Boy Scout Series Volume 4
The Boy Scout Fire Fighters
Jack Danby's Bravest Deed
Major Robert Maitland
THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY
CHICAGO —— AKRON, OHIO —— NEW YORK
The Saalfield Publishing Co.
I AT THE EDGE OF THE FIRE II FIGHTING THE FIRE III WHAT THE SPY SAW IV THE DOUBLE HEADER V TOM BINNS' BAD LUCK VI THE ATTACK ON THE STATION VII JACK DANBY'S PERIL VIII THE RESCUE IX A SWIMMING PARTY X THE BURNING LAUNCH XI THE MYSTERY DEEPENS XII AN UNGRATEFUL PARENT XIII THE MOVING PICTURES XIV A FOOLISH STRIKE XV THE DYNAMITERS XVI OFF ON A LONG HIKE XVII A TIMELY WARNING
Two chapters in the source book were misnumbered. Chapters in this ebook have been renumbered.
The last numbered page in the source book was page 168, but damage to the book indicates that a number of pages were missing after that point. Since the original book did not have a table of contents, it is unknown what may be missing.]
The Boy Scout Fire Fighters
AT THE EDGE OF THE FIRE
A pall of smoke, dark, ugly, threatening, hung over a wood in which the Thirty-ninth Troop of the Boy Scouts had been spending a Saturday afternoon in camp. They had been hard at work at signal practice, semaphoring, and acquiring speed in Morse signaling with flags, which makes wireless unnecessary when there are enough signalers, covering enough ground.
The Scout camp was near the edge of the woods. Beyond its site stretched level fields, sloping gradually upward from them toward a wooded mountain. The smoke came from the mountain, and in the growing blackness over the mountain a circular ring proclaimed the spreading fire.
"Gee, that looks like some fire, Jack," said Pete Stubbs, a Tenderfoot Scout, to his chum, Jack Danby, head office-boy in the place where he and Pete both worked.
"I'm afraid it is," said Jack, looking anxiously toward it.
"I never saw one as big as that before," said Pete. "I've heard about them, but we never had one like that anywhere around here."
"We used to have pretty bad ones up at Woodleigh," returned Jack. "I don't like the looks of that fire a bit. It's burning slowly enough now, but if they don't look out, it'll get away from them and come sweeping down over the fields here."
"Say, Jack, that's right, too! I should think they'd want to be more careful there in the farmhouses. There's some of them pretty close to the edge of the woods over there."
Scout-Master Thomas Durland, who was in charge of the Troop, came up to them just then.
"Danby," he said, "take your signaling flags, and go over toward that fire. I want you to examine the situation and report if there seems to be any danger of the fire spreading to the lowlands and endangering anything there."
"Yes, sir," said Jack at once, raising his hand in the Scout salute and standing at attention as the Scout-Master, the highest officer of the Troop of Scouts, spoke to him. His hand was at his forehead, three middle fingers raised, and thumb bent over little finger.
"Take Scout Stubbs with you," said the Scout-Master. "You may need help in examining the country over there. I don't know much about it. What we want to find out is whether the ground is bare, and so likely to resist the fire, or if it is covered with stubble and short, dry growth that will burn quickly."
"Look out for water, too. There may be some brooks so small that we can't see them from here. But I'm afraid not. Every brook around here seems to be dried up. The drought has been so bad that there is almost no water left. A great many springs, even, that have never failed in the memory of the oldest inhabitants, have run dry in the last month or so. The wind is blowing this way, and the fire seems to be running over from the other side of Bald Mountain there. From the looks of the smoke, there must be a lot of fire on the other side."
No more orders were needed. The two Scouts, hurrying off, went across the clear space at the Scout pace, fifty steps running, then fifty steps walking. That is a better pace for fast travelling, except very short distances, than a steady run, for it can be kept up much longer without tiring, and Boy Scouts everywhere have learned to use it.
"Why do they call that Bald Mountain, I wonder?" said Pete, as they went along. "It isn't bald any more'n I am. There are trees all over the top."
"I don't know, Pete. Places get funny names, sometimes, just the same way that people do. It doesn't make much difference, though, in the case of a mountain."
"Nor people, either, Jack," said Pete Stubbs, stoutly. He had noticed a queer look on his chum's face, and he remembered something that he always had to be reminded of—the strange mystery of Jack's name.
He was called Jack Danby, but he himself, and a few of his best friends, knew, that he had no real right to that name. What his own real name was was something that was known to only one man, as far as his knowledge went, and that one a man who was his bitter enemy, and far more bent on harming him than doing him the favor of clearing up the mystery of his birth and his strange boyhood at Woodleigh. There Jack had lived in a cabin in the woods with a quaint old character called Dan. He had always been known as Jack, and people had spoken of him as Dan's boy. By an easy corruption that had been transformed into Danby, and the name had stuck.
He had come to the city through the very Troop of Boy Scouts to which he now belonged. They had been in camp near Woodleigh, and Jack had played various pranks on them before he had struck up a great friendship with one of them, little Tom Binns, and so had been allowed by Durland to join the Scouts. More than that, Durland had persuaded him to come to the city, and had found a job for him, in which Jack had covered himself with glory, and done credit both himself and Durland, who had recommended him.
"Gee, it's getting smoky," said Pete, as they reached the first gentle rise at the foot of the mountain, though it had seemed to rise abruptly when viewed from a distance.
"A woods fire always makes this sort of a thick, choking smoke. There's a lot of damp stuff that burns with the dry wood. Leaves that lie on the ground and rot make a good deal of the smoke, and then there's a lot of moisture in the trees even in the driest weather."
"Sure there is, Jack! They take all the water there is when the rain falls and keep it for the dry weather, don't they, like a camel?"
"That's a funny idea, Pete, comparing a tree to a camel, but I don't know that it's so bad, at that. It is rather on the same principle, when you come to think of it."
Men were working in the fields as they approached the fire. They seemed indifferent to the danger that Durland feared. One boy not much older than themselves stared at the carroty head of Pete Stubbs, and laughed aloud.
"Hey, Carrots," he cried, "ain't you afraid of settin' yourself on fire?"
"You ain't so good lookin' yourself!" Pete flamed back, but Jack put a hand on his arm.
"Easy there, Pete!" he said. "We're on Scout duty now. Don't mind him."
A little further on they met an older man, who seemed to be the farmer.
"Aren't you afraid the fire may spread this way?" asked Jack, stopping to speak to him.
"Naw! Ain't never come here yet. Reckon it won't now, neither."
"There always has to be a first time for everything, you know," said Jack, secretly annoyed at the stolid indifference of the farmer, who seemed interested in nothing but the tobacco he was chewing.
"Tain't no consarn of your'n, be it?" asked the farmer, looking at them as if he had small use for boys who were not working. He forgot that Pete and Jack, coming from the city, might work almost as hard there through the week as he did on his farm, without the healthful outdoor life to lessen the weariness.
"Sure it ain't!" said Pete, goaded into replying. "We thought maybe you'd like to know there was a good chance that your place might be burnt up. If you don't care, we don't. That's a lead pipe cinch!"
"Come on, Pete," said Jack. "They'll be looking for a signal pretty soon. If we don't hurry, it'll be too dark for them to see our flags when we really have something to report."
The fields nearest the mountain and the fire were full of stubble that would burn like tinder, as Jack knew. The corn had been cut, and the dry stalks, that would carry the flames and give them fresh fuel to feed on, remained. Not far beyond, too, were several great haystacks, and in other fields the hay had been cut and was piled ready for carrying into the barns the next day. If the fire, with a good start, ever did leap across the cleared space from the woods it would be hard, if not impossible, to prevent it from spreading thus right up to the outhouses, the barns, and the farmhouses themselves. Moreover, there was no water here. There were the courses of two little brooks that in rainy weather had watered the land, but now these were dried up, and there was no hope of succor from that side.
As they approached the woods, too, Jack looked gravely at what he saw. Timber had been cut here the previous winter, and badly and wastefully cut, too, in a way that was now a serious menace. The stumps, high above ground, much higher than they should have been, offered fresh fuel for the fire, dead and dry as they were, and over the ground were scattered numerous rotting branches that should have been gathered up and carried in for firewood.
"Looks bad, doesn't it?" Jack said to Pete.
"It certainly does," rejoined his companion. "Now we've got to find a place where we can do the signaling."
"I see a place," said Jack, "and I think I can reach it pretty easily, too. See that rock up there, that sticks out from the side of the mountain? I bet you can see that a long way off. You go on up to where the fire's burning. Get as near as you can, and see how fast it's coming. Then work your way back to the rock and tell me what you've seen."
"Right, oh!" said Pete. "I'm off, Jack!"
Though the smoke was thick, now, and oppressive, so that he coughed a good deal, and his eyes ran and smarted from the acrid smell, Jack made his way steadfastly toward the rock, which he reached without great difficulty. He was perhaps a mile from the Scout camp, and there, he knew, they were looking anxiously for the first flashing of his red and white flags to announce that he was ready to report.
He stood out on the rock, and, after a minute of hard waving of his flags, he caught the answer. Thus communication was established, and he began to make his report. He had no fear of being misunderstood, for it was Dick Crawford, the Assistant Scout-Master and his good friend, who was holding the flags at the other end, and not some novice who was getting practice in signaling, one of the pieces of Scout lore in which Jack had speedily become an adept.
"Bad fire," he wig-wagged back. "Seems to be spreading fast. Ground very bad. Likely to spread, I think. Fields full of stubble. No water at all. Brooks and springs all dried up."
"Mr. Durland says have you warned men working in the fields?"
"Not yet," was the answer from Jack. "But they think it's all right, and seem to think we're playing a game."
Then Jack dropped his flags in token of his desire to stop for a minute, and turned to Pete Stubbs, who had come up.
"It's burning mighty fast," said Pete. "The woods are awfully dry up there. There's no green stuff at all to hold it in check. If those people on the farm down there don't look out, they'll be in a lot of trouble."
Jack sent that information, too, and then came orders from Dick Crawford.
"Return to camp," the Assistant Scout-Master flashed. "Warn farmer and men of danger. Suggest a back fire in their fields, to give clear space fire cannot jump. Then report, verbally, result of warning."
The warning was a waste of breath and effort.
"Think you can learn me my business?" asked the farmer, indignantly. "I don't need no Boy Scouts to tell me how to look after my property. Be off with you, now, and don't bother us! We're busy here, working for a living. Haven't got time to run around playing the way you do."
Jack felt that it was useless to argue. This farmer was one who believed that all boys were full of mischief. He didn't know anything about the Boy Scout movement and the new sort of boy that it has produced and is producing, in ever growing numbers. So Jack and Pete went on to camp, and there Jack made his report to Durland.
"It would serve him right to have his place burned," said Durland, "but we can't work on that theory. And there are others who would suffer, too, and that wouldn't be right. So we'll just go over there and stop that fire ourselves."
There was a chorus of cheers in reply to that. The idea of having a chance to fight a really big fire like this awoke all the enthusiasm of the Scouts of the three Patrols, the Whip-poor-wills, the Raccoons and the Crows, this last the one to which Jack and Pete belonged.
So off they went, with Durland in the lead.
FIGHTING THE FIRE
The three Patrols of the Troop had been nearly at full strength when the hike to the camping ground began, and Durland had at his disposal, therefore, when he led them across the open fields toward the burning mountain, about twenty quick, disciplined and thoroughly enthusiastic Scouts, ready to do anything that was ordered, and to do it with a will.
"What's it like over there, Jack?" asked Tom Binns, who was Jack Danby's particular chum among the Scouts, and the one who had really induced him to join the Crows.
"It's going to be pretty hot work, Tom," said Jack. "There's no water at all, and the only chance to stop that fire is by back firing."
"That's pretty dangerous, isn't it?"
"Yes, unless the man who's doing it knows exactly what he wants to do and exactly how to do it. But I guess Mr. Durland and Dick Crawford won't make any mistakes."
"It's lucky for these farmers that Mr. Durland knows a fire when he sees it, isn't it, Jack? If they let that fire alone, Bob Hart said it would sweep over the whole place and burn up the farmhouses."
"Sure it would! The trouble is they never believe anything until they see it. They think that just because there never was a really bad fire here before, there never will be."
"There have been fires on Bald Mountain before, though, Jack. I've seen them myself."
"That's true enough—and that's just the trouble. This is the trouble. There's been scarcely any rain here for the last two months, and everything is fearfully dry. If the brooks were full the fire wouldn't be so likely to jump them. But, as it is, any old thing may happen. That's the danger—and they can't see it."
Each Scout was carrying his Scout axe and stick, a stout pole that was useful in a hundred different ways on every hike. The axes were out now, and the sharp knives that each Scout carried were also ready for instant use. Durland, at the head of the little column in which the Scouts had formed, was casting his keen eye over the whole landscape. Now he gave the order to halt.
The Scouts had reached the edge of the fertile land. The course of the little stream was directly before them, and on the other side was the land that had been partially cleared of timber the year before, filled with stumps and dry brush.
"Go over and borrow a few shovels from the farmhouse over there," directed Durland. "Crawford, take a couple of Scouts and get them. I want those shovels, whether they want to lend them to you or not. It's for their own sake—we can't stand on ceremony if they won't or can't understand the danger."
"Come on, Danby and Binns," said Dick Crawford, a happy smile on his lips, and the light of battle in his eyes. "We'll get those shovels if they're to be found there, believe me!"
The farmer and most of the men, of course, were in the fields, still at work. If they had seen the advance of the Scouts they had paid no attention whatever, and seemed to have no curiosity, even when three of the Scouts left the main body, and went over to the farmhouse. There Dick and the others found a woman, hatchet faced and determined, with a bulldog and a hulking, overgrown boy for company. She sat on the back porch, peeling potatoes, and there was no welcome in the look she gave them.
"Be off with you!" she shrilled at them. "You'll get no hand-outs here! You're worse'n tramps, you boys be, running over honest people's land, and stealing fruit. Be off now, or I'll set the dog onto ye!"
"We only want to borrow some shovels, ma'am," explained Dick Crawford, politely, trying to hide a smile at her vehement way of expressing herself.
"What next?" she cried. "Shovels, is it? And a fine chance we'd have of ever seeing them ag'in if we let you have them, wouldn't we? Here, Tige! Sic 'em, boy, sic 'em!"
The dog's hair rose on his back, and he growled menacingly as he advanced toward them. But there Jack Danby was in his own element. There had never been an animal yet, wild or tame, that he had ever seen, with which he could not make friends. He dropped to one knee now, while the others watched him, and spoke to the dog. In a moment the savagery went out of the bulldog, who, as it seemed, was really little more than a puppy, and he came playfully up to Jack, anxious to be friendly.
"The dog knows, you see," said Dick. "A dog will never make friends with anyone who is unworthy, ma'am. Don't you think you could follow his example, and trust us?"
"You'll get no shovels here," said the woman, with a surly look.
"Oh, I don't know!" said little Tom Binns, under his breath. His eyes had been busy, darting all around, and he had seen a number of shovels, scattered with other farm implements, under a pile of brushwood. He leaped over to this pile now, suddenly, before the loutish boy who was helping with the potatoes could make a move to stop him, and in a moment he was dancing off, his arms full of shovels. Dick Crawford saw what had happened, and could not help approving.
"Thank you," he said to the enraged woman, who rose and seemed about to take a hand herself, physically. "I'm sorry we had to help ourselves, but it's necessary to save your home, though your own men don't seem to think so."
They were off then, with the woman shouting after them, and trying to induce the dog, who stood wagging his tail, to give chase.
"I don't like to take things that way," said Dick, "but if ever the end justified the means, this was the time. We had to have those shovels, and it's just as I told her—it's for their sake that we took them, not for ours at all."
"What will we do with these shovels when we get them?" asked Tom Binns, who had distributed his load so that each of the others had some shovels to carry. They made a heavy load, even so, and Tom couldn't have carried them all for more than a few steps without dropping from their weight.
"I guess Mr. Durland intends to dig a trench, and then start a back fire," said Crawford. "You see, the wind is so strong that if we started a back fire without precaution like that it would be simply hastening destruction of the property we are trying to save, and it would be better not to interfere at all than to do that. With the trench, you see, the fire we start will be quickly stopped, and the other fire won't have anything to feed on when it once reaches the part that we've burned over."
Crawford had guessed aright the reason for getting the shovels, for Durland, as soon as the three Scouts reached the stream with their precious burden of shovels, picked out the strongest Scouts and set them to work digging the trench. He took a shovel himself, and set the best of examples by the way he made the dirt fly.
They were working on a sort of a ridge. On each side there was a natural barrier to the advance of the fire, fortunately, in the form of rock quarries, where there was absolutely nothing that the fire could feed on. Therefore, if it hadn't been checked, it would have swept over the place where they had dug their trench, as through the mouth of a funnel, and mushroomed out again beyond the quarries.
The trench was dug in an amazingly short time. It was rough work, but effective, the ditch, about two feet deep and seven or eight feet wide, extending for nearly two hundred feet. On the side of this furthest from the fire Durland now lined up the Scouts, each armed with a branch covered with leaves at one end.
"I'm going to start a back fire now," he said. "I don't think it will be big enough to leap the trench, but to make sure, you will all stay lined up on your side of the ditch, and beat out every spark that comes across and catches the dry grass on your side. Then we'll be absolutely safe."
He and Crawford, skilled in the ways of the woods, soon had the brush on the other side burning. The rate at which the little fire they set spread, showed beyond a doubt how quickly the great fire that was sweeping down the mountain would have crossed the supposed clearing.
"Gee, see how it licks around those stumps!" said Tom Binns. "It's just as if they'd started a fire in a furnace or a big open fireplace."
"That's the wind," said Jack. "It's blowing pretty hard. I think the danger will be pretty well over by tonight, for the time being, at least. Unless I'm very much mistaken, there's rain coming behind that wind."
"It's hard to tell," said Bob Hart, Patrol Leader of the Crows, waiting with his branch for the time to beat out sparks. "The smoke darkens the sky so that all weather signs fail. The sun glows red through it, and you can't really tell, here, whether there are any rain clouds or not. But it's a wet wind, certainly, and I guess you're right, Jack."
"I don't see how you can tell about the weather as well as you do, Jack," said Pete Stubbs. "You never seem to be wrong, and since I've known you, you've guessed better than the papers two or three times."
"I've lived in the woods nearly all my life, Pete. That's why I can sometimes tell. I'm not always right, by a good deal, but the sky and the trees and the birds are pretty good weather prophets as a rule. In the country you have to be able to tell about the weather."
"That's right," said Bob Hart. "I've known farmers, when there was a moon, to keep men working until after midnight to get the hay in, just because they were sure there'd be a storm the next day. And they were right, too, though everyone else laughed at them."
"It means an awful lot to a farmer to get his hay in before the rain comes," said Jack. "It means the difference between a good year and a bad year, often. Many a farm has been lost just because a crop like that failed and the farmer couldn't pay a mortgage when he had expected to."
"Well, if they're all as stupid as this fellow, they deserve to lose their farms," said Bob Hart.
"Here he comes now, and he looks mad enough to shoot us!"
It was true. The irate farmer was coming, pitchfork in hand, with his two sturdy sons and a couple of farm hands, who grinned as if they neither knew nor cared what would happen, but were glad of a chance for a little excitement.
"Who gave you leave to dig your ditch here?" he shouted. "This is my land, I reckon. Be off with you now! And look at the fire you started!"
Indignantly he made for Bob Hart with his pitchfork. He was worked up to a regular fury, and it might have fared ill with the Patrol Leader had it not been for Jack Danby's quick leap to the rescue.
"You don't want to use that pitchfork," shouted Jack, springing forward. And, before the astonished farmer realized what the Scout was up to, the pitchfork had been seized from his hand.
"What's the trouble here?" cried Durland, rushing up just then. "Shame on you, my man! Can't you see that we've saved your farm?"
He seized the farmer by the shoulders and spun him around to face the sea of fire that was billowing down the slopes from the blazing mountain, that was now a real torch. The fire had passed beyond the stage of the slow burning circle that is so characteristic of wood fires. It was rushing relentlessly forward, and even now it was at the edge of the clearing.
"There!" cried Durland. "You can see now how it would have eaten that cleared timber lot of yours. See?"
The back fire had been started half way in the timber lot. It had traveled fast, and before the onrushing big fire was a space a hundred yards wide of blackened ground, where the saving flames Durland had lighted had had their will. As far as that space came the big fire. Then, because there was nothing left to feed it and the gap was too wide for it to leap, it stopped, and there was an open space, already burnt over, where only sparks and glowing embers remained.
"Jumping wildcats!" exclaimed the farmer, in awe. "That was a purty sizable fire! I say, stranger, I guess I was a leetle mite hasty just now. You've saved us from a bad fire, all right, though I swum I don't see how you thought to do it."
"This is exceptional for this part of the country," said Durland, with a smile. "But I have lived in countries where whole towns have been swept away by a sudden shift of the wind just because the people thought they were safe, and I have learned that the only way to fight fire is with more fire. Also, that you never can tell what a big fire is going to do, and that the only way to be on the safe side is to figure that the fire is going after you just as if it was human. It wants to destroy you, as it seems, and it keeps on looking for the weak spot that you haven't guarded."
"You come right back to the house, all of you," said the farmer, "and the wife will give you a supper that you don't see the like of in town very often, I'll warrant ye!"
Durland was glad to accept the invitation for the whole Troop, for the Scouts had had no time to cook their own supper. He felt, too, that his Troop had won a sturdy friend, and that pleased him.
WHAT THE SPY SAW
The boys who had fought the fire and saved the farm were so tired the next day that most of them, including Jack Danby and Pete Stubbs, were glad to spend the whole day in rest. The work had been more exhausting than they had been able thoroughly to understand in the heat and rush of getting it done. The next day saw them with aching muscles, sore feet, and eyes that still smarted from the acrid wood smoke. It was Sunday, so, of course, there was no reason why they should not rest as much as they liked.
"We sure want to rest up today, Jack," said Pete Stubbs, in the afternoon, when they had gone to Grant park to lie on the grass and watch a game of baseball that was being played by two teams of young men who had no other day for games of any sort. "Tomorrow's field day, you know."
"I know it is, Pete. I've been practicing long enough to remember that!"
Monday of that week was a holiday in that State, and all the Scouts had the day to themselves. Durland, always trying to think of things to make life in his Troop interesting and happy, had devised the plan of a field day, in which there should be games of all sorts. There was to be a baseball tournament between the three Patrols for the championship of the Troop, and a set of athletic games, including running, jumping, and all sorts of sports. There were eight Scouts in each Patrol, and, to make up a full nine, each had been allowed to select one boy from its waiting list so that the roster might be complete.
Jack Danby was the hope of the Crow Patrol in these sports. He was a wonderfully fine athlete for a boy of his age, and was proficient in many games. There had been no other real candidate for the post of pitcher on the Crow baseball team, and he was expected to make a new record in strike-outs the next day.
"How's your arm, Jack?" asked Pete Stubbs, anxiously. "You didn't strain it yesterday, did you, digging that ditch?"
"Not a bit," said Jack, with a laugh. "It did it good, I think. I'm not much of a pitcher, but if we get licked tomorrow the work I did yesterday won't be any excuse. I'm as fit as any of the others, and I won't mind admitting that anyone who pitches better than I do tomorrow deserves to win."
"Gee, Jack, I hope I do some hitting! I'm crazy to make a home run!"
"Don't worry about it, Pete. That's the worst way you can do if you really want to bat well. And remember that while it's fine to knock out a home run and have everyone yelling and cheering you, the fellow that sacrifices is often the one that wins the game."
"It seems hard, though, Jack, just to bunt and know you're going to be thrown out when you really might be able to make a hit."
"It's the team that counts, though, Pete. Always remember that. And a Scout ought to be able to obey his captain's orders just as well in a baseball game as any other time. Just remember that there's a reason for everything, even if you can't always understand it yourself, and you won't mind making a sacrifice hit when what you want to do is to knock the cover off the ball."
"I'm going to play short stop tomorrow, Jack. Bob Hart brought me in from the outfield and put Jack Binns out there. He says Tom can play better with the sun in his eyes than anyone on the team. I missed a catch the last game we had because I couldn't see the ball."
"It's a mighty hard thing to do, to play the sun field well," said Jack. "I wonder how that new pitcher the Raccoons have will do?"
"He's their extra pitcher, and I guess he's a good one, Jack. He pitched for the Bliss School team last spring, and they say his pitching was what won the county championship for them."
"Don't you believe it, Pete! He had a good team behind him. That won the championship. No one man ever won a championship for a team, or ever will. He's a good pitcher, and he probably helped them a lot, but it's the team that does the work, every time."
"Well, I don't know, Jack. In their big game, with the High School, he struck out fourteen men and the other side didn't get a run. His team only made one run off the High School pitcher, so he had to do it pretty nearly by himself. I hope you beat him, anyhow. He's got an awful swelled head. They say the only reason he wants to join the Scouts is so that he can get a chance to show he's a better pitcher than you are. That's Homer Lawrence all over!"
"Oh, I guess he's all right. I think he's a pretty nice fellow. I was talking to him the other day."
"His father's one of the richest men in this town, Jack. He has all the money he wants, and he's been taking lessons in pitching from one of the State League players. That's why he's so good, I guess. The other fellows don't have a chance to learn things that way."
"It isn't always the fellows who had the most lessons who are the best players, Pete. Ty Cobb never had any lessons in baseball but he's a pretty good player. And there are lots of others."
"I don't think it's fair, anyhow, Jack. The Raccoons oughtn't to have picked him out. He's a long way off from the top of their list, and I don't believe he'll get in this year."
"That's the rule we made, Pete. Each Patrol needed an extra player, and they were allowed to pick anyone at all they liked from their waiting lists. So it's perfectly fair, and we haven't any kick coming."
Jack was willing to rest for quite a while after that, but presently he began to feel more energetic.
"Come on, Pete," he said, "I'll pitch a few balls to you somewhere, if we can get a bat and a ball, and perhaps that'll help you in your batting tomorrow."
So they left the park, and went back toward their homes. At Jack's room they got a bat and ball, and then wondered where they should go for their practice.
"I know!" cried Pete. "Down by the river there. There's nothing doing there on Sundays—it's quiet as can be. And maybe we'll find some little kid around to chase balls for us."
"Any place you like, Pete; it's all the same to me. I'll be glad to limber my arm up a little, too. It feels a tiny bit stiff, and a good work-out will be fine for it."
Because it was Sunday they tried to keep their bat out of sight.
"I don't think it's wrong for us to practice this way," said Jack. "We have to work all week, and I think we need exercise. If we can't get it except on Sunday afternoons, it's all right to practice a little, though I wouldn't play in a regular game, because I do get a chance for playing on Saturdays now. They don't give you Saturday afternoon off in every office, though, I can tell you."
First of all Pete, highly elated at the chance to further his secret ambition of developing into a catcher, put on a big mitt and Jack pitched all sorts of curves to him. Then he took his bat and tried to straighten out the elusive, deceptive balls that Jack pitched.
"Gee, I can hardly see the ball, much less hit it!" exclaimed Pete, after whiffing ingloriously at the air two or three times and barely tapping the sphere on several other occasions.
"Keep on trying, Pete. Those aren't really bard to hit. The trouble is you don't watch the ball."
"It never goes where I think it will, Jack."
"That's the whole idea of pitching, Pete. Keep your eyes on the ball after I pitch it, not on me. Then you can see just what it does. Now you think I'm going to pitch one sort of a ball, and if I pitch anything else, you're up in the air right away."
At last, in huge disgust, Pete hurled his bat away from him, after making a mighty swing at a slow floater. He seemed to be furious.
"Easy there, Pete!" said Jack, amused at this display of temper, as he picked up the bat and advanced toward Pete to return it to him.
"I wasn't mad," said Pete, in a low whisper. "I just wanted to talk to you without anyone knowing that I wanted to. Say, Jack, there's someone watching us."
"Watching us, Pete? Why should anyone do that?"
"It's Lawrence,—that chap that's going to pitch for the Raccoons, Jack. I'm sure of it! He and Harry Norman are behind that fence over there—the sneaks!"
Jack dropped back to his position without saying anything more. He was careful for a minute or two not to look in the direction of the fence that Pete had referred to. But when he did look, his keen eyes were not long in finding out that Pete had been right. There were spies behind the fence, and they were studying every ball he pitched.
A few moments later he found, or made, another chance to speak to Pete.
"You were right, Pete," he said. "They are watching us from there."
"Let's chase them out of there, Jack!"
"Not a bit of it, Pete. I don't want them to know we've found out they're there—not now, at any rate. If they're mean enough to try to find something out by spying that way, I'll be mean enough to give them something to look at that won't do them much good!"
"Say, Jack, that's the stuff! That's better than giving them a licking, too. What'll you do?"
"Just wait and see! And hit these balls just as hard as you can."
The ball looked as big as a house now to Pete as it came sailing up to him. Mysteriously all the "stuff" that Jack had been "putting on" the ball was gone and done with. The balls Jack pitched now were either straight or broke so widely that almost anyone could have batted home runs galore off him. And Pete, who saw the point, swung wildly at every one of them, hitting them easily.
"That's a fine joke," said Pete. "They won't find out very much about what you can do as a pitcher from that—that's a sure thing! If Lawrence thinks that's the best thing you can do when you get in the box I'm afraid he'll get an awful jolt tomorrow."
"I hope so, Pete. The sneak—you were quite right. If he'd come right out to me and told me he wanted to watch me pitch, I wouldn't have minded. But that's a mean trick!"
"It won't do him much good, that's one good thing. Say, I don't believe he's as good himself as they make out, or he wouldn't have played such a trick. I bet he's got a big yellow streak in him."
"We'll find that out tomorrow, Pete. I hope not, because he certainly knows how to pitch. If he does a thing like that, though, he'd be apt to try to cheat in the game, or do something like that, I'm afraid. I don't care, though. If he wants to win in any such fashion as that, he's welcome to the victory. He must want to win worse than I do."
"I didn't think Harry Norman would play a dirty trick on you after the way you saved his life, Jack. I was surprised to see him there."
"He doesn't like me. I've always been willing to be friendly with him, even when I had to fight him up at Woodleigh. He forced me into that."
"He isn't a Scout, is he?"
"No, he doesn't like the Scouts. I guess he'll never join, either."
"He's no great loss, I guess. We can get along better without him than with him if he's going to do things like that. I bet Lawrence won't join either, when this game's over."
THE DOUBLE HEADER
Pete Stubbs had wanted to tell everyone of the trick that Lawrence had tried to play on Jack, and of Jack Danby's clever way of turning the tables on him, but Jack dissuaded him.
"That won't do any good," he said. "After all, he may not have meant to do anything wrong, and we'd better give him the benefit of the doubt."
"Aw, sure he meant to be mean, Jack! I ain't got no use for him. If we told the others he'd get a ragging he wouldn't forget in a hurry, I'll bet."
"I guess you can stand it if I can, Pete. Keep quiet about it, because I want you to."
"All right, Jack, if you want me to, I will. Say, there's one thing I hadn't thought of. If he takes all that trouble to find out how you pitch, he must be afraid of you!"
"I hope he is, Pete. That's half the battle, you know, making the other fellow think you're better than he is, whether you are or not—and thinking so yourself. Often it makes it come out right."
Full grown men would have been appalled by the program that had been mapped out for the Boy Scout Field Day.
Baseball filled the morning and early afternoon. There were to be three games in all. First the Crows were to play the Whip-poor-wills. Then the Whip-poor-wills were to play the Raccoons, and finally the Crows and Raccoons were to meet. There was to be an hour of rest for the baseball players between the games, and during that time there were to be running races and jumping contests, and also a race for small sailing boats on the lake, with crews from the three Patrols for three catboats. Durland owned one, Dick Crawford another, and the third, the one to be used by the Crows, was lent by Mr. Simms, the president of the company that employed Jack Danby and Pete Stubbs.
The first event of all on the program was the baseball game between Crows and Whip-poor-wills. The Whip-poor-wills, or the Willies, as they were called for short, by the rooters, were not as strong as the Crows and the Raccoons, and were expected to lose both their games, leaving the championship to be fought out between the Crows arid the Raccoons in the afternoon.
Bob Hart, captain of the Crows, came up to Jack Danby in the early morning at the campfire.
"We'll let Tom Binns pitch the first game, Jack," he said, "and save you for the Raccoons. They're saving Lawrence, too, and he'll pitch against you. So you want to be fresh and ready for him. You play left field. That'll give you some exercise, and won't tire your arm out."
"I think I could pitch the two games, if you wanted me to," said Jack, "but I'll be glad to see Tom get a chance to pitch. He's a good pitcher, and he ought to beat them easily."
So the teams lined up with Jack in left field, and the game began.
"Gee," said Pete, in the fourth inning, as he and Jack waited their turn to bat, "we can't seem to hit their pitcher at all. Tom's pitching an elegant game, but I thought we'd have eight or nine runs by this time, and the score's really two to one in their favor."
"There's plenty of time to begin hitting later, Pete. No need to worry about that yet. There's nine innings in a ball game, and a run in the ninth counts for just as much as one we make now."
Pete Stubbs made a home run and tied the score in the sixth inning, and after that, until the ninth there was no more scoring.
The despised Willies were playing better than they knew how, as Pete Stubbs said, and the Raccoons, who stood around to watch the game, began to look anxious, for they had expected to see the Crows walk away with the game.
But in the ninth inning there was quite a break in the game. Bob Hart, who batted first, led off with a screaming two bagger, and went to third, when Tom Binns was thrown out. Pete Stubbs batted next, and was so anxious to make a hit that he popped up a little fly to the first baseman. But Jack Danby, with a rousing drive to center field, put his team ahead, for he ran so fast that he beat the throw to the plate, and made a home run, as Pete had done before him.
"That's great, Jack!" cried Tom Binns. "Gee, I thought we'd never get a lead on them! They can't hit much, but they've certainly got a good pitcher."
Jack trotted contentedly out to his position for the last half of the ninth inning. The Crows seemed certain to win now, because Tom Binns' pitching had been getting better every inning, and in the last two times they had been at bat the Whip-poor-wills hadn't been able to get a man to first base, much less get anywhere near making a run.
The first man up now made a little tap, and the ball rolled toward the third baseman, who muffed it. The next got a base on balls, and the third was hit. The whole game was changed in a second. Tom Binns seemed to be rattled. Try as he would, he couldn't get the ball over the plate, despite Bob Hart's efforts to steady him, and in a moment he passed the fourth batter, forcing in a run, and leaving the Whip-poor-wills only one run behind, with the bases full and none out.
Two or three of the Crow fielders looked anxiously at Jack, and Pete Stubbs called from his position at shortstop.
"I say, Bob," he cried, "better change pitchers. Tom's wild and can't see the plate."
Jack himself was more than anxious. He felt desperately sorry for poor little Tom Binns, who had been tremendously proud of being chosen to pitch for his team, and he was afraid, as were the others, that the sudden rally was more than Tom could check.
"He's going to leave him in," cried the center fielder to Jack as Hart shook his head at Pete's suggestion that he take Tom out of the box. And Tom began pitching again to the fifth Whip-poor-will who stood at the plate brandishing his bat.
Jack Danby knew a lot about baseball that was planted in him by sheer instinct. And now he did something that was against orders and entirely different from what any other amateur outfielder would have thought of doing. It smacked more of big league baseball, where thinking is quick. He crept in, inch by inch, almost, while Tom Binns pitched two balls and a strike, until he was not more than thirty feet behind the third baseman.
"If they hit a long fly one run will come in," he reasoned to himself. "A good single, even, will score two runs and win the game. The only chance is to make a double play. That's why the infielders are all drawn in close, so that they can throw to the plate. And that batter will try his hardest to push the ball over their heads."
The sound of the bat meeting the ball fairly came to him, and in a moment he saw the sphere sailing for the outfield, and about to pass squarely over the place the shortstop had just left.
It looked like a sure hit, and the base runners started at once with the ball. The center fielder, running in desperately, was too far out to have a chance to catch the ball. But suddenly there was a shout. Jack Danby, who had crept far in without being noticed, sprinted over, and, by a wonderful jumping dive, caught the ball. Like a flash he threw it to third base, and the runner who had started thence for the plate was doubled easily. He had reached home, and there was no chance for him to turn back. The runner from second, too, had turned third base, and, as soon as the third baseman had stepped on his bag he turned and threw to second base, completing as pretty a triple play as was ever made, and winning the game for the Crows.
"That was a wonderful play, Jack!" said Scout-Master Durland, who served as umpire. "I never saw a better one, even in a big league game. You were out of position, but if you hadn't been, that ball would have fallen fair, and Tom Binns would have lost his game. Really, though, you're the one that deserves the credit for winning it, for your batting put your team ahead, and your fielding kept the Whip-poor-wills from nosing you out in the finish."
The Whip-poor-wills, disappointed by losing when victory seemed to be within their grasp after such a gallant up-hill fight, seemed to have shot their bolt. Their pitcher had outdone himself against the hard hitters of the Crows, in holding them down so well, and when, after an hour's rest, they lined up against the Raccoons, it seemed that they were a different team. The Raccoons simply toyed with them. They piled up runs in almost every inning, and won with ridiculous ease, by a score of twenty to three.
Harry Norman, who had come out with his friend Lawrence to watch the sport, came up to Jack after the Raccoons had given this impressive exhibition of their strength.
"Gee," he said, "you might as well forfeit this game, Danby! You haven't got a chance against the Raccoons, especially when Homer Lawrence begins pitching for them. Look at the way they beat the Whip-poor-wills, and the trouble you had with them. You only beat them four to three, and you wouldn't have done that if you hadn't made that lucky catch in the ninth inning."
"That wasn't a lucky catch," protested Pete Stubbs. "Jack knew that the ball might be hit that way, and he took a chance, because if the ball had been hit to his regular position it would have meant a run anyhow. That isn't luck—that's baseball strategy!"
"There wasn't any luck about the twenty runs the Raccoons made anyhow," said Norman, with a sneer. "And I'll bet you five dollars they beat you. Money talks—there you are!"
"We can't afford to bet," said Jack, quietly, while Pete Stubbs looked angry enough to cry, almost. "We only get small salaries, Norman, and we have to use all the money we make to live on. We support ourselves, you know."
"Oh, I suppose that's right," said Norman, contemptuously. Like many other boys who are fortunate enough to have wealthy parents and to be relieved from the need of starting out when they are little more than children to earn their own way in the world, Norman had an idea that he was, for that reason, superior to boys like Jack and Pete, when, as a matter of fact, it is just the other way around.
"Scouts don't bet, anyway," said Dick Crawford, who had overheard the conversation, and showed, by his manner, that he had little use for Norman, of whom he had heard many things that were far from pleasant. "We don't want to win money from one another, and betting on friendly games leads to hard feelings and all sorts of trouble. It's a good thing to let alone. Come on to lunch, now, fellows. It's all ready."
The members of the Crow Patrol and two or three volunteers who were trying to prove that they were really qualified to be Scouts, though they had to wait for vacancies before they could join, had prepared lunch while the second baseball game was being played.
"Guess I won't eat much today," said Pete Stubbs, sorrowfully. "I like eating, but if I eat too much I'm never able to play a good game of ball afterward."
"Satisfy your hunger, Pete, and don't eat too much," advised Jack. "Then you'll be all right. The trouble with you is that when you get hold of something you like, you always feel that you have to eat all you can hold of it. Don't starve yourself now—just eat a good meal, and stop before you get so full that you feel as if you couldn't eat another mouthful."
"I guess he never gets enough to eat except when he's out this way," said Harry Norman, beneath his breath.
Jack Danby heard him and was furious, but he restrained himself, although an attack on his friend angered him more than a similar remark aimed at himself would have done.
"I don't want any more trouble with you, Norman," he said very quietly, taking the rich boy aside. "But don't say that sort of thing around here. Remember that you're a guest, and that Pete is one of your hosts and helped to pay for the spread that you're going to enjoy."
"Mind your own business!" said Norman, rudely. "I didn't say anything about you. I will if you don't look out—I'll tell them you haven't got any right to your name, and that you don't know who your father and mother were!"
Jack bit his lips and clenched his fists for a moment, but he controlled himself, and managed to let the insult pass by without giving Norman the thrashing he deserved.
After lunch, when the mess had been cleared away, the dishes had been washed and everything had been made neat and orderly, the championship game between the Raccoons and the Crows was called.
There was quite a crowd out to see this game. Boys from the neighborhood, attracted by the prowess of the rival pitchers, turned out in good numbers. Many of Lawrence's school friends were also on hand, and practically every boy employed in the office with Pete and Jack was on hand, ready to yell his head off for the success of the Crows. The defeated Whip-poor-wills were anxious for the Crows to win, for the Raccoons had taunted them unmercifully on the poor showing they had made in their second game, and they wanted to see the team that had beaten them so badly humiliated in its turn. So the crowd of Crow rooters was a little the larger, and if Jack Danby could win this game, his victory was certain to be a popular one, at least. But few thought that he would have a chance against the clever and experienced Lawrence.
"I've got an idea that the best way to beat Lawrence is to let him beat himself," said Jack Danby to Bob Hart before the game. "He knows how to pitch two good curves, and he's been striking out ten and twelve fellows in every game he played just because they've swiped at those curve balls."
"That's just what I'm afraid our fellows will do," said Bob. "That's what's been worrying me."
"Well," said Jack, "about every one of those curves breaks outside the plate. That is, if the batter didn't swing at them, the umpire would have to call them balls. Just watch him in practice and you'll see what I mean. Why not wait him out and make him pitch over the plate?"
"Say, that's a good idea, Jack! I'll call the fellows together, and we'll see how that works. I think that's a good way to save the game—hanged if I don't!"
And Bob Hart gave his orders accordingly. But it was harder to get the Crows to do it than to tell them. Time after time they struck at tempting balls, that looked as if they were going to split the plate, only to have them break away out of reach of the swinging bats. So, in the early stages of the game, Lawrence looked just as formidable as he had in the school games in which his reputation had been made. Bob Hart himself, and Jack, and Pete Stubbs, who could and would always obey orders, made him pitch to them, and, because they waited and refused to bite at his tempting curves, they put the star pitcher in the hole each time.
He was a good pitcher as far as he went, but his equipment was not as large as it should have been. He knew how to pitch a few balls very well, but if they failed him, he was in trouble. He had nothing but his wide curves—no straight, fast ball with a jump, no drop, no change of pace. The first time Jack Danby came up, in the second inning, he let the first three balls that Lawrence pitched go by, and Durland called every one a ball. Then, when Lawrence had to put his ball straight over or give him a pass, Jack smashed it to right for two bases. But he was left on second, for the two who followed him were over anxious, and were victims on strikes.
But Jack himself was pitching high class ball. He didn't try to strike out every man who faced him, but made it next to impossible for the Raccoons to make long hits off him, and he did have some fun with Lawrence, striking him out three times in the first six innings.
In the seventh inning Bob Hart waited and got a base on balls. By that time the Crows had begun to understand, and they waited now while Lawrence's best curves went to waste, never offering to hit at any ball that didn't come straight for the plate. Three passes in quick succession filled the bases, and then Jack Danby was up again.
Lawrence was no poor player. He had a head as well as a good pitching arm, and he set a trap for Jack. His first three balls were curves—and called balls. Jack waited. Twice before, in the same situation, Lawrence had had to pitch him a ball he could hit and he had swung at it. And now Lawrence expected him to do the same thing, and sent up a floater that looked good for a home run. But Jack only smiled, and the ball broke away from the plate.
It was the fourth ball, and it forced in the first run of the game. Moreover, Lawrence, fooled and outguessed, went up in the air, and the Crows made six runs in that one inning, and five more for good measure in the eighth, while Jack shut out the Raccoons.
The Crows, thanks to Jack, also won in the races and jumping contests, so it was a great day for them.
TOM BINNS' BAD LUCK
Jack Danby and Tom Binns, Second Class Scouts, were ready now to become First Class Scouts, and so to earn the right to wear the full Scout badge, and compete for all the medals and special badges of merit for which Scouts are eligible. They had passed all the tests save one. They had proved their efficiency in signaling, in scout and camp craft, in the tying of knots, had given evidence of their ability to save those who were drowning and give first aid to the injured, and they had only to make a hike of seven miles, alone or together, to receive the coveted promotion.
They determined, with Scout-Master Durland's permission, to make this hike together the Saturday afternoon following the Field Day that had brought so much glory to Jack Danby and his Patrol, the Crows. Although Tom Binns had been a Scout longer than Jack, Jack had been a Tenderfoot Scout for only thirty days, the shortest time in which a Scout can pass out of the Tenderfoot class, and he was fully as good a Scout now as many of the older ones who had had the right to wear the First Class Scout's badge for a long time.
"Gee, Jack, I wonder if we'll ever get to be Patrol Leaders and Scout-Masters?" asked Tom Binns, as they met after work that Saturday, and prepared to start on their hike.
"Why not, Tom? Everyone has to make a start. And Mr. Durland wasn't a Scout when he was our age, because there weren't any Boy Scouts then."
"I suppose it's a lot of responsibility, but then that's a good thing, too."
"You bet it is! That's one of the things I like best about being a Scout. It teaches you to be responsible, and to understand that you've got to do things just because you are responsible for seeing that they're done, and not just because someone keeps standing over you and telling you what to do."
"Where shall we go, Jack?"
"The camp for the Troop hike today is out at Beaver Dam. I thought we might start from the other side of the lake there, go to Haskell Crossing, and get back to camp in time for supper. Then we could get our badges from Mr. Durland, I guess."
"That's a fine idea, Jack. I don't know that country very well, though. Do you?"
"No. That's one reason for going that way. We know that we'll find a place where we can make a fire and cook our supper, though. We don't need to eat it unless we're particularly hungry, but we've got to cook it."
"Say, Jack, if fellows make that hike alone, who's going to tell whether they really did it or not? If a fellow wasn't straight, he could go off somewhere; and then report that he'd hiked the fourteen miles, and there wouldn't be anyone to prove that he hadn't."
"I know, but we're all on our honor, Pete, and a chap who had got to be a Second Glass Scout wouldn't ever play a trick like that. It wouldn't pay."
"I guess that's true, too, Jack. That's another fine thing about being a Scout. When you see a fellow give you the Scout sign in a strange place, you know he's all right, just because he is a Scout, even if you never saw him before."
"Yes. That's why we've all got to be so careful to keep up the honor of the Scouts, and not do anything ourselves, nor let any other Scout do anything that would give outsiders a chance to say that we preached one thing and did another."
They took the trolley to their starting point, on the side of Lake Whitney away from Beaver Dam, where their fellow Scouts were to gather later in the afternoon for a practice camp, such as Durland and Crawford arranged for nearly every half holiday.
"How will we know when we've gone seven miles?" asked Tom.
"It's just about seven miles—perhaps a little more—to Haskell Crossing, so we can tell without any trouble. That's one reason I picked out the place. The trail through these woods is pretty rough, but we can follow it all right."
"Whose land is this, Jack?"
"No one knows, exactly. It's a sort of a no man's land. Or, at least, two sets of heirs to an old estate are fighting about it in the courts. They've been trying for years to get it settled between them, but the courts haven't decided yet, and they may not for a long time."
"And meantime no one can use it?"
"That's it. It seems silly, doesn't it? If the courts take so long to decide it must mean, I should think, that both sides were partly right, and I should think they'd want to settle it between themselves, and so each get some use out of the land. There's an old house, more than a hundred and fifty years old, in the woods, too."
"Doesn't anyone live in it?"
"No one now. Tramps go there sometimes, I've heard, because it is so lonely. Some people say it's haunted, but I guess the tramps played ghost, just so that people would stay away and let them alone."
"Gee, if there's a ghost around, I hope he stays in when we're passing. I'm afraid of them!"
"Why, how could a ghost hurt you, Tom? Anyhow, you don't need to worry about ghosts in the daytime. They only come out at night."
"It's pretty dark in here, Jack. The woods are mighty thick."
"I believe you are scared, Tom," said Jack, laughing. "Well, don't you worry! I'm pretty sure that if anyone ever did see a real thing here that he thought was a ghost it was a tramp in disguise. And I don't believe you're afraid of a tramp—though I'd rather meet a ghost, myself, than a vicious tramp."
"Gee, that railroad train's whistle sounds good," said Tom, a few minutes later. "That must be at the crossing."
"Yes. It isn't much further now. And the house is near the crossing, too. I believe the people who lived in it made a great fuss when the railroad went through, and that was about the time when the quarrel started. They said it would spoil their property to have the station so near them—instead of which, if they could only see it, it's made it a whole lot more valuable."
Suddenly Tom, who was walking as fast as he could and was ahead of Jack, stumbled and fell against a root. When Jack got beside him he was white with pain.
"I guess I must have twisted my foot pretty badly," he said. "I don't believe I can stand on it for a while."
He put a hand on Jack's shoulder and tried to walk, but found the pain too great.
"Here, let me see it," cried Jack. "I may be able to do something to make it better."
Tenderly he removed Tom's shoe, and turning the stocking back from the injured ankle, rubbed and examined it thoroughly.
"I may hurt you when I rub it around, Tom," he said, "but it won't hurt your ankle for more than a minute."
For two or three minutes, while Tom, with set teeth, endured the pain without even a whimper, Jack rubbed and massaged the ankle, already slightly swollen.
"It's just a strain, I think, Tom," he said. "I'll find a spring or a brook, if they're not all dried up around here, and make a cold compress for it. Next to blazing hot water, that's the best thing to do for it, and I think you'll be able to get to Haskell Crossing pretty soon, with a little help from me. Then we can get a train or a trolley back."
"Gee, I never thought, Jack! You can't do that! If you go back with me, you won't be able to get your First Class Scout badge."
"What of it, Tom? I guess I can wait a week or two for that without suffering very much. And you didn't think I'd leave you alone here, or to go home alone, did you? You can't walk back on that foot—that's one sure thing."
Tom protested that all Jack should do was to get him to the station, whence he said he could manage to get home all right, but Jack wouldn't hear of such an idea, and, after he had put the cold water bandage on Tom's ankle, he helped his comrade the short distance that remained to the track, and the little flag station at Haskell Crossing.
The sun was low on the horizon when they got there. In the little shanty that served as a station, loafing and wishing for something to do, was a red-headed, gawky youth whose business it was to set signals and listen at a telegraph key for the orders that went flashing up and down the line.
"There's no train back to town for four hours," he told them, when they asked how soon they could get a train. "One went a few minutes ago—you must have heard it whistle. Hurt, there, sonny?"
"Twisted my ankle a bit," said Tom Binns, with a plucky smile.
"Sho, that's too bad," said the red-headed one. "Here, come into the station and set down! There's a place in the freight daypo where you can be more comfortable like."
The shanty was divided into two parts. One was for the sale of tickets, though Jack guessed that there were few purchasers, the other held a few empty milk cans, which showed pretty well what made up the bulk of the freight handled there. But there was a pile of sacks in one corner, also, and on those, arranged and spread out like a bed, Tom was made fairly comfortable. Rest was what his ankle needed, and he could rest there as well as anywhere else.
"I ain't got but a little lunch here," said the red-headed telegrapher, station agent and baggage man rolled into one, regretfully. "But you're welcome to share it with me."
"No need of that, thanks," said Jack, heartily. "We were going to cook our supper in the woods, and if you'll show me a place where I can build a fire, I'll cook it now. We've got plenty for you, too, and I'll give you some bacon and eggs and coffee if you like them."
"Say, you're all right! My name's Hank Hudson, and if there's anything I sure do hanker after, it's bacon and eggs. I can't get a hot supper on this job—I have to tote everything along with me from home, and it's all cold victuals I get."
"Well, we'll have a treat for you tonight, then, and I'm glad we will. It's mighty nice of you to let Tom Binns lie in the depot."
Jack was as good as his word. Hudson showed him a place where a natural fireplace, as it seemed, was all ready and waiting for the fire to be made, and Jack, in a comparatively short time, sent up a fragrant odor of frying bacon and eggs, and of rich, steaming coffee that would have given a wooden Indian an appetite. He carried the meal to the station, too, and the three of them ate it together, while Hudson's cold lunch, despised now, and not to be compared with the fine fare Jack provided, was cast aside in a corner of the station.
"Do many trains pass here that don't stop?" asked Tom.
"Sure they do!" said Hudson. "This last hour is about the quietest one of the whole day. I have to watch them all, too, and report when they pass here, so that the despatchers can keep track of them."
"What would happen if you didn't?"
"Can't tell! But there might easily be a bad wreck. If the despatcher thought he would get a flash from here as soon as the Thunderbolt passed, for instance, and I was asleep when she went by, he might let something into the track ahead of her, and then there'd be a fine lot of trouble. You can see that!"
"I should say so! You've a pretty responsible place here, I should think. Do you like it?"
"Sure! I think the work's great! I'd rather work on a railroad than anything I can think of. But it gets awful lonely here sometimes. That's the worst part of it. The work's easy enough, but it's not having anyone to talk to, except the fellows and the girls on the wire, that makes it a hard job."
"You talk to all of them, I guess, don't you?"
"Sure." Hudson walked over to the telegraph instrument by the window and threw his switch. "There's a girl at Beaver Dam calls me about this time every evening. Things are slack, you know. They send her in a hot supper from the restaurant there, and she calls every evening and tells me what she had and how good it was, so that I'll be jealous. I'll have something to surprise her with tonight though—Hullo! There she is now!"
Both boys knew the Morse code, from their signal work with the Boy Scouts, and Jack, indeed, had experimented a little with wireless, so that he could read the code of dots and dashes, if it was not sent too fast.
"H-K—H-K—H-K—" he heard now, and, in a minute more, he was trying to interpret the swift interchange of chaffing messages between the two operators.
"That's the only break in the loneliness," said Hudson, "unless someone comes in for a visit the way you have. I wish there were more of them—except for those tramps back there in the woods. They hang around a lot, and they get my goat!"
"In the big house in the woods there, you mean?" asked Jack. "The one they say is haunted?"
"That's the one. They say it's haunted, but it's Willies and Tired Toms that haunt it, believe me! They come over here and look up the place, and they'd have stolen everything in it long ago if there'd been anything to steal. They let me alone because they're pretty sure I haven't got any money, and they know I've got a gun, too."
THE ATTACK ON THE STATION
"What time does the Thunderbolt go through?" asked Jack.
"Eight thirty-four she's due, but she's sometimes a few minutes late. Then, at eight forty-two there's the second section of the Thunderbolt, when there's one running—and there is to-night, and your train for town gets in here at eight fifty-seven."
"What's the next station below this?"
"Conway. That's about eleven miles down the line, and away from the city. 'Tisn't much more of a station than this. Just an operator who doubles up on all the other jobs same way I do."
"I've got to go wash dishes and make up our packs," said Jack. "It's eight o'clock now, and that doesn't leave so very much more time than we need. I've got to put out the fire, too."
He went off with the dishes on which they had eaten their simple but delicious supper, and left Hank Hudson to talk to Tom Binns and watch his key, which might at any moment click out some important order that would make the difference between safety and disaster for a train laden with passengers.
The fire on which he had cooked their supper was still glowing in the woods about a hundred yards from the railway tracks, and he hurried toward it to extinguish it, in accordance with the strictest of all Scout rules for camping. Fires left carelessly burning after a picnic have caused many a terrible and disastrous forest fire, and it is the duty of every Scout to make sure that he gives no chance for such a result to follow any encampment in which he has had a part.
As he made his way toward the fire he thought once or twice that he heard the sounds of a man or an animal moving through the woods, and once, too, he thought he heard a hoarse and raucous laugh. But he decided, after stopping to listen once or twice, that he had been mistaken, and he laughed at himself when he was startled as he got near the dancing shadows east by the dying fire, by what looked like the shadows of three men.
There was no danger in the fire he had built as long as the wind held steady, and he might have left it to burn itself out with little fear of any adverse happening as a result. But that was not thorough, nor was it the way of a Scout. A wind may shift at any moment, and a fire that is perfectly safe with a northwest wind may be the means of starting a conflagration no one can hope to check if the wind shifts even a point or two.
So Jack put his fire out thoroughly, and made certain that no live embers remained to start it up anew. Then he washed his dishes, and made his way back toward Hank Hudson's cabin.
Inside the cabin, as he approached, he could hear slight sounds, and then, insistent, compelling, the clatter of the telegraph key.
He stopped to listen a moment to its clicking, and then found, to his surprise, that it was "H-K," the call for Haskell Crossing, that was sounding.
"Why doesn't Hudson answer?" he asked himself.
Still the call sounded. There was a continued noise within the station—someone was there, and it must, surely, be Hudson. He could not fail to hear the chatter of his sounder, and yet he was ignoring the steady call from his instrument—a call more than likely to be of the last importance.
Jack, sure now that something must be wrong, did not rush hastily and impulsively for the door of the cabin. Instead, he crept up quietly toward the side, where there was a window, that would give him a chance to look in without being seen himself.
And, when he got there, he saw what was wrong. Hudson, his face livid, a red handkerchief stuffed into his mouth, was tied in a chair, his arms, legs and body being securely tied up, so that there was no chance for him to work himself free. He could hear what went on, but he could do nothing, and there was no chance for him to reach that key and answer the insistent urging of the wire, though Jack could see, from the look in his eyes, that he knew an attempt was being made to raise his office.
"They'll think he's deserted his key," said Jack to himself. "That's what's worrying him."
Apparently Hudson was alone in the station, and Jack was just on the point of rushing in to free the operator when the door into the freight station opened, and three burly men, dressed like tramps, appeared, dragging poor little Tom Binns with them, despite his twisted ankle.
Tom was trying to cry out and give the alarm, as Jack could see, but in vain, for one of the ruffians had his hand over his mouth, and there was no chance for Tom's cries to be heard.
Jack, horror struck, but, knowing that aid was far away, watched the scene that followed with distended eyes. He was powerless against three such men as the tramps that had attacked Hudson and Tom Binns, and the nearest station, as he knew, was eleven miles distant. But he felt that he must try to find out, at least, what the attack meant. Hudson, as the assailants must know, had no money to make such an attack worth while, and, even if they could blow or otherwise open the little safe it was unlikely that more than a few dollars would be there—a poor reward for such a desperate business.
Suddenly, however, a thought came to him that terrified him a thousand times more than what he had already seen.
"The key!" he thought, almost shouting the words aloud and betraying himself in his excitement. That was it! These men were train robbers—or, worse, possibly, train wreckers. They would endanger every life on the onrushing Thunderbolt to gain their ends. That was why they had put Hank Hudson out of business, why they were guarding Tom Binns with such care, crippled as he seemed to be. Men in their desperate business could take no chances. It was all or nothing for them—success, and the chance to rifle the registered mail and the valuable express pouches, or failure and death on the gallows or a life in prison.
For a moment Jack had the impulse to seek safety in flight. If they caught him spying on them they were likely to have little mercy for him, and well he knew it. But the impulse lasted scarcely a second.
"I guess if I'm ever to make good as a Scout, this is one of my chances," he said to himself, grimly. "I'm going to stay right by this window and try to hear what they say to one another. They may give away their plans and give me some sort of a chance to foil them."
Jack was frightened, and he was brave enough to admit that to himself. Even the river pirates that he and Pete Stubbs had helped to thwart when they tried to steal the fittings from Mr. Simms' yacht were mild mannered criminals compared to these. Each of them wore a black mask that hid his eyes and the upper part of his face, but Jack, trying desperately to discover something that would enable him to identify them should he ever have the chance, picked out lines about the lower parts of their faces that would, he thought, make it impossible for him to mistake them should he ever have the chance to see them again. One had a prominent, undershot jaw. Another bore a furrow across his chin, the mark of a bullet, as Jack guessed, that was white against the stubble of his beard. And another had lost part of his right ear, which was not hidden by his mask.
"I'm really more certain of knowing them again now than if they hadn't worn those masks," said Jack, to himself. "The masks made me look more attentively at the part of each one's face that I could see."
"Hey, Tom," said one of the men, gruffly, looking at his watch, "got them tied? I thought there was another one of the young rips."
"If there was, he ain't a comin' back here, or he'd have been here long ago," said Tom, scowling fiercely at his two captives. "What's the time, Bo?"
"Time enough. She ain't due for ten or twelve minutes yet, even if she's on time. Wish't I could tell what that key was saying."
"Don't make no difference. It'll be saying a lot more when we get through tonight," said the other.
All the time the monotonous calling of the key had kept up—"H-K—H-K." Now suddenly there was a change. "B-D—B-D—" clicked the instrument, and Jack knew that the sender had given up Haskell Crossing and was trying now to raise Beaver Dam, the next station up toward the city.
Beaver Dam answered at once, and Jack listened intently to the wire conversation that followed and was sounded by Hudson's open key.
"Hello, B-D," it called. "What's the matter with Hudson? I've been trying to raise him for half an hour."
"I heard you. He must be asleep or sick—sick most likely."
"That's what I thought. There's a hand car with another operator ordered down. But it'll have to run behind the Thunderbolt. She's an hour late and trying to make up time."
"That's bad! It'll tie up the whole line."
"So long! I'll pass on word."
Jack's heart leaped within him. The train the robbers were waiting for was an hour late. All sorts of things might happen in an hour. He could only wait. But there was more chance now, at least.
The robbers waited patiently until the limited was twenty minutes overdue. Then they began to get nervous.
"Sure the tie will throw her off the rails?" asked one.
"Go out and see for yourself if you're nervous."
And the first speaker followed the suggestion. The others fidgeted about for a few minutes.
"Let's get out, then," said one of those who remained. "Those kids are tied up safe enough. No need to stay here. Let's get some fresh air and look to see if she's coming."
And in a moment the station was empty, save for the two prisoners.
Jack acted on the instant. In a second he was at the key, pounding away, and calling B-D, B-D, in frantic efforts to get an answer and have the limited stopped and help rushed.
"O-K—" came the answer at last, and in a frenzied rush, but with the hand of an inexperienced operator, Jack sent the story over the wire. He had won!
He was in time, he was sure. The train had not yet passed the last telegraph station before Haskell Crossing, and it would be stopped before it could rush on to destruction. Then, swiftly, he rushed over to the chair in which Hudson was strapped, and quickly cut the ropes that held the operator. As quickly he snatched the gag from his mouth.
"Gee, that was great!" cried Hudson. "I didn't know you knew how to handle a key. You did fine!"
"I guess they got the message in time to stop the train. Don't you think so?"
"Listen to it now."
The key was clicking away furiously. The sounds were so fast that Jack, who was only an amateur and a beginner as a telegrapher, after all, could not understand.
"Beaver Dam's sending the word along the line," said Hudson. "The warning's been acknowledged and the train will be held up. They're going to send help, too. I hope those fellows don't come back here too soon. If they'll hold off a few minutes we'll be all right, thanks to you."
"Haven't you got a gun, Hank?" asked Jack.
"Gee, what a fool I am! Of course I have! A peach, too. They gave us new automatic revolvers—only they don't revolve—a few weeks ago. I'll get it."
He was not a moment too soon. The steps of the train wreckers, as they returned, were heard outside, and in a moment Jack disappeared again.
"I'll be outside," he called to Hudson, from the window.
"Pretend to be tied up still, and get them covered. Then try to hold them in there with your pistol. Don't shoot unless you have to, but remember that they're bad men, and don't hesitate to shoot if that's the only thing you can do."
In another minute the three tramps were inside the little station again. Hudson had thrown the ropes about his body again, and had stuffed the handkerchief in his mouth. They gave him a hasty glance.
"There's something wrong, Tom," said one of them, anxiously. "That train ought to have been here a good hour ago. Wonder if that clicking key means that there's anything loose that we ought to know about. We ought to have had someone along that knows how to read that thing."
"Throw up your hands!"
Jack exulted as he heard Hudson, in a firm, ringing voice, give the order. The operator had nerve—they would catch the robbers in the neatest sort of a trap.
He slipped around to the door.
There was a snarl of rage from one of the men, while the others stood in helpless surprise. The one who had cried out rushed at Hudson, and a bullet whizzed by his ear.
"Stop!" cried Hudson, savagely. "I'll shoot to hit you next time."
"He's got us—better keep quiet," exclaimed another of the men, with a savage curse. "That's what we got for leaving them alone here."
Jack stepped into the station.
"Keep them covered, Hank," he said. "You forgot me, too, you see," he said to the men. "Now, keep your hands up and you won't get hurt. You won't need your pistols where you're going, so I'll just take them away from you now."
He was as good as his word, searching them for their concealed weapons, and putting all three of the pistols that he found in a heap beside Hudson. Then he released Tom Binns, and in the same moment there was the sound of a distant whistle. A few minutes later an engineer drew up outside, drawing a single car, and from it a dozen armed men streamed into the station, sent post haste from Beaver Dam.
"Good work, indeed!" said one man, who was the chief of the railroad detective bureau, Captain Haskins, famed in a dozen states. "This is a fine haul. Omaha Pete, Tom Galway, and 'Frisco Sammy. Glad to see you, boys! There are rewards of about eleven thousand dollars for the three of you. You'll be as welcome as the flowers that bloom in the spring when the police get hold of you."
He was curious to know how the three boys, for Hank Hudson himself was little more than a boy, had effected such a capture, and he was unstinting in his praise when he heard the story. Hudson insisted on giving Jack Danby most of the credit, but Jack wouldn't have it that way.
"You did the trick with your gun," he said. "I may have given you the chance and helped to save the train, but you were the one that caught them."
"There's credit enough for both of you," said Haskins, kindly. "And I'm here to see that you get what's coming to you, too, rewards and all. The road can afford to be grateful to a boy who saved the Thunderbolt from being wrecked."
JACK DANBY'S PERIL
Tom Binns was in no condition to go to the Scout camp opposite Beaver Dam, and he was taken back to the city by one of the railway detectives. Jack Danby was going home with him, but Tom wouldn't hear of it.
"They'll be wondering why we didn't turn up after our hike, and maybe they'll think there's something wrong with us," he said. "You go on to the camp, Jack, and explain. I'll be all right, sure, tomorrow."
So Jack, reluctantly enough, for he felt, in a way, that he was deserting his plucky little comrade, got off the train at Beaver Dam, and rowed across the lake to the twinkling fire that showed where the rest of the Scouts were gathered.
He was welcomed with a shout.
"But where's Tom Binns?" cried Pete Stubbs finally, when they realized, suddenly, that the little fellow wasn't with them.
Then Jack explained. He told of the accident that had turned out, in the end, to be so fortunate a happening, since, had it not been for Tom's twisted ankle, they would never have reached the station, and the train might have been wrecked, with a terrible loss of life.
"So we couldn't finish our hike tonight, of course," said Jack. "We'll do it the next time, though. And a week or so doesn't make much difference."
A tall, bearded man, with a slouch hat, was sitting with Scout-Master Durland at the fire, and at Jack's last words he turned to the Scout-Master with a smile.
"I think you can afford to waive the strict letter of the rule this time, Durland," he said. "These boys of yours have certainly proved their right to be regarded as First Class Scouts. I don't know that there's any special badge of merit or honor, except the one for lifesaving, that they are entitled to, but I shall make it my business to see that the Scout council takes some action on the heroism of Scout Danby."
Then Jack learned that the stranger was a member of the National Scout Council, one of the highest officers of the organization, and a man famous all over the world as a pioneer and a worker for the things that the Boy Scouts stand for.
"You think that Scout Danby is entitled to his badge, then?" said Durland, unsmiling, and, at the other's quick nod, he called Jack up to the center of the group around the fire, and pinned the full Scout badge, of which Jack had thus far been wearing only the bar, to his breast.
"You have earned this badge by close attention to duty, and by being always prepared," said the Scout-Master, while the Scouts of the three Patrols cheered the reward. "We are all proud of you, Danby, and we know that you will never do anything to bring discredit upon your badge, nor do anything that is not strictly in accordance with the Scout oath that you took when you were first enrolled as a Tenderfoot Scout."
There was another burst of cheering at that, and all of the Scouts who were present crowded up to shake hands with Jack and congratulate him. Dick Crawford was one of the first, and gripped Jack's hand heartily.
"I guess you'll get a big reward out of the railroad," he said. "That's a splendid thing for you, Jack. You can use it to go to college, if you want to. They ought to be generous."
"The detective did say something about a reward, Dick, but I'd forgotten all about it for the moment. It will be divided up among Tom Binns, Hudson and myself, of course, if there is one. But I wasn't thinking about that."
"I know you weren't, Jack, but that's no reason why you shouldn't have it. It wouldn't be right to do a fine thing just because there was a reward, but that's no reason why you shouldn't take it. You helped to capture those fellows, and the chances are that they are well-known thieves, who are wanted for more than one crime."
"The detective recognized them, I think, Dick. He called them by name, and seemed to know all about them. I suppose men who would dare to try to do a thing like that must be old stagers. No man who was committing his first crime would try anything so fiendish as wrecking a train and taking the chance of killing a lot of innocent people, do you think?"
"I should say not! And there wasn't any chance about it, either. If the train had been wrecked, going at sixty miles an hour or so, as it would have been, if it was late, and trying to make up lost time, there couldn't have been any result but a terrible wreck."
"I wonder if there were only three of them?" said Jack, thoughtfully. "I've been thinking since that there may have been others in the gang that weren't caught. There must have been someone to set the blockade for the train, and I don't believe those fellows we caught had time to do everything. They had to put Hudson out of the way, you see, and keep him from using the telegraph to give warning. I've got an idea there was at least one other man in it, and maybe more than that, who didn't show up in the station at all."
"Well, if that's so, you'd better look out for yourself, Jack, in case they try to get even with you for spoiling their little game. They'd be apt to try to take that out of you."
"Perhaps they won't know I had anything to do with it. And, anyhow, I'm not sure there was anyone else mixed up in it. That's only a guess anyhow."
"I'd be careful, just the same. Don't go around alone at night—though you'll be safe enough in the city, I guess, unless some of those people that were mixed up in that kidnapping case get after you."
"They haven't anything more against me, or any more reason to be sore at me, than at anyone else that was concerned in the whole job, anyhow. But I'll keep my eyes open. I'll be glad to turn in pretty soon. I'm pretty tired."
"I should think you would be. I am myself, and I haven't done as much as you."
Soon after that sentries were posted, and the Scouts, wrapped in their blankets, were all asleep in their lean-tos. Jack's sleeping partner, Tom Binns, was not there, so he slept alone, on the edge of the camp, and some distance from the campfire.
Tired as he was, he did not get to sleep at once. Out on the lake puffing motor boats, running back and forth from the big summer hotel at the head of the lake to the cottages that were clustered near the dam, made the night noisy. Those people were late risers and they went to bed late as well. There was a dance at the hotel, and it was well attended. So the sharp beat of the engines of the little boats disturbed those who were trying to sleep. Jack was so tired, too, that it was hard for him to get to sleep.
He kept thinking of everything that had happened at Haskell Crossing, and of the desperate minutes in which, while he knew the fate that was in store for the onrushing train, he had been powerless to prevent the catastrophe that threatened. And then suddenly, while he was half asleep and half awake, he remembered something that had escaped him before, something he had seen and that had been recorded in his brain, although it was only now that the picture stood out vividly and with meaning.