So, still uttering more or less protestations, coupled with hard language, both Si and Ed sprawled out flat on their faces.
"Now, Bumpus, it's going to be your job to secure them both, while I cover you with the guns; and if either of them tries any funny business, he'll wish he hadn't right speedy, believe me," said Giraffe, loud enough for the others to hear, for he wished them to wholly understand the situation.
Bumpus placed his shotgun close to the feet of his chum. Then he looked blankly around.
"That's easy to say, Giraffe," he remarked in a stage whisper; "I'm willing enough to do it, tell you that; but where in Sam Hill am I agoin' to get the rope? We didn't bring any with us, you know; though I'm resolved never to go off again without a whole clothes line along. How c'n a feller tie 'em up when he ain't got even a top string with him?"
If Bumpus thought to get his chum in a corner with that question, he figured too soon, for the other had discounted it already.
"Here, take this," he said, throwing his red bandana handkerchief on the ground; "and I reckon you've got the mate to it in your pocket. Use one to wrap around the wrists of each feller. And see to it that you tie it in half a dozen of the hardest knots you know how. Understand, Bumpus?"
"That's right, and I c'n do it too. You watch me."
As the fat boy spoke he picked up the large bandana handkerchief, and stepped gingerly forward, Giraffe accompanying him part way. Evidently Bumpus had recovered somewhat from his fright. Possibly this new boldness sprang from confidence in the ability of his comrade to handle the situation.
At any rate, he threw a leg over the prostrate figure of Ed Harkness, and seizing both his wrists, jerked them together. The man might have raised some protest, or even attempted to show resistance; but once that plump form of Bumpus came down on him he had the breath partly pressed out of his body, and must have experienced a sudden weakness.
At any rate, he lay still, while the other wound the crude rope around his wrists, and knotted it good and hard.
"Fine!" declared Giraffe, who had been watching the operation with one eye, all the while he kept the other on Si Kedge; "now take your own handkerchief, and use it on Si. And put in three extra knots, Bumpus, because he's that much more a slick one than the other feller. Lie still, now, I warn you, Si; we ain't going to stand for any fooling, I tell you!"
Si also relapsed into silence as soon as Bumpus dropped on his back; he was pinned to the ground almost as effectually as though secured there by ropes.
Bumpus finished his part of the job, and arose, perspiring, but triumphant.
"She's done, Giraffe, and as good as I know how," he said, exultantly. "I just warrant you that neither of them game stealers is agoin' to break loose in a hurry now. What's next on the little programme? This is sure turning out to be a warm night for us, Giraffe. Tell me, won't the fellers stare when we walk into camp drivin' these jail birds before us? Oh! my! Oh! me, I can see Davy and Step Hen give us the royal salute. And I'll whistle 'Lo, the Conquering Heroes Come,' see if I don't."
"Well, we ain't in camp yet awhile," retorted Giraffe; "and give me a hand to assist old Si here over to that there tree. We c'n lean him up against the trunk, so he can keep warm, and look around him. Then Ed, he might have a place against this other pine, here. But Bumpus, there ain't going to be any sleep much for us this blessed night, with two toughs to watch like these fellers."
Bumpus sighed, for he was very tired after a whole day's tramp.
"I suppose not, Giraffe;" he remarked, but stiffening up to add; "you'll find me ready to back you up in anything you start goin'. I'm game for it, I reckon; and if you see me agoin' to sleep in spite of everything, why, Giraffe, just give me a kick or a punch in the ribs. I want to do my duty every time."
"Good for you, Bumpus; I ain't goin' to make fun of you any more, because of your size. Even fat fellers c'n come in mighty handy sometimes, especially when you've got a game poacher to hold down."
They managed to get the two men against the trees, and as they still had their legs free this was not so difficult a task. Then the watch began. Giraffe kept his gun close to his hand. He spoke to his chum occasionally, more to see if Bumpus were awake, than because of any desire to engage in conversation.
The two men mumbled for a while, but finally their heads dropped on their chest and they seemed to slumber, though Giraffe was suspicious, and would never slacken in his watchfulness on this account.
He had made up his mind, however, that if Bumpus did fall asleep, he would not arouse him, when there was no necessity for more than one guard at a time.
An hour passed thus. Then Bumpus, who was just losing himself, in spite of his determination to remain on duty, felt his chum give him a shake.
"Oh! I'm awake, all right, Giraffe; no need to scare me that way!" grumbled the fat scout, stirring himself, and looking around.
"They're coming, just like I said," said Giraffe. "Looky over yonder, and you c'n see the lantern; and I reckon now, it's old Eli that's followerin' our trail. But we don't want to be fooled a second time, Bumpus, so get your gun ready for boarders."
"Boarders!" muttered the fat boy; "now I like that, when they ain't a blessed bit of grub in the pantry. Better skip this boarding-house, and go on further. But Giraffe, that sure is Eli; I c'n tell the way he swings along from here. Whoever is it with him, d'ye think; why, see, there are two of 'em, and men, not boys of the Silver Fox Patrol?"
Three minutes later, and Old Eli, grinning his pleasure, stalked into camp, to say:
"Huh! glad tuh find ye so well taken keer of, boys. An' so yeou hed a wisit frum Si an' Ed, did yeou; an' wall, what d'ye think o' thet, gents, here's yer birds all triced up, ready tew be transported to jail. This here is the game warden o' this deestrict, boys, lookin' for them critters. Say as heow he don't calkerlate ter bother with Old Cale yet awhile; but hearin' as he's be'n an' contracted with a fox breedin' company, they'll wait an' see heow it pans eout. Kinder guess they will. An' we'll jest stay by this fire till mornin', when we kin start back tew camp. Thad knowed as heow yeou'd come out all right, Giraffe; but he thort along abeout noon I'd better take up the trail; and I met these gents a few miles back, wonderin' if ther birds had made this here fire, so we stalked it!"
And Bumpus felt like venting his delight in one long loud yell of thanksgiving as he realized that their troubles were now at an end.
TO BEARD THE TIGER IN HIS DEN.
"Sure you can go, Jim; and what's more, I'd like to take the tramp with you, if it's agreeable to you!"
Jim Hasty, the guide, swallowed something in his throat, when he heard Thad say these words, for he was plainly much affected.
He had come in a hesitating way to ask as a favor that, since the scouts were now settled for a few days in camp on the lake shore, could he be spared to make the run through the pine forests to where the well remembered cabin of Old Cale Martin stood, from which he had carried Little Lina away, after her father had positively refused to even hear of their marriage.
"It's mighty kind o' yeou tew say thet, an' I feel it, I swan," he finally stammered, as he managed to thrust out his brown hand, and take that of the boy which had been so impulsively offered to him.
"Why," Thad went on, heartily, "you know, Jim, I'm as much interested in this matter between you and Cale Martin as can be. And I'm just bound to see you through. I heard what one of those men told you about Cale going off to his cabin, so's to try and keep away from temptation, while Jim Hasty was around the neighborhood. He'd sworn to pin your ears to a tree, and feared that he'd up and do it, if he had the chance. Something better inside Old Cale was a tuggin' away at his hard old heart; and Jim; you and I know what it is."
The short guide nodded his head violently, while his eyes glittered.
"Pore ole dad, he wants tew see his leetle gal ther wust kind, an' it's jest his consarned pride as keeps him frum knucklin' right down, an' ownin' he war wrong. Thet's what I sez in ther fust place. I jest knowed he dassen't raise a hand tew hurt me, as he threatened, 'cause Lina keers fur even ther leetle finger o' my hand; an' she war ther apple o' his eye. An' shore I feels as it's agoin' tew be awl right, ef so be I kin on'y git a few words wid ther ole man, face tew face."
"And you shall, if I can help you out, Jim," declared the boy, with emphasis. "Perhaps some day, I might even see the Little Lina that all this fuss has been about. I'd sure like to, the worst kind. But about when do you think we'd better hike out across country for the Martin cabin, Jim?"
"I'd like tew start inside o' an hour," returned the other, quickly, as his eye instinctively turned upwards toward the heavens, with the idea of gauging what the weather might have in store for the State of Maine during the next twenty-four hours.
"I see, you're afraid of a heavy snowfall, that would make the going and coming a hard job; is that it, Jim?"
"It shore is, Thad," replied the guide, promptly. "Yew see, it's long past due. The woods is as dry as tinder, and we need a big fall o' snow er rain ther wust kind. D'ye think we mout git away by thet time?"
"I don't see why not," answered the young scoutmaster "I'm feeling in apple pie condition this morning, myself; and you're just wild to make the venture. So we'll call it a go in an hour, Jim. By that time breakfast will be done with, and the boys have their plans arranged for the day. Eli will take charge with Allan; and there ought to be no trouble. Both Bumpus and Giraffe are too tired after what they went through with the day before yesterday, to want to wander; the game warden is well on his way with his two prisoners; and everything looks just fixed to carry out your little plan."
"It does thet," returned the other, eagerly. "Seems like things happened jest tew suit me. I calls it 'Little Lina luck,' fur they nigh allers turn thetaways when I'm tryin' tew please her. I worried a heap over them tew critters, Si Kedge an' Ed Harkness; thinkin' thet w'ile I mout convince dad, they was apt tew give me a lot o' trouble. An' see haow they was kerried off tew jail tew clar ther field fur me! Oh! sumpin' tells me hit's goin' tew be awl rite yit."
"Is there anything we ought to take along with us besides our guns, and some grub, enough for several meals, because we won't have any time for hunting?" asked Thad.
"Nawthin' as I knows on; I'm makin' sure to kerry ther life preserver," and as he said these mysterious words, Jim pressed his hand against his breast, where in an inner pocket something undoubtedly snuggled unseen; but somehow Thad never once dreamed that the guide could refer to a pocket flask, because he happened to know Jim did not drink.
However, Thad did not bother about trying to fathom Jim's little secret. He fancied that it would all be made plain shortly; certainly when they happened upon the stern old man who was day after day cheating himself out of happiness, by refusing to let bygones be bygones, and accept things as they were.
Of course the balance of the Silver Fox Patrol showed great interest when they heard what was the plan. Thad could read a trace of disappointment on more faces than one when he announced that he meant to go alone with Jim. A larger detachment would do more harm than good, since Old Cale might be angry at having his solitude invaded by a party that Jim was piloting through the piney woods. And besides, Allan was needed to take charge of the camp while the leader was away, Step Hen had had his outing in the company of Thad, himself; Bumpus and Giraffe were fairly saturated with adventure, and still feeling the effects of their experience; while Davy was needed in camp, and complaining of a lame foot besides.
So within the hour that had been set for the start, Thad and Jim left camp, with many hearty wishes for their success.
"Be sure and tell us all about it when you get back!" called Bumpus; for some of the boys scented a little romance back of Jim's queer actions, and knew more or less about his relations with the giant father of his little wife.
"And look sharp for forest fires, because, seems to me I smelled smoke in the air a little while ago!" were the last words from Allan, who, being a Maine boy, knew what such a thing meant.
Thad glanced sharply at Jim.
"Do you imagine we'll stack up against anything like that, Jim?" he asked.
"Thet's hard tew say," replied the guide. "At this time o' year, an' with ther woods as dry as they be, anything is possible, I'd say. I don't smell smoke right naow, but then ther wind mout a changed sense Allan sez he did."
"Well, I hardly know whether I want to run up against a real woods' fire, or not," Thad declared. "Of course, I've always wanted to see what one looked like, because I've heard so much about them; we're on a new test now, for the Silver Fox Patrol; being assistant fire wardens of the state of Maine; and as such none of us should wish a fire to occur. So I'll just forget all about it. If one happens to come along, I guess there's no harm in my looking at it."
Jim laughed at this quaint philosophy.
"I jest reckons naow, yeou'll be doin' a heap more'n jest lookin' at hit," he took occasion to remark, with a sage shake of his head.
Thad laughed outright.
"I can guess what you mean, Jim," he remarked. "You think that about that time the fire will take to chasing after me, and I'll have all I want to do in skipping out. Well, let's forget all about that, now, and talk of something else. For one thing, this is a splendid crisp fall morning. I saw pretty good ice on the edge of the lake. And say, I'd like to be up here a month or two from now. I warrant you there's some mighty fine skating on that sheet of water."
"Thet they be, sumtimes," replied the other, with a nod. "I've seen hit jest as slick as a big pane o' glass fur miles an' miles. With ther wind ablowin' great guns I've jest opened my coat, an' been blown like a thistle-down from one end tew t'other, in less time than yew cud think. My dad, which is long gone, onct had an adventure with a pack o' wolves on thet same smooth ice, I kin remember him tellin' 'bout."
"I'd like to hear it, Jim," said the scout, eagerly.
"Wall, I'm a pore hand at tellin' a story," the guide admitted. "Seems like he war askatin' home, arter killin' a deer, an' hed sum o' ther meat on his back, when ther wolves took arter him. They chased him right fast, and ther on'y way dad he cud 'scape ther fangs war by making a sharp turn every time they gut too clost. Yer see ther critters cudn't swerve fast enuff, an'd slide a long ways on ther ice 'cause it war so smooth. An' in that way he kept goin' till he gut nigh home; when sum o' ther neighbors, they kim out, an' knocked spots outen ther wolves."
"Whew! I can just imagine it," declared Thad, "and I wager, now, it must have been some exciting while it lasted."
Chatting in this way they tramped on through the pine woods, heading in a direct line for the distant cabin of Cale Martin, whose wife had long since been dead, so that with Little Lina also gone, the old woodsman had lived alone for more than a year, always nursing his grievance against Jim Hasty.
When noon came, and they stopped a little while to refresh themselves with some of the food carried along in Thad's haversack, Jim announced that they must be more than half way to their destination.
Thad looked into the face of the guide frequently, wondering if Jim's heart was beginning to fail him the closer he drew to the implacable giant who had uttered such ferocious threats against his new son-in-law; but the only thing he did notice was a smile of supreme confidence whenever Jim happened to put up his hand to touch the breast of his coat, about the place where an inner pocket would be. And from this Thad understood that the other had the fullest confidence that the message he was bearing to Lina's father, the olive branch he meant to extend to Old Cale, was sure to work as she had intended it should.
It was about an hour and more, possibly two, after the noon halt, that Thad saw Jim come to a stop, and start to sniff the air suspiciously.
"What it it, Jim?" he asked, though he could give a pretty good guess even before the woods' pilot uttered a word.
"I smells smoke, sure enuff, naow," replied Jim.
"Then the wind's changed, hasn't it?" inquired Thad, bristling up, as a vision of more or less excitement to vary the monotony of this rather dreary tramp through the piney forest flashed before his mind.
"It sure hes, Thad; and I kinder guess afore a great while yeou might be havin' thet wish o' yeourn kim true; 'cause ther's a fire sumwhar not far away right naow; which, with ther change o' wind, is liable tew sweep daown on us like a whirlwind. Mebbe so be yeou mout see more'n yeou bargained fur, Thad!"
CAUGHT IN THE FOREST FIRE.
"What's to be done about it, Jim?" demanded the scoutmaster.
"Nawthin' as I kin see," came the guide's philosophical reply. "We hain't knowin' which way ther ole wind'll turn next, so it's as safe fur us tew keep right along like we was aheadin', as tew turn back fur camp."
"Then let's go on; an' perhaps after all, the fire'll give us the go-by," and as he said this Thad put his best foot forward.
"Anyway," Jim pursued, presently, "we cudn't know haow tew shape our plans till we cotched sight o' ther fire, an' knowed jest what she be. By naow p'raps ther hull woods ahind us mout be aflame; so by turnin' back, we'd jest be puttin' aour noses tew ther grindstone."
They walked on a little faster than before. The talk was of course all about forest fires now, since it began to seem likely that Thad was about to witness the first real big one of his experience.
Thad had a way of asking leading questions, and Jim was no way averse to giving all the information in his power; so that before long the Boy Scout had learned a great many interesting facts connected with these terrors of the piney woods, by means of which thousands of acres of valuable timber used to be wiped out of existence every year, and often many lives lost as well.
Things are not the same as they used to be. The State of Maine has a well equipped fire warden department; and during the fall season when the danger is greatest, extreme care is taken to call out these seasoned fire-fighters whenever their services are needed. Besides, every licensed guide is expected to work in conjunction with the authorities in seeing that no party which he pilots into the woods becomes reckless about leaving fires burning after breaking camp.
When another half hour had passed Thad could no longer doubt that there was a fire burning somewhere not far away, and that they were now much closer than before to the scene of the conflagration.
The smoke had become a thing that could be easily seen as well as smelled, and felt in the way of burning eyes and tickled nostrils.
Jim was on the alert. Well did he know that it was no child's play, matching one's wits against a forest fire that was apt to encircle the unwary woodsman, and cut off his retreat, finally roasting him in a trap.
"Do you think it's already swept down on the Martin cabin?" Thad asked, somewhat anxiously.
"Thet I kain't tell," replied Jim, as he looked up at the smoke that was sweeping above the tops of the tallest pines. "Time was when it wudn't amattered any, 'cause yer see, Dad Martin, he kept a good clearin' all 'raound his shack; but I guess as haow he's been an' neglected it sense I took Lina away, an' it's all growed up with brush, thet'd burn like tinder."
"How far away are we now from the cabin?" continued Thad, presently.
"It mout be a matter o' two mile er so," grunted Jim; for they were pushing on at a lively pace, and there was not much breath to waste in long sentences.
"That smoke keeps on getting heavier all the while," remarked Thad.
"She dew thet," admitted Jim.
"And my stars, how it stings a fellow's eyes," continued the scoutmaster, who from time to time felt the tears running down his cheeks.
Jim shook his head as he answered:
"'Tain't a circumstance tew what we'll run up aginst right soon, ef things keeps on a gettin' wusser all ther while."
"Look! there goes a moose, upon my word; and he's making tracks as if he didn't fear human beings one half as much as he did that crackling fire he left behind!" Thad cried out, about five minutes later.
Shortly afterwards he discovered a huge lumbering animal rushing through the woods to one side of them.
"Why, isn't that a black bear, Jim?" he asked, pointing as he spoke.
"It sure is," replied the guide, grinning; "an' 'baout as skeered a black as ye cud see in a week o' Sundays. Like as not he smelled ther smoke while he was boxed up in sum holler tree, whar he 'spected tew stay till Spring kim along. But say, he knowed what'd happen tew him; an' forgettin' as haow he orter be sleepin' ther winter aout, alivin' on his fat, he jest climbs aout, an' scoots fur sum hole in ther ground he knows is awaitin' fur him. He'll git thar, awl rite, too; 'cause I never seed a bar cort in a forest fire, an' burned tew a crisp."
"The deer can easily escape, I suppose, being so fleet of foot?" Thad went on.
"Gin'rally speakin' they kin," Jim replied; "an' thar goes wun rite naow. Look at ther way he jumps over thet fallen tree like it was nawthin'. Ef yeou an' me hed ther gift o' leapin' like thet, Thad, we cud larf at forest fires tew."
They lapsed into silence again. The smoke began to enter their lungs when they talked too much, and half choked them. It was getting darker, Thad saw; and looking up, he realized that clouds had covered the heavens; though at first he rather fancied this might be another strata of smoke further up.
"Oh! if that snow-storm Jim believes is due would only hurry, and come along," he was saying to himself, "it might do some good in putting out this fire. While I'd like right well to see what it all looks like, still, as a fire warden, I ought to want it to be smothered as quick as possible. And between the two why, I'll just have to take what comes, and be thankful it's no worse."
Then he thought of the other scouts. Were any of them in danger from the fire? He did not believe this could be the case, for, so far as he knew, there had been no plan on foot for a hunt that day, the boys being satisfied to hang around camp, and do things they had in mind.
And as they were right on the edge of the lake, if the worst came, and fire happened to sweep down upon them, the tents could be thrown into the canoes, and all hands put out upon the surface of the lake where they would be safe.
So Thad, as the one in charge of the patrol in the absence of Dr. Philander Hobbs, the regular authorized scoutmaster, made up his mind that he need not worry about his chums any more. Indeed, as the situation grew worse and worse around himself and Jim, it began to look as though he had need of all his anxiety in connection with his own condition.
Of course he relied entirely on Jim. The guide had had long experience with the fires in the pines. He had served as one of the fire wardens, and so long as he was in charge of the expedition there was no need of Thad trying to figure out any plan of campaign. Had he been alone, or with some of his companions, Thad would have striven to meet the necessities of the situation manfully, and done all in his power to outwit the flames. Now he was in Jim's charge, and depended on the astute Maine guide to pilot him through.
"I can hear the flames roaring, I think, Jim!" the scout remarked, presently.
"Thet's rite," returned the other; and from his manner Thad knew Jim had known of the circumstance longer than he dreamed possible.
"It lies over there on our right, don't it?" Thad persisted in asking.
"Yep," the guide answered, shortly.
Gauging the direction of the wind, Thad saw that they would in a measure be running a race with the fire, to see which could get to the cabin of Old Cale first. He knew Jim was figuring things out closely. A mistake in calculations might cost them dear. Even a change in wind, which was liable to occur at any time now, would bring them face to face with new difficulties, and make them grapple with problems of a serious character.
Thad asked no more questions, for he saw that Jim did not want to have his mind distracted from his duty. He would do the right thing, of that the boy felt assured.
One thing was plain enough, and this seemed apt to have more or less bearing on the final outcome of their race to the cabin.
The wind was gradually increasing in force all the while. It had been gentle at first, but was now blowing at the rate of ten miles an hour, and Thad could notice how rapidly even this was changing.
Should it reach hurricane force ere long, the fire must be driven ahead at a speed that would be simply frightful. Thad already began to experience some of the thrill he had been told was connected with one of these woods' fires; even though as yet he had to see the first flash of flame. What must it be when surrounded on all sides by the leaping tongues that, they said, looked like great red snakes coiling up the pine trees, licking the resinous foliage with greedy breath, so that it seemed as though the whole world must be ablaze?
Well, the boy had wanted to look upon just such a sight, so that he could say he had been caught in a forest fire; and from the way things were turning out, his wish was in a fair way to be gratified.
They must surely have come about a mile since he last asked Jim how far away the cabin might be; that would indicate half of the distance had been passed over. He wondered why Jim did not start running, so as to beat the fire, that was apparently aiming for the same place; but on second thought Thad believed he could guess the reason for this. Jim was saving their wind for an emergency. If that came upon them, they might have to change their own course, and head for the pond Jim had spoken of as offering a fair haven of refuge in a case of this kind.
The roaring sound had grown more audible. It sounded now very much like a freight train on the railroad, Thad thought; and drawing closer all the while! This would seem to indicate that the fire was catching up with them, and shortening the gap between at the same time.
Thad began to cast curious glances in the direction of the ominous sound; nor could it be said that anxiety was not unmixed with his other feelings. He was but a boy, after all; and even by now the dark masses of smoke that were sweeping over the pine tops, as well as the other indications of a great conflagration around him, had begun to affect Thad.
And as they pushed along it chanced that they came to a little break in the wall of pines that rose around them. For the first time the Boy Scout saw, when he turned his head toward the right, and the rear, something that seemed to leap madly upwards, as though endeavoring to lick the overhanging clouds.
There was no need of Thad to ask the guide what that was, for he knew only too well. Those leaping, tossing billows were flames; and they sealed the death warrant of many a noble pine that for years and years had seen the lovely summer come and go, to give place to the furious gales of the Maine winter season.
And Thad Brewster experienced a real genuine thrill, that might be tinged with alarm, as he viewed this fiery panorama over the tops of the trees.
TRUSTING TO THE WOODS' PILOT.
It was by this time getting about as exciting as anything Thad had ever dreamed of. The noise made by the sweeping flames began to din in his ears as he had never expected to hear the roar of fire.
Still, he noticed that Jim had not changed his course much. Plainly then, he was heading for the cabin of Cale Martin, and had not yet given up hopes of being able to make it.
Only for the intense desire of the guide to please his Lina, doubtless he would ere now have changed his flight, and headed for that pond, where they could be certain of finding security. Thad only hoped Jim would not be tempted to take too many chances, in his endeavor to accomplish the reconciliation.
So the boy began to strain his eyes, looking ahead, hoping that any minute they would sight the lonely home of the late poacher, who had turned fox farmer.
The fire could now be seen more plainly than ever, and Thad noted how the wind seemed to carry all manner of whirling sparks far ahead, to set the dead pine needles ablaze in turn; so that there was an ever marching procession, as fresh patches of woods fell into the grip of the flames.
Something went squealing past them, almost upsetting Thad.
"Good gracious, wasn't that a pig?" he exclaimed, startled by the sight.
Jim nodded his head, as he replied:
"Cale's pig. Let's 'em hev ther run o' ther woods sumtimes. But he'll never see that porker agin. It'll sure be roasted ter a turn, I guess naow."
"What next, I wonder?" thought Thad, as he heard, rather than saw, several frightened partridges go sweeping past.
All these things served to add a certain element of spice to the situation, although Thad really believed it hardly needed anything to make it seem the most exciting in all his experience.
Well, at any rate, Jim had certainly thought it wise to increase his speed now, so that he was running fairly fast, considering the difficulties that lay in the way of making good time.
When Thad came upon a broken-down rail fence, he knew they must be close in the neighborhood of the cabin; and at the same time he thought that it was well this was the case, because contact with the fire could not long have been delayed.
A minute later, and he sighted the side of the cabin. As Jim had said, it stood in comparatively open ground; but the brush had grown up again, owing to lack of care when the owner lost interest in the home that no longer knew the presence of Little Lina.
A couple of low sheds could also be seen near by; but even to Thad's uneducated eye it was plainly apparent that if the fire worked this way, everything was bound to go. Cale Martin may have escaped by reason of his energy before, on other occasions, but this would wind his place up.
There was no sign of any human being around. Jim seemed to look to the right and to the left with more or less eagerness. Plainly he was disappointed because he did not see the giant poacher somewhere. He hurried over to one of the low sheds, and as Thad followed close after him, he saw that there was an enclosure made of chicken wire, in which several red foxes were running furiously back and forth, as though conscious of their peril, and wild to get out and escape.
"He cain't be here!" Jim called out, for the fire was really so noisy now that it required more or less of an effort to make one's self heard.
"Why not?" asked Thad.
"'Cause he'd never let them foxes stay in thar. Cale, he's human, ef he used ter be a hard case; an' knowin' ther fire'd like as not git 'em if they stayed cooped up, he'd sure broke the wire fence daown so's ter let 'em run."
Saying which Jim deliberately did this himself, tearing up a stake, and in almost the twinkling of an eye making a big hole, through which the four red foxes shot like lightning. The last seen of them, the shrewd little animals were flying away into the woods that as yet had not felt the scorching breath of the fire.
"Will they escape, Jim?" asked Thad, unable to repress his desire for knowledge, even while facing such a scene of havoc as this.
"Sure they will," grunted the guide, who was already turning hastily in the direction of the cabin.
The thought struck Thad just then that perhaps something had happened to the big owner of the place. He might be found there, sick, and unable to move hand or foot. In that case a new problem would have to be faced, and a solution worked out.
But no matter what happened, they could not remain here long. The fire was edging around, and working in toward Cale's cabin. In ten minutes, perhaps not so long a time as that, it would have swept over this territory, and gone roaring and leaping into the woods beyond.
Now they were at the door of the cabin. It was shut, and there was no evidence that Cale was within. Jim did not hesitate a second. He knew this was a time for action rather than thinking; and so he immediately started to push open the door.
Fortunately this did not seem to be fastened in any way, so the guide had no trouble to speak of in doing what he desired.
Then Jim rushed inside, and Thad followed closely after him.
One glance around seemed to tell them that the cabin was empty. It was a cheerless looking place, according to the mind of the boy, accustomed as he was to the comforts of a good home in a civilized community. But no doubt it had been "home" to Cale Martin, up to the time the light of it was taken away by young Jim Hasty.
The guide pointed to a small photograph that was fastened to the wall. It was not a work of art by any means, and evidently represented the labor of some aspiring village photographer; but as Thad bent hastily over to examine it, in a couple of seconds, he saw that it was the face of a very sweet looking girl.
And he did not need to be told that he was looking on the face of Little Lina, Jim's wife, and the only child of the lonely poacher, Old Cale Martin.
"He isn't here, Jim. What will we do now? Do you have any idea where he's gone?" the boy demanded, in his excitement clutching at the sleeve of the guide's coat.
"I kin give a guess, 'baout it," replied Jim. "Seems like he keeps a litter o' foxes sumwhar off in ther woods; an' chances air the ole man, he's risked his life tew git out thar, an' set 'em free so's they cud 'scape. 'Twud be jest like him tew dew thet same thing."
"Hark! I thought I heard a shout!" exclaimed Thad.
Both of them listened anxiously; Jim even hurrying toward the open door; but before he could reach it, a huge form darkened the opening, and a man came staggering in.
Thad knew that he was looking upon Cale Martin, long feared by every man in the pine woods of Northern Maine. But to tell the truth he did not look very formidable now; for his beard was singed, his face blackened, and his clothes smouldering in patches, as though he might have been compelled to run the gauntlet of fire in returning from his self-imposed errand of mercy in connection with the impounded fox whelps.
He stared hard at them as though he could not just believe his senses. Thad saw he was very nearly overcome with the smoke that had entered his lungs, as well as the burns he must have received. And just then the boy realized something of the real horror of a terrible forest fire. At a distance it might seem a glorious spectacle; but close at hand its dreadful nature was revealed.
Jim knew that this was neither the time nor place to waste a second in trying to enter into explanations. Those could all keep until a more convenient season. Cale Martin was all but played out. He swayed as he stood there, and Thad could see that the wonderful strength that had many years before made him the marvel of the lumbering camps, as Jim had told him, was very nearly utterly exhausted.
And yet so great a hold had his dislike for Jim Hasty taken upon his nature, that at sight of the man in his home he frowned blackly.
"We gotter mosey outen this right smart, Cale," said Jim, boldly. "Keep ther talkin' till we is safe from ther fire. Plenty o' time then tew tell me what yew wants tew say. I kim hyar tew see yew 'cause Lina, she made me. Naow, let's be headin' fur ther pond, 'less we wants tew be roasted an' stewed an' b'iled."
The giant did not seem inclined to make the first move to save himself; and it burst upon Thad's mind that he was really in some sort of a daze. Perhaps the heat of the fire had affected his head, and he could not gather his wits. He may have headed straight back to the cabin, through the border of the fire, simply because of that intuition which will carry a man, walking in his sleep, past dangers and difficulties.
Jim must have guessed something of the same thing. That would account for his daring to leap forward, and catch hold of Cale's sleeve, though he had to beat out a small conflagration at the same time.
"Help me get him away!"
Jim did not say this, but his look did, as he turned toward Thad; and the boy instantly sprang forward to take hold of Cale's other arm. The giant, strangely enough, did not seem to offer any objection. Perhaps he realized that he was in a bad way, and that if left to his own devices must surely perish there. And life may even have been sweet enough to accept it at the hands of the man whom he believed had so terribly wronged him in stealing away his girl.
The instant they stepped out of the cabin Thad was appalled at the change that had taken place. Surely they could not have been inside for more than three minutes at the most; and yet so rapidly had the smoke and fire headed in toward the cabin of Old Cale that it was a fearful spectacle which burst upon their vision now.
The crackling of the flames, the crash of falling trees, the howl of the wind,—all these made a combination that was deafening. Added to it was the fierce glow of the fire itself, rising and falling as new patches of woods fell into its never satisfied maw.
Thad began to wonder how it would all end, and whether that wish of his to look on a real forest fire was not going to end in a tragedy. But he shut his teeth hard together, and determined to play his part, as a true scout should.
Jim was still there, and Jim would know what to do. The fire warden of the past had learned many ways of outwitting the red-tongued enemy; and there was hope of escape so long as he could remain on deck.
And so Thad drew in a long breath, half choked as he was, and waited to see what course the woods' pilot would take.
JIM DELIVERS HIS MESSAGE.
"Can we make the pond, Jim?" asked Thad.
He knew from what little the guide had said before, that it was a considerable distance to the body of water to which Jim had intended heading; and with the almost exhausted giant on their hands, it did not not seem likely they could get there before being overtaken by the flames.
"Not ther big pond," Jim called back; "it's tew late naow fur thet; but they's a littler un 'baout half way. Thet'll hev tew dew fur us, I guess."
Cale seemed able to walk, after being thus supported, and they started off. One thing Thad noticed; and this gave him more or less satisfaction. They were heading now directly away from the fire, and not keeping alongside, as before.
This gave them a new chance to escape, unless that change of wind came, which was liable to occur at any moment.
Hardly had they been moving for a minute than Thad thought he felt something wet fall on his nose. He could hardly believe it, but when a second and a third followed, he became positive.
"It's raining, Jim!" he shouted, partly because of his new excitement, and also on account of the racket the fire caused.
"Thet snow storm's gut 'raound et larst," called back Jim; and Thad knew from that the heat of the atmosphere had melted the flakes ere they fell, causing them to turn back into water.
It was all the same though, since both were bitter enemies to fire; and presently the merry war of the elements, that has gone on since the world began, would be in full play.
He wished that it would come down as never before; indeed, it would need to be a record fall, to extinguish those monster flames that were rising like a red wall over the treetops now. But since the woods beyond would be undergoing a gradual soaking, possibly the fire might find it more and more difficult to get a foothold, and finally die out from lack of fuel.
Thad was astonished at the meekness of the giant. Why, he seemed to have lost his grip on things, and let them carry him along just as though he were a big baby. That would seem to indicate he must have been severely hurt while escaping from the burning forest. For aught they knew he may have been struck on the head by a falling limb from a tree, which would account for his dazed condition.
At any rate, it was fortunate for the entire party that this proved to be so; because any delay at this stage of the game must have proven fatal.
All of them were panting, but it was more from the intense heat than weariness. Thad hoped the pond would show up soon. He was half choked with the smoke, and coughed with nearly every breath. A drink of cool refreshing water, he believed, would make him feel a thousand per cent better.
There could no longer be any doubt about the anticipated change in the wind having taken place; for the fire was certainly coming after them, full tilt. Jim, too, was beginning to cast glances over his shoulder; and when a runner does this Thad knew it was a good sign that he is anxious about something. It may be the presence of a rival sprinter back of him; in this case that racer was the fire.
"Will we make it, Jim?" Thad found himself just forced to ask, in order to relieve the terrible sensation of suspense that gripped him.
"Dead sartin!" came the reassuring reply; "thar she be, right naow!"
And looking ahead Thad saw the sheen of a body of water in the dull glow of the forest fire. It was not a large pond, but would offer them an asylum, where in all possibility they might laugh at the efforts of the fire to get them.
When they gained the shore Jim kept pushing on until a point had been reached that was opposite to the course over which they had just come. This threw the water of the little pond between them and the source of danger.
Thad drew a long breath of relief as he realized that their race with the flames was over, and safety assured. The giant sank down upon the ground, and scooping up the water in the cup of his hand, drank savagely, showing that he must be almost parched with thirst.
Feeling a little the same way himself, Thad followed suit; and never in all his life had water tasted as refreshing as then. After that, he just stood and watched the terrible panorama that was being gradually unfolded before his eyes; listening to the roar of the devouring element as it seized whole rows of pines in its grip, and enveloped them with a mantle of flames.
Thad was fairly awed by the sight. He had never dreamed it could be so terrible, even when his imagination played at its liveliest clip. He saw the leaping billows toss higher and higher; he watched them play tag with one another; and all the while realized what havoc was being made with that splendid forest. When the fire had passed on, or been finally extinguished by the downpour from above, it would leave blackened and smouldering trunks where just a brief while before the glorious pines stood in all their robes of green.
The heat was rather fierce, too, and often they would bend forward to lave their faces in the cooling waters of the pond. Long since had the rim of ice around the edge of the pool vanished, as though by magic; this was on account of the warmth that had taken possession of the atmosphere while the conflagration lasted.
But Thad was satisfied that they were going to escape, for the main body of fire had already gone rushing away before the wind. Only straggling trailers worked in behind the pond, and they were already feeling the effect of the rain that was now falling heavily, though at other places it must have taken the form of snow.
Jim was apparently more or less anxious about Cale. He feared the old man might have received serious injuries that needed attention; and taking advantage of the first opportunity that presented itself, he confided his fears to Thad, knowing full well that the boy was something of a doctor, in his way.
So the scoutmaster sat down beside Cale. He saw that the other was getting back to something like his normal self, now that he had in a measure recovered from the exhaustion resulting from his fight for life with the flames.
"Did you get badly hurt anywhere, in the fire?" Thad asked, trying to put on a professional look, so as to inspire some confidence in the old man.
The giant for the first time, seemed to wake up. He felt of his head, and winced a little as though it pained him.
"Ther burns they don't amount ter much," he said, in his heavy voice; "but thar be a bad bump on my head as hurts sum."
"Let me look at it," asked the boy. "I've picked up some knowledge of medicine, and perhaps I can do something to make it seem better; if nothing else, cold water may reduce the feverish feeling some."
And Cale allowed him to examine his big head, with its mass of hair that was like a lion's mane in thickness, having been protected from the fire by the skin cap he wore. Perhaps it was the presence of that same cap, as also the shock of hair, that had saved Cale from having a broken skull; he certainly did have a lump there as large as an egg, that must have been very painful; and it was no wonder he had seemed dazed at the time he rushed into his cabin, hardly knowing why he came there, unless he had been laboring under the impression that Little Lina was still waiting to be saved from the fire.
Fortunately Thad happened to be carrying a little bottle of witch hazel in his haversack, which he often found exceedingly useful. This he got out, and after warning the other that it might sting a little at first, he poured some of the extract on the lump; and then wetting a piece of rag with it, he laid this over the wound, Cale's cap holding it in place.
"That's all I can do for you," Thad said. "But it's not a serious thing, and in a few days you'll be all over it. But you must have had a fearful knock. Was it a limb that fell on you?"
"Just what it war, younker," replied Cale; "an' it's a feelin' better some, already."
Thad moved back. He seemed to know that Jim was just itching to have a few words with his father-in-law; and that the opportunity seemed ripe. Besides, Thad was more or less curious to know just what that clinching argument might be, which Jim meant to advance, and which he seemed so positive would bring the determined old man around.
When Jim took his place, Cale gave him one look, and then turned his head away. "I wisht yew wudn't feel like yew does agin me, Dad Martin," Jim started to say.
"Stop right thar!" burst out the other, as his old temper began to sway him again. "I don't want anything ter do wid yer, Jim Hasty. Time was when I vowed ter pin yer ears ter a tree, if ever ye showed up hyar agin; an' I meant it, I shore did. Then sumhow, thinkin' o' that leetle gal, an' how she sot sum store by ye, kinder flabbergasted me, an' I dassent stay around whar ye was, lest I do all I'd threatened, an' it'd break her heart. So I kim hyar ter my lonely home, thet ain't hed a single ray o' sunshine in it sense ye stole her away. But I don't forgit it, Jim Hasty, an' I ain't never agoin' ter forgive ye, er make up. So don't waste yer breath atryin'."
But when Thad saw the grin on Jim's face he knew the guide felt encouraged. His reception had been far less stormy than he had had reason to expect from all he knew of the violent temper of his respected father-in-law. And knowing that Jim was getting ready to spring his surprise, Thad almost held his breath while listening and watching.
"I tole yeou I kim here 'cause she sent me," Jim went on, in a pleading tone. "It grieved her gentle heart all this while 'cause she cudn't see yeou, Dad Martin. She sez as haow it's jest gut tew stop! She wants yeou, and wants yeou bad. An' so be they's another as ort tew see yeou. Here's ther message Little Lina sends tew yeou by me, her husband. Sez she, 'take this tew him, an' when he sees the face o' my baby and knows thet we calls him Leetle Caleb, p'raps then he'll forgive yeou, Jim, fur takin' me away; an' come back tew us all. Tell him we want him the wust kind, Leetle Caleb an' Lina!'"
He had thrust something into the hand of the old poacher as he spoke. Thad felt almost like giving vent into his overwrought feelings in a yell. Why, all the excitement attending the race with the forest fire had not been a circumstance to the thrill that swept over him when he saw that hard-hearted old man staring at the pictured faces of mother and child on that bit of cardboard, and then, filled with a return of the old love, pressing it wildly to his bearded lips.
And Thad knew, just as Jim had said, that the message which Lina had sent in the form of her baby's picture, had broken down the barrier of the old man's pride and obstinacy; for in another moment he was squeezing Jim's hand convulsively.
"HOME, SWEET HOME!"
"Yes, I'll go home with yer, Jim! I shore I'm sick fur a sight o' my leetle gal. Lina's baby too—I'd be ther biggest fool in all Maine, not ter give in, arter yer kim up hyar, riskin' yer ears ter tell me thet! We'll jest try an' furgit what's gone by, Jim, an' start fresh. An' yer kin help me raise my foxes fur ther company thet's hired me fur five years ter run ther farm."
That was what Old Cale was saying as he pumped the hand of the delighted and grinning Jim. And Thad was glad he was there to witness this joyous reconciliation.
The fire had passed, and left them safe. Jim, when he could do so, made his way back to the cabin; and on his return announced that it was only a blackened ruin. Whereupon Old Cale sighed, and then seemed to look forward to a new home, in which there would be an abundance of sunshine, because Little Lina, and Caleb, the boy who was named after him, would reign there.
They managed to spend the night somehow, and in the morning started back to the camp on the border of the lake; though after leaving the region where the fire had swept, they found the snow quite deep, and the going bad. But apparently the coming of the storm had extinguished the last lingering flames, so that the saving to the state of Maine was beyond computation.
Arriving at the camp, Thad found the boys getting uneasy about him, and Eli about to start out to see if he could get trace of the absent ones. They understood that the distant fire, which had not come near them, must have been in the neighborhood of Old Cale's cabin, as described by Jim; and it was this that made them worry. But it was all right now, and they received the wanderers with hearty shouts.
The story, upon being told by Thad, evoked renewed cheering, especially for the old poacher who had reformed, and was now going to show what he could do in a line that appealed to him especially, since he knew all about the woods' animals.
Just as Thad had said while Cale was feeling his burns, and the bump on his head, he declared that nothing serious was the matter with him; and that even if there had been, the glorious news that Jim had brought, at such risk to himself, would have cured him effectually.
"Well," said Giraffe, as they gathered around the supper that evening; "This is our last camp in Maine, seems like; for to-morrow Thad says we start for the railroad station at Eagle Lake, through Lake Winthrop; and soon we'll be booming along for home."
"That sounds good to me, fellers," spoke up Bumpus. "Always did like my home pretty well, and it never seems half so nice as when you're away, trying to make out you're having a bunkum time sleeping on the hard ground, with roots diggin' holes in your sides; and all sorts of creepers crawlin' over your face. Home, sweet, sweet home for me, just now!"
"But just remember that you owe us all a treat, Bumpus," spoke up Davy Jones.
"Yes, we know Giraffe can make a fire that way now, because he showed us yesterday, as easy as anything; but when I tried it, never a spark could I get," and Step Hen looked disgusted because of his lack of knowledge.
"Huh! you needn't feel bad," declared Giraffe. "If it took me all that time to get on to the proper wrinkle, and me a regular fire fiend, how could you have the nerve to think you could hit her up the very first thing? But Bumpus ain't never going to question that I won that wager, fair and square. Only because if I hadn't, we'd a gone without a supper that night, and been near frozen in the bargain. Lots of things hinged on that fire, I'm telling you, fellers."
"I should say they did," observed Bumpus, frankly. "Why, on'y for its cheery twinkle them two poachers, Si and Ed, wouldn't have known we were around; and you see how we'd have missed doin' that great stunt which will go down in the history of the Silver Fox Patrol as one of the shining examples——"
"Oh! let up on that stuff, Bumpus, and help me to some more stew," Giraffe broke in, as he passed his platter along.
"Well," remarked Allan, "we've had a pretty good time of it up here, all told, counting the two separate trips we took. And it'll be a long time before we beat the record for big game we've made in Maine."
But Allan did not know what was before the Silver Fox Patrol before many moons had passed, or he would not have uttered this rash prediction. When the summer holidays came along, they had another long journey in prospect, provided the money was received from the bank, that had been offered for the restoration of the securities carried off by the bold yeggmen captured by the scouts, and as related in the preceding volume of this series. This trip would take them many hundreds of miles from home, into a country toward which a number of the boys had long looked with yearning eyes. And that Thad and his chums were fated to meet with new and thrilling adventures that really exceeded any they had encountered before, the reader will doubtless admit if he but secures the succeeding volume to the present story, and which has been issued under the name of "The Boy Scouts Through the Big Timber; or, The Search for the Lost Tenderfoot."
There is not a great deal more to add. Jim must have managed to send some sort of message home, for at a certain station further down the road, (after the boats had been shipped through as freight, the two guides and Old Cale accompanying the scouts on the regular train,) Jim said they would have to spend half an hour there, and that they might as well get out to stretch. And lo and behold, there came a girlish cry, and they saw a small figure flying straight toward Old Cale, bearing a small bundle, which she immediately pressed into the clumsy arms of the giant, who immediately wrapped mother and baby in a warm embrace.
Of course it was Little Lina, and Caleb Jr.; and the boys all had to be introduced to Jim's wife. They parted from them there; but upon arriving home, one of the first things Thad and his chums did was to subscribe a round sum apiece, and send up the nicest baby's crib they could find in Cranford; for somehow they felt a personal interest in Little Caleb.
Giraffe was feeling very proud those days. He had accomplished what looked like the impossible when he finally managed to make his "silly fire bow" work, and saved himself and Bumpus from going hungry and cold that night they were adrift in the Maine pine woods.
Indeed, all of the boys had considerable to be proud of; and from that day until school finally began, after the trustees had declared the quarantine broken, each member of the Silver Fox Patrol was always the center of an admiring crowd of listeners whenever he went abroad.
And the consequence was that a new patrol was quickly organized, eight fellows subscribing to the rules and regulations of the organization of Boy Scouts, and being mustered in during the winter as the Eagle Patrol of the Cranford Troop.
"That's one of the best things that came out of our Maine trip," said Thad to his chum Allan, as they were on the way home from the meeting when those eight new members had been sworn in, and promised to live up to the rules laid down for the guidance of all scouts by the heads of the organization.
"Well," replied the other, "I was looking back the other day, at the diary I kept while we were gone; and I find that a heap of things came out of that same hunt up among the pines of Maine. All of us felt better for the outing; more than one learned a lesson in perseverance that will follow him all his life; we did a good thing in capturing those hobo thieves, Charley Barnes and his crowd; then we made something of a record in hunting, you with your first moose, and Bumpus with that honey thief of a black bear; after that we helped wind up the poaching careers of Si Kedge and Ed Harkness; and last but not least, had a hand in bringing about that splendid family reunion that we saw on the platform, when we stepped off the train. On the whole, Thad, all of us ought to be mighty well satisfied with the way things have gone. I know I am."
"And you can say the same for me," added the young scoutmaster. "But after all is said, I think the most wonderful thing to happen was how Giraffe, after missing fire a dozen times with his little bow and stick, should strike it just right when it meant so much for him and Bumpus. And then Bumpus paid for that treat like a little man, saying it was worth it, ten times over, just to hear Giraffe yell when he'd succeeded in making his tinder flame up without using a single match."
And here we will leave the boys of the Silver Fox Patrol, to take up their further adventures in the succeeding volume.