BOY SCOUTS ON A LONG HIKE or To the Rescue in the Black Water Swamps
By Archibald Lee Fletcher
Chicago M. A. DONOHUE & COMPANY
Copyright 1913 M. A. DONOHUE & CO. CHICAGO
I—THE BOYS OF THE BEAVER PATROL 7 II—HELPING NOODLES 16 III—THE GENTLE COW 26 IV—IN ALABAMA CAMP 35 V—A HELPING HAND 44 VI—THE HOME-COMING OF JO DAVIES 53 VII—INNOCENT OR GUILTY? 62 VIII—"WELL, OF ALL THINGS!" 71 IX—THE RUNAWAY BALLOON 81 X—DUTY ABOVE ALL THINGS 90 XI—THE TRAIL IN THE SWAMP 99 XII—WHERE NO FOOT HAS EVER TROD 108 XIII—THE OASIS IN THE SWAMP 117 XIV—JUST IN THE NICK OF TIME 126 XV—ON THE HOME-STRETCH 135 XVI—"WELL DONE, BEAVER PATROL!" 146
BOY SCOUTS ON A LONG HIKE Or, To the Rescue in the Black Water Swamps
THE BOYS OF THE BEAVER PATROL
"They all think, fellows, that the Beaver Patrol can't do it!"
"We'll show 'em how we've climbed up out of the tenderfoot class; hey, boys?"
"Just watch our smoke, that's all. Why, it's only a measly little twenty-five miles per day, and what d'ye think?"
"Sure Seth, and what's that to a husky lot of Boy Scouts, who've been through the mill, and wear merit badges all around? Huh! consider it as good as done right now!"
Half a dozen boys who wore khaki uniforms, were chattering like so many magpies as they stood in a little group on an elevation overlooking the bustling Indiana town of Beverly.
Apparently they must have been practicing some of the many clever things Boy Scouts delight to learn, for several of the number carried signal flags; two had pieces of a broken looking-glass in their possession; while the tall lad, Seth Carpenter, had a rather sadly stained blanket coiled soldier fashion about his person, that gave off a scent of smoke, proving that he must have used it in communicating with distant comrades, by means of the smoke code of signals.
Besides Seth there were in the group Jotham Hale, Eben Newcomb, Andy Mullane, Fritz Hendricks, and a merry, red-faced boy who, because of his German extraction, went by the name of "Noodles Krafft."
The reader who has not made the acquaintance of these wide-awake scouts in previous volumes of this Series will naturally want to know something about them, and hence it might be wise to introduce the members of the Beaver Patrol right here.
Eben was the official bugler of Beverly Troop. He had been made to take this office much against his will, and for a long time had the greatest difficulty in getting the "hang" of his instrument, so that his comrades guyed him most unmercifully over the strange medleys he used to bring forth when meaning to sound the various "calls." But of late Eben seemed to have mastered his silver-plated bugle, and was really doing very well, with an occasional lapse excepted.
Andy was a Kentucky boy, but outside of a little extra touch of pride, and a very keen sense of his own honor, you would never know it.
Seth was the champion signal sender, and delighted to study up everything he could discover concerning this fascinating subject.
Fritz, on his part, chose to make an especial study of woodcraft, and was forever hunting for "signs," and talking of the amazing things which the old-time Indians used to accomplish along this line.
As for good-natured Noodles, if he had any specialty at all, it lay in the art of cooking. When the boys were in camp they looked to him to supply all sorts of meals that fairly made their mouths water with eagerness to begin operations long before the bugle of Eben sounded the "assembly."
Last of all the group, was Jotham Hale, a rather quiet boy, with an engaging face, and clear eyes. Jotham's mother was a Quaker, or at least she came from the peace-loving Friends stock; and the lad had been early taught that he must never engage in fights except as a very last resort, and then to save some smaller fellow from being bullied.
On one occasion, which no one in Beverly would ever forget, Jotham had proven that deep down in his heart he possessed true courage, and grit. He had faced a big mad dog, with only a baseball bat in his hands, and wound up the beast's career right on the main street of the town, while everybody was fleeing in abject terror from contact with the animal.
Because in so doing Jotham had really saved an old and nearly blind veteran soldier from being bitten by the terrible brute, he had been adjudged worthy to wear the beautiful silver merit badge which is sent occasionally from Boy Scout Headquarters to those members of the organization who have saved life at great peril to themselves.
But Jotham was not the only one who proudly sported a badge. In fact, every one of the eight members of the Beaver Patrol wore a bronze medal on the left side of his khaki jacket. This had come to them because of certain services which the patrol had rendered at the time a child had been carried away by a crazy woman, and was found, later on, through the medium of their knowledge of woodcraft.
Of course there were two more boys connected with the patrol, who did not happen to be present at the time we find them resting on their way home after a rather strenuous afternoon in the open.
These were Paul Prentice, the patrol leader, and who served as acting scout master when Mr. Alexander was unable to accompany them; and "Babe" Adams, the newest recruit, a tenderfoot who was bent on learning everything connected with the game.
They had gone home a little earlier than the rest, for reasons that had no connection with the afternoon's sport, each of them having a pressing engagement that could not be broken. "Babe" had been nick-named in the spirit of contrariness that often marks the ways of boys; for he was an unusually tall, thin fellow; and so far as any one knew, had never shirked trouble, so that he could not be called timid in the least.
"No use hurrying, fellows," declared Seth, as he flung himself down on a log that happened to be lying near the edge of a little precipice, marking the abrupt end of the shelf which they had been following, so that to descend further the scouts must pass around, and pick their way down the hillside.
"That's so," added Jotham, following suit, and taking great care not to knock his precious bugle in the least when making the shift; "for one, I'm dead tired after such a hard afternoon. But all the same, I want you to know that I'm in apple-pie condition for that long hike, or will be, after a night's rest."
"What d'ye suppose made Mr. Sargeant offer a prize if the Beaver Patrol could walk to Warwick by one road, and back along another, a distance of just an even hundred miles, between sunrise of four days?" and Fritz looked around at his five comrades as though inviting suggestions.
"Because he's fond of boys, I reckon," remarked Andy. "They tell me he lost two splendid little fellows, one by drowning, and the other through being lost in the forest; and when he learned what sort of things the scouts practice, he said he was in favor of encouraging them to the limit."
"Well, we want to get busy, and show Mr. Sargeant that we're going to give him a run for his money," said Seth.
"We've all seen the cup in the window of the jewelers in town, and it sure is a beauty, and no mistake," added Jotham.
"Don't anybody allow himself to think we can't cover that hundred miles inside the time limit. You know how Paul keeps telling us that confidence is more'n half the battle," Fritz went on to say.
"You pet we want dot gup, undt we're yust bound to get der same," observed Noodles, who could talk quite as well as any of his mates, but who liked to pretend every now and then, that he could only express himself in "broken English," partly because it pleased him and at the same time amused his mates.
"We're right glad to hear you say that, Noodles," declared Seth, with a wink in the direction of the others; "because some of us have been afraid the hike might be too much for you, and Eben."
"Now, there you go again, Seth," complained the bugler, "always imagining that because I seldom blow my own horn——" but he got no further than this, for there broke out a shout, from the rest of the boys.
"That's where you struck it right, Eben!" cried Seth, "because in the old days you seldom did blow your own horn; but I notice that you're improving right along now, and we have hopes of making a champion bugler out of you yet."
"Of course that was just a slip; but let it pass," remarked Eben, grinning in spite of the fact that the joke was on him. "What I meant to say was that because I don't go around boasting about the great things I'm going to do, please look back on my record, and see if I haven't got there every time."
"Sure you have," admitted Seth, "and we give you credit for bull-dog stubbornness, to beat the band. Other fellows would have thrown the bugle into the bushes, and called quits; but you kept right along splitting our ears with all them awful sounds you called music. And say, if you can show the same kind of grit on this long hike we're going to try, there ain't any doubt but what we'll win out."
"Thank you, Seth; you're a queer fish sometimes, but your heart's all right, underneath the trash," observed Eben, sweetly; and when he talked like that he always put a stop to the other's teasing.
"How about you, Noodles; d'ye think you're good for such a tough walk?" asked Fritz, turning suddenly on the red-faced, stout boy, who was moving uneasily about, as though restless.
"Meppy you don't know dot me, I haf peen practice on der quiet dis long time, so as to surbrize you all," came the proud reply. "Feel dot muscle, Seth, undt tell me if you think idt could pe peat. Gymnastics I haf take, py shiminy, till all der while I dream of chinning mineself, hanging py one toe, undt all der rest. Meppy you vill surbrised pe yet. Holdt on, don't say nuttings, put wait!"
He put on such a mysterious air that some of the boys laughed; but Noodles only smiled broadly, nodded his head, and made a gesture with his hand that gave them to understand he was ready and willing to let time vindicate his reputation.
"Hadn't we better be moving on?" remarked Andy.
"Yes, the sun's getting pretty low in the west, and that means it must be near supper time," said Fritz, who was the possessor of a pretty brisk appetite all the time.
"Oh! what's the use of hurrying?" Seth went on to say, shifting his position on the log, and acting as though quite content to remain an unlimited length of time. "It won't take us ten minutes to get there, once we start; fifteen at the most. And I like to walk in just when the stuff is being put on the table. It saves a heap of waiting, you know."
"That's what it does," Eben echoed. "Because, if there's anything I hate to do, it's hanging around while they're finishing getting grub ready."
"Here, quit walking all over me, Noodles!" called out Fritz, who had coiled his rather long legs under him as well as he could, while squatting there on the ground.
"I haf nodt der time to do all dot," remarked the German-American boy, calmly, "idt would pe too pig a chob. Oh! excuse me off you blease, Fritz; dot was an accident, I gif you my word."
"Well, don't stumble across me again, that's all," grumbled the other, watching Noodles suspiciously, and ready to catch him at his tricks by suddenly thrusting out a foot, and tripping him up—for Noodles was so fat and clumsy that when he took a "header" he always afforded more or less amusement for the crowd.
It was not often that Noodles displayed a desire to play tricks or joke, which fact made his present activity all the more remarkable; in fact he was developing a number of new traits that kept his chums guessing; and was far from being the dull-witted lad they had formerly looked upon as the butt of all manner of practical pranks.
While the scouts continued to chat, and exchange laughing remarks upon a variety of subjects, Noodles kept moving restlessly about. Fritz felt pretty sure that the other was only waiting for a good chance to pretend to stumble over his legs again, and while he pretended to be entering heartily into the rattling fire of conversation, he was secretly keeping an eye on the stout scout.
Just as he anticipated, Noodles, as though discovering his chance, lurched heavily toward him. Fritz, boylike, instantly threw out a foot, intending to simply trip him up, and give the other a taste of his own medicine.
Well, Noodles tripped handsomely, and went sprawling headlong in a ludicrous manner; but being so round and clumsy he rather overdid the matter; for instead of simply rolling there on the ground, he kept on scrambling, hands and legs shooting out every-which-way; and to the astonishment and dismay of his comrades, Noodles vanished over the edge of the little precipice, close to which the scouts had made their temporary halt while on the way home!
"Oh! he fell over!" shouted Eben, appalled by what had happened.
"Poor old Noodles! What if he's gone and broke his neck?" gasped Jotham, turning a reproachful look upon Fritz.
"I didn't mean to go as far as that, fellows, give you my word for it!" Fritz in turn was muttering, for he had been dreadfully alarmed when he saw poor Noodles vanish from view in such a hasty fashion.
"Listen!" cried Andy.
"Hellup!" came a faint voice just then.
"It's Noodles!" exclaimed Fritz, scrambling over in the direction of the spot where they had seen the last of their unfortunate chum.
"Oh! perhaps he's gone and fractured his leg, and our family doctor, meaning Paul, ain't along!" groaned Eben.
All of them hastened to follow after the eager Fritz, and on hands and knees made for the edge of the shelf of rock, from which in times past they had sent many a flag signal to some scout mounted on the roof of his house in town.
Fritz had more of an interest in discovering what had happened to the vanished scout than any of his comrades. Possibly his uneasy conscience reproached him for having thrust out his foot in the way he did, and sending poor Noodles headlong to his fate.
At any rate he reached the brink of the descent before any of the rest. They unconsciously kept their eyes on Fritz. He would serve as a barometer, and from his actions they could tell pretty well the conditions existing down below. If Fritz exhibited any symptoms of horror, then it would afford them a chance to steel their nerves against the sight, before they reached his side.
Fritz was observed to crane his neck, and peer over the edge of the shelf. Further he leaned, as though hardly able to believe his eyes. Then, when some of the rest were holding their breath in expectation of seeing him turn a white face toward them, Fritz gave vent to a hoarse laugh. It was as though the relief he felt just had to find a vent somehow.
Astounded by this unexpected outcome of the near-tragedy the others hastened to crawl forward still further, until they too were able to thrust out their heads, and see for themselves what it was Fritz seemed to be amused at.
Then they, too, chuckled and shook with amusement; nor could they be blamed for giving way to this feeling, since the spectacle that met their gaze was comical enough to excite laughter on the part of any one.
Noodles was there all right; indeed, he was pretty much in evidence, as they could all see.
In falling it happened that he had become caught by the seat of his stout khaki trousers; a friendly stump of a broken branch connected with a stunted tree that grew out of the face of the little precipice had taken a firm grip upon the loose cloth; and since the boy in struggling had turned around several times, there was no such thing as his becoming detached, unless the branch broke.
"Hellup! why don't you gif me a handt?" he was shouting as he clawed at the unyielding face of the rock, while vainly endeavoring to keep his head higher than his flying heels.
While it was very funny to the boys who peered over the edge of the shelf, as Noodles would have an ugly tumble should things give way, Andy and Seth quickly realized that they had better get busy without any more delay, and do the gallant rescue act.
Had Paul been there he would have gone about it in a business-like way, for he was quick to grapple with a problem, and solve it in short order. As it was a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth, one boy suggested a certain plan, only to have a second advanced as a better method of getting Noodles out of his unpleasant predicament.
Meantime the poor fellow was kicking, and turning, and pleading with them not to go back on an old chum, and leave him to such a terrible fate.
"Der rope—get quick der rope, undt pull me oop!" he wailed.
"That's so, boys, Noodles has struck the right nail on the head!" cried Seth. "Here, who's carrying that rope right now?"
"Noodles has got it himself, that's what!" exclaimed Eben.
"Did you ever hear of such rotten luck, now?" demanded Seth.
"Hold on!" interrupted Andy, "seems to me I remember seeing him lay something down over here. Let me look and find out. Whoop! here she is, boys! That's what I call great luck. Seth, suppose you see if you can drop the loop over his head."
"Pe sure as you don't shoke me, poys!" called out the dangling object below, in a manner to prove that he heard all they said.
"Get it over his feet, Seth; then we can yank him up. He won't mind it for a short time. Some of his brains will have a chance to run back into his head that way," suggested Eben.
"Make quick, blease!" wailed the unhappy scout, who was growing dizzy with all this dangling and turning around. "I hears me der cloth gifing away; or else dot dree, it pe going to preak py der roots. Hurry oop! Get a moof on you, somepody. Subbose I want to make some squash pie down on der rocks?"
But Seth was already hard at work trying to coax that noose at the end of the dangling rope to fall over the uptilted legs of the unfortunate scout.
"Keep still, you!" he shouted, when for the third time his angling operations were upset by some unexpected movement on the part of the struggling boy. "Think I c'n lasso a bucking broncho? Hold your feet up, and together, if you want me to get you! There, that's the way. Whoop-la!"
His last shout announced sudden success.
Indeed, the loop of the handy rope had dropped over the feet of Noodles, and was speedily drawn tight by a quick movement on the part of the operator.
The balance of the boys laid hold on the rope and every one felt that the tension was relieved—that is, every one but Noodles, and when he found himself being drawn upward, with his head down, he probably thought things had tightened considerably.
As the obliging branch saw fit to let go its tenacious grip about that time, of course Noodles was soon drawn in triumph over the edge of the shale, protesting more or less because he was scratched in several places by sharp edges of the rock.
"Hurrah for Scout tactics; they count every time!" exclaimed Eben.
Fritz was unusually solicitous, and asked Noodles several times whether he had received any serious hurt as a result of his strange experience. The German boy felt himself all over, grunting several times while so doing. But in the end he announced that he believed he was all there, and beyond a few minor bruises none the worse for his adventure.
"Put you pet me I haf a narrow escape," he added, seriously. "How far must I haf dropped if dot pully oldt khaki cloth gives vay?"
"All of twenty feet, Noodles," declared Andy.
"Dwenty feets! Ach, petter say dree dimes dot," asserted Noodles. "I gives you my word, poys, dot it seemed I was on der top of a mountain, mit a fine chance my pones to preak on der rocks pelow. Pelieve me, I am glad to pe here."
"I hope you don't think I did that on purpose, Noodles?" asked Fritz, contritely.
The other turned a quizzical look upon him.
"Tid for tad, Fritz," he remarked, "iff I had nodt peen drying to choke mit you meepy I might nodt haf met with sooch a shock. Petter luck nexdt time, hey?"
"I don't know just what you mean, Noodles, blest if I do," remarked Fritz, with a puzzled look on his face, "but I agree with all you say. This practical joke business sometimes turns out different from what you expect. I'm sure done with it."
But then, all boys say that, especially after they have had a little fright; only to go back to their old way of doing things when the shock has worn off. And the chances were that Fritz was far from being cured of his habits.
"How lucky we had the rope along," ventured Jotham, who was coiling up the article in question at the time he spoke.
"I always said it would come in handy," remarked Eben, quickly and proudly, "and if you stop to think of the many uses we've put that same rope to, from yanking a fellow out of a quicksand, to tying up a bad man who had escaped from the penitentiary, you'll all agree with me that it's been one of the best investments we ever made."
"That's right," echoed Seth, always willing to give credit where such was due.
"Ketch me ever going into the woods without my rope," declared Eben.
"Well, do we make that start for home and mother and supper right now; or are we going to stay here till she gets plumb dark?" asked Fritz, impatiently, moving his feet out of the way every time anyone approached too closely, as though possessed by a fear lest he be tempted to repeat his recent act.
"Come on, everybody," said Eben, making a start, "I refuse to hang out a minute longer. Seems like I c'n just get a whiff of the steak a sizzling on the gridiron at our house; and say, when I think of it, I get wild. I'm as hungry as that bear that came to our camp, and sent us all up in trees like a covey of partridges."
"If you're as hungry as that after just an afternoon's signal practice, think what'll happen when we've been hiking all day, and covered our little forty or fifty miles?" suggested Andy, chuckling.
"Oh! come off, Andy, you don't really mean that, do you?" called out Eben over his shoulder. "I'm good for twenty-five miles, I think; but you give me a cold feeling when you talk about fifty. And poor old Noodles here will melt away to just a grease spot, if the weather keeps on as warm as it is now."
"Don't let him worry you, Eben," sang out Seth. "I heard Paul telling how at the most we might try for thirty the second day, so as to get ahead a bit. But what is going to count in this test is regularity—keeping up an even pace each day of the four. And chances are we'll own that fine trophy by the time we get back to Beverly again."
"Didn't I hear something about our having to register at a lot of places along the way?" asked Jotham.
"Yes, I believe that's a part of the game," replied Seth. "It's only right, just to prove that we haven't cut across lots, and shirked any. Mr. Sargeant and the two members of the committee mean to wait up for us at each station, and kind of keep an eye on us. I guess they want to encourage us some, too, when we come in, dusty and tired and feeling pretty near fagged out.
"Some of the other fellows, Steve Slimmons, Arty Beecher, and two more, who expect to start our second patrol in the fall, wanted to go along with us; but Mr. Sargeant preferred to limit it to just the Beavers. He said we were seasoned scouts by this time, while the other fellows might be called tenderfeet; and it would be a pity to run chances of losing the prize, just because one of them softies fell down."
Fritz offered this explanation, and somehow at mention of Steve Slimmons' name a slight smile could be seen flitting across more than one face. For well did the scouts remember when this same boy had been accounted one of the toughest lads in all Milltown, as that part of Beverly across the railroad tracks was called.
At that time he had been called "Slick" Slimmons, and in many ways he deserved the name, for he was a smooth customer. But circumstances had arisen, as told in a previous volume of this series, whereby Steve had gone through a rather serious experience, and had his eyes opened to the fact that in leading such a wild life he was carrying the heavy end of the log.
He had broken with the tough crowd of which he had been a member up to then, and now was hand in glove with Paul Prentice and his scouts, in fact considered himself a member of Beverly Troop.
The active lads found little trouble in negotiating the descent leading down to level ground. Even Noodles had become many times more agile than before he donned the magical khaki of the scouts; for the various duties that had to be performed from time to time by every member of the patrol had done wonders for the slow moving German-American boy.
With their goal now in sight, the six scouts started off at a lively pace. If any of them felt in the least bit tired he was evidently determined not to show it to his comrades, or any one they might happen to meet on the road leading to Beverly. Pride is a great thing at certain times, and helps ride over many difficulties.
So, in due time they separated, each fellow heading toward his own home. And the last words they called back to each other were in connection with the great hike upon which they expected to start on the following morning, which would be Tuesday.
Many anxious looks were cast upward toward the blinking stars that night, and speculations indulged in as to the probable kind of weather that would be doled out to them while on the road.
And more than one scout lay awake long after he went to bed, trying to lift the curtain that hid the future, just a little way, so as to get a peep of what was waiting for the Beaver Patrol, but of course without the least success.
THE GENTLE COW
"Paul, how do we hold out for the third day on the hike?"
"Yes, and Paul, please let us know just how much further you expect to coax the leg weary bunch on today? Not to say that I'm tired; but then I know Noodles, and another scout not far away right now, are grunting like fun every little rise in the road we come to," and Seth gave his head a flirt in the quarter where Eben was anxiously gripping his bugle, as if in momentary expectation of getting a signal from the patrol leader to blow the call that would signify a halt.
"It's only four o'clock, fellows," began the acting scoutmaster.
Dismal groans sounded; but with a smile Paul went on to add:
"We've already made our twenty-five miles since sun-up, just this side of Warwick; but it's a fine day, and I did hope we might hang on a little while further, so as to cut down our last day's hike a few miles. It's always the hardest part of the whole thing, the finishing spurt. But of course, if any of you feel played out we can call it off right now."
Eben and Noodles braced themselves up at this, and tried to look as though they had no calling acquaintance with such a thing as fatigue.
"Oh! I'm good for a couple more miles, I guess," declared the former.
"Make idt tree, undt you will see how I holdt oudt!" proudly boasted the stout boy, who spent half his time mopping his red face; for the day had been a pretty warm one, so Noodles, who had to carry a third again as much weight as any of his companions, thought.
"Bully boy!" exclaimed impulsive Seth, "didn't I say they had the sand to do all we tried. You never would have believed Noodles here could have covered the ground he has. Scouting has been the making of him, as it will of any feller that cares to set his teeth together, and just try real hard."
"I suggest then," went on Paul, his face beaming with pleasure, "that we take a little rest right here, say of half an hour; and then march along again for three miles, as near as we can guess. And if we do that, fellows, it leaves only twenty more for the last day."
"I reckon that silver trophy is as good as won," remarked Andy Mullane.
"Barring accidents; and you never can tell when something may happen," added wise Seth.
"Then I hope it will be to you, and not to me," said Eben, who was rubbing his shin at a place where he had bruised it earlier in the day.
"Have we got enough grub along to last out?" queried Fritz.
All eyes were turned toward Noodles, who generally looked after this part of the business when they were abroad, either camping or tramping.
"I wouldn't say yes, if Fritz he puts der crimp in dot appetites off his," was what the cook announced, gravely.
"Then we'll see to it that he gets no more than his regular ration after this," Paul declared, pretending to look severe.
"Huh! that makes me feel real bad right away, let me tell you, fellers," Fritz remarked, touching his belt line with a rueful face. "However do you think I can fill up all this space here with just one ration? It's different with some of the rest of the bunch; take Noodles for example, he hasn't got room for more'n half a ration. I speak for what he can't make way with."
"Say, there's a chance right now for you to fill up ahead of time!" exclaimed Eben, as he pointed through the fence; and looking, the scouts saw a cow standing there, placidly chewing, her cud, and evidently watching them curiously as she attended strictly to business.
"Sure," Fritz went on to say, quickly, getting to his feet, "she's got plenty of rations, quarts and quarts of fine rich milk. I've got half a notion to step in there, and see how it tastes. See here, if I tied a nickel or a dime in a piece of paper, and attached it to her horn, wouldn't that be all right, Paul? Ain't scouts got a right to live off the country as they hike through, 'specially if they pay for what they take?"
"Well, if it was a case of necessity, now——" began the scoutmaster.
"It is," broke in Eben, who for some reason seemed to want to egg Fritz on, "our comrade's plumb near starved, you know, and we're talking of cutting his grub allowance down to half. But I don't think he's got the nerve to fill up on nice rich fresh milk, that's what. Some people talk pretty loud, but when you pin 'em down, they say they didn't mean it."
Of course that finished Fritz. If he had been joking before, he now took the matter in a serious light.
"Huh! that remark don't hit me, Eben," he said, disdainfully, "If it was a ferocious old bull I might hesitate about trespassing on his field, but a gentle cow, whoever knew one to act ugly? Here goes, after I've tied up this nickel in a piece of paper, with a string to it, to fix it on Sukey's horn. Anybody else feel milk thirsty? Don't all speak at once now, because I'm first."
Apparently no one else was hankering after fresh milk just then; at least none of the scouts gave any indication of meaning to accompany the bold invader.
"If you're really intending to go over the fence and try the milk supply," suggested Paul. "I'd advise you to leave that red neck scarf that you're so proud of wearing, behind you, Fritz."
"Yes, that's so," broke in Seth, "cows, as well as bulls, don't fancy anything red, I've been told. Better leave it with me, Fritz."
"Huh, think I ain't on to your little game, Seth Carpenter," declared the other, making no move to take off the necktie in question, "don't I know that you've always wanted that scarf? Ain't you tried to buy it off me more'n a few times? Not much will I let you hold it. That tie stays by me. If the poor old cow don't like it, she can do the next best thing. Now, watch me get my fill, fellers. Milk is the staff of life, more'n bread; and I always did like it fresh. Here goes."
He clambered up on the top of the fence, while all the other scouts watched to see how the operation turned out.
"Take care, Fritz," warned Eben, solemnly, "she's got her eye on you, all right, and she's stopped chewing her cud too. P'raps she may turn out to be a hooker; you never can tell about cows. And chances are, she's got a calf up in the barn. You see, a cow is always ugly when she thinks they're agoin' to steal her calf away, like they did lots of other times."
"Oh! rats!" sneered the valiant Fritz, drawing his staff over with him, so as to get a purchase on the ground within the field, and ease his intended jump.
"Listen, Fritz," added Jotham, "see that little enclosure just back of where she stands? Looks like it might have been fenced off to protect some fruit trees or something. Well, if I was in your boots now, and she made a jump for me, I'd tumble over that same fence in a hurry. A cow's got horns the same as a bull, and you'll be sorry if ever she tosses you."
But Fritz had evidently made up his mind, and would not allow anything to deter him. The more the other scouts threw out these hints the stronger became his determination to carry his clever scheme to completion. And when he said he was fond of fresh milk Fritz only told the truth; though the chances were he would never have accepted such a risk only for the badgering of Eben and Seth.
Using his long staff in a dexterous way he dropped lightly to the ground, and immediately started to walk toward the spot where the cow stood.
She had raised her head a little, and appeared to be observing his coming with certain suspicious signs.
"Go slow, Fritz; she don't like your looks any too much!" warned Paul, who had climbed to the top of the rail fence, the better to see what happened.
Perhaps Fritz himself may have felt a little qualm just about that time, for the actions of the cow were far from reassuring; but he was too proud to show anything that seemed to savor of the "white feather" before his chums, especially after making all the boasts he had.
And so he kept grimly on, even if his knees did begin to knock together a little, when he actually saw the cow suddenly lower her head, and throw up the dirt with those ugly looking short horns, to one of which he had so recently declared he meant to secure the coin he would leave, to pay for all the milk he expected to consume.
Paul had called out once or twice, words of warning. He also suggested that it would be wise for the adventurous one to turn back; because, if appearance went for anything the animal had a bad temper, and would be apt to give him more or less trouble.
But that had no effect on Fritz, who, having embarked on the venture, did not mean to back down until absolutely forced to do so.
And so the other five scouts, ranged along the fence, watched to see what would happen. Perhaps their hearts were beating just a little faster than ordinary; but if so, that was not a circumstance to the way Fritz felt his throbbing like a trip hammer, even while he kept steadily moving ahead.
He started to utter what he meant to be soothing words, as he approached the gentle bovine. He had heard farmers talking to their cows when starting to do the milking act, and thought it the proper caper. But Bossy must have finally made up her mind that this trespasser had a suspicious look, and meant to carry off the little calf that could now be heard calling away off beyond a rise where a farm house and stable evidently lay.
Suddenly she lowered her head, and started toward Fritz. Frenzied shouts arose from those who were watching the proceedings from a safe distance.
"Run, Fritz! she's coming!" bawled one.
"Remember the fence over there, Fritz, and what I told you!" cried Jotham.
Fritz did not take the trouble to reply. He could hardly have done so even had he so desired, for just then he was most actively employed.
At the time the cow made her abrupt plunge toward him the scout could not have been more than thirty feet away. He was wise enough to realize that should he attempt to make a wild dash for the fence surrounding the field, the active four legged animal would be able to overtake him before he could get half way there. And as the one way left to him Fritz jumped to one side, in order to avoid contact with those cruel-looking black horns.
His first act was one of impulse rather than anything else; he just sprang to one side, and allowed the animal to go surging past, so close that he could have easily reached out his hand, and touched her flank, had he chosen to do so.
Of course she would quickly realize that her attack had been a failure, and recovering, turn again to renew it. He must not be on the same spot when that time came. And as there was no better opening offered than the enclosure mentioned by Jotham, he started for the same, with the cow in full pursuit, and his chums shrieking all sorts of weird advice.
So close was the angry animal behind him that at first Fritz could not take the time to mount that fence. He chased around it, and as if accepting the challenge, Bossy did the same, kicking her heels high in the air, and with tail flying far in the rear.
Fritz managed to keep a pretty good distance ahead of his pursuer, and as there did not seem to be any particular danger just then, some of the boys allowed their feelings of hilarity to have full swing, so that peals of riotous laughter floated to the indignant ears of the fugitive.
Indeed, Eben laughed so much that he lost his hold, and fell into the meadow; but it was ludicrous to see how nimbly he clambered up again, as though fearful lest the cow take a sudden notion to dash that way, changing her tactics.
Meanwhile Fritz was laying his plans looking to what he would call a coup. When he had gained a certain distance on the circling cow, so that he would have time to scramble over the fence, he hastened to put this scheme into operation.
Fritz had dropped upon the ground, and was evidently panting for breath. At any rate, the boys, perched like a lot of crows on the distant fence, could see him waving his campaign hat rapidly to and fro, as though trying to cool off after his recent lively experience.
"Look at the old cow, would you?" burst out Eben, "she sees him now, I tell you! Say, watch her try and jump that fence, to get closer acquainted with our chum. Oh! my stars! what d'ye think of that now; ain't she gone and done it though?"
While the bugler of Beverly Troop was speaking, the angry cow made a furious dash forward. Eben had naturally imagined she meant to try and follow Fritz over the fence but he was wrong. There was a terrific crash as the head of the charging beast came in contact with the frail fence; and the next thing they knew the cow had thrown down an entire section, so that no longer did any barrier separate her from the object of her increasing fury.
IN ALABAMA CAMP
Fritz was no longer sitting there taking things comfortably, and cooling himself off by using his hat as a fan.
With the terrific crash the scout was on his feet, ready for further flight, as he saw the head of the cow not ten feet away from where he stood.
This time he made straight for another section of the fence, and passed over it "like a bird," as Seth declared. But evidently fences had little terror for the aroused cow, since she immediately proceeded to knock down another section in about the space of time it would take to read the shortest riot act ever known.
This prompt act again placed her on the same side as the fleeing Fritz. The loud shouts of his chums warned him of her coming on the scene again, even if that suspicious crash had failed to do so.
Fritz was becoming used to clambering over fences by now; in fact it seemed to be something like a settled habit.
The cow saw his lead, and went him one better, for a third crash told how the poorly constructed fence had gone down before her rush, like a pack of cards in the wind.
All the while Fritz was changing his location. He calculated that if only he could hold out for say three more "climbs," he would be in a position to make a run for the border fence, which was made much more stoutly then the division one, and would probably turn back even a swooping bull.
After it was all over, Fritz would demand that his comrades give him full credit for his cunning lead. Meanwhile he was kept as busy as any real beaver; getting first on one side of the crumpling fence, and then on the other; while the cow kept on making kindling wood of the barrier.
Paul took advantage of the animal's attention being wholly centred upon Fritz, to run out upon the field, and pick up the cast-off staff of the busy scout. His intention at the time was to render all the assistance in his power; but discovering that Fritz was rapidly approaching a point where he could work out his own salvation, the scoutmaster thought discretion on his part warranted a hasty departure, unless he wished to take the place his comrade vacated.
The boys on the fence were shouting, and waving their hats, and doing all manner of things calculated to attract the attention of the "gentle cow," and cause her to ease up in her attack; but apparently she was not to be bought off so cheaply, and meant to pursue her advantage to the bitter end.
Then came the chance for which the artful Fritz had been so industriously working, when he made one more fling over the remnant of the enclosure fence, and upon reaching the outside, galloped away toward the road as fast as his legs could carry him.
Of course the cow chased after him again as soon as she had knocked down another section of fence; but Fritz seemed to have pretty good wind, considering all he had been through; and he showed excellent sprinting powers that promised to put him among the leaders at the next high school field sports exhibition.
And the other five scouts gave him a hearty cheer when they saw him nimbly take the high fence on the bound, with those wicked horns not more than five feet in his rear.
They soon joined the panting one, who greeted his mates with a cheery grin, as though conscious of having done very well, under such distracting conditions.
"But you've yet to know whether that milk is as rich as you hoped?" remarked Paul, smilingly, as he handed Fritz his staff.
"And chances are, you went and lost that blessed nickel you meant to tie to one of gentle Bossy's horns; what a shame, and a waste of good coin!" said Seth, pretending to be very much disappointed.
"Huh! getting off pretty cheap at that!" grunted Fritz. "Ketch me tryin' to milk any cow that's got a calf up in the barn. I'd rather face two bulls than one like her. Don't ever mention milk to me again; I know I'll just despise the looks of it from now on. Whew! but didn't she mean business; and if ever those sharp horns had got attached to me, it would have been a hard job to break away."
"If you feel rested, and have changed your mind about that same splendid milk," remarked Paul, "perhaps we'd better be getting along now. Three miles—why, Fritz, I wouldn't be much surprised if you covered all of that in the little chase you put up. All you needed to beat the record for flying was a pair of wings."
Fritz was wonderfully good-natured, and they could not make him angry. When other boys were apt to scowl and feel "grouchy," Fritz would come up smilingly after each and every round, ready to take punishment without limit.
And so they continued to walk along the road, chatting among themselves as cheerily as footsore and weary scouts might be expected to do when trying to encourage each other to further exertions.
Every step really meant a good deal to their success, for in the course of ten minutes Paul declared that another mile had been duly covered.
When they saw another cow inside a fenced enclosure the boys tried by every argument they could devise to tempt Fritz to try his hand once more, but he steadfastly declined to accept the dare.
"Say what you like, fellers," he remarked firmly, "me and cows are on the outs, for this trip anyway. It's somebody else's turn to afford amusement for the bunch. I've sure done my duty by the crowd. Let me be, won't you? Tackle Seth there, or Babe Adams. I happen to know that they like milk just every bit as much as I do. Water's good enough for me, right now; and here's the spring I've been looking for a long while."
At that they all hastened to discover some spots where it was possible to lap up a sufficient supply of the clear fluid.
This cooling drink seemed to invigorate the boys, so that when they started off again it was with a somewhat quicker step, and heads that were held up straighter than of late.
It enabled them to reel off another mile without any great effort.
"Only one more, and then we've just got to let up on this thing," said Paul.
"I really believe you're getting tired of it yourself, Mr. Scoutmaster?" ventured one of the boys, eagerly; for if Paul would only confess to this, they felt that they could stand their own weaknesses better.
"And that is no joke," laughed Paul, frankly. "You see, I haven't been hardening my muscles as much lately as when the baseball season was in full swing. But with two miles placed to our account, we shouldn't be much worried about how things are coming out. Will we try for that last mile, boys? It's for you to say!"
He received a unanimous shout of approval, which announced that the others were of a united mind. And so they kept along the road though some steps lagged painfully, and it was mainly through the exertions of the mind that the body was whipped into obeying.
Finally Paul turned to Eben, and made a quick gesture that the bugler was waiting for, since he immediately raised the shining instrument to his lips, puffed out his cheeks, took in a tremendous breath, and gave the call that was next to the "fall in for supper" signal, the most popular known to the scouts.
"Alabama! Here we rest!" cried Seth, turning aside into the woods after Paul, who evidently had his eye on a certain location, where he meant to pitch the third night's camp.
"That's a good idea," remarked Andy, always quick to seize upon anything that gave a hint concerning his beloved South, "let's call this Alabama Camp!"
"Put it to a vote," called out Fritz, "all in favor of the same say aye; contrary no. The ayes have it unanimously. Hurrah for Alabama Camp. Seems like that's a good restful name; and I hope we sleep right good here; for most of us are pretty well used up."
"Don't mention that same above a whisper," warned Seth, "because we've got two awfully touchy chums along, who're always carrying chips on their shoulders when it comes to the subject of being knocked out. Say, Paul, did you know about this camp site before; because it's the dandiest place we've struck on the big hike?"
"Just dumb luck," replied the other, shaking his head in the negative. "I thought it looked good this way, when I called for a halt. And you're just about right, Seth; it does fill the bill great. Here's our spring of clear cold water; and there you have a splendid place to start your fire, Jotham. Now, let's throw ourselves down for a little while, and then when we feel rested, we'll get busy doing things."
All of them were only too glad to do as Paul suggested. And when another ten minutes had slipped past, Jotham struggled to his feet to wearily but determinedly gather together some material with which to start a blaze.
When he had it going Noodles realized that it was now up to him to start getting some supper cooking. They had come in very light marching order, since Paul realized that if they hoped to win that lovely prize he must not load any of the boys down with superfluous burdens.
As a rule they depended on the farmers to supply them with such things as they needed, chiefly eggs and milk. The former they had along with them, several dozen eggs in fact, purchased from an obliging farmer earlier in the afternoon, and fortunately carried in other knapsacks than that of Fritz, who would have smashed the entire supply, had he been in charge of the same at the time of his exciting adventure with the cow.
Upon putting it to a vote they decided that they could just as well do without any milk for one night; especially after Fritz had shown them how difficult it sometimes was to accumulate a supply.
Of course a coffee pot had been brought along, for somehow a camp must always seem like a dreary desert without the delicious smell of boiling coffee at each and every meal that is prepared.
So Noodles made a grand big omelette, using sixteen eggs for the same, and the two frying pans that had been strapped, one to each pack of a couple of scouts.
Besides this they had some cheese and crackers, which would help fill the vacuum that seemed to exist an hour after each and every meal. Several potatoes for each scout were duly placed in the red ashes of the fire, and jealously watched, in order that they might not scorch too badly before being thoroughly roasted.
On the whole, there was no reason for being ashamed of that camp supper. Everything tasted just "prime," as several of the boys took pains to say; for they were artful enough to know that by showering words of praise upon the cook, they might secure his valuable services for all time to come, because Noodles was open to flattery.
And what was better still, there was an abundant supply for all of them, regardless of the difference in appetites; Fritz was not stinted in the least, for he actually declined a further helping, and had to be urged to clean out the pan just to keep "that little bit of omelet from being wasted."
Having no tent along, and only a couple of dingy old blankets which they expected to use for sending smoke signals, should the occasion arise, the scouts were compelled to resort to more primitive ways of spending the night than usual. But then Paul had shown them how to sleep with their heads away from the fire; and he also arranged to keep the small blaze going during the entire night, since it was apt to get pretty chilly along about two in the morning.
All these things had been arranged on the first night out, so that by this time the boys were pretty well accustomed to the novel way of sleeping. And on the whole they had taken to it fairly well, no one complaining save when the mosquitoes annoyed them in one camp near the water.
An hour after supper had been disposed of some of the boys were already beginning to nod drowsily. And when fellows are just dead tired it seems a sin to try and keep them awake, especially when there is no need of it.
So Paul announced that those who wanted to could turn in, while the rest were enjoined to keep quiet, doing their talking in whispers, so as not to disturb the sleepers; just as if the discharge of a six pound cannon close by would bother those weary scouts, once they lost themselves in the dreamland of Nod.
Babe Adams had just stepped over to get a last drink at the near-by spring, when the others were surprised to see him come tearing back again, evidently in great excitement.
"Paul, come over here with me, and you can see it!" he called out.
"See what?" demanded the scoutmaster, at the same time climbing to his feet.
"Looks like some farmhouse might be afire; because you c'n see the red flames jumping up like fun!" was the thrilling announcement made by the tenderfoot scout.
A HELPING HAND
"It's a fire, all right!" announced Paul, after he had taken a good look.
"No question about that," declared Seth, who was right on the heels of the others, for you could never keep him quiet when there was anything going on, because he always wanted to be "in the swim."
"Yes, either a house, or a barn ablaze," remarked Eben, sagely.
"Might be only a hay stack, you know," suggested Jotham.
"Don't burn like that to me; I seem to see something of a building every now and then, when the flames shoot up," Paul went on to remark, for he was always discovering things upon which to found a reasonable theory.
"How far away does it lie, dy'e think, Paul?" asked Andy.
"Not more than half a mile, I should say," came the reply.
"Just my idea to a dot," Jotham admitted.
"Why, you c'n even hear the crackle of the flames, whenever the night wind happens to blow this way," Babe Adams asserted; and they all agreed with him, for the same sound had come to their ears also.
"We might help the poor old farmer, if we only happened to be closer," Eben said, in the goodness of his heart.
"And if we didn't feel so bunged-up tired," added Andy.
Somehow the scouts began to show signs of nervousness. Those might seem like pretty good excuses to some fellows; but when a boy becomes a scout he somehow looks at things in a different way from in the old days. No matter how tired he may be, he eagerly seizes on a chance to be useful to others; to do some good deed, so as to experience the delightful glow that always follows a helpful act.
"Say, how about it?" began Jotham.
"Could we be useful if we did manage to trot over there, Paul?" Andy demanded.
"I'm sure we might," answered the scoutmaster, firmly; "and if we're going, why, the sooner we make a start the better. Seconds count when a house or barn is on fire. I feel pretty well rested, speaking for myself; and half a mile each way oughtn't to do us up. We're scouts on a long hike, and able to do lots of things that other fellows wouldn't dare attempt."
"Take me along, Paul!" cried Jotham.
"Hope you won't forget that I'm ready to be in the bunch," Seth exclaimed.
In fact, there was not one out of Paul's seven companions who did not vociferously inform the leader of the patrol that he was a subject for the draft.
"You can't all go," decided Paul, quick to decide; "and as two fellows ought to stay and look after camp while the rest are off, I'll appoint Noodles and Eben to that duty."
Groans followed the announcement.
"Oh! all right, Paul; just as you say," remarked the bugler, after giving vent to his disappointment in this manner; "we'll keep guard while the rest of you are having a bully good time.
"Perhaps something will happen along here to let us enjoy ourselves."
"If you need help let us know it," Paul called back, for he was already moving off in the direction of the fire, followed by the five lucky scouts.
"How?" bellowed Noodles; "do we whoop her up, Paul?"
"Sound the assembly, and we'll hurry back," came the answer, as the pack of boys disappeared in the darkness of the night.
They kept pretty well together, so that none might stray. Consequently, when one happened to trip over some log or other obstacle that lay in the path he would sing out to warn his comrades, so as to save them from the same trouble.
With such a bright beacon ahead there was no trouble about keeping on a direct line for the fire. And all the while it seemed to be getting more furious. Indeed, what with the shouts that came to their ears, the bellowing of cattle, and whinnying of horses, things began to get pretty lively as they approached the farmyard.
Presently they seemed to break out from the woods, and reach an open field. Beyond this they could plainly see the fire.
"It's a barn, all right!" gasped Jotham, immediately.
"Yes, and they seem to be afraid that the farmhouse will go, too," added Andy.
"They're throwing buckets of water on it, sure enough," sang out Babe Adams.
Now some of the boys could easily have outrun their mates, being possessed of longer legs, or the ability to sprint on occasion; but they had the good sense to accommodate themselves to the rest, so that they were still in a squad when drawing near the scene of the excitement.
A man and a woman seemed to be about the sole persons visible, and they were laboring like Trojans to keep the fire from communicating to the low farmhouse that was situated close to the burning barn.
The six scouts must have dawned upon the vision of the sorely pressed farmer and his wife almost like angels, for the pair were nearly exhausted, what with the labor and the excitement.
"Buckets—water—let us help you!" was what Paul exclaimed as they came up.
Cows were running this way and that, bellowing like mad, as though half crazed.
What with frightened chickens cackling, and hogs grunting in their near-by pen, the scene was one that those boys would not forget in a hurry.
"In the kitchen—help yourselves!" the farmer said, pointing as he spoke; and without waiting for any further invitation the scouts rushed pellmell into the rear part of the house, where they seized upon all sorts of utensils, from a big dishpan, to buckets, and even a small tin foot bath tub.
A brook ran close to the barn, as Paul had learned with his first comprehensive glance around. This promised to be a most fortunate thing for the would be fire-fighters.
Led by the scoutmaster, the boys dashed in that direction, filled whatever vessel they happened to be carrying, and then hurried back to the house. Here the water was dashed over the side of the building that seemed to be already scorching under the fierce heat of the blazing barn.
"Get us a ladder; that roof will be on fire if we don't throw water over it!" Paul shouted to the farmer, as he came in contact with the man.
"This way—there's a ladder here by the hen house!" was what he replied.
Several of the boys seized upon it, and before you could think twice they were rushing the ladder toward the side of the house. Paul climbed up, carrying with him a full bucket of water; and having dashed the contents of this in such a way as to wet a considerable portion of the shingle roof, he threw the bucket down to one of the boys below.
Another was quickly placed in his hands. Everybody was working like a beaver now, even the farmer's wife, carrying water from the creek, and getting it up to the boy on the ladder. It was pretty warm work, for the heat of the burning barn seemed terrific; but then boys can stand a good deal, especially when excited, and bent on accomplishing things; and Paul stuck it out, though he afterwards found several little holes had been burned in his outing shirt by flying sparks.
The barn, of course, was beyond saving, and all their energies must be expended on the house. By slow degrees the fire was burning itself out. Already Paul felt that the worst was past, and that if they could only keep this up for another ten minutes all would be well.
A couple of neighbors had come along by this time, to help as best they could. When a fire takes place in the country everybody is ready and willing to lend a hand at carrying out things, or fighting the flames in a primitive fashion; for neighbors have to depend more or less upon each other in case of necessity.
"I reckon the house ain't liable to go this time," Andy remarked, when Paul came down the ladder finally, trembling from his continued exertions, which had been considerable of a strain on the lad, wearied as he was with three days' tramping.
"That's a fact," remarked the farmer, who came hustling forward about this time, "and I owe you boys a heap for what you done this night. I guess now, only for you comin' to help, I'd a lost my house as well as my barn. As it is I've got a lot to be thankful for. Just put insurance on the barn, and the new crop of hay last week. I call that being pretty lucky for once."
He shook hands with each of the scouts, and asked after their names.
"I want to let your folks know what you done for us this night, boys," he said, "and p'raps you might accept some little present later on, just as a sort of remembrance, you know."
"How did the fire start, sir?" asked Paul.
"That's what bothers me a heap," replied the farmer.
"Then you don't know?" continued the scoutmaster, who felt a reasonable curiosity to learn what he could of the matter while on the spot.
"It's all a blank mystery to me, for a fact," continued the farmer, whose name the boys had learned was Mr. Rollins. "My barn and stable was all one, you see. My man has been away all day, and I had to look after the stock myself, but I finished just as dark set in, before supper, in fact, so there ain't been so much as a lighted lantern around here tonight."
"Perhaps, when you lighted your pipe you may have thrown the match away, and it fell in the hay?" suggested Paul.
"If it had, the fire'd started long ago; fact is, I'd a seen it right away. And to settle that right in the start let me say I don't smoke at all, and didn't have any occasion to strike a single match while out here."
Of course this statement of the farmer seemed to settle all idea of his having been in any way responsible for the burning of the barn.
"It looks like a big black mystery, all right," declared Fritz, who always liked to come upon some knotty problem that needed solving.
"Have you any idea that the fire could have been the work of tramps?" Paul went on to ask.
"We are never troubled that way up here," replied the farmer. "You see, it's away from the railroad, and hoboes generally follow the ties when they tramp across country."
"That makes it all the more queer how the fire could have started," Paul went on to remark, thoughtfully.
"Couldn't a been one of the cows taken to smoking, I suppose?" ventured Seth, in a humorous vein.
"One thing sure," continued the farmer, a little uneasily, "that fire must have been caused by what they call spontaneous combustion; or else somebody set it on purpose."
"Do you know of anybody who would do such a terrible thing; that is, have you any enemy that you know of, sir?" questioned Paul.
"None that I would ever suspect of such a mean thing as that," was the farmer's ready reply. "We're human around here, you know, and may have our little differences now and then, but they ain't none of 'em serious enough to tempt a man to burn a neighbor's barn. No, that's a dead sure thing."
"Well, I'm glad to hear it," the scoutmaster went on. "And I don't suppose now, you've missed any valuables, have you, sir?"
The farmer turned a shade whiter, and Paul could see that a shiver went through his frame.
"Gosh! I hadn't thought about that. Wait here a minute, will you, please?"
With that he dashed into the house, as though a sudden terrible suspicion had assailed him. The six scouts stood there awaiting his return. Mrs. Rollins was talking with the neighbors, as they watched the last of the barn disappearing in a bed of red cinders.
Hardly had a full minute passed before the boys saw the farmer come leaping out of the building again. No need for any one to ask a question, because his whole appearance told the story of new excitement and mystery. If ever a man looked worried and nearly heart broken the farmer did then.
"It's sure enough gone, every cent of it!" he groaned, as he reached the scouts.
"Your money, I suppose you mean?" Paul asked, sympathetically; while Fritz and Seth pricked up their ears eagerly at the prospect of another chapter being added to the little excitement of the evening.
"Yes, three thousand dollars that was to pay off my mortgage next week. I had it hid away where I thought no thief could even find it; but the little tin box, and everything has been carried off. And now I know why the barn was fired—so as to keep the missus and me out there, while the rascal made a sneak into the house, and laid hands on my savings. All gone, and the mortgage due next week!"
THE HOME-COMING OF JO DAVIES
"Whew! that's tough!" observed Seth.
One or two of the other scouts whistled, to indicate the strained condition of their nerves; and all of them pressed up a little closer, so as not to lose a single word of what was passing.
"But if as you say, sir, that you had this money securely hidden, it doesn't seem possible that an ordinary tramp would know the place where you kept it, so that he could dodge right into the house, and in a minute be off with it; isn't that so?"
Paul was the greatest hand you ever heard of to dip deeply into a thing. Where most other boys of his age would be satisfied to simply listen, and wonder, he always persisted in asking questions, in order to get at the facts. And he was not born in Missouri either, as Seth often laughingly declared.
The farmer looked at him. There was a frown beginning to gather on his forehead as though sudden and serious doubts had commenced to take a grip on his mind.
"If he took my money I'll have the law on him, as sure as my name is Sile Rollins," Paul heard him mutter, half to himself.
"Then you've thought of some one who might have known that you had three thousand dollars under your roof, is that it, sir?" he asked.
"Y-yes, but it's hard to suspect Jo, when I've done so much for him these years he's been with me," admitted the owner of the farm; though at the same time his face took on a hard expression, and he ground his teeth together furiously, while he went on to say, "but if so be he has robbed me, I ain't called upon to have any mercy on him, just because his old mother once nursed my wife, and I guess saved her life. Jo has got to hand my money back, or take the consequences."
"Is Jo your hired man?" Paul asked.
The farmer nodded his head moodily; he was evidently a prey to mingled feelings, and close upon the border of a dazed condition. These calamities following so swiftly upon each other's heels had taken his breath away. But presently he would recover, and be eager to do something.
"You said just a bit ago that he was away today, and that you had to do the chores this evening, looking after the stock, and such things; wasn't that it, sir?" continued the scoutmaster.
"He asked to have this afternoon off; wouldn't say why he wanted to get away, either. And by ginger! now that I think of it, Jo did look kind of excited when he was asking me for leave. I can see why that should be so. He was figuring on this nasty little game right then and there. He wanted to be able to prove an alibi in case he was ever accused. And this evening he must have put a match to the hay in the barn, and then watched his chance to creep into the house when both of us was busy trying to save the stock. Oh! it makes my blood boil just to think of it. And I never would have believed Jo Davies could have been so cold blooded as to take the chances of burnin' the animals he seemed to be so fond of."
"Did he stay here over night with you?" Paul asked.
"Not as a rule, Jo didn't. You see, he's got an old mother, and they live in a little cottage about a mile away from here toward town. So Jo, he always made it a point to sleep there. I had no fault to find, because he was on hand bright and early every morning. But this will kill his old mother; however could he do it? Chances are, he fell in with some racing men when we had the county fair, and has got to gambling. But I'll be ruined if I don't get that money back again."
"Could we help you in any way, Mr. Rollins? You know, Boy Scouts are always bound to be of assistance whenever they find a chance. We're on a great hike just now, and a little leg weary; but if we can stand by you further, please let us know. How about that, boys?" and Paul turned toward his chums as he spoke.
"That's the ticket, Paul!" replied Andy, promptly.
"Our sentiments, every time," said Seth.
And the others gave vigorous nods, to indicate that they were all of the same mind; which unanimity of opinion must have been a great satisfaction to the leader.
"Then let's go right away, boys!" remarked the farmer, eagerly. "P'raps now we might come up with Jo on the way, and ketch him with the goods on. If he'll only give me back my money I'll agree not to prosecute, on account of his poor old mother, if nothing else. But I'm as bad off as a beggar if I lose all that hard earned cash."
Without saying anything to Mrs. Rollins or the neighbors, they hurried away, the boys keeping in a cluster around the farmer. If any of the scouts began to feel twinges in the muscles of their legs, already hard pushed, they valiantly fought against betraying the weakness. Besides, the excitement acted as a tonic upon them, and seemed to lend them additional powers of endurance, just as it does in foot races where the strain is terrific.
"It looks bad for Jo Davies, I should think, Paul," Andy managed to say, as they pushed resolutely along.
"Well, he is the one fellow who may have known about the money," admitted the scout master, "and if the temptation ever came to him, he could easily watch his employer, and learn where he hid the cash. How about that, Mr. Rollins?"
The farmer had heard what was being said, and immediately replied:
"If Jo was bent on robbery, p'raps he could have watched me some time, and seen where I hid that little tin box away in the attic. I used to go there once a week to add some money to the savings that I'd foolishly drawn out of bank long before I needed 'em, just to see how it felt to be rich for a little while."
"When was the last time you went up there to look at it?" Paul asked.
"Let me see, when Web Sterry paid me for the heifer I sold him I put the money away; and that was just ten days back."
"And it was all there then, you say?" questioned Paul.
"Surely," replied the farmer.
"Was Jo working near the house then, can you remember, sir?"
Mr. Rollins appeared to reflect.
"When was the day we did some carpenter work on that extension—as sure as anything it was the day Webb paid me! Yes, I remember, now, that Jo came around from his work on the plane, and told me Webb was there."
The farmer's excitement was increasing. Things, under the clever questioning of the young scoutmaster, seemed to be fitting in with each other, just as a carpenter dovetails the ends of a box together.
"It looks as though Jo might have spied on you when you went up to the attic to put that new money away with the rest. If he suspected that you were keeping a large sum in the house that's what he would most likely do when he knew you had just taken in some more cash. Now, I don't know Jo Davies, and I don't like to accuse him of such a terrible crime; but circumstantial evidence all points in his direction, Mr. Rollins."
Paul measured his words. He never liked to think ill of any one; but really in this case it seemed as though there could be hardly any doubt at all; Jo Davies must be the guilty party.
"Are we gettin' near where Jo lives?" asked Jotham, trying to speak lightly, although there was a plain vein of anxiety in his voice; for when a fellow has covered nearly thirty miles since sun-up, every rod counts after that; and following each little rest the muscles seem to stiffen wonderfully.
"More'n two-thirds the way there," replied the farmer. "We'll see a light, like as not, when we get around this turn in the woods road. That'll come from the little cabin where he lives with his old mother. Oh! but I'm sorry for Mrs. Davies; and the boy, he always seemed to think so much of his maw, too. You never can tell, once these fast fliers get to running with racing men. But I only hope I get my own back again. That's the main thing with me just now, you know. And if Jo, he seems sorry, I might try and forget what he's done. It all depends on how things turn out. See, just as I told you, there's the light ahead."
All of them saw it; and as they continued to walk hastily forward through the darkness Paul was thinking how human Mr. Rollins was, after all; for it was only natural that his first thought should be in connection with the safe recovery of his hard earned money.
They rapidly drew near the cottage, and all of the boys were beginning to wonder what was fated to happen next on the programme. Doubtless they were some of them fairly quivering with eagerness, and hoping that the thief might be caught examining the stolen cash box.
"Hush! there's somebody coming along over there; stand still, everybody!" Paul gave warning, suddenly, and the whole party remained motionless, watching a lighted lantern that was moving rapidly toward the cottage from the opposite direction, being evidently carried by an approaching man.
It continued to advance straight toward the cottage. Then the unknown opened the door, and went in.
"That was Jo," muttered Mr. Rollins, "I seen his face plain as anything; but why would he be coming from the direction of town, instead of my place?"
"Oh! that might be only a clever little trick, sir," Seth made haste to say, as though to indicate in this way that scouts were able to see back of all such sly dodges.
"Say, he sure had something under his arm," broke in Jotham just then.
"Yes, I saw that, too," added Paul. "It was a small package, not much larger than a cigar box, I should say, and wrapped up in brown paper."
"P'raps my tin cash box?" suggested Mr. Rollins, in trembling tones.
"It might be, though I hardly think any one smart enough to play such a game as setting fire to a barn in order to draw all attention away from the house he wanted to rob, would be silly enough to carry home a tin box that would convict him, if ever it was found there."
Paul made this remark. They had once more started to advance, though by no means as rapidly as before. The fact that Jo Davies had arrived just before them, and not only carrying a lighted lantern, but with a suspicious packet under his arm, seemed to necessitate a change of pace, as well as a new line of action.
"Let's sneak up to the window, and peek in?" suggested Fritz, and somehow the idea appealed to the others, for without any argument they proceeded to carry out the plan of campaign.
It promised to be easy work. The shade seemed to be all the way up, as though the old lady who lived in the humble cottage had left a light near the window purposely in order to cheer her boy when he turned the bend below, and came in sight of home.
As noiselessly as possible, therefore, the six scouts, accompanied by the farmer, crept toward this window. The sill was not over four feet from the ground, and could be easily reached; indeed, in order not to expose themselves, they were compelled to stoop rather low when approaching the spot.
Some sort of flower garden lay under the window. Paul remembered stepping upon unseen plants, and somehow felt a pang of regret at thus injuring what had probably taken much of the old lady's time and attention to nurse along to the flowering stage. But this was an occasion when all minor scruples must be laid aside. When a man has been basely robbed, and by an employee in whom he has put the utmost confidence, one cannot stand on ceremony, even if pet flowerbeds are rudely demolished. And if the farmer's suspicions turned out to be real facts, Jo Davies' old mother was apt to presently have worries besides which the breaking of her flowers would not be a circumstance.
Now they had reached a point where, by raising their heads, they could peep into the room where the lamp gave such illumination.
As scouts the boys had long ago learned to be cautious in whatever they attempted; and hence they did not immediately thrust their heads upward, at the risk of attracting the attention of whoever might be within the room. On the contrary each fellow slowly and carefully raised himself, inch by inch, until his eyes, having passed the lower sill he could see, first the low ceiling, then the upper part of the opposite wall, and last of all the occupants themselves.
They were two in number, one an old woman with a sweet face and snow-white hair; the other a tall, boyish-looking chap, undoubtedly the Jo who had been farmhand to Mr. Rollins, and was now under the dreadful ban of suspicion.
When Paul first caught sight of these two they were bending over the table, on which something evidently lay that had been holding their attention. Jo was talking excitedly. Every minute he would pause in whatever he was saying, to throw his arms around the little old lady, who in turn would clasp her arms about his neck; and in this way they seemed to be exchanging mutual congratulations. But when they moved aside while thus embracing, Paul felt a cold chill run up and down his spine because there upon the table were several piles of bank bills!
INNOCENT OR GUILTY?
Paul could feel the farmer trembling as he happened to come in contact with his person; and from this he guessed that Mr. Rollins had also discovered the pile of money on the table.
Was Jo Davies, then, such a silly fellow as this? It did not seem possible that anyone not a fool would rob his employer, and immediately hurry home, to throw the stolen money before his dear old mother, with some wonderful story of how he had found it on the road, perhaps, or had it given to him by a millionaire whose horse he stopped on the highway, when it was running away with a lady in the vehicle.
And somehow, from the few little glimpses Paul had caught of the young fellow's face he rather liked Jo Davies. If, as seemed very likely, the young man had been tempted to steal this money, it would cause Paul a feeling of regret, even though he had not known there was such a being as Jo Davies in the world half an hour before.
"Whoo! see the long green!" he heard Seth whisper. "Reckon he's gone and done it, worse luck!" and from the words and the manner of his saying them, Paul guessed that the speaker must have taken a fancy to Jo, as well as himself.
The window happened to be shut, and so this whisper attracted no attention on the part of those within the cottage. Indeed, they were so given over to excitement themselves that they were hardly apt to notice anything out of the common.
Paul could feel the farmer beginning to slip down, and it was easy to understand that the sight of all that money made him want to rush inside, to claim it, before the bold thief had a chance to hide his plunder somewhere.
And this was the only possible thing that should be done. While Mr. Rollins in the kindness of his heart might wish to spare the dear old lady all he could, he dared not take any chances of losing sight of his property.
"Come on, boys!"
That was quite enough, for when the other scouts heard Paul say these three simple words they knew that there was going to be something doing. And quickly did they proceed to fall in behind their leader and the farmer.
Under ordinary conditions, perhaps, it might have occurred to the patrol leader to throw some sort of guard around the cabin, so as to prevent the escape of the desperate thief. He did not think of doing such a thing now, for various reasons.
In the first place, one of the scouts could hardly hope to cope with such a husky young fellow as the farmhand, if once he wanted to break through the line.
Then again, it hardly seemed likely that Jo Davies would attempt to flee, when his old mother was there to witness his confusion; in fact, the chances appeared to be that he would brazen it out, and try to claim that the money belonged to him. The door was close at hand, so that it took only part of a minute for the eager farmer to reach the means of ingress.
He did not hesitate a second, after having set eyes on all that alluring pile of bank notes on the table, under the glow of the lamp.
And when he suddenly opened the door, to burst into the room, Paul and the other scouts were close upon his heels, every fellow anxious to see what was about to happen.
Of course the noise caused by their entrance in such a mass, was heard by those in the room. Jo Davies sprang to his feet, and assumed an attitude of defiance, one arm extended, as though to defend the little fortune that lay there exposed so recklessly upon the table.
Possibly this was the very first time in all his life that he had experienced such a sensation as fear of robbery. When a man has never possessed anything worth stealing, he can hardly know what the feeling is. So it must have been sheer instinct that caused Jo to thus stand on guard, ready apparently to fight, in order to protect his property, however recently it may have come into his possession.
No wonder that he felt this sudden alarm, to have the door of his home rudely thrown open, and a horde of fellows fairly tumbling over each other, in their eagerness to enter.
Then, the look of alarm seemed to pass away from the face of the young fellow; as though he had recognized his employer. Paul wondered whether this was real or cleverly assumed. He saw Jo actually smile, and advancing a step, half hold out his hand toward Mr. Rollins.
But the farmer was looking very stern just then. He either did not see the extended hand, or else meant to ignore it purposely, for he certainly made no move toward taking it.
"I've got back, Mr. Rollins," Jo said, his voice rather shaky, either from excitement, or some other reason; and he stared hard at Paul and the other khaki-garbed scouts, as though puzzled to account for their being there.
"So I see," replied the farmer, grimly.
"I hope you didn't hev too much trouble with the stock, Mr. Rollins," Jo went on to say, in a half hesitating sort of way.
"Well, if I did, they are all safe and sound; perhaps you'd like to know that now," the farmer went on to remark, a little bitterly.
Jo looked at him queerly.
"He either doesn't understand what that means, or else is trying to seem ignorant," was what Paul thought, seeing this expression of wonderment.
"I'm glad to hear that, sure I am, Mr. Rollins," the other remarked, slowly, "an' seein' as how you're dropped in on us unexpected like, p'raps I ought to tell you what I meant to say in the mornin.'"
"What's that?" demanded Mr. Rollins, unconsciously edging a little closer to the table where that tempting display of greenbacks could be seen; just as though he began to fear that it might suddenly take wings and fly away before he could put in a claim for his property.
"I've come in for a little windfall, sir," began Jo, proudly it appeared.
"Looks like you had," grumbled the farmer, as he flashed his eyes again toward the display so near at hand.
"And if so be you're of the same mind about that Thatcher farm, p'raps we might come to terms about the same, sir. I guess you'd just as lief sell it to me as anybody else, wouldn't you, Mr. Rollins?"
"You seem to have a lot of money all of a sudden, Jo?" suggested the farmer, in a hoarse tone, so that he had to clear his throat twice while speaking.
"Yes, sir, that's so," declared the young farm hand, eagerly. "I never dreamed of such grand good fortune as an old aunt of mine dying up in Indianapolis, and leaving me all she had in bank. That's why I asked to get off this afternoon, Mr. Rollins, so I could run over, and get what was comin' to me."
The farmer was grinding his teeth a little; but so long as he believed he saw all his stolen hoard before him, within reach of his hand, he seemed able to control himself; he even waxed a trifle sarcastic, Paul thought, when, looking straight at his hired man, he went on to say:
"Perhaps now, Jo, I might give a pretty good guess about the size of this wonderful fortune you've come into so sudden-like. How would three thousand sound to you, Jo? Is that about the figure now, tell me?"
Jo turned a wondering face toward his old mother.
"Well, did you ever hear the beat of that, maw?" he cried, "Mr. Rollins has just guessed the size of my pile to a dollar, because it was just three thousand old Aunt Libby left me—a few dollars over p'raps. However did you know it, sir?" and he once more faced the sneering farmer.
"I'll tell you, Jo," continued Mr. Rollins, coldly, "I happen to have just had three thousand dollars in bills stolen from my house this very night, by some rascal who first of all set fire to my stable and barn, so that the missus and me'd be so taken up with saving our pet stock we'd leave the farmhouse unguarded. Yes, and there was a few dollars more'n three thousand dollars, Jo. Queer coincidence I'd call it now, wouldn't you?"
Jo turned deathly white, and stared at his employer. His eyes were round with real, or assumed horror. If he was "putting on," as Seth would term it, then this farm hand must be a pretty clever actor for a crude country bumpkin, Paul thought.
"Oh! Jo, my boy, my boy, what does he mean by saying that?"
The little old lady had arisen from her chair, though she trembled so that she seemed in danger of falling; but Paul unconsciously moved a pace closer, ready to catch her in his arms if she swooned. But Jo, quick as a flash, hearing her voice, whirled around, and threw a protecting arm about her.
"It's all right, maw; don't you go and be afraid. I ain't done nawthing you need to be fearful about. This money's mine! Set down again, deary. Don't you worrit about Jo. He ain't agoin' to make your dear old heart bleed, sure he ain't."
And somehow, when Paul saw the tender way in which the rough farm boy forced the little old lady back into her chair, and caught the positive tone in which he gave her this assurance, he seemed almost ready to believe Jo must be innocent; although when he glanced at the money his heart misgave him again.
"Now, Mr. Rollins, please tell me what it all means?" asked Jo, turning and facing his employer again, with a bold, self-confident manner that must have astonished the farmer not a little. "I just come up from town as fast as I could hurry, because, you see, I knew I was bringin' the greatest of news to maw here. I did see a sorter light in the sky when I was leavin' town, and thinks I to myself, that old swamp back of the ten acre patch must be burnin' again; but I never dreamed it was the stable and hay barn, sure I didn't sir."
The farmer hardly seemed to know what to say to this, he was so taken aback by the utter absence of guilt in the face and manner of Jo.
Before he could frame any sort of reply the young fellow had spoken again.
"You said as how you'd got all the stock out safe, didn't you, Mr. Rollins? I'd just hate to think of Polly and Sue and the hosses bein' burned up. Whatever d'ye think could a set the fire agoin'? Mebbe that last hay we put in wa'n't as well cured as it might a been, an' it's been heatin' right along. I meant to look into it more'n once, but somethin' always came along an' I plumb forgot it."
Mr. Rollins looked at him, and frowned. He did not know how to answer such a lead as this. He was growing impatient, almost angry again.
"Give me my money, Jo, and let me be going; I can't breathe proper in here, you've upset me so bad," he said, holding out his hand with an imperative gesture.
"But I ain't got no money of yours, Mr. Rollins," expostulated the other, stubbornly. "I'm awful sorry if you've gone and lost your roll, and I'd do most anything to help you find it again; but that money belongs to me, and I don't mean to turn it over to nobody. It's goin' to buy a home for me and maw, understand that, sir—your little Thatcher place, if so be you'll come to terms; but some other if you won't. That's plain, sir, ain't it?"
"What, do you have the nerve to stick to that silly story, after admitting that this wonderfully gotten fortune of yours tallies to the dollar with what has been taken from my house?" demanded Mr. Rollins, acting as though half tempted to immediately pounce upon the treasure, and take possession, depending on Paul and his scouts to back him up if Jo showed fight.
"I sure do; and I know what I know, Mr. Rollins!" declared the farmhand, with flashing eyes, as he pushed between the table and the irate farmer; while his little mother wrung her clasped hands, and moaned pitifully to see the strange thing that was happening there under her own roof.
It looked for a moment as though there might be some sort of a rumpus; and Seth even began to clench his hands as if ready to take a prominent part in the same; but as had happened more than a few times before when the storm clouds gathered over the scouts, Paul's wise counsel intervened to prevent actual hostilities.
"Wait a minute, Mr. Rollins," he called out. "This thing ought to be easily settled, one way or another. You understand that queer things may happen sometimes, and there is a chance that two sums of money may be almost exactly alike. Now, if Jo here has inherited a nice little fortune, he ought to be able to prove that to us by showing letters, or some sort of documents. How about that, Jo?"
To the surprise, and pleasure as well, of the scoutmaster, Jo's face immediately expanded into a wide grin, and he nodded his head eagerly.
"Say, maw, what did you do with that letter we had from the law firm over in Indianapolis, tellin' me to come and claim my property, and to bring along something to prove that I was the said Jo Albion Davies mentioned in Aunt Selina's last will and testament? In the drawer, you mean? All right, I'll get it; and let these gentlemen read the same. And there's Squire McGregor as went up with me to identify me to the lawyers, he'll tell you he saw me get this money from the bank, just before they closed this arternoon. There she is; now read her out loud, young feller."