prove a thing against me, try as hard as
you please.”

“We’ll see about that later on,” said the officer, grimly. “Meanwhile
we’ll take a look through this house, and make the acquaintance of your
confederate in crime. Come with me, boys; fetch him in also, Private
Fielder, and keep a tight hold on his arm. Remember you are at liberty
to shoot if he tries to break away.”

“I’m not so great a fool as to take such chances, Captain,” the other
told him.

When from the hall they stepped into the adjoining room Blake gave
utterance to a low cry of mingled concern and joy, for the very first
thing his eyes discovered was a figure lying on a cot. He flew across
the apartment and bent down.

“It’s Felix, boys, sure it is my cousin!” he called out. “Don’t you know
me, Felix? Oh! Hugh, what ails him, do you think? See how he stares at
me, just as if he didn’t recognize me one bit. Is he sick, Hugh; or have
those men done something to make him act so queerly?”

The scout master knew.

“I think they’ve given him some sort of drug, Blake,” he went on to say,
laying a hand on Blake’s shoulder, for he realized that the boy was
terribly wrought up. “He’s already recovering, and will be himself
soon.”

“Is that the truth, Gregory?” demanded the captain, harshly frowning
upon the prisoner, who, however, was too clever to commit himself so
early in the game.

“Why, the fact is,” he remarked, airily, with a light laugh, “Cousin
Felix commenced to act strangely soon after coming here to visit me. I
thought he was going to have a fit, and coaxed him to lie down there as
you see. He is getting better, though, and will be himself before very
long. But his mind is apt to be clouded, more or less; and I shouldn’t
be much surprised if he even got it into his silly head to think I had
something to do with his leaving the camp, and coming here to visit.”

Captain Barclay understood what the sly schemer was aiming to do. He
smiled in a satirical way, and then remarked:

“You’ll not be able to hoodwink the eyes of a judge and jury when you’re
placed on trial for this nasty business, Gregory. You’ve played a high
hand, but this time you’re going to get your reward, and see the inside
of a State’s prison. But let’s take a look around, and see what’s become
of your accomplice; for since I noticed his little car drawn under a
shed back of the house, I take it he must still be somewhere around.”

At that Hugh and Bud began to take fresh interest in the case, though
Blake apparently had eyes only for his cousin, over whom he was bending,
trying to hold the attention of Felix by continual talking. The scout
instinct was strong in the makeup of the two lads, and no sooner had the
captain suggested a hunt to find the missing tool of the arch schemer
than they began to use their eyes in searching out every possible place
where a small man might conceal himself in an emergency.

They had good reason to feel anything but kindly disposed toward that
man of the flivver. Not only did he curtly decline to assist them when
they had engine trouble, but had afterwards done everything in his power
to hold them up on the way to camp. The memory of the country constable
who believed them to be thieves running away with a car they had taken,
as well as what happened at the burning bridge, were things not
calculated to make them feel very friendly toward the unscrupulous man
who had been responsible for these various happenings.

Hugh noticed almost immediately that while there was no blaze in the big
open fireplace, there did seem to be an unusual amount of soot on the
hearth. This must have given him his cue, for he stepped forward, bent
down, and tried to see up the wide-throated chimney.

“See anything up there, Hugh?” asked Bud, close at his elbow.

“Look at my face and tell me if you see little patches of black on it?”
demanded the scout master, turning his head to his comrade for
examination.

“Just what there are, Hugh!” exclaimed the other, joyfully, “which
announces the fact that _somebody_ is up there in that chimney. How’ll
you get Mr. Coon to come down?”

“Captain, please lend me your revolver,” said Hugh, in a loud voice,
purposely intended to pass up the chimney flue. “It’s got six cartridges
in the chambers hasn’t it, Captain? Well, they ought to be enough to
fetch him down, dead or alive.”

Instantly there came a half-muffled groan, and then following an appeal:

“Hold on please, don’t shoot! I’m coming down just as fast as I can. Oh!
I’m nearly choked to death with the soot up here. Wait for me, please!”

More black stuff came down in a shower. Hugh stepped back, and with a
grin on his face, Bud followed suit. They heard considerable scratching
and puffing from inside the chimney, after which there came a thud.

“Oh! what is it?” gasped Bud as he stared at a dusky object that huddled
there on the open hearth amidst the piles of soot.

“It’s me,” piped up a half strangled voice. “Jones is my name, Pliny
Jones, and, as usual, playing in tough luck. I’ll turn State’s evidence,
gentlemen, if you can promise me immunity. But what I want most of all
just now is a plain drink of water, because I’m choking horribly. Please
accommodate a poor wretch, one of you boys.”

Bud could not resist the appeal, though he was quivering with half
suppressed laughter, for it was decidedly comical to see what a sight
the small owner of the flivver had made of himself by crowding into the
recesses of the chimney—a negro could not have been any blacker, Bud
felt sure.

By slow degrees Felix seemed to be coming out of his stupor. He had
already managed to recognize Blake Merton, though it was hard for him to
realize just where he was, and what had happened to him. In fact, his
mind was always in somewhat of a haze concerning the events of the last
few hours.

He later on remembered being spoken to by the small man in the car, who
had found a way to enter the camp. The other had whispered to him that
he was the bearer of an important message from his Uncle Reuben; and as
Felix just then was mourning the recent unfortunate break with his
guardian, he gave a ready ear to a request to join the other at a
certain spot outside the limits of the camp, knowing he could get
permission to go there.

He also remembered being told to lean forward, and take a look at some
paper held by the other, and that a sudden vertigo seized him as a
handkerchief was clapped over his face. After that it was all vague,
although he believed he had been stowed away in the small car, and
driven a short distance, and only now to awaken from a dream to find
Blake there. Some strange things taking place puzzled him greatly.

It was difficult to believe that such a kidnaping could actually have
taken place, and yet the evidence of it lay before them. The captain had
the two prisoners taken away, to be confined in the guard house until
morning, when he expected to put their case in the hands of the
commanding general, who, being a lawyer himself, would know what to do
with them, so that they might be made to suffer for their miserable
work.

Felix, having recovered in part, was taken in the small car to camp, the
scouts following after with Johnston the aviator, from whom Bud picked
up many hints as they strode along.

Later on that same night Hugh, Blake and Bud gathered in a tent with the
genial captain, who was, of course, deeply interested in their affairs,
and anxious to see the outcome.

Felix was also present, having by that time fully recovered from his
recent adventure, though still pale. Here the story was gone over again,
in order that the two listeners might get a full comprehension of the
facts.

They seemed to be deeply interested as the recital progressed, now one
of the trio taking it upon himself to do the explaining, and then
another, until in the end everything had been made clear.

“And now,” said Hugh, in conclusion, when they had come down to the
place where the capture of the schemers was effected at the roadside
house, “here’s the letter they found in your tent, Felix, addressed to
Uncle Reuben, and which you evidently meant to mail in the morning.
Blake was crazy to open it, and see how you felt toward your guardian,
but I held him back,—although we would have had to do it in case we
failed to find you by noon tomorrow. You can do as you please about
showing us what you wrote.”

Felix never hesitated a moment, but, tearing an end from the envelope,
handed the enclosure to the scout master.

“Read it out loud, please, Hugh,” he said simply, yet with a gleam of
pride and satisfaction in his voice and manner.

Hugh hastened to do as he was told. The letter proved to be long, and
need not be given here, but it was certainly just what might have been
expected from a quick tempered lad like Felix, who often said things
hastily, and then bitterly repented of them afterwards. Hugh knew that
Uncle Reuben would treasure that manly apology as a most precious
document.

“It’s all right, Felix; couldn’t be better!” cried Blake, seizing the
young guardsman’s hand and wringing it enthusiastically. “You’re going
to give me that letter, sealed in another envelope and addressed to
Uncle Reuben. Then first thing in the morning I’ll get him on the ’phone
and tell him all about it, so his mind will be easy in case anything
prevents us from getting back home by tomorrow night.”

So it was all arranged. The captain joined in congratulating Felix over
the successful outcome of his escapade.

“I hope this will be a lesson to you, my boy, all your life,” he told
him, seriously, as became a commanding officer, “and that you’ll learn
to bridle your tongue. Lots of trouble is caused in this world by people
saying things they’re sure to regret afterwards. But let me tell you,
Felix, you owe all your present condition of liberty and happiness to
these bright and bustling scout friends of yours. Once more Oakvale has
reason to be proud of her boys; and I mean that the story of this trip
to the mobilization camp isn’t kept like a light hidden under a bushel.
Others ought to hear about such praiseworthy work, in order that they
may emulate the example set by Hugh and his two chums.”

The good captain would not hear of the scouts leaving the camp that
night. They could occupy a spare tent that he was only too happy to
offer them. The arrangement made with the commanding general would
answer for this; and, besides, in the morning he wanted them to meet the
“head boss” of the camp, who must hear the story of their late
adventures, for it happened that he had boys of his own who belonged to
a troop, and the general was deeply interested in all that concerned
scout activities.

So we may leave Hugh and Bud and Blake there, to get what sleep they
could amidst such strange surroundings. In thus saying goodbye to the
boys of the Oakvale Troop, however, it is with the assurance that such
active fellows cannot rest long without engaging in further ventures
which will demand our attention, and necessitate another volume to tell
the story of their successes.


                                THE END.



                               Footnotes


[1]See “The Boy Scouts’ Rally to the Colors.”

[2]See “The Boy Scouts as Forest Fire Fighters.”

[3]See “The Boy Scouts’ Rally to the Colors.”



                          Transcriber’s Notes


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

--Added a Table of Contents based on chapter headings.

--Silently corrected palpable typos; left non-standard spellings,
  dialect, and name inconsistencies unchanged.

--Note that the villain “Luke” Gregory suddenly assumes the alias
  “Luther” for no explicitly stated reason.

--Note that the recruit Mr. “Johnson” becomes Mr. “Johnston” (with a
  passing fling as “Mr. Lawrence”.)

--Note that one of the books mentioned in footnotes, “The Boy Scouts’
  Rally to the Colors.”, apparently was never published.

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





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