THE BANNER BOY SCOUTS ON A TOUR
The Mystery of Rattlesnake Mountain
GEORGE A. WARREN
Author of "The Banner Boy Scouts," "The Musket Boys of Old Boston," "The Musket Boys under Washington," Etc.
The Saalfield Publishing Co. Akron, Ohio New York Made in U. S. A.
Copyright, 1912, by Cupples & Leon Company
I THE OPEN DOOR 1 II THE MYSTERY OF THE TIN BOX 11 III BREAKING UP THE SCOUTS' MEETING 22 IV CATCHING A TARTAR 35 V GETTING READY FOR THE GREAT "HIKE" 46 VI ON GUARD 55 VII "BE PREPARED!" 66 VIII REPULSING THE ENEMY 76 IX RETURNING GOOD FOR EVIL 87 X OFF ON THE LONG TOUR 98 XI THE COMING OF THE CIRCUS CARAVAN 107 XII A CAMP BY THE ROADSIDE 118 XIII WHEN THE MOON WENT DOWN 127 XIV THE CHASE 138 XV LEFT IN THE LURCH 147 XVI AT THE FOOT OF RATTLESNAKE MOUNTAIN 155 XVII JOE DECLINES TO TELL 164 XVIII A CLOSE CALL 173 XIX INDIAN PICTURE WRITING 184 XX CAMP SURPRISE 193 XXI THE LIGHT OF THE MOUNTAIN 202 XXII THE NIGHT ALARM 211 XXIII WHAT THE EYES OF A SCOUT MAY SEE 219 XXIV THE STRANGEST FISHING EVER KNOWN 230 XXV PAUL LAYS DOWN HIS BURDEN 239 XXVI THE SUCKER-HOLE 247 XXVII GATHERING CLOUDS 256 XXVIII THE GREAT STORM 264 XXIX A PANIC-STRICKEN CROWD 272 XXX THE UNDERGROUND REFUGE 280 XXXI THE BOY SCOUTS AS EXPLORERS 286 XXXII THE TIN BOX AGAIN 293 XXXIII WHAT PAUL FOUND—CONCLUSION 302
While this volume is complete in itself, it forms a second link in the chain of books issued under the general title, "The Banner Boy Scouts Series." You will, no doubt, be glad to find most of the old favorites on parade once more; and perhaps make the acquaintance of several new characters who figure in these pages.
In the preceding volume, "The Banner Boy Scouts; or, The Struggle for Leadership," I endeavored to interest my readers in an account of the numerous trials and adventures that befell Paul and his chums when forming the first Red Fox Patrol. You will remember how the mystery of the disappearing coins continued to puzzle Paul and Jack almost up to the very conclusion of the story. And doubtless you were also ready to admit that, hard pressed by jealous rivals at home, as well as forced to compete with two neighboring troops who longed to possess the prize banner, the Stanhope scouts certainly did have a warm time of it, right up to the close of the tournament.
The wonderful way in which they carried off first honors at that same competition certainly ought to inspire all Boy Scouts to emulate their example, and never be satisfied with half-hearted efforts. I sincerely hope and trust the stirring happenings that fall to the lot of Paul and his chums, as related between the covers of the present volume, may give every reader the same amount of pleasure that I have experienced in writing them.
GEORGE A. WARREN.
THE BANNER BOY SCOUTS ON A TOUR
THE OPEN DOOR
"Here we are at your father's feed store, Joe!"
"Yes, but there isn't a glimmer of a light. Didn't you say he was going to stay here till you came from the meeting?"
"Shucks! he just got tired waiting, and went home long ago; you can trot along now by your lonesome, Joe."
"Listen! didn't you hear it, fellows? What was that sound?"
The four boys stood, as Joe asked this question, almost holding their breath with awe, while no doubt their hearts pounded away like so many trip-hammers.
It was after ten o'clock at night, and the town of Stanhope, nestling on the bank of the Bushkill, usually closed its business doors by nine, save on Saturdays.
This being the case, it was naturally very quiet on Anderson street, even though electric lights and people abounded on Broad street, the main thoroughfare, just around the corner.
These lads belonged to a troop of Boy Scouts that had been organized the preceding summer. They wore the regular khaki suits that always distinguish members of the far-reaching organization, and one of them even carried a bugle at his side.
The first speaker was Paul Morrison, the scout leader, to whom much of the labor of getting the troop started had fallen. Paul was the son of the leading doctor in Stanhope.
His comrades were the bugler, known as Bobolink, because he chanced to answer to the name of Robert Oliver Link; Jack Stormways, Paul's particular chum; and Joe Clausin, the one who had asked his friends to stroll around in his company, to the feed store, where he expected to find his father waiting for him.
The lads had been attending a regular weekly meeting of the troop at one of the churches that offered them the free use of a gymnasium.
"There's no light inside," said Bobolink, in a husky voice, "but the door's half open, boys!"
This announcement sent another thrill through the group.
Anyone unacquainted with the wearers of the Scout uniforms might even imagine that they had been attacked by a spasm of fear; but at least two members of the group had within recent times proven their valor in a fashion that the people of Stanhope would never forget.
In the preceding volume of this series, issued under the name of "The Banner Boy Scouts; or, The Struggle for Leadership," I related how the boys got together and organized their patrol and troop. Of course, there was considerable opposition, from jealous rivals; but in the end the boys of Stanhope won their right to a prize banner by excelling the troops from the neighboring towns in many of the things a true scout should know and practice. Hence, no one who has perused the first book of this series will imagine for an instant that any of these lads were timid, simply because they clustered together, and felt their pulses quiver with excitement.
"Do you hear that sound again, Joe?" demanded Paul, presently, as all listened.
"I thought I did just then," answered Joe Clausin, drawing a long breath; "but perhaps it was only imagination. Dad's been doing more work than he ought, lately. Mebbe he's been taken with one of his old fainting spells."
"Say, that's just what it is, I reckon," observed Bobolink, quickly; "or else he forgot to shut the door when he went home."
"He never could have done that, boys," declared Joe; "you know how careful he always is about everything. I was just thinkin' about the Skarff robbery, and wonderin' if those fellows had come back to town. The police never caught 'em, you remember."
Joe's voice had once more dropped to a whisper. What he said seemed to make considerable impression on his comrades, for the heads drew even closer together.
"But why would they want to break open a feed store?" ventured Jack Stormways, dubiously; "it isn't like the Skarff place, which was a jewelry shop."
"'Sh!" went on Joe, nervously; "I happen to know that dad keeps quite some money in his safe about the first of the month, when people pay their bills. Mother has often told him he ought to put it in the bank; but he only laughs at her, and says he'd like to see the thief who could open his safe. Paul, what should we do?"
"Go in, I reckon. Wait till I find my matches," returned the scout leader, without the least hesitation.
"Oh! what if we should run up against a man hiding there?" suggested Joe.
"Well, there are four of us, you know, boys. But what are you doing, Jack?" Paul continued, seeing that his warmest chum was bending down, as though he might be tugging at something.
"Look here what I've got, fellows! And there's a lot more to be had for the taking," with which Jack Stormways held up a stout stick of wood, which, coming with some of the hay or feed that reached the store during the day, had been cast aside.
Immediately the three others made haste to possess themselves of similar weapons.
"Ready?" asked Paul, as he prepared to advance boldly into the dense darkness.
"Sure! We're going to back you up, old fellow. Say the word!" shrilled Bobolink, close to the other's shoulder.
"Come on, then!"
The lads had hardly advanced five steps when every one caught the dread sound that Joe claimed to have heard. And Paul, perhaps because he was the son of a doctor, somehow guessed its true import sooner than any one of his chums. He knew it was a groan, and that some human being must be suffering!
There was a slight crackling sound, which was caused by the sudden drawing of a match along Paul's trousers. Instantly a tiny flame sprang into existence; and every eye was strained to discover the cause of the groan.
As the match burned, and the light grew stronger, the boys discovered that some one lay upon the floor inside the glass enclosed office, and close to the desk where Mr. Clausin usually sat. Paul, looking further, had seen that there was a lamp on the stand, and knowing the need of some better means of illumination than a succession of matches, instantly moved forward, and started to remove the chimney of this.
It was still a trifle warm, showing that the light must have been blown out not more than a couple of minutes previously.
Meanwhile, Joe had thrown himself on the floor beside the prostrate form, which he had already recognized as that of his father. He was chafing his hands, and calling out in boyish agony, while Jack and Bobolink looked on with troubled faces.
Paul saw immediately that either Mr. Clausin must have had a fit while alone, possibly just after he had blown out the lamp, or else some one had attacked him. His collar and necktie were disarranged, and there was a nasty bruise on the side of his head; though this might have come when he fell to the floor.
"If we had some water we might bring him to," observed Paul, when the man on the floor groaned again, more dismally than before.
"Back of the safe there is a bucket, with a dipper!" said Joe, eagerly.
Fortunately some water remained in the pail, and Paul was able to fill the dipper. It was just then he noticed the door of the little safe, and saw that it was open. This was strange, if the owner of the store had been about to leave when he was seized. And supposing he had fallen in a fit, who had put out the lamp?
No sooner had he applied the cold water than it seemed to have a magical effect on the unconscious man. He gasped two or three times, while a tremor ran through his whole frame. Then his eyes suddenly opened.
"Father!" almost shrieked poor Joe, who had begun to believe that he was never again to be blessed by communion with his parent.
"Joe! What has happened? Where am I?" and as he muttered these words Mr. Clausin managed to sit up, staring around him in a way that at another time might have seemed almost comical, so great was his surprise.
"You told me to come here, and that you would wait for me," declared his son; "when we got to the store it was all dark, and the door stood half open. Then we heard you groan, father. Oh! what was it? Did you have another of those awful spells?" Joe still kept on rubbing his hand affectionately down the sleeve of his parent's coat.
"Yes, it must have been that, my boy," the dazed storekeeper answered. "I seem to remember starting to get up to put a little box in the safe, for it was about the time you said you would be along. Then it all grew dark around me. I think I fell, for I seem to remember hearing a crash. And my head feels very sore. Yes, I have bruised it badly. Perhaps it was a mighty good thing you boys came along when you did."
"Oh! that was terrible, father," cried Joe; "but at first we thought some one had been in here to rob you. That door being open worried me. I never knew you to leave it that way when you stayed here at night."
"What's that you say, my boy?" asked Mr. Clausin, hastily; "the door was open when you came? But I distinctly remember that it was not only shut, but latched on the inside! I expected you to knock, and let me know when you came along."
He still seemed half in a daze, as though the blow he had received in falling might have affected him. While speaking, however, Mr. Clausin managed to regain his feet, partly supported by his son's arm.
"Wait until I close my safe, and then I'll go home with you, Joe," he said; "the doctor told me I ought to take a little rest, and that I was working too hard. It looks as if he must have been right. But I'm glad you came along when you did, for——"
He was bending down, and staring into the safe. Paul watched him uneasily, for that open door worried the boy.
"What is it, father?" exclaimed Joe, as he saw the gentleman begin hastily to open several compartments in the metal receptacle, and Paul noticed that his hand shook as though with palsy.
"Look on the floor, boys, please. Tell me if you can see a small tin box anywhere. Of course I must have dropped it when I fell in that faint," Mr. Clausin was saying; but Paul fancied it was more to bolster up his own courage, than because he really believed what he observed.
The boys immediately set to work examining the floor of the office thoroughly. But none of them met with any success.
"How large a tin box was it, father?" continued Joe, presently.
"Some eight inches long, by half as many wide. Could I have misplaced it in any way?" and Mr. Clausin began to feel in his pockets. Once more he looked into the yawning safe.
"We don't seem to see it anywhere, sir," said Paul, who suspected what was coming.
The feed merchant stood up before them, with a very grave face. He was clasping both hands together in a nervous fashion.
"Then there is only one thing that can have happened, boys! I have been robbed while I lay here unconscious!" he said, solemnly, at which Bobolink gasped.
"Do you miss any money from your safe, sir?" questioned Paul, who seemed to be able to keep his head in this crisis.
"Fortunately I took my wife's advice this time," returned the owner of the feed store, "and deposited all I had in the bank this afternoon. Still, possibly the thief believed I would keep it here. Seeing that tin box, and suspecting that it might hold valuables, he has carried it off."
"Do you remember blowing out the lamp at all, sir?" asked Paul.
"I certainly did not," came the answer; "I can recollect seeing it as I arose. Then all grew dark!"
"That settles it. There must have been a thief here, then!" remarked Jack, with more or less awe, as he looked around the big storeroom beyond the glass enclosed office.
THE MYSTERY OF THE TIN BOX
"Give the assembly call, Number Three!"
Presently, in answer to Paul's order, the clear, sweet notes of a bugle sounded through the big gymnasium under the church. More than a score of lads of all sizes began to pass in from the outside, where they had been chattering like so many magpies; for it was now Summer, with vacation at hand.
After telling the bugler to sound the call for the meeting, Paul, who often had charge in place of the regular scoutmaster, Mr. Gordon, watched the coming of the boys through the open basement door.
"Everybody on hand to-night, I guess, Paul," observed his chum Jack, as he laid his hand on the shoulder of the leader of the Red Fox patrol.
Thus far there were three patrols in Stanhope troop. As the first to organize had chosen to be known as the Red Fox, it pleased the others simply to call their patrols by the names of Gray and Black Fox.
In one corner of the room reposed a splendid banner of silk, upon which had been sewn a wonderfully life-like representation of a fox's head done in colors. Strangely enough, to some it seemed red, while others were just as fully of the opinion that it could be called gray or black, so cleverly had the silken threads been arranged.
This banner was the one offered by the old Quaker, Mr. Westervelt, in the preceding Autumn, to be given to the troop that excelled in various scout tactics and knowledge. The contest had been confined to the three troops along the Bushkill River; and while both Aldine and Manchester carried off some honors, the boys of Stanhope had counted as many as both combined.
When the banner was presented to the winners their totem had been ingeniously fashioned upon its shimmering folds. Every member of Stanhope troop felt a thrill of pardonable pride whenever his eyes fell upon the proof of their efficiency.
"What makes you say that, Jack?" asked the young scout leader, smilingly, when he heard his chum comment on the full attendance.
"Oh! well," laughed the other, "you know the boys understand that we're going to discuss where we expect to spend our vacation this year. Every fellow is just wild to hear what the committee has settled on."
"I sent a communication I received from our absent scoutmaster over to where the committee sat the other night," remarked Paul. "He recommended a certain place for a hike and camp; but I'm just as much in the dark as the rest about what was decided. William does a lot of mysterious winking every time anybody asks him, and only says, 'wait'."
Paul did not seem to be at all concerned. He evidently had full confidence in the wisdom of the committee that had been appointed by himself at the last meeting.
"Why, yes," Jack went on, "and Jud Elderkin, as the scout leader of the Gray Foxes, tried to get Andy Flinn to leak a little; but it was no use. Andy would joke him, and tell all sorts of funny stories about what we might do; but it was just joshing. I'm a bit curious myself to know."
"Have you heard anything more about Mr. Clausin?" asked Paul, seriously.
"I guess nobody has found out much about what was in that tin box," replied his chum. "Even Joe says he only knows there were valuable papers of some sort, which his father is broken-hearted over losing. You know Mr. Clausin has been just about sick ever since it happened."
"Yes," Paul went on, "and three times now I've heard that the chief of police has been out there to confer with him. That makes me think Joe's father must have some sort of idea about who robbed him."
"Oh! well, the fellow will never be caught if it depends on Chief Billings," declared Jack, somewhat derisively; "I've known him to kick up a big row more than a few times, after something strange happened; but when did he get his man? Tell me that, will you, Paul?"
"Still, the Chief is a good police head. He can look mighty fierce, and generally scares little boys into being good," laughed the scout leader.
"But some others I know snap their fingers at him," Jack went on; "for instance, you understand as well as I do, that Ted Slavin and his crowd ride rough-shod over the police force of Stanhope. They have been threatened with all sorts of horrible punishments; but did you ever know of one of that bunch to be haled up before the justice?"
"Well, of course you know why," remarked Paul, drily, making a grimace at the same time to indicate his disgust.
"Sure," responded Jack, without the least hesitation; "Ward Kenwood, Ted Slavin's crony, stands pat with the Chief. His dad happens to be the richest man in Stanhope, and something of a politician. Ward threatens to get the Chief bounced from his job if he makes too much row, and you know it, Paul. The result is that there's a whole lot of bluster, and threatening; after which things settle down just as they were, and nobody is pulled in. It makes me tired."
"Oh! well," laughed the scout leader, "some fine day there will be a rebellion in Stanhope. Then perhaps we can put in a police head who will do his duty, no matter if the offender happens to be the son of a rich banker, or of a railroad track-tender."
"Shucks! that day will be a long time coming," said Jack, shaking his head in the negative, as if to emphasize his disbelief. "But do you know, I'm all worked up about that little tin box. There's something connected with it that Mr. Clausin hasn't told everybody. What could those papers have been; and why was he looking at them that night? Did the unknown robber come to the feed-store just on purpose to get hold of them? Was he especially interested in what that tin box held?"
Paul looked at his chum in surprise.
"You certainly have the fever pretty bad, old fellow," he remarked, "and to tell you the truth, I've been thinking along the same line myself. If half a chance offered I'd like to be the one fortunate enough to recover that box for Mr. Clausin. But of course there isn't the least bit of hope that way."
Paul could not lift the curtain of the future just then, and see what strange things were in store for himself and his chum. Had he been given only a glimpse of that future he would have been deeply thrilled.
"The boys are all assembled, Paul," observed Jack, presently.
Accordingly, the scout leader of the first patrol, and acting scoutmaster in the absence of Mr. Gordon, found that he had duties to perform. Paul, in spite of his wishes, had been elected president of the local council, Jud being the vice-president, Bluff treasurer and Nat Smith secretary.
The meeting was especially called for a certain purpose, and every fellow knew that the committee appointed to recommend what the programme for the vacation campaign should be, was about to make its report.
Consequently, other business lagged, and there was a buzz of excitement when, with the decks cleared, the chairman of the meeting called upon the spokesman of that committee to stand up.
William, the humorous member of the Carberry twins, immediately bounced erect; and it happened that he stood just under the framed charter granted by the National Committee to Stanhope Troop. Every eye was glued upon his face, for it had been a matter of considerable speculation among the scouts as to where they might "hike" for the Summer vacation, so as to have the most fun.
William was the exact image of his brother Wallace, though their dispositions could hardly have been more unlike. The former was brimming over with a high sense of humor, and dearly loved to play all manner of practical jokes. His greatest delight it seemed, was to pose as the steady-going Wallace, and puzzle people who looked to the other Carberry twin as an example of what a studious lad should be.
Still, William as a rule never reached the point of cruelty in his jokes; and in this respect he differed from Ted Slavin, who seldom counted the cost when carrying out some horse-play that had taken his fancy.
The spokesman of the committee looked around at the many eager faces, and then bowed gravely. William could assume the airs of a serene judge when the humor seized him. And yet in his natural condition he was the most rollicking fellow in the troop, being somewhat addicted to present day slang, just as Bobolink and some others were.
"Fellow members of the Banner Boy Scouts," he began, when a roar arose. "Cut that all out, William!"
"Yes, give us the dope straight. Where are we going to hike?"
"Hit it up, old war-horse! We want the facts, and we want 'em bad. Get down to business, and whisper it!"
William smiled as these and many other cries greeted him. It pleased him to keep his comrades on the anxious-seat a little longer; but when threatening gestures were beginning to prove that the patience of the assembled scouts had about reached its limit, he was wise enough to surrender.
So he held up his hand, with the little finger crossed by the thumb—the true scout's salute. Instantly the tumult ceased.
"Gentlemen," the chairman of the selected three went on, "this committee has decided, after much powwowing, and looking into all sorts of propositions, that the country to the north offers the best field for a record hike, and a camp in the wilderness; where the scouts can discover just how much they have learned this past Winter of woods lore. So it's back to the tall timber for us next week!"
"Wow! that sounds good to me all right!"
"But just what tall timber, Mr. Chairman? Tell us that, won't you?"
Once more William made the signal for silence, and every scout became mute. At least they had learned the value of obedience, and that is one of the cardinal virtues in a Boy Scout's ritual.
"This committee recommends that we hike away up to Rattlesnake Mountain," William went on to say, "and explore the country thereabouts, which has not been visited by a boy of Stanhope, in this present generation, at least. That is all for me; and now I'll skidoo!" with which the chairman dropped down into his chair again with becoming modesty.
Then arose a great uproar. Cheers rang out in hearty boyish manner, as though the committee had struck a popular fancy when it decided upon the neighborhood of Rattlesnake Mountain for the Summer camp.
This elevation could be seen from the town on the Bushkill. It had a grim look even on the clearest days; and there were so many stories told about the dangers to be encountered in that enchanted region that boys usually talked in whispers about a prospective trip of exploration there.
Thus far it was not on record that any of the Stanhope lads had ever wandered that far afield, every expedition having given up before the slopes of the lofty mountain were reached.
There were claims set forth by some fellows of Manchester, to the effect that they had climbed half way up to the crest, and met with many thrilling adventures among strange caves which they found abounding there. But Stanhope boys always smiled, and looked very knowing when they heard about this trip. They believed it originated mainly in the imaginations of those rivals from the nearby town.
It can be seen, therefore, with what elation the announcement of William was received. All felt that there was a glorious future beckoning them on. Boys delight in adventure; and surely the mysterious mountain that had so long been unknown ground to them, offered great possibilities.
Every one seemed to have some particular way of expressing his satisfaction.
"The greatest thing ever!" exclaimed Albert Cypher, who by reason of his name, was known among his comrades as Nuthin.
"Yes, all to the good! Back to the woods for me, and old Rattlesnake Mountain to be the stamping ground for the Banner Boy Scouts!" chirped Bobolink, making his voice seem to come from Wallace Carberry, who was never known to indulge in the least bit of slang. Bobolink was trying hard to be a ventriloquist, and occasionally he succeeded in a way to bring roars of laughter from the crowd.
"W-w-whoop her up!" chanted Bluff Shipley, whose impediment of speech often gave him much trouble, especially when he was at all excited.
One by one the assembled scouts were expressing their individual opinions concerning the proposed pilgrimage, when Paul put it up to the meeting to ratify.
A storm of "ayes" greeted the move that this report of the committee be accepted; and the "hike" to Rattlesnake Mountain be made the basis of their Summer campaign.
Hardly had the roar of voices that followed this acceptance died away than there was a sudden and startling interruption to the proceedings. A sentinel, who, in accordance with military tactics, had been posted outside the church, came hurrying in, and whispered in the ear of the chairman, who immediately arose.
"Comrades," said Paul, in a low but tense voice, "our sentry reports that he has found a window in the back of the church basement open, and looking in discovered moving figures. Our meeting has been spied upon by those who want to learn our secrets."
"It's sure that Slavin bunch, fellows! Come on, and let's get our hooks on the sneaks before they fade away!" shouted Bobolink, jumping to his feet excitedly.
BREAKING UP THE SCOUTS' MEETING
Upon the silence of the Summer night sounded the startling detonation of the big bell in the square tower of the church.
The assembled scouts, arrested by this unexpected peal just as they were in the act of rushing forth to try and capture those who had been spying on the meeting, stared at each other in mute astonishment and indignation.
Every one seemed to quickly understand just what it meant, nor were they long in finding their voices to denounce the outrage.
"It's a punk trick, fellows!" exclaimed Jack, his face filled with growing anger. "They want to force the church trustees to chase us out of our quarters here!"
"Yes," echoed Bobolink, trembling with eagerness to do something, he hardly knew just what, "it's a plot to throw us out in the cold, that's what! Talk to me about a mean, low-down trick—this takes the cake!"
"Let's surround the feller at the rope! Then we'll have something to show that it wasn't our fault the old bell jangled!" cried another member of the troop.
"On the jump, Foxes!" shouted William.
Immediately there was a grand rush. Some went through the door, aiming to gain the outer air, in the hope of cutting off any escaping enemy. Others rushed towards the stairs, by means of which the vestibule of the old church could be reached, where dangled the rope that moved the bell.
Paul led this latter group. He was boiling with indignation over the trick that had been played, for it promised to put the orderly scouts in bad odor with the custodian of the building, who had been so kind to them.
The sexton, whose name was Peter Ostertag, usually lighted the gymnasium for them, and then went over to his own cottage near by. It was his usual habit to return at about ten o'clock, when the meeting disbanded, in order to put out the lights, and close the building. Perhaps he might even then be on his way across lots.
What with the shouts of the excited scouts, rushing hither and thither; together with some derisive laughter and cat calls from dark corners in the immediate vicinity, the scene certainly took on a lively turn.
The bell had ceased to toll, though there still came a ringing, metallic hum from up in the tower. Paul had snatched up a lamp as he ran, and with this he was able to see when he reached the top of the stairs.
But the vestibule seemed to be empty. Paul rushed to the door, and to his surprise found it locked. Perhaps the sexton had thought to secure this exit after him, when he left the main body of the church, an hour or two before. Then again, it might be, the plotters had been wise enough to place a barrier in the way of pursuit by turning the key, previously arranged on the outside of the lock.
"Hey! this way, Paul!" cried Bobolink, excitedly. "The door into the church is open! Bring the lamp! He's in here, I tell you! Listen to that, will you?"
There was a sound that drifted to their ears, and it came from inside the body of the church, too. Paul could easily imagine that the escaping bell-ringer must have stumbled while making his way across to some open window, and upset a small table that he remembered stood close to the wall.
He lost no time in carrying out the suggestion of Bobolink, who had already rushed into the dark building, fairly wild to make a capture. Outside they could hear the boys calling to each other as they ran to and fro. The sharp, clear bark of a fox told that even in this period of excitement the scouts did not forget that they possessed a signal which could be used to tell friend from foe.
As soon as he gained a footing inside the big auditorium Paul held the lamp above his head. This was done, partly, better to send its rays around; and at the same time keep his own eyes from being dazzled by the glow.
"There he is!" shrilled Bobolink, suddenly; "over by the window on the left!"
Impetuous by nature, he made a dive in the direction indicated, only speedily to come to grief; for he tripped over some hair cushions that may have been purposely thrown into the aisle, and measured his length on the floor.
Paul had himself discovered a moving figure over in the quarter mentioned. There could not be the slightest doubt about it being a boy, he believed, and in the hope of at least getting near enough to recognize the interloper, he hastened forward as fast as policy would permit.
With that lamp in his hand he did not want to follow the sad example of Bobolink for such an accident might result in setting fire to the building.
Now the figure began to put on more speed. Evidently the escaping party believed there was considerable danger of his being caught; and could guess what must follow if he fell into the hands of the aroused scouts.
Just in time did Paul discover that a piece of clothes line, probably taken from a yard close by, had been cleverly fastened across the aisle about six inches from the floor. It was undoubtedly intended to trip any who unguardedly came along that way.
"'Ware the rope, fellows!" he called back over his shoulder; for some of his comrades were pushing hotly after him.
The warning came too late, for there was a crash as one scout made a dive; and from the various cries that immediately arose Paul judged that the balance of the detail had swarmed upon the fallen leader, just as though they had the pigskin oval down on the football field.
By now the escaping figure had reached the open window through which he must have entered some time previously, taking time to lay these various traps by means of which he expected to baffle pursuit.
Paul believed that such an ingenious artifice could have originated in no brain save that of Ted Slavin, or possibly his crony, Ward Kenwood. Hence he was trying his best to discover something familiar about the figure now clambering up over the windowsill.
The balance of the scouts had managed to scramble to their feet after that jarring tumble; and were even then at his heels, grumbling and limping.
"It's Ted himself, that's what!" called Bobolink, at this exciting juncture.
The fellow turned his head while crouching in the window, just ready to drop outside. Paul could hardly keep from laughing at what he saw. Possibly foreseeing some such predicament as this, and not wishing to have his identity known if it could be avoided, what had the daring bell-ringer done but assumed an old mask that might have been a part of a Valentine night's fun, or even a left-over from last Hallowe'en frolic.
At any rate it was a coal-black face that Paul saw, with a broad grin capable of no further expansion.
"Yah! yah! yah!" laughed the pretended darky, as he waved a hand mockingly in their direction, and then vanished from view.
Paul thought he recognized something familiar about the voice, though he could not be absolutely certain. And it was not the bully of Stanhope, Ted Slavin, that he had in mind, either.
There arose a chorus of bitter cries of disappointment, showing how the scouts felt over the escape of the intruder who had played such a successful practical joke on the troop.
"He's skidooed!" exclaimed Bobolink, in disgust. "Wouldn't that just jar you some, fellows?"
"There goes William through the window after him! Bully boy, William! Hope you get a grip on the sneak!" cried Nuthin, who was rubbing his right shin as though it had been barked when he sprawled over the rope.
"Say, perhaps the boys outside may get him!" gasped another scout, who must have had the breath squeezed out of his lungs when the balance of the eager squad fell over him heavily, making a cushion of his body.
"Only hope they do," grumbled Nuthin. "But say, what's that you've picked up, Paul? Looks mighty like a hat!"
"It is a hat, and fellows, I've got a pretty good notion I've seen it before," responded the scout leader, as he held the object aloft.
The others crowded around, every eye fastened on the article picked up by Paul just under the window that had afforded the fugitive a chance to escape.
"It's Ward's lid, as sure as you live!" declared Bobolink, immediately.
"That's what it is," observed another, with conviction in his tone; "ain't I had it in my hands more'n once at school? That was Ward in here, doing these stunts!"
"Well," added Paul, cautiously, "it looks that way; but how do we know? We didn't see his face, you remember. It might be another fellow wearing his hat. This might satisfy the trustees that we didn't have anything to do with the ringing of the bell; but I'd like to have better proof, fellows."
"What's all that talking going on out there?" demanded Nuthin, who had seated himself, the better to get at his bruised shin, and ease the pain by rubbing.
Bobolink drew himself up into the window; and as he did so his hat also fell off.
"There," declared Paul, quickly, "you see just how it happened to the fellow with the black face; and he was in too big a hurry just then to drop down again, so he could get his hat."
"What's all the row about, Bobolink? Have they got the slippery coon?" asked Philip Towne, a member of the second patrol.
"Peter grabbed our chum as he was running after the shadow," replied the boy perched on the windowsill. "He's shaking him as if he believed it was William up to some of his old tricks, and that he rang that bell. Now the other boys are crowding around trying to pull him off."
"But what about Ward? Has he gotten clean away?" asked a disappointed one, of the lookout.
"Looks as if they couldn't flag him," came the answer in dejected tones; "anyhow, I don't see any fellows holdin' a prisoner. Let's get outside, and help explain to Peter, boys."
So they went straggling back to the exit, and passed outside, Paul leaving the burning lamp in the vestibule as proof of his story.
Peter was an excitable German, who had been very good to the boys. Indignant at what he thought to be an exhibition of base ingratitude on their part, he had shaken William until the lad's teeth rattled.
"You vill wake up de goot beoples mit your rackets, hey?" the old sexton was crying, "I knows apout how you does all de times, Villiam Carberries, ain't it? Mebbe you t'ink it fun to ring dot pell like dot, unt pring all de neighbors aroundt mit a rush. Hey! vat you poys say? He didn't pull dot rope? Who did, den, tell me dot? Mebbe I didn't grab mit him as he vas runnin' away! Hello! mister scout leader, how vas dot?"
Paul had come up while William was being shaken like a rat in the clutches of a terrier.
"Say, Paul, tell him, for goodness sake," stammered the innocent victim, as he squirmed in the clutches of the indignant sexton, "ask him to let up on this rough house business. I'm just falling to pieces!"
"Wait a minute, Peter," the scout leader immediately called out, "William was with the rest of us down in the basement at the time the bell began to ring. We all started to try and catch the fellow who pulled the rope; but I'm afraid he got away. He went through the church, and out of an open window. You can see for yourself when you go inside, that he tied a rope to trip any of us when we chased him."
Peter eased up his hold, and the agile William broke away, as if only too glad to be able to catch his breath again.
"Yes, and Peter, we know who it was, too!" declared Nuthin, eagerly.
"That is, we think we do," broke in Paul, holding up his find. "This hat dropped when he climbed up to the window. And a lot of us have seen it before."
"Why, it belongs to Ward Kenwood!" exclaimed Jud Elderkin, as he bent forward to take a better look at the captured headgear.
"How do you know?" asked Paul, for a purpose.
"Well, I've seen it on him lots of times," came the unhesitating reply. "There may be a few hats like it in Stanhope, but they're scarce as hen's teeth. Besides, I've got my private mark on that hat. Look inside, and see if there isn't a circle and two cross bars, made with a pen on the sweat band?"
Paul stepped over to the street light close by, and examined the inside of the hat.
"You're right, Jud; here's the mark, sure enough. However did you come to put it there inside of Ward's hat?" he asked, smiling.
"Oh!" answered Jud, with a broad grin, "that was my idea of a little joke, fellows. I happened to find his hat one fine day at school, and having a pen in my hand, thought I'd give him something to puzzle his head about. So I made that high sign there. Guess he wondered what it all meant, and if he was marked for a Black Hand victim. But you can roll your hoop, fellows, that this is Ward's lid."
"If we had only caught him, Peter, you would know it was so," observed Jack; who had led the crowd that rushed outdoors, and felt rather cheap because their intended game had succeeded in escaping.
"Look here, what's to hinder us going and collarin' him on his way home?" broke in Bobolink, always conjuring up bright ideas.
"That's so, Paul. What d'ye think?" asked Jack, eagerly.
"A good idea," declared the one addressed, without stopping an instant; "and Peter shall go along to be a witness, if we find that Ward is minus his hat. Perhaps we might be lucky enough to find that black mask in his pocket, too. And somehow, I've got a notion he had his hands rubbed with charcoal, to match his face. If we found that to be the case I guess the trustees would be ready to admit we didn't have anything to do with this affair."
"Give the order then, Paul. Every one will want to go along; but that would be sure to queer the job. Pick out several likely chaps, won't you?" asked Jack.
"Sure I will. To begin with, Jack, you stay to see about closing up shop. Bobolink, you and Bluff come with us; yes, and Nuthin can trot along, too. That ought to be enough, with Peter here to help."
The German sexton was not so very dull of comprehension after all. And besides, he believed in Paul Morrison. He agreed to accompany the group of scouts on their strange errand, since Jack promised to close all the windows, and remain in the basement until his return.
Accordingly the five walked away, vanishing in the darkness. Paul suspected that one or more of the enemy might be concealed close by, hoping to learn what they meant to do; and so he had lowered his voice when speaking.
He led the way, passing through several side streets until finally they found themselves close to the fine residence of Mr. Kenwood, the banker.
"Say, I happen to know that Ward always uses the back gate when he goes out nights," ventured Nuthin, in a whisper, close to Paul's ear.
This was important news, and the scout leader was not slow to take advantage of it. So they found a place close to the rear gate, and crouched low, waiting. Slowly the minutes passed. The town clock struck the half hour, though it seemed to some of the watchers that they must have been on duty for ages.
"That's him coming," said Nuthin at length, in the lowest of voices; "I know his whistle all right. He's feelin' right merry over givin' us the ha! ha!"
"'Sh!" warned Paul, just then; and as the whistler drew rapidly closer the five crouching figures prepared to spring out upon him.
CATCHING A TARTAR
"Now!" exclaimed Paul, suddenly.
At the word a number of dark figures sprang erect, coming out of the denser shadows alongside the gate in the high fence back of the Kenwood grounds.
Ward was of course startled. The whistle came to an abrupt termination. Perhaps he may even have recognized the voice that called out this one word in such a tone of authority; for while he did not make any outcry he turned as if to flee.
It was already too late, for Bobolink, as if forseeing some such clever move on the part of the slippery customer, had so placed himself that he was able to cut off all retreat.
Then many hands were clutching the garments of the banker's son, and despite his vigorous struggles he found himself held. While it was far from light back there, he seemed to be able to divine who his captors were, judging from the way he immediately broke out in a tirade of abuse.
"Better keep your hands off me, Paul Morrison," was the way he ranted; "and you too, Bobolink and Jud! What d'ye mean holding me up like this, right at our own gate too? I'll tell Chief Billings about it, and perhaps you'll find yourselves pulled in. Let go of me, I tell you! How dare you grab me this way?"
It need hardly be said that not one of the boys addressed showed the least intention of carrying out the wishes of the speaker. In fact, to tell the truth, each one of the scouts seemed to tighten his grip.
One thing Paul noticed, and this was the fact that Ward did not raise his voice above an ordinary tone. He was angry, possibly alarmed, too; but somehow he did not seem to care about shouting so as to arouse his folks.
From this it was easy for Paul to guess that Ward must have been ordered to remain indoors on this night; and did not wish his father to know he had been roaming the streets with Ted Slavin and his cronies. Of late Ted had been getting into unusually bad odor with the town people, and perhaps Mr. Kenwood was trying to break off the intimacy known to exist between his son and the prime prank player of Stanhope.
"See, his hat's gone, Paul!" exclaimed Nuthin.
"Huh! what of that?" echoed the ever ready Ward, "guess I loaned it to another fellow who lost his, and had the toothache."
It may have seemed an ingenious excuse to him, and one calculated to cast doubts on any accusation that might be made, with the idea of connecting him with the boy who rang the big bell. Paul, however, believed he could afford to laugh at such a clumsy effort to crawl out of the responsibility.
"Peter," he said, briskly, "you look him over, and see if you can find a black mask in any of his pockets. You know I told you the fellow who ran out through the church after dropping the bell rope had his face hidden back of such a disguise."
Ward gave utterance to an exclamation of surprise. Evidently this was the very first that he knew about the presence of the sexton.
"Don't you dare do it, Peter," he said, struggling violently to break the hold of his captors, but without success; "don't you put a hand in my pocket, you old fool, or I'll get you bounced from your job so quick you won't know what struck you! Leave me alone, I tell you!"
That was the customary cowardly threat Ward made when he found himself caught in any of his madcap pranks. His rich father was a man of considerable influence in Stanhope, and many a man dared not treat the banker's son to the whipping he so richly deserved simply because it might be that his bread and butter depended in a measure on the good will or the whim of the magnate.
But the sexton did not seem to be disturbed. Perhaps he had little reason to believe Mr. Kenwood could influence the trustees of the church to dispose of his services. Then again, it might be that he received so small a sum for taking charge of the property, that he cared little whether he kept his job or not.
At any rate, be that as it might, Peter lost no time in starting to search the pockets of the squirming prisoner. Ward tried in every way he could devise to render this task difficult; but then Peter had half a dozen lads of his own over in the little white cottage near the church, and was doubtless accustomed to handling obstreperous boys.
"Vat is dis, poys?" he asked, as he drew something into view.
There was an immediate craning of necks, and then from several came the significant cry:
"It is the black mask, all right! He's the guilty bell-ringer, Peter!"
"What's all this you're talking about, you sillies? I never saw that thing before. Somebody must have stuck it in my pocket for a joke!" and Ward stopped struggling, as if he knew it would no longer be to his advantage.
When caught in a hole he could whip around like a flash, and change his tactics almost in an instant.
"Oh! is that so?" remarked Paul, with a laugh; "well, I happened to remember just now I saw a mask that looked very much like this, down in the corner of Chromo's news-store a few days ago. Now, I'm going to ask Peter to take it to him, in my company, and find out who bought it. At this time of year there isn't such a sale for these things but what Mr. Chromo will remember."
"Huh! think you're smart, don't you, Morrison? Even supposing I did buy it, you can't prove I ever wore it. I defy you to," Ward gritted his teeth; and somehow his manner reminded Paul of a wolf at bay.
The match which Paul struck flared up. Ward was staring at his captor, a sneer on his handsome face.
"Hold up his hands, fellows," said the young scout leader, suddenly; and almost before the prisoner realized what this move might mean, the burning match hovered over his blackened hands.
Peter uttered a snort of delight.
"Dot fix it mit you, mine friendt," he said, nodding his grizzled head as if pleased to find that Paul's prediction had come true. "Dey dells me dot poy vat rings de pell undt runs drough de church, he have his hand placked like he vas a negro. Dot pe you, Misder Ward Kenvood. I schnaps mine fingers at your vader's influenza. I shall dell de drustees of de church who rings dot pell. Den it pe up to dem to say vat shall pe done. Let him go, poys!"
Of course Bobolink, Jud and Nuthin immediately released their hold on Ward. The last flicker of the expiring match showed that the recent prisoner was scowling most hatefully, as if angry at the way he had been trapped.
"This isn't the last of this, you fellows!" he said, trying to keep up his customary threatening tactics, even in defeat. "Perhaps you think it smart to set up a game on me, just because you're afraid I'll organize a hike of my friends that'll walk all around that punk expedition of yours! But just wait; I'll show you that you're barking up the wrong tree. Bah!"
He turned his back on them with this last exclamation, intended to show his utter contempt. Passing through the gate he vanished from their sight. But Paul, who knew the fellow so well, felt quite sure that he would never venture to complain to his father, as he had threatened, for that course would disclose the fact that he was out, and bring trouble down on his own head.
"Back to your meeting place, fellows," said Paul; "and you keep that mask, Peter. To-morrow I'll drop in on you, and we'll see Mr. Chromo. I don't suppose anything will ever be done to Ward about it; but anyhow we can convince the trustees who were so kind as to let us use the gymnasium once a week, that we didn't abuse their confidence. And that's worth while."
Accordingly the scouts trooped back to the place from which they had started, where they found that Jack had carefully carried out the orders given by his superior.
Peter was taken inside to notice the rope fastened across the aisle; together with half a dozen seat cushions distributed around, doubtless intended to trip any pursuers who might not be wise enough to follow in the footsteps of the fleeing culprit.
After that the boys scattered, heading toward their homes in groups. As they went they divided their chatter between the recent happening, and the important news concerning the Summer "hike" that had been announced that night.
Paul and his closest chum, Jack Stormways, walked together, as they usually did. They had much to confer about, and Jack now and then laughed as he listened to what the other was saying about the hold-up of Ward.
"I tell you that was mighty bright of you, showing old Peter the smudge of black on the bell rope, which proved that Ward was the fellow who jerked it," he said, giving his chum a whack of genuine boyish approval on his back.
"Well," chuckled Paul, himself pleased over his little method of proving the guilt of his rival, "Peter got the charcoal all over his hands when he ran them up and down the rope, so he knows there could be no mistake. I gave him Ward's hat to keep for the present too. But it's too much to hope that anything will be done. Even if Mr. Kenwood doesn't attend this church, some of the trustees are connected with him in business, either in his bank, or the real estate end."
"Oh! the same old story," groaned Jack. "That fellow makes me tired! When Ward gets caught, instead of putting up a bold face, he just crawls, and threatens every one with the power of his governor. I'd just like to see him get his, some day!"
"Hold on. Don't forget you are a scout, and that you've got to look for the good that is in every fellow, they say," laughed his companion.
"All right," admitted Jack, slowly, "but I just guess you'd need a magnifying glass to find the speck of good in that cur. He's a sure enough slick one. All I want him to do is to keep away from me. His room is better than his company, any day."
"I'm ready to back you up in that last remark, Jack," said Paul, "for if any fellow in Stanhope has reason to despise Ward Kenwood and his sneaky ways, I ought. You know he's been my rival in most things ever since we were knee high to grasshoppers."
"But in nearly every case he's come out of the little end of the horn," declared Jack, warmly; "I'm ready to count on my chum getting there!"
"Oh! well," said Paul, hastily, "that's because he's nearly always in the wrong, you know. If Ward would only turn over a new leaf, and act decently, I'm sure he'd make a rival to be respected, if not feared."
But his chum only scoffed at such a thing, exclaiming:
"Oh! splash! you know the Bushkill will be running uphill before either Ward or Ted act on the square. Hasn't Slavin promised to reform more than a few times; and look at what he's doing still! Get that idea out of your head, Paul."
"Well, they did give us a run for our money to-night, to be sure," laughed his team-mate, as in fancy he once more saw the struggling heap of boys sprawling in the aisle of the church, when they struck the rope that had been slily stretched to trip unwary feet.
"You're right there," returned Jack, warmly, "and I can take a joke as well as the next one; only these fellows have no respect for anything. Think of that big bell booming out at such an hour of the night, will you? Why, it must have startled some sleepers almost out of their seven senses."
"Let's forget it then," continued the scout leader; "for we'll have our hands full in getting ready for that great hike up to Rattlesnake Mountain. Every time I think of it I seem to have a thrill. You see I've had a sneaking notion I'd like to prowl around that lonesome district, and learn for myself what it looks like; and now we've made up our minds to do it, I just can't hardly realize it."
"A bully good plan, and I know we're going to have the time of our lives. Look, who's coming over there, Paul?" and Jack allowed his voice to sink as he spoke, just as though he wished to avoid being heard by the party he indicated.
"Why, that was Mr. Clausin," said Paul, in a shocked voice, as the other walked past them, giving both a keen glance as he did so, while his face took on an expression of disappointment.
"Yes," murmured Jack, in a disturbed tone, "and how changed he looks! There must have been something about those stolen papers more than any of us know. He's been to the feed store again to make another search. Perhaps he can't get it out of his head that he didn't hide them somewhere. Poor man, I wish we could help him get them back. Joe's a good fellow, and a true scout. I'd be mighty glad to see him look happy again."
"So would I," said Paul, earnestly; "but hold on—don't show that you're interested, only step aside into this shadow. There's some one following Mr. Clausin, and when he passes that electric light over there I just must get a peep at his face. Whoever he is, Jack, I believe the fellow is a stranger in Stanhope! 'Sh!"
"Oh!" gurgled Jack, clutching his chum's arm convulsively.
GETTING READY FOR THE GREAT HIKE
"Can you see him yet, Paul?" whispered Jack, presently; for he had dropped behind his companion, and his view was slightly hindered.
"Yes, he seems to be following Mr. Clausin," returned the patrol leader, in an awed tone.
"Whatever ought we to do?" demanded Jack. "Perhaps he may be one of the same crowd that robbed the feed store. And now he is following Joe's father home! Oh! Paul, do you think he means to hold him up, or find out where he lives, so he can steal something more?"
"I don't know," returned Paul, dubiously; "but we can't stay here and let this thing go on."
"That's what I say, too," Jack hastened to say, as he once more reached his feet. "Shall we call, and bring some of the fellows around? You know how to bark like a fox better than any other scout in the troop. Give the distress signal, Paul. If there's any fellow within a block of us he's bound to hurry this way."
But Paul hesitated.
"That might do the job all right; but at the first sign of danger don't you expect this fellow would disappear? How could we prove anything, then, Jack; tell me that?"
"But if you won't do what I say, I'm sure it's because you've got something else on tap that is better. Put me wise to it, Paul," begged Jack.
"Come on then; we mustn't lose sight of that fellow. Walk fast, because we ought to pass him by," observed the scout leader, starting out.
"But Paul, you don't mean to tackle him, do you?" asked his chum, thrilled by the prospect of an encounter with the unknown.
"Why, not if I know it! He isn't likely to say or do anything when we hurry past him, you see," came Paul's low reply.
"Oh! I get on now;" whispered Jack, as he clung to the arm of his mate; "you expect to warn Mr. Clausin! That's a good idea. He'd know what to do, of course."
Involuntarily Paul caressed the left sleeve of his khaki coat, where the red silk badge that indicated his right to the exalted office of assistant scoutmaster was fastened, just above the silver one telling that he was also a second class scout patrol leader.
"Why should it," he said in reply; "when our motto is always 'be prepared'? But don't say anything more, Jack, just now."
His companion saw the wisdom of what he said, for they had been rapidly overtaking the figure that was trailing after Mr. Clausin.
The man looked back over his shoulder several times, as though he had caught the sound of their footsteps, and was interested. Paul noticed, however, that he did not show any intention of slinking away, and he wondered at this.
When the boys passed him the man simply lowered his head, so that the brim of his hat would shield his face. He gave no sign that he felt any annoyance, and Paul could hear his chum breathe a sigh of relief. Evidently Jack was keyed up to a point close to an explosion.
Mr. Clausin was now only a short distance ahead, and they hurried faster, so as to overtake him quickly.
"Why, is that you, Paul?" he asked, as, hearing the patter of steps close behind, he turned hastily.
"Yes, sir," replied the scout leader, somewhat out of breath from his exertions, "we wanted to catch you before you left the town limits, sir."
"To catch me," returned the gentleman, showing signs of interest. "And why, may I ask, Paul?"
"Oh! Mr. Clausin," broke in Jack at this juncture, "somebody is following you—a man who seems to be a stranger in town! After what happened last night we thought you ought to know it. There he is, standing in the shadow of that big elm back there."
To the utter astonishment of the two boys the gentleman, instead of showing any alarm, such as they expected, seemed amused. He even chuckled, as though something bordering on the humorous took the place of fear.
"It was very kind of you, boys, to follow after me to give me warning," he said, laying a hand on each of them. "But this time I rather suspect it's going to turn out to be a flash in the pan. Because, you see, my lads, I just said good-night to that same stranger at the door of my place of business, where we have been holding a consultation. Possibly he took a notion to see me safely home, not knowing but what I might be held up a second time."
"Oh!" exclaimed Jack, in a disappointed tone, "then he's a friend of yours, sir? How silly we have been! We thought we might be doing you a service in warning you. Come along, Paul; let's fade away!"
"Not just yet, boys, please," said Mr. Clausin. "Your intentions were all right, and for that I'm a thousand times obliged. Besides, you did me a great favor last night, one I'm not likely to forget. I want you to meet my friend. He's expressed himself as one who believes in the great movement you lads represent in this town."
Then raising his voice he called out:
"Mr. Norris, step this way, please!"
Immediately the shadowy figure started toward them. It was evident that the mysterious gentleman must have partly guessed the mission of the boys, for he was chuckling softly to himself as he came up.
"This is something of a joke on me, Mr. Clausin," he remarked, as if amused. "To think of one in my line of business being outwitted by a couple of lads. But then even lawyers will have to look to their laurels when they run up against boys who have been trained in the clever tactics of this scout movement. Am I right in believing one of these chaps must be Paul?"
"Yes, this one, Mr. Norris; and the other is his friend, Jack Stormways, of whom I was also speaking to you," replied the merchant.
"Glad to meet you, boys, and shake hands with you both," observed Mr. Norris warmly. "I've got a couple of my own boys down in the city, who are just as wild over this scouting business as you fellows up here seem to be. And my friend Clausin here, has been telling me a few interesting things in connection with a runaway horse, and a burning house. Such evidences make me feel more positive than ever that only good can come out of the organization you belong to."
Of course the boys hardly knew what to say in connection with such a handsome compliment; but they returned the warm pressure of the gentleman's hand.
"I ought to tell you, Paul," remarked Mr. Clausin just then, "that this gentleman is my lawyer. I wired him to come up here and see me, as I wished to consult him about those papers which are so strangely missing. You see, I have a pretty good idea who may have taken them, and their loss complicates matters very much. So I was in need of advice. Besides, I was in hopes Mr. Norris, who is a smart man in his class, might be able to suggest some way in which I could recover the papers."
Paul was more than ever interested now in those missing documents. He could not help wondering what their nature could be to give their late owner so much distress of mind. And besides, he was puzzled to understand just how Mr. Clausin hoped to ever set eyes on them again. Would the thief open up communications with him, and demand a ransom for their return?
These things kept cropping up in his mind long after he had said good-night to the two gentlemen, and even separated from his chum. They came back to him when he woke up in the middle of the night, and lay there in his own snug little room at home, where he was surrounded by shelves of books, trophies of contests on the athletic field, and such other things as the heart of a healthy lad loves.
There was something very singular in the manner of Mr. Clausin when he referred to the contents of the little tin box. Paul disliked very much to give anything up; but it was only groping in the dark to try and solve the puzzle without more of a clue than he possessed.
Besides, the regular scoutmaster being off on one of his periodical business trips, much of the duty of preparing for the long trip into the wilderness devolved on Paul.
School was just over for the Summer, and every member of the troop seemed to be bubbling with enthusiasm in connection with the contemplated outing. Nothing like it had ever been attempted before; and scores of things must be looked after.
By the time the scouts got in camp they expected Mr. Gordon, the scoutmaster, to join them, and take charge. But it would be upon Paul to make all necessary preparations, secure the supplies, look after the tents, packing of knapsacks, blankets, and such food as they would need.
No one could have been found better equipped for such a task. Paul loved all outdoors, and for some years had spent every bit of time he could during his vacations away from town. He was a good swimmer, knew all about the best way to revive a person who had been in the water a perilous length of time, and besides, had studied the habits of both game fishes and the inhabitants of the woods, fur, fin and feather.
It can be readily understood then, how he threw himself heart and soul into the task of getting Stanhope Troop in readiness for the long trip. Some of the boys' parents were worried about letting their boys go so far away; in fact three were sent to visit distant relatives just to keep them from temptation; but this move made discontented boys during the entire Summer; for they had set their hearts on being with their fellow scouts, and felt that they were missing the time of their lives.
When only one more day remained before the time arranged for the departure of the troop, Paul, on "counting noses," found that he might expect just twenty-two besides himself to make the grand march.
"It's going to be a success!" ventured Jack, as he and his chum went over the roster on that preceding night, checking off all those who had solemnly agreed to be on hand in the morning.
"I hope so," replied Paul, seriously; "but I'd feel better if I knew what we were going to buck against up there at Rattlesnake Mountain, and that's a fact."
That was a boy's way of putting it; but perhaps had he been granted that privilege Paul might have been appalled at the array of adventures in store for them.
Just after he had finished his supper that evening, Jack Stormways was called to the telephone in his house.
"Hello! Jack, this is Paul," came a voice. "Do you suppose your folks would let you camp out to-night down at the church, along with me?"
"What's that?" exclaimed Jack, more than a little surprised; for it had been decided, as the boys would be needing a good rest before starting off on their long and tiresome journey, there was to be no meeting on this night.
"Bobolink just had me on the wire," went on Paul, quietly; "and what d'ye suppose he told me? He got a hint that our friends, the enemy, mean to be at it again. This time they are thinking of doing something that will upset all our calculations about starting out to-morrow."
"But how—I don't just get hold of that, Paul? Every fellow has pledged himself to be on hand, rain or shine. How can they hold us back?" asked Jack, who had been partly stunned by the sudden shock of hearing such news.
"Oh they won't try to," remarked the scout leader; "but then you see what would be the use of our tramping away up there in the Rattlesnake Mountain country if we had no tents to sleep under, and nothing to eat?"
"But we have tents, and you bought enough bacon and supplies to last the whole outfit for two weeks anyhow! Oh! Paul, do you mean—would they dare try to dump all that fine grub in the creek, and perhaps ruin our new tents?"
Jack's voice trembled with indignation as he said this; for the real meaning of what his comrade was hinting at had suddenly burst upon him.
"Don't forget that Ted Slavin and Ward Kenwood lead that other crowd," remarked Paul, soberly; "and that times without number in the past they've shown how little they cared for other people's rights when they wanted to do anything mean. Bobolink had it on pretty good authority. I rather guess one of the enemy got cold feet, and thought it was going too far; so he threw out a hint."
"Bully for him, then, whoever he was! But what are you going to do about it, Paul?" demanded the boy at the other end of the wire.
"Just what I said—get a few fellows to camp out to-night in the gymnasium under the church where all our things are heaped up. Bobolink says he can come. I'll ask William if either he or Wallace could join us. Four should be enough to hold the fort, don't you think, Jack?"
"Sure! We know they're a punk crowd anyhow, when it comes to trouble; ready to run at the drop of the hat," observed Jack, contempt in his tone.
"Will you be there, then?" continued Paul, eagerly. "After all, it will only be beginning our camping experience one day in advance, for to-morrow night we expect to sleep under canvas, you know. Ask your father, Jack?"
"Oh!" exclaimed his chum, "he'll say yes, right off the reel. He never forgets the time he was a boy, and often says he envies me the good times we have. When will you drop in for me?"
"About half an hour from now. Got some things to do first," came the reply.
"Do you want me to take my gun along?" queried Jack, anxiously.
"Oh! no, it isn't that bad a case," laughed Paul, amused. "We ought to be able to handle things without going to such extremes. Besides, you know, I carried a number of those stout sticks into the gym the other day, and William amused himself fastening a lot of cloth around them, so that they look like the stuffed club we used in the minstrel show last Winter. William is just itching to use one on some poor wretch. Perhaps he might get the chance to-night. So-long, Jack."
"I'll look for you in half an hour then!" called his chum.
"About that," replied Paul. "I'll have these little medicine cases finished by then. Mother has been helping me with them. She used to belong to the Red Cross Society at one time; and besides, a doctor's wife has need of knowing about stuff that's good for stomach-aches, colds, snake bites and such things."
That half hour seemed next door to an eternity to the impatient Jack. Every time he allowed himself to think of the vandals throwing all their carefully gathered stores around, and perhaps cutting great holes in those lovely khaki-colored tents, warranted waterproof by the maker, Jack nearly "threw a fit," as he expressed it, in his boyish way.
Finally there was a ring at the door, and the young scout flew to let his chum in.
"Oh! I hope you haven't overdone it, Paul, and waited too long," he said, as he snatched up his cap, and prepared to hurry out of the door.
"Why," replied Paul coolly, "it was hardly a half hour; and I told the boys to meet us down at the campus of the high school about eight. There, you can hear the clock striking now. You're nervous, that's all, Jack."
"I reckon I am, for it seemed to me you were hours coming. I hope they don't try any of their games before we get on deck," observed the anxious scout.
"Not much danger of that, because, you see it's too early in the night. When fellows are up to any mean dodge they like to wait till all honest people are abed. The thief shuns a light, you know; and even Ted Slavin hunts up a dark place when he tries to play one of his tricks."
Paul spoke as though he had made a study of the town bully, and knew his weak points, which was the actual truth.
"Why can't they let us alone?" grunted Jack, falling into step with his comrade, as they walked down the street. "We never think of bothering them; it's always the other way. They just like to act ugly about things; and it's worse since we won that banner for our troop. But you know they're intending to hike out up in the same quarter we've selected? That was done with a purpose too, Paul, mark me!"
"I'm afraid so," returned his comrade, slowly; "and just as like as not they expect to give us trouble while we're in camp. Well," and his voice took on a vein of determination that told how he was aroused at the thought of what might happen; "there must be a limit to even the forbearance of a scout, you know; and if they push us too far, we will have to teach them a lesson!"
"That's the ticket, Paul. I can stand just so much of this being meek and forgiving; but it ain't in boy nature to keep it up everlastingly. Some fellows think it a big joke. And a sound licking will open their eyes better than soft soap. Ask William if that isn't so!"
"It's all to the good, I'm telling you, and that's no lie," observed the party in question, whom they found sitting on the fence adjoining the green fronting the handsome high school, and whom Jack had discovered at the time he was venting his views.
"Where's Bobolink?" demanded the leader.
"Oh! he was here a bit ago," returned William, who had always been considered ready to fight in the old days before the scout movement struck Stanhope; and who was loth to forsake his former ways, even while endeavoring to remain a member in good standing in the troop.
"But why didn't he stop with you? I told him to wait here," returned Paul.
"You see, we talked it over," explained William, "and got the notion that, as we didn't know how long you might be getting around, one of us had better begin to scratch gravel. So he drew the prize, and hiked around to the church to stand guard."
"Oh!" observed Paul, relieved that it was no worse, "in that case perhaps we'd better be moving along. Now, it may be that the Slavin crowd have a picket out so as to watch the gym, and see if any of us come around. We must be careful how we crawl up to the door. Come on, both of you."
They talked in whispers as they made a long detour, so as to approach the church from the rear.
"Got the key to the gym door, haven't you, Paul?" asked William.
"Sure I have," replied the other, readily enough, "I asked old Peter for it this afternoon. Thought that perhaps I might want to get in to look over the stuff for the last time."
"That's good. D'ye suppose they would break a window if they found the door locked?" continued William, who always wanted to know all particulars.
"Huh!" grunted Jack, at this remark; "such a little thing as breaking a pane of glass wouldn't stand in their way long, if they had a big job to tackle. I wouldn't put it past such reckless fellows to set fire to the church if hard pushed. If they stopped at that it would only be from fear of being found out, and punished by the law, not anything else. Huh! don't I know that Ted, though?"
"'Sh!" came from Paul at this juncture, and all of them lapsed into absolute silence; for they were now drawing near the old stone building that had sheltered the leading congregation of Stanhope since before the Civil War.
Paul had been observing things as he came along. First of all he noted that it was not as dark a night as when the bell of the church had been suddenly tolled. A young moon hung tremblingly in the western sky, promising to increase steadily in size, and give them more than one brilliant night while on their big excursion. Besides, an electric street light was in full force that had been out of business the other night.
He also noted the lay of the land near the church. This was familiar to him, as he had played around this spot, off and on, for years. Paul knew just where every tree reared its leafy branches, and could easily in his mind plan a mode of approaching the rear of the building without once leaving the shelter of the shadows.
So they stalked along, and were soon hugging the stone walls. Thus far all seemed quiet and peaceful. If any of the Slavin crowd were in the near vicinity they must be keeping under cover.
A pinch on his arm told Paul that Jack, with his keen eyes, had discovered something he deemed suspicious.
"Where?" he managed faintly to whisper in the ear of his chum.
"Ahead, by the sun dial," came in reply.
Paul remembered that something had happened to the old fashioned sun-dial that used to stand in the cemetery connected with the church; and that it had been placed up against the wall of the building. He knew, because he had once fallen over it in the darkness.
Looking closely he could just make out some object seemingly perched on the stone that offered a seat to the weary one.
It might be Bobolink, and then again there was always a possibility that the figure would prove to be that of an enemy on the watch.
Paul had instituted a system of signals whereby two scouts of the Stanhope troop could communicate, should they happen to draw near one another in the dark, and wish to unite forces.
Accordingly he now took a little piece of wood out of his pocket, also a steel nail, and with the latter tapped several times upon the bit of veneering. Immediately they saw the sitting boy begin to fumble, as though he might be getting something out of his pocket. Then came an answering series of staccato taps, soft yet clear.
"Number Three," whispered Paul, gently.
"I'm your candy!" came the reply, as the figure stood up at attention.
"Anything doing around here?" asked Jack, cautiously as they joined forces.
"Haven't seen a blessed thing but a young rabbit, that came nosing around. Guess that swift bunch hasn't showed up yet," returned the sentry.
"It's just as well," remarked Paul; "and please talk in whispers. Here's the door, so just wait till I unlock it."
A minute later and they found themselves inside the basement of the church, which was used as a gymnasium for the boys; there being no Y. M. C. A. in the town.
"Do we get a light?" asked Bobolink, as he stared into the darkness.
"Better not," advised Paul, "for that would give the whole thing away. The whole stack of things is piled up in the center, so we needn't tumble over it. And William, you know where to put your hand on those clubs, don't you?"
"That's a cinch," chuckled the other, quickly. "You fellows just hang out here, and let me get busy. Oh! what a chance it looks like to try my little game of tag. Talk to me about baseball! Why, it won't be in the same class with what we'll do to the other fellows, if they give us half a chance! Oh! me, oh! my! yum, yum!"
William came back presently, and handed each of his mates one of the padded clubs he had worked on so industriously, in the expectation that some fine day they might come in useful. Perhaps that hour had arrived; at least William had high hopes.
Paul, meanwhile, had secured some blankets from the pile, and each of them made as comfortable a bed as was possible in the darkness.
"Nothing like getting used to bunking on the hard floor?" grunted Bobolink, after he had fussed around for fully ten minutes, complaining that the boards hurt his bones when he lay on his side.
"Now silence!" came from Paul, in a tone of authority; and after that no one dared to utter a single word in the way of conversation.
Jack's groping hand gripped the arm of his chum as he gave vent to this whisper.
"Yes," came the low reply close at hand, showing that Paul was awake, and alert.
"Did you hear it?" asked Jack, eagerly.
Bobolink was breathing heavily on his blankets, and it seemed as though he must have been the first one to get to sleep, after all his complaining about the hardness of his bed.
"Yes. Some one shook the door," answered the patrol leader, still whispering.
"That was what I thought. Shall I wake Bobolink and William?" asked Jack.
"Let me do it. If one of them gave a shout it would tell that we had a guard in here."
Paul, while saying this, started to crawl to where Number Three was enjoying a nap. He shook him gently, and when that failed to arouse Bobolink, the motion was increased.
"Hey! what are you——" but further sound was instantly cut off by Paul's clapping his hand over Bobolink's mouth.
"Keep still! They're at the door right now!" he breathed into the ear of the struggling one.
That seemed to tell Bobolink what it all meant. No doubt his first impression had been that the enemy had stolen a march on them, and meant to make them prisoners in their own quarters.
He ceased to squirm, and encouraged by this Paul by degrees removed his muffling hand, so that Bobolink could breathe freely again.
The sounds had commenced once more. William was also sitting up by now, and fairly quivering with eagerness, as he fondled the extra large club he had selected for his individual use.
Voices, too, reached their ears, as though the unknown parties without, finding themselves balked by the fact that the door was locked, were conferring as to how they might gain entrance.
"Maybe they've gone and made a duplicate key," suggested William, as he and the other three scouts put their heads close together.
No one thought it at all out of the question. They had run up against these energetic plotters so often in the past, that they were well acquainted with their ways; and nothing surprised them in connection with Ted Slavin's crowd.
"Perhaps we'd better move closer to the door, so as to be ready in case they do push in," Paul said, leading the way.
Creeping across the floor of the gymnasium, they hovered close to the entrance. All of them gripped their novel weapons of offense and defense with a grim determination to give a good account of themselves when the chance arrived.
As for William, he was fairly shivering with impatience. Several times he swished his club through the air, as though eager to test its qualities on an unlucky intruder; so that Paul had finally to warn him against such indiscreet action.
The voices without came more plainly now. Evidently the plotters were disputing as to their best course under the circumstances, some being for one thing, and the balance for another.
"Oh! rats!" came a voice that Paul easily recognized as belonging to Ted Slavin himself; "Who's afraid? Go get the old gravestone, boys, and we'll ram her through the door like soup. It's only a weak door anyhow."
"Yes," came in Ward's cautious tones, "but that would be destroying church property, and we could be punished for it. Better try and open a window, fellows. Bud here knows where there's a weak catch, don't you, Bud?"
"Huh! I unscrewed the catch myself," came in still another voice; "that's how it's weak. But we can get in that way easy, boys. If you say the word, Ted, I'll creep in and open the door in the back, where old Peter chases his ashes out in Winter time."
"You're the candy-boy, Bud. Do it right away. And we'll be awaitin' there at the ash door, ready to push in when you open up. Get a move on you, now."
When Ted spoke in that strain he meant business, and few among his cronies ever dared hesitate. He ruled his camp followers through sheer force of brutal instincts; and many a head had ached in consequence of that bony fist coming in contact with it, when a dispute had to be settled.
Paul gave a tug at the sleeve of Jack, who, recognizing the signal, passed it on to William; and in turn he notified the remaining member of the quartette.
Thus they were presently all in motion, making a careful detour around the pile of camping material that occupied the middle of the floor. Some boys seem to be gifted with the remarkable faculty of seeing in the dark, that a cat enjoys. Jack was of the opinion that his chum must surely be favored in this way, judging from his success in moving about through that darkness without tumbling over obstacles.
The furnace room was off the gymnasium. Gaining the door Paul passed through, and presently came to a number of metal receptacles in which old Peter stored the ashes until such time as he thought fit to get a wagon around to take the refuse away.
Most of them were still full and running over, for Peter had kept putting off his last cleaning up, owing to an attack of rheumatism.
"Every fellow pick out his can and hide behind it," whispered Paul.
When he understood that this had been done he himself slipped back to the connecting door, intending to watch for the coming of Bud.
Presently sounds proceeded from a window near by, one of the small ones that in the daytime gave light to the gymnasium. Looking intently in that quarter, Paul was soon able to make out a moving object; for he had the sky with its stars and young moon as a background.
Then came a series of grunts, announcing that Bud was pushing his way in through the little opening, after having gently forced the catch of the swinging window.
Paul could hear the sound of his heels striking on the boards of the gymnasium floor. And just as he had anticipated, the intruder was supplied with matches, for he immediately struck a light, in order to look around, and get his bearings.
Paul thought it time to beat a silent retreat in the direction of the ashcan he had selected as his cover. When settling down he managed to give the signal that the other three would recognize as denoting caution, and that they must remain on the alert every second of the time.
Now Bud was coming. Paul could hear him stumbling along, grumbling when he banged into the open door, simply because his sense of observation had not been so highly developed as had that of the young scout leader.
But by striking another match Bud managed to locate the cause of his trouble. He was glimpsed by Paul, spying around the edge of his screen, and seemed to be rubbing his forehead vigorously, as though he might have raised a lump there in his contact with the door.
Some one pounded from without.
"Hi! there, Bud, what's keeping you?" demanded Ted, gruffly, unable to control his impatience.
"All right, I'm here. But you'll have to wait a little, fellers," said Bud, who had struck a third match in order to size up the situation around the neighborhood of the exit.
It was rather strange that in looking about him he failed to discover some sign of the presence of those four forms cowering behind as many tall ashcans; but perhaps this was because they managed to keep well out of sight.
"What's the matter in there? Why don't you open up?" called Ted, again rapping his knuckles on the wooden barrier.
"Hold on! There's a lot of cans heaped up with ashes in the way. I'll have to move a bunch of 'em first, before I kin open the door," declared Bud; and to himself he muttered: "and I just don't like the looks of this hole any too much, tell yuh that, now. Reckon theys a hull heap of rats ahangin' around here. Ugh! what a fool I was to come in here anyhow. Gee! listen, would you?"
A sudden squealing sounded somewhere close to the feet of Bud. It was exactly like the angry cry of a fighting rat. But Paul understood instantly that Bobolink must be the cause of all this racket; for he had known his friend on numerous occasions to make good use of his gift as an amateur ventriloquist.
Bud was in a terrible state of mind. Being very much afraid of rats he would have fled from the spot could he have known which way to go. Twice he tried to strike a match, but each attempt proved a failure, on account of his extreme nervousness. And now he had no more matches with him, so that it was impossible to see the connecting door, through which his retreat must be conducted.
Ted was growing more and more angry outside. He used his knuckles on the door again, to emphasize his demand.
"Open up here, you lazybones! What ails you?" he roared, discretion giving way to rage at the delay, when his fingers were fairly itching to lay hold of those tents, and the balance of the camp stuff belonging to the boys he detested so much.
"Oh! I'm trying to do it, Ted;" answered his tool within, "but you see the place is alive with great big rats. They're all around me in here, and wanting to take a nip out of my legs. Oh! get out of that, hang you! One got me then! I bet he took a piece out of me as big as a baseball. They'll eat me alive! Help! Help!"
But Bud was mistaken. It was Bobolink who had pinched him on the sly. Still, since the other did not know this, his terror was just as much in evidence.
"Hurry up there, unless you want us to break the old door in!" called Ted.
"Ah! go roll your hoop!" called out a voice just like the sharp twanging tones belonging to Bud.
"What's that you say?" shouted the astonished and enraged Ted, who believed his slave was rising up in rebellion.
"Go chase yourself! I'm openin' as fast as I kin, an' if you talk till you're blind I aint agoin' to hurry any faster!" Bobolink made Bud appear to say.
"Aint, hey? Just wait till I get hold of you, Bud Jones; if I don't make you eat them words, my name is mud!" exclaimed the furious leader, outside.
"Oh! I never said a word, Ted, sure I didn't!" cried Bud, still wrestling with the ashcans in the darkness, and kicking right and left at imaginary rats which he believed were advancing in a drove to snap at his shins.
"Oh! yes, tell that to the ducks, will you? Every feller here heard what you said, too. I'm goin' to make you eat it just as soon as I get hold of you!" declared the furious leader, still bruising his knuckles in useless attacks on the boards of the door.
Bud Jones was in the most terrible predicament of his whole life. Beset by innumerable fierce foes as he believed within, there was that big bully outside, only waiting for a chance to give him a thrashing he would never forget. And the mysterious voice that sounded exactly like his own, startled him; for, not being a friend of Bobolink's he probably never heard him give those strange imitations when making his voice appear to come from some other person.
"I've got hold of the last can, Ted!" he wailed, presently, after much tugging and another series of wild kicks into space; though he sometimes bruised his toe by striking it against one of the ash receptacles near by; "and I'm going to open up now; but please don't touch me. I never said a word against you, Ted; it must have been the rats, I guess!"
Bobolink could hardly keep from bursting into a shout at this, for he knew that poor Bud must be very near a complete breakdown through fright.
"Here it goes, fellers. Now I'm startin' to tackle the door, if the varmints will give me half a chance," the intruder called out once more.
He could be heard working away with all his energy at the heavy bar that secured the door, now and then giving a dismal little squeal, as in imagination he felt the sharp teeth of a rodent nipping him again cruelly.
"Oh! there it goes, Ted!" he cried suddenly, as the bar fell on his feet.
The door swung open, knocking poor Bud over; for there was an immediate rush of many eager figures. So Ted Slavin led his backers into the furnace room of the church, where Paul lay secreted behind an ashcan, flanked by three of his trusty and loyal scouts.
REPULSING THE ENEMY
"Wow! go slow, fellers!" called the first boy who pushed into the basement, urged on by the pressure of his comrades in the rear.
"It's as black as a bag of cats, that's what!" exclaimed another, as he floundered among the ashcans.
"Oh! I'm nearly smothered! Help me out, somebody!" wailed poor Bud, who managed to receive a full peck of ashes over his head as he scrambled on the floor.
"A light! Hold up till we get the glim goin'!" called Ted Slavin, who had after all managed to twist around at the end, so that when the door finally opened he could push others ahead of him into the unknown depths of the gloom.
That was often Ted's way. He liked to bluster and rage, but frequently came out of a scrimmage in far better physical condition than those who had said less. Some boys can always keep an eye out for the main chance; and Ted seemed to belong to the number.
Now, the church was usually lighted by electricity. Of late there had occurred some serious trouble with the insulation, and the main part of the structure had to go back to ancient lamp illumination, when any occasion arose. As this was Summer, the night services had been discontinued until repairs could be made.
Paul, however, chanced to know that the little circuit in this rear basement had escaped the general slaughter. He had even tried turning on the light at one time when poking about curiously.
And when he had taken up his location just now, it was close to the button which governed the two electric lights in the furnace room.
Paul thought that the time was about ripe to give these intruders the surprise of their lives. Up to this moment they had been having things their own way; but why should he wait until some one managed to draw a match out of his pocket, and faintly illuminate the apartment?
While the followers of Ted were groping about among the scattered cans, and Bud was sneezing violently as he tried to gain his feet there was suddenly a flash of dazzling light that almost blinded every one.
At exactly the same instant there sounded the eager barking of what, to the alarmed intruders, seemed to be a small dog. But it was the signal of the Fox Patrol, and possessed a positive significance for every member of Stanhope Troop.
"Oh! look!" almost shrieked Bud, as, having managed to recover his balance, he saw the figures of four active boys shoot up into view from behind as many tall ash receivers.
The Boy Scouts never halted to count their foes. It was an occasion calling for speedy action. Indeed, if they wished to take full advantage of the surprise, and complete the demoralization of the intruders, they must follow up their appearance on the scene with prompt measures.
"At 'em, fellows!" cried Paul, suiting the action to the word by smiting the nearest of the Slavin crowd with the padded club he wielded.
Scissors Dempsey promptly bowled over among the ashes, surprised, if not seriously hurt.
"Sweep 'em out!" exclaimed Jack, whirling his instrument of torture around his head, and sending at least two of the intruders reeling.
Immediately a regular pandemonium ensued. Ted saw that he had run into a hornet's nest, and like the wise general that he was, concluded that it was no place for a fellow who had any self respect. Their little game was spoiled, that seemed evident, and it would be the height of folly to think of conducting a fight in the church basement, especially since punishment of a worse nature must follow when their parents learned about the disgraceful proceedings.
Accordingly Ted gave the order to retreat.
"Skip out, every duck of you, Tigers!" he called, hoarsely; "Hey! get a move on you, Scissors, Bud,—everybody run!"
The spirit was willing with his followers; but the flesh proved weak. The trouble was, they found themselves kept so busy dodging the descending padded clubs of Paul and his friends, that they had little time for maneuvring toward the lone exit.
William was in his glory. Long had he been deprived of his favorite amusement; and he meant to take full advantage of this glorious opportunity to let the red blood in his veins have free swing. The way he whacked at the ducking followers of Ted was certainly marvellous, and every time he made a hit he let out a series of gratified barks such as must have astonished any real red fox of the timber.
One by one, however, the badly-used intruders sped out of the rear door, pursued by a parting volley of vigorous strokes, and breathing threats as they ran off.
From the interior of the gymnasium came a series of noises that could mean only one thing—despairing of escaping in the same manner as his companions, who were lucky enough to be nearer the exit, Scissors had darted through the connecting door, and that was him banging headlong into posts, or tripping over the various stacks of camping material on the floor.
The furnace room was hazy with dust, occasioned by the tilting over of several ashcans; but Paul could see that the enemy had been almost wholly expelled.
Among scouts a peculiar custom often prevails. Each boy makes up his mind to do some sort of good turn to somebody during the day. In order to remind himself of this he frequently turns his badge upside-down until he has found an occasion to even the score. No matter how small the service, it must be something that brings a little pleasure or profit to another.
Well, Paul grimly thought, as he drew out his handkerchief to wipe the perspiration from his face, if any of his chums had failed to find a chance during the day just past, to perform a service entitling them to a sense of self satisfaction, after this little excitement they could go to bed with clear consciences. For had they not shown several boys the truth of the old proverb, that the "way of the transgressor is hard," and would not this lesson be valuable in after life?
"Oh! shucks!" lamented William, as he leaned on his war-club, and looked as forlorn as one of his merry disposition ever could, "whatever did they run away for? I wasn't half through, yet. Why, I don't believe I got in more than three decent licks at all! It's a shame, that's what!"
Paul was shutting and fastening the door again. He did not wish to have a volley of stones hurled through the opening by the vindictive boys they had put to flight. Past experiences served to warn him as to what measures of retribution Ted Slavin and his kind usually undertook.
"Whew! what a mess! We'll have to get brooms, and a sprinkler busy here, so Peter won't complain," he said, laughing as he looked around.
"Hello! look there! Get next to the ghost, will you?" cried William, pointing to a wretched and forlorn figure that was emerging from the midst of the assembled ashes.
It was the fore-runner of the Slavin clan, the miserable Bud Jones. He had been tumbled over so many times during the excitement, by both friends and foes, that he must have lost all count.
"Oh! what a guy!" shrieked Bobolink, holding his sides with laughter, as the disconsolate Bud trailed out from his place of concealment.
Covered from head to feet with ashes, and minus his hat, he certainly presented a most comical appearance. But it was serious enough to Bud. He judged others by what he knew of Ted Slavin's ways; and consequently fully expected that Paul and his crowd would surely proceed to vent their ill humor on his poor head.
"Oh! please let me go, Paul!" he whined, addressing himself to the one he recognized as the leader of the opposition; "I've got all I deserve, you see, and the worst is yet to come; for when my dad looks at this new suit I'm in for the most dreadful lickin' you ever heard about. Don't kick a feller when he's down, will you, Paul? Please open that door again, an' let me scoot!"