The Banner Boy Scouts Afloat
The Secret of Cedar Island
By GEORGE A. WARREN
I THE MYSTERIOUS BOXES
II GLORIOUS NEWS
III FOR CEDAR ISLAND—GHOST OR NO GHOST
IV LAYING IN THE STORES
V JUST AFTER THE CLOCK STRUCK TEN
VI THE GREAT CRUISE OF THE SCOUTS BEGUN
VII STUCK FAST IN THE MUD
VIII WHAT THE WATER GAUGE SHOWED
IX ON THE SWIFT RADWAY
X DODGING THE SNAGS AND THE SNARES
XI THE CAMP ON CEDAR ISLAND
XII WAS IT A BURSTING METEOR?
XIII THE FOOTPRINTS IN THE SAND
XIV TRYING TO FIGURE IT ALL OUT
XV ORDERED OFF
XVI UNDER COVER OF DARKNESS
XVII PITCHING TENTS IN THE "SINK"
XVIII WHAT LAY IN THE BRUSH
XIX LAYING PLANS
XX THE EXPLORING PARTY
XXI A MYSTERY OF THE OPEN GLADE
XXII THE WIGWAG MESSAGE
XXIII STILL FLOUNDERING IN THE MIRE
XXIV THE DISCOVERY
XXV TIME TO GO BACK
XXVI HONORABLE SCARS
XXVII ANOTHER THREATENING PERIL
XXVIII PREPARED FOR THE WORST
XXIX LIFTING THE LID
XXX GOOD-BYE TO CEDAR ISLAND
XXXI A SCOUT'S DUTY
It is with the greatest pleasure that I present you with the third volume of the "Banner Boy Scouts Series." This is a complete story in itself; and yet most of the leading characters you, who have already read the first and second volumes, will easily remember. I trust you will heartily welcome the appearance once more on the stage of Paul, Jack, Bobolink and all the other good fellows belonging to Stanhope Troop of Boy Scouts.
Those of you who are old friends will recollect that while the Red Fox Patrol was forming, the boys had a most strenuous time, what with a deep mystery in their midst, and the bitter strife resulting from their competition with rival troops belonging to neighboring towns. How the beautiful banner was cleverly won by Stanhope, I related in the first volume, called: "The Banner Boy Scouts."
In the succeeding story the Stanhope Scouts went on their first long hike, to camp in the open. The remarkable adventures they met with while enjoying this experience; as well as the stirring account of how they recovered a box of valuable papers that had been stolen from the office of Joe Clausin's father, form the main theme of "The Banner Boy Scouts on a Tour."
And now, in this third book, I have endeavored to interest you in another series of happenings that befell these wide-awake boys before their summer vacation was over. I hope you will, after reading this story through to the last line, agree with me that what the young assistant scout master, Paul Morrison, and his chums of Stanhope Troop endured while afloat all went to make them better and truer scouts in every sense of the word.
GEORGE A. WARREN.
THE MYSTERIOUS BOXES
"What are you limping for, Bobolink?"
"Oh! shucks! I see there's no use trying to hide anything from your sharp eyes, Jack Stormways. Guess I just about walked my feet off today, goin' fishin' with our patrol leader, away over to the Radway River, and about six miles up."
"Have any luck, Bobolink?" instantly demanded the third member of the group of three half-grown boys, who were passing after nightfall through some of the partly deserted streets on the outskirts of the thriving town of Stanhope; and whose name it might be stated was Tom Betts.
"Well, I should say, yes. Between us we got seven fine bass, and a pickerel. By the way, I caught that pickerel; Paul, he looked after the bass end of the string, and like the bully chap he is divided with me;" and the boy who limped chuckled as he said this, showing that he could appreciate a joke, even when it was on himself.
About everybody in town called him Bobolink; and what boy could do otherwise, seeing that his real name was Robert O. Link?
As the trio of lads were all dressed in the khaki suits known all over the world nowadays as typifying Boy Scouts, it could be readily taken for granted that they belonged to the Stanhope Troop.
Already were there three full patrols enlisted, and wearing uniforms; while a fourth was in process of forming. The ones already in the field were known as, first, the Red Fox, to which these three lads belonged; then the Gray Fox, and finally the Black Fox. But as they had about exhausted the color roster of the fox family, the chances were that the next patrol would have to start on a new line when casting about for a name that would stamp their identity, and serve as a totem.
An efficient scout master had been secured in the person of a young man by the name of Mr. Gordon, who cheerfully accompanied the lads on their outings, and attended many of their meetings. But being a traveling salesman, Mr. Gordon often had to be away from home for weeks at a time.
When these lapses occurred, his duties fell upon the shoulders of Paul Morrison, who not only filled the position of leader to the Red Fox Patrol, but being a first-class scout, had received his commission from Headquarters that entitled him to act as assistant scout master to the whole troop during the absence of Mr. Gordon.
"How did you like it up on the Radway?" continued the one who had made the first inquiry, Jack Stormways, whose father owned a lumber yard and planing mill just outside the limits of the town, which was really the goal of their present after-supper walk.
"Great place, all right," replied Bobolink. "Paul kept calling my attention to all the things worth seeing. He seems to think a heap of the old Radway. For my part, I rather fancy our own tight little river, the Bushkill."
"Well, d'ye know, that's one reason I asked how you liked it," Jack went on. "Paul seemed so much taken with that region over there, I've begun to get a notion in my head he's fixing a big surprise, and that perhaps at the meeting to-night he may spring it on us."
"Tell me about that, will you?" exclaimed Bobolink, who was given to certain harmless slang ways whenever he became in the least excited, as at present. "Now that you've been and gone and given me a pointer, I c'n just begin to get a line on a few of the questions he asked me. Well, I'm willing to leave it to Paul. He always thinks of the whole shooting match when trying to give the troop a bully good time. Just remember what we went through with when we camped out up on Rattlesnake Mountain, will you?"
"That's right," declared Tom Betts, eagerly; "say, didn't we have the time of our lives, though?"
"And yet Paul said only today that as we had so long a time before vacation ends this year, a chance might pop up for another trip," Bobolink remarked, significantly.
"Did, eh? Well, don't that go to prove what I said; and you just wait till we get back to the meeting room in the church. Paul's just bursting with some sort of secret, and I reckon he'll just have to tell us to-night," and Jack laughed good-naturedly as he still led his two comrades on toward the retired lane, where his father's big mill adjoined the storage place for lumber; convenient to the river, and at the same time near the railroad, so that a spur track could enter the yard.
Besides these three boys five others constituted the Red Fox Patrol of Stanhope Troop. In the first story of this series, which appeared under the name of "The Banner Boy Scouts; Or, The Struggle for Leadership," the reader was told about the formation of the Red Fox Patrol, and how some of the boys learned a lesson in scout methods of returning good for evil; also how a cross old farmer was taught that he owed a duty to the community in which he lived, as well as to himself. In that story it was also disclosed how a resident of the town offered a beautiful banner to that troop which excelled in an open tournament also participated in by two other troops of Boy Scouts from the towns of Aldine and Manchester; the former on the east bank of the Bushkill, about six miles up-stream, and the latter a bustling manufacturing place about seven miles down, and also on the same bank as Aldine.
In this competition, after a lively duel between the three wide awake troops, Stanhope won handsomely; and had therefore been given the banner, which Wallace Carberry proudly carried at the head of the procession whenever they paraded.
The second book, "The Banner Boy Scouts on a Tour; Or, The Mystery of Rattlesnake Mountain," was given over almost exclusively to descriptions of the wonderful things that came to pass when Stanhope Troop spent a part of their vacation camping out in order that those who were backward in their knowledge of how to take care of themselves when in the open should have a good chance to learn many of the secrets of Nature.
So many strange things happened to the boys when up on Rattlesnake Mountain that it would be utterly impossible to even mention them here; but if you wish to know all about the mystery they solved, and the numerous other exciting events that befell them, you must get the second volume.
There was to be a special meeting, which the acting scout master had called for this evening; and Bobolink, Jack, and Tom Betts expected to be back from their errand in time to answer to their names when the roll was called.
It was only to oblige Jack that the other two had left home half an hour earlier than was really necessary. Jack had asked them, over the telephone, to drop around, as he had to go out to his father's mill before he could attend the meeting in the church, where a room in the basement had been kindly loaned to them by the trustees.
"What's all this mean about you going to the mill at this queer old hour?" Bobolink was saying, as the three boys continued to walk on abreast, the speaker carrying the silver-plated bugle which he knew how to manipulate so well when the occasion allowed its use.
"Why, you see it's this way," Jack went on to explain. "My father knows a man of the name of Professor Hackett, though what he's a professor of you needn't ask me, because I don't know. But he's a bright little gentleman, all right; and somehow or other he looks like he's just cram full of some secret that's trying to break out all over him."
Bobolink laughed aloud.
"Well, that's a funny description you give of the gentleman, I must say, Jack; but go on—what's he got to do with our making this trip to the big mill tonight?"
"I just guess it's got everything to do with it," replied the other. "You see, the professor had a number of big cases sent up here on the train, and they came today, and were taken to the mill; for my father promised to keep them there a couple of days until the owner could take them away. What under the sun's in those big boxes I couldn't tell you from Adam; all I know is that he seems to be mighty much afraid somebody's going to steal them."
"Wow! and are we going there to stand guard over the blooming old things?" exclaimed Bobolink in dismay; for he would not want to miss that special meeting for anything.
"Oh! not quite so bad as that," answered Jack, with a laugh. "But you see, that professor wrote my father that he wanted him to hire a trusty man who would stay in the mill over night until he could get up here from New York and take the boxes away, somewhere or other."
"Oh, that's it, eh? And where do we find the guardian of the treasure? Is he going to bob up on the road to the mill?" Tom Betts demanded.
"He promised father to be on deck at seven-thirty, and it'll be close on that by the time we get there, I reckon," Jack continued.
"And what have you got to do about it?" asked Bobolink.
"Let him in, and lock the door after he's on duty," replied Jack, promptly. "You see, ever since that attempt was made to burn the mill, when those hoboes, or yeggs, thought they'd find money in the safe, and had their trouble for their pains, my father has been mighty careful how he leaves the office unfastened. He couldn't see this man, Hans Waggoner, who used to work for us, but talked with him over the 'phone, and told him I'd be there to meet him, and let him in. That's all there is to it, boys, believe me."
"Only, you don't know what's in those boxes, and you'd give a cookie to find out?" suggested Bobolink.
"It isn't so bad as that," replied the other. "Of course I'm a little curious about what they might hold, that they have to be specially guarded; but I guess it's none of my business, and I'm not going to monkey around, trying to find out."
"Say, d'ye suppose your dad knows?" asked Tom.
"Sure he must," came from Jack, instantly. "He'd be silly to let anybody store a lot of cases that might hold dynamite, or any other old explosive, in his planing mill, without knowing all about 'em; wouldn't he? But my father don't think it's any of my affair, you see. And besides, I wouldn't be surprised if that funny little professor had bound him not to tell anybody about it. They got the boxes in on the sly, and that's a fact, boys."
"Oh! splash! now you've got me worked up with guessing, and I'll never be able to sleep till I know all about it," grumbled Bobolink.
"You're just as curious as any old woman I ever heard of," declared Jack.
"He always was," said Tom Betts, with a chuckle, "and I could string off more'n a few times when that same curiosity hauled Bobolink into a peck of trouble. But p'raps your father might let out the secret to you, after the old boxes have been taken away, and then you can ease his mind. Because it's just like he says, and he'll keep on dreamin' the most wonderful things about those cases you ever heard tell about. That imagination of Bobolink is something awful."
"Huh!" grunted the one under discussion, "not much worse than some others I know about right now; only they c'n keep a tight grip on theirs, and I'm that simple I just have to blurt everything out. Both of you fellers'd like to know nearly as much as I would, what that mysterious little old man has got hid away in those big cases. Of course you would. But you jump on the lid, and hold it down. It gets away with me; that's all."
"All the same, it's mighty good of you fellows, coming all the way out here with me tonight; and even when Bobolink's got a stone bruise on his heel, or something like that," Jack went on to say, with a vein of sincere affection in his voice; for the boys making up the Red Fox Patrol of Stanhope Troop were very fond of each other.
"Oh! rats! what's the good of being a scout if you can't do a comrade a little favor once in a while?" asked Bobolink, impetuously. "But there's the mill looming up ahead, Jack, in the dark. Half a moon don't give a whole lot of light, now, does it; and especially when it's a cloudy night in the bargain?"
"Well, I declare!" exclaimed Jack.
"What is it; did you see anything?" demanded Tom Betts, hastily.
"I'm not dead sure," admitted Jack; "you see, just as Bobolink said, the light's mighty poor, and a fellow could easily be mistaken; but I thought I saw something that looked like a tall man scuttle away around that corner of the mill, and dodge behind that pile of lumber!"
"Whew!" ejaculated Bobolink, showing the utmost interest, for excitement appealed to him.
"Say, perhaps Hans has arrived ahead of the half hour," suggested Tom Betts.
"No, it wasn't Hans, because I know him well, and he's a little runt of a Dutchman, but a fighter from the word go; and my father knows nobody's going to get away with those boxes of the professor while Hans and his musket, that was used in the Civil War, are on guard. That was a tall man, and he ran like he'd just heard us coming, and wanted to hide. I guess somebody else is curious about those boxes, besides Bobolink."
"Look! there he goes scooting away over past that other pile of lumber!" said Tom Betts, pointing as he spoke; and both the others caught a glimpse of a dim figure that was bending over while hurrying away, as if anxious not to be seen.
"Well, what d'ye think of the nerve of that?" ejaculated Bobolink, making a move as though in his impetuous way he was sorely tempted to chase after the disappearing figure of the unknown; only that the more cautious Jack threw out a hand, and caught hold of his sleeve.
"Never mind him, boys," remarked the son of the lumber man. "Perhaps it was only a tramp from the railroad, after all, meaning to find a place to sleep among the lumber piles. But I'm going to tell my father about it, all the same. Seems to me he ought to have some one like Hans stay here every night. Some of those hoboes will set fire to things, either by accident, or because they are mad at the town for not handing enough good things out to suit their appetites."
They walked on, and in another minute were at the office door. There they sat down on the stoop to rest and talk; but only a few minutes had passed when they heard the sound of approaching footsteps; and a small but very erect figure appeared, carrying an old-fashioned musket of the vintage of '61 over his shoulder.
"Hello! Hans, on time all right, I see!" called out Jack.
"Dot is me, I dells you, every time. I am punctuality idself. I sets me der clock, undt figure dot all oudt, so I haf yust der time to valk here. Der sooner you obens der door, Misder Jack, der sooner I pe on der chob," was the reply of the little man who had been hired to watch the mill, and those strange boxes, during the night.
Evidently Hans was "strictly business." He had been hired to watch, and he wanted to be earning his wages as quickly as possible.
So Jack used his key, and the four entered the office. It was quite a good-sized room. The windows were covered with heavy wire netting, and it seemed strong enough to resist any ordinary degree of force. After that attempt to rob his safe, Mr. Stormways had taken precautions against a similar raid.
The watchman also carried a lantern, which he now lighted. No sooner had this been done than Bobolink uttered an exclamation.
"I reckon now, Jack, that these three big boxes are the ones the professor wants watched?" he observed, pointing as he spoke to several cumbersome cases that stood in a group, occupying considerable space.
Tom Betts, also looking, saw that they were unusually well fastened. In addition to the ordinary nailing, they were bound along the edges with heavy twisted wire, through which frequent nails had been driven. When they came to be opened, the job would prove no easy one.
"Yes, those are the ones; and Hans is to spend most all his time right here in the office," Jack went on to say. "I'm going to ask my father if he ought not to hire you to be night watchman right along, Hans. This plant of ours is getting too big a thing to leave unguarded, with so many tramps coming along the road in the good old summer time. I suppose you'd like the job, all right?"
"Sure," replied the bustling little man, his eyes sparkling. "I always did enchoy vorkin' for Misder Stormways. Undt it habbens dot yust now I am oudt off a chob. Dot vill pe allright. I hopes me idt turns out so. Undt now, off you like, you could lock der door some. I stay me here till somepody gomes der mornin' py."
"Oh! you keep the key, Hans," replied Jack. "You might want to chase out after some one; but father told me to warn you not to be tempted to go far away. You see, he's storing these cases for a friend, and it seems that somebody wants to either get at 'em, or steal them. They're what you're hired to protect, Hans. And now let us out, and lock the door after we're gone."
Anxious to get to the church before the meeting could be called to order, the three scouts did not linger, although Hans was such an amusing little man that they would have liked nothing better than to spend an hour in his society, listening to stories about his adventures—for the Dutchman had roamed pretty much all over the world since his boyhood.
"Shucks! I forgot to examine those boxes," lamented Bobolink, when they were on the way past the end of the lumber yard.
Jack was glancing sharply about, wondering whether that tall, skulking figure they had glimpsed could be some one who had a peculiar interest in the boxes stored in the office of the mill until Professor Hackett called for them; or just an ordinary "Weary Willie," looking for a soft board to sleep on, before he continued his hike along the railroad track.
But look as he would, he could see no further sign of a trespasser. Of course that was no sign the unknown might not be within twenty feet of them, right then. The tall piles of lumber offered splendid hiding-places if any one was disposed to take advantages of the nooks; Jack had explored many a snug hole, when roaming through the yard at various times, and ought to know about it.
"Oh! I took care of that part," chuckled Tom Betts. "I saw you were talking with Jack and old Hans, so I just stepped up, and walked around the boxes. There isn't a thing on 'em but the name of the professor, and Jack's dad's address in Stanhope."
"And they didn't look much like animal cages to me," muttered Bobolink; upon which both of the others emitted exclamations of surprise, whereupon the speaker seemed to think he ought to make some sort of explanation, so he went on hastily: "You see, Jack, I somehow got a silly idea in my mind that p'raps this little professor was some sort of an animal trainer, and meant to come up here, just to have things quiet while he did his little stunts. But that was a punk notion for me, all right; there ain't any smell of animals about those boxes, not a whiff."
"But what in the wide world gave you that queer notion?" asked Tom.
"Don't know," replied Bobolink, "'less it was what Jack said about the professor writing up from Coney Island near New York City; that's the place where all the freaks show every summer. I've been down there myself."
"Listen to him, would you, Jack, owning up that he's a sure enough freak? Well, some of us had a little idea that way, Bobolink, but we never thought you'd admit it so coolly," remarked Tom Betts, laughingly.
"And the wild animal show down there is just immense," the other went on, not heeding the slur cast upon his reputation; for like many boys, Bobolink had a pretty tough skin, and was not easily offended; "and I guess I've thought about what I saw done there heaps of times. So Coney stands for wild animal trainin' to me. But that guess was away wide of the mark. Forget it, fellows. Only whenever Jack here learns what was in those boxes, he must let his chums know. It's little enough to pay for draggin' a lame scout all the way out here tonight; think so, Jack?"
"I sure do, and you'll have it, if ever I find out," was the reply. "Perhaps, after they've been taken away by the professor, my father mightn't mind telling me what was in them. And we'll let it rest at that, now."
"But you mark me, if Bobolink gets any peace of mind till he learns," warned Tom.
Chatting on various matters connected more or less with the doings of the Boy Scout movement, and what a fine thing it was proving for the youth of the whole land, Jack and his chums presently brought up at the church which had the bell tower; and where a splendid meeting room had been given over for their occupancy in the basement, in which a gymnasium was fitted up for use in the fall and winter.
In that tower hung a big bell, whose brazen tongue had once upon a time alarmed the good people of Stanhope by ding-donging at a most unusual hour. It had come through a prank played upon the scouts by several tough boys of the town whose enmity Paul Morrison and his chums had been unfortunate enough to incur. But for the details of that exciting episode the reader will have to be referred back to the preceding volume.
Jack Stormways never glanced up at that tower but that he was forcibly reminded of that startling adventure; and a smile would creep over his face as he remembered some of the most striking features connected with the event.
In the big room the three scouts found quite a crowd awaiting their coming. Indeed, it seemed as though nearly every member of the troop had made it an especial point to attend this meeting just as though they knew there was something unusual about to come before them for consideration.
As many of these lads will be apt to figure in the pages of this story, it might be just as well to listen to the secretary, as he calls the roster of the Stanhope Troop. Once this duty had devolved upon one of the original Red Fox Patrol; but with the idea of sharing the responsibilities in a more general way, it had been transferred to the shoulders of Phil Towns, who belonged to the second patrol.
RED FOX PATROL
1—Paul Morrison, patrol leader, and also assistant scout master. 2—Jack Stormways. 3—Bobolink, the official bugler. 4—Bluff Shipley, the drummer. 5—Nuthin, whose real name was Albert Cypher. 6—William Carberry, one of the twins. 7—Wallace Carberry, the other. 8—Tom Betts.
GRAY FOX PATROL
1—Jud Elderkin, patrol leader. 2—Joe Clausin. 3—Andy Flinn. 4—Phil Towns. 5—Horace Poole. 6—Bob Tice. 7—Curly Baxter. 8—Cliff Jones, whose entire name was Clifford Ellsworth Fairfax Jones.
BLACK FOX PATROL
1—Frank Savage, patrol leader. 2—Billie Little, a very tall lad, and of course always called Little Billie. 3—Nat Smith. 4—Sandy Griggs. 5—Old Dan Tucker. 6—"Red" Conklin. 7—"Spider" Sexton. 8—"Gusty" Bellows.
Unattached, but to belong to a fourth patrol, later on:
George Hurst. "Lub" Ketcham.
Thus it will be seen that there were now twenty-six lads connected with the wide awake Stanhope Troop, and more coming.
After the roll call, they proceeded to the regular business, with Paul Morrison in the chair, he being the president of the association. It was surprising how well many of these boyish meetings were conducted; Paul and some of his comrades knew considerable about parliamentary law, and long ago the hilarious members of the troop had learned that when once the meeting was called to order they must put all joking aside.
Many a good debate had been heard within those same walls since the scouts received permission to meet there; and yet in camp, when the rigid discipline was relaxed, these same fellows could be as full of fun and frolic as any lads going.
Tonight it had been whispered around that Paul had some sort of important communication to make. No one could give a guess as to what it might be, although all sorts of hazards were attempted, only to be jeered at as absurd.
And so, while the meeting progressed, they were growing more and more excited, until finally it was as much as some of them could do to repress a cheer when Paul, having made sure that there was no other business to be transacted, arose with a smile, and announced that he had a certain communication to lay before them.
"Are you ready to hear it?" he asked; "every fellow who is raise his hand."
Needless to say, not a single hand remained unraised. Paul deliberately counted them to the bitter end.
"Just twenty-four; and as that is the total number present, we'll call it unanimous," he said, just to tantalize them a little; and then, with an air of business he went on: "Two splendid gentlemen of this town, by name Mr. Everett and Colonel Bliss, happen to own motorboats. As they have gone to Europe, to be away until late in the Fall, they thought it would show how they appreciated the work of the Stanhope Troop of Boy Scouts if they offered the free use of their two boats to us, to make a cruise wherever we thought best during the balance of vacation time. Now, all in favor of accepting this magnificent offer from our fellow townsmen signify by saying 'aye!'"
Hardly had the words fallen from the speaker's lips when a thunderous "aye" made the stout walls of the building tremble.
FOR CEDAR ISLAND—GHOST OR NO GHOST
"Three cheers for Colonel Bliss and Mr. Everett!" called out Bobolink, almost too excited to speak plainly.
Paul himself led the cheering, because he knew those delighted boys just had to find some sort of outlet for the enthusiasm that was bubbling up within them. And doubtless the walls of that sacred building had seldom heard such cheers since away back in the time when a meeting was held there at news of the Civil War breaking out in 1861 and the patriotic citizens had formed a company on the spot, to volunteer their services to the President.
"Where will we go?" called out one scout, after the cheering had died down, and they found time to consider ways and means of employing the motorboats that had been so generously given into their keeping.
"Down the Bushkill to the sea!" suggested one.
"I suppose you think these motorboats can jump like broncos?" declared Jud Elderkin, with a look of disgust; "else how would they ever get around that big dam down at Seely's Mills? We could crawl a few miles up the Bushkill, but to go down would mean only a short cruise."
"Let Paul say!" cried Bobolink, shrewdly reading the smile on the face of the assistant scout master, as he listened to all sorts of wild plans, none of which would hold together when the rest of the scouts started to pick flaws.
"Yes, Paul's got a scheme that'll knock all these wildcat ones just to flinders, see if it don't," remarked Tom Betts, waving his hands to enforce silence.
"Go on and tell us, Paul; and I reckon I c'n give a right smart guess that it's about that Radway River country," declared Bobolink.
"Just what it is," said Paul. "Listen, then, and tell me what you think of my plan. I've figured it all out, and believe we could make it a go. If we did, we'd surely have the time of our lives, and find out something that I've wanted myself to know a long while back. It's about a trip up the Radway River, too, just as our smart chum guessed."
"But, say, the boats are right here at Stanhope, and have been used in running up and down the Bushkill; then how in the name of wonder can we carry them over to the Radway, which is some miles away, I take it?" asked William Carberry, soberly.
"Wait and see; Paul's got all that arranged," declared the confident Tom Betts.
"Have 'em hauled over on one of his father's big lumber wagons, mebbe," suggested Nuthin, who was rather a small chap, though not of quite so little importance as his name would seem to indicate.
"Oh, you make me tired, Nuthin," declared Bobolink; "why, those motorboats weigh a ton or two apiece. Think of gettin' a wagon strong enough to carry one; and all the slow trips it'd have to take to get 'em there and back. I reckon the whole of our vacation'd see us on the dry land part of the cruise. Now, let Paul tell us what plan he's been thinking about to get over to the Radway with 'em."
"Well, it's just this way," the chairman of the meeting went on to say, calmly, with the air of one who had studied the matter carefully, and grasped every little detail; "most of you know that there was a stream known as Jackson Creek that ran into the Bushkill a mile below Manchester. That was once dredged out, and made to form a regular canal connecting the two rivers. For years, my father says, it was used regularly by all sorts of boats that wanted to cross over from one river to the other. But changes came, and by degrees the old canal has been about forgotten. Still, it's there; and I went through it in my canoe just yesterday, to sound, and see if it could be used by the motorboats now."
"And could it?" asked Bobolink, eagerly.
"I think there's a fair chance that we'd pull through, though it might sometimes be a close shave. There's a lot of nasty mud in the canal, because, you see, it hasn't been cleaned out for years. If we had a good rain now, and both rivers raised, we wouldn't have any trouble, but could run through easy enough."
"Well, supposing we did get through, how far up the Radway would we push?" asked Bobolink, determined to get the entire proposition out of Paul at once, now that they had him going.
"All the way to Lake Tokala," replied Paul, promptly. "Some of you happen to know that there's a jolly island in that big lake, known as Cedar Island, because right on top of a small hill in the middle, a splendid cedar stands. Well, we could take our tents along, and make camp on that island, fishing, swimming, and having one of the best times ever heard of. What do you say, fellows?"
Immediately there was a clamor of tongues. Some seemed to be for accepting Paul's suggestion with a whoop, and declared that it took them by storm. A few, however, seemed to raise objections; and such was the racket that nobody was able to make himself understood. So the chairman called for order; and with the whack of his gavel on the table every voice was stilled.
"Let's conduct this meeting in a parliamentary way," said Paul. "Some of you must have thought it stood adjourned. Now, whoever wants to speak, get up, and let's hear what you've got to say."
"I move that we take up the plan offered, and make our headquarters on Cedar Island," said Wallace Carberry, rising.
"Not on your life!" declared Curly Baxter, bobbing up like a jack-in-the-box; "I've heard lots about that same place. It's troubled with a mystery, and only last week I heard Paddy Reilly say he'd never go there fishin' again if he was paid for it. He's dreadfully afraid of ghosts, Paddy is."
"Ghosts!" almost shouted William Carberry; "I vote to go to Cedar Island then. I've always wanted to see a genuine ghost, and never yet had a chance."
"Now, I heard that it was a wild man that lived somewhere on that same island," remarked Frank Savage. "They say he's a terror, too, all covered with hair; and one man who'd been looking for pearl mussels in the river up that way told my father he beat any Wild Man of Borneo he'd ever set eyes on in a freak show or circus."
"Oh, that's a fine place for honest scouts to pitch their tents, ain't it—I don't think!" observed Joe Clausin, with a sneer.
"H-h-huh! ain't there j-j-just twenty-six of us s-s-scouts; and ought we b-b-be afraid of one l-l-little g-g-ghost, or even a w-w-wild man?" demanded Bluff Shipley, who stuttered once in a while, when unduly excited, though he was by degrees overcoming the nervous habit.
"Put it to a vote, Mr. Chairman!" called out Bobolink.
"Yes, and majority rules, remember," warned William Carberry.
"But that don't mean a feller just has to go along, does it?" asked Nuthin, looking somewhat aghast at the thought.
"Of course it don't;" Bobolink told him; "all the same you'll be on deck, my boy. I just know you can't resist having such a jolly good time, ghost or not. Question, Mr. Chairman!"
"All in favor of trying to go through the old canal that used to connect the Bushkill with the Radway, and cruising up to Cedar Island, camping there for a week or ten days, say 'aye,'" Paul went on to remark.
A thunderous response cheered his heart; for somehow Paul seemed very much set upon following out the scheme he himself had devised.
"Contrary, no!" he continued.
There were just three who boldly allowed themselves to be set down as not being in favor of the daring plan—Nuthin, Curly Baxter and Joe Clausin; and yet, just as the wise, far-seeing Bobolink had declared, when it came to a question of staying at home while the rest of the troop were off enjoying their vacation, or swallowing their fear of ghosts and wild men, these three boys would be along when the motorboats started on their adventurous cruise.
"The ayes have it; and the meeting stands adjourned, according to the motion I can see Jack Stormways's just about to put," and with a laugh Paul stepped down from the platform.
For fully half an hour they talked the thing over. It was viewed from every possible angle. Many objections raised by the doubters were promptly met by the ready Paul; and in the end it was definitely decided that they would give just one day to making all needed preparations.
They had tents for the three patrols now, and all sorts of cooking utensils; for frequently the scouts were divided into messes, there being a cook appointed in each patrol.
What was needed most of all were the supplies for an extended stay; and when it was taken into consideration that a score of boys, with ravenous appetites, would want three big meals each and every day, the question of figuring out enough provisions to see them through was no light matter.
But then they had considerable money in the treasury, and a numbers of the boys said they would bring loaves of bread, and all sorts of eatables from home; so Paul saw his way clear toward providing the given quantity.
"Don't forget that the gasoline is going to eat a big hole into our little pile of the long green," remarked Curly Baxter, still engaged in trying to throw cold water on the scheme.
"Oh, that makes me think of something I forgot to tell you, fellows," declared Paul, his face filled with good humor. "One of the stipulations connected with the lending of these two motor-boats by the kind gentlemen who own them was that they insisted on supplying all the liquid fuel needed to run the craft. The tanks are to be filled, and each boat carries in addition another drum, with extra gasoline. We'll likely have enough for all our needs that way, and without costing us a red cent, either. So, you see how easy most of your objections melt away, Curly. Chances are, you'll fall into line, and be with us when we start the day after tomorrow."
Several of the boys were feeling pretty blue. They wanted to accompany the rest of the troop the worst way; but it happened that their folks had planned to go down to the sea-shore for a month, until school began again; and the chances were they would have to go along, though every one of them declared they would choose the cruise up the Radway in the two motorboats, if given their way.
But it looked as though there was going to be a pretty fair crowd on each boat. Paul counted noses of those he believed would be along, and found that they seemed to number eighteen. If two of the three timid ones concluded to throw their fears to the winds, and come along, it would make an even twenty.
"Of course, it will be hard to sleep so many aboard, because the boats are small affairs, taken altogether," Paul observed; "but we hope to make the journey in a full day, and be on Cedar Island by nightfall."
"Whew! night on Cedar Island—excuse me if you please!" faltered Curly Baxter, holding up both hands, as though the idea suggested all sorts of terrible things to his mind; but much as he seemed desirous of causing others to back out, Paul saw no signs of any one doing so.
"Meet here at noon tomorrow, boys, and I'll report what I've done. Then we can figure on what else we have to lay in store, so as to be comfortable. We must get everything down to the boats before evening, because we start early on Wednesday, you hear. At eight A. M., Bobolink, here, will sound his bugle; and ten minutes later we weigh anchor, or cut loose our hawsers, as you choose to say it, for it means letting go a rope after all."
They started home in bunches, as usual, those who happened to live near together naturally waiting for each other. Paul, Jack, and Bobolink walked together.
"And just as it happens so many times," Paul was saying, as they sauntered on in the direction of home. "Mr. Gordon is away on the road somewhere, selling goods; so we have to go without having our fine scoutmaster along to look after us."
"Guess nobody will miss him very much, although Mr. Gordon is a mighty nice man and we all think a heap of him; but you are able to fill his shoes all right, Paul; and, somehow, it seems to feel better not to have any grown-up along. The responsibility makes most of the fellers behave, and think for themselves, you see," Jack went on to say.
Paul heaved a little sigh, for he knew who shouldered most of that same responsibility.
"But," remarked Bobolink, as he was about to separate from Jack and Paul on a certain corner, where their ways divided; "I'd give something right now to just know what's in those queer old boxes Professor Hackett has stored in your mill, Jack; and why they have to be watched, just like they held money or something that has to be guarded against an unknown enemy! But I guess I'll have to take it out in wantin', because you don't know, and wouldn't tell till you got the consent of your dad, even if you did. Goodnight, fellows; and here's hoping we're going to have the time of our lives up and around Cedar Island!"
LAYING IN THE STORES
Well, it was a busy day for the scouts of Stanhope Troop.
There was the greatest running back and forth, and consultations among the lads, ever known. Where a parent seemed doubtful about giving permission for a boy to take part in the intended cruise, influence was brought to bear on coaxing neighbors to drop in, and tell how glad they were their boys were independent, as it was the finest thing that could ever come to them; and also what slight chances there seemed to be of any accident happening that might not occur when the lads stayed at home, where they would go in swimming anyhow.
And owing to the masterly way in which the objections of certain parents were met and overcome, long before noon every boy who had a ghost of a chance of sailing on the two motor-boats reported that he had gained consent; even Curly Baxter admitted that his folks had been won over, and that he "could go along, if so he he chose to shut his eyes to facts, and just trust to luck," which, be it said, he finally did, just as Paul had believed would be the case.
Meanwhile Paul and Jack were making their purchases of provisions, using a list that had been found useful on their other camping trip; although several little inaccuracies were corrected. For instance, they had taken too much rice on that other occasion; and not enough ham, and salt pork, and breakfast bacon.
Eggs they hoped to buy from some farmer over on the mainland; and possibly milk as well. Jack even hinted that they might feel disposed, if the money held out, to get a few chickens, and have one grand feed before breaking camp.
"And this time we'll try and make sure that none of our grub is hooked, like it was when we camped up on old Rattlesnake Mountain," Jack had declared, with emphasis, for the memory of certain mysterious things that had happened to them on that occasion often arose to disturb some of the scouts.
"Oh! it ought to be easy to look out for that part of the job," Paul had made answer; "because, you see, we'll have the two boats to store things in, and they can be anchored out in the lake, if we want, each with a guard aboard."
By noon the whole town knew all about the expected cruise. Boys who did not have the good luck to belong to Stanhope Troop became greatly excited over it; and by their actions and looks showed how envious they were of their schoolmates.
Just about then, if the assistant scout master had called for volunteers, he could have filled two complete additional patrols with candidates; for the fellows began to realize that the scouts were having three times as much fun as any one else.
But Paul was too wise for that. He believed in selecting the right sort of boys, and not taking every one who offered his name, just because he wanted to have a good time. These fellows would not be able to live up to the iron-clad rules that scouts have got to subscribe to, and which are pretty much covered in the twelve cardinal principles which, each boy declares in the beginning, he will try and govern his life by—"to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent."
Some of the scouts were at Headquarters, as the room under the church was called, getting the supplies there in order, to take down to the boats later on, when they were surprised to have a visitor in the shape of old Peleg Growdy.
This man lived just outside the town limits, on the main road. He had once kept his wagon yard in a very disgraceful condition, much to the disgust of the women folks of Stanhope. The boys, too, looked upon Peleg as a crusty old fellow, who hated their kind.
He had done something to offend one of the scouts, and it was proposed that they play some sort of trick on the old fellow in order to pay him back; but Paul ventured to say that if the scouts went in a body to his place, when he was asleep, and cleaned up his wagon yard so that it looked neat, he would have his eyes opened to the debt he owed the community.
Paul, it seemed, had learned the main cause of the old man's holding aloof from his neighbors. It came from the fact that some years back he had lost his wife and children in the burning of his house; and ever since had looked upon boys as especially created to worry lone widowers who wanted only to be let alone.
Well, the scouts certainly made a great friend of Peleg Growdy. He had even tried to induce them to let him purchase their suits to show that he was a changed man; but of course they could not allow that, because each true scout must earn every cent of the money with which his outfit in the beginning is bought. But in many ways had old Peleg shown them that he was now going to be one of the best friends the boys of Stanhope Troop had ever possessed.
He had heard about their intended trip, when he came to town with some produce; and rather than go back home with some things for which there did not seem to be any sale at the price he wanted, he had come around with his wagon to ask his boy friends to please him by accepting them as his contribution to the cause.
They could not disappoint the generous-hearted old man by refusing; and besides the half-bushel of onions, and double the quantity of new potatoes, looked mighty fine to the lads.
About two o'clock, when it seemed that their list was about complete, even though they would doubtless think of a lot of things after it was too late to get them, Paul decided to send for the wagon that was to haul the tents and other things, including blankets for the crowd, brought from various homes to the meeting place, down to the waiting boats.
"I wanted to get Ezra Sexton, but he was busy," Jack explained, when he had carried out the errand given into his charge; "fact is, I hear, Bobolink, that Ezra came early this morning with an order from the professor, and took all those big cases away in his two wagons."
"Well, that was quick work now, wasn't it?" grumbled Bobolink; "reckon I won't ever have a chance to see what was inside those boxes. Say, see here, d'ye happen to know where Ezra hauled 'em? Not to the railroad, I should think, because they only came that way yesterday."
But Jack shook his head.
"Some distance off, I reckon, because the trucks don't seem to be back yet, so I couldn't get to see Ezra," he remarked; "but when we come home again, I'll ask my father about it, and relieve that curiosity of yours, Bobolink."
"Huh! that means mebbe two weeks or so I'm to go on guessing, I s'pose," the other remarked, in a disconsolate way that made Jack laugh.
"Funny how you do get a notion in that coco of yours; and it'd take a crowbar to work it loose," he observed, at which the other only grinned, saying:
"Born that way; must 'a made a mistake and left the wrong article at our house for the new baby; thought it was a girl; always wantin' to know everything, and never happy till I get it. But Jack, I'll try and keep this matter out of my mind. Don't pay any attention to me, if I look cross once in a while. That'll be when it's got me gripped fast, and I'm tryin' to guess."
"I've known you to do the same when you had one of those puzzles, trying to work it," chuckled Jack Stormways. "Fact is, I remember that once you told me you sat up till two o'clock in the morning over that ring business."
"But I got her, Jack—remember that; won't you? If I hadn't I'd been burning the midnight oil yet, I reckon. 'Taint safe to make me a present of a puzzle, because I'm just dead sure to nearly split my poor weak brain trying to figger it out. And Jack, I'll never be happy till I know what was in those boxes; and why did that sly little professor believe someone wanted to steal his thunder and lightning?"
It took several loads to carry all their traps down to the boats. But finally, as the groceries had also been delivered, the scouts took count of their stock, and it was believed they had about everything, save what the boys might bring in the morning from home.
Paul advised them to go slow with regard to what they carried along, as they did not expect to be gone six months. If any garments gave out, why, there would be plenty of soap and water handy; and the fellow who did not know how to wash a pair of socks, or some handkerchiefs, had better take a few lessons on how to play laundry woman in an emergency.
"If things keep on multiplying much more," the scout master remarked, as he looked around at the tremendous amount of stuff which the boys were now beginning to stow away systematically; "why we won't be able to navigate the boats through that shallow canal at all. They'll just stick fast, because they'll be so low down in the water; and chances are we'll have to spend all our vacation slobbering around in that mud trying to coax them along. Go slow, fellows; bring just as little as you possibly can in the morning. If there's any doubt about it being a real necessity, why leave it at home. We're all scouts and true comrades, ready to share and share alike; so, no matter what happens, no one will go without."
Of course there were many persons who came down to watch the loading of the supplies, for half of Stanhope was interested in the expedition; and groups of envious boys could be seen in various nooks, taking note of all that went on, while they wished they had such good luck.
No one was allowed on board who had no business there. Of course when any of the fathers or mothers of the boys who were going happened along, they were only too proudly shown through both boats, and had everything explained by half a dozen eager scouts. But a couple of guards stood at the gangplank, and no boy was allowed aboard unless accompanied by his parents; and even then a strict watch was kept, because there were some pretty mean fellows in town, who believed in the motto of "rule or ruin." When they were not allowed to play, they always tried their best to see to it that no one else played, either.
"There's Ted Slavin and Ward Kenwood sitting up on the bank over there, Paul," remarked Jack, about half an hour before the time when the scouts would have to be going home to their suppers.
"I've been watching them," replied the scout master; "and from the way they carry on, laughing when they put their heads together, I had just about made up my mind that they were hatching up some mischief."
"Mischief!" echoed Bobolink, who was close by at the moment, and heard what was being said; "say, that's too nice a word to use when talking about the pranks of that combination. Ward, he supplies some of the brains, and all of the hard plunks; while that bully, Ted Slavin, does the work, or gets some of his cronies to do it for him. Now, I wonder if they'll try to come aboard here, and play hob with our stuff, like they did once before when we were all ready to hike off on a jaunt?"
"Don't bother yourself about that, Bobolink," said Paul, quietly. "I had decided, even before I noticed Ward and Ted, that we must have a guard stay on board all night. I'm going to see right now what fellows can be spared. They can go home to supper, and some of us will wait for them to come back."
"Let me be one, Paul; won't you?" pleaded Bobolink.
"But you are so quick to act, and it might bring on trouble," objected the other.
"Oh! I'll promise to think five times before I act once; and besides, there'll be some fellow along, like Jack here, who can keep me quiet. Of course, though, if you believe I'm not fit to do the work, why—"
"That'll do for you, Bobolink," Paul broke in, "if your folks say you can stay, come back ready to camp on board. I'll find you one or two mates—four if possible—so you can sleep in relays of twos. And I'll also try to fix up some dodge that will cool those fellows off, in case they try to jump aboard between sunset and daylight."
"Huh! I'd rather warm their jackets for 'em," growled Bobolink; who, having suffered before at the hands of the meanest boy in Stanhope, Ted Slavin, had only the poorest opinion of him, and of those who trained in his company.
"When I come back tonight, after supper," continued Paul, "I'm going to fetch my shotgun along. It might come in handy on the cruise in case we ran up against a wildcat, or something like that. And I've known such a thing as a double-barrel to be mighty useful, when fired in the air, to make sneaking boys nearly jump out of their skins with alarm—but always in the air, remember, Bobolink."
"Oh! don't worry about me; my bite is not half as bad as my bark. I like to make out I'm just fierce, when all the while, if you could look inside, you'd find me chuckling to beat the band. I wouldn't shoot a gun at anybody, unless it was to save another fellow's life; and then I'd try to pepper his legs. Fetch the gun, Paul; it'll come in real handy."
So, when Paul did come back after dark, he carried the weapon under his arm in true hunter style; for Paul had been several times up in Maine, and knew a good deal of woodcraft, having had actual experience, which is better than theory, any day.
These four scouts were left in charge of the two boats, when finally Paul went back home to get some sleep before the eventful day that was to witness the sailing of the motorboat expedition:
Bobolink; Tom Betts; Spider Sexton, of the Black Fox Patrol and Andy Flinn, who belonged to the Gray Foxes; and firmly did they promise Paul to keep a bright lookout to make sure that no harm came to the boats during the long night.
JUST AFTER THE CLOCK STRUCK TEN
"Here we are, monarchs of all we survey," remarked Bobolink, as the last of the other scouts went off, leaving the four guards to their task of taking care of those two fine motorboats for the night.
It was nine o'clock.
The well-known sounds from the church steeple had told them that; and somehow every fellow counted the strokes aloud, as though on this night in particular they meant far more than at other times.
Stanhope, not being a manufacturing town, like Manchester, was, as a rule, rather quiet of nights; except when the Glorious Fourth was being celebrated; or some other holiday kept the younger element on the move.
Bobolink had been given the post of "Captain of the Guards;" while Tom Betts was to be considered the second in command. They were to divide the duties in such fashion that there would be two of them on deck at a time.
"I'll take Andy for my mate; and you can have Spider to help out," Bobolink had told Tom, when they were arranging the programme.
"And how long will the watches be?" demanded Spider, who liked to sleep about as much as any fellow in the troop; he had gained that odd name not because he was artful and cruel; but on account of his slender legs, which long ago some smart boy had likened to those of a spider; and it only requires a hint like that to establish a nick-name.
"Two hours each, divided into four," replied the chief, feeling the responsibility of his position; for this was really the first time Bobolink could remember being placed over any of his fellow scouts—Paul wished to "try him out," and discover what sort of reliance could be placed in the lad.
"That's an awful short time to get a snooze," complained Spider, yawning. "Why, you'd hardly get asleep before you'd have to wake up."
"Then what's the use going to sleep at all, at all?" remarked Andy Flinn, with a broad smile. "Let's draw lots to say who'll stand guard the whole night"
"Well, I guess not," objected Spider, vigorously. "Half a loaf is some better'n no bread, they always say; and four hours ought to make a fellow feel as though he hadn't been shut out altogether from his needed rest."
"Needed rest is good for you, Spider; the only trouble is you need too much," Bobolink remarked. "But here's the way we'll fix it: Andy and me, why, we'll be the pioneers on the job, starting in right now, while you others curl up somewhere, and get busy taking your forty winks. At eleven-ten we'll give you the foot, and take your places. Jack left me his little watch, so we could tell how time goes; but sure, you can hear the clock in the church steeple knock off the hours. And for the last time, listen to me; not one wink must any sentry take while on duty. Sleeping on post is the most terrible thing you can do. They shoot soldiers in war time who betray their trust that way. Get your instructions, fellows?"
"I'm on to what you mean, all right," said Spider; "and I guess I know my weakness, as well as anybody. To prove that I want to do the right thing, I'm going to fix it up with my mate to give me a jab with this pin, every time he gets a notion in his head that I'm drowsing."
"Say, that sounds heroic all right," remarked Bobolink, doubtfully; "but you don't want to get too gay with that same pin, Tom. It'd be a shame to wake Andy and me up every ten minutes, making Spider give a yelp. Better just shake him if he acts sleepy. And above everything else, keep a bright watch along the shore."
"Think they'll be apt to come from that direction, do you?" asked Spider.
"Just as like as not," the other returned; "but that isn't saying you ought not to keep an eye on the other side, and all around. I wouldn't put it past that Ted Slavin to swim down this way from some place above, thinking he could do his little trick by fooling us, and coming aboard on the water side."
"Whew! do you really think, then, he'd dare board these boats, knowing that they belong to two of the richest and most prominent citizens of Stanhope?" asked Spider, who occasionally liked to air his command of fine language.
"Well, you ought to be on to the curves of that Ted Slavin; and if you just look back to things he's been known to do in the past, why, lots of times he's played his pranks on people that had a pull. Why, didn't he even sneak into the loft over Police Headquarters once, and rig up a scare that came near breaking up the force. Ted fixed it so the wind'd work through a knot-hole in the dark, whenever he chose to pull a string over the fence back of the house, and make the awfullest groaning noise anybody ever did hear. It got on the nerves of Chief Billings and his men. They hunted that loft over and over, but of course the groans didn't come when they were up there. Why, he had 'em so badly rattled that they all just about camped out on the pavement the rest of that night."
"Sure, I remember that," declared Andy Flinn, laughing. "Three nights did he play the same joke, and then they got on to him. Wan officer do be sneakin' up to the loft, while the rist pretended to be huntin' around downstairs. He discovered the sthring, cript downstairs again, wint out on the sly, and, be the powers, followed it to the fince. Then he wint around, and jumped on Tid while the bhoy was a pullin' his sthring like smoke, makin' worse groanings than any time yit. Sure they thried to hush the joke up, the police was that ashamed; but it cript out some way."
"Well, get off to bed, Spider and Tom;" said Bobolink, "we'll wake you up when it's time to change the watch. And remember what a nice little surprise we've got ready for anybody who thinks he can meddle with things that don't belong to him. Skip out now, both of you."
The two motorboats had been lashed side by side. They were about of a size, and something like twenty-four feet in length, with a rather generous beam, because their owners went in for pleasure and comfort, rather than racing. Still, one of the boats, the Speedwell, was said to be capable of doing a mile in seven minutes, if pushed, on flat water; while the other, called the Comfort, being broader, could not do anything like that.
It was easy to pass from one boat to the other, as they lay there. Each had a canopy top, and curtains that could be dropped, and buttoned, during a wet spell, or if the owner chose to sleep aboard; but on this occasion Paul had believed it best that these latter should remain up, so as to allow of free observation all around.
A stout hawser secured the boat nearest the shore to a big stake that had been driven deeply into the earth. Thus the boats lay close beside a short dock that was called a landing stage. As the current of the Bushkill was always pretty strong there must be more or less of a strain on that hawser; but since it was comparatively new, the boys felt that there could not be the slightest danger of its breaking, unless some outside influence were brought to bear on it, such as a keen-edged knife blade.
In that case, as it was very taut, it would naturally part readily; and with consequences disastrous to the safety of the two boats, which must be carried off down-stream in the darkness, possibly to be driven ashore on some rocks below.
And so Bobolink, having been duly warned with regard to possible trouble in connection with that same hawser, had mentally called the rope his "dead line;" and he watched the shore above that point three times as much as any other place.
He and Andy had planned not to talk while on duty. If they found it necessary to say anything at all, which was hardly likely, the communication would be in the lowest whisper.
Bobolink was not greedy, but he really hoped that if any sort of trouble did come it would come along while he and Andy were holding the post of guards. He had a little fear that Spider Sexton might not be depended on, no matter what his good intentions, while Tom Betts was an unknown quantity.
In case Andy happened to be sitting in one boat, while Bobolink was occupying the other, they had fixed it up so that by taking a lead pencil, the "commander" could give a few little light taps on the side of the craft, using his knowledge of the Morse code to send the message, and in this way ask whether his assistant were wide awake, and on the job, when Andy would send back a reply along the same order; for he aspired to be a signal man of the troop, and was daily practicing with the wigwag flags, as well as smoke and fire signals.
The town clock boomed out the hour of ten.
Bobolink had himself begun to feel rather sleepy, and more to arouse his dormant faculties than anything else, he sent a message along the wooden telegraph line. The reply was a bit slow in coming, which made him think Andy might also be inclined to fall into a doze.
So Bobolink decided that he must bestir himself, and give the signal more frequently. He would not have this, his first important commission, turn out poorly, for a good deal. Perhaps his whole future usefulness as a scout who could be depended on in emergencies rested on the way he accounted for the safety of the motorboats this night.
When he found himself letting his eyes shut, even for a minute, he would immediately try to picture the consternation that would ensue should a fire suddenly envelope the boats that had been placed in the hands of the scouts, and for which they would be held responsible.
He knew Ted Slavin of old, and felt that the town bully would not hesitate at even such a thing as that.
Then there was such a thing as cutting the hawser, and letting the boats drift down-stream, to bring up against some rocks that might stave a hole in the delicate planking. Who could tell but what the rope had parted under a strain? Sometimes a break may look like the work of a sharp knife; and anyway, as darkness lay upon the scene, with a cloudy sky overhead to hide the young moon, the identity of the vandal could never be absolutely known.
All these things Bobolink was turning over and over in his mind as he sat there trying to keep awake.
It is one of the hardest things to do, and especially when the subject is only a half-grown lad, with but a dim idea of the responsibility depending on the faithful discharge of his duty.
Hello! what was that? Bobolink thought he surely heard a sound like muttered conversation. But then, even in steady old Stanhope, there were a number of happy-go-lucky chaps who tarried late in the saloons; and when they finally started homeward, used to talk to themselves along the way. Perhaps it was only one of these convivial fellows trying to find the way home, and getting off his course, coming to the open place along the river bank, intending to lie down and sleep his confusion off.
Bobolink was thrilled, however, a minute later, when he felt sure he could again hear the low mutter of voices. It struck him that several persons might be urging each other on, as though inclined to feel the need of backing.
It came from up-river, too, the point he meant to watch more than any other; and this fact increased the suspicious look of the case.
"Oh! it's coming," whispered the eager boy to himself; "and I only hope the water will be hot enough, that's all."
His words were mysterious enough to suit any one; and even while he was speaking in this manner Bobolink started to crawl under the canopy that sheltered him from the dew of the night. He allowed the end of his pencil to throb against the side of the boat, giving the one significant word: "Come!" An immediate answer assured him that Andy heard, and understood. Another minute, and the Irish boy came shuffling over from the other boat, trying to keep from making any more noise than was necessary.
"Take hold," Bobolink whispered in his ear, pulling the other's head down close to his lips; "They're coming! Be ready to go at it licketty-split when I say the word. Get that?"
"Sure!" came in the faintest tone from the other; whereupon Bobolink, feeling that his hour had arrived, started once more to crawl back to his former position.
But now he had something in his hands that looked very like a snake; or since Bobolink was known to fairly detest all crawling creatures, it might be a rope, although there are still other things that have that same willowy appearance—a garden hose, for example.
THE GREAT CRUISE OF THE SCOUTS BEGUN
When Bobolink again reached the bow of the Comfort, and peered above the side, he glued his eyes to the spot where he knew the rope lay that held the boats moored to the shore.
And as the half moon condescended to peep from behind the dark clouds that had until now hidden her bright face, the scout could make out a flattened figure, that seemed to be hugging the earth, while creeping slowly forward.
Not only one, but three more, did he see, all in a line, as though in this way the conspirators had arranged to keep their courage up to the sticking point. Each fellow might watch his mates, and see that no one lagged behind.
Bobolink was quivering with eagerness and excitement. He figured that these night crawlers had only five more feet to cover before they would be as close to his "dead line" as prudence would dictate that he allow, since it might require only a single sweep of the knife to cut that rope.
They kept on advancing as though anxious to get the job over with, now that they had keyed their courage up to the proper pitch.
Another foot was all that Bobolink meant to allow, and then his time would come to act. Those last few seconds seemed fairly to crawl, so wrought-up was the waiting scout; but finally he concluded that it was no use holding off any longer. So he suddenly called out the one word:
Instantly a new sound broke the silence. Bobolink elevated the object he was hold in his hands. There came a queer, whizzing noise, like water squirting from the end of a nozzle; which was exactly what it was, and hot water in the bargain, not actually scalding, but of such a temperature to make a fellow wince, if it happened to sprinkle over-his face.
It was all Bobolink's idea. He had brought a little garden pump aboard during the afternoon, with the hose that went with it. There was a kerosene cookstove aboard each boat, used when going ashore might be unwise on account of rainy weather; and on this the artful schemer had heated his water. Every time he went back to that quarter he tested its temperature, to see whether it kept up to the pitch he meant it should be. And Andy's part of the job was to manipulate the handle of the little pump with all his vim and power.
Imagine the consternation of four plotters, who, when just about to carry out their pleasant little scheme, suddenly and without warning, found a spray of hot water touching every exposed part of their skin!
Do you wonder that they immediately let out a few yelps, and scrambling to their feet, rushed headlong away, followed by the laughter and jeers of Bobolink and his hard-working assistant.
"Go it, you tigers! My! what sprinters you can be, when you only half try! Come again, when you cool off a bit! Plenty more of the same kind on tap! Don't be bashful, Teddy; let's hear from you again, and often. Whee! just listen to 'em howl, would you?"
Perhaps some of those who were with Ted Slavin in his little game were more frightened than hurt by the hot water, but they certainly did chatter as they kept on up the river bank. Little danger of them making another try to injure the boats again that night!
Of course Spider and Tom Bates had jumped up at the first outbreak, ready to help repel boarders. Their assistance was not needed; but they enjoyed the joke as much as their chums and for the next half hour all sat around, talking, and comparing notes.
But finally silence again rested over the scene; Spider and Tom condescended to crawl under their blankets again for another "cat-nap," as the former dubbed it, while Bobolink and his able assistant resumed their duties as sentries.
The night, however, was disturbed no more by any outbreak. Those would-be jokers seemed to know when they had taken hold of what Bobolink termed the "business end of a buzz-saw;" at any rate they were only conspicuous during the remainder of the night by their absence.
Of course every one of the boys on board the two motorboats was glad when the first peep of dawn came. It had seemed about "forty-eleven hours long," Spider admitted; though he also triumphantly asked Tom Betts whether the other had had occasion to jab that pin into him even once, which the second scout laughingly admitted he had not.
"See there," Spider had declared, "can't I keep awake when duty calls me? You needn't be afraid to trust a Sexton, when you need a faithful watcher."
Before the sun appeared Paul and Jack were on hand, to make sure that everything was in shape for an early start, for they hoped to get away by nine o'clock.
Others of the scouts began to drop around, and from the appearance of their eyes Paul was of the opinion that a full night's sleep had not been enjoyed by many of the members of the troop. Of course, it was the excitement of starting out on such a glorious cruise that kept them awake; for it is not given to scouts very often to enjoy such a prospect, afloat, with staunch motorboats given over into their keeping.
Since so many things had been looked after on the preceding afternoon, there was really little to be done that morning. Every fellow was supposed to be on hand at a certain time, ready with his little blanket, and his haversack, in which he would carry a towel, some soap, a brush, an extra shirt, some socks and handkerchiefs; and if he could find a spare bit of room, why, he was entitled to cram in all the crullers or other dainties he could manage; for after that supply was gone there would be only plain camp fare until they got home again.
Paul was kept busy seeing that everything was stored away in the right place. Of course the supplies of food and the tents, as well as the numerous blankets, had to be divided as equally as possible, so that each boat would have its fair cargo.
When the roster of those who could go was taken, just before the time came to start, and the others were ordered ashore, it was found that all told there were just eighteen fellows lucky enough to be in the lot.
Some of the boys who could not go looked pretty doleful as they watched the preparations. There were the twins, William and Wallace Carberry, whose parents insisted on their going to the sea-shore; and Horace Poole, as well as Cliff Jones, of the second patrol, also compelled to obey the parental injunction; when, if given their choice, they would ten times sooner have remained at home, and had the chance of starting out on this wonderful cruise with their chums.
Sandy Griggs, the butcher's son, was laid up with a lame leg; while George Hurst happened to develop a touch of malaria, and his parents would not hear of him going on the water at such a time. As for Red Conklin and Lub Ketcham, for some reason or other which they did not care to explain, they had been positively refused permission to go along; perhaps they were being punished for some misdemeanor; and if so, to judge from the long faces they showed, the like would not be apt to happen again very soon; for it pained them dreadfully to think that they were to be debarred from all that glorious fun which the fortunate eighteen had ahead of them.
With nine to a boat there was considerable crowding; but this came mostly on account of the tremendous amount of material carried. Why, one would almost be inclined to think those boys were going off for a whole three months, instead of not more than two weeks at most, to judge from the stuff they carried. It takes boys a long time to learn to plan such trips as this in light marching order, doing without everything save absolute necessities.
Why, there was Bobolink, who ought to have known better, actually trying to get Paul to allow him to take along that little garden pump, with its line of hose. Just because it had come in so happily when those jokers meant to cut the hawser, and set the two boats adrift, Bobolink declared there could be no telling how many times it would prove a blessing; but Paul utterly refused to carry such a burden; and so in the end it was put ashore, and given in charge of the twins to return in safety to the Link garden.
When nine o'clock struck, everything seemed to be ready.
"I can't think of anything else; can you. Jack?" Paul asked his second in command, and who was to take charge of the Speedwell, while Paul himself ran the other craft.
"I see you've got the extra gas aboard, and that was one thing I had on my mind," replied Jack. "There's nothing else that I know. Look at William Carberry, will you? I honestly believe he's figuring in his mind right now whether he dares go, against his home order, and jump aboard, to sail with us."
"I wouldn't let him, now that I know he couldn't get permission," remarked Paul, promptly. "We want to make a start with a clean record. No fellow is going without the full permission of his folks. I'd hate to think that any scout sneaked off, and came anyhow. He wouldn't have a good time, because all the while he'd be thinking of what was coming when he got back."
"Bobolink is rubbing his chin every time he looks at that little garden pump," Jack went on, chuckling mightily, as though he enjoyed watching the faces of his comrades, and reading all sorts of things there. "He just can't see why you wouldn't let him carry it along. I heard him tell how it would be good for giving us all a clean-off shower bath, when we went in swimming; and all that sort of thing. When he can't have what he wants, Bobolink is a hard loser; isn't he, Paul?"
"Well, he beats any one else in hanging on," replied the other. "Now take those boxes that little old professor stored one night in your father's mill—Bobolink just can't get them out of his mind; and he never will be happy till you find out what was in them. After that he'll forget all about the things. But if everything is ready, I guess we might as well start."
When the Speedwell, being on the outside, started to "popping," and then moved off, there was a cheer from fully five score of throats; and counting the girls who had also come down to see the beginning of the motorboat cruise, there must have been nearly double that number on the bank.
Then the roomier Comfort also made a start, and following in the wake of the pilot boat, turned until her nose pointed down-stream. Flags were flying from fore and aft of both boats; and the boys waved their campaign hats, while they sent back hearty cheers in answer to the many good wishes shouted after them by the crowd ashore, while Bobolink blew cheery blasts on his bugle, and Bluff Shipley would have beaten a lively tattoo on his drum, only it had been decided best to leave that instrument at home.
And with all this noisy send-off, the two boats began to chug-chug down the Bushkill, bound for that far-away island in Lake Tokala, about which so many strange stories had from time to time been told.
"Well, we're off at last, Bobolink," said Jack, who had that individual aboard with him.
"That's right, and everything seems lovely, with the goose hanging high," replied the other. "But seems to me the troop owes us guards a vote of thanks for serving as we did. Just think what a lot of grunters we'd have been this fine morning, if our boats had been set adrift, and brought up on the rocks down below, with chances of holes being knocked in the sides! Say, we've got a whole lot to be thankful for, Jack; and my old garden pump stood up to the racket first-rate, too."
"That's true, Bobolink; and as soon as we're settled in camp I'm going to make sure that the troop acknowledges its indebtedness to you four fellows by a vote of thanks, see if I don't."
"Oh say, now, I didn't mean to hint that way," objected the other, turning a little red in the face with confusion. "We only did our duty, after all, if we did lose a lot of sleep. But then, I guess we got as much as a lot of the fellows that went to bed at home. Yes, we're off at last, and things look great. I'm as happy as a lark, and that free from care—well, I would be, that is, if only somebody could up and give me just a hint what those boxes had in 'em. It was so funny to have that queer professor store 'em with your father in his mill; and then to have somebody sneakin' around, wantin' to steal them. Needn't grin at me that way, Jack; you know I'm a little weak in that quarter. I sure do want to know! Don't suppose you've heard anything new since I talked with you last about it?" and as Jack shook his head in the negative, Bobolink looked disappointed, and turned away.
STUCK FAST IN THE MUD
"About three mile's below Stanhope now; aren't we, Paul?" asked Jud Elderkin, the leader of the second patrol, who, with Bluff, Nuthin, Joe Clausin, Gusty Bellows, Old Dan Tucker, Phil Towns and Little Billie, constituted the crew of the Comfort, commanded by the scout master himself.
Jack had been given charge of the other boat, because Frank Savage was not feeling any too well, though probably he had not let his folks know about it, lest he be kept at home.
"More than that, Jud," answered the other; "and in the most ticklish part of the river, too. I ought to signal the other boat to slow up some more. You see, while there are no rocks around here, the eddies form sandbars that keep changing, just as I understand they do away out in the big Mississippi, so that a pilot on his way up-river finds a new channel cut out, and bars that were never there when he went down a week before."
"And notice, too, that Jack's given over the wheel to Bobolink, while he is back looking after the motor. Now, Bobolink is a cracker-jack of a fellow to get up all sorts of clever schemes for sprinkling creepers in the night; but he's a little apt to be flighty when it comes to running a boat. There! what did I tell you, Paul; they've run aground, as sure as you live!"
"You're right, Jud; and it looks like the Speedwell might go over on her beam-ends, the way she's tilted now. Good for Jack; he's ordering them all over on the upper side! That may keep her from toppling over!" Paul exclaimed, as he gave the wheel a little turn, and headed straight for the boat in peril.
"Wow! that was a right smart trick of Jack's!" cried Jud, in admiration. "If he'd lost his head, like some fellows I know might have done, nothing'd ever kept that boat on her keel. And just to think what a nasty job we'd have on our hands, trying to right her again, and before our great trip had hardly started."
"Yes," added Old Dan Tucker, who happened to be close to them, "that ain't the worst of it. You know the main part of the grub's aboard the other boat Think of those juicy hams floatin' off down the Bushkill, with not a single tooth ever bein' put in 'em; and all that bread and stuff soaked. Oh! it gives me a cold shiver to even think of it," for Dan loved the bugle call that announced dining time better than any other music.
The greatest excitement prevailed aboard both boats. Jack seemed to be keeping his crew perched along the upper rail, where their weight had the effect of holding the boat with the narrower beam from toppling over on her side. It looked like a close shave, as Jud Elderkin said, with that swift current rushing past on the port quarter, and almost lapping the rim of the cockpit.
Of course, as soon as she struck Jack had shut off power, so that the boat was now lying like a stranded little whale.
Paul brought up alongside, looking out that he did not strike the same unseen sandbar.
"Take this rope, some of you, and make fast to that cleat at the stern," Paul called out, giving a whirl that sent it aboard the tilted motorboat.
"What are you meaning to do, Paul; give us a pull back?" asked Jack, who did not seem to be one-half so "rattled" by the mishap as some of the other fellows; simply because he had the faculty of keeping his wits about him in an emergency.
"That's the only way I can see," came the reply. "And as the stern is under water, Jack, what's the matter with backing when we start to pulling?"
"Not a thing, that I can see," answered the skipper of the Speedwell; "But I hope she slides off all right."
"Have your crew get as far aft as they can," continued Paul. "That will lighten the bow, more or less. And keep them all on the side they're on; only as soon as she drops back on an even keel, they must get over, so she won't swing to starboard too much. All ready, now?"
"Yes, the rope's tied fast to the cleat, and unless you yank that out by the roots, the boat's just got to move! Say when, Paul," with which Jack again bent over the three horse-power motor with which the faster boat was equipped.
Paul took one look around before giving the word. He wanted to make sure that everything was in readiness, so there might be no hitch. A mistake at that critical stage might result in bringing about the very accident they were striving to avoid, and as a consequence it was wise to make haste slowly. That is always a rule good scout masters lay down to the boys under their charge. "Slow but sure" is a motto that many a boy would be wise to take to himself through life.
And when Paul had made certain that everything was in readiness he started the motor of the Comfort, reversing his lever; so that every ounce of force was exerted to drag the companion boat off its sandy bed.
Jack complied with the requirements of the situation by also starting his motor the same way; and with the happiest results.
"Hurrah! she's moving!" cried little Nuthin, who was not in danger, but just as much excited as though the reverse had been the case.
"There she comes!" yelled several of the anxious scouts, as the Speedwell was seen to start backward.
"One good pull deserves another; eh, fellows?" cried the delighted Bobolink, who was wondering whether Jack would ever entrust the wheel to his care again, after that accident; but he need not have worried, for somehow the skipper did not seem to feel that it was his fault.
And Bobolink, when he was again placed in charge of the wheel, felt that he had had a lesson that would last him some time. In this sort of work there could be no telling what was going to happen; hence, each scout would be wise to remember the rule by which they were supposed to always be guided, and "be prepared." That meant being watchful, wakeful, earnest, and looking for signs to indicate trouble, so that should it come they would not be caught napping.
After a little while they came in sight of Manchester, with its smoking stacks, and its busy mills. Possibly the news of the expedition of the Stanhope Troop had been carried to the boys down here. At any rate, there was a group of several fellows wearing the well known khaki-uniform, who waved to them from the bank and acted as though wishing the expedition success. They were pretty good fellows, those Manchester scouts, and the Stanhope boys liked them much more than they did the members of the Aldine troop up the river. Everybody knows there is a vast difference in boys; and sometimes even the fellows in various towns will seem, to be built along certain lines, having pretty much the same leading characteristics. The Manchester lads had proven a straight-forward set in what competitions the several troops had had so far. And hence every fellow aboard the two boats swung his hat, and sent back hearty cheers.